Posts Tagged "Sailing"
Like the last kernel to pop in the pot, I bounced around the co-pilot seat repeating “Yeah that’s gonna leave a mark.” rubbing my hips from the brutal seatbelt attack. I like rough plane rides; especially in small aircraft like the Cessna 302 making its approach into Key West.
I drew the lucky straw for the co-pilot seat in Miami on the short flight to Key West. Answering an ad on Craigslist, a 1947 Nivens 34-foot wooden sailboat was waiting my arrival. This rare find was a stroke of luck. If the boat checked out as described, I would make the eight hour sail back to Fort Lauderdale that afternoon.
One, two, three hops and an armrest breaking grip, the Cessna rolled down the runway. Several “phews” escaped the passengers sitting behind me. The pilot wiped a few beads of sweat from his face that did not look old enough to grace a driver’s license. I couldn’t resist a quip.Read More
The waterlogged skiff seemed to be held together with barnacles and hope. With each chop the transom bent under the weight of the coverless outboard motor.
I have sailed through hurricanes, fallen overboard, rode 30 foot waves, had masts snap in two and come crashing down around me in a tangle of ropes and cables; the 25-minute boat ride to Almirante was as white knuckled a passage as I ever care to endure.
The wind plastered Lisa’s hair back from her face. Oblivious to the impending doom, she forged ahead through the waves at full throttle.
Her real name wasn’t Lisa; I overheard her friends refer to her as something else which I could not quite pick up on. When we met that morning in Bocas Del Toro, she was bringing me coffee and Carimanola (fried yucca stuffed with beef and boiled eggs).
“I love this coffee.” I said to break the ice. “What kind is it?”
It worked. She immediately sat down and taught me a lesson in Panamanian coffee.
The way her tone separated the classes intrigued me; her reference to the “Indians” that picked the coffee had an inflection on the word Indians as if she were saying something dirty.
I was admittedly confused by this young woman of indeterminate age. She was a beautiful girl of Hispanic decent with an obvious dose of indigenous DNA in her genetic makeup. Compelled to ask her if she were part Ngobi, I thought better of it and held my tongue.
Luckily I was the only customer in the four table restaurant, which gave me the opportunity to listen to her fascinating account of life in the archipelago of Bocas Del Toro, Panama. She asked me about my reason for being there and I explained that I had sailed down from the Bay Islands of Honduras by way of Nicaragua and Costa Rica. She jumped at the opening to inform me she also had a boat.
“Poor people take water taxi back to Almirante. I have my own.” She boasted.
Hanging around for another hour, I picked at a coconut pastry and thumbed through a week old copy of La Prensa while she finished work after accepting the offer to visit her home and family via her “own boat.”
The rotten little skiff slowed and pointed towards an overhanging patch of bushes. We tied off on a branch next to a mud road. A half hairless dog crawled out from under the bushes and followed behind us. Head low to the ground, an animal that may have been a rat at one time hung from the despicable canine’s maw. I almost asked if it were her dog but decided I would prefer not to know. If the beast were not diseased I am pretty sure its prey was.
I wondered if any vehicles travelled the road. It was pocked with holes several feet deep; puddles so old that tadpoles with leg buds swam in them. We passed one section where more than half the road had been swallowed by the cove like a giant sea creature had taken a crescent bite before slipping back into the abyss. We trekked on with the mangy beast in tow and 10 minutes later she announced that we had arrived.
Red letters, two feet wide, spelled out “bruja” on the unpainted concrete blocks and across the front door. The tiny cinder block home supported a rust ridden patchwork metal roof. A chicken darted out of the way with chasing chicks as the dog found a cool spot under an Angel Trumpet bush. A young Ngobi-Hispanic boy scrubbed at the letters with a brush, sloshing soapy water from a child’s pink beach pail onto the dirt entrance.
“It say witch. They call my mother witch. She no witch. They jealous at my family.” Lisa told me as we approached her home.
She introduced the little boy as her brother, Clari. Greeting me with a big toothy smile, he happily went back to work removing the graffiti. Entering the house, the floor felt strange beneath my wet sandals. Looking down at the heavily stained indoor/outdoor carpet, I noticed the bulges similar to the floor inside a tent. The carpet was apparently supported by a bare earth.
Lisa pulled a hard backed chair from the wall, facing it toward a 12-inch black and white TV that wore a tin foil sculpture that posed as an antenna, and gestured for me to sit.
My eyes scanned the unpainted concrete block walls, covered from top to bottom with photographs, drawings, 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place ribbons, Popsicle stick figures and an uncountable number of postcards from Spain.
The 12-foot by 12-foot room was separated by a dark blue sheet hand embroidered with white frilly vertical stripes that acted as a door to whatever was hidden beyond. I was impressed with the decorating attempts with such limited resources. Although it seemed condescending to think of the décor as childlike, I couldn’t help but to perceive it that way.
Garbled voices in rapid Spanish leaked through, obviously announcing my visit. Lisa returned with a beautiful woman with long raven hair and eyes as green as the neighboring rain forest. -a rarity in that part of Panama. Recognizing her from one of the photographs on the wall in which she stood next to a man of Native Central American decent, I accepted her outstretched hand as she introduced herself, in remarkably good English with a hint of a Castilian accent, as Graciela. She invited me to dinner and asked if I would mind walking to the market with Lucilia to pick up a few things.
“Lisa!” the girl corrected her mother with a bit of color rising in her cheeks.
The market was a 10-minute walk through trash strewn streets. Mangy dogs and half naked children stood staring as we passed.
The conversation was light but with an air of her superiority over the other local residents. Amused with her sense of keeping up with the Jones of the Jungle attitude, I took her attempt at impressing me as a compliment. I wanted to let her know that there was no need to try to impress me. I loved where I was. Looking at other cultures like animals in a zoo for amusement just wasn’t me. I put myself in other cultures to learn and live as a global citizen. Different did not mean uncomfortable or a rung on some mythical social ladder. I couldn’t think of a way to do it without offending her, so I let her continue.
A handful of Ngobe children stood outside the bodega; the boys in short pants and the girls in colorful Pollera dresses.
Lisa picked out vegetables that her mother requested while I grabbed a bottle of Seco (a rum type liquor) and enough orange sodas for the children outside, Lisa and myself. After paying for the lot, we walked outside and took a seat on the steps with the children. I passed out the drinks and was generously repaid with laughs and smiles all around. One little girl climbed into my lap as if she were my own child. We laughed for a common language, they spoke no Spanish or English and I knew no Ngobe.
The interaction with the children seemed to ease Lisa’s need to impress upon me that she was not an Indian. Obviously, I did not share the regional prejudices.
Entering the little house once again was a remarkably cool relief from the hot Panama sun. I presented the bottle of Seco to Graciela. She thanked me, opened the bottle and began to pour it on the floor.
“Oh damn. I screwed up.” I whispered to Lisa. Shaking her head, she laughed.
“No. She make a blessing.”
Graciela mumbled a few words incoherently to the spirits and took a good long pull straight from the bottle. Unfamiliar with this ritual, I wondered if it had something to do with the reference to bruja painted across the door.
I relaxed and thought that these were definitely my kind of people. I offered to help with dinner and was graciously led through the second room containing a beautifully ornate dining table, antique hutch and extravagant china, to the kitchen, which was an un-walled area covered by a pieced together metal roof, behind the house. Dumbfounded, I noticed that the ceiling was made up of corrugated tin and road signs. It was the sign that read “Caution: Bridge Ices Before Road” that left me speechless. This place was an enigma. A makeshift worktable acted as a food prep area. I felt a sense of belonging while chopping, washing and peeling.
We feasted on colorful dishes; tender polpo (octopus), corvina fish with a variety of spicy and sweet sauces, steamed vegetables and cold fruits. Graciela explained that she had moved to Panama as a teenager from Spain because her father was an engineer with the Panama Canal when the US gave back control in 1977. Against her families better judgment she fell in love with a Ngobe man. She had moved to Bocas Del Toro with the clothes on her back and the dining room furniture that had belonged to her grandmother in Spain. He ran off when she was pregnant the second time with Clari, leaving them to their own devises.
The reference to the witch was gnawing at me. The pouring of the Seco on the floor – little multicolored worry dolls scattered around the house. The diminishing glass of Seco loosened my inhibitions enough to ask when I was distracted by a palmetto bug, big enough for a saddle, scurried across the table. No one seemed to notice or care. I decided to forget about questions and let the conversation continue on its natural course. I learned about the simple life on Bocas Del Toro and they listened to exaggerated tales of my adventures at sea.
Hunger for food and companionship satiated, I slipped into a state of euphoric relaxation. The empty Seco bottle, lying on its side, played no small part I am sure. Lisa suggested, with a look of regret, that since it was getting dark we should start back to Bocas Del Toro. Visions of clinging to rotted planks in shark infested waters with nothing but stars to navigate by, jolted me back to reality.
If I left soon I could make the last water taxi. I would sleep in the jungle with the howler monkeys and poison arrow frogs before I stepped back in that dinghy of death.
Lisa wrapped some leftover food in newspaper insisting I take it with me. Polite pleas from Clari that I take him sailing the next day sounded wonderful; I extended the offer to everyone. Excitedly, they agreed to meet me at the marina in the morning. With hugs and both cheek kisses all around I left the modest but loving jungle home for my reliably lonely sailboat.Read More
In a recent article on one of my favorite travel blogs, YTravelBlog, a question was raised about names we are known by when we travel. Often our hometown names are different when we slip into travel mode. Perhaps we are wearing a different hat than that of our daily persona which sheds us in a different light. Like an actor on stage, we need a name fitting our travel guise.
Nicknames are sometimes chosen for us by our less than glamorous attributes and more for our quirks. For cruising sailors, names are automatic. We write them on the back of our boats and are forever branded with our Nom de Bateaux. Other cruisers will refer to us by our stern signature not our given names.
My name is Mike. Sitting around a shared basket of conch fritters and Red Stripe I am called Mike. When I am not present I am referred to as No Boundaries. New cruisers all seem to make the humorous mistake finding a cutesy, play on words, cliché boat name. Over the years I have seen some interesting names that I am glad I never chose. Here is a list of names that crusty old salt wannabes are branded with by giggling wharf rats and the comments passed around the marina.
Master Baiter “I hear he spends a lot of time alone.”
Passing Wind “He brought burritos to the pot luck last night.”
Buoy Crazy “I’m heading to the showers when Buoy Crazy is done.”
My Little Dinghy “Have you seen My Little Dinghy?”
Blew Too Much “How did he afford that boat?”
Nauti Girl “Is there a female on that boat.”
Knot Smart “All his charts are drawn in Crayon.”
Knot Pretty “And you should see his wife.”
The “Knot” list goes on and on. Moral of the story? When choosing a boat name it is a good idea to try it on for size in the first person before the paint job.Read More
It’s that smell. The same aroma that is associated with every Caribbean bar in the morning. Like a coke gone flat, the flavor is merely reminiscent. A bar in the morning is a bubble-less party. Sun tan oil, perfume, vacation only cigar smoke, sweat and liquor hang in the atmosphere like the hundreds of dusty bras displaying Spring Break 2000 and Love From Michigan – in the standard black Sharpie of course.
The sign outside reads the customary incongruous name, The Purple Penguin, Drunken Dolphin or some supplementary attempt at wit; or dare I say uniqueness. ICE. That is the only sign I needed to see. To me this bar represents arrival and ice. Nine days at sea translates to an empty ice bin and any tropical port that will have me.
Many years ago when the horizon turned into an irregular grey line it represented an adventure. The sense of accomplishment received by crossing a large body of water sent shivers of pride through my entire being. My battle with Mother Nature won, I stood tall at the helm as I sailed into harbor. That same grey irregularity is now an ice cube. I no longer shiver from accomplishment. No waves of excitement at the thought of white sandy beaches with steel drum bands. Absent are the thoughts of bikini clad co-eds with the “what happens on the island stays on the island” mantra. Ice. Popping and crackling ice. The splash of the anchor and rattling chain is a song sung by a beautiful ebony faced bartender dropping glacial cubes into the tallest glass in the house.
The physical bodies in the bar add up to ten. The essence of hundreds linger from the night before. If I closed my eyes I could see the crowd. Foot-tall neon plastic cocktail trumpets tied around the sunburned necks of gyrating summer blondes. Cuban cigars held awkwardly by 21 year old identity challenged studs. There’s a place near the back that looks dark and cool.
Excitement and love are two very different things. When I say the excitement has waned it is not to say that I no longer love sailing the Blue Jungle. I have a very happy marriage with the sea. The honeymoon is over, but the love is strong. We understand each other. There is a predictability that is both comforting and nurturing. She knows the sacrifices I make for her so she treats me well. Ice. My biggest sacrifice is those glassy little squares that bring me so much happiness. Moderately cool beer instead of icy cold heaven. I could easily run the generator all the time to keep my ice-bin stocked. But a happy marriage requires sacrifice and I love the sea too much to pollute her unnecessarily with coughing diesel fumes. The wind will carry me where I need to go.
“Yuh wan sum ting fee drink mon?” The bartender’s words rang out like a choir of angels.
I pull out the bar stool savoring the moment, Wooden legs scratch across the floor with a dry grating sound matching my reply.
“The largest glass you have packed with ice and filled half way with Goslings Black Rum.” My words ring out with the same enthusiasm as the time my mother took me to see Santa at the mall when I asked for a Penn fishing reel, which I never got.
“Ice makah din work. Beer, it nice an cool.”
I have to question the wisdom behind writing these tips. Revealing my secret hiding places to the world somehow seems a bit fool hardy. So with that in mind I must ask you to keep this on the down low. Do I have your word? Good; I feel better now.
Pirates of the Caribbean; we all love them. Poofy shirts and clanking swords, treasure maps and cursed gold. Yeah, not so much these days. A closer description would be a couple of kids in a beat up skiff climbing over the gunwales of your boat while you are off dancing to steel drum bands and gulping rum punch.
I keep my boat unlocked when anchored out. It doesn’t take much skill to break into a boat, and it is cheaper to replace stolen property than to replace broken hatches as well. Most thieves today avoid electronics. They tend to be the costly items onboard but hard to sell. Sailors are a tight group. Thieves trying to hawk a SSB radio or GPS are more apt to get beat with a stick than to make a sale. Any sailor seen buying stolen goods find themselves quickly blackballed. It is not uncommon for such bargain hunting sailors to wake up adrift to the sound of waves against jetties from anchor lines cut in the middle of the night. Thieves know this and go for the less conspicuous items such as cash and jewelry.
For those that opt for a lockbox I suggest ordering the Wile E. Coyote Acme Brand pointing finger sign stating “Good Stuff Here!” as an optional upgrade. Inevitably there are going to be times when cash and valuables need to be left aboard. The best hiding places for these items are in places a thief would not want to look, not only in the places you assume they will not think to look. The bottom of that box of $12 Fruit Loops picked up in Little Cayman is not a big secret. Besides, Fruit Loops might be on the booty list any way.
A little ingenuity goes a long way in making a good hiding spot. For a dry and secure hidey hole, glue one side of a thru-hull fitting to the head’s holding tank. Then glue screw heads into the screw holes for that Hollywood special effects look. An attached inch and a half flexible pipe, leading to unknown regions, offers a less than optimal search area. The risk of being sprayed by the end result of a week’s worth of Corona and fish tacos makes for a good deterrent to would be thieves, while providing plenty of dry space for cash, jewelry and important papers.
A hot item on the black market is small outboard engines. Before going into questionable ports where I will be anchoring out I tape the cover of the dinghy motor with blue painters tape; relatively easy to remove later. I then paint the tape with flat black spray paint, giving the appearance of an old motor. With so many engines in the harbor offering easy pickings, mine is less likely to stand out.
Thieves are always going to be around. They may be sneaky but they are not all that difficult to outsmart with a little effort.Read More