Costa Rica – I can see clearly now the rain has gone…

Pura Vida from Costa Rica! Pura Vida is a greeting used frequently in Costa Rica, and directly translates as “pure or simple life.” It’s a nod to the way Ticos live; no stress, no fuss, and happy with what they have. No one dwells on the negative. This ethos pretty well sums up the warm, friendly and relaxed vibe we felt in Costa Rica.

Our first glimpse of the Costa Rican coastline from the sea was impressive, with much of it imposing green mountains rising sharply from the sea. The softness of fluffy white clouds nestled in the angular folds really set off the mountains’ savage beauty. When on land, one felt immediately immersed in jungle, at once a little scary, and absolutely thrilling.

It was in Costa Rica that we warmly welcomed our new family crew aboard. Johan and Amelie joined us in the north of Costa Rica, and they motored/sailed south with us for two weeks. Their time with us turned out to be VERY “adventurous” (read “down right scary” ) at times….! None of us anticipated just what an “Adventure Holiday” they had booked!

Another reason to love Costa Rica was the people! We found the Ticos to be extraordinarily friendly and helpful, as was our experience with most people we came across in Central America. As a rule, we used the public transport (in whatever form it came) most of the time. The various minibuses, big buses, taxis, collectivos, and trains functioned very efficiently when you knew the system, but this was tricky sometimes. However Magnus had a fantastic experience navigating the bustling, crowded, and frenetic buses for a complicated trip one day. People were tapping him on the shoulder and pointing to where he should go, or which bus he should get on, after simply overhearing him ask a question of a bus driver. Many stayed watchful until he had stepped onto the right bus, with shouts of encouragement and lots of pointing. One lady even accompanied him quite a long way to the platform he needed, then instructed a nearby policeman about Magnus’ destination, to ensure he also helped him along. Then she left; heading back to her own platform some distance away. Friendly and helpful is an understatement.

We were grateful for this, particularly as our Spanish is still sadly lacking, which meant we were often at the mercy of others. When all else failed, we resorted to a fluent language of exaggerated facial expressions and gestures that constituted a functional communication medium in most situations. One day however, my rudimentary Spanish came up trumps; carrying me along in conversation for about 15 minutes, beginning with the fact that we were both grandparents, a little about our children, where we were from, the local area etc until we (my conversational partner was a farmer as it turned out) got stuck on a word we could not share, even with significant gesture, air pictures, etc. The word was (most unfortunately) farm, or “granja” in Spanish. But this kind of frequent small attempt certainly helped us connect with others, despite being very far from our language goals.

In addition to the warm personal experiences, we loved Costa Rica for its spectacularly varied and well maintained natural environment. The waterfalls, lush tropical vegetation, incredible wildlife and walking tracks were plentiful and delightful. We were there during the wet season, so we had fewer boating companions than usual, regular torrential downpours, and thunderstorms that would light up an 80s disco, and we were very happy to share some of this with our new crew.

We caught many glimpses of the abundance of flora and fauna the “Rich Coast” is renown for; spotting many monkeys, scarlet macaws, squirrels, iguanas, butterflies anteaters, ocelots, and several turtles offshore including a mating pair. We saw many impressive Guanacaste and Buttress trees, orchids and frangipani – often whilst just walking around on daily errands.

SOME NEW EXPERIENCES: 

  • Wet season in Costa Rica. According to the Ticos, there are two seasons in Costa Rica; wet, and wetter. This is easy to believe according to our short experience. We could easily collect more rain water than we could use in two buckets during the regular downpours that often lasted all day, and were stunned that local fishing boats were tied up to several large airtight plastic barrels to save them from sinking in the case of a big dump of rain. Not many other yachts were out, preferring to sail during the slightly drier season.
  • Schools of fish swimming in phosphorescent algae -one night the sea looked like a screen from an 80s arcade game. Masses of fluorescent comet like shapes darted around like pin balls in fast forward; a fascinating conglomeration of light and movement. Mesmerising! 

(After this incredible light show, our only wish was to see dolphins outlined like this, and voila! A couple of nights later, there they were: graceful dolphin shapes gliding by in inky water, jumping and diving, outlined in glowing sparkles like fairy dust. It is hard to describe the sight in words, but the vision is indelibly imprinted in my memory.)

  • Completing a full provisioning shopping load from a beach launch in surf in our small, heavily laden dinghy!! After doing a big shop in preparation for our new hungry crew, we had to carry our provisions back to the beach and our waiting dinghy. It took 5 trips back and forth to ferry our groceries from the edge of the sand into the waiting dinghy, which we had carried into the water whilst empty. When all the groceries were in, Magnus and I waited, like kids timing their run into a skipping rope, for a break between the sets of rather large waves., whilst keeping the dinghy facing the waves and upright. When the moment came to make a break for it, we pushed out as fast as we could, one leg in and one leg hopping along in the water pushing, until we were out so deep we had to jump in and Magnus started rowing like he had the devil after him!! We could not risk the temperamental motor in such a pinch. When we were out past the breaking wave zone we started the motor and couldn’t quite believe we had made it that far – but it was only after all the groceries were safely aboard Almazul that we did a small high 5. Even hauling the bags up onto the boat in biggish waves was pretty tricky – a good effort for a rookie and an old bloke! 😂
  • Executing a safe and relatively dry crew beach pickup in the dinghy with two big suitcases and 4 adults. Not a bad effort for our little 2.9 m 4 hp rubber raft! Although it seemed like a snap after the groceries TBH.👌
  • Red Tide. It is a type of algal bloom that has been a problem along the Pacific coast of Costa Rica for decades. We had not encountered it before, and watched it come and go most days. We didn’t swim in it, but it was not too restrictive for us, as it had been for other boaters who had spent more time in Costa Rica.

BEST:

  • Having Johan and Amelie on board. It was lovely to spend time with these two, and I loved the incidental conversations that happened when hanging around together, sharing meals and adventures! Their sense of humour, youthful enthusiasm, hunger for new experiences, and appreciation of the natural environment were uplifting for us older folk.
  • Golfito. We entered this small protected bay in southern Costa Rica on a grey rainy afternoon after a two week haul from Panama, and the sight of boats and other people was a salve to our souls. While we enjoyed much of the solitude of being on deserted tropical islands, it’s also nice to share dinner with other people every now and again!

  • Beautiful walks along both the coast and up into the hills of Costa Rica. We appreciated the care taken to conserve the natural environment, and the subsequently good tracks, signs etc. meaning we could access many incredible places and see a plethora of wildlife. One day while walking in northern Costa Rica near the Bay of Nicoya, we found ourselves on a narrow road that became a green tunnel as the trees formed an archway. It turned out that the trees were home to many howler monkeys, and they announced our approach with their incredible roaring. (The sound these monkeys make is completely disproportionate to their size BTW.) The noise increased as we proceeded along the tunnel road, and it became quite eerie as they followed us along. jumping from tree to tree. A little scary, but what an experience!
  • Drake’s Bay was also a favourite for walking, although it feels like we just scratched the surface of walking on the Osa Penninsula, and in Costa Rica in general TBH. Drake’s Bay, also afforded the most extraordinary opportunity to explore Rio Aguijita in our dinghy. This felt at once eerie and magical. We felt extremely privileged and completely awestruck as we quietly looked around the nearest reaches of this emerald green waterway, that felt quite prehistoric. We entered quietly on the slack ride, and went as far as depth allowed, using motor and oars to gently get as far upstream as possibly. Then we quit propulsion, and let the current draw us back to the sea, navigating the intricate eddies and currents with an oar here and there. Sitting silently the four of us absorbed the visual feast largely individually, and discussed our remarkable shared experience later in reverential tones.

  • Beautiful beaches…. as always. Isla Tortuga is worth a special mention because it is one of the most visited beaches in the country.
  • Meeting old friend; in this case English rose Paris and her boyfriend Ed. We met Paris when she was crew on our buddy boat Delphinus, and it was sweet serendipidy that they were travelling in the same area as us, and we managed a quick catchup between tides in Drake’s Bay.

  • Getting around the notorious Punta Mala safely twice, notwithstanding contrary currents and a thunderstorm that lasted for hours, and a lightning strike behind the boat where we had been minutes before. This corner of Panama is renown for its tough weather conditions, and so we waited in harbour for a good weather window to pass this point as safely as possible.

WORST

I have to write about this experience quite seriously, because it was serious at the time. Of all the experiences that we have had, this is the one that came closest to sinking Almazul.

  • We were travelling to Costa Rica during a period of extremely heavy rainfall, resulting in flood damage on land and increased currents and tides in the water. We took refuge in a protected anchorage near Isla Gorbanodora after spending an unbearably rolly night at Bahia Arenas the night before. The problem was that the current rushing between the islands where we were anchored was much stronger than usual and had washed a large (full) fishing net away, wrapping it around our anchor chain and boat, while still being pulled along in a forceful current. This eventually resulted in us being dragged backwards towards a reef and rocks before we were able to release the net somewhat. The first we knew about something being amiss was a knocking sound on the hull while we were downstairs seeking shelter from the weather. Of course it was dark and pouring rain. When Magnus went up to check, he saw the lights of a fishing net marker buoy close behind the boat. It seemed odd that a fisherman would lay a net so close, and that we had not seen or heard him. Then we saw the second marker, also close behind the boat. In slow motion it dawned on us that they were two ends of the same net, which had become effectively wrapped around our boat as it was washed along, full of fish, in the roaring current. The knocking sound had been made by the various floats along the length of the net, now draped along the sides of the boat. The middle of the adrift net had met our anchor chain, and carried on, trying to pull us along too. Thankfully we had a lot of chain out, and a fantastic anchor. Even so, while we valiantly tried to free the net, we were dragged almost 300 metres towards ruin. After trying to alert any local fishermen in vain, we had to cut the net free. Not an easy task from 2 metres above the water, flailing a sharp knife in the dark on a terrible night, pulling parts of the heavy net on deck when possible, bringing the flopping fish with it. We regretted having to cut the net and ruin a fisherman’s livelihood along with the night’s catch, but had no option. We still wonder how far the net had travelled, and whether its owner ever tracked it down.
  • Another serious one. One day we were trying to land our dinghy near Quepos in order to go ashore to a National Park. The waves were not ideal, and after looking around for a suitable spot and a break in the waves, I decided that Amelie and I should disembark and swim ashore to avoid the risk of being in the dinghy if it was upended by a wave during what looked like it would be a dodgy beach landing. (A couple of days before we had had a really rough beaching when a wave caught us and on that occasion we were almost upended. A couple of us were tipped out, knocked over, we broke an oar, lost a flipper etc and the risk of being struck by the outboard was real, so thought it prudent to avoid a repeat.) Anyhoo…. Magnus and Johan proceeded in the dinghy towards shore, while Amelie and I began to swim in. The problem was there was a lot of coral, and the waves were washing us swimmers onto it in a way we could not really control, so we just had to try to keep ourselves as safe as possible as we were repeatedly pushed onto the sharp coral below. We couldn’t see it, but we could definitely feel it! The result was a painful marathon of cuts and scrapes as we made our way towardsthe beach, bouncing gently but painfully off the coral all the way. It felt like we would never get there – and I still have a scar from one of the bigger grazes that day. It was not fun. One of a series of distinctly unplanned adventures!

At the end of that day, we had to leave the same beach at night. We were all understandably apprehensive as we approached the beach in the dark down a small jungle track. We had planned our strategy carefully using what had learned that morning. We knew the waves would be quieter, and also knew the best route out after our earlier experience. Like a well oiled machine, we all performed our tasks with precision, carrying and then pushing the dinghy out into the waves, and then jumping aboard in unison. Even so, there was a collective exhale as we got out past the breaking wave zone, all still safely in the dinghy, unscathed.

  • The feeling of corruption in Panama. We discovered that many fees to be paid were open to “interpretation.”(even when paying authorities) It was hard to decide what to pay, knowing the “official” cost was MUCH less than we were being asked to pay. We felt powerless; not wanting to get in a dispute with authorities but also knowing what the boat that came before us paid…. I think overall, we did quite well by doing all of our immigration stuff ourselves instead of engaging an agent, despite the legwork this entailed. It is hard to participate in what may be bribery, while knowing the everyone is just trying to make a living and feed their families.
  • Another unplanned adventure was having to haul anchor quickly during a deluge after a sudden wind shift swung us 90 degrees. It became apparent that we had anchored over an underwater cliff, and we rapidly moved from 12 metres depth to half a meter under the keel by the time I got the anchor up. A hat lost overboard in the wind was the least of our problems! Crisis averted, but it was becoming uncanny how many of these “adventures” were happening with our new crew aboard!
  • More motoring than sailing between Panama and Costa Rica, because as luck would have it, we had wind on the nose when going north AND south, and our sticky Genoa furler was a bit iffy. That’s life.

  • Another injured toe… no news here. This one happened when it got “hung up” on a companionway step, hinging in an unfamiliar direction while the rest of me continued downwards. Not ideal nor fun. It felt ok and then it didn’t. A persistent black bruise indicated the scene of the crime. It joined the several other “named toes” I have been collecting over the past few years. It joins, among others, the “Swedish toe”, so named because on my first night ever in Sweden, I rammed it forcefully enough to break it and cause bleeding concurrently- onto the useful but invisible raised ledge that exist in many doorways that act as draft stoppers. Much more effective than the Aussie door snake, but not as forgiving on uninformed new immigrant’s toes. 

FUNNIEST 

  • Sloth sighting near miss. OMG I can’t tell this story without giggling. We had been in Central America for over 6 months and not yet REALLY seen a sloth. There was a blob in a tree – but we were VERY keen to actually irrefutably sight a sloth. So imagine our delight when our eagle eyed Captain exclaimed “Look, sloth!” and pointed up towards another, clearer, blob in a tree. We could see that it was indeed a tree dwelling mammal, and Magnus was convinced it was definitely a sloth; “see the tail! It’s wrapped around the branch!” We were suitably (ignorantly) joyful, and craned up at the “sloth” for quite some time, until our necks creaked and we had to move along. But then, imagine our mirth when we read a sign later in the day that clearly stated that most sloths do not have tails! How we laughed at our own ignorance, and mistaken subsequent delight! But in our Captain’s defence, some species of sloth do have tails, albeit not long enough to wrap around a branch multiple times…
  • Lugging the dinghy through mud at the small town of Boca Chica. It is fair to say that there are no amenities for dinghy parking, so we used the safest of the two town docks. But, if we left the dinghy in water, it was certain that it would be left high and dry when we returned, necessitating a laborious carry into the water through sticky ankle deep mud. Not only was it heavy; it was almost impossible to keep your thongs on during the trek, but worst was your feet getting completely stuck and unable to be pulled up to take the next step. Very hard not to fall on your face in the mud. If we managed to keep upright, there was still the thong retrieval…. retrieving them by hand from the bottom of the stinky mud hole they got stuck in did NOT add to the fun! 
  • Many snapshots of daily life on the boat make me laugh if I stop and think about them. We really try to keep things simple, so creature comforts are sometimes scarce. One day we were ferrying 200 litres of diesel in twenty litre jerry cans quite a distance in the trusty dinghy over a few trips in pouring rain, and we were as wet through as if we had been swimming in our clothes. We could barely see through the deluge, and any thought of a champagne sipping yachting life seemed distant. However, when we had unloaded back on the boat; the warm shower outside on the transom in the dark and pouring rain was a pure simple pleasure, with a little bit of exhilaration added by having to maintain balance in pitch darkness on a rolling boat. You’ve got to laugh, don’t you?

FOOD AND BEVVY HIGHLIGHTS

  • Nice meals at Quepos and Golfito in small local cafes and the marinas. Some little restaurants were full, and others empty, so we followed the example of the locals and were not disappointed. Sometimes there were no menus, and our Spanish did not enable us to understand the verbal information, so we just pointed to something we could see a local was eating. I think sometimes there was just the one dish anyway; always filling, healthy, and cheap.
  • Pina Coladas; compulsory when we have new crew of course!

BOAT WORK

Canvas repairs, a never ending story really.

More hull cleaning, similar story.

Companionway hatch leak fix. VIP in the torrential rain.

Toilet valve clean and fix, a good idea.

Replaced cable ties in D shackles

Oven clean!

Stove top repair

Removal and replacement of silicon in fridge / bench, reparation to watertight state.

Genoa furler inspection – it was good timing to put Magnus up mast while we had 2 young strong crew aboard! Magnus said he felt like he was in an elevator and hoped he would stop in time when it was Johan’s turn on the winch! This speedy ascent was quite a contrast from the usual scenic and steady (read “slow”) pace he usually dawdles up at, when only my chicken arms are on duty! 

Next steps… a Pacific crossing all being well! Currently the boat is stored in Panama, and there has been a new baby born in Australia. Baby Beau is a brother to Nate, and will soon be our youngest crew member I hope!

Pacific perspective

Our peregrinations in Panama continue, but no longer in Caribbean waters. The Panama Canal provided safe passage to the Pacific Ocean, and here we remain. Since leaving the quirky, touristy and beautiful archipelago of Bocas del Torro we have roamed through some stunning parts of the country including Escudos de Veraguas, Panama City, and the Pearl Islands. There is so much more to Panama than a canal, and those hats. (Which, incidentally, originate in Ecuador….) But of course one has to wear one when in Panama anyway, as any self respecting stereo typical tourist will attest! Conveniently for me, my well worn fedora finally disintegrated in Panama, opening up a shopping opportunity and I did not waste it! Justifiable reasons to buy anything other than food and boat parts are few and far between. And so I promptly acquired a feminine version of the very practical Panama hat. My sun ravaged Aussie face is once again shaded, possibly too little too late?

After an end of season party with some new friends and acquaintances from the Panama Posse, we will now head for Costa Rica to meet our new crew.

NEW EXPERIENCES:

Transiting the PANAMA CANAL! Oh my goodness this was an incredible experience, and I would love to do it again, immediately! I am sure that without the first timer nerves it would be even more fun. I hope that we can assist another boat as line handlers soon, as it really does help knowing what to expect when in those locks with an enormous container ship breathing down your neck as it looms over your match box sized boat! We had a great crew of line handlers (you need 4) including an experienced Aussie sailing couple who had done it all before, and were great reassurance to have on board. One thing about the transit experience that seemed absurd but true, is that most cruisers are more worried about what they will feed the canal authority advisor for his three meals aboard than anything else! Huge container ships, locks, heavy monkey fists hurled at your boat/head from a great height…. None of those things are as worrying as pleasing the notoriously fussy advisor’s palate! Apparently if the food is not up to scratch, the advisor may choose to order a pizza to the boat, but the $10 pizza incurs a $354 dollar delivery fee!! Our advisor was friendly and helpful, with a distinctly unfussy palate, as he devoured a second helping of my dubious spag bol! Crisis averted.

Whilst still in the Caribbean, we accompanied another cruiser on an overland bus/boat trip to David. (Pronounced Dahveed, if you want a local to understand you.) Some of the beauty and challenge of being somewhere far from home, and more often out of your comfort zone than in it, is that you have to learn new rules and ways of doing things all the time. To make the bus trip to David, we had to go to the water taxi station several days in advance; present our passports, pay in cash, and the keep track of FIVE different paper tickets to be presented on the day of travel. Sometimes it seems that there might be more efficient ways of doing things, (and this occurred to me more than once as the lady at the ticket booth laboriously copied out our names and passport details FOUR TIMES on the two sets of tickets required for our outward and return journeys) but I have noticed that here, as in Spain, people are very happy to wait for the many things that take (an inordinate amount of?) time. We have had to learn this, and be prepared to enjoy long chats with random strangers with whom we spend the odd hour or two in the queues of daily life. I was astounded by this in Spain, where the enormous two story supermarkets/department stores often had queues of 20 trolleys, their drivers passing the time amiably with other queued shoppers. One day I had quite an indepth conversation about Australian rock music with a Spanish gentleman who was much better versed in this topic than I! Anyhoo…. our journey to David began with an hour in a water taxi to the mainland, then we were jammed into an old yellow taxi with other commuters to the frenetic but efficient local bus terminal where we boarded a crowded old minibus. The road to David was windy and scenic, and gravel in several long stretches. It climbed high into the Cordillera Central that forms the spine of Panama, and were pleasantly surprised to actually get quite cold inside the bus. We had a couple of pauses in the 3 hour trip, during which hawkers provided the opportunity to buy single serve cakes, chips, lollies, bread, fruit and veg and drinks. They pushed their offerings through the bus windows, as well as coming on board the tiny mini bus and squeezing around the passengers and luggage. Surprisingly many people bought refreshments and a few groceries, just like popping into the supermarket on the way home from work I suppose?

Insect bites!! Not that we are unaccustomed to them really, but Magnus had several VERY painful bites from something that probably fell from a tree he was walking under, brushing through the leaves a bit. Panic set in when it seemed that a couple of the little devils were stuck in his hat/sweaty hair, and they were not happy! Attack is their best form of defence, and attack they did. Magnus had some painful evidence of their tactics for several days, and developed a nervous twitch when near foliage for about a week!

Making a “visa run” to Costa Rica made us feel like teenagers and fugitives, especially when we were held up at the border. We had checked out of Panama, but were not allowed to enter Costa Rica until we could show a ticket out of the country, despite our hired car being parked mere metres away where we had left it before we WALKED over the border! Bureaucracy! After sorting out a refundable ticket, we checked in, then checked out of Costa Rica, and walked back to the car. Our objective of securing a further 3 month tourist visa was achieved, and the border security official had done his job. On another note, just prior to our entry to Costa Rica while moving in no mans land at the border, Magnus took extra biosecurity precautions when he walked through a truck weighbridge and as a very unexpected bonus, received a good dose of pesticide/herbicide spray from underneath. Maybe it will prevent any further insect bites for a little while?

Spearing our first fish! We acquired a Hawaiian Sling thrown in with a drogue we bought second hand about two years ago. We have tried with it a bit, using an old exercise band as a sling and Magnus finally got one; a Yellow finned Surgeon fish in the marina just behind the boat. They are so named because they have a scalpel like blade near their tail, capable of cutting through a leather glove to the bone!

Having a turn at hosting the morning cruisers radio net. We have benefitted from listening and contributing to many of these in our travels, and so with the help of experienced net hosts, I had my first turn. It might be a useful skill to contribute somewhere else along the way? My Aussie accent and quiet voice are not ideal…. but it is the bad jokes that are the real problem I think.

HIGHLIGHTS:

BEST

Looking around the city of Colon at the northern end of the Panama Canal. The faded beauty was founded as a railway terminus, expediating the rush to California for gold. Now things seem centered around canal operations, and some parts are in disrepair. We were cautioned about the city being dangerous, but were sensible/lucky and suffered no harm.

A surf lesson In Bocas. We are both up for a challenge, and so enjoyed a surfing lesson in baby waves near Carenero. I only got smacked hard once, and we both stood up many times. Low and wobbly, but upright! I hurt myself much more doing a gigantic belly wacker off the boat the other day. I have never been very good at a simple dive, and thought I should improve this status before it was too late, but I think it already is. The day I tried my first dive in years, Magnus thought I had thrown something heavy overboard, but it was just the sound of the BIGGEST and most painful belly wacker you could hope to see. My whole front, from face to toes, was red for an hour or so, and quite tender I must say.

Two new marina experiences; one bustling, staffed by energetic, knowledgeable people, and “can do” attitudes from everyone; staff and cruisers alike, and another, more laid back marina on the Pacific side, where we made firm friendships over many shared meals, taxis, movie outings, and walks. It’s a quiet time of year, but the community spirit among the small group was very warm and strong, held together by the “mayor” of the marina. As a bonus, both marinas had nice pools, although, like most boaters, there was not much time to use them.

Sailing to Escudos de Veraguas. Simply the most stunning island, water, and snorkeling we have seen. The water was indescribably beautiful, glimmering a deep aquamarine to a deep emerald green, contrasted against red cliffs and ferociously bright green foliage above. Every time we puttered along the shore in our dinghy it was hard to know where to look as the visual beauty was overwhelming.

The Pearl Islands; island after deserted island of tropical paradise.

Dolphins. En route we had many large dolphins close by, sometimes jumping, and some playing along at the bow for a little while. I counted 10 in the bow wave at one time. These moments always invokes a child like joy and state of awe, running around the boat looking, pointing and shouting, even though we have seen dolphins many times now.

Wildlife. Whilst here we have seen monkeys, (White faced Capuchin, Howlers) Leaf cutter ants, an Agouti, and iguanas. No crocs thank goodness.

An afternoon walk.

WORST

Spending days schlepping around on foot, by bus, and uber to MANY hardware, marine supply, and autoparts shops trying to find simple parts, like oil filters, often to no avail. It is really hard to find out where to buy specific things, and we have found it near impossible to buy many things we need. There are lots of shops, but its a puzzle to know which ones have what, and then we have to actually get there. There was ONE of the required oil filters in the whole of Panama City, and by the time we began the 2 hour trip to get it, it was gone. So Magnus took a second trip into the city another day to buy one from a fellow boater. Even locals just order things in, because supply is so unpredictable and sporadic. So boat repairs have been a bit hit and miss in Panama, just doing what is possible with what we have.

We broke the glass presso coffee pot! First world problem, and no biggie really, but we cant find another one for love nor money! The main problem is we just stocked up with cheap coffee in Colombia. So, never one to waste things, we are now drinking it directly from the thermos, grounds and all! You get used to it, and apparently it’s quite good for you in moderation!

We had to put a big jack fish back in the water, for fear of ciguatera. It would have been better to release him alive, but we could not identify him quickly enough.

First mate having “a fall” when out running. The hard landing on the nose was not fun, and other scrapes and bruises hung on for a few days, and foolishly I had a COVID booster in the opposite arm to my sprained? wrist, so was a bit useless for a day or two! (NB; my brother informs me that when over 50, you no longer just “fall over”, oh no, it’s much more serious, you are described to have “had a fall!”) 😂

FUNNIEST

We have had our small share of wildlife on the boat, most notably two small lizards, but read that a BOA CONSTICTOR was found on a boat in an area that we had recently anchored in. Apparently they climb up the anchor chain. In our boat, that would have dropped it through the hatch directly onto our bed! Argh! That would have been a test!

We have made several friendships with itinerant dogs, When walking, often a dog comes along with us for an hour or two, and then drops off, usually in the vicinity they joined our walk, and often to join another walker. One night when the kids were here a dog fell deeply in love with them (or baby Nate?) and followed us back to the boat. During the night he barked to come aboard, and tried several times to jump onto the boat, landing in the water. He swam around appearing unperturbed, but we walked with him towards land so he could climb out, but he immediately came back and repeated the performance. All this splashing, barking, and whining did not endear us to our marina neighbors, who thought he was our dog. It turned out that he came from another island, and had probably swum the several hundred meters over as an outing. He was collected by his owner the next day, to everyone’s great relief.

Having an impromtu drink with a couple of other boaters that turned into a soaking. Part of a passing tropical wave caused strong winds and rain, blowing them right underneath the lovely sheltered outdoor area we were sitting in. NONE of the tough sailors would make the first move to seek shelter, so after about 15 minutes we were all soaked, and I had to call it, realising that no one else would. The tough sailors hurried ahead of me, let me tell you, jokingly acknowledging on the way that none of them could move first! We retreated inside dripping and laughing, and continued our chat.

FOOD AND BEVVY HIGHLIGHTS:

Sushi in David. We were guided to a brightly lit, fast foody looking cafe by a local, and we were grateful. The tempura veggies were close to the best I’ve had, and I’m a bit of a tempura devotee.

A fragile confection of cream, sponge and strawberries chosen from a decadent selection at a pasteleria in David. Even in supermarkets there are always many delectable cakes and pastries to resist.

Israeli meal in Bocas. The falafel was fresh and minty, and a welcome change from boat food, or fries.

Spanish Mackerel – caught from the boat. A particularly delicate white fish, perfectly cooked with a subtle mustard cream sauce. Mmmm!

The biggest lobster I have ever seen, bought for fresh air from a fisherman at Escudos de Veraguas. It was also the first lobster I had ever held, and it was a painful experience! The tough fisherman’s hands from whence it came gave me no indication that when it landed in my soft grasp that it would be quite so sharp! I nearly dropped it as it wriggled around digging its prickly antennae deeper into my fingers. The fisherman were kind, and along with their amusement at my shreiks, they gave me a bag to transport him in.

Fish from the local fish market, straight from the fishing boats on the beach, our first try of pago, another delicate white fish.

Peruvian food in an elegant restaurant. Superb seabass in a creamy sauce, and a exquisitely subtle chicken and yellow pepper dish. The service was perfect; polite and prompt.

Eating out the boat pantry food, including many nice dahls from Magnus, and some cracking hummus. No socialising for a few days, but GREAT hummus!

A revival of a teenage sleepover brekky. This happened out of sheer desperation, peering into the tin cupboard, dreading the thought of more tinned peas and corn. A lightbulb went off when I spied the tinned pineapple, and I remembered a morning in about 1982 when some one elses’ Mum served 5 giggling girls a ham steak, cheese, and pineapple on toast. This was a good boat food find, as it works well with tinned pineapple rings and spam type ham. Doesn’t sound appealing? Its all relative.

Boat kitchen attempt at a local dish called Old Clothes, (Ropa Vjeja) with about half the ingredients – not a success. Actually tasted a little like old clothes TBH. Still “in development.”

Raspao, a cool local treat of shaved ice served in a cup, with fruit and or syrup, poured on top. and if you are lucky, some condensed milk for extra sweetness. Super refreshing drunk in the beating sun, in 100% humidity.

Super cute food art by a talented boater friend.

Potluck BBQs in Vista Mar marina with other boaters, Always interesting food and conversation around the shared table. Conversation examples include the origin of the term “head” when referring to a boat bathroom. Apparently in old ships, seamen had to go to the head of the boat to relieve themselves, hence the name. Another topic this week was “worst crew stories”, and one captain’s worst crew member was a Russian swimwear model. We wondered what his best crew was like?


BOAT WORK

Engine serviced.

Hull cleaned at anchor

Stainless steel polished

Kitchen bench resealed

Deck treated/cleaned

Bow propeller battery replaced

Purchased spare part to fix leaking rubber propeller seal. Fixing TBC, but at least we have the part.

Dinghy engine repaired. Magnus is sure that he has finally solved the last problem, ensuring that our temperamental dinghy motor and its revolving cast of carburetors will forever be reliable now. If only. We have rowed more that we have used the motor lately.

Dinghy repaired; punctures patched and side ropes replaced/spliced/whipped.

Panic (swimming) in Panama!

Hola! We arrived in Panama after a convoluted and interesting journey from Cartagena via the beautiful and (apparently – but not,) deserted islands of San Blas. Visiting the San Blas archipelago was definitely a change of pace from bustling Cartagena, and our first chance to enjoy the usual joys of anchoring. For the first time since returning to Almazul in November we could swim from the boat, to the beach, snorkel, explore the nearby islands on foot, and sit under the stars at night with no starving mosquitoes for company. Bliss!

When it came time to actually officially enter Panama, the check in process was a bit of a marathon; eventually reaching a successful conclusion after 4 visits to the small immigration office in Portobelo, several emails, and finally an intervention by the head of the immigration office which seemed to get things moving. I wonder if he became weary of our daily visits to his office? Whatever and however, we got in!

During our time in Portobello waiting to be officially allowed to move around in Panama, we befriended the immigration staff (obviously!) and a recently arrived Italian waiter, who seemed to know how things worked and helped us to get our phones going, get to the ATM, and tie our dinghy up safely and for free. Just asking a local a question has generally resulted in interesting conversations along with lots of useful information that no guide book can provide, and this was no exception.

But enough about us. MUCH MORE importantly, we have had VERY IMPORTANT and WELCOME guests on the boat! Cecilia and Marcus came to stay with us in Bocas del Toro in northwestern Panama, followed immediately by Bonnie, Lara, Hayley and baby Nate. Cecilia and Marcus were the last of the combined family yet to visit Almazul, and we very much enjoyed the company of all of our loved ones. We did many things we would not have done thanks to their energy and ideas, and we are missing the buzz of youth on the boat. We became pina colada officionados after conducting solid research in order to debate the merits of various establishments’ offerings, and certainly enjoyed the slightly more upbeat pace our young ones gently encouraged/forced upon us! 😂 We took turns making sundowners, played board games and tried unfamiliar food and drinks such as holjadre, Seco Herrerano, and acai bowls. I have never heard of an acai bowl but was very happy to make the acquaintance! The small leg up to ”get with the times” our visitors provided was both necessary and fun!

But it’s back to boat work and boat food now, in fact we have eaten chickpeas for four days straight, and not a pina colada in sight!

Downtown Portobelo

SOME NEW EXPERIENCES:

  • Having a baby onboard. We were looking forward to this, but with no baby on boat experience, we could not really anticipate the things that would be tricky. As it turned out, little Nate really was a dream. He quickly adapted to boat life, as did his Mum, Aunt, and extra Aunt. A boat is actually a great environment for near walkers, because there are lots of things to pull up on, and every grabable surface is solidly attached. (The movement added a level of difficulty however!) Grandma had to get over her discomfort with him in deep water, and with the reassurance of his Mum and Aunties, it did not take too long. In fact bobbing around in the water in his shaded water toy was a very relaxing inducement to sleep on several occasions. Then what to do? We usually managed to transport him to land whilst sleeping, but putting him in the shade whilst out of range of falling coconuts required careful consideration.
  • Almost pitchpoling in the dinghy. We were attempting to beach the dinghy at a beautiful white beach at Zapatilla, and whilst some waves were coming in, we were completely unprepared for a couple of whoppers that took us by surprise, almost upending the dinghy twice, with us in it! Some of us managed to get onto the beach between waves, but it was definitely a near miss, and we are lucky. Our plight may have looked hilarious, but for a moment there it was a bit scary, as I tried to get under the dinghy seat so as not to be impaled by a branch we were being flung towards by the rogue wave. Paradise huh!?

  • Taking the dinghy through a long narrow waterway through mangroves. The beautiful dappled green light loaned an eerie feeling to our expedition, and we spoke in hushed tones while we peered closely at the tangled roots and scanned the canopy for monkeys. Occasionally a small fast moving tour boat would pass us with its waving passengers and we clung to the mangrove roots to make room, bouncing in their wake as they receded from view.

  • Completing a rowing marathon of over a nautical mile INTO a fairly tough wind in the Linton Bay area. The marathon began calmly, but became more intense as we left the shelter of the mangroves and got the full force of the wind. However it turned out to be a good outlet for the Captain’s frustration at the dinghy motor failing YET AGAIN, and of course, a long way upwind of the boat. By the time we were back on Almazul, harmony was restored, and upper body workout sorted for the day. Tick tick.
  • Hiring bikes. The area near Bocas town is fairly flat, and the breeze in our hair while peddling along near the beach was most welcome. Our bikes were labelled with their names, and my personal fave was Perla. Hot pink with a comfy seat, she groaned gently on each revolution of the rear wheel, but got me from A to B and back without mishap. Although she did lose a screw once, (it can happen to the best of us!) resulting in a scraping mudguard that became our fault on return of the bike – and we were pretty dirty on the resulting $2 charge, but par for the course I guess.
  • Learning a bit about permaculture in Panama. We visited a Cacao farm that based its production on permaculture as developed by Tasmanian Bill Mollison. I felt deservedly ignorant not knowing that the founder of the permaculture movement was Australian, but not any longer.
  • Hanging our washing out ON A WASHING LINE! This is the first marina to have a washing line, and what a luxury this is. You can just hang your washing up, leave it there, come back and it’s dry, and moreover, exactly where you left it. Usually I hang it on the stays, boom, and safety lines on the boat, and while it’s a great way to get stuff dry, everything must be tied on securely with a line through or around each item, and rotated to let the knotted up corners dry. Effectively this means that babysitting and mollycoddling the laundry can take up most of the day. Before I understood this process, I lost more than a couple of faves overboard, never to be recovered. So the babysitting is worth it; but a WASHING LINE means freedom!
  • Picking fresh herbs in a marina. The very same marina that provides washing lines also has fresh herbs and tomatoes growing for guests to use. The woman who owns the marina is an ex cruiser, and understands the value of these small luxuries to people who live on boats. There is also a well equipped workshop, complete with a VICE! Thanks Mary.
  • Being papped on the boat! (Well Hayley anyway – see funniest!)
  • Seeing 400 + ships on our AIS!! 😳 As we passed the entrance to the Panama Canal there were hundreds of large ships anchored waiting to transit through to the Pacific Ocean. We were a mere speck compared to these big fellas! We also had the company of 3 dolphins playing alongside us for several hours as we motored through this area. They were not fussed about the ships.

HIGHLIGHTS:

BEST:

  • HAVING ALL THE KIDS ABOARD. NO QUESTION, FULL STOP. 😍 Hanging around, nice chats, anchoring, night swims with phosphorescent algae, dinner by moonlight, looking at the stars, SUPPING at sunset, dolphin watching, snorkeling, finding new beaches, trying daqs and margies and Pina coladas, walking in the jungle, looking for sloths… so many nice times together.
  • Seeing a sloth! Well I saw a shape in a tree, and had to be convinced by my young companions that it was a sloth, and I believed them, but would not be a reliable eye witness myself, even con glasses.
  • Finding a handy expat New Zealander who made a clever repair to a cracked muffler – saving us from a burgeoning leak becoming worse, at least until a new part arrives.

WORST:

  • Relentless mozzies and the notorious “no see ums.” It is hard to avoid them, and sometimes you don’t know you are being bitten until much later. Poor Cecilia had in excess of 100 bites on ONE leg in ONE evening early in her time here, and many more on subsequent days, all over. And observing the Aussies, they had a similar experience… as did I. We religiously applied repellent – but they are hardy little critters. We all had our turn of looking like we had measles (except Marcus) and the itching can take over a week to subside. Both our Swedish and Oz visitors are probably still occasionally scratching a bite, in a bitter sweet reminder of their time on Almazul!
  • HELL DAY. This term was coined by Cecilia, and really summed things up. Torrential tropical rain on the first day of a Caribbean beach holiday, topped off with hundreds of bites from mosquitos and no see ums. Added to that, we had to be inside to avoid the bugs and rain. All the hatches had to be closed because it was pouring – so there was NO respite from the humid heat. Wet towels and shoes just steamed things up even more. Definitely not ANYONE’S idea of a beach holiday in the Caribbean. We eventually got ourselves out of the marina and on our way… far away from land and the bugs…. and so eventually HELL DAY could end. The end came in Dolphin Bay when we saw our first dolphin, and from there everything looked brighter. The rain stopped, we had some breeze, and we had NO BUGS. The Caribbean beach holiday could begin, and we could all stop privately stressing about the forecast week of rain ahead.
  • PANIC SWIMMING! We have appropriated another term coined by Cecilia; the “panic swim.” This accurately describes the extreme urgency to have a swim when you are almost suffocating in the heat – and this happens fairly frequently here. The term also serves as a kind of emergency signal to others. If any one calls “panic swim” everyone else gets out of the way to allow the person quick access to the water, to avoid spontaneous collapse or combustion!. 😂 Thanks CC! 😂😘
  • THE. WORST. SUNBURN. EVER….. This happened despite regularly slathering on the 50+ sunscreen. Snorkeling seemed to bring it on, and a snorkeling session followed by a surf lesson meant that for Hayley and Bonnie, a few days were spent standing up when one would normally sit, and for Lara that she could not carry a back pack. The sting passed in time, followed by them shedding a little skin. Long sleeved shirts and long pants were wardrobe choices more often after that. We have our doubts about certain brands of sunscreen, but do not want to personally pursue further research, for obvious reasons.
  • The gas crisis. Murphy’s Law dictated that of course we became critically low on gas when expecting 6 guests on the boat, BEFORE we realised that getting a refill takes 2 WEEKS. However frugality paid off, and we got our refill the day before the last tank emptied. It is safe to say that Haute Cuisine was not on the menu for a few days.
  • The SUP bursting. This was unfortunate timing, as Cecilia and Marcus had just arrived, and had started to enjoy using the SUP and BOOM! It sounded like a gun had gone off nearby, but it was our poor well used SUP rupturing along a seam. We are investigating repairing it, and managed to rent one for a while while our Oz visitors were here.
  • NOT ONE edible FISH caught for the entire month that our kids were aboard, despite a concerted joint effort led enthusiastically by Marcus.
  • Saying goodbye to both sets of visitors. It’s not like we will see them next week.😥
  • The unexpected wave of nausea that came over me as I looked the pony tail in my hand, after snipping it off. Less hair to wash saves water, and the time had well and truly come, but the sick feeling I had immediately after the big snip took me completely by surprise.

FUNNIEST:

  • Being papped on the boat. When anchored in a pretty remote area that probably didn’t see a lot of boats, we were visited by a parade of local kids, families, and fishermen in small dugout canoes. Apart from stopping by our boat, many locals seemed to paddle long distances between various parts of the large bay we were in, making journeys of an hour or so to get to school, a shop, work etc. They moved silently, and so would surprise us when close by standing up – therefore presenting their faces quite close to where we were sitting. Some made a friendly but brief visit, some had crafts or fruit or fish to sell, and some stayed for a long chat. (chat is overstating it – our Spanish is not really up to “chatting” but we can have warm and rewarding interactions with gesture and the odd useful word.) When one such long “chat” appeared to have drawn to a close, I made an attempt to bring the visit to a conclusion by giving the two small boys some biscuits for their siblings, and a lolly each for themselves, expecting that would be a signal and they would be on their way. But no, they continued to sit in their dugout, just watching us and general goings on. I had to go downstairs to make dinner, and they just stayed put. This happened about four times with different groups of people. Whilst we wanted to be friendly, we eventually ran out of conversation, and just had to go about our business, closely observed from the water. One morning Hayley awoke to a pair of big brown eyes peering in her window, meaning the little boy’s face was about a foot from her own! Paparazzied in Panama, sin cameras!
  • Cecilia disappearing into what we thought was knee deep water after jumping off a water taxi at a small beach at Hospital Point. This happened when the Taxi driver instructed us to begin disembarkation, so Cecilia duly did so, and we watched on with momentary horror as her whole body AND cap disappeared from view underwater. When she popped up surprised but laughing all was well, and THEN it was funny….
  • “Swimming” (actually being dragged at speed, well 3 knots, felt like 10!) behind the boat, not having enough hands to hang onto the rope and two parts of bathers at the same time. We had put a rope and a fender out for recreational purposes while we motored to the next anchor spot. Hayley was in the water, and she looked like she was having fun, so I joined her. As it turns out, she was working quite hard to get the odd breath whilst undergoing a thorough irrigation of her nasal passages. Even so, she still managed to catch hold of me as I surfaced from jumping in, wizzing fast backwards past my planned handhold on the rope. We hung on for dear life, not quite being able to let the onlookers on the boat know to SLOW DOWN. Instead we heard the sounds of distant laughter, especially from the driver as we clung to the rope, each other, and our bathers. Hayley will not need her sinuses irrigated for quite some time, they had a truly thorough flushing that day.
  • Slip sliding our way down a VERY steep and greasy track to Wizard’s Beach. We had done this pretty walk with Cecilia and Marcus, and had found it a bit muddy in parts, with an occasional slippery bit. Marcus and Cecilia and Magnus’s skiing and skating prowess probably saved them from a few tumbles, but we certainly slid around a bit. The second time we tried it was with the 3 Oz amigas and baby Nate. It had rained heavily the night before, and we had been warned by other walkers that the path had become extremely slippery. So we chose an alternate track, in the hope of dodging the most slippery part – but actually it could not have been worse. It started with Lara going down on her bottom, then me, then it was all of us in turn, squealing, grabbing, splatting, sliding, knocking one another over; it was chaos! Poor Nate was with Bon in a front pack, and although Bon only went down gently once, he cried pretty hard for the duration of our slip sliding squealing descent. We tried to keep the squeals to a minimum for his sake, but it was impossibly funny!
  • Being mobbed by local kids and adults alike whilst carrying baby Nate. Many people really wanted to touch him, especially his face and hair, but I had to draw the line at a young boy sticking his fingers into Nate’s mouth! And also when a young girl wanted to touch his face. I indicated no, because he was sleeping, but of course she then told me that he was actually awake now, (as a result of a quick cheek pinch she managed during our gestured exchange!) Aaarrgghh!! Naughty girl!
  • Nate being kidnapped/adopted by a neighboring Panamanian family at Starfish Beach. One day when the girls were ashore with Nate they found themselves sitting next to a large extended gregarious Panamanian family. It seems that in Panama extended families are the norm, unlike Australia and Sweden. There were at least four generations happily picnicking, swimming etc. We think it was Grandpa that was the most outgoing, and he came and swept Nate up on many occasions, chattering to us, and plonked him next to his grand daughter who was about the same age. The two little ones were truly Yin and Yang; she was dark skinned, dark haired and slight, against Nate’s robustness, fair skin and hair… They observed each other closely, and then went about their business. The little girl was walking, and Nate almost followed suit. On many other occasions the family came and picked him up and carried him around, and he was completely unfazed. Once the family plucked him up and plonked him onto a big water toy that is usually towed by a speed boat, with screaming passengers whirling around getting dizzy and being sick. Thankfully it was not attached to the speedboat at the time. He was a little nonplussed, but not distinctly unhappy. His extra Auntie Hayley followed in close pursuit, to make sure he was safe and entirely happy about the situation.

FOOD AND BEVVY HIGHLIGHTS:

  • The PINA COLADA theme that permeated our time in Bocas, as it does for many I imagine. $3 a pop.
  • Lobsters; sold to us on the boat from a man in a small dugout canoe. Ha had the bottom of the canoe filled with wriggling, crawling lobsters, and offered them to us for $20. We agreed on this, and the man prepared them for us by separating the tails and giving them to us. There were 16 in total, and Magnus halved them and baked them with garlic and butter. THE BEST.
  • Big sweet coconutty fruity condensed milk biscuits from a stall in Portobelo. They were the size of a large hamburger. Super sweet, they would certainly satisfy any sweet craving. We tried both strawberry and pineapple, and concluded that they were both good, and also that a little bit went a long way.
  • Baguette like breadstick in Portobelo- not so common in Central America?
  • Cococnut bread – ubiquitous and pleasant.
  • Queso and pollo pasty eaten at Fort Ferdinand, Portobello, overlooking a glassy green bay, where Almazul was anchored below us. The pastry was good, and only enhanced by the setting in which it was ingested.
  • Vegan lunch at Cacao Farm – see pics. The farm was run by an Argentinian surfer and his Scottish wife. They gave us an informative tour followed by a delightful vegan lunch, sourced entirely from the property. We enjoyed lemon grass and ? soup; yuca fries; plantain and something tasty and green?, paw paw, cacao and mint; and raw cacao brownie, amongst several other surprising and incredibly flavorsome courses that I wish I had written down at the time!
  • Tamales still warm from a marina employee’s kitchen. These were corn/maize meal with chicken and spices wrapped in banana leaves. Filling and delicious.
  • Acai bowl – this is probably not news to you, but it was to me.
  • Taco bowl – ditto.
  • Boat made ice cream smorgasbord. Courtesy of some Alaskan fishermen boat neighbors, we had a selection of 7 flavours to choose from. I tried salted peanut butter; delicious, and a meal in itself.
  • Seco Herrerano – a sugarcane based spirit, strong stuff, but mildly flavoured.
  • Beer cocktail – I personally do not recommend, but possibly because it was completely unexpected, combined with the fact that I am at best, a very occasional beer drinker. Tequila, beer, and a salty chillied glass rim. Generally speaking I love to buy things to see what they are, but this one was a pass for me. Magnus didn’t mind it, so it was not wasted. Note to self, when the waiter asks if you would like Corona or Panama beer when ordering a cocktail – buyer beware! 😂

BOATWORK:

  • Replacing the lost genoa furler top, and fashioning a cap to replace the lost one, which resulted in the loss of the furler top in the first place. This required MANY trips up the mast over several days, and unfortunately for me, they ALL had to be undertaken by the Captain. I thought I should see a marked improvement in the bicep area, but sadly not.
  • Leaking muffler repair, thanks to Magnus’ persistence, and in the end, to Kiwi Dave.
  • Sewing repairs to sprayhood and bimini top.
  • Gas ring fixed – not by the expensive part hand delivered from Sweden, but rather by simply pulling the knob off, pushing the underlying pin in, and replacing the knob. Job done.
  • Bin lid rejigged to resume opening function.
  • Mozzie nets quadrupled in thickness to try to beat the no see ums. Results promising so far, but TBC.
  • Fixed leak in astern water tank.
  • Replaced failing anchor light with a tricolour lamp, so we have a working anchor light, and the option of navigation lights at the top of the mast.
  • Hammock purchased! Users so far 100% happy.
  • Attempted dinghy repair.

Gracious, vivacious Colombia!

We made it to South America! A ripping sail featuring big waves, strong winds, and heavy seasickness delivered us to Santa Marta, Colombia after finally departing Curacao. Our first sail in 15 months certainly cleared the cobwebs, but did not quite warm up the (my!) sea legs. Sighting South America from the sea was a particularly magical moment towards the end of quite an arduous journey.
We were enchanted, pretty much from that moment on. The vibrant street life, music, food, diversity in the natural environment, Colombia’s colourful past, and deep cultural warmth invigorated, intrigued, and welcomed us…. as well as making us occasionally apprehensive, often lost, overfed, and worn out – and we have only visited a very small part of the country! Colombia definitely demands more time…one day.

Our roaming took in part of the north eastern coast from the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta to the city of Cartagena, including the coastal towns of Santa Marta, Taganga, and El Rodredo; part of Tayrona National Park, and the small village of Minca which lies a little higher up.

Santa Marta was a great place to start because it’s not too big, but full of life, so we could get our bearings quickly and without too much fuss as tourists. Improving our Spanish became an obvious immediate priority, and we each have small areas of, shall we say “evolving expertise.” Mine include being able to book a table at a restaurant, explain that I’m sorry I don’t speak Spanish but will have a go, ask where things are, what time are things open/closed, what is it, and I am quite fluent in gestures: both wild and more restrained. My current favourite is an understated but effective finger directive. To master it you must firmly waggle your index finger horizontally, accompanied by a low voiced “Noh”; which translates to a hard no. I am usually disappointed when someone gives me this message, especially when it is impossible to fathom the reason, but I am quite happy to issue it myself. Magnus’s areas of expertise include efficient beer ordering, asking how much things cost, and dealing curtly with pushy street salespeople. He is also quite adept with gestures. The “thumbs up” has been universally successful so far.

Our last stop here was Cartagena, on the Caribbean coast. It is Colombia‘s fifth largest city, and biggest port. We were anchored right in the middle of the city in the Bay of Cartagena, in a busy area near the port, and were passed by many fast day charter boats and music pumping party boats every day. It was nice to feel in the thick of things a bit, and we didn’t mind the rocking and bouncing we got as each wake jostled past us, although getting in and out of the dinghy became an extreme sport demanding agility, precision timing, and nerves of steel! Our view included a stunning modern city sky scape and, in contrast, the curvaceous silhouette of the old town buildings.

Door Knockers
Decorative aldabas


Cartagena de Indias was named after Cartagena, Spain. It was founded in the 16th century and still boasts well preserved squares, cobblestone streets and colorful colonial buildings, possibly assisted by it having gained UNESCO World Heritage Site status. The old city centre was mesmerising, and many stubbed toes and stumbles were the result of us gazing around open mouth, not quite sure where to look as beauty assaulted us from every corner of our view! Plazas, colonial architecture, Palenqueras in coloured costumes selling fruit, window boxes, brightly painted houses and shopfronts, stunning murals, shady courtyards, cathedrals… the stubbed toes were worth it! Cartagena’s history is in parts dark, and you can almost feel the stories buried in the ancient stone work of the fortifications and the cobblestones underfoot. The legacy of the Spanish Empire is everywhere, right down to the decorative door knockers. (aldabas)

SOME NEW EXPERIENCES:

  • Riding shotgun on a scooter, or “moto” in Spanish. For three days we risked life and limb, mixing it with the big boys on the road and shaking our teeth out on rough tracks. Our little red steed enabled us to venture further afield than our legs could manage in a given time. As a bonus, it built my tricep strength markedly, as I held myself off the seat for about 9 out of 11 kms on a particularly rough piece of track. The destination in Tayrona National Park was well worth it however, and my technique improved for the return trip. We also took the scooter up into the hinterland above Santa Marta, and were pretty taken with the lushness of the verdant vegetation along the roadsides, which occasionally opened up to sweeping views down to the sea, including the sprawl of Santa Marta in the valley below.
  • Anchoring in 30+ knot winds. Although we are pretty adept at anchoring by now, we have not anchored in such strong winds before. We were convinced that our anchor was truly set after the heavily armed Colombian Coastguard tied up alongside our boat to pay us a visit. (Meaning their boat was also hanging on our anchor!) Two of the team of four boarded us and checked we were doing the right things. One young coast guard spent his time taking selfies on Almazul, while another dealt with us, often phoning a friend to help with translation. The howling wind did not assist the already difficult communication. We are not really sure of the details of the result, but after a short tour of the boat, and exhorting us to phone to the control tower (who didn’t respond then or later) the four young men sporting flack jackets and guns bid us good day. All the while our trusty Manson Supreme held fast, dispelling any doubts about how well it was set!
  • Learning about how coffee is graded. We visited a coffee plantation and learned that here, the coffee beans are classified by how well they float! However, we were also a bit surprised to learn that if you want to buy world renown Colombian coffee, you need to buy it outside Colombia, as all the first class coffee is exported. We were lucky to sample some of the good stuff at the plantation in the hinterland above Santa Marta, where we enjoyed an informative tour, after a long bumpy ride in from the main road. (Actually this time it was impossible to stay on as a passenger, so a walk was in order – but all part of the fun!)

HIGHLIGHTS:

BEST:

  • Wandering the streets of the old towns in both Santa Marta and Cartagena, sometimes just us, and at other times in good company. On our first evening in Santa Marta (a Monday BTW) we went for a walk, straight into the thick of life there. Music was everywhere, there were people everywhere, and anything you could wish to buy was laid out on small stalls that jockeyed for position on the footpath. The food for sale on street corners was fresh, delicious, and cheap. The pulse in the air was obvious even to us tired white tourists…a warm welcome indeed! On another evening we met up with a French boat couple that had been our neighbors in Curacao, who were now living and working in Cartagena. This was a lovely evening, mostly for the company, but also for the local tour of parts of the old city that we would never have found. Our first place of refreshment was an absolutely beautiful lush green interior courtyard of an old hotel, and the second a hidden rooftop cafe that also runs cooking classes, so the food was exquisite and ridiculously reasonably priced. (Aptly named Caffe Lunatico!?) The many tiny cobbled streets were framed by gaily painted buildings, with a backdrop of more sombre hues of ancient fortifications, interspersed with huge murals – and all together provided the setting for bubbling life on the street. I wonder if Cartagena is actually the city that never sleeps, forget New York!
  • Watching street performers do their thing; dancers and musicians mostly. Some faves were a group of drummers, dressed in white with red sashes, whose beats almost forced parts of you to move, like it or not; and a dance troupe of young fellas, ranging in age from 12-20? Who knows, its hard to tell. They were fantastically strong and agile, sometimes handspringing in a handstand for at least a 10 seconds at a time! The best bit about watching them was that it looked like they LOVED what they were doing, and their joy was infectious. I hope all the street performers made enough money from their performances to survive! Another thing we found interesting was the common occurrence of young rap artists approaching people sitting to eat, and serenading them with a rap song. (Spanish, obviously.) At times it felt a little intrusive, with quite a lot of intense eye contact, much finger pointing and foot stamping. I wondered if it felt better if you could understand the lyrics? But overwhelmingly it was fantastic to be in the middle of such swarming life. So many talented people contributing to a life lived mostly in the streets.
  • Visiting the breathtaking Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. Steep, lush, and a world away from the dry rocky landscape at sea level. Some of the peaks here reach 6000 m, and the ancient Lost City (Ciudad Perdida) lies somewhere in these hills. It is believed to have been founded about 800 CE, much earlier than Machu Picchu. I would have loved to visit here, but alas, another time, as it involves a 4 day trek. However we did visit Pozo Azul, (Blue Well) which turned out to be a very complex series of pools connected by small waterfalls. The water was cool and refreshing, and must have been thought to hold medicinal properties or something, because it was absolutely teeming with people. On the 2 ish km walk in we passed large family groups of all shapes and sizes varying in age from 90 down, all making the long dusty trek to the water. There were plenty of motos offering lifts to the weary on the way back, but personally, considering our suspension less beast, I preferred to walk!
  • The whole experience of hiring the moto was fantastic. The places we could go, but also seeing life from this angle! We were both amazed by the diversity of our companions on the road. From out precarious position on the moto, we shared the road with big honking trucks, buses, mini buses, many yellow taxis, normal cars, hundreds of other motos, and all variety of vehicles, tooting informatively, some coming towards us in the wrong direction, just when we least expected it! A pony and dray filled with bananas, mules pulling building materials, people pushing barrows,  pulling barrows on bicycles, the occasional unperturbed pedestrian, you name it we were all on the road together. Magnus did a fabulous job navigating the intricacies of these trips it was always a blessed relief to arrive back at the marina, wild eyed but alive! We eased into the frenzied pace a little more each day, and I was struck by the blasé nature of other people on motos. There were whole families in shorts, T shirts, no shoes, let alone helmets. One family whizzed past us with mum, the three year old, and then the 10-year-old on the back. The 10-year-old was reading a book with two hands, not holding on at all. I was impressed, and had to relax my white knuckled grip on Magnus’s T-shirt a little bit! (However this did not stop me from almost expiring from the heat as I sat, fully covered in jeans, runners, a soft shell jacket AND helmet, in an effort to save some skin should an accident happen!)
  • Learning a little about Colombia’s history. Eg, we visited a HACIEDNA! I love saying that word, especially with my crummy Spanish accent. It was called Quinto de San Pedro Alejandrino . This is also quite fun to say in a crummy Spanish accent! FYI a hacienda is, courtesy Wikipedia, “A hacienda , in the colonies of the Spanish Empire, is an estate (or finca), similar to a Roman latifundium. Some haciendas were plantations, mines or factories. Many haciendas combined these activities.” This particular one is where Simon Bolivar (AKA El Libertore) died, as a guest of the richest man in Columbia. Bolivar was not keen to visit because the man was Spanish, however he did spend his last days here. Obviously he was not keen on the Spaniards; he is credited with leading the countries that are now Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Panama, Peru, and Bolivia to independence from the Spanish Empire. We learned these facts from an eloquent student volunteer who led us around the site with enthusiasm and useful information.
  • We finally caught a tuna! The first fish of the year! We accidently let several get away, and so relished this one. We ate it lightly fried, as sashimi, and in a ceviche. About time! 

WORST:

Its usually hard to find things to describe as the “worst” because, let’s face it, we are sailing in the Caribbean. But this month a couple of things hit me pretty hard.

  • One day, as Magnus and I sat on the kerb sharing an arepa from a street vendor we noticed a man staying close, and were half expecting him to approach us asking for money. But no, when he noticed we were finished, and looking around for a bin for the paper serviette and small scrap of bread, he gestured to ask that instead we give it to him, and he ate hungrily our meagre scrap. It still makes me extremely uncomfortable. Next time should we buy an extra to give to someone in need? The problem of abject poverty nestled within the bustling life of many cities is bigger than we can solve, but how do we make a small difference to some one, even that one man, face to face. On other days we, like everyone else, stepped around men as they lay in the street, asleep or unconscious. It helps to remember that we support charities from home – but it is still hard to see distress and not act to help then and there.

 

FUNNIEST

  • Magnus’s failed attempt at casually kicking his flip flop/thong from the cockpit into the dingy. It missed, and landed in the water, which was moving rapidly. He heroically jumped into the secured dinghy in an effort to reach it, and I helpfully threw him the VERY POINTY fishing hook, in the hope that he could reach the fast disappearing thong with it. He couldn’t, and luckily the fishing hook didn’t sink the dinghy on the short excursion Magnus then made in a fruitless search of the Bay of Cartagena. Some fresh Havaianas have filled the void, and all is well with the world.
  • Many conversations conducted entirely via google translate, with us passing the phone back and forth to our conversational partner in a variety of situations. One of the funniest was at a large supermarket whilst stocking up for our imminent visitors. Provisioning is a four hour supermarket expedition, three trolleys and two lists of apparently extremely rare and elusive items, two refreshment breaks at the on-site cafeteria, and this time finishing with a prolonged but warm and friendly transaction at the checkout requiring literally 26 google translated messages between the checkout assistant and us! Most of them were pragmatic, but one was her wishing us an enjoyable time in Colombia!
  • The care and concern shown to us by our Immigration Agent, who facilitated our re entry to Colombia. He had come with a good recommendation but still, handing our passports over to a young Colombian man we did not know felt somewhat counter intuitive. We quickly learned that our discomfort was completely unwarranted, as he sent us concerned google translated tips on how NOT to get robbed blind whilst here! When I thanked him for his care and advice, his response was simply “I am here to guide you, and avoid bad times.” Bless him. He looked after us as if we were were babes in the woods, and we probably are. His concern was especially touching, as I think he was significantly younger than our children.
  • Experiencing the busiest beach we have EVER seen. Playa El Rodredo is an absolutely over the top wild Colombian tourist mecca. The beach was like making your way down Bourke Street on New Year’s Eve, almost shoulder to shoulder. At this time the sun was on its way down, so I can’t imagine what it must have been like during the day. Cray cray, as people much younger than me might say.
  • This was not funny until afterwards…. but 10 nautical miles offshore, on our way between Santa Marta and Cartagena, it appeared that we were rapidly approaching an enormous sandbar whilst under sail at a fair clip! The water abruptly changed from deep blue to a very light colour, exactly as very shallow water would look. Magnus dashed downstairs to recheck the chart, (a very good idea!) but I felt that as we shortly ran hard aground on the sandbar, I would be solely responsible for the ensuing disaster. Fortunately the crisis was averted by the 500 m of water below us, and we sailed on unharmed. The change in water was just disturbed water caused by the outlet of the River Magdalena. It was a surprise that the difference was so noticeable this far offshore. So, funny now, but not so much at the time. We have heard that there is generally a lot of debris carried out to sea here, and cows, trees, and fridges have been seen floating amongst it.

FOOD AND BEVVY HIGHLIGHTS:

Where do I start?!

  • Street food! We could have gorged ourselves everyday with good food from street corners, and often did. I have put a link in case you want to have a look at some of the offerings. We have tasted many things but are nowhere near the end of the list! Some favourites were arepas; the quintessential and most ubiquitous street food in Colombia, made of deep-fried sweet cornmeal dough, and filled with whatever you like. Often some meat, and beans, and quesito. They were varied, filling, delicious, and straight off the roadside grill . At $1 AUD they were also good value. We also loved the fresh lime juice, 40c, hamburgers, churros, empanada, patacone, and salchipapa. We ate salchipapa sitting on the steps of Inglesia de la Trinidad. Our serving was certainly enough for two, and we had to take the hamburger we had also bought, home. The salchipapa is made of chopped sausage and potato and various other tasty things on a bed of finely shredded lettuce, or chips, (or whatever is available) topped with two tasty sauces, one creamy, one hot, and quesito. Quesito is a popular and common cheese, but a strange name I think. A cheese called “little cheese?” It seems to be added to many Colombian dishes, to great effect. See link for info.
  • https://www.theunconventionalroute.com/best-colombian-cheeses/
  • 22 Street Foods to Try in Colombia | kimkim
  • Cerviche – both home made from the tuna we caught, and from a cafe specialising in it at Santa Marta. A fresh light dish that really showcases seafood; we made ours with lime, onion, coconut milk, and a few bits we had in the fridge. The bought one was sweeter, with a tomato lilt.
  • Yucca gnocchi topped with chicarron, which is deep fried pork rind or belly. The fatty saltiness was perfect over the gnocchi.
  • Fantastic beef, no more to say really.
  • Discovering the “plato del dia” which generally comprised soup, a large main meal, and a drink. We fell over this first when we arrived at Santa Marta tired and dazed, and wandered into a supermarket to get out of the heat, and to try to locate some wifi. We found a surprisingly large and bustling cafe upstairs at the entrance to the carpark, and once we had established that they had wifi, we ordered what we thought was a drink and a small taste of something we could not identify by the Spanish name on the menu. We took our seat, connected to the wifi, and watched as the food arrived in a surprisingly lengthy procession. Two drinks arrived – ok maybe we accidently ordered two…. then two soups arrived, then two ENORMOUS plates, THEN the drink we ordered! The small thing we ordered was in fact, the plato del dia, not a little empanada-like treat! We have also learned that it must be counter intuitive , unimaginable or just plain rude for Colombians to serve food only to one person, so each time we order something to share, we end up with one each. I truly don’t think this is about money – most of the places this has happened are tiny cafes with only locals eating there, I think it is pure hospitality.
  • Caipirinha sipped from a plastic cup in a packed plaza, sitting on chairs from the vendor’s loungeroom which had been carried out onto the street, including a wheeled office chair! The sparkling company of an Aussie couple, spontaneous street performances, friendly attention from street vendors, fascinating people watching and snatched conversations with neighboring tables between the thumping beats of competing bars apparently made this Caipirinha among the best Magnus has had. (And he has a had one or two before…)
  • Dinner at Donde Chucho. A colourful, bustling and unassuming restaurant, reviewed as having nice local seafood. There, amongst other thing swe ate Cayeye- flattened then deep fried plantains served, of course, with quesito on top.
  • A brekky of four Fritos (fried things). A bread ball, a kind of pastie a bit like a Samosa, (probably an empanada), another pastry filled with chicken and rice, and a fried thing filled with maybe lentils with a little centre of chicken. They were satisfying and yum. When ordering from a tiny cabinet on the footpath, we could only point and hold up fingers, and thought we had ordered two things, but, surprise surprise, four things arrived and were dealt with forthwith.

BOATWORK:

  • Auto pilot repair, again. Our autopilot carked it soon after we set off for Cartagena, so poor Magnus went down in the pits to do his best while I steered. Even he got a bit green. He replaced part of the system with a clone we had cleverly bought as a spare, but unfortunately the clone did not communicate with original- now what? Magically after the TLC and the old part put back on, it started to work again. We still don’t really understand. It was really lucky that Magnus was able to make this repair because it would have been impossible as the waves got bigger and the wind increased. We had several rogues right over the cockpit later on- no time to be in the pits doing repairs.
  • Toilet tank cleaning. We have a holding tank for the toilet, and it required cleaning – on the inside. This was not a job for the faint hearted, but it’s done now. Nothing else to say.
  • Connection of 220 power outlets to our inverter, meaning that we can now use the outlets in the boat, instead of carrying any appliances etc to the inverter. So we can now cook eggs on the kitchen bench, rather than on the floor of the port cabin. Woohoo!
  • Wind instrument fixed.
  • New transom shower surround fitted.
See the source image
Palenquerias

FUN FACTS:

History of Colombia: thanks Wiki.

The history of Colombia includes the settlements and society by indigenous peoples, most notably, the Muisca Confederation, Quimbaya Civilization, and Tairona Chiefdoms; the Spanish arrived in 1492 and initiated a period of annexation and colonization, most noteworthy being Spanish conquest; ultimately creating the Viceroyalty of New Granada, with its capital at Bogotá. Independence from Spain was won in 1819, but by 1830 the “Gran Colombia” Federation was dissolved. What is now Colombia and Panama emerged as the Republic of New Granada. The new nation experimented with federalism as the Granadine Confederation, and then the United States of Colombia, before the Republic of Colombia was finally declared in 1886; as well as constant political violence in the country. Panama seceded in 1903. Since the 1960s, the country has suffered from an asymmetric low-intensity armed conflict, which escalated in the 1990s, but then decreased from 2005 onward. The legacy of Colombia’s history has resulted in a rich cultural heritage; while varied geography, and the imposing landscape of the country has resulted in the development of very strong regional identities.

Finally! Gone with the Wind…

“Land was created to provide a place for boats to visit.”(Brooks Atkinson)

And we have finally managed to leave Curacao. (But more of that later.)

Rigging holdups delayed our departure for Colombia, so we plugged away at the boat work and made our own fun as we went.

Drumroll…. we got our mast on! However we noticed after the event, that there was a small hiccup, requiring the mast to be lifted and repositioned. Another crane booking. Anyhoo… that’s done, and so on with all the bits and pieces to get us mobile. Thanks to all being well, we were able to leave within a few days. Destination Colombia, but the plan was to do a bit of doodling around with the sails up as a shakedown, and then be on our way when the weather looked fine. As it turned out, instead we crossed our fingers and made a bolt for Colombia.

In the meantime, Christmas (and the Captain’s birthday) and New Year’s Eve were suitably celebrated; our days being spent pleasurably with boat friends, in and out of the boatyard. We are getting to know our neighbors better every day, and the benefits of these fledgling friendships extend far beyond social chit chat, to generous gifting of much needed spare parts and other odds and ends, and loaning of cars for various expeditions. We have been fortunate recipients of a useful battery when we needed it most, a table chair to keep my grandbaby safe when he visits, lovely shared meals, and many loans of cars. We are alert for opportunities to “pay back/forward” the many kindnesses we have received. So far meals, the odd beer, and the occasional tool are as useful as we have been.

The boats on either side of us had their masts removed the same day as us, and since then we have been in a race to see who is remasted and away first!

The remasting race has proved a nailbiter, with many lead changes. Problems emerged every day for each of us, and the solutions often involved parts being sourced overseas, shipped, harboured by customs, and eventually after much kerfuffle, wrenched from their clutches. There are many traps for new players when importing different items to a yacht in transit, and between the three boats we have discovered many of them. One should not mix non essential items with boat parts, as they attract different attention from customs, and non boat parts require tax to be paid, and when these are present in the same package, the untangling required seems to be an achingly long process. At least we are learning from one another’s experiences.

Fortunately our rig arrived fairly promptly, and as the small truck drove into the yard, I made a beeline for it – full of hope – like a child to a Mr Whippy van. And the contents were just as sweet! A late but very welcome Christmas gift, boxed up and as shiny as new pins.

Race results:

  • 1st place by a good 2 lengths, the English boat Ynot, captained and crewed by a fun and energetic family of 5. Mast up, provisioned, and they are away, destined for Dominican Republic!
  • 2nd place, Swedish Almazul, after two attempts at remasting. Provisioned, almost ship shape, destined for Colombia.
  • 3rd place contenders, (who are still running) the Dutch boat next to us, captained and crewed by a fun and kind Dutch couple. They ahave just recieved parts, and the plan is they will head for Guatemala as soon as they can.

We spent Christmas Eve and Day morning with an American/French Canadian couple, who really put on a spread! A sumptuous Christmas dinner, useful and thoughtful gifts, and (a new one on me!) a mimosa at breakfast time on Christmas Day!

2022 began with a bang, that’s for sure! Curacao allows open slather on fireworks – it seems that anyone can buy them, and many people do. The soundtrack to the week between Christmas and  New Year was like that of a war movie, such was the jarring rat a tat of firecrackers during the days and nights. The two boatyard dogs spent their days trembling in the marina shower block.

It is customary for long rolls of firecrackers to be rolled out in the streets, and set off with alarming frequency – causing me to jump every time.

There were also big fire works launched day and night all week, and we started to wonder if there would not be any left by New Years Eve. There were plenty, evidently.

SOME NEW EXPERIENCES:

  • Sleeping without the fan going. It has thankfully been dropping to under 30 degrees overnight often.
  • Crazy daytime fireworks.
  • Getting our mast up, and the boat ready to sail.

HIGHLIGHTS:

BEST:

  • The rigging arriving!
  • Our sewing machine getting over its midlife crisis, and grumbling back to life. (After our disappointment that it could bot be fixed, Magnus took it apart and evidently performed some magic.) Then we took it to a fantastic sailmaker here, who informed us that the machine was fine, it was us that was the problem. After gratefully listening to his good advice, we were able to put the trusty old PFAFF back into service to fix some of our drooping and leaky canvas. For a while anyway. It was soon disgruntled and lethargic again, and we are currently in a hostile standoff. TBC I guess.
  • Protracted birthday celebrations, shared with one of our neighbors whose birthday is a few days before Magnus’s. The various days included Thai food, ice cream cake, then lemon slice cake with a side of nutbush.
  • Receiving our booster shots – ironically the day after one of my daughters at home got COVID.

WORST:

  • Missing the bubbling Aussie comedy show, usually performed in the wee hours, with my sister, daughters, and cousins on their Christmas Day when they are gathered together eating prawns and swimming in the pool. Last time, I received their hilarious and heartwarming call very early in a quiet marina, and I had to usher their mellifluous burbling voices away onto the street, in order not to wake the neighbors!
  • Bow propeller suddenly not working when we needed to move the boat from our reasonably tight spot around to the mast crane. But it was safely done by the captain, and as many people pointed out – many boats don’t have a bow prop at all.
  • Family at home being sick – the Caribbean suddenly feels a very long way from home when your loved ones are ill and/or in hospital.

FUNNIEST:

  • Dinghy trip with our two sets of neighbors around Schottegott Bay, finishing with a picnic of some white Zinfandel, (received as a Christmas gift); beer, and home made hummus and cardboard. (aka cruskits, but the humidity is not kind.) We had our picnic on a huge concrete bollard in the middle of the bay. It was a bit hairy landing the dinghy near so many sharp edges, but once we got the dinghy downwind, all was well.
  • ”The line” discussion. This still makes me giggle thinking about it, so I have to try to tell the story. Our dear Dutch neighbors were passing our boat, and stopped for the usual chit chat about what work we had planned today, dinner plans etc. We told them our plans, and they theirs. When I said that I was planning to change the failing toilet pump – our very handy and chivalrous neighbor Roelof asked, aghast, “Do you want me to help you?” I assured him no, thankyou, that I thought I should have a go at it myself. Then his wife Els said something like: “Rebecca; there are boys, and there are girls. And there is a line!” I replied, “Well maybe, but then do I have to ask Magnus to stop cooking, and doing the dishes from time to time? Sometimes it’s tricky to know where the line is” and then, (in reference to any toilet business whatsoever), she said emphatically “That’s the line!” We all rolled around laughing, and I went on with the toilet repairs. Els and Roelof are extremely funny and kind, and often have us in stitches…. they are really bright lights to share the jetty with.
  • Discovering, at an awkward moment, that it is ONLY AUSTRALIANS that know the nutbush! Really?
  • This one is maybe funnier for me than the Captain – but when our rigging went up, we had to put the rigger up the mast to do some final adjustments.(TWICE as it turns out!) This meant grinding him up, in a harness, with a winch. We do this to each other all the time, and of course we each prefer to be the one going up the mast rather than doing the grinding. There is a 30 kg difference between us, and we do not have electric winches. So when we took turns at grinding our rigger up, it was sweet serendipity that he weighed exactly the same as Magnus – so we BOTH had a turn of heaving that particular amount of beef up the mast!!

FOOD AND BEVVY HIGHLIGHTS:

  • A delightful Phillipino meal prepared for all of us by yet another nice boat neighbor. She cooked an enormous quantity of pansit, and made 100 spring rolls. This whole feast came from her boat galley – this seemed nothing short of a miracle to me! Theirs’ is a similar boat to ours – and our galley is yet to produce anything nearly as impressive! We shared this meal in the palm roofed hut that we gather in here in the marina.
  • Meals with our lovely, funny, and lively direct (mastless) neighbors including a hearty chicken soup, served with avocado, sour cream, and corn chips; and a really tasty sauerkraut dish with sausage, served with pickled cucumbers. YUM!
  • A potluck dinner with a twist – it was hosted by a lovely American couple who really provided everything on their big catamaran; setting, food, drinks, good company. We guests chipped in with the odd bottle of wine and salad, and enjoyed an evening of great conversation. It is the luxury of space on a catamaran that allows one to move around different conversations and groups during the course of an evening.
  • Christmas Eve and day, including a traditional turkey roast, breaky with mimosas, then Larry’s for dinner, with nice reef beef dinner, key lime pie, and pumpkin soup with almonds. A true food cornucopia!
  • A Caribbean version of Mum’s Christmas pud! A few ingredients were not to be found, so substitutes were implemented (eg sweetened shredded coconut for almond meal, fresh grated orange peel for candied mixed peel) but overall it had the same rich Christmas smell and taste. Maybe it’s the brandy? Some were steamed in our multipurpose egg cooker, some in the pressure cooker, and served with a cranberry coulis they weren’t half bad! And as an aside, no-one was hurt during the flaming brandy pouring process.
  • Hoppin’ John – a New Year Day tradition from the southern states of the USA, as explained to us by Beth, a New Yorker with a southern beginning.

BOAT WORK:

  • Deck scrub/bleach; clearly a job for the first mate.
  • Auto bilge pump and alarm installation.
  • Installation of inverter switch.
  • Completion of hull cleaning.
  • Toilet pump changeover by first mate, see discussion above!
  • Rigging attached, mast up, second try!!
  • Ferrying diesel cans back to the boat by wheelbarrow – the experience of years of cleaning stables came in very handy.
  • Splicing started, haltingly ATM, but started. Assisted by a thoughtful Christmas gift, and an awesome Youtube from an inspirational neighbor., the aforementioned Beth. (Who, among other things, sailed solo from Puerto Rico with no engine at all. She is also an expert splicer, having constructed her own Dynema standing rigging. Hats off!)
  • Sewing machine fixed – kind of, and some ensuing canvas repairs.
  • Investigative work on non functional bow propeller. TBC.

DINNER WITH:

There have been so many this month, it was difficult to single out a particular occasion. TBC next time!

FUN FACT:

The gaily coloured buildings that form part of Curacao’s visual charm reportedly began as such, according to tt.loopnews:

“It was a headache that changed an island, according to local tales. Curacao’s famous pastel coloured buildings possibly began in 1817 when former governor Albert Kikkert allegedly complained of headaches after looking at the brilliant white buildings which reflected the sun’s glare. -It is said that after this the buildings were painted in bright colours…. The fact that Kikkert was part owner in a paint factory may have also played a apart in things. In 1997 the historic area of Willemstad’s inner city was awarded UNESCO World Heritage status.”

No more headaches?

“A ship in port is safe. But that’s what not ships are built for.”

(unknown)

Hello from sunny Curacao! We have returned a year on, and hurrah hurrah, Almazul is back in her natural salt water habitat.
We left chilly Sweden just as the temperature began to dip below zero and have quickly grown accustomed to living simply, working with our hands, and drinking our body weight in water every day.

The boat looked OK generally speaking, and apart from a a thick layer of filth, was relatively unscathed after a year up on stands. Up the ladder and aboard we went, pulling the suitcases bulging with boat parts up behind us with a pulley.

We spent two weeks living aboard out of the water tending to all kinds of recommissioning tasks, renewing old acquaintances, making new ones, and generally acclimatising. Most days were filled with hot dirty work-and the cold shower at the end of each day served to and restore both our spirits, and normal skin colour.

We had been looking forward to getting into the water, because it’s hot, sweaty, and dusty living on the boat in the yard. Most people are painting, or sanding, or performing all manner of dirty work, and there are lots of mozzies and really no breeze to provide respite from the heat. Sitting in the shade under the boat with the stray dogs and iguanas was the best spot to take refuge in the sweltering afternoon. I hand sewed all our mozzie nets over several days in this distinguished company!

Not a moment too soon we were collected by a huge trailer and lowered into the water. As we landed gently, we scurried around checking through hulls, and were relieved NOT to discover any leaks. However our equanimity evaporated somewhat when the engine didn’t start. This was followed by a short sequence of further unfortunate events, requiring us to spend the night in situ, and hope to solve our problems in the morning. This seemed reasonable enough. But as the evening wore on, our joy at being afloat became unease as the boat just didn’t feel right. This was because we were actually standing on our keel, and as the tide went out, the whole bow was out of the water, stern submerged, due to the slope down into the water. This put us at quite a jaunty rearing angle. Magnus had to stay on the port side of the boat, because he could really unbalance it by going starboard. We probably would’ve been supported by water had we tipped a bit, but we were pretty keen not to be tipped into the jetty. Apart from an uneasy night, all was well and in the morning, the boat yard guys brought the trailer out and lifted us out a bit further, allowing us to float. We were then able to start the motor and move around to our current berth on the jetty. (The motor starting was a relief, having spent the evening jump starting it from a service battery, and picking impeller bits out of the cooling system.)

The big news is that our mast is off, and so we will remain at this jetty for the foreseeable future as we await delivery of new rigging, having removed, inspected, and measured our old rig.

We have learned a lot about our mast and rig during this process; such is the beauty of doing these things at least partly yourself. We were lucky to draw on the expertise of an experienced and highly recommended rigger, who turned out to be an all round nice guy as well.

HIGHLIGHTS

BEST:

  • A beach day. After 4 weeks of boat work, with occasional walks to town and meals shared with boat neighbors, we bit the bullet and went to the beach! The day we chose was really windy and for the first time, we were fleetingly cold!
  • Regular walk/runs up to Fort Nassau, which affords a panoramic view of Schottegatt Bay, the largest harbour in the Caribbean, and the second largest in the Kingdom of the Netherlands.
  • Grandbaby still recognising me and laughing at peekaboo games on video calls. (And meeting another boat’s grandbaby over video call!)
  • Regular gatherings with fellow boaters for Mexican Train (dominoes for the uninitiated), pot luck dinners, BBQs, music making, sundowners… This quiet social aspect of boatyard life is a comfort to us all I think – and as well as a chance to share knowledge, ideas and spare parts! Everyone here is either working to prepare their boat to leave, or to be left, so everyone appreciates a bit of relaxation and a chat in the evenings it seems.
  • Being accosted on several attempts to leave the boat yard for aforementioned exercise by aforementioned friendly neighbours inviting us to join them for dinner or a drink as we passed by. Once we actually managed to leave the boat yard and were walking down a dusty backroad, when we were beckoned by voices from the shade. Our neighbours had taken refuge from the sun in a tiny bar consisting of three outside tables, one variety of beer, and Coca Cola. Each time we sit and talk with others we learn a little bit more about boats, or cruising, or where to source different parts, laundry tip etc etc. This week’s hot tip was that professionals use a toilet cleaner to clean fibreglass hulls before waxing – much cheaper and more effective than any “marine” cleaner!

WORST:

  • Our sewing machine has taken some time off for a mid life crisis, and seems impossible to coax back into service by the island’s most experienced sewing machine repair brain. Now what?

FUNNIEST:

  • Seeing a LARGE black dog laughingly enjoying being chauffeured around on a paddle board by two small English children, whose combined body weight would not have equalled the dog’s, by quite some measure! (He was a GIANT Giant Schnauzer named Moses, with the temperament of Gandhi , from a beautiful boat named Aria.)
  • Our great joy each time we arrived at our destination with nothing having fallen off an old bomb of a car we borrowed from a kind neighbor. At each of the first few stops we celebrated with a sigh of relief, a relaxing of our white knuckles, and a subdued high 5. We gained confidence as the afternoon wore on however, as we understood that the sharp rattling, various clunks and spontaneous revving were not immediately fatal. “Rent a wreck” is popular among boaters, who don’t really need a car often, but DO need many boat parts which are are often beyond walking distance. Our borrowed wreck was not the worst, at least it didn’t have a tarp tied over the roof to keep the rain out!
  • Frank discussions with other boaters revealing that the universal clarity of hindsight is even more keenly felt amongst this community, and refreshingly freely acknowledged and admitted to! We are part of a colourful mix of cultures, languages, dreams, sailing experience, and boat types; bound together by being “in the same boat” so to speak.
  • Frequent encounters with iguanas. They are not shy, let me tell you! At lunch one day, one sat almost on my feet, checking the flavour of my toes with an occasional nibble, and eventually sauntered laconically away, OVER my feet! The feeling of his spindly toes on mine made me recoil, and it was all I could do not to squeal and drop kick him over the fence!

FOOD AND BEVVY HIGHLIGHTS:

  • Loempia (Dutch version) – a delightful type of pastie, filled with bean shoots and chicken, eaten at a supermarket cafe.
  • A local mix, including goat stew and a pumpkin pancake, alongside workers on their lunch break in town, at a place called Plasa Bieu, which is a series of small market stalls selling food, a bit like the food hall at the Dandenong Market I guess.
  • Shoama; a small pita stuffed with deliciousness.
  • Beef tenderloin and plantains with cinnamon BBQed by neighbors at a pot luck dinner.
  • A Turkish platter, of giant proportions.
  • The. Perfect. Paw Paw. Huge, sweet, bought at the local market – eaten in one sitting.
  • GIANT avocados – almost the size of a Sherrin, cheap and plentiful. An occasional avo smash for breakfast seems a no brainer! (FYI Sherrin is the type of footy used in Australian Rules Football)

BOAT WORK:

  • General recommissioning/moving back on board stuff; cleaning, getting everything out of storage bags, and with great trepidation opening the sealed plastic box in which we had left flour, pasta, dried beans and sundry other pantry items. This box gave us both nightmares from time to time throughout the previous year. The more we thought about our (stupid?) decision to leave food aboard, the more we were sure that boat would be filled with not only weevils, but ants, mice, cockroaches etc etc as is apparently common.
  • Sanding and painting the hull with antifoul. We are unwilling experts at this, having done it three times now. This is unusual in such a brief space of time – but we learn a little more each time.
  • Removing melded masking tape adhesive. In the name of protecting our windows and hatches, we diligently applied lashings of blue paper masking tape in an effort to secure blue tarpaulin coverings to our precious plexi glass. The good old blue tarp turned out to be ridiculously sun susceptible – and it must have fluttered off in a strong wind almost immediately, leaving the remains shredded, dangling forlornly like streamers from a long forgotten party, secured by the blue tape, which had become one with the fibreglass deck. This meant calling in the big guns when it came time to remove said tape. (Unfortunately the big guns consisted only of feeble arms delivering a LOT of elbow grease aided by detergent…..) It took 3 solid days of soaking and scrubbing to remove it. This is the same stuff that falls off when you most want it to stay put. Of course.
  • Service of steering chain
  • Scrubbing of deck
  • Polishing fibreglass
  • Removal of mast, measured and ordered rigging. This sounds much more straightforward than it actually was – but we are much the wiser for the tribulations.
  • Hand sewing of mosquito nets – we are really trying to avoid mozzies, as they carry some nasties here, and the little buggers are tenacious to put it mildly
  • Dinghy repair
  • Fan installation in forward cabin and saloon
  • Changed impeller, and cleaned cooling system
  • Changed starter battery
  • Unblocked sink drain
  • TRIED to fix toilet pump – so far unsuccessful, awaiting new pump.
  • Surveyed anchor chain
  • Remounted solar panel and started wind generator
  • Fixed leaking tap in forward head.

DINNER WITH…

Our featured dinner companions this week were an American/French Canadian couple who have been sailing around the world for 28 years, interspersed with working at home (California) as a duo of long haul truck drivers, or on location from the boat in any number of jobs. They dropped their previous professions to become truck drivers to fit their sailing plans, and to help to gain work in most places if they so desired. Their stories are funny, hair raising, inspirational, informative, and always interesting. They began their sailing as rookies, and before GPS and electronic charts etc so they certainly encountered some difficulties, and willingly share their experience. Their boat is a Flamingo 42, a beautiful wooden ketch that has taken them thousands of nautical miles, across every ocean on the planet.

Landlubber’s Life

“Oceans apart,

Day after day,

And I slowly go insane….”

This 80s ballad by Richard Marks succinctly describes many of our recent land bound months. Travel restrictions, particularly Australian border closures and arrival caps put us exactly here…. oceans apart, day after day….. and you know the rest. After leaving the boat and converting our sea legs to land limbs in Sweden, I went home to Oz, and Magnus followed, eventually.

I arrived in Australia after 3 cancelled flights, and Magnus had the same experience. We both had an OK experience in hotel quarantine served in Sydney, as Melbourne was not accepting any international arrivals at the time. I was madly arranging birthday celebrations remotely and attempting to walk the Camino de Santiago virtually; (in increments of 10 meters pacing up and down my room until I had blisters from all the pivoting on hotel carpet!) and Magnus improved his ping pong considerably thanks to VR.

The feeling of wind in my hair as I stepped outside after 2 weeks of not so much as an open window was bliss. The quarantine was mandatory, so there is nothing to discuss really. In truth, we were both pretty happy to get to Australia after all the difficulties.

Our year on land passed pleasantly. The Swedish winter was shrouded in COVID restrictions, so social gatherings were held outside to minimse risk. This meant eating, drinking, and making merry IN THE SNOW! C’est la vie. Magnus spent a cosy white Christmas with family, and skiing and skating on the lake made for some glorious winter days.

In contrast, the Melbourne summer proved predictably warm, and included milestone family birthdays (21 and 80) and a BABY being born! The celebrations were wedged between and within tough COVID lockdowns. The lockdowns have thankfully finished, but were relentless; totalling 262 days since March 2020. This meant most people (including me) worked from home, with very few acceptable reasons to leave one’s own property, and even then remaining within 5km of home.

There grew a deep weariness, and many people did it tough. Homeschooling is not easy, and of course many businesses did not survive. Vaccination uptake was frustratingly slow, so the lockdowns continued. Magnus and I became vaccination evangelists; give us 5 minutes and we would launch into a zealous frenzy of pro vax arguments. I am not sure this helped Australia’s vax statistics; but not for want of trying on our part.

When Magnus returned to Sweden ahead of me, he walked into almost total freedom – and must have breathed a deep sigh of relief. Accordingly, I lived somewhat vicariously, marvelling at people out AT RESTAURANTS for goodness’ sake!! And of course many other normal social experiences that remained far out of reach in Melbourne.

When I arrived a bit later, I felt quite under dressed sans facial covering, and still sometimes find myself fumbling in my pocket for a mask as I enter a shop.

This habit will no doubt come in handy as we travel south to warmer climes to resume life on Almazul for Season 2. Masks are still required in many circumstances in Curacao, so in our preparation for leaving Sweden, we have stashed our remaining mask cache amongst the many boat parts. Our effort to balance clothes, shoes, sailing requisites, and boat parts in our allotted baggage limits is a physical and psychological wrestle. (For me anyway – I am not quite as content as the Captain to wear ONE pair of shorts for 14 months…. but hey, each to their own!)

SOME NEW EXPERIENCES:

  • We took up cycling with zeal in Australia during lock down. I am a newbie really, but my foldable bike experience in Spain and Swedish cycle commuting proved better then nowt, and Magnus discovered that it is “just like riding a bike” actually. We bought old bikes from the local men’s shed, and did our best to give them a good hiding! The hills around Clematis are unforgiving, and quite a tough initiation, but certainly helped the old knees develop a more youthful demeanor, eventually.
  • Living in the cellar – renting Magnus’ house out has been a great solution, and the small apartment in the cellar is perfect for short stays, and gives us both freedom to roam AND a home base in Sweden.
  • Going to a game of ice hockey. Kindly escorted by neighbors, I REALLY enjoyed the exciting game, atmosphere, dining experience, and cheer squad efforts. Importantly, the home team were definitively victorious. Go guldsvart!
  • Being a Grandma….. I am teary and smiling as I write this. The joy, and love for all concerned is quite overwhelming. After tearing myself away from hands on grand mothering, I am mastering reading stories over video chat, and my wavering renditions of “Kumbaya” from the other side of the globe still induce heavy eyelids apparently.

HIGHLIGHTS:

Best:

  • Being with our respective families, including the baby…. (We have to take turns with families obviously – but are figuring things out.)

Worst/Funniest:

  • Melbourne lockdown. The jokes about working from home dress codes etc wore thin, and going out to dinner became a bucket list item. But… our little household developed a routine, sharing cooking, exercise, movies, and the responsibility to come up with an idea for “something fun” once a week. We had zoom chats of course, and also held “Murder Mystery” evenings with family remotely, complete with dress ups, props, and accents. Two of my nephews floored us by revealing a remarkable talent for accents. One was a faultless Texan drawl, and the other a uncannily accurate Scottish lilt, probably reminiscent of his great grandfather.

FOOD AND BEVVY HIGHLIGHTS:

  • Fondue – for fun this winter we tried a recipe given to us by a passionate Swiss foodie whilst in Guadeloupe. Perfect!
  • Swedish pizza in Australia, in a Chinese restaurant. The owner had lived in Luleå for 20 years, and had added the Swedish pizza as a successful side hustle to his otherwise eastern menu.
  • New Australian wine fave; Pepperjack Grenache. We have long since appreciated the McLaren Vale Shiraz from the same stable, but the Grenache was a revelation! Ours was a 2020. (Absurdly, this was first sampled from the Swedish government controlled bottle shop, Systembolaget.)
  • Sushi and taco bowls. These delights were prepared by Bonnie – highly recommended!
  • Blueberry muffins, a la Lara. All the good stuff, none of the bad – AND delicious!

FUN FACTS:

We are about to depart Sweden (av temp between 0-6 c ATM) for Almazul, in Curacao (average temp 26-30 c). I am imagining our arrival at the airport as a stripping frenzy, as we panic to shed the heavy duty warm jackets and multiple other suffocating layers. Well me, anyway.

Talk soon xxx

Out of the frypan and into the fridge…. from this to THIS

After leaving the womblike warmth and humidity of Curacao in mid September, we have had to wrap up and toughen up for Autumn in Sweden. The crisp mornings, piercing afternoon breezes, cosy candle lit evenings, and saunas are as far from the Caribbean as one can imagine. The contrast gently reminds us to appreciate the beauty of wherever we are, right now.

Whilst on land we have tried to “live lightly” to continue the frugal and sustainable habits honed on the boat – and generally speaking, this has gone well. Apparently it is a common experience among boaters to live more thoughtfully, simply, sustainably, contentedly, HAPPILY….needing less, consuming less, recycling more, and DOING more when back on land. (this even extended to ME cutting Magnus’s hair, maybe not our best idea ever!) However, despite our good intentions, we have found ourselves slipping occasionally….shopping at Ikea, and buying a car. Oops a daisy!

Some new experiences have included:

  • Buying a Volvo, therefore becoming a “Volvo driver” which is a “thing” in some circles in Australia. Hmmm, I am ready. It was second hand, but of course well designed, practical, and full of features. Our favorite aspects of owning a car again vary- Magnus likes the freedom, especially from grocery shopping on the bike, and I like the heated seats. Priorities…
  • Lobster fishing…..what a fantastic experience! We pulled up 16 (yes, 16!) lobster during our 3 hour fishing trip. We were a bit lucky I think, because the boat’s engine had been playing up during the week, so the fisherman had left the lobster pots unattended for a little longer than usual. Lucky us! The trip was shared with dear friends, on an island on the west coast of Sweden. We ate many delicious things (lobster, obviously) and a highlight must have been home shot moose, home cured and served with Japanese condiments. Talk about East meets west! (Or should I say north?) It was divine – thanks Anders and Lola. And of course we were obliged to indulge in the crazy Nordic pastime of roasting in a sauna, then plunging into icy cold water. (I must admit have actually grown to love this, and now stay in the water longer than some Swedes I know!) The island’s stark rocky landscape seemed like the kind of place that would coax a novel out of anyone, and very nearly did from Anki! I would not be surprised if she pens her debut novel here. All in all we had a fantastic weekend with some truly lovely people, eating decadently, and enjoying the chilly Autumn weather.
  • “Svampplockning” / mushroom picking. A perfectly Autumnal activity, including a bracing ramble through the forest, eyes down, focus sharp. Those little mushrooms are EXACTLY the same colour as the fallen birch leaves that carpet the forest floor, and are all but indistinguishable. It was frigid in the shade of the birch and fir forest, but we got a good haul of Autumn Chanterelles, despite our frozen fingers and toes. We ate them in a cream sauce on toast. Delish!
  • Celebrating my birthday Swedish style, with Princess cake in bed. Heavenly.

WEEKLY HIGHLIGHTS:

Best:

  • Catching up with other fellow boat buddies right here, in person, in Sweden; and/or virtually when distance or pandemic recommendations required. You forge deep connections with others on boats, especially if you also have other things in common as well as the strong shared experiences of general boat life, hard weather, etc. Dinners, walks, coffee, chats – we so appreciate the ongoing friendships that we have made as an unexpected dimension of our cruising life. It was sooooo nice to talk to them again, as we quickly picked up where we left off – albeit with us wearing pale faces and long sleeves in Autumnal Sweden, and some of our besties still brown as berries and glowing with good health in the balmy evenings of southern Spain, Caribbean etc.
  • Playing padel with some of our aforementioned new friends. Padel seems to be a tennis/squash hybrid, great fun and an efficient way to begin to recommission our almost superfluous legs.
  • Visiting friends in Gothenburg, and engaging in ANOTHER bewildering Swedish pastime “taking a bath” (swim) even in the winter. I was very surprised to discover that stripping off and getting into the water when it was about 9 degrees is not so bad! It was actually a bit warmer in the water than out. I was even more surprised when a whole family; grandpa grandma, uncles, aunties, toddlers – the whole shebang, ALSO came down for a swim! They were obviously professionals, because they teamed themal hats with their swimwear. I shook my head in disbelief! I had hitherto thought that only a handful of particularly crazy people did this but apparently not. These Vikings are tough!
  • Sailing in Lake Mälaren again! Our dear friends from Lazy 🐸 understood our deep yearning for the water, and took us on their boat to an island for a crayfish party! We had missed the traditional time of year for that kind of shenanigans, but they had especially saved some crayfish caught and prepared by the family for us! As always, much fun, laughter, good food, heartwarming chats and of course, sauna. And as a bonus, some ripping sailing on the way, minus waves!
  • The simple pleasure of greeting back on the bicycle! I LOVE cycling around town doing the shopping, errands etc. So convenient, and feels good for me AND the planet.

Worst;

  • Cancelling a long anticipated get together with some boat friends. This was absolutely necessary due to strengthened COVID recommendations, so we caught up on zoom, but not quite the same.

Funniest:

  • Our lobster fishing crew bursting into song often during our weekend away. This amused me and warmed my heart in equal measures; such unabashed joy!
  • An impromptu waltz performed on the lobster boat, by Lola and the fisherman! Beautiful, and accompanied by spontaneous choral accompaniment.
  • Being asked at the cinema if I would like the seniors discount. Hmm. After some discussion about whether I was old enough (which was more awkward for the polite young cashier than it was for me!) we established that I could, indeed, have the seniors discount if I wanted it, so I accepted graciously. A new opportunity!

Food and Bevvy highlights:

  • Bistro Vinoteket. If you are EVER in Västerås, it is a must. We visited as a very belated birthday celebration (a gift from Australia) for Magnus, and the tasting menu was absolutely superb. Interesting wine from around the world, teamed with delicious tastes of all sorts of local produce. Have you ever teamed sake with cheese? Or tried Iranian wine? Me neither until now.
  • A truly delightful meal prepared by friends of sourdough pizza, with Västerbotten cheese, creme fraiche, roe and dill, followed by a mussel and white wine pasta dish, finished perfectly with fruit salad, served with a secret creamy accompaniment. Mums! (Yum!) Thanks Alex and Annika!
  • The Japanese style cured moose mentioned earlier.
  • Lobster, obviously!
  • Home caught and prepared local crayfish.
  • Masala sauce made from scratch for the first time.
  • Hamburger from a local burger shack. You know its good when juice runs down your arm!

Boat work: (remote)

  • Mapping, research, arranging maintenance and works to be done.

Quirky Curacao swansong

After dodging hurricanes, then pirates; we arrived in relatively quiet Curacao; our swan song port of call in chapter 1 of our SwedeOz adventure.

(Excuse the forthcoming patronising tone as I proceed to spell this phonetically for the Aussies. This is so that if, like me, you have been mispronouncing this your whole life, you may go forth well and truly corrected. It is generally pronounced “Koo-rah-saw” as opposed to the Aussie adaptation; “Koo-rah-kayo.” You’re welcome. I know you will feel much better if you ever find yourself ordering a Blue Lagoon again. Patronising tone over for now, I promise!)

After setting off from Grenada in convoy, we landed here after a lazy 4 day sail west, undertaken with our friends on Delphinus. We were happy to sail together for fun, and also because piracy is a slim possibility in nearby waters. With this in mind we took the safest option and stayed as far off the Venezuelan coast as possible, and travelled with minimal lights, low wattage radio, and no AIS running. We will never know whether these tactics were necessary – but definitely made sense at the time. After an uneventful sail, we were pleased to arrive in the busy atmosphere of the anchorage at Spanish Waters. A lively European/Caribbean fusion at its best: it felt like life was going on unabated here, with few COVID19 related restrictions visible. Wealthy Dutch holiday makers were zooming around on jetskis, and chartered “party boats” regularly thumped past with music blaring, and bather clad youngters lounging around the deck. We were in the centre of a sprawling waterway which is only accessed by a long narrow channel from the sea, so it is very well protected. We were surrounded by other boats, and around the shoreline lay a multitude of resort complexes, many empty due the quarantine requirements on the island.

We decided to come here after a limbo period in Grenada; including a close call with the aforementioned hurricane, no valid insurance at that latitude, and only a shaky possibility of flying home.

Since arrival, we have been sauntering (then dashing) around the island preparing to leave Almazul ”on the hard” as they say in boat speak. It is a strange feeling temporarily farewelling Almazul after 14 months living aboard, for now but wow, what a ride!

Curacao is one of the ABC islands just north of Venezuela, and is part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in the Leeward Antilles.

Curacao boasts the highest standard of living in Caribbean, and has a few strings to its economy including petroleum refinery and shipment, tourism, and of course Curacao production. (FYI the orange flavoured liqueur comes in four different colours, not only the sublime aqua blue that we all know and love.) The different colours are purely “for cocktail fun” according to our Curacao advisor. It also comes in tamarind, chocolate, and coffee flavours, and they are ALL good.

Our explorations around the island revealed countless incredible beaches, and snorkelling second to none. (Although people assure us that this is NOTHING compared to Bonaire…) The city of Willemstad is pretty; a mini Amsterdam? Inland is quite dry; cactus country actually… but no tequila production we are aware of. We had a small project to determine which cacti are toxic, and which are not. We figured if we were to play Russian Roulette by ingesting any cacti in the course of our research, we have just the man for the job. Magnus has survived an incident with a Manchineel apple (did I mention it is the most deadly fruit in the WORLD!!) – so the cactus toxin did not scare him. Fortunately we left the island before our research was completed, or any hospitalization required.

Some new experiences included:

  • A windsurfing lesson! Nearly 40 years after my last attempt; and 20 years since Magnus cut a dashing swathe through the tranquil waters of Lake Mälaren. The lesson was super fun, and it didn’t take long for Magnus to display his former prowess on the board, and I got along quite well too. The young man helping us was concerned about us hurting ourselves,  but very kind and cautiously encouraging nonetheless. (We have come to understand that when trying any new activity, if we are older than our coach’s parents…. we are obviously SERIOUSLY old, and consequently in grave danger of really hurting ourselves at any moment. Surreptitiously they think that we should really be playing lawn bowls by now, but unfortunately we still suffer remnants of adrenaline addiction, and so hang on to our “crazy ideas” of being active for a little while longer….. !)

Best:

  • Celebrating our friend Lee’s birthday Caribbean style! The fun began with some magnificent snorkelling and then a cold bevvy in a quirky, ramshackle little bar of sorts on the beach, followed by a dinghy tour of millionaires row complete with red wine in hand, and an informative commentary from the Captain. (see video) The day concluded perfectly with dinner by candlelight at a cosy waterside restaurant, including the obligatory cocktail containing Curacao. (incidentally, of an unrepeatable name! Aren’t they all!?!)
  • Snorkelling. At a place called Tugboat beach, the fish were so blasé about humans drifting around an old sunken wreck, they actually bumped into our snorkelling masks. Instead of avoiding us, the tropical beauties seemed to gather around like curious chooks.
  • Swimming in Blue room Cave; a spectacular sea cave. Depending on the tide, to enter you must dive underwater for about a meter to clear the entrance. Once past the low mouth, you emerge into an azure blue “room”, a little like The Blue Grotto of Capri, but a lower ceiling. The incredibly beautiful colour and light and the gentle movement of the water and resident tropical fish made for a veritable visual feast.
  • Visiting various stunning beaches along the west coast. All scenic, all different. Some were deep little indentations in the rocky coastline, affording warm rock pool swimming in water so clear that it was impossible to determine the depth. Waist deep appeared ankle deep. Some were endless stretches of white sand, lapped at by twinkling turquoise water, and some were shaded alcoves of jade green, fringed by ribbons of golden sand and swaying palm trees. Some beaches had shallow coral reefs that harboured hordes of brightly coloured fish, and suddenly dropped away to  sapphire blue depths. The frequent presence of thatched umbrellas just added to the visual magic.
  • We also enjoyed resuming some level of physical activity, by adding some very light running to our relaxed schedule. The workload was magnified by the litres of water shed per minute or so.
  • Catching 2 fish en route from Grenada to Curacao – it was quite some time since we caught a fish, and the fresh mahi mahi did not disappoint. We had plenty to share with our neighbors, and made a fave cerviche among other things.
  • Continuing to enjoy the very social and relaxed life that we share with other cruisers. Wherever we anchor the boat, we soon find new buddies, or even better, old ones rediscovered! We were greeted at Curacao by an ebullient Aussie couple who barrelled up in their dinghy to give us the low down on Curacao bureaucratic requirements etc etc. And also tee up a time to have a beer, of course. This kind of greeting happens often, and is a joyous part of this life. We love that social plans can be made spontaneously, and that most others are friendly, interesting, and have time for a chat. We will miss it when we have to begin using diaries to make social plans back in the “real world.”
  • The ceremonial disposal of a much loved (but irreversibly stained and torn) pair of shorts that Magnus wore almost everyday for the past 15 months. They were work shorts, swimming shorts, dinner shorts etc. Extremely versatile, but a little past their due date? To be fair, they were his ONLY shorts after a mystery laundry incident, so although the actual disappearance of his other shorts remains a mystery, I probably have to claim some responsibility for the situation.

Worst:

  • Check in day – a long hot traipse around town by bus, on foot, and finally in desperation, by (very expensive!) taxi. We had to get to three different offices, on a tight time frame due to their weekend office hours, and then one of them was closed. Of course! We were somewhat displeased to have to repeat part of this journey the following day in order to be properly checked into the country. So you can imagine how happy we were when the local OCC chairman offered to run the two Captains into town the next day, and at the same time gave them a mini guided city tour, culminating in a decadent brunch at an upmarket hotel! They were not displeased with this outcome, as you can imagine.

Funniest:

  • Dinghy wrestling, and the complimentary sport of dinghy running, and/or dinghy tug of war. Solving the puzzle presented each time we arrive at our local dinghy dock often involves one or all of these extreme sports; requiring brute strength, cunning, persistence, and balance. Let me explain. Dinghies with outboard motors are every cruisers’ commuting vehicle, and so the dinghy docks are like carparks, but usually comprise of a pontoon, several meters long, that are often empty, but at peak hour, completely overwhelmed, like the Outh Eastern Freeway in Melbourne. It is considerate to tie your dinghy on a long string, so that others can push their way through the maze of dinghies to get to shore and disembark, and so on and so on. BUT the limited capacity, combined with dinghies on short leashes, often necessitates wrestling your way to shore, pulling yourself hand over hand along the other dinghies until it is possible to reach land. Sometimes it is not possible, so then the secondary sport of dinghy running becomes necessary. This is not for the faint hearted, as it involves clambering as quickly and lightly as possible into and over several other dinghies, which form your wobbly access bridge to land. It is important not to get your foot caught in others’ possessions, nor puncture anything, nor fall into the water en route. Once near land, you must clamber up the side of whatever part of the pontoon you have been able to reach and then try to win the tug of war that ensues as you try to pull your own dinghy close enough to tie up to something solid, and consequently enable the other person to also climb ashore. The complete disembarkation may take several trips, depending on how much garbage, laundry, etc we have to carry. When we are both on land, we take a deep breath, fumble around to check that neither phone or keys have fallen into the water, rectify the dishevelment that invariably occurs during any round of dinghy sport, and go forth: triumphant, if a little breathless.

Food and Bevvy highlights:

  • There are so many! We have found Curacao to be a great place to occasionally eat out, even on a tight sailing budget! The service at every restaurant we have visited has been prompt, friendly, attentive and efficient, and the quality of the food belies the tiny cost. A wonderful surprise!
  • And at one such beautifully situated restaurant, we have enjoyed the weekly “cruiser’s dinner.” This event both supports and is supported by the local restaurant, and is organised by a sailor with an interest in building the sailing community bonds in Curacao. Our dining companions were a beguiling mix of locals and visitors, living on boats and on land – but all with fascinating past or present sailing lives. I was particularly impressed by a woman who made her first solo sail to Curacao, alongside her husband in another boat. She had sailed as a first mate for years, but circumstances required her to skipper a boat solo for the first time. I love to be inspired like this… life goals!! Meeting so many amazing 50+ yo women in great health and physical state doing incredible things really inspires me to do more and be better….. the limits are only self imposed I guess, (until health fails big time of course….!)
  • Local delicacies we have tried are funchi; a polenta like dish, local meat balls, and a local sauasage.
  • We have also bought Dutch versions of everyday things; sometimes similar, and sometimes completely unexpected. One day we bought lollies…. licorice actually. Need I say more?
  • Avocado, Hass type! Hallelujah! Cue avo on toast, guacamole, etc etc.. The avocados we have had so far in the Caribbean have been cheap and ENORMOUS! (Some akin to a Sherrin footy) Win win you say? Well…. yes and no actually. The texture is just not as creamy as a Hass. Call me fussy, but I do like a creamy avo on toast. The watery ones just make it soggy. But I know, shut up, first world problem….
  • Blue Curacao. Of course. I know you understand that no explanation is required from a couple whose glory days were in the 80s/90s… As an aside, much of the water around the island is the exact shade of blue Curacao. Nice!

Boat work:

A full clear out and clean. In theory, only items that we would like to find here next time we are aboard remain. Considering we filled the boat from an overstuffed car, and have made multitudes of purchases of both useful and unnecessary equipment over the past 15 months, there is a fair amount of overflow to be dispersed. Dispersal options include; throw out, give away, repurpose, recycle, or carry home in carry on luggage. Needless to say we purchased some luggage allowance on our homeward flights…..

As well as a thorough emptying and cleaning. we;

  • Removed Genoa
  • Cleaned anchor chain
  • Treated teak deck for moss
  • Cleaned, deflated and stowed dinghy
  • Stowed all on deck equipment below; liferaft, table etc etc
  • Removed all canvas
  • Emptied carburetor on dinghy engine
  • Removed halyards
  • Washed all lines/sheets/halyards
  • Washed all cushion covers
  • Thorough clean inside and out.
  • Reorganization of all inside and outside storage
  • Catalogue of everything on the boat
  • Created excel and video inventory – to name a few of our decommissioning tasks!

Fun facts:

Almazul is decommissioned FTM, and stored safely in the hands of Curacao marine. We are both currently in Sweden. So long for now beautiful boat… 😘

Grenada green in quarantine.

Hello lush, green Grenada! The island’s verdant emerald hues greeted us immediately as we tied up at the quarantine dock after a beautifully brisk sail to get here. Watching the sunrise over the island as we approached from the north at dawn felt like a “new beginning.” Post COVID 19 lockdown further north, we were really quite grateful.

On arrival, we summoned our weary bones, donned masks, and went ashore for health checks and strict instructions regarding our conduct for the coming 2 weeks. We were forthwith (on the fifth try!) happily installed in quarantine at anchor, along with the hundreds of other boats keeping out of the way of hurricanes. We whiled away the quarantine period on the boat quietly but happily, and as luck would have it, our closest neighbors were Australian boats. One from Sydney, another from Melbourne, (Phillip Island in fact) and a third built in Brisbane 20 years ago! Our communication during quarantine was restricted to shouting conversations at sunset, and sending photos of each others’ boats and messaging on Instagram. (Thanks for the tip @letsjustgosailing!)

One Aussie couple first sailed in the Caribbean in 1982 👍 and (like many other boats we meet) have been cruising the Caribbean for decades either full or part time ever since.

I must mention our gratitude to the Marine and Yachting Association of Grenada (MAYAG) who lobbied the Government of Grenada on behalf of cruisers and therefore facilitated a carefully staged arrival of yachts despite the country’s borders being closed. This was extremely important, as hurricane season officially runs from June until the end of November, but this year the COVID19 lockdown restrictions and subsequent border closures meant that MANY boats (including us) were (and some still are) stranded at a latitude generally not recommended (read “uninsurable”) at this time of year.

(Particularly pertinently, locals report that this year has seen an unusually active beginning to the hurricane season. It seems to be a year of unprecedented events!)

To cheer us up, the Aussies just kept coming as we moved out of quarantine and into other bays to begin our new plan for a safe hurricane season, and eventual repatriation. I was EXTREMELY chuffed to see so many Antipodeans…. Prior to arriving here I could count the number of other Aus or NZ boats on ONE HAND since leaving Spain. Consequently, as I greet any newfound Antipodeans, I can hear my accent broadening to a yet unheard of twang that any Queenslander with a heavy cold would be proud of.

Since finishing our quarantine, we have been able to move around the island and observe the gradual easing of restrictions, allowing some businesses to resume whilst incorporating the protocols imposed to manage the risks posed by COVID-19. The island is heavily dependent on tourism, and it is difficult to understand how the many resorts, restaurants and associated businesses will survive the country’s protracted closure. The closure of the university has also resulted in a mass exodus – hundreds of student and staff accommodations lay empty, obviously having having a profound flow on effect around the island.

Despite the dire circumstances; we have found Grenada to be very friendly and welcoming, and happily almost devoid of the opportunistic and determined “entrepreneurs” who have often been our somewhat unwelcome companions on other islands.

Some new experiences included:

  • Well, obviously ANOTHER on boat lockdown, this time in the form of a strict 14 day quarantine, and all the associated experiences. We Whattsapped to request assistance with any of our essential needs (groceries, fuel etc) including food delivered by a supermarket. Then a 15 minute dinghy ride into the waves to collect it from where it was left on the quarantine dock. By the time we got back to the boat our groceries and us were completely drenched…but, we had food!
  • Sailing in the vicinity of a mildly active underwater volcano. “Kick ’em Jenny” is off the north west coast of Grenada, and has rumbled 0ver 1000 times this June, compared with an average of 30 times per month. We happened to skirt the 1.5 mile exclusion zone by sheer good luck the first time. Tick. Subsequent passings were undertaken much more carefully.🥺
  • Online live bingo, boatstyle… . I know, I know, if we’re playing Bingo already, lawn bowling is not far away. Despite the obvious slide into the oblivion of sedentary pursuits we VERY much enjoyed a fun evening over the radio playing electronic bingo, complete with humorous pommy caller, (our friend Lee) and appropriate cat calls from players, eg “two little ducks, 22, quack quack!!” You get the picture! It was also amusing to listen to the other players change gear throughout the evening. Many people began the evening with perky enthusiasm, then a little lewdness crept into their radio comments,, then as the end of the evening drew nigh, became somewhat slurry… signs of a successful fundraiser I guess! The money raised from the bingo evenings went to a charity called “Acts of Kindness” which provides food parcels to island families. Business closures have pushed many people into greater need than ever it seems.
  • Participating in a “Get Grenada Swimming- Learn to Swim Week” program; as a volunteer teacher. It is a terrific program aime