Monday, 24 June 2013

Learning about ourselves

Let it be noted that the Captain is a Very Bad Tourist.

To be fair, also let it be noted that the Crew throws Fits.

On being a bad tourist: the Captain, although very mild mannered most days, has one key focus when visiting a new place: Where is the cheap beer?  If it involves museums and tourist attractions, he is not interested; very likely the beer is overpriced and the admission costs take away from the money that could be spent on cheap beer. Other tourist activities are not acceptable either, such as:
  •  shopping (All I want is cheap beer. Oh, okay, if I really need a new pair of swimming trunks I will get them, but that can be done in 15 minutes. Back to the beer.
  • walking around historical sites (I'm tired. Where is the beer already?
  • eating in nice restaurant, (Possible, but only if there is beer and it CAN'T be expensive.
  • staying in nice hotels (Definitely infringes too much on the beer budget.)
To give some context, the beer, Aguila, the Colombian equivalent of Red Stripe, sells for 1500 pesos at the small local bar at the end of our street. To buy six at the grocery store, it costs 9700 pesos. In some restaurants we've eaten at it costs around 3000 pesos.  At the restaurants we've chosen not to eat at, it sells for around 6000 pesos.

FYI the exchange rate is roughly 2000 pesos to $1 US. The beer is good, but not that good.

On the Crew that throws fits: some of you who know me may already be aware that regular feedings are VERY important.  The Captain, who is a smart man in spite of his failures as a tourist, also learned this lesson early on in our association.  Well, the other day there was an unfortunate interruption in the feeding schedule so the Crew fell off the rails and into the land of Very Grumpy.  Unfortunately for the Captain, this occurred in the grocery store, where food was all around but not available for eating. It sounded something like this:

Captain: "What do you want to make for dinner?"
Crew: "I don't care."
Captain: "What about tacos?"*
Crew: "I don't care."
Captain: "Let's have tacos.  What should we put in them?"
Crew: "I don't care. Let's buy a tub of ice cream."
Captain: "Darling, it's really hot outside. The ice cream will melt before we get home.  We can get an ice cream cone next time we go into town."
Crew: "Hmmphfff."
And so it went.
* NB. Tacos are one of the Crew's favorite foods.

In spite of it all, we really are still talking to each other, although we are very ready to get back on our boat and sailing again. The tentative plan is to leave Cartagena on Wednesday, so watch the Spot tracker from then onwards (click above on "locations via satellite"). I've also marked the Colombian islands we plan on visiting on the way to Panama (click above on "travels").

A few more pictures from our weekend around the city are below.

A very colourful bus for tourists parked outside the grand San Felipe Fort

The acoustics in the fort really worked for this busker.  When I dropped some change into his hat, he asked me where I was from.  The he played the first few bars of "O Canada"!

From on high

There were tunnels into the centre of the fort.  The Colombian soldiers did not seem to be very tall or were extra good at stooping.  Some tunnels were well lit and opened out to another level and some tunnels were dark (we brought a flashlight) and damp and ended when our feet got wet and we decided to turn back.

More tunnel entrances.
A conquering hero?

While we were looking for more cheap beer, I took pictures.

Oh so cool.

Even cooler. And I can't do that.

Oh Cartagena de Indias, you really are beautiful. Thanks for the memories!

Thursday, 20 June 2013

On the hard, on purpose

We are on solid ground.  Someone has written a song about this, I'm sure.  On Tuesday we drove Diva around to the Manzanillo Marina Club and had her hauled out of the water.  I filmed most of it for your viewing pleasure. Be sure to stand in bright sunlight or turn your heat waaaaaay up for an authentic experience.

Diva in a travel lift, moving towards her parking spot.

The surface of the moon? Actually, just some of the barnacles growing on the bottom of the boat.  Cartagena is notorious for its questionably murky harbour and the rapid rate in which boat bottoms become mini-reefs!

We are staying in a small apartment on the top floor of the marina offices.  It is pretty spartan, but we are totally appreciative of unlimited running water and air conditioning.  Neither the Captain nor I have been fans of air conditioning in the past, but right now we are relishing it. (Shhhhh, don't tell anyone I actually said that.)

The Captain has been busy yesterday and today with boat jobs, but I have been out and about doing fun things like buying a hammock and getting a yellow fever vaccination. (My previous vaccination expires this year. Neither Colombia or Panama require it, but I am reading a book called "1497" which details the historical impacts after Columbus came back from the New World and it includes a LOT of people dying from diseases like malaria and yellow fever.  So I am prepared.)

Below are some pictures of around Cartagena from our wanderings this weekend. We expect to be on the hard for the rest of this week and then back in the water and ready to go. But, like all things boat-wise, plans may change!

We walked around the old city walls, all the time wondering if it was going to storm again.  The roof of the cathedral is at the centre of the photo.

Looking out over the other side of the wall.  You can see the Caribbean Sea, the condo towers of Bocagrande and the flag of the city of Cartagena

Just a little bit of the intriguing architecture in this place.

There is lots of public art in the old town.  Find the Captain's head between them for a perspective on the size of this statue.

Yellow walls, blue walls, red walls, orange walls, I've seen 'em all here.
The flower market!
The Captain was sadly lamenting the fact that he couldn't get his birth-right fix of the BBC world news.  Then we found this in the supermarket - Bogata Beer Company. That 'el do, as he'd say!
Even though we are no longer on anchor at Club Nautico, the main marina for visitors, I thought I'd show you what our view was like for the last week.
On one side, we had a container ship terminal.  We had lots of fun watching the ships come and go and each crane is lit up with zillions of lights at night.  Every once in a while I'd hear a rumbling and I'd have to decide if they had just dropped a container or if it was actual thunder.

A tug family, moored not too far from us. I saw as many as 5 all rafted up together. They often came out to play with the big ships.

Looking towards shore - Manga island, a lovely neighborhood that has a nice grocery store and an excellent pizzeria that we enjoyed.

Looking across to the far side of the harbour - condo and hotel towers, plus neighboring cruisers anchored all around us.

Friday, 14 June 2013

An adventure in which there is a storm

One of the things that has been plaguing me about our trip to Cartagena has been a fear of the "chocosano" they have here.  The chocosano is a short duration storm (about 30 minutes) that come up suddenly and are accompanied by very strong winds and rain. I have been crossing my fingers that we would not experience one while on the boat. And we haven't yet, but we did experience one while in a shopping mall, and that may have been worse.

On Tuesday, we walked to the big shopping center to check it out.  We came out of one of the stores and I said that it sounded like there was a water fountain below us.  The Captain said, "No, that's rain on the roof." We didn't worry too much, just found a restaurant to have a beer and wait out the rain. We watched half the football (soccer) game - Colombia was winning over Peru by 2 goals to nil - then made our way back to the marina with a very light drizzle falling.

We had hardly been put out during the storm, but Diva was.  You can imagine our surprise to find that she was not where we had left her, but instead had dragged anchor and had run aground in the shallows about a meter away from a stone wall of an old fort! She was not damaged, but she definitely was stuck.  

So began our short period of beach(ed) life, which at the time, felt like forever.  The trick to getting a sailboat out of the shallows is to pull the boat onto its side, done by applying force on a line coming from the top of the mast, so the keel comes out of the mud, and you can use a combination of the engine in reverse and winching up an anchor to move the boat on its side out of the shallows until it can float again.  Everyone knew that this was what had to be done, but Diva is a big, heavy boat (ten tonnes) and even though our water tank was almost empty, she apparently kinda liked her new spot.

Shortly after we got back to the boat in the evening, a Danish sailor who had seen it all happen came over to see if he could help.  He told us that they had measured wind strength of 55 knots (hurricane strength is 65) and almost all the boats had dragged a little.  He had watched Diva move, and said she had been close to hitting two other boats, but fortunately we could see no damage. The plastic 2" pole supporting the canopy on the boat had snapped, but otherwise it was okay.  The Danish sailor said that the three enormous tug boats parked in the harbour had also started to drag, coming closer to the marina. Also a Corsair trimaran had been picked up in a gust and cartwheeled over, landing upside down in the water, fortunately not hitting any other boats. The Danish sailor said his boat hadn't dragged only because he had turned on the engine and pointed into the wind, using the engine to keep it in the same place.

Feeling a little bit better that at least our boat wasn't upside down, we began the process of trying to get her off the rocks.  With the Danish sailor's help, and with the help of the security guard of the fort and a few other strangers, we tied a line from the mast to a canon on the wall of the fort, dropped an anchor off the stern and pick up a mooring line to attach to the stern. We gunned the engine and - nothing happened.  The four or five guys on the wall hung off the line to the mast rocking her - nothing.  We switched sides and put the line from the mast to a concrete pole in the water off the other side of the boat and tried to winch her again, and - nothing.  After a couple of hours we gave up, hoping to try again at high tide (even though it only shifts a couple of feet here) and the Danish sailor went back to his boat.

Fortunately, the boat was mostly upright, so we decided to get some sleep. At 10:30, someone knocked outside, and it was some local guys from the marina, who wanted to give us a hand.  They had a little boat, and it became apparent that it wasn't enough power.  After trying for a while, they left, and we went back to bed. At 2 am we heard another knock, and the guy had come back with a bigger boat, with two 200 horsepower engines.  Still wouldn't move. At that point we realized that there was no exhaust water coming from the engines and we needed to stop for the night.  The impellar (the little pump that forces water into the engine cooling system) had gone during our last day at sea and Phil had put in the spare one, but he had said at the time that it wouldn't last since it was older and the plastic basically "rots" in the tropics.

The next morning we woke up at 6 am and Phil installed the new impellar.  We were able to contact some people from the marina and the Colombian coast guard was going to come and bring one of their boats as well.  At 11 am, there were 6 men on and around the boat, three dingies in the water, (one with a dog) 1 coast guard ship with 3 officers and 25 people on the wall watching the spectacle.  The effort was loosely coordinated, but engines were blazing, and  - nothing!  Not even an inch. Although we did tilt her much further over on her side, making being aboard awkward.

We decided to reconvene at 4 pm, which we'd heard was high tide. We spent the day anxiously sitting in a coffee shop with air conditioning, and then went back to the boat when Captain Phil took a nap and I chatted with a German couple who had seen everything and offered to help at 1 am when they thought high tide was to happen.

At 4 pm, there was a thunderstorm, although just a normal one, thank goodeness.  I was half heartedly hoping for a big one so a swell could lift us right off the sand. Then again, it could lift us on to the fort as well, so maybe not...

Because of the rain, no one came to help us. Phil and I grabbed a bar of soap and showered in our underwear in the rain - when life hands you lemons, make lemonade. After it cleared up, we went for pizza, and then decided to go to bed, expecting to wake up at 1 am for high tide to try with the Germans' help.

At 8:30, about 20 minutes after we had fallen asleep, there was a knocking on the side of the boat.  More rescuers!  It was the boys from the morning.  This time, they brought a scuba tank and were going to dig a trench out behind the keel.  After 2 hours of digging and then pulling with the club boat (one 60 horse power engine), we were 6 inches further out, but still stuck.  Fortunately, one of the guys had chatted with the Captain of an enormous luxury powerboat sitting just behind us.  They were friends, and the Captain promised to help after the owners were finished with their dinner party and he returned them to the docks.  So we waited around for another hour or so, and then I spotted the luxury boat stealthily coming up the channel in the dark towards us.

The luxury boat was midnight blue and 50 feet long, with an engine that sounded like a big cat purring.  Captain Phil guesstimates it probably had about a 1000 HP engine.  Sure enough, a gentle tug from that boat on the line from the mast, and with two smaller boats straining with stern lines, we were free!

It should have been victorious, but the anchor was attached to the stern and so the guys with the dingy took it off and put it in their boat.  We thought they were going to follow us close behind, but that message didn't get translated, and we drove around for 20 minutes waiting for our anchor to show up so we could put it down again!

We are now on the other side of the marina, with the anchor down solidly.  I am still a bit jumpy about the weather, but we have heard that the storm was exceptionally strong. They usually have winds between 35-45 knots, but this was at least 55-65 knots. So, cross your fingers and maybe your toes too that it won't happen again!

Another adventure under our belts...

PS. We went to another marina today to ask about hauling the boat out of the water, and he asked how we had fared in the storm.  Turns out, he had a picture of our boat aground! (see below)  Infamous in Colombia already...

PPS. I didn't take any pictures because it was my own little form of denial - if I don't take any pictures, this can't really be happening, right?  I guess I shouldn't sign up for journalism school anytime soon.

PPS. Other than high levels of anxiety, we really didn't fair too badly.  We've lost 2 buckets, one water bottle, one cutting board, and one pole for the canopy (we have a spare). The boat was dry inside, with the exception of water that came through the open hatches. (I know, of all the days to forget to close the hatches when we left.)  Considering what could have been damaged, we were lucky.

Diva is on the right (red and white).  We stayed in that position for 36 hours. The other boats blew down with us, but had shallower drafts and were able to get out under their own power.

Saturday, 8 June 2013

The happiest country in the world

Bienvenido a Cartagena!

At 4:30 am on Friday morning, after 10 hours of motoring (no wind), and dropping the anchor three times before it would set, we considered ourselves "arrived" and had a celebratory glass of rum. (Okay, it was more than one glass, but who was counting?)  We had a great trip down, sailing more than 90% of it, and with less than 10 minutes of rain in total.

The rest of the day was spent in a sleep-deprived blur that included mundane things like having our passports processed and hijinks including the acquiring of official hats from both the police and the harbour patrol. 

Both yesterday and today I have been dissapointed that once I am on dry land it keeps moving back and forth a bit.  Just can't quite please me!

Cartagena is a beautiful city, with fortifications and cobblestone streets in the old town.  It also has a cityscape of condo towers across the harbour that rivals Vancouver.  The Captain and I are looking forward to exploring it more over the next couple of weeks, even though our trusty crew, Nigel, heads back to Jamaica on Sunday.

The boys, happy to have arrived and wearing their new "Armada" or Colombian Navy hats.  (Ask Nigel about his boat ride if you get a chance, it involves a power boat, swimming trunks and AWOL as an illegal alien.)

The fortifications around the old city.

Inside the old city - and it is an old city, founded almost 500 years ago.

Just when Captain Phil was about to sit down on the curb and refuse to walk anymore, we found this lovely little restaurant for dinner.  It was on the second floor, suitably called "el balcon," and we spend the first part of the evening watching the football (soccer) game on TV (Colombia vs Argentina; nil-nil) and the second half of the evening watching the happenings in the square below.

The food was very yummy - lots of seafood!

The Captain and I, enjoying something down below.  We saw a mime, break-dancers, a man with a big belly who wore a grass skirt and danced to Shakira music, food and trinket vendors (also a man who came by selling fishing rods (!) and all ages of people hanging about and enjoying the evening) 
The lovely owner of the restaurant was British, just by chance. She had come to Colombia for a man (oh, the places we go for love...) and gave us some tips on what to see.  We also spent some time talking to her mother, who was here for a visit, and she said that Colombians are supposed to be some of the happiest people in the world.  And last night, we definitely felt it too.  Maybe it was the relief of our safe arrival, maybe it was something in the air or maybe it was just the mojitos, but life is good!

*Grin* - it's been a good one, team Diva!

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Deep Blue Sea

Hello from the Caribbean Sea! We are enjoying a balmy day out on the waves. All is well in our journey so far. The first few days out at sea were coupled with fairly big waves and a strong wind, so I turned green. Fortunately, the treatment for sea sickness and a bad back is about the same, lots of rest lying flat on your back. I only missed one shift on watch, and Captain Phil and Nigel did an admiral job of keeping us afloat and heading in the right direction. Now my seasickness has passed and my back is feeling much better.

The last couple of days have seen calmer seas and lighter wind, with hardly any rain. We've all been enjoying the stars at night, although last night I mistook the sliver of the moon coming up with a ship on the horizon and it took me a few moments to figure out why nothing was showing up on the computer charts!

I was thinking about if I could send pictures, what I would include, and there isn't actually a lot you are missing out on. Lots of sea and sky, lots of boat parts, but we are all kinda grubby and wouldn't want to be in photos anyways. I think this journey is best accompanied with lots of rushing water sounds and wave after wave passing by.

We expect to arrive in Cartagena, Colombia tomorrow sometime.

P.S. We saw dolphins swimming by the side of the boat, zooming through the phosphorescent water last night!