Friday, September 30, 2011

Sailing, sailing over the ocean blue

Once again, ten days have flashed past without an update from yours truly.  This cruising lifestyle definitely messes with your concept of time; whereas life was once divided into hourly chunks, it has telescoped into monthly pieces.  Not necessarily a bad thing, I suppose.  What I really wanted to write about was Here I Am In The Back Of A Colombian Police Van, but I think I'll have to leave that topic for another day.

We’ve just completed our longest passage to date, a 550 mile jaunt from Providencia (off the coast of Nicaragua) to Cartagena.

Stylish has the best deal going in the cockpit
The first day nearly ended our trip.  And I mean, Erik and I were both ready to get to Cartagena and never sail anywhere ever again, not a day’s sail, not an hour’s.  It was that bad.

The first problem was that we needed to travel southeast, but couldn't actually progress east.  If you look at our tracker, you can see that we made a sad series of tight zigzags north and south.  To move at all easterly meant pinching into the wind and constantly jockeying the sails to eke even a tiny bit more out of them.

Lines of unhappiness.
Winds were light when favorable and strong when not.  We blew the head of our spinnaker and dumped the whole sail in the water.  And even though I was wearing my friend the itchy scopolamine patch, it wasn’t enough that first day.  My functionality could be rated as poor-to-dreadful.

Amy is inert and non-functional.  Erik can't believe it.
Amy has no useful grasp on reality.  Erik is reaching the end of his short tether.
Having to single-hand the boat while getting absolutely nowhere was a mite stressful for my dear husband.  Even trying to remember how to put peanut butter on bread was a challenge for me.

It was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.

Somehow, we came out the other side.  The patch kicked in, I became more useful, we reluctantly decided to turn on the engine*, the winds cooperated now and again, and three days later, we reached Cartagena.  Happiness returned to Papillon and her crew.

This is one of the more curious harbours we have visited.  We are right in the middle of town - apartments buildings to the right, navy warships to the left, the old town in front, a container port behind, and sailboats anchored everywhere.

Looking one way...
...and another
A new neighbour approaches

After so many months alone in the hurricane belt, it is delightful to see other boats.  Even better, we have found another kid.  For some reason, the great majority of kids we have met have been solitary boys aged 8-11, and Stylish's newest friend is no different.  Not that cruising kids care - any reasonably equivalent other child will do.

So here we are, in the centre of more hustle-and-bustle than Papillon has seen since approximately Anapolis.  We look forward to exploring the town, and expect our first visitor in a mere ten days.  I'll do my best to keep a handle on the time, and provide more frequent updates.  Plus, my trip with the police.

*Erik asks me to clarify that the wind had dropped to 3 knots at this point.  I would hate to leave you with the impression that we are somehow soft here on Papillon.  Rest assured, we run around half-naked, carrying knives in our teeth, walking barefoot across splintered wood and threatening each other with broken bottles when appropriate.  Chest hair all around!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

A Conversation With My Family

Amy: So, girls. People want to know. How are things going on the boat so far?
[Silence. Everyone is watching Erik cut up mangoes we just gathered in the forest nearby.]
A: Come on guys, help me out here. Everyone is tired of listening to me talk. Let's hear from you for a change.
Stylish: [grabbing the mango bowl] Everything's just fine.
A: You've got to give me more than that.
Indy: I need a fork. Dad cut up two mangoes.
[Erik produces forks. Stylish and Indy spear mango slices at an alarming rate, narrowly missing each other with each stab.]
A: Ladies, please. Tell me about life on the boat.
[The sounds of eating, then a tussle over the mangoes.]
Erik: I'm going to lose my mind if mango gets smeared all over this boat!
[Calmer eating.]
A: Doesn't anyone have anything to say about Papillon?
I: It's fun and it's nice and we should keep it.
S: I quite like my bedroom.
A: You girls are hard to interview. Any messages for your public?
S: No.
A: Well, what do you like doing aboard?
I: Playing, fun. Eating mangoes.
[Renewed mango tussle as the bowl empties.]
A: [exasperated] What do you like doing when you're not eating mangoes?
S: [opening The BFG to her bookmark.] Reading.
I: [Disappearing down the companionway] Duplo and Barbies.
A: I'm not sure I can post this. [Looks to spouse for support. Erik is also now reading a book.]
I: [From below] Mom, give me some Cheerios.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Confessions of a Grinch

Last week, my more rabid followers might have noticed that I briefly posted a piece on the state of the reefs out here in the Caribbean.  On reflection, I decided it was far too complainy and took it down again.  That isn’t to say that I’ve changed my position - I maintain that the reefs here, even the pretty ones, are in a shocking state and we should all be ashamed of ourselves.  That is a fact.  But no one comes here for a lecture, and these points have been made more eloquently elsewhere.

The fact remains, however, that, people as a whole kind of suck.  Sailing through twelve solid miles of floating trash in the Gulf of Honduras reminded me of that.  People don’t do well in numbers.  People as a faceless, generalized group, are really kind of (look out, there’s bad language coming, so shield your eyes ye sensitive types)... assholes.

Now.  Legion though my charms may be, I am not precisely famous among my family and friends for being nice.  I heard someone just snort coffee through their nose; go ahead and take a minute to clean your keyboard.  That's okay; I understand where my reputation comes from.  To illustrate, let me tell you a story.  I joined the university gym during grad school, and used to head there before work a few times a week.  Being the new girl, the inevitable happened and a guy wandered over to chat me up during my first week there.  We talked in the casual way people do at the gym, and I tried to politely convey – politely! – that I was unavailable for coffee or similar.  I swear to god, I even smiled.  A few days later, bachelor #2 gave it a shot.  I was similarly friendly-but-unavailable.  But in the two years I worked out there, I never saw either of those guys again.  Ever.  What I thought was a friendly put-off was in fact so off-puting that those men never worked out in the mornings ever again. Thus is the fearful power of the Amy.

So, aside from being a strong example of how what we try to convey doesn't always translate well into how the world sees us, I think I can safely say that my poor reputation on the warm & fuzzy front has some basis in fact.  Which makes it so hard for me to adequately explain to you just how great I think other people can be.  For although people as a group generally suck, people as individuals can be pretty awesome.

We got to know our neighbour ashore in French Harbour, hereafter known as Mr Iguana, pretty well during our six weeks in Roatan.  He arrived at our boat with a freshly-caught snapper one evening, and was a staple of our lives on Roatan from that point on.  He drove us all over the island, both to lend a hand in repairs and to show off his beautiful home.  Erik had free reign on his property to build things for the boat.  And on Monday night... hold on, something I’ve heard of called an e-motion is trying to invade my head... Monday night, Mr Iguana and his family threw us a surprise party

Mr Iguana had discovered out that both Indy and Stylish have birthdays soon, so he invited all of the neighbourhood kids over.  He and his wife and daughter got a piƱata, cooked up a mess of food, made cupcakes, cakes, loot bags, the whole deal. It was fantastic.  And the girls were in heaven.

Moonwalking with excitement

Stylish vs strawberry

Running with balloons
I'm gonna pop these things so fast...
And this is only the most recent example of the astonishing kindness we have experienced on this trip, my friends.  I feel so lucky to have met the people we have every step of the way, from Maryland to Honduras.

So, dear readers, while I will never win the Miss Congeniality prize myself, I do recognise those fine qualities in others.  And I appreciate it.  Thank you, Mr Iguana, for giving my girls a great birthday.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Signs can say so much

Without a doubt, this is my favourite sign on Roatan:

Oh, happy day!
I not only love the fact that they felt this was a feature to advertise at the gates, but the enthusiasm of the message.  Someone is psyched about that functional elevator, I’m telling you.  I'm even willing to overlook the "enterance" issue.

Usually, however, we see a different sort of sign around here.

No guns, just shrimp

Not open to guns or knives

No bank-robbing aids allowed

On the other hand, cruisers like to warn you how tough they are.

I assume that question is rhetorical.

One finds these signs everywhere -the hardware store, the insurance agent, the shrimper - though they seem particularly popular near swimming pools, which makes me wonder what about wearing a bathing suit puts people in a violent frame of mind.

Normally, I’d dismiss this as paranoia, or a holdover from darker days.  Alas, more than one quiet evening aboard Papillon has been punctuated by the sound of gunshots from shore.  We are assured by our neighbour ashore that it is usually just the night watchman on the neighbouring property shooting at rats.  Usually.  Be that as it may, in the time we have been here, one of the dive masters Erik went out with has landed in the hospital on the mainland with gunshot wounds.  Erik chatted the other day with a man whose hand was badly injured by a machete.  So although we have found people kind and friendly here, these signs are not without their roots.

It is time, my friends, for us to move on from rat-shooting night watchmen.  We are off for Colombia in the next few days, via Guanaja, the Hobbies and Providencia.  This will be a big sail, so I have decided to live with the itchiness and use the scopolamine patch again.  I've forgiven you all for failing me on seasickness remedies, as we’ve discovered that scopolamine also comes in an oral version.  I look forward to having visitors mule my drugs from Canada to Colombia this fall.

So wish us well on our continued journey. I’ll write again when I can.