Monday, April 30, 2012

Moving On

Hello, my chickadees.  I'm tired.  I've been stowing groceries for the past eight hours.

But more on that in a moment.  First, the news.  Papillon is due to go through the Panama Canal on Tuesday.  Exciting!  And you, the ultra-web-connected, savvy people that you are, will want to watch all of this.  As it happens!

Care of my father, who is awesome at these things, here are your instructions:

Start here, at the marine traffic site

a.     This will show Papillon when it is underway, (when they turn on their AIS) that is, after it has left the marina
b.     If you start with the World map you need to click on the green rectangle that is over the Panama Canal
c.     You can then click on the map and drag the part you want to look at into the centre of your screen
d.     And you can click on the slider on the left hand side of the map to zoom in
e.     When you point to the icons on the water the boat names pop up
f.      You can check a box on the left that will show all boat names

a.       The tabs, from left to right show images from Pacific to Atlantic
                                                               i.    Miraflores Locks is by Panama City, looking south to the Pacific, this will be the last spot Papillon gets to in the Canal
                                                             ii.    Miraflores Hi-resolution looks north. Click on the magnifying glass icon for a bigger picture
                                                            iii.   Expansion Program is not applicable
                                                           iv.     Centennial Bridge is a point just north of Miraflores
                                                             v.      Gatun is at the Atlantic end, looking south (usually, any of these cameras can turn, but they do so only rarely)
                                                           vi.      Gatun Hi-resolution looks north and this should be our first view of Papillon

Prizes awarded for the best screenshots!  (But don't send them to me until I ask - no bandwidth.)  I expect we'll get started in the late afternoon on Tuesday.  We will go through the Gatun locks, anchor in Gatun lake for the night, then go on through the Miraflores locks on Wednesday morning.  Hours of delight await you, my fine friends!

Now, back to me and how I am feeling.  A little punchy, thanks for asking.  Our canal date suddenly changed from Friday to Tuesday as of last night.  This meant today was a flurry of major provisioning - and I mean, for 3-6 months, because provisioning once we leave this place will be a pain.

But!  Your correspondent is a woman of forethought and planning!  I already had my three-page Excel printout in my purse.  Ha ha!

I had some witty stories to tell and took some lovely pictures to illustrate my food-buying awesomeness and mad packing-stuff-away skills, but, alas, my camera has walked off.  I really hope I didn't accidentally stow it with the oatmeal.  Anyway.  That sort of took the air out my me.  Some highlights: four-figure grocery bill.  Four heaping carts of food.  Twenty-eight cans of red kidney beans.  Indy making snow angels in the drifts of grocery bags on the floor.  Stowing canned peaches and peanut butter under Erik's bunk.

There.  That's all I can do.  Tomorrow is clean up day, and then off we go!  I'll return when we have internet again.  Otherwise, it is back to the shortwave radio posts as we sail to the Galapagos.

In the meantime, here is a picture of Erik, who is rapidly morphing into the Incredible Hulk, as he prepares to do some welding for a friend.
Hulk need new belt!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

That's Life

Some days, you attend a glamourous wedding in a fancy art galley.
Your correspondent and husband, appallingly clean and well-fed, circa 2007.
And some days, you hold up a heavy watermaker on your back while your spouse bolts it to the wall.
Living.  The.  Dream.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Toilet update #2 - Success! A Guest Post from The Captain

Billy Idol thinks it's a nice day for a new toilet.
We win!

The recapture of our toilet parts is a thrilling tale of line-waiting and document flashing.  A story so exciting that, for the first time here at Sailing Papillon, we have a guest post!  And from The Captain himself, no less.  Without further ado, enjoy Erik's gripping account of How I Rescued My Toilet from the Post Office.

Papillon has emerged victorious from our quest for the missing Lower Assembly Unit, aka pump thingy that makes the whole toilet work.  After having tracked down the toilet to the post office in Colon, and having been told in no uncertain terms that she was not to go to that part of town at any time of day, Amy merrily assigned the task of recovery to me.  Armed only with a mental map of the area provided by our trusty Panama cruising guide (the post office was shown next to a zone marked as “Slums – area to be avoided”), I borrowed a friend’s car and worked my way unscathed through the usual insanity of the Latin American driving experience.  I found an empty curbside near where I estimated the office to be and began wandering around asking people for directions.  Numerous iterations later, with much help from a couple of old ladies out shopping, I discovered the building.  It was a dirty cream pile tucked behind row of semi-permanent shanties and vehicles cramming the street and selling everything from sewing services, to semi-dressed beef carcasses, to cups of freshly pressed fruit juice.  This is indeed a rough part of town and gets rougher with every step closer to the port facility.  Rusted rebars and bits of stucco jut crazily out of the remains of cement balconies, dubious water trickles out of every gutter and alleyway, and an ad-libbed rat’s nest of electrical wiring makes stretching your hand above head height a potentially fatal experiment.

I was at first puzzled when I found the main entrance to the post office building closed by a rusted metal shutter.  Upon retracing my steps I found I had missed a crooked glass door (no handle) that was added as an afterthought  to a gash in the side of the building.  I surmise one of the beef-laden vans in the area crashed into the post office one day.  Once the rubble and mangled bodies were cleared away, the new hole in the wall was seen as an inspired addition to the overall architecture and was adopted as the new main entrance. 

Inside, all is Orwellian blue and beige.  The space was once a bright, traditional, early 20th century administrative building filled with banks of die-cast post boxes overlooked by a row of service counters at the back.  Decades of great-power-inspired socioeconomic development transformed this into a jury-rigged and overpainted mess:  the service desks and post box banks are now topped by inexpertly welded steel mesh to prevent thievery, the floor is now a dull grey linoleum tile, all surfaces vertical and horizontal, apart from the beige steel mesh itself, are covered with a matte baby-blue paint scientifically designed to highlight grubby fingerprints and scuffs.  The process to recover a package is delightfully byzantine; plan at least 2 hours for the adventure.  

Step 1:  go to General Inquiries desk (cage, actually), show ID and chat with friendly, exceedingly Rubenesque lady inmate.  She will now slowly shuffle through various bits of paper.  After a process of trial and error finding a rough match between what is on your ID and the illegible scrawl on the badly photocopied package forms, you and she will jointly agree that this is probably the right item.  Proceed to Step 2. 

Step 2: proceed to payment cage, show ID and attempt to greet sullen, weathered and stick-insect-like lady inmate named Diana.  After fruitless attempt at civility, shove 25 cents through slot in cage along with form and idly observe Diana meticulously copy out every item on Form A onto a new Form B, then stamp Form B as proof of payment.  Interrupt observation to shoot Matchbox car back and forth across lobby floor to little boy who is hanging around firing cars at gringos while waiting in line with his mom.  Receive Forms A, B and another photocopied sheet explaining the rationale for the 25 cent fee from Diana.  Proceed to Step 3 while musing on the cost structure of the process thus far; 25 cents clearly won’t cover it. 

Step 3:  proceed to jumbled mass of plywood and chain link fencing that spans the entire end of the lobby by the old main entrance.  Ascertain that this is in fact the package receipt desk, whose construction renders the old main entrance unusable.   Stand in line for 30 minutes behind family with six book-sized packages to pick up from the package handler, Mr. David, who resides in the left hand side of the cage.  His counter is set about 3 feet back from, and 90 degrees to, the gap in the chain link through which you actually speak with the man – a more inconvenient arrangement for handing over packages and exchanging forms could scarcely be devised – certainly not OSHA-approved .    Settle back and enjoy the ensuing show as the family engages in a heated discussion of customs fees, frantic form filling (Form C plus a list of recipient info incl., ID numbers) while Mr. David cycles through multiple trips to the back to find packages.  Each package is sought individually in a room that must be at least a two minute walk away, for Mr. David disappears and reappears with this cadence throughout the entire transaction.    Chat with effusive, blindingly gold-toothed neighbour in line who has just moved back after 17 years in Miami  and is readapting with some difficulty to life in Colon (“just getting the hang of this whole Spanish gig again, man...”).  Prepare to step forward to the desk, but stop as you realize it is far, far from your turn yet.  The quiet, blue-shirted man in the Gilligan hat who you took to be the janitor hanging out in the right hand side of the cage turns out to be the senior customs officer, and is about to inspect all the packages that Mr. David just handed out of his little window.  Observe idly as he also fills out all the recipient information on Form D, for dutiful signature by the family in front of you.  Once the transaction has completed, finally step forward and proceed to Step 4.

Step 4:  Spend 15 seconds talking to Mr. David and be informed that you need your boat documentation to pick up packages.  You have of course left these in the car.  Proceed outside to Step 5.

Step 5:  Walk back to car, unlock it, hunt around and realize that you had the boat papers in your pocket the entire time.  Proceed back to post office, note it is 11:52 and muse that you’re likely about to hit lunch hour by now. 

Step 6: return to the line in front of the package receiving cage and make hopeful faces at the sullen passel of Argentines who were there behind you the entire time you stood waiting; will they let you back in out of sympathy and camaraderie as a fellow foreigner?  Evidently they will not  (happily, they also get the Round 1 smackdown/toss out later by Mr. David as you chuckle inwardly at cosmic balance).  In the meantime, watch your friendly former neighbour stoically enduring a friendly shakedown from the customs man to adjust the declared value of the package of clothing and household items sent down from Miami.  In time, step forward to re-greet Mr. David, who has fortunately not yet taken his lunch break.  Pass over ID and push the former inner operations consultant down deep as you watch poor Mr. David disappear on another lap to the distant package warehouse.  Fill out and sign multiple forms and mentally prepare for detailed and legalistic discussion with customs man about tax-exempt status of parts for yachts in transit.   Hand over packages to customs man and proceed to Step 7. 

Step 7:  See customs man lick his lips in anticipation of shakedown on marine parts with declared value of $1350.  Join him in his side of the cage as he whips out his box cutter and slits the first side of the package open.  Pause.  Starts slitting the second side while asking “So, these are boat parts, are they”.  “Yes, indeed.  They are parts for a broken toilet.  What an awful mess that was!”  The hand with the box cutter freezes midway through its second cut.  Box cutter is laid down carefully. “You’re in transit, then?  Ok, ok, I’m sure it’s all fine.  Just sign here and you’re free to go”.   Evidently, even hardened Panamanian customs officials shy away from the detailed perusal of the innards of other people’s toilets.  Funny, that.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Toilet update #1

I opened my email this morning to find this happy little item waiting for me.

Well, no kidding.

And in case you are wondering, the bus driver had no luck yesterday.  Erik is on his way there now; we'll see if he does any better.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

The Case of the Missing Toilet

How do toilets get lost in the mail?

I have been asking myself that all morning.  I mean, they’re toilets.  They’re big.  And toilet-y.  Who is going to steal a marine toilet?  It isn’t as though you could take it home and hook it up.  It runs on 32 volts and seawater, for crying out loud.  They are utterly useless to anyone but us and a few shrimp boats.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

These are our toilets:
"Do Not Use"...

...because life would be too easy with functioning toilets and two kids.

Don’t let the pretty wooden box fool you.  Underneath is a tangle of joker valves, impellers and leaky pump parts that makes me want to kill somebody.  Poor Erik has spent many, many hours disassembling and reassembling this piece of equipment for good reasons (Hey!  Another impeller lost its blades!) and bad (Hey!  The girls flushed another beaded bracelet!).  Marine toilets – at least, the ones we have – are utterly unforgiving.  They are filled with fiddly pieces, places for things to get caught, and small bits that like to break off at odd moments.  I covet the simple hand-pump toilets my friends enjoy.  But when you buy a boat, you get what comes with it, and our thirty-year-old electric toilets are our cross to bear.

Long ago, back in Cartagena, Erik spent a delightful 13 hours disassembling the main head back to the motor.  In the interests of keeping his skull from exploding, we decided to invest in new parts.  So a new lower unit for the really bad one and a two spare rebuild kits were the order of the day.  “Send them to Panama!” everyone said.  “It is easy to send things there.  And you are a Yacht in Transit, so you don’t have to fuss with customs.  Easy!”

If there is one thing I’ve learned, it is that “easy” is the antithesis of “boat”.

We ordered our parts from the very helpful manufacturer in New Jersey.  They promised three to five days.  I quietly laughed into my sleeve.  But once ten days had passed, I thought I’d better start investigating.  The tracking number showed the box leaving the United States and then... nothing.  This is nothing new to me.  Packages often disappear online until delivery.

This morning, I took another look.  Hmm.  A new and unhelpful message, dated three days ago, awaited me: Addressee requests own pick-up - Item being held, addressee being notified”. Well.  As I had given a clear delivery address and hadn’t been notified of anything, the first tendrils of concern coiled around my shoulders.  Where was my toilet?

I called my contact at the manufacturer, hoping for a little help, but he unfortunately wasn’t around.  Crumbs.  Next, it was back to the marina office, where the gentlemen at the desk are too polite to show their annoyance with my daily requests for toilet-containing packages.

Here’s your stupid spy camera!
Delighted with a chance to solve my toilet problems and get me out of their office, the men snatched the tracking form from my hands and started making calls.  It is interesting to watch someone else call Customer Service.  It makes me feel better that we all are subjected to hold, call-a-different-number and general telephone ping pong.  I feel less singled out.  The upshot of their calls was that everyone was at lunch.  At 11:15am.  But I should come back around one o’clock.  Maybe someone would be back.

At one o’clock precisely, I walked through the door, and was greeted with the news that my package was, indeed, at the post office.  Hooray!

“So, where is the post office?” I asked brightly.
Two heads shook at me.  “No.  You do not go to the post office.”  A muttered conversation, and out came the phone again.  “The bus driver will try to get your package.”
“The bus driver.”

And now I wait, wondering why my toilet is being held hostage at the post office, wondering whether the bus driver will have any luck.  Is the post office here concerned with trifles like ID?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  If the bus driver strikes out, will I be allowed to go to the post office myself?  Again, maybe, maybe not.  But I tell you, friends, that I will get those toilet parts, even if I have to break out my black pajamas to do it.

The Papillon crew is going to go all ninja on your toilet-withholding selves!

Monday, April 9, 2012

Happy Easter!

So, did everyone participate in Easter activities today?  We did!

The girls did an egg hunt...
Indy is already in a sugar daze.

...and Erik and I cleaned out the aft fuel tank in preparation for welding!
Holiday?  What holiday?
I think the traditional activities are the best, don't you?

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Kids These Days

We have been pretty laid back on this trip.  It was not for nothing  we adopted the motto, “Just Roll With It.”  That principle has reduced our stress, led us into surprising and delightful situations and friendships, and kept me from committing The Murder every day we are stuck on the hard.  But we can’t always just let things roll for the kids.  School: fine.  Family time: no problem.  But, friends: issue.  So we work hard to find other kids and let our girls run wild with them.

One nice thing about cruising kids is they are all in the same boat, as it were.  (Oh!  Inadvertent pun!  Boo, Amy, boo!)  They all want friends.  This neatly overrides considerations of age, gender and language.  Our girls will play with anyone within a decade of their own age.  They have learned to be gregarious.  Stylish has overcome the shyness I regret having passed on to her.  (Indy escaped that trait; she is her father’s daughter, and can’t imagine why anyone wouldn’t want to talk to her.)  But this constant making and leaving of friendships has given me an interesting peek into Young People These Days.

In the early days, we met land kids.  We were travelling down the east coast of the US in late fall, and all of the boat kids were ahead of us in the Bahamas.  So we would go ashore, haunt the parks and find someone to play with.  I was nearby only due to Indy’s tender age, and I did my best to fade into invisibility.  (Kids do not need us in so many ways, and Erik and I are delighted to see how independent and resourceful the girls are are when we step back. [/end Amy’s parenting philosophy])

Stylish had her first great success in the Carolinas.  She befriended a quiet girl of about nine, and the two of them played Ninja Training School on the broken tennis courts for days on end.  As they practiced jumping kicks and Indy ran in circles around them, I was able to observe other vignettes of small town kid life.

One afternoon, two teenage girls hopped onto the swings.  They were almost identically dressed – clean faces, athletic pants, ponytails, t-shirts and hoodies.  My instinct said volleyball team.  They sat for a while and chatted, until clones from other group came along.  Two girls wearing dangly earrings, makeup, tight jeans, Ugg boots and sideswept hairstyles approached.  The sporty girls immediately hopped off the swings and left.  The posh girls took their places without batting an eye, as though it were their natural right.

This shook me to my core.  Growing up, I’d been a fan of the Molly Ringwald oeuvre of movies, and, if pressed, I still could probably recite the entire script of The Breakfast Club.  These films depicted the cruel world of a high school class system so sclerotic, so immutable that the British aristocracy of centuries past would have thought it all a bit inflexible.  My own high school was too small and Canadian for such cliques to form, and besides, this was film.  It wasn’t real – these things weren’t true.  But, apparently, they are.  The way the cool girls effortlessly booted the athletic girls –without a word, without a raised eyebrow, without a blink on either side – it was terrifying.  I’m stupefied.  Who knows how the entire hierarchy is built, but I am grateful my girls don’t have to find a place within it.  Yuck.

You mean, we don't have to stay in our tiny little social boxes?
But not everyone lives in a John Hughes movie.  As we pushed further south, male friends came along, older friends came along, younger friends came along.  Indy hit a milestone not long before her third birthday by making her first friend completely on her own, a boy in Guatemala who spoke no English.  The two of them bonded over a mutual love of Lightning McQueen.  Racer showed off his Cars stickers; Indy presented her Cars t-shirts.  This accomplished, they ran after each other and tumbled in the grass like puppies for about three days.

Buddha makes an excellent babysitter.
Sometimes we met kids the girls loved.  In Cartagena especially, we met boat after boat of wonderful kids.

It has been interesting to be in this marina for so long, because the kid-dynamic is different again.  There are a lot of kids here, enough that cliques are forming. 

Know thy place.
And I shouldn’t be surprised that ten-year-olds form packs, exclude other kids, tease, trick, and otherwise act like monsters, but there it is.  I don’t think I could teach in middle school; I think it would put me off the human race..  Happily, the girls, while bewildered by some of the behaviour they have witnessed, aren’t involved in it.  They have found some nice friends here, and have bonded over diving for toy torpedoes and pushing each other in the water.  May that happy self-assurance last.

We’ll just march to our own beat, thanks.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Life On The Hard

Here we sit, at the mouth of the Panama Canal, in a marina.  And wouldn’t you know it?  There are two worlds here.  The regular dockside marina, with shore power, restaurants, and people wearing jewellery and clean clothes.  And then there is The Yard, where paint, dust, and other familiar dirty things are the order of the day.  We are repainting the antifouling on the bottom of our hull, and so here we are, on a gravel field, packed amongst other boats undergoing improvement.

Up we go!
It just doesn't look right, somehow.
Delightful things about being on land again:
  • Laundry, laundry, laundry.  Before we arrived, I hadn’t done laundry except in a bucket since January.  Enough said.
  • Power hookup.  This means we don’t have to rely on our almost-dead batteries.
  • A tiny store.  Even buying tomatoes can be exciting when you don’t have to get in the dinghy first.
Small inconveniences related to being hauled out:
  • No toilets aboard.  They run on saltwater... and we’re out of the water.  Since we can’t flush them, we can’t use them.
  • No sinks aboard.  We can’t drain our greywater tank, so no sinks.  All washing is accomplished via a garden hose hanging over the rail.
  • No fridge.  This also needs saltwater to run, so we have spent the past week trying to eat everything before it went bad.
  • The rickety ladder tied to the hull to allow ascent and descent.  We have drilled the girls in proper ladder technique, ie. control your monkey impulses.  So far, so good.
  • Cooking.  As I don`t have use of a sink, this is a bit of a challenge.
  • Washing the dishes on deck in a bucket.  Not my favourite job to begin with, I didn`t realize how good I had it before.

Our week has been filled with fun tasks like watching Erik attempt to electrocute himself while grinding in the pouring rain (this is the dry season, apparently) and slathering the kids with DEET to keep the nighttime hordes of mosquitoes at bay.  But we have gotten past sanding tiny spots of aluminum and actually put zinc chromate primer on the hull today.  And that may not sound exciting (or comprehensible) to you, but I am dancing a jig, here.  That means that actual barnacle-killing paint is not far behind, and we can get ourselves back into the water.  Because sleeping on a boat that doesn`t move just feels weird.  (And when it does move, it feels terrifying.)

Your correspondent remains a woman of glamour and mystery, even wearing lab gloves, a face mask and that hat.  In the rain.
What do you mean this doesn’t look like paradise?  There are palm trees in the background, aren’t there?
As an extra bit of excitement, the local firemen kicked us off the boat briefly this afternoon.  Because they were spraying a colony of Africanized killer bees in the bushes 50 feet away.  And that may sound bad enough, but two days ago, while the girls and I were out, Erik chased a swarm of over a hundred enormous bees out of our boat armed only with a can of roach spray.  The last bees were leaving as we arrived home, and they were each the size of my thumb.  Were they really killer bees?  They certainly looked scary enough.  But they didn't kill Erik, so maybe they were some of those so-called domesticated Africanized killer bees.  I think I`ll still leave the antihistamines where I can find them easily.

The man in the bee suit pouring poison in a bucket isn’t really what you want to see next door.
What will the next week “on the hard” bring?  Well, we still need to weld that leak in the aft fuel tank and wrestle the centerboards back in, so don’t worry about us.  Excitement abounds!