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.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

great post

thanks for the stories

Nicolas T.