Tuesday, November 29, 2011

A Visit to Cottage Country, or, The Curse of the Deadly Water Hyacinth

At some point during our endless painting adventure, I extracted a promise from Erik that we would take a break before moving on to the next project.  (This is one of my jobs in our relationship: applying the brakes to Mr Endless Improvements.)  And so, when the last bit of plastic was bundled up and taken off the boat, we got ready to go to Chalon, a little community about a four hours sail south of Cartagena.  Our purpose: to swim.  And swim, and swim and swim.  As we were preparing to go, I discovered with shock that we had left Providencia almost two months previous.  Two months without swimming?  No wonder the entire Papillon crew is turning winter-white once more.

Since Chalon wasn’t far, we decided to get up at our regular time, eat a good breakfast and get going.  This is our normal routine; although many cruisers favour the 4 am start, somehow it doesn’t work for us.  But by the time we were up and the kids were up, and we’d taken the awning down, time was marching on.  Okay, sailors: breakfast can wait.  I brought up the very muddy anchor chain, spraying it all the while with the salt water hose, and we were off.  A quick deck-rinse and line-clearing later, it was time for breakfast!  I filled the kettle and opened the cupboard to look for tea.

Whoop!  Whoop!  Whoop!  Whoop!

I closed the cupboard and Erik and I looked at each other.  This was a new alarm.  That is disturbing, since I’d thought we’d made it through every alarm Papillon has to offer.  Not so.  We localized the sound to behind the engine panel, and Erik realized it was the engine over-temperature alarm.

By this time, we were fifteen minutes from the anchorage.  And where were we?  Right in the middle of the shipping channel, of course!  And Cartagena is a very busy container port.  Perfect.

But an overheating engine waits for no man.  Off went the boat.  Down went the anchor.  Erik grabbed a mask and snorkel and jumped in the water.  He rooted around in the murk under the boat.  And what was the culprit?  A water hyacinth got sucked into the raw water intake that serves to cool the engine.  If we hadn’t had the alarm, that tiny bit of plant material would have destroyed our engine.  Those are the dangers of cruising, my friend.  Forget pirates and dinghy motor thieves.  Worry about things that break your boat.

Scourge of the seven seas.
While Erik was under the boat using a flat screwdriver to pry roots out of the through-hull, we inevitably had company.  Acquaintances in a catamaran passed by and checked we were all right.  Less friendly was the tallship Gloria which passed maybe 20 feet off our starboard side.  What appeared to be the entire crew stood on deck staring at us as a senior officer gave me heck in no uncertain terms.  I called back that the engine was dead and we were leaving very, very soon.  That apparently was okay, and they yelling stopped.  Ah, cross-cultural communication.  Who needs to learn Spanish when you can just making slashing motions across your neck and bellow about el motor?

The police arrived just as we were bringing up the anchor – again.  And I was washing off the mud – again.  It was clear we were leaving, so they let us go.  A mere fifteen minutes after the alarm sounded, we were on our way.  Again.  And now, finally, it was time for breakfast.

We had to zip quickly through the channel out to sea, as a massive car carrier and a freighter were just picking up their pilots and preparing to come in.  The car carrier, curiously, was named Canadian Highway.

Really, really, really big.
And finally, finally, on to Chalon.

I hadn’t realized it ahead of time, but Chalon is cottage country.  Think Muskoka with salt water and less crowding.

And what does cottage country mean?  Jet skis!  Music!  PAR-TAY!  For example, on Saturday night there were five boats rafted together a couple hundred feet from us, and they had the music going all night long.  Ahh, nothing like a peaceful trip to nature.

But what was more surprising about Chalon was the canoes with Things For Sale.  Now, this concept was not new to us.  In Guatamala, the ladies would paddle by in their cayucas, selling coco-buns, bananas, pineapple... that sort of thing.  So we knew what this was all about.

The moment we dropped anchor here, the first canoe arrived.  Two young men wanted to sell us a prepared lobster meal with salad and coconut rice.  No, thanks.  The moment they left, a kayak pulled up.  These guys had live seafood, which was more up our alley.  Erik negotiated for two lobsters and a huge crab for a combination of pesos and beer.

So very delicious.
Next up was oyster man on a surfboard.  Well, you can’t say no to a dozen oysters, now can you?  I know I can’t.

Slimy grey deliciousness.
The necklace guys were canoes no. 4 and 5.  We had less trouble saying no to these guys, as the last thing we need on board is more stuff.  (Christmas tip: Papillon gladly accepts gifts that go away again, such as chocolates and craft supplies.  Books are the sole exception to this rule.)

And then came the coconut candy man.  There was no way on Earth Erik was going to turn down little balls made of a coconut-honey paste.

It is possible we bought four pots of these during our visit to Chalon.

At this point, I called time.  That was it.  We already had two lobsters, a crab, twelve oysters and a pot of coconut balls, and we’d been in Chalon thirty minutes.  Enough already.  At least until tomorrow.

Erik shared with the rest of us.  Really.

In the meantime, the girls have been total water babies.  We inherited a small blow-up raft from another boat and pulled out the Airhead tube we rescued in Bay Biscayne last year.  A few friends from another boat came by, and voila.  Happy kids.

Underwater expert.
Drifting along.
Hanging on the anchor chain.

Tubing with Dad.
Making a leaf face on deck.

Erik, meanwhile, still lives in project mode, going so far as to sew by headlamp when the sun goes down.

Completely mental.
As much as we would have loved to stay in Chalon and let the girls keep swimming, this morning it was time to head north again before we all turned into lobsters due to over-consumption.  And, of course, on Tuesday the painters arrive to take over the bathrooms!  Oh, happy day!  Out at anchor with two occupied heads!  But having to turf a hairy man out of the toilet every time the kids need to pee is a small price to pay for having a bathroom that doesn’t look like it was transplanted from a derelict bus station.  This is my glamourous life, people.  Simultaneously, Erik will start either the fridge project or the tool rack, so December is full of Christmas fun for the Papillon Crew.  Expect pictures of destruction to follow.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Machetes and Miss Colombia

Well, friends, the paint job continues.  For those of you keeping score at home, tomorrow will mark the end of week 4.  However, things are coming along.  For example, some things have already been painted.  That’s a good sign, right?  My understanding is that only the anti-skid and waxing remain.  So, maybe, by the end of the week, I’ll have my boat back.

Men at work.

The bow is almost there.
Even the toilet seats are getting 'refreshed'
In the meantime, my brain is too full of fumes to come up with a good post.  And what do we all do when we have nothing to talk about?  Resort to current events!

It was Independence Day last week.  Not only that, but it was the 200th anniversary of independence.  This translated into a week of music and parties and general uproar.  One day mid-week, the girls and I walked into town to get groceries.  We stopped first for a raspado from the vendor out front.  This is essentially a snow cone in a paper cup with lime juice squirted on top, all for the bargain price of fifty cents.  Delicious!

Freshly ground ice.
We’d barely had time to start melting when a gang of half-naked young men in torn jeans and face paint ran up to us and began to jingle a tin can in my face.  This was clearly a costume, and they were very friendly for men carrying faux machetes.  This was a rare situation where my total lack of Spanish worked in my favour.  I put on my most vacant, smiley girl face and told them I didn’t speak any Spanish.  They jingled the tin and repeated their request for money (I’m guessing, here, but I think the evidence supports it.)  I smiled even more vacantly, apologised again and tried to look sorry that I didn’t understand.  They shrugged, smiled and wandered off in search of linguistically-better-capable victims.

On the two-kilometre walk to the grocery store, the girls and I were accosted at least nine more times by groups ranging in age from four to twenty-four.  Most were wearing fright wigs, and many had water cannons or foam shooters.  Only one group got pushy with us (a gang of eight-year-old boys).  They were immediately pulled aside and given what-for by a nearby policeman, so I’m again guessing that this sort of ritualized mugging is supposed to be confined to friends and neighbours.

Over the next few days, the dancing and the costumes and the wigs and the machetes got bigger and louder, culminating in the boat parade on Saturday.  Now.  This was less of a boat parade than a breast parade.  And less of a parade than a random collection of motorboats zooming around the bay in a random fashion, as though piloted by Indy and her friends.  The Miss Colombia contestants were carted around, adding to the general chaos.  And a number of boats eschewed their sound systems in favor of a full band on the back deck.  This lead to a very roly-poly day and night, and I finally had to take an Advil for my headache.  And all this didn’t help the painting progress, as Erik and our work crew were otherwise occupied with the binoculars.

The madness begins.

Smaller and smaller bikinis.

Boats everywhere.

The party seems to be over now, but you never know.  Erik was out last night – three days after Independence – and got caught in the middle of another foam battle in the neighbourhood.  You see?  These are things they don’t warn you about in travel advisories.  Colombia: raspados, friendly police, foam parties, funny wigs.

It’s time to make some lunch.  Does Caesar salad sound good to you?  Yes, me too.  Until next time, when I hope the boat will be work-free.  Work-free!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Tales of Woe

It has been a trying week on Papillon.  Annoyances, both petty and otherwise, have occupied our precious time.  And what is the best way to get rid of a grievance?  Why, to share it, of course!  And so, dear reader, I share with you our tales of woe.  Well, I plan to, anyway.  Grievance #1 is that the internet has been down for four days now, so this post shall languish in the ether until who-knows-when.  I write this in the hope that, someday, you will drive home in your hover car to your spacedome in the clouds and your loving Replicant spouse will inform you that Papillon Crew is finally posting again.  Oh, happy day!

But on to the actual issues.  Our second problem was a bit of a puzzler.  We gained a series of Close Neighbours.  By this I mean, other boats who anchored way, way too close to Papillon.

We all remember using a compass in high school math, right?  Poking a neat hole in the page and drawing a circle.  Fun!  Well.  That is exactly how our anchor chain works.  The anchor sits at the centre (that would be center for our American friends), and the boat draws a circle around it.  Especially now, since we sent our anchor chain off to be regalvanized, so we are currently on a thick nylon rode instead.  With no heavy chain dragging along the bottom, we move precisely around the perimeter of a perfect circle, because, you’ll recall, our bow always points into the wind.

So we have our circle.  And everyone else has their circles.  And the important bit is, we all sit on the same side of our own circle at any given point.  Like so:

Wind from the north...

and the southwest...

And the east.  Happy, happy.

It isn’t complicated, is it?  When we have all done our jobs right, it looks good, even though our circles overlap.  However, if someone gets too close, and makes too small a circle, it looks like this:

So far, so good.


And we have a problem.

Our close neighbour was a Dutchman.  I dislike national stereotypes, so I will risk redundancy and say he was a stubborn Dutchman.  Erik and I spoke to him a couple of times to explain that, as we were having work done, our cockpit was wrapped in plastic, we had no wheel, and essentially no way to move the boat if trouble occurred.  We came within fifteen or twenty feet of each other.  We tried to intimate that perhaps he would be happier a little further away.  To no avail.  Stubborn Dutchman was not moving.

And so, one morning when Mr Dutchman went off to town, we moved closer, and closer, and closer.  This is what it looked like In Real Life:

Kind of Close.



The photos stop there because I had to hastily drop my camera, put out another fender, and call Erik to help push the boat off us.  Yes, we actually laid hands on that boat and pushed it away.  Thank goodness the winds weren’t stronger.

And if that weren’t enough, we had this happen with two other new boats in the next 48 hours.  Those people were less stubborn, and beat a retreat before we touched.  Hurrah.  Altogether annoying, but no one was hurt, and nothing was damaged, so let’s call it a win.

Our third issue... well, there is no sugar-coating it.  It is made of fail.

Our endless paint job continues.  At lunch, the workmen borrow our dinghy to go pick up lunch.  This job is usually left to one of the junior members of the crew.  About five days ago, we were reading to the kids in our cabin when Junior Workman appeared in the hatch above us, looking panicky.  He said something in rapid Spanish.  Erik stared at him.  More rapid Spanish.  More staring.  A slow, disbelieving response from Erik.  “Si.”  Erik shot through the hatch like a bullet.

“What happened?” I cried, popping up after him.
“Junior Workman lost our motor in the anchorage.”  He grabbed two scuba tanks, his gear and the handheld GPS, and they were off.

That's some unhappy paddlin'.

Yes.  Somehow, despite being attached correctly and locked down, the outboard motor worked itself free and dove into the harbour, cracking the transom in the process.

Five days and a brutal ear infection later, there is still no sign of our motor.  Because, if your outboard is going to mysteriously jump off, it is not going to do it in ten feet of clear water.  It is going to do it in 45 feet of muddy, arm’s-length-visibility murk.  Erik and a crew from the marina have methodically worked a grid pattern, to no avail.  We’ve finally put up a reward and let all comers enter the feeding frenzy, because it would still be cheaper than the spine-chilling price of a new outboard down here.  Even if we do retrieve it now, there is no guarantee it will still work.

Decorating the cowling in happier days.

All this in addition to living in a work site.  The windows and hatches have all been covered in plastic, dialing the airflow and light below down to nothing.  And did I mention that we are working down our third and final water tank with – although this is the rainy season – no rain in sight?  Ah, me.  What a week.

So send me your good juju, ye people of the Hovercar Future!  Let’s finish this paint job, get a new-but-used-hopefully-not-stolen-from-another-poor-cruiser motor, and head down to clean waters for a couple of weeks of swimming and recuperation.  Then, more jobs!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Once Around The Park

My dears, we are so busy here on Papillon that I hardly know which way is up.  I haven't collected my brilliant thoughts together into a post.  Well, I'm sorry.  Instead, I give you a photo roundup of what we have been doing lately.

We've been playing in the rain...

Using the grinder and making a dusty mess...

Doing crafts...

Making more messes...

Enduring a temperature drop to 25 C and acting like it is a cold winter's day...

And attending Hallowe'en parties with friends.

Phew.  I'm tired just posting all that.  I'll aim for something a little more text-based next time.