Sunday, December 14, 2008

Crash, Bang, Boom!

Twas the 9th night of December at around 11:00 at night. The wind was blowing steady; there was not a boat in sight. And so starts the story of our worst experience to date at sea.
“This has to be our best sail ever,” stated Marc earlier in the evening. We were cruising over the bottom at 9.5 knots, with a 1.5 knot favorable current. With the light of full moon and partly cloudy skies, the whitecaps of the breaking waves sparkled.
With an uncomfortable boat motion, the kids had chosen to sleep in the cockpit. The autopilot was handling the wind, 15-20 knots from forward of the beam. The predicted SE wind had not appeared yet. Having checked the radar, sail trim, and scanned the horizon, I stepped inside to make a log entry.
I was only inside a few minutes when the cascading series of huge crashes sent me outside. I instantly knew my worst fears had come true, the mast had come down. I asked the kids to put on their life jackets and get inside the boat. The boat motion settled to a gentle rocking in the sea as the huge white sails lay in the water like a blanket. Marc was up quickly and I said much more calmly than I felt, “the mast came down”, and I handed him a harness.
The kids were running in and outside, asking what to do and if we were going to be O.K. “I want to quit sailing! I don’t want to cross to Europe! Are we going to die?!” they screamed. We did what we could to assure them that we were going to be O.K. Give them a job I thought, so I asked them to plot our position in the log. I turned on the SSB and asked them to try to hail a station on 14300 and VHF channel 16 to report our position. That did not keep them busy for very long as no-one answered. So panic ensued again. I said, “Stay inside, stop panicking… and pray!” The NW Caribbean net had not asked if I wanted an evening check in and our buddy boat, Mima, was way ahead and had anchored in the lee of Cozumel for the night. It would be great to be able to give someone, anyone a position. We were totally and completely alone.
Marc stood motionless on the bow in the moonlight and pondering what to do. I was surprised as he is usually so quick to act. Having been brusquely awakened he was clearing his head and evaluating our options.
Marc asked me, “Do you want to try to save anything?” “The salty sailors that sell books tell tales of how they bring the mast along side the boat and somehow secure it. Then they drift to some uninhabited island, jury rig the stick back up with vines and tree roots and sail on to civilization.” He tries to budge the massive cat rig and deems this completely unrealistic and a further threat to the safety of Side-by-Side and its crew. It is night, the kids are panicking and the noise is deafening. The entire rig makes a rocking and grating motion on the toe rail and lifelines in the ocean swells.
“I don’t care about the money!” I scream. I can’t believe I said that.
He asked for the bolt cutters and a rigging knife. Of course, under stress I could not remember where the bolt cutters were. In a closet somewhere, but I picked the wrong closet. Marc produced them, cool as a cucumber. He was dismayed that his OMG rigging knife was not in its compartment under the chart table nor was there one in the bin at the helm! So where are they when you need them? Marc initially had to use a kitchen knife to cut away lines. Finally, Sabrina and I found a sailing knife which had worked its way to the back of the chart table.
We then strategized how to best jettison the rig into the ocean. It saddened us to waste a perfectly good mast, sails and rigging lying there because we had no ability to recover them. I began to strip the lines out of the clutches and blocks at the helm. I opened the tensioned main sheet clutch and the rig made a violent shift toward the abyss. The boom slid off the hardtop and was caught in the lifelines. Meanwhile, Marc was on the bow undoing the jib’s tack, cutting lines, and separating what was to go overboard. I then remembered to take the boat off autopilot. Waves rock us and the boom grates against our newly polished deck. Each horrendous noise brings a new round of panic from the kids. Bang, bang, grind, grate goes the mast which is looking like a huge sea-saw on our boat with the lifelines as the fulcrum. The waves would raise the mast up and down onto our deck like a menacing uninvited monster looming over our heads as we worked feverishly to rid ourselves of it.
At last, we had just the forestay, the port side-stay and a sail tensioned boom hung up in our lifelines. I got under the boom thinking I could steady it while Marc started to cut away the sail. It came down on my extended leg and ankle, pinning me to the deck.
“Get out of there!” Marc yelled. As the boom rose up with the next wave, I freed my leg. Deal with the pain later and address the issue, I thought. We now had a boom slowly rising up as the mast continued its desire to reach for the bottom. With concentration and clenched teeth I started the engines and began to slowly back the stern up into the wind. With the boat pressing up against the sails and rig in the water, it did not feel like we were going anywhere. Warily, Marc went forward, clipped the forestay and returned to the cockpit.
“Keep backing up to windward or this boom is going to come reaching into the cockpit and crush you, the helm and the hardtop.” With an eye on the boom rearing up alongside my head I accomplished the task at hand. Marc carefully guided it up and over the mangled lifelines to keep it from doing further damage to the vessel. Over the side it went with only a port stay between us and freedom. I slowed the engines.
Scrape under the water and clunk went the port prop. Neutral and starboard engine only! The mast was emitting a light hiss at was pulling its way deeper into the dark ocean. Marc inched his way along the port side, quietly knelt down and severed the last stay. He stood up with bolt cutters in hand mournfully watching as our beloved rig wafted away in search of the bottom of the great abyss.
All was quiet again as the moonlight danced across the rolling seas. Relief and grief overcame me. The family embraced said silent prayers of thanks. The kids were very loving and happy to be safe. In the face of life threatening adversity, we did what needed to be done and despite some bruises to our bodies and spirits we were going to be ok.

Shaken, thank-full to be ok and still with 120 miles to go, we motored on into the darkness.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Leaving Panama

After 3 months, we left Panama feeling as through we had seen the whole country. Our experiences with indigenous people left us a little less depressed while going over American History with Parker and Sabrina. At least some Indians survived the Europeans. In Panama, there are large sections of the country, the islands of the San Blas and the Mountains of the North East that are governed by indigenous tribes. Are they poor? Are they happy?, hard to say. They are friendly, curious and healthy looking. The Kuna seem to be the best organized with a strong sense of community with the Salis in charge. Cruisers we met were building a house in the Bocas del Toro area. Gringos are buying up land from indigenous folks for the climate, low cost of living and love of no-see-ums. I met the groundskeeper, his wife and 3 kids ages 4, 3, and 1 at a cruiser potluck at the cruiser home. Later I learned that the wife was 18, meaning that she had her first child at 14. As a mother, it was hard to imagine my daughter capable of marriage and kids in 5 more years. Without educational opportunities, that is the course their life takes.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Key West of Yesteryear

If ever there were another place like the Key West of yesteryear, it would have to be Bocas Del Toro (the mouth of the bull). One can’t help but smile in the laid back bohemian pedestrian based outpost of the Caribbean. Bocas got its start with the upstanding corporate citizens and land stewards, the United Fruit Company. Clearing huge tracks of rain forest, filling in the mangroves to build the town and employing workers at near slave labor wages and working conditions to bring you bananas. After abandoning the turn of the century outpost it fell into a state of despair and disrepair. Former cruisers and now marina operators stated that just 15 years ago they were the only boat to sail into this area. Since that time, this island outpost among hundreds of mangrove atolls, islands and mainland mountains has been “discovered”.

Today, Bocas is a backpacker’s destination via planes, buses, and or water taxis from the mainland. Activities are surfing, beaching, snorkeling, ethnic dining, tours, hiking, hippy culture, Rasta culture, art culture, bohemian culture, counter culture, indigenous culture, etc etc. By reading some of the tourism and real estate propaganda, you’d think the place has been overrun by Gringos. By the numbers there are only a few hundred residing in a region of over 10,000. But Gringos tend to leave a big footprint compared to the single room organic homes inhabited by the Indians. Many homes are large Panamanian style while others are Mc Mansions.

Today the Gringos more or less coexist with the locals. Through the centuries, the Indians have continued to lead sustainable lives fishing, hunting, planting and making babies. Everyday Indians paddling there hand carved log canoes to their fincas or settlement over the water coexist with Gringos that have restored and gentrified the once derelict colonial town. Just a few minutes by boat and you are transported deep into a maze of mangrove islands which you could meander through for days. And in that time you may come across an Indian fishing or a water taxi in the far off distance. The area is lush lush lush.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Escubo Veracus the Island that has it all

After goodbyes we left with another boat for a small indigenous island called Escubo Veracus. After the chief collected a $10 “voluntary” contribution, we explored the island and surrounding reefs. The kids enjoyed running the dingy up the breaking surf while I prayed the boat would not flip. The atoll formations were incredible with sheer faced races rising up out of the ocean. Next onto Bocas del Toro to meet back up with Mimi. Bocas del Toro is an area of several mangrove islands near the border of Costa Rica. The main town is a surfer hang-out with youth hostels, bars, street vendors, bikes and a bohemian feel. The main marina has no road access and everyone uses the lanchas or water taxis to get to the mainland and other islands. We enjoyed Bocas, esp Hotel Angela for good food and company. The kids loved the $5.00 breakfast buffet reminiscent of the Golden Coral. After a few days, we parked the boat and toured inland Panama. We will save those stories for another time.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Wakeboarding with the cros

What can we say about the Rio Charges, a beautiful natural reserve adjacent to the Canal fronted by Fort San Lorenzo. The Rio is historically significant as the start of Henry Morgan’s attack on Panama and destroying of Panama City. The fort fell to Henry with all souls lost, then ships proceeded up the Rio Charges to Panama City. With all the glorification of pirates in the Pirates of the Caribbean movie series, during our frequent fort visits (there is one on every island and in every country) we have learned that pirates were nasty, murdering, stealing folks. In Portobello, the story goes, that they used the priests and nuns as human shields. Of course, the Spanish were “stealing” the gold from the lands they had conquered. Now the Rio is a peaceful river that we found hard to leave. Mornings spent listening to howlers jumping from the trees and tropical birds singing. Afternoons of wake boarding or swimming (in the middle of the river). Hike were capuchin monkeys, not in a zoo or movie, entertained us for several minutes. Parker and I even found time to do some watercolor painting. Our last night, our friend Michele helped us spot some crocs with their red eyes along the banks. The highlight, Marc persuaded the kids to hike down a gully and we hung out below 20 or so howler monkeys for close to an hour.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

"Sprawling Slum" of Colon

Next we were onto Colon, the armpit of the Caribbean. The Lonely Planet calls it, “a sprawling slum of decaying colonial grandeur and desperate human existence”. (Why can’t I write like that?) The highlight, our friends on Crystal and Mima were there and we missed them terribly. We had one night with Crystal before they moved to a marina across the canal. Nice marina, but not convenient to the shopping or bus transportation in Colon. Most days, cars have to wait up to an hour for ship to pass before crossing the bridge to Colon. The only other marina choice was the Panama Yacht Club. A place where “Yacht Club” is loosely defined. After waiting 45 minutes for the slowest office worked in history to tell him that they had no place for us, Marc came back to our anchorage. Our friends on Mima orchestrated a squeeze play with the boats around them and we got a spot in the marina. Unlike anything we had ever seen, we had to estimate where to drop our anchor and back into a “spot” while not getting tangled on several moorings underwater. The first attempt, the anchor chain ran out and we were 10 feet short of the end dock. We had to go it again with our friends taking lines while standing on other boats. Literally, we had 12 inches on either side of our boat of space. Marc then received a huge shock trying to plug into the power (see picture). Off to Panama City to see Grace. The weekend was great with trips to the mall, haircuts, dinner and salsa lessons and Pricemart for $600 worth of familiar products. Back to Colon on the night bus (after needing taxis and porters to help with all the stuff) with the a/c so cold we were all huddled together for warmth. At least this time no violent movies were showing for the kids to stare at. After securing a pickup truck taxi and watching him drive around to try to hack up the fare, we were back at our “marina”. Off to the Rio Charges, only 20 NM south but a world away from Colon. Sabrina proudly exited Colon and officially sailed the boat out of the Panama Canal, passed 20 some boats waiting to transit.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Line Handlers for a Day-Only in our Mind

After the San Blas, we ventured to Isla Linton and Portobello along the coast of Panama, before Colon. Our South African friends on Grace, a 56ft foot catamaran, had said we could line handle in the Canal with them and they went on to make arrangements for their transit. Marc and I were really excited.. .a chance to see the canal on someone else’s boat. It is an overnight adventure so Stewart on Grace was wonderful to allow us to go, as he would be housing 4 of us. Everyone had said not to spend time in Colon, which was dirty, polluted and dangerous. Our hearts sank when, due to a pilot strike, Grace’s transit date was over 30 days away. Side-by-Side did not plan to be in Panama for that long. The next email, however was that they secured a last minute opening and went through. Being South African they have a flair for “persuading” officials. We were crestfallen but chose to travel to Panama City and see them before they left. The family on Grace, Stewart, Debra and their three kids were some of the most special, generous and loving people we had met. We hope to visit them someday in South Africa.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Easter in Portbello-Home of Christo Negro

Portobello was the most important port in the Atlantic in its day. Sadly, little has been done to preserve or promote the history of the area. Squatters have set up housing in the borders of the forts and many of the buildings are falling into disrepair. Portobello is also known as the home of the Christo Negro (or Black Christ). The story goes that typhoid was killing off 1000’s and locals were flocking to the local Catholic Church to pray for their health. While neighboring areas were decimated by thyroid, Portobello was spared. Luckily we were there for Holy Week and witnessed the procession of the Black Christ through the streets.. an event that lasts 4 hours. Children dressed as mother Mary danced, sang and processed with anguished looking men carrying the life-size Black Christ on a throne of wood. After 1.5 hours, the kids were tried and we retired, while listening to the sounds of music from our boat.

Trying to maintain some Easter tradition, Angie suggested a cruiser potluck with some new found friends. A new kid boat pulled in, a whole 24 feet long, with two boys 9 and 11 (plus some animals somewhere in there). We were proud of the kids when they hopped in the dingy by themselves to go introduce themselves. The kids were English and had the most delightful accents. All of us were amazed that all four people could happily co-exist in such little space. Saturday, 5 other boats joined for a fort-based Easter egg coloring event. Easter Sunday we attended a packed Spanish service, hard to keep the kids interested when they could not understand what the priest said. After, we had a great Easter egg hunt in the old fort with the 4 kids, with a potluck with the other boats. The two younger kids found 2x more eggs than the big boys did, who seem to walk past most of them. Somewhere in the grounds of the fort is a lone Easter egg that was never found as the men could not remember where they had put all of them. Not wanting to give up, a they spent a hour looking. The festivities ended with a egg tapping contest, with Sandy of “Namaste” the winner much to the kids disappointment.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Cartagena, Columbia: The Most Beautiful Historical City in the New World

Towering up out of the gently rising arid landscape stood high rise after high rise of beach apartments, condos and hotels of the new section of Cartagena. From our approach, we had to navigate through a buoyed cut so as not to run aground on the nearly mile long underwater wall built by the Spanish Conquistadors. This hidden wall prevented enemy warships from entering the harbor from this approach. Alternatively, all vessels had to enter a heavily fortified entrance complete with a huge iron chain that could be raised and lowered. Cartagena and the now less prosperous Portabello, Panama served as the main ports for the great Spanish plundering of the new world’s gold.

Motoring through the bay we passed the 30’ tall Virgin Mary monument placed on the rocky shoal in the middle of the bay. Can you say Catholic country? We anchored and were reunited with our friends on Sea U Manana in Club Nautica. The marina is in a great location along a people promenade in a high rise neighborhood within walking distance of the walled city of Cartagena. Many cruisers come and end up staying a long while. Probably because the prolific barnacle growth joins their hull to the bottom and it becomes a reef. Each morning before sunrise, hundreds of health conscious Columbians are out walking. Just down the way, a local fitness junkie would do a morning exercise program on the promenade for anyone who wanted to join in. Angie enjoyed doing Pilates at the marina or walking only the promenade. Often, I’d just have my coffee and enjoy the sunrise from the boat.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Assume Nothing, Trust No One and Always Get It in Writing

Our mast’s boom attachment point weld had been developing a crack that had progressed and so we sought a welder in Cartagena. Our agent, David, (everyone needs an agent to check in), made arrangements for a welder. He came, looked it over, gave us a price of $40 in Spanish. Angie repeated it back to him and wrote it down. The day of, David informs us that our welder could not make it and that “Torres” would do the job for the same price. Torres was who we wanted in the first place. We were greeted at the dock by a “Torres”, his brother in law, his father, and a couple of others. Gees, just to weld a couple of spots. They were all smiles and ready to get started when I had that “assume nothing, trust no one, and always get it in writing moment come over me”. Angie confirmed the price in the office and this time had him write it down. She called the original welder who changed his tune. Suddenly the $45 welding quote was a $450 family celebration. Just think, they were going to reap a month’s wages in less than 2 hours! Alto!!! Well no problem we have to go get the equipment anyway and will be back this afternoon.

Well this sucks. Now that our BS antennas were up, Angie marched up to the office to learn these guys were not part of the marina and were not the “Torres” we had heard of but some distant cousin. Since this was an all day fiasco, we ended up negotiating with the yard and used their welder. The welder stated it would take no more than 2 hours but they insisted we pay for 3, plus “equipment transport” of driving the arc welder a 100 yards to the dock, blah blah blah. So for $150 they did the job. For an extra $10 in the welders pocket, I got him to rework three rounded out bolt holes connecting the vang and boom. Now I’m starting to get the hang of this Latin thing. Slip ‘em a little extra and the world is yours. As for David our agent, I had a lesser opinion of him after that. We should have known when he was always “Johnny on the spot” and making courtesy phone calls on our behalf. We’d go to the marina office and he was there, at the grocery store and hey look it’s David, then a few hours later on the sidewalk and there he is again always checking to make sure all was set for tomorrow.

The checks and balance of it all lies with the marina manager John who assembles and EDITS the cruisers guide for services. Most all cruisers coming to Cartagena stay at Club Nautica and in turn get a copy. If someone has a problem and it’s not resolved, they get “black listed” in the pamphlet and they are out of work. Those who have a good reputation, which is most, work very hard to uphold that honor. Columbians are very resourceful and proud people.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The Columbian Welcoming Committee

After a few days we sailed with Crystal onto Rodedero Beach just west of Santa Marta, Columbia. Following the Pizazz guide, they recommended we sail between a rocky island just off the point and the point…to save a ½ mile! Approaching under full sail doing almost 10 knots we noted the breaking waves of the rocks next to the island. “Two breaking rocks? But I see three!” We are fast approaching just mere seconds from sailing into the pass when I see waves now swirling over two large boulders in the middle of the channel! “Holy $%**!!!” and thank goodness I’m wearing brown shorts. No way and how am I doing this one! Quickly we swing the boat around, fire up the engine and tack out of there. I honestly have no clue why anyone would suggest a cruising boat try to sail through this cut with hull munching rocks on both sides!! We have Lisa and Yanna of Crystal on board to boot.

In Rodedero beach, high rise apartments and condos surround the sandy bay backed by arid mountains. On shore, we are again greeted by another one-man Columbian welcoming committee for international relations, English-Spanish and French speaking Maurice. His plans are to revamp the ocean side bar off his condo and place a dock for cruisers’ dinghies. Though he has a land concession, the Latin “bureaucracy” is getting a little too greedy. Not willing to pay off the officials, we will see when the bar will open. . Beach-side high rise condos like Maurice’s can be purchased for under $40,000.

Ashore we witnessed a true Colombian resort town devoid of all gringos. The people here love music! Every night groups of locals gather on the beach, along the sidewalk, or on a street corner and just start playing pick-up music. They expect no money and welcome you to just have a seat, kick back and relax to the Latin rhythms. Artisans and street vendors hawking their wares line the beach promenade and streets. Instead of cars, the streets have some taxis and romantic horse drawn carriages. We enjoyed the music with Crystal and purchased some of the local cuisine and artisans souvenirs.

Maurice shared with us that within the last 20 years there was a civil war in the streets. Back then, trucks would come down out of the mountains loaded with bails of marijuana right onto the public beach. Locals would load the US bound ganja boats for tips. “There you go Gringos!” Maurice said they’d shout as Americas’ drug obsession fueled the Columbian underworld. Since those days, Columbia has adapted a “0” tolerance policy. Over the last few years, they have worked very hard to rid themselves of their international reputation as a corrupt, drug dealing, money-laundering, lawless society. We found Columbians to be friendly, proud, industrious people. While the weather was still good we made our way west avoiding yet another near disaster.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The notorious Colombian Coast

Everyone warned us that we were going to get our butts kicked by the Christmas winds. The stretch of ocean off the Colombian coast has its own weather system with a combination of trade winds, a semi-permanent Colombian low, a 2 mile high snow capped mountain and warm ocean water all factoring into the weather. Winds over 50 knots and waves over 25’ are a regular occurrence. Fortunately for all us, the weather gods looked after the two families making the passage. One day, we motored in glassy calm seas that looked like oil. Other days we had a gentle breeze. One of the top 3 worst passages on Earth, yeah right!! Get me the pontoon boat honey, got another passage to make. Our rhumb line was very close a lump of Venezuelan rocks that some cruisers stop over at. The Costa Guardia there e very lonely and so contact any vessel that they see asking them for tons of information ….all in Spanish. Questions such as: “How long is your vessel?”; “What is your flag?”; “How many people on board?”; “Are you carrying weapons?”; “When is your birthday?” etc. etc. Fortunately, another vessel interjected trying to help with the translation. Poor guy ended up getting the 3rd degree on his boat also. “So, who are you?” “Where are you going?”

The only cruising info is a word document by a boat named Pizazz. Now Columbia is one of the safer coasts with people on shore welcoming you to Columbia. Having such a bad international image for so long regarding corruption and drug trafficking, the people are trying very hard to change it. Our first land fall was 5 Bays next to the Sierra Nevada mountain range. At daybreak, the clouds had not cleared yet so we missed one of the coolest sites around, a snow capped mountain right next to shore! Crystal, who was behind us by a few hours, did see it and said it was spectacular. Ashore one of the bays were subsistence housing occupied by a co-op of fishermen and their families. Redaldo befriended us as he does all the arriving boats. We signed his log book and left our boat card. As a regalo (gift) he gave us a fragment of an old clay pot he found near by. This particular area is loaded with historical artifacts of an ancient civilization that once occupied this area some 1000 or more years ago.

What made this area particularly exciting were the infamous wind gusts created by the huge adjacent mountains that would trigger wind to come BLASTING down into the anchorage at nearly 40 knots at random moments. Crystal, who store their dingy on the deck, had to take their dog Henna to pee on shore at night. The dingy, while being lowered into the water, acted like a kite and caught the wind with such force it snapped the line and sent the dingy moving rapidly out to sea. BLAST, BLAST, BLAST goes their air horn at 2:00 a.m. With no dingy, they can’t get their own boat. We jump out of bed thinking we were dragging while Crystal shines the light on their dingy. Marc, in such a hurry, tripped on a line and fell face first, dropping our only spot light into the salt water. Luckily, he caught himself. Marc quickly races to get their dingy, which luckily finds a cove or it would be in Panama. Henna still has to go potty and seeing Marc, jumps into our dingy full bore. Kurt has to grab the dog and pull him out of our dingy. The joys of buddy boating.. we are there to help each other out. They were feeling particularly chagrin as earlier they had run out of fuel and need to siphon off of us.

Thursday, January 24, 2008


Despite Crystal leaving for Colombia, we decided to stay for the famous lighted parade of Carnival. Days before the parade locals and businesses set up viewing stands on trailers one after another along the entire route. Daprade be statin’ around 8:00…. plus two hours and then some as the crowds along the parade route grew in size and drunkenness. The first sign of the parade was the tremors of the earth! Then off in the distance we could see the glow of lights back behind the trees in-island. What followed was a full out assault of our visual and audible senses. Gleaming semi-tractor trailers with walls of concert speakers from ground level to 10’ above the cab window ripped through our ears until they almost started bleeding. Just behind the cab was a generator big enough to power a small city running full tilt to amplify the sounds of the band on the trailer stage. As the vehicle proceeded by, the sides were also lined with speakers. For each trailer and band came a portable bar on wheels. It’s purpose was to keep the “hot” ladies and men moving to the rhythm without inhibitions. Each choreograph group was adorned with an incredible array of colorful lights, fabrics, and feathers accentuating their romance novel bodies. Eventually the children were succumbing to the sand man despite the sound pulsating through their bodies. Rather than have them fall out of their viewing tree, we made our way back to Side-by-Side around midnight. Anchored a few hundred yards from the street, our hull resonated with the sounds of the celebration that continued on for some hours into the morning. They sure know how to party in Aruba!

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Around Aruba

Team Johnson landed via Jet Blue back in Aruba with 49.5 pounds x2 bags each plus a carry on each. Now I know we’ll never see the water line again! Looking like the Beverly Hill Billies, we headed to the marina. Side By Side was just as we left her and to all our delight, our hermit crab habitat proved a success. Rather than the tears of setting them free or of finding them out of their shell and dead, we had made vacation arrangements for them too. Half jokingly, we had asked both the Sea U Manana and Crystal kids if they wanted our pets for a month. Shockingly, there were no takers. Lining the sink with rags, we layered in sand most of which did make into the sink. Next, Parker and Sabrina created a habitat and activity center for them complete with dripping water from the dehumidifier.

Literally the morning we were leaving the marina we found our first person in the office. The fact that I wanted to pay my marina bill, unlike some of the local boats, she opted to not even charge us for the additional 3 days we were there. Unheard of in the marina business.

Seeing Jana, Lisa, Kurt and Nadine on Crystal brought more joy to the kids than the expensive Christmas surprise. We spent as much time with them as possible. Crystal ended up spending the month there and loved it. Our anchorage was the airport anchorage where the international runway was only a few hundred yards away. We could read the instructional labels on the planes as they landed such as “fuel”, “exit”, “not a step” etc. Renting a car we set off to tour Aruba. Perhaps the best part, better than getting lost on dirt roads in the interior scrub land, was the ostrich farm. “’Dems good eatin’ ya know”. Our guide informed us all about ostriches from eggs to babies to a one-way vacation off the farm to a food market near you. Ostriches are a very hardy land bird able to survive extreme climates and with limited food sources and good for you too. Our journey eventually brought us to the NW shore with the beautiful lighthouse. Looking back onto the island we could see the second homes by the hundreds and the condo district of Island America. We got your McD’s, Smokey Bones, etc, etc. That evening we gorged ourselves on ribs and more ribs. In one day, we saw the real Aruba where the locals live by the oil refinery (run by Venezuela by the way) and cruise ship/hotel fantasy land at the other end of the island.

Well they don’t discriminate in Aruba and so my “partner” Kurt and I got a membership to Pricemart together for warehouse shopping Thanks to Pricemart and our new membership, we loaded up the boat more and purchased a new microwave, one of the few power hungry appliances allowed on the boat.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Mickey Mouse New Year

In succession we celebrated Christmas with the grandparents. For a week of the time we rented a condo in the crashing Orlando real estate market. What was $150 a night last year was now $75 a night this year. Epcot was spectacular Disney reality. How a working class family can budget for a week stay at Disney is nearly impossible. In hindsight, we should have gone to the Capital One bowl and watch Lloyd Carr’s last day as Michigan’s head football coach in a glorious victory over Florida. Basically a home game for Florida, Michigan was given a slim to no chance of winning.

Then it was onto Park City Utah for the kid’s snow fix. Skiing, tubing, snowmobiling and even some condo tours (free lift tickets) kept us busy for two weeks.