Kids, Don't Try This At Home!

Hi, and welcome to the adventures of "Triton", a 45' Robertson & Caine Leopard catamaran we purchased in July of 2007, in Tortola, in the British Virgin Islands. We sailed her back to Emeryville, California, located in the lovely San Francisco East Bay area, worked a few more years, then set off cruising in the fall of 2014. This journal is the story of our ongoing adventure, the folks we've met along the way, and the hardships and joys of that journey. Please read along and let us know what you think!

You can click
here to start from the very beginning of the entire adventure. You can navigate from post to post simply by clicking the NEXT or PREVIOUS phrases at the top or bottom of each page. To find out what we've been fixing, changing, upgrading, click on the Triton Boat Work link under Related Websites. If you want to subscribe to this blog (and get emails letting you know whenever we update it) just click on the icon that says "subscribe to: posts (atom)" at the bottom of each page.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Mota's Letter Home


Editor's Note: The following is a message from Mota back to one of our favorite email lists. It describes life in the harbor before we've left for Panama, and a bit about Robb's attitudes about safety.

Greetings from Trinidad!

I hear that it is a very lovely place. The 200 yards around the small harbor are nice. Other than that, I really could not say. We will probably head out first thing tomorrow morning for Panama, only 2 days behind schedule. As someone once said, “If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.”

I arrived at about 7:00pm last Sunday and immediately knew that I was on Island time. I hit Customs 4 bags of sailing equipment and I was immediately told, “Oh, you are in the wrong line – please head over to the Red line” After several hours of , “Oh, you need to . . . wait in this line / speak with the manager / get an “Advice Form” / in triplicate / please open your bags (again). I made it past the gauntlet to get picked up by Rob and head to the small town of Changuaramas where the boat was docked. We then went through Customs again. We handed over the paper that we were given at the airport the Changuaramas customs agent asked, “What's this?” We told him it was an Advice. He said, “Oh, yes, you need this.”, went through our bags, and sent us on our way. Each of the 5 crew members could tell a similar story, but with a different set of lines to stand in and different set of "required" papers.

It is not that people are jerks, or stupid, or anything else. Is just that on the Island, nothing really needs to get done. Anything that happens is a blessing. As a corollary to that, any act of coordination or planning is purely unintentional. Why plan or coordinate, when it really doesn't matter anyway?

As you can imagine, everything in this environment takes a little longer than expected. Shopping, services, eating, breathing . . . whatever. The original plan was to have left port two days ago, having completed a punch list of about 60 items to be cleaned / repaired / installed. After cutting that list down to 20 "must-dos" and working 14 hour days all week, we will probably head out first thing tomorrow (Wednesday) morning.

For those of you inclined to worry, the 20 must-do's still puts us in the top .02% of preparedness and safety. We already had safety rails around the boat, yet we spent 3 person-days adding safety netting which is usually reserved for dogs and small children. I've spent 4+ days doubling the fuel filtration system, then adding a third back-up filter with separate fuel pump. We have a fireman and two fully trained paramedics on crew with complete trauma kits. Rob is so obsessed with safety and preparedness that he is getting *dentistry* training once he gets back to the US. Really, I am not kidding.

This catamaran is one of the safest boats you can have on the water to begin with. Cat's are know to be super-stable, and he got one of the wide, slow ones for that extra bit of stability. For comparison, one of those little 10 foot sunfish boats is the equivalent of a scooter. A 27' monohull is like an old Honda CB550. A 35 foot monohull is a Harley. The Triton is a 42' RV with cruise control that tops out at 35 mph.

Hopefully, we will be pulling out and heading to Panama first thing in the morning. It will be a 6 – 10 day trip, with a possible a short stop in Aruba on the way. Any updates will be brief, as our email access will be very limited. If anything important comes up, please send an email to AnnMarie and she will forward it on.



Friday, April 27, 2007

A Magical Day In Paradise.



Today was a day that will be hard to put down on paper, especially since we all use this electronic gear nowadays. Get it, hard to put down on paper...cause it's a keyboard. Funny!! I crack myself up.

Editor's Note: Expectations of wit and humor degrade at sea.

We've been holed up in a small anchorage that is pronounced "chi-cha-may", which is Kuna for "another freaking beautiful anchorage just like all the others". It is a collection of very small islands, surrounded by reefs, that create a small, well protected anchorage about thirty feet deep and two hundred yards around. The bottom is white sand, the water is crystal blue, and there were about four small cruising boats here when we arrived.

We pulled in towards sunset, dropped the hook, then decided to put out another anchor just as a precaution as the wind was picking up and we were only forty yards from shore in any direction. Jeff & Mota got in the dingy and motored away, paying out line as they went. When they reached the end of the line they dumped the anchor overboard and I tugged on it to set it in the sand, then tied it off to the bow. The idea is that if one anchor should drag the second will catch and hold you in place. The downside is that with two lines out, should the wind shift the lines may tangle around each other.

Naturally, the moment we set the second anchor the wind died, and then changed direction. By morning we had spun on our anchor twice and we needed to unwrap the lines, but I felt better for the extra protection, and am positive that had we skipped it we'd of had fifty knots blowing us into the reef. Sometimes, you just can't win.

The San Blas island cruisers, to date, have been a bit surprising in their complete lack of sociability. In almost any other part of the world, when you pull into an anchorage, all the other boats will wave cheerfully to you, raise you on the VHF, motor over to you in their dingy, or even swim over to say hi. No such welcome was afforded here. In fact, the very next morning, every single boat left the anchorage, with not so much as a smile as the people passed by.

At first we were dumbfounded. We wondered if maybe we'd violated some social norm, or crowded to close, or thought maybe they didn't like catamarans, but nothing seemed to make sense of their cold shouldered attitude. Then Jeff dove overboard and swam to the nearest island, about fifty yards away. No two minutes after he set foot on the island, a ponga filled with Kuna left the shore and headed out into the anchorage, leaving a small gaggle of children playing on the beach. We watched as Jeff walked along the shore towards them. Without any visible effort or intention, the children continued to play, but their collective Brownian motion moved them further away. When he turned and walked back toward to huts on the other side of the island, they moved back towards him, but always keeping just out of hailing distance. It was then that we noticed that four more boats were headed into the anchorage.

As each boat drove by, they would smile and wave and head in towards the windward shore and drop anchor, then disappeared down into their hulls, never to be seen again. Jeff swam back to the boat and we sat and waited to see if anyone would reappear, but no one did. So, the mystery was solved. Jeff was scaring everyone away, probably because he was a vampire. Although we didn't like this answer, the data points certainly fit the theory. Our only solution was to rid ourselves of Jeff through whatever means necessary. We began gathering garlic and looking for wooden stakes and mallets.

Being the consummate junior scientists that we are, we decided to at least test our theory, rather than get the deck all bloody again. We jumped in the dingy and motored over to the nearest boat. Out popped two cruisers we'd met days ago on BBQ island. We sat and had a friendly chat and invited them over for dinner. We then motored over to yet another boat that had also been in our anchorage, Diane on "Takes Me Away" and also invited her and her crewmate. In fact, we invited everyone in the harbor to drinks and dinner aboard Tritan. Everyone was delighted we'd broken the ice, and everybody said just how intimidated they'd been to say hi.

It turns out that for some reason there is a very unusual pattern of stand offishness common to the San Blas. Everyone else we spoke to had encountered the same attitude among other boaters, and no one wanted to take the chance because they assumed they'd be shunned like us. They were thrilled that someone had taken the initiative and it really created an opportunity for everyone to get together. Plus there was the added bonus of not having to clean up the boat after we drove a wooden steak through Jeff's heart.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. When we first arrived, before we even set the hook, a dugout filled with a Kuna family, complete with husband, wife and absolutely adorable children, pulled along side us and tried to sell us their wares. The women make colorful fabric designs about a foot square of various fish, birds and other native wildlife in a style that resembles a cross between crayon drawings and Peter Max posters.
I've yet to see anyone actually making these swatches, yet every canoe has a five gallon pail filled with them. I'm beginning to suspect that the Kuna, like any other reasonable culture, has realized the advantages of the global market and there is a small sweat shop in Taiwan somewhere chunking these out, but I can't prove anything. Jeff & Mota bought some, but I'm holding out for the higher quality Made In China version we can get at the airport.

The local fish merchant also paddled by. Today's selection included a medium sized Tuna and two Red Snapper. The last time I bought fish I had tried to fillet them myself, only to discover that my dissecting skills were about twenty years out of date and more than rusty. The last try resulted in a pieces of fish no larger than your thumb. This time I scaled the fish and took my time. I ended up with six nice sized fillets and a few miscellaneous pieces that don't count - they were oddly shaped fish. We cleaned them up and put them on ice.

On the way back from inviting everyone over, we had two of the most surreal experiences of the trip. The first was that I saw a large grey fin go through the water. A few microseconds later a very large male dolphin (maybe six or seven feet long) breached along side us and gracefully arched up completely out of the water and back in again. I've seed a lot of dolphins, some up very close, but this was incredible. It was almost as if he was saying "Hey, I'm right here. Take a look." There wasn't even a splash when he re-entered the water, and the power and grace of these animals is beyond words.

Now, that would have made our day but not two minutes after that something even more bizarre and extraordinary happened. As we returned to the boat, a Kuna family in their dugout was lying a hull our boat. We pulled up and asked what was the matter. The father reached into a bin and pulled out a TV remote control and handed it to me, saying something in Spanish. At first I thought someone has lost it on the island and he was worried about returning it to them, hoping we might know who it belonged to. After a few seconds Jeff explained that he was instead begging for triple A batteries for it, so they could watch Spanish soap operas. We didn't have any triple A batteries for the Kuna. In fact, we did have lots of batteries, but I'd sooner give them infected blankets than encourage their TV habit.

We politely explained that we'd never seen such a thing before but surmised it might be some sort of device for signaling the mother ship; we got back on the boat. A few moments later we saw an eerie blue glow coming from the island. It was their TV, which was sitting outside on the beach. There were several small Kuna children watching a Gilligan's Island rerun - but probably only because it was too much trouble to change the channel.

We then set about madly cleaning the boat in preparation for our dinner guests. We ran about the salon, washing dishes, throwing dirty towels into unused berths and vainly trying to make it look like something other than the bottom of a hamper. Short of actual warfare, there is no force more destructive of marine property than three males left to their own devices for several days in a confined living space. After much dashing about, guests began arriving, each bearing whatever foodstuff they thought appropriate or necessary for our shindig.

We were visited by a delightful couple from the States, his name was Slator and I'll be damned if I can remember hers but they were wonderful to talk to, a fabulously entertaining German couple Folksher (who was both a doctor and a CPA) and his wife MaryLou (who had met on the internet, which makes the world seem even stranger to me), John and his friend Robinson from England, Peter (whose vaguely Dutch accent might have been any of several European countries) and Diane (from "Takes Me Away") and her crew mate Sarah, also from Minneapolis. Everyone piled aboard, we made fish, cooked rice with coconut and pineapple, roasted peppers and mushrooms and had a Thanksgiving Dinner that couldn't be beat.

We all told stories, swapped details about sailing, described our lives and generally just hung out and did pretty much what we all do at Camp'N'Sons - talk about Burning Man and stupid things we've done with fire. The only downer was that everyone insisted that we were crazy not to go to Cartehaena. In fact, most of the evening consisted of Jeff and Mota asking when we were going, and everyone else egging them on with fabulous tales of welcoming wonders in every port. By the end of the evening I had said the phrase "we are not going to Carteheanna" not less then two hundred times.

The night disappeared too quickly and eventually everyone one got in their little inflatable boats and drove the fifty feet back to their respective homes. I miss them all already and it made me homesick (a little) for hot tubs and flaming turkey leg spinning. I look forward to seeing you all soon, but must warn you that, unbeknownst to me, there are actually some other people as interesting and fun as our tribe. In fact, there is some fierce competition in the world, and I hope you are all keeping in shape. I'm told that some of the best party athletes are found in Carteheana.

Hoping you are all keeping in good spirits and this finds you safe, happy and in your cups!




Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Time flies when you're asleep.


Dear Readers,

I've decided that it is important to precisely record our daily accomplishments lest it appear that we are wasting the entire day away achieving nothing. One might think we spent all
our time sleeping. Yesterday was, despite all appearances to the contrary, a task filled and productive day. I've included a list of just those items that consumed significant amounts of time below.

Items such as staring out at the horizon, or listening to Mota mumble incoherently about solar energy pay-back schemes and self financed startups have been omitted, even though they incorporate vast portions of our day. It tended to make our task list accounting complicated as we tend to do them simultaneously anyway.

So, here are yesterday's accomplishments:

1) Awoke. (2 hours) This is a process of stumbling around and/or sitting and staring at the counter, sipping yesterday's cold coffee while waiting for your mouth to slowly absorb the paste-like substance that has formed around your gums and teeth overnight.
2) Make grunting noises in response to concerns of health from crewmates. (14 minutes, but overlaps previous item.
3) Made breakfast. (one hour) Occurred at 1:32pm, but hey, it was our first meal of the day. It's the thought that counts.
4) Ate breakfast. (two hours) Includes long discussion about the music that was randomly playing on the IPOD.
5) Got shaken down by Kuna for $5.00 parking tax. (ten minutes)
6) Added plastic windscreen to the Bimini (the fabric cover over the cockpit) using pre-installed zipper attachment. (three minutes)
7) Locate plastic windscreen so that we could install it. (thirty five minutes)
8) Reviewed Jeff's "Hat Modifications". (one hour- more on this later)
9) Got ready to go snorkeling. (one hour, fifteen minutes)
10) Went snorkeling. (twenty five minutes to drive dinghy to dive site. Dive site was six hundred yards from the boat.)
11) Snorkeled. (one hour) Details below.
12) Returned to boat. (six minutes, Mota drove)
13) Ate lunch. (one hour, forty five minutes) Consisted of each of us foraging through fridge for left-overs.
14) Watched Jeff attempt to fix his glasses. (one half hour)
15) Watched Mota attempt to also fix Jeff's glasses. (fifteen minutes)
16) Fixed Jeff's glasses. (three minutes)
17) Wrote email. (one hour, ten minutes)
18) Watched DVD about heavy weather sailing. (eighty minutes)

So, as you can see, it has been a hectic, work-filled day for us and we have actually accomplished something! Not only did we go snorkeling, but we brought Jeff's camera (which we call "The Pop Tart"), and have photographic proof of our exploits.

I should mention this device as it has proven to be the greatest technical marvel of our trip. It is an Optio W30 which Jeff bought for under a few hundred dollars on line. It can take both photographs and videos, is water proof to three meters, can be uploaded to any laptop, holds hundreds of photos, is able to produce great shots, even in low light conditions, and is smaller than a pop tart.

We've used it everywhere, under the worst conditions and it has produced incredibly great shots. In fact, we've taken snap shots of all of our female passenger's breasts under water, which have become the screen saver series for the laptop.

That alone makes it a piece of gear I will always treasure, but the reliability, ease of use and low maintenance make it something to behold. If you are looking for a great bang around trip camera, this is something to check out. If you have any shots of your breasts under water, forward them on to AnnMarie and she will include them in our montage.

Now back to our regularly scheduled stroll through paradise. We snorkeled in an area called "The Japanese Rock Garden" today, which is a shallow, sandy area just off the South Eastern edge of the island next to us.

It is strewn with large coral heads (a light brown "brain coral" and a dark purple fan coral) with lots of small, brightly colored fish darting in and out. As we were getting ready to dive out of the dingy I noticed an odd disturbance in the water about twenty yards off. I watched it for a few minutes and started seeing a dark black fin break the surface now and then. Every so often enough of it would be visible that I could see a bit of white underneath it as well. This meant only one thing: Eagle Rays!

If you've never seen an Eagle Ray I suggest going to the internet and finding a video of one. They are sleek, amazing sea creatures, shaped like a sting ray but significantly larger. The one we saw was more than four feet across and maybe seven feet long, with a mottled back and a white underbelly. They move so gracefully through the water that it is easy to miss just how powerful and fast they are. They glide along in slow motion, undulating in a hypnotic manner devoid of any effort. Their motions completely belie their strength and agility. A ray can literally disappear into the distance if frightened. Normally they just swim about straining the water for krill and algae, and are quite docile and at times even friendly. There are stories of divers being allowed rides on them, and a friend of mine once spent over fifteen minutes riding the back of one over ten feet wide through a school of hammer head sharks!

No such opportunities for us. Instead we watched it glide by a few times, then swim slowly away. It was beautiful and sexy and we could have gone home right then and the trip would have been worth it. Thinking I'd just seen the day's highlights, I shrugged and started off towards the reef only to encounter a three foot long barracuda blocking my path and staring me down. Now if you've never seen one of these up close and personal you may not be able to quite get the sense what it means to suddenly find yourself face to face with one.

Okay, imagine that you are weak guy, about 5'6" tall, weighting a hundred and ten pounds, and are wearing a suit and tie and carrying an expensive brief case. It is 2:45AM and you've accidentally gotten off at the wrong BART station and have noticed too late that there is no one in the parking lot waiting to pick you up. In fact, the parking lot looks like a miniature version of Harlem when the Democrats were trying to improve things through urban planning and social welfare, and everything is covered in graffiti. You turn around to walk back into the BART station and there, standing between you and the entrance, is a six foot tall, two hundred pound, nineteen year old, hooded male holding a length of chain. You look into his eyes and see someone that is evaluating you in terms that have nothing to do with your sunny personality or civic contributions.

This is exactly what it is like to meet a barracuda underwater. They are big, powerful, mean looking animals with razor sharp teeth and an expression that says it all. You are in their hood, they are absolutely the law and can do whatever they want. Your only hope is that they have other plans and/or the BART police are due by shortly. Oh, and much like our mythical street thug, barracuda are attracted by shinny objects. They have been known to attack swimmers that are wearing jewelry or bits of shiny metal, taking large chunks of the swimmer off with them in the process.

I stuck my head out of the water and yelled over to Jeff & Mota, warning them about this. "You wearing anything metal or shiny?" I asked. "Not that I'm willing to take off" said Mota, referring to his silver nipple ring with the dazzling green jewel in it that reflected sunlight in about a thousand little points of light. "Um, you might want to think about that" I said. "Nope, not coming off" was his steadfast reply. "Okay, its your nipple". We swam around a bit more, the barracuda lost interest and wandered off, sparring Mota any unnecessary breast reduction.

The rest of the dive was just plain, relaxing fun, with any number of local reef fish making their appearances for us. Clown fish, angle fish, parrot fish, sponges, anemones, crabs, starfish, the fauna and flora were beautiful and numerous. I floated at the surface and watched a mini soap box episode where a small yellow banded fish with bright blue eyes defended its little burrow from two larger brown and white stripped fish, ultimately standing them off through shear determination.

Eventually my back began to hurt so i decided to call it a day. It was a very lovely dive and for Jeff & Mota an extra special treat to see a ray so close. As we dinghy'ed back to the boat we motored right over a five foot long nurse shark in about ten feet of water. We got a few seconds of video of it as it swam gracefully along under our boat. I was surprised to see something that large hanging out around here, I'd have thought that something like that would be prime food for the Kuna, but either it isn't good eating or we got lucky a third time in seeing one.

Once back on the boat Jeff decided to repair his glasses. Apparently the screw had fallen out of one hinge and Jen had repaired it by tying a piece of thread through it. Over the course of time the thread began to break down and by yesterday it was being held in place by a wisp of material, which meant his glasses had this lopsided look about them, which we gave him no end of shit about. By way of full disclosure, my glasses, although still soundly attached at the hinges, are so bent that I look like the before picture for geeks anonymous - but no one even bothers saying anything about it, as it is generally recognized that I'm hopeless. At least Jeff has the potential for being cool, and it disturbs us to see him fall short.

Perhaps that is why this next bit is so funny to us. Jeff bought a hat from West Marine.

It is a wide brimmed, floppy, white polyester affair with special flotation built in, in case it goes overboard. I have the same hat, but while on me or Mota it looks only dorky, on Jeff it is absurdly funny looking. Actually, on Mota, it even looks good, but he is one of those people who were born looking good in any hat. No doubt he could wear a beret and pull it off, the bastard.

Anyway, Jeff decided to "improve" its look by altering the styling, so two days ago he mentioned that he had the sail repair kit and if I was looking for the needle and thread he had them. At the time I didn't pay much attention as I was preoccupied with making breakfast [translation: repairing the LP solenoid and unplugging the stove burner] so I didn't think anything more of it.

Later the next day he decided to unveil his handy work, which produced a laughing fit in Mota & I that lasted several minutes, with tears running down our faces and that gasping of breath that makes you wonder if you might just guffaw yourself to death by suffocation. I think we might have hurt Jeff's feelings. He seemed genuinely annoyed that we didn't appreciate his masterpiece.

He had sewn back the two opposite edges of the brim on each side of the hat to themselves, using a needle and thread not intended for anything less than twenty ounce cloth. If Frankenstein had a tailor, this is what he'd have worn to the beach. Each stitch was about 3/8" long and the thread (which was originally designed to hold together hardened canvas during a hurricane) was almost as wide as the hat band itself. To make matters even worse, he didn't arrange the brim in that "Australian" style, where one or both sides are fastened to the top leaving the wearing looking a bit jaunty if not swaggering, but instead just folded over less than an inch on each side and tacked it to itself, giving it a shape best described as a sort of rhomboid that had been left out in the rain too long.

What was already not a good look suddenly became hilarious. At least to Mota & I. Jeff didn't think our cackling was at all justified and refused to allow us to photograph him wearing both the modified hat and the lopsided glasses. At one point, while wearing the jeweler's magnifying glasses, I asked him to please model the hat for our video collection. He threw the hat overboard and has been very touchy about it ever since, although it floats, so he had to dive in and retrieve it afterwards, which undercut the gravity of his original action. If anyone sees a beret they think might look good on him, send it down.

Other than that, the day has been pretty much one of preparing to do one thing, going to do that thing, or recuperating from doing it. My back is still fucked up, so I'm not as happy as I could be, but life is pretty good right now. We've had a bunch of rain, mostly from squalls that blow through, but otherwise it has been quite nice, with temperatures in the high eighties or better.

I hope everyone is well and that any gun control issues have been satisfactorily resolved in my absence.




Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Cheesecake in Paradise.


Dear Readers,

I'm sorry I haven't been writing as regularly as I should. It shouldn't be hard to do, but the day seems to get away from me and I find myself falling into bed each night exhausted, too tired to even think about writing much. Everything takes a thousand times more time and effort than you think it should. Just today Mota, Jeff & I were laughing about how little we get done, how we would have done seven things before breakfast back home, how doing something as simple as making breakfast here means first washing dishes; which means first figuring out the water levels; which means noticing the leak; which means pulling up the flooring and disconnecting the hot water heater; etc., etc., etc.

Any given action can result in hours of ancillary delays that involve dinghy repairs, plumbing or finding the short in some electronics. Everything just takes a long time to do, and nothing gets done well, fast or cheaply when you are out at sea.

There is so much I'd like to tell you about, but nothing has happened here, yet we experienced so much of nothing that it fills our day to the brim. It has been a wonderful and satisfying time here in San Blas islands. We weren't supposed to come here (remember we are on a delivery, not a cruise!) and didn't decide to detour back south until we realized that we were stuck in Colon (which is a pretty accurate description of the town, BTW) for another two weeks until our transit.

We decided that we might as well spend it navigating through palm strewn, white sand islands rather than sitting in a marina (paying hundreds of dollars a day) drinking too much and playing volley ball with ten year old girls. Or, alternatively, sitting at anchor in "The Flats" (the designated waiting area for canal transit) inhaling the trash dump's incinerator output. Go figure.

We arrived in the San Blas at dawn two days ago. We had passed over them on our way here from Aruba. The sail down was frustrating as we had little wind and what we did have was mostly on the nose. That first night out there was a beautiful sheet-lighting thunder storm over Panama's Eastern coast that entertained us as we motored along. Jeff & I played guitar and sang songs and watched the fireworks show.

It was a lovely night. Later on, Mota came on watch and he and I approached the islands as the sun rose, slowly inching our way into the anchorage, trying to figure out which piece of wash covered rock matched which green palm covered island in the pictures contained in the cruising guide.

Mota keeps marking up our charts, correcting all the places that don't show rockssticking out of the ground or dead trees pointing up out of the sand. We've decided that he was born six hundred years too late. Had be been alive back then he would have been called Motatoo, The Great Cartographer and/or Day Planner Mota the Undermedicated. Below is a picture of what we believe he would look like...

No doubt we'd all be living in the United States of Amotia, and that it would have names like Diet Coke Straights, Point Frapachino, Hippy Crack Island and Long Island would of course be called "Those Sexy Mutha' Fucken' Islands".

There are palm strewn islands with reefs everywhere and it is very easy to bump into things, which is bad (lets get this good/bad thing straight) so we go slow and don't let Mota near the throttles. We've dinghy'ed around a bit and aren't anxious to move the boat if we don't have to. Actually, it is mostly because that would mean going through the arduous process of pulling the anchor back on board, which involves standing on the fore deck while pressing the button for the electric motor. The thought of this much effort sends shivers through our souls. Anything could happen if we slide down this slippery slope. It is better that we stay put and sip our cool drinks while talking to other cruisers. The wise sailor doesn't take unnecessary chances.

We're staying in an area called "The Swimming Pool", so named for the color of the water and its 90 degree water temperatures, along side ten or so other cruisers. Our position is N09,35,38 W078,40,59 for those of you with the wherewithal to look it up. The bottom is mostly white sand, our CQR anchor caught on the first try and we've not budged since, although I think I should put more rode out and maybe a second anchor, as the winds have picked up a bit.

When we were at anchor in Colon, the weather was beautiful. Since we've arrived here there has been a low pressure trough moving through up north which has brought a week of rains and winds that spring up on us each morning at exactly 9:35AM, continually catching us unaware. We scurry about the boat closing hatches and hiding books and towels. Each time we act so surprised, it is amusing how we convince ourselves of the unexpectedness of it. You just can't believe it could rain in paradise, and always at exactly the same time.

As I write this the Mother of All Rain Squalls just arrived and is blowing rain sideways through the boat.We've locked everything down now and I sit warm and dry writing this email as Jeff and Mota are dancing about on the trampoline in the howling rain having the time of their lives screaming into the storm. It is hard to explain how such a simple thing like this could bring so much joy, but it is a delight just watching them.

Last night was "Pot Luck Monday". We all dingy'ed over to "BBQ Island", which is about one hundred yards around, made of white sand, palm trees and coral. It is just large enough for a small hut and one cotton hammock, which we first discovered the day before, it was inhabited by a tall, thin, tan and beautiful Brazilian woman with the kind of accent which allows her to say things like "I hop ju no mind, I sink da barka, how ju say? boata? by mistake". You would just smile and say its okay, you really didn't like the boat very much anyway, rather than see her frown. Now Jeff & Mota have been stellar crew doing yeoman like work the entire journey, but I thought they might mutiny when she said she wanted to go to Mexico and I explained we couldn't take her. It was a tense moment, but I've prohibited them from carrying any edged weapons in the presence of pretty women - a rule that has saved my life.

Life on board has definitely had its share of physical perils. It is surprising how safe we've made our normal lives, so much so there are no sharp corners or edges to trip over. Once we've removed ourselves to this rugged world our ability to navigate becomes severely compromised. No doubt we'll all adapt as time goes by, but in the meantime we trip, stumble and bump into everything. We've all banged, bruised or bashed ourselves in numerous places learning the unexpected curves and corners of this boat. Jen started photographing all our various cuts, scrapes and subdermal bleeding, to see who had the worst impacts, but MaryAnn was clearly the winner of that contest. She could walk past a greased wall and get black and blue.

For my part I've managed to tweak my back and am now doing a great imitation of early man learning to walk upright. Soon I'll move beyond grunts and clicks and start using tools and fire, which will be helpful because the pain killers are running out.

The local native tribe, The Kuna, have been by our boat several times already. They paddle up in dug out canoes and sell fish, fruit, vegetables, whatever they think the cruisers might need. They will beg for food, water, gas, money, anything they figure you'll part with, but aren't very aggressive about it. Sort of like a cross between a quick witted street vendor and a cagey homeless person in Berkeley.

The average male adult Kuna is about four foot high, has several teeth, sometimes as many as ten, with deeply tanned, leathery skin stretched over muscle and sinew with zero percent body fat. An old male Kuna (anyone over the age of about twenty five) can paddle a canoe twenty miles in a strong head wind without breaking a sweat. The woman wear very brightly colored clothes with elaborate, beautiful wrist and ankle wraps. Those Kuna I've met on the sea all seem to have problems with cataracts, most with clouded eyes, yet I'm yet to see anyone wear protective sunglasses. I'm not sure why this is such a hard concept for them, they've got the dirty T-shirt and Jim Beam baseball caps down no problem.

We've bought a few items from them and we barter on price, but I think we may be paying way too much anyway. We need to find out what the market prices are here, lest we get labeled the soft touch boat. We bought some fish and an octopus the other day. I tried to fillet the fish, only to realize after the fact that this wasn't a skill I'd practiced since I was ten, and the fish was such that leaving the skin on would have been the correct way to cook it. Instead we ended up with bits of flesh, no piece larger than a pack of matches. We decided to make ceviche, which turned out amazingly well. The octopus we cooked up with some rice and spices, which Jeff & I relished. Mota took a dim view of this food group and politely declined. I think he has been put off the whole food with tentacles thing ever since I first showed him a tin of what he calls "El Pulpo En Brown Crayon Sauso". There's no accounting for some people's taste.

We met several very beautiful woman on the island today. I realize now what a horrible public education system I suffered through in High School. Any school that does not adequately equip its students with the skills that are necessary in later life, is, in my humble opinion, a failure and should be burned to the ground - its teachers put in stocks and the principle tarred and feathered - but I'm not bitter. Among those skills I consider mandatory is the ability to converse in at least one other common language of the world - especially when one finds themselves on a beautiful beach inhabited by several stunningly pretty women from South America whose combined English vocabulary is under thirty words.

It was the job of my 10th grade Spanish teacher, Mr. Castennata, to prepare me for just such a occurrence, and he failed miserably. Perhaps this is because I was a lousy, inattentive, obnoxious student, but in large part I think it was because he was also my soccer coach and graded my class performance on how well I did on the playing field which, given the fact that I sucked as a soccer player, meant D- grades and left me resentful and unwilling to try to conjugate the verb "communicatir" - to chat without sounding like a complete idiot.

Years later, I stood on a beach, in paradise, surrounded by several Brazilian woman, completely unable to carry on even the most basic conversation, cursing Mr. Castennata and the New Jersey Board of Education. If it kills me I will learn how to mutter such complex Spanish phrases as "I'm sorry, please say that again but slower?" or "You know, even though I appear to be retarded, I'm sometimes quite witty when speaking English".

To make this all the more annoying, both Jeff and Mota appear able to converse with them, or at least act like they know what they are talking about. I remain the slow, retarded child in the back of the crowd. Our typical encounters with anyone not of English origins involves Jeff or Mota chattering away with them in Spanish while I stand back and try not to drool on myself.

Occasionally one or the other of them will turn back and quickly translate something about the fact that whomever they're talking to just described their recent Pulitzer Book award for upcoming new fiction in Portuguese, or their travels in Peru for National Geographic, or that they have just uncovered some as yet unexplored prehistoric cave in the Andes and are making detailed sketches of it.

I nod and try not to spit on myself when I say "Si, Mucho Gusto", which I believe means, "Yah that's great" but could also mean "Zippidedoda" or "I found a dollar once" for all the odd looks I get when I pronounce it. Whomever we are talking to invariably pause just long enough to glance at me and make that 'almost wince' people do when they are trying to decide if you are a danger to your self or others. I smile back and nod a lot, which only convinces them that they are probably better off backing away slowly while maintaining eye contact.

Never the less we continue to inflict ourselves on the population and are even now preparing to go snorkeling among the reefs. I wouldn't be surprised if we meet some talking fish and I'm left having to hear Jeff explain how the fish described the sunset in terms that brought tears to his eyes, and made poetry seem pointless, all of which, of course, would be in Spanish. I'm bringing a spear gun just in case. Smart fish probably still tastes good with garlic.

Cheers for now.



Sunday, April 22, 2007

A Letter Home


Editor's Note: Not all emails went out to our readership. Many were far too personal to publish, but we've included this one just for fun.

Hello my love,

It was great to hear your voice again, I miss you so!! Mota and Jeff are fabulous company, but I really wish you were here. Please do whatever you need to be ready to fly back down, I want to hold you again!

Please contact Mike, MaryAnn & Jen and find out how they made out and if there is anything they need or left behind and thank them again for their help and company, please tell them they are welcome back anytime. Also please contact my folks and explain my absence and that I will fly to see them as soon as we get the boat to a logical stopping point.

We are on our way to the San Blas now, wind has been low, seas flat, but that makes for slow going as we don't want to waste a lot of fuel. The stay in Shelter Bay got better in that we kept meeting more and more new and wonderful people. We almost decided to stay another night and jam with another musician but seeing the islands seemed like a better idea.

Cruising definitely suits this crew, each of us wander off and find new friends, then introduce them around. Jeff ended up fixing a computer problem for the French couple (Alaine & Madeline) on the red & white Outremere cat, and practicing his French. We could probably get jobs doing IT down here, the way so many cruisers need help. Maybe I should switch careers.

Can you please check to see which emails of mine made it through? Also, please send a message to the email list asking them not to send any emails directly to the boat address as this severely reduces my ability to use email. Ask them to send things to you instead. Also, I haven't seen anything in my email that seemed urgent, but please look over it, there was a message in there from the folks from Aruba Marina saying they forgot to bill us for something. Please tell them that I'm not able to respond just yet but we will look this over during the next couple of weeks and get back to them if there is any problem.

I hope all is well with you. Thank you so much for dealing with all this shore side shit. I realize how less glamorous it may seem, but in reality it is far more important for our long term goals than fixing the boat. Please do spend some time doing something fun this week, don't work so hard you go crazy. Remember, we both have to work a few more years before we can go sailing, you don't want to burn out just yet!

Please write as much as you want, I love hearing from you and wish I could kiss you all over.

I love you madly.


p.s. There isn't anything we can't live without, but some things that would really be nice are:

1. Lots of crystallized ginger.
2. Chocolate covered ginger.
3. Those ferrite collars you bought at the HAM Radio Outlet (black cylindrical items that snap around the radio cables) also called RF chokes. I need about ten more.
4. If you have the opportunity, please look in the three big black plastic container boxes in 5A storage - I think there may be a box or two of boat gear that got left in them - I'm especially missing two snatch blocks - the brand new one I just bought broke - I'm gonna bring it back to West Marine but I'm pissed that it failed already.
5. There should be another stash of tools somewhere around the boat - I'm missing an Ammeter (it has a plastic loop arm that can be opened and placed around wires), and a signal
6. Tracing meter that was blue and has a black plastic pointed tip. Also, I need to get my soldering stuff from Ron and bring it down here, the crap I have here is worthless.
7. If you see any discs that appear to be at all related to sailing pack them down, I'm missing one for the Garmin GPS especially.
8. A couple of those razor blade holder knives and some razors, the one I had has gone missing.
9. A reasonable amount of toy stuff, lube especially.
10. All of the T.Pratchett paperback books that are on the shelf.
11. A copy of "A Cock & Bull Story" (or whatever the title is of that book by Tristram Shandy) that was written in the 1700s that the movie was based upon.
12. The three way chess game.
13. Your breasts.
14. Your girlfriend's breasts.


Thursday, April 19, 2007

Arriving in Panama!


Greetings Squishies,

Well, we've made it to Panama. We headed West, arriving at Colone, the western port of the canal, just before dawn. There is a common farewell among sailors that goes "fair winds and following seas". When I first heard this saying I thought it meant something like "good luck" or "safe journey" or "have a good trip". I now realize that it means "I hope you vomit for several days". Fair winds are great only if they happen to coincide with the direction of the following waves and the current. If, as was the case on our journey, the current is pushing against you, and the waves happen to be both dead on your stern and coming at you from right angles, it ain't so fair. In fact, it makes for a rolling, bumpy ride.

Apparently there was a trough that had moved through North of us, which, coupled with the prevailing Easterly winds out of Africa and the Gulf Stream currents, produced a weird combination of wind and waves. We had winds that averaged around twenty five knots with gusts higher than thirty. There was also a long swell of about nine feet directly behind us, with a short five foot high chop coming from our beam. This meant that regardless of the angle we chose, every so often a wave would either smack into our side and splash up onto the deck, or sneak up behind us and bounce against our bridge deck, swinging the boat around as it did so.

This wouldn't have been so bad accept that our auto pilot's rudder angle indicator had stopped working, which meant that instead of just sitting calmly on deck during each watch, you had to actually steer the boat. Suddenly, two hour watches weren't so much fun anymore. Trying to concentrate on keeping the boat on course using the compass in the middle of the night was actual work and less romantic than the brochures made it out to be. We tried fixing it, but since it is a sealed unit there wasn't much we could do. It appeared that salt water (the single most corrosive element in the universe, except for Wally Glenn) had leaked into it. I poured some alcohol into it and let it dry and it started working again but that only lasted a few hours, so we man handled it the rest of the way to Panama.

If you've never been out to sea, and have never been in short swells that are over nine feet high, it is difficult to convey the sense of it. Pictures just don't do it justice. Waves will appear along side your boat, then lift up the boat so that you are looking out over the ocean several feet above the wave tops. You then slide down into the trough and are looking at a wall of water. Providing the wave isn't breaking, it simply picks you up again - but looking at a wall of water that is several feet higher than you is still intimidating. To make matters worse, every so often, a wave will break and slam down onto you. This makes a very loud noise and wakes up anyone sleeping. It also makes everything on the tables jump up into the air a few inches. It is disconcerting if you don't know its supposed to happen. At one point Mike looked over at me and said "I think the boat is breaking in two." I had to assure him this was normal, if not the most comfortable ride we could have.

After a few days of this we worked our way around the shoulder of Columbia and got out of the rough water. The wind also diminished a bit and the weather got much sunnier. We stopped the boat again and went swimming. The waves were still pretty big so getting back on the boat was a bit harder than it should have been. Mike got banged around trying to get back on and I think it shook him up a bit. Oh, I should describe the crew a bit, most of whom you know. There was myself and AnnMarie, Jeff Herzbach and Mota "don't feed him sugar" and Jen Jackson, who is a Valkyrie condensed into the body of gymnast. Also with us were Mike and MaryAnn. Mike was one of my preceptors when I was studying to be a paramedic, and MaryAnn is one of his best friends. Both of them were relatively new to the clothing optional approach seemed a bit non-plussed when the rest of us stripped off our clothes and went swimming.

The last day out was our best yet. The wind, waves and current were all on our beam, we made great time and it was hot and sunny as well. We decided to stop again and go swimming one last time. As we were all jumping in I noticed that MaryAnn (who had always been wearing her swim suit) was sitting in the cockpit looking a bit sad. I walked up to her and said "Look, no pressure here, but swimming naked in the ocean out of sight of land is one of those opportunities that doesn't come along very often. You might regret not doing this twenty years from now." I turned around and jumped in. By the time I had surfaced, she had stripped down and dove in. It was one of those moments where everyone cheers, and I think it was something she was really glad she did, although she told us that her church group was going to be very upset when she told them. Mike demurred from even going in. I kidded him about it but he remained on deck with his trunks on. A few hours later I walked out and he was standing naked at the helm grinning from ear to ear. It was a great moment.

We approached the canal entrance at night and slowed down so that we entered the harbor during sunrise. As we got closer we kept looking at the chart and trying to figure out which lights were what. It didn't make sense. We could tell exactly where we were, but nothing lined up. As the sun came up we realized that most of the lights we were seeing were from the PanaMax ships waiting outside the harbor. In fact, there was one island we couldn't find anywhere on the map. It turned out to be the largest container ship we'd ever seen. It said "Cosco" on the side of it.

Once the light was up we motored in and set anchor in the "flats", an anchorage for boats waiting to transit the canal. I went ashore to check in the crew, and to get Jen signed off the crew list so she could make her flight, which was going to be close because she'd need to take a cab across the country to fly out of Panama City. We went through a lot of paper work with the various agencies trying to get the right documents signed but at one point we thought we'd done everything and she could leave. The Port Captain's office said she was cleared in, and that all I needed to do was go to Immigration next door. I walked over and was told that I needed to go instead to the center of Colone by one of the many "helpers" that appear whenever you need to do something in Panama. The way the system works is simple. If you already know exactly what to do it is no problem. However, if you want anything to happen within your lifetime, you need to hire a local to act as your interface.

Since I didn't speak Spanish, and didn't know what to do, I figured I'd pay him and let it get done. We walked over to Immigration. While I was waiting there, Jen walked in. Apparently someone else explained that the Port Captain was completely wrong, and she needed another stamp in her passport before she could leave. She was halfway through getting this done when I arrived, said goodbye again and rushed off for the airport. When my turn came I was told that I needed to bring back the whole crew, and that we needed passport pictures for everyone.

I told them I'd come back tomorrow with the crew and went back to the boat. Since the flats weren't that great an anchorage, we decided to motor over to a marina with better amenities. It was the smartest move we've made yet. The marina was brand new, had great facilities and was completely protected from the weather. There is a white sand beach you can walk to, and go swimming in water that is 90 degress, clean, clear and calm. What makes it odd is that it looks out over the canal entrance. At any one time there are twenty or so giant vessels not half a mile away. Once we got tied up at the marina we called our canal agent, who handles your transit. If you want to go through the canal it costs about $750.00 US and you need to wait about two weeks. If you try to make this happen without an agent it will take about a month. If you want to go through the next day, and are willing to pay about $2500.00, you hire a private "local" pilot that somehow bumps you up in the queue and you go faster.

Panama itself is amazingly beautiful. The people are incredibly friendly, and for the most part you can get anything you need. There are shopping centers that would seem quite normal in any mall in America. Except for Colone. The town was once one of the prettiest, fanciest places on earth. Now it is a getto slum. Going there is unsafe, even during the day. The police all were military flak jackets and no one walks around there at night. It is really quite surprising how much of a difference there is between this one city and the rest of the country. Everyone here talks about how bad it is, and apparently there is some effort to improve it, but it remains a really bad place for now. If you come to Panama, it is the one place to avoid if possible.

We eventually got hold of our agent, who explained that all that running around we did was unnecessary and he could do it all for us (for a fee). So we paid some more money and he walked us through everything and we are now checked in official like. Mike & MaryAnn left the next day, and AnnMarie flew out today. Since she needed to go to Panama City I decided to go along with her to the airport, and then see if I could find a replacement part for the rudder indicator. The woman who drove the taxi turned out to be a gold mine of information and help, and she managed to find the one boat part shop in the country that carried auto pilot parts. More surprising, they had the part in stock. Not so surprising was that they wanted twice as much for it. So we paid some more money and now have a new device. I tested it and it seems to work. I'll install it tomorrow.

In our haste to get here, we sailed past the San Blase Islands. Everyone we've met said that this is the best part of the Caribbean and we shouldn't miss it. We'll, we've just found out that our transit date isn't for another two weeks, so Jeff, Mota and I decided we'd sail back there and gunkhole around the islands for a few days. It should be awesome and beautiful and its better than sitting in a marina spending money for rent. So, we plan to leave first thing tomorrow, sail there all night, spend a few days then come back in time to get ready to go through the canal.

AnnMarie is planning on flying back for the canal part, and then will get off again in Panama City. After that it is on to Golfito. So far, it has been a total blast and everyone has been getting on great. It was sad to see folks having to leave, and I hope that others will be joining on soon. That's all for now, hope all is well with everyone.




Tuesday, April 17, 2007

We Are Not Going To Cartagena!


Editor's Note: Not all the letters were distributed at the time of their writing. Some didn't get mailed, for whatever reason, others didn't get published because they got misplaced, others didn't because they violated national security and/or obscenity laws.

Fellow Readers,

Sailing is not always wonderful. In fact, most of the time, it is like having small grains of sand dropped into your eyes, with brief periods where you are able to look on the face of God. You are forced to buy the sand, by the way; it's a buck a grain, and God turns out to look a lot like Mel Brooks.

The last twenty four hours were like that; the previous night was windy with gusts above thirty knots, the seas were eight to ten feet of an annoying following swell almost dead on our stern, the current was against us and the chop came from whatever angle it could to bang into us, and the auto pilot stopped working. Whoever was at the helm had to work extra hard to keep us on course, and the thought of accidental jibes (and the captain's unpleasant reaction to them) sat heavy on their minds. At night, with only the red light off the compass to focus on, your concentration becomes intense. At one point, as Jeff was hunched over the helm, a flying fish jumped out of the water, sailed right past his face (about an inch away) and slammed into the salon door to his left. It scarred the shit out of him, and when he told us about it we laughed for hours. We call them kamikazi gefilta fish.

Despite the humor, it is still work to sail this boat in unfavorable winds without an autopilot. Two hour shifts suddenly became an unpleasant chore. The boat's motion isn't as comfortable, the weather isn't inviting, and everyone disappears into their bunks to nap. The wind shifts often, and waves bang around the sides and bottom of the boat. I think I didn't get more than an hour of uninterrupted sleep, popping up on deck each time I felt the wind back around, or seas shift, or boat move differently. I felt like a mother whose colicky child has deprived her of sleep, but can't relax until she knows her baby is doing better. At least boats don't require diaper changes.

The next morning the sun came up, the weather warmed, the seas flattened out, the wind came more on our beam, and everyone relaxed into it. It was a beautiful day for sailing, we had gorgeous weather, everyone ran about with as little on as possible, dolphins swam along side, we played music and sang, had brunch in the cockpit, lazed on the trampolines, and just enjoyed ourselves. We stopped to swim in the ocean, and took pictures using Jeff's water proof (well, resistant, actually) camera of each other doing silly things. It was a glorious few seconds in an otherwise long journey against the weather. We had really hoped for better conditions overall, and would have been a lot better off if we'd brought an asymmetrical spinnaker, a symmetrical spinnaker, a whisker pole, and perhaps a second autopilot, but you can't have everything - at least not just yet.

We still haven't installed the radar unit. We looked around for a rigger in Aruba that could do it, but it isn't the place to find them. Trinidad just wasn't someplace I'd trust anyone to do the work, as it would have been overpriced and probably wrong. Maybe we'll find someone in Panama City. So far we haven't needed it, but the further North we get, the more we will want it.

I'd have also liked to have installed a few more solar panels. The one we have is only 55 watts and it really isn't enough to compensate for the frig, lights, fans, radio, stereo, and various other loads on the batteries. We have to run the engines every day to recharge them, which is loud, smells bad (especially since the wind is at our backs and the exhaust fumes blow over the boat) and it wastes diesel. My goal is to build a hard bimini (the roof over the cockpit area) and cover it with 120watt panels, enough to satisfy our thirsty electrical needs.

I'd also like to add a wind generator off the targa wing (the large fiberglass arch at the aft end of the cockpit, or, more likely I'll build another arch out of stainless steel just aft of it, and run the wind generator off a pole above it. There are so many things I'd like to do to this boat, but I need to get it back home before I can begin. I don't trust that the work will be done right if I'm not standing right there watching, so I might as well do it myself. Plus the cost will be significantly cheaper if I do it - not to mention the satisfaction of being able to say I did. SF is a fabulous place to get parts and equipment, and technical knowhow abounds there, so the real work starts when I get home.

AnnMarie is aboard now, and between her and Mike we are eating like kings. It is amazing how lucky we've been to have two professional cooks (Mike was a chef before becoming a firefighter/paramedic and AnnMarie was the pastry chef for the Fog City Diner in SF) and our appetites have never dimmed. You are supposed to be lose weight on deliveries, but so far I haven't gotten any thinner.

Editor's Note: The above probably isn't true, judging from the photos, but there was definitely real weight loss when Robb spent two weeks in the San Blas Islands, with Jeff and Mota - with no one to cook, eating nothing but canned pineapple, octopus and mayonnaise.

We are heading past Columbia, the hippest place you can travel these days, which is a tantalizing forty miles off to our port side. About once an hour Jeff, or Mota, or Jen, or Mike, or MaryAnn will ask if we can stop at Cartegena. My job as captain, mostly, has been to say (repeatedly and without cessation) "No, we are not going to Cartegena, where the women are famed for their beauty and amazingly large, artificial breasts." or "No, we are not going to Bonaire, famed for its magnificent diving and topless beaches", or "No, we are not going back to lovely island of Aruba, adult playground for Cruise Ship passengers throughout the world, we are going to the Panama canal, the dirtiest ditch of water on the Western hemisphere."

It is a hard job being captain, mostly because I really want to go to all those places, and I'm watching myself turn into the Grinch while refusing to do it. At one point I caught myself yelling at the crew for roughhousing on the aft deck, I was about to say "Stop that this instant or I'll pull this boat over!" It occurred to me that perhaps I needed to just chill a bit. I made AnnMarie take off all her clothes and lie next to me in our bunk, a well known relaxation technique I learned from reading sailing books, and let the crew make as much noise as they want. I'm not sure if it improved everyone's moral, but at least two of us were happier.

Well, there's more to come, so to speak, but we'll close for now, at sea and rocking and rolling along.




Saturday, April 14, 2007

Arriving in Aruba!


Land Ahoy!!

We arrived in Aruba around 11:30 on Monday, April 9th. The sail over was mostly uneventful.
We had a stiff breeze (20 knots gusting to 30) almost dead astern with a following sea on our quarter, which made for some tricky helm work. When ever you are running that close to the wind there is always the possibility of an accidental jibe (where the boom gets back winded and slams from one side of the boat to the other) which can be very expensive if not life threatening, given the very large size of our main sail. To prevent this we used a very complex device called a "preventer". It consists of a fifteen foot long line tied to the end of the boom at one end, and lashed to a stern cleat at the other. This forces the boom to one side. You can still unintentionally jibe, but the boom won't fly across the boat. Its kind of tacky to use, but it works, especially with a new crew.

Our course out of Trinidad had us following the coast about 70 miles off shore. Given the wind direction and our lack of a spinacker (a sail designed especially for sailing down wind) we had to tack back and forth a couple of times before we reached the island. We had to sail around the top (northern most) part of the island and then down along side its western shore to reach the main port of Oranjastad. At first we weren't certain where to go so we drove around a bit looking for the Customs Dock. We eventually were told to pull up along side this cement pier and wait. A few minutes later two customs officials drove up in a car and checked us in. It took less than 3 minutes and they never left their vehicle. Then an Immigration official showed up in another car and drove me to the Immigrations office (less than a block away) and processed our papers. We were cleared into port in under a half hour, and there was absolutely no fees for anything. The difference between this landing and Trinidad couldn't have been more stark.

Aruba itself is basically a tourist attraction. It was formerly a Dutch colony (and is slowly working its way towards independence) so many of the names of things seem to be spelled with far too many consonants. Pulling into the harbor we passed an enormous cruise liner. You just can't believe how large those ships can be. It had a fifty foot high TV screen on the top deck that we could clearly see from the harbor. It also had an ice rink, bowling alley and several swimming pools, yet as soon as the boat pulls up there is a stampede of passengers trying to get off. Each day a new cruise liner pulls in and unloads thousands of pasty white, middle class Americans wearing very bad shorts. Aruba is littered with them.

Once cleared through customs and immigration we parked the boat at the local casino's marina. A young man by the name of Nageen (who worked for the marina) came up and explained that it was a holiday so the marina was closed, but we could stay there and check in tomorrow. He then managed to get our power and water lines turned on. This was on his day off, he just happened to be at the dock waiting for a friend. This kind of service stunned us - if this were Trinidad we'd of had to sail back out to sea and wait until next week! Pretty much everyone we dealt with on the island was like this. Helpful, happy, hardworking, outgoing.

We asked him about security at the dock, and if it was safe to leave our boat unattended. He looked at us as if we were asking if water is wet, then pointed out the twenty or so security cameras that lined the docks. "There is no safer place on this island" he said, "the casino doesn't like crime". He was right. If there was any problem with muggings or theft we never heard tell of them. The island is sort of like a Caribbean Disney World for adults. There wasn't much in the way of amenities for cruisers per se, but it is definitely an island for rich tourists.

We spent the rest of the day relaxing in the marina's two pools and waiting for AnnMarie to arrive. She had been visiting her folks in Florida and was due to fly in around 3pm. When we checked in with her we found out that her flight had been canceled, so she wouldn't arrive until tomorrow. The next day she showed up, and we began getting ready to set sail. This meant taking on fuel and going through the checkout process with Customs and Immigration. We were told we needed to sail over to the next dock for fuel. We didn't understand which dock and ended up at the wrong one. A few minutes later a woman from the marina drove over to us, got on board and directed us to the correct dock. She then escorted me through the Customs & Immigration process and even convinced them to allow me to stay a little longer after we checked out. This could never happen in Trinidad.

We got the boat fueled up, and were ready to go when we noticed that the fuel gauge wasn't reading correctly. It turned out to be a faulty sensor, but in the process Mota noticed that some fuel lines we'd installed last week were leaking a bit, so we decided to change them out. This ended up taking several more hours. We stayed at the dock until almost midnight, yet no one complained or charged us more for it - even though we were supposed to be gone by noon. It really was an amazing place, and if you are ever sailing past I recommend it highly. From what we were told the island has thousands of great dive sites, and there is no end of beautiful beaches around it.

We set sail and are now headed for Panama. Up until now the crew had been getting used to the routine of sailing. Now everyone knows exactly what to do, when to take a shift, and what needs to happen. It is mostly dull. Until something goes wrong. Today we lost the autopilot. That means that each watch has to actually steer the boat. This doesn't sound like all that big a deal, until you've been spoiled by an autopilot for several hundred miles and are suddenly forced to man the helm in thirty knots of wind and a nasty cross current. What were relatively peaceful shifts are now work. I tried to determine what had failed - it appears as if the rudder angle sensing unit has gone bad. I tried rinsing it with alcohol and letting it dry. This got it working again for a few more hours, but it started acting up again. I'll need to replace it once we get to Panama.

During the day we had good winds (around 20 knots) and smallish swells, but tonight the wind has picked up to 30 knts and the seas have gotten bigger. Every few minutes a wave slams into the side of the boat and makes everything in the salon bounce straight up. Its called "bridge deck slap" and sounds like someone is smashing the bottom of the boat with a giant hammer. We haven't seen much traffic at all, a few freighters here and there, nor have we spotted any other sea creatures (except Jen said she saw a turtle) and we have been completely unsuccessful in catching any fish. We are forced to eat the meager rations we brought on board, including such hard tack as deli lunch meats, fresh fruit salad, mac'n'cheese, cool whip and other such gruel.

At one point we stopped to test the sea anchor. It is a largish parachute like arrangement you release off the bow when the wind/waves are so severe you can't safely sail. A line is tied from it to the bow of the boat, and it allows the boat to drift slowly backwards (maybe a half a knot) while keeping the bow pointed into the wind. If ever you're in a really bad storm and just need to stop and rest, this is the just the ticket. We'd never used it before so I wanted to see how easy it was to deploy (it was very simple) and how well it worked (it worked great). Since we were sixty miles from anything, and just drifting in the sea, we decided to jump overboard and go for a swim. If you've never done this before, I recommend it highly. There is something magical about being in several thousand feet of water with no land in site and swimming around naked.

Afterwards we had a great meal and began sailing again. We are still several hundred miles from Panama, but are on track and hope to arrive in a day or two. I'm not sure how many of the crew can stay for the journey through the canal, it all depends on what we find out when we get there. Needless to say, it has been a wonderful time at sea, we've enjoyed each others company and remain unmolested by pirates, Trinidadian Customs Agents or the US Coast Guard. It looks like we might be sailing into a local storm tonight, but otherwise we are doing well.

We'll keep you posted on our progress.



Oh, for those that care, our location is N12.20.66 W074.10.31. We're the white catamaran with the naked people running around on top.