Monday, May 26, 2014

the definition of saga is as follows...

·         a long story of heroic achievement
·         a long, involved story, account, or series of incidents

Getting our visa was turning into a saga.  We think we have it sorted out, and everyone, including the agent that is Puerto Amistad has learned something new.  

Apparently, the initial thumbs up was overly optimistic, in addition to being misguided.  We were NOT able to get a new 3 month “in and out” visa, as it hadn’t been a year since we first checked into the country in 2013.  When Juan Andres told us in sorrowful tones that we had a problem, we envisioned the worst.  Needing to leave the country until mid-July was an option that ran through our brains.  Really not the end of the world as traveling is what we do here, but it was going to get pricey if we needed to stay away for almost 2 months.  

But also in true Latin American fashion, we “had options.”

Another boat had mistakenly been granted a “mariner’s visa”.  Now no one, including our agent, knew what this was, but they got it, without asking, and it was for a year.  Sounded good, and it looked like we also were going to be able to request one of these visas.  Our friends got theirs for free, but it seemed that we were going to be charged $300 each for the privilege of spending more time here, but it sounded great to us.  If we had been given the option of an extension, it was going to cost $250 each, involve several roundtrips by bus to a town 2 hours away, and a bunch of paperwork.  For the added $50/person, we figured we were actually going to come out ahead, and it would also enable us to head out to the Galapagos without fear of overextending our allotted time.  


Sunday, May 25, 2014

It's not Breaking Bad, it's Breaking Beer

How much does it cost to go cruising?  How can you afford to give up your jobs and retire early?  How much do you spend on a monthly basis?  Whether you are on land or at sea, finances, budgets, and money always seem to rear their ugly heads.  When I was younger, I used to say that I was “on the list” for a trust fund.  Eventually, I kept telling everyone but especially myself, my name would come to the top of the list, and whallah, my bank account would swell, and I would be much happier.  I’m still waiting…..

Through a set of interesting circumstances, we’ve been able to buy our boat, put enough money in the bank, and live off the interest that is generated monthly.  This is not to say that we have more money than we know what to do with.  I still hold tight to my wallet whenever we are in the grocery store, and unlike some other cruisers we know, going out to eat in a restaurant is something done infrequently.  The last time we were in a marina was years ago, (and perhaps the boat is suffering from the lack of fresh water) as we simply can’t afford the slip fees.  Our clothing choices are now reduced to “what is actually clean?” vs. “what is the most trendy?”  No holes or grease stains deem it still wearable.  Rather than buy fine wines, I have become SOMEWHAT content with the inevitable Cardbordeaux, a boxed wine from Chile.  As it’s “winery” is Clos, I affectionately say that it is “Clos to wine, but only just”.   Here on the mighty ship Sundancer, budgets still rule.  

Our eventual plans have us heading due west.  The south Pacific, with exotic sounding island names like Vanuatu and Niue, is the siren song by which most sailors are lured.  When I was in my early 20’s I dated a guy that was a shark researcher, and his tales of swimming in Melanesia, along with that shark tooth hanging from a cord around his neck, have fired my imagination through many long months and years of frozen toes and frostbit fingertips in ski resorts around the world.  But it takes planning to get there, and lots and lots of money. 
We need to save money where we can.

Which brings me to beer making.  Friends who have already made the “puddlejump” sent back tales of $3.50 beers, $12 bags of Doritos, and $5 oranges.  ?!?!  I can’t grow an orange on board, and I fear my attempts at recreating one of my favourite snacks would fall short, but beer…..we can do beer.  

We got introduced to the idea a few years ago while we were in La Paz, Mexico.  A cruising couple we met roasted their own coffee beans (in a popcorn popper, which they gifted to us) and brewed their own beer.  Their boat was smaller than ours, and this was in Mexico where cerveza, the national drink, is pretty affordable.  It got us to thinking…..well, it got Ron to thinking primarily about drinking it, and it got me thinking about those $3.50 beers in the Marquesas.   Fast forward 2 years.  We traded a bit of rum that had also been gifted to us (thanks Jane and Ean from More Joy Everywhere) for a couple of beer making kits (more thanks to Bill from Sunrise).  When I returned to Panama from San Diego, I brought back a few bags of malt extract, some dextrose, and a couple hundred bottle caps.   It looked like we were in business.  

Now we are still in Ecuador.  A 633 ml. bottle of cerveza is around a dollar.  It’s at a price that I don’t need to keep too close a watch on Ron’s consumption.  But we were now carrying around a couple (6) of cans that seemed to weigh several pounds each, and take up valuable stowage space.  We decided we’d better try our hand at making a batch, before we committed entirely.  

A week ago, we set it to brewing.  And yesterday, it got bottled up. 

A pictorial primer follows…..

He's soooo happy
This stuff is gooey enough to use for thruhulls
Adding the malt extract to the goo
bit of water......18 liters to be exact
the stuff that make it work....yeast!
a little shake....
and the magic happens.
attaching the airlock
6 days later, it's bottling day
Need to sterilize those bottles
Obviously out of his element, standing over the sink
I think he used every pot we have
Now for the fun
Let's see, what do I do next?
It's like science class
Only waaaaayyyyyy better
Getting to the end
Final step
First batch complete!
28 more week to carbonate up, and then....we drink!

Thursday, May 22, 2014

I was wrong....

....for the first time this year. 

Apparently we still DO have visa issues.  Will find out this afternoon whether we will need to change our plans.  We got a 19 day visa.....which no one has ever heard about. 

Monday, May 19, 2014

All visas are stressful.....the bank AND the country kind

Ecuador, like many Latin American countries, doesn’t quite have it worked out.  Frankly, I probably could say the same thing about the United States, given the runaround as a cruiser that I’ve gotten there.  In the states, there is something called a Cruiser’s License, which enables a foreign registered boat a year to stay in US waters.  Of course, this license doesn’t apply to a person, and as such, while my boat can stay, apparently me, the owner/operator can only stay for 6 months.  I haven’t figured out how “they” think the boat will travel onwards without a person on board, but of course those rantings are for another blog posting. 
Mexico, on the other hand, has embraced the idea of foreign registered boats, along with their equally foreign owners, staying for a lengthy amount of time hanging out, enjoying the country, and of course bringing in a boatload (pun intended) amount of cash to distribute at stores, restaurants, marinas, fuel docks, hotels, car rental companies….you get my drift.  Now that we are south of Mexican waters, we are needing to pay a bit more attention to visas.

As I’ve previously described, Ron and I are not the quickest of travellers.  We figure we are going to do a country to death before we move on.  While there is so much to see and so many countries to get around to, we try not to leave a country until we’ve seen it all (or as much as we want to) as we have no intention of going back for a second go-around.  What this has pointed out to us, however, is that no matter how cool WE think we are, some countries are frankly not interested in us hanging around indefinitely.  

When we arrived here in Ecuador last year, sometime mid-Julyish, we were quite cautious about our visa timing.  We had left it pretty late leaving Panama for the lightning season, but what that did do was start our visa also later than we had originally intended.  Here in Ecuador, your first visa is for 90 days (NOT 3 MONTHS) but this visa’s clock will stop when you leave the country.  When we left to head back to Panama last December, we had about a week left on this original 3 months, as we had spent almost 4 months out of the country.  However, we were now back, and unclear as to how the whole visa thing was going to work.  As North Americans would understand it, that first 90 days was to be within a year, but as Ecuadorians figured it, we had arrived in 2013 the first time, and although it was now only 5 months later, we had actually arrived in a NEW year, 2014.  BONUS!!!!  We had been stressing about how it would be accomplished, as after we leave here we want to go to the Galapagos, which of course is also in Ecuador, which meant that there was going to be even more time spent on a visa.  We now know that we’ll receive another 90 day in/out visa, and can then apply for an extension, which is either an additional 90 days or with a letter describing how you are “pursuing business opportunities in country”, a full 180 days more.  Our days of worry are over.  Apparently, we are looking at investing in real estate or starting a company here (wink, wink).  

I’ve never been great at legalese-type paperwork.  As anyone who knows me well can tell you, I loathe with all my being, insurance companies.  Remembering to pay my credit card bill, my medical premiums, taxes, etc. etc., are as close to torture as my lifestyle will allow.  We will need to apply for this additional extension for our visa here.  Prior to heading to the Galapagos we’ll need to apply for an Autografo, which will enable us to stay for 2 months, and visit 3 islands, versus just the one.  2-3 months prior to heading to the south Pacific, and French Polynesia, as north Americans are only allowed 3 months there, we also need to apply for a long-stay visa, at the French Embassy, somewhere along the way. 
It will be a test to see how I do with all this paperwork.  The burning question will be, “will my visits to the hairdressers need to be more frequent?” as I envision a greater number of grey hairs in my near future. 

Another passage completed

Trying to keep my karma intact is a delicate balance.  I try not to think hateful thoughts of others (sometimes I am unsuccessful) and I attempt to avoid thinking that bad things will happen, in case my thoughts make it so.  Playing these little mind games is probably an exercise in futility, but on days that my thoughts are the only things that keep me occupied, (like during passages) it seems inevitable.  This last trip, making our repeat journey back to Ecuador from Panama was very smooth, and seemed to go quickly.  When there is nothing else to worry about, those lurking and black expectations can become a self-fulfilling prophesy; this time however, we seemed to be able to quickly handle the stuff that inevitably goes wrong on any 6 day trip, in a sailboat or otherwise.  

Once again we saw the blackening of the skies over Panama City as we sat in the bumpy La Playita anchorage.  With each passing day, we could feel the humidity increase and air tingle with the anticipated lightning and thunder show that would be descending on the hapless boats still foolish enough to continue to delay their departure to points south and west.  As per usual, I was anxious, but Ron still had a few more things to purchase prior to our “getting out of dodge.”  The last item on our list proved to be problematic, which obviously was the reason it was the last item on our list.  Our new-to-us generator still needed 15 feet of marine-quality exhaust hose (marine-quality…….I’m sure the definition of this is “overpriced, and sure to fail at the most inopportune moment”).  After several days of running around town, combined with the inevitable haggling and overcharging of the taxi fares, we finally located a store that had the stuff, but not before we were assured, in no uncertain terms that they didn’t have any.  ???  Thankfully, a woman swung by, and in rapid Spanish told the 7 men standing around sorrowfully scratching their heads while looking at the computer, that of course they had the hose.  We could only assume this was the madam-jefe, (ladyboss) – she needs to be cloned and distributed around ALL the shops of Panama City, or Latin America for that matter.     

Preparations done, a “fraught with angst” trip to the La Playita dock for fuel and water, and we again escaped the treacherous grip of the lightning capitol of Central America. 

Sunday  – With just our jib up, we headed for Punta Mala (bad point) which would see us exiting the Bay of Panama.  All good….sun shining, wind blowing 8-10 knots.  

Monday – Jib still up, and a steady northwest wind blowing, we were happy making 3-4 knots in our floating home.

Tuesday – Arrival at the ITCZ (Intertropical Convergence Zone, which as it implies, is the area where the south and the north weather meet up) and it’s a “hang onto our hats” kind of day.  Overcast and threatening, we knew this area just needed to be gotten through.  My mind briefly turned to the ill-fated Rebel Heart of 2 months ago, and their unfortunate meeting of this zone.  I said a silent prayer for our own home, and hung on.  Torrential tropical rains most of the day, winds gusting to 35 knots, seas freshening to 6-8 feet, lightning and thunder, the dreaded accompaniments to this area…..the worst part is not knowing how long it will last.  Our radar display showed the weather that, despite course shifts of 30-50 degrees, we just couldn’t seem to shake.   In addition, after furling our jib, we noticed that the tack had come apart from the inner forestay (in normal speak, the bottom of the jib, where it attaches to the wire going up the mast, had its shackle pin come out, and as such was no longer attached at the bottom).  When we changed out our sails from the new ones to the old ones, we had neglected to wire up the pin so it couldn’t back down.  Now with all the rolling and bouncing, we needed to wait until it was safe for Ron to go forward to pull the sail back down and put the pin back in, but only after I had unfurled the sail.  Head down…..

Wednesday – Through the zone, the day dawned bright and sunny.  We dried out, but the winds had also taken a turn for the worse, and were now from the south.  Bummer.  Motor on, staysail and main up.  

Thursday – Cloudy.  Lumpy.  20-30 knots of wind on the nose.  More motoring.  Only positive thing about conditions like this is that your abs get a workout.  

Friday – A beautiful day dawned.  Wind on our beam at 15 – 20 knots, bliss.  Today, our last day out, with perfect conditions, we gave our new Monitor windvane a try.  It took some time to get the lines sorted, but with a bit of tweaking one thing and another, we had that baby dialed in.  Never before had it ever been so silent.  When an electronic autopilot is being used, you still hear a faint whirring when there are course corrections…..this was utterly without sound.  Lying in our aft berth, there wasn’t a whisper of noise coming from our old pilot, located just under the mattress.  We knew we had made the right decision in purchasing this important piece of kit. 

Mid-afternoon, Ron noticed some water leaking across our galley floor.  After a search under the sink, we discovered that the elbow fitting on the drain had broken, it being the highest quality plastic that a $2.99 Panamanian part could provide.  This is not a tragedy; HOWEVER, the other end of the hose was below the waterline.  If you know anything about physics, this COULD be a tragedy, because if we didn’t do something, we were going to swamp our own boat.  With rapid fire timing, we tied off the hose upright, and shoved in one of our thruhull wooden cones, stopping the offending intrusion.  Problem solved. 

We arrived at the “waiting room” at Bahia de Caraquez an hour prior to high tide, and after a half hour of frantic VHF radio calls, we got confirmation that Pedro, the Piloto, was on his way out to guide us through the “very thin water” of mouth of the Rio Chone, which was to be our home for the next 6 months.  The familiar sights of the bridge to San Vicente, the high-rise condos at the end of the peninsula, the murky brown water, the decreased humidity, the decrease in temperature…..all made us feel welcomed.  Hellloooooo, Ecuador. 

Thursday, May 1, 2014 April

For the month of March, while I was in San Diego, Ron was in Panama hunkered In front of the computer.  When it comes to internet shopping, there isn’t a woman on earth that can rival my captain.  He counts Amazon and Ebay among his most favourites of favourites.   Nothing can get in the way of him getting a good deal.  And as such, every day for me was an adventure too.  Come noon, when Fed Ex, UPS, and the USPS came calling, we would all gather ‘round to see what Santa Ron had provided for us today.  Sometimes the packages were mysteries, and I would have to try to come up with a plausible explanation for what I had unwrapped.  Other times, like when 100 bottle caps arrived, complete with a bottle-cap-putter-oner, it was fairly self-explanatory.  But always it was good fun.  I’m not sure when the transition happened, when I went from cheerfully opening up a box of jewelry to clapping my hands together while unwrapping a water pump, but the change has in fact occurred.   The metamorphosis is complete – I am a full-blown cruiser!  

Of course, the easy part is to purchase.  The hard part, the part that takes 100 times longer than it does to press BUY, is underway.  But both the boat and I, are the recipients of many cool improvements.  
Off a fellow cruiser, we purchased an oft-longed-for windvane.  We had never been able to afford one, but now we are the proud owners of a Monitor.  We were told by the company, that no one on a Vagabond had ever installed a Monitor - we are the first guinea pigs; let's hope it works!  15 pounds of my return baggage included additional needed parts but whooohhooo, we are VERY glad we’ve got a backup mechanical autopilot!  

Our new best friends, Gitte and Dr. David on Aros Mear, have been Santas unto themselves.  In a move of brilliant tradesmanship, Ron sold our leaky dinghy for $350, and we bought Aros Mear’s non-leaky dinghy for $400.  In addition, it’s about 50 pounds lighter – we are VERY happy.  They were also upgrading their generator, and for a few hours of help, Ron was able to move their DC generator onboard Sundancer, to sit beside our piece-of-shit AC generator.  Always necessary to have backups in this life.  

What else…..?  Repurposing the never-used fish cutting board, Ron has made a dashboard for a few new instruments (oil pressure, voltage, rudder angle, transmission temperature, oil temperature, and generator run time).  Now whenever the boat burps, we will know about it.   

We reinstalled our older tan-bark sails, and have had our other sails restitched, hopefully adding a few more years to the life.  A new swivel cam cleat has been installed to enable us to finally tweak our mainsheet INSIDE the pilot house.   

A brand new watermaker membrane (all 40” of it) also made its way through customs, and we are set for another 5 years of miraculously “turning seawater into drinking water”.  Now if I could only get it to turn the ocean into wine, the days of needing to stick to a budget would be over.  LED lights to brighten up our fridges when opened, blocks for our preventers, and……beer making supplies.  
Friends who have made the jump to the south Pacific report INSANE prices for beer.  $3.50 per can in the Marquesas, $4.00/can at Easter Island.  My captain drinks beer like water, and panic was setting in when I told him his daily allowance would be ½ a can when we were in those waters.  A plan needed to be hatched.  Another bit of trading, plus 20 pounds more in my baggage, and we are now outfitted to be able to brew up 30 gallons of beer and 6 gallons of hard cider.  I’m not clear as to exactly WHERE this is going to happen, but in all things my captain is clever.  

For any other cruisers out there, prior to returning to Panama I found a website called The Great American Spice Company.  I was on the hunt for alfalfa seeds to sprout when the supplies of lettuce had been depleted.  This company was a veritable treasure trove for the galley wench (of which I am one).  Sour cream powder, crème cheese powder, whole powdered eggs (maybe that should be powdered whole eggs), dried vegetable soup mix, alum powder and citric acid (I’m tired of paying $8 for a jar of pickles), alfalfa, mung and daikon radish seeds for sprouts, all got added to my luggage.  I’m not clear exactly when we are making the puddle jump, but when we do, I’ll be ready.  

There was more….but you get my drift.  Our waterline has been lowered yet again, but by god, our lives have gotten just a bit more comfortable.  

And now.....onwards, southwards and back down to Ecuador.