Author Archives: JennyDurnan

Living the Dream

Home is where the heart is, they say. Funny, because occasionally I catch myself talking about home, sometimes referring to Rocket Science, or to Aachen, Germany, or to Seattle. Which leads me to today’s topic – the realities of ‘living the dream’ you don’t hear about so much.
When the freezer broke the other day someone pulled out the oldie but goldie quote ‘cruising is fixing your boat in exotic places’. Well, you better hope that your boat is nice enough to hold it together until you get to a less exotic place, because it’s much easier to get them fixed in civilization. Of course if your husband is closely related to MacGyver you will have a much easier time, but still, locating spares, or help if needed can be a challenge.
We recently met a very nice German couple in Spain. They are now in Morocco with engine problems, and two different mechanics have diagnosed two different problems. One of them was unfixable in Morocco, the other one could get a quick fix so that maybe they could make it to Lanzarote to the actual mechanic.
Or, you are one day into your Atlantic crossing and you discover that the sliding bracket for the alternator has broken. And then you are lucky if your engine is as easily accessible as ours is, and you don’t have to be in the middle of the ocean, upside down, swearing and sweating.
Or, you have a new crew member. She tells you she is VERY experienced, you leave her alone for 30 minutes and she manages to clog up the head, which you then have to fix, angry as hell, poo everywhere, while she is insisting on sticking around to ‘help’ while you don’t need help and just want some privacy for dealing with the poo.
Living the dream yet?
Okay, I will admit this: the more things break on your boat the better you get at fixing things, and the more you learn about your systems. So here’s an upside!
Rocket Science, however, has been solid as a rock. Yes, things happen, but all in all she’s been amazingly reliable. Of course when things happen, TJ is never home. He claims that things do happen when he’s home, I just don’t remember because it’s never a big deal. There might be some truth to that. However, I’m almost an expert at fixing the head, the fridge and the heater. The most important things when in port.
Ah, yes, I still owe you the freezer story. I woke up in the morning and the freezer temperature was at 29 degrees Fahrenheit. I was surprised, because that was way too high. The set point was still set at 20. Something had to be wrong. I climbed in by where the unit is. Sure enough the red indicator light gives 3 flashes. The fan is running, the compressor won’t turn on. I downloaded the troubleshooting pdf sheet from SeaFrost, and it immediately became obvious that the only possibility here was a broken module. At this point I’m mildly annoyed. I reserve total freakouts for heater breakdowns in November in Rhode Island, or a clogged up head full of poo.
It might have been different if we hadn’t been so ingenious as to install two separate units for the fridge and freezer. Okay, TJ was so ingenious. With him by my side I only need to show the ocassional flash or brilliance.
Anyways, we talked it over and decided to get a new unit since this one is a complete PoS which we have hated every minute of every day since we’ve had it.
I walked up to Prodomestics, the local refrigeration shop. I explained to them what the problem was and mentioned that I would like to replace the unit. They suggest that the unit might be fixed. I said: ‘Look, I know the unit can’t be fixed, but I don’t want to fix it because it’s a PoS!’ The guy said they’d send someone down to take a look.
The next morning a very friendly guy showed up. I explained the situation to him, and he was quite surprised to learn that I wanted a new unit. He told me I needed to send an email to the office, tell them what I have and what I want, because they told him to come here and fix the old unit. After I had explicitly said I didn’t want to fix it. Grrrrrrrrr!
That was the first time something like this has ever happened to me. It sucked though. I might not be an expert, but I’m not stupid either.
So – be prepared to get down and dirty, sweaty and make sure you have an adequate inventory of swear words if you are planning on living the dream!

Let’s talk about the weather. You are probably thinking about beautiful tropical locations, palm trees and clear blue water when you think about ‘living the dream’. Well, we’ve been to those locations, and it’s fantastic (though remember that those locations do oftentimes attract hurricanes). But after 5 years in the tropics I was ready to experience the seasons again. Especially fall, which is my very favorite season.
We made it through those 5 years with very little incidents on the weather front. Actually, I don’t think there were any. We did have two tsunami scares, but nothing too spooky.
Sometimes people ask us what’s the worst weather we’ve ever experienced at sea. The answer is, we look at the forecast and if it looks gnarly we don’t leave port. That might not be the sensational story some are looking for, but that’s why we are still here living the dream.
There were two occasions where the dream was rather nightmarish for me. TJ was gone for both. The first time I was in Sausalito, California. They had the worst October storm in 50 years. It blew 60 knots sustained. I ran out every 10 minutes to check the lines, getting soaked by the rain. I almost shit myself, and I seriously questioned if living on a boat was such a good idea.
The other incident occurred this week. We are in Gibraltar and the forecast was for Easterlies, 35 knots with gusts up to 56. Here at Queensway Quay Marina we weren’t too worried. Easterlies mean the Rock blocks most of it. At this point I’d like to quote a lovely gentleman who captains a big power boat and lives on the same dock: ‘I thought I was going to have a quiet Sunday’ he said. ‘It was supposed to blow easterly, but I forgot that this is Gibraltar, and easterly means it’s blowing from all f…g directions!’ It’s true. I’ll go for a run and have a head wind the whole time. I get to the half way mark, turn around to run back and I also have a head wind. Gibraltar is funny that way.
Anyways, he was right of course. The wind switched often, and it was ugly. The swell inside the marina was terrible. The wind wasn’t even that bad. The motion of the boat was so violent, I was seriously afraid she’d be ripped apart. Or at least we’d rip out a cleat.
I’m not a fan of med mooring, mostly because it doesn’t seem that safe, and you are even closer to your neighbors than you are when you are at a finger pier. But in this storm I was very uncomfortable with the docking situation. Not to mention that neighbor A (sailboat) wasn’t around, so I had to look after his boat as well, because if something happened to his boat something would inevitably happen to mine. Neighbor B (powerboat) didn’t bother to come outside more than once to check on his lines and fenders (I ended up adjusting the fenders) and after the storm was over complained to me that his boat got damaged bu his other neighbor who wasn’t around. Well, you should have come out and taken some responsibility, eh?
So that sucked. And it lasted for 3 days. Nobody in Gib slept much during that time. I wasn’t scared shitless like I was during the storm in California, but it was not good. Making an attempt to not sound too negative here: it’s all a good experience. Not an actual good experience, but you go through these things and if you managed to get out on the other end more or less unscathed you have learned a lot and become stronger. Because you know you can live through something awful like that and be okay.

This brings me to the last, and the most painful part. This storm and the fact that it was immediately followed by a broken freezer was especially hard on me. Baxter has been sick since November. After a lot of back and forth to the vet, and several tests he was diagnosed with Cushing’s disease. This is caused by a tumor on the pituitary gland. That means his body overproduces cortisol, which leads to a number of symptoms. Most prominent is the excessive drinking. For a dog it is normal to drink between 20 and 100 ml of water per kilogram of body weight. Baxter should drink a maximum of 1.6 liters (that’s a bit less than one gallon). But he was drinking up to 4 liters, which led to him having to go out to pee several times every night. While TJ was home that was annoying but doable, since we could share the duty, but when he was gone it was all on me. He has since been on medication for diabetes insipidus (the body’s inability to retain water) which helps.
The problem is now that the medication he has to take is very aggressive, and it is hard on the liver and kidneys. 3 weeks ago his liver failed and he had to spend 4 days in the hospital, off his Cushing’s medication, to try and restore the liver. While it has gotten a lot better it looks huge in the ultrasound. I do not know what the implications of this are – the vet said it’s because it failed. But he has to go in again for testing tomorrow, and he will most likely need a higher dose of the meds, and that will be even worse for his liver.
Baxter is on borrowed time. That in itself is heartbreaking. He’s been our little buddy since we rescued him from certain death a little over a decade ago. Then there’s the uncertainty that goes along with this. He can be fine today and his kidneys could fail tomorrow. Or his liver. I’m watching him with eagle eyes all the time. I wake up in the middle of the night to see if he’s still breathing. It’s wearing me down.

And this is where the hardest part of cruising life comes into play. You don’t have your friends and family around when you need them. If you have been gone for long you are lucky if your friends haven’t forgotten all about you. Out of sight, out of mind. Sometimes you just grow apart, because land life and sailing life are so different, you might find that you don’t have much in common anymore.
It is heartbreaking. I’m lucky enough to still be sort of in touch with a very few of my friends back home in Germany. I’m lucky enough that one of them still makes an effort to really keep up the friendship and not just talk on a fairly regular basis, but also comes to visit me sometimes (love you Natascha!). But many are gone, and I miss the times when I had the luxury of knowing there were many people around me at an easy distance who loved me.
The other part of this are the people you meet while cruising. You meet, you spend some time, you grow close, and then you leave. Or they leave. Or everybody leaves and goes in different directions. And while you may stay in touch via social media or email, it’s just not the same. Sometimes you meet again, and it’s a joyous occasion. But a lot of the time you never see them again, and that can also be difficult.
Again, you learn a lot. You learn to be self sufficient, and you learn to like your own company, and that’s all good. But even though I still love the boat, and I still love to travel and to go on adventures I have grown increasingly tired of the missing foundation that a place to call home and friends provide. And on that note, we are going to take a little break from full time cruising. We are taking Rocket Science back to Seattle and will spend some time there and messing around in the beautiful pacific North West.
Now don’t give up on us just yet! There are still things we want to do, our sailing life isn’t over. But, there’s a time and a place for everything, and this is the time to go home. We’ve spend the last 10 years cruising, and it’s been an amazing time. We’ll hopefully get a liveaboard slip at our old favorite marina and hang out there until it’s time for more cruising adventures.


I don’t exactly remember how my obsession with mountaineering books started. It was one of those things that slowly creep up on you. Before I knew it I had read a ton of them. I’m aware of the fact that I’m not physically capable of being an actual mountaineer, and let’s be honest, isn’t it enough to have one hobby where you frequently suffer (sailing)?
However, you don’t have to be a climber to go spend some time in the mountains. Somehow the dream of doing the Mount Everest base camp hike manifested itself within me. As if it was meant to be we met Molly, Baxter and Kala the dog this summer in La Coruna. Molly and Baxter had done that trek for their honeymoon. Baxter decided to go back and climb Mount Everest! I was in awe and even more excited and determined than before. Those 3 are pretty cool, by the way, check out their blog:

Since I have zero experience in the mountains we decided to start off easy and, at the same time, kick another item off the bucket list: Machu Picchu. Now there are different options on hiking there. Of course there’s the Inka trail, but 500 (!!!) people walk that trail EVERY DAY! Can you imagine? That sounded just awful. The Salkantay trail sounded a bit too advanced for little beginner me, so we chose the Lares trek.

The Lares trek is very remote. It leads through two villages deep in the mountains, where you have the chance to meet the locals and experience how they live. That sounded right up our alley.
We decided to book the 4 day/3 night tour with Alpaca Expeditions out of Cusco. The choice was somewhat random. There are roughly a million tour operators in Cusco. Alpaca Expeditions had some good reviews, and when I sent an inquiry I got an answer within a few hours. Good communication is an important point!
Since we did this as part of an extended vacation there was a lot of traveling involved and we arrived in Cusco only the afternoon before we started the trek. It is recommended that you arrive 2 days early to acclimatize, but it was hard to fit all the pieces of the trip together as it was, and all of it last minute as usual, so much acclimatization wasn’t in the cards. We spent the day before in Quito though, so that helped.
Anyway, we arrived in Cusco after a rather dramatic almost plane crash in Lima and were happy we made it there in one piece.
That evening we had a briefing at Alpaca Expeditions. First we were told that we were going to be in a group of 6 total. That seemed like a fine group size. After a few minutes (and some confusion) it turned out that the other 4 people had booked a private tour and weren’t going to be with us. Meaning? We also got a private tour!
The details here are funny. The other 4 people were Canadian family, father, mother, a 13 year old girl and an 11 year old boy. They had had a travel agent book all of it for them, since they had also been traveling for a while and all over the place. The travel agent booked the private tour and they had no idea. We ended up meeting anyway, because we were going the same route at the same time, and even though all of us tried to convince our teams that we could just go together we didn’t get to.
The next morning our guide Manuel picked us up at the hotel bright and early at 5 am. We drove through the Sacred Valley to the Lares Hot Spings, where we got to take a dip and had breakfast.

Alpaca Expeditions indicated on their website that since you were going to meet the locals it would be a good idea to bring some gifts along – for example school supplies for the children. If you ever get the chance to ask TJ about the story with the tooth brushes in the San Blas Islands please do so, and then you’ll know that we immediately knew school supplies weren’t a good idea. Instead we asked our trusty guide Manuel for recommendations.
So we stopped at a local market and bought a bunch of little round breads, oranges, coca leaves, cute little hair ties and ginormous over sized safety pins.

Back in the van and off we went to finally start the trek. The first stretch wasn’t too far, maybe 2 hours or so and then we stopped for lunch. The scenery was already stunning, and I had a slight altitude headache. I drank tons of water and coca tea and it went away. I also had a power nap after lunch on a plastic tarp in the sun.

Off we went again, and now the trail started ascending, not too gently.

After another maybe 3 hours we arrived at our campsite just over 4000 meters. It was a stunning site at a lake. Our team had been ahead of us and had already put up our tent. I’m not sure why, but the entrance was about 3 feet from the edge to a good drop down to the lake. I was idly wondering if I’d just break an arm or maybe even my neck if I got up at night to pee and forgot about it.
(Spoiler alert: nobody fell into the lake).

The campsite was right by a small village. Two little girls were eyeballing us. The locals there speak the old Inka languages and mostly very little Spanish. Manuel grew up in the mountains and is thus familiar with those languages. He called the girls over and we gave them bread and oranges. Here we found out why Manuel made those choices for us, too. Up there the locals have a little bit of agriculture, but they mostly grow potatoes, so they mostly eat potatoes. The bread and oranges were a welcome sight.

Before dinner Manuel took us to visit one lady in her house. The kitchen and the living/bedroom were two separate houses. We were invited into the kitchen, and Manuel and the lady went right to work, trying to stuff TJ into a traditional outfit. I had a good laugh, until it was my turn, and then TJ was the one laughing. All the while we were watched suspiciously by a bunch of guinea pigs. For those of you who don’t know, they eat guinea pigs in Peru. We were wondering if they got to live in the kitchen so that one could be grabbed and roasted at random when hungry? Manuel grabbed one, and handed it to TJ saying ‘Look, this one is friendly’. The guinea pigs looked rather horrified, and TJ wasn’t quite sure what he was supposed to do with the poor thing.

We each took a Diamox for altitude sickness before bed, just in case. I slept really well, opposed to the first night in Cusco where I woke up gasping for air.
The next day the real fun began. Before we took off Manuel announced a team meeting. We all stood in a circle, feeling slightly awkward, and he had the guys introduce themselves to us. TJ then introduced us to them in Spanish. They didn’t speak any English. They seemed to appreciate that. I have the sinking feeling that not everyone makes an effort to connect with members of their team aside from the guide.

We started our ascend to Condor Pass after breakfast around 7 am. Within 3 hours we hiked from just over 4000 meters to 4680. It was steep and challenging, and I loved every minute of it. It wouldn’t be fun without at least a little bit of suffering now would it?
The scenery was stunning. The weather not so much. We had everything from rain to snow and hail and finally a little bit of sunshine revealed some stunning glaciers.

At about 4500 meters I started to feel my fingers going numb, then my arm, my cheeks. I suppose that was due to altitude sickness, too.
On the summit we were joined by the Canadian family and their team (the teams included one master chef, one assistant chef, one porter and the guide). We celebrated with hot coca tea and an assisted head stand.

On the descend we all walked at our own pace, and we spend some time with the Canadians which was nice. After another 3 hours we arrived at our camp site. We were all pretty tired.

After a short rest Manuel took us into the village to say hello to the villagers. We brought gifts and were well received everywhere. It was interesting to see how the people live there. Its’ a very simple life. In the first village Manuel told us they had gotten electricity just 3 years prior. Meaning they have light in the evenings, but they were still cooking on a fire.

During that night I woke up because it was raining. I was somewhat distraught because I didn’t want to have to hike in the rain the next day. But in the morning it was still raining. We were, however, greeted by a fine white dusting on the surrounding mountains which was beautiful.

The rain conveniently stopped right after breakfast. Breakfast that morning started with a cake. Not any cake, no, a seriously fancy cake that Adolfo, our fine master chef, had just spent 2 hours cooking on a camping stove. I was impressed. That was a serious piece of art, that cake.

With a very full belly we took off for the last stretch. Manuel must have figured we had graduated from hiking school for beginners and moved right along. The weather was inconsistent and we had some rain, but never for long and not too much. The 3 hour hike down to the end point was interesting. The change in vegetation and landscape was rapid. I learned that Peru has 80 micro climate zones!

We got to the site of our last meal with the team before the team arrived. We were all proud of ourselves and decided that meant we were finally acclimatized. Since we had been too fast and had some time to kill Manuel wanted to take us for a walk. Right around the corner we bumped into our mini van which was just arriving. Instead of a walk we went for a ride.
It was shocking to be back in civilization. I had relished the quiet time in the mountains. I really enjoyed being around the team, too. Everybody was just so easy going and relaxed. I made sure I figured out how to say to Adolfo in Spanish that I was extremely impressed by his superior cooking skills, too. The food was always good and there were tons of it. We had a nagging suspicion that they made extra large amounts to be able to give the leftovers away to the village people, but really, that made us love them even more.
Our first stop in civilization was a little fruit stand by the side of the road. We sampled some strange fruit I’ve never had before. Never even heard of before! Also some strange looking pink drink which was quite tasty. Manuel insisted on us standing behind the fruit stand to take a picture of us. The fruit stand lady was highly amused.

Then we went to an Inka museum, which was interesting, well, if you like museums.
Then we rushed back to the camp site to not be late for Adolfo’s lunch.
I don’t think we ate any guinea pig, by the way. At least I hope not.
After lunch we climbed back into the mini van, off to see the salt panes. When we got close the gentleman at the entrance informed us that it would indeed be a very bad idea to drive down the muddy hill after all that rain. Manuel decided we could take ‘a little walk’. To take a short cut he had us climb down a hill side that was so steep that I thought one wrong step and I’d fall down the hill and be dead. TJ laughed at me when I told him, but it was pretty steep.
The salt panes were way cool. We bought some souvenirs, got a quick tour and then, keeping the pattern, got to take the back entrance which meant balancing on the edge of the salt panes (‘just stretch your hands out, no problemo’, Manuel said). We walked by some locals that looked us up and down, laughed and told Manuel we wouldn’t be able to make it. I’m happy to report that we did indeed make it, without any major incident. Or minor ones, as a matter of fact.

After the ‘little’ 45 minute walk to the salt panes we then got to go on another ‘little’ walk down to the village where our trusty mini van was waiting. No complaints, but we were definitely a bit sore from the day before.

The mini van took us to Ollantaytambo. We took a nice break at a restaurant with hot food and free wifi (gasp) and then hopped on the train to Aguas Calientes.
That was one hell of a train. If you have ever taken a train in Germany, you will understand why I was impressed with this one. First of all, there were ticket and passport controls at the door to the train car. There was assigned seating (at no extra charge). Once we got going we got free drinks and cookies! Never mind the fact that the train was on time, unlike the German ones half the time…
We got to Aguas Calientes late, walked to the hotel, took a real shower and passed out. The next morning we had to get up super early and meet Manuel in the lobby with all our stuff, which we would leave with the hotel for safe keeping. We had a quick breakfast while Manuel told us if we got to the bus station at 5 am we would most likely be at Machu Pichhu woth the first 1000 people. Yep, really. 1000. Horrible.
After the time in the mountains the crowd at Machu Picchu was overwhelming. Manuel gave us a two hour tour, then we were free to roam around for a while, and meet him for lunch back in Aguas Calientes.
What can I say. It was cool, but the grand part of this trip, the amazing, wonderful, ass-kicking, overwhelming one was the day when we hiked up to Condor Pass.
I can see many more mountains in my future.


With our trusty ride parked for the winter, Jenny and I decided to take advantage of the time to cross an item or two off the bucket list. The choice? Macchu Picchu! While we were planning the trip, I recalled one or two times when Jenny had expressed a desire to check out the Galapagos. We’ll likely not visit them on the boat-I’ve sailed there twice, and it’s not really a very good cruising destination. So, we decided to roll a short visit there into our itinerary, since we were going to be in the neighborhood already.

Jenny flew first to Seattle, arriving there on the same day as I did on the Constellation.

Jenny also got to meet Paul Bieker, the mad wizard of boat designing and Rocket Science’s creator for the first time.

After a few days, mostly spent wrapping up the year’s duties on the boat, we departed for Quito.

We had a free day in town, spending in the area around the ‘Mitad del Mundo’, with a little hike to a nearby crater thrown in.

The following day, we left early for the flight to the islands. We were greeted by a genial chap holding up a big sign with the name of our boat, and plastered with 2 stickers to put on our chests to help the folks on the other end identify and shepherd us along efficiently. This was, however, not a surprise.

A note about the Galapagos is in order here. It’s really not like anyplace else that folks commonly travel to. 97% of the land is part of a national park, and it’s forbidden to venture around on your own. A naturalist has to basically guide your every move. It’s a bummer, but it’s also necessary to minimize the impact on the fragile islands. So, you have to be prepared to accept this kind of tight control when you sign up.

But, the folks in charge of all the tourists are generally very good at what they do, so it’s not too bad.

We got a great last-minute deal on one of the newer, more luxurious boats in the trade. The Santa Cruz II is about 200′ long, and holds up to 90 passengers. We had 79 aboard, from all around the world. I was the only American, interestingly. The ship itself is awesome. Clean, great food, a couple of hot tubs, and really good service all around. There are some pretty run down boats in the islands, so we were happy to discover our upscale surroundings.

After getting settled into our cabin, and getting the obligatory safety briefing, we began our mini-cruise.

We spent the next 4 days touring the eastern islands. Each day would consist of an AM and a PM excursion at a different site, with plenty of free time and gourmet meals in between. Excursions were split up into 7 groups, keeping things at least somewhat intimate. I believe the park service requires this, anyway. We had a fine bunch, a couple Australians, some Brits, a couple from Hong Kong, Jenny and me.

We’ll let the pictures tell most of the story on this one.

Next stop, Cusco, Peru and some very thin air!

Rota and Gibraltar

It’s about 120 miles from Portimao to Rota, Spain-this is from memory, so forgive me if I’ve got the figure wrong.

Anyway, we had to leave Portimao before dawn in order to get into Rota before dark. So, we set the alarm for 3AM, and quietly left our berth once we’d been properly caffeinated. The trip over was nothing special-lots of fluky wind-0 to 30 knots at times. Odd, actually. We managed to make some good speed in the puffs, motored in the calms. I think that i set and doused the main 5 or 6 times, then the wind finally died and we motored until the last bit. This didn’t bother me, I was sick of messing endlessly with the sails, anyway.

About a mile from Rota, things increased to 25 knots or thereabouts, which would, of course, make the marina trickier. Oh well.

It turned out that the marina was only about 1/2 full, so we got a nice, open ‘t’ head to tie up to. Cake.

We were there early enough to enjoy a nice walk around with the mutt, and we realized very quickly that this was a really great town-prosperous, clean, friendly. Great! There’s a big joint US/Spanish naval base here, so I’m guessing that there’s a lot of income generated by the place. We saw lots of obvious US Navy people enjoying shore leave in town. The tourist season had ended, so things were pretty quiet, just our style. The waterside discos were shuttered, as were the bars, but the town itself was plenty lively for our taste. We liked it a lot.

After a couple of nights there, we ditched poor B (no dogs over 8kg on the ferry) at home for the day and hopped the ferry to Cadiz. This is generally considered to be the oldest continuously inhabited city in Europe, going all the way back to the Phoneticians. It’s been presided over by them, Moors, Romans, and during Spain’s voyages of conquest, it was a major port for those activities, too-and therefore a very rich city back then. The architecture shows it. We hit the major sites, involving lots of walking and a climb up a really tall bell tower for good measure. Well worthwhile.

Of course, we felt guilty about ditching the dog, so our visit was brief.

We spent one final day in Rota, waiting for a fair wind for the trip to Gibraltar, and then had a quick trip down there, passing Cape Trafalgar on the way. I liked being at the site of the battle that cemented Britain’s dominance over the seas for decades. Africa was also in view.

The straits of Gibraltar are interesting from a weather perspective. It basically either blows E or W, and it’s generally substantially stronger at the downwind end. Unsuspecting sailors have a long history of enjoying a fine spinnaker run at one end, only to find themselves dealing with a white-knuckled, out of control douse by the time they get to the other end.

For our part, we’d read up on it, so we didn’t get caught unawares. Of course, we were faced with this strong wind when making the marina approach. This was going to be our first med-mooring ever, and neither one of us was looking forward to tackling it in 30 knots! I called ahead to the marina guys, and they reported that the winds in the basin were just fine, so we made our way in the narrow little entrance, after dodging all kinds of commercial traffic (Fuel is duty free in Gib, so it would appear that every ship for 1000 miles is bunkering at anchor there-it’s loaded with ships), we made the tight turn into the marina.

I’m proud to report that our first med-mooring was flawless. It turns out that it’s not really bad at all. Boats are expected to lay against each other, so everyone sticks out lots of fenders. The general idea is to just get the boat in, lay on your neighbor, and then get sorted out. I’d had visions of it being far worse. It probably will be when we have to use our own anchor, but this place has lines anchored to the bottom ready to use. It’s really not much worse than a conventional dock, really. A little more hopping around handling lines, but it’s ok.

On the way down the dock to check in, we noticed that everyone had their stern lines doubled and tripled up, with motorcycle tires and big springs for absorbing shock. This was a bit ominous. I asked one of the neighbors, and we learned that during the right conditions, the marina was subject to a lot of surge. We missed that part in the brochure.

So, job 1 was to get a proper mooring setup rigged up. I went down to the chandlery and bought a bunch of 3/8″ chain, some 22mm 3 strand poly, shackles, and thimbles. I set about splicing up a bulletproof setup, and RS is now lashed to the dock with 6 lines, some to cleats, and a couple to the primary winches. Hopefully that’ll do the job…

Gibraltar’s an interesting place. They’re very proudly British there-Union Jacks are everywhere. The town itself is pleasant, but the population density is pretty high. The real gem of the place is the rock itself. There are a few really fantastic hikes to be done, and once one gets over the sense that the apes are intending to maul you, they’re really enjoyable hikes indeed. A bicycle circuit of the rock’s a fine thing to do as well. All in all, we’re happy there.

Next stop, Alaska!


Our trip down the Portuguese coast was just a 2 stop affair. We had a deadline to get to Portimao to meet Jenny’s parents, and most of the coast consists of pretty shallow entrances not really fit for a 10′ draft.

So, we had a gorgeous spinnaker sail from Baiona to Cascais, just outside of Lisbon. We never did find out for sure how deep the marina was, so when we arrived and met an outbound Volvo Ocean Race boat, we knew we were all set. We tied up at the reception berth, got some fuel, and were directed to our berth for a couple of nights. The marina had a bit of a sterile, utilitarian feel (our view was of a huge concrete seawall), but it worked well enough for a rest.

The town itself was a pleasant place to spend some time, with lots of good restaurants and a big music festival going on. Unfortunately, it was sort of a euro-pop lineup-not my thing. But, anyway, it was a lively spot.

I also had the good fortune to find a dive shop and get a new tank. My old aluminum 80 was leaking at the valve, and I was honestly afraid that it was going to blow up and destroy the sail locker once I discovered it. So, I let all the pressure off and condemned it. But, I really don’t like sailing without a decent underwater air supply, in case we hook up on some gear or other debris and I have to go cut it off. So, this was a good development.

We sailed straight from there to Portimao, about an 18 hour ride for us. We left at the crack of dawn, and had an absolutely windless motoring trip down the coast. After we rounded Cabo S. Vincente, we did get a bit of a breeze, but that was just the last 20 miles or so. I didn’t even bother to set the main-we were going to be there after dark anyway, and honestly, I was just feeling lazy.

We made an easy night arrival, and scoped out what was supposed to be our berth. The finger piers were about 30′ long, and most of the boats there were in the mid-40′ range. I figured there must have been some mistake, so we tied up along the floating breakwater for a little snooze, figuring we’d get sent to a properly sized berth in the morning.

Well, it turns out that 30′ piers are used for boats to about 60′ in Portimao, so we secured the best we could (sort of like med mooring without bow lines) and set about exploring our new temporary home.

Portimao was nice enough. It’s easy to see why the Algarve is so popular with Northern Europeans for their summer break. There is sand, surf, sun, and bars in abundance, along with the tourist shops that cater to the visitors. There wasn’t all that much else on offer, it sort of felt like an old-world version of Cabo or Cancun. But, it’s very well sited for this, and the weather was gorgeous every single day we were there, and really hot-a big change from the coast further north.

Jenny and I were both uncomfortably warm for the first time since we left Charleston, some 14 months previously.

Anyway, Jenny’s mom and stepdad arrived the day after we did, and we spent the next two weeks being proper tourists, even making a day trip to Lisbon.

Next stop, Rota and Gibraltar…

Cruising Galicia

After our road trip, we spent a couple of days in La Coruna, and then headed out for some leisurely cruising down through the Spanish rias. This is a really beautiful part of the world, with nice anchorages and interesting towns to visit. As an added bonus, the distances between stops is really short, nothing’s more than a daysail away. Nice.

Our first stop after leaving La Coruna was the small town of Corme. It’s just got a small wharf for local fishing boats, so the yachts anchor up between the ‘viveros’ (aquaculture rafts) and the shore. It’s a pretty tight little spot, and our first crack at anchoring revealed that we were way too close to some abandoned cables which were invisible before the tide went out. So, we shifted a little bit away from that, and enjoyed a quiet night off the small waterfront. It was actually the first time that we’d been at anchor since we’d been in Newport on the way south from our first visit to Newfoundland! Everywhere we’ve been of late has been pretty much a dockside show. It was nice to get the hook back down and enjoy some proper peace and quiet.

After just one night, we carried on to Camarinas, an attractive town with a smallish, somewhat dumpy marina. The several anchorages were all gorgeous, though, so that was an easy choice for us. Anyway, we were still keen on getting back into anchored life. There was plenty of opportunity for dinghy exploring, a great beach for Baxter, perfect temperatures. About as good as it gets. We stuck around for a few days.

Next up was getting around Cabo Finisterre and the town of Muros. Another nice fishing village, with a busy marina full of cruisers. We got tied up in a tricky berth in high winds, after a bit of a crash landing thanks to the dock hand deciding that he needed to stop the boat with the spring line before it was in the slip.

By the way, to those of you reading this who may be newer to sailing- It’s REALLY common when you’re bringing a boat into a slip to have a well-intentioned helper take a line and then stop the boat while you’re not yet in the slip. Invariably, the bow or stern swings in hard, crashes into the dock, and they then look at you with a look of great surprise, as if to say ‘what did you do??’ Let the person driving the boat stop it with the engine, unless they ask you to do otherwise. End rant.

So, after getting over the trauma of our landing and a small paint chip, we settled in for a few days. Shortly after our arrival, an American boat arrived, and the next day, another one showed up. We’d not seen any US boats to speak of, with the exception of a couple of new ones which had been purchased in France and were awaiting delivery. It was apparently quite noteworthy, the marina staff told me they’d never had 3 yanks in there at the same time. Nice folks, too.

Next stop was Vigo. I wanted to take a look around the city, so we booked into the only marina that could take us, well to the west of town. The marina was nice enough, but it was in a location that was just awful. It was way out in an industrial area, and it was a 90 minute walk through a warehouse district with trash all over the streets and graffiti on most of the buildings to get to the outskirts of town. It wasn’t dangerous, but just really ugly.

Vigo was ok, but not really our cup of tea. We got out of there pretty quickly and headed to the small town of Baiona. Much better! And, we could anchor there too. On our way in to the anchorage, I was eyeballing the marina covetously, though. It looked really nice in there. I mentioned to Jenny that there was a nice, big T-head that we could tie up to, have power, easy dog walking, all the comforts. She rolled her eyes at me and my decadent tendencies (anchoring is free, marinas cost typically somewhere between 50 and 100 euros a night), and I realized that I was indeed being a bit of a profligate fool. So, we went off to the anchorage, and to both of our great surprise, the anchor windlass wouldn’t work! Off to the marina after all. I guess it was meant to be. It turns out that the little hand control for the windlass broke. It’s since been replaced, all good.

Baiona was great. It was the first place to learn of the success of Columbus’ trip in 1492. The ‘Nina’ (if I’m remembering right) arrived there.

Anyway, it’s a gorgeous place, full of history and great walking. We loved it. But, Jenny’s mom and stepdad’s arrival in southern Portugal was rapidly approaching, and we had to get out of there after just 2 days.

Next entry, Portugal.

A break from sailing… Road trip!

We hung around La Coruna for a few days, finding it a really fantastic small city. It’s got a nice waterfront, a great mix of old and new, good walking, friendly people, and a cool, agreeable climate. The only downside is that the marina there is subject to a lot of swell, so we had to put lots of dock lines on, and several got pretty well eaten up by all the surge. No matter.

We also both felt like we were re-entering the cruising community for the first time since leaving the Caribbean. There were lots of boats from all over Europe there, some going north, some south, some west. We had more interaction with our fellow boaters in La Coruna over a couple of weeks than we had in the previous year put together.

Anyway, we’d planned an inland excursion to Avignon in southern France. Friends from the Florida marina we’d stayed in a couple of years ago were on an extended holiday around France, so we used their visit as an excuse to get off the boat and see something new.

We fetched our rental car and went off with only a loose plan. We wound up spending a couple of nights in Bilbao for our first stop. It’s the Basque capital, and a very attractive place to boot. We stayed at a hotel way up at the top of a long, steep hill, so all got plenty of exercise tramping back and forth. Even Baxter was pretty worn out, which is quite rare, even at his advanced aged of 11.8.

I have to say that the north coast of Spain in general was really an unexpected surprise for both of us. What an absolutely gorgeous part of the world that is. It’s made the short list of places to live should we decide to retire outside the US.

Next stop was the principality of Andorra. Neither of us had ever been there, so it seemed like we should drop in while we were in the neighborhood. I found a hotel that was part of a ski resort, and it was simply spectacular. I suspect that the place probably fetches $500 a night during the ski season, but it was cheap and glorious during the summer season. A spa and the best hotel breakfast we’ve ever had were also included. Nice! Great walks were close at hand, and while we suffered a bit with the thin air at first, we had a fine time of it there. Jenny also took advantage of the lack of VAT to get some hiking boots.

Finally, we arrived in Avingon with a brief overnight in Narbonne. Avignon is a very old city, with the medieval ramparts still intact. It was home to several popes several hundred years ago, and the architecture was, of course, magnificent.

Danny and Allison, along with Remy and Jensen, their young twins, arrived the same day. It was nice to catch up with them. For some reason, Remy is madly in love with Jenny, so those two in particular had some serious bonding time. They had a funny episode at a restaurant. The lock wouldn’t work on the door of the women’s room, so they agreed to watch the door for each other. While it was Jenny’s turn, Remy was on guard duty when someone approached. She looked them right in the eye, and said ‘Jenny’s in there. If you go in, there’s going to be BIG trouble!’. This was almost certainly the surprised Frenchwoman’s first time being stared down by a 6 year old…

Anyway, all things come to an end, and Avignon was it for us. We trucked it back to Coruna in a long day, and started some proper cruising. Actual leisurely cruising! This has been a bit of a rarity for us of late, and it was just great to enjoy some civilized boating. We’ll update shortly on that portion of the travelogue.

To the Rias!

After a few rainy days in Plymouth, we stocked up on a few provisions and started making our way down toward the Spanish coast. We’d reserved a slip in La Coruna for a month, despite planning to keep RS there for only a couple of weeks. It turned out to be cheaper that way.

Anyway, the Bay of Biscay and the Western channel had been blowing pretty relentlessly SW’ly, so we took advantage of a decent wind shift to hop across to Brest and wait for a favorable wind to make the hop across to Spain.

Brest isn’t the most attractive place-the waterfront is basically military and shipping terminals, but there’s a decent enough marina stuck in the middle of it all. It served our purposes.

We also got a great introduction to the special breed that the Brittany sailors really are. Around the marina, there’s a sort of Hollywood walk of fame, complete with hand prints set into bronze plaques, commemorating all of the records set by the local boys and girls. It’s really a who’s who list of the highest level of distance racing.

We tied up behind a couple of Open 50’s and a superfast tri. The skipper of one of the 50’s stopped by to ask about Rocket Science. He really liked the boat and wanted to find out who designed her-he had just spent 158 days going around the world solo gathering water samples from the Antarctic convergence, and wanted something bigger and faster. The guy talked about the trip as if he’d just been out for a pleasant outing. Something special was clearly happening in this town…

Our second day in town, a gale came through, gusting up into the mid-40’s. The harbor entrance looked like a malestrom, rain was driving in sideways. Not really fit for man nor beast out there, as far as we were concerned. We hunkered down below, listing to the lines creaking with all the surge, the wind shreiking in the rig. Surely nobody would be out sailing on a day like this.

Strangely, I saw mast after mast passing by from my perch on the settee. A peek out the window revealed dozens of happy French crews heading out for a bit of fun. I could see them poking their bows out of the harbor, sheets of spray flying over the boats as they made their exits. I made a quick climb to the top of the breakwater, and found the sound to be fairly loaded with boats, deeply reefed and ripping along. Wow.

Anyway, we spent a week in Brest, waiting for the weather pattern to finally change so we could get across Biscay without any upwind suffering. Finally, we had a 24 hour NW’ly forecast, followed by calms, so we left as soon as the shift materialized, hoping to get across the better part of the bay before the engine was called on.

We did manage to put together a surprisingly rough (at least until we got out into deep water) 230 mile run for our first 24 hours, and then things dropped to nothing as predicted. We motored the remainder of the way, very slowly, thanks to a contrary current. We arrived at La Coruna at 0300, threading our way around a couple of very dense fishing fleets, a couple of freighters, and a bunch of other coastal traffic on our way in. We usually hold off until daylight when we go into a new port, but this one was pretty wide open, so it was safe enough to make a night entry.

We’ll have another update soon about our stay in Coruna, a great road trip, and our cruise down the rias. Great stuff all around.

Plymouth – A love story

Jenny’s story:

England was never on my bucket list. I did the obligatory weekend trip to London once half a lifetime ago. It was a bus trip from Germany, and not a whole lot of fun. When TJ and I decided to spend the winter in England is seemed more of a necessity as a base to go places further North from that actually are on my bucket list than a destination that would excite me.
Lymington was alright, but there were several things I disliked about it, especially most of our fellow boaters who could be seen walking around with their noses so high up in the air I was afraid they would soon fall victim to some sort of altitude sickness.
There were exceptions to the rule. Ann and Ged and Tilly the dog, and David and Laurel were all very special.
So when it was time to get out of Lymington I was okay with it. At the end of March we started our cruising season and visited a few more places, none of which I got overly excited about. Then we pulled into Plymouth.
The Marina at Sutton Harbor is very central, and it’s a short walk to anything you could ever want. Including Starbucks (GASP).

We got there fairly late in the day. The next morning I took Baxter for a walk up to the Hoe which is a very nice, big park with a spectacular view across the whole bay. It was a bright, sunshiny day and when I caught my first glimpse of all the stunning beauty there was a warm spot deep down inside me that said: THIS is where I want to be.

I knew, however, that revelation wasn’t going to go over so well with my dear husband. On my way back I stopped by the marina office and got a quote for us to stay until mid July. It wasn’t bad and in fact cheaper than our intended destination, Dublin. It’s good to have all the information needed to back up the requests. As I suspected TJ was not amused. He still had a couple of weeks off, and he wanted to see new places! So I grudgingly gave up and thought to myself well, Dublin shouldn’t be too shabby either.
We continued on to Falmouth, sat there for a few days and waited for a weather window. Finally we had one that would have maybe, hopefully just about almost gotten us to Dublin if we were lucky and the forecast held up and nothing went wrong. Sounds like ideal conditions to go sailing to you? Yeah, not to me either.
That day TJ went up to the marina office and talked to Ian there. He told him that I had really wanted to stay in Plymouth, but that he wanted to go to Dublin. Ian very nonchalantly answered: ‘What the hell do you care where the boat is? You aren’t even going to be there!’ Imagine my surprise when TJ returned to the boat and asked me if I wanted to go back to Plymouth! Hell YES!
We spent a blissfully happy week in Plymouth, with beautiful weather. TJ left on April 22 and I tried to settle into yet another new beginning.

I’m strongly suspecting that all people who ended up in Newfoundland came from Plymouth. Because next to the Newfies the Plymouthians must be the nicest people on earth. Even the ones you wouldn’t ordinarily suspect to be nice people. The ones who are tattooed up to their eyebrows, shaved head and all and look like they might just pull a knife on you and try to steal your purse. They give you a friendly smile and say: ‘Hiya, you alright?’
Here we meet Plymouthian cultural lesson number 1 and 2:
1) Never judge anyone by their looks. I have not met one person who was unfriendly in that town. In fact, some were a bit too friendly, but more about that later.
2) I thought I learned proper British English in school. They taught me to say: Hi, how are you. So what was this ‘you alright’ all about? Did I look unwell? It seemed to express some sort of concern. I decided to consult my most trusted source: Karen at the marina office. After she had a good laugh she explained to me that this is the Plymouthian way of saying: Hi, how are you. It reminded me of Germany, where nobody anywhere actually speaks any proper German. I wonder if it is that way in England, too?

As in most places I got in with the dog crowd right away. Baxter and I walked up to the Hoe every morning, and depending on what time we went (which these days largely depends on whether Baxter feels like punishing me or being Mr. Geriatric) we met different people. There was the friendly old guy with the Dachshund, who happily argues with me about Brexit for long periods of time, and told me all about the German friends he had in 1972.
There was the guy with the black lab who just couldn’t believe that it only took us 8 days, 18 hours and 48 minutes to get from St. John’s to Dingle. Every time I met him he had to confirm the time again, because he has sailing friends who, after he reported my information to them, were just stunned and needed to know all the details. And that’s all he ever wanted to talk about.
There was Pedro, with his big, badass looking dog who looked like he could rip your throat out if he felt like it and was really the sweetest lap dog. He mostly walked with a friendly lady with a black lab, who I would later encounter at Cap’n Jaspers. Same thing every day.
And my bestie Jim of course. He’s 78 years old and has a 2 year old Collie who is very energetic. So they walk. I think they must walk all day, because not just did I meet him in the mornings on the Hoe, but randomly in other places throughout the day. Amazing.

There are many memorials on the Hoe. Most of them are big, beautiful war memorials. One day I walked down one of the side paths and noticed a small, fenced-in area of scrubs. There was a plaque with the inscription ‘for those dedicated to world peace’. The priorities are very clear around there, apparently.
In the beginning I felt very sad and lonely. I hadn’t been ditched in a foreign place for about a year, and it was odd to be all by myself again. You know how people move to another city, even another country for a job, love or whatever reason? How it is hard to start all over in a new place. I feel like I do that up to 3 times a year, and it is starting to get old.
Things got better as I got more familiar with the place and the people. Karen was wonderful. She encouraged me to come up for a chat and a coffee any time, and I did so maybe a bit more often than was healthy for her work schedule. Talking to my Hoe friends was also good. In the end I found out that they all called me ‘the American lady’, though I had told every one of them that I am German. I suppose TJ finally lost the argument about me having a strong German accent…
I started going to a yoga studio nearby, the Yogaloft. There was a Monday morning community class which was at 11, the perfect time after dog walking and breakfast. For some unfathomable reason it was taught by a different teacher every week. But, this way I got to know the different teachers and their style. In the beginning I didn’t catch on. Leaving my fabulous yoga teachers in Germany had been hard, and it left me with the feeling that I would never, ever find anyone who’d be that amazing and have such an impact on me. To prove the point, I did go to a yoga class in Lymington, and it was horrible. It was in a very cold, dirty room and so slow I almost fell asleep on my mat.
Anyhow, here I was, all sad, and then Georgie showed up. I quite liked her class, and she encouraged us to come to the newly offered hot yoga classes she taught. Now I was somewhat suspicious about that. I asked her after class and she said ‘it’s a very safe class’. I wondered how in the world that would be accomplished, but decided it was a good idea to try and so I did.
5.45 pm isn’t really my time, but what the hell. Trying not to get stuck in old habits (I HATE working out after noon) I went and fell in love. Georgie gave me back all my faith in yoga, and she’s a wonderful teacher. I learned tons from her, and am deeply grateful that I was able to be her student.
Finally after a few weeks Jo returned. She’s the owner of the studio and took over the Monday classes, and it was so much fun! I noticed right away that the attitude around there is much more relaxed than in Germany. Everybody brings water and there’s even some talking in class. I’m not sure which I prefer – but trying to be all yogi about it I didn’t mind either way.
I also joined a gym right before TJ left. I decided I wanted to up my game (especially because one of my yoga goals is to master a hand stand and that takes some muscle!) and started training with a personal trainer. Hollie is one of those people who you must like instantly. She’s that super cute happy-go-lucky kind of girl who immediately finds a spot in your heart. She even kept that spot when she started kicking my ass. One shouldn’t complain about pain that’s self-inflicted, anyways…

So I settled into a nice routine of walking, yoga and workouts at the gym, Netflix, chicken soup and the great cod bake of 2017 at home.
The weather was nice for a little while. One of my favorite Plymouth stories happened on a nice, sunny afternoon when I was out walking the reverse Hoe route with Baxter. A homeless man came towards me and started petting the dog. Then he told me this very long story about how he had a dog that got sick, all the while standing really close to me and spitting a little. I slowly crept backwards, hoping not to offend and not to catch anything. The poor man was very run down. Anyway, that dog got very sick, had seizures and what not and was close to death and so he took it to the vet. The vet said to him: ‘Sir, I can either put this dog down, or you can take him home and pray.’ He couldn’t get himself to put the poor animal out of its misery, so he took it home and prayed all day. Guess what? The next morning the dog was as good as new!
I spent the rest of the afternoon chuckling in random intervals.
The weather turned to rubbish soon thereafter and stayed that way for most of the time I was there. We had precisely 2 heat waves. One lasted for 4 days, the other one for 2. The rest of the time I had to run the heater, often even in the daytime. In July. No kidding. That was the part that bothered me the most. And the fact that there were hardly any people around. I had a Princess 58 next to me whose owner was super nice. He was only there occasionally though. I was just about 100% sure that his name was George, and that’s what I called him for 3 months. I wrote something about him to TJ and he asked if I was talking about Colin. As confusion set in I decided to ask one of the dockhands. ‘Oh, you mean Jordan?’ At my wit’s end I decided to consult with Karen. Turns out the good man was called Nigel. Oops.
At the end of the dock was a classic wooden boat with a wonderful family on it. Sach and Lotty with little Hector and Phoebe were brand new cruisers-to-be. They were super nice, always up for a chat and the kids were quite obsessed with Baxter. Lotty told me one morning they had just been playing ‘Baxter’ in the bathroom. How cute!
I spent my birthday by myself which was a bit sad, but I scheduled a good butt kicking with Hollie, and since that always made me happy it wasn’t a bad day. A few days after I met Sach and Lotty and the kids with arms full of packages. I asked them if they had been on an online shopping spree, and they told me it was going to be Hector’s birthday the next day. I told him that it had been my birthday on Tuesday and that made us star sign twins. The next morning they showed up with a slice of Minion cake and a home made birthday card because they felt bad that I had spent my birthday all by myself. It was most decidedly the bestest birthday card I have ever received, and if I ever live in a house I shall frame it and put it up on the wall. I was very close to tears, so touched by their kindness.
Big V came to visit for a week, and that was great. We had one day of nice weather on which we took a ferry to Cawsand and hiked all the way to Cremyll. We got there somewhat exhausted only to find out that there was no ferry back to the Barbican and we had to walk another 2.5 miles after getting across the water to the Mayflower marina. The rest of his time in Plymouth was gray and rainy. We didn’t do anything too exciting after that hike day, but we ate a lot of really good food at the Rockfish restaurant, so that was good, too.

All things must come to an end, and since I am so very very sad about leaving Plymouth, I shall end this story (which has admittedly gotten a bit longer than I had planned) with another fun anecdote. There was a 32′ wooden boat at Sutton Harbor which was for sale. I saw the owner on it once, varnishing of course, and told her I thought her boat was very cute. About 2 weeks later I saw a ‘sold’ sign on it and was baffled by how fast that had happened. A few days later I saw a man and a woman on the boat while I was running back and forth doing the laundry. I stopped because I assumed they were the new owners, and I wanted to congratulate them on their purchase. Buying a new boat is so exciting, at least until you find all the things that need to be fixed or updated… We chatted for a while, and I was about to leave when the man (minimum age 70, kind of big, not much hair but a huge bushy beard) said: ‘Come see me again soon, I’m single.’ I was about to laugh it off when the woman said: ‘It’s true, I’m just a friend.’ As in: he and I was an actual possibility. I avoided doing laundry for a while after that…
So, thank you again Plymouth, you mad, brilliant, rubbish weather place for the wonderful time!
Thank you Hollie, for not having any mercy with me (as requested), and for being such a sweet, loving, caring person. Stay just the way you are and don’t be so insecure, you are a really good person.
Thank you Karen, for caring, for getting me a birthday card, and for entertaining me when I needed a friend.
Thank you Georgie, for being a wonderful teacher and restoring my faith in yoga.
Thank you Mark, for being kind and helpful and having mercy and endless patience with this internet addict.
And also special thank you to Dr. Holly May from Back2Back Chiropractic, who took such good care of me and finally, after many years, solved my shoulder problem! You are brilliant!

Panama, 1990

The old man and I left Ft. Lauderdale on ‘Ahora’ in 1989. This was the cruise in lieu of college.

We had the good fortune to be anchored off the Panama Canal Yacht Club just a few short weeks after the US went in and overthrew Noriega. At 17, this was endlessly fascinating to me. The town of Colon, a dangerous shithole at the best of times, now had the additional attraction of troops still in the streets, and buildings riddled with bullet and shell holes, and some roofs blown off to boot.

My first (actually only) war zone. I remember checking in with customs and immigration. The building was shot to hell, and there was no roof left in the office. While we were there, a rain squall came through. Papers were hurriedly gathered, typewriters were covered in plastic sheets, and everyone retreated to the single dry corner until it passed. Then, life carried on as usual.

We signed on to a California-based boat, named ‘Captain Musick’, and went through the canal as line-handlers.

Shortly after, we had enough destruction and ruin, and headed off to the San Blas.

Back then, there really were hardly any boats cruising the islands. We saw 3 or 4 sailboats in the 6 weeks or so that we were there.

Our arrival at our first stop was absolutely incredible. The village, home to about 40 Kuna, all excitedly piled into their dugout canoes and paddled furiously to come out and stare in wonder at the new arrivals. We didn’t even have the anchor down, and the rails were lined by smiling Indians. Even more remarkable, the crowd wasn’t there to try to sell us anything, not to ask for anything. They were all just there to come and spend time with the newcomers.

It gave us some very small idea of what it must have been like when the early explorers arrived in remote places. Truly remarkable.

Our most recent visit, while still very pleasant, certainly didn’t compare to back then. Our sailing boats are old news these days.

While in this first anchorage, we became friendly with a Kuna named Nigel. He’d had some schooling on the mainland, and spoke passable English. He wanted to go to one of the more remote islands, where he had some family. A warm welcome was promised, and he would guide us through the reefs to get there. The charts of the San Blas are based on incomplete surveys from the mid-1800’s, so some local knowledge was welcome.

We left late one morning, to have the sun high and behind us for reef spotting, allowing Nigel to take the wheel. We quickly noticed that every time we came near another canoe he would discretely change course, so as to pass as close as possible to his buddies. Each time, he would stand proudly at the wheel of this huge yacht (by dugout canoe standards), grinning at the bewildered folks paddling along. It was cute.

Our next arrival was in a place which was apparently even less visited. By the time we got the anchor down, we had easily 100 people surrounding us. We were informed by Nigel that since we were on one of the main, less visited islands, we would have to go meet the chief at the great hut, and gifts would be a good idea.

My dad’s friend, George, a dentist with a desire to spread better dental hygiene to the less developed world, had given us a big box of toothbrushes to take along on our trip. Perfect!

So, armed with our gift, our flotilla paddled our way into the village, where everyone who wasn’t with us on the water was already assembled in the great hut. The big chief and two under-chiefs welcomed us to the island, a few speeches were made, translated helpfully by Nigel. Finally, it was time for our gift to the village.

What a flop.

A polite smile, some quiet conversation between the chiefs ensued. We could tell we didn’t do too well. After a pause, the big chief spoke up, saying that the village was low on tobacco, and this would be a better thing.

Well, we had none.

A little desperate, my dad mentioned that he had a big bag of candy on the boat, maybe we could hand that out to the children? Once this was translated, the air was electric in the hut. We seemed to be doing a little better with plan B.

So, back to the dinghy with an even bigger flotilla surrounding us!

We grabbed the candy, fended off the mob, and managed to make it generally unharmed back to the great hut.

The intent had been to hand out the sweets to the kids, but the melee that ensued made it very quickly clear that this was going to be a free-for-all, with teens and women knocking over kids to make sure they got their share of this unexpected bounty. I managed to grab a few handfuls and make sure the little ones got some too, while the old man dealt the best he could with the rest.

So much for the dental hygiene mission…

Most of our days there were spent snorkeling on the reef, socializing with the few other cruisers, and really just reveling in the magnificent culture of the islands. The initial excitement of our arrival slowly wore off, but generally, we would have a canoe or two alongside from dawn until dusk. Most mornings, I’d wake up to a couple of smiling Kunas peeking down through the windows at me, happy to see me finally awake.

What a fascinating place. To do it at that age, with dad, was also pretty special.

Finally, it was time to go, next stop Cartagena, Colombia.

That’s a story for another day, however.