Monday, May 14, 2007
Steaming hot, dripping, cruising [X Rated!!]
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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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