Tuesday, 30 October 2007

A testament of youth

I make no apology for the length of this post, or for the fact that I have taken it directly from The Times newspaper.

Libby Purvis, the mother of Nicholas, is a British Institution. She is a superb and brave journalist, specializing in both newspaper and radio reporting. She has worked for BBC Radio 4 for many years. She is a sailor and contributor to Yachting Monthly, a successful novelist, a columnist in The Times newspaper and most importantly a woman who is not afraid to speak out about injustice and unpopular issues.

During my career as a reporter, both in radio and TV, I have striven to try and emulate, to the best of my ability, the superb example that she gives by tackling stories with thoughtfulness and passion. I have never been in her league but by God I admire her hugely.

When her son, Nicholas, committed suicide recently I was so sad for her. Her pain, and that of her husband Paul, was unimaginable.

Once again, even in tackling such a personal and painful journalistic subject her compassion and intelligence shine through.

This is her article: A testament of Youth.

After the suicide of Nicholas Heiney, her 23-year-old son, our correspondent discovered his moving diaries and poems. They show maturity, insight and a rare mystical quality, and are now to be published. Here she introduces extracts from the book

"My goal,” wrote my son Nicholas a few days before he died, “is to write something I could show to somebody”. The irony is that he already had. In his short life he shared only his university essays, a few formal accounts on the ship’s website of his life as a square-rigger deckhand in the Pacific, and a brief exasperated blast against the literary-critical industry. Nobody knew the extent of his sea-logs, poems, journals and philosophical musings. We found them only in the weeks after his suicide.

He threw nothing away, but showed his work little respect. There were notebooks, crumpled pages, poems on Postit notes casually interleaved in books. I transcribed it all unedited, two hours at dawn each day, setting the computer to a different font from the one I normally use, and found a rough chronological order. This was mainly to help my own understanding of his life and death. It was forensic. I was picking my way across the battlefield.

There was no thought of wider publication. We had our own way to make through this bereavement, and diaries, especially those that contain clues to an advancing illness, are not always fit to be shared with strangers. Nor did we feel inclined to contribute to any debate about mental illness and suicide in young men – important subject though that is. We had, and still have, a sense that Nicholas was so untypical of his generation that it is hard to draw general conclusions from what happened to him. That view was confirmed by his psychiatrist, to whom he was frankly “a puzzle”, and by his Oxford tutor, Professor Duncan Wu, who, like us, finds more answers to the puzzle in poetry, particularly of the Romantic period, than in psychiatry.

So publication was not a first thought. But it became more and more apparent that, despite his reclusive reticence, he had a reader in mind. He would casually write: “If you read this . . .”, or “I’m sorry, I must go back a day . . . ”. The sense of privateness receded, replaced by a belief that he had left, as Duncan Wu wonderingly put it, a kind of testament. It records the adventures and visions of a rare and strange spirit, whose joys and despairs place him closer to mystics and romantics of the past than to the age he was born in.

Moreover, his account of sailing the Atlantic and Pacific as an apprentice deckhand on the square-rigged barque Europa was too vivid not to share, and so were some of the poems. Nicholas was a natural mystic; although he never spoke about organised religion except in mild exasperation, we now know that for years his inner world was populated by demons and angels: the spirit and the shine of heaven and the terror and beauty of poetry. Shelley’s strange 1815 poem Alastor, in which the poet is led on a perilous journey by a demonic spirit, was very close to him: nobody knew how deep it went, but from the age of 17 his e-mail address was alastor1815 and the password was “shelley”.

All this we came to understand in the bewildering, sorrowful months after his death. With caution, I shared the documents with cooler heads, and it is Duncan Wu’s encouragement and judgment that enables us to present our son’s mind and work publicly, adding only enough narrative to give a context. Lovers of the sea, and of poetry, should find much in it. We also, with some diffidence, decided to publish for another reason. He was young, and not many who die at 23 get an opportunity to leave a legacy. His writings contain truths and perceptions that – although they come from an unusual and troubled soul – have already shown an ability to touch hearts and lives.

He would want that. In the most vivid portion of his life, the Pacific voyage, Nicholas worked with great conscientiousness aloft the Europa, seizing and splicing footropes and handholds high in the rigging, with a conscious awareness of the security of strangers who would come after him. Much of his work is still up there, headed at this very moment for Antarctica. In his writing too there are many unexpected handholds, which support us to this day.

None of us can expect more than that: the hope that somewhere up in the crazy cobweb of life, we have left a good piece of work that will serve fellow beings. Despite the illness that overcame him, our son left something worth having. As he wrote: “What is important is to remember that it is not the way in which we record our existence, but that we do record it. In the air, and everywhere around, we must remember how the streets ring out for every soul that thought and felt and passed through them in weakness and in strength.”

Publication had to be handled with care. I wanted Duncan Wu’s collaboration in the editing to counterweigh maternal judgment; moreover, it rapidly became clear that any commercial publisher with an eye on sales might inflict too much intrusion on all of us. The misery-memoir genre has a firm grip on the culture just now, and we needed to ensure that this exercise was not about us and our loss. It is about what Nicholas had to say.

Also, he loved well-produced books on good paper, and would work in the local secondhand bookshop, taking his pay in elegant old editions of the Romantics. So we decided to control production ourselves, guided by two retired publishers, and present the writings as honestly and straightforwardly as we wanted. When considering a cover we thought immediately of the painter Alan Parker, one of the few new acquaintances with whom Nicholas made a genuine connection in the last months of his life. Alan went straight out onto bleak Star Fen in Lincolnshire and painted a brewing storm. When we saw it we knew it was perfect: a visual version of the lofty terrors and cloud-mountains in our son’s late poems.

We also felt it necessary to stress that none of this has anything to do with the sickly romanticisation that often surrounds suicides, especially of beautiful young men. Nicholas was emphatically not a “suicide-groupie”, never even read Al Alvarez’s The Savage God, and had nothing but sympathy for our good friend Frieda Hughes, Sylvia Plath’s daughter, who has been pestered all her life by the faction known among us as the “Plath-loonies”. He would be horrified to think that anything he wrote or did should encourage suicidality: it is very clear from unpublished diaries how long and how hard he himself resisted it.

A short account of Nicholas’ life: he was born in November 1982, on the rising tide, at Greenwich. Superstition has it that boys are born on a rising tide. We named him because it was nearly Christmas, and it was much later that we discovered that St Nicholas of Myra is the patron saint of both sailors and scholars.

His sensitivity showed early and, for him, stressfully. When a great beech tree crushed the end of our house in the 1987 hurricane he wept, saying “I will be dead before it can grow up again so beautiful.” I tried to say no, no . . . but, of course, he was quite right: it was nearly 200 years old. At 4, he had looked beyond the comfortable assumptions of daily life and grasped ideas of mortality. He also demonstrated early a romantic love of the sea. On family trips in our small boat he would creep from his bunk in night-watches, to sit with whichever of us was on the helm and watch the silhouettes of the sails moving across starry skies.

School was not particularly easy for him, but drama, poetry and language drew him irresistibly; he read with intensity, once in his teens running through with a copy of Henry James’s The Portrait of a Lady saying: “I hate Osmond so much I want to stab the page!” His use of language in distress often shook his teachers. In a brief bad passage at one school, aged 9, he said “even the bricks in the walls curl themselves up to throw themselves at me”. The image, we now know, remained: in a poem much later he wrote:

While lying, waiting in the shimmering cold It was as if the bricks broke free and hurled themselves with vice to cleanse the sullied world from me who stood behind perception’s bars as if it were a judgement from the stars searing through my icy prison bars But the bricks stayed in still because they knew with every breath that every ghostly shuddering chill was marking time until my death I lay quite still within my eerie cage convulsing, contorting and feeling its rage

He called the poem Bad Trip, but it should be stressed that drugs were no part of his life. He was all too aware, after a bad reaction to a prescription medicine, that he belonged to the group who should not take risks with recreational drugs: his mind found wild enough territory already. Eventually he found equilibrium at Royal Hospital School at Holbrook, where he was a famously kind and pastoral head of Juniors. But at 17, he suffered a violent infection of the inner ear – labyrinthitis – which, during his slow recovery, threw him into an extreme post-viral depression.

He fought this in every way possible but it took a toll, and some physical damage may have contributed to the more serious psychosis which, it is guessed, was developing when he died. Certainly the themes from this time turn up in poems of the next six years: as do reflections of his happier passions. He was a teenage scuba enthusiast, for example, as many are; but on the secret pages of the notebook lay images like this:


The sea thickens
In the coral dell
As the divers descend
Where the stonefish dwell
The light splits, in shafts
As the darkness swells
And creatures desert
The fatal well
Death eats colour
In a diving hell dark since the time that Man first fell
The stonefish are still
We are all alone
The stonefish are flesh
With heart of stone

He did physics A level as well as English and history, an odd mixture at first sight; but then, clarity of expression is necessary in science. And, having read his writings, I now suspect that the rigour and certainties of physics – like his technical interest in racing bikes and computers – comforted something in him that valued rationality simply because it was always under siege from poetry and the first dark tendrils of psychosis. And only a physicist could have written, two years later, this definition of death:

“What we were, we will become
As we give our heat to the desert sun”.

He was a careful critic, and his approach to poetry good or bad was always one of gentle interrogation, trying to understand the writer rather than deconstructing or catego-rising. After his first Oxford interview he came back saying “Mum, I need to be taught by those guys!” and when they turned him down he spent the next year reading avidly, to win a place on a second try. His mentors were the late Michael Gearin-Tosh and Duncan Wu of St Catherine’s College, Oxford, both known for their humane and modest approach to literature. It was a revelation and a liberation to him after the process of A levels, which he furiously described to later students as “drudgery. They do not test or resemble knowledge, they simply test the limits of how far you will go down the path of moral destruction for relatively little reward. Hang in there. Browning began an inspirational journey on the morn of Rome and May, and so shall you”.

The sea continued to be important to him. Despite the long aftermath of his illness, and a fear of going aloft, he insisted on sailing in the Tall Ships 2000 race across the Atlantic aboard the Dutch barque Europa. He loved it, proudly helped others to overcome their fears of climbing, and, in his gap year, signed on as an apprentice deckhand for a six-month voyage to Japan and Korea. In a striking fragment of one of his summer tall-ship logs, he expresses both his social discomfort in teenage circles – though he had individual good friends – and his need:

Imagination is my absent curse
And so it is that time of year again
To go to sea, for better or for worse
Where silver sails break sun in golden shards
And I can work at being pure again.
The heady rush of middle England’s crush
The bars and awkward social teenage circles
Will dissolve into an absent thought
And I can be pure again.

Before the Atlantic, he had only done family trips and shorter sea races, leaving entertaining schoolboyish logs: this from the trawler Excelsior:

“My bunk is on top of some important bloke’s bunk, so I had better keep my annoying personal habits to a minimum . . . Next to my bunk is a fire bell which you have to turn to operate. This ensures that you will be deafened as well as burned . . .”

It is a boon, in the months after a sudden death, to find that the lost one can still make you laugh. His account of working as a hotel waiter to raise money for his gap-year voyage is full of dry observation about customers and staff: we had always wondered why he volunteered to work the Christmas morning breakfast shift and now we know — “with a giant hotel Christmas lunch impending, I wanted to see the type of person who also ate a cooked breakfast”.

Editing has been a strange process, and not wholly painful. When someone writes so privately (and yet with a future reader somewhere in his heart), it can be a shock to see into the familiar stranger’s mind. But to us, the writer Nicholas is wholly recognisable. He is more troubled than even we knew, and with a greater depth of mysticism, but the voice is familiar. It is gentle, amused and amusing, modest and tolerant, curiously old-fashioned.

He loved his technology, his iPod and internet, yet wrote in long-hand; he loved comedy, finding BBC7 his last refuge from the shadowy world of transcendence which became in the end too close and dark to bear. He steeped himself in great literature, but never treated it as something to be academically “clever” about. It was, to him, a key to the puzzle of existence.

So we put his scattered writings together, with explanations but with the minimum of intrusion, and now offer them in print. Not for vanity, not as some mawkish memorial, but just in case for some reader, somewhere, he provides a useful handhold in the perilous clamber through life’s rigging. He would no doubt have edited them more sharply in a few years’ time if he had been able to stay with us. But Duncan Wu and I have done what we could, so that his words will not be lost.

The Silence at the Song’s End by Nicholas Heiney is available for RRP £12.95 at www.songsend.co.uk

Monday, 29 October 2007

How to get tons of money and buy a bigger boat.

I thought all you cruisers out there might like to learn a little from Brent about how to raise the money to cruise around the Caribbean in a big boat without having worked your socks off to do it!

The Jireh contingent seem to be doing pretty well by promising that their 'God' will see everyone okay...strange then how every single one of the 'exciting adventures of the Borthwicks' include the sad begging appeal as listed below.

I shake my head in amazement and disgust.

January 2007

I do not have the money to haul the boat, but we have to do it. I do not have the money to fuel it up, but we have to do it. I just keep putting it all on my Credit Card, but how are we going to pay the bill? I know God will provide, but He wants me to tell you our needs. I am asking, please, anything you can do to help. Whatever God lay’s on your heart, if you are not sure it is God and it might be you, then double it, triple it, I don’t know, maybe just give the whole bank! I am praying that $10,000.00 to come in right now. Maybe $20,000.00, we really need it now. I do not think you have ever heard me ask like this before, but if you usually give $25.00, maybe give $250.00 or $2,500.00. Maybe take $100.00 to $1,000.00, or even $10,000.00. We have no option if we continue as missionaries to make money other than through you all. We are God’s servants asking His people for help. Can you imagine just 20 people at $1,000.00 each is $20,000.00! Please if you can, help us continue in God’s will for our lives and yours.

February 2007
After our last plea in January, we received the largest one time donation that we have ever received from one of our partners, and many donations over and above the monthly giving. Again, THANK YOU! We are not out of the woods yet financially as the cost of living and maintaining this boat in the islands is expensive.

March 2007
Thank you all for your prayers and giving. We just paid the very large bill from pulling the boat out of the water, painting, etc, and our bank accounts are again near zero! But we know that God is so good and He will provide all of our needs!

April 2007

We will have some more bills when we get to the US, so please be in prayer about the finances. I will need to re-insure the boat in May, so another very large bill, plus our haul out and repairs. I am praying that the repair yard will give us a big break as they are partly to blame for the bottom problem.

May 2007
Please be in prayer as we are all exhausted. The stress of all that has happened, plus all the work we have been doing on the boat while getting it fixed. I am tired and my herniated disk in my back has been acting up again, so a fair amount of pain. I checked on the new invasive disk surgery down here, 30 minutes and up and about the same day, $25,000.00!!! Why does Canada do the old fashioned surgery with 6 weeks recovery and lots of pain, plus waiting how long for the surgery? I have put all our expenses on my Master Card, and I do not know how we will pay the bill when it comes in. Diesel fuel, bottom repair, generator repair, stocking up on food, dockage, ect… plus I have yearly boat insurance due the first week of June, about $7,000.00. You know, as I write this I have to just laugh. Lord, you called us, here we are, please provide our needs. I have never missed paying off my M/C every month, please, is all I ask.

June 2007
Pray for our finances as we need to pay $7,900.00 for boat insurance for another year, due by June 10th. Seems impossible as our accounts are depleted, but I know God is in control, and He does not want us to stop now. We need fuel for the boat for this last leg of this part of God’s ministry journey! Pray for strength. I am exhausted, lack of sleep, have lost 15 pounds without trying (stress????), but loosing weight is a good thing, isn’t it? Pray for Sharon and the kids, SAFETY, as the dangers are ever present on a boat living in the tropics and jungles.

July 2007

Please pray as we need to purchase a vehicle as soon as possible. We use the little boat to get to the villages on the river, but we need a vehicle to get to the churches and 100s of other villages in the area, and for teams. There is a perfect small Chevy pick-up for sale, four doors and seats 6, 4x4, turbo diesel so good on fuel, year 2000, and Guatemalan registry which is what we need. It is a little rough with dents, paint fade, oil leaks, etc, but it would be a great vehicle for us. They want $7,000. US, but I would like to try to get it for $5,000 if I can afford it. Another step of faith, so for now we walk, but please be in prayer about a vehicle for us.

And so on.

You know there are some really great people out there working hard to help those less fortunate than themselves. Often getting by on very little while putting everything they can into a local community.

It makes me sick when I see charlatans like these conning money to fuel their materialistic, self indulgent lifestyle. How on earth can their donors not see that such vast sums of money that the Borthwicks appear to need to maintain their delusions of grandeur would be so much better spent elsewhere.

Check out that dinghy with the 50HP motor. No wonder he's so keen to organize some 'protection'!

Planning the cruise.

I have had the pilot guides out trying to start to format our sailing plans for when we finally get away from the dock , probably later this year.

It's a little hard to plan at the moment as we are still in the throws of working on the new business, Yalaworld.net. However with any luck we should manage to at least get out for a few months around Christmas time. So...where shall we go?

There are quite a few alternatives, could go back towards Panama which we really enjoyed. I have a bit of a mental problem with that one as I hate to sail backwards-if you know what I mean.

Whilst it would be lovely to see our old friends, many of whom are now permanent residents there and the lure of decent shopping is great there are so many places we haven't seen yet... I guess we could stop in Nicaragua if we went that way, we didn't do that on the way up here.

Then the Cays and reefs of Belize hold a lot of attraction, especially after so long in the Rio. TBH (the better half) has been diving for over 30 years now and would relish a little R&R after all the intense brain work he's been doing this year. Fresh fish, lobster, quiet anchorages. That ones definitely high on the list.

But where to from there? Mexico doesn't excite me too much, not sure why, just isn't 'pulling my chain'. So we could go on to Cuba. We have all the charts and guides on board for that one and a lot of recommendations from other cruisers and family members to enjoy the country before it really gets open up to tourists.

Then via the Dominican Republic and towards St Maarten. That would be a nice tidy end to circumnavigating the Caribbean , and I do like tidy endings!

Spoilt for choice is what we are. Aren't we just so lucky to even have to worry about decisions like this.

Oh well, I'll just sit back, pour another cold drink and no doubt eventually we'll head somewhere, it usually just happens anyway!

Sunday, 28 October 2007

God moves in mysterious ways his wonders to perform.

One of the aspects of this cruising life is the characters that you meet along the way. The charming, the nasty, the intelligent,the weird. All of humanities rich mix is here somewhere. Although out on the oceans it does sometimes seem to be just a bit exaggerated. Occasionally though you run in to the scum, the user, the conman, the just downright unpleasant. It's sad but a fact of life that it's out there.

For those of you who have been reading previous entries in my blog you will recall my despair at the situation here in Guatemala of the local women. See the entries, Sordid Lives. Many of the comments that I received from the local cruisers included 'butting out of local issues' that I couldn't possibly comprehend, admonishing me for bringing my 'moral' values to another culture and so on.

Well I can take all that, guess what I'm a big girl now!

My stance is that there is no such thing as an innocent bystander. Speak up or be tarred with the same brush as the perpetrator of abuse, the conman and the rest.

So right now on the Rio Dulce we are having a small 'Crime Ripple'. A few dinghies and motors have 'been liberated', just like happens in almost every anchorage in the world. It's bloody annoying but if you take the time and care to secure your rubberduck well, the chances of it happening to you are greatly diminished. After all you don't leave your car parked with the keys in the ignition, your wallet open on the table and walk away do you!

A group of cruisers here have taken great umbrage that they are not 'being protected' by the local authorities... OK maybe they have little experience of real cruising, looking out for yourself, being self sufficient and all those scary grown-up things.

The self appointed leader really takes the biscuit! He and his family arrived on the Rio a few months ago in his '67 foot trawler'. Strangely he takes every opportunity in his (many) transmissions on the daily cruisers net to tell you that you can find him on his '67 foot trawler'!

It's fascinating watching and listening to him jockey for position amongst the established Rio characters, holding church services on his '67 foot trawler'. Oh yes I didn't mention that did I! He runs a 'not for profit' mission based on his '67 foot trawler'. Wind Word Missions.

Getting himself involved in the Jungle Medic's organization... pity the poor guy who has run that for the last five years building it from nothing having to put up with this blatant glory seeker 'helping' in 'The Lord's Work'... yeuck.

Well apart from his three kids baking cookies to sell at the swap meet "to raise money for the poor", he has a busy life driving his 4x4 to the local town to shop and visit McDonalds, go wakeboarding, etc. Guess the Lord's Work isn't really so time consuming.

So to fill in that gap he has taken over getting 'protection' for the cruisers. Well not for me you ain't buddy - butt out.

The local tourist and police agencies, who have so little finance that they have a boat but no propeller, no fuel, no radio, nothing really, are being coerced into riding patrol at night around the three newly designated safe anchorages... oh they do have guns by the way!

That's going to be great as you tootle back to your boat late at night in the dark... a trigger happy security guy desperate to prove to his bosses that he is keeping it safe on the Rio... I'll leave you to use your own imagination on that one!

So I thought I'd take a look at this guy's website... windword.ca Amazing! I have been missing so much in my life... If I tithe my earnings to the lovely Borthwick family, he guarantees me "God's promise of financial blessings." Well that's okay then.

I note that he and his wife are "bringing wisdom and insight, and signs and wonders to the people of this world." So that's it then huh! All of God's might will be bought to bear on the dinghy thieves of the Rio Dulce.

The latest on this saga is that the local authorities are upset that the Rio will be getting a bad reputation out in the big world. I wonder if this is a sign of the quality of insight and wisdom that Windword brings.

The poor bastards that's just what they need in this war damaged, corruption riddled, sex trading, women-abusing, poverty-stricken land of Guatemala. Good on you Brent, Sharon and the crew and supporters of Jireh, you've got your priorities right - way to go.

Oh by the way, if you feel moved to contribute to the cost of the diesel for that '67 foot trawler', the cost of running the a/c, the cost of the car or the dockage fees, the website has a facility to take your payment by credit card.

And if anyone would like to contribute to the running costs of the a/c on my boat I can accept paypal, credit cards or cash!

Saturday, 27 October 2007

Shopping on the Rio.

Saturday mornings are the time for the cruisers' Swap Meet on the Rio. As we are tied up just off the restaurant where this event takes place its a nice way of doing a little shopping, a little socializing and getting up to date with the latest gossip..

This morning, before we even left the boat we swopped two cheek blocks for an old Yamaha 4hp outboard! How about that for a deal. Its the same as the engine we use all the time on our dinghy but a bit older and more knackered. Ideal to cannabalize for spares which are really expensive and difficult to come by here. TBH is a happy chappy.

I was busy negotiating for a bottle of coconut oil when TBH told me that the shrimp man was asking for me. Goody, lovely giant 'muy grande' camarones for supper tonight. At 40Q a pound, thats under 4 euros I was well pleased with my purchase. Since I have been buying regularly from this one guy the price has gone down and the quality gone up- love it!He's always smartly dressed, wearing his Guatemalan cowboy hat, clean jeans and smart shirt. The shrimp stored in an 'igloo' container filled with ice. I am told I can buy them a little cheaper but this guy brings them to me, is always charming, and I am happy with the quality and price, why try and screw him down another 5Q one way or the other?

He is followed by Casa Guatemala, a cheery lass selling produce from the orphanage, 2lbs minced beef and a couple of large (litre) containers yoghurt 80Q. Again good quality and value.

The gossip concerns the bunch of boaters getting 'committees' together to stop dinghy theft..if you've read my previous blog 'Crime Ripple' you'll know just what I think of that! Not a lot.This country hardly has enough money to do any major law enforcement and this bunch of self righteous wankers want them to patrol the area to look after some rich gits rubber boats...how bloody selfish. If they can't cope with their own security issues they shouldn't be here- get back to lala land.

Friday, 26 October 2007

Why do we do it?

Go cruising I mean! There seem to be a number of common reasons, seeking adventure, experience of illness, dreams of simplicity.

There has been an interesting thread on the YBW liveaboard forum over the past few days.Have a look at it...

Thursday, 25 October 2007

San Blas Memories.

Cruising often brings along some unusual surprises. One of the prime interests to us as we travel around is the food that we eat. Some excellent, some really bad and some, well, unexpected!
This video clip was made in the San Blas Islands, Panama. We were in a beautiful quiet anchorage known as Snug Harbour. Its where the New England sea captain's used to bring their schooners to load up with coconuts to trade with back in 'the good old days'.

I wonder if they had the same foodie experiences as we did!

Wednesday, 24 October 2007

Leaving it all behind...

The home, the kids, the cat...! One of the questions we are asked is how did you do it? How did you walk/sail away from your life in the UK?
Below is a common question, this one from the YBW Live aboard forum.


I have enjoyed reading your blog too; inspiring. So, the question, how did you cope with throwing away the comfort blanket of corporate life and life ashore? I have my own business and "when?" seems to be the biggest question that I'll have to address. Walking away from one's own business will, I believe, be very difficult. But as (I think) Stingo said above - life is too short to waste.....................hmmmmmmmmm


When I was responding to this yesterday it took me to thinking about that decision. What we did right and the things that, with the benefit of hindsight, we would have done differently.

Leaving behind the corporate life was actually the easiest decision to make.
TBH(the better half) had already decided that he had exhausted that lifestyle and was eager for some space to develop philosophies and ideas of his own. See Yalaworld for the almost completed project.

Once we had made the decision to buy the ultimate bluewater cruiser, a whole story in itself, there were the very big questions of what to do with the children! The youngest was just 16 and still at school, middle one 19 at University, the eldest 22 just beginning his career in the media. For the first 18 months we commuted back and forth to the boat, youngest child was at boarding school so that was pretty easy to handle.The kids agreed to take on running the house and by default looking after the cat!

Actually the cat was one of the hardest issues... Our Bafta (large then 7 year old moggy) was an
inveterate hunter and with a home territory of some 200 acres we didn't think he would settle to the confined 40' floating home we could offer. We did um and err a lot, even having him chipped and jabbed so we could take him if we changed our minds.

We were in a fortunate position of being able to 'stagger' our move to full time cruising. It gave us an insurance policy in case everything went completely pear-shaped. It was interesting that TBH never had a single doubt, he was all for divesting ourselves of everything before we left. Even though I was extremely keen to cruise I found cutting the ties to our home a difficult thing to do. I had lived there for thirty years! Raised my three kids there, made a beautiful garden, had roots in the community. Maybe its a woman thing, its certainly an experience that seems pretty common amongst the female halves of cruising couples.

One of my principle criteria as we began the move was that I would not 'camp' on the boat. I had a comfortable home and intended to recreate that, as far as possible, on the boat. Otherwise I could see myself yearning in down moments for my previous comfort zone just a little too much...

Prior to leaving Europe we shipped a large quantity of household effects out to the boat, which was then in Portugal. TBH shuddered as I packed books, china, crystal glasses! Cooking pots, clothes, special bits and pieces. He sarcastically asked where the kitchen sink was going...
But it all found a place on board and didn't raise the waterline too far!

On reflection I wish I had shipped more, once we had left Europe it was too far and too expensive to top up on the glasses we carry aboard, the dvd's, more books etc. Mind you I've done a pretty good job each time the kids come out to visit in topping up!

The one big cloud on the horizon was the youngest child. She's a bright spark and was increasingly unhappy in the sixth form of her boarding school. She hated the conformity, the injustices ( wonder where she got that from!), and was not doing well academically. After a lot of soul searching we had a long conversation with her about choice. She could stay at school, come with us or strike out alone. To precis another long story she ended up at 17 aboard her own small boat, rebuilding it and creating a lifestyle for herself! It was tough. She learnt many hard lessons but what a young woman she has turned out to be! Individual, resiliant, self-sufficient and a pleasure to spend time with. It was hard when the phone calls would begin, 'I'm alright now, but...'!!

Once these obstacles were overcome that was it, we were truly away. Mentally we tuned out from the previous lives and allowed change to happen. Thats not easy either! We all dream of changing aspects of ourselves, our lives, our attitudes but by sheer definition change is hard, uncomfortable. To be honest at times its bloody hell!

The first Christmas alone was awful, I missed the house which was always wonderful at that time of year, the cold, the food, the family! We got two bars into the Christmas Carol CD and I was a mess of tears, desperately homesick. What I know now is thats okay, its okay to feel
homesick from time to time. To miss the comfort of the past. As time has gone by we have had the most amazing holiday celebrations, sometimes with family, sometimes other cruisers and they have all been different. Rewarding in individual ways.

So letting go is a strange time, but you have to empty the glass to make space for the new to flow in. That's the very best bit of all!

The more we have let go the past, the more rewarding the new experiences have become.

Tuesday, 23 October 2007

Rio ramblings...

Bob and Trish( from Barnacle) took us for a gentle cruise around the Rio on Sunday afternoon. It was an opportunity to explore some of the myriad of smaller creeks and rivers that join the Rio Dulce.
Well I say gentle(!), actually they have a rather smart lancha (local fiberglass boat) with a 50HP OUTBOARD!

That's the same size as the engine in our big boat! Its the fastest speed we have traveled at in over a year. Oh boy I had a great time, wheeeeeeeeeeeee! I want one.

It always surprises me how different an area looks from the perspective of another boat. Must be something to do with the different height and speed that you are looking from. I certainly saw a different river to the one that we observe from our 10' rib with its 4hp outboard. for a start a lot of my photographs ended up blurred......slow doooowwwwn Bob!

What was surprising was how little jungle is left in this area, just a quarter of a mile back from the river all the trees have been cleared and big ranching operations have taken over. It brings home the fact of deforestation in a way that simply reading a book or article can never do.

There is a small tribe of howler monkeys just across the river from the marina and most mornings you can hear their haunting screams coming across the water. Bob and Trish took us into their usual habitat and it was sad to see what a tiny piece of land they are left with. Hemmed in by the river on one side, ranches and development on the others. Trash littering the bases of the mangroves and trees where they spend a lot of their time. We have a lot to answer for us humans.

It's a beautiful place this in some respects. The fort at San Felipe, has been meticulously restored and remains on guard at the entrance to Lake Izabel. Conjuring up visions of conquistadors, slaves, pirate ships and the like. What an extraordinary historical inheritance this place encompasses.

Coming from Europe we often feel we have a monopoly on 'history' but the further I travel the angrier I get at the education I received.
Why is that? Well nobody ever taught us in the classroom about the tremendous civilizations that occupied this part of the world. The only lessons I recall were a few about the rain forest in the Amazon basin....not exactly enlightening.
I just read a really interesting book, 'Ancient Americans - rewriting the history of the new world' by Charles C. Mann. It made me think!

Our guides spoke about the lack of wildlife in the area too. They have been here for three years now. As you explore there are few indigenous mammals to be seen, all been eaten probably. It's a big contrast to Panama where it was impossible to move around without seeing anteaters, sloths, monkeys and other wonders of the tropical world.

Guatemala is a relatively crowded country, with more than its fair share of political and historical upheavals.It has a population of 11.2 million,6.4 million of whom live in poverty. With a difficult geography encompassing volcanoes and earthquakes it makes for a massive challenge to the population for the future.
Will they succeed in creating a sustainable country? I don't know but I don't have a good feeling about this place.

Our contributions to date don't look too magnificent!

It is a far cry from the splendor of the Mayan temples and virgin jungles of yesterday.

Monday, 22 October 2007

More video moments...

We have been looking through our videos and photographs and thought this illustrated rather well the highs and lows of a short passage on a bluewater cruise!

Look out for the waterspout just in the right of the screen...that squall came up within 30 minutes, just after we avoided running in to a sperm whale. Well actually he avoided us, thank goodness.

The wahoo was very, very good.

Sunday, 21 October 2007

Crime Ripple?

I have spent the last couple of days with open mouthed astonishment as a group of cruisers here on the Rio organize meetings and protests at dinghy thefts.........

Lets get this into perspective, two dinghies have gone missing in the last couple of weeks, one was found, albeit missing its motor. OOH big crime wave hits the Rio...

Oh come on people get real, talk of danger to boaters and the like is completely out of place. What is fascinating though is that suddenly the boats that wear their religious beliefs on their sleeves are all very vocal! Never mind the poverty, the prostitution, the murders.........somebody is threatening MY dinghy.

There is a meeting today to discuss this 'serious' issue. I have heard ideas of warning all visitors to the Rio that they should stay in a Marina, the reasoning being its 'too dangerous' to anchor out. For gods sake !

Your property is YOUR responsibility. We chain our dinghy to the boat or whatever dock we are visiting with a good solid link chain, through the outboard and fuel can.
If we are in a 'iffy' anchorage the whole thing is lifted on board at night and secured. Yes it takes a while but it does deter the casual thief.

Mind you when you see the size of some of the outboards here on the Rio Dulce I can well understand the temptation to theft. An engine of that size can change the whole lifetime economics of a local family.........

I despair at the shallow, self centred motivation of some of the cruisers we see here. What on earth are they here for? Cruising, no way. This isn't a Theme park it's the big wide world.

Saturday, 20 October 2007

Memories are made of this.......

Oh! I can't wait to be off to sea again, and sailing...

Myths and Realities.

Do you remember the days before you went cruising? The time before you lived aboard your boat? Maybe you were working like a dog to get the cash together for the final escape, maybe you were just planning a year out of the old routine. What was it that you expected the cruising life to offer you? What were the expectations that you held for such a radical change in lifestyle?
And has it lived up to those thoughts?

I can tell you what the experiences have been like for me!

I dreamed of sailing away on a boat from the age of , maybe 16, when I first read a book called 'Rosie Darling'. Rosie Swale the author led a wild childhood and ran away to sea with her love, Colin.
On board a tiny catamaran she gave birth to her son, survived storms and wild adventures, traveled to exotic locations and had a lovely turn of phrase in to the bargain! She is currently running around the world, at the age of 61!! What a woman.

What was it that I dreamed of though? The sailing, the lifestyle, freedom, travel? Yes to all of those!

I spent the years between the dreams and the realities crewing on other peoples boats, reading, dreaming.........and working. It took a long time until I could translate those dreams into reality.
My imagination traveled across oceans, living in harmony with the sea, braving storms, swimming in turquoise reef water. Living on fresh fish. Meeting fascinating people . Living a stress free existence...........not a lot of expectation there then!

And what did I find?
I found that the low points in my sailing life were lower than those I had experienced in the 'other world'. Fear in storms, desperation, moments when all the courage I thought I had disappeared leaving me a quivering sobbing wreck.....

Conversely the highs are so much higher!

The absolute joy of sighting land after 30 days at sea, bringing a lump to my throat and tears to my eyes. The complete and utter peace of an isolated tropical anchorage, with the boat floating in crystal clear waters and a gentle breeze just cooling the air. The horror of serious injury at sea, the satisfaction of dealing with the emergencies. Often using skills I didn't even know I had!

My imagination had seen myself becoming a younger fitter version of the reality, sadly the truth is I look more weatherbeaten and not a lot fitter!The tropical dream brings with it irritating health issues, skin diseases, dengue fever, respiratory infections etc. No, not all the time but they hadn't figured in my 'dreamtime'.

I hadn't figured in the huge challenge of living in so many different, and constantly changing cultures. Not so much the language issues but the understanding and acceptance of a different perspective.Sometimes the relentless stream of curious visitors in an isolated community can become excessively wearing!

One realization is that to a certain extent many cruisers are 'outsiders'. We live on the periphery of life. Many of us are loners, happy to chart our own course, many of us are more than a little 'strange'! That's all part of the rich pattern of the lifestyle I have chosen.

On the other hand, the things I have seen and experienced have made me into a completely different person. I opened that door and walked through. What I hadn't realized was that it is a one way ticket! The change is ongoing and endless. The learning is unforgiving. Cruising is much more than sailing away towards the blue horizon. At least it is for me.

I am still learning, changing, adapting. Its not always a comfortable state to be in but long may it continue!

How was it for you! I'd love to know , leave me a comment.

Thursday, 18 October 2007

Dealing with the heat!

It has been extremely hot and humid for the past week or so. We had just begun to acclimatize to the weather here when along came a lovely cool spell, which has of course been followed by a hot spell. So we feel as though we are back to square one !

In the marina a large number of the boats rely on Air conditioning units to maintain a cool temperature below. All well and good but it uses a lot of power and in consequence is mightily expensive. I have heard a number of the boats tell of $3-400 a month power bills!
We did buy a small domestic unit when spending a long time at the dock in Panama. It was certainly lovely to keep cool but we suffered from a large number of eye infections and quite a hole in our wallets!

So we are very interested in ways to lower the temperature on the boat and , equally important, ways to combat the very high humidity levels. For instance as I am writing this, at 6.30am local time, the temperature below decks is 84 degrees and 64% humidity- and thats cool!

I guess we are really lucky that our boat has an excellent air-flow design, with three good sized deck hatches that encourage the air to weave in and out the boat. We try and keep these open at all times(with mosquito nets in place). We could increase the airflow by removing the nets but in the Tropics the insect life is a bit overwhelming!

We have four low power electric fans placed at strategic points in the boat. One at the bow (at the foot of the bed), one over the galley. One over the nav station and one in the aft cabin. By running these on the lower of the two settings a good draft constantly circles the boat. And of course is vital when the hatches have to be shut due to rain. That happens a lot!
We finally settled on Carframo 12v fans, the bow tie type. With a maximum power draw of 0.6amps an hour we can afford to be profligate with their use.

When we bought this boat she came with a large canvas bag which was described to us as the 'marquee'. An accurate description! This large canvas sun shade covers the boat from the mast back to the pushpit and to the extreme outside of the side decks. Its heavy, complex ......and absolutely brilliant!

I remember the first time we tried to put it up, in Portugal, a divorce was on the cards and I tried to give it away. Boy am I glad we persevered. It lowers the below deck temperature by up to 10 degrees, keeps the rain off and provides a wonderful shady area in the cockpit. We have only used it three times in all the years we have been carrying it but those three times have involved long periods at the dock in hot climates.It has to come down when we sail or even if really high winds are forecast, its a pain in the proverbial to erect but boy does it make a difference to our comfort. I suspect we will continue to carry the huge unwieldy thing for
some time yet.

Dealing with the humidity is a little more challenging. We have lined all the lockers,under the berths, deck sides etc with closed cell foam that we bought in the form of camping mats. This is really good insulation and helps to even out the disparity between the external and internal air temperatures, thus lowering condensation.
Clothes lockers are regularly aired to minimize mould growth and in the 'wardrobe' (home to our 'smart' clothes) I hang large sachets of 'damprid'.These moisture eating envelopes last around 3 months, they are a bit expensive but really keep the air dry in that space.I have managed to buy replacements all over the Caribbean.

All our bedding is pure cotton, the sheets may be a bit creased after laundering but they have a nice cool feel to lie on. Pillows are washable.

One of the best tips I was given when we started was to have a good supply of those plant misting bottles that you can buy in most flower outlets! Fill with iced water and set at the finest spray available. Liberally spray yourself whenever the temperature becomes too overwhelming.

At night a light spray and then lying under the breeze of the fan is pure heavenly bliss............Strange the things that become so wonderful once you go cruising isn't it?!

Wednesday, 17 October 2007

Stumbling on the web.

Its been a quiet morning and I have indulged myself with some recreational surfing. I use Stumble a sort of social networking search engine, not really sure how to describe it technically. Thats the world of TBH (the better half). Anyway you give it your preferred interests and it randomly searches the net. Give a thumbs up or thumbs down to the sites it pulls up and it constantly refines the material offered. Clever huh!
It found this site for me and I had fun playing with the simple design elements, this is the result!

Tuesday, 16 October 2007

Story from The Times!

October 17, 2007

Treasure seekers run the gauntlet over world’s biggest haul of gold

Illustration by Tom Freeman of HMS Sussex

A Spanish warship threatened to open fire on American treasure hunters yesterday as they tried to flee Gibraltar in the battle for a haul of gold and silver coins estimated to be worth half a billion dollars.

Amid rough seas, The Times watched from aboard the Odyssey Explorer as Spanish Civil Guards made two unsuccessful attempts to board the ship minutes after it set sail. However, high waves and driving rain made the operation impossible, prompting them to force the ship to port instead.

“Under the threat of deadly force, we have had to turn the ship around and proceed to Algeciras,” Aladar Nesser, an official from Odyssey Marien Exploration, said as the ship was escorted to port. The company claimed the ship was in international waters outside Gibraltar when the Spanish cut her off with a Corvette warship, a police patrol boat and a high-powered dinghy. Spain claims those waters are within its territorial boundaries.

Spanish officers served notice that they were investigating Odyssey’s suspected plunder of underwater archaeological sites and confiscated millions of pounds worth of evidence, including computer hard drives and the company’s multimillion-dollar underwater robot. Sterling Vorus, the ship’s captain, was arrested for “grave disobedience” after refusing to let the police on board, and taken into custody.

The operation was the latest skirmish in an international fight over what could be the greatest underwater treasure yet discovered. The haul of 500,000 coins has pitted a pugnacious company owned by Bob Hope’s former public relations man against a Spanish Government enraged at what it views as modern-day piracy.

It has also set the archaeological community – which views Odyssey’s profit-driven scans of the ocean floor with suspicion – against commercial salvage firms, whose deep pockets and high-tech submersibles are making it possible to explore underwater wrecks like never before.

And it has reignited Spanish anger over ownership of the Rock of Gibraltar, the tiny British colony at the centre of a 300-year tug-of-war between two former maritime powers.

The fight over the mytery shipwreck began earlier this year when Odyssey secured the consent of the British and Spanish Governments to dig-up the HMS Sussex, an 80-gun warship lost off the coast of Gibraltar in 1694. Odyssey says the wreck may contain coins worth billions of dollars today. But instead of the Sussex, Odyssey announced in May that it had found a huge treasure in a different wreck at a site it codenamed Black Swan – and that it had already spirited it away to Tampa, Florida.

Odyssey says that it acted entirely legally and only after the Spanish Government refused to reach a deal over how to share any discoveries in area. It says that the wreck was in international waters, around 180 nautical miles west of Gibraltar, but it will not say exactly where, claiming that such information could lead to looting.

Spain suspects that the wreck at Black Swan is a Spanish galleon called Nuestra SeƱora de las Mercedes, sunk by the British fleet off Portugal in 1804. Court papers show that at least some of the coins recovered are Spanish, leading officials to believe that Odyssey recovered a Spanish treasure from a Spanish ship – even if it was outside its territorial waters.

Madrid’s US lawyer James Goold accuses Odyssey of engaging in an illegal game of hide-and-seek and has filed suit against the company in Tampa seeking the return of the treasure, as well as making claims on two other wrecks found by Odyssey.

Spain also accuses Odyssey of acting in a deceptive manner by playing down the value of its find until it had been spirited to the US. In its original export licenses filed with the Government of Gibraltar, Odyssey described its cargo as “encrusted clumps of silver coins in a corroded condition”, valuing the coins at $2.5 million, or $5 apiece. By June, however, the company said the coins had been valued at up to $500 million, or $1,000 each, sending the company’s shares sharply higher.

Nick Bruyer, and expert who examined a sample of the coins, described the haul as “unprecedented”. “I don’t know of anything equal or comparable to it,” he said.

Odyssey, meanwhile, has sued Spain for financial losses caused by the detention of its other boat, the Ocean Alert, in an almost identical manoeuvre in July. It is also seeking compensation for losses caused by the “obstruction of its operations” while its ships were stuck in Gibraltar .

Under the principle of “finders keepers”, admiralty courts tend to award the bulk a treasure to those who raise it from the deep. But it is not always so. Spain has dug in its heels and any legal battle could be protracted.

Meanwhile, Odyssey officials say that an undisclosed portion of the treasure still lies in the deep, protected only by its silence.

Stocking up the boat.

It is over six months since we left Panama, the last place that we seriously reprovisioned the boat.
As the stores are now getting low I am starting to think about the very serious task of reorganizing and shopping .

It doesn't seem that Guatemala is a particularly good spot for this kind of shopping, unless we spent big sums of money and go to the City, over 6 hours on the bus. I am not too keen on that idea. So I have been looking carefully each week when we go in to town at what is available in the stores.

It shouldn't be too bad to fill up on basics such as flour,pasta,rice etc but the quality of packaging leaves quite a lot to be desired and I am keen to avoid the weevil infestation that we experienced after filling up in Colombia.As soon as we get back on board with a consignment of dry goods, all the extraneous packaging is thrown out and small units put in to individual plastic bags or containers. At least that way it is possible to contain any infestations.
Life on a boat is a lot of the time about making sure you prevent things from happening in the future.........that was all a bit of a shock to me when we first started cruising!

I have always been a bit of a self-sufficiency freak. As soon as I had my first home in went the vegetable patch, the chicken house. Out came the preserving pan. Its a trait that has remained with me and has proved to be very useful in my latest incarnation! When we are fully laden we can remain totally self-sufficient for up to nine months. that means we carry sufficient fuel(with judicious use), food, water and propane. On the face of it that may seem like overkill but on a number of occasions we have been able to stay in fabulous remote parts of the world for as long as we have wanted confident in the resources that we carry on board.

We do not have a freezer so fishing provides our fresh protein source when we are away from civilization. we have built up an extensive selection of lures and absolutely swear by the book-
'The Cruisers handbook of Fishing' by Scott and Wendy Bannerott.
When we first started to fish we had no luck whatsoever! Read this book and BAM! a fish on the line almost every time. It contains a blow by blow account of absolutely every detail that you need to follow in order to catch that fish, and it works!

I have learnt to cook more and more vegetarian meals using beans,pulses, nuts etc. These products store well and , with a little ingenuity, make surprisingly delicious meals( I say this as a confirmed carnivore!). We carry large quantities of Basmati rice, this can be impossible to find in many areas so whenever I see it, I buy it!

That's another thing I learned the hard way. If you see something in the store buy it there and then and lots of it! For sure it won't be there when you go back again.

The boat has a large, well ventilated, shady storage area for fruit and vegetables. Potatoes and onions keep extremely well. Along with garlic,squashes and tomatoes these form the long term fresh veggies that we carry.Other fruit and veg is stored in 'green bags'. these are a godsend to cruisers which treble the shelf life of more delicate products. You can buy them in the UK through Lakeland Limited and I believe they are available throughout the USA.

I have toyed with the idea of a vacuum packer but we really don't produce enough electricity on the boat to make this viable.

Most of our power is produced by the KISS 'windmill' that graces the aft of the boat.We are delighted with this piece of kit. The vast majority of the time it produces sufficient power to supply all our needs on board. For the first time here in the NW Caribbean we have found the lack of wind an issue. If we were going to stay here longer I think we would probably invest in a solar panel or two to cope with any shortfall.We won't though as we will move on, eventually, and we are not keen on the extra windage that they provide on a boat of our size.

We carry 125 gallons of fresh water in three tanks, three to avoid cross contamination . These can all be accessed by either a pressurized water system or by a foot pump in case of power problems!In addition we carry a further 20 gallons in cans on deck and have a small 12v watermaker that can produce 1.4 gallons an hour using the power from the wind generator. Thats enough to keep us comfortably off and allow regular showers and the odd bit of laundry.
We catch rainwater off the decks and in a true tropical downpour can fill the two main tanks in under 20 minutes!
We also have a saltwater foot pump at the galley for dish washing etc.

The diesel tank holds 320 litres and we carry another 80 litres in cans on deck. By using the engine 30 mins per day to cool the refrigerator( and create hot water as a by product) that allows us approx 200 days of independence. Of course its not so long if we have to motor anywhere but we try to sail most of the time! ITS CHEAPER TOO.

There is enough propane for 12 months regular use. We have a propane stove and propane BBQ and use one or other most days. I bake once or twice a week when out at anchor or at sea.

There's a massive first aid kit on board, with drugs for every event! My sister, a General Practitioner in the UK, started us off with a good selection and an 'idiots crib sheet' of symptoms and treatments. we keep it well stocked and up to date whenever we can. Most of it is untouched but its a warm feeling to know that we carry the right treatment for a variety of problems.

Books, DVD's,Charts, Pilot Guides, Instruction manuals all take up the shelf space that always seems to be in short supply. Clothes for hot weather and cold. A mountain of spare parts. It's no wonder we have had to raise the water line on the boat by 4" since we have been cruising!

Lynne Pardey's book 'The Care and Feeding of Sailing Crew', which I believe has recently been updated, has some good hints and tips although I would give the 'party spam fritters' a miss!

So I keep busy making lists, preparing for our next voyage, whenever that may be!!

Monday, 15 October 2007

Why Speak Out?

Why speak up about things that don't seem to affect you?
Pastor Martin Neimoller's view in one version of his quote will answer that question.
He supported the Nazis until he realized, too late, what they were really about and was sent to Dachau concentration camp.
He was one of the fortunate to be freed and live until 1984.

First they came for the Communists,
and I didn’t speak up,
because I wasn’t a Communist.
Then they came for the Social Democrats,
and I didn’t speak up,
because I wasn’t a Social Democrat.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists,
and I didn’t speak up,
because I wasn’t a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn't speak up,
because I wasn't a Jew,
Then they came for me,
and by that time there was no one
left to speak up for me.

Chili Cook-Off Competition.

What the .........? Yup one of the interesting parts of cruising is the strange, nay often weird, aspects of the international cruising community's social entertainment calender.

Now we have jumped over burning rosemary bushes in Portugal, to ensure continued virility(!).
We have celebrated Independence Day for Canada, Guatemala, Panama and the United States.
We have celebrated the Summer Solstice, Winter Solstice, Halloween, Easter(Semana Santa is one of the more amazing sights as you watch streams of men wearing Klu Klux Klan type outfits flagellating themselves as they carry massive religious icons around their towns and villages).

We have watched the pilgrimage of The Black Christ in Porto Bello, Panama. Observed daily meetings of the 'Congreso' ( village council) in the San Blas islands. One vital part of this ceremony being the random screams from designated women in order to keep the audience awake!

We have eaten Christmas turkey, Thanksgiving turkey, Easter turkey. We have prepared sweets for Divali, toffee apples for Halloween, coloured eggs for Easter. Hunted down rare and prized ingredients in exotic locations.

Reveled in the discovery of British Mincemeat filling(chopped dried fruit and suet), gorged on Cabury's Dairymilk Chocolates. Fought over bottles of Rose's Lime juice cordial ah the memories!

And tonight a new experience for us, a chili competition. I had never heard of this great USA tradition so started to do a little research- that's one of the pleasures of being in a marina with good internet access.....

Well blow my little cotton socks off! This is a BIG THANG!
I have read of chili's so hot that judges now insist that the competitor taste their own chili first to ensure survival, shades of the ancient food taster tradition in the more murderous regimes of the world.
There are official world rules and regulations. The issue of 'to bean' or 'not to bean' is a whole essay in itself, probably not one I am going to peruse further.

Some say the Chili competitions started back in to 40's but it seems that the first really big reported battle was in 1967 between Carroll Shelby, designer of the Cobra motor car and Wick Fowler.

In 1967, Carroll Shelby, Wick Fowler and a few friends gathered to devise a plan to sell Shelby's ranch. Little did they know that the midday discussion would spawn a cultural phenomenon and would eventually divide them: the World Championship Chili Cook-Off.

For years, the chili cook-off was held on Shelby's land in Terlingua, Texas, and featured the chili recipes of former competitors Wick Fowler and Carroll Shelby. The event continued to gain popularity and was later showcased on the CBS Evening News.

However, seven years after its inception Carroll Shelby, unbeknownst to others, was granted a trademark for the "World Championship Chili Cook-Off." From that moment on, he declared the event would be held just outside of Los Angeles, California in the Tropico Gold Mine. Wick Fowler and the others did not wish to move the event and remained in Terlingua.

A few years later, the Wick Fowler faction renamed the initial event as "The Original Terlingua International Chili Cook-Off."

Today, two cook-offs claim to be the "true" world championship, and Wick Fowler and Carroll Shelby eventually put their differences behind them. However, their chili mixes still engage in friendly competition .

My sympathies must be with Shelby, he has the status of 'god' in our household due to the design of the Cobra. We were fortunate enough in that lifetime before cruising to drive one of his awesome vehicles, life was never the same again!

Anyway back to the cook-off! Excitement mounts here at Mario's...........
This time I will be observing as the experienced contestants roll out their secret ol' family recipes, next time I'll be in there having a go too!

I have added Shelby's original chili recipe to the side bar on the left hand side of the page. Just scroll down and you'll find it.

Sunday, 14 October 2007

Continuing research on 'Sordid Lives'

I would like to share with you some of the powerful sites and articles that I am finding as I continue my research into this appalling travesty of Human Rights.

The Devastating Effects of “Sex Tourism” on Cultures

'One of the greatest destroyers of cultures today is so called “Sex Tourism” – the exploitation of sex as a tourist commodity. “Sex Tourism” targets women, children, and adolescents (boys and girls) in direct relation to the degree of poverty of the victims. Its impact is psychological, emotional, moral, and causes physical damage to the victims, including HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases, loss of childhood, and often victims are ostracized by their families and communities.

Sex tourists come from the United States, Canada, Germany, and other European countries. They are people, mostly men, who go on vacation in order to have repeated sexual contact with the local population. They go to a place where they are unknown and can behave in a way that friends and neighbors back home would find unacceptable. They even convince themselves that they are helping the victims because they give them money.'

Read more at this website.

The following video clip is from a PBS broadcast of a one-hour special entitled ' Child Brides, Stolen Lives'.It was shown last Friday 12th October 2007.

The section on Guatemala vividly illustrates the self esteem issues that the women here face.

As Marta Julia Ruiz, the Guatemalan spokeswoman for The Population Council puts it- "I can't choose something if I have no options to choose from."

This excerpt is from an article that appeared in The Washington Post

"The sexual exploitation of girls and boys, largely by American men, has reached alarming proportions in Central America, according to children's rights advocates who say the region is now a priority in their struggle against child prostitution and pornography.

A major reason for growth in the Central American child sex business, child rights advocates say, is that traditional destinations such as Thailand and the Philippines have cut into the sex tourism trade over the last two years by enacting public awareness campaigns, stricter laws and enforcement measures."

There are NO excuses for commoditising women, for taking advantage of their lack of choices, for their poverty.