Bazurto and BS

Today I went on an early morning adventure with Pete from El Gecko.

The bazurta is the market place for locals. Heading out at 6:30am means we arrived when they were unloading trucks with mountains of veggies and the carts that fill the streets with fruits and veggies were being loaded up. The song Who Will Buy from Oliver was ringing in my ears and sometimes I sang it aloud. Such a cornucopia of colors! The people were nice and kind and more than willing to have a photo taken. I always ask.

Our mainsail is still stuck in Bogeta and we hope to find a resolution when we return to the states. Too much to go into. Suffice it to say it’s a nightmare. We have until March 3 to sort it out. And then it gets destroyed. So somehow we will find help.

Tonight we sail to Panama so we can fly home for daughter Helena’s wedding.

200 miles.

Cartagena – Put it on your list!

Think Europe with a Latin flair, or Latin with a European flair. Add some African spice, throw in the colors of the Caribbean, traditions and cultures from the indigenous tribes, and you have Cartagena!

It’s a fabulous and unique place to visit.

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When you go, stay in the old walled city for at least a few days to enjoy culinary delights, culture, and the sights and sounds of a vibrant city.  You’ll see ladies in their colorful outfits posing for photos with fruit baskets on their heads on every corner.  They show the old ways when after the slaves were freed, those who had run away and hidden in the mountains could come down and sell their harvests to the city folks. IMG_7534

The Castillo de San Felipe is within walking distance and the Volcano Totuma and Pink Sea are an hour away by car.  There are plenty of beaches but since we live next to one in San Diego, it wasn’t a priority.

Taxi’s are cheap and food can be too.  It all depends on your budget. We spiced it up by doing a bit of everything.  Truth is Eric has missed a lot of it by working on the boat but at night when he comes back we stroll around the city and find something delicious to reward his hard work with.

Our first trip to Cartagena in July started with a hectic day of checking into customs and racing the clock to get to the boatyard in time to haul out.  We sailed from the San Blas (off Panama) and on the way our mainsail fell down when the ring that holds it up failed.  So grateful it didn’t happen near the pirate zones!

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We took a 6 month break with Eric returning in October to do a few jobs.  Upon returning in January kids Bobby and Chelsea joined us.  But before I show those photos, here are some of the examples of the colors of houses and restaurants in Cartagena. I never get tired of walking the streets and seeing how beautiful they are! OK some of the color combos might not be my favs, but it is the Caribbean with style.  The bougainvilleas growing out of the sidewalks add the perfect touch.  I will be adding some to our house someday.  We only have one, and it is not sculpted like these beauties.

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Kids trip.  That is not them in the line for immigration BTW.

Castillo de San Felipe.  This is how they guarded the treasures they took from Colombia to give to their kings.  Until it was built, Sir Francis Drake was successful in his attempts to capture the city.  One of the places where he holed up in is now a boutique hotel in the old city.  Bobby and Chelsea practiced their firing skills and overcame their fear of walking into low lit passages that seem to have no way out.

Some interesting facts:  Cartagena Colombia (sp not Columbia) has a sister city in Spain with the same name.  We’ve been to both.  The Spanish Cartagena is where they received the goods from here.  But another sister city is Coral Gables in Miami Florida.  I went to Coral Gables High School!  There is a statue of a pair of children shoes in CocoPlum made by Botero, the same artist who made the big naked lady in the Santo Domingo plaza, and Boll Koch (a former boss at A3) owns a couple of these as well.  Botero, the Colombian sculptor,  is well known in the art circles. Notice how her butt is shiny?  Her breasts are too from everyone rubbing them for good luck and photo ops.

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There are all kinds of restaurants so we sampled as many as possible.  This is one’s Mexican! Below are photos of where we stayed.  It’s an AirBnB right in the center of the city.

This is Gestamani.  It’s a very hip section of the old city filled with artists, good food, and hostels.  So colorful!

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One day we headed to the Volcano Totumo and then the Pink Sea with Alvaro, our driver, a local who also works on El Gato.  Always nice to show a local his own country’s fun spots.  He was laughing at both places because he’d never been and could not believe what he saw. Suddenly he was a tourist too.  But before we committed to taking the plunge in to the mud, we took a short boat ride to a little island.

On the way back Bobby declared he was down.  So we all decided yes, we are here, we should go for it.  Never ever in my life did I expect I’d go willingly into a mud bath, with others, but the good news it didn’t smell.  Some smell like sulphur and I think I would have puked. Now THAT would be gross!

When we emerged the kids looked like Avatars. I just looked dirty and chunky.

IMG_7744IMG_7751I love how when the mud dries it becomes art on your body! Getting it aloof was a task and there were ladies grabbing our arms and pulling us into the water to wash us. For a small fee of course.

Next stop was the Pink Sea.  They used to harvest salt and evidently there’s a company ready to resume.  In the meantime, it was not easy to find, but well worth the effort.  It was blowing hard that week.  Glad we were not on our boat!

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This is Alvaro and our local Pink Sea guide.                                                                         He wanted photos to show HIS family!

Sadly, when I asked to hop out to see the local beach, I found tons of plastic trash washed upon the shore.  People, it is not getting better!

I ate a Big Ass Ant one day.  I had taken a Polaroid photo of this man a few days earlier, gave it to him, and he remembered, so he let me try an ant without buying. Crunchy, salty, and would not eat them again unless I was starving.

We saw a monkey and a sloth in a tree in the park too. 

On the last night with the kids, there was a wedding across the plaza. What a charming place to tie the knot!

So Eric and I moved over to Gestamani for a week to finish getting the boat ready.

IMG_7852 The port engine wouldn’t start and we were still waiting for our NS main to arrive from the states.  So while we waited I did laundry and activated our satellite devices.

Love this place. Laundry and beer! And of course WiFi.

They sold pizzas and fresh juices too. How cool is that?  You’re already hanging out waiting for your laundry, you might as well eat, drink, and meet other people doing the same thing.  Brilliant. I challenge someone to do this in the states.

Launching tomorrow, Friday and the plan is to sail to Panama (approximately 250NM) on Sunday after cleaning, getting our main, provisioning, and then San Blas (50NM) after checking in to customs on the mainland.

Then to Shelter Bay Marina (80NM) by Feb 4th and keep El Gato at a dock so we can fly home for Helena’s wedding!

Lots to do and of course we wouldn’t have it any other way.

Life is good.  EAT SAIL LOVE!!!

San Blas Islands

Sailing from St Andres to the San Blas Islands is approx. 250 NM.  For us this means less than 2 days sailing comfortably.  Leave super early, sail overnight, and arrive before the sun sets.

Many ships congregate on this path to transit the Panama Canal.  We kept a good lookout and relied heavily on our instruments to keep us safe.  You want to hope that someone is on deck of these big ships especially at night watching their instruments, but don’t rely on it.

This is an example of what we studied on our chart plotter and in daylight saw. We are the black boat and the lines show the projected tracks.  When you click on the white boat it pulls up important info like they’re course and heading, how close they will be, and time until it’s as close as it will be, barring a course change by either of us, and how big and fast it is.

Sometimes they are too close for comfort and we change course.

Often we get stowaways and this bird was doing a balancing act on the forward cleat while we bounced in waves.  I was able to get really close to take photos. We name all birds who join us Petey.

Once we got past the Canal it was time to weave our way into the islands that are surrounded by reefs.  It should never be entered at night and we had enough daylight but it was overcast.  Our Panama cruising guides helped us navigate the trickiest bits.  Completely depending on electronic charts is a bad idea in places like this.  You must look, use cruising guides, and check the chart plotter. One good thing about Navionics though, they are updated when someone tracks the bottom. And cruisers can make notes and share info.  When we arrived at our destination we were nestled in a protected little area with only 3 other boats.

 

The surrounding islands were small and serene.

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We saw no buildings, only a grass hut and some whales bones near a beach.

One boat was clearly a charter making lots of noise, music blaring, for such a quiet peaceful location.  Luckily the next morning it departed and we got to see and feel how special and unspoiled this area is.

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Eric found a bar where evidently tourists are brought over and served drinks.  I’m sitting at a chair and table made of tree stumps.  It’s a long haul to get here by boat but definitely worth it.

The chief rowed over to collect $10 for his Kuna tribe. His kayak is no doubt a gift or lucky find, the paddle home grown.

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Launching our Kona SUP’s that double as windsurfers we took off for some exploration.

So many little islands with sandy beaches and reefs everywhere!

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On our travels we met the owners of another yacht hailing from New York.  He used to be a stock broker in NYC, she was originally from England and a hair dresser, and after they met they bought a boat, sailed south, and stopped.  They’ve been here for 20 years!  Talk about finding paradise and staying put.  I should have written their names down and taken notes so I apologize for this but they were lovely.  She took us snorkeling a couple days later after we had them over for sundowners.  They returned the sundowners on their boat with the only other couple in the sweet little bay. IMG_5318

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BBQ Island got it’s nickname from Mr NYC when he started hosting a Friday BBQ every week.  We were off season so no BBQ but it was nice getting to know them without a crowd.  Now he spends his time collecting trash on the islands and she snorkels each and every day and collects tiny little creatures to feed her fish in her aquarium.  This was a first.  No cat, no dog, no bird, but fish as pets. LOL

Good story.  As Eric and I are getting a ride out to the reef she tells us a few weeks ago several friends got together and went to this reef at night.  One person yelled “blowfish”, and a few seconds later another yelled ‘Crocodile!”.  Everyone thought he was joking but went over to where he was pointing his flashlight and they all shone theirs. Low and behold there was a big croc laying on the bottom.  When all the lights hit him he opened wide and they took off, almost walking on water to the dinghy!  She tells us this as we are about to take the plunge in.  Dios Mio!IMG_5270

The following day we take the dinghy to an island with many huts. BTW these natives don’t have electricity, are not allowed to marry outside their Kuna people, and are very sweet, short, shy yet friendly.  Or maybe tolerant ism the word? They live off the sea and profit from visitors who buy their molas and bring them gifts.  It is a matriarchal society. The men fish and the women sew the molas which are colorful artworks made of fabrics woven together to create pictures of nature or other designs.  We brought sewing needles, fabric and long sleeve shirts that help with mosquitos.

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It was fascinating to check out their huts and see how life used to be in a simpler time.IMG_5288

Whale bones and art from the sea.

IMG_5319Eric loved checking out their canoes which were hollowed out trees.

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And I loved meeting the people. Little batman is with his grammy who is in charge of this tribe. Check out the beads around her legs and arms.

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My kids bought me a Polaroid camera so next time we go I’m going to give them photos, not just take them.

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Once a week a boat comes out with food for the cruisers.  They can place orders and in our case I just looked to see what they had and bought some fruit and veggies.

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All in all a trip of a lifetime.  We loved it so much we will return on our way to the canal after we depart from Colombia in January 2020.

The Polaroid camera needs some love!

Pirates of the Caribbean!

Yes they exist…

Waiting for a weather window in Isla Mujeres next to an Israeli catamaran we noticed a pattern.  The wind was howling from the East through the Caribbean with no letting up for the next 10 days, and that was the forecast every single day. You can get a reliable forecast for 5 days and after that the percent of accuracy fades.   We needed to head SE before we could head to Panama, as Nicaragua juts out to the East between the Yucatan and Panama.  Our insurance requires us to be south and we want to be there too.  Hurricanes are no fun. No fun at all and the season was approaching.

Finally we met someone who helped us make a critical change of course.

Instead of heading SE, beating upwind and bashing the boat to get around the dangerous banks off Nicaragua; dangerous because there are hidden rocks but even worse, pirates who cling to them and attack unsuspecting boaters.  Brad advised us to consider motor sailing east or even east north east towards Cuba, hugging the coast but keeping 12 miles offshore to stay in international waters, then stopping in Grand Caymen, and Then head south.  We exchanged e mails with him for our IridiumGo and he not only kept in touch, but also watched the weather and our path.  In addition to Brad, we had friends onshore across the USA knowing our plans, tracking us, sometimes chatting with texts, and we made sure they knew if and when we left, changed routes, and when we landed.  This was the first time I was extremely diligent about keeping people in the loop of our plans.  We will continue to do on long passages as it worked really well when things got rough. And rough they got. For us and for our friend Kat who was on a boat that followed our lead in trying to get south and around Nicaragia safely.

The sail to Grand Caymen took approx. 2 days.  Day 1 was spent sailing across the narrow  strong Gulf Stream (again). 

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Check out the dark red next to the tip of Mexico. That’s the Gulf Stream.

It took us north of our rhumb line course but once we were alongside the south side of Cuba things calmed down and we motor-sailed until the wind filled in again the following day. 

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Using Predict Wind we can predict and analyze currents and weather. This photo shows what the current will be like after we pass Grand Caymens. As we drag the curser along a timeline the conditions move too.

Sailing off Cuba, almost retracing our wake in the opposite direction from February, we were sailing at night in awe of the majestic feeling when out at sea away from land, Wifi, and all the other trappings we get comfortable with.

On top of the cabin to watch shooting stars and satellites on a moonless night studded with stars, planets and the Milky Way, we found ourselves marveling at the beauty that surrounded us.   There is no ambient light off Cuba to diffuse the universe’s brilliance. We were alone.

A half moon rose at 01:00 and a tint of the Sahara dust was in our nostrils.

The dust actually helps prohibit cyclone activity by keeping humidity lower. Always grateful for nature to behave.

As much as we hope not to arrive at night to new destinations, we arrived around midnight but it was calm and easy breezy.   We did not have to enter a harbor, rather we needed to find a mooring ball on the lee side of the island.  Happy that Garmin, Active Captain and Navionics are all combined now.  That means we can look at a chart, zoom into an area, see an icon, click on it and read what other cruisers have said.  Lots of input and great advice out there.  We called the Port Authority who were courteous and helpful and picked up a free mooring for the night.  Always grateful to have a good nights sleep.  

The next 3 days were filled with exploring the island (not much there if you don’t have a boat or access to one) and the highlight was swimming with dozens of rays who would eat out of your hand,

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There are rays everywhere surrounding these folks. We jumped in and joined them

then eating at Rum Point where the Mudslide drinks were invented.  Think ice cream and Baileys.  Rum Point got its name from all the rum kegs that washed up on the beaches from shipwrecks that didn’t see the barrier reefs.

June 29th

The big question hovers over our heads.

Do we stay or do we go?

Usually the forecast gives you the answer.  This time however many variables are in place.

#1 It is hurricane season and with global warming we take this very seriously.

Not only does our insurance company require us to be south of Latitude 12 40 by July 1st, we know that storms can come at any time.  There are 48 hour outlooks, and 5 day outlooks for cyclone activity, but when you are 3-4 days from the next safest port that isn’t much of a window. And if we are on a passage and something brews we need to head south and fast! South ids Venezuela.  We are not allowed to go there (insurance), nor do we want to.  Remember Sir Peter Blake at the famous Kiwi who was shot and killed when they were boarded by pirates?  He was working with the Cousteau Society.  I digress.

A British hurricane relief ship is right behind us and has been here for days. They have a lot of territory to cover!

2# The wind is howling across the Caribbean and hasn’t let up nor will it for the next 10 days. Seas are building. Currently around 6-10′.

#3. The CAPE factor which measures instability in the atmosphere is at its appex. Instablility translates to likelihood of clouds building because of the humidity and heat thereby forming large cells which can and often include lightening.

From a scale of 1-10 the CAPE is now a 10. I used to be afraid of sharks.  Now it’s lightening because it can take out all our instruments and all things with batteries, wires, bluetooth and and and.  It can cause a fire which would be only one of two reasons we would abandon ship, the other being on a reef and sinking or something like that.   So yeah, I do not like lightening at all.  We will dodge the squalls in a game aptly called Dodge Squall. 

#4. The waves will be on our beam. If we head south towards Panama we should miss the pirates off Venezuela, but the waves will be on our beam, not a good choice.  So we will head high to begin the journey then head down when things get more spicey.  That keeps us in the CAPE zone longer. Ugh.

A few other cruisers arrived and were planning the same route. When it looked like once again no real decent weather window we decided to head out. The Caribbean winds were still howling but we’d have over 100 miles before we’d reach them.  Jamaica was a bit of a buffer to the east.

The other boats arrived after us and needed more time for provisioning and would leave the following day.  Our boat is faster so we didn’t feel like wasting any more time, plus they were going straight to Panama and once again we were thinking of changing plans.  Instead of going to Panama or the Bocas de Toros, an archipelago off of Costa Rica and owned by Panama, we would break up the trip and stop in Colombian Islands La Providencia and St Andres.  Again, always good to stop, see new places and sleep when it’s just the 2 of us. Changing our plans had become a pattern and each one was working out for the best.  

So there we were, leaving after checking out of customs, hoping the storms predicted would abate or just calm down and stop, but no, they were going to be an all afternoon and evening slalom course.

  The sailing was decent, we were making good time, sailing SE between Grand Caymen and Jamaica. 

However it was one of the worst nights we’ve experienced since we started cruising 5 years ago.

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The idea was to sail the fastest point of sail as far east as possible before the wind howled and the seas built and then head down towards Panama surfing and sailing with the wind and seas at a good angle to push us along.  Using radar to track storms, we also had our eyes peeled to watch out for those that were still developing.  When you see a cloud that reaches up to the heavens it’s not good.  Our senses were on high alert.  During the day it’s obviously easier to watch storms grow, but at night when the lightening sparks up the entire sky with tentacles reaching in every direction it gives you a good indication of how large the storm and clouds are.  That night it was frightening.  Nervous Nelly here doesn’t touch anything metal, puts all electronics that aren’t being used in the microwave to protect them, and hopes we are lucky.  Of course we were changing course and using our best storm tactics we could and that helped a lot.  But sometimes it’s all about timing and ours was good and lucky.  If we left a couple hours later we could have been under a huge cumulomambonimbus.  This the name of the monster of all clouds that can reach over 50,000′!

No dodging it as we looked back and saw it take over the sky behind us.  Ay yay yay.  And that was the afternoon!  Anyway, we worked hard all night and finally got past all that s—t by morning.  Cruising along at 10-13 nicely, taking naps on our off watches we rested up for one more night offshore.  

That night Brad saw our tracks and that we were headed too close to the Seranillo Banks.  There is a light on this small bank and an outpost for the Columbian Armada however he said they are not always on station and there are 2 boats missing at the moment who were in this area. WTF!?!

And while we thought our course was taking us safely far enough off of Nicaragua, it turns out even at 200 miles offshore we were too close.  The pirates are now hanging off of tiny little cays way out to sea, waiting for boats to come by and attack.  Some have AK47’s, other have machetes, but how do you know until they are alongside?  We’ve seen the movie Captain Philips twice.  It’s not pretty. And we’ve read the CSSN reports that lately have reported piracy and deaths in this area of the Caribbean.  This we do not take lightly.  So when our new buddy in Mexico wrote us at midnight saying we were heading towards a pirates den we freaked!  There was a choice.  Head upwind and bash in 20-25 knots, 8-12’ seas, or keep sailing on a broad reach, hauling ass, turn all lights off, AIS off, and use eyes and radar while heading a little deeper and keeping 40 miles inside the cays.  We chose the latter.  We grabbed our machete, bear spray, flare gun and placed it on the galley table.  Just in case.  In hindsight it was a joke.  At the time we had no idea some boats have AK47’s which was probably a good thing.  And honestly, we know that if we ever get boarded we have to hope and pray they don’t hurt us.  Having a gun onboard means you must be willing to shoot to kill, be trained for that, and hope they don’t shoot first. We will give them everything. Just don’t take our lives.

  Our thought process included the fact that it was rough out there.  To try and keep up or board a boat would be extremely difficult. For them to spot us they would need to be close enough to see us in the pitch black night.  That would be extremely lucky unless they had radar. Which some might if they’ve hijacked a boat with it. More often the reports are about pangas so sailing over 10 knots boat speed means we can outrun most of them.  The conditions were very prohibitive for boarding or keeping up so we went for it.  And it worked.  We sailed through the night like a ghost ship communicating with friends, sharing our location and staying on high alert throughout the night.  

It was a long night filled with adrenaline. We saw cargo ships on AIS that were heading north after passing through the Panama Canal but other than that nothing, nada.

As dawn emerged it was a bit hazy but otherwise good weather conditions and we still had plenty of wind. Our next island was another 50 miles away.  That felt relatively close.   And then it happened.  A ship showed up on radar but not on AIS.  All commercial ships must use AIS.  We decided to turn our AIS on to help ships see us.  This ship was not heading north in the opposite direction, it seemed to be pacing us but staying 4 miles away.  And it was big enough to show up on radar yet we couldn’t see it with our eyes. Using binoculars it was blending into the hazy horizon and then we finally understood why.  It was a metal grey Colombian Armada frigate (Coast Gaurd) patrolling the area.  Providencia is a Colombian island and there is still a fair amount of drug traffickers out there plus did we mention pirates so they were doing their job patrolling. They eventually moved on but it certainly got our heart rate pumping!  Again!

The exception to using AIS (which we also experienced in the USA) is that Naval ships go under the radar when they are practicing or trying to hide.  Now we knew why this ship was undetected except for on radar.  Now we truly felt safe(r).  

Arriving in La Providencia, we were deservedly exhausted and after calling in to the authorities we went straight to sleep.  Never did we need to relax more from 2 nights at sea! IMG_5065

IMG_5066After a lengthy and costly check in with the infamous Mr. Bush we did a walk about. The process included a scooter ride.IMG_5094

There were many Colombian tourists coming from the mainland by ferry from Nicaragua. A carnival had taken place the day before and the island was littered with trash.   This island deserved more time than we gave it, but the clock ticked on and we felt the urge to keep moving south.

But not before we did a dinghy discovery cruise to the small island called Catalina.  Since we live in San Diego when not cruising it felt fitting to go see this little paradise.

The decision to move on was a good one.  After checking out of customs we pulled anchor at 12:30, and 56 miles later, arrived at 19:00, or 7PM. As we rounded the reef and corner of St Andres we jibed and were flying at 9 knots in the channel.  The Armada came  out to greet/board us in a fast RIB, requesting us to slow down with hand signals.  I was driving and gestured not possible.  A large tanker called us on the radio and asked us to hug the starboard side of the channel – they were departing. The channel bends and as things go we passed each other right at the bend.  They were sliding sideways, there was a reef on our right, a large metal government buoy, and no room for error.  They stopped skidding just in time and we passed close but not dangerously close.  It was yet another case of good seamanship in tight conditions.  When we finally got the anchor down it was dusk and the Armada came aboard.  The group comprised of 3 young men and 1 women.  They divided and conquered with one staying on their boat, one doing the paperwork and the other 2 looking through El Gato. They lifted every cushion, opened every drawer, and checked under each and every hatch board. We’ve never had such a thorough inspection even in Cuba where we could have smuggled someone out easily.  Maybe they would be OK with that? We’ll never know.

It’s a little embarrassing to see what they see, or see it through their eyes.  We have rum and wine stashes under 3 bilges! My bra was on the desk top in our cabin, and dirty clothes were draped over the hamper.  Needless to say we weren’t expecting company and there was no time to tidy up.  

They were relaxed and fine with me snapping photos.

The female agent hailed from Bogota and spoke a little English.  She wanted to know the difference between the words for sailboat and sailor.

Knowing some keys words is good in any country but the most important thing when traveling to new countries is to be very polite and smile.  When you make them feel human, like fellow beings and respect them for doing their job, it really helps ease the process.  It’s always been our goal to make them smile, and most times it’s easy.  When it’s not, it becomes a challenge.  So far we have achieved our goals.

While we were barreling down the channel on our way in being chased by the Armada we got a radio call from Kelly on NautiKal, guiding us in to the anchorage and offering help.  They are friends of a friend named Caren on Serenity who we met in Grenada and had let them know we were coming.

 Kelly and Darren – NautiKat invited us over for wine and chats and we enjoyed meeting and sharing stories discovering we have mutual cruising friends like Christine and Matt on Sugar Shack and Cindy and Steve on Willow.   So nice to meet fellow cruisers and let our hair down after so much sailing and worrying.

The next day we rigged our windsurfers and saw 2 dinghies return from a session of kiting.

Mike – “We kite in the AM, do boat jobs, coffee at 4 onshore with friends, dinner, rinse and repeat!”

  He gives me the best mental picture of how to kite than anyone ever has.  As much as I’ve watched and even commentated on kiting during the AC Open races, I have not gotten past the blast and splash and have put my foot in the sand about trying again.  Even Eric has decided it’s easier to sail with me than rig his own kite, worry about getting back to the boat, and finding a good place to launch.  Most places are sketchy. But if you stay in one place like these guys and you know the area and are addicted to the sport then it all makes sense.  Our MO is to keep moving on and seeing new places so finding the perfect spot is not so easy.  The next day we meet at the kiting place and I take off on my windsurfer after getting freaked about kiting, again.  My thought process goes like this:  If I were younger and could afford to crash and splash until I felt like it was riding a bike I’d be all in.  My body is showing many signs of a life well lived and played hard so I am trying to preserve what I still have left.  Windsurfing is my sport and I embrace it.  It may as the kiters say harder physically, but I’ve never felt like I could die if I screw up on a windsurfer or if someone makes a mistake and screws me up.  So there you have it.  I’m never going to be that lady out there kicking ass on a kite at 60. Who cares!  I know in my heart of hearts if I had started when I was 20 something I would be racing them and flying as high as the kite would carry me. So I brought my camera and snapped shots of others crushing it.  Kelly was learning and did a beautiful job of getting up and gliding – especially since she has hardly any feelings in her legs!

Instead of suffering through another humiliating day of trying to kite, I took off on my own and windsurfed to a little island called Rose Cay.  Bought a delightful drink made with fresh coconut juice and bought pearl earrings for me and my friends.  A young man was feeding his friend the sting ray just like in Grand Caymen but this time it was shallow and calm so easy to touch and enjoy the experience.

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That night we had a date at a restaurant called Club Nautico and it was wonderful!  The food was excellent and the ambience incredible.

The next day we walked around town.

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and that night we hung out with the other cruisers, most of who stay in St Andres for the kiting and community.  Someone organized a beer tasting field trip to a new brewery.  What was to be a short walk wound up being a group of gringos lost in the city with police guarding and escorting us.

Turns out the location took us though some less than desirable neighborhoods and the police did not want us getting hurt on their watch.

The Barracuda beer was good, the presentation great, and we all had a really good time.  I don’t even like beer. Hahah

 

The next day we made plans to sail further south.  Tom advised us to skip Panama.  Too many storms, lightening, and mildew at this time of year, and we planned to leave the boat for 6 months.  He said we’d return to a boat covered in mushrooms.  LOL. So much for visiting Boca De Toros and hauling at Shelter Bay Marina.  But I’d read about Cartagena and was excited.  And first we would stop in the San Blas Islands where it’s like walking into a National Geographic story.

Next blog, San Blas and Cartagena.

Viva Mexico!

The Passage to Mexico

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Tom Materna on helm, John Forgrave and Eric doing the bro thing

Day 1 passage to Mexico Notes:

Departed at 0700 on a beautiful day.  John  Forgrave brought a beautiful fishing rod as a gift  and the boys caught 2 Mahi Mahi’s, at the same time!

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Mahi Mahi’s are fast and abundant

Saw a dolphin pod that stayed awhile.  

Had to bring in the lines – too much Sargassum weed getting caught on the hooks.

2 fish is just fine.

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Weed fish everywhere

Hoping the lightening storms don’t return as last night was horrible.  

Shrimp and grits for dinner.  Made Banana Bread for tomorrow.  Pesto pasta for lunch. 

Nice evening with no storms. YAY!  In the summer months the storms become obnoxious. 

Day 2 – Most memorable thing – I made sushi for lunch and soon afterwards Tom and I got sick.

I had Mahi Zumas revenge but Tom had it coming out both ends. NOT a good thing for a long passage.

The funny thing was I served lasagna for dinner and Tom, AKA Walkie Talkie, was hungry so he ate a big helping and promptly hurdled off the stern.  Then he returned to the table and served himself up another plate!  OMG that man loves his food! 

The queasiness stayed with us and I was physically weak but alert and floated on watches to help navigate and cook, staying on deck curled up in the fetal position all night with Juan or Eric on helm.  Tom was toast so we left him off watch.  

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Heading into one of the worlds strongest currents

John finished his graveyard shift around 3 AM and informed Eric and me that a cruise ship was on AIS and headed our way (obviously leaving Mexico and going back towards the states).  BTW they look surreal at night, humongous and all lit up like a world of it’s own and one can only imagine how strange that would be if it were transported back in time – it would be straight out of a SciFi movie! As they got closer it was not as simple as heading up or down to avoid it.  On radar we detected a squall on our port quarter trying to overtake us, a large storm cell about 4 miles in front of us going port to starboard, and the Gulfstream current was pushing us sideways to starboard at 4 knots (into the ships path).  Working hard to stay out of their path we opted to put in 2 reefs just case a squall hit us at the most inopportune time – next to the cruise ship.  We wound up having only 1/2 mile between us.   Then we headed up and slowed down to let the big cell pass in front on us.  Our tracks had us doing circles in the stream.  The boat was headed one way and going another.  True vertigo.  If we had been pilots we might have crashed. That happens unfortunately.  You must trust your instruments and sometimes that’s really really hard.  It was bizarre and felt like an episode in The Twilight Zone.

But it worked and the cell not only passed in front of us but dissipated as well.  Whew!  This is why you never let your guard down while on watch.   Shit happens – mostly at night. 

Other cells were out there but nothing came close.  That was by far the weirdest situation we have ever encountered. 

 We tend to keep the boat on autopilot at night and when its calm and we are way offshore and not in a traffic zone we do a visual check every 5-10 minutes.  In more challenging conditions such as these, and in busy areas we are diligent in watching radar, AIS, and using our eyes and ears to keep a careful watch on things. One person awake and alert while on watch with the other(s) resting until their turn.  Depending on how many onboard (we prefer 3-4 for long passages so we can rest more) I’ll make a watch schedule and post it in the galley.  We cross off our names after our watch because after a day or two the time becomes a blur.  We need to look at that list often to know who is next and how long we can rest. Three hour watches has worked really well for us. Some people do 6 hour watches when it’s just the 2 of them but so far we haven’t tried that.  But when it’s just me and Eric we will let the other sleep in depending on how rested we are and how hard their watch was.

The stream continued to be strong at 4-5 knots and we used engines to keep the speed and go the right way.  Sometimes the difference between our heading and COG was 30 degrees. Like crabbing sideways.

Turns out that relatively narrow area between Cuba and Mexico is one of the strongest currents in the world. 

Arriving in Isla Mujeres around 13:00 we tied up at El Milagro Marina, a quaint marina with a tiny beach, a tiny pool, parrots, palm trees, a movie room with AC, internet (even from the dock), a community kitchen and dining area outside, and a community vibe including the staff that makes a good place great. 

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Marina manager with great efficiency.  Going through customs is expensive in IM because all the palms want to be greased. A lot.

The owner, Eric Schott who is actually a bit shy

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Awesome dude who escaped the USA and made a beautiful place out of nothing.

hails from Santa Barbara, CA, and after too many divorces he headed south and brought his mom too.

He built El Milagro 14 years ago and did it well.  All tiles, ambiance, happy employees and customers. We celebrated our anniversary with him and his crew and right before we departed he gave me and Eric a sweet compliment saying we were the coolest couple to ever stay at his marina.  He probably says this to all his easy customers.  LOL.

Thank you Cindy for sharing this marina info with us!  It was very special in a million ways!

Whale sharks are frequent visitors to this area of Mexico and Isla Mujeres has many tour boots that take tourists out to swim alongside them as they feed. We didn’t go for it.  The seas were building, it would be a 45 minute ride on an uncomfortable pong with other guests throwing up, and they throw you in the water while the whales swim by and you must wear a PFD.  WAY too touristy for us.  Hoping we find them in a much more natural setting and swim with them.

Amazing how much my dress matched this tile mural outside the marina!

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I put on a dress, walked outside, and matched!

Our crew hopped on provided Milagro bicycles and took off in search of scooters so we could tour the whole island.  It’s only 5 miles long.

Eric brought along El Gato stickers and placed them in strategic spots.

 IMG_4895We headed to the south end in the dark getting lost only once. A few days later we retuned to visit the area in the daylight.  It was spectacular. DSC_0015

Back to town for a delicious meal. Toms idea for ordering one meal at a time and everyone sharing, then the last meal something everyone agreed was the best to be ordered again was a hit.  To top off the meal some street performers demonstrated their skills doing acrobatics to the rhythms of drum beats.  Then one of the nicest voices we’d ever heard serenaded us.  It was lovely. The finish of the perfect dinner was vanilla ice cream topped with Kahlua. It was so popular with our group that we bought 2 bottles and filled a flask to bring to ice cream stores in the future!  

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Like most places called paradise, Isla Mujeres has changed a lot. My last visit in 1982 when I skippered an (almost) all female crew on a 54’ monohull called Huntress. We had one man, a journalist named Bob Payne who put the whole deal together. Bob wanted to get the perspective of being the only member of the opposite sex onboard. Back in those days it was hard to find a woman on any race boat let alone a boat full.  Since I had just raced in the SORC for my 2nd year as skipper of an all female team he was inspired.  Bob volunteered to be our cook, another role reversal, and promptly tried to learn how to cook.  It was a hoot, we lost weight, were first to finish, won the race, Sail Magazine published his story, and everyone celebrated yet another milestone for women sailing. It was a bonus that Isla Mujeres translates to Island of Women.  I was 23 at the time.  Looking back it seems I was a mere child who knew no boundaries. Invited by the Mayor of Cancun I stayed for the Mexican Windsurfing Nationals hosted at Club Med, and won the title but not the Windsurfer board that was the prize as they gave that to the first place Mexican as they should. I did however receive a really cool trophy to add to the collection of Isla Mujeres trophies. They take great pride in their prize givings and some of the trophies were gorgeous.   The Nationals were really fun until the mayor practically kidnapped me.  That’s another story. I was scared and locked myself up in my room at Club Med.  I wrote letters back home just in case I disappeared. 

Meanwhile Huntress sailed back to Florida and her keel almost fell off.  I guess we were all lucky to survive that week.  

Anyway, after the guys departed, Eric and I rested a lot and returned to almost normal sleeping patterns.  It’s tricky to sleep all night after being alert for so long and also being in a new place with new sounds.

Different restaurants every night as we can never get our fill of  good Mexican food!  

On Hidalgo Street we found El Patio with live music so we did the “white man dancing” routine.  This is what I call Eric’s moves.  LOL. I love that he does not care what he does or looks like – he loves to bust out his moves with pure abandon – the same ones he learned in junior high.  The music was great and before long the dance floor was full.  Sorry, no photos. 

Day after day we waited for a weather window but it never opened.  The forecast called for 30 knots around Nicaragua and the seas were building.

So we made a new plan.

One that would avoid pirates and weather.

We hoped.

That’s in the next blog, coming soon!

Florida’s West Coast

After leaving Cuba in February, 2019,

we sailed to Florida and spent a few months doing boat maintenance and upgrades combined with visiting friends and family. When you’re always gone, coming home is exciting!  Big smiles as we rounded Key West and headed north to the Tampa area.  St Petersburg has changed dramatically in the past few decades.  While growing up in Florida, it was primarily known for old folks and the Southern Ocean Racing Circuit (SORC).  Thankfully it’s blossomed with a hip vibe from artists and youngsters who’ve migrated there. Things we loved: The Dahli museum, the St Pete Yacht Club, the outdoor market on Saturdays, going to an outdoor art show where my childhood friend and crew in the SORC Eileen Dawson’s sister Jennifer had a display, and eating delicious food at the multitude of new eateries.  

Super grateful to our friends Kathryn and Paul Garlick and Ralph Steitz and Jamie Gross for their hospitality while we parked behind their houses, borrowed cars and cooked dinners.  They opened their homes and hearts and it was such a blessing to get things shipped and take showers without worrying about running out of water.  Expert boat seamstress Kathryn taught me some great sewing tips and I made a few wine bags for gifts.  Eric had endless boat repair assists from Paul, and Ralphie taught him how to foil behind their house.   I made an attempt and got air for a few moments but when I fell had a near miss with the foil so opted out.

Our buddy the GloMaster was living in the area working for Masterwolt and we spent Easter with her at Egmont Key.  Good times with good friends indeed.

 

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We had a wonderful charter with repeat customer Jen, a mother of 5 who is also a doctor of radiology.  Her dream to sail around the world someday with her family was inspired when her husband Tim brought her to Antigua to charter with us.  This time she was on her own concentrating on learning and taking a break from her routines.  Helping Jen overcome her fear of driving was easy breezy. We went through every sail combo and she drove like a champ!

We can’t wait to hear how her story unfolds.  Check out the light touch of her finger tips, a sure sign of confidence.

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While in the Tampa Bay Area one of our favorite spots to get away from the mainland was Egmont key.

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It’s an old fort with a bird sanctuary and long white deserted beaches. Tortoises crawl, birds sing, and we loved the quiet solitude that surrounded us with the exception of one holiday where the locals came in droves with music blaring.  Hey, this is their backyard, not ours so it’s all good.

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Always ready to stoke those fires for racing, we trained with the Garlicks on their Hobie 17’s and borrowed a friends Hobie 16 then competed in the Hobie Midwinters East in Clearwater Florida.  This was the first regatta on a path to the Worlds in November which would be held just south off Captiva Island. One night we invited our racing friends onboard for a Cuban lobster dinner.  The bugs were caught by me and Eric off the south coast of Cuba, were in the freezer and waiting for just the right people and time to share. Sadly we lost our good friend Sandra over the summer in a tragic boating accident and this would be the last time we saw her. She was my wingman when I started dating Eric and at the midwinters  she crewed for Dan Borg – they won the 16’s class.

Maintenance was a huge focus in Florida since we had access to everything.  In addition to picking up our new 3DI mainsail, a new stereo system was installed with bluetooth hooked up to our Bose speakers inside and out, and Eric worked on installing our SSB (Single Side Band) system.  It’s an important tool we will rely on when we enter the Pacific. I’m a huge believer in back up systems and this is a backup to the back up with one exception. We can use this while offshore by thousands of miles and connect by radio with anyone on the system whether they are 50 or 2000 miles away. Very cool to have with groups like rallies or friends doing long passages.  IridiumGo and InReach use satellites and are fantastic for texting and emergency alerts but you don’t get to chat about the weather or brag about how many fish were caught with someone on the same route.  We still have not figured out how to use the dang thing – it’s old school and we’ve gotten used to easy instruments.  But with some practice I’m sure it will become less cumbersome.  The sunsets were spectacular with the huge billowy clouds and full moon.

Sailing down the west coast of Florida was shared with sister Louise and her husband David. One day we were swarmed by love bugs and used the vacuum to get rid of them.  (See photo below of David vacuuming Louises head). Dinner at Cabbage Key was funky (check out the dollar bills on the walls) and delightful where we celebrated Louise’s birthday.  In Fort Meyers we ate at Doc Fords, bought a few of his books, and brought fresh shrimp back to the boat for a delicious Charleston recipe of shrimp and grits dinner.

To discover my family’s native state by boat was a treat. As sisters we grew up loving sailing, horses, and Miami. Sharing our lifestyle onboard with our family is important to me and Eric. We snorkeled, shell shopped (this is my term for beach combing or finding shells underwater), cooked old family recipes, played with arts and crafts, fished, shared lots of laughs, and like any healthy family we created great memories together. Check out Louise’s Rosette Spoonbill which she then painted on my t shirt and the wine bag I made.

Our last port with Louise and David was Key West, the southernmost spot in the USA.

IMG_4521The Gardner family has been going there for as long as we can remember and the last time going as sisters was to celebrate our parents life and throw their ashes to the sea with the entire Gardner clan. Eric and I sailed small cats during Key West Race Week when we first started dating back in 2011.

  Discovering Key West on our own yacht gave us a whole new appreciation for the area. Of course we had to go play onshore and see how whacky KW still is!

After my sibs left my cousin Nancy and her friend Lauri came to visit for a few days. We sailed to the Marquesas Keys and anchored out after some island exploration.

An old friend from CRYC days was in town, Chris Dowling, and we loved recalling the good old days of when our parents were our age!

Chris Dowling

Miami friends Diane and Kenny Davis drove down for a few days onboard where we did more key hopping, and Diane was lucky enough to swim with wild dolphins!  Sailing/racing friends Kathy Kulkowski and Beryn Hardy drove down for lunch dates and some giggles. Kathy and I have won the Hobie 16 Women’s Nationals twice and Beryn crewed for me in the SORC back in the good old days.  So much fun to celebrate lifelong friends with a common passion – sailing.

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We surprised Eric’s brother, Chad, with an airline ticket for his birthday and sprung him away from Ohio for his first visit to El Gato.  It was a reunion of bros!  He had so many funny stories from “back in the day”….

One last visitor, Cindy Cady, a match racing friend who is also now full time cruising, sailed in from Isla Mujeres on her mate’s yacht Willow, and we all danced and ate at a Cuban restaurant near the famous Mallory Square. She gave us great info on the marina where we would later stay in Isla Mujere, Mexico.

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This photo is one of the reasons artists flock to the Keys to paint

The colors…these were taken with an outdated iPhone , untouched.

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John Forgrave and Tom Materna, Hobie friends for decades, arrived with 2 extra days, just enough time to get a taste of Key West before whisking them away.  It turned out to be Pride week so we witnessed pure Key West with some very good street shows!

It was time to say goodbye to the states and start sailing south.  Truth is we’d been preparing for months and now it was time for the final preparations like check the satellite communications and weather routing via PredictWind, because after Mexico we would keep going until we got to Panama.

But one last stop was in the plan.  June 9th we left Key West, sailed to the Dry Tortugas, about 60 miles west.  Fort Jeffereson is located there and it’s a bit tricky with not much room to anchor safely so we timed it well and found a good safe spot to put the hook down.

We can check that off our list of the “someday let’s go”.  When we arrived we couldn’t wait to jump in and as Eric was first, he was the first to see something large and ominous under our boat.  His first thought was shark.  Upon further inspection it was a Goliath Grouper!  It was happily hanging out under our shade.  These fish can grow up to 8 feet long and weigh as much as 790 lbs!

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Goliath Grouper

Wikiedia:   Until a harvest ban was placed on the species, its population was in rapid decline. The fish is entirely protected from harvest and is recognized as a Vulnerable species by the IUCN.[1] The US began protection in 1990, and the Caribbean in 1993. The species’ population has been recovering since the ban; with the fish’s slow growth rate, however, some time will be needed for populations to return to their previous levels.

Goliath groupers eat crustaceans, other fish, octopuses, young sea turtles, sharks, and barracudas. They are known to attack divers, and have even been seen attacking large lemon sharks.[5]

WTF!!!???!!!

What we didn’t expect were the thousands of birds that swarmed the beach and loved landing on the boat.  With birds comes bird S@#T and Eric was none too happy about this byproduct.  He spent hours shooing them away.

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Found a window to head south and with the squalls and lightening storms blooming (summer in the southern latitudes is typically a light show) we needed to pull up anchor and go look for Margaritaville;  the real one, not the Jimmy Buffet store.

Next blog coming soon! Trying to catch up on all of this before we take off again in January.  LOL

How it Works

Written while sailing south towards Colombia…

We’ve been on El Gato for over 4 years now and it definitely feels like home.

One year in the Mediterranean, 3 seasons in the Caribbean with 2 voyages up the East Coast of USA, stopping in Bahamas, Turks and Caicos, and Bermuda, a visit to Cuba, Mexico, and the Caymens. We are preparing for the great big vastness of the Pacific via the Panama Canal.

We’re comfortable sailing long distance on our own although sharing the journey and having a bit more rest by bringing friends as crew is preferred if their schedule works with ours.  The rule on this is to pick a time or a place but not both.  With weather being the main factor in when we depart or arrive we can’t adhere to others work schedules.  Luckily many of our BFFs are retired or getting closer to retirement and with enough seniority to say “hey I’m leaving next week for a week or two” to their companies. We’ve been blessed with great friends and when you live on a boat with someone for a week you get to know them more than onshore.  The stories and the experiences we share as they unfold, watching sealife, braving storms together, these things bind friends more than casual dinner parties and such. 

As for our relationship, it’s stronger than ever.  When your life depends on your best friend and you put that much trust in them to make good decisions when you are sleeping, the bonds become herculean.  Do we run out of things to say sometimes? Not much as we are constantly moving, preparing and planning.  But meeting other cruisers and getting in touch with friends and family helps open up new conversations as does reading which we sometimes do aloud. 

Our roles on the boat are as diverse as we are in nature.

Eric, AKA Moto, Sasquatch, Squatch, is the typical engineer who can solve the tiniest to the toughest problems with complexity and great results.  The lists are endless on a boat and differ not to a monohull or motor boat.  While the jobs never end, Eric works tirelessly making lists, fixing, tweaking, experimenting, upgrading, varnishing, and changing the systems to our advantage.  Through sometimes trial and error he knows the boat inside and out and I could not have been more blessed to have such a great partner to share this life with on the sea and on land.  He always has a grin from ear to ear when he’s driving our ship with wind in our sails as we rack up the miles.  How many miles? No idea. While we keep a log book we don’t always write down the smaller trips but we’ve put at least 20,000 miles on El Gato since 2015.  

Aside from Chief Engineer he is bottom scrubber, dish washer, windsurfer rigger, dinghy captain, engine problem solver, spare parts regulator, water maker repairman, sail repair officionado, ice lover, rigger, sail trimmer, fish cleaner, my captain, co conspirator, best friend and lover. To know Eric is to love him. He’s the kindest, most gentle strong man I’ve ever known with integrity oozing out of his pores.  He makes me want to be a better person.

Although he does not speak his mind quickly like some of us who tend to speak as they think and as a result put their foot in their mouth way too often, yep me, his words are calculated and thoughtful and worth waiting for.  It’s a trait I’ll never have but have learned to appreciate wholeheartedly.  His ying is my yang. 

As you can expect, my roles compliment his.  Start with chief communicator, I make sure we are in touch while onshore or offshore to our friends and family.  These days when you leave the dock you do not have to be off the grid unless you want to be.  With IridiumGo! we can text, write or call with texting being the easiest fastest and most affordable way.  InReach is the back up.  Obviously I write a blog to share our stories but also so that we can remember the travels and our stories as well.  When you’re always on the go, so much happens that it’s impossible to remember. Recording it with words and photos does the trick.  I use the iPhone now that the quality is so good, and occasionally bust out the Nikon for the long lens. 

Safety Officer is another cap for me.  From preparing our ditch bag to making sure our harnesses have good cartridges, the flares are up to date, the MOB gear is in place and in good shape, and most importantly making sure our peeps on land know our plans.  

Provisioning and cooking are fun and I’ve learned some good recipes along the way.  Pizza? No problem.  Learning to make bread and dough was a goal accomplished and our herb garden helps produce fresh pesto sauce! If we could just grow mangos and avocados life would be perfect!

Did you know you can freeze cheese? We carry bags of mozzarella  and cheddar for pizza and quesadillas on the go. I’ve become a lasagna expert now that I don’t have to precook the noodles. Cooking fresh fish is still a learning process. Making sushi is not. We always have wasabi, nori, soy sauce and sushi rice on board.  Other roles include getting the laundry done which we take to shore and give to someone else. It can be a challenge just getting it to the laundromat. Bicycles, walking, hitch hiking, cabs, whatever it takes to get there and back, we’ve done it. Same goes for food.

Another role for me is planning.  I order cruising guides and courtesy flags once we know where we are going and then read up and ask questions so we know what we are getting into.

Every country, island is different and we filled up our large passports way before they expired.
Sewing is something we share and we have an industrial portable machine onboard to do the jobs.  He uses it for sail repairs and I use it for making pillows, cushions, repairing awnings, and making gifts. 

I’m also the local barber.  Eric hasn’t had a professional haircut since our wedding. He’s frugal and we like the experience. I’ve made some major mistakes and he has such a kind spirit he does not get mad. Like the time I thought I had the side trimmer and it was the buzz cutter. He had a long stripe on one side and still was cool about going to the SDYC for Friday night cocktails. I was horrified at my mistake and yet he still came back for more. That’s love.

 Roles we share:  Driving, navigating, trimming sails, fishing, making beds, and making decisions on just about everything.  

Life is good and we are blessed and grateful that we found each other and share this amazing thing we call life together. 

El Gato

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