Monday, September 28, 2009

Something Old. Something New.

That headline describes Cartagena, Colombia. This is a beautiful city of contrasts. You can walk all around the old wall that surrounds the central part of the city. It was built to protect the city and its citizens from attacks long ago - and now, it surrounds old vendor stalls as well as huge grocery / department / appliance box stores. You can buy fruits and vegetables from modern supermarkets or from a man with a mule driven vegetable cart. There are high end autos as well as bicycle and motorcycle "cabs." You can dine for $3 US on a delicious full meal of soup, rice, fish, salad, plantains and a fresh fruit juice. Or you can go up end to one of the tres chic hotels for an expensive dinner (not on the cruising budget!). For us, there are old friends here, as well as many new people to meet and add to our cruising friends' list. It is a city of old and new.

It is also a city where you feel safe walking around and people are very friendly and helpful. English isn't spoken by many - so it's good to be challenged with Spanish and we are becoming more comfortable in the language as we are immersed in it.

The last few days have been busy as we settle into the city life of Cartagena. We've found a woman to make cockpit cushions for us. She was recommended by a cruiser in Curacao and we think she'll do a nice job. On Saturday, it was a kick for us as we went looking for the fabric store so we could be more prepared for when she returned to make the patterns today. We had rough directions. Barbara asked someone, but finally an old man on a bicycle told us where it was - then when we turned on the wrong street - he chased us down to send us in the right direction. Too funny and way too kind! We went through a part of town filled with vendors of every type - from interesting foods to old repaired fans and blenders; from plastic goods to cellular phones. It was interesting to see all the booths that would repair things like shoes, appliances, electronics etc. This is a country where things are still fixed - not simply replaced.

We also roamed to find a sign maker (we're putting the name "Astarte" on the boom) - and that project is completed (now we have to put the letters on the boom - straight!). And finally - propane still haunts us. The tank that had the broken valve in Curacao was replaced - but we thought it would be good to see if we could get a new valve here. On Saturday, Michael brought the tank to Lorenzo - the propane man (Mondays and Saturdays). He said he could replace the valve - no problem. That afternoon, it was back - with a new valve. Only - it was the wrong type of valve. The size wouldn't work with our hoses. So now we have a full tank with the wrong valve. So we talk to Lorenzo - and he says bring it back on Monday and he'll see what he can find. So, on Monday, for another 13,000 pesons (about $7) he says it can be repaired. Later he tells Michael it will cost more - Michael hears another 7,000 pesos - but the reality is it was 70,000 (those darn extra zeros). So this new valve now has cost us more than $50 (so far) - and its still not on the tank and we are still not certain it will actually work! Propane is our new "outboard."

We've walked a lot - over bridges, across walls and through the town. It's fun to explore the neighborhoods and city center. We still have a few projects to complete - a welding job, the search for hydraulic hoses (still going on since Guadeloupe); a new straw hat for Michael (his is being held together by gaff tape), and some additional provisioning for San Blas. So we'll continue to explore the town and discover new places and meet new folks.

There are some new pictures (uncaptioned) on the web page under the tab "New photos" - we had to eliminate the first album (but kept the swimming pigs). Interet is hit or miss here (more miss than hit) - so if you've contacted us on the web page or log page - we apologize for not getting back to you yet. We're trying to Skype - but again - the connections have been bad.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Cartagena de Indias, Colombia

For a city founded in 1533, you wouldn't know it as you sail into the harbour! The high rises abound with more being built. Looks like a building boom in this historic old city. We have arrived and are anchored outside of Club Nautico along with about 40 other boats. But first, let's step back a few days to catch up.

On Tuesday morning at 0300 we pulled up the anchor and motor-sailed away from Rodedero. There was little wind until just after sunrise (which was magnificent over the Colombian mountains). We put the genoa up and started to sail in the building seas. It was a good sail, one of the first times we could sail with both genoa and main on a nice reach. We got good pictures of "Tumshi" for their website (they are selling the boat).

As we approached the Rio Magdalena, you could see the brown water from it in the distance. The seas at this point were quite large but Astarte was riding over the swells gracefully. Memories of 2001 flooded back - this is where, on our old boat Mariah, we almost took a knockdown! The heavier boat was handling seas and conditions much smoother - plus the conditions were more benign than in 2001. Just as we approached the river, Michael hooked something BIG. It spun off a lot of line off the reel. It was fighting it a long time. Then, we entered the brown water of the Rio Magdalena outflow and it spooked this fish and it shook off the hook. Huge bummer.

We crossed the five mile wide swath of brown water filled with floating water hyacinths, wood and debris. It was interesting how many bugs got on the boat as we were over this area. There was a variety of species from dragonflies to mosquitoes and flies. After we passed through the "ugly" water we headed for Punta Hermosa - a spit of land jutting out into the Caribbean.

There were fishing nets to avoid as well as the sandy end of the growing spit. But we nested behind the spit and dropped the anchor. This would be the last clear water for awhile - so we enjoyed a last swim, a last check and scrape of the bottom, and a good long shower!

On Wednesday morning, we left Punta Hermosa at 0600 to head the 57 miles to Cartagena. No wind. We had to motor most of the way. We had to get in before dark. We finally put the sails up for the last few hours of the trip. We had fishing lines out and only landed two very small Tunny -the lure was almost bigger than the fish!

Entering Cartagena is interesting. You can go through the big shipping channel Boca Chica - or you can take a cut over the underwater wall and sneak into the harbour. The underwall wall was built to keep invading ships and pirates from coming into the city. The wall has a relatively narrow cut in it - allowing you to pass over a depth of 11 feet. Now it is well marked with buoys so it is not quite as challenging.

We came in and it took awhile to find a spot to anchor amongst the fleet of boats here. Club Nautico - the cruisers' hangout - is under remodeling and quite torn up. It has fewer docks available so it seems there are more boats at anchor. Colombia is also much more "popular" with cruising boats now than in 2001 when we first visited this place. The bottom is an ugly sticky, dark muck that you must let your anchor just sort of sink into. We tried putting the boat into reverse too soon and simply drug the anchor through the muck. It took several tries to find the right spot - not too close to other boats. The wind was coming from an odd direction so we knew everyone would be swinging at some point.

Once set - after 1700 - we enjoyed a drink in the cockpit and the view of Cartagena.

Today, we get an agent and officially clear into Colombia.

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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

From High Hills to High Rises

We spent a great Sunday in Bahia Guayraca. Snorkeling a reef along the north shore the of the bay was really great. Some new creatures were spotted along with more flamingo tongues than we'd ever seen. After snorkeling we went ashore to the beach and headed to Senor Cisco's bar and restaurant. Beers were also a buck here and were good and cold. It was an interesting spot on a Sunday afternoon - lots of families on the beach and groups of friends. We met some really interesting and nice folks. They were all very friendly and we enjoyed chatting with them and learning more about the area and what it had to offer. We heard that jaguar prints were spotted near Bahia Cinto in the national park. We met a lawyer who knew the lyrics to every song he was blasting through his car stereo/i-pod for all the beach to enjoy. It was great practical Spanish lessons and we are always impressed with the excellent English of many of these folks. The good news is we are communicating better and better with our growing vocabulary and language skills (though it is still very elementary).

Another night of willy waw winds through the anchorage - peaking at 0230. Some gusts had to be over 40. You could watch them come towards you on the water. We left the National Park area and headed west about 15 miles past the port city of Santa Marta and into the next bay called Gaira on the charts but it Colombians call it Rodadero. It is a tourist town filled with high rise apartments and hotels, t-shirt shops, and beachside restaurants. As Friedl said, "culture shock." After a week of remote and beautiful locations - this was a definite change of scenery. What's quite funny is that we feel a bit like we are in a zoo - but we are the animals! As we anchored around 1100, we were approached by lots of little paddle boats. Some would stare and circle the boat - all very friendly, waving and taking our picture. Others would chat you up and ask lots of questions. We had kayaks, power boats and paddle boats all coming by for a close look. No skinny dipping here!

We went to shore to do a bit of grocery shopping - a really nice store here quite close to the beach - and stopped for lunch. Then it was back to the boats on a very hot day with absolutely no wind. It was well over 100 degrees and sticky - a good time to get in the water and scrub the water line. We then went into town again later for a short walk.

We'll be leaving at 0300 to make it past the Rio Magdalena in daylight and early enough to avoid any big afternoon winds. It's about 40 miles away and this is an easy bay to get out of in the dark. Hopefully we'll get a few hours sleep before we get that 0230 alarm.

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Sunday, September 20, 2009

Buck Beers and Willy Waws

In the beer economy of Astarte - we have hit a good economic turn. Last night, we went to dinner on shore and the beers (retail at a restaurant) were $1 US each - and they were the real size beer (not like the little Polars in Bonaire and Curacao). Life is good

We moved to the third bay of the Five Bay area - after spending one night (Friday) in Bahia Cinto (bay numero uno). Now we are in Bahia Guayraca anchored near a beach and a few little buildings. It seems every building is a house as well as a restaurant/bar. It is another beautiful setting - surrounded by green hills. The water is clear but the skies were grey and cloudy.

Let's step back and continue from the last log entry. In Bahia Cinto we saw parrots in the palm trees, eels and robin fish under the water. The mahi got cooked up along with a giant pasta dish and we had the Tumshi crew over (Friedl and Angelika) to share the caught treasure. It was a nice dinner with chilled wine and brownies for dessert. That night though, we had a huge squall overhead with big lightning and thunder. That's always a bit scary when you have this big stick (aka mast) in the sky. There was also a good roll that built in making for a not perfect night of sleep. We decided in the morning to move to another bay.

On our way to the next destination, it was a bit windy and we put out a bit of our headsail - always trying to conserve fuel and sail when we can. But the winds were stronger as we approached the entrance of the bay - and according to Angelika - they hit 37 knots. This was enough of a gust to cause a big bang on Astarte - that very scary noise. The headsail snapped and a huge shake and big noise jolted the boat. We looked over and saw that the block that holds the control line for the furler was now in a "new" location. The shackle on it - had broken and was against one of the stanchions. It had also caused another block (pulley, Matt R.) that helps feed this control line - to move up the stanchion. We quickly (or as quickly as you can in 30 knots of wind) got the headsail in. Of course, the seas were very nig - nothing happens in calm seas. The boat, now under motor, continued to the third bay.

Fish line in - no fish (no bananas).

Along the way we enjoyed the company of at least a dozen dolphins playing with the boat. They were leaping out of the water, playing in the bow wake, turning over in the water to look at us - it was a nice treat after the scary sail moment. They are such wonderful creatures - these were "freckled" with a light grey underbody. They were good jumpers and liked slapping their tail on the water before they re-entered the water. They stayed with us all the way into the bay.

Once anchored in Bahia Guayraca, a small dug out canoe approached us. The gentleman, Reynaldo, started to chat with us - welcoming us to the bay. We invited him aboard (a good practical Spanish lesson) to visit. Of course, the last cold beer was handed out. As we talked in our broken Spanish, his broken english and lots of hand gestures, we found out this is the same Reynaldo we met in 2001. His son Jonathan had swum out to Mariah (our previous boat) and started to climb up the anchor chain. In 2001, this bay was our first stop in Columbia - so that got us a bit nervous. But when we realized it was a ten or eleven year old boy and his friend, we chatted with them. Now Jonathan is married and in the military. We learned a lot about Reynaldo and his family and the area. It was a great Spanish lesson and more fun than using the computer or workbooks! Friedl from Tumshi came over as well and we ended up arranging for dinner on shore through Reynaldo. For $10 US per person (and $1 for beers), we would have a fish dinner. We also invited another boat that is in the bay, Navigator, a trawler, to join us. So we set up for "seis personas a las seis" (Six people at six). We all went in and tied the dinghies up and walked to one of the restaurants. It was set up for six on an outside deck with lots of local folks also sitting on the deck (though we were the only ones dining). As we arrived, led by our host Reynaldo, the plates were already being put on the table. We're not in the islands anymore - when they say six - they mean six. Island time would have meant sevenish! It was a lovely feast - a pargo (whole red snapper) on each plate - prepared in a wonderful way. It was "muy rico" - very delicious. Rice, plantains and a salad were part of the meal.

It was project day - as Michael fixed the broken shackle on the block (it had corroded and stainless corrosion is sure hard to spot). He also put a new zinc on the bottom of the boat - because once we get to Cartagena - there will be no getting in the water. Barbara did some laundry. Michael also helped Tumshi out with some radio problems and went aboard Navigator to answer some questions about Cartagena. It was a grey day - so we decided not to go snorkeling, though Reynaldo did point out the best area to go.

The winds in these bays are quite interesting and intense. They are called "willy waws" and they come down with great force from the surrounding hills and mountains. They come in these gusts - so it will be quite calm then suddenly a huge gust will come and hit you. These gusts are anywhere from 20 to 30+ knots and last just a few seconds but you can see them come across the water. They seem to be most intense at about 0100 (1 am) through 0300. Last night, these winds caused the boat to do at least three 360 degree circles. They were very intense. They also make a screeching sound as they come in which adds to the weirdness.

We have decided to stay an additional day here and do some snorkeling and exploring. On shore there are turkeys, goats and Brahma bulls (albeit very skinny ones). The turkeys crack us up - you can hear them gobble from the boat and see the males strutting with the tail feathers spread. They look like the domesticated (Thanksgiving) kind - not wild turkeys.

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Friday, September 18, 2009

Yes, We Have No Bananas Today

But we do have fish! Now, we're not that superstitious about things like fishing. We don't have lucky hats, lucky charms or kiss the lure before we send it on its way. But fisherman extrodinaire Jamie McComb has always said that you can't catch fish if you have bananas on board. So, having had a spat of bad fish catching weeks (and usually having bananas on board) - we decided to "test" the banana theory.

On Sunday/Monday from Curacao to Monjes, Venezuela we caught nothing. We had bananas on board. Cooked banana bread on Tuesday morning. No more bananas on board. On Tuesday/Wednesday from Monjes to Cabo de la Vela - no fish. No bananas. However, our traveling boat company "Tumshi" caught a lovely tuna and we all feasted on their boat. It was a really yummy tuna and a great meal with great company. So at least we ATE fresh fish. After the meal - we were exhausted and called it an early night. Unfortunately it ended up being a short night as the wind shifted to the south and created a terribly uncomfortable anchorage. As the guide says "Cabo de la Vela is untenable in winds other than easterly." They are right. It was a gunnel to gunnel roll. Our first night on the South American continent (yup - a new continent for Astarte) wasn't very comfortable.

Thursday morning, we head off at 0930 for Five Bays - about 120 miles. Fish lines in the water before the sails are even up. Barbara decides to try a spoon, Michael a silver headed yellow lure. Sails up and we're doing about 4 knots through the water. First hit on Barbara's line. A second hit on Michael's line almost simultaneously. Our first double hit. Barbara brings hers in - a nice little mahi on board. Michael starts to pull his in and loses not just the fish - but the lure. Bummer. But we have one on board. The jinx is over (and there are no bananas on board!)

Lines back in - Michael decides on another lure. Not too long - and Barbara gets another hit. Another mahi - but this one is pretty small - and is still quite alive - so it's released. Then another hit on Barbara's line - another mahi landed. So we've had four hits, one lost lure, one released, and two on board. Michael switches to a spoon. Another hit on Michael's line and he just about gets him to the boat - and lost. Lure too. Barbara gets another hit - something big - not a mahi. Swimming deep - really pulling. She loses it before she can even see it - but it was big enough to bend the spoon. Michael gets a hit - pulls in a good size Little Tunny (oxymoron - big little tunny?) (Euthynnus alletteratus - for our marine scientists). Anyway - this is not a favorite of ours and is described in the fish book we use as "not highly valued as a food source." So back he goes. In awhile - another hit - another Little Tunny. Another fish returned to the sea. So by the end of the "no banana" day - eight hits; five got on board; two kept; three fish lost and two lures lost and one lure bent! Not a bad day for Astarte - it sure made the sail go by quickly.

Besides fishing, we also had to go through a few squalls - which meant bringing in the sails and battening down the hatches. We timed it great. The bad news on this long sail was that we did have to motor a fair amount. The winds were very light which meant the seas were great (meaning - next to no waves except as the squalls passed). So it was comfortable except for having to listen to the engine. We did get some good sailing in as the sun came up. But no additional fish or even hits.

We are now anchored in one of the "Five Bays" along with Tumshi. We'll dine on mahi with them tonight - our turn to share. We have started the "Cruising the Columbian Coast" fishing tournament (nothing like a little competition.) So far Astarte is ahead on hits; but we're tied with two each on board - and Tumshi is winning with weight. They've gotten two nice size tunas and he also lost a whole rig to something. So off the Columbian coast there are three fish with lures hanging from them - looking very tough!

We're anchored in a different bay than the one we anchored in 2001. We are in the first of the five bays. This one is called Bahia Cinto. It's very beautiful - surrounded by big forested hills; palm studded beaches; clear water; a nice reef; fancy thatched roof homes and a fishing camp. There is a steady breeze keeping it cool. After the rock of Monjes and the desolate hillsides (eaten brown by sheep and goats) of Cabo de la Vela, the green forested hills are very lovely. There are lots and lots of butterflies around as well - bright yellow ones, red one, black and red ones, and white or faint yellow ones. They come to the boat and fly around.

As we came into the area, we saw the snow-covered (yes, SNOW covered mountains) of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta (the world's highest coastal mountain range). Its twin summits, Simon Bolivar and Christopher Colon - both are 5775 meters, are covered in snow and very awe-inspiring. It's amazing seeing snow-covered peaks when you're in warm water and the hot sun! But a magnificent sight to be greeted to at sunrise..

In store for today - cleaning up the boat after a 26 plus hour trip. Make some brownies for tonight's dinner party. Get the mahi ready for cooking and get in the water to cool off and clean-up. Michael already saw some robin-fish and a moray near the boat when he went to check the anchor. So it should be good snorkeling.

Welcome to the South American part of Astarte's adventure.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Cabo de la Vela, Columbia

Bienvenidos a Columbia. Welcome to Columbia. When you think of Columbia, what comes to mind? Drug cartels, kidnappings, guerillas in the jungles, cocaine? Here's a new picture: beautiful blue waters, a scenic coastline, Amazon rainforests, friendly people proud of their country, snow-capped mountains, backpackers and quiet anchorages.

We are now in a new country, Columbia, after a night's sail from Monjes del Sur. We untied from the "anchor line between the rocks" at 1800. The engine was off four minutes later with the genoa filled. Seas were relatively calm - a three to five foot swell on the beam - but not too awful. We sailed much of the night until the wind died and we were slatting about (for our non-sailing readers - that means the sails flogging and banging around - because there is not enough wind to keep them full. The seas cause the sail to collapse when it gets into a trough and when it comes out of the trough it re-fills creating a big bang - not good for the sails or the rig.) Lots of big ships passing in the night - again the AIS system came in very handy. We sailed and/or motor-sailed through the night and arrived at anchorage at 1030 this morning (Wednesday). As we were anchoring a boatload of fishermen came by whistling and yelling hello and waving. What a nice warm welcome to Columbia!

More bad news on the fishing front - lots of fishing - not a lot of catching! We had both lines out - two different lures and we were going fish catching speed (or so we thought). We even got rid of the bananas on board! (There is a theory that if you have bananas on board a boat - you won't catch fish. We're going to test that theory. Day one's test results: bananas or no bananas - makes no difference - NO FISH.) "Tumshi," the catamaran traveling with us caught a tuna. Hopefully we'll get to enjoy fresh fish with them tonight! We may not be good fish catchers - but we're excellent fish-eaters!

We are anchored in a place called Cabo de la Vela - Cape Sail - and the wind is supposed to be quite strong through here. The good news is there is not supposed to be any swell - so it should be comfortable. It looks like a beautiful day here and we'll probably go snorkeling or for a hike (there is a hill with a monument and light on it afterall).. Our goal on night sails is to stay up all day - even though we're a bit sleepy from three hour watches (and not much sleep). That way we'll sleep really well tonight.

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Monday, September 14, 2009

The Strangest Anchorage to Date

We are back in Venezuela and anchored (or we should say "tied") in Monjes del Sur (Monks of the South). This has to be the strangest place we've ever anchored. Monjes is a group of islands - well really rocks - about 60 miles west of Aruba. The Monjes del Sur are the southernmost rocks and it appears to be two rocks from a distance. As you approach - you see that the rocks are now connected by a rock dam/wall. You circle the rock and enter on the western side and into a little bay. Inside the bay, you go up towards the rock wall and there is a line (rope) in the water. Each end of the rope is attached to one of the rocks - and that's what you "anchor" on. They claim there is room for about six boats (it would be mighty tight). Tumshi, the catamaran we are traveling with, and Astarte will call the rope home for the night.

As we came into the area (near the eastern Monjes), we called the Coast Guard station to check in with them. Good thing Barbara's been studying her Spanish so diligently - she needed to put it to full use. Lots of questions were asked and information secured. All was good (we think).

There is a lighthouse on the top of one rock and a Guarda Costa (Coast Guard) station here. It is Venezuelan territory. The station is an interesting little pod of a building - something out of the 70s. Michael and Friedel went in to do the paperwork and came back with five Venezuelan Coast Guardsmen. They wanted to inspect the boat - and get a beer! So all the cold cervezas we had for tonight got drunk. They were friendly and it was another good chance to practice more Spanish. They looked through a few lockers, checked the radio licenses and checked out the engine room. It took long enough to eat a few snacks, drink a beer and then off they went. Now we are cleared to go to the shore as well as stay here for a few days if we'd like.

We left on Sunday afternoon around 1600 from Santa Cruz and had a good sail the entire way. The seas were quite confused - so sleeping and moving about the boat was a bit of a challenge. We started with the genoa - and made good time with that sail - but without a good whisker pole - it started to slap around too much in the big seas as the wind settled a bit. So we opted for the mainsail with preventer. It was more stable and we still made good time. Astarte was much faster than Tumshi so we ended up reefing the main for the overnight sail. At 0300 we unreefed it as the wind died and we slowed too much. There were lots of ships throughout the night - the AIS system really is helpful. (AIS explained: All boats over a certain length must carry a transponder similar to that on aircraft. The AIS on our boat is a receiver that gets all this transponder info -so we can know the name of the ship, where it is headed, how fast, how big, the closest point we'll be to it, etc. It provides great information that helps make it less tense when you see those giant ships coming at you. You can also call them more easily because you have a name. Last night it came in particularly handy because there were lots of large tankers at anchor - and it would have been hard to know that without the AIS).

We arrived at Monjes and were all tied up by 1108. Hope the rope holds!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Anchor Up. . . .Underway

Finally - we have moved out of Spanish Waters in Curacao. It was a great month and when we pulled the anchor - it certainly showed that we were in one place a long time. The anchor chain was covered in growth - small underwater trees and vegetation claiming the chain as a new home. It took some time getting it cleaned up and stowed for the trip to Santa Cruz on the northwestern side of Curacao. We got as much off as we could, but it still may stink up the anchor locker.

The trip was uneventful - in a good and bad way. Uneventful good - a pleasant sail - traveling more than 6.5 knots, relatively calm seas and a steady breeze. We sailed with the genoa all the way out. Uneventful in the bad way - NO FISH. The line was in the water, the speed seemed good - but no marine edible found our line enticing. Bummer.

Upon arrival in Santa Cruz - we wonder why more people sit in Spanish Waters for months on end and don't come here. The water is clear, there is a palm studded sandy beach, even a little beach bar with cold beer. You can anchor in 15 feet of water with good sand on the bottom. Plus there's no dust constantly blowing across your decks from the mining. Yet, there is still a very pleasant steady breeze that funnels through the surrounding hills.

We went for a nice, much needed snorkel when we got settled. Michael saw an eagle ray and there were many lovely tropical fish of all shapes and sizes. There is a rock wall on our starboard side that we snorkeled along and it was really nice. The visibility was fabulous. Today, we'll probably take a long swim to a mooring ball that marks a wreck. The swim will be some good exercise as we're not inclined to untie and launch the dinghy from the foredeck where it is all tied on for the offshore trip.

We'll leave this afternoon for an overnighter to Monjes Del Sur - about 100 miles away. We're traveling with Tumshi, a catamaran. Yesterday they had a small headsail flying and Astarte overtook them. But this morning, they were up early putting up their larger genoa so they should be faster than us…but we'll see. Astarte likes a good race!

Some last thoughts on Spanish Waters: It was a great time. We got to know some amazing people that we hope we'll see again in Columbia or the San Blas. We had good social time as well as got some provisioning done for the San Blas. A few small boat projects got completed. It was good to stay in one place for some time - something we hadn't done too much of this trip. Other cruisers have accused us of moving too fast. Some of our blog readers can't understand why we aren't moving on. It was a bit longer than we originally thought - but the propane issue and weather called the shots. In the end - we believe everything happens for a reason. We're now leaving on what looks to be a great weather window and we have a boat to travel with along the Columbian coast for added safety. We were willing to do it alone - but we're glad to have the company.

We will be out of internet access for sometime now. So if you send us an e-mail to this blog page, our website or our aol addresses, we won't get back to you for awhile. Bear with us. We just can't imagine that the rocks that make up Monjes
will have wi-fi!

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Friday, September 11, 2009

A Day in the Life of Astarte: Clearing Out

We have several folks who have asked about the day to day routine of cruising. We thought we would share with you what it is like to have to clear out of customs in a foreign country while sailing on a crusing boat. Just writing all the details would be too boring so we have borrowed (okay, we stole it!) an idea from Geoff and Pat on the sailboat "Beach House." What follows is a photographic record of what it takes to get officially "cleared out" of a country. Specifically Curacao.

It all starts fairly early in the morning. Getting the dinghy ready is a daily routine. You see dinghies do have a tendancy to "disappear" in the night if not tied up and locked up. So, between morning "radio nets" (the local net, weather net, cruiser nets), the dinghy prep starts.

Michael has to pump up the dinghy(really!)

Followed by Barbara cranking the halyard to raise "Air Mary" off the deck.

So Michael can push it out over the side and Barbara slowly releases the halyard to lower it into the water.

Then Barbara unlocks the outboard and. . . .

The outboard gets lowered onto "Air Mary"

Barbara unties,

and we're "off like a june brides pajamas"

In this particular anchorage we have quite a way to go to the dinghy dock. There is often a stop here and there to chat with a fellow boater.

The dinghy dock awaits - gotta find a "parking space."

Tie it.

Lock it.

Opps, don't forget to drop off the garbage!

Wait for the local bus.

Load on

Our traveling companions from Tumshi- also checking out today.

Arriving in Willamsted - about a half hour bus ride.

The walk to the first stop - customs. (Called Douane in Dutch)

The pleasant official and the paperwork.

Then off to the second spot...across the water. Two options - the floating bridge or the ferry. The ferry works only when the bridge is open - which it is - so onto the ferry...across the water...

The open floating bridge, the reason we take the ferry.

Off the ferry...then up the hill to the next stop..."immigration."

Must clear in at the gate then the long, long, long walk down the dock to the immigration office.

Into immigration.

More paperwork and passports get stamped.

The very nice immigration officer - quite helpful and friendly (not always the case!)

And this is the harbor authority office where you get the anchoring permits.

NOW - reverse it all and head back to Astarte. The walk back, ferry across, wait for the bus, take it back to the dinghy dock, retrieve (untie/unlock) the dinghy, get back to the boat...and you've just spent six hours with the crew of Astarte.

Welcome to our world.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Dominoes and Solving the World's Problems

Still in Curacao and a tropical wave is coming through mid-week - so it looks like Friday may be the earliest departure. We had hoped for a Tuesday leave - but things look like they've changed a bit in the weather department, so we'll stay a few more days.

The last few days aboard have been productive - we are getting little projects done as well as some "maintenance" (also known as massive cleaning!) Laundry by the bucket-full (literally) is also getting done as we wait for the right weather window.

The other day, we also cleaned the bottom of the boat - and got covered in barnacle bugs (ick!) One of the nice things about Bonaire was the blue tangs (fish) that eat much of the green algae that grows on the boat bottom. No such luck here - so it takes a few hours of scrubbing the waterline and the keel.

Along with the projects, we've also managed to have some fun. We've hiked around the area; gone to a happy hour or two (or three) and entertained on Astarte and been invited to other boats. We had sundowners with Ria and Waldy aboard Talagoa and were treated to some Dutch delicacies. We also got a nice invite from Peter and Jenny aboard Cheetah and had some good laughs and good food with them (a British couple). And on Sunday afternoon, we invited Lili and Otto back for a domino re-match and added Tom and Christian from Astahayah as well. Tom and Christian are Norwegians aboard a very lovely Oyster (registered in the British Virgins) that we met at happy hour a few times. They never played dominoes before - so it's always fun to introduce someone new to the game. It was a great match - Otto took the victory AGAIN - that's two in a row for him. But what is most fun about all these evenings with other cruisers is learning more about their cultures, their experiences and their countries. Remember Otto carries a Hungarian passport and Lili a Swiss one - but both grew up in South Africa and left from there aboard their boat Vagabond.

Over dominoes and drinks the six of us had some lively conversations about a variety of topics. It's fun to sit and listen as people break into other languages. Some of what we talked about was funny like the most difficult words to say in English, Norwegian and Afrikaans. We all learned "sayings" from other languages - like in Norway - instead of "counting your chickens before they're hatched" - their version of something that means the same is: "don't sell the fur before you've killed the bear." We talked about issues in each country - immigration, racism, apartheid, politics, indigenous peoples and even whaling. Of course there was also a smattering of talk about religion, sex and rock and roll! The evenings go so quickly and are so rich and memorable. It is one of the very special things about cruising - the people you meet and what you learn from them.

This morning we went into Willemstead to get an anchoring permit for another harbor later in the week as well as to check in with immigration to see if we had more than thirty days in Curacao (it's been 28 so far!) We're good for 90 days…but we definitely will be out of here before then. It's always fun to go into the big city - it means an ice cream treat!

A few new pictures are on the webpage. But we are having some internet issues so they are still uncaptioned. Hopefully they'll get captioned soon.

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Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Locked in Postition

The position report (“where are we” page on the website) hasn’t changed because we haven’t moved for several weeks (other than the re-anchoring earlier on). Here are the top ten reasons for the lengthy stay here.

One: It’s free. Unlike Bonaire, which has nicer water – but costs $10 a day, anchoring in Spanish Waters is free. The country also doesn’t charge to clear in. The expense here has come with all the grocery stores and the weekly Happy Hours. But we needed to do some re-provisioning after six months aboard.

Two: Curacao is out of the hurricane zone. In the country’s history there have only been a few storms.

Three: There is a nice breeze consistently and few bugs. Bugs haven’t been much of an issue yet (we know there will be places where they will be). The breeze is pleasant – sometimes a bit strong – and it can create a fair amount of dust on the boat – but it does keep the wind generator running and the batteries charged. The wind also helps keep the boat cooler.

Four: Lots of boats means lots of people. Most are interesting and quite pleasant. We’ve met some cool people whose company we’ve really enjoyed. There’s been a knucklehead or two (good for stories). And as friends Lili and Otto would say, that also means “Bay Movies” – lots to watch in the anchorage.

Five: Good groceries, a nice town (though it’s a bus ride away), and pleasant places to take a walkabout. So things to do. Plus it was a good place to get our mail and our parts delivered.

Six: The public transportation is good and inexpensive. The city busses are good (large and air-conditioned) and pretty regular. The free grocery busses are even better and are convenient (though it seems every time we go – we spend more than we should).

Seven: Good Chilean wine – relatively inexpensive.

Eight: Everyone here sails. Everyday there are lots of little boats and sailboards plying the waters. There was even a Sunfish regatta last weekend!

Nine: A good happy hour at SOV Asiento(not sure what that means), a local sailing club where lots and lots of cruisers come in and share stories. Oh yeah, and drink cheap($1.57us for a small Polar) beer.

Ten: Propane issues. This is the bad news that caused us to stay here longer than we thought we would. We sent the tank in, it couldn’t be filled because of a broken valve. Had to buy a new one (ouch) and it took more than a week to get THAT one filled.

Bottom line, this is a good place to stay and we were in no hurry to have to move. We DID get our new propane tank back at last night’s Happy Hour. And it was filled. So now we can decide when we want to go. There looks like a good weather window coming thanks to the storms up north. In the meantime, we are getting a few boat projects crossed off the list. A bit of bucket laundry is also getting done. We had a potluck aboard on Monday night with the folks from Serene (Joanie, Mel and their guest Tony) and Rapscallion 2 (Trudy and Dennis). It was a feast and nice to reconnect with those folks. We enjoyed a dominoes re-match with Lili and Otto aboard Vagabond on Sunday afternoon (Otto took this victory). There was a Sunfish regatta this weekend in Spanish Waters and it was great fun to watch – especially the young kids that were in the