Wednesday, July 18, 2007
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Just got back to the boat after a couple of months and, well, things are a lot worse than what I had hoped for. The boat is pretty moldy (I'd underestimated just how bad the Costa Rican weather could be), the batteries are dead, the engine compartments have water in them, the dinghy davit is broken, and the anchor chain is tangled up. We need to get all this sorted out before we go anywhere, and that isn't going to be fun. On top of that, we need to change the engine oil and scrape the huge barnacles off the boat. Plus it is fucking hot down here. And muggy. On the bright side, the red tide has gone away. Now the water is just kind of mucky brown.
When we wake up in the morning, it is beautiful and still. There are bright blue skies overhead, and everything is green and lush, you can barely hear the sounds from the town, and birds, frogs and other beasts all howl, hoot, blurt and tweet at us. The drifting water moves the boat around on the anchor, and an occasional fishing boat motors by, usually with an older man or two or three young men in it, but very often with a few children or women as well. Their vessels are brightly colored and seem barely sea worthy, but they are loaded up with fishing lines, traps, flags, floats and the other talismans of the fisherman. We timidly wave, they calmly, maybe grudgingly, wave back, always smiling, but clearly we are nothing new or particularly interesting to them. There are always cruising boats at anchor in this bay, although we've been told not that many catamarans. No one has ever approached us to talk, or asked to see the boat, except for the gas station attendant when first refueled during our arrival. What might have been novel is now commonplace. I'm sure at some point some half naked pygmy cannibal with a twig through his nose has dropped his shoulders and lamely waved hello to yet another anthropologist. Their lack of enthusiasm probably says something profound about globalization, but I leave that speculation to the reader.
Ian arrived today. He was as upbeat, energetic and as animated as always. I can describe him best by saying he is edgy, or at least, right on the edge of almost everything. He has a sort of "just up to the line" maximum about himself, as if he's been packed right to the top and is bursting with enthusiasm. If he jumped around any more he'd be hyperactive. If he were any more witty he'd be over-bearing, any more talkative he'd be annoying. But he is just exactly the right amount of everything to be fun, jovial, cavorting and funny. I think he will be a great asset to the crew.
At first I had been a bit concerned about him coming, because he had seemed quite nervous about the trip, especially in the weeks leading up to it, kind of a Nervous Nelly, constantly worrying about every little detail. AnnMarie was amused that she was getting phone calls and emails every day asking her what kind of white shirt to bring, which SPF suntan lotion to use, whether open toed sandals would work on land, and other needlessly detailed issues, especially when there was some much info in the blog already. Then, when he arrived and we then explained that, because he was the second to last person to sign on, he may have to share his bunk with Robinson (the last person to sign on) should he actually show up. Ian got very annoyed and insisted that we make Robby sleep on the trampoline so he could have the bed to himself. He kept insisting [no matter how much we assured him that there would be plenty of room and plenty of privacy] that we push his bunkmate out into the salon, or the cockpit, or even overboard. Well, I've heard from Robinson that he is definitely coming so it will be interesting to see how they get along.
We've met some new cruisers, Beth and Evans that just arrived at the Marina on their aluminum boat "Hawk" that they designed and built themselves (here is a great photo of it at anchor with the late afternoon storm clouds rolling in) and asked if they wanted to come to lunch with us.
As we walked along we chatted about cruising and their experiences, their boat, their plans. They mentioned that Beth was a writer and she had published a few books, mostly about cruising. As a fledgling writer who would like to do just this, I was very interested in learning more, so I asked her if she'd written anything I might have read.
"Oh, um, I wrote this sailing book, you probably haven't heard of it, it's called 'The voyagers handbook' and I've just published another one called 'Blue Horizons'." she nonchalantly replied. This is like wanting to learn how to take landscape pictures and finding out the guy standing next to you at the bus stop is Ansel Adams. "You wrote The Voyagers Handbook!" I gushed, "That's AnnMarie's absolutely favorite sailing book. We've both read it several times, usually lying in bed next to each other, pointing out various great ideas and solutions while interrupting the other's reading!" She laughed and thanked me for the compliment.
I proceeded to spend the next few days, every time we ran into them, asking her what must have been for her, very dull, frequently asked questions, but she patiently answered my queries and pointed me at several additional useful sources. She also autographed a copy of her new book for us, which was the best present I got to give AnnMarie all trip. We ended up going out to lunch or dinner with them several more times, and Ian went off exploring the jungle with them as well. They were wonderful people to meet and we wish them the best!
Next we needed to get to work, which included provisioning the boat. When at sea, I like to have a "ship's cook", someone who doesn't stand watches, but is responsible for seeing to it that the crew is fed regularly and well, that there are always plenty of snacks, and that everyone stays hydrated. I've found that having someone whose only job it is to do this makes it possible for everyone else to do theirs better. On each of the previous legs, we've picked someone, and they worked out great. On this leg, no one particularly wanted to do it, but Jacob said he didn't mind, but that he was a vegetarian, and only wanted to make vegetarian meals. "Everyone okay with that?" I asked. No one said a word, so we gave Jacob and Roxanne the task of provisioning the boat, while the rest of us worked on the mechanical repairs.
Earlier that day Robinson arrived and we all ate on the boat. Jacob's first dinner was rice and beans, vegetables and corn tortillas. Actually, many of the dinners were like this, and I think if we had it to do over again, we should have made Ian or Stewart cook, but at the time no one said anything directly, but apparently there was some passive/aggressive interactions about it. The story goes (I didn't see this, it was only described to me) that Stuart was apparently very dissatisfied with the dinner, and made this known somehow. Apparently feeling were trampled in the process. Later on Jacob was visibly upset. I asked him what was going on, and it was clear that there was a lot of tension around Stuart. Both he and Roxanne were having difficulty being around him. Ian, and later Robinson, also mentioned that Stuart seemed to be a bit more agitated than was really understandable. Food can be a very touchy thing on a boat, but this seemed bigger than just that.
Great! Just what we need, a disgruntled crew, and we hadn't even set sail yet. It is funny though, because no matter how hard you try to guess which person will be the coolest, which will be the most troubled, which will be the most helpful, which will be the most amusing, you can never, really tell. I really thought Stuart would be the most easy going, the most laid back, of everyone. Instead, he was clearly upset a lot of the time, and everyone else seemed to be having issues around him, myself included, as the week progressed. We were all losing our patience way too quick, and that gave me a bit to worry about.
So, any boat trip isn't complete without some technical difficulties that result in getting dirty, something being broken while fixing something else, tempers being lost, voices being raised and feelings being hurt. This trip was no different. In fact, we may have actually exceeded a quota here.
One of the many fun projects in store for us was changing the oil. Now what should have been a fifteen minute, no mess job, had the engine's been properly plumbed for it, was turning out to be a snake pit of problems. The oil we wanted to change was in the bottom of the two diesel engines. To get it out we wanted to use a hand pump I had bought special for this purpose. It didn't work. At all. Not even a little.
It appears that either the pump was broken, or clogged, or incapable of actually sucking up the oil in the first place, or that the oil was now so thick and gunky that it was making it far more difficult, or all of the above. To find this out we first needed to spend several (very unpleasant) hours fucking around with it inside the very hot, very muggy, engine compartment. And by we, I actually mean Stuart and Robinson, who did most of the dirty work on that particular job.
So when they came out, unable to get the old oil out, covered in grease and sweat, they were not happy campers. We all then spent a significant amount of additional time and energy getting covered in dirt, grease and oil, taking apart the pump, trying to find out where the problem was, and what exactly was going wrong. Like most mechanical issues while cruising, the actual problem was insignificant, but getting the right tool to fix it turned out to be a horrendous challenge. We discussed several options, all of which had their merits and downsides. Then we argued about them. Then we yelled at each other about them. Then folks started to lose their tempers. It was not pretty, and there was some definitely uncomfortable moments between Stuart & myself.
They wanted to try to drain the oil into a pan in the bilge and then remove the pan. I was dead set against this as it was going to be a huge mess, and their wasn't enough room to get the pan out once full. I especially didn't want an engine compartment dripping with oil. Up until this moment, the engine bilges had been spotless, and I wanted to keep it that way.
What sounds like a simple, easy task was anything but. In the end, the solution was a sort of "worst of both worlds" compromise; we drained the oil into pans, but then used the pump to empty the pans into buckets. Then we took the relatively empty pans out, which still spilled oil into the bilges. It took three people several hours to do both engines, and at the end of the day I had two filthy, gunky bilges that still need to be cleaned, and a tired, pissed off crew. One of my first projects when I get home will be adding the plumbing and pumps to make changing the oil a simple operation, and steam cleaning the engine bilge to remove the residual oil. Right now it stinks down there, and no one is very happy about it, especially me.
Would that were our only task! Not only did we need to change the oil, and the filters, but we also had to tighten up various belts, bolts and nuts, clean off connectors, clean out strainers, brush off battery terminals and generally spiff up the engine compartments. That took quite a while to finish, and it didn't address the battery problem. We then spent a considerable amount of time trying to figure out what was wrong with the batteries, which included dragging them all to shore and recharging them with Tim's equipment. Naturally, this took another day, and at the end of it, we realized that they were worthless. So we humped into town to buy a battery to hold us over on our trip to Nicaragua. Remember? we're going to Nicaragua, eventually.
At this point Stuart was complaining that things weren't happening fast enough, and he was worried that we weren't going to keep to his schedules. He kept reminding me that this was his vacation. I kept reminding him that this wasn't about his vacation, that we wouldn't set sail on his schedule and that I very carefully made that very clear on several occasions, including in writing, and that these kinds of delays were normal and part of sailing. It was really starting to make me worried. That coupled with the fact that the rest of us were also banging heads with him about a lot of other issues made for some concern on my part, because this kind of situation can be disastrous at sea.
I think he felt the same way, because the next day he informed me that he had decided he wasn't going to come sailing with us. Instead he would go off to the jungle, explore Costa Rico, maybe check out Nicaragua, and at least get in a few days of relaxation before heading back to the states. Honestly, I think it was the best decision for all of us. It would have been great to have him along, but not if it meant crew disharmony, or him being anxious about his schedule or having to be on the boat when he wasn't enjoying himself. He went ashore the evening before we left, but returned the next day to see us off. Unfortunately, no one knew he intended to do this (we assumed he was headed off into the jungle for a while), and we had just weighted anchor and were already en route as he returned. The above photo was taken by him from the shore as we left the harbor.
Well, we'd fixed most everything that absolutely needed attention, everyone was getting tired of the delays, they wanted to get going, and it wasn't clear that we would have been able to get the various Golfito officials to sign off on the boat and crew before quitting time, and no one wanted to spend the weekend at anchor, so we signed out with only the Port Captain's permission and changed our plans, heading instead for Playa de Coco, the northern most point in C.R. before entering Nicaragua, with the hope of clearing out there. What a mistake that was! Any time we saved in leaving early was wasted finding the anchorage, getting ashore, then navigating our way through the Byzantine customs and immigration system. More on this later.
Now all we had to do was pull up the anchor and leave. Except that our anchor chain, which we had painstakingly attached (along with Land & Sea's mooring ball) to a swivel so that we could rely on both ground tackles, were now firmly stuck to each other, and hopelessly tangled. This was made all the more embarrassing because Tim had warned us that it might happen, and he was absolutely right about it. I went in to his office, explained that "Yup, it didn't work, you were right, and now we are stuck." He didn't even blink, jumped into his boat and was out diving the chain that hour, using a portable hooka. Evans from "Hawk" came over to help, using their boat to help winch up the anchor. It turns out that a very large log had become tangled between the two mooring chains, and was spinning around in the current. This was a really tricky job, and if it weren't for Tim we would have ended up having to abandon our anchor, not having any scuba equipment of our own, let alone the expertise to handle what amounted to very dangerous underwater hardhat work. Instead, he had it back to us, intact, in just less than an hour and we were on our way. I have to say, we have never had better care, better service, met nicer folks or had more fascinating conversation than what we encountered at Land & Sea!
We set sail (well, actually, we motored) out of the harbor, making lousy speed against the current and wind, not to mention the horrible growth of barnacles on the boat's hull slowing us down. As we headed out into the ocean the clouds rolled in and it began to rain. Not a great beginning to our journey, and I think everyone was a bit sad that things had turned out this way. Of course, not every day is roses and sunshine, but looking back, there are many things I wish I'd handled differently. None the less, you live, you learn, if you're lucky, you get better at it.
Cheers for now,
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