Friday, 30 November 2007

Hugo Boss in to 4th place.

The teams are running down towards the Southern Ocean, the next big challenge for them is the High pressure area that sits over the island of St Helena. The picture is of Hugo Boss in the distance passing Delta Dore.

Date: 29/11/2007 Time: 12:00 GMT Latitude: 09 16.37’ S Longitude: 31 49.02’ W Position: Fourth Average speed: 16.2 knots Finally we have found the conditions in which Hugo Boss revels, 18+ knots of wind from the beam. We know this because we have just sailed past Delta Dore, both yachts with the same sail configiration but we are sailing 1-1.5 knots quicker, thats 15+% quicker, which we are well pleased with. Capey spoke with Sydney onboard Delta Dore via the radio and all is good onboard their boat. He said that they are running at 100% but we are just too fast, but maybe they will catch us in the light winds. We have a fast boat in these conditions but we have to be faster in all conditions and we have to hold the boat together as best we can to have a chance of winning this race. Ahead of us the leaders have better winds, and will do for some time, we are just hoping that the high pressure in the south atlantic will block their route to the southern ocean and allow us an opportunity to show our stuff. The pace is fast now, averaging 16 knots over the ground and we are running at 110% of our polars, thats our theoretical best speed in these conditions. Water is pouring over the boat but she is comfortable and we have yet to fully untilise our water ballast which will give us significantly more power and therefore more speed. The conditons are not allowing us to get on with many jobs outside but today we will attempt to get the generator running and tighten and check the steering gear. Yesterday we hoisted our wind generator and so far we have not had to run the engine to charge the batteries. We had envisaged using it as an emergency, but every amp and every litre of fuel saved now will happliy be burnt on our heater in the freezing temps of the southern ocean! Alex

Thursday, 29 November 2007

Along the roadside.

Yesterday I headed off with the marina trip to Puerto Barrios, the nearest 'big' town to us. It has a small Mall with a serious supermarket that stocks lots of 'stuff' that we cannot buy locally here on the Rio.

Its a 7.30am start and there were just three of us going yesterday, goody that meant I didn't have to worry about space for my shopping on the return trip. My fellow travelers were Jim, owner of the marina, and his girlfriend Oona. We left from the marina on the pontoon boat for the trip upriver to where the marina van is stored. Yup, thats right, there are no roads to Mario's! It's a twenty minute ride to the bridge and one of the nicest starts to a shopping trip that you can imagine. The boat is loaded up with propane tanks for refilling, three big ice chests, to bring back chilled and frozen supplies for the kitchen and store.

We glide along the still river passing a couple of chaps in their cayacos, busy with their morning fishing. A lancha speeds past filled with tourists headed downstream for the excitement of a jungle ride to Livingstone, ready for a days adventure.

The frigate birds have almost vacated the nesting sites and great egrets are moving in to claim the territory for their annual chick raising session.

Jim backs the van down to the dock and we load up and set off towards the great Metropolis. It's a treat to travel along the inland roads and watch the every day life of Guatemala unfold along the roadside. The land is still lush and green, although the rainy season is supposed to have come to an end, it has pissed down this week and the fields are flooded and the rivers and streams rushing full of brown coloured muddy waters. Brahma cattle and the occasional horse graze unbothered by the knee deep water, each animal accompanied by a white cattle egret working around its feet to snap up any small frogs and insects that are disturbed by the grazing beast.

Driving in Guatemala is a hazardous business, the locals seem to exhibit almost no road sense, understandable when you consider the relatively recent advent of heavy traffic to this area. Accidents are frequent and very often serious. Last time I did this trip we passed three bad smashes and yesterday there was one.....not a place to lose your concentration!

Cowboys on their scrawny mounts trot along the edge of the road, small kids dash from hut to hut. Women loaded down with great bundles wait patiently at the roadside for...who knows, a bus, a relative, may be just watching! There is a lot of just watching here in Central America. Us watching them, watching us, watching them! A smile is usually returned and a shy hand wave.

You may see a number of small hotels laid back from the road behind discreet concrete walls. These are called Auto Hotels here but in Panama they are, more descriptively, know as Hotel de Amor y Fantasia! To begin with I marveled at the libido of the Latino male, such a huge market demanding so many brothels!. But that's not the reason for such proliferation. When you realize the number of people that share one small living space in these Central American countries, the many generations that live together, it quickly becomes evident that privacy is a rare commodity. Hence the 'Auto-Hotels', the 'Amor y Fantasia palaces'. A room of your own for even a few hours must be a treat beyond belief !

Small farms , some offering live fish ( some kind of fish farming?), dairy cattle, small plantings of corn. Wayside stands selling fresh cut pineapples and, just in season, huge bunches of the red husked prickly fruit known as rambutan, similar to the lychee.They look like massive Christmas decorations.

Lines and lines of laundry drying in the sunny spells between the torrential downpours. Its all a fascinating scene on the way to town.

Tuesday, 27 November 2007

Fiction and Fact.

Have you read the trilogy of books by Philip Pullman: The Northern Lights, The Amber Spyglass and The Subtle Knife?

They were written for children but have a bit of a cult following amongst the adult/kids, like those on board our boat! The books are perceived by some as an account of the battle between good and evil, where evil is represented by the angels! Mmm...

If you haven't read them do try and get hold of a copy, they are great stories. What Pullman does is to describe a Universe not so different from ours where we can be more detached and less prejudiced. By renaming recognizable organizations, he invites a reassessment devoid of preconceptions. How can that be a bad thing?

The Golden Compass, a full length movie based on The Northern Lights (the first book), has its premiere today in London. Starring Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig (James Bond). I am even considering a trip back to Europe to watch this my favourite story come to life on the big screen. Here's the trailer:

I was astounded to see in today's Times newspaper that the North American Catholic League is attempting to ban the film in the same way that they have removed the books from library and school shelves in many provinces... Oh give me a break here!

What is going on in parts of the USA and Canada beggars belief, remember the Nazi's? Weren't they into restricting access to books, too?

What is it about organized religion that is so bloody disgraceful? Maybe they should look at their own organizations before casting stones at kids' books. Take at look at this trailer for the universally-acclaimed documentary, Deliver Us From Evil, about the scandal of pedophilia within the Catholic Church, sickening. And the Church thinks it can take the moral high-ground...

Monday, 26 November 2007

Keeping up appearances.

There's an interesting thread on the live-aboard forum over at YBW about the 'scruffy' live-aboards that the original poster is seeing around his home port. This has attracted a varied set or responses which, as ever, cover a wide spectrum of thought and attitude.

On the face of it, it's a simple enough question: why do some of us look such a mess? But I have been pondering the answer and I don't think that it's a straightforward one - that won't come as a surprise I am guessing!

We only have to get our passports out whenever we come through immigration to be greeted with an arched eyebrow and quizzical look as the officer on duty struggles to relate the elegant photographs with the sleek haircuts to the raggedy pair of reprobates that he has in front of him! I really am looking forward to renewing the documents shortly when the pictures will be a much more accurate representation of our outward appearances... should make checking in a little quicker too.

You see the problem is that I really don't feel any different now to how I felt at 17, or 27 or even a year ago! And TBH has always had a large dose of 'the child within' firmly stuck on the outside of his character.Sadly the physical manifestation is somewhat at odds with the mental pictures that I carry!

Boats usually don't have many mirrors on board, and the ones that are there are frequently so small and smeary that an accurate reflection is not so common as when ashore. I often have an enormous shock as this wrinkled (lived-in), weather-beaten (tanned), grey-haired (sun-bleached), old (mature) face peers back at me! F***, when did I turn in to my mother???

To be honest I know exactly when it happened. It was the night of my Grandmothers funeral. After the formalities had finished we all sat down and my mother fell asleep in the chair, her head laid back and she had become my Gran! I subtly moved to the mirror, and there I was inhabiting my mothers' body, spooked by now I looked at my eldest daughter also asleep on a sofa- she had become me... the wheel had turned.

Actually I don't mind aging, well not most of the time. I can get pretty pissed off when one is labeled a ' woman past her prime', 'getting on a bit' and the more derogatory remarks that certain ignorant men seem to resort to when they can't handle the intellectual argument! But with my 'mature' attitude I just imagine what small wrinkled specimens of manhood they carry between their legs and giggle!

Should we worry about what we look like? How important is the external appearance? I watched the new film 'Hairspray' last night, starring John Travolta . On the surface, a light, musical entertainment but bitingly sharp in its observations and characterizations of prejudice.

Does it matter if we are black or white, fat or thin, male or female? What judgments do we form by the outward adherence to a 'style' or a 'fashion'. Mostly we cannot stop ourselves reacting forcefully to the stereotypes that we grew up with, but what I find as I move further away in miles, and time, from my 'home' is that all those preconceived ideas are thrown in to the air.

Once I wore smart clothes, spent days at the hairdressers, the beauty salon. My job demanded it, but what did it say about me as a human being? TBH wore custom-made suits, silk ties, leather shoes. Did it give us pleasure? Sometimes. But what can be more rewarding than not having to worry about 'sartorial elegance' as you BBQ the fish you have just caught, laid back on the white coral sands of the island beach? Not worrying about stains, labels, fashion or what you look like.

It is no contest! I can put my energies into living in the moment, laughing in the face of adversity and ordering undies over the internet for the next visitor to carry out to our far-flung current abode...

So my reply to the poster on YBW is: each to their own. Freedom for one person is prison for another. If an individual is content to be judged by the stereotype that they are portraying, it's their choice. Hopefully we can see beneath the camouflage of appearance to respect, or not, the character beneath.

Sunday, 25 November 2007

Getting NARC'd !

The ARC ( Atlantic Rally for Cruisers) has just left Gran Caneria in the Canary Islands on the annual migration of boats from Europe to the Caribbean. With over 200 boats ranging from 27' to over 80', I imagine it must be quite a sight as they get under way in 20 knots of wind.

There is a great deal of debate in British sailing forums on the merit (or otherwise) of sailing in such a large group. We were NARC's (Not with the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers). Why? Well I have never had a desire to be one of a pack; group-think does not really describe how I want to sail! It also seems an expensive way of getting invited to a couple of parties!

It has also made me think again about the practice of 'sailing in company' or 'buddy boating'. We have done both in our time but have decided that it's not for us. Not a reflection of the boats we have sailed with, we have without exception enjoyed their company, but more an indictment of my indecisive nature!

You know how it is, one day is just more right than another for getting under way... sometimes it's the weather, sometimes it's just a state of mind, but I cannot handle the subtle pressures of taking another boat into consideration in my decision making. Call it old age, selfishness or whatever but I must say that the longer we cruise, the less I am prepared to compromise on my decisions.

I feel it's quite an interesting character development. On the one hand I have become more open to new ideas and philosophies and yet, on the other, I am far tougher in my dealings with others. I suffer fools less easily and am fascinated at the prejudices that slip so easily into a conversation. Was it always like that?

Once upon a time I would keep quiet if a conversation went in a direction that I disagreed with, playing the part of peacemaker. Now I speak up and state my viewpoint, often in a strong manner! ( You may have noticed that in this blog from time to time!) Is it possibly the knowledge that we are constantly moving on and subconsciously I understand that I will not have to relate to these ideas again? Although have you noticed that if you really have a 'set-to' with another boat how that boat seems to haunt you for months in every anchorage that you pull in to! (You know who you are!)

Cruising has allowed me to develop a stronger sense of myself than when we were busy chasing around in the frenetic land based life of 'the before'. I sometimes wonder if others feel the same way after a number of years outside the mainstream of life? It seems to be a strange juxtaposition of living in almost total isolation from other human beings and then the most intimate of social relationships for brief and intense periods. I guess it becomes almost an over-sensitization?

We have enjoyed some really fascinating and provocative debates with the global community that we meet on the ocean. The best conversations are the ones that allow disagreement without judgment and ill temper. When that happens the mental stimulation is exhilarating and I love it. Something about cruising, facing the fears, the challenges, has inoculated me against blandness and sycophancy. Or maybe I am just growing older!

Saturday, 24 November 2007

The World race continues, Hugo Boss, after getting up to 3rd place has dropped back to 5th again. Come on guys!
They are heading for the Southern Ocean now, a place of misfortune for Alex in the past...fingers crossed this time. But it seems that the new Hugo Boss boat is made of tough stuff.

Day 13

Time: 14.00hrs

Lat: 17.58.12 N
Long: 24.07.48 W
Position: 5th
Av speed: 16.4 knots

Capey and I are in good spirits today as we reached speeds this afternoon of 15.5 knots in 18 knots of breeze - the best sailing so far of the race. Ironically today is the anniversary of my keel failure in the southern ocean, and so its a huge relief to be here and sailing so well... we have just had the latest position report at 2.30pm today which showed us in 5th place which we are more than happy with given that we are not down in the trades yet, where we really expect the boat to perform

This morning we were flying down waves at over 20 knots with a full moon, feeling on top of the world. For sure the last 12 hours have been some of the best sailing I have ever done and it seems to me a good omen considering the terrible situation I was in a year ago, feeling so utterly helpless, distraught, disappointed and gutted.

Capey and I are very confident in the new HUGO BOSS and the Barcelona World Race so far has been going well. We’re in some stronger breeze today and enjoying some exhilarating sailing, and I have to admit, I am pleased about the fact Capey will be with me as I head back into the Southern Ocean for the first time since abandoning the old HUGO BOSS.

The sun is shining now and the weather is hotting up as we near the equator. We expect to cross it some time on Monday - another milestone in the race. We then sail across the South Atlantic, through the Doldrums, before heading into the Southern Ocean and on to New Zealand. .. which still seems like a long way away!

So life on board is good right now - we still have some fresh food left - parma ham and popcorn are still on the menu! The only real problem is Capey's smelly feet!


Friday, 23 November 2007

Thanksgiving - the movie

Mario's was alive yesterday with the sound of cruisers cooking. We were rounded up and pointed in the right direction, and lo and behold at 4 pm Guatemalan time everything came together. Turkeys done to a turn, hams glazed and roasted, veggies bubbling in their pots. Mario's played host to contingents from marinas up and down the river and a great time was had by all.

Roll on Christmas. Only 22 shopping days to go!

Thursday, 22 November 2007

Happy Thanksgiving

Makes you think huh! Turkey prep going on at Mario's as we speak. Have a great day everyone. Wonder if we've got Butterballs?!

Countdown to casting off.

Yesterday TBH's final piece of software arrived from the States. Yahoo! That hopefully means that in just a few weeks we will be off sailing again. I can't tell you how excited that makes me feel.

It has also put me in to a bit of a panic, there is so much to do before we can leave the dock. The biggest problem is our refrigerator. It's not working. We have an engine driven Frigoboat set up. It has been a great system and we are very happy with it but it looks as though the compressor has finally given up the ghost, not bad after 15 years!

So we are awaiting a visit from the rivers resident guru on all things cold... probably means sourcing a new part which will be fun. However that's not enough to stop us! I am happy to sail without a working fridge. Where possible we will use it as an icebox, it's quite efficient like that and I am NOT going to lose any more sailing time.

One job that has to be completed is installing the new bilge pump hose that is currently occupying the aft cabin. We had a blockage in the main pump just before we came in here. caused by a piece of kitchen towel that was 'dropped' in the bowels of the boat by a certain person not a million miles from me - and no it wasn't Little Ted!

Whilst cleaning out the problem the existing hose split, isn't it always the way! So a decision was made to replace the whole thing even though a reasonable repair was possible. The boat is 16 years old now and quite a lot of gear is coming to the end of its lifetime... she has been sailed hard, 9 Atlantic crossings to date!

I am paranoid about working bilge pumps and well maintained seacocks! I have seen too many boats with real life threatening problems caused by lack of attention to these areas to feel comfortable about slacking in my attention to these details.

When we hauled out a couple of months ago, first time in over 2 years, I was relieved to see that all the seacocks were in good condition when I serviced them. That's one of my responsibilities on board! They are all the Blake's cone shaped ones and I use a product called 'coppergrease' which I liberally apply after cleaning and inspecting the seacock and skin fitting. Even after 2 years there was still a good amount of the old grease there doing its job - I was impressed!

All things considered she's in good nick, apart from the varnish work. But that is an ongoing challenge in this tropical climate. We have a small amount of varnish in the cockpit and enjoy the 'luxury' that it adds. Below decks is another matter. We have wood everywhere and it really is starting to need some major work. When in Panama we redid one of the heads and tried out a gloss finish varnish, we love it! So at sometime in the future we will probably take that finish throughout the boat... not a process I am looking forward to!

But I digress as that is not a project that needs to be addressed before we leave.

Provisioning is well advanced, spares for the BBQ also arrived yesterday (thanks Kent and Faye), a new deck light bulb waits to be fitted and then we can go I think!

Fuel is already topped up, engine has been serviced, rigging inspected, sails looked at for loose stitching and so on.

I watch every boat that heads downriver at the moment with envy. The Rio is emptying fast as the new season gets underway. I wonder where they are all going? More to the point where are we going!!! Still no decision on that one...

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

Wednesday Humour.

I really enjoy a good joke, one of the things that I miss about not living in London any more is the humour...there was always a good story doing the rounds. I rather like these few, not the greatest out there but they are clean!

Indubitably My Good Watson

Sherlock Holmes and Matthew Watson were on a sailing trip. They had gone night sailing and were lying on the deck looking up at the sky. Holmes said, "Watson, look up. What do you see? "Well, I see thousands of stars." "And what does that mean to you?" "Well, I guess it means we will have another nice day tomorrow. What does it mean to you, Holmes?" "Well, to me, it means someone has stolen our bimini top!"

My Fellow Boaters!

A charter sailing vessel with load of politicians was half way to the Bahamas when a freak storm hit the boat. Several of the passengers were thrown overboard and drowned. After retrieval of the bodies and with the knowledge that they may not be rescued for some time, if ever, the deceased were buried at sea. Three days later, the local Coast Guard found the damaged craft. Upon boarding, the Coast Guard Captain asked, "Is everyone okay?" The Captain of the damaged vessel explained that he had a few passengers fall over board. The Coast Guard Captain asked, "Are they all dead?" The Sailing boat captain replied, "Well, some of them said they weren't, but you know how those politicians lie."

Old Beyond His Years

From the dock the woman watched as the salty old sailing captain skillfully docked his boat. She was impressed that such an old man would still be sailing at his age. She decided to wait until the sailing captain disembarked. As he did, she asked him," Captain, what is your secret to leading such a long and productive life?" "Well," he said. "I would have to say it's because I smoke three packs of cigarettes a day, drink a case of whisky every week, eat a lot of fatty foods and I never exercise." "Wow, that's amazing," the woman said. "exactly how old are you?" He answered, "Thirty-one"

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

Dumbing Down.

Heads up. This is a rant!

Sailing is one of the final freedoms in this over-regulated world of ours. Cruising the Seven Seas, self-sufficient, independent, taking responsibility for our actions, depending on no one else. Anyway that’s what I’m out here for.

Part of its attraction is the unpredictability, the excitement, the danger and the reality of living on the edge.

Yet more and more “cruisers” seem to be seeking exactly the kind of hand holding by service and support agencies that I left my land-based life to avoid. I just picked up a February 2007 edition of Cruising Compass in the laundry. Yes, it takes a while for the latest news to catch up with us here! What's the first piece I read? A group of cruisers in Cartagena are liaising with the Colombian authorities to agree a “safe route” from Cartagena down the coast to Panama. It made me so angry that I am still hyper-ventilating!

If you follow my blog, you’ll know that I’m similarly annoyed by some cruisers’ demands that the Guatemalan Navy put a stop to dinghy thefts. It’s not that I don’t understand a desire for more safety in the trailer park; it’s just that I had hoped more of my fellow cruisers might have chosen this existence out of a desire to take command of their own lives. Where in the world is free from theft? Where in the world can personal safety be guaranteed? And what comes next? More paperwork, more regulation, more bureaucracy, a request for 2,100 Quetzales to put a new propeller on the launch. And who is going to pay? The cruisers. Then maybe a higher cruising permit fee to fund “the improved security,” fines for not anchoring in designated safe anchorages... and so on until this wonderful, wild place becomes just another extension of Florida or Texas.

But more than this is fueling my anger. It is the growing feeling that these minor irritations are symptoms of a much deeper malaise: denial of the sometimes harsh realities of a seafaring life. You see it in the way that boats are bought, like a car or caravan, to just hop in and drive away.

If you are scared of pirates, drug runners, being alone, heavy weather, running out of fuel, don’t come here. Stay close to home in safe, patrolled waters.

What I would like to see is more realistic assessment of our own levels of competence and a greater readiness to invest the time and effort to build the skills needed to face the wilder ocean passages. Honestly recognizing our limitations.

Many have been there before and survived to tell the tale, let’s pay greater attention to what they have to say. Take precautions; prepare our boats and ourselves fully. If we feel the need, file a float plan. There are plenty of SSB nets to check on us as many times a day as we want. Have an emergency plan prepared and actionable. Above all PREPARE FOR THE WORST, it’s an insurance that we will hopefully never have to cash in!

But if you are not comfortable with your level of competence stay where you are happy, practice, gain knowledge, only then venture out to the untamed places. But please don’t require that everywhere else becomes as friendly and familiar as home. Becoming comfortable with our own level of self-sufficiency and competence isn’t about developing a gung-ho attitude, it’s the exact opposite. Because, let's face it, in extreme conditions, high seas, big winds, mechanical malfunction we are on our own out there. No amount of Navy patrols, bits of paper or dollars in the bank may be able come to our rescue in time.

If we are not more honest with ourselves, then we risk channeling our fears into misplaced efforts to dumb down the excitement and challenge of sailing for everyone.

What makes me so angry is to see my freedom and self-sufficiency compromised by individuals who do not own up to the problems that they have with this way of life. I don't care how you want to sail. What risks and inappropriate actions you want to experience, but I really, really feel passionate about any attempts to dumb down my experience of the wild places that we have left on this planet of ours.

Monday, 19 November 2007

Toilet Humour.

I was once told that the more intelligent you are the faster conversation will degenerate to the lavatorial! On that basis cruisers must be among the smartest beings on earth as so much of our discussion centres on 'the heads'...

Electric or hand pump, vacuum or macerator. There is a whole parallel universe out here, and once initiated into the finer points of Jabsco maintenance there is a new dimension to one's life aboard. Sailors develop an especially close relationship with their heads. It comes from what friends who are members of AA(Alcoholics Anonymous) call "talking to the white telephone", if not from "a night on the sauce" then from head winds and cross seas. They don't mention seasickness in those cruising magazines.

I am reminded of this by a grateful email today from friends on SeaQuill whose toilet was leaking. We helped them out with some spares. Though Guatemala is a great place in so many ways, one sad disappointment is the lack of a single Jabsco agency in the entire country (there's a business opportunity for the wannabe entrepreneur!). The SeaQuills were so desperate they'd have paid the full price of a whole toilet for the vital parts. Manufacturers know this and Jabsco parts, like so many marine spares, are vastly over-priced. It very soon becomes an economic proposition to buy a whole new toilet, when on a $115 dollar special at West Marine or Island Water World, rather then to spend very nearly as much for just the pump on its own. The only problem then is what to do with the surplus bowl? Here TBH ponders this cosmic dilemma.

Getting to know your Jabsco (or Lavac, Blakes, Raritan, Raske, Wilcox Crittenden, Van de Myde) is one of the rites of initiation of novice sailors. It is not such a frivolous issue, get it wrong, for example by not mounting your anti-siphon valve high enough, and the whole boat is at risk. Sam and Lloyd on Wind Charger (known ever after as WC) bought a boat which had been on the hard for three years. Once afloat, Sam was pumping their Lavac vigorously when a loud creaking and groaning was heard. Lloyd realised that the toilet was switched to holding tank and launched himself at Sam to stop her. Too late. The cap on the pump-out deck fitting was the weakest point in the system and this blew out with a ten foot gusher that festooned their boat with pink toilet paper and three year old shit. It doesn't get much nastier than that!

It is amazing the problems that something so simple can create. One Jabsco tip is not to over tighten the self-tapping screws or you will strip the threads in the plastic and have to replace the whole base. Having found this out the hard way, TBH rang them up and was told to turn the screws anti-clockwise until they start clicking before you tighten them up. This way you don't cut a new thread. Ace cruising advice. Remember you heard it here first.

Now we have got to know and love it, we've quite happy with our Jabsco. They are the cheapest toilets around and you can get the parts everywhere (except Guatemala). But if money was no object I would plump for the special edition of the magnificent Blakes toilet with a gold-plated handle, produced in honour of the Queen's Golden Jubilee, and respectfully named The Royal.

Although I note that Ellen MacArthur in her record-breaking voyages in high-tech boats relies on bucket-and-chuck-it. Does she know something we don't?

At the other extreme, we've met boats like Minke who carry an earth-compositing toilet aboard which - when you consider the astronomical fines for polluting in their home waters (the ICW) - is not so stupid, either.

Too much information? Well if you always wondered what salty sea dogs talk about when they get together and let their hair down, now you know.

Sunday, 18 November 2007

Hugo Boss climbs back up to 5th place.

Alex and Andy on board Hugo Boss are now well clear of Gibraltar, out of the fickle calm of the Mediterranean and are heading for the Canaries.

They have had some pretty calm weather but its set to ramp up later today when they are forecast up to 40k from the S.W. which means its straight on the nose!

Could be a nasty few days. Those waters down to the Canaries are notoriously uncomfortable in a blow. I remember feeling like I had spent 6 days in a washing machine when we finally made landfall at Lanzarote. At least I could stop there for a rest but these guys will just be ploughing on through, racing all the way....merde!

Saturday, 17 November 2007

Swap-Meet at Mario's.

Saturday mornings are Swap-Meet time at Mario's marina here on the Rio Dulce. From around 8am lanchas and dinghies begin to pull up at the dock and unload the goodies that they have for sale.

It's actually a wonderful mix of people. Cruisers, local indigenous Mayans, holidaying Guatemalans from the city. All buying and selling.

From the remnants of somebody's turnout from the bilge to beautifully woven local textiles. There's a French guy who brings along fresh-made pies, this morning it was apple, and a lovely old girl called Matilda who sells her fresh baked coconut roll, 1Q each!

You can buy fresh smoked fish from Jennifer, a gringo artist, who has made her home here on the Rio for the past 20 years. She makes courtesy flags, cures snake skins and sells all sorts of other local and home produced crafts.And is a wealth of local knowledge as well as a source of the best reading library on the river. TBH has a wonderful snake skin hat band for his Guatemalan cowboy hat. Jennifer sewed it on for him, me being somewhat challenged in the needle and thread department! He is very proud of it, a fer-de-lance skin, the most venomous and aggressive snake in these parts. One of the locals told him that if he wore it he would be struck by lightning! It stays inside now during storms...

Mario's lay on free coffee and sell superb slices of pizza - popular with the cruisers and the locals
alike. Bloody Mary's are available to them that need a bit of a 'pick-me-up' after a heavy Friday night.

It all comes together in a glorious palette of colour, ethnicity, laughter and free enterprise, what more could you want on a sunny rio morning?

Friday, 16 November 2007


We seem to have had a number of emails recently from cruising friends whose paths have diverged from our own and whom we haven't heard from in a while. It's great to keep in touch.

That set me to thinking about the experiences that we have had over the past few years and what I remember about them. Maybe it shouldn't have come as a surprise but you know it comes down to the people NOT the places every time! Sure there are the great cities, the perfect beaches but they are always qualified by the people we meet, and get to know.

And what a fascinating bunch they are! The nature of sailing is such that you can never be certain quite how long you, or the ones you meet, are going to stay in any particular place. So opportunities get taken somewhat quicker than in the life I was used to living on land. Friendships flourish, and sometimes founder, faster and more intensely. I am not sure that's always a good thing!

The extraordinary geographical spread of the sailors never ceases to excite me. I do remember a particular night in Portugal. We were anchored off the village of Pomerao, 32 inhabitants, 25 miles inland on the River Guardiana. There was a group of boats, maybe 4 or 5 and each one came from a different country! Britain, Ireland, France, Germany and Norway. A regular event was to meet in the bar in the village, the Sociedad, which was run by the community principally for the locals but they were very welcoming to us itinerant yachties. And the beer was cheap...

The night was fun and laughter spilled across the water attracting the Portuguese locals who joined in. Conversation was running fast and what was astounding was how you found yourself using three different languages to construct one sentence, somehow understanding each other! Long forgotten schoolgirl French and German vied with sign language for the benefit of the Norwegians, adding in recently learnt Portuguese phrases and odd Spanish words. It was a fabulous night.

Friendships that flourish with the local residents can be particularly interesting. To really get to know the community that we find ourselves in is such a privilege. We never have moved very quickly as we cruise... and that has proved to be a great blessing. Taking the time to become a face that people recognise, say good morning to on a regular basis, has opened doors into some very different worlds.

We spent almost 18 months in Portugal and became very fond of the country and its people. It's a place that has undergone a massive cultural change as the European Community has asserted itself and the tourist industry has grown at a faster and faster rate. This has created a divided economic reality for the locals.

Down on the Algarve coast wealth is the order of the day. Big motorboats, high rolling tourists, luxury consumer goods and so on. Back up the river, just 25 miles away, many houses still had no piped water, no interior sanitation and just a weekly bus that took the 1 hour ride to the nearest sizable town. The village that we spent 4 months in was fast becoming overwhelmed by outsiders buying up the ruined country cottages, a mixed blessing I think.

It's a great sadness when the day finally comes to leave, we miss the people, the easy camaraderie that comes with a shared lifestyle. It is hard to know that most of these friends will never come aboard our boat again, nor we visit theirs. Somebody wrote 'It's best to leave when the hand of friendship is still warm'. That certainly happens a lot in cruising!

Then there are the boats that crop up repeatedly as you sail further afield. We met boats in Gibraltar that turned up again in the Canaries, and even some in Panama. The more you stick to the recognised routes the more certain you will regularly meet the same boats.

We met a lovely family from the Netherlands whilst our boats sat on the hard together in Lanzarote, one of the canary islands. Floris, Mel and their 2 year old daughter Tessie shared the trials and tribulations of hauling out. We only knew them for a couple of days and then our paths split as they sailed off to one of the other islands in the group.

Many months later we were roused from an afternoon nap by a familiar voice as we lay at anchor in Tobago, yup it was our Dutch friends again! What a lovely surprise. We sailed with them through Venezuela, and on to Bonaire where they had to turn around to return to their home country. Tessie is now 5 and every birthday we remember the time we sat together eating chocolate cake and singing 'Happy Birthday'. Where we were no longer that vivid, but who we were with still very much alive!

Different places, different friendships, different experiences. Adventurous 'Pagos' first met in Gibraltar, then Lanzarote, then the San Blas islands. Now cruising in Chile.

Mike and Jill from 'Altair', fearless sailors, intelligent debaters, great friends. Now heading back our way from a cruise up the East coast of the USA.

Irreverent Jack and Pat from 'Stormbird'. Gourmet cooks par excellence. I sooo miss your pork in truffle sauce Jack!

Steph from 'Mima' and Karen from 'Nirvana' who made the parties to shop in Panama City into the best kind of girly friendships I have ever known. We were incorrigible! Laughing from dawn to dusk and beyond... how our various 'mates' coped I have no idea but I salute them for it! Miss you girls.

What is wonderful in the remembering is the knowledge that there is so much more to come. Aren't we lucky!I love the sailing, the adventure, the challenges of the open ocean but equally the exploration of cultures and the developing of friendship nourishes me.

In this "my continuing search for the meaning of life," I am constantly reminded that although we are all individuals, we all still depend on others. Somehow this is a truth that lies at the core of our being. Thus as thoughts shift from the places we remember to the people we miss, and as we reaffirm our connectedness, we rediscover our humanity.

Thursday, 15 November 2007

The Right Stuff

I saw this blog as a learning experience and it is.

One thing I didn’t do is tick the option to moderate comments. This isn’t to censor remarks that you don’t like, but to prevent the blog getting cluttered up with advertisements for penis enlargement and so on (which can’t do much for me and, I am happy to say, TBH doesn’t need either).

Well, as you might have noticed (before I took them off), the post Cruisers help out attracted two comments, which were just as silly as penis enlargement but not quite so funny.

Well I’ve re-checked my facts. Everything Debi says on that post and in the video is true. Why would she lie? While both Nicol and Dayna qualify their comments with remarks that they haven’t bothered to get their facts straight: “although I know very little about this” and “we are well aware that all missions require money and prescription medications,” respectively.

But if we assume that everyone is just like us, and don’t respect other points of view, we will misunderstand what they are saying and be misunderstood ourselves, so I sat down with Nicol and Dayna this morning to learn more.

What can I say? I was reminded that stupidity might not be a crime or a vice, but it sure extorts a high cost. I am not going to reprint their comments, they are not worth it.

Debi is seeking help. Debi has the Right Stuff. Some others don’t.

Nicol Huff has visited the clinic once, is not a volunteer, but wants everyone to know she has given money and supplies.

Dayna McMullen isn’t a medic, has been to the clinic half a dozen times, and has posted pictures of the sick on her site to show what a good person she is.


Wednesday, 14 November 2007

Day 4. Barcelona World Race.

Latest update on How frustrating must that weather be as you are all hyped up to race, race, race?

Day 4 and normality is life onboard, eat, sleep and work. The last 24 hours have again been slightly frustrating due to the temperamental light med breeze. We seemed never to aim at the goal, Gibraltar and when we did the boat speed was at a crawling pace. Last night we went in towards the Spanish coast trying to find the best way through the small windless band in front of us. In fact we were windless for only a short time and despite there seeming to not be a breath on the water we were able to make good progress. We were hoping for a land breeze close inshore caused by warm air rising off the sea and cold air rushing in off the land to replace it, the opposite of a sea breeze we so often see on our coastline in the summer. We did get something and managed to stop the rot overnight and late this morning we found some wind, its still coming from where we want to go but hey we're not complaining. 135Nm as the crow flies to Gibraltar, for us it will be more like 180Nm and plenty of tacks! Both of us feeling well and dandy!


Tuesday, 13 November 2007

Sea of bananas.

Found this on the site, lovely story!

A sea of bananas threatened yachtsmen off the Dutch coast last week. At least six containers full of Cuban bananas fell overboard from a ship bringing them to Europe, spilling their contents into the sea.

The banana tide drifted ashore on Terschelling and the Ameland Islands, as a result of which banoffee pie is said to have become almost a staple diet for the islanders. Boats cruising through the sea of bananas were fortunate that the fruit didn't block engine inlets or thruster tunnels.

Otherwise their owners might have been tempted to sing the 'Banana boat' song: "Six foot, seven foot, eight foot bunch. Daylight come and me wan' go home."

Shaken and Stirred!

We went in to town this morning, between rain showers. It's three weeks since our last visit and cash funds had dropped to a pretty low level on board, hence the need for the visit.
After topping up our moth filled wallets we went to the supermarket, its the biggest one in Fronteras.

Walking around the supermarket I guess I was looking more closely at the products than I usually do. You know what its like, you know the prices of the stuff you buy regularly, you know just where to find it and somehow you don't actually see much else.

I became more and more angry as I looked at the prices of baby milk, diapers etc.Bear in mind that the average wage for a school teacher here is $180 a month. 28 diapers cost 36Q, thats around $4.50. A large can of baby milk 170Q, thats around $27. How the indigenous people manage goodness only knows.

The young couple, they looked like kids themselves, at the checkout in front of us had a tiny newborn baby with them. They had a basket full of things for their new addition. They scraped together the small change to pay for the shopping, anxious glances passing between them.

The store is starting to fill up with Christmas goods. At the end of each aisle a mountain of plastic bowls packed with goodies for the holiday season. Guatemalan equivalent of the 'hamper', that is until you look at the contents. Rice, pasta,cheap candy, packet of marshmallows and so on.It really makes me think about how fortunate I have been in my life.

The emotional surge that I experienced took me by surprise. My throat tightened and my eyes filled with tears. I felt really ashamed at the materialistic, selfish society that I come from. My anger with the Western economies, the exploitative industries, the so-called 'missionaries' that abound here. We spend our lives in denial at the world we live in, not thinking about the real meaning of grinding poverty. Yes, we give to charities, pay lip service to 'humanitarian' projects but which of us can imagine experiencing the mind numbing poverty of so many of the worlds people?

The story told by the clinic in Esmeralda of the mother having to choose which of her children will eat today? It's not about changing people's beliefs, culture or politics. It's about helping them to help themselves.

An old guy in his beaten up cowboy hat stood at the exit to the store, balanced on his crutches, thrusting a scrap of paper into your face, asking for money. I think the paper proved his disability. Struggling to maintain his dignity.

TBH warned me that traveling would change my view of the world, that I was walking through a door that had no way back. I chuckled at him. I am not laughing now. My world is in turmoil, my heart weeps. Somehow I need to make a difference but I don't know how. It's a painful learning.

It is a harsh place this Guatemala that I see. So much wealth in so few hands. A country still riddled with the corruption of violence, war, greed. Wide open to the exploitation of the West.

My cruising journey brings me face to face with myself more often and more fundamentally than I bargained for when I began. The romantic ideal of the nomadic life of freedom comes with a price. The price is high, the rewards great. In every sense this is turning into a true voyage of discovery...

Frankly, I feel very divided. On one hand this echoes my instinct to start talking about what I see. On the other hand I'm afraid it might all be rather self-indulgent.
On balance I think the key to addressing the terrible inequities is to talk about it - or I wouldn't be publishing this blog. We can't begin to resolve such problems if we can't bear talk about them.

If my emotion is to be any more than just sentimentality then I'm convinced I have a responsibility to myself to speak out,to stir it up.

Monday, 12 November 2007

Hello. Can you hear me.....?

Communication. It's both a blessing and a curse onboard.

With all the new technology that we have at our finger tips there is no excuse for being out of touch these days, even when you are in the most remote parts of our planet.

Just look at our boat and how things have changed since we started cruising.

Back in the 'old days' we had a mobile telephone, that was fine up to about 20 miles off shore in the European waters that we were sailing at the time. We had an SSB radio but hardly used it as Navtex gave us all the weather and navigation warnings that we needed. Internet was a rare commodity available at a very few cafes and libraries. I remember that the local library in Rota (Spain) allowed half an hour use a day for free if you joined as a member, luxury!

Once we crossed the Atlantic the mobile telephone became prohibitively expensive, 100's of dollars a month to keep in touch with the kids. Charges for receiving as well as making calls. Then along came Skype! Wow that sure changed things for us. Cheap phone calls via the internet.

Communication did become a little strange though, punctuated with loud demands "Can you hear me?!" and wonderfully slurred voices reminiscent of a huge overdose of alcohol. I was never certain whether my mother had just suffered a massive stroke, over-indulged on the gin or Skype was playing up!

We also noticed a huge increase in the number of internet stations, and for the first time experienced the wonder of WiFi connections. In St Maarten's we actually could surf on the boat, via a free internet connection. It was quite unbelievable, more so when you realise this was only in 2004! The speed of development has been quite astounding.

At this time we also upgraded our SSB radio and added a 'Pactor' unit which allows us to access the wonderful 'Sailmail' service which we can use to send and receive emails. This really liberated meant that for the first time, no matter where we were, the family could get in touch.

For me, an anxious Mum, that opened up the further horizons of world cruising. I missed my kids and regular communication meant that I was happy to sail further afield confident that we would be able to 'speak' regularly. With the benefit of hindsight its not always been a comfortable experience! Some things are better imparted slowly and with consideration! The offspring tended to 'dump' their immediate concerns on us, they'd go off feeling better, leaving us worrying like hell. The next communication invariably showed that they had instantly forgotten all of their problems!!!!***

Or the calls that go like this -:

"Hallo Charlotte...."
"No madam this is a fire officer.."
"Oh my god! Where's my daughter.."
"She's fine, we are just removing her from the motor vehicle!"
(She was fine too!)

or a classic one -:
"Mum, I've had an accident and I'm trapped in the car.."(We were 20 miles offshore, child was in London!)
"Oh my god! Is the car on fire, are your legs trapped..."
"I can't get the door open..."
Short silence as I panic...
"Umm haven't you got a convertible? Maybe you could open the roof!"
Still you've got to love 'em!

I like kids but I couldn't eat a whole one!

Throughout the Caribbean we have watched as all these services have grown and improved.The SSB radio and access to weather fax means that we have 24/7 information on the latest weather forecasts, hurricane warnings, wave info and so on.

We can share the usual family moments almost as they happen via email. In harbour we can even send a video link via Skype, a bit disconcerting as you rush to throw some clothes on though!

TBH can use the high speed links to maintain and set up new businesses. I can write a blog daily, at sea we can update the blogspot via Sailmail (no pictures or video though).As the costs fall I can envisage the day when we will have full internet access via satellite onboard, ready to communicate wherever we are.....

But part of me longs to be out of touch. How can you experience the real romance when all the worlds information is still available? Can the sensation of isolation ever be truly experienced again? Sometimes I long to turn off the switches, and sometimes I actually do it!
I guess the reality is that I haven't left the world that far behind, maybe I never will. It's all a matter of choices isn't it? For me the need to communicate is part of my psyche, it probably will never change - I'll just have to accept it!

What prompted these thoughts was an email received early this morning from our son. He works for the BBC and often warns us of breaking news. This mornings, emailed, tidings were headlined 'massive explosion in London'. OK logically I knew he was alright, he'd sent the message hadn't he? But it was in the part of London where his office is located. The worry starts! A call via Skype, he can't hear me! An email to him asking what's happening....finally we hear that it's a huge fire that's being investigated by the anti-terrorist forces but its not thought to be anything strange...
Now did I really need to know all that! Thirty minutes later 'Google News' carries the report....

The conclusion? It's a mixed blessing!

Sunday, 11 November 2007

They're off!

The Barcelona World Cup started this afternoon amongst the razzmatazz and excitement that accompanies Ocean racing these days.

We just received this email from Pete and Ann, Alex's family (Hugo Boss entry):

It was a glorious day and the wind picked up a little for the start and Alex was lying 2nd but then had a bad tack so fell back a little tho has now picked up again. It has been complete mayhem since we've been here for about 11 days. We had been making lunches every day for the team, sandwiches, hot dogs etc for around 20 or 30 people. This involved taking our life in our hands on the 100cc moped we have going up the main street to either Carrefour or El Corte Ingles. Then we'd be coming back with millions of bags all around us and at our feet!! (bit like in India!). We've also got involved in doing a few small jobs around the boat and buying bits and pieces and cooking a few little casseroles. If you'd seen the boat yesterday you'd have never known they were about to set off around the world.

It must be a strange sensation as you sail away at the start of one of the world's greatest physical challenges, all that preparation and partying and then are on your own(or with one other person in this case). Out there for the next three months, battling the elements and your fellow competitors. I'd rather them than me!

Water, water, everywhere.

Well thats what you hope when you are off cruising! Both in terms of enough depth to float your boat and enough rainfall to fill the tanks.

It's pouring with rain here this morning which set my thoughts off toward the subject of potable water for use on board.(I have always wondered where the word 'potable' comes from.)

We carry 125 gallons, spread between three separate tanks. One on the Port, under a saloon sofa, one on the Starboard side, under the other sofa, and a smaller one under the aft berth. The two main tanks are accessed by a pressurized water system and all three are also accessed by foot pump. It's quite a complicated set up, lots of pipes and switches in the bilges to change from one tank to another and from pressurized to pump access.

The complication is okay in practical terms, if we are low or on a long passage switching to the foot pump is an excellent way of keeping tabs on water usage as is the fact that it will be necessary to switch from one tank to another. Mind you we have taken it to ludicrous lengths in the past...
When crossing the Atlantic TBH was concerned that we didn't run out of water. Bless him! So we were extremely parsimonious, used the foot pump only, no showers unless it rained etc. Well when we pulled in to St Maarten's, 32 days after leaving Lanzarote, we had only used a third of our water!

Boy did we stink!

The custom's officers who boarded within minutes of us anchoring were amused, to begin with, as we warned them they went below at their own peril! They soon realized that we weren't joking and sat as far away from us as possible up in the cockpit!

One of the first things that we did on arrival in the Caribbean was to commission our water making system. It had been on the boat when we bought her but we had found it unnecessary in Europe. Fresh water was always easily available. Not so here. Quality and quantity are a little random in places.

We have an old 'PUR' maker. It only produces 1.6 gallons per hour but it runs on 12v and our wind generator creates enough power to run it. The perfect solution and very satisfying. Hearing the wind generator whooshing round on the stern and the water pumping in to the tank is a lovely feeling!

We can only fill the small aft tank directly from the watermaker. Once that is full we have to fill cans and pour those in to the other tanks.
In reality we only ever put water from the watermaker in the aft tank, ensuring that the reserve supply is always the best that we have in terms of quality.

Our boat, a Bowman 40, is designed to allow water to be collected straight off the decks in to the two main tanks. Its a fabulous system when the decks are clean. We remove the filler caps, both at the lowest point in the side decks, plug the run off holes with bathplugs and away we go. In a good rainstorm we can fill both tanks in under 20 minutes! I get a real kick out of that!!
The water from these tanks then goes through a carbon filtration system before arriving at the taps down below.

I treat the water in these tanks with a proprietary water treatment, when I have it, or with bleach when its not available.
We keep the teak decks clean at sea by pouring saltwater over then every day, swilling away any debris and maintaining the wood at the same time.

One of the boat projects before we go much further is to install a 'Seagull' filtration system which claims to remove bacterial contamination. It's expensive but the only thing I can see on the market that addresses that problem.

On deck we have 4 x 20 litre cans, they are essential when carting water from shore and, god forbid, they are easily accessible should we ever have to abandon ship.

Ooh nasty thought...

There are some things I still need to do. We really ought to have a set up for catching rain on canvas and piping it to the tanks, great when the decks are not clean. Like so many things on the boat I have all the bits to make it but still haven't done the deed. Probably 'cos we just haven't needed it yet!

Generally though we are very satisfied with our water systems. We run hot and cold water to three places on the boat, two heads and the galley. TBH has the skills to rebuild the watermaker when necessary and we carry a large stock of spares.

We can be away from land sources of water pretty much indefinitely, so long as we are careful. And last but not least it satisfies my need to be as self-sufficient as possible onboard.

Saturday, 10 November 2007

Cruising's not like this.... thank god!

It's the final countdown to the Barcelona World Race and Alex and Andy are in maximum promotion mode for their sponsors 'Hugo Boss'.This promo video has just been released and I think it's wonderful!

About as far removed as you can get from cruising, I definitely don't fancy the bit where you see 'Hugo Boss' leaving the water. Sheer Bloody Terror!

Good luck guys... be safe... and fast!

Friday, 9 November 2007

Cruisers help out

Here on the Rio Dulce, home to many world-girdling cruisers, there are a wide variety of personalities.

One of the most delightful that we have met is Debi. Debi is a nurse and she has a passion! It's a private obsession - in fact we have been here now for almost 4 months and have only recently become aware of what Debi gets up to...

And what does she do?

Debi is a volunteer nurse in a small clinic here in the Rio. And so are Cindy, Deayna, Karen, Stewart and a number of other cruisers. Quietly and professionally they give their time and expertise to helping the local Mayan community who live in the area surrounding the small village of Esmeralda.

Cruisers are welcomed with open arms, to help in a variety of ways. The one thing that is very clear though is THEY DO NOT WANT MONEY!

Now isn't that a refreshing change?

If you have medical skills you are extremely valuable, but non-medical cruisers can also help out with the pharmacy, kids and in countless other ways. If you don't have the time but would like to make a difference Debi encourages the purchase of items in your usual grocery shop which make a huge difference to the life of these people.

Debi speaks for herself on the video here, it's a powerful message.

What they need:

Disposable new-born diapers.
Liquid children's vitamins.
Diaper rash ointment.
Antibiotic cream- Neosporin.
Baby cereals - Rice.
Nido or other powdered milk formula for infants/children.
Baby bottles.
Other sized diapers.
Children's Tylenol.
Hall's drops.
Pre-natal vitamins.
Small giveaway toys for children.

What they don't need:
Prescription drugs.
Stuffed toys.

They need volunteers one day a week from 9am until the queue has been cleared!

You can drop off any items, here on the Rio Dulce at either :
Mario's Marina
or Monkey Bay Marina

If you are reading my blog and thinking of cruising in this direction, maybe staying in the Rio for the hurricane season, you are welcome to come and see the work these cruisers do and to join them for as short or as long a time as you can spare.

Thursday, 8 November 2007

Just the fax.

It’s me, TBH. If recipes are suitable fodder for Gerry’s blog, then why not the occasional computer tip? This one is on faxing from a PC.

It’s easy enough to send faxes from programs like Microsoft Word; the only problem is that you have to sign up to a fax service with a minimum charge, typically $10 a month. With all the emails we send, we hardly ever need to send faxes and certainly can’t justify $10 a month for such a service. So we end up faxing via marina offices, usually at a cost of one dollar a page, sometimes more.

But, if you have a Skype account, there is a brand new fax service called PamFax (technically a Skype plug-in) which charges you much less ($0.25 per page from Guatemala to the States). It is dead easy to use and doesn’t incur any monthly charges. Just download the free software here.

That’s all folks.

Wednesday, 7 November 2007

Edgar Alan Egret.

Edgar Alan Egret has been a fixture at Mario's Marina for some considerable time. I am told that there was great excitement last season when, for the first time, Edgar was seen in his full adult plumage. A stylish and eye catching feathered ensemble that he wore with pride!

Edgar is a Great Egret although the jury is still out on whether he is male or female! He seems totally at home here in the Marina elegantly striding up and down the pontoons watching the action with a beady eye.

When I open the hatch to our companionway first thing in the morning there he is quietly patrolling the dock, ensuring that all is in order for his guests as the day unfolds! Ready to catch any unsuspecting frog or fish.

Cruisers who have been here in previous seasons speculate as to where he has been during his annual absence from the Rio, has he found a 'partner' yet and will he join the Great Egret Orgy on Bird Island up river at Fronteras once the cormorant chicks have been ousted?

Whether you are still single Edgar, boy or girl, we of Mario's salute you and welcome you home!

Tuesday, 6 November 2007

Foot in mouth syndrome!

Passion is a wonderful thing but just occasionally it can be a right pain... this morning, totally contradicting my self-imposed rule of not speaking on the Cruisers' Net, I could not contain myself any longer when once again listening to Brent. Now I should have kept my mouth shut 'cos a short statement made at the height of passion is rarely a good thing... and it wasn't. Aaggh. Still what's done is done and I will not let it deflect me from the main event.

My apologies for the inarticulate nature of my interjection...

Moving on, I have been looking up the tax returns for Mr Borthwick and Wind Word Ministries at the Canada Revenue Agency.

It would appear, from the regulations issued by the Agency, Wind Word Ministries does not comply with at least two of the four requirements, namely:
  • devoting all of its resources to charitable activities; and,
  • operating for the benefit of the public and not for private gain.

I have therefore written a letter to the Enforcement Division for Brent's returns area expressing my concerns. Perhaps if you feel the same way you could also let them know?

The address is:

Enforcement Division
P.O. Box 9070 - Station Main
9737 King George Highway
Surrey BC
V3T 5W6

Tel.: 604-587-2170
Fax: 604-587-2101


The book of the writings of Nick Heiney, son of Libby, is being serialized in The Times newspaper. This poem is believed to be the last thing he wrote before his suicide. I find it beautiful, haunting and disturbing.

The morning runs on, a springtime secret through the avenues and avenues which lure all sound away

I sing, as I was taught inside myself.

I sing inside myself when wild moments slice some tender evening like a breeze that rattles gravel and digs in the dirt

I sing, as I was told, inside myself.

I sing inside myself the one wild song, song that whirls my words around until a world unfurls my ship’s new sail

I catch the dew and set a course amongst the ocean curls

The silence at the song’s end

Before the next

Is the world

Monday, 5 November 2007

Borthwick providing disaster relief? You must be joking.

There is a massive humanitarian disaster happening right now, about 1,000 sea miles away (2-3 days for Jireh) in the Tabasco region of South East Mexico.

300,000 homeless, over a million affected by the worst floods in 50 years... and where is the mission ship Jireh and its 'brave' captain Brent Borthwick?

Oh goodness! They are sat at the dock in Mar Marine, Rio Dulce, Guatemala plugged into the air conditioning, bemoaning the lack of USDA beef, praying for God's deliverance from venomous snakes, lightning strikes and 'dinghy fever'!

Bet that makes all his generous supporters feel real good, huh! Especially as his time is so full with organizing petitions to praise the navy guys who caught alleged dinghy thieves on the Rio... and then let them free because the cruiser, the local policeman and the navy officers that caught them are too scared of retaliation to press charges. Pity you poor fools who've signed the petition and put your boat names against it, they now know who you are. Welcome to the real world of the Rio, Brent. Not your comic book, fantasy-land of crocodiles, bull sharks, coral snakes and little brown "native" children who have never seen a white man.

But dare he leave now? Just when his charm offensive is at full throttle in pursuit of his desire for a role as a 'spokesperson' for the Rio cruising community? Could he bear to live by his own words in his begging, oh sorry, fund-raising pleas that he will "provide disaster relief, water, and food, medical and dental needs to remote areas by sea"? I know. It's a lot to expect when the $7,000 boat insurance is falling due.

News headlines urge that food and water is running out and that remote areas, only accessible by boat, are in dire need. Bet a 50 horse-power dinghy would come in real handy. Hurry Brent! Somebody might actually need you. It's certainly not us.

Go on Brent. I dare you. Do the right thing. Prove me wrong about you.

New President for Guatemala.

The results are in from the Guatemalan Presidential Elections held yesterday.

Alvaro Colom is set to be the next president of Guatemala. The centre-left former businessman is being credited with just over 52 percent of the vote, five percent more than his rival in the second round run-off ballot. It's Colom's third attempt at the presidency. In a campaign marred by violence, he accused his opponent of wanting to take the country back to the dark days of military rule. Otto Perez Molina, a retired army general, had pledged to launch a military-backed crackdown on crime.

It was quiet here on the Rio yesterday with alcohol sales banned from Saturday 12 noon until this morning (Monday) 9am. We have seen this ban during elections across Central America and it appears to be rigorously enforced. Elections here generate high emotion and in a country where almost 6,000 people were killed last year, out of a population of 13 million, any measure to curb over zealous behaviour is to be applauded.

Violence is usually blamed on gangs of youths, but many analysts also point to the penetration of the state by organised criminal groups intent on eliminating rivals. There are also claims of social cleansing by death squads.

Guatemala has one of the highest murder rates in the world, and more than 50 political activists were killed in the run-up to the election.We noticed a high armed presence here with military helicopters flying overhead and boats full or gun toting soldiers patrolling the river. There certainly seemed to be a big show of 'policing' the democratic process.

The newly elected President, Colom, has said fighting poverty is the best way of tackling violent crime but has admitted that members of drugs cartels have managed to infiltrate his party.

Across Guatemala, turnout was light for yesterday's voting, after a nasty campaign that centered on the crime and corruption that have made a mockery of Guatemala's democratic institution.

We hope that Guatemala will make inroads into its many problems under the new leadership... it looks like being a long and difficult road.

I am continually surprised by the number of cruisers I talk to who have little idea of the realities of the countries that they stay in.To my mind one of the most fascinating aspects of this itinerant lifestyle we lead is to begin to understand the National Psyche of the places that we visit. Without that interest cruising can swiftly degenerate into just another island/beach/venue.
One day, hopefully far in the future, I look forward to remembering the many faceted aspects of the cultures I have been privileged to visit.

Sunday, 4 November 2007

Something wicked this way comes......

Okay folks. Do what you know.... I know the media and that's what I'm gonna use.

If you are not interested in my views on the appalling Brent Borthwick and his Wind Word ministries turn off your sets now...

I simply cannot let Brent's manipulation go unchallenged....don't be duped by this transparent ploy, don't let him get away with claiming your support.

Be warned!


This morning we awoke to news of what looks like a fatal accident on the Rio. Two lancha's laden with tourists collided and a number of people went in to the water near the bridge at Fronteras. One was lost and is presumed drowned, a French man on holiday with his family. We feel very sorry for them as the search continues for his body.

It's Election day in Guatemala as the people vote for a new President. I have been reading about politics here and the struggles for democracy that this country has experienced particularly in the last 50 years. When they were well on their way to a more settled future everything was thrown over when, in 1954, the US, in one of the first documented covert operations by the CIA, orchestrated an invasion from Honduras that forced President Jacobo Arbenz to step down and ensured that agrarian reform that threatened the interests of the US United Fruit Company never took place . For most of the next 50 years violence became a staple of political life. Let's hope todays elections will be more peaceful and productive for the ordinary people of Guatemala

As cruisers we are in an extremely privileged position from which to 'take the pulse' of the countries that we visit. Not really tourists and yet not residents, we often experience a much closer sense of mood within our host nations. We get a feel for how actions taken by our native political leaders impact the impression that other countries now form of us.

The American cruisers have found it difficult to accept that Venezuela is no longer very welcoming, that is until they think about the relationship between Hugo Chavez (the Venezuelan president) and George W.

When we sailed to Morocco in North Africa we didn't fly our British Ensign, and were pleased we didn't as every other fishing boat in the harbour at Tangier was named Osama Bin Laden!

US and UK cruisers coming through the Red Sea tend to take in their ensigns in deference to the current situation in the middle east and so on...

Ecuador has been a popular destination of cruisers in recent years. Cheap and welcoming it was a great place to leave the boat as you traveled inland to explore the delights of South America. But that has all changed. Cruisers report a turn around by the current government and a strong anti-cruiser feeling. Stringent new regulations fror cruisers are reported on the noonsite.
Rules affecting use of agents, buying fuel , length of visas granted have all changed. Now why is this?

We have just read a book 'Confessions of an Economic Hit Man' by John Perkins. In it he explains how, in his career for an international consulting firm, he convinced developing countries to accept enormous loans and to funnel that money to US corporations.

He writes,

Because of EHM (Economic Hit Man) projects, Ecuador is awash in foreign debt and must devote an inordinate share of it's national budget to paying this off, instead of using its capital to help the millions of its citizens officially classified as dangerously impoverished. The only way Ecuador can buy down its foreign obligations is by selling its rain forests to the oil companies. Indeed, one of the reasons the EHM's set their sights on Ecuador in the first place was because the sea of oil beneath its Amazon region is believed to rival the oilfields of the Middle East. The global empire demands its pound of flesh in the form of oil concessions.

These demands became especially urgent after September 11, 2001, when Washington feared that Middle Eastern supplies might cease. On top of that,Venezuela, our third -largest oil supplier, had recently elected a populous president, Hugo Chavez, who took a strong stand against what he referred to as U.S. Imperialism; he threatened to cut off oil sales to the United States. The EHM's had failed in Iraq and Venezuela, but we had succeeded in Ecuador; now we would milk it for all it is worth.

Ecuador is typical of countries around the world that EHM's have brought into the economic-political fold. For every $100 of crude taken out of the Ecuadorian rain forest, the oil companies receive $75. Of the remaining $25, 3/4 must go to paying off the foreign debt. Most of the remainder covers military and other government expenses - which leaves about $2.50 for health, education, and programmes aimed at helping the poor. Thus, out of every $100 worth of oil torn from the Amazon, less than $3 goes to the people who need the money most, those whose lives have been so adversely impacted by the dams, the drilling, and the pipelines, and who are dying from lack of edible food and potable water.

All of those people - millions in Ecuador, billions around the planet - are potential terrorists. Not because they believe in communism or anarchism or are intrinsically evil, but simply because they are desperate.

So it really is no surprise that these countries see us as the 'enemy', is it? And no surprise that we are no longer welcomed with open arms. Cruisers usually arrive by the back door, dealing directly with officials and bureaucrats who reveal far more of their country's attitudes than the package tourist is ever going to see.