Sunday, December 14, 2008
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
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
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
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
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
Sunday, March 30, 2008
Sunday, March 23, 2008
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
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
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
Saturday, February 2, 2008
Our mast’s boom attachment point weld had been developing a crack that had progressed and so we sought a welder in
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
Wednesday, January 30, 2008
After a few days we sailed with
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
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
Tuesday, January 29, 2008
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
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
Thursday, January 24, 2008
Sunday, January 20, 2008
Team Johnson landed via Jet Blue back in
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
Well they don’t discriminate in
Tuesday, January 1, 2008
In succession we celebrated Christmas with the grandparents. For a week of the time we rented a condo in the crashing
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.