Friday, 29 February 2008

Varnish and Happiness.

The rainy weather ( it's still cold too) has called a halt to the varnishing project. Four coats on and TBH reckons another twelve to go. Not something to do if you are in a hurry. We don't have a lot of varnish topsides, just enough to give the boat a bit of a 'classical' air. Mind you when it needs redoing it seems like too much!

TBH has an excellent book on how to varnish, 'The Brightwork Companion' by Rebecca J Wittman. Brightwork is the nautical term for varnishing - there would be a special word wouldn't there. It is a well written and amusing book with assorted warnings on how varnishing can affect the psychological well-being of the boat owner, after twelve coats the help of a psychiatrist is recommended.

We keep looking at the work to do below decks, sighing and trying to think of something else. There is a major job to do here but I cannot, no will not, face it whilst we are living aboard. Just the thought of the upheaval we will have to go through makes me break out in a cold sweat. Soon though!

It was so cold last night that I fired up the stove and baked a lovely Shepherd's pie. Good old comfort food, steaming hot and a good movie. The hatches closed against the rain and wind. I was almost tempted to light up the oil lamps but decided that was a step too far. The boat was as warm as toast and as we rocked gently back and forth on the passing swells of the local lancha's I felt a glow of delight at the lifestyle we have chosen.

There is no denying that although there are moments of real fear there is such a peaceful and romantic sense to a lot of our life on the water. I don't believe that this is a way of life that everyone would enjoy but if you like the sense of adventure, the self-sufficiency and the unpredictability. Have an ability to learn and embrace changes then just maybe this could be the life for you...

Thursday, 28 February 2008

More on Ramiro Choc...

There is a report in the Guatemalan press referring to the recent arrest of Ramiro Choc. It alleges that he was working with at least 13 other people 'to locate, invade and sell farms, which were illegally appropriated.'

The report further alleges that
' This group joined a mob that deceives farmers with the argument that the land is theirs by historical background, and those who do not want to violate the law are intimidated to support invasions.'

There is translation of the report HERE.

This mornings edition of the same paper contains this report.

And so the maneuvering really begins. I wonder who finances this newspaper, Prensa Libre?

It appears to me that this issue is far from over. The President certainly has`his work cut out to bring some sort of compromise and conciliation to these people.

It sadly reminds me of an old computer game that TBH used to play called Dictator. You are the ruler of a banana republic. Probably your best strategy is to postpone the inevitable revolution as long as possible by being nasty to the peasants, appeasing the landowners and whatever you do not upsetting the secret police. Meanwhile salt away as much money as possible in your Swiss bank account and buy an escape helicopter in readiness for that fateful day. You can download the program for free HERE, It comes with the emulator that will convert your high-powered PC into the 48K Spectrum necessary to run the software! Download the file, unzip it, and double-click on the DICTATOR shortcut. Be sure to turn up the sound not to miss the exciting sound effects. Warning: you need to press Ctrl+Alt+Del together, then select the Applications tab and click the End Task button to get out of the program.

And talking of banana's I recommend the book Banana's by Peter Chapman. A recent book on how the United Fruit Company shaped the world. It is a fascinating read, particularly the information about Guatemala.


A cold front is blowing through our part of the Caribbean this morning and the temperatures have plummeted. It is a refreshing respite from the usual tropical heat. The downside is that it has been pouring with rain all night.

I was up just after sunrise this morning, around 5.30am, and the view from the deck was wonderful. An overcast steely gray sky and a light mist blowing across the surface of the still waters of the river. Quite spooky in a way. A fisherman was working to disentangle his net from a boat that had dropped anchor in the middle of it sometime after dark. Bet he was swearing to himself about unthinking gringos!

We didn't notice too much unusual here yesterday after the warnings of possible unrest. Although I was confused to find one of the Mayan ladies who comes to sell her fabrics here on a Saturday Swopmeet firmly ensconced in the restaurant with all her wares.

It turns out that she had been down in Livingston but was concerned at the atmosphere there. She said that the banks were closed, there were no tourists about and she felt unhappy. So she came here instead and was intending to return to her home town of Antigua. Given the difficulty of communication it is impossible to be certain of her reasoning but I got the impression that she was responding to an instinctive reaction to the situation. Interesting.

I am a great believer in instinct.

Anyway I finally succumbed to the purchase of some of the Guatemalan textiles from this lady so we were both happy with her visit! I am amazed that I have been in the country this long without buying... must be remembering the vast quantities of molas that we ended up with in Panama.

Wednesday, 27 February 2008

There may be trouble ahead?

I had planned to go in to Puerto Barrios this morning on the Marina Van but the trip has been canceled. There are more demonstrations planned for today in Livingston, Fronteras and, rumour has it, Puerto Barrios. Given the current situation the decision was made to abort the trip. Fair enough, I can't argue with that!

There is a lot of talk and gossip amongst the cruisers as to what is happening, how it affects the boaters, the rights and wrongs of the situation and so forth. What is clear is that the indigenous people are mightily upset. Politically it is only a few months since the new president, Alvaro Colom, was elected and it is highly probably that they are utilizing this period of a new administration to underline how seriously they want and expect the new Premier to take their concerns about their position within Guatemala.

It is difficult to sort out the wheat from the chaff in situations like this. What with the language barrier, Spanish and Que'chi, the lack of firm information and the gossip mill it is important to maintain a balanced viewpoint.

The view on the local rag, www.riodulcechisme, appears to take the line that there is not much to be concerned about and that the tourists should stay well away. And that seems to be what is happening today, there is little traffic on the river and with no check in or out down at Livingston until Friday there is no reason to move around if you don't need to.

It has been confirmed that Ramiro Choc, the leader of at least one group of protesters, is still being held in jail. I have been unable to assertain whether the three representatives of the group that took the police hostage have been flown to the City for talks with the Government.

Guatemalans gathered on Monday to remember the victims of the country's civil war

There is a small but growing unrest across the country. The consequences of the civil war which only ended in 1996 are very evident.

As we sit here, guests in this nation, it really makes you ponder on the inhumanity of man. The appalling cruelties that are perpetrated in the name of progress.

I find myself saddened at the iniquities of power and the unfair wielding of massive force against peoples who are simply trying to live their lives peacefully .

When I think about the consequences of war, especially in the light of the repercussions of American 'War on Terrorism', the results of Rumsfeld's campaign of shock and awe, I despair.

Tuesday, 26 February 2008

News from the Rio Dulce.

I just picked this up off the web. I wonder what sort of reaction it may cause in a country where many have much to hide?

Guatemala to open army archives
Published: Tuesday 26 February 2008 07:39 UTC
Last updated: Tuesday 26 February 2008 13:32 UTC
Guatemala City - Guatemala's military archives are to be opened on the orders of President Alvaro Colom, who was elected in November last year. It is hoped that the information in the archives will help clarify what happened during the civil war that ravaged the country from 1960 to 1996.

During the war, approximately 200,000 people died. It is thought that the military were also responsible for gross violations of human rights. Until now, the army has always been able to prevent any investigation of its archives.

The Cruisers radio announced that there will be no officials in Livingston tomorrow and Thursday so there can be no checking in or out of the country. I have heard some saying its not directed at tourists or boaters but you know I can't help feeling that if you are sat in the middle it might not be the best place to sit!

A girl can dream.

Superyachts, would you want one?

Okay so most of us are never going to have the chance to step on one of these 'wet dreams' never mind actually own the beast. But from time to time I like to daydream and wonder...what would it be like to inhabit that world of the super-rich.

This 007 style Wally powerboat certainly is a headturner, can't imagine it working its way up the Rio Dulce though! Probably have the entire armed forces scrambled to fight of the invasion if they saw this coming!
Bet you'd get pulled over by the coastguard a lot too...

Maybe that's not the one for me, I appreciate the styling and the original design but sadly I think you need to be a slender, blonde, stylishly elegant, fabulously dressed creature to be at home in these surroundings. Still as an aging, dumpy, grandma aged, inelegant one I'd love to step ashore in Monaco to watch the reactions of the watchers!!

Maybe this is more my kind of idea...

Oh well a girl can dream can't she?

I think that I am in love. Still all that varnish, hunky crew ...!!! Enough, I need a cold shower!

Now where was that billionaire?

Monday, 25 February 2008

...if it's a question of trussed!

This you have got to see! The role of a news presenter was never an easy one.

Dustin the Turkey does an interview for Sky News...

And if you can't work out the lyrics to this immortal song I have a transcript for you!

Oh I come, from a nation
What knows how to write a song...
Oh Europe, where or where did it all go wrong....?

COME ON!!!!!!

Irlande douze points

Drag acts and bad acts and Terry Wogan's wig
Mad acts and sad acts, it was Johnny Logan's gig

Shake your feathers and pop your beak
Shake em to the west and to the east
Wave euro hands and euro feet
Wiggle to the edge of the turkey beat

Irlande douze points
Irlande douze points
Irlande douze points
Do the funky beat

D O E double B L E Yeah

Hello Abba, hello Bono, hello Helsinki
Ola Prague, hello sailor, se la vie
Alvida sein Mama Mia, and god save the Queen
Bon joir Serbia, good day Austria
You know what I mean?

Shake your feathers and pop your beak
Shake em to the west and to the east
Wave euro hands and euro feet
Wiggle to the edge of the turkey beat

Shake your feathers and pop your beak
Shake em to the west and to the east
Wave euro hands and euro feet
Wiggle to the edge of the turkey beat

Irlande douze points
Irlande douze points
Irlande douze points
(and fart!)
Irlande douze points
Irlande douze points
Irlande douze points
Do the funky beat

Give us another chance, we're sorry for riverdance
Sure Flately he's a yank
And the Danube flows through France
Block voting, shock voting
Give your 12 today
You're all invited to Dublin Ireland
And we'll party the Shamrock way

Irlande douze points
Irlande douze points
Irlande douze points
Irlande douze points
Irlande douze points
Do the funky beat

Irlande douze points
Irlande douze points

Eastern Europe we love you
Do you like Irish stew?
Or goulash as it is to you?

Shake your feathers

Listen Bulgaria we love you
Belarus, Georgia, Montenegro,
Moldavia, Albania, Croatia,
Poland, Russia, Ukraine,
Macedonia, Love you Turkey
Hungary, Estonia, Slovakia,
Armenia, Bosnia Herzegovina
And don't forget the Swiss!

Sunday, 24 February 2008

...give us another chance, we're sorry for Riverdance

The Eurovision song contest is a standing joke amongst the European community. This annual fest of appalling music and lyrics is satirized and abused almost universally! I have no idea if anyone takes it seriously any longer.

Ireland, a record 7 times winner, has come up with a classic piece of Irish humour this year with its entry sung by , a hand puppet called Dustin the Turkey!

With lyrics that include “Shake your feathers and pop your beak, shake it to the west and to the east, wave Euro-hands and Euro-feet, wave them in the air to the turkey beat".
And; "Give us another chance we're sorry for Riverdance".

I am predicting a landslide win, listen to it for yourself here..

Irlande Douze Points is being kept under wraps for now, but Dustin did reveal that Sir Terry Wogan, Bono and an apology for Riverdance all feature in the lyrics. The puppet, who rose to fame through a children’s TV show called The Den, has recorded a string of hit records, including Dustin Unplucked, Faith of Our Feathers, Poultry in Motion and Bling When You’re Minging. He had a Christmas No 1 in Ireland on which Bob Geldof sang backing vocals and was teased by the turkey. Dustin also sang Patricia the Stripper with Chris de Burgh.

In the 1997 presidential election thousands of voters spoilt their votes by entering “Dustin the Turkey” on their ballot papers, after which he established his own political party, Fianna Fowl.

Dustin told a Dublin newspaper yesterday that he was would be “extending the wing of friendship” to his detractors. “I am doing this for Ireland,” he said.

Oh I love the Irish humour, they just never take themselves too seriously... Come on Ireland!

Freedom,Friendship, Films and Food.

Well today is the day of the 'Great Escape'. Lyric and UpJinks are set to cast the lines off and try again now that their respective mechanical and instrument failures have been sorted. I think they'll make it this time!

The marina is filling up again with new arrivals and we are eagerly awaiting the first sighting of our old friend Karen who is due here later in the week. It's over a year since we last met up and I am so looking forward to hearing all her news.

Thats the thing about cruising, you sail away from folks that you have got to know really well, wondering if you will meet again, and where! It is such a joy when your paths cross again...

We watched a film last night, Sideways, it came with great reviews and a clutch of award nominations. It was awful. A terrible indictment of middle-aged American men. How it could possibly have received the accolades it has leaves me cold. I wonder whether it is one of those cases where cultural translation simply doesn't work. The storyline was poor and the acting wooden. However there were some great foodie moments and as we began to dribble we could stand it no longer!

Opening a good bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon I whipped up some thinly sliced pork loin, sauted them in butter until just cooked through. Removed them from the pan and added a splash of white wine, seasoning, grated black truffles and a dollop of cream. Simmered all together and added the escallops for a moment, then served.... Oh boy it was wickedly decadent and totally delicious.

Did help make the film more bearable too!

Saturday, 23 February 2008

Normal Service has been resumed...

The new administration of Guatemala appear to have come through their latest test with flying colours. The situation here on the Rio has been diffused and the newspapers are full of assurances that the farmers will be heard by the highest powers and their lands will be safe.

I hope that the follow through of promises will be swift and signal that this new order has a sincere commitment to using dialogue in its battle to bring prosperity to Guatemala rather than wielding the sword.

So... normal service has been resumed. The swopmeet is underway as I sit here typing and we seem to have an influx of Brits! Conversation last night centred around places we knew in the UK and I really enjoyed the stroll down memory lane. It is always amazing what a small world we live in. My dining companion, Jeannie, used to run a pub that I frequented in Norfolk and her partner, William, was a drinking mate of an artist in Plymouth that I knew in my youth!

We didn't quite get round to discussing old episodes of British TV programmes, which TBH assures me is the usual fodder for ex patriot chats! Still there will be time yet.

The autopilot is proving to be a difficult task to complete...we have now asked Diana, the resident electronics guru, to have a look for us and pronounce whether we have a terminal problem on our hands. Then yesterday the blower that removes the exhaust fumes from the engine compartment stopped blowing. Fortunately we have a spare on board but of course that means emptying the bed to get at it and then emptying the cockpit lazarette to install it. And as we now have a guy stripping the cockpit varnish we can't get on with anything. Ah me!

So life continues, I firmly intend to remain calm and believe that we will get out of here one of these days....

Friday, 22 February 2008

Stop Press... Hostages released.

We have just been told, 8.15pm, that the police hostages have been released by their captors. It is still unclear whether the reports that Ramiro Choc has been released are correct.

There is a report at this site.


The reports of the incident in Livingston are proliferating across the web, with items appearing on the BBC site, Associated Press and many others.

There has been a broadcast on the cruisers radio network that things are now quiet in Livingstone and it is possible to check in and out again, although the necessary officials are not actually there! Hmm seems an odd piece of information.

Opinions at the Marina are varied, from 'they should shoot them all' to a more thoughtful appraisal of the less than 'black and white' issue of politics in this part of the world.

These are excerts of some of the items appearing on the world wide web;

An angry mob took about 30 police officers hostage in Guatemala and threatened to kill them unless authorities release a jailed farm leader, a police official said Friday.

The crowd surrounded the police station in the Caribbean coastal town of Livingston on Thursday night, disarmed the agents and took them in small boats to their remote village of Maya Creek, national police spokesman Faustino Sanchez said.

The villagers demanded the government free Ramiro Choc, who was arrested Feb. 14 on charges of illegal land invasion, robbery and illegally holding people against their will. Choc allegedly incited community residents to invade land and take over protected nature reserves.

Maya Creek is accessible only by boat and then a half-hour walk through dense jungle, Sanchez said. The hostages have asked authorities to send negotiators instead of backup forces.

Choc urged the villagers to release the officers in a telephone call from jail that authorities arranged Thursday night, but the crowd refused, Interior Department spokesman Ricardo Gatica said.

When police first detained Choc last week, angry villagers took a judge and two police officers hostage but released them several hours later.

... more on the leettle revolution

The latest news on the 'situation' on the Rio is that there are 29 policeman being held by a reported group of 1500 local farmers. Amongst the hostages are the head of the Commissariat of Puerto Barrios, Orlando Lemus Florian, the head of district east, Florian Samuel Fields, and four more heads, including those of substations and Los Amates Lívingston.The hostages are being held in the local school building.

It is also reported in Prenze Libre that Choc was released from jail yesterday but has been detained further in 'Zone 18'.

The farmers are demanding the release of other jailed sympathizers and are threatening to execute their hostages one by one if the authorities send in reinforcements.

Reuters report;
Initially it had been reported that Choc was leader of the National Indigenous and Peasant Coordinating Committee (CONIC), but a spokesman for that organization said that the detainee is not a member of that group.

"We have 22 elements of the PNC in our hands and we demand the release of our colleague Ramiro Choc. We do not want violence, we do not want confrontation but we are avenging of these same authorities," said Col. Santiago, a peasant leader speaking on a local radio station.

There is a long and convoluted background to these current problems. Here is an interesting synopsis, in Spanish, at
this site.

A leettle Revolution..

As we were settling down to a drink in the bar last night a disturbing message came over the radio. A group of indigenous people were reported to have taken over the police station in Livingston and were holding 15 policemen hostage. Raoul (the cruisers helper there) advised that all offices were closed, there could be no checking in or out of the Rio for a few days.

As we were assimilating this piece of information we heard that the police station in Fronteras had been similarly attacked and more police taken hostage, bringing the total to 32. A group of locals had been seen crossing the bridge on their way to the police HQ wielding machetes and stakes... It was reported that the police station had been burned and police vehicles destroyed.

The hostages had been taken to the village of El Cedro were they were being held captive.

It would appear that the leader of this village, Ramiro Choc, was arrested last Thursday (14th February) on charges of aggravated robbery, theft of property and illegal detention of a property.It is reported that he was traveling to Guatemala City to visit a sick child. Choc is being held in jail The Jocotes, in Zacapa, about 100 kilometres from the scene of the incidents.

Back in 1998 Amnesty International said that:
Amnesty International is seriously concerned for the safety of the peasant population of Livingston municipality in light of recent armed attacks and threats made against them. There are fears that similar incidents could occur in the area in the near future

Amnesty International made this statement:

Amnesty International believes that the attack on Ramiro Choc was related to his legitimate activities as a human rights and land activist, and that the landowner and his supporters acted with the complicity or acquiescence of the local authorities.

It would appear that despite the recent change in government here in Guatemala some issues are far from being over. It is said that the charges against Choc have been made by the owner of a property that he claims should have been returned to the indigenous peoples under the terms of the peace agreement signed at the end of the Civil war in 1996.

One can certainly see that the property here on the Rio Dulce has become a valuable commodity. the influx of foreigners and rich Guatemalans from the city is pushing up prices and of course where there is money to be made there will also be shady dealings.

Last night the Agrarian Platform (PA) said that the arrests and reprisals against peasant leaders who demand the regularization of the land they inhabit are clear examples of the beginning of a mismanagement of the government.

One of the most representative cases is that of Ramiro Choc, quekchí leader, who was arrested last Thursday in Zacapa by the National Civil Police accusing him of the charges of aggravated robbery, aggravated theft and remarks that in the opinion of the PA are a clear demonstration of state repression.

According to Isabel Solis, peasant leader in the region, the Ministry of Rural Affairs had acted in conjunction with the alleged owner of the farm Buena Vista, where Choc lived and was subsequently arrested.

The peasant organizations argue that the case could have been resolved at the table of dialogue that operates in the region and which occasionally deals with the issues of agrarian unrest.

Solis alongside PA demanding the freedom of all Choc and peasant leaders have been arrested with legal arguments but not targets, in addition to intervention by the Ministry of Rural Affairs for the resolution of conflicts and not to exacerbate them. "

"The government of Berger was characterized by defending the interests of farmers through the State entities, we hope that these problems will not mark the policies that will be implemented over the next four years of government," said Solis.

Cruisers have reported this morning that all is quiet in the area downriver. Businesses are open in Livingston it is being reported.

Please excuse some of the translation from Spanish to English, I have done my best!

Thursday, 21 February 2008

Betcha can't go this fast!

Just out! Wonderful piece of video of Alex and Capey breaking the speed record of 500 miles in a day during the Barcelona World Race. Wow!

And what about this one where Groupama 3 went belly up a few days ago? What a great piece of video!

Give me the Moonlight...

There was a bizarre couple of hours here on the Rio last night. At around 9pm we poked our heads over the spray dodger to catch a glimpse of the total lunar eclipse. It was one of those rare balmy evenings here when the air is as soft as a spring day and the quality of sound enhanced by some weird atmospheric condition. Up the sky amidst the patches of thick scurrying rain clouds we were able to see the shadow beginning to cover the big shining moon.

Just alongside us on the dock the security guard stood mesmerized, his pump action shot gun slung carelessly around his shoulders as he borrowed a fellow cruisers binoculars to stare at the celestial phenomena. His eager questions taxing our neighbour's Spanish as he sought an explanation for what was happening in the night sky.

All along the docks groups of shadowy figures gathered in the darkness to gaze skyward.Binoculars to the fore, some cameras to try and capture that mystical moment...

And over the whole lot the excellent sound system from the restaurant was blasting out the soundtrack from the nights movie showing... Blazing Saddles! So to the sound of generous farts and loud music we partook of a moment that used to strike awe into the hearts of man. A moment of magic and power and mystery to the ancients, all underlined by the sound of hysterical laughing as a trumpet of flatulence blasted across the gently rippling water!

It must have been a big night in the San Blas Islands. There is a large incidence of albinoism amongst the Kuna. These children, the result of a small genetic pool, are known as children of the moon. I read that during an eclipse the Kuna believed that a huge sky dragon was eating the moon and the moon children were sent out to slay the dragon and return to skies to normality. Happily they were always successful! Helping to validate their special position within the tribe.

And in one of the westward counties, Wiltshire in the UK there will have been groups of people raking the village ponds to try and save the moon from drowning...thus the nickname of people from that county as Moonrakers...

Just a little trivia for a Thursday morning. Have a great day!

NB A momentous decision has been made. I have decided to install the comments tab on to the blog. So... should you feel so inclined it would be nice to hear from you...

Wednesday, 20 February 2008


I'm going to let you in on a secret... TBH and I had an arranged marriage! What I hear you cry! His sister was a good friend of mine and she and his mother conspired to keep introducing us until we got the hint and finally (it took 3 years) got together... And they were right! It's proved to be a perfect match, so far.

What bought this strange subject to mind was a film that we watched last night, Arranged. This classy independent movie follows the live of an orthodox Jewish girl and a devout Muslim girl as their families prepare to arrange marriages for them It's an intelligent, wryly humorous and thought provoking story and one that I can recommend.

Enjoy the trailer...

Here in Guatemala a number of the Mayan people also arrange the marriages of their children, there are some lovely descriptions of the etiquette of the event in Rigoberta Menchu's book.

Whether you agree or disagree with the concept there are many parts of the world where this practice is a normal part of life and to a certain extent it works. Yes there are the cases where a marriage is seen as a power play and great unhappiness can be the result. But isn't that also true amongst marriages that happen in our western societies too?

I keep trying to persuade my kids that I could find them a great partner... don't think I have quite got the message over yet though!

Tuesday, 19 February 2008

Everything for a reason...

The headlines in the papers this morning centre on Fidel Castro's resignation as President of Cuba...which leaves us in a bit of a quandary.

I have been chomping at the bit to get going and cursing the time it is taking to renew our passports. Looking at the way the rest of the world is jumping on the bandwagon, and shouting this is the moment for democracy to take over, I wonder what the next few months are going to bring to the Cuban people. And, selfishly, I wonder how this might affect our planned cruise. Still we are not going anywhere until our passports return so we have time to monitor the situation.

I don't think that we can be termed nervous travelers but there are certain political moments that it is perhaps wise to avoid! I remember reporting from London on the 'poll tax' riots some years ago. My crew and I were crouched under a table in the burger bar in Trafalgar Square as the water cannon and tear gas was being used on the crowd. It was the first time I had been that close to 'the action' and it was not my idea of fun...although I must admit that the adrenalin rush of following the story could become addictive!

I hope that all will remain calm in Cuba but at the moment I am concerned that the interference from the USA and other 'interested' parties could well be the precursor to some unpleasant and possibly dangerous situations...I am not going looking for those. We'll watch closely to see what comes out of the big Cuban political meeting this weekend when a new president and governing group were due to be decided on... Watch this space.

Monday, 18 February 2008

Hotel California strikes again!

Wow, it's hot here today. I am feeling very lethargic and have been fantasizing about the cold weather in the UK.

TBH has been writhing around in one of the cockpit lockers, starting to get to grips with the auto-pilots. Thats right, we have two and currently neither of them work....oh the joys of a boat!

The fabled 'Hotel California' effect is working well and in the last two days we have welcomed back UpJinks and Deja Vu...both with mechanical problems. I really think that this is an enormously hard climate on the boats. The heat combined with the humidity are absolute killers where the mechanics and electronics of boat are concerned.

I have been switching on our electronics regularly since we have been here and wait with baited breath to see whether they come on or far , so good. The auto-pilots failed before we arrived here so they don't count!

I found out that there have been 12 bus drivers killed here in Guatemala since the 1st of the year. Something to do with a protection racket that has been running, no wonder our driver looked so nervous.

Sunday, 17 February 2008

Does Size Matter?

I don't care what you tell your loved one but, in my humble opinion, size really does matter out here in the cruising world!

We sail a forty footer so of course I think that is the perfect size, especially for two aging, unfit, wannabe adventurers. Although I seriously think that if we were to begin again I would have to consider something in the 36-38 foot range. We have a second small double berth which most of the time sails the world with us...empty. It is an open invitation to clutter the boat with 'stuff' that we are almost certain to never use It is currently filled with cockpit cushions, an icebox, books, clothes, more books, tools that need to be put away and a myriad of small 'useful' items.

It's a bit unusual on the book front as we have just been the lucky recipients here at Mario's of two cruisers dumping their lifetime about a feeding frenzy over at the bookswop!

But I digress. One of the reasons that size is uppermost in my mind is that our youngest, Lucy, and her boyfriend, Alex, have announced that they are going to buy a boat and come cruising. I am delighted I can think of no better experience for young people, and I am also so jealous that they are having the sense to do this at an early age( 22 and 28). What a fabulous life choice.

So, of course, we are starting to look out for boats for them. Money is obviously the principle criteria but it's a good time to be buying. With the depressed dollar and the housing price in the US there are huge numbers of boats on the market on this side of the Atlantic.

Lucy is talking of a boat the same size as ours but we are doing our best to persuade them that something smaller will be, in the longer term, far more viable. She had a twenty seven footer but felt that was too small for two people to live aboard in any degree of comfort. I have to agree that the boat she had, a Halcyon ( folkboat) derivative, was in the old narrow design. Excellent sea keeping qualities but made a pretty cramped living area.

Ideally we would like to find one of the older, small Island Packets.Probably one of the first designs that incorporated a serious living space with excellent safe ocean going design....So we are trawling the internet and alerting our friends that the hunt is on!

Personally I can't understand why they don't just come with us! Still I am dead chuffed that they approve of our lifestyle so much that they want to do it too.....

On our domestic front we have had a bit of a blow as TBH blew a gasket on the outboard yesterday. Such a shame after all his recent work in rebuilding the thing. We had been talking about buying a new one, old faithful is over 10 years old now. Anyway, as in most things, the decision was made for us and we are now the proud owners of a new 5hp Yamaha. The same as our original! Small is beautiful in this case! Mainly 'cos I can't lift anything bigger and we don't want to clutter the stern with any more stainless steel constructions.

As I keep pointing out to the owners of larger outboards as they zip past us, it's not the size that matters but how you use it!

Friday, 15 February 2008

Baby Showers and Bullets!

Three days of serious shopping, eating and bureaucracy with a little excitement thrown in for good measure!

TWO double beds to chose from in our room precipitated our first crisis as we arrived in Guatemala City. We haven't slept that far apart for years! Could we cope without our toes cramped together in V-berth formation? Would we fall out without the hull side to keep us in place? Well the answers are yes and no respectively...

Only one bed got used, too lonely without good old TBH to cuddle up against but it was lovely to have proper mattresses and duvets. I would happily have stayed there for the whole three days but there were 'things' to do.

Orientating oneself to a new metropolis is always challenging, and tiring. We had a lot of pointers from fellow cruisers before heading across the continent but until you see it for yourself it is always difficult to imagine the real layout of a new city. Our hotel was centrally placed, small and intimate if a little tatty and sadly no Bath Tub...that was a bit of a disappointment.

Nine am on Day 1 and we presented ourselves at the first hairdressers that we could find. Six months off please!~ She did a brilliant job and we were unrecognizable on our return to the hotel. It is a real treat to sit in a salon and be pampered , once it happened so regularly that I was always in a hurry for the experience to end but now its an event to be savoured...

By 10am we arrived at the British Embassy to begin the performance of renewing our passports. The good news, after 3 attempts we actually managed to compete the forms correctly, the bad news, it will be up to four weeks before the new ones are ready to collect.

A trip to the hypermarket and overdosing on retail therapy came next... it was like being a kid in a Candy Store all over again. Electronics, clothes, food, booze, fishing rods.....we were as restrained as we could be, thats a huge change from our previous lives where the collection of 'stuff' was a daily event.

Now we think more deeply and turn away far more often....except of course when TBH laid eyes on the iPod display! Bet you are really surprised at that one! Yup he is now the proud owner of the Classic 160 gigabyte model...and seems to have become permanently attached to the thing...

Still it's lovely to see him so enamored of a new piece of technology. Moving on to a boat and away from the fast moving world of computers and business was a massive step and whilst it's easy to keep up with software development and management issues over the web there is nothing to beat the satisfaction of some hands on button pressing time!

We found nori and sushi rice, knickers and books, champagne and even fresh LAMB! All in all a most satisfying retail experience.

But, of course, there is another side to life in a Central American City. The beggars at the side of the street, most missing at least one limb, many with both hands cut off during the appalling civil war that raged until less than 10 years ago here in Guatemala. It made me think that the veneer of peace is just that, a very thin veneer here.

The long drive, over 5 hours , along the main highway that leads from the Atlantic coast to the city is an eye-opener. From the tropical jungle to the high sierra. Through massive mono-culture acres of banana's, pineapples, melons or grapes. The roadside is lined with stalls all selling their mountains of fruit, there was a unifying vision of massive poverty. More than I have seen in the other Central American countries we have visited. This is a land of much wealth held in very few pairs of hands. 60% of the population live below the poverty line. A teacher takes home $180 a month. The basic wage is $120 and many don't earn that.

In the hotel there was a party, a baby-shower, being held by some rich Guatalmatecos. The designer dressed, jewelry laden women were each accompanied by at least one, often two, gun toting bodyguards as they arrived carrying their gifts for the mum to be. I was left with a strange feeling of discomfort and some trepidation in me....

I sense a country that is far from peace, that has a side that we gringos will rarely see, let alone begin to understand.

Never was it more forcibly bought home than as we began our return journey. The bus station loaded us aboard the 11.30am coach bound for the Rio Dulce. Our bags were searched and the men patted down to look for concealed weapons. They didn't search the women! We pulled out of the bus station only to be directed to the side of the road by hoard's of gun toting policemen. We were to be escorted in a convoy out of the city! Now I wasn't too worried by this until the bus driver scrabbled down the side of his seat and pulled out his bullet-proof body armour! And put it on looking worried! Oh boy!

We had booked the two front seats to get the best view and never have I regretted prime position so much! There I was a large white woman sat in prime target range through the panoramic sized windscreen.....blimey! You try not to worry don't you? Well it wasn't working for me I can tell you! Thoughts of the movie 'Babel' ran through my mind as we began the drive out of town.

All was well though and eventually we made it out of the suburbs. The driver took off the flak jacket and I breathed a sigh of relief . Twenty minutes later a pickup truck in front of us took umbrage at the driving of the wagon in front of him and as he overtook a handgun was thrust through the drivers window and three rounds loosened off at the offending wagon...ohmigod! This was all getting a little too real for me....

So an adventure, an eye opener and a wake up call to the reality of life in this country. It's all too easy down here in the cultural bubble of a marina to forget that this is a raw, and still unstable struggling land. I will do well to remember that...

Thursday, 14 February 2008

I'm back, and so are Hugo Boss!

We have been to the big city, spending the prize from the Cruising World Video Competition, as well as renewing our passports.

More tomorrow, am totally knackered now but can't go to bed before saying a MASSIVE well done to Alex and Capey on Hugo Boss for getting to the finish line of the Barcelona World Cup in second place.

They crossed the line at around 5,30am this morning wearing their smart Hugo Boss suits, how cool!

Bet Pete and Ann are relieved and sleeping well after a few beers....

Full report manana!

Monday, 11 February 2008

Groundhog Day...

Rain delayed play yesterday.....For a number of would be escapees from Mario's the torrential ran proved a bit of a 'dampener' on their plans. Understandably nobody really wanted to head off downriver in the sort of weather we have had for the past 36 hours.
Standing at the wheel in a continuous downpour as well as dodging the debris that is being swept along the river is no way to start a cruise!

So yet again we are experiencing 'Groundhog' Day here... Today we will say farewell to Dejavu(what an apt name!), Antares, Calidris Alba(again!), Dragonheart is in final preparation, Lyric is still waiting for parts as is Capriai....Vagabunda awaits the arrival of family, Manitoba Morning are traveling inland and so it goes on.

Our turn soon. We are delayed now as we await our new passports, a trip to the Embassy in the City is necessary. It's always the small things that prove to be the most troublesome isn't it? I am comforted by the thought that once we are over this hurdle we will have sorted all our paperwork issues for at least the next five years and there will be no excuses for hanging around the docks for a while!

Our ships registration papers, renewable every five years, are in the process of reissue too. Sometimes it just pays to be patient and believe there is a reason why everything moves so me why though!

Anyone who believes that cruising will liberate them from the bureaucratic mess that surrounds land based life is in for a very nasty shock! My briefcase is full of the paperwork needed to cruise the world. Passports, visa's, ships registration document, radio license's, sailing qualification's, crew list, vaccination certificates, insurance documents....

We must restock on copies of all the above, passport size photographs and blank crewlists at regular intervals. The amount of paper that some of the immigration and custom's authorities require is mind-boggling.

Ah well it's a job for somebody I guess!

Sunday, 10 February 2008

Show n' Tell.

The Marina is emptying fast, paths are diverging, although some of us know we will meet again next season it is a time when relationships deepen and friendships become firmly cemented.

The community here is a typical one and sometimes it is a hysterical one. Take breakfast this morning. We all congregated in the restaurant and amidst the pancakes and muffins the discussion turned to iPod's, I wonder why! Well within moments a 'show and tell' was underway... Never let it be said that out here in the wilds we lose touch with reality.

Mary was an object of envy with her 160 gig top of the range classic version in a soft black rubber overcoat,it was worrying the way Mike was stroking the magnificent pair of Bose headphones she had as an accessory! He was definitely transported into his own little world there for a moment or two!

Cindy bought along her 'playbag' and was able to display the compact nature of her docking station! No I hear you cry but its not over yet! George had the smallest.... and softest.. earphones that is, and Dwane who started the whole thing off retired with his 'nano' to a private corner!!

Maybe it is time that we all left...

My contribution was the discovery of the iPod bra, some things just defy belief in this crazy world of ours.

So as TBH peels away the masking tape on deck after caulking the repair his mind is full of memory and colour options. I wonder what Valentine's Day will bring this year!!

Friday, 8 February 2008

Stardust on my iPod!

Even in darkest Guatemala wifi is essential for any credible marina. Pontoons may be in the last stages of decay, the restaurant floor subsiding into the lagoon, the water supply fetid but if you can't offer wifi and an internet connection nobody is going to come!

At Mario's where Diana, our resident electronics conehead, keeps the wifi channels suitably reamed, the conversation at breakfast is not about halyards reefing or anchor scope but about the joys of 1-click for iPod, Cynthia's tremulous first steps into the blogosphere (hilarious, take a look) and why you should consider a GPS mouse ($45 from Walmart) over a $350 Raytheon chartplotter replacement ariel.

This last conversation arose because no sooner had we bade a tearful farewell to Debi and Roy with breaking hearts, and the belief we may never meet again, than they were back because none of their instruments were working! Debi likes to compare Mario's to the Hotel California, where you can "checkout, but never leave" and yesterday this seemed painfully apt!

Another interesting conversation was the extent to which we come to depend on all these technical marvels. and the dangers of having them all interfacing so that when one goes belly up the whole lot do.

Cindy and Mike, have a Tacktick anemometer. These wireless instruments, a British invention, interact but do not all fall over when just one of them goes wrong. Cindy is delighted with Tacktick. The various components are solar powered and she takes the windspeed display to bed with her! Personally I prefer Little Ted, but there you go, no accounting for taste. The joy of her bedmate is that you can lie at anchor while the squalls go by, whimpering quietly as the needle hits maximum!

Of course the glory of this technology on a fully laden boat is its compactness. Mike reckons he can get 300 full length movies on his 80 gigabyte iPod and doesn't go cross eyed holding it 6" from his nose!

Bit concerned about the lookout on a night watch though....

Cindy said she was hooked when she got Stardust on her iPod. We have Sikaflex on the teak deck, barnacles on the bottom and Cuba on our minds. But we don't have an iPod. The peer pressure mounts!

Thursday, 7 February 2008

Hugo Boss heads for home.

Position: Second
Average speed: 10.6 knots

For the first time in over a week, the wind direction is allowing us to point almost directly at Gibraltar, Spain. With any luck, the current stretch of weather should get us close to the Straits of Gibraltar and our entry to the Mediterranean. Over the past 36 hours we left the trade winds and sailed into the high pressure, which has, fortunately for us, split and given us a route through to what will become south-westerly winds. These south-westerlies are associated with a weather system which is currently beating the shores of the UK. I can tell you, it feels good to be in the same weather system as the UK albeit slightly warmer! The routing is showing that we could be finished in around a week and I am starting to get excited about the prospect of returning to life as a real human being! For now we are in fairly light winds which are expected to build and build, allowing us to make excellent progress towards the finish. The leader, Paprec Virbac, who is going fast at the moment should slow as she approaches Gibraltar. This may allow us to close the gap a little, the routing is showing that we could get to within 300 nautical miles. Unfortunately, I reckon this will be too little too late and the routing is often optimistic. As we both get closer to the Straits of Gibraltar we are likely to see strong upwind conditions, which may intensify as the wind funnels down that very small gap between the Europe and Africa. However, that is nearly a week away so this all could be fiction, but normally the wind is either blowing or it is not! Capey and I are still eating well, although we are down to our least favourite foods, however we are by no means rationing like the guys ahead. We took food for 90 days and originally over-provisioned, plus we also took on food in Wellington, so we could easily go for another month without too much trouble. Both of us have lost weight but that is down to the low fat diet and hard daily grind rather than lack of grub. HUGO BOSS is holding up well and the repaired rudder is still working. We have lifted the starboard rudder as the pins holding it down are wearing very quickly and we were concerned as to whether they were going to last. We should be able to have it up for another three days before it is needed again, so it should get us home fine.

The latest race update is looking really exciting..Making up 200 miles in 24 hours means we could be in for a thrilling finish to this epic yacht race.

Hugo Boss continues to steam along: overnight the black boat was incredibly quick and covered 363 miles in 24 hours averaging a minimum of between 15-20 knots. Currently seven knots faster than the Franco-Irish pair ahead, Alex and Capey have closed the gap down to 450 miles at the 0600 GMT position report– that is 200 miles they have made up in 24 hours! Now only 236 miles from Gibraltar, Jean Pierre Dick and Damian Foxall are edging closer to their target yet are having to battle upwind in lighter northerly winds, and the situation doesn’t look like it is going to ease. Paprec Virbac 2 put in three tacks yesterday and is progressing slowly along the coast of Portugal, currently just south of Cape St Vincente. Although Irish skipper Damian was confident with their lead, they are going to need all their energy and optimism to withstand what must be a particularly frustrating situation to find themselves in so close to the finish, with stronger winds still predicted for the Straits.

Wednesday, 6 February 2008

My hero!

It's a scorching day here in Guatemala, only 10 am and already the sun is blazing down. TBH is at work on deck replacing a piece of teak that had worn through. He really is my hero, and I don't care who knows... Able to repair almost everything here onboard as well as making me laugh, what more could a girl want! Alright think I might get the perfume I want now.....

Our beloved boat has a full teak deck, totally impractical but I love its beauty and the 'traditional' air that it gives us. After 16 years of hard use it is getting rather thin in places and this is the second time we have had to fashion a repair.

In his childhood TBH was rather fond of making, flying...and crashing model aircraft. He could never have imagined then how well the skills he was developing would serve him in years to come!

I am full of admiration as he painstakingly makes a pattern for the piece of teak that he has to replace. As he fashions a tool to scrape the caulking( sort or grouting) from between the neighbouring planks.He bent a screwdriver to exactly the right angle, how clever!

I have never had any semblance of fine-motor skills and I am truly impressed at his delicate cutting and chiseling to ensure that we will be left with a neat and watertight repair to our deck.

The deck is something that we will have to think seriously about in the coming few years. It is paper thin in places and before long will need a complete replacement. We are obsessively careful of it and clean only with the gentlest of clothes and usually only with saltwater. It always surprises me just how dirty it gets, and coupled with the extreme humidity here in the Tropics, we have had quite a job keeping it in good condition. One great incentive is that the last quote we had to replace it, from our home yard, was over 20,000 pounds sterling!!! That's a good enough reason to care for it to the best of our ability.

We saw a boat that had their teak replaced in El Salvador and it was an appalling mess. Boards curling and warping in the sun and already lifting from the topside of the boat. We have seen teak replaced with what looks like some kind of fake lino, coloured to look like teak, very nasty. And, worse of all, replaced with cork, which shows every stain and mark!!

Tuesday, 5 February 2008

Apart and a part...

Most of the cruisers here in the Marina are preparing to leave for their summer cruises, except the ones with varying degrees of mechanical problems! Or like us waiting for documents ... ah me, patience really is a virtue.

By the end of this week the core of our friends will have left, we will miss them. It's a strange experience spending so much time in one place, living cheek by jowl with a group of people that you have never met before, that come from so many different backgrounds and cultures.

Cruisers come and cruisers go, some I am sad to see leave and others I am glad the moment they let go the lines and leave the dock. And the, thankfully rare, few that I will actively avoid EVER being in the same place as them EVER again.

Okay its politically incorrect to say these things, but I cannot bear hypocrisy. This fake bonhomie and friendship makes me sick! I suppose that the small enclosed environment of a marina is like a tiny rural village. Each place develops its own hierarchy and character. We are not so far removed from the wild as we would like to think. The pecking order of a flock of hens, the leader of the pride of lions an awful lot of human behaviour can be identified in those situations.

I am not a psychologist, nor a social scientist but isn't it fascinating watching the characters of fellow human beings unfold as you observe them at close quarters? The leader, the underdog, the carer, the needy , the outcast and so forth. Sailing seems to attract more than its fair share of what can only be termed 'personalities', makes for interesting group dynamics.

We are all marginal people, living on the edge of the land, in some ways a part of the countries we visit and yet in other ways very much apart from them. There is power in this marginality, in the privileged perspective you gain, and there's often a strong temptation to get drawn into the country you visit.

We would have liked to buy a shack on the edge of the River Guardiana in Portugal. In many ways we envy those cruisers who have taken root in Panama, and of course there are lots of predominantly male cruisers who've 'gone jungly' on the Rio. Not unrelated to the presence of the 'chicas caliente'!

Today is Super Tuesday when the Clinton v Obama race for presidential nomination comes to a head in the US and many of the Americans here are shaking their heads as they watch the story unfold on TV , saying "I am glad I am no longer there."

We have been feeling the same as we read the stories about the Conservative politician, Derek Conway, in the UK who has been discovered paying his son and assorted friends through his expense account.

We never really leave behind what we leave behind, we carry it with us in a different form. Like it or not we all exist in some kind of cultural bubble.

It's this tension between being a part and apart that contributes to the thrill of cruising, the excitement of setting sail and the anticipation of a new landfall.

Monday, 4 February 2008

Places to go, people to meet.

TBH has been helping a fellow cruiser with his computer problems and in return they spent time talking to us about their Pacific crossing. Oh dear, I keep trying to bring childbirth to the forefront of my mind. After the trauma of the birth the pain is forgotten or you'd never do it again... It's rather how I felt after crossing the Atlantic, never gonna do that again! But with time memories fade... come on Gerry remember the pain!!

But my thoughts are turning more and more to another ocean, knowing myself, as I do, I have a sneaky feeling that I have probably already made the decision... it's only a matter of when!

The one aspect that I am not happy with will be what route we would take. I am loathe to follow the regular run, I simply am not comfortable with being a part of the crowd. I would love to attempt a Pacific rim trip. From the Antipodes up to Japan across the Aleutian Island chain and to Alaska. Never let it be said that we don't aim high.

Of course our current total lack of physical condition would make this impossible right now, but... sometimes you just need a goal, a challenge to rise to. Don't hold your breathe though it will not be this year!

I picked up a book, Paradise by Larry McMurtry over at the bookswop yesterday. I sat and read it from cover to cover! On the surface a travel book set in the South Pacific it spoke volumes to me about the voyeuristic nature of ocean travel, about the responsibilities we hold and about the human condition... heavy stuff but extraordinarily well written.

Then last night we watched a film 'Baraka' , once again my mind was stimulated by the beauty and ugliness of this world we live in. So much to see, so many places to go... so little time, so many men... oh no, got distracted there!

There are no words, the thoughts it engenders are your own, I do hope you enjoy this trailer.

I so love the synchronicity of life. Having a thought seems to spark some sort of arrival of new and challenging information that expands and breathes life in to the original fleeting moment... and of course that is what Baraka means. It is an ancient Sufi word which can be translated as "a blessing, or as the breath, or essence of life from which the evolutionary process unfolds."

Yes, I am up for a bit of that!

Sunday, 3 February 2008

Family Feelings...

Cruisers of a certain age generally have to contend with the dynamics of family life from a distance. Some have aging parents and others growing grandchildren. We are very fortunate, no grandchildren and we both have siblings back in the UK who offer support to our parents. So we are very lucky indeed. Just in this one small marina at least two boats are currently dealing with the problems of aging parents whilst a number of others are strongly torn by their desire to spend time with their grandchildren....

We left to sail as our youngest child left school and it is fascinating how the dynamics of our relationships with our offspring have changed. Initially we went through, what I now refer to as, 'the weaning period'! Every small setback or problem was the subject of lengthy telephone conversations back home. But with the passing of time the independence and problem solving abilities of us all have developed in a wonderful way. Absence really does, perhaps, make the heart grow fonder. Our children have become individual, independent, adults whom we are proud to have around. Our relationships have deepened and strengthened and interestingly their relationships with each other have shown a tight knit family unity whenever one of us is faced with a problem or difficult scenario. Yes, they still fight, after all nothing is ever perfect, but in moments of real crisis they stand united against the foe, I am proud of them! Maybe the role of UN peacekeeper is one I can never, as a parent, truly relinquish!

I do not think it is possible to underestimate the power of these deeply held family ties for those of us out here cruising. The selfishness of our way of life is often difficult for other family members to understand. When one of your family rejects the 'normal' behaviour of their society and strikes out alone it can be a deeply un-nerving experience for the observers.

Whilst most people have no desire to live their lives as we do, just the fact that we are making a positive decision to reject their way of life has a profound, although often unconscious, affect on the thoughts others have towards their own life decisions. "What am I doing?"; "am I happy?" and so on...

TBH comes from a family of adventurers, he was born in Nyasaland, his sister in Trinidad, his parents began their married life in Palestine so for him this peripatetic lifestyle is more 'normal'. I come from a settled English background where 'foreign travel' was unusual and certainly living overseas an occupation for the 'strange and exotic'. I am sure that my own family finds our lifestyle choices somewhat incomprehensible as we swopped our comfortable existence for a small floating home where a washing machine is a luxury beyond belief!

I do wonder how different our relationship with the children would have been had we remained in the UK during these formative late teenage/ early twenties years. The separation has done no harm as they have had to stand on their own feet and face the challenges of a modern life. It would have been all too easy to provide too much support had we stayed around....

So, enough. I still reserve bragging rights for their successes, and regularly remind them that I wish to continue to be kept in the style to which I am accustomed. Their response is usually, 'Just remember we get to choose your dribbly farm...!"

In the spirit of proud parenthood, I attach a film James has just directed. It went out yesterday on the Culture Show. Working on the BBC’s flagship arts programme, he always manages to get the tone right. This piece is irreverent and skeptical without being camp or arch…

Saturday, 2 February 2008

Treats for all.

Busy day yesterday...

Four of 'the girls' went off to Puerto Barrios for some serious provisioning, and of course, a magnificent lunch.

Three of us are counting down the days to getting under way, Debi back towards the USA to continue their cruising on the east Coast. Cindy off to the Bay Islands and us to Cuba. Trish, who valiantly drove us, put up with her wonderful car being loaded to the gunnels with all the necessities of cruising.

Then I was whisked off to a local restaurant, The Dolphins, down by the docks. Man oh man do they do good seafood. You sit out over the water in an airy room looking across the bay and the docks. Cindy and I had MASSIVE shrimp in garlic, the others huge bowls of seafood soup. It really was very good and a great treat.

As a treat for you we have episode two of the Barcelona World Race television series, enjoy!