Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Funeral of Julio Leonidas Martinez Pinto.

This afternoon we watched from our boat as the coffin of Leonadis rested under our bow. Waiting for the marina pontoon boat to transport it, and the mourners, to his final resting place.

A sad and moving sight.Family and friends gathered to accompany the cortege upriver in a fleet of lanchas. Small children held firmly by the hand as they clambered aboard the boats and the quiet was rent by one child's cry.

The violence that under pins this country of Guatemala forces a refection that is so deep that at times it can be unbearable.

Monday, 29 September 2008

News Update.

I reproduce below the email from Jim Ellis, owner of Mario's that gives a little more information on the murder of Leonidas.

It is with much sorrow that we must inform you of the death of Julio Leonidas Martinez Pinto. One of the Mario's Marina guardians, Leonidas was shot to death, near the pipe line gate between the village of La Esmeralda and Mario?s, by an unknown assailant as he was coming to work the evening of Sunday the 28th of September.

It is the staff here that makes this marina a unique place and is what keeps bringing cruisers back here. If you spent any time sitting in your cockpit after sundown you were more than likely aware of the presence of the guardians as they patrolled throughout the night. Leonidas was one of our long term employees. He enjoyed his work, enjoyed the people and took pride in making sure that we all received a restful nights sleep. It was always reassuring to see the flashlight sweep across my portholes in the middle of the night. I am sure you felt the same way.

We have been receiving requests for information. Here is what is known at this time. The incident is currently under police investigation. The Marina was aware of a personal issue concerning Leonidas and another local Guatemalan. The Marina does not feel that this act of violence was in any way directed toward the Marina or its guests. The Marina does not feel that this incident is in any way connected to other recent occurrences on the Rio Dulce. Leonidas was unarmed at the time of his murder.

Leonidas was a trusted and valued employee of Mario?s and was well liked by the management, other employees, and guests of the Marina. To many of us he was a close and trusted friend. He leaves behind a wife and a young daughter and son. The Marina is doing what it can to help his surviving family with funeral arrangements and expenses.

If you would like to join Mario's live-aboard community in expressing your condolences, you are invited to join them in making a financial contribution to help defray the expenses his family now faces during their difficult time ahead. Should you choose to make a contribution you may do so thru the Marina office.

Services for Leonidas are to be held tonight, 29th of September at his house in Esmeralda.

If you have any questions or need instructions on how to contribute, please feel free to contact me via email: jim@mariosmarina.com


Jim Ellis
Mario Linares

Well liked Mario's employee murdered.

Leonidas was one of the Guardian's here at Mario's. His reassuring presence could be found patrolling the grounds and docks from sunset to sunrise most evenings. Last night he was shot dead at around 6pm on his way to work here.

He was not on marina property and he was not carrying the weapon that is issued to whoever is on duty at night time.

The marina staff are deeply shocked. Most of them live in the same village and he was a popular man. The cruisers gathered at coffee time to digest the news given by Jim, the marina owner.

We await further information but for now our thoughts are with his widow and two children.

Sunday, 28 September 2008

Some sympathy for Sarah Palin.

You know I do have some sympathy with Sarah Palin....

Many years ago, in another time and place, I was becoming quite the pundit on food issues in the UK. I would be wheeled out to comment on the media whenever another crisis hit the headlines. From Mad Cow Disease to Salmonella in eggs. Up I would pop to represent the farmers point of view.

It was a fascinating experience and I even, dangerously, began to believe that I really did know something about the food industry...

A regular speaker and contributor to agricultural forums and conferences I was highly flattered when a leading Catering magazine asked me to be a speaker at their annual high powered conference in London.

Yup, I thought, I can do that. There was a small warning bell going off deep in the recesses of my brain that tried to tell me that whilst I was on firm ground amidst agricultural politics maybe, just maybe, the politics of the food industry was an area in which I had little direct experience. Possibly, my inner self was saying, it might be a good idea to pass this one by.

You can guess the outcome of that internal discussion! I was young and foolish and certain of myself. Oops!

I admit to being overawed as the chauffeur driven limo whisked me from my rural farmhouse to the bright lights of Park Lane in London and the opulent surroundings of the 5 star Grosvenor House Hotel. Fear began to set in as I realised that the fellow contributors included such luminaries as Michel Boudain, Albert Roux, Raymond le Blanc and other such top class chefs and business men.

My fears lessened as I enjoyed the world class food and wine that goes with hobnobbing with the good and great of the restaurant world.Massive ice sculptures filled with fresh seafood, magnums of the finest champagnes. Sideboards covered in delicious dishes designed to impress some of the greatest chefs in the world. I was having a ball!

The night before my contribution I couldn't sleep. I read through all the notes I had made, realising the massive hole in my knowledge that I was certain was about to be revealed before the world...

The first 20 minutes weren't too bad. It was a pretty hostile audience, farmers and chefs had yet to reach a comfortable working relationship in the fear ridden climate of food scares. But I held my own until the fateful question from the floor, " What do you think of Appellation- controlee, and how can it be implemented in the UK?"

Shit! I knew it was something you find written on the bottom of French wine bottles and that it had something to do with quality... and that was it. I waffled my way through a response. I knew I had done badly, I knew that they knew I didn't know diddly squat about the subject...

I bet Sarah is feeling a little of the same. Without a deep knowledge of the issues there is no way she can wing the probing interviews that are coming her way. It's not something you prepare for overnight. It is a deeply sobering moment.

On one hand its marvelous to think that she is the embodiment of the American Dream, that anyone can be President. On the other hand its a terrifying thought that with the world economy in meltdown and the US reputation abroad in taters the future could be in the hands of somebody with so little experience and lifetime knowledge as Sarah Palin.

There comes a moment in everyone's lives when its important to realise what you don't know! I wonder if next weeks debate will be that moment for Sarah? I don't envy her!

Fox News this morning was offering advice to Palin and Biden on how to approach the debate and their advice to Palin was to stick to her own story which is a good one.

That's not such bad advice " You've got to be what you is, not what you ain't. Cos if you ain't what you is, you is what you ain't."

Saturday, 27 September 2008

Steak and a Debate.

We had supper on the boat last night, before joining the U.S. contingent in the bar to watch the first Presidential debate...

I BBQ'd a couple of steaks using a rub that we brought back from our visit to Florida recently. They were delicious! Cooked to perfection, bleeding in the middle and crispy on the outside. Teamed with grilled corn on the cob and a fresh tomato and onion salad we were feeling rather contented by the time we took our seats for the main event!

First impressions were that it was a good debate with some real fighting between the candidates. My view, so far, is I can see why McCain appeals to the citizens of USA, good 'ol boy and all that but he certainly comes across as a parochial old man. Living in his head amidst past glory moments and reminiscing about old friends.

In contrast Obama has the energy of youth on his side and a global mindset that at least gives the US some hope of trying to regain its position amongst the leading world powers.

It's an interesting choice and not one I would relish if I were an American citizen. I look forward to next weeks debate between the prospective Vice Presidents. I mean...Sarah Palin!!!
It will be fascinating to see if, or just how badly, she will fall when her experience(or lack of it) is exposed in live debate...

Thursday, 25 September 2008

Hum, why did we do it?

Watching the news on a daily basis and regular internet access keep us very much in touch with the current state of the world... such as it is!

With reports of Financial meltdowns, Food shortages, Corruption, Falling property prices, Global warming, Political warring, its not difficult to remember why we came cruising.

Adventure, Challenge, Freedom, Fun.

I guess it was a good choice!

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Vampire eyes!

There is a nasty outbreak of 'vampire' eyes here on the Rio. A number of the cruisers, and the locals, have come down with a very nasty eye infection that causes severe irritation, weeping and redness. Antibiotic eye drops are the treatment of choice and there are a number of opinions as to the cause... too much alcohol, too many parties! My thoughts are that there has to be something in the air causing it, with heavy rain again and humidity through the roof its an ideal climate for bacteria to grow in.

This Tropical climate is a hard one to live in and we often underestimate the challenges that our bodies face here. I am amazed how few people take anti-malarial tablets. We have met four boats in the last season that have had a crew member go down with Malaria.The National Health organization recommend that visitors to the Izabel(that covers the Rio Dulce) region of Guatemala take Malarial precautions and Dengue Fever is still common here.

We carry a very complete medical kit aboard, a variety of different antibiotics amongst the prescription drugs. They have proved to be invaluable as we have traveled this part of the world. Even a small cut can quickly become infected in the difficult environment and many is the time that we have been grateful that my sister, a doctor, kitted us out with a 'dummies guide to symptoms'! Along with the correct drugs to treat them.

The most useful things to date have been antibiotic creams for cuts and antibiotic eye/ear drops for infections. Some use of medium strength painkillers, when I broke my ribs and TBH crushed his hand. And an anti-venom pump that we have used for scorpion,centipede bites. Actually considering the places we have been to and the length of time we have been cruising we have had remarkably little use for the contents of the kit, thank goodness. But it's like an insurance policy, we hope that by carrying it with us we will never need to use it!

Monday, 22 September 2008

Still clinging to the wreckage...

Happy Birthday to Gerryantics! One year old today! It's hard to believe that a whole year has flown by since I made my tentative steps into the 'blogosphere'. It has been a fascinating experience and I have learned a great deal from it.

The discipline of writing almost every day has been an excellent one, a skill that I had not used for quite some time and like all things not used on a regular basis it has been allowed to rust and get a bit creaky... Still working on getting the damn thing oiled but I am enjoying the creativity more and more.

Writing is in many ways an exercise in self discovery and certainly the range of topics that I have explored this year has widened and deepened my own thoughts on many issues. From tomato growing to drug taking. Politics to toilets...need I say more?

What has surprised me more than anything is the passion that has been aroused by some of my comments, both my own and other peoples. For the first time in a number of years I find myself looking critically both at my own life and those of the people that surround me. I have reappraised my own views on cruising, on the meaning of life, almost on every part of the world that we live in. It is fascinating.

And so as I come to the end of a cycle so a new one begins. Ah well.... For us there are many ends and beginnings. We are extraordinarily lucky to have both lived lives that call for a constant reinvention and reskilling. As Lee Kwan Kew, the ex-president of Singapore, said in an interview on CNN yesterday, "If we don't change we become extinct." Right on Lee!

TBH has his book at the printers. I am planning a new adventure. Our children are all facing new and exciting challenges in their lives. It's an exciting time for us...

Not without risks and challenges. Both those we create ourselves and those that the world will thrust upon us. We have had a great time here in Central America, but as we slowly begin to prepare for our next move I find my brain expanding with the huge possibilities of what happens next!

So as I continue to struggle to develop my thoughts and opinions and carry on 'clinging to the wreckage' I refer you, yet again, to an article by Libby Purvis in this mornings edition of the Times. She writes a thought provoking piece comparing the spin on the current financial crisis with something she calls 'doing a Crowhurst'.

“Heading for Cape Horn, all sails flying!” they cry. “The party is united! The Olympics will come in on budget! Public services can easily cope with mass immigration! There'll be no problem paying off the PFI debts! Schools get better every day! The news from Afghanistan is heartening!”

What do you mean, it's leaking?

Saturday, 20 September 2008

Is it 'cos I is from Europe?

The character of the marina is in a constant state of flux. Depending on the time of year we see a marked change in the people who call this place 'home'. Right now the place is buzzin' as the part-time cruisers start to return to their boats to make ready for their cruising season(Oct-Apr).

We have a number of families on board and there is a constant stream of new arrivals clambering on to the dock with the paraphernalia of boat bits that they are returning with. The restaurant is busy, the daily radio net has lengthened, from under 5 minutes a day to almost 20! The airwaves ring with boats making contact again.

It's like watching an intimate social experiment as folk jostle to find their place in the marina hierarchy! Makes me smile!

So does this...

Thursday, 18 September 2008

CNN Mainsail.

CNN, the news station has an excellent monthly programme, MAINSAIL. For a change it is presented by a reporter that really does know and understand the industry. Shirley Robertson, the two times Olympic gold medal holder, has been sailing since the age of seven. It no doubt helps that she is 'easy on the eye' but this girl really does know her stuff.

What a refreshing change that is as she is taken seriously by the interviewees and the resulting films have quality and depth. There is no doubt that sailing covers a massive range from the small dinghy racer to the J class billionaire owner but Shirley is at home with any of them. What that does is ensure that the discussions are full and informative. My kind of TV.

They have just launched a web presence and a couple of interesting pieces feature on their pages, do go and have a look.

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

"Project chicken" and the lessons from Bear Stearns, Merrill Lynch, Lehman Brothers and ?

I make no apology for 'borrowing' TBH's blog from yesterday. I couldn't agree with what he wrote more and it perfectly, to my mind, sums up the climate of self delusion that the world is living in right now.

With the crisis in Freddie Mac and Fanny Mae, and the demise of Bear Stearns, Merrill Lynch and now Lehman Brothers, everyone is asking who is going to be next, AIG perhaps?.

And the recriminations have started: it was the SEC’s fault, Alan Greenspan’s fault, the Bush Administration’s fault; the writing has been on the wall for years; and so on.

Meanwhile half a million jobs are expected are to go in the UK before Christmas.

These kinds of problems don’t occur because nobody knew things were going badly wrong in time to do something about it. Research on Informational Failures and Organizational Disasters (according to Chun Wei Choo in the MIT Sloan Management Review Spring 2005) consistently suggests that catastrophes can be foreseen but groups often have partial information and no one has a view of the situation as a whole, so signals are either not seen or, if seen, are not perceived as warnings.

Being open to the possibility of finding new viewpoints changes the outcome drastically. Because if you haven’t learnt to listen, don’t make it safe to talk and do “shoot the messenger”, then people will certainly cover up problems and disown mistakes. You will have started to hatch a catastrophe.

One morning you will wake up to find that the end date of your pet project is no longer slipping a day at a time but is suddenly going to be months, maybe years, late. Instead of extra costs in the hundreds and thousands, you will learn of overruns in the hundreds of thousands, maybe millions. Instead of minor bugs to fix, you will discover that the breakthrough technology you pinned your hopes on has been leapfrogged and is now hopelessly obsolete. This won’t be because nobody knew things were going badly wrong, but because they didn’t feel safe to warn you.

Thus if you don’t listen, you won’t learn. If you don’t learn, you won’t change. If you don’t change, you won’t adapt. If you don’t adapt, you won’t grow. If you don’t grow, you won’t thrive and survive. If you don’t listen, learn, adapt, grow, thrive and survive, then you will forget, stagnate, dwindle, fall ill and move inexorably towards extinction.

Listening carefully changes that outcome.

Other research suggests that five conversations are essential to the success of high-stakes cross-functional initiatives. In How Project Leaders Can Overcome the Crisis of Silence (2007), the authors (Grenny, Maxfield and Shimberg) argue that leaders can substantially improve their organizations’ ability to execute by raising these issues:

  1. Are we planning around facts? Project leaders under pressure from their stakeholders tend to set deadlines and budgets with insufficient regard for what will actually be required to achieve them. Are project managers willing and able to call the bluff?

  2. Is the project sponsor providing support? Project sponsors have the position, perspective and clout to provide the championship and political cover necessary to ensure the project succeeds. Project sponsors may, for whatever reason, go “absent without leave”. Is the project team forceful enough in keeping them engaged?

  3. Are we faithful to the process? Senior leaders and powerful stakeholders often short-circuit the formal planning and decision-making processes. Do project managers make it clear enough that informal conversations with those stakeholders who don’t want to be burdened with practical considerations cannot initiate extra work?

  4. Are we honestly assessing our progress and risks? Project participants often fail to report delays in the hope that some other group with problems will speak out first. Are project leaders able to openly discuss this kind of “project chicken” with those who appear to be playing the game?

  5. Are team members pulling their weight? Often project leaders must negotiate with functional managers to staff their projects, and feel they have little or no say in selecting or replacing nonperformers. Is the project hobbled with people who don’t show up to meetings, fail to meet schedules or lack the competence to meet ambitious goals?
Grenny et al. recognize that speaking up or challenging others about these issues won’t happen by accident. They emphasize the importance of frequent surveys to assess the quality of dialogue, of making it easy and safe to have such conversations, and of project managers who teach others through their personal example when and how to confront project leaders and sponsors.

“Our conversation should be infinite; we should be open to the possibility of discovering new viewpoints from our interactions with each other” argues writer and philosopher James Carse.

In a finite conversation, each person has their standpoint and is not going to change. It is a “zero-sum” game: if I win, you lose (“either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists”).

In an infinite conversation, both of us may influence the other, gain a fresh perspective from considering all points of view, find new and more useful ways to see the world. Everybody wins.

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Tomato troubles.

Finally we are getting some rain here, and the temperature has dropped too. It is a welcome relief after the hot, dry conditions of the past few weeks.

More importantly it may mean that Tommy(my tomato plant) will have a chance of setting some fruit at last. It's been so hot here that the flowers, of which there are many, are not having a chance to pollinate and form baby fruits. Its all a bit depressing really. My plants look fantastic, lush and green. But to date there is only ONE growing tomato...

I did some research on the internet and was dismayed to find that we have entirely the wrong kind of tomato for this climate (beefsteak). We should be growing Cherry or Roma varieties. That would explain why you don't see Beefsteak ones in the market then, doh!

It's too late for us to start again this season as we will be out sailing before they would have a chance to fruit so I am just hoping the lower temperatures will allow a few more fruit to set.

People in the lowland tropics only grow the smaller (cherry and plum or roma) types for good reason: fruit set of large market tomatoes is very poor in many hot, tropical areas. If you have a variety of large tomato that is healthy and flowering, then the reason it is not setting most likely has to do with temperature. Both daytime highs and nighttime lows have a variety of effects on the ability of a tomato to set fruit. Small tomatoes seem to be less adversely affected by these extremes, which is why those types are the ones in local markets. We had hoped to find clear-cut guidelines but could not, so we will venture our own: If daytime temperatures are not less than 33 deg.C (92 deg.F) and nighttime temperatures less than 22 deg.C (72 deg.F) you may experience difficulties. If daytime temperatures are over 40deg.C (104 deg.F) or nighttime temperatures over 26 deg.C (79 deg.F) you will almost surely have poor fruit set and possibly damaged fruit.

Um...should have read this website first I guess!

Monday, 15 September 2008

Guatemalan Independence Day

Today, 15th September, Guatemala celebrates the anniversary of it's Independence from Spain back in 1821.

The marina will be holding a BBQ this afternoon to celebrate and the place is covered in Guatemalan flags in honour of the event.Throughout the country bands will be marching, flags waving and locals cheering.

We'll make do with a barbequed chicken leg and some fireworks after dark!

Viva Guatemala!

Sunday, 14 September 2008

Cranford: Humility and Humour.

I am feeling somewhat emotionally battered this morning(Sunday).

For the past three evenings we have watched the BBC series, Cranford. A made for TV 5 part drama production based on 3 books written by Elizabeth Gaskell set in 1842-3.

It is superb. A top quality production made as only the BBC working at its very best can achieve. From the glorious attention to period detail in everything from the sets to the sound to the camera work.With a world class cast, Judi Dench, Julia MacKenzie, Imelda Staunton, Michael Gambon. It's gentle, witty but oh so intelligent script and the extraordinary sense of contemporary relevance make it a joy to watch.

So why so emotionally battered? It is certainly a tear jerker and skillfully manipulates all the tricks of the entertainment industries arsenal but there is no great denouement, no 'satori' moment to the production.

What it did for me was transport me back to the age of 15, a rather awkward schoolgirl sat in a classroom that brimmed with a history that was totally irrelevant to me. I am an old girl of NLCS, that's the North London Collegiate School for Girls if you want the complete mouthful!

The North London Collegiate School was founded by pioneering girls' educator Frances Mary Buss in 1850 (eight years after the period of Cranford) It is generally recognised as the first ambitious girls' school in the United Kingdom, as it was the first to offer girls the same educational opportunities as boys.

Old girls range from Marie Stopes, the pioneer for birth control for women to Rachel Weisz the Oscar winning actress.

I hated my time at the school! I felt like an outsider. I came from a non-intellectual family, there was nobody at home to guide my thinking, answer my questions. Imagine being dumped down into a seething mass of girls, all supposedly chosen for their brain power to take forward the challenge of forging new heights of achievements for woman. The school counted amongst its alumni the first woman doctor in Britain and countless other 'firsts'. Where was I to fit it? Truth is I didn't.

I didn't begin to understand the schools ethos and agenda. The emphasis on the ability of women, the struggle for emancipation and the worship at the altar of intellectual achievement left me cold.The opportunity I was being given went straight over my head, what a waste.

So, from the age of 11, I had simply survived in this alien environment. Kept my head down, done the minimum to get by. Inside I felt lost and disappointed. Betrayed by the adults who were all so impressed when I was proudly introduced as ' a North London Girl'. Like right! What was so impressive about this load of over achieving egg heads? I knew I shouldn't be there...

So to get back to the story... On the morning of one Summer Term out were handed the little red books that we were going to read over the ensuing weeks, yes it was Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell. Boring!

So much so that until I saw the series advertised on Amazon I had completely forgotten that I had ever read the thing.I bought it after deleting it a number of times from my Amazon 'shopping basket'. Turned off by the youthful experience and yet curious that the BBC Drama department, whose work I greatly admire, had thought it worthwhile.

Well stand back for the awed amazement that I have been experiencing over the past few days. At the end of episode one I was a wreck, crying and laughing with not only the power of the film but with the terrible realization that all those years ago I had been unable to comprehend the message of the book. Had been totally ignorant of the underlying themes of women's power, educations liberation and female strength. I felt betrayed by my teachers, angry at my stupidity and disappointed that it had all passed me by.

What else have I missed in the past 30 years? What else have I failed to understand and see? Rather too much I fear!

I highly recommend the series. If you get an opportunity do watch it, it is a gem. The 'making of feature' is great. Dame Judi Dench talks of getting her copy of the 'red book' whilst at school, must have been the same edition! Julia MacKenzie sums Cranford up in just two words; humility and humour.

Friday, 12 September 2008


As Hurricane Ike hurtles through the Gulf of Mexico the eyes of the US residents of the marina are firmly fixed to the TV screen in the bar. For many of them this is a part of the world that they know well. Watching the waves already breaking over the sea wall in Galveston, Texas is a sobering sight. Especially when you realise that the actual eye of the storm is still many hours away. The power in the photographs issued by NOAA this morning is awe inspiring. Not a place I want to be!

The wind here early on was coming from a strange direction and there was a view that it may well be caused by the hurricane sucking in all the available energy for miles around, with a width of over 400km across the storm that's not impossible. It is excessively hot and dry, another sign that even our weather down here in Guatemala is being affected by this mega storm.

Thursday, 11 September 2008

Reality v. Romance.

Our youngest daughter has always enjoyed sailing and back when she was at school aged 16 she took part in one of the Tall Ship races from Portsmouth, England to La Corunna, Spain. It was an exciting event for her and at just 16 years and 2 days old she was the youngest competitor in the race.

Every year a series of races for crews made up of young people under the age of 25 are given the opportunity for the experience of a lifetime. A chance to face a REAL test of their own stamina and personality. Not a fake 'reality' type event.

The Master of the ship, Morning Star, spoke to his crew as they left port and explained that the thrill of the ride was different to that in, say, Disneyland, as this was for real. People could, and sometimes did, get hurt. They should enjoy the experience but must understand that this was not a 'virtual' adventure.

As they fought their way across the Bay of Biscay in gale force 7-8 winds and high seas Lucy had good reason to recall what he had said to her earlier.

She had the experience of a lifetime, sailing with other young people, taking real responsibility for herself and for the others on board. She still enjoys and, at times, has made her living from sailing and I am grateful to the ship that introduced her to the real risk of living on the ocean.

Seeing this story in The Times this morning brings home the truth of the master's words. We can never be confident that the ocean is benign. TBH once told a retired Container Ship Captain that he loved the sea. TBH was chastened when the captain responded that the sea was a treacherous place and should only be treated with respect, not love.

Certainly as our experience has broadened we totally agree with him. An over romanticized view of our own abilities or the situation is only ever a dangerous one!

Crew from Ireland's national training vessel had to rescued from the Bay of Biscay early this morning after their ship started sinking.

A total of 20 trainee sailors and five crew members were on a ten-day trip from Falmouth, in Cornwall, to the French port of La Rochelle when their traditionally-rigged ship started taking on water.

Crew from the Asgard II were evacuated by lifeboat and picked up by a French coastguard vessel. They were taken to Belle Ile, a small island in the Bay of Biscay. All are said to be safe and well.

A spokesperson for the Irish Defence Department said that they did not know yet why the ship started to take on water and that there would be an investigation.

Willie O‘Dea said: “I discussed this with the Captain and the truth of the matter is nobody knows yet. Presumably they would have felt it.

“On the other hand the Captain said to me that the amount of water that came in and the speed at which the water accumulated indicated something like that, but we just cannot be sure at the moment."

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Geeks and Goths.

As the clock starts to chime one for 1am a few bleary eyed creatures begin to stumble from their berths. In the gloomy half light of a deserted Cayuco Club you can sometimes catch the whisper of wooden benches dragging across the planked floor. Quietly they unload the bulky packages from under their arms, trying to muffle the liberated contents as they hit the table. Everything sounds like a gunshot here in the silence of the tropical night.

No it's not a reenactment of a Gothic vampire novel but the lengths the computer geeks amongst us have to go to in order to satisfy their thirst for downloads and updates! The marina has had a great deal of trouble with maintaining the internet connection here. Copper wire is constantly stolen as it trails through the jungle canopy. Power outages cause glitches with the hardware systems and cloudy skies terminate the satellite connection. It can try the patience of a saint, never mind a cruiser!

The package come up with here is a commercial satellite connection that gives a pretty good service. SO LONG AS NOBODY IS TOO GREEDY. Trying to get the thing balanced has been a nightmare for Jim, the owner, and retraining the cruisers here is an ongoing challenge in charm and coercion! Finally the message seems to have got through that there is a non-limited period for downloads(and uploads) between 1am and 4am!

Hence the furtive scurryings as business is transacted, movies downloaded and phone calls completed in the small hours of the night.

Non computer geeks sleep peacefully through the Twilight Zone as their contemporaries access the technology mainstream and all is calm on the dock!

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

The next challenge.

TBH has a BIG birthday coming up next month... That has focused our thoughts on the next stage of our sailing careers.

We moved onboard some seven years ago and after a couple of years in Europe we came over to the Caribbean, where we have been ever since.

It's been a fascinating place to see, wide diversity of places and cultures. Some good some really bad but the sailing has always satisfied us. The time though has come to move on. There are so many places in the world that we would like to experience.

So, as these things usually happen, slowly a plan has been brewing in our minds. TBH loves passage making. I like remote locations. Then we read an article about the Aleutian Islands in the North West Pacific. These are the string of volcanic outcroppings that form a link from Japan/Russia across to Alaska. Remote, relatively rarely visited, and not in the Tropics! Seems like a good place to aim for.

As if directed by the Gods, a Dutch boat we met in Cuba earlier this year gave us a bundle of charts for exactly that part of the world, was somebody trying to tell us something?

So although we do not plan to embark until 2010/11 there is one whole load of research and preperation to begin if we are to have any real chance of getting there.

When we start to formulate a new stage in our lives it begins with the occasional question,'What do you know about..." I have learnt to prick my ears when TBH starts one of these chats and vice versa.

We have started to read whatever we can lay our hands on about the route we would possibly take. I have a large folder that is already beginng to sprout a strange chart of exotic names with notes on visa requirements, weather patterns etc.

Pointers from a couple of sailing forums led me to websites that brim with information and first hand accounts of passages undertaken.

This one, www.illywhacker.com has stimulated us enormously. I await delivery of the book that Peter wrote of their trip to Japan with great excitment.

I now sit surrounded by a pile of pilot guides, world sailing routes and chart planners as I begin the long task of deciding whether we really can attempt this voyage. It appears daunting in many respects. Cold weather for a start, although thats pretty attractive right now as the temperatures here hover in the mid 90's day in and day out! Will we take crew with us? How long will it take to obtain Russian Visas,that's if we can get them at all. What updates do we need to plan on? Where will we refit? And so on.

It's just what I need at the moment a new challenge. As TBH comes to the end of the project he has beeen working on for the past 8 years we have the freedom to do whatever we want! That can be pretty scary! Especially after the very comfortable couple of years we have spent here in the Western Caribbean. But hey! Nothing ventured, nothing gained right?

I think the time is right and I never could resist a challenge. Especially an outrageous one!

Friday, 5 September 2008

Hurricanes hardly happen - Huh!

Well not in Hertford, Hereford and Hampshire anyway! It's a little different on this side of the Atlantic. The hurricanes are certainly picking up pace as we move into September. With Gustav battering the Gulf Coast of the USA, Hanna making tens of thousands homeless in Haiti, Ike already wavering between a Cat3-4 and Josephine whipping up power to the East of the Antilles the weather charts are looking like a shooting range.

Although we consider ourselves pretty safe here in the Rio Dulce, we are in the hurricane belt and, as we saw last season, it is not impossible that we may see some of these high winds come in our direction before the season is over. We have only been close to one hurricane since we have been in the Caribbean, that was Emily back in 2005 when we were in Tobago. Yes we thought we were below the hurricane belt but Mother Nature wasn't in on the idea!

We had a hard sail to Trinidad to get out of the direct path and spent many hours tying the boat deep in the mangroves with every line we had aboard. The sheer physical work of preparing to face a hurricane keeps fear at bay. Stripping the canvas, tying down stuff you can't remove, making sure the batteries are charged, laying anchors, it wasn't until we had done all we could that I began to feel any apprehension of what might come our way.

We were lucky. The eye of the hurricane passed some 50 miles to the north of us and the worst we felt were 60 odd knots of wind. But it was as close as I ever want to be I can tell you. The sound of those winds howling through the rigging, the lurch of the boat as the direction changed and she was blasted broadside, the unbelievable quantity of rain, the sky as black as night...it's the stuff of nightmares.

At the height of the storm one of the three anchors we had laid moved and we had to crawl on to the fordeck to attach a line to stop us slewing sideways into a closely anchored boat. It was pretty scary stuff even though I realise now that it was a minor incident.

You won't catch me being in the wrong place at the wrong time again if I can possibly help it. I will never underestimate the sheer power of the forces at work when that wind begins to howl...

Thursday, 4 September 2008

Sarah Palin...

... is the nominated vice-president to John McCain in the forthcoming US presidential elections.

Monday, 1 September 2008

Carla's Song.

Its seriously hot down here on the Rio. With all the moisture being sucked up by Hurricane Gustav as it has battered it's way across Cuba and into the Gulf of Mexico we are getting less of the cooling rains that make the climate here a little more bearable.

We don't have air conditioning aboard, tried it one season but felt too 'cut-off' from the real world with it humming away all the time. It also made leaving the boat and it's controlled environment a difficult decision to make! Mmn, Hot and Sweaty or Cool and Dry? Nah let's stay below... So out it went and although sometimes I rue the decision to get rid of the unit on balance I much prefer being able to hear what is going on outside the hull. Hearing the wind as it starts to rise, the sound of an approaching engine, all those tiny sounds of the rain forest that start well before dawn.

Watched a movie the other night that opened my eyes again to the extraordinary beauty and ugliness of Central America. Every so often it is important to look at the place where we are through another set of eyes. For me this is sometimes through the medium of film. I find it a good way of re-aligning myself with a situation. A way of jolting my perceptions back in to order. I know sounds a bit weird but it works for me. After a period of time in a new location I find that I am ceasing to really see the land around me, the little details that bring home how fortunate we are to be in such an exotic location.

So, Carla's Song, was the vehicle to effect the change this time! Set back in the late 80's in both Glasgow, Scotland and Nicaragua, during the time of the Sandanista war with the USA, it's a close observation of the interface between two individuals as they try to come to terms with each other's cultural inheritance.

It's not a subtle film, first time screenwriter, Paul Laverty, who went on to far greater things(The Wind that shakes the Barley, Sweet Sixteen) fails at times to explore some of the anomalies of the story BUT it's worth watching to see the contrast between the dingy grey views of a wet and dismal Glasgow contrasted with the vibrant and violent colours of Nicaragua.

Director, Ken Loach, whom I have long admired brings his usual passion about human rights and political awakening to the movie. I recommend it.