Kids, Don't Try This At Home!

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

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

Monday, October 29, 2007

Weekend Paradise


Hey Folks,

It has been a wonderful weekend. AnnMarie arrived on Friday and we've had nothing but fun since she got here. Yesterday we spent the day kayaking with Ron & Diane. We used their new kayak, and they borrowed another couple's canoe. We paddled across the estuary to a small beach, dragged the boats up onto shore and walked across the peninsula, cutting through the property of a local "greetadoria". This is sort of the Nicaraguan version of a surf. They live on the land and perform basic care taking duties in exchange for a place to live. We asked permission to pass through their front yard, so that we could get to a much larger beach facing the ocean. We walked along this deserted stretch of beach. It was stunningly beautiful, tranquil and surprisingly clean. There were shells washed up everywhere.

Now, I'm sure there are many of you that have managed to get through your entire childhood without collecting an assortment of sea shells, but if you grew up near the coast, no doubt you found it necessary to bring home the various treasures that washed ashore. AnnMarie is definitely in this camp. Although she accuses me of hoarding crap, she just can't resist the urge to scavenge every piece of brightly colored calcium she can find. I hate shells. They seem wonderful on the beach, but within a hour of getting them home they start to smell. Plus they dredge up memories of my nut case grandmother, whose sole purpose in life was making absolutely useless knick knacks out of materials she found at the beach or along side the road. Her life consisted of making brickabrack out of various junk, and painting ceramic gnomes. The yard around the house was populated with an army of them; they were hidden everywhere. It was creepy sometimes to be peeing into a bush and notice one of them smoking a pipe and looking up at you. She also saved bits of string and scraps of wood. All of this went into her creations, which you couldn't give away at a yard sale. You know that schlock you see in bad tourist shops...the little block of wood with several shells glued together to look like a large breasted hula girl? My grandmother invented that. The poodle shaped crochet cover for the extra roll of toilet paper [instructions available through Reader's Digest magazine]? My grandmother owns the patent.

So, needless to say, I was not happy that AnnMarie had an armful of shells and Ron & Diane were gleefully adding more to her pile. "They're not coming on the boat!" I insisted. "They're beautiful!" AnnMarie demanded, "I want them. I'm going to bring them home with me." Great, now the both boats are going to smell like a tidal flat. "Fine, but they stay outside until you are packed and ready to leave." I countered, knowing I had as much chance of that happening as finding a competent diesel mechanic that worked for cheap on weekends. Next I heard Ron say "Wow! Hey Ann, look at this, a perfectly preserved olive shell, and a bright pink crab shell!" Thanks, Ron, encourage her why don't you?

Eventually we wandered back to the kayaks and paddled back to the boat, stopping along the way to visit with Joe, the boyfriend/husband of the woman who runs the small eatery just outside the marina. His boat is anchored in the harbor, much to the consternation of Robert, the marina owner. They have been feuding about one thing or another for over a year. It's not clear what exactly started it all, but both of them seem like nice guys...I'm glad we didn't have to get in the middle of it all. The latest rumor was that Robert had somehow convinced the authorities that keeping his boat at anchor in the lagoon was dangerous, and that the only safe place a boat should be kept during a hurricane was in a slip at the marina. This is sort of like saying the only safe place to be during an earthquake is in an expensive hotel room instead of the public parking lot. But, its Nicaragua, and the law is still pretty much for sale here. But, being a socialist country, anyone is allowed to buy it, all dollars are treated equally.

After our visit we returned back to the boat, went swimming in the pool, and then went over to the marina restaurant to listen to Pedro (a local Nicaraguan musician friend of Ron & Diane's) play music. He came with his father and his two sons, an accordion and a guitar, and they serenaded everyone, each one taking turns playing either the guitar or the accordion. It was a wonderful performance, they played traditional Nicaraguan songs, folk tunes that were beautiful to hear, even if I didn't understand the words. At one point Pedro's son, who was maybe all of eight years old, also performed a few songs. At first a duet with his father, who harmonized a full octave below him, then several songs on his own while his father and grandfather played along. It was a really special moment. Also worth noting was their musical skill and ability to change key whenever the son couldn't sing it in the original key. Having played in a band, this is no small feat to do on the fly and both Ann and I were very impressed with the ease and mastery of their voices and instruments.

When they finished we invited them over to the boat for dinner--AnnMarie had made lasagna, and we fed everyone. Ron & Diane, Pedro and his family, Jeff and Stephanie from Musetta, plus AnnMarie and myself would seem like a lot of folks, but everyone could easily fit at the cockpit table, and it never once felt crowed. Cooking in the galley is pretty easy, even before we make the changes to improve its layout and efficiency. It surprises me how much both AnnMarie and I like our boat. It is exactly what we wanted; a roomy, comfortable home in which to entertain guests without effort.

It also stays pretty dry once you figure out where all the leaks are. I think I've got most all of them sorted now, but it may come as quite a surprise to find out that almost all boats leak. Not from the bottom, but the top. In fact, I've never lived in a house, trailer or tent that leaks as much as a boat. You would think that something designed to cross oceans would be impervious to water from all directions, but nothing is further than the truth. But I'm not bitter.

Pedro and his family left pretty early for our standards, but nine o'clock is pretty late in the day when you are used to getting up before sunrise. Then we brought out a guitar and AnnMarie sang a few songs for our cruiser friends. They seemed to enjoy it thoroughly, although both AnnMarie and I made lots of mistakes (we hadn't played together for quite a while), albeit we were probably the only two to notice it. It was a perfect way to end the day. We bid everyone adieu and went below. After a few hours we managed to get to sleep.

The next morning Ron, Diane, AnnMarie and I walked over to the other swimming pool on the beach. There is a giant triangularly roofed hut next to it with a complete bar, grill and patio. It was the one we saw when we were first motoring in from the bay. The swimming pool there was even nicer, with a shallow wading area where you could stretch out on a lawn chair in six inches of water. Pretty cush. We also went out into the ocean and played in the surf. It was absolutely great. The water was warm, and the waves were fun to dive into. Not so strong that you couldn't relax, but big enough that you had to pay attention to them. When we got back it was time for AnnMarie to pack for the airport. We loaded her stuff into the truck, and got in, along with Ron & Diane, and headed off towards the airport, but making a quick stop in Leon to pick up Robinson.

We got there at noon, but had told Robinson we would meet him at the gas station at 2pm, so we wandered around the town square for a bit, then had lunch at a local restaurant. The food wasn't that good, and a bit overpriced, but Leon is populated with mostly college students (it is one of the largest university towns in the country) and the people watching was great fun. Well, we say people watching but what we really mean is more like girl ogling. The fashion sense and social morays remind me of the Jersey Shore during the sixties. Young men trying to look cool and very attractive young women trying to be sexy and sedate at the same time, everyone trying to be right at the edge of the curve.

You can feel the vibrant energy, and there are night clubs and discotheques everywhere. From what we were told, Leon was one of the Sandinista strongholds, and when the dictator Somoza was trying to suppress the revolution he bombed the town pretty badly. We saw signs of this everywhere, but despite that, the city seemed to be one of the most active, bustling places within the country. Plus, it felt much safer there than anywhere else I'd been. You could almost imagine the place becoming the equivalent of Berkeley in California. Lots of the latest fashions, plenty of young adults, and that vibe you get when it feels like people are pushing their own boundaries all around you.

We picked up Robinson, then dropped AnnMarie off at the airport. It was wonderful having her here, and I started to miss her before I even made it back to the truck. Sailing up the coast of the Americas has been fun, and I've been blessed with great company along the way, but if I could have any one wish, it would be to have repeated this journey but with her along. Oh, well, our plan is to do exactly that, just going the opposite direction, in a couple of years. In the meantime I can't wait to get to Cabo San Lucas, where she will be flying in to meet us again. Yeah for cheap international flights!

That's all for now. Hope everyone is doing well and there is no oil in your bilge.




Saturday, October 27, 2007

Please allow me to help you...that will be ten dollars.



You just gotta love Nicaragua. Friendly people, beautiful scenery, unmarked speed bumps that can rip the suspension off your vehicle (I'm not joking, you'll be driving along at sixty and not see one of these things and suddenly be airborn!) and cops that supplement their income by shaking down tourists. I know, that sounds like another exaggeration. It's not. Let me explain why...

A few months back I had left the boat in Marina Puesta Del Sol, Nicaragua and flown back to the states for a few weeks. When I left I had taken a taxi from the marina to the airport. It turned out to be a bit of a harrowing experience, the driver was your typical machismo nut job with a death wish (I think this is an actual requirement when applying for the job), who chain smoked filter-less cigarettes while passing long lines of cars as speeding oncoming trucks blared their horns at us. The cab's interior had no door knobs or window handles in the back, and the driver was acting a bit spooky...he would sporadically pull off to the shoulder, jump out of the car and pee on the side of the road, then sort of stand their looking down the road, as if he were waiting for someone. Usually, I regret not being able to speak Spanish. This was one time when I really didn't want to know what he was doing. BTW, this kind of taxi driver is found everywhere in Central America, Nicaragua has nothing special going here.

At one point we stopped at a gas station and he demanded I give him money for gas. I didn't quite understand what he wanted at first, and was trying to figure it out by asking him to speak slower, and write down some words. He became very angry and agitated, yelling at me in Spanish. Not knowing what the fuck he wanted I gave him thirty dollars and that seemed to appease him, but left me completely bewildered as to why he was behaving so aggressively. By the time we reached the capital, I was a bit non-plussed, and then even more anxious when I saw the kind of slums we were driving through to get there. That was the first time I'd been through Managua, which is one of the worst cities I have ever seen. It isn't as bad a Colone, Panama, but it is close. It's basically a large slum replete with burned out buildings, tenements, roving gangs, and the occasional small pockets of moderately impoverished homes that pass for middle class here. Short of war, the only thing I know that will destroy a country as completely is fifty years of dictatorship followed by socialist rule. Everything we would take for granted (street signs, traffic signals, sanitation, law enforcement, etc.), is either broken, dirty or just not there. I sat in the back of the cab and wondered if I'd actually get to the airport, or be rolled by the taxi driver on some side street. Not a pretty place.

When I returned to Nicaragua this last time, I tried to get a taxi to drive me from the airport to the marina, but he claimed he would only go as far as Chinadega (which is as far as the paved road goes), and he wanted over a hundred dollars to do so. I decided to rent a car instead. As I drove from the airport to the marina, I passed a large factory building with scores of people getting off work. Just beyond it were two police officers standing on the side of the road, one of which flagged me down. "Oh, this is gonna be great" I thought, given my inability with the language. I wondered if perhaps they were going to give me a ticket for speeding, or not signaling properly, or driving while American, or something like that. The first officer walked up to my side and through a few gestures and a minimum of words managed to convey that they wanted to ride in my car. Okay, they have guns and uniforms, what am I gonna say? So they got in, one in the passenger seat, the other directly behind me.

We drove along. They didn't say much. I started wondering if maybe this wasn't such a great fact, I was a bit embarrassed at finding myself unable to assess the situation. It could have been perfectly safe, or I might have just fucked up royally. Where I grew up, this would count as the latter; to be in: in a car with two armed men you've never met before, one sitting directly behind you, the other sitting outside the first's field of fire, while driving through sparsely populated countryside. This is exactly how people get whacked in Jersey. But my fears were for naught. Within a few minutes they told me to let them off near a roadside cafe. They got out, politely thanked me, smiled and walked away. Hmmm, I thought, maybe the fuzz down here aren't all that bad. When I got back to the marina I mentioned this to a couple of the cruisers. They all assured me that picking up cops was cool, and that Nicaraguan police are often so poor they don't have cars; if you should see one asking for a ride, you should pick them up. Great. I'm learning the customs, going native. Pretty soon I'll be opening up my on factory and start raping the ecology.

A few days go by, and I exchange the rental car for a pickup truck, as I've described in previous posts. Then yesterday, AnnMarie was flying into Managua Airport, arriving at 2pm, which meant I needed to leave the marina by about 9am in order to be there on time. I had the truck, which meant that even though the roads were still barely passably I would probably be able to get through. I bounced and slid my way down the several mile long private road leaving the marina, four wheeling through enormous mud puddles, boulder strew roads and avoiding (and often driving straight through) small herds of cows in the process. Eventually I came to the main road, and was happy to be on fresh pavement, but pretty exhausted from the trek. It takes a lot of concentration to avoid breaking an axle on roads so bad. Plus I was a bit worried because it took about two hours longer than I had anticipated, which meant I might not be there on time for AnnMarie's flight.

I drove along for maybe a half hour when I came to T intersection, where I needed to turn left. Standing on the side of the road was another police officer, looking for a ride. I pulled over and he hoped in. I explained that I was going to Managua, and that I spoke almost no Spanish, and asked if this was, in fact, the road to the capitol of Nicaragua. He smiled then began speaking in rapid fire Spanish, which I didn't understand at all. We tried to converse, but it was pretty difficult to understand anything he was saying. I managed to explain that I needed to go to the airport, and asked him again if I was on the right road. I wasn't really positive if I was, because I'd only been to the airport once before (via the under medicated taxi driver I mentioned above) and had driven from the airport to the marina (going in the opposite direction) only once as well. In both cases I was a bit stressed, and as you know, memory is state dependent. If you study for a test while stoned, you should also be stoned when you take the test. If you experience something while agitated, your recall of it will be better when also agitated. At least, that's how the theory goes. Since the last two times I'd driven this road I was pretty stressed, and now I wasn't, nothing seemed to look that familiar.

Fortunately for me, I now had someone in my car to remedy that problem. As we drove along, he kept speaking very quickly in Spanish, and saying something about money. Each time he would finish his sentences with "intienda?", which is Spanish for "do you understand?". Each time I would say no, I didn't, could he please speak more slowly. Each time he would give me this weird look, then say something else very quickly. This went on for about an hour. It started to get really weird, I got the feeling something wasn't right, but couldn't figure out what. Perhaps I was just being paranoid but I got the impression he was saying pretty insulting things, just to see if I understood him at all. I also started to get nervous because each time I would ask him if we were going the right way, he wouldn't say anything. As we reached the capitol and started driving into the slums, he starting telling me to pull off the main road and down one of the side streets. At this point my (fear-state-based) memory was crystal clear, and I knew exactly where I was and needed to go, and it damn sure wasn't down some alley. I pulled over to the side of the road and stopped. We looked at each other for a minute and then he smiled this creepy smile. Not the kind of smile you want on someone with a badge and gun.

He started demanding money. I didn't understand much at all of what he was saying, but at first he said he wanted $100.00US. "Why? For what?" I asked, using up three of the ten words I know in Spanish. He said something to the effect that he needed a taxi. I explained that I didn't have that much money. In fact, I had only fifteen dollars in cash. He insisted I give it all to him. I refused and started to get pissed off, which is not a good situation because when I get really pissed off I stop being afraid of things like guns or badges, and become pretty sarcastic and antagonistic. He kept demanding money. As I recall, I then asked him, politely, to get out of the vehicle, although I think I used a couple of extra English words that he might have known. He started yelling at me and pointing to his badge. I took out five dollars, and yelled "Get the fuck out of this truck or you'll eat that fucking badge!" I think he sensed that I was really pissed because he took the money and got out quickly. I drove away feeling really stupid for not realizing what was going on much sooner.

From that point on I've not been willing to pick up anyone else unless they were on the road between the paved highway and the marina. Even then, they ride in the bed of the one gets inside the cab I don't already know. What makes me mad is that I just don't have a good sense of the culture, or the street sense to know what is cool. I hate having to err on the side of chicken shit, but I'm just not willing to take those kinds of risks right now. It would be different if I were backpacking through the country, perhaps, but right now I need to get a boat back to California, and I don't have the luxury of learning Nicaragua street sense the hard way.

Anyway, I arrived at the airport almost an hour late, pretty shaken up, and very tired. AnnMarie wasn't there. I drove over to the hotel across the street, where we had arranged to meet should there be any problems. She hadn't shown up. I checked my mail on line to see if she had sent a message. There was nothing there. I used the VHF hand held radio and tried calling her. No answer. I went back into the hotel and she was standing there, looking very, very unhappy. "Where have you been?" she asked, clearly upset that I wasn't at the airport to pick her up, she then explained that "I've just had the worst time getting through customs! They wanted to charge me for the boat gear. And then I had to carry all this luggage across the street, and I haven't eaten, and I'm exhausted."

There was a long pause, I smiled and said "Were there any firearms involved in any of this?" She looked back, noticing the look on my face, and said "No, what happened?" I just smiled and said "Then I think I've had a worse day." I gave her a big hug, then an even bigger kiss, and we held each other for a minute, just glad to be together. We jumped into the truck, and I plied her with various foods I'd brought along for the trip, plus lots of cold drinks. After a minute or two we were both happy to be together and headed to the marina. We rode back without incident, even getting through the roads without much trouble. The ten hours of direct sunlight and heat had gone a long way towards drying up a lot of the mud. We pulled into the marina, threw our gear on the boat and jumped into the pool. We then ate some gray hamburgers and went back to the boat to snuggle. It was a delightful way to end a miserable day.

So, I guess all's well that ends well. AnnMarie is here for the weekend, and it seems that there might be other crew members coming down after all. I just found out that the stainless steel dingy davit, which broke on the way up here, can be repaired, and that the weather looks good for sailing north. Things are looking up. In the meantime, I intend to spend as much time as possible fondling a beautiful woman, relaxing at the pool, and enjoying the short time I have to spend with her. If only we could get decent take out service!

I hope everyone else is doing well and am looking forward to getting back to the bay area before Christmas. Of this year. Well, at least by the fourth of July. Sorry there aren't any photos for this entry. AnnMarie has brought down the new camera but we hadn't had a chance to unpack it yet. Expect lots more snapshots as the trip progresses.

Cheers for now,



Thursday, October 25, 2007

Blood, Sweat & Mud


Hello from Puesta Del Sol,

Well, it has been an eventful day. It has finally stopped raining enough for us to chance driving the dirt road out of the marina. Ron, Diane and I managed to get the little rental car out Puesta Del Sol, but it was dicey to say the least. There was a tractor involved, lots of mud, a Nicaraguan guy who did even more horrible things to it getting it through the mud puddle, but we made it out. That poor car looked like a Baja road race entry by the time we got to the main road. In addition I'd managed to rip off all four wheel well covers, and the skid plate. I was really worried about bringing it back to the rental agency in that condition. On the way into town Diane noticed a car washing service, so we stopped and cleaned off the inches of caked on mud. I even asked that he clean inside the engine compartment and underneath the drive train. It cost two dollars and thirty cents, and may have saved me several thousand in rental charges. It was amazing how good it looked. If ever there was an item you need to own in these parts, it was a pressure washer...I'm having AnnMarie bring one down for the boat.

When we got to Chinadega we drove around a bit before we found the rental place, but they barely glanced at our clean, shiny car. He did check under the hood, but never said a word about any missing parts, which, as far as I'm concerned, weren't there when I rented the car. That's my story and I'm sticking to it. We discovered that they didn't have any 4x4's so we ended up getting one from another place, a Nissan 4x4, four door white pickup truck, with A/C!! If ever you are in a third world country, always, always, always rent the four wheel drive pick up truck. Trust me. I was very worried that I'd have to pick AnnMarie up from the airport in that little car, and knowing I've got the truck has really put my mind at ease.

We then ran a bunch of errands in town (the mean decibel level in town is about 130db) and with our ears ringing, we finished at about sundown. We headed back and were stopped on the main road by a large bulldozer blocking the road. We waited for about an hour. Suddenly we were hit from behind. Well, I looked quickly in the rear view mirror, but the truck behind us was still ten feet away. We jumped out and looked around the vehicle thinking that something must have fallen on us. Nothing was amiss. Then we noticed everyone else looking around-- at first we thought "earthquake", but there were no aftershocks. Eventually, we realized that it was an explosion set off by the road crews. Not long after that we were on our way again, but it was dark.

As we drove back, we almost ran over a stoned-out teenager walking along the middle of the road in the dark. He was pretty far gone and although we stopped and yelled at him, he was so out of it he didn't understand or particularly care. It was pretty close, and scary, (no harm, no foul) but in Nicaragua people die on the road all the time. Just in the short time I've been here I've seen several recently wrecked vehicles along the road. And some of them were pretty bad, including two trucks that hit head on, clipping each other along the drivers' sides. They must both have been going over seventy miles per hour to have managed the destruction that resulted. Both cabs had their driver quarter panels (including the wheel assembly) sheered back well past the driver's seat. I doubt anyone survived it. I've seen taxis, buses, and cars all similarly crashed. Life is cheap down here.

Eventually, we got back to the gravel road leading into the marina and the mud patches along the way. Most spots were better, but we almost got stuck at one point; thankfully we had four wheel drive and could muscle through. We were making jokes about how funny it would be if we got stuck in the truck, but it almost happened. Then we came to the worst spot (about 600 yards from the end) that was two feet thick mud. There were several pickup trucks and vans parked on the road, and plopped down in the center of the road was a giant yellow school bus, buried up to its ankles in mud. The moron driver thought he could get it through. There were about twenty people waiting around. After about forty five minutes, the marina tractor showed up and barely managed to pull it out, but that is pretty typical of the attitudes towards driving down here. Folks attempt things that no sane person would ever try.

Once the bus had been pulled clear, we watched as a few other vehicles try to go through, but it was clear that this part of the road was still pretty wet with deep mud. Everyone was going slowly but ultimately getting through it. The problem was that the mud was so thick (several feet deep) that if you stopped for any reason you would just slowly sink down into it. Most folks were trying to get over it by going slowly, because there were also very large rocks and boulders in the road and you could smack up your undercarriage on one if you weren't careful. I had a rental and got the full insurance, so I gunned it and took the strip at about thirty miles an hour. It scared the shit out of Ron & Diane, but got through no problemo!

It is frustrating because this stretch of road really should be better cared for. There are plans to pave it within the year, and what is now a several hour drive out of the marina to the main road will take maybe twenty minutes. In the meantime, I think their motto here should be "Nicaragua! Come for the rain, stay for the mud!" Well, that's enough Cal Trans talk for one day. Hope everyone is well and keeping to the pavements.




Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Looking for the Heart of Satruday Night


Hello Again,

Robinson (the bloke we met in the San Blas Islands and who came with us on the last leg) has arrived from the states, looking relaxed and as dapper as ever. He is quite the charming ladies man and has no problem finding friends wherever he goes. He is actually very photogenic, even better looking in person, but I've thrown this shot in just to make up for all the compromising photos he's taken of me. Here's one of him doing his best "Bill Bixby" imitation.

Although he hails from Manchester, England, (which makes him a Manchurian) he is so tan that he looks Latin. Given his proficiency with Spanish we've taken to calling him The Mexican. He looks Mexican. He often dresses like a local. And he is good at manual labor and works cheap. Natives are often surprised when they hear his accent. They never believe he is English...or Chinese!

His abilities as an interpreter have turned out to be a real asset when dealing with the various officials and merchants. Most of my conversations in Spanish are of the "Me Talk Pretty One Day" variety, so anything more complicated than saying hello or ordering French Fries usually requires his assistance. I make one attempt, just for the pure joy of watching the other person's expression as I mangle their language. Invariably the official/merchant/waiter/whatever is amazed by my approach to communications, which involve about ten actual words of Spanish, significant amounts of pointing and gesturing, and a completely unjustified look of hopefulness on my face.

After several minutes of this Robinson usually wanders over and explains that I'm really quite harmless and to not worry about the drooling. Their conversations usually consist of him explaining whatever it is I'm trying to convey, then a brief discussion about the cost (there is always a charge, no matter what it is) then a closing moment where the official, merchant, waiter smiles at him and says something slightly condescending in Spanish. He then shrugs, as if to say "what can I say, he's the captain, even if he is a bit retarded" and smiles. I usually just stand there and look stupid. It's what I'm best at.

We've been working on the boat, trying to get it ready for sailing. This has included putting up the solar panels, fixing the windlass controls, checking out the engines, rigging, etc., and cleaning the bottom of the boat. For this we hired the local divers that work for the marina. They showed up with the oldest compressor I've ever seen, completely rusted, and patched together. One problem with it was that there was no exhaust pipe, and the air intake pipe was broken off. It was located just below the exhaust manifold. This meant that the exhaust gas from the engine was being sucked back into the air being supplied to the divers, which is a life threateningly dangerous setup.

I spoke to the marina about it, and their solution was to add a piece of exhaust pipe instead of doing anything about the intake, which meant that even more of the exhaust gases would make it to the intake. This probably accounts for turned out to be a complete waste of money on getting the bottom cleaned. They didn't scrape anything below about three feet deep (I guess figuring we wouldn't be checking any deeper than that) and left the keels ridge lines (the most important part to get clean) with barnacles on them. They did an even worse job on Ron & Diane's boat Batwing, the day before, using a metal scraper on their fiberglass hull, removing a lot of their brand new bottom paint. Having seen the job they did on Batwing, I told them not to touch the props, I didn't want to chance having them screw up something that important.

We "shocked" the water tanks, adding a strong dose of Clorox bleach, letting it flow through the entire boat's plumbing, then flushing it out. The water has a bit of the swimming pool taste to it, but at least it isn't contaminated. The water in Nicaragua is not always safe to drink. We just found out that the area has been suffering from an outbreak of Leptosporosa. About thirty people have died from it already. You get it from contact with water, food or mud that has been contaminated with feces of certain animals. The symptoms are flu like, with muscle aches, fever and headache. That was a wonderful thing to discover after we'd spent that much time walking through the mud getting to and from the marina. Oh, and I've been feeling like dog shit ever since I got here. Cold, flu, muscle aches, headache.

Wonderful, it could be that I'm dying of the plague, or I might just have a cold. To be on the safe side (and on the advice of some medical pros) I've decided to treat for plague. Fortunately, Nicaragua has no restrictions on buying antibiotics over the counter, so I went in and bought enough to treat everyone on board. Robinson was having problems with an ear infection (probably from going in the water) so we got drugs to treat that as well. We are both feeling under the weather, and finding the enthusiasm to work on things like the radar, or cleaning the props is difficult. I'm also a bit disheartened because several of the folks who had originally said they would like to join us have had to since back out. This means it will only be the two of us going through the Tehautepecs, which is a difficult place to sail through.

The other thing that is getting me down is the lack of good food. I've been spoiled by the S.F. bay's plethora of great restaurants, AnnMarie's great cooking, and an abundance of healthy, cheap and most importantly, varied food. Down here there isn't much to eat, and what there is, is always the same. I can get rice and beans with chicken at Juan's place, or I can have the cheese burger and fries at the marina restaurant. Now that wasn't bad at all when we were in Shelter Bay, where the meat was grown for the U.S. market, but in Nicaragua, good beef (or fresh vegetables, or plump organic chicken) is unknown. When you picture a cheese burger, no doubt you have something thick, juicy and freshly made in mind. Ah, I bet you can even hear the sizzle. In Puesta Del Sol, this means a gray, square patty sliced off the end of an extruded block of meat that was packaged during the second world war, and covered with a plasticine slice of Velveeta. Even after several days at sea, you quickly get tired of gray burgers. If you are eating out, order a cheese burger and think of me.

Oh well, nothing for it but to keep on keeping on. We seem to have changed seasons now. It is no longer raining constantly. It is mostly hot, sunny and humid. We spend a lot of time in the pool, and even more time just lying still. When we get bored we go over to Batwing and give Ron a hard time. It may not be the Heart of Saturday Night, but it still beats life in the fast cube. Besides, AnnMarie will be arriving in the next few days! Not only does that mean great sex, but we can stop eating gray burgers for a few days as well.

I hope all is well back home and your days are more productive than ours!




Monday, October 22, 2007

Quick Robin, to the "Batwing" Mobile!


Hey All,

We've been hanging out a lot with Ron & Diane on "Batwing". Diane is a tall, athletic woman with a deep tan and a bright smile. She seems quite poised and refined along side her husband Ron, who is about sixty, looks maybe late forties, and has the exuberance, humor and enthusiasm of someone just entering puberty. He loves to kid, tease and harass everyone, and will clown about without the slightest reserve, which usually results in the rest of us groaning at his antics, and Diane rolling her eyes. But, he is disarmingly charming, makes friends everywhere we go, has become the self appointed mayor of the marina and both Diane and he have spent a significant amount of their time getting to know many of the marina workers, offering them classes in English andhelping out where ever they can.

I drew this picture of them, using the above photo as a guide, and gave it to them when they left. Diane is an excellent artist in her own right and does beautiful water color postcards. It is amazing the level of talent we've come across among the folks we've met while cruising.

They are both delightful folks to be parked next to and consummate low budget sailors, giving us many tips about the best deals in town, best routes, cheapest gas, etc. While I really appreciate all the information and help, I don't think Ron quite approves of my approach to sailing. He has almost no electronics (and little expertise about it), spends almost no money unless it is absolutely necessary and makes everything last as long as possible. When I showed up he was amazed at the gear I had on board, the level of technology I wanted to make part of my sailing life, and the size and cost of my boat. We've had many discussions about our different approaches, and while I very much admire their approach, and it does work well for them, it would never work for me. I'm not a sailor for the love of sailing, or a traveler willing to forgo the comforts of home. I like having lots of gear. They don't. To each his own, but we love teasing each other about it, and it makes for a constant low grade sniping. I call him a failed Socialist; he calls me a raping Capitalist, we both make cutting remarks about the other and we enjoy every minute of it.

They been sailing the last few years on a "Junk Rigged" boat called Batwing. Now, junk rigged may sound like it has torn sails, or a duct taped mast and fouled lines (which, in this case isn't too far from the truth), but it is actually a style of sail rigging that eliminates the
need for guy wires (the forestay, backstay, shrouds, etc.) that normally attach the mast to the boat. This approach has lots of advantages, which Ron will recite for you continuously and without cessation. He is an evangelist for it, and knows more about it than anyone I've ever met. He will rattle on about its origins (it dates back to ancient China, as does Ron), its current state of technology and the various uses on sailing vessels, dingies, kayaks, canoes and probably a skateboard. Within minutes of meeting them, he was showing me vast amounts of documentation he had collected over the years. When Robinson came aboard last week it wasn't long before Ron was trying to make another convert. Here is a picture of him preaching to us about the wonders of a junk rig. I'm just surprised he doesn't have a T-shirt that says "Ask me about my junk rig", but on second thought, that might not parse quite the way its intended.

What is most amusing though, is that despite their intention to go low tech, they still have a strong dependence on some technologies such as GPS, SSB Radio, RADAR and their laptop. In the short time I've been with them, they've had problems with almost all of it. In some cases, I could fix what was wrong, but their low budget approach means that their gear is usually very old, rusted, and in desperate need of replacing. A case in point was their SSB Radio, which was made during the last world war, and was never intended for marine use. And it didn't work. No matter how I tried, I just couldn't convince Ron that it made sense to get a new, modern one. Instead they rely on a small, portable radio to receive reports, but they can't transmit a message except on VHS, which is only good for line of sight. I guess for them this is okay, they really enjoy the aesthetic of being "out of touch", but in the mean time, they are carting around about twenty pounds of extra junk. To each his own, but so far, I'm pretty happy with my approach.

On the matter of communications, we've had a few problems using the local infrastructure. Nicaragua is a temperamental country where power is concerned. There is almost always a black out during weekdays, and getting electricity is sporadically available during evenings and weekends. That coupled with a pretty bad internet service provider at the marina meant that we could hardly ever get email or download weather data. The HAM/SSB radio has only been marginally useful at the dock(they don't work well within harbors or near other tall masts, trees or buildings) so I've had to rely on my Motorola Satellite Phone, which has worked flawlessly. Of course, the downside is that it is expensive, but getting to say hello to AnnMarie and let her know I'm still alive is more than worth it. We met another couple, Jeff & Stephanie on "Musetta" who had a different brand of SatPhone, I believe it was called Global Star, and it has never worked for them and been a huge disappointment. This is exactly the same experience that most of the West Marine customers I met had. If you decide to get one, make sure its the Motorola version .

Well, that's all for now. I have crew coming in soon, and need to get this boat cleaned up a bit. Hope all is well back home and I look forward to seeing everyone shortly.




Saturday, October 20, 2007

Musetta, just another normal cruising couple


Dear readers,

It has been a fun filled week. No, actually, it has been a humidity filled week, and the fun has been trying to find ways to avoid it. The rains have pretty much subsided, although we notice thunder and lightening off in the distance most evening, and get the occasional sprinkle if we go to sleep and forget to close a hatch [the only way to absolutely guarantee dry weather is to close every portal on the boat, raising the level of stuffiness to something approaching a teenager's gym locker], but for the most part it is just plain sticky. It's that kind of weather, that after about twenty minutes of doing anything (including sitting quietly and reading), you find yourself dripping with sweat. We take frequent dips in the pool, shower several times a day, and are still sweaty ninety five percent of the time. The other five percent we are drying off.

The plan to get the boat ready is moving forward, our lovely catamaran appears to have survived my absence and for the most part we are on track. Robinson joined us last week, but then went off for a bit when AnnMarie arrived-- which was convenient because he said he needed to go to Leon for a dental appointment. Of course, Leon is also one of the hippest college towns in the country, and is famed for its night life, and has fantastic beaches for surfing and taking in the scenery. Sadly, his dentist wasn't able to see him, but his grin didn't seem to suffer any.

Now, I realize that quite a lot of my posts contain complaints about the weather, the food, the natives, the shops, etc., and it would be easy to think that the cruising life is actually pretty bad, so I apologize if I've given anyone the impression that it is merely a life of boat repairs punctuated with expensive interactions with government officials, shop keepers and mechanics. There are many other aspects that I've omitted, and in my haste to describe my sojourn I've left out some of the more rewarding items like mosquitoes the size of parakeets, black mold so evolved it has elected its own form of government, the brighter sides of malaria and Dengy fever, and the ability for both stainless steel and fiberglass to rust.

One of the more amusing things about this area is the large number of building devoted to Jesus's testicles. Now, you may not know this, but "testicle" comes from the word testity. More accurately it would be "to give witness". The Romans referred to their nuts as "little witnesses". It's a kind of cute way of considering the family jewels, thinking of them both just hanging around watching all that porn, but up close like.

Well, in an interesting twist of language, Jehovah's Witnesses, when translated into Spanish, tends to also bring up a delightful mental picture. I can't help but smile every time I drive past one of the numerous white buildings that, roughly translated, say "Testicles Of Jesus". It just brings up this image of a room full of devot school girls, all down on their knees, hands clasped in front of their chins in prayer, worshiping our lord's nutsack. I know that if I'd died for all man's sins, that would be my idea of heaven. Maybe this religion thing ain't all bad after all?

Oh, and another thing that I've seen down here that makes me wonder are the Coca Cola signs. Now, lots of things go better with Coke, like cheerleaders, Congressional Aids, and evangelical preachers, but I'm yet to get what exactly they are advertising here. I've noticed these weird signs through out Managua, Leon and Chinandega. I mean, sure, Viagra is great with a lot of things, but I just don't see the marketing connection. I can only imagine what those marketing gurus will team up with Mountain Dew.

Speaking of words I don't understand, I've also made friends with Jeff and Stephanie, on "Musetta", a beautiful mono hull with an elegant interior. Apparently Musetta was a major character in an opera that if I had gone to a better school I would recognize. AnnMarie knew this right away. I thought that Musetta was some kind of Mustard.

Anyway, they are currently sailing their boat to the Panama canal and hope to cruise the Caribbean next year. As it turns out, they started out from the same marina as us, and have kept their boat in Emery Cove for years. They berthed on G dock, which is the other side of the marina from us, and we never seemed to have crossed paths. For such a big world, it is surprising how small it can be. We have bumped into no less that six other boats from our marina. Amazing.

It also turns out that they are "Foodies" with a capital FOOD, and Stephanie is one of the best shipboard cooks I've ever met. Without the least effort they throw together fantastic meals, made all the better when compared to the gray burger fare to which I've become accustomed. This has turned out to be a bargaining chip because, while I am incapable of cooking anything more complicated than octopus, pineapple and mayonnaise surprise, they have very limited electronics expertise. They had several problems with their computer and some other electronics equipment they'd been trying to install, so we've worked out a "will consult for food" deal, where I charge them by the salad. I've also taken to sneaking over to their boat when they are away and disconnecting things to insure a constant supply of great meals. Sadly, they are leaving in a few days, and I'll have to go back to my traditional canned food bonanza. Unfortunately, Jeff knows too much about diesel engines or I think I could keep them around even longer.

They are definitely interesting people and a cut above the average duck. I had said as much to them, in a conversation we were having about cruisers, where I suggested that most cruisers I've met tended to be pretty far outside the "normal" curve. They both seemed surprised to hear me say this, and protested, saying "Oh, we're pretty normal. We don't think we are that unusual at all." This was pretty early on in the conversation that evening, and I just shrugged and nodded. We then continued on talking about their boat, their trip, and what all they had been up to. Stephanie went on to describe how they had decided to make their own cushions. Now, lots of folks make their own cushions (and usually they end up looking like it), but my "normal" friends decided to add an embroidery pattern that matched other features of the boat, so they bought a sewing machine and she taught herself how to do this, first embroidering the fabric, then sewing it into cushions and pillows. The result was as good as any work I've seen done professionally.

Okay, that's just one thing. That doesn't make them that unusual, you might say. True, but it was only the tip of the anal-retentive, over-achiever ice berg. The interior of the boat is trimmed out in brass. They polish it. All of it. It looks brand new. There isn't an item out of place, a speck of dirt, a wire mislaid. Everything is perfect. And these are cruisers! Living full time on board and sailing about, and yet their environment is beautiful, elegant and spotless. Jeff, who knew nothing about sailing, engines, mechanics, electrical repair, navigation, etc., taught himself pretty much everything they needed to know to keep a boat going. This is no small feat, especially for someone without prior experience or specific aptitude for it. Stephanie decided to take a course in olive oil tasting. She ended up being something of an expert in it, able to determine which grade of oil it is from its smell alone. As the night progressed I learned more and more of their achievements. At some point I said "Oh, I'm so glad to hear that you are both normal. I'd hate to think what you would be like if you weren't."

From that point on I teased them about being over the top, and it became one of the running jokes between us. Another was a dress Stephanie wore one evening. To me it looked like there was a kind of a pattern of the "Star Trek Enterprise" logo on it. No one else thought it did, but it became a constant source of amusement to what her blush when ever we asked her what was on her butt. Again, cruising is mostly location jokes. You had to be there. But we laughed constantly and their company was a true delight for us. We are both looking forward to getting together with them in Emeryville when they get back, and introducing each other to our favorite restaurants

Well, all this talk of food is making me hungry, so I'm off to grab some gray burgers, cold French Fries and a warm soda. Hope your food fare is at least as exciting.

Cheers for now.



Thursday, October 18, 2007

Another Wasted Day


To Whom It May Concern,

Well, Its almost 5:30 and I've accomplished almost nothing today. This is partly because of the rains we got last night, which made the already bad roads much worse, but also because I couldn't sleep last night. Maybe I was just bored, tired of feeling sick, hot, humid, run down, frustrated and missed being home, but I couldn't get to sleep. I decided to draw a picture of my view from the bunk. I ended up drawing a picture of myself drawing a picture of my view from the bunk. My knees are actually a bit fatter, but who'll know?

This is not exactly the most exciting thing to be looking at, but it is pretty much what I've been seeing for too long. Anyway, it gave me something to do, and took my mind off of things, but didn't make it any easier to nod off.

I didn't fall asleep until sunrise this morning. Then Ron & Diane woke me up around 8:00am. It had been our hope to take the rental car into Chinandega (the nearest main town) to buy supplies, batteries, diesel, solar panels, etc., and if possible, upgrade the vehicle to a four wheel drive truck. We got about 600 yards out of the marina compound before we ran into a patch of road that was impassible. There were foot high ruts in a muddy mess that had filled in with water, and several locals standing around it wondering what they might do to try to get their own vehicles through.

The day before there had been a wedding on the marina grounds, and it was impossible for the wedding guests to be driven within a mile of the marina. The trucks and buses would take them as close as they could get, then each guest had to scramble along side the roads and walk through muddy fields to get to the reception. Imagine asking your aunt Sally and Uncle Ernie to do that for your wedding-- at least getting "towels" would be a reasonable wedding gift.

Heavy rain is the Nicaraguan equivalent to our snow days. It makes the mud and stone ruts they call roads unusable, brings commerce to a halt, and traps people in their homes. Since many of the locals live a "hand to mouth" existence, this can mean not having any food on hand, or in mouth, the next day. Today was like getting five more inches of snow after a two day long major blizzard. It was so bad that the school bus couldn't make it in or out, which meant that neither the teachers nor the children could get to class. I did not see a single unhappy child. They were all running up and down the road, playing various forms of tag and "kick the can" (although down here it is called "kick the mud clump"), and giggling about the funny looking Americans. What surprises me most about them is how the children have all adapted to the environment, and can scamper and rough house in the roads or fields, but still not get dirty. Everything within a foot of the ground is covered in mud right now, yet every single one of these kids is wearing a pristine white shirt and neat blue slacks or a dress, and I'm yet to see a single child with dirt on them. Left alone at that age, my younger brother and I would end up mud wrestling within ten minutes, and the only bit of us not caked in clay would have been under our eyelids.

Since we couldn't get out to town, we stopped at one of the local "cafes". It is an open sided brick hut and unless you already knew it was a central point in "town", you'd assume it was just another shack, among many other shacks, but they serve breakfast and lunch, coffee and sodas, and the owner's husband spoke English. We sat and talked with him over weak coffee with too much sugar in it for a few hours and caught up on the local gossip. Apparently there have been a few murders in the neighborhood lately. One gentleman was found floating in the water after having gone drinking ad fishing with another friend. The friend turned up elsewhere claiming he hadn't ever seen the dead man, but other witnesses saw them both getting into a canoe together earlier that day. When the police arrested him he was down at the beach, with all his worldly possessions in a knapsack, waiting for a boat to take him to Honduras. He is awaiting trial now. In a separate incident, a well known hoodlum has been seen attacking and robbing people a little further up the road. The cafe owner explained that the police would be here tomorrow, armed with AK-47's, to "shoot to kill and ask questions later". They take law enforcement quite seriously down here.

What is odd, though, is the very, very peaceful nature of the general population. These are not angry people. They do not bicker or fight amongst themselves. They live in tough conditions-- what we would have called a hard scrabble existence, with almost no work available, and, for the most part, get along well with each other. Although the children can be typically rambunctious, and the young men behave like young men everywhere, the adult men and women here are typically quite shy and retiring. Whenever you engage them, they seem somehow surprised that you would bother. I've met many of the folks who work at the hotel and marina, and am yet to come across anyone who is anything but calm, reserved, quiet and dignified. It is rumored that once the main road is completed they will begin on the road into the marina. If so, then this area will change dramatically, and most probably for the better. There are a lot of folks who would love to come here, but right now the roads make that impossible. Having a paved road will change all that instantly, and probably mean a lot more work and much better working conditions for the folks who live around here.

After our coffee we wondered back to the boat and I tried to take a quick nap. A few minutes later, Ron banged on my boat and asked if the bride from the earlier wedding party and her friend could come aboard to take some pictures on my boat. She was a quite beautiful young lady, and they both giggled a lot while Ron snapped pictures of them sitting on the bowsprit and then posing in front of the mast. I was asked to be in one of the photos, but I'm not quite sure why. I wonder what they will make of these pictures twenty or thirty years from now, when their grand children are looking through them. "Hey mom, whose this fat white guy with you and aunt Consuella?"

Well, the power is back on, so I should probably get back to work. It gets dark pretty fast around here, and for the most part it is very quiet. There is a beautiful swimming pool just at the water's edge, right next to the docks, that no one seems to use at night. I've been sneaking over there every evening and taking a dip. I'll sit in the water and watch the thunderstorms roll in across the jungle tops, and hear the fish splashing around in the estuary, and it is about as peaceful and serene a moment as you can imagine. I wish that you all could be here with us.

Cheers for now,



Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Down and Out In Beverly Hills.


Dear reader,

I've been unable to get motivated today. I'm sill feeling like death warmed over, and can't seem to get caught up on sleep. This is a shot one of my crew mates thought best represented my natural state. To make matters worse, it has rained on and off all day and evening; the humidity weighs on you. It feels, at times, like you are breathing through wet blankets. I've managed to get my cabin mattress back together, put on sheets, find clean towels, clothes, arrange my laptop and paperwork enough to be able to do some basic record keeping and make sure the various computer programs and devices I'd brought down were working. This effort was exhausting. The boat still looks like an tornado hit it. There are things stacked in piles about the cabin, my prior attempts at putting the boat away for storage, but I haven't had enough good weather to start putting everything back in its proper place. It has rained on and off since I got here. Not enough to force you completely indoors, but enough to make working outside for any length of time damp and impractical, if not down right discouraging.

So, if you can't face your problems, back up to them. I spent most of the afternoon inside, trying to get the electronics working. There are several new geegaw's I've picked up this trip. My favorite has turned out to be a folding table for the laptop computer. I realize that this is just two pieces of hard plastic with a hinge, but it allows me to place the laptop on my lap while still providing airflow and eliminating the "hot spots" you get when the computer rests directly on your lap, raising your testicular temperature to the melting point of Molybdenum. I'm told that this may be the reason I've never had children. It also makes things more stable and secure, plus it fits nicely in the briefcase I use to hold the laptop. It is maybe five dollars worth of material, so I probably paid about fifteen dollars more than I should have, but it has worked out well and allows me to write comfortably while sitting in an airport, or on a plane, or even in bed. I only wish that laptop manufacturers would start making split key keyboards as part of the native laptop. My wrist ache after a few hours of typing in this position.

I've also managed to get the Garmin GPS chart plotter maps downloaded today. This turned out to be hours of fun. That is, if your idea of fun consists of following several web pages worth of instructions written originally in Japanese by someone who had never seen or used the product, and then translated into our native tongue by a Korean whose keyboard didn't include commas, semi-colons, or the letters T, H and E, and then edited by a Taiwanese tech writer who learned English through a correspondence course. Plus, I'm already annoyed with Garmin because I was unable to do any of this while at home. They've set up their system so that you can only use the "map" info with an unlock key, and they won't give you the key unless you know the serial number of the target GPS unit. That's fine unless you happen to be in the states, and the target unit is installed on your boat in Nicaragua, and you don't remember your serial number. The tech support staff were of absolutely no help what so ever, but ever so cheerful about being useless. I think they learned that "chipper, smiling, happy while I fuck you over" behavior from California highway patrol officers: "Here's your ticket for going three miles an hour over the speed limit, Ma'am, and you have yourself a real nice day."

What pisses me off is that I wasn't downloading the map into the GPS directly, I was burning it into a data card that would be installed into the GPS. I just wanted to make sure that all the new hardware I'd purchased would work. They could have just as easily set up the software so that the download didn't require the unlock code, or there was a one time use mechanism, or it was possible to download some demo map that didn't require an unlock code, or any of a thousand other approaches, but instead they've made it as difficult to use as possible. Their claim is that this prevents illegal reproductions, but the reality is that this doesn't actually stop the folks who want to abuse the system, it just makes it harder for the rest of us to use their products. If you applied their logic to the rest of the commercial world, you wouldn't be able to open a can of peaches without a working desktop computer, high speed internet access and half an afternoon of free time.

It also meant that I had to wait until I was back down here before I could try any of it out for the first time, which meant that if anything went wrong I'd be fucked unless I could get AnnMarie or someone else to bring me down the right parts. Internet communications are feeble at best here, and the power goes out every few hours, which kills the internet servers in the marina, so fixing a tricky electronics problem from here is, at best, great fun-- in that "you have yourself a real nice day" sense of the word fun. Since I began writing this email, the power has gone off, and come back on three times. Frustrating just doesn't adequately describe the emotion. We need a new word or phrase (something like "road rage" or bad drivers) to describe the desire to reach through the internet and strangle that useless little support script reading fuck wearing a headset; maybe "disk rage" or "web-roid".

As it turned out, it was many hours before I was able to get enough of a connection through to the Garmin website (after being repeatedly cut off when either the power failed or the signal grew too weak) before I had everything working. At one point the wireless signal here became so weak that the only way to continue meant having to sit outside-- naturally it started to rain just as I was about to complete the download transaction. I could have maps for my upcoming trip, but only if I was willing to saturate my laptop to do so. Good times, good times. To make matters worse, the 16Meg blank data card I bought was defective. I happened to find another card someone had given me, otherwise I would have been stuck until someone from the states arrived with additional hardware.

This evening I was invited over to "Batwing" for dinner with Ron & Diane. I had just started to begin organizing the boat, but a home cooked meal is never to be passed up when cruising. We were joined by Tom and Ann, a retired couple from Washington who've been out sailing the west coast for a while. It seems that you can quickly tell the folks who are coping well with the cruising lifestyle. I watched as the two of them paddled their sailing canoe up to the dock and gracefully got out without so much as a glance between them. Now, that doesn't sound like much, but getting two adults out of a untethered canoe isn't as easy as it looks, and they managed it quickly, effortlessly and with aplomb. This kind of unspoken, choreographed movement from an unstable platform takes practice and communication, and that only happens when both parties are in sync with each other. I've seen other couples have trouble just walking side by side while holding hands.

We all sat around chatting, eating and drinking, telling tales out of school and generally enjoying each others company. The evening sped past us. It was after 10pm before I made it back to the boat, and any energy I might have had towards organizing quickly vanished. Oh, well, another day in paradise; I just wish it didn't rain so much, or was so hot, or so difficult to get around, or...oh, wait, I'm hanging out on a comfortable catamaran, in a brand new marina located at the edge of a breath-takingly beautiful tropical jungle, with delightful friends, and no one is shooting at me. Life could be a lot worse.

I hope your day was as traumatic.




Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The Saga Begins.


Hey All,

I arrived very late last night in Managua, but didn't want to take a cab in the dark, so I checked into a local hotel for the night. Getting through customs and immigrations took no time at all. While on line I started talking with an older women next to me. I thought she looked like someone visiting from the bay area; actually, I thought she looked like someone you might see riding on the back of a motorcycle as part of Dykes on Bikes. I think I might have been wrong; she was a nun and worked for an evangelical charity.

She pointed me towards a shuttle that would take me to "The Mercedes", a part of the Best Western Chain of hotels where I could spend the night. On the way over I met Wim, a very nice man from the Netherlands, who was working for an NGO doing charity work in Nicaragua. When I got to the hotel, there were two people in line in front of me. Both of them were carrying very large, well thumbed bibles. The man behind me was chatting on the phone about setting up a prayer meeting. I may be the only unbeliever in the entire country. They put me in room 666, but I'm sure that is just a coincidence.

So, no trip is complete without at least one horrible cab story. This leg of our journey started with the front desk person telling me it would cost $150.00 for the taxi to drive me to the marina. "Okay", please ask the driver to come here", I say, knowing already how this is going to go. He doesn't speak English. "Explain to him that I will pay only $150.00 and nothing else, and he must take me directly to the marina." I tell the clerk. They chat in Spanish for a few minutes.

She then tells me that he doesn't know the way to the marina, do I have a map. I show him the stuff I got off the marina's website. He says he doesn't know how to get there, but that the roads are impassible. It is amazing that he can both not know how to get there, and also know about the road conditions getting there, but this kind of Zen knowledge is part of the Cabbie From Hell job qualification. He tells me he can only go as far as Chinandega, the closest major town, but will only charge me $100.00. I explain that that doesn't help me at all, I need to get to the marina. The desk clerk asks for the number to call the marina, so I begin to look it up, but the power fails, and all their internet connections drop. I've got a map off the marina website which is almost as useful as the Microsoft Help Desk. I realize that the webpages I have saved off don't have the local marina number, and my cell phone doesn't work in Nicaragua yet so I can't call Ann to ask her for this info, and "telephone information" is a new concept in Nicaragua.

Realizing that I'm just wasting time waiting around for the power to come back, I decide to get in the cab and head to Chinandega, but I'm not feeling comfortable about the situation. As we are driving past another hotel I see a huge sign for car rentals, I realize that cab rides for the crew are going to add up, and I could just as easily rent a car. I tell the cab driver to let me off at the next hotel we come to, and I inquire about rentals. The price is $10 a day for the car, and $14 a day for the minimum insurance. That is still cheaper than what it is going to cost me, AnnMarie, and Robinson in cab fares, plus I'll have the ability to go into town when I want. I rent a car and head off into the jungles of Managua.

Now, most Americans will find this hard to believe, but there are no maps for sale in Managua, or parts near by. The reason for this is that there are no street names in Managua, or in parts near by. The idea being that if you don't already know your way around here, you are probably a foreign spy. I thought it was odd that the directions listed on the marina web site didn't mention street names, and included comments like "turn right when you see the rock shaped like a bear", but it didn't occur to me that I'd be navigating my way there. Had I known I would have brought my compass and GPS/Chartplotter along. I stopped about twelve times along the way, each time asking for directions.

Nicaraguans don't like giving simple directions, probably because it takes a lot of Spanish words to say "turn left after you've gone past Jose Gomez's barn that fell down". The fact that I speak eight words of Spanish which don't include "right", "left" or "road" didn't help. Basically, at each fork or intersection, I'd stop, find the most anal retentive looking man I could, and ask him to draw a map. Fully fifty percent of the maps were wrong. I'm sure that if given enough time, I will be able to find my way back to the airport, but I think I may need to hire a guide for the first trip. It is really quite impressive. Even CalTrans could hold their head up high compared to this place.

On the way to the marina I was stopped by police. At least I thought they were police. They were wearing police uniforms, and had guns. They were pointing at my car and directing me over to the side of the road, so I pulled over. There were two officers, and it turned out they wanted a ride up the road. They were not police, but guards at the local factory, and were on their way home. Hitchhiking while fully armed and in uniform is a new one for me. None the less, I spent a few tense moments realizing this, then another ten minutes wondering if I'd just made a really stupid mistake picking them up. They turned out to be very nice folks, we tried our best to communicate, and I even learned the word for "farm", which is all we saw as we drove along, but I've since forgotten it.

Eventually I found my way toward the marina grounds. At about this time the paved roads became gravel roads, and gradually the gravel roads became dirt roads, and then ruts, and then ruts filled with water, and then parts that were just water. At some point along the way I realized I'd made a horrible mistake in not renting a 4x4, preferably a truck. Or maybe a HumVee, if not a tank. The ground was saturated, and I found myself having to do some pretty tricky driving to get past some bad spots. On top of that, it was starting to get dark and I really didn't want to get stuck out in these parts at night. About a mile from the marina I encountered a really bad patch of muck, and pushed the poor little rental car to its limits getting it through. By the time I was driving down the marina driveway my vehicle looked like I'd just finished a Baja cross country race.

As I drove up the driveway I encountered Ron & Diane on bicycles coming the other way. Ron had been watching my boat for me while I was away, and I was bringing down some boat parts for him from the states, so it was a delightful accident to bump into them just as I arrived. Ron is a bit of a character; he is tall and lanky and always making jokes with everyone. He is the kind of guy that somehow knows everyone by name, and is able to befriend even the most reluctant natives. He and his wife Diane have been teaching English to many of the locals, and they have come to recognize his goofy antics and also make fun of him. We hit it off immediately, and have been teasing each other ever since. Its fun to watch him interact with Diane, who just shakes her head at his jests and rolls her eyes as if to say "Can you believe this guy?" They are a very cute couple.

They were bicycling along the road with another cruising couple, Tom & Ann, and were all on their way to dinner at a near by restaurant. We ate at a palm covered palapa overlooking the ocean. The hilltop sloped down to a beautiful beach with what, as I'm told by the local surfing tourist, Brad, is an amazing left break with two hundred yards of run that tubes most of the way. At least, I think that was what he said. I don't speak Surfer any better than I speak Spanish. I just pretended I understood and nodded dumbly. He had brought his guitar, I borrowed one from the restaurant and we sat and jammed after dinner. Eventually we hiked back to the car and I drove into the marina parking lot, glad to have managed to get this far.

So, I've made it back to the boat, which is still floating and doesn't seem much the worse for wear. The battery was dead when I got here, but that was because one of the marina workers decided to shut off the power to my boat but didn't turn it back on. When ever there are serious blackouts and the marina needs to use their own generators, they walk along the docks shutting off everyone's boat that isn't occupied. This is something they've started doing and it really is the only problem I've had with the marina so far. Power is such a rare commodity here that the folks will do anything to reduce their load. Unfortunately, it killed my battery. I've plugged everything back in and started charging it again, but it isn't clear if it will come back. I've decided that batteries are like small infants. They will die unless constantly attended to.

Beyond that, and being unbelievably tired, things are good. I trust the same holds for you, and hope everyone is enjoying themselves as much as I.