30 August 2012

Ship Shape

Hard at work as usual
So often do I find that this life we now lead, this life we have adopted, is a life steeped in mystery and wonder. Every so often in the evening as I watch the sun take its last bow, a good stiff whiskey on the rocks close at hand, my mind drifts and I find myself pondering them. It is ever a mystery to me, for instance, why we aren't dead yet. I perpetually wonder why this boat breaks down so often and why any of it works at all. And I muse about other cruisers and how they don't look as fat as I'm getting. 

Eons ago, while we were in the too-stupid-to-turn-back-while-there's-still-time phase, I was told repeatedly how cruising would get and keep me in the best shape of my life.  "It's a very active lifestyle," "You'll work harder than you've ever worked," "Great for your core muscles" were just a smattering of the reasons given as to why I would, like the legion of scrawny sailors who had gone before, never need to count my carbs or watch my waistline again. In tallying the results of the surreptitious glances unbefitting heterosexual men that I have cast upon other guys (for the record, I do not glance at women surreptitiously or otherwise just in case my mother was being truthful when she said doing so would instantaneously fry my eyeballs--who wants to chance that?), I have to admit that it does seem to be the case. Most guys, if not buff, are at least not puffy. This leads me to believe that, as with countless other aspects of the cruising lifestyle, I am doing something wrong. How do they stay in shape? There just aren't that many ways to exercise on a boat, especially not aerobically exercise.

26 August 2012

¡Bienvenidos a Santa Marta!

Set in the quaint yet bustling atmosphere of Colombia's oldest city, your adventure begins the moment you arrive as you find yourself immersed in the mysterious worlds of Customs and Immigration. Your freedom to explore the country will depend on your ability to acquire crucial "papeles." Timing, perseverance, and appropriate attire are everything in this game of random chance and bureaucratic misalignment.

Background information: (courtesy of Sue and Andy Warman on SY Spruce as reported on noonsite.com, http://www.noonsite.com/Members/sue/R2012-07-09-2)

It should be noted the processes for managing foreign vessels in Colombian waters have not been designed specifically to enable visiting yachts to cruise the Colombian coast. The processes have largely been developed to manage commercial vessels and fishing vessels, both Colombian and foreign flagged. 

Agencies Involved
There are three agencies plus your agent who are involved in the necessary formalities and permissions:-
· Port Captain(s) – Responsible for the navigation of vessels entering a defined jurisdictional region within Colombian coastal waters eg Santa Marta, Baranquilla, Cartagena, and for controlling the movements of vessels within Colombian waters. Note that the forms indicate the port captain is acting for the Ministerio de Defensa Nacional – Direccion General Maritima.
· Immigration – responsible for permission for individual crew members and passengers to enter the Republic of Colombia and to stamp visas into passports depending upon the duration of stay permitted for different nationalities.
· Customs – responsible for temporary permission (Importacion Temporal de Vehiculo Para Tourista), depending upon planned duration of visit (see below), to bring a vessel into Colombian waters without being liable for importation taxes.

Sample Game Play Scenario
You arrive at the marina on a Saturday morning, your quarantine flag aloft.  Since you have not yet acquired a sim card or the ability to speak Spanish, the marina contacts your designated agent for you. (NOTE: ¡Bienvenidos a Santa Marta! does not guarantee a successful outcome for players. Several undesirable outcomes are possible. The developers of ¡Bienvenidos a Santa Marta! strongly discourage attempting to play through the game without the guidance of an agent. If in doubt, see Background Information section above.)

A mystery begins to unfold when you are told your agent will meet with you by the security gate at the entrance to the marina. Had something bad occurred in the past? Why is he not allowed inside?  He explains the various levels of play and the "papeles" required for each one. Bring your passport, boat documentation and outbound clearance certificate ("zarpe" in Spanish) from your last port of call. You may pay him his fee later as you do not have local currency. He informs you you may take down your quarantine flag and fly the Colombian courtesy flag even though no papers have yet been filed.

Several days later, you receive an email from your agent informing you that Customs will come to your boat the next day. You are surprised when they arrive during dinner the night before. Are they  ahead of schedule or is it a trap? Upon request, you show your passport and boat documentation. They want copies of each. Penalty for not having a printer onboard unknown. The agent tells you Customs will have your Temporary Importation Permit (level 1 play papel) in a few days. You agree to call him when you obtain your sim card to set up an appointment.

In order to save money for the purchase of more papeles, you choose to leave the marina and anchor in the adjoining bay. Six days pass. You hear nothing more from your agent or any agency.  Are you "legal"? You decide your agent will notify you if there are any problems. Late that afternoon, the guardacosta circles your boat. They explain something in Spanish. You still have not acquired the abliity to speak Spanish, but they seem friendly. Eventually, you are able to piece together that your Customs agent is waiting for you on the beach. You get in the dinghy and attempt to make a beach landing on an unfamiliar beach. Dual Obstacle Alert (DOA): Your efforts are complicated by the fact that one of you has a broken and casted arm greatly inhibiting movement and the other one of you can't swim and is afraid of being in water. You manage to land the dinghy while the Customs agent and half a dozen people look on. He had been waiting on a phone call from you so that you could arrange a place to meet to complete the paperwork and acquire your papel, but you have not yet obtained a sim card. He could think of no way to contact you other than to have the Coast Guard come to your boat. Undesirable outcome scenario avoided. During your meeting, your Customs agent tells you the guarda has informed him that you are not allowed to anchor in the bay. He offers to call them and translate for you. There has been a misunderstanding. The guarda was unaware that you had already collected the necessary papeles. Bonus: you may stay in the bay as long as your visa permits.

You flounder trying to get the dinghy back in the water until a Samaritan shows up to help you off shore.

Several more days pass. Your agent has completed the steps necessary for the acquisition of your level 1 play papeles. You and your vessel are now free to move about anywhere within the jurisdiction. At this time you may opt to acquire the papeles needed for advanced (level 2) play. You can take your chances and cruise beyond the jurisdiction without acquiring these papeles, your agent informs you, but if you do and encounter troubles, the guarda may or may not rescue you. What should you do?

You choose to play it safe and acquire more papeles. He tells you he will need a letter sized copy of the legal sized Temporary Importation Permit (level 1 play papel) you received from Customs. You receive bonus points (use unspecified) for having a scanner on your boat. This copied document is to be submitted to the Office of the Port Captain. You will be provided with an invoice for your Permanent Permit. This Invoice is then taken to the bank where you deposit $175,500 COP (Colombian pesos) into the account of the Port Captain. Your invoice is marked "paid." Your agent will then take your paid invoice to the harbormaster's office as part of the application for your Permanent Permit. Your agent will inform you when your Permanent Permit has been approved.

Once you have your document resized, you make plans to contact your agent. However, the game has put an obstacle in your way. Until you figure out a way around the obstacle, you will not be able to acquire a sim card.  You ask the marina office to contact him for you. You are told it is a holiday, though no one knows what it commemorates. Is this another obstacle or do Colombians have too many holidays? Try again tomorrow. Meanwhile, you succeed in finding a workaround to the sim card obstacle. You contact your agent to give him your new phone number.

You meet with your agent the next day. He has tried to call you, but you have not yet acquired the ability to operate your cell phone. You miss his call. When you meet with him, he tells you the reason that he had called was to tell you that the Port Captain's office is not issuing invoices that day. Reason: unknown. Try again tomorrow.

You meet with your agent the next day, hoping he doesn't notice you are wearing the exact same outfit as before and complete the steps above. You wait for your level 2 play papel...


What will happen next?  Will you get to cruise the waters of Colombia or will you be deported? Not even you can decide when you play ¡Bienvenidos a Santa Marta!

24 August 2012

Cows: One Year Later

Last August, we were in Milwaukee, and one of the must-do items on our "bye-bye list" was to pet a cow. I don't know: did we think we'd never see a cow again? I can't explain it. We were just a couple of weeks away from boat ownership at that point, so maybe we were delirious. Anyway, here's the post, from exactly a year ago today, that tells the story of our cow-petting. They were calves, actually. more JOY everywhere!: Nobody Likes a Crybaby. (The calves weren't the crybabies.  You have to watch the mercifully brief, poor quality video, to see what I'm talking about.)

Not quite a year later, we found ourselves in Haiti, on Ile a Vache, the Island of Cows.

22 August 2012

Le Faux Pas (Troisième Partie et Finale)

Jasmine (L) and Makendy (R)
Makendy paddled out to us at just before six, although, at the time we thought he was almost an hour late. We had gone back and forth several times over whether or not Haiti observed Daylight Savings Time and ultimately came to the wrong conclusion. Truth be told, the longer past (our) six p.m. it got, the more strongly we suspected--hoped, really--that he'd forgotten, or something. We would have only partially minded. I went out to the cockpit with cash to pay off our balance and collect our meal.

"Hi, Makendy. Uh, where's dinner?" I asked, looking down into his boat, empty of everything but water. He requested that we meet him at the dinghy dock and he'd walk us to dinner. "Oh," I said, trying to try to hide my disappointment, "I was hoping we could get it to go, you know, here at the boat, for tomorrow."

"That will not be possible" he answered. Makendy's English was pretty good so I had to wonder how my request had gotten messed up in translation?  Or, had it gotten messed up? Perhaps he had never intended to be a "meals on keels" operation. More importantly, from what as yet unplumbed emotional depths were we going to get the energy to make it through a dinner, I wondered. There wasn't any politeness or curiosity or civility left between us.  Our plan had been to spend the evening curled up in as close to fetal positions as it was possible to get in our salon while watching downloaded TV shows on our laptop. But that was out now. An invitation was being extended to us and payment aside, it was a magnanimous gesture, we knew. We pulled psychic selves together as best we could, lowered our dinghy, and met Makendy at the dock.

21 August 2012

Le Faux Pas (Deuxième Partie)

Click here to read Part 1.

We had the majority of the work yet to be done: Jasmine on dinghy cleaning, Harold on beer delivery, Colby on carpet runners, Pepe and Keke on boat cleaning, Edisson for a walk through his village to the other resort hotel and Makendy on dinner to go. It was going to be a long day.

As before, everyone showed up bright and early and everyone asked how we'd slept. Jasmine took the dinghy off a few yards so he could clean it in the shade of the mangrove trees by the shore of the harbour, Pepe had, the prior evening, delivered the rags, cleaned and folded but before he and Keke could get started, they needed to get fresh water, so we sent them off in Keke's mango wood boat with our water jugs and 300 gourde. Makendy had also paddled out the night before to take our dinner order, and to ask if we wanted music with dinner. I wasn't sure how he intended to accomplish that, include a flash drive with the baggies of food? Too exhausted to makes sense of it though, I just told him it wouldn't be necessary, we had lots of music on the boat.

With our dinghy gone and Pepe and Keke moving all over the deck, we were feeling as trapped as we had been in Marathon when the SALT technicians were working everywhere at once. Only this time without a handy tiki hut under which to escape. Needless to say we'd never been more happy in both of our lives put together than we were to see Edisson when he came to rescue us at noon.

18 August 2012

Learning as We Go

It's not often that I get to report on a success with anything related to our engines, so far it's not ever.  But I am pleased to finally be able to say that all the time (and money) I've spent watching diesel mechanics work on them has actually paid off.

To recap: our generator broke down, was fixed and broke down again in Marathon, FL--all within a week.  The starboard engine started overheating somewhere in the Bahamas, we don't recall where or when exactly.  So it was only a matter of time before our port engine demised in one of the eleven thousand four hundred and seventy-nine ways a diesel engine can. It did warn us, I must admit. It lost the use of its ignition stop button a couple of weeks after the starboard engine lost the use of its button. So it came as a shock to neither of us when I turned the ignition key this morning in order to power up the batteries in order to start the inverter in order to boil water for coffee and it only went "click, click, click."

17 August 2012

Le Faux Pas (Première Partie)

Off the western coast of Haiti, south of the Windward Passage
"...OK, we've got Keke and Castro as guides tomorrow, We owe Karma for the courtesy flag and he'll watch the boat while we go to the market..."

"Lole's going to clean the bottom, Makendy's going to make us dinner. What were going to have Pepe do? And we still need something for Harold and Jasmine."

The irony of this is not lost on either one of us. The previous day's log entry starts, "It's hard as hell to get to Haiti." The offshore wind had been on our nose for the last three days of the passage and nearer to the shore, the mountains made the wind shifty and impossible to steer by. Jane tried everything she could think of to get us to Ile a Vache by sail, a goal with which I was more in agreement than usual. Typically, I'm the impatient one, the one who has little tolerance for sailing in ten hours a distance we can cover motoring in two. But we were down to one engine and on top of that, getting diesel onto JOY in Great Inagua turned out to be next to impossible. So for the time being I am a staunch supporter of sail power. Still, on the morning of the third day off the western coast of Haiti, I requested that we strike a bargain: she could try to outmaneuver the wind as long as she wanted so long as that we made Ile a Vache in time to have dinner at the Port Morgan Hotel. She agreed, primarily because there weren't any promising anchorages left between where we were and our destination. Were it necessary for us to tack back and forth all night, neither of us would get any sleep. JOY has her charms, but  sailing singlehanded isn't among them.

We tried long tacks, then short tacks, but we just couldn't get her to point high enough to make any way. Several hours into this endeavor, we replicated exactly the track from our previous outbound tack, meaning an hour's worth of sailing with not a mile, not even a foot to show for it. Jane calculated that we'd made a whole five miles to the good in as many hours. "It really is motorsailing" she said, dismayed, as she turned on the port engine. Yet, if there was disappointment to be endured at the underwhelming performance of our vessel, at least there would be some time to relax and a wonderful meal as compensation once we arrived.

JOY rounded the corner in to the Baie a Feret and entered the harbour just as the afternoon sun's rays slanted a golden light on the hill behind the anchorage. We hadn't quite made it in when a man in a small dugout boat began paddling over to us. "Oh, here we go" I said to myself thinking that he was coming to sell us some fish. Within minutes, there was another and another. They came, one or two to a boat. 

13 August 2012

"Creo que tengo un brazo roto." (Segunda Parte)

I am using one of Ean's big pirate bandanas as a sling.  Under the sling, my arm is bare. Our extensive first aid kit, painstakingly prepared especially for our sail around the world, includes 14 assorted sizes of band-aids (some waterproof), three tubes of anti-bacterial ointment, and a half-roll of Tums, but stops short of really sophisticated medical equipment, like ACE bandages. 

It's been about 30 hours since the twist-crack (read about it in la primera parte); we are docked at Marina Santa Marta, and we've started the check-in process through Dino the agent.  It will take a few days to complete all the customs and immigration paperwork, but the very helpful and kind Dino tells us that we are unofficially cleared to enter Colombia.  Welcome to Santa Marta!  We avail ourselves, first, of a Colombian ATM.  And now, finally, we are ready to take care of our "emergency."  It is just before noon, and we take a taxi to La Clínica Prada, which we've been told is open on the weekend for las urgencias.

10 August 2012

"Creo que tengo un brazo roto." (Primera Parte)

Taxi fare to Clinica El Prada:    4000 pesos ($2.50)
Urgent care consultation:       51,000 pesos ($30)
Medical supplies/equipment:  44,800 pesos ($26)
X-ray:                                   57,100 pesos ($34)
Orthopedic specialist:           370,900 pesos ($218)

Lessons learned during the Haiti-Colombia leg of the Big Joy Sailing School: well, priceless, of course.

I've been asked: What the hell happened?  Words to that effect.  So here are explanations for the non-sailor (1) and the sailor (2).

05 August 2012

This...or This...or...This Is the Way We Wash the Clothes

At least we don't live in a trailer.
The day is not particularly important; it is the time of day that matters and time is critical to the management of The System. The System relies on visual clues. The System is time-dependent. It is, by name, "The Scivvy System." The Scivvy System was not designed; it occurred spontaneously. Its purpose: to alert the laundry that I am out of underwear.  Jane is the laundry. Jane provides clean clothes on a Just-in-time basis. The red pair of underwear in the hamper is the signal. Jane does the laundry when she sees the red pair. 

...and then we moved onto a boat.