We checked in with Bahamas Customs & Immigration in Georgetown, Great Exuma.  The cruising permit for the Bahamas has gone up to $300, which is outrageous.  On this trip we have checked into 12 countries and territories (some of them twice) and all of them together haven’t added up to that much! Furthermore, he wasn’t even particularly nice!  Could I have a smile for that $300, please?  Maybe pick up my bar tab?  And, tax dollars hard at work, the other 2 employees in the office were playing solitaire on their computers.  Yeesh.  Maybe I wouldn’t be so bitter if it weren’t the end of the trip and our funds scarce.  But moreover, there should be some kind of concession for those passing through.  Ok, I’m done griping.  On the positive side, I guess we could be stuck in the middle of nowhere with bad weather bearing down on us.

We stayed the night in Georgetown and after collecting weather information the next morning, we decided to leave immediately –racing the weather again!  In fact, if we’d been able to get weather information the day before we probably would have left just after checking in.  We sailed straight up the Exuma Island chain, past Nassau, across the Northeast Providence channel and over to the Berry Islands in about 35 hours.  All but 4 of these hours we needed to hand steer because the weather was too much for the autopilot.  Still, we’re very glad we did the trip because it’s blowing like stink here today and the conditions are certainly worse than they were yesterday (tucked up behind Chub Cay, we’re working our $300!)  It’s Monday today, and I can’t believe we left Grand Turk on Wednesday.  That’s almost 500 miles we did in 4 days –and we stopped over one of those days!  We’ve been making great time.

We’re going to rest up today and check the weather for our crossing to the Bimini Islands.  We need to time for a daylight entry so we might be leaving in the middle of the night again.  But not tonight –we’re pooped!  We needed a nap after breakfast!

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13 December 07   …Bimini Islands

Alice Town is quaint and laid back and the people are friendly.  Everyone greets you when you pass on the street, often even if they’re in their cars.  We had no real luck checking it out yesterday, though, as everything is closed on Wednesdays.  Why Wednesdays?  If you ask why, they look at you like you have two heads.  Why not Wednesdays?  It has always been and forever will be!  Also, it’s very slow here right now.  From everything we’ve been reading all the cruisers start heading down in November so we were a bit surprised to find out that summer is their high season here.  It’s funny because at Chub Cay, only 75 miles away, it’s the opposite.  Methinks something is funny here…  But being the closest Bahamian island to Miami, only 55 miles away, they probably get a lot of those folks here on the weekend.  A fast boat could make it here in only a couple of hours.

But a quiet town is even better for us and after the Wednesday handicap, we decided to stay another day to see what Alice Town is all about.  We walked around today and discovered beautiful beaches on a gorgeous sea, arts & crafts stores, a conch and lobster omelette for breakfast (!) and warm locals.  We also found Dolphin House, a small guesthouse built and operated by Mr. Ashley B. Saunders.  We just happened to catch Mr. Saunders on his way out and he was gracious enough to show us around.  The building houses a small museum (Mr. Saunders is the author of the history of the Bimini Islands, a comprehensive 2-book set) and two guest rooms upstairs.  He is also currently working on a rooftop patio with some terrific views.  But the most remarkable thing about Dolphin House is that Mr. Saunders has built it himself, entirely of natural and recycled materials from the island.  Don’t picture a heap of junk because you’d be dead wrong.  The walls are a mosaic of tile, shells, sponges, coins and various things he’s found on the island.  Any building that’s being torn down here has contributed in some way to Dolphin House, be it tile or a mirror… it’s truly incredible, and a work of art.  Travis was so wowed by the premises and Mr. Saunders’ hospitality that he offered a couple of his old bottles to add to the collection (gasp!).  Travis doesn’t part with those bottles for anything! 

One place that we really wanted to check out here was the Compleat Angler Hotel & Bar.  It’s a famous Hemingway hangout (yeah, the guy got around!) full of spirit and character, and the best bar on the island.  But we were dismayed to find that it burned down two years ago.  A local lady told us that “they found one part of him, but we never saw that boy again…”  Apparently someone had been sleeping upstairs –how horrible. They’re supposed to be rebuilding it, but they’ll be starting from scratch so it won’t be the same.  Travis has been there before, but I feel gypped!

Sadly, the trip is almost at an end!  The Bimini Islands are the last jumping off point to tackle the gulfstream between us and Florida.  We were originally going to stop in Marathon to visit friend on the way, making our way leisurely down the coast, but we’re racing a cold front again.  We may still make that stop but if we push it all the way down to Key West, we know we have a choice of safe places to hide from bad weather.  We’ll play it by ear.

Photos: The Bahamas

05 January 08   …Home

We made record time coming home, squeezing between the weather from tropical storm Olga and the impending cold front.  The gulfstream was a kitten (“So what’s the big deal about this Big Bad Gulfstream?” I asked, ha ha!) and we zipped down Hawk’s Channel overnight, arriving in Safe Harbour just before lunchtime.  It was so quick, I hardly believed we were home!  Within hours the wind and sea conditions started to pick up, but we were safely tucked away.  We did end up making the Lighted Boat Parade, and it sure was fun getting home at this time of year to catch up with everybody at various Christmas parties.  I did determine, though, that it’s more fun being IN the parade and I’m already cooking up ideas for next year!

The past 3 weeks since then have been chaotic, so much so that I’m only just getting to finishing up the Caribbean 2007 portion of the website as you can see!  We really needed about 2 weeks to get the boat and our lives straightened out.  We compromised on one week.  …However, Travis was back to work within 24 hours and I managed to eke out 4 days!  It’s nice to be needed, but the result has been total chaos.  The family’s Christmas presents only made it out on the 24th and let me tell you that it’s tough to walk through a 35ft boat with everything pulled out of the hatches!  It’s coming together now, though, and some things will just have to wait.  We even managed to pull off our 2nd annual New Year’s Day brunch at the last minute! 

Work has been busy for the both of us.  At Key West Sail and Canvas, I’m feeling back in the groove and on track. Travis has been busy with TowBoat US and in fact I just went three whole days without really seeing him so things are back to normal on that front!  We just had a big weather system blow through here and he’s spent the last few days out rescuing the desperate, including a 130ft passenger ferry.  We hit lows of 45 degrees F (7 C), breaking the previous record set in 1898.  If that weren’t ridiculous enough, they were even talking about a windchill factor of 35 F (2 C)!  I smugly stated that “you guys” have no idea what windchill even is, but it was a bit hypocritical since I uttered the statement from beneath 3 hearty layers of clothing…

Well, I guess that’s all for this adventure!   Thanks to everybody for keeping up with our travels.  Check back to the website now and again because I’ll be changing things around and adding pages.  Hopefully I’ll have the time to keep up with it!

Cheers, Everybody!!

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This is the part of the trip we’ve been the most worried about since wind and current can impede you to the point of having to turn around and go back.  But it’s been a very pleasant cruise and we’ve been zipping along at between 5-6 knots for the mostpart.  The fishing has been good, too -Travis reeled in his very first sailfish, a 5-footer (my Dad is gonna be on the next plane down when he sees the photos)!!  He was too pretty and too big to eat so we threw him back.  The 2 pretty tuna that followed, though, weren’t so lucky.  We’ve been waiting all trip to snag some tuna and we got two in a row, just in time for breakfast.

Due to the brief weather window, we’ve decided to skip Aruba this time around and head further east straight to Curacao.  We’re currently only 4 hours away as I type this.  That’s right!!  I’m not in the cockpit curled up in a ball!  It’s been a very smooth and enjoyable trip and I’ve been able to move about without getting thrown around at all.  Even during the storms I wasn’t sick.  It seems I’ve found my wonder drug, recommended by other cruisers.  I may just be on the cusp of understanding Travis’ fascination with this whole cruising thing…

Oh, and by the way, we’re loving the pilothouse –my asking price on the boat just went up another $50,000!

Photos: Five Bays to Cabo de la Vela

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01 November 07   … Curacao

It’s been a wonderful week here in Curacao.  It’s an interesting change from the lush green mountains of Colombia as the landscape is very arid here.  Tons of aloe dots the hillsides and the biggest cactus I’ve ever seen –it looks more like trees, trunk and all!  The island is interesting as well for the Europe-meets-The Caribbean feel.  The locals speak Dutch, Spanish, English and Papiamento (a blend of the three) and when you approach a merchant you could be addressed in any one of them.  The grocery stores have been a real treat, stuffed with imported cheeses and meats, and we’ve found a few items we’ve done without for some time.  We were surprised at the prices as well.  Expecting that things were only going to get more expensive the further east we went, we stocked up well in Colon and Cartagena.  However, we think that the next time around we’ll do the bulk of the reprovisioning here –the prices and selection are fabulous!  We were expecting Cayman prices but instead were met with prices better than the States in some cases.  A log of chevre for $6??  Pass the cheese, please!

We’d heard from many cruisers what a pain it is to clear in here –a lot of running around.  We don’t understand what the big deal is!  We took the bus into town and strolled leisurely from office to office where we were met with friendly officials and no fees.  The downtown area is very nice with its European flair.  We had lunch at an outdoor café on the canal and while we were there the Queen Emma Bridge opened to let a ship pass through to the harbour.  Built in 1888, it’s the world’s oldest swinging bridge and the longest moving pontoon bridge.

On Tuesday, we rented a car with John & Barbara on “ Constance” who arrived two days after we did.  We drove north up through the interior of the island and were met with lush green landscapes (dotted with massive cacti, of course!) and 17th Century plantations.  We took an offroading expedition through the mountainous Christoffel Park in our poor little Atos rental –a lunchbox on wheels!  The eastern coast is windswept and rugged with cliffs and blowholes and we got good views of it from the tops of some of these mountains.  Driving down the west coast, we stopped in at a couple of beaches where the water was a beautiful turquoise blue, something we haven’t seen since San Blas.  Lunch was at a unique restaurant in Westpunt where we were greeted by the “walking, talking menu” who we presumed was the owner.  We had fresh fish, curried goat, and he surprised us with a plate of iguana to try!  The Belizeans called it “bamboo chicken” and yep: tastes like chicken!  The sauce was nice, but I don’t think I’d order it again –too bony with little reward on those scraggly little guys!

On the whole, we’ve had some great meals here, though.  Our favourite was last night at the Ostrich and Game Farm where there is an authentic African restaurant called Zambezi.  We’d love to return here in the daytime, as the landscape hinted at wonderful things we couldn’t see.  Still, the restaurant was very pretty and they had a bonfire burning off to the side under one of those kooky divi divi trees where you could relax with your before/after dinner drink.  It was a great atmosphere and the food was fantastic!  We had ostrich steaks and carpaccio that were phenomenal.  I’d had ostrich steak before but Travis had only had it in a burger so it was a new experience for him.  We left stuffed and happy.  They do eco-tours in the daytime and have a great gift shop but I don’t think we’re going to have the time to make it back on this trip.

So, we’ve had some great times here and met some great people.  The only downside about this week was coming back from the grocery store with a ton of supplies to find that our dinghy had disappeared.  It was the only time we hadn’t locked it, since it was the middle of the day and nobody else locks theirs so we presumed it to be safe…  We wanted to give the benefit of the doubt and thought that maybe someone had left the bar tipsy and took the wrong dingy, or maybe it had been retied and drifted and one of the other cruisers had found it. Or maybe we would find the dinghy in the trees without the motor (our lousy motor –laugh’s on them!).  But no luck on any of these counts.  Nobody had found it drifting and we scoured the whole area in search of it to no avail.  This sucks.  We had another outboard on order anyway, since we’d tired of this unreliable one, but we had to call the guy back and tell him to hold off since we no longer had a dinghy to attach it to!!  We researched our options and in the end we had to order a new dinghy as well.  It’s $2200 we weren’t planning on spending right now but we’re placating ourselves with the fact that it’s a much nicer dinghy than our old one and, after all, things could be worse.  Coming home to find Calico Jack up on the rocks would be the end of the world –the wind has been crankin’ here all week.

Sadly, today is our last day here in Curacao.  We’ll go downtown and visit all the official offices this morning and enjoy one last happy hour at Sarifundy’s tonight.  Our plan was to head over to Bonaire for a couple of days before heading north but the weather isn’t cooperating.  Not only would we be bucking a nasty wind east to Bonaire but when we’re ready early next week to head to the Virgin Islands it looks like the wind will switch to the northeast, right on our nose.  Ha!  Something we’re used to from this calculating, devious wind but it would make for a rough and ugly slog.  And we don’t want to stomp on my glow from the last trip, do we?!  So this means that we’ll likely be skipping Bonaire and heading straight up, sniff!!  We’re leaving the ABCs far too soon but we look forward to catching them again on our next time through.

I’m going to try to upload photos tonight, but the internet has been elusive here so no guarantees on this link working right away.

Photos: Curacao

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09 November 07   …US Virgin Islands

The weatherman lied.  Recall that we blew off Bonaire to head northeast to the Virgins early because every weather report forecasted the wind shifting to the ENE by Sunday.  Boy, were they wrong.  Basically it shifted as soon as we rounded the tip of Curacao so we had the wind on the nose the whole way!  This is typical for us, it seems, but having the mainsail to stabilize the boat in confused seas became out of the question as it tore on the second night…  So the run was a pretty sloppy 3 and a half days indeed.  Nothing terrible, just that confused sea state with waves coming in three directions that makes things so pleasant, blech!  It’s like being in a washing machine!  So much for my afterglow from the last pleasant trip.  The only afterglow I found were the bruises slowly appearing from all the boat bites –talk about being thrown around like a rag doll!   However, our new dodger was put into active duty and we love it, love it, love it!!

And now we’re enjoying the beautiful clear waters and civilized happy hours again.  Happy hours are wonderfully social and we’ve been baffled by some of these places where the bars have happy hour only one night a week, sometimes for only an hour…  What’s up with that? 

We’ve been catching up with a couple of Travis' old colleagues from Key West.  He hadn’t seen Mark since 2002 and we had no way to contact him.  However, this is how small St. John is:  Travis stopped a guy on the street who was covered in paint and plaster dust.  “Say, you look like you work construction…  Do you know a guy named Mark Such & Such?  He’s probably doing framing right now.”  The guy replied that he knows many Marks, but nobody on the island knows anybody’s last name.  This is typically “island”.  Travis is Towboat Travis, I’ve been Joanne from Decker’s, Conch Farm Joanne, even Mrs. Towboat Joanne!  In the service industry, we refer to people as Espresso Craig, or Heineken John…  Anyway, after a brief description, he says, “Yeah, I know him!” and directed us to a couple of his hangouts.  The first said, “We haven’t seen Budweiser Mark in awhile, try next door” and it’s there that we met his friend who led us right to him.

That was the first day.  Hazel was a little easier to find –we had her phone number in St. Thomas.  Here’s how small this whole area is:  “Do you see the highrise with the red roof?  And above it are the condos with the blue roof?  I’m waving at you!” and she pulled out her binoculars to watch us toodle over to see her.

We’ve also been happy to catch up with friends in the States over the last few days as my cell phone is working here.  To the best of our knowledge, we aren’t roaming –hopefully we’re not in for a surprise when we get home!   In any case, it’s been great chatting with people and we can’t believe it’s only about another month until we’re back home to see them in person.

Our friends Greg & Gail fly in Sunday and they'll be packing big smiles and our new sail, both of which have been waiting patiently at home!  They’ll be staying aboard a week and we’ll be heading over to the British side to do some exploring there.  The diving is supposed to be phenomenal and there are some fish that are very anxious to get in that beautiful water and check it out!

So we’re just tidying up and getting some minor boat projects out of the way in anticipation of their arrival.  Today we’ll head back over to St. John to see Mark again, then back here tomorrow to help celebrate Hazel’s birthday!  It’s only a 45 minute run so this breezing between islands is just that -breezy.

14 November 07   … British Virgin Islands

It’s been a great ½ week!

Greg & Gail arrived in St. Thomas on Sunday afternoon and we all went to meet them at the airport in Hazel Taxi.  How nice it was of her to offer to chauffeur because it’s a $60 cab fair –ouch!!  We went for lunch on the top of Flag Hill.  At 700ft, it seemed more like a mountain to us flatlanders (!) and afforded great views of the capitol, Charlotte Amalie. 

Monday morning we set out for the British Virgin Islands, checking in at Jost Van Dyke, a charming little island whose claim to fame is having the best handle on beach bars!  We sampled the original Painkiller at a bar called the Soggy Dollar, so named for the sailors who would swim in for cocktails –there’s no dock to dinghy up to.

Tuesday we had a bumpy but short trip to Norman Island, home of the famous snorkel site “The Caves”.  Wow!  This was better than some of the dives I’ve done as the quantity and variety of fish was amazing.  The jellyfish were cool -the harmless “comb” jellies, that is.  They were so thick to swim through in some places that it gave me the heebie-jeebies as they got stuck in my shirt and my dive mask!  Once I was comfortable with them, though, they were fun to play with.  You expect them to feel like nothing but they actually twitch like a muscle when you touch them.  We saw a couple of moon jellies, too, but don’t play with them!  Ditto on the UFO: Unidentified Floating Object.  It appeared to have jelly around a purple slinky, curled up in a circle like a bundt cake.  We couldn’t identify it with any of our books –anybody have a clue?  In any case, the same rule applies: if you don’t know it, no touchie!

We ended a great day with a fabulous dinner and the best Dark & Stormies ever in a restaurant built into an old schooner ship.  Very nice and tons of character.

Today we made our way to Salt Island where we dove the wreck of the RMS Rhone, one of the best wreck dives in the Caribbean.  It sank during a hurricane in 1867 and you could tell it had been down there for awhile as it had some impressive coral growth.  The stern with its massive propeller lies in 20-40ft of water while the forward half lies nearby and intact under about 80ft of water.

After the dive, it was a short trip to Cooper Island.  This afternoon we struggled to put up the new sail, quite a feat given the breezy conditions and the fact that it feels like stiff heavy cardboard compared to our flimsy 40-year-old girl that has faithfully carried us this far!  After a nice dinner at the restaurant onshore, we were all too tired to do the night dive we were considering and the fact that it seemed quite chilly did nothing to further motivate us!  So it’s early to bed and an early start tomorrow to head towards Virgin Gorda, the “Fat Virgin”.  It is more populated than the other islands we’ve visited.  So far we’ve been to islands with only one or two restaurants and not much else, which surprised me.  I expected the mid-sized islands to have more people and facilities but it’s been very pleasantly quiet.   Greg & Gail are also appreciating “getting away from it all”.

It’s worth noting as well that we’re in Calico Jack Rackam stomping grounds –the guy who collected fees this morning commented on it as he documented our boat name!  It is said that Robert Louis Stevenson’s book Treasure Island was written with Norman Island in mind.  Apparently, he was sent here to convalesce on a couple of occasions and discovered some truth in the old pirate stories.  In fact, he married the great-great-----granddaughter of a pirate named Lowe!  According to the story, a Spanish ship was plundered by Mr. Pirate Lowe and much of the treasure was never recovered.  It’s believed to be buried on Norman Island but it’s not gold or silver that a metal detector can pick up, it’s jewels.  Git out yer shovels!

P.S. The Curacao photos are uploaded so the link in that log is now working!

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20 November 07   …Bye Bye VIs

Again, another busy and fun-packed few days!

Bright and early on Wednesday morning we headed over to Virgin Gorda to see The Baths before the onslaught of cruise ship tourists took it over –it’s the BVIs’ most popular attraction.  The Baths are a collection of giant boulders all jumbled together at the seaside.  Where the sea washes in between the huge rocks, shallow pools have been created, hence, “The Baths”.  We played a little differently, as we snorkeled in.  Finding a small crevice to swim through to gain beach access, we monkeyed around in the rocks and pools.  Just as we were finishing playtime the tourons came, making their way 30 at a time along the narrow paths that in places only accommodated one at a time!  It’s a good thing we showed up early!  As it was, we had to find backroads to get out since the trail was jammed.  It was like being an early explorer.

After lunch we sailed (yes, sailed, she’s a beaut!) up to the north end of the island to Bitter End where we moored up for the night.  It was Travis’ birthday and we celebrated with cocktails and a fish dinner aboard CJ.

The following day we stopped in at Dog Island and dove The Chimneys, so named because the rock formations are sheer walls that shoot straight up above the surface of the water.  There was a lot of very healthy and large soft coral.  After the dive, it was over to Tortola where we moored up at Soper’s Hole for our last night in the BVIs: happy hour at Pusser’s Landing and dinner at the Jolly Roger Inn with the amazing Judith –the best BBQ ribs I’ve had in ages!

On Saturday we checked out of Jost Van Dyke and back into the USVIs at St John.  It was our last night of frivolity and we did it justice!  The following day we motored over to St Thomas and topped off with fuel, water and air to prepare for our departure.  However, it wasn’t all work.  We had Sunday brunch aboard and enjoyed a lazy day.

This morning we pulled anchor early and made our way to Charlotte Amalie.  Greg and Gail hopped a cab to the airport in the early afternoon and we’ve spent the day getting the boat back in order.  We’re pulling anchor tomorrow and heading over to Culebra, one of the Spanish Virgin Islands to the northeast of Puerto Rico.

Attached are a ton of photos, many of them underwater.  The snorkeling photos at The Caves are courtesy of Greg & Gail –silly me, I left my camera behind on that one.  I’m really happy with how some of them turned out, especially the Rhone photos.  Too bad I don’t have a strobe (extra flash) because the colours would be so much better.

Photos: US & British Virgin Islands

A funny side note about the USVIs: they drive on the left.  Hazel told us that, according to the old story, the donkeys always took to the left-hand side of the road and it was easier in the long run to train the humans to do the same rather than train the donkeys to stay to the right.  Considering our human track record, though, you gotta wonder…

22 November 07   … Turkey Day in Culebra

Culebra is a sleepy little island with not a lot going on, and the locals and expats that call it home like it that way!  While Bocas del Toro in Panama is being touted as the new “Old Key West”, I would put my money here.  The people are an eclectic mix and the seaside restaurant/bar we’ve found is home to a variety of boaters and tradesmen, locals and expats, with the odd tourist thrown in.  They’re all laid-back and friendly, and somewhat quirky -a true Old Key West crowd.  We get a breakfast serenade every morning as our neighbour pulls out his bagpipes and plays them in his cockpit.

We’ve been spending the last couple of days just lounging around and being lazy, and editing a ton of photos!  We were meant to leave today for Vieques but Travis got ahold of an old Key West friend over there and he’s not on island until tomorrow so we decided to stay here for American Turkey Day.  Thanksgiving hasn’t meant a lot to me for some time now since I started school and working two jobs, etc. etc. and wasn’t able to make it home to see the folks anymore.  From a service-industry point of view, it’s just another annoying holiday where I can’t get my errands done because everything is closed (usually I’ve made my way there before I realize it) and oh –I have to work anyway!

But today we went to our little dockside restaurant and they had a huge buffet spread that was fantastic!  Now we’re at home, rotund and pants unbuttoned, as any holiday should be spent when you’re not in the service industry anymore.

Gotta go take a nap now.

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25 November 07   … Turkey Day 2, Vieques

We moved to a very pretty bay and spent yet another extra day in Culebra both to avoid some bad weather and to do some woodwork on CJ.  We’ve committed to keeping up with the finish on this teak because it becomes a pain if you let it go.

Yesterday we went over to Vieques, another of the Spanish Virgin Islands, where Travis has an old friend/co-worker from Key West -Greg.  They had been in the BVIs all week cruising with his wife’s family.  Amanda loves to cook and had missed out on her opportunity to prepare a Thanksgiving Day feast so… did WE arrive on the right day!  We were graciously invited to their home for a fantastic meal, shared with other transplanted Key Westers.  In fact, Jay & Travis were acquainted with each other already.  Plus we met even more Key Westers just walking around town…Again, a lot of them moving down here, it seems.

We wanted to stay in Vieques for a couple more days but unfortunately the anchorage was so rolly that it was quite uncomfortable so we made a move today.  We’re now anchored at Isleta, a small island just off the coast of the big island of Puerto Rico.  It’s still blowing like nasal mucous but we’re protected from those rollers so it’s actually very comfortable in here.  And the wind generator is keeping up with our energy needs!  Still, while it’s nice not to have to turn off the fridge at night, it would be even better if the wind came down. 

We plan to hole up here for at least a day to see what this weather is going to do.  It’s not really cooperating with our anticipated run to Turks & Caicos so we may poke our noses around the corner and if it’s still too rough we’ll head into the capitol of San Juan.

28 November 07   … San Juan

The weather wasn’t as bad as we were expecting but we decided to check out San Juan anyway.  It’s more like a layover –we’ll probably only be here 13 hours!  We caught a taxi into the old city and wandered around, checked out the shops and had a bit to eat at a fun little bar.  I think we were expecting it to be like Cartagena but, alas, it lacked the old city charm.  It was more like Key West, to tell the truth –tourist prices included!  In all fairness, though, we haven’t been here long enough to investigate where the real gems are so we’ll have to give it another go the next time around.

We’re taking off early tomorrow morning for Turks & Caicos.  No time to dally because we’re on the fast track to make it home by Christmas.  We’ll have to see what Mother Nature says about that but at least as we make our way through the Bahamas we have some hidey-holes to duck into if the weather deteriorates.

Photos are attached, but I must confess that I didn’t have my camera poised at some good people-shot moments, regrettably.  EXCEPT FOR THE VOMITING COD, OF COURSE!!  Also, since we’re buzzing though the rest of the islands so quickly the photos may dwindle.  That’s ok, you’re probably all still reeling from the 170 photos in the last album.  Headaches gone yet?

Photos: Spanish Virgin Islands

02 December 07   …Grand Turk

It was another lumpy run from Puerto Rico to Grand Turk.  I swear, if the wind can possibly find a way to blow right on our nose, it will!  This made sailing a challenge as the wind seemed to be constantly changing directions.  At Mouchoir Pass we were met with some big rolly seas from two different directions (5-7 foot waves from one direction, 3-5s from the other) and the last part of the run had us bucking the seas to reach our destination.  That’s ok, that’s why she’s a MOTORsailor and our girl was tearing it up!  Our little Kubota engine is the one that could!  And another chance to appreciate the new pilothouse –it would have been a downright miserable run without it.

We arrived here last night just after sunset.  The anchorage is actually surprisingly pleasant.  Given the sea state, we were anticipating a rolly night’s sleep but we slept like rocks after 3 days at sea.  This morning we cleared in with customs & immigration and were immediately scooped up by Bob & Ruth.  They’re longtime friends of Travis’ –he used to work for them in Grand Cayman.  We caught up with them for a few hours this afternoon and will reconnect with them tomorrow.

p.s. Laugh all you want but we can tell we’re getting further north –it’s getting chilly!

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05 December 07   …Island Ramblings

It’s difficult not to compare Grand Turk to Grand Cayman.  It is part of a tax-free UK Territory, relying heavily on tourism and banking to support the economy.  There is a good mix of locals and expats (mostly UK and Canadian).  While it’s more arid and there are fewer palm trees to be found, the beaches are pristine and the diving spectacular –crystal clear waters (we could see our anchor at night!) and a wall on the west side of the island that drops straight off to 8000ft.

But Grand Turk is small beans compared to Cayman.  The island itself is very small, only 6 x 1.5 miles, and is home to only 3500 people or so.  The two main streets are narrow, one-way alleys and at night you could lay down and take a nap in the middle of one, there’s so little traffic. There’s one hardware store, a few grocery stores, a few bars & restaurants… and not much else.  For those of us in Cayman that griped about missing things from home like perogies or Kit-Kat bars, imagine not being able to find a vegetable on the island!  The boat comes in on Mondays and don’t sit on your laurels because by the time you get to the store you could be S.O.L.!  Tomato juice and skim milk are other rarities.  Don’t even dream about fresh meats –even the sausages are all frozen.  Needless to say, all these things cost a fortune as well.

But Grand Turk is big on charm and history.  There are wild donkeys roaming about and a lot of old homes from the 1800s have been converted into guesthouses –even though there are only 72 rooms to be had on the whole island!  That being said, they rely heavily on cruise ship traffic for tourism.  Again, on a smaller scale: 25 ships per month is a big deal (in Cayman, you could get that many in only 4 days).  I shudder to think about the quaint downtown area being trampled to death by the throngs of cruise shippers but they tend to keep mostly to the excursions and to the complex built by Carnival further south on the island.  This plaza is packed full of your generic duty free stores.  There’s a Margaritaville there, too.  Apparently they’re building 17 more of these complexes around the Caribbean and they’re to be so identical that you could stand in the middle of one and not know which country you’re in.  (Hm.  No comment).  Still, there are locals who believe that this is what’s saving the downtown charm…for now.  Sadly, there’s a big condo complex currently under construction that will blot out the seashore where it stands.  Again, you can’t stop progress.

We really enjoyed our stay in Grand Turk –it has that Caribbean feel I love.  We met some nice people and reconnected with some old friends.  A lot of people have migrated here from Cayman.  We also did a very nice dive before we left.  Unfortunately, weather calls and we had to leave much sooner than we would have liked, which was 2am this morning.  Sadly, this was our last real stop on our grand voyage.  From here on out, it’s a beeline for home. We’re currently crossing the Caicos Bank.  It’s very pretty: shallow and deliciously clear water.  We’ve spent much of the morning sitting on the bow watching as we pass over big starfish, a few sharks and we had a dolphin come to play for awhile which was a lot of fun!  But we’re also having to keep an eye out for coral heads –we’re running over only 8-10 feet of water in places.

We’re making good time so hopefully we’ll be to Providenciales before sunset to cross the Sandbore Channel in daylight, then we’re headed towards Great Exuma, Bahamas where we’ll arrive in the next few days.  We’re racing a cold front but once we’re in the Bahamas, we can tuck up to avoid the weather if we need to.

Photos: Grand Turk

19 August 07 ...Runnin' Around

This week has been a lot of taxis and appointments and getting things done. I had the labwork done for my thyroid and it's all good, so that's taken care of. Then to the task of trying to pin down a carpenter to build the pilothouse. It sounded like it was going to be complicated to find someone since Alvaro, the man who built the one we saw in Colon, is still busy with the other project. However, he came to have a look at CJ this week and said that he could do it. Yay!! He'll have his brother take care of a lot of the legwork and he'll oversee everything and do the finishing work. So it looks like we'll be here in Cartagena for another month.

We moved the boat into the marina a couple of days ago. This will make it much easier for Alvaro and Hernando to work. Cherokee had the entire thing done while they were in the anchorage! However, they make the template and take everything back to their shop to work on it so maybe it wasn't all that complicated. We decided to bring it in, though, to hopefully speed up the process. This way Alvaro can easily stop by whenever he likes to check on things and it allows us the freedom to just step on and off the boat while we're here, too. The outboard is still being a brat!

The day we moved in we had 2 decent squalls blow through so I was glad to be at the dock! The thunder set off car alarms and I could see rain falling straight down in the distance and the closer rain going sideways -looked like a ripple on a TV screen. Funky! A few boats dragged anchor but we probably would have been fine since Travis had a heck of a time getting the anchors up. We can expect summer storms while we're here, the same as in San Blas, but some of this weather is associated with Hurricane Dean that is barreling right towards Cayman at the moment. Thankfully, it's taken a wobble to the south but they'll likely be in for a butt-kicking anyway. In any case, it won't be as bad as Ivan was so that's good. We're also hoping that Crystal & Jeremy have access to a good weather report because they're due to head this way in the next few days -it would be a lousy crossing right now. We tried to leave a message on their satellite phone, but were unable to get through. There's still time, so we won't worry yet.

25 August 07 ...Construction

Alvaro and Hernando have been working on the template all week. They're using all hand tools and watching them reminds me of my Grandpappies, carpenters both. We've been sticking around the boat for the mostpart, to be here to field questions and to make sure that it's all going the way we want it. It creates less work for the boys if we clear up any misunderstandings right away which could happen very easily since we're dealing in Spanish only (though we seem to be doing just fine). We're very happy with the work being done so far and they seem content enough to tweak and adjust things for us. They just want us to be happy with it, they said. That warmed our hearts quite a lot! We'll find out in the next couple of days if Alvaro managed to find good quality teak -it's hard to come by here. Our second option is the local cedar, "cedra fina", which people swear by, but it isn't as strong. It would be strong enough but we want teak because he recommends it, and because our cockpit coaming is teak (so vain!).

We've had to come to terms with the fact that this enclosure is going to look HUGE on our boat because we are so high out of the water. However, there's very little that can be done about it unless we have it constructed too low to stand up in, which is out of the question. It wouldn't have looked any smaller if we'd gone with canvas and we can at least fiddle with the angles and lines to make it as sleek as we can. So she'll be our little castle, complete with teak turret, and we'll be very dry and comfortable indeed.

Crystal & Jeremy arrived safely a couple of days ago so we're enjoying getting caught up with them.

Not much else to report since we haven't stepped out much as of yet. Cartagena is an interesting historic city that I'm looking forward to checking out but there'll be plenty of time for that once we know this project is properly underway.

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28 August 07 ...How Rumours Get Started

There was a lot of brouhaha around here about how Mars was going to be closer to the Earth than we will see in our lifetime, and how it will look like the full moon to the naked eye. Did some of you get that email "Two Moons"? None of this made sense to us. We saw nothing at all during the whole month -I mean, it wasn't going to magically appear out of nowhere on the 27th!- and heck, wouldn't we have a whole lot of extra gravitational pull to worry about? So I turned to my friend Google who directed me to some reputable sites to clear things up. I discovered that the whole thing isn't so much a hoax as it is a mistake, per se.

Back in 2003, Mars did in fact come closer to Earth than it had in some time: 34.65 million miles (damn, are we gonna have to put up some traffic lights here?!). And it did look spectacular in the sky, a bright orangey-red star. But the whole story about it being so big happened when one key line of text was left out of some email or other: that Mars looked as big as the moon when it was magnified 75X. A key snippet of information! One website stated that the only way Mars could look as big as the full moon to the naked eye is if you were flying towards it in a spacecraft -very close!

Since 2003 this email has popped up and recirculated almost every year, and every year experts in the field have to deal with questions about it. In fact, Mars and Earth come closer to one another every two years. It happened in October of 2005, and is predicted for December this year. It's just that 2003 was an exceptionally close year, and we won't see it that close again until the year 2018.

In the wee hours of August 27th there was a lunar eclipse. It had a reddish hue when fully eclipsed and I wonder how many people woke up at that time and thought they were looking at Mars!

29 August 07 ...Omigosh!

We got an email from our friends back in Colon who tell us that our little kitty is "very pregnant"! It's quite possible that she was preggers when we had her aboard! I did ask her outright if she was packin' any little ones and she pleaded the 5th, so I should have known. To have one of her kittens would be great but considering the mangy breeding stock at the marina, I have to wonder how they're gonna turn out. Crystal & Jeremy have promised a photo if they can find her when they head back to Colon.

Alvaro managed to find some nice teak for the pilothouse, so we're excited about that. The template has been moved to the shop where they'll do the majority of the building. And so here we sit, waiting. I've quipped in a few emails that a couple of weeks ago we were swimming in crystal clear waters, dodging starfish, taking photos of reefs, eating fresh lobster for a song... Now we're in grubby, toxic waters (Travis jokes that it's so polluted, the fish don't even swim here!), climbing over the bow to get on and off the boat, teeter teeter... But it'll be worth it!! We've redone all our woodwork in the cockpit: added a fresh coat of CWF to everything and sanded down the coaming to give it the same treatment. She's ready for her crown!

We've been laying pretty low. The pilothouse is taking a fair chunk out of our budget, a sacrifice we're more than willing to make even if it means cutting the trip short. But we're also finding things more expensive here than they were in Panama. Add to that the fact that the dollar doesn't go as far as it used to. Travis says that he lived like a rockstar here in 2003 for about $100/week. At that time, the exchange was 3000 pesos to 1 dollar. Now it's only 1900 pesos to the dollar! We're doing pretty well, though, especially for two people who usually like to eat out a lot. The marina restaurant provides no temptation since the food and beverages are only so-so and they have happy hour only once a week. What's up with that?! Oh well. Chateaux Calico Jack and Max have sturdy pours, lovingly-prepared food and service with a half grin. I've actually enjoyed getting back in touch with my cooking skills and I have to say that we've put some pretty great meals out of our little galleys, creations made out of the next thing about to go bad in the fridge!

Since we're here for the long haul, Travis has taken over the weather for the Cruiser's Net every morning and I am net controller on Wednesdays. I was actually nervous this morning, my first day -ridiculous! I've been on stage my whole life singing & acting, I'm on stage every time I walk up to greet a table in the restaurant... and I'm nervous about talking into a radio? What a pud.

06 September 07 ...Meanderings & Ramblings

Yesterday was a full day, mostly sitting right in front of this computer! We upgraded our website earlier this week to give us more bandwidth and disk space and somewhere in the process our entire Captain's Log was wiped out. Oy! It took the better part of the day to repost everything as I sat up in the restaurant on their rock-hard chairs. I know, I know: boo-hoo. However, the computer guy happened by and we invested in an antenna booster so that we can get better reception on the boat. You know, the boat with the comfy seats! This antenna will come in handy later on during this trip, as well.

Last night was happy hour here at the marina and some of the cruisers from the neighbouring marina came over like they usually do. Afterwards, we all went to a nicer restaurant just across the bridge in the old city. It was a splurge, but our first one and the food, the service and the company were all good.

This morning we made the hot walk with Crystal & Jeremy to Castillo de San Felipe, one of the forts built to protect the city from pirates. This one began construction in 1639, but wasn't completed for another 150 years. Talk about island time! It was very well restored and we even got to walk through some of the tunnel system inside. We hired a guide who quoted us 12,000 pesos for the four of us so we accepted. But when he was about to start the tour he said that the tour in English would be 25,000! Nice try, scheister! We declined and were walking away when Maria approached us and said she would do it for the quoted 12,000. She was very nice and her English was good, and we gave her a little extra because we liked her so much. Afterwards, we wandered around downtown and stopped for sangria in the plaza. This area must come alive at night and we're going to check it out in a few days.

We returned home to a surprise. One of the kids next door failed to secure their dinghy with a stern line and it drifted over. Their outboard did a nice number on our paint job. We weren't mad because mistakes happen, but the damage is more than we want to live with -we weren't going to haul out for another 3 years, at least. It's frustrating that we're spending a bunch of money to make improvements to the boat and then something like that has to happen. However, it looks like it'll mostly buff out and the Dad is going to try to find some paint to match so we'll see how that works out. He seems eager to get on it right away, so we appreciate that.

We had another squall blow through two nights ago. Several boats dragged, including Max, and we had 2-3 foot seas in the marina! Some boats in the two marinas smashed against the docks and sustained cosmetic damage. There were a lot of tired faces around the marina the next day from being up half the night. Hurricane Felix made landfall around the Nicaragua/Honduras border just a couple of days ago as a Category 5 storm. We haven't heard yet about the loss of life there.

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09 September 07 ...Big Night Out

We made our trip downtown last night to check out the nightlife. The city is really lovely at night, not the claustrophobia it is in the daytime. People were leisurely strolling and vendors had their wares out selling jewelry, etc. We stopped by a bar that was overflowing with old maritime memorabilia -it had tons of character. Things downtown were just getting heated up when we packed it in just past midnight. It's too bad, since it would have been fun to check out a salsa bar! But we're daytimers now for the most part, save for my occasional bouts of insomnia that have me up in the wee hours (that's how I caught the eclipse at 4am!). Three of the four of us took afternoon naps just to be able to stick it out until midnight!

Friday night is happy hour at the Club de Pesca Marina. They're the fancy marina and outsiders aren't even allowed in! Our friends managed to sneak us in, though, and we just kept it on the QT. Their marina has a ton of big sportfishers and this is where the more well-to-do Colombians keep their playthings. The clubhouse has a gaggle of little old men who drink there and are some of the original members. We had a nice night and it was a late one as we continued onward to enjoy a visit on "Eclipse". Some of these people are heading onward to the ABCs like we are so it's good getting to know them as we're all interested in traveling "safety in numbers".

We went up to the shop to check on the progress of the pilothouse. They have the panels for the windshield all put together and they're partway through sanding them. Apparently there's a possibility that it could be done by next weekend. Our eyes flew open when they told us and they quickly backpedaled with "maybe maybe", but we were more surprised than anything since we were expecting another 3 weeks, at least. And anyway, we can't go anywhere until the weather settles, although Travis is anxious to get going. He's not big on cities and he's seen all that this one has to offer on his last trip here. But I think he misses swimming more than anything and my water baby is looking forward to the next opportunity to jump in the big salty pool.

We have pets on the brain these days. We passed a pet store a couple of days ago and Travis almost did an impulse buy on a jack russell puppy. I couldn't believe he was serious! A dog is a much bigger responsibility than a cat but after some discussion we decided that if we are going with a dog, now would actually be a very good time. She would have time to get used to the motion of the boat while we're actually out sailing it (!) which is important because we don't want another seasick animal aboard! We also have a lot of time to devote to a dog right now while she settles in and even back in Key West we're now both in a position to take the dog to work every once in awhile -I don't think little Jilly would mind a new friend! So we were down by the pet store again yesterday and ventured inside. She is such a little sweetie but, She is a HE, and we're insistent on having a female. Oh well. We figure that we'd be better off waiting until the Virgin Islands, anyway. It will spare us the complication of bringing her into the US -she'd be American already! (Heck she'd be easier to bring in than me!!) We also stand a decent chance of adopting a good pet there rather than buying one since everybody wants a big guard dog in the Virgins -the animal shelters are full of smaller dogs. In fact, two dogs on our dock came from the islands, as the pounds did an exchange! And so, we may have a new first mate on board when we get back to Key West. But of course, nobody will replace our little kitty...

13 September 07 ...The Break-Up (Sniff!)

This week was spent in preparation for Crystal & Jeremy's departure. Yep, we're breaking up -wahhhh! We took care of all our final photo and DVD exchanges, returned each other's stuff we had borrowed and I gave Crystal a haircut. Also among the list of important things to wrap up: our last ritual Sunday brunch and a couple of happy hours. We've also enjoyed meeting their new friend, Sergio. He's a Chilean backpacker they've agreed to take to Panama in exchange for Spanish lessons. He reminds us all a lot of our friend Luis in Guatemala and I'm sure they're going to have a lot of fun with him. They left yesterday afternoon back towards the crystal clear waters of the San Blas Islands (sigh!) and will backtrack the affordable way to Key West after stormy season. Meanwhile, we'll be stubbornly making our way back up the expensive side, stony-broke! But we want to see new places and Travis has friends he wants to connect with in the Virgin Islands and Turks & Caicos. We'll also have friends from Key West visiting us in the Virgins, so we're looking forward to seeing them, too.

A note about the aforementioned crystal clear waters, or rather, our lack thereof: During a light rainstorm last week, Travis discovered the sink in the back head overflowing into the laundry bin.  So I grabbed a pot and started bailing it into the toilet but it just kept coming in.  It was nothing that was going to sink the boat or anything, but it turned our laundry into a big lump of wet stuff. Then we discovered that it was fresh water, not salt. This made no sense! We finally deduced that the through-hull must be plugged with growth from these nasty, nasty waters and the deck drain connected to the same pipe as the sink must be backing the water up inside. Good thing it wasn't a heavy rainstorm! Unfortunately, this meant Travis had to jump into this nasty, nasty water to unblock it and I offered to be standing by with a bottle of rubbing alcohol and a brillo pad when he got out.  Gawd, there was even floating scum!! Anyhoo, sure enough, there was a sponge that had made its home in our through-hull that needed evicting. We were waiting until the end of our time here to have the bottom cleaned but that might be too late. I noticed today that now the other sink isn't draining so fast either. Will we be fused to the bottom when it's time to leave?!

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22 September 07 ...Progress

The boys came today and started putting together the teak panels. It's slow work because they're being so meticulous which is just fine with us. Judging by what we saw in the shop when we last stopped by, they have all the pieces finished except the roof itself but all the stringers, etc. are ready to assemble. No solid idea on a timeframe yet but we're guessing only another week and a half. We need to get that roof on. It rained felines and canines last weekend and we were running around with pots and towels doing leak control. With the cockpit completely exposed, the water found some new and creative ways to get in!

After the weekend it was scorching again, but flat calm and perfect for a run to the ABCs. Well, as flat calm as we could wish for, anyway. The slog around that corner is the toughest in the Caribbean, bucking the wind and current, and among the top 5 toughest runs in the world! So when Travis saw how "perfect" the weather was going to be this week he was kicking himself that we're not ready to go yet. Hopefully we won't have to wait long for the next window once we're ready to go.

We're still just laying low. September 14th was Valentine's Day here in Colombia (?) and we happened to be in Bocagrande on an errand so we decided to make a small night of it. This district has all the highrises and higher end shops that make it the Manhattan of Cartagena. We found a little restaurant on the beach for drinks and a snack and later on we happened across a martini bar where I had a very tasty fresh strawberry martini. The bar had little tables outside but not too close to the street so it was a great place to chill and people-watch.

Otherwise our only social times are Wednesdays and Fridays: the former is happy hour at our marina and the latter is happy hour at the other pawwwsshh marina where our friends sneak us in. The atmosphere over there is much more social. Apart from that, Travis has been tearing through the books and DVDs, with the odd project thrown in when required. My project for the past couple weeks has been slogging through my backlog of photos and getting them edited and organized. Not the ones from this trip, but everything else all the way back to when I got the camera in 2004! I'm appreciating the time I have to get stuff like this done -I was just too busy before we left. It's another advantage of hauling your home around with you, which has taken some getting used to. Remember that I'm a backpacker at heart so this deal of hauling your home around on your back like a turtle has taken some getting used to. Especially at first, I didn't feel like we'd really gone anywhere because we would just come home at the end of the day! Do I have to put everything in a bag and find a dingy hotel to feel like I'm on vacation? Maybe. Regardless, it's a style of traveling entirely different than what I'm used to but it definitely has its advantages.

29 September 07   ...Groan!  

We were informed today that the project is going to take another 2 weeks to complete.  I’m not sure what the nice thing to say is on this topic!  We’re finding that we’re stuck in a rut here and more than ready to get going.  This rut is a result of staying on the boat to A) save money and B) be here in a supervisory capacity.  We peek our heads up from time to time to make sure that everything is going as planned.  It sounds petty, I know, but there was one day we left for the afternoon and came home to find the front panel bolted in such a way that we couldn’t open the companionway hatch!  “Ummm… Tenemos una problema…”  However, we are so very happy with how it looks and all of this waiting around will be forgotten long before the first wave hits the cockpit and we’re still dry!

And so we sit and swelter in this airless marina and it’s more often hotter inside the boat than it is up top in the sun.  That having been said, Alvaro’s lighter exploded this week!    

We’ve made the decision that we may have to skip the ABCs if that weather window doesn’t show itself again.  October is the best month to make this run and our delay will take us halfway through the month.  If that is the case we’ll shoot straight up to the Virgin Islands, probably making landfall in the Dominican Republic and working our way east.  Missing the ABCs isn’t the issue, it would just make a better starting off point for our trip northeast.

The website is now registering over 2000 hits.  Wow!  Thanks for checking in on us!  Our connection issues here at the marina (still!) make me regret how long it’s been taking me to post our goings-on.  We’re also thinking that our mail isn’t always making it through to its destination, be it incoming our outgoing.  If you’ve sent mail and haven’t received a response, that would be the reason why because we’re pretty much all caught up with correspondence.  Methinks it’s time to call in an expert.

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07 October 07   …Some Newses

Travis pointed out that I’m doing a good job of documenting this part of the trip but there hasn’t been much to say!  Maybe not very exciting for you guys…  A few goings-on over the last week, though.

Crystal & Jeremy arrived in Colon after their hiatus in San Blas.  Their arrangement with the backpacker must be good because they’re renegotiating to take him all the way up to Utila.  That will be a combined 3 months with this guy on a boat that doesn’t have a spare room, so he must be a lot of fun!  Kudos to them!!  They also reported that our little kitty Tigra back at the yacht club in Colon has three beautiful kittens.  She has her own little box by the laundry room and is being well-fed and loved.  They’ve promised me a photo.

A group of us made a trip to a jewelry store to get educated on emeralds.  This is a reputable store, not the likes of the guy with the eyepatch (no kidding!) that lurks around the marina accosting newcomers.  He spends just a little too much time trying to convince us of his legitimacy…  But Lee Miles was very helpful and informative.  He made a couple of sales with fellow cruisers but I was there with my own agenda.  My good friend has been helping me realize our wedding ring plans and she’s been asking about the size of stones I want, etc.  “I don’t know!  Finger-sized!”  So I had some research to do.

When I got home I was on the dead run because we had a birthday party to attend at Club de Pesca and I was late.  I jumped on the boat and sped down the companionway, but why isn’t Travis ready?  Well, he was too busy bleeding.  He cracked his knee a good one –down to the bone.  Ick!  And he wanted me to stitch it!!  As far as I’m concerned, those are measures that will be taken when we’re out at sea with no alternatives.  Right now we’re within reach of a hospital that can take care of it but he stubbornly cinched it closed with butterfly strips and off we went to the party.  Thankfully, it’s healing nicely.

On Thursday a bunch of us went down to Castillo San Felipe for a guitar concert.  Nine guys made up a very interesting symphony.  We watched the fingers fly and at times it sounded like violin and piano rather than guitars.  It was pretty amazing.  Four of us went out for a nice dinner downtown afterwards and it was a great night all around.

On Saturday, a neighbour and I walked down to the flower expo.  Wow!  We were lost in there for hours.  I took tons of photos and I’m having trouble paring them down to post!  For those of you who aren’t interested in the little pretties, rest assured that you’re viewing less than a third of the photos I’m keeping in my own album!  Sadly, we learned that all these flowers were due to be incinerated after the show.  The growers spend a lot of time cross-breeding them and they don’t want their secret formula to get out.  How sad.

Tomorrow we’re going to have a chat with Alvaro and Hernando.  We’re at the beginning of Week 8 on the project and we’ve decided that whatever they don’t finish here at the marina will have to be finished out in the anchorage because we’re not paying for another week’s dockage after this one.  This project is way overdue and now that we’re reaching our 60 days here in Colombia we need to renew our visas and possibly import the boat, all additional expenses we hadn’t counted on.  And meanwhile, the weather has provided some good opportunities to head northeast.  However, it seems that nobody else is ready to go either as the other 3 boats we were going to convoy with are struggling to finish up their projects as well.

While we may sound cranky, we do know that if we had it to do all over again we’d still get the pilothouse made.  We wanted it very badly!  It’s just that we’re getting antsy right now as we watch the weather windows come and go and our bank accounts getting whittled down.  With my never-ending projects, I’m finding more than enough to keep my days filled but Travis’ main gripe is that he can’t swim here!  Gotta get my boy back in some blue water!

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...boldly going where Columbus has gone before.
Colombia to Key West
12 August 07 ...Cartagena

It was an easy trip here. With the current in our favour we were screaming along at 7 knots(!) and made the 190 miles in an easy 30 hours. We had an escort again -a yellow breasted bird that kept flying right into the cockpit with us. He tried to land on the pedestal but couldn't get a good grip. The poor little guy must have been very tired out in the middle of nowhere! He disappeared but we had another one make himself at home on the solar panel the next morning. I would like to think that it was the same one who found a place to camp out on the bow overnight, otherwise he would have dropped into the sea from exhaustion. A fabulous sunrise in the morning looked like a hot pink forest fire burning on the horizon but I was too tired & stiff from sleeping in the cockpit to get up and take a photo, something I kicked myself for all day! And no sooner had I commented on how we couldn't have asked for a more idyllic trip (other than the tuna that got away!) than we arrived here in Cartagena and spent 2 full hours trying to anchor! Both the Bruce and the CQR skipped across the bottom so we pulled out our heavy-duty 

Fortress storm anchor but couldn't get it to set, either. After 8 or so attempts, a slip at the marina was starting to look very inviting! Finally Travis hooked up the Bruce and CQR in tandem and we got it to stick but with the "culo de pollo" storms that rip through this area unexpectedly in the summer, we're not all that comfortable with going too far away from the boat until we know our holding is good.

Tonight we'll chill out and get a good night's sleep and deal with check-in tomorrow.

09 October 07   …MUD!!

A group of us went to el Volcan de Lodo El Totumo: a miniature volcano that spews mud instead of lava and ashes.  We climbed to the top for a dip in the creamy mud and floated while we were pushed around and massaged.  It’s 2500 metres deep so there was touching the bottom.  We were literally suspended in this stuff which is why we needed pushing around –it was hard to swim!  Afterwards we strolled down to the swamp where the ladies threw buckets of water over our heads and washed out our swimwear as we remained submersed in the muddy water.  Maybe a bit personal but they did a great job because we all felt pretty clean except for the grit in our hair!  The mud contains minerals so it’s supposed to be therapeutic and we were all commenting on the way home that our skin felt so soft.

13 October 07   …Dancing with the…

We suddenly got cable here on the boat a couple of days ago.  It hasn’t worked the whole time we’ve been here then we turned on the TV to pop in a DVD and eureka!!  So we’ve been watching subtitled X-Files, Friends, The Office, Law & Order…  Then today I had it on and caught an episode of “Bailando con los Gorditos”.  No, not Dancing with the Stars, but Dancing with the Fatsos!!  I thought it was a joke at first but alas, it wasn’t.  One professional dancer was teamed up with an overweight amateur, they rehearsed a routine and performed it in front of a panel of judges.  The first duo had a professional man with an amateur woman and she actually had some coordination but the second duo had the large man swinging around a silver-clad woman like a rag doll!  He was just heaving her around like dead weight.  Oops, no pun intended! 

The mentality about weight (or excess thereof) is different here in the Caribbean.  In fact, the “-ito” suffix added to “gordo” intimates something cute, sweet, little and/or dear so the term isn’t as insulting as it would seem.  Indeed, a few extra pounds is looked upon favourably here, particularly with regards to the female of the species.  Dude, that must make me HOT!!  Ahem, yes, I’ve put on a few pounds. 

I’m discovering that it’s a common lament among cruisers, again, particularly among the female of the species.  I was shopping today with two friends who confirm that women gain weight while cruising and men tend to lose it.  What’s up with that?

14 October 07   …Groundhog Day

This whole pilothouse thing is turning into the transmission saga all over again, I swear!!  Nothing is within our control and we’re met with setback after setback.  After much ado and frustration, we finally had everything all sanded and washed down to put the finish on this weekend and, you guessed it: rain.  So there we sat, waiting for it to stop raining so it could dry so we could sand out the water stains so that we could wipe it down again so we could apply the finish.   We finally accomplished this yesterday, then it rained again.  A bit too soon for our liking but it’s held up well except for one tiny spot that we’ll fix. 

Meanwhile, we’re embarking on Week 9 of the 5-6 week project and it was supposed to be finished (again) yesterday, “mas o menos” –more or less.  However, here we sit still without a roof so we told Alvaro that we’re leaving Wednesday and his eyes got big.  Ok, how many more days?  “5, mas o menos”.  Which means at least a week.  Given that we’ve seen him working on new projects for someone else, we were pretty bitter cats yesterday.  But they are working on it furiously today, a Sunday, and said that they will work through the holiday tomorrow so maybe we lit a fire under their asses.

Today is Sunday potluck and the last day here for our friends on “Constance”, “Dolphin” and “Seabird”.  Tomorrow morning they’re headed north to the tip of Colombia and onward to the ABCs when weather permits.  It would be nice to be leaving with them as planned, but maybe we’ll see them again in Curacao.

19 October 07   … Mobile Again!

We had to have an ultimatum chat with the boys on Tuesday.  We had been encouraged Sunday by their renewed efforts but alas, they only put in half days.  We needed to be careful A) because we didn’t want to piss them off and B) we really like them!  But we told them in the nicest way possible that we don’t think they realize how serious this holdup is.  5 or 6 weeks turning into 9 = we’re overbudget, our friends left without us and we have to be in the Virgin Islands in 3 weeks!  As it turned out, the dockmaster had no idea how overdue the project is, either, and was equally surprised to discover how much has yet to be done this week.  We told them that we’re leaving Friday 4pm, whether the job is done or not.

Today is Friday and they’ve been hauling ass for 3 days and it’s really coming together now.  Maybe we won’t have to take away as many unfinished pieces of wood as we thought, but we could be applying the finish as we leave the harbour!

We’ve been preparing to leave for some time now (!) so we really don’t have a ton of last minute running around to do, which is nice.  I made a trip to the grocery store to get some of my favourite local fruits and some fabulous meat empanadas that I only discovered in the deli yesterday.  This has been happening a lot over the past couple of weeks: discovering something wonderful that I could have been enjoying for the last 2 months!  However, we have enjoyed a lot here.  The old city is wonderful and we’ll miss the men and women wandering the streets and our dock yelling out the daily produce they’re peddling –kind of like having the groceries come to you again, except I’m not in my bikini!  The rum has been good, even the cheapest local variety which is a first on this trip (besides the beloved Flor de Cana!).  And of course the laid back hospitality of the Colombian people is something we’ll look forward to coming back to, as well.

We’ve about to leave late in this afternoon so that we can pass (dodge!) the debris of the Rio Magdalena in the daylight.  We’ll be in touch again from the ABCs –the weather looks good for the passage.

Photos: Cartagena

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21 October 07   …Five Bays

We left Cartagena by the skin of our teeth.  The boys were still working right up until we pulled away with wet paint and masking tape on the roof!  They ran out of time for some small stuff, but we’ll take care of that at some point later on.  They almost had another whole day to work, though, because our agent didn’t have our papers ready for us to leave at 3:00.  We received them finally at 3:45 and they had us heading back to Colon!  So off he ran on his scooter to the Port Captain’s office before it closed.  We were finally met at the fuel dock at 5:00 with everything in order.

We ran an easy 20 hours up the coast.  The Rio Magdalena is something that needs to be tackled in daylight since it tends to dump debris into the sea after a heavy rain.  You know, the usual fare like logs, foliage, cow carcasses…  However, no excitement this time since there wasn’t much to dodge besides the occasional clump of tree matter.

We managed to catch up with our friends on Constance, Dolphin & Seabird here at Five Bays, a little further up the Colombian coast.  It’s beautiful here as the misty mountains drop straight into the sea.  We share the anchorage with several other boats, most of which are heading the other way.  We arrived just in time for a fish fry which was a nice opportunity to catch up with everyone.  Today we toiled most of the day and managed to get at least 2 coats of finish on every area of the pilothouse so we’re good to go.  Thankfully, the weather held out for us but we were treated to a most excellent light show this evening!  We are all set to leave early tomorrow morning for Cabo de la Vela or Bahia Honda further up the coast.   However, if the weather is good, Travis and I might be going on ahead full steam to the ABCs since we don’t have as much time to play with as the others.

22 October 07   …Snow!

We all four left early this morning only to discover that the weather hadn’t settled as much as we had hoped.  Rather than beat ourselves up, we decided to pull into another of these pretty bays and try again tomorrow.  As we approached it, I looked up to see what Travis was longing to lay his eyes on: a snow-capped mountain in the Caribbean!  We were told that they’re only visible from a distance and only on a clear day so I guess we lucked out!  We learned that the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountain range is the highest coastal mountain range in the world, with Pico de Bolivar at 19,000 feet.  Impressive, and so strange to see snow in the Caribbean!

25 October 07   …a Topsy-Turvy Transit

We attempted yet another departure from the Five Bays early Tuesday morning only to turn around and come back again.  The weather was taking its time settling down but wemade another go of it a little later in the morning –third time’s a charm. The conditions were improving but we hit some nasty squalls in the night.  We had a decent amount ofwind but it was manageable -it was the amount of lightning that was a little unnerving!  A couple of the other boats watched as a nasty black cloud formed right over Calico Jack (told you I’m a weather magnet!).  Fortunately we squeaked out from underneath it but Dolphin behind us got a ton of rain.  However, up ahead two squalls were merging and it provided us with some up close and personal lightning as we ran through it.  We were surrounded by lightning strikes hitting the water so it was pretty hairy.  A direct hit isn’t likely to affect us personally unless we’re silly enough to be standing there holding metal, but it could do a real number to the electronics on the boat. 

Just as the fracas was dying down to a dull roar, Seabird radioed that their fresh water pump crapped out on them and they were going to have to sail into Cabo de la Vela without the engine.  Unfortunately, this isn’t the best place to have a major breakdown since facilities are scarce.  They luckily managed to get a line on some local information that proved useful.  There didn’t seem to be much that we could do to help so we left behind whatever tools might be useful and headed off to the ABCs ahead of everyone else since we have less time.

10 December 07   …The Bahamas

Let’s be clear about this: we haven’t been sportfisherpeople on this trip, or any. Our motto: drag it, reel it in, filet & release.  We fish for grub only.  We don’t even have a rod to make it semi-sportsmanlike: our reel is clamped to the back rail.  And certainly we don’t fish when it’s rough out!  Who wants to filet the fish when the boat is rockin’ and rollin’?  

Still, for our unsportsmanlike conduct, we’re not out there mass murdering and pillaging.  We only fish what we need and we throw back what’s too big for us to reasonably eat.  Even so, we find that the score between us and the fish is a little uneven!  I think we’ve lost more lures than fish we’ve caught and there’s been plenty a night when we’ve had to resort to canned tunafish on crackers when we were really hoping for the real thing.  Yeah, laugh it up, Fishballs!  We suspect they’re keeping score, too.

All that being said, we caught a nice bull mahi on the run from Grand Turk.  He did put up quite a fight, too (I guess he didn’t get our memo).  As we tossed the carcass overboard to become another part of the food chain, we thanked him for his yumminess –we had enough for three meals.  And the blissful weather held out for the remainder of the run so it was a great trip, all in all.

S/V Calico Jack