Category Archives: Adventures of Picaroon

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 ?

I’ve never seen Star Wars

In England there’s a programme on BBC radio four called ‘I’ve never seen Star Wars’. It’s a comedy show where celebrity guests are invited to partake in some cultural experience that so far in their lives they’ve avoided, like karaoke, watching a premier league football match, or going to see Harry Potter. We’ve had to move out of our apartment on Gringo Hill, as Sue has other guests booked. Picaroon is still not quite ready to go back in the water, so we’re staying in the hotel that Rudolf is staying in, for a few days. (Remember Rudolf; cruiser with broken leg, can’t get on or off his boat.) It’s Sunday, and we’ve arranged another Jam session round at his hotel balcony. It’s at this gathering that we discover that today is a big important day in the American sporting calendar, today is the day of the Super bowl final, and Wendy’s bar will be airing it on their big screen. Well actually it’s a white bed sheet strung up at the end of the room, but for Luperon it’s THE place to be tonight. So this afternoon session wraps up at six so our American friends can all get down to watch the match.  Apparently it’s a football game, Rudolf tells me, but it’s not the game that they’re all keen to see, no, the highlight of this big occasion is the commercials that punctuate the proceedings. I assume this is American ironic humour, coming from Rudolf, but the others confirm that the ads, which seemingly will have cost millions to make, are not too be missed, and I have to remind myself that irony is not a natural American trait. So with nothing better to do this evening we decide that we need to see what all the hullabaloo is about, and trip off down to Wendy’s, for our very own “ I’ve never seen Star wars” moment. superbowlpicWendy’s is already full, an hour before kick-off, well, all five tables are occupied by ex-pat Americans engaged in loud animated conversation, and there’s a sense of celebration in the air. We take the last two unoccupied seats by the glassless window, perched on high chairs with a perfect voyeur’s view of the bar, and the screen, showing the pundits pre-game analysis. The volume is loud, and ESPN is in Spanish, which no-ones paying any attention to; the room awash with conflicting electronic and human babble. A couple of our American cruiser friends try to explain the rules of how this football game works so we’ll be able to understand what’s going on when the game starts. One team, Alisha tells us, will have the ball and they’ll get four goes at taking the ball ten yards forward, if they get ten yards then they get another four goes. The other team, of course will try to stop them, using fair means or foul, to do so. The quarterback is the massive guy at the back who controls where the ball goes, by throwing it to somebody (or was it, catching it). “Hang on, if this is foot-ball, why are they using their hands”, I ask, only to be met with a bemused stare. So now we know the rules. The match build up continues, the screen now showing about a thousand marching band players doing a choreographed parade, spelling out NFL, in the giant stadium, and footage of the teams trouping out into this massive area, along with cheer leaders and cameo celebrity shots, then the screen goes dead. We’ve had a power cut, just ten minutes before the start. A temporary supply is rigged up and the screen flashes back to life showing a close up of some woman starting to sing. At this point something very curious happens as the bar falls to a hush and the majority of these wayward independent cruisers stand to attention facing the screen. The singer is belting out the American national anthem and over half the crew in Wendy’s are mouthing the words and welling up. They’re a curious bunch, Americans, the patriotic streak runs very deep, much deeper than us Brits sat on the sidelines. They are often astounded that we don’t know the ins-and-outs of our Royal Family, that we don’t even know the name of the princesses’ new baby. The big screen is showing commercials for Coca Cola, MacDonalds, Ford, Doritos, there’s even an elaborate ad for Always, the preferred American sanitary towel, and then the game begins, and everybody goes back to heated conversations. American “football” players are big lads, huge, and they are all clad in plastic armour and helmets with visor protectors making them appear twice the size they actually are and look more like robots. They line up facing each other in a half crouched position in the middle of the field, and a whistle blows. At this point they appear to run off in all and every direction at high speed with no sign of a ball anywhere until the camera is focusing on some poor soul being buried beneath a mountain of players in the opposing teams’ colours. The blue team, are the Seattle Seahawks, last years’ champions, and in white, the New England Patriots, who are the favourites, so we’re told. Although I try to follow what is going on in the match, I’m at a loss. No sooner have they started with all this running about and bumping into each other, they stop, regroup in the crouched line up and start again. The ball seems to be illusive, I don’t know if they’re allowed to stuff it up their tunic tops, but I hardly ever catch sight of it. Not so the audience in Wendy’s who hoot and howl and holler now as the Patriots gets close to a big blue part of the field, at the far end of the pitch. Here it’s a bit like English rugby, this is the touch down area but, whereas in rugby you have to touch the ball to the ground, in this game it seems that if you’re standing in that area and catch it, that constitutes a score of six points. Then like rugby they get a go at kicking the ball over the goal posts for an extra one point, so it’s now 7-0 to the Patriots. And now it’s swiftly back to the commercials, in fact, so far we’ve had about ten minutes of play and about twenty minutes of adverts. This one is showing us how the breadwinner of the family is struck down with a dreaded disease, or killed in a tragic accident leaving the family impoverished forever, unless your covered by, and another here with a host of little kids with no legs running about on those prosthetic legs that, what’s-his-face, the South African athlete made famous. I think it was supposed to be about never giving up whatever your handicap, or maybe it was an advert for soup. Another is about a mechanical device that you strap on if you’ve got bad knees, all very inspiring stuff, I’m sure you agree. Despite what Rudolf said about people watching it for the commercials, although I am, the rest of the room is just becoming a cacophony of noise competing with the commercials, and then suddenly the game is back on. As I said it’s no easy task following what’s going on, for instance, why do they keep showing pictures of blokes on the sidelines with headphones and mics on. They’re not commentators, they look like coaches or managers, shouting into their mics, but to who, or should that be whom. Maybe the quarterback, who seemingly is numero uno hombre, and has a similar hidden headset, or maybe he’s just calling his wife to say that he may be a little late for supper. It’s most confusing. The rising tide of noise explodes as some robot in blue catches the ball in the whites blue area before being crashed to the ground by the incredible hulk.  Patriots 14-Seahawks 14, and thank God it’s half time, I for one am exhausted, and not just a little deaf, with my tinnitus having been kick-started into action. I retire across the street to sit with an old Dominican couple sitting on the pavement outside their house opposite Wendy’s for cinco minutos of tranquillo. When I get back to the game, half time has turned into the closing ceremony at the Olympic Games. Some girl singer is riding the back of an enormous tiger robot, singing eye of the tiger, I think. Another singer, again a girl is suspended high above the stadium on a flying wire; tough cookies these American female vocalists. I notice that the mic has a safety strap clipped to her wrist although there’s no sign of a safety strap on the flying vocalist. A massive firework display brings the half time show to a finale, coupled with another ad for Coke and MacDonalds, and the second half begins. All now is unadulterated noise and general pandemonium as the big screen audio competes with the small stadium which Wendy’s Bar has become. High fives are being exchanged as the Sea Hawks surge ahead 27-21, and still I haven’t been able to spot the ball except when someone gets up from underneath a small hillock of robots, and then it’s gone again, among much random running about. By three quarters time I’ve run out of steam, we’ve failed to win in the sweepstake and my ears can’t tolerate much more of the din. Also I don’t have any idea what’s going on, and truthfully don’t care, I sort of enjoyed the commercials. They weren’t that special and, to my mind, there were too many of them and they got in the way of the game. Had there been fewer ads I may have got the hang of the rules, but just when you thought you were getting close, the commercials would break in and when we got back to the game I had to start over again, trying to figure what the fuss was all about. We said our farewells, before it finished, came back to our hotel, poured a couple of glasses of rum and switched on the TV to catch the end of the game without the backdrop of Wendy’s Bar. I promptly fell asleep, so I missed the end of the match, I’ve no idea how it concluded, but it was an experience; big screen Super bowl in Luperon. So now we’ve done Super bowl maybe we need to subject ourselves to some other meaningless entertainment, I’ve never been to a karaoke night in my life, the idea sounds positively alien to my musician ethos but, Friday night is karaoke night at Wendy’s Bar and everyone says how it’s a cracking night and we must come down. As for doing another Super bowl, I think just the one time will be enough, thank you.

Shopping for frutas and veduras in Luperon

veg shop

The best veg shop in the Dominican Republic

When we first came to the Dominican Republic, back in 2005, we shopped at Yanets Super Mercado or Alberticos in Cabarete. There wasn’t a lot of choice; Yanets had more variety but Alberticos stayed open late at night for the essential cigarettes and wine. It was pretty primitive then, compared to the UK or other first world countries, and you had to pick your way through rotting veg and wonder whether the frozen food had defrosted several times, due to the regular power cuts. Highlight of the week was when the veg truck arrived at our condos and you could scramble up onto the back of the truck and ferret through sacks of fresh veg, fruit and herbs. Today we have much more choice, with Playero Super Mercado and the recently opened Supa Pola in Sosua, just a short car ride away. They have everything you could possibly want or need, except Marmite, Colin’s favourite spread which we can only get when friends fly in from Canada. Supa Pola has the fanciest ice-cream palour I have ever seen; acres of pristine marble-tiled floors, fresh produce from all over the world, in-house bakery, health foods, deli counter, walk-in chilled wine cellar, and they even have baked beans (that’s Pork & Beans if you’re from the States) if you search hard enough. To compete, Yanets has upgraded and, whilst it might never quite make the grade, they will deliver and give you a lift back into the bargain. There are two excellent bakeries in Cabarete; Dicks, the oldest, renowned for good fresh bread and breakfast, and now we even have an excellent Belgian Patisserie with an array of all kinds of breads, cakes and  goodies. Let’s face it, we are spoilt.
Lovely bottom job

Lovely bottom job

Luperon is a whole different kettle of fish. Whilst we do essential repairs and have Picaroon’s bottom painted we are confined to this small town, and with lucky renters occupying our apartment in Cabarete, we have to ‘make-do’ here. There are a multitude of little Tiendas (shops) in Luperon, all peddling the same wares; stale eggs, rusty tinned stuff, over-ripe fruit and very strange looking meat. To get anyway near the same standard as Cabarete, it’s an hours’ drive to Puerto Plata and the big store, La Sirena (reputedly owned by Walmart), where you can get Soya Milk and nice cereals etc. But hey; here’s the thing, we are gradually getting a handle on where to shop in Luperon.
Panderia the bread shop

Panderia, The bakery for fresh bread


Frutas & Veduras tienda

In Veg Heaven

Now where are the peppers

There is a bakery, and it’s cheap as chips, but they sell some strange white bread with caraway seeds dotted about here and there. At first I thought the caraway seeds were weevils but eventually I stopped picking them out and plucked up the courage to pop one in my mouth; yes, caraway seeds. We even tried the sticky buns; they were just bread with a sticky sugary coating, not nice and of course the flies get the first ‘look-in’.  We’ve sussed-out the best mini-mercado for cheap rum, the least stale eggs and the Tiendas with the most variety.  But the jewel of the crown has to be the very best fruit and veg shop I have ever found. Get there on the right day and you will discover the freshest produce ever. You may need a torch and have to shoo the chickens out of the way. You may even have to stamp your feet to scare the mice, but you will find the sweetest pineapples and papayas, the freshest lettuce and peppers you have ever tasted. I’ve now got the hang of it; you need to take your own basket, fill up with whatever you want, then take it to the make-shift counter, where they will empty your bag, weigh everything and put it into another bag, showing you the total cost on a calculator. So, whilst I sometimes yearn for fresh wholemeal bread from Cabarete and the clean air-conditioned stores of Sosua, I love the ramshackle way of shopping in Luperon; it’s so real and the food is as it should be; straight from the fields, misshapen but fresh and wholesome. Up yours Tesco, give me Luperon any day.

Arrh the olde cutlass bearing

Picaroon is propped up on what is known in boating-speak as the hard standing. Basically it’s a concrete concourse where boats get fixed, painted, or scraped and we’ve been here, in what Geoff, our next door neighbour, has dubbed “ trap-a-gringo” (although the owners like to call it Tropical Marina), in Luperon, Dominican Republic. We’ve been on the hard since just before Christmas, getting Picaroons bottom stripped and prepared for a new coat of paint, well several coats of paint, actually. We also need to fix any blisters that may need attention prior to painting but seeing as we don’t have a clue on what needs fixing and what doesn’t, we enlist a few experts to give their opinion. This only serves to confuse us as all the experts have different views of what and how we should fix whatever blisters we may or may not have. Mr smarmy pants, the boatyard manager has played paradiddles on our hull with a ball pin hammer and marked out about 25 or thirty spots with a magic marker. We’re sceptical about his assessment and call on our cruiser friend Rudolf, our old friend Raymondo and another fellow cruiser on the hard, Ivan. All these agree that Picaroon is more or less sound except for one or two spots that need further investigation.  Turns out that all in all, after grinding out these suspect spots that we can get away with a minimal job on our blisters, which is a big plus and we can get right on to the paint job. ??????????Well of course it’s never quite that simple is it? Rudolf, who seems to know too much about boats for our liking, walks to the rear of Picaroon where the propeller is and proceeds to show me how he can move the shaft that sticks out of the hull about a quarter of an inch up and down. That, he announces is a bad cutless bearing, and needs to be renewed otherwise you will get excessive vibration which will badly damage your engine .  “That sounds fairly serious” I said, so what’s to be done. “Oh it’s no big deal, you just need to remove the propeller, undo the transmission flange from the engine, pull it off the shaft, take the shaft out of the boat, and replace the cutlass bearing that’s embedded in the back of Picaroon”. “Sounds pretty straight forward to me, Rudolf” I say, except I have no idea what he’s talking about. Enter, Ivan, who’s also got his boat on the hard, just across the way from us.  Ivan sounds like he might be from New Yark, all whispers and staccato speech, like we’re in the movies. He wears amber tinted shades and talks as though there’s a conspiracy going on, and all his sentences end in a Yah. Anyway he’s fixed cutlass bearings before and tells me it’s easy, you just saw through the old one in a couple of places and it will fall right out, yah. I need this job like I need a hole in the boat, but hey, it’s out of the water and now is as good a time as any to tackle it, but I’m in denial and put it in the ‘too difficult’ pile. That is until the next day when Rudolf arrives with a prop puller and a ‘can do’ attitude that is hard to resist. Our next boat neighbour, Geoff from Maine in the USA, has been seconded in by Rudolf to take part in the action. He’s a Mr ‘can do’ as well, and enthusiastically joins in the dismantling and before you can say Jack Robinson our propeller is off, and the engine is uncoupled from the prop shaft. To remove the flange on the prop shaft we need, of course, a flange puller, and the one Rudy has is just not big enough, so the work comes to a halt, we all have a cold beer and the wrecking crew wave goodbye. So the next day with a bigger flange puller, borrowed from Lyn, an ex-cruiser, still living aboard in the bay, and the task of removing this big rusting lump of iron falls to me. Hanging up-side-down into the gaping bilge I turn and tap, turn and tap and little by little the thing moves. About an hour and a half later, after losing two or three buckets of sweat, the flange falls off. With cunning foresight (and past experience), I tied a bit of rope to the lump, to stop it tumbling into the black hole that is our bilge when it broke free, and now it’s off and dangling along with the flange puller, also with strings attached. The whole shaft now is eased out of the rear of Picaroon, with a whisper of clearance from the rudder, all seven feet of heavy stainless steel. Now all that remains is to saw out the old bearing, simple. Well, simple in theory, but in practice with a bare hacksaw blade, wrapped with Duct tape to form a comfy handle, I’m ready to perform this delicate operation. After about an hour I’ve managed to cut a groove into this brass, or is it bronze, tube that’s about five inches long, that disappears into the dark recess of Picaroons bottom end. Jackie and I take turns using this bendy hacksaw blade and after a couple of hours we’ve a bigger groove but it’s slow going, a bit like Clint Eastwood sawing through the bars of San Quinten prison, and time to break for lunch, then a swim, drinks in Puerto Blanco, where we meet up with Raymondo, drcigarman, and an “expert” on removing cutlass bearings. Funny how you can find these ‘experts’ all over the place, especially in a bar. Anyway it’s Sunday and we’ll get back to the yard tomorrow and continue grooving, and with a bit of luck we’ll complete this extraction. Then we will hopefully be able to find a part number from the old bearing, and order a replacement. There’s something satisfying about fixing stuff on your boat, but a cutlass bearing is such a crucial bit of the boat, and we are a long way from knowing what we’re doing. If we mess up here we could be in deep do dos’. It’s not rocket science, and there’s all these ‘experts’ to guide us through, so we’ll keep sawing and just hope and pray that it will plop out, and the new one will plop right in, and we’ll have a brand new un-wobbly cutlass bearing………………………………watch this space.

Arrrrrh cont.

Monday morning we arrived early at the boat yard and we began sawing, taking turns. By lunchtime we had made very little progress, even with new saw blades, and a borrowed  pad saw handle as an upgrade to my lash up yesterday of duct tape. Thing is that sawing a longitudinal line through 5” of quarter inch hard metal is going to take time, and you can’t see really what progress your making. It began to look like the job would take us a week to complete at this rate, and despair was setting in. I began to think that maybe we should have just left the old one to wobble a bit. I also began to wonder about how this romantic idea of sailing the islands, had become a catalogue of tedious preventative maintenance. Patience, is a virtue. Whoever thought that one up had never tried to saw out an in hull cutlass bearing. And why for heaven sake is it called a cutlass bearing, a stupid name, that just tries to glamourizes its function of keeping the propeller in the right place. So as I said, patience, think of Clint, San Quetin, and keep on sawing. It’s now been almost a day and a half of sawing in the tropical sun and I’ve got three saw cuts in the damn thing and still no sign of it budging. I’m sure my cut at the bottom is all the way through so I decide to resort to a bit of brute force and the old metal fatigue trick. Bend me shape me anyway you want me, I whistle, an obscure Dave Clerk Five song I hated, and suddenly snap! At last a breakthrough, as I retrieve the one slither of bearing and decide to celebrate with a fag and a swig of water. I eye it up and down as if it’s some precious jewel I’ve unearthed. With added optimism I decide that perhaps I can snap off Slither number two in the same way, but it refuses to yield to my superior powers, so I return to more sawing. Another hour later I’m onto the bending routine when the whole bearing turns.With a pair of vice grips and an adjustable spanner, to provide torque, the mangled up cutlass bearing slides free of its orifice. I raise it to the sky like that ape in 2001 with the bone, and cry halleluiah, but refrain from launching it into space where it will  metamorphize into a space station, and just pop it on the bench and light a cigarette, and have another swig of water to celebrate, simple pleasures .cutout Jackie has been home this afternoon, at our temp. apt. cutting some melamine for a new galley table top and as I arrive back home I hide the cutlass bearing behind my back so as to present it as a surprise gift. When I reveal it she’s over the moon, and my hero status jumps up a full 10 points. It’s even enough to swage her disappointment at causing a small crack in her melamine refurbishment of the galley table, and we toast the success of our mission impossible with a glass or two of Columbus rum on ice. It’s these small victories that contribute to our happiness as cruisers, albeit sailors aground on the hard standing of Marina Tropical. All that remains is for us to get that bottom painted, pop in a new cutlass bearing, insert the prop shaft, connect the transmission flange, re-line the stuffing box refit the propeller and we’re good to go. And as we won’t have any accommodation after the 30th of Jan we need to, as they say in nautical circles, get a wiggle on. .