Thursday, May 24, 2007
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This will be the last adventure post you'll see from the Triton, at least for the next two months. We won't sail again until the end of July, but we're always looking for good crew, so if you think you'll have a couple of weeks around then, drop us a line.
We've arrived safe and sound in Golfito, a well protected harbor in a bay off the coast of Southern Costa Rica, near the Panama border on the Pacific side, and will stay here a bit to regroup and wait out the hurricane season.
Our travels getting here were pleasant but uneventful. We stopped once or twice along the way to go swimming in the ocean, which was nice - but the water is getting colder and dirtier the further north we go, and the jelly fish were still a nuisance.
The weather wasn't great, but the wind was in our favor some of the way there, and we enjoyed a few spectacular moments sailing (enough to satisfy the crew that they actually got to sail a boat for real) before we arrived at our final destination.
Golfito itself is stunningly beautiful, with lush rain forest climbing up into hills that disappear into the clouds. There is abundant jungle everywhere, with the squawks, shrieks, chirps and hoots of birds, frogs and mammals providing a constant, soothing soundtrack. Sadly, the bay waters themselves are polluted from industrial and agriculture runoff, a non-existent pollution control policy (a lot of sewage and garbage just gets thrown into the bay), and a local government that seems more interested in the quick buck than preserving the ecosystem. We were amazed at the beauty of the land,even from several miles away, but were sad to find that as we approached the mainland the water seemed to get more and more muddy. We then started seeing bits of vegetation go by and the water became brown, with a reddish tinge to it.
By the time we reached the bay there was a steady stream of jetsam going past us, and as we entered the harbor the water went bright red from a plankton bloom called "Red Tide". It is a very dangerous condition where a micro-organism in the water reaches dangerous concentrations. It causes massive fish kills, disease and dysfunction among mammals such as dolphins or humans, and with enough exposure, even death. I had several insignificant, superficial cuts on my hands when I first arrived. Within a day they were all infected and swollen, just from the exposure of handling the wet lines, even though I would wash them immediately after exposure. It's bad stuff and (I believe) a result of the pollution levels in the local water.
We anchored in twenty feet of water just off of a marina called "Land And Sea". They provide great facilities for cruisers, including moorings, showers, laundry facilities, WiFi, and are fantastically helpful. It is run by Tim and Katie, a lovely West Coast couple that stumbled into Golfito over ten years ago while cruising. According to Tim, they just couldn't believe how amazing the place was, and he felt as if his whole life had been about waiting for that one moment. They fell in love with the bay and settled in. Back then there wasn't much to the place, and they've worked hard to promote it ever since. From our point of view, they have done an amazing job and the area is just starting to become popular, largely due to their efforts. Land prices sky rocketed a few years back, and the sports fishing industry also moved in.
If you'd like more info about Golfito, or Land Sea Services, you can contact them at http://www.marinaservices-yachtdelivery.com/
Since we arrived late afternoon on Friday, we needed to rush to try to get our boat cleared in, inspected by the agriculture board, registered with the harbor captain, and checked into customs. That meant several hours of dashing about a town we didn't know, spending a lot on taxis and probably not accomplishing it all in time.Katie arranged to have all of them (save customs) come to the marina instead. We hung out chatting with Tim, learned a lot about the local economy and where/how to get things done.
Eventually the various representatives arrived, all of whom were all extremely polite, courteous and efficient. It was such a change from the attitudes we'd experienced in Panama or Trinidad. These officials couldn't have been more helpful. Or, in the case of one of them (a beautiful woman) more sexy. She was wearing a very well cut naval style outfit which only enhanced her appeal. I think she captured Jeff's imagination and it was the first time I've ever seen him appear shy or stumble with his Spanish.
After we'd finished, Katie and Tim boughtthem a round of sodas, and we all sat around talking, as best we could, through our blushing interpreter. It was quite cute. And then it started to rain. This is now the rainy season in Costa Rica and it comes down in buckets. There was at least five inches of rain in the dinghy by the time it stopped. During this half of the year, each day the sky will be bright blue for several hours in the morning, then cloud up around lunch time, then start to drizzle around three, and may or may not deluge the rest of the evening. There is no shortage of fresh water available; you need only set up a tarp and you can collect as much as you'd like for free. We all took lots of fresh water showers at the marina, and felt clean for the first time in days.
The next day Holly T. and I went into customs. The process took less than ten minutes, they made photocopies of some documents for us, and there was no charge for doing so. We were amazed. I'd heard that Golfito had the best customs process in that part of the world, but I've never been so impressed, especially since it was Saturday morning when we checked in. It is really incredible how much "red tape" can spoil your trip to a country. Costa Rica clearly wants tourists, especially cruisers, and they've made it very easy to enter the country. Afterward we walked around a huge "duty free" zone, where you can get almost anything you'd want for about half price. It isn't clear why this is so, but we saw folks carting off refrigerators, microwaves, cases of J&B scotch, everything. All for cheap.
We then went back home and moved the boat to one of Land & Sea's mooring balls.
Once we'd moored the boat (and added our own second anchor to it, along with backup lines) Jeff and Thorny decided to head into "The Jungle". They jumped on the local ferry, went over to the other side of the bay, and hitched rides on the "Collectivo", a sort of pickup truck converted into a mini-bus, for a ride into the bush. They came back telling tales of wild adventure, fantastic animals, unbelievable sights and sounds, car crashes, getting completely swamped and were both extolling the virtues of the forest. Whatever it was (you should read their blogs for a more detailed account) it did them a world of good. They came back smiling, happy and energetic. I don't think I've ever seen Thorny so beaming.
The next day Holly T's boyfriend Nick arrived, and all of us spent the next few hours getting the boat ready to be left for a while in the care of Land & Sea. That meant sealing up the hatches, closing off the seacocks, stowing the gear, locking up the outboard, and the general routine of making your home mold proof. Everyone worked really hard, and it took four hours longer than we anticipated, but eventually we got it all done.
Holly & Nick are headed off for their own jungle trekking, and Jeff, Thorny & I rented a car and drove over the mountain to the capital city of San Jose. We all had a wonderful dinner the night before we left, and it was really hard to say goodbye to such great crew. Holly & Nick plan to stop back at the boat on their way back out of town in a few days, so at least they'll be able to check on things before they leave. Jeff is headed for Columbia, and Thorny said he wants to spend more time in the jungle. I think they are all bound for exciting times ahead. I gave them all hugs as we left, but I just don't think I'm very good at saying goodbye. It never feels like I've said enough, and I don't know if they understand just how much I've appreciated their company.
It has been only a few hours since we parted ways, but already I'm filled with nostalgia for this trip. Deliveries aren't supposed to be fun. They aren't supposed to include fabulous meals, great conversations, stunning vistas, amazing sites, and more laughs per hour than you can find anywhere else on the planet, but this one did. I was truly blessed with the great good fortune of having wonderful friends whose company I treasured, who quickly became a highly competent crew I could count on.They all worked well together, always pulled their weight, and most importantly put up with my eccentricities as we sailed from Trinidad to Costa Rica. No captain could ever ask for anything more. I wish them all the best, and owe them a huge debt of thanks, from the very first crew (Mota, Jeff, Jen, Mike and Mary Ann) that worked so hard to launch the boat in Trinidad, get everything ship shape, then bash their way to Panama via Aruba, to the folks (Jeff, Thorny, and Holly) who took Triton from Panama up the coast to Costa Rica, and then worked so hard to pack her up in Golfito. I couldn't have done it without their help, but then again, I wouldn't have wanted to either! It has been a marvelous journey, and their efforts have made our lives all the richer for it. As we say in New Jersey, "Youse guys is da bestest!"
I'd also be remiss if I didn't mention My Better Third, the Admiral of the fleet (aka She Who Must Be Obeyed), love of my life, my reason for getting up in the morning and sailing north towards cold weather (now that is true love): AnnMarie Powers (who worked eighty hour weeks as a contract accountant when she wasn't on board) and who cooked, cleaned, captained and crewed along side me when she was. She is an amazing woman whose talents, beauty and charm are beyond my mere words, and I love her with all my heart. No sailor ever had better. Thank you babe. I've missed you so and can't wait to see you again!
Lastly, I'd like to thank everyone who took the time to read our posts, who sent us encouraging emails, and who helped support our efforts to bring Triton home.We aren't finished delivering her yet, and there will be more miles to come, but your encouragement meant a lot.Thank you all for sailing along with us in spirit if not in person. I look forward to seeing you all at Camp'N'Sons, and hope you'll all join me in a toast to my crew.
Wishing you all flat seas, calm anchorages, and a chandlery that always has what you need.
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Tuesday, May 22, 2007
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Editor's Note: This is a post sent by Mota to an email list we subscribe to. It is a summary of his trip, plus some commentary on the San Blas islands.
The Summary: I had a fantastic time with an amazing crew of people.
More Deets: I arrived on Trinidad on April 23rd, looking forward to a little bit of work to keep the fingers limber and some relaxing on the beach. Instead, I spent 10 days rebuilding fuels systems, attaching safety gear, and bleaching Rob's underwear so that the ship would have a proper flag to fly. Luckily, Herzbach showed up a couple of days later to tackle the really crappy jobs of fiberglassing the the engine compartment and attaching a light to the top of the mast. The rest of the crew trickled in, and after 10 long days getting the boat ready, we set sail on April 5. We faced light to moderate seas, which provided the perfect balance of relaxation and challenge for us newbies. 4 days later we arrived in Aruba where we relaxed for a couple of days and picked up Anne Marie.
On April 11 we headed out from Aruba for the final leg to panama. We faced some more challenging weather and some bigger seas, but since we were all pros by then, it was not a problem. Well, it would not have been a problem had we not lost the auto-pilot. For those of you that don't know, modern sailing largely consists of setting the sails and putting your direction into the autopilot. You then then let the boat cruise along as you drink your drink and keep and eye on conditions until you need to change direction - which generally occurs every few hours. Re-set the sails and auto pilot, repeat. When you loose your autopilot you now have to actually STEER the damn boat. Imagine steering a double-wide semi on an undulating, curvy road, and you may get the picture. Luckily, there is not much to crash into out there.
After 3 days of this we arrive in Panama, where we learn that we can't actually get through the canal for at least two weeks! 4 of the crew depart back to the US because they have things like jobs (weird), leaving Rob, Jeff and I to go exploring. We turned the boat around and headed out to the San Blas Islands. You know the picture that pops into your head when someone says "tropical desert island"? That picture was taken in the San Blas Islands. It is a chain of 400 little islands, about 1-5 football fields in size each, with nothing but palm trees, coconuts, and white sand. All of the islands are abutted by coral reefs. The Kuna indians still live in small palm-frond huts on their islands, collecting coconuts and fishing. Everyday they paddle up to the "cruisers" in their dugout canoes to sell us fresh fish, coconuts, avocados, and embroidered "molas." Our days were spent lounging, snorkeling, visiting with the other cruisers, watching Rob massacre the fresh fish, and then barbecuing the remains for our evening feast. I finally learned the joy and secrets of the "do nothing in a beautiful location" vacation.
After a week in the San Blas we headed back to Panama so that I could catch my return flight. Rob, Jeff and I sat down for final drinks. We had been laughing our asses off most of the time, yet could not remember a single thing that were were laughing about. We decided that the trip had been one long location joke. So, I could tell you more, but it really would not make any sense.
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Friday, May 18, 2007
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Hey Sailor, new in town?
Well, today we finally got to do what we came for. Fly this fucker over water. For the first time on this leg we got decent wind on our beam and brought out the big sails. We had the main and headsail up full, flat seas (relatively) and about twenty knots of wind on our beam, all of it around two in the afternoon with warm wind and patchy skies. Thorny and Holly T. made a fantastic meal and we sat on the famed "Aloha" deck and ate while Otto the Autopilot held us steady.
It was an awesome afternoon, fresh breeze, great food and fabulous company! As the sun set and the wind died we realized that was probably the "sailing" highlight of our trip. It just couldn't get better.
But it did. This evening as we rounded Punta Burica on our way to Golfito, Thorny banged on my hatch to let me know the wind jumped up to thirty knots, with gusts above thirty five. Since it was an offshore breeze and only had a few miles of fetch to act on the water, the seas were less than three feet. We shut off the motor, pulled up the main and headsail (but left them double reefed as it was night and a relatively inexperienced crew) and flew across the water.
We tacked away from the mainland and were making 8.5 knots with little effort and no weather helm. The wind was close hauled and she still pushed along through the sea, a flat ride without any hobby horsing you'd expect on a mono hull. Jeff was leaning over the leeward side staring at the water, and called us over. When we peered out we could see each bow wave's splash highlighted in phosphorescence. As she skipped along the waves, the breaking spray tingling our faces, I thought two things: My God what a beautiful boat, at home in her element, and any regrets I might have ever harboured about spending my life savings on this adventure just faded away.
We're still doing 7 knots, and I'm sitting in a calm, flat, comfortable salon, naked (our natural state on Triton), writing away, musing about a conversation I'd had with Steve and Bruna about their choice to build a power cat instead of a sailing cat. While I completely agree with Steve's very well reasoned argument (and, surprisingly well supported by actual data) that the economics are probably in their favor, as modern diesels are pretty cheap to run compared with the constant upkeep of sails, mast, hardware, lines, etc., I don't think there is any price I could have put on the last hour of my life, and I'll take the arguably more expensive option, for the opportunity to feel this close to the wind, the sun, the waves and the sky.
I guess I should balance all this gushing with the fact that for every great moment, there are two grunky ones, which today included waking up with a stiff back, and then finding out that the starboard engine oil pressure was low and we needed to change the oil and filter. We're hoping to push that off until we get to a calm mooring at Golfito, but still, there is always something more to do in paradise. No rest for the wicked!
My editor tells me that I write more bytes than beaut's so I'll try to keep this short. Just wanted to let everyone know we're still on track and (amazingly, given the lousy wind we've had over all) still on schedule. We'll be in Golfito tomorrow, then on to Punta Arena. Depending on what we find in both towns, we'll probably leave the boat there for a few weeks before resuming our odyssey.
Hope all is well.
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Thursday, May 17, 2007
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Blog readers of the Land,
We're on the road again. We left Isla Del Rey and motored all night. At one point we encountered one of the most amazing things I've seen yet while at out sea. As the bows sluiced through the water, large, greenish bursts of light would appear within the sea all around the sides and aft of the boat, but not in front of us! Somehow we were causing them to appear. They ranged in size from one inch to as large as two feet across, and were about the brightness of a twenty watt light bulb, diffused a bit more as they got larger.
It was eerie. I roused the rest of the crew and we watched them (there were thousands) for several minutes and never could figure out what they were. Our best guess was some sort of bio-luminescent jelly fish, but no doubt one of you all may be able to tell us more. I found a picture of a bioluminescent Moon JellyFish, which is what we think it might be.
We stopped briefly at Isla Jicaron (N07,17 W081,48) to rest and try some snorkeling. It turned out to be a difficult place to anchor, we never actually held bottom, which was mostly a course, gritty, sand mixed with thin mud. Even with the CQR down, it still slowly dragged across the ocean floor. We tried adding a second Danforth anchor, which also caught as well, but wouldn't hold us in place. As we sat on the deck we watched the island's vegetation slowly, ever so slowly, slide past. I dove down to see what could possibly be the problem. Both anchors were set fully, and buried up to their shanks, yet as I hovered above them I could clearly see them slowly digging a trough along the ocean floor.
So much for the guide book's claim of "good anchorage". Fortunately for us, the wind and current were pulling us along parallel to the shore, and so slowly (maybe a foot every two minutes) as to not be an issue, but had the wind come up we would have had to pull anchor and leave immediately. We must have drifted along the shore for three hundred yards in the several hours we were there. This was definitely not a great situation but you learn to deal with shit like this while at sea.
Jeff somehow convinced Thorny that they needed to go ashore exploring, although why anyone who has listened to even two of Jeff's stories would agree to this is unclear. Thorny really was pushing his boundaries on this trip!!
They made cardboard holders for their machetes, used string to tie them about their persons, packed some water and a radio and looked quite the Great White Explorer part. I refused to let them take the dinghy off by themselves, instead offering to ferry them to shore, worried that they might never return, or worse, if they did come back with anything to show for it, they would be insufferable for days afterwards. So, we loaded them into our landing craft, warning them to care not to slice anyone with their shiny new weapons, and whisked them off to danger and adventure; but not without first taking pictures with which we will later blackmail them.
Making a dinghy landing with the surf was a bit tricky, but we managed to drop them off without having to empty the dinghy by pitch-poling, as illustrated here. Holly and I then did a little bit of snorkeling ourselves, but it was terribly muddy and we quickly abandoned the idea. Instead we collected a few coconuts, played in a fresh water stream, then headed back to the boat.
Eventually our explorers called for their taxi and we pulled anchor and picked them up. They returned bearing unripe bananas, a green coconut and a weird flower like thing that never did anything but wilt and smell. They told tall tales of the various animals they encountered, including a couple of different kinds of monkeys, birds and a baby Tyrannosaurus Rex. I think they may have been exaggerating a bit which, as you might have surmised, was unusual for this crew. We cleaned up the boat and set sail for Golfito. As we motored away it began to rain.
Now, everyone always complains about the weather, but no one ever does anything about it - until now. The Triton Crew has just applied for a patent on our new rain eliminator system. This is more effective at stopping rain than washing your car is at causing it. Within seconds after quickly setting up our water collection system, it stopped immediately. We're hoping to set these systems up all over Seattle, transforming it instantly into an indistinguishable suburb of San Francisco. House prices will sky rocket, and we'll all get rich.
As we motored on through the night we hit some square chop. These are short, steep waves that bang against your boat if you go too fast. We can slump along at three knots without problem, but if we try to increase speed it just gets too bumpy. The ride is unpleasant, and we're all tired. No one stays above to socialize, sleep is at a premium right now.
A few minutes ago a very large bird (bigger than a typical seagull) flew up along side our bow, and matched our pace for about a half hour. We thought it might be trying to land on the boat, but it never quite seemed to find a decent place to perch. I tried to video tape it but it was too dark. Earlier, Jeff had a very similar experience. He snapped this photo of a bird that hovered just behind our mast as we sailed along. It wasn't clear if it was looking for a place to land or not, but it hung there for quite a while.
We've also been trailing a fishing line, but no luck since our last catch. If things continue like this we might run out of food in the next three or four weeks. Thorny has done marvelous things with cans of octopus, pineapple and mayo, but even he is beginning to fret. I'll send word if we need help.
We should arrive in Golfito sometime tomorrow or the next day, which is where we check into Costa Rica. I'm told this is a great place to do so, very efficient and friendly. I can't wait.
In the meantime, I hope everyone is doing fine and look forward to sharing our photos and what little video snippets we have. BTW, did anyone manage to get a shot of us going through the canal? That would be really cool to have.
Editor's Note: Although more than thirty computer geek friends of ours attempted this, no one was able to navigate the complexities of the Canal Authorities' camera system. There were a few distant shots of some boats going through, but nothing that anyone could recognize as our vessel.
Talk to you soon,
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Wednesday, May 16, 2007
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Well, it's happened. Our fun filled journey is beginning to turn into what it was supposed to be all along - a "boat delivery". If those two words don't strike terror into your heart, it's because you've never been on one.
Basically, a boat delivery usually happens when certain propricious events occur in tandem. The first, and most important event, is that the reluctant sailing wife of some boat owner, having landed in paradise, and in the process being subjected to her first and (you can bet) last real storm, where inevitably the engine died, a thousand dollar part broke, her poodle got sea sick on the brand new comforter she just bought and an expensive shoe was lost overboard, and the interior of their newly decorated boat looks much like the Middle East after a cease fire, declares that she would rather have her genitals dipped in a blender than sail that piece of crap anywhere beyond the bay entrance and he can file for divorce if he thinks she'll let him go off alone in that sinking bucket of rust.
Much like watching a storm building over the Atlantic, several components must all align to make our catastrophe happen. The next step requires that the owner then ask a bunch of his drinking/sailing buddies if they want to help him bring the boat from Point A, which is usually some great vacation destination, to Point B, which is almost always up wind, through short chop and a nasty current, and less scenic than Rutherford, New Jersey. The buddies, being smart enough to know that it is better to have a friend with a boat, than to buy one yourself, inevitably decline. The owner then begins to panic, asking just about anyone he knows, and eventually offering his buddies cash incentives to help. Smelling desperation, they all invent plausible excuses why they'd rather spend a boring weekend playing golf than die at sea.
At about this time, a delivery captain's wife will have just discovered his deep passion for the local waitress (usually by unexpectedly entering their home) and will have thrown him out on his ass. His boss, who owned the restaurant he was "working at until another sailing job came along", will have discovered that his employee was screwing his daughter, who happened to be working at the family restaurant during college break, and will then summarily fire him, refusing to even pay any severance or even the money he'd lost during their last poker night.
The delivery skipper will then, as fate would have it, check his email to discover that someone desperately needs his services. Needing cash, and having no place to live, he'll call back the owner, but explain that he is currently booked but could be persuaded to cancel his prior obligations, but only if the owner can offer a significant advance, and that the skipper can convince his "team" to also come along. This will be expensive, especially since the last "team" this skipper had sworn they would never leave land again and would file charges if he ever contacted them again.
Which means the skipper will then drive down to some nearby pubs (but ones he doesn't frequent enough to be known) and scrounge up two or three of the most derelict sailors, (and, inevitably, one innocent teenager looking for adventure) and promise them a short, easy, downhill ride for a lot of cash. His pitch will almost always include some statement like "The owner's got big bucks, always asking me to deliver his boat for him, he just flies in to sail around a bit, then leaves it for me to enjoy. I'm telling you mate, this is a slick deal".
The experienced crew, one of which is looking for an opportunity to smuggle drugs and the other, running from the law, go along because they have both just experienced similar setbacks in their lives and also need a place to live. The innocent, who knows nothing of sailing, substance abuse or the criminal mind (I'm referring to the skipper) will know nothing of this and suspect nothing is wrong until they need to enter the life raft.
The trip is, of course, awful. They usually have foul weather, get slammed with numerous storms, never stop for any reason (unless the booze runs out) and bash along to their destination, breaking numerous boat part along the way. It is a trip of a life time, and one that only mad dogs and Englishman would voluntarily go on.
So, there you have it. The kind of boat, skipper and crew you normally get on a delivery. Now in our case, none of that applies, except maybe the criminal mind of the skipper, and the fact that we are bashing along, in foul weather, and getting banged around by the waves. Nothing is fun or interesting about this, and we are all basically staying in our bunks unless we need to be on shift, or pee. No one wants to cook, or clean, or read. Mostly you feel a little sea sick, and want to sleep.
We've left the main land behind us and are heading for a small island of Isla De Coiba, where there is supposedly good snorkeling. I'll believe it when I see it. Right now its dark, and a storm has just rolled in. Because we're in between several land masses that converge at a point, the waves are square and are bashing up against the bottom. We reduced power (naturally the wind is in our face so we can't sail) and are creeping towards our destination, but at least we aren't banging as much. Much as I complain, the boat is a comfortable one, and the engines thrum along without complaint. There are many things about this vessel I will someday improve, but even as she is, its the best boat I've ever sailed and I'm proud to be the captain of her.
Earlier today the wind died, and what little we did get after that was directly at us. Holly T. had the helm, Thorny and Jeff were dead men in their bunks, and I turned restlessly in mine as we bumped along. I realized that I couldn't sleep so I stumbled on deck and looked for some way to cause trouble. I decided it might look like rain again, and rigged up a tarp such that its run off was directed down to a cooler, so that we could collect some rain water and replenish our supply on board. It immediately got sunny, and stayed that way long after sunset.
In disgust I returned to my bunk. Eventually Holly woke me, and I took the helm. I was still half asleep when I crawled up onto the chair. Holly came out and mentioned that she'd accidentally hit the VHF radio breaker, but switched it back on again. "No harm, no foul" I said, shrugging off such an innocuous mistake. She disappeared into her bunk and crashed like the others. After a few minutes, I noticed that the wind had freshened and was about three points off our starboard, which meant we could raise the head sail (what you'd call the jib) and decided to butch it out by doing this myself.
In a few minutes I had the jib unfurled and full, and we were picking up speed. I went below to check the chart plotter and was confused when it showed that the little catamaran icon had spun 180 degrees and were now sailing backwards. "But that's impossible" I thought, "Or maybe its a bug in the firmware, more likely". I went back up on deck, and was shocked to see that a very large island had appeared out of the horizon. "What the hell is going on?" I said to no one in particular. Then I noticed that the jib had back winded. Still groggy from an inadequate nap, I couldn't get my brain to make all the pieces fit. Finally, I looked down at the auto pilot. It was off. When Holly had mentioned about shutting off the breaker, she meant the electronics, not the radio, but I'd misunderstood her. The island that appeared out of nowhere was actually the mainland we'd turned around back at, and the wind hadn't changed direction at all, only the boat did.
I managed to get everything back on course, pull back in the jib, and set the autopilot for the correct course as Jeff woke up, probably from all the noise. He came on deck and was wide awake, so I gave him the helm and started writing this email. Not ten seconds into it, there was a loud bang and some scratching sounds along the salon roof. We went up on deck to figure out what it was. The radar reflector had managed to saw through its metal halyard loop and came crashing down. We tied it back up as best we could, and crawled back down behind the coamings.
"Okay, I'm gonna go back and write some more" I said. "Okay, but I can't see well around that water catcher you put up" Jeff replied, "Would it be okay if I take it down?" "Yeah, sure, we haven't had any rain anyway" I admitted. It wasn't ten minutes after he brought it down that it began to drizzle, turning into a full rain shortly after that. I told Jeff it was going to be his fault if we ran out of water. He replaced the tarp, and the rain stopped. Its been one of those days.
To pass the time, we started a list we call the "Don't" list. It is a compendium of various admonitions that have turned out to be very useful. I include the list we've recorded to date, no doubt there will be more as we continue our sail.
1) Don't let the Jew cook the bacon. (We love you Jeff, but let us get that next time)
2) Don't let the Mormon make the coffee. (We love you Thorny, really, it's okay, we'll make the next pot.)
3) Don't use your teeth. (An inside joke.)
4) Don't let the crew sing show tunes.
5) Don't encourage Jeff to sing, even if he's the only one who knows the words.
6) Don't allow items 5 & 6 to occur simultaneously. (Okay, its not funny. Stop singing. Really.)
7) Don't give Mota sugar.
8) Don't let Mota drive.
9) Don't give Mota coffee.
10) Don't allow items 7, 8 & 9 to occur simultaneously. (We love you Mota. Please slow down!)
11) Don't go up the river at hide tide, then attempt to return during low tide.
12) Don't start the engines unless you know exactly where everyone is. (Emotional learning.)
13) Don't let Robb turn off the frig. (But I only need to use the radio for a few minutes...)
14) Don't go up the mast ( i.e. The Eggarator) for at least one hour after you've eaten.
15) Don't insult the cook by throwing up.
Well, that's all for now. Our current schedule doesn't allow for much frolicking, we're hoping to be in Punta Arena by the 20th, but, as they say, if you want to hear God laugh, tell him your plans. Hope all is well, and everyone is less wet than we are.
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Monday, May 14, 2007
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That's my version of Aussi for hello. I'm practicing my Australian. Since that other wanker died, I figure I have a shot at the "getting close to animals for no good reason and then being surprised they hurt" front man. I'd get to do lots of stupid human tricks with animals, and be paid for it. Which is better than what I'm doing now.
Today, we went swimming with jelly fish. Why, you might ask? Because we could. The water sucked at the last few anchorages we'd been at (the Pacific side of Panama has, so far, been pretty dirty water near the coast) so we haven't really got in any good swimming. We were hot, tired, sweaty and getting a bit briney smelling.
We decided to head out to sea, and perhaps some cleaner water. No wind, so we motored for a few hours, got a ways off the coast then stripped naked and *almost* dove in. Until, that is, I noticed the cute, little, almost translucent buggers floating all around the boat. Okay, still no wind, so lets motor some more. There must be some clear water further West, this was just a fluke, must be less of them as we get away from the canal.
Couple of hours later and it is stunningly beautiful. We stop the boat and peer over the side. Now we see a few different kind of floating killers. There are the traditional disc-like ones that wash up on the Jersey shore all the time, but also there are these weird coil-like things that look like pipe cleaners with a bright orange fluffy tail, and some other things that look like spaghetti that's been left in water too long. Are these dangerous? Do they sting? We have no idea. Our solution? It's hot, we're tired, sticky, and need a bath - what do you think?
So, I'm swimming around with what probably amounts to hypodermic needles filled with neurotoxins and all I can hear in my head is "Krikie, but aint that a beaut! Those little buggas carry enough venom to slack a village. Ai'm gonna see 'ow close ah ken git before a'm covered in welts the size ah me ego"
Needless to say, the swim was less than enjoyable, but it felt great to cool off and rinse with our precious fresh water. We are "rationing" it now, as we've just started our long leg up the coast of Panama and need to conserve as much as possible. We wash and initially rinse all our plates with salt water (but we take out all the jelly fish first) and then only use the fresh stuff for the final cleanse.
We missed a great opportunity during the last rain to refill our tanks, thinking there would be fresh water in the next town. It poured more than six inches and we foolishly ignored it. Next time we'll rig a plastic sheet and collect it. We've used up most of our first tank and have only one tank and several emergency gallons left. We may have to limit ourselves to only two showers a day if the going gets rough.
The ride has been quite wonderful in terms of animal life, some of which we've killed and eaten. We managed to break the Mota curse by catching a three pound Trigger Fish. We think that's what it is, but I'm not sure. When we brought it onto the boat we realized we didn't have anything to knock it unconscious with, so, I grabbed a three pound sledge hammer and bashed it upside the head. I think the first whack did it, but I hit it a couple of times more, mostly because I was mad about the jelly fish.
Holly T. filleted it and she and Thorny cooked it up with garlic and butter. It was amazing. She also offered us some "sushi" but I declined. While I'm willing to pay big bucks for something some professional has spent twenty years learning how to prepare, I'm less enthusiastic about eating a raw fish I just caught near the Panama Canal and can't even identify. I'm not sure that cooking it made any difference, but I just couldn't bring myself to eat it raw.
After lunch we motored again, everyone felt sleepy so I took the helm while they dozed. As I sat listening to tunes and playing along, our diesels providing a low backbeat, I couldn't help but grin. This was exactly how I had hoped life at sea might be. I was with good friends, on a great boat, with fantastic music (not only did Thorny bring his 80gig IPOD of music [many thanks to MeanBean], but Holly T. brought hers as well. It has been an incredible sound track to the trip) and aside from the fact that AnnMarie couldn't be along for the entire trip, it was a perfect moment.
Then it got even better: a dozen Manta Rays began leaping from the water, going about ten feet into the air (flapping their wings the entire time) then landing with a slap back into the sea. Amazing. They must have done this a dozen times each, I've never seen anything like it.
The wind came up a bit after that. We raised the sails (the first time we've had both up since we got through the canal, I think) and shut off the motors. The sound of the boat slicing through the water is a wonderful, peaceful thrum that makes everyone happy. Not long after we shut down the motor we were visited by a pod of dolphins. There must have been more than twenty of them. Beautiful, graceful, sleek animals that swim up to the boat's bow wake and pop out of the water, gasp a breath and slide back in again. They do this over and over, it must be hella fun, 'cause they're grinning the entire time.
We are working our way north again, at N07,50.359, W079,11.680, we're motoring again now, we sailed for a bit but the wind gave out just after sunset, and we're now headed for Punta Malo, but keeping well away from it. We've been warned by several folks and guidebooks to give it a lot of berth. We believe them. Anything named "Bad Point" probably isn't the best sailing on the coast.
From there we head more Northerly, and then on to Isla Perida, our first stop. It is dark now, we're eating dinner and about to start our "shifts". I'm tired, having been the only one who didn't sleep today, so I'll probably go last, which means the grave yard shift. Hopefully by then the wind will be back up and I'll have some great sailing to look forward to.
Hope all is well back home!
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Dear Fellow Squishies,
I say "Fellow Squishies" because I assume you are along with us in spirit if not company, and everything has been very damp for the last two days. Water squashes out of everything not made out of fiberglass. We've seen more rain in the last forty-eight hours than we've seen for the whole trip combined. Judging only from the amount of water we've collected in the dinghy, I'd estimate that the entire Northern ice cap has sublimated and returned to earth directly over our boat.
Jeff hasn't even had to leave any of his "Saturate Before Reading" books outside, the sheer humidity is plumping them up without any effort on his part. It may be his idea of heaven, but it's my idea of hell. I hate being damp. I really don't like damp clothes, or damp towels, or damp sheets (unless I helped make them that way, but even then I don't want to sleep on them), or slippery floorboards, or port hatches that drip on you when you open them - even if the sun came out two hours ago and it is now over one hundred degrees outside. But I'm not bitter. Soggy...but not bitter. But I'm getting ahead of myself...
Yesterday, we sailed from Panama city to Tabaga, a small island about nine miles off the west coast of the canal entrance. Tabaga is the Panamanian equivalent of Tobago off of Trinidad. It is sort of a vacation resort town for the Panamanian rich [which is our equivalent of Java programmers - just slightly more wealthy and you can buy your own island], who arrive by ferry, boat and plane, and then spend their time at the beach and the various restaurants that look out over the bays that gird the island. It is a very lovely place, quaint, almost romantic, and the few folks we met were significantly more friendly than anyone we've run into to date.
Especially our waitress. I should mention something about the folks we've encountered waiting tables in Central America. Imagine you work at a restaurant, and are just starting to get a flu, but aren't symptomatic yet. Just that logey feeling. Now add to that the bitchiness that comes from cramps and the start of a UTI. Mix into that the kind of mood you'd have if your boss is a complete ass, and he's made a pass at you even though he's married with two teenage kids that work at the same place, and he's slept with two of the other waitresses and one of them thinks she's pregnant. Try to imagine your working attitude right now - well, the waitresses we've had would make you seem down right peppy and outgoing in comparison. It is absolutely amazing how surly, disgusted, uninterested, unprofessional, uncaring and somewhat mean most of the wait staff have been throughout our trip, and that's even before I said anything to them!
Yes, it's true that we've encountered the occasional gem, but on average we've had customer-hating wait staff that would rather watch you burn to death in your own flambe dessert than bring you another glass of water. This wasn't only true of wait staff, either. It is an attitude we discovered in many employees, and not just those that worked for the government, but with most any job regardless of who was doing it. With waiters, it was rampant, at least we encountered it so frequently that it became a running joke for us. We developed a little game we called "guess the waitress's medical condition and/or psychological diagnosis", 'cause we ate out a lot when AnnMarie wasn't around.
That was how we knew, when we went ashore in Tabaga, that we'd landed in a different, more upscale town. The waitress was actually friendly, efficient, sweet, and didn't get angry and spit in our food when she misunderstood that Jeff wanted one Iced Tea and water for the rest of us and brought him four Beers instead. Anyway, we shared an incredible meal of seafood paella, and then had ice cream for desert. Which was edible, but not great. It had probably only been thawed and refrozen two or three time at most. That's another thing about Central America that the Lonely Planet guide book doesn't mention: DON'T ORDER THE ICE CREAM! I'm not sure why it is, maybe they get their refrigeration systems from the English, but the Latin just don't understand that ice cream shouldn't have ice in it. No doubt there is some Panamanian whining in his blog about how bad the flan is in San Francisco, but I've haven't seen that big a difference yet, whereas the ice cream here is horrible. Trust me, unless the refrigeration case says made in America and it's plugged into its own generator, don't even bother.
Anywho, we motored into the bay, tied up to a mooring ball, drove the dinghy to shore, walked around the town a little bit, ate dinner, then took the dinghy back, stopping to visit the other large catamaran that pulled in while we were at the restaurant. It was owned by a couple from Holland, with two point five kids. It is surprising the number of folks we've met that are sailing with very small children and/or pregnant women on board. The couple in the tiny sloop who went through the canal rafted to our boat had a two year old with them, and on a boat smaller than the truck I drive. They had sailed all the way from England, and were headed to New Zealand. Just the three of them! That means that at all times, someone had to be at the tiller and the 2 year old hasn't gotten the hang of it quite yet. Not a wheel, where you can walk away from it for a second or two, but a tiller. They also had a radar so small they described it as "good for seeing land, but not other boats". Whenever I begin to think that I'm sailing, I remind myself that I'm doing it on a floating apartment building with every amenity available, and I'm still the only child aboard.
We got back to the boat and decided to sleep for a bit, then sail out at midnight. We thought it made more sense to motor in the dark and arrive at our next anchorage by morning. That's where the goof-ups started. I managed to snag a mooring line, wrapping it around the port prop. We were motoring out of the anchorage in the dark when it happened. We had just cast off our mooring ball and drifted back away from it, then turned and headed out to sea. There was an odd sound, barely noticeable, but different enough that I immediately slammed the transmissions into neutral. I grabbed a light and looked around and could see a line running up under the boat. We'd snagged another mooring line. We were far enough out and away from any other boats that it wasn't an emergency, but it was really annoying, as we were effectively tied to the bottom and floating ass into the wind by our drive shaft.
I grabbed a mask and dove under. I could see the line clearly in the lights Jeff was shinning into the water; yup, it was definitely wrapped around the prop, twice, and then around itself several more times, and the whole mess was under tension from the wind blowing against the boat. After several tries I managed to get everything apart, and we slunk out into the ocean embarrassed as hell. I'm still not sure how it happened - we'd discussed the maneuver before hand, we backed away properly and I'm pretty sure it wasn't the line we cast off. We were being very careful about it, but even still, I screwed up. Fortunately nothing seems to have been broken, but it could have been a lot worse.
We arrived in Espirito de Santos yesterday, having motored through the night, and set anchor upon arrival in the morning. I lowered the dinghy off its davit and back into the water, in preparation for the days exploration. Then I went back inside to see what Thorny was making for breakfast. When I looked outside again, the dingy was floating away from the boat and already about fifty yards down stream. We watched it for a few seconds and just shook our heads. Jeff dove in and retrieved it, but it was the second stupid move thing that I did in as many days. Then I forgot to turn the refrigeration back on, which meant that once we discovered why our batteries were so well charged this morning it had gone twelve hours without being on. We had to throw out a few things, nothing particularly important, like my pride, but that's sailing with friends for you.
Afterwards, we swam a bit but the water wasn't that clean (there were bits of garbage everywhere and even dead fish floating around further up the estuary), which was a bit of a disappointment. They all wanted to go exploring but I was very tired, having not had much sleep the night before, so I took a nap and let them go off exploring. There was, according to the guide book, a great place to go looking about on the other side of the island. They jumped in the dinghy and motored off, amazed that I didn't want to go along.
I was tired. It was hot, muggy and still, so I slept under an open hatch in my bunk.We'd opened all the other hatches to get some ventilation, but if it weren't for the 12 volt fans on board, I don't think sleeping would have been possible. After an hour or two it began to drizzle. I was dreaming. In my dream, I was laying in an open field watching a rain cloud come along but the rain made a line on which one side was dry. As it passed over me, only my thighs got wet. That made sense, sort of, in that dream like way, but I couldn't understand why my feet were dry, when my brain finally figured out that it was time to get up and close all the hatches. I leaped up, still half asleep, and ran about the boat slamming every open hatch I could find. In my haste I slipped and cut open the bottom of my toe, just between the foot and the toe pad, which isn't that big a deal except that it's in one of those spots that will never heal without either amputation or a full body cast.
Just as I finished, a huge storm cloud came pounding into the anchorage, pummeling the boat with heavy droplets and winds so strong it pushed the rain sideways. There were bolts of lightening landing all around the boat. It was then I remembered that I was the only one actually on the boat. I peered out the windows looking for them, but all I could see was rain. I stood in the companionway, the door cracked open only enough for me to listen for their motor. Eventually, I heard the high-pitched whine that is every cruiser's comfort, and I walked out under the Bimini to wait for them.
Through the walls of water I could see the dingy slogging its way back. Both Holly T. & Thorny were crouched down so low you could barely see them, and Jeff was tucked up in a ball and shielding his face with his dorky hat. Even then, it was all he could do to watch where he was going. They pulled up to the boat looking like three drowned lab rats that had just been used for cocaine testing. The dinghy had about two inches of water in it already, it was practically hailing, the wind was whipping around us and driving water everywhere, and they were all grinning from ear to ear.
Holly said "Man, you should have come along, it was really great!" Thorny said "That side of the island is really beautiful, shame you didn't come!" Jeff said "Yeah, it was fantastic!" but after looking at my incredulous expression, added "Driving back was really bad. It was like being hit with thousands of warm BB's!" he paused, taking in my look of sheer disbelief, and added "I kinda liked it!" Just then a massive bolt of lightning crackled down on shore next to us. "Perhaps we should retire to a less wet quarter?" I suggested, "one that offers some protection from electrocution?". Jeff wanted to stay outside. "Um, Jeff, how many volts, exactly, is your wet skin rated for?" I asked. He gave me that sad look one usually sees on eight year olds when you tell them they have to wait a half hour after eating before going swimming, then, head dragging, slumped inside.
Once inside we stripped naked, throwing our wet clothes out on the Aloha deck. Three guys, one woman, it was hot and steamy inside, Holly was doing the dishes, it was the perfect beginning to a bad porn movie.Instead, we then played cards for several hours. Our new game is reverse strip poker. You start out bare, and every time you lose a hand you have to put something back on. If you lose really bad you have to sit in full foulies and a wool sweater until the game is over. In these conditions, that could be life threatening.
It was time to pull up stakes and head around to Isla Del Ray. As we motored (there hasn't been much wind at all, and what there has been has all been on the nose) a sulfurous smell percolated up from the forward port cabin. Now, I usually can't smell anything less pungent than a rotting corpse, so for me to notice anything meant it had to be a somewhat strong smell. I dragged the rest of the crew into a "find the source of the smell" contest (always a favorite among the sailing elite) and we finally determined that it was coming from the utility closet behind Thorny's toilet. On even finer inspection (don't ask) I determined that it was because the holding tank was full, and that only Thorny's head (toilet) was being directed towards it, instead of overboard, the way the other three heads were oriented. Since we were sloshing about at sea, it had "imbued" the air space with the fragrant aroma that is human after burner. While Holly, or Jeff, or even I, might claim that our poop don't stink, Thorny has nothing to say.
Isn't sailing fun? Up until this point we have been almost always without clothes. Not because of the beautiful weather, but because it is too bloody hot not to. As we motored into the bay at the entrance of Rio Del Cacique, a ponga full of teenage locals came racing out. Apparently the thought that a naked woman outside anything but a brothel means free sex. Holly modestly disappeared below decks and Jeff politely explained in broken Spanish that, no, senor, we don't have any water for them, that, no, senor, we don't don't have any gasoline for them, that we don't want to lend them any money, and that they should please go away. Apparently he didn't think my efforts to convince them to leave were helpful either. I asked Jeff how to say "rocket launcher" in Spanish, but he wouldn't translate that for me, and the Spanish to English dictionary is too soggy to open. Since it was only naked men on deck, eventually they went away.
We then dropped anchor and switched from the "clothing optional" boat to the "being annoyed by lookieloos " boat. Yeah, it's their country, but we were a mile off shore, they had to use half a gallon of gas just to reach us, all for the possible glimpse of a bare breast. What's more, it ain't like everyone on shore is walking around in a burka. Women dress pretty skimpy down here. In fact, the local women have a penchant for Spandex swimming suits that defies imagination. You could teach an anatomy class with some of the outfits that inhabit the beach. I've seen fifty year old grandmothers wearing skin tight swimsuits that, when wet, show their tan lines.
So, we fought off the restless natives, then anchored in a perfect little cove, coordinates N08, 18.297 W078,54.154, at the entrance to the Rio Del Cacique river. That's Spanish for "Too Low To Navigate At Low Tide" River. The three of them wanted to do still more exploring. I demurred, having seen their last efforts (and the movie Apocalypse Now - Don't get off the boat!) and been unimpressed.
Plus, I was worried that our earlier visiting party might have figured out what my poor attempt at translating "flaming ballistic trajectory" meant, so I stuck around. The guide book ranted and raved about how great it was to arrive on a quarter high, rising tide, and let the reverse current take you up the river. Later on you get swept back down river by the ebb flow.
Instead, we got there at high tide, so they motored up and disappeared into the jungle, never to be seen or heard from again. Until they returned, which was at low tide. I got some great video of them dragging the dingy through the mud and sand for several hundred yards. I'm sure they thought that seeing the monkeys and birds was worth it, but they didn't come back with anything but pictures of trees. You decide.
Regardless of whether their exploration into Panama's darkest jungle was actually worth it or not, they are back on the boat, safe and sound, and we are now preparing dinner and getting ready for tonight's movie "Tristram Shandy: A Cock And Bull Story", which is an incredibly funny, witty and intelligent movie, if you haven't seen it yet. After that I need to fix about a million things, including the chart plotter, whose power cable decided life wasn't worth living, the knot meter's paddle wheel, the voltage regulator's FPGA programming, a fan, a shower pump, the solar panel, several small leaks in the steering station, and grease the thru hulls, which is impossible to do while in the water, but something to think about while falling off to sleep.
Editor's Note: None of these items are as yet fixed.
Someone once told me that cruising is fun, but sailing is hard work. They were only half right. They forgot to mention that cruising is sailing with a lot more broken stuff than you started with, while fixing your boat in exotic places. Even still, we are having a grand, if soggy, adventure, laugh more often then is justifiable, are yet to have a cross word with each other, and the bilge remains dry. In cruising terms, life is good. I trust the same can be said for all of you, and if not, I hope that our sea tales brighten your spirits.
Looking forward to seeing you all soon. If you seen AnnMarie, please give her a big kiss for me!
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Saturday, May 12, 2007
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Editor's Note: The following is a letter from Robb to AnnMarie, and included only because we had it lying around. Nothing to see here folks, move along.
We arrived in Tabago earlier today (we are currently at N08,46.462 W079,30.072), had lunch on the island, a beautiful little place less than 10 miles from Panama City. We've just left and are now sailing towards Isla Perlas, and will spend a day or two there (gotta keep the crew happy, you know how much I hate that kind of thing), then on up the coast to Costa Rica. Everyone is in good spirits, we laugh all the time, although we had a tense moment when we left the anchorage as we snagged a mooring line in the dark and I had to swim under the boat and unwrap it from the prop. Everything worked out fine, and we are looking forward to some decent time in paradise.
The water is pretty dirty here, we're hoping to find cleaner, more pristine anchorages the further we get from the canal. It was weird swimming in the anchorage, it had lots of small particulate matter floating in it, and bits of garbage and other crap. We're not sure where it could be coming from but it sucked to see it. I don't understand why because there isn't anything around here for miles, and the current was coming from the North West. Very strange.
We're back to taking shifts again, but since Holly and Thorny are relatively new I've spent a lot of time up on deck. I'll probably not be getting as much sleep as I need, but we should be stopping for a day here or there, so I expect to catch up when we do.
Was just interrupted by Jeff, he got us too close to a freighter and we had to deal with it. I'm not sure why he has such a hard time avoiding them at night be he seems to almost miss one every shift. I think its his way of sublimating his sexual tension, flirting with disaster, the thrill of the chase, that sort of thing. I hope that by the time we get back he can still find women under three hundred tons (and sans navigation lights) attractive.
BTW, thanks for letting me know that folks are enjoying the emails, it really helps to hear that. Getting feedback from you really makes my day though.
Love you more than is possible...
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Friday, May 11, 2007
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Missing: One large American, last seen entering taxi headed toward Panama City. If found, please return to Sailing Vessel Triton.
So, there is an old joke about a man whose wife complains bitterly that she wants to go away for a vacation. His elderly mother and her cat (which she loves dearly and never lets out of her sight) live with them, and because of this they have never been able to get away for any length of time. Eventually he decides to let his ne're-do-well brother stay at the house while they go off for their first week alone since their honeymoon. The man is quite anxious and after three days he calls home to check up on things. He asks his brother how things are going, his brother says "The cat died". The man is very upset by this and explains that he shouldn't have told him that, since there was nothing he could do about it anyway, and now it has ruined the rest of his vacation, knowing how upset his mother will be. He then explains to his brother that it would have been better to have broken the news to him slowly, first by saying that the cat had gotten up on the roof, then waiting until the end of their vacation to explain that the cat had fallen off and died. He asks his brother how mom is taking things, and his brother says "Well, mom got up on the roof..."
On a boat, communication is everything. There are so many ways to misunderstand each other ("Oh, you didn't want me to wake you up?" is my favorite) and any number of ways to easily get confused (statements like "NO, MOTA, THE OTHER PORT SIDE!" are quite common) so much so that it becomes critical to make sure you really know what each other means.That is one reason why boats have a very specific vocabulary; "Go aft and tension the port jib sheet" means one (and most importantly) only one thing, whereas "yeah, I'm gonna go into town and check things out, I'll be back later" could mean anything. Thorny said just that. To me (based on a number of prior conversations) it meant "I'm going into town for a few hours, then coming back to join you all for dinner, then tomorrow I'm going to spend the entire day looking at ancient ruins". To Jeff, it meant, "I'm going into town for the evening, I'll be back first thing tomorrow morning".
Now, we tolerate a certain amount of newbie crew members using terms like "kitchen" or "bathroom" or "thingie" because it's impossible to learn the correct and precise term for every thing immediately. And it wouldn't be a cruise if the crew didn't come up with new and unique names for things, like "The Aloha Deck" for the aft cockpit area, or "Mike & MaryAnn's cabin" even though they haven't been here for three weeks, or to come up with cute phrases like "stinks like the captain" or "like water off Jeff's fiberglass ass; but making sure you know exactly what the other person meant really is the ultimate test and we only tolerate just so much English because not using explicit nautical terms leads to problems.
When Thorny didn't show up later that evening, we had just such a problem. Jeff and I argued about what he might have actually meant. We decided Jeff must have been right, I misunderstood and he'd be back in the morning. When he didn't arrive the next morning, we decided that perhaps we were both wrong, and he'd be back by lunch. By late afternoon we were discussing how we'd go about finding him. It was then we realized we didn't know his next of kin, or who to contact in the event of an emergency - which on one hand wasn't so bad because I really didn't want to have to explain to his folks that we allowed him to wander off into what is the Panamanian equivalent of Harlem without an armed escort.
On top of that, Thorny had mentioned he wasn't the "wander into a strange country" type and that he was surprised himself that he was straying beyond his comfort zone. While either Jeff or I would have been fine being left to our own devices in a strange town, Thorny had said that he was "pushing his boundaries" by going off with only a guide book, translation dictionary, money, credit cards, and phone. Jeff, a man who once hitchhiked into Afghanistan during the war, gets by on amazing language skills, a subtle sense of human interactions and an incredible memory for direction, location and landmarks. I can survive almost any situation because foreigners invariably take pity on retarded goof-balls with a friendly smile. In fact, my complete lack of social skills tend to bemuse and entertain what would normally be either a mugger or the arresting officer.
As evening approached our fears magnified. We sat on the Aloha deck and talked about it. Maybe he went to one of the many dangerous neighborhoods? Maybe some cab driver convinced him to go to one of the trillion bar/whore houses that are everywhere. Maybe he got attacked. We could only imagine the worst, picturing Thorny waking up in some deserted alley, covered in mud, wearing only his underwear. It was clear we were going to have to rescue him, but we weren't sure what our next move should be. As we sat wondering where to start, the question of notifying others back home naturally arose. Now I'm not intimidated by many things, but the thought of explaining to AnnMarie that I, "Mr. Safety Zero'th Because It Comes Before First" managed to misplace one of her favorite friends sent chills down my spine. We thought about starting out with "Well, Thorny got up on the roof", but like most of this trip, it was a location joke that only we thought hilarious. I felt bad for laughing so hard when we thought of it.
"Well. Okay. Look. We'll go to the police and notify them" I said. "Great" said Jeff, "but they're gonna want to know all his information, like a copy of his passport, drivers license, that sort of thing. Where do you keep that?" There was a long pause while I tried to come up with a suitable explanation for the fact that 1) Thorny had taken his passport with him, so I didn't know it and 2) I didn't even have a copy of his drivers license and 3) I hadn't the faintest idea who to contact and 4) I didn't even know his real name. "Whaddya mean you don't know his name? How long have you known him?" "Ummm, about four years." "Four years and you don't know the man's name?" "Yup."
"Yup". That's the best I could come up with. A crew member, friend of many years, all round good guy, and I lost him without even a single trace of documentation.Worse, I couldn't even figure out how to find him, or even explain to anyone else who he really was. THEN he strolled back. "Where the hell were you?" we asked. "Oh, I went to see traditional Panamanian folk dances, then I got a hotel room, slept a long time, and then I walked around a bit in the old city. It was nice." We looked at each other and said "That's great, glad you're back, and not dead."
Next, it was my turn to try to kill Jeff. Not that I wanted to, in fact, I'd have been quite content to let him live, but he really wanted to fix the anchor light. If you don't know what an anchor light is then that may not seem like such a big deal. If you do, you realize that it means climbing up to the top of the mast. Remember the mast? It's the tallest one in the harbor. Remember the harbor we are in, the one just outside of the Panama Canal? We watch two hundred million ton freighters go by every twenty minutes. Remember how big the wakes from these boats are? Okay, now you have the recipe. Jeff was going to climb the tallest mast in the harbor, while five foot high waves periodically rolled by.
Now, of course, we took all sorts of safety precautions, like waking up at the crack of dawn so it was still pretty calm and not too hot (of course, after being up very late the night before, having just broken out a new bottle of rum), and having a nice big breakfast of cheesy eggs that Thorny whipped up, and tying string to all the tools Jeff might need to take up there with him so they couldn't slip and fall - killing someone on deck, as well as tying several different safety lines to him.I also made Holly and Thorny move away from the mast base, forcing Holly up to the foredeck and Thorny back onto the Aloha deck - in case all three lines should break simultaneously. In fact, we took every precaution except actually thinking it through. Had we given it any thought, we'd have realized that the waves rolling in were rocking even our very wide catamaran back and forth. That may not feel like much in the cabin down at sea level, but up at the top of the mast it was thrashing back and forth about eight feet from side to side. Jeff was about three fourths of the way up when the first set of waves rolled in. Suddenly he was clinging to the mast for dear life, and being tossed back and forth like the world's largest paddle ball on a very long stick. "Hey, you sure you want to do this?" we asked. "Yeah, I'm okay. No problem." this from the man who went through Afghan armed check points wearing a turban, posing as local Taliban. "Okay, your call" I said, now feeling bad that I'd kidded him about not fixing the light properly the last time he'd been up it.
He managed to pull himself up to the very top of the mast and began trying to fix the light. It started rocking some more. Jeff grabbed the mast and again held on for dear life. This continued for quite some time. Each roll would throw him back about forth about eight feet. "I feel seasick" he said. "Oh" I said. "I think I'm gonna be sick." he said. "Great" I said. "Bluagahhh, ugg, bluagaaaaaaaga, blug" he said. Then bits of cheesy eggs started wafting down. They made an interesting popping noise when they hit the deck. Thorny, whom I'd made move to the Aloha deck, was standing directly in (or more accurately, under) the line of fire. He dove into the salon just in time.
Through much of this trip I've seen wonders and sights I never imagined I'd encounter. Dolphins within touching distance, manta rays floating majestically along side me, sea turtles the size of a bathtub, but none of it will remain so etched in my mind as Jeff's regurgitated breakfast heading down for Thorny. Later on he took Jeff aside and explained that if he didn't like the food all he had to do was say so.
Well, we were never able to get the anchor light working, even after all that, and now the wind indicator has stopped working as well. But to really prove that "No good deed, however humble, goes unpunished", the portion of the deck you might consider "ground zero" also contained Jeff's open hatch, and a direct opening onto his newly washed sheets and laundry. There is no way to handle this situation but to laugh. Jeff and I have been making jokes about it all day. Mostly from the Aloha deck, which we now call the vomitorium.
So, as many of you might know, there is a special plane that NASA uses to prepare their astronauts for the zero G of space. It flies pretty much straight up as far as it can go, then turns around and falls straight down, causing weightlessness for the occupants for minutes at a time. Unfortunately, even the best prepared fighter pilots find that weightlessness is a disturbing sensation (much like being waved rapidly back and forth at the end of a long stick), causes nausea and vomiting. Consequently, this plane has been called "The Vomit Comet". We thought about this for a while and decided that we would, in both true nautical fashion and aeronautical tradition, devise a special name our mast as well. We now call it "The Eggerator".
Wishing you all a cheesy farewell from the Aloha deck! (mind the yellow bits). We hope you are all keeping each other good company in our absence and remain in good health.
P.S. Contributions of scopolamine, malox and deck cleaner would be most appreciated. Any one who knows the name of a good mast cleaning service please forward it on to AnnMarie.
P.P.S. In case anyone cares, I (AnnMarie) had all of Thorny's pertinent info, however, it remains to be seen if our good heroes would have thought of that in their time of need.
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