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Thursday, June 28, 2012

How to Make a Boat a Home

In a large mixing boat combine the following:
A Whole 38’ Admiral Catamaran
2 Hulls for added stability, speed and space
4 cabins - (2 forward and 2 aft)
A tasty galley (I like mine with an oven)
The spice of one salon and dinette with seating for 10
2 bathrooms for added seasoning 
A freshly cut head sail and main sail (most people prefer the white meat - we occasional enjoy the aged black variety)
The splash of 2 forward trampolines (cocktail quality - not the cheap stuff) 
A briny cockpit
The zest of 4 kids (vary to taste)
Throw in a pinch of Mayan pillows for added color (I like mine imported from Guatemala.)

*Optional: A Belizean kitty adds a lovely homey flavor if so desired 
Shake vigorously in 6-8 foot seas.
Bake for 4-5 months in the tropical sun. 
Sprinkle with stars.
Serve with a side of sunrise. 

I've been meaning to share these interior pics of Balance so you can have a visual of the boat we were on. It was the perfect size for our family and so wonderfully cozy. We came to love it.

Salon with dinette. Galley in the background.  

 Looking to starboard. Control panel and VHF on the right. See my herb garden? 

 Galley and looking forward down the port breezeway to the girls' Vberth cabin. 

Starboard breezeway and the boys' Vberth. The door in the bottom right hand corner is the starboard head (bathroom). 

Port Aft Cabin. There's another one identical on Starboard.

Companionway (stairs) to the Starboard breezeway and Aft Cabin. 

Starboard head. There's a toilet opposite the sink and the sink faucet becomes a shower head when necessary. 

*Since we lost our steering and were stalled out in Honduras for weather we have had not a lick of internet. I apologize profusely if you thought for a second that we had sunk to the bottom of the Caribbean. Not at all. In fact, we were able to leave Honduras during the predicted weather window and made incredible time to San Andres. There Capitan discovered a broken chain plate on port which connects the shroud to the top of the mast and is partly responsible for holding the mast up. Ugh! I almost barfed when I heard that we could have lost our mast. But we didn't. That's lucky. And Dave and Bill were able to remove the broken piece and take it across town to yet another welder to have it fixed.

So once again we patched our boat back together with duck tape and hose clamps and headed out into the great blue yonder. We had a lovely sail with the winds in our favor and were able to consistently make 8-9 knots! (Believe it or not, that's fast. ~10-11 mph.) On the way, a bright orange U.S. Coast Guard helicopter snuck up behind us, flying low and trying to be all stealth by coming in down wind (and as Dave says - on our "six"). Of course, they were looking for any kind of illegal behavior, but we just felt like they were coming by to say hi. So we all rushed up on deck, jumping up and down, blowing kisses and waving profusely. They gave up on being stealth and saddled right up on our "nine". They were so close that we could see the co-pilot smile! I'm sure we were a sight. Then they tipped their "wing" in salute, waved, circled the boat, waved again, and flew off. It was magical. And knowing that our U.S. Coast Guard was out there patrolling those waters, near enough should we need them was so absolutely reassuring. I won't lie. I got a little teary eyed.

The rest of that crossing was relatively uneventful except for that GINORMOUS container ship coming from the Panama Canal that crossed just a short distance in front of us. Sheesh. Sketchy. We nearly felt their wake. There are stories of big huge freighters like that running down sailboats like ours and not realizing it until they get to port in Japan or wherever. Yikes. But we didn't end up as a hood ornament. That's lucky. And we made such good time that we arrived in the San Blas Islands 8 hours ahead of schedule. You'd think that would be a good thing except that when you're planning a 50 hour crossing you try to plan it so you arrive at your destination in daylight. Daylight is especially helpful when your destination is wrought with hidden coral heads and shoals that appear out of nowhere. As we were coming into the anchorage at midnight Dave called me up on deck for bow watch. I was just getting out of the shower, but I could tell he needed me urgently. So I threw on my foul weather gear (glorified rain coat), grabbed a mag light and hurried to the bow. I heard the breaking waves before I saw them. You don't ever want to see breaking waves from the bow of your boat within the scope of your mag light. Not ever. Breaking waves are bad. I tried not to sound panicked as I spun around in my raincoat and said to Dave, "Breaking waves dead ahead!" I felt like a pirate. At about the same time our keel found the sandy bottom and we heard the unmistakable crunching sound of fiberglass on sand. Not a sound you want to hear. Not ever. Dave threw both engines into reverse and we got the heck off that shoal. No harm, no foul. Never happened. Besides, Dave said it was all worthwhile to see me running around the bow in nothing but a rain coat. I'm sure.

In the San Blas we met up with Dave's brothers and their families and had a lovely family reunion in the islands. From there Dave and the kids and I did our last 11 hour crossing to the marina at Shelter Bay near Colon, Panama. It was such a beautiful crossing to end our trip. Not a ripple on the water and the Panama coastline was gorgeous. We had a whirlwind 36 hours at the marina detaching ourselves from the boat and getting it hauled out for body work and repairs. I cried like a baby leaving the boat. So many emotions. I was so thankful to the boat for carrying our family safely through the Caribbean. And so relieved to have completed our adventure relatively unscathed. Then it was back to Panama City for a glorious night of luxury at the Trump Ocean Resort. We flew home on Tuesday and have been holed up in our darling little house wearing our pajamas, wasting copious amounts of hot water, and flushing the toilet unnecessarily since then. I cannot even tell you how great it is to be home.
We may never leave.

Thanks for keeping track of us. And now I'm going to bed to sleep for four days straight. Good night. 

Saturday, June 09, 2012

"Dave, We Just Lost Steering."

These are not the words any captain (or first "mate") want to hear an hour into the first watch of the first night of the first crossing between the Bay Islands and Panama. Nosirreebob.

So when Connie popped her head into the aft cabin with this disastrous, debilitating news, and Dave jumped out of our bunk and into his shorts in one single maneuver, I knew we were in trouble. We had left Roatan 9 hours earlier and we were roughly the middle of the ocean. Just us and the full moon against 6-8 foot seas (those are big) and 25 knots (that’s a lot) of wind on the nose. At least, it had been on the nose until we lost steering and couldn’t maintain our course. Then the seas were coming at us from all directions, snarling and snapping like hungry wolves. Surrounding us. Baring their teeth in the moonlight, shackles raised. Smelling vulnerability on the wind and waiting for the perfect moment to pounce. Terrifying. In the dark. With no steering. 9 hours away from Roatan. Nowhere to run. Surrounded by snarling, slobbering waves. 
This is NOT how you want to start a 50 hour crossing. No it’s not. 

Cole did his best at the helm to fend off the encroaching waves while Dave and Bill wrestled with the steering mechanism below. Connie and I took turns exchanging "this-could-be-really-bad" glances. 
As it turned out, the starboard rudder linkage (a 1/2" stainless steel rod which connects the helm to the starboard rudder) had snapped at the site of a piss poor welding job done in ’06. (If I ever get my hands on that pumpernickel...) Luckily, Dave and Bill were able to disconnect the disabled rudder from the helm which allowed for steering with the port rudder. But as we learned during our three hour tour one engine (or, in this case, one rudder) is not as good as two. But with a reefed jib and Dave at the helm, it proved to be good enough. And by the grace of Neptune and the light of the full moon, we were able to zig zag down wind toward the lights that we could see on the not so distant shore of mainland Honduras. I have never seen more beautiful lights; complete with a lighthouse beckoning to us like a friend in the night, guiding us into the safety of the mainland, not far from Cabo Gracias a Dios (Thank God Cape). Indeed. 
We dropped our hook at about 10:30 PM smack dab into the middle of a fisherman’s net. As luck would have it that fisherman, George, happened to be out fishing by the full moon and he came by our boat to tell us we had just busted his net. He was quite friendly and after Dave dove our anchor to untangle his net (it’s a thankless job, captain) he gave us directions to the little town of Castilla where we would find a welder. Gracias a Dios. (P.S. What are the chances of seeing anyone fishing at 10:30 PM off the coast of anywhere, let alone a fisherman from a nearby town with a welder? Slim.)
The next morning, Dave and I headed into Castilla where we did indeed find a welder. Jesus. A’ course the welding had to be done on the boat and, a’ course one has to have 220 volts to run an arch welder. We BARELY have 110 on our boat. Bugger. So Jesus recommended that we check with the nearby Honduran Navy to see if they would let us tie up to their dock with 220. 

Let me take a break here and paint a picture. Have you seen the movie “Romancing the Stone?” Remember the scene where Jack and Joan Wilder stumble into the little Columbian village all haggard and filthy, looking for a car? That was me and Dave in this little pueblo that rarely, if ever, sees a tourist. Dave with no shoes and his salty cut offs, shirt unbuttoned to his waist. Me trying to smooth the wrinkles out of my skirt (hadn't worn that in awhile) and clutching my dry bag protectively. With locals peeking around doorways to get a glimpse of the gringos that had washed up on their shore (bad news travels fast in a little pueblo) we asked around for a taxi to take us to the Naval Base. There are no taxi's in town they tell us and only one car. We whisper to each other “Pepe? The Lil’ Mule?” The bell maker* turned out to be Luis, a 19 year old boy with a dodge sedan (I don’t think he called it Pepe). He happily taught us all sorts of bad words in Spanish on the 5 minute drive to the Naval Base. Unfortunately, the Comandante gave us the disappointing news that he no longer had 220 on his dock. Bugger. So he sent us to the nearby Dole shipping port to see if they could help us. 

Gracias a Dios, the shipping port didn’t have any big ships on the dock that day and they gave us permission to tie up to their HUGE bulk head with 220 available on a nearby power pole. (Seriously, HUGE. Like built-for-gigantic-container-ships-heading-to-the-Panama-Canal-to-deliver-pineapples-to-California huge.) Balance looked like a toy boat - say that 10 times fast - tied up to its fire hydrant sized cleats. So we arranged for Jesus, the welder, to meet us there. A’ course, by the time we had docked Balance (the fenders were as big as washing machines) and the welder had arrived, the electricity was out. That happens often in these parts. Bugger. So we waited. With kids and grandparents taking turns keeping our boat from wedging itself under the washing machine sized fenders, we waited. For almost two hours. But then, Gracias a Dios, the power came back on. And Jesus (being a small Honduran man) was able to curl himself into a washing machine size space aft of the starboard engine and weld the linkage back together. Gracias a Dios. 
Less than 24 hours after "Dave, we just lost steering" and following a series of small miracles starting with those heavenly lights and concluding with a commercial dock with 220, our boat is once again sea worthy. We were incredibly lucky. Usually when the $#*! hits the fan at sea there is NO land in sight. Let alone land with lights. Let alone land with lights and a welder. Let alone land with lights and a welder and a dock with 220. Fogetabatit. Get out the oars. And good luck against that 25 knot head wind.
Even though our boat has fully recovered from the ordeal, our crew, being twice shy, has not. So here we sit anchored just off of Castilla, our favorite little pueblo of miracles, and wait for Neptune to call off the slobbering waves. 

It looks like Monday might give us the weather window we need. 

Three cheers to Castilla,
~The Twice Shy Crew of Balance

*In "Romancing the Stone" the bell maker is the guy in town with the only car. You should watch it again...

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Homeward Bound

As it were, we've come to the last chapter of our Caribbean adventure. We fly home from Panama City in just under 3 weeks. It's been an incredible adventure and I'm trying not to take a moment of the time we have left for granted, but between you, me, and the mast - I am homesick. I miss my house. And dirt. And my nephew. And my chickens. (Although since we've been gone Zona ate two of them and one of my silkies kicked the bucket while sitting on her nest. That leaves only one. Hmmm.)

We're in Roatan about to throw the mooring line and slog to weather* for the better part of the next 50 hours. Joy. I won't lie; I'm not looking forward to it. The good news is the Miami Grandparents are here in all their infinite maritime wisdom, enduring patience and extensive experience slogging to weather. Thanks for coming out to help us get back to Panama, guys. The other good news is I'm smarter now and I've already administered the scopolamine patch to the back of my ear. Hopefully, that will render me at least halfway useful over the next two days. If not, Gramma Connie is here to make sure that everyone is drinking water and wearing their life jackets. Plus the tuna is made and stashed in a tupperware, the ginger ale is chilling in the cockpit cooler, and the barf bucket is conveniently located for all to use. Please send a plea to Neptune on our behalf for calm seas and favorable winds (less than 20 knots, if you please). Next stop is the Vivarillos Islands with a lovely beach and great fishing but absolutely no facilities and even less internet. After that we'll press on to the Columbian island of San Andres where we'll spoil ourselves rotten with cold showers at Nene's, pizza and shameful quantities of ice cream. From there we'll have another big crossing to the San Blas Islands of Panama. Then it's smooth sailing and party time with the cousins in the islands. One night and a birthday dinner for Grandpa and Emerson in Panama City and then we're on a flight home. Oh heavenly airplanes. What a delightful way to travel.

Thanks for coming on this adventure with us. It's been fun having you along. Signing out 'til San Andres. We'll meet you there.

Long live scopolamine,

*Slogging to weather: Sailing (read: motoring) against wind, waves and currents in a generally miserable "up stream" grind. Barf.

Saturday, June 02, 2012

Sail on the Wild Side

I may have mentioned that Dave has started making "movies" of our adventure on iMovie. They are so enjoyable to watch and I thought maybe you all would enjoy them as much as we do. (It's embarrassing. We watch them over and over.) Here are the links:

Em's trailer

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7