The second happiest day

They say the happiest two days in a sailors life are the day they buy a boat and the day they sell it. Happy wasn't the word I would have used, relieved perhaps, and not a little sad. After all Picaroon had changed our lives in ways that we could hardly fathom, touching our souls with a new found appreciation of what it means to be alive, whilst hanging on the edge of oblivion as the ocean conspired with the elements to knock some sense into us. It was 4am as we took our last dingy ride ashore leaving Picaroon to fade into the darkness of Salinas bay as we headed for an early morning departure from San Juan in PR to a rendevous with our new landlubber life in Cabarete in the Dominican Republic. We were so close to running out of money, perhaps six weeks was all we could expect before both our overdafts were exhausted when along came a young South African guy called Stefan who engaged me in conversation as I was hanging off the bow sprit in a bosuns chair having just removed the Cranse iron. We had discovered a serious crack in this bronze fitting that holds the furling genoa stay in place, as well as supporting the main mast and hence the rest of the standing rigging. Had we not noticed this it could have snapped whilst we were at sea and been catastrophic. However we were settled at anchor in the shelter of Salinas bay, where Picaroon had been since July 2016, so it was just another job to do before we set sail for probably Luperon before our US visas expired at the end of March.   He made a few inquiries about the boat, how much is it and what is wrong with it. A couple of days later he asked to come aboard and have a look around. He seemed to like what he saw and said he wanted his uncle to check the boat out for him, as he was a much more accomplished and serious sailor.   Next came an offer, which we haggled over before settling on a price, subject to survey. We couldn't believe our luck, after waiting over eighteen months with little or no interest via our broker, BVI yacht sales, who had recently dumped us, and the 10% commission they charge, we had a prospective buyer.   He chose the most fastidious surveyor, someone we knew well, Fred, who we knew would pull no punches, and probably sink the deal, especially as we knew there were some major things that needed attending too hidden deep in the bowels of the boat. He found them all.   To our amazement, this didn't deter Stefan and he was happy yo go ahead with the deal.   So that was it the end of our adventures on Picaroon, and what an adventure it was. We were very green when we bought Cpt. Rons boat but we had an amazing time and she taught us many things that will inform our next purchase, if there is to be one. And there could well be as we have already started to look at potential boats on the www.   In the meantime we're going to use some of the money to find a fix for my hearing problem which we were unable to do when we we're skint. Perhaps here in the Dominican Republic, or maybe back to the UK to try the NHS, which should have been free for us as British citizens but as we've been gone so long that may not apply anymore.   The two happiest days, I don't know, but somehow I don't feel we've quite done with our ocean adventures just yet, there could be another happy day coming soon.   Where did you say that Cheoy Lee was for sale Jackie, Polynesia ?

A bolt from the blue

IMG_0585You might call it a bolt from the blue, well that’s how it all began maybe three or four weeks ago. Ever since the crankshaft bolt snapped sending the main pulley flying from the end of the crankshaft we seemed to have been dogged by one disaster after another. At first it looked like a simple, well in theory it was simple, just remove the broken bolt from the end of the shaft and screw in a new one. We called in an expert with the tools to do this, but part way through trying to remove the broken bit of bolt there was a sharp intake of breath, like experts do, and an “Oh dear.” Turned out the keyway in the crankshaft had been damaged as the pulley flew away. Bolt from the blue No 2. Only way to fix this is to take out the engine, remove the crankshaft and take it to a machine shop to be fixed. It took three days to get the engine out and apart. The machine shop said they couldn’t fix the damage to the pulley which had also suffered in the breakdown. This was a special double pulley designed to make the engine work in a boat. We searched high and low for a replacement hours, days, a week. It was looking hopeless, and we were getting demoralized. Finally we found one, in Japan! We managed to borrow the $2000 that this repair was going to cost, as we had long since run out of our savings, and were simply surviving on my small UK pension. Picaroon was up for sale and had two or three prospective buyers waiting in the wings when the catastrophe with the engine bolt occurred. We put them all on hold pending the repair being carried out and the engine put back in the boat. And then we had bolt from the blue No3. One day we checked my bank account to see if my pension for May had been paid into my account. There was a credit that looked about the right amount but with a curious code next to it but we assumed it was my pension. We became a little suspicious but decided to wait and see what happened when it came around to the June payment. When the date came around for Junes’ payment nothing appeared in my account, it became time to panic. We asked our old next door neighbour to ask the new owner of our old house if there had been any mail for us from the UK pensions office. Sure enough there was a letter that had just arrived which said my pension had been suspended and it gave me a number to call in the UK. Had we still some savings to live on then this would have been an inconvenience, but as we rely on my pension coming in each month to survive this was a disaster. Of course we didn’t get our neighbours message on a weekday when we could call the pension offices, we received it on a Saturday, which meant we had to endure the anguish and worry of a whole weekend before we could call them. The letter had said that my pension had been suspended because they didn’t know where I lived. We had sold the only house we owned in the UK to fund the buying of Picaroon which we bought at the end of 2013 in Puerto Rico. Ever since then Picaroon has been our home, we’re what they call liveaboard sailors, and for the last three years we’ve been sailing around the islands, Dominican Republic, Cuba, Jamaica, Haiti, and the Virgin islands ending up back in Puerto Rico, which is where we are now. So first thing on Monday morning we took the dinghy over to the Marina snack bar where the wi-fi is usually pretty reliable called the UK number using Skype. A pleasant sounding lady took my call and asked a few security questions and took my national insurance number. At first I thought they would be just checking to see that I hadn’t died and that this was me, alive. When she asked for my UK address I told her that I don’t have one at the moment as I am living on a sailboat in Puerto Rico. I’m sorry she said, I’ll have to pass you over to my college in the international section. After five minutes of “hold” music a friendly chap took my call. I explained my situation, with a little difficulty as I’m deaf and my hearing devices I use don’t work that well with telephone calls. But luckily Jackie was sat with me and between us we thought we had jumped all the hurdles. That was until he asked how long we had been out of the UK and we said, since 2013. Oh, now that makes things more complicated, he said, I’ll need to pass this on to our specialist international team. We gave him an email address and our Puerto Rican telephone number and he said we would have to wait to be contacted by them. How long we’ll have to wait for that call, or email we don’t know. From our research on their website it seems that we have maybe fallen foul of the rules governing payments made to pensioners living abroad. It would appear that if you live in certain countries then any increases in the state pension will not be paid. It’s a curious list of countries where the increase is paid and not paid. For instance if you’re in the USA you get the increase, but if you live in Canada you don’t. If you live in Jamaica you would get the increase but not if you lived in Cuba. Barbados is good, the Dominican Republic is not good. As we’ve been travelling around quite a few of these islands there are places where we would be eligible for the increase and others where we would not. However, we have never stayed anywhere longer than six months and sometimes we have only stayed a month. If we have to give details of where and how long we stayed at various islands/countries it could get very complicated for the pensions department to work out if I’ve been overpaid or not, which equates to a very long and drawn out investigation. The thing that is ridiculous here is that whatever increase I’ve had in my monthly amount has been very small indeed, I would hazard a guess that my pension has only increased by about five pounds since I left the UK in 2013. The big mistake that I have made, if any, is that I never informed the pensions dept. that I was selling my house in the UK and moving onto a boat in the Caribbean. I suppose I stupidly thought that as long as I don’t become a resident of another country, but simply passing through, then I was still a UK citizen, with a UK bank account, it’s just that I was between properties. OK three years is a long time to be between properties, but whilst I was living on my boat I didn’t need a house in England, but I still considered myself to be English, and have the rights to receive my pension. So right now we’re eating into our respective overdrafts, which are minute and getting smaller by the week. We can’t survive much longer without my pension being reinstated. We’re not allowed to work here, in what is in effect the USA, and we can’t sell Picaroon without an engine. Oh what a to-do, what a pickle. It was bad enough having the bolt from the blue breaking, but then to have my pension withdrawn at such a crucial time, well, it’s just not cricket, insult to injury is what it is. It’s been a horrible four weeks, the worst month ever. If you want to help us out whilst we’re in this hole you could buy my album of songs that I recorded before I became deaf.     You can pay what you can afford.      Thank you in advance. Visit to get your copy    

An iphone for many ears

elephantearsSo it’s finally been confirmed, the reason for my hearing loss is due to this condition known as Menieres, I like to call it many ears, just to be ironic. We went to visit an ENT specialist in San Juan on Friday who listened to the description of my problem, he had a look in my ears, and had me say ahhhhhhh, which proved he was a real doctor, whilst he peered into my throat checking my tubes and concluded that Menieres was the most likely cause of my fluctuating hearing loss.  Of course I had been hoping that he would come up with a different diagnosis, something that could be cured, but it wasn’t to be. He spent almost an hour with me explaining what was going on and how I might alleviate the symptoms. Cut out salt and as much as possible, avoid, caffeine and alcohol which may help to at least stabilise the hearing loss to where it is at the moment. As I already knew there’s no known medical cure for Menieres, and no known cause, and so paying attention to my diet seems to be the only way they know to combat any deterioration. So it’s goodbye to lots of yummy stuff, it’s always the yummy stuff, and farewell to tea and coffee. Maybe we’ll try the de-caf stuff. As for alcohol, well he did put that at the end of his list, below caffeine, and a long way below salt and he never mentioned rum. We spent a while talking about hearing aids. His take on this was that although there are some very sophisticated bits of kit out there they have to be programmed by an audiologist who has the equipment to do this. And as we are travelling to some exotic locations the possibility of a local audiologist having exactly the right equipment to do this would be unlikely. Perhaps when we finish our adventures and settle somewhere, then that would be the time to consider some snazzy programmable hearing aid, where I could liaise with an audiologist, when I needed to. He suggested the old fashioned talk box that pops in your top pocket would be ideal for now. A few months ago, whilst researching about Menieres I came across an article by a classical musician who also did quite a bit of recording, he also had Menieres. He had discovered that he could use his iphone as a pretty sophisticated hearing aid. He had a mic, made by Blue, called a Mickey that plugged into the iphone, and a couple of sound apps that are available to download for next to nothing. He reckoned that this bit of kit often performed better than his expensive hearing aid. I mentioned this to the ENT consultant who thought it sounded like an ideal temporary solution for me whilst were sailing. So I went online to buy and iphone and a mickey; silly name. Now I’m not really up to speed on mobile phones, and iphones are another country/planet altogether. The only phone we have is very basic and cheap, bought whilst we were in the Dominican Republic, and only works there, since we’ve been sailing we’ve been phoneless. I put iphones for sale into the Google task bar, and within less than a second I had three hundred thousand results, or was it three million. Anyway, I scan down the list on the first page. It would appear I can buy an new iphone 4, or a 4S, or a 5C or a 5S or the latest iphone which is, surprise surprise called an iphone 6 with  no C or an S in sight, at least not yet. This was going to be a bit more tricky than I thought and prices range from about $100 for an iphone 4, refurbished, whatever that means, to about $600 for a number 6. We used to smoke No 6 when I was a teenager, they were very small, tasted awful and were the cheapest ciggy you could buy, but I digress. I decide to check out this mic, “the mickey” by blue, just to make sure it’s still available, before I plunge into the murky waters of which iphone is best for me. I find a picture of the “Mickey” on the Blue mics website, so it’s still available. This is the latest version, it says, with a lightening connector so it’s compatible with the latest iphones, but the old 30 pin version is also still available if you’ve got an old iphone. Of course I’m now getting confused, but not half as confused as when I surf back to the iphone comparison website and start reading all about the 4, 4S, 5C, 5S and iphone 6. Do I want a GSM or LTE network or do I want IOS 8, CMSA or something like that. Do I want to be locked, or unlocked, do I need face time or Siris, an 8 or 12 megapixel camera, brushed aluminium or plastic case and a million other meaningless technical bits of information that might as well be written in Chinese for all the sense they’re making. Does anyone understand all this stuff ‘cause I don’t, I just want an iphone that I can use as a hearing aid and nowhere in all this gumph does it even mention this, so as you can imagine I’m getting pretty confused. Of course we might also like to use this gadget as a mobile phone, and that complicates matters further. Do I want to be with AT&T or T Mobile, or with Verizon or Sprint, or none of the above. And then at the end of this long and confusing article I come across a pearl of wisdom. It would appear that if you want to use a local network in some far flung island then the cheapest way to do this is to buy a SIM card from the local network and just swap it for the one you have in your phone. But, the latest iphones use the new nano SIM and these are often not available in more remote places, like where we’re likely to be. If you have an older version of the iphone, like a 4 or 4S then they use a regular size SIM which you’re much more likely to find. So that sort of wrapped it up for me, and I decided that the 4S was the one I should buy along with an older version of the “Mickey” with the 30 pin connector instead of the one with the lightening plug. It only took me about 48 hours of research to hit the buy button on ebay. With any luck I’ll have them both by the end of the week. How long it’s going to take to figure out how to use is of course another question altogether, because I’m going to have to figure out how to download one of these sound apps. That’s if I can work out how to turn it on.    

Green grass and sausage dogs

Why does Colonel Saunders lean at a jaunty angle, I’ve only just noticed this. colonel_sanders Has he been on the Puerto Rican rum I wonder, or was he caught midway doing a sort of hoe down dance in his kitchen the day he discovered his secret recipe. Perhaps it’s supposed to make him appear more jolly than if he was bolt upright. These are the sort of tricks the designers of logos get up to. I once saw a documentary about how British Petroleum had a new logo designed. They took the original BP logo and skewed it leaning forward so it became BP and then charged them a few million for the effort. I bet it was the same team that was responsible for the Colonels askance presence. Puerto Rico is a mini America, and I find it fascinating. This is the pinnacle of western civilization, this is where we’re all heading, to hell in a hand cart or, perhaps that should read, a shopping trolley. Shopping is what the Americans seem to have made an art, I mean the stuff you can buy just amazes me. Take Halloween for instance, which is now “happy”, seemingly, with its ghouls and ghosts and all things scary that take up a whole isle in Walgreens. Skulls that light up with flashing LEDs, skeletons in plastic coffins, the witches and devil costumes, fake cobwebs of cotton wool, and everything else that is supposed to scare the pants off you. But what’s this? There’s a blow up sausage dog, 3ft long it says on the box, with a tube around its body that says “Happy Halloween”.  It’s pictured standing on a lawn, sort of grinning, in a sausage dog way. WHY? Who on earth is going to buy that, it’s not at all scary. But the next time we go into Walgreens, which bear in mind is a chemists shop, there’s no sausage dogs left. dog It’s beyond me. Then just a few days ago I was in Walmart and found myself browsing the six isles of Christmas stuff and there on the shelf is a blow up sausage dog, 3ft long, it says on the box, stood on the same lawn but with a body warmer on that now reads “Merry Christmas”. Same dog different logo.  What next a happy Easter blow up sausage dog no doubt. Away from shopping, but only in America, or perhaps Puerto Rico, Jackie came across this. She was walking the two miles to the supermarket along a newly laid sidewalk, or pavement, which had plantings nestled in those nice coloured bark chippings and punctuated by grass squares that separated it from the road. The grass was newly laid squares of turf that hadn’t quite bedded in yet. It’s a very straight bit of road, maybe a half mile, and this newly laid sidewalk was a distinct improvement to walking in the gravel dodging traffic. Up ahead in the distance she spotted a guy with one of those back pack portable sprays watering some of the newly laid turf which had dried out to that brittle buff colour. It was only when she got closer that she realised that it wasn’t water that he was spraying, it was green paint, he was painting the dead grass green. On her return journey the road had been closed off and there was some sort of inauguration ceremony going on for the completion of this beautification of the environment. Some foreman or other had obviously seen the dead bits of turf that had been laid and not wanting to disappoint the worthies gathered to see how their taxes had been spent had had the bright idea of painting the offending bits green. “ I’ve seen it all now” Jackie said, only in America. It’s great that they’ve gone to the trouble of making this new pavement, although I’m not sure if anyone else uses it, we’re the only ones I’ve ever seen walking that sort of distance. The car is king, everyone has a car, or a truck, there’s lots of pickup trucks. You can’t get a taxi, there are no taxis, and there are no buses to anywhere, no public transport of any description. The other day we had cause to go to the Salinas medical centre which is about a couple of miles from the Marina. By the time we came to leave it was about 8.30 in the evening and so we asked the receptionist if she could call us a taxi. From the incredulous look on her face this was the first time anyone had asked her to call a taxi, if she even knew what a taxi was. She consulted the other receptionist; they scrabbled through some dog eared papers stuffed in a corner of the office, but drew a blank. No, sorry she said so we had to walk the two miles back to the Marina in the dark along badly lit busy roads, except for that half mile of beautification, which is festooned with streetlamps.  That’s how ridiculous it has become in the pinnacle of western civilization, and why it’s so strange to find them building a new sidewalk, where the dead grass is painted green. And at long last we’re into the final week of waiting. It’s almost six weeks since we made the appointment with an ENT consultant in San Juan, which has kept us anchored in Salinas bay. In the meantime nothing much of any consequence has occurred, THE ADVENTURES OF PICAROON has been in suspended animation, as have we. It’s almost like all those voyages were just a dream. The faces of the staff are the same faces that were here two years ago. The stocky little Sgt. Major type, in his black shirt and trousers, with the nervous whistle, the stay at home cruisers circle, that we dubbed the holy trinity who still meet in the marina snack bar every morning, and have done we suppose, every morning for the last two years.  Fred is still fixing his boat, and English Steve, with his twenty six stray dogs to feed is still sat in the Panaderia at lunch time with his Kindle. Miguel still looks after the workshop and Lynda is still working behind the counter at the snack bar as is Maria at reception. Jonso’s bar was still here until last night, but I just rode passed there on my way back from the shop to find the roof collapsed. On closer inspection all around was a mess of charred wood, the place has burned to the ground, seemingly sometime in the middle of the night. Shame, we used to enjoy the occasional sundowner on his terrace, and they did a good salmon burger. It may be a while until the cruisers can wine and dine there again. Anna and Jonso must be devastated, it was their life Sal Pa Dentro, the cruisers bar, gone. The main difference though is that the bay is almost devoid of passing cruisers. There’s still lots of sailboats anchored here, but most are abandoned, and most of them are in the same positions that they were in when we left two years ago. We’re not in the same place though, so we must have been sailing, mustn’t we?  

The sound of silence

We made it back to Salinas riding slight seas but caught enough breeze east of Coffin island to let Cpt. Morgan sail the final three hours to the cut between the mangroves where Jackie took the helm for the final mile. It all looked very familiar, and packed with lots of boats we remembered from when we were last here, two years ago. We went ashore and ran into English Steve, Texas Mike, and Fred at the snack bar, and checked in with the Homeland security folk. A week later we’ve sailed to Ponce, about twenty miles west of Salinas, for my appointment with Dr O’Neil who’s a clinical audiologist, on a recommendation from Pat, a friend of Steves in Salinas. It was time for a proper diagnosis. The sound of silence has accompanied our adventures of the last twelve months, but not the Paul Simon song. I’m referring to the loss of my hearing which has dogged our adventures and cast a shadow over what have been exhilarating and life changing times. I’ve never really mentioned it in the various blog posts that have been written but throughout all the adventures and traumas we’ve been through it has been a constant companion, and not a welcome one. My hearing started to fluctuate on a day to day basis before we left Luperon back in March 2015, but it had been going that way for quite a few months, maybe even years. Whilst in Luperon, DR, I would have good days and bad days, then sometimes a few good days together, then a string of days when the sound of silence, punctuated intermittently by tinnitus, became my world. And of course not only my world but it was Jackie’s too, as day to day, she would never know how loud she needed to speak to get through to me. Some days my hearing would flip back to normal, other days, completely deaf, and all the shades in between. We both had to come to terms with what was happening but it wasn’t easy, and had we not had such a strong bond between us it could have torn us apart. Misunderstandings became commonplace, leading to fractious exchanges that would never have occurred if my hearing had been normal. I became sour, and blamed the world for doing this to me, and took out my anger on my best friend. You always hurt the one you love, as the song goes. It took a long time to accept that I was going deaf and I would have to find a way to deal with it, and smile again, Jackie prefers me when I smile. The internet led us to conclude that I had developed a condition known as Menieres disease, which maybe could be cured or alleviated with pills, potions, supplements, or voodoo, so we tried them all, but nothing really made any difference. Our light hearted banter disappeared to be replaced by a sort of need to know conversations, which took its toll, wearing us both down. We reluctantly began to realise that perhaps this was not a temporary condition but one we would both have to learn to cope with, especially trying to sail Picaroon where good communication was vital. We considered trying to find an ear nose and throat doctor whilst in Luperon, but the nearest would have been in Santiago, and so we never made that connection. I suppose with the good days and bad days, we just assumed it would right itself eventually, well you do don’t you. Being a musician, and a singer I was going to supplement our expenses by picking up a few paid gigs along the way. I had all my equipment on board, PA system, a couple of guitars, a ukulele or two, a bodhran, and all the gizmos and effects.  Over the last few years I had taught Jackie how to play ukulele and we used to have fun sessions in the evenings aboard Picaroon learning a new tune, or running through our sea shanty set that we planned to perform together; the pimped up pirates we thought we might call ourselves.  Losing my hearing put paid to those fun sessions and any plans for doing gigs.
my hearing aid mic, mixer and cans

my hearing aid mic, mixer and cans

One good thing though about having all this music kit on board was that when I was having a bad day I would get out the case that my mini audio mixer was in, plug in my tasty AKG 414 microphone, that I used to use in the studio for recording vocals, and pop on a set of headphones. I would lay the mic on the cushion between us and tweak up the volume so that I had myself a hearing aid which worked great. At last Jackie didn’t have to yell at me and we could have a normal conversation. Of course this only worked when we were sat having a meal, G&Ts, playing backgammon, or scrabble, or watching a film on the computer. The kit was too big to move about with and anyway it needed to be plugged in to a mains supply, it wasn’t what you might call mobile, but it became an essential part of our down time when we were anchored or in port somewhere. Whilst we were on the move though, voyaging, we couldn’t chance having all that stuff out on deck as the cockpit was a prime target for spray or a big wave washing down the decks, we just had to rely on a lot of hand waving or Jackie having to project to the point of making herself hoarse. Wrestling with an emergency would often become fraught, and frustrating for both of us, as discussing the subtleties of sail plans for an impending squall was almost impossible. Over time we began to work on intuition I suppose, and an array of hand signals. We still got cross with each other and ourselves, and the sea, and the wind, and the boat, but somehow we started to get strategies that worked. We had set off on this adventure without any medical insurance, so any fix for my hearing if there was one was probably going to be expensive, except perhaps in Cuba. But after Jackie had a bit of an encounter with the main hospital in Santiago we decided that maybe Cuba wasn’t the place to seek a fix for my ears. Jamaica didn’t seem an easy place to find specialists, and of course Haiti was never on the cards. We would wait until we were back in the Dominican Republic, where the costs would be reasonable and the medical services we’d encountered were pretty good. When we were in Salinas, in the Dominican Republic, we took a two hour bus ride to see an audiologist and an ENT consultant. We got the tests done which showed about 60% loss of my hearing, but never managed to touch base with the ENT consultant, so we decided to leave it until we made it back to Puerto Rico, which is where we’re at now with the whole saga. Sitting in Ponce harbour waiting until next Thursday when we’ll get the results from a very thorough Dr O’Neil. The one thing that is certain, even without the results, is that I’m going to need hearing aids which are not going to be cheap, the least expensive being over a thousand dollars each.  There’s no way we can afford this as we’re almost out of funds as it is. We have just about enough ready cash to see us through the next couple of months, if we’re lucky. Reluctantly we’ve put the boat on the market, to try and raise the funds we’re going to need. So Picaroon is for sale with BVI yacht sales, and Brian, the manager there reckons we’ll have more chance of selling her if she’s in the BVI rather than here in Puerto Rico, so that’s our next and perhaps final destination. We’ve heard that it may be possible to find work in St Martin, as it’s part of the European Union and being EU citizens we can work there legitimately, and that’s not far from the BVI, so that’s an option to keep us afloat, so to speak, whilst we wait for Picaroon to find a buyer. So that about rounds it up for the sound of silence, an unfortunate way for a musician to end up, but then Beethoven had a similar condition, so I’m in hallowed company. He even managed to compose a few tunes when he’d gone deaf, and I’ve managed to write a few new songs on the infrequent days when I’ve had ears. Maybe if I can get some super-duper hearing aids I’ll get around to recording them, as they complement the blog being inspired by people and places we’ve encountered along the way. There’s a book to write, with my watercolours, and an enclosed CD that could bring in a few bob, one of those coffee table hardbacks perhaps, or a download for the tech savvy, but that may take a little while to put together. In the meantime we may have a go at crowd funding, or getting a crowd of people to buy my albums that are still available on a couple of websites. You can find them by visiting our Picaroon website. and just follow the links, all donations gratefully received. We’ve got ourselves in a right pickle, you might say, or to be more hip, between a rock and a hard place, between the devil and the deep blue sea. Something will turn up though, as Dickens Mr Micawber would say, or as Doris Day once sang, ‘whatever will be will be, Que Sera Sera’.

From Sailors to Seadogs

skipncrewOn May 25th 2014 we sailed into a little bay on the west coast of Puerto Rico escaping the Boqueron rap festival and in search of laundry facilities. There’s a marina and small town called Puerto Real, with one or two shops, a couple of café’s and a feriteria,  (iron mongers). It was to be our jumping off point, where we would set sail for the Dominican Republic, crossing the infamous Mona passage, and our first real voyage on board Picaroon. On the 10th of September 2015 we sailed back into Puerto Real, having just crossed the southern reaches of the Mona Passage, ending our circumnavigation of Hispanola  and an overnight passage from Casa de Campo on the south west tip of the Dominican Republic. We had planned on sailing from there to Ponce, but as dawn broke we were still almost seventy miles, and at least fourteen hours away. With hardly any wind we had been motor sailing and hand steering Picaroon for almost twenty four hours, and we’d had enough. The coast of Puerto Rico was a vague outline still twenty five miles away when we made the decision to change course and head for Puerto Real. What little wind there was on our crossing of the Mona passage was right on our nose so it was a pleasant change to head north east and be able to raise some sails and turn the wheel over to Cpt. Morgan , our new shipmate, in charge of the windvane steering. We sat back in the cockpit, enjoying the liberation of the helm when the wind began to die, and before long we we’re almost becalmed on a silky flat sea, with just a hint of a swell, and a whisper of ripples on the surface. The flag, that served as our wind indicator hung limp on its halyard. There was nothing moving, certainly not Picaroon, and so it was back to Mr engine, Sir, if we wanted to be in port this side of next Christmas. Crossing the Mona passage eighteen months ago was filled with trepidation for we two novices, with its reputation of being notoriously difficult, and it lived up to its promise. We suffered big seas and languished beneath a thunder storm for almost ten hours, it was horrible. This time we chose our weather window very carefully, and as we were crossing the southern edge perhaps Neptune would be a little kinder to us, as we were away from the nasty shoals and cross currents that prevail further north. After eighteen months circumnavigating Hispanola, via Cuba and Jamaica this twenty four hour passage turned out to be little more than tedious, with surprisingly enough no traumas, and no incidents what-so-ever. The stars shone brightly, a crescent moon rose a couple of hours before dawn, and the radar failed to pick up any sign of squalls the whole voyage. The only incident I can recall was the wind vane dropping out of its clamp, but as it was tethered with a safety line, and not in use at the time, it hardly constituted a crisis, more a mild irritation as I was in the middle of making up a flask of Earl Grey tea when the call came from the helm. “ Colin, the vanes dropped off”, “which vane?”  I said, stupidly, as we’ve only got one. It took all of a couple of minutes to have it stowed safely on deck and then I could get back to the serious task of decanting the earl grey from the pot to the flask. Piccars in  puerto real At about one in the afternoon we dropped anchor in front of the small marina, cracked open a couple of Presidente cervezas, followed by a couple of Brugal rum and tonics and mused on how curious it was that we had returned to the very place where we had set sail all excited and naïve to the rigours and traumas we would encounter. We had fulfilled our ambition to circumnavigate our adopted island home of Hispanola, and arrived where we began, back in Puerto Rico,oldhat it was a sort of homecoming, and we had, for want of a better phrase graduated from sailors to seadogs.

All hands to the pumps

I suppose we’ll remember Salinas for tropical cyclone Ericka which came roaring across the bay dumping millions of gallons of rain and enough wind to heel us over quite dramatically even though we were tied up to the jetty, at the Hotel Salinas marina. Ericka discovered all the places that Picaroon had a leak and for over three hours we just hunkered down below. First trying to stem the leaks, or catch them in as many Tupperware containers we could find, and finally giving in to the call of the rum, as late afternoon turned into gunmetal grey beyond the portholes. The thunder struck with a vengeance, the wind raged in the rigging, and warps creaked beyond breaking point. It was a bit scary, it was a big storm, not quite a hurricane, what they call a tropical cyclone, so they tell me, which seemingly is very unusual, but trust us to find the unusual. Which brings me round to our voyage from Salinas to Casa de Campo. It was unusually calm beyond Salinas bay as we turned east heading for Casa de Campo, the winds were light, too light to sail at speed, so we motor sailed most of the way. Even though we had to hand steer, swopping duties every hour, it wasn’t anywhere near the trials that we’ve got used to, it was quite leisurely sailing. Day turned into dusk and then to a starry night with not a hint of weather on the radar. It was perfect seas to motor in, and Picaroons log reports calm seas and light winds, all was going well, perhaps too well. We always try to keep the log every hour, and so at 5am on a blissful sea I went below and happened to glance at the bilge pump switch which was glowing red, as if it was working, It’s set on auto, which means a float switch operates and switches on the pump if the level gets beyond a foot or so. Curious I thought, as we hadn’t had a drop of water come and visit the boat all passage, no rain, nada. So why would the bilge pump be working. I opened the hatch to the bilge and shone the torch into the void that is our bilge. An inky black shimmering mass of water was swishing about just a couple of inches below the brim. I watched for a few moments expecting to see the level start to drop, as the pump was on, or the switch said it was on. But there was no drop in level, if anything it was rising. I pressed the manual operation button on both 1 & 2 pumps, and still the level didn’t fall one inch. The primary bilge pump had been working fine, I try to keep a watch on that bit of the boat, just in case, and as far as I knew it was OK. We’d had problems with bilge back-up pump number two, but finding a spare float switch had put number two back into full action. Except, it’s switch wasn’t latching when I set it to auto, so I jammed a small, unwanted screwdriver, under the bottom of the switch and that seem to do the job of holding it in auto. None of the auto circuits seem to have actuated, and now the manual ones don’t work, and the boat is about to start filling up with water. I Panic!  I forget to write the 05.00 log, which I suppose should have read, “ there seems to be a lot of unexplained water in the bilge area of the boat. All pumps have failed to operate, will need to improvise rather smartly to avoid sinking” Water in a boat, where it’s not supposed to be is the constant nightmare of a mariner, and this mariner was now in panic mode. I calmly explained the situation to Jackie who was at the helm, well I think I tried to be calm, but it might have not sounded that way. “THERE’S A LOT OF WATER IN THE BILGE, DON’T PANIC” The first stupid thing I did was to grab an empty gallon Dansani water bottle, cut a hole in the side with a bread knife, and lower it on a rope, to the surface of the lake in the bilge. The water does not rush into my improvised bucket, as my improvised bucket floats. I haul it up and cut a hole in the other side. It still floats. This is not going to work, I tell myself, but panic has taken over and I frantically try to get it to scoop even the merest drop, until Jackie makes me realise it’s little more than futile. Ok so the electric pumps aren’t working so we go for the pump of last resort, the hand pump in the cockpit. Unfortunately, the little seat that Bernie made for us in Jamaica, that makes it more comfortable to sit and steer Picaroon is bolted to the deck, right in front of the hole that we have to put the pump handle into. Not exactly good planning that, and to make matters just a little more fraught the two bolts holding it to the floor are rusty, and in the dark, take a lot of persuasion to undo. Finally the seat is removed and we slot in the pump handle.  Of course we tested this pump back in Jamaica, with a bucket of water just to make sure that it worked, but we never tried to pull water out of the bilge with it, we just assumed it would work. After furious pumping for five minutes by both of us we came to the dreadful conclusion that our pump of last resort also didn’t work. All that seemed to happen was that the pipe going down into the water wiggled a bit, but sucked absolutely no water out of the bilge at all. OK, get a grip, regroup, stop, think, what would James Bond do now? He would improvise, that’s what he would do, so come on Colin what are you going to do. I had a brain wave. Well not exactly, but I thought about this guy Peter, the Rabbi sailor we met in Isle a Vache who lent us an emergency pump to clear our bilge when we arrived there after the tanker incident. It was a small bilge pump with a long flexible tube, and a pair of wires with crocodile clips on the ends. Maybe I could rig up the small spare pump we had in the forepeak, somewhere, with a bit of flexible pipe, a few feet of cable, and hook it up to the spare battery sitting just under the companion way steps, lower it in on a bit of rope, that might just work. I found the pump, I found some wire, and I utilised the flexible hose from the dingy foot pump, and with a fair amount of gaffa tape I put together my ‘get out of jail free’ machine. I rigged the wires to the spare battery with some jump leads and bingo! The pump started running, so I lowered it gingerly into the void. At this point we had engaged Cpt Morgan to steer the boat, albeit in the wrong direction, but it was better than just letting the boat wallow about and meant we could both calmly deal with the crisis. Of course the pipe was never going to be long enough to go out of the boat, it was only about three feet long, so I hung a Dansani gallon bottle, not the one I’d cut holes into, another, down into the bilge, and held the end of the pipe close to it. It worked, the bottle filled and I passed it to Jackie who took it up top and emptied it over the side. We found another Dansani bottle and upped the efficiency of the operation, as one was being emptied one was being filled and soon we had the level down to about 18 inches, enough to feel happier. We hadn’t, at this point thought to taste test the water to see if it was sea water of fresh water, and as it has an uninviting oily film laced in with it we had passed on this analysis. I couldn’t see where the water was coming from but decided that it may be the stuffing box, so I set about tightening that up, just in case, even though it looked OK. The water began to rise again, and I noticed, whilst doing the stuffing box, water cascading into the other end of the bilge probably coming from the port fresh water tank which we had just filled up in Salinas twelve hours ago. We obviously had a serious leak, but at least it was from the tanks on the boat and not the sea coming to visit. We drained the port tank by opening the tap in the bathroom, but still the water was rising again. We turned over the steering to Cpt morgan again, and emptied the bilge, that was almost full, again, Now we drained the starboard tank and at last the level in the bilge stayed low. The crisis had begun in the dark at 5am and it wasn’t until late morning that we felt we had things sorted and headed for Casa de Campo where we could solve the mystery of how our fresh water was leaking. Maybe a bad connection, a hole in a pipe, tomorrow we would find the problem, but in the safety of Casa de Campo Marina, not out here on passage. At least we knew there wasn’t a hole in the boat, which of course had been my first thought, and why I panicked a little. The seas stayed calm and we made it to Casa de Campo at about 3pm, piloted in by two chaps in a dingy that led us to our berth at H52, and another moment of panic.  (continued by Jackie) Now it was my time to panic! Casa de Campo is the Monaco of the Dominican Republic and as we hobby-horsed our way past the channel markers, in suddenly rough seas, to meet our guides in the dingy, the millions, perhaps billions of dollars-worth of boats appeared. It seems to have fallen to me to steer us into, or out of, trouble so I followed the guides religiously, although it was hard to see them right in front of me, over the top of our dingy which was strapped onto the cabin roof. Colin called out their position as I edged forward at a little under 3 knots.  Our guides indicated that fenders should be on our starboard side so Colin busied himself to get Picars ready for the concrete dock whilst I hoped that my conversation with the harbour master had been understood. Whilst most boats were ‘med-moored’, that is to say reversed in, I had specifically requested a side-to or bow-to dock as Picaroon is difficult to steer in reverse and, to make things even more difficult, our monitor windvane steering is on the stern.  As we approached pier H, on the far side of the marina basin, I could see that my instructions had not got through and the waiting dockhands were expecting me to reverse which meant the fenders were on the wrong side. I tried to get Colin’s attention as he dashed about looking for mooring warps,  slowing the boat down with bursts of reverse. In the end I had to resort to dashing forward and tapping Colin on the shoulder to explain what was going on.  There followed much gesticulating whilst I struggled with a six-point turn and Colin moved the fenders to the other side. With very little sea-room, I managed to turn around without hitting a multi-million dollar gin palace and nervously started to approach the concrete dock, bow first. Our guides in the dingy were on hand to help, as well as about four other dockhands and the harbour master watching as I crept forward. It seemed to be going well but just at the last minute a strong gust of wind came from our port side and pushed Picars sideways so we were a long way from the finger-pier. As usual, we didn’t have the right warps ready and there were a few minutes of sheer chaos as a dockhand jumped aboard and grabbed a warp to sling over the side and other ropes were thrown to the waiting team on shore. Although we are short of warps (that’s the big ropes we used to tie up to the dock), Colin has a system, or sorts, for which warps go where and it was not going well as the lads just grabbed anything that came their way and together they struggled to pull Picars closer to the concrete so we could disembark.  A senior dock-hand who seemed to be the team leader, eventually used his common-sense and rearranged the warps to make the job easier and we were stopped; engine off; big hug, my heart-rate slowed and my knees stopped shaking. Carry on Casa de Campo!!!!

80 hours to Barahona Cabo Beata 2

It’s almost impossible to describe the fear, the exhaustion, and the hopelessness that cascades over you as you try to coax you’re tiny life support system mile by mile across a pitching and tossing sea, lashed in the night by unforeseen squalls that threaten to capsize you, as the ocean rushes across the decks, again. You long for the dawn to break, so you can see the sails, you can see the size of the swell, and the breaking waves, as you watch the unbelievable slowness of the progress of Picaroon on the chart plotter. For two nights, and two days we’ve been out here, sailing so far south to get the angle we need for the northern tack that we’ve run off the chart. At times we’re over 50 miles off Cabo Beata, 100 miles south of the mainland of the Dominican Republic, and Jackie has taped a bit of blank paper onto the chart so we can plot where we are. For whatever reason Picaroon seems to get a better angle to the easterly trades heading south east, but when we turn north east we only seem to be able to go north, which is why we are so far out into the teeth of the trades, where the waves are like small mountains. It’s the only strategy to make the pass of Cabo Beata, but we’re starting to think that this whole venture is futile. We even contemplate staying on this tack and head for Bonaire, only another 200 miles away, which is just off the coast of Venezuela, and why not, we’re already a third of the way there. It’s an irrational idea, but neither of us has had more than two hours sleep at a time in the last forty eight hours, so we’re not being exactly rational. Then we remember we have no SSB, hence, no weather information about Bonaire, and from what we remember that area has had lots of storms recently, so we ditch that concept and resign ourselves to a long tack north and east, back to the Dominican Republic coast, and hopefully when we get there we’ll have cleared the dreaded Cabo Beata. Mastering the windvane steering has made all the difference in making this second go at Cabo Beata, it at least frees us from the tedium and exhausting business of steering, but it doesn’t take away the worry of being caught out by a squall or a sudden increase in the strength of the wind. When we’re running with all sails up, we usually have a reef, or two, in the main, Picaroon will be heeled over more than is comfortable, making moving about difficult, even just sitting in the cockpit we need to have our safety harnesses on, as the odd rogue wave will bounce us out of our seats if we’re not hanging on. By the third night we’re both a bit despondent, and very tired, but Cpt. Morgan is going to steer for us, the skies are clear and the seas have settled a little as the trades have dropped off. We had all three sails up, with a reef in the main, and half furled jib, full mizzen and were making about four knots, slightly heeled over but not uncomfortable. Time to start our watches, so I stay up watching the Captain whilst Jackie goes below for her two hours kip. Now and again the paddle which is supposed to lock into position on the windvane will become unlatched, and trails horizontally instead of being vertical. This requires us to keep a watchful eye on our speed and course, and to constantly lean over the aft end with a torch to check that all is well. Getting it to re-latch itself means heaving it out of the water on the safety line and letting it drop under its own weight so that it snaps back into place. It’s reluctant to engage when we’re doing four or five knots but when the speed drops off to two or three I can usually get it to re-latch. If I wait for the stern to rise out of the water and catch it between waves it goes back in a treat. At about nine thirty, a half hour into my watch the speed drops and our course goes a bit haywire, so I lean over the stern to do my re-latching thing to discover that the paddle is still upright but one of the control lines has snapped, OH SHIT! This is a disaster, as it means we will have to hand steer her though the night as there’s no way even James Bond could climb down the cradle and tie a new knot on a moonless night and pitching seas. I call Jackie who has only just managed to drop off, and give her the bad news. Our spirits now plummet to new lows as we contemplate the long night ahead, changing wheel duty every half hour, which will mean in effect no rest whatsoever. We start the engine and decide to drop the main, to give us a little insurance against sudden squalls. Going up front in the dark is always a fraught experience, but all goes swimmingly well and the main drops neatly into the lazy jacks. Then in the torch light I can see a rope flying out away from the port side of Picaroon, it’s the main halyard that I hadn’t secured as I let the sail drop. Blast, Its caught by the wind and at least ten yards away, flailing about, way out of reach. We decide to leave it like that until morning and hope it’s still wafting about when morning breaks and then we can maybe retrieve it. The loss of Cpt. Morgan was a body blow, but we grit our teeth and head north into the night, cursing the unfairness of it all. We motored into the dawn, and took down the sails as they were flogging too much on the course we were steering but as morning broke we went back to sailing as we needed to conserve fuel and it’s much easier to sail when you can see what’s happening with the sails and our rudimentary wind instruments of a tattered flag and a sail tie. Morning, and at last it looked like we had cleared the Cape as we drew closer to the land but making Salinas was looking more and more impossible, so we elected to try for Barahona on the western side of the bay and only forty or so miles away. With a bit of luck we could make Barahona in the next ten hours and it was a tack we just may be able to sail. We were still hand steering and dog tired but we were now out of the woods, if we could sail until dusk that would put us within 20 miles of Barahona and then we could motor the last leg, getting to Barahona at about 1am. A night time entry into any strange anchorage is to be avoided if at all possible, but as the sun set on Picaroon we didn’t give a damn, in fact we even had a beer, and we don’t drink on passage ever but we just needed a safe haven, and an end to this ordeal. Eventually at midnight the lights of Barahona rose in the distance and we picked our way between buoys, confused by the million lights of a major town, to eventually drop anchor in a dark, but tranquil pool that smelt of sewage. It didn’t matter though, we were safe and stopped, after 80 hours it was time to break out the rum, get blissfully drunk and fall into comatose slumber at 3, or was it 4am. At 8.30 we were awakened by the Dominican Republic immigration officers knocking on our hatch wanting to see our papers, they of course had no idea of the trauma that we had just endured and we went through the procedures like robots, even to the point of unlashing our dingy which was on deck to row them ashore to complete the checking in procedure. Once back on Picaroon we fell back into our bunks and slept until late afternoon, it would be three days until we felt almost human again, but we’d finally cracked Cabo Beata. Over the next few days we met with a couple of cruisers who had just done the same journey, both testified to the fact that it was more than very difficult, one yacht also had to turn back and try another day, before eventually making it. That made us feel much better about our own ordeal and our abilities as sailors.

Picaroon versus Cabo Beata

Now that we’re here safely anchored in Barahona it’s difficult to recall the details of the voyage to reach here, but it was a journey to the depths of ourselves, to the limits of our capacities, to the edge of sanity, and it pushed us beyond our limits as sailors. On the map it didn’t look very far, perhaps thirty six hours, just one overnight passage to get round the cape called Cabo Beata, and then to head north to Salinas. What we hadn’t factored into the equation were the force of the opposing currents, the constant onslaught of the waves, and the ever present easterly trade winds that we were battling into. Picaroons engine was to be our means of rounding this cape, and the once around we would sail on to Salinas, about sixty miles to the north east. We never made it on our first attempt, ending up back at Bahia de Anguillas where we had set out from fifty hours before. That first morning as we rounded the island of Cabo Beata about to turn north we were motoring as the wind was dead on our nose, and using the sails wasn’t an option, or at least that’s what we thought. It was slow progress but we were almost round when the engine gave a cough and a splutter. The temperature gauge shot up off the scale, and the oil pressure took a tumble, something was seriously wrong so we shut down the engine, and hurriedly raised the jib and mizzen and headed off in the only direction we could which was south away from the sharp hard unforbidding coast and out into the tempestuous Caribbean sea. The further away from land we sailed the bigger the seas became, and the winds increased. This was the last place we wanted to be, the area on the weather maps we poured over before setting sail that were always coloured green,  a no go area for us novices, a place which we had vowed to avoid. With Picaroon being tossed this way and that I went below to see if I could find out what had happened to the engine. I opened the front inspection hatch and spotted what I thought was the problem. One of the fan belts had snapped, the one that runs the water pump. I’ve replaced this belt a few times so the fix was fairly straight forward, albeit awkward, and on a hot engine with the incessant movement of the boat, it was a bit of a trial. With tools rolling about the cabin, and me being thrown from side to side I somehow managed to get the new belt on. We fired up the engine but to our disappointment the temperature soon soared beyond boiling point. Whatever the problem was this had not fixed it. We checked the raw water outlet at the back end of Picaroon which usually spurts out quite a stream of cooling water to find that there was barely a dribble. This could only mean one thing, the impeller in the sea water pump had failed and would need replacing. We have spares aboard but replacing this is a pig of a job, even in harbor, doing the same job at sea was unthinkable, but would have to be done if we were ever going to get our engine back. It’s all a bit of a blur, but with Picaroon being steered by our new found crew member, the wind vane, now christened Capt. Morgan, we sailed north hoping to tack back around the cape, but the currents had pushed us too far west and as we came close, too close to land we realized that we wouldn’t make it and had to turn round and head south again or we would literally end up on the rocks. We needed to sail much further south to get the right angle to be able to pass Cabo Beata, and I still had to fix the raw water pump so that we at least had an engine to get us out of trouble. We had now been out at sea for over two days, and provisions and fresh water were running low, and although we wouldn’t starve, we had only expected this voyage to take twenty four hours. Working into the early hours of the morning I finally fixed the raw water impeller, which actually looked OK apart from one broken fin, but I put in a new one anyway. This still didn’t fix the problem and a certain despair set in until I found the real culprit, a fractured hose that ran close to the exhaust pipe. It had a two inch gash that looked to say the least bad, and unrepairable, it really needed replacing. I remembered seeing some hose repair tape somewhere, maybe, just maybe we could make a temporary repair, that is, if I could find it. I rummaged around in the forepeak lockers and found it but it looked old, and the instructions said wrap it four inches either side of the hole, but my pipe with its gash only had at best two inches, but it was our only hope of a fix. I used the whole roll, all ten feet of it making as good a job as I thought might work. Once it was back in place and we refilled the fresh water coolant we fired up the engine. We watched the temperature gauge, and checked the hose, the fix seemed to have worked. It said on the package it was a get you home fix, so we turned off the engine, expecting to only use it when we arrived in Salinas harbor where we would need it to maneuver. I think at this point we were sailing north again, on our third attempt to get passed the cape which eventually we managed to do on a tack that put us at a more comfortable distance from the coast. At this point we were relieved to be finally around the cape, although making slow progress, when we ran into a large squall that stopped us in our tracks. We had dropped all the sails bar for a sliver of jib and had started the engine hoping to make progress, but after two hours in the storm, and eating up fuel we had gone exactly nowhere, although the fix on the hose seem to be holding, so that was a plus. Eventually we decided, with much anguish that the only way out of this was to run with the storm, and head south again, giving up all the ground that we had made that day and now we we’re running into our third night and we we’re both worn out having hardly more than dozed in all this time. We set Capt. Morgan to steer, under storm jib, and both went below to escape the torrential rain, and winds, resigned to another night at sea, heading in the wrong direction, south, at four knots, but at least away into open water. We took hourly watches through the night, and next morning decided that we really had no choice, we we’re both thoroughly exhausted, we would have to head west to a safe anchorage to recover, and to make repairs to Picaroon, one being the teak platform on the bowsprit which had been trashed. We decided to return to Bahia de Anguillas which we had left days ago. We dropped anchor in the stunning turquoise vastness of this windswept bay glad to be alive, and at last safe. We wept, hugged, and poured ourselves a very stiff couple of drinks before collapsing below. After staying for four or five days, enjoying the grandeur, re-provisioning in nearby Perdernales, we set sail once more for the dreaded Cabo Beata.  

Filling up in Haiti

Gondolier Haitian style There’s no fuel on Ile a Vache, and like almost everything it has to be shipped here from the mainland. Shipping anything to the island means a trip in an open boat across about seven miles of exposed bay. We’ve now done this trip about four times which Jackie has described in a previous blog. Yesterday we made the trip with sixteen jerry cans, which was the only way to collect enough fuel for the next leg of our journey. We had eight of our own and the other eight were supplied by our “man” Mackenzie. As we made our way out of our sheltered little cove into open water aboard our “water taxi” it was obvious that todays’ crossing was going to be a little rough. We sheltered beneath the long strip of polythene strung out along the windward side of the boat but it was never enough to save us from a soaking from the odd rogue wave or two. We arrived a little wet at Les Cayes and were about to get a lot wetter as we went through the charade of disembarking.  The method of decanting passengers from ship to shore has been practised over so many years that they now have it down to a “T”. Our “taxi” with its 40HP outboard can only get to within fifty yards of the quay, which is a crumbling mess of concrete, seaweed and litter. I suppose at some time in the distant past this may have been a proper concrete or wooded wharf but perhaps it was hit by a hurricane and it has never been rebuilt. Anyway the Haitian sailors and shore-men have devised a clever method to get passengers ashore which involves a couple of transfers. On those days when the seas are relatively calm it seems to work, albeit a little hairy; today was not one of those days. There are always a number of small boats bobbing at anchor, as well as a few water “Taxis” like ours, departing or arriving, all hustling for an extra passenger or two. The anchor gets thrown out as we arrive and we sort of come to a stop, but very close to another, so that the two boats will often bash into each other. It’s wise not to grasp the side of boat to steady yourself otherwise you’ll end up with crushed fingers.Wharf at Les Cayes, Haiti This morning there’s a big swell, and into this chaos comes the transfer vessel, which is a slightly smaller version of our taxi but without the outboard motor. This has been replaced by a man with a long pole who will punt us all ashore, well almost ashore. There are perhaps three or four of these, shall we call them Gondoliers, all competing to see who can get to the taxi first, and as the swell and waves waft our boat this way and that, it’s a bit of a lottery as to who manages to make the contact, “bang”.  The Gondolier now hangs on to the side of our boat and beckons passengers to clamber from our boat into his. As today the swell is playing all kinds of tricks this is a very precarious operation which requires the skills of a SAS officer, or very nimble gymnast. One by one the passengers of boat (a) get into boat (b) followed by sixteen jerry cans as we rock and roll in the swell and eventually are being steered towards the shore by the guy with the big pole who seems to be magnetically attached to a small rocking wooden platform on the rear of this oversized row boat as it pitches in the surf.  Now comes transfer number two;  the piggy back ride from the shuttle boat with the gondolier, onto the back of some young Haitian who has just been kicked sideways by a wave and barely missed being knocked unconscious by the prow of our shuttle craft. With as much decorum as can be mustered at this point, I launch myself onto his back for the journey ashore, which is supposed to save me from wading ashore and getting soaked but today the swell defeats us and I’m soaked to my midriff. Jackie climbs aboard the next transfer shore-man but is a little unluckier than me as the poor lad stumbles in the swell that sends cascades of water into the air as it hits the quay and she arrives soaked from head to toe. I manage to grab her waist as she’s landed on the detritus that threatens to slide her back into the sea and we’re finally both ashore. The sixteen jerry cans follow us and are stacked by a ramshackle shed with a minder posted on them as security. They do this operation all day, every day, and no-one seems to think it’s unusual, or even that there may be an easier way of doing things. I suppose it provides work for the Gondoliers and the piggy back crew so why build a proper wharf and put all these people out of work. They’ve probably had various plans put forward to modernize, but each time have come to the conclusion that what they have is fine, it seems to work, and although people get a bit wet the sun soon dries them off so why change things. As Jackie was “landed” her sandal seem to give way a little, and a few yards down the street, which is no more than a dirt road of pebbles and grit, she stumbles and the strap on one of the sandals gives up completely, time to buy some new ones, so it’s a quick motor bike taxi ride to a nearby store to be kitted out with new foot-ware for the day. We had a word with Mackenzie about how it was going to be impracticable to do a repeat of the mornings landing procedure with 80 gallons of fuel and insisted that we leave via the concrete jetty about 100yds away. He agreed that this was perhaps a better plan and a couple of hours later we arrived there to find our sixteen assorted cans sat waiting for us. Mackenzie meanwhile had gone off to the wharf to find a skipper that would take us back to Ile a Vache the easy way. The pier, although substantial, juts out into the sea and the waves crashing in on it made us wonder if loading ourselves or our cargo of fuel was going to be any easier. The distance from the top of the pier to any boat below was about ten feet, but with the swell it varied between one foot and twelve. Mackenzie and the skipper arrived, bouncing and weaving towards us, with every possibility of careering into the very hard concrete quay. Lots of shouting and grabbing of ropes later they were ready to load. A small team of enthusiastic helpers thrust these unwieldy sloshing jerry cans towards the skipper as the boat rose and fell dangerously close to the quay wall. The timing of each transfer had to be impeccable, sometimes it was not so and we almost lost one or two to the furious sea. Then it was our turn to do the same ridiculous transfer from dock to boat, which although looked impossible was accomplished without incident, and we both settled down for a white knuckle ride through the surf to open water. Crash, bang, wallop!! The lame excuse for public transport headed out to sea, bound for Ile a Vache with ourselves, two other passengers and our precious fuel. The next forty odd minutes were, to say the least, quite unpleasant, like one of those fairground rides that you wish you hadn’t signed up for, but we were on it until the end, like it or lump it. Some of the times as we crashed down from a large wave, THRACK! would threaten to render the old boat in two. We huddled down beneath the sheet of polythene and gritted our teeth. Now and again I would raise my head and look back at the skipper lashed to the helm to see a broad grin, or was it a grimace, no I think it was a grin, he seemed perfectly at ease with the conditions and perhaps finding fun in our discomfort. After about forty minutes we slipped into the calmer waters of Port Morgan, and were more than glad to be back aboard Picaroon where we transferred our jerry cans of fuel. Then we had a rather unpleasant disagreement about how much the fare was, the skipper refusing to leave unless we paid three times what we thought it should cost. In the end he left with the fare we had offered, maybe he thought that for all the excitement of the trip we should pay more for the entertainment value. We of course were basing our estimation of the cost on the ordeal, rather than the adventure, so our perception of things was a little out of kilter. With a bit of luck we now have enough fuel for our onward journey.  I hope so, as a repeat of todays’ fiasco is just too far out of my comfort zone for a repeat performance. Ile a Vache is stunningly beautiful and the anchorage a very safe haven, but, and it’s a big but, the difficulties of provisioning just take the edge off one of the best places we’ve encountered on our voyages. Maybe one day when I pull into the Shell garage in Ulverston I’ll have a wry smile on my face as I remember how they fill up in Haiti.