Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Water Puppies, Belizeans and a Calcified Hose

Posted by Scot

This story starts with our water maker, and ends in our toilet.  Which seems to be the way a lot of my boat stories end recently.  But there is some pretty good stuff in the middle, so it is probably still worth telling (and hopefully reading).

We have known for a while that we needed a new boost pump for our water maker.  The old one seemed to have some kind of short in it that kept tripping the breaker.  So, when I went back to Alberta to work, I carefully researched the pump on the internet, and had the exact one shipped to the hotel where I was staying.  Then, I packed it carefully in my bag, and schlepped it all the way back to Guatemala.

The Jabsco Commercial Duty Water Puppy pump in our water maker.  Could you tell from looking at it that you need the one without the thermal protector cut out switch?

Since we weren’t using the water maker in Guatemala, I didn’t get around to installing it until a couple of days ago.  The installation was pretty easy.  Just unscrewed the old pump from the wall, took out the water pipes from the inlet and outlet, cut the wires, and then reversed the whole process to put the new pump in.  And it worked great right away.  For about 15 minutes, we were making sweet freshwater from the salty stuff we are floating in.  Then, suddenly, the pump just stopped.  The breaker didn’t trip, and after a few minutes it fired up again, but it definitely didn’t seem normal.  So, I emailed Rich Boren, the owner of CruiseROWater, the company that makes our water maker.

I should write a quick side note about Rich.  I’ve had the need to contact him about the water maker three or four times now.  Mostly with stupid questions from a neophyte water maker owner.  And once with a question about our electrical system, which I eventually traced back to the generator.  Every time I have emailed Rich, he has gotten back to me in less than 10 minutes.  It doesn’t matter whether it is an evening, weekend, whatever.  And once, I phoned him as he was driving across Texas to a trade show.  He put me on speaker, and we had a long conversation as he drove along.  He has always had good ideas about whatever I asked him, and has been extremely supportive, even when the problem turned out to have nothing to do with the water maker.  I have no idea how he manages to keep up this level of customer service, but it is amazing.  I hope it doesn’t disappear as his company grows.

Of course, it would be better if I’d never had a problem with the water maker at all, and hadn’t ever needed to call him.  Anyway, this time, as per usual, Rich emailed me back in a few minutes.  He knew right away what the problem with the boost pump was.  It turns out that a few months ago, the company that makes the boost pump started to put in a thermal protector switch, so that when the pump gets hot, it cuts out.  Something about keeping people from using it as a 24/7 service pump.  Apparently CruiseROWater gets the pumps made specially without the switch, and if I had bought it from them, I wouldn’t have a problem.  Anyway, we ran through a bunch of trouble shooting options, including possibly drilling out the rivets in the pump and trying to remove the thermal switch myself.  In the end, I decided to just pickle the watermaker, and go and find a dock somewhere where we could fill our tanks from a hose.  I'll buy the right pump from CruiseROWater when we are back in the States.

So, the next day, we sailed up to San Pedro from Cay Caulker.  We knew TMM Yacht Charters had a base there, and figured we could fill our tanks at their dock.  The sail up was fast.  We were moving 7.5 knots in about 16 knots of wind on our beam (and about 7 feet of water.  It was actually a bit unnerving).

When we got to TMM, we managed to get onto their dock without running aground, even though it turned out they only have about one boat’s width of deep water next to their dock.  It was a bit scary to get in there.  The manager was yelling detailed instructions on exactly what to do with each engine so I could turn the boat on a dime, right off the corner of the dock, without the cross wind pushing me out into the shallow water.  “Starboard engine forward now, 2,000 RPMs, and port reverse 1,000 for 30 seconds!”.  Like that.

Anyway, we managed to safely get on the dock, and started to fill our tanks.  Even though it was only 2:30 in the afternoon, they were shutting down for the day, since they had just sent out their last boat for charter.  One of the guys stayed behind to help us off the dock, and as we filled the tanks we got to talking.  His name is Giovanni, and he is the primary boat mechanic for the TMM base in Belize.  We discussed the weather, and got an updated local forecast from him.  Their forecast showed gusts offshore over 30 knots, and swells up to 8 feet for the next few days.  That kind of put a damper on our plans to head offshore up to Mexico the following day.

Quickly, we decided to sail back down to Cay Caulker, and wait a few days for better weather.  As we were making this plan, Giovanni mentioned he didn’t mind staying behind to help us fill our water tanks, as he had nothing else to do for the afternoon.  He seemed like a nice guy, with lots of local information, and great knowledge about boats, given his job with TMM.  So, I invited him to sail back down with us to Cay Caulker, just so we could keep chatting for a while.  He could take the water taxi back home, and still be back in time for dinner.

Nary and Giovanni, joining us for an afternoon sail in the shallow Belizean water.

After a moment’s thought, he decided it would be nice to come for a sail.  Before we knew it, we were inviting two other TMM employees, who had stayed behind to wait for Giovanni.  One was his younger brother Nary, and the other was Nary’s friend, Reynaldo.

So, once our tanks were full, we pulled away from the dock, under the careful guidance of the TMM guys, avoiding the shallow water just a few feet off our starboard hull.

Right away, it was clear that Giovanni wasn’t going to lounge around on our sail down to Cay Caulker.  He noticed our fishing rod, and asked if it would be OK if he dropped the lure in the water.  “Sure!” I replied.  “If you catch something, it will be the first fish we have ever landed on this boat.” 

Once the line was in the water, Giovanni mentioned he could adjust our rod holder for us, and tie a line on so we wouldn’t lose the rod if we ever caught a fish.  So I grabbed him an Allen key, and in a few minutes he had the rod holder all set up to his satisfaction.

Giovanni, showing us how to catch a Belizean fish.

Then, Reynaldo asked if he could use the head.  We mentioned to him that he should use the port side, since the starboard one still wasn’t working quite right.  Before we knew it, Giovanni was in our starboard head with a handful of tools, pulling apart the pump and plumbing that I have wrestled with for months.

A few minutes later, the fishing rod went “ziiiiiing”, and sure enough, we had the first bite ever on our red squid lure.  Giovanni came up from the head, pulled the fish in, and we all took a minute to admire it before he threw it back.  Nary then washed the deck where the fish had dripped blood, and Giovanni went back to work on the head for the rest of the trip.

The first ever fish to actually make it onto Monashee.  It was small, and we threw it back, but still!  A fish!

After we anchored, Giovanni told me the next day was his day off, and he would be happy to come and finish fixing the head if I wanted.  He had come to the same conclusion that I had – we needed to replace some of the hoses.  I had assumed I wouldn’t be able to get the proper kind until we got back to the States, but he knew where to get some in San Pedro, and said he could bring it down the next day.

Reynaldo and Nary, watching the fish get reeled in.

So, the next day, both he and Nary showed up at the boat at around 10:30.  Within an hour, they had stripped all the plumbing down from the head, and replaced the heavily calcified hose.  Once they were done, Nary cleaned the entire head, top to bottom.  He even washed the outside of the window.  And finally, after months of on again/ off again function, our starboard head flushes the same as the port side.

The calcification on the inside of the old hose had narrowed it to a fraction of it's original diameter.  Giovanni told us TMM changes these hoses on their charter boats every 9 months.  Glad we have a brand new, completely unobstructed hose now.

I took Giovanni and Nary back to the water taxi in Cay Caulker, and told them we would give them a call when we come up to San Pedro in a few days to check out of the country.  They were both really nice guys, and it was a highlight of our trip to have them on our boat.  One of our favourite things has always been getting to meet local people, and get a sense of what they are really like.  These three from TMM were honest, hard working, polite, and pleasant to be around.  It was a treat to chat with them for a couple of hours on our boat, and learn a bit more about what it is like to live in Belize.

Giovanni gave me the OK to put his cell number on the blog.  So, if anyone in Belize is looking to have some boat projects worked on while they around San Pedro or Cay Caulker, you can give him a call at 501-633-3612 (I think if  you are calling locally, you don’t need to dial the “501”).  He knows where to source parts and materials, and his labour rates are really reasonable compared to what you would pay in the States.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Blitzing through Belize

This little guy landed on our fishing rod to try and last out the down pour.

Before we left the Rio Dulce, we met a family who had just arrived from Belize, where they had spent four months cruising through the Belizean Cays, protected by the second largest barrier reef in the world.  As beautiful as that sounds, only one thing about that story registered with Sara and me.  Four months!  We hadn’t planned anywhere near that long for our time in Belize.

In fact, we have broken one of the cardinal rules of cruising.  We find ourselves slave to the “s” word, as in “schedule”.  Because of the timing on my trip home for work we are a bit further behind than we planned to be at this point.  Now we need to get to Florida by June, since hurricane season is fast approaching.  So, as other cruisers were heading in to the Rio Dulce to put their boats away for the summer, we headed out and turned left, bound first for Belize.

Initially, we had planned to spend a couple of weeks enjoying the Belizean Cays.  While a lot of them appear to be nothing more than mangrove hideouts for no-see-‘ums, there are a few palm-treed, beach encircled jewels scattered here and there.  Once we got moving, though, it was hard to stop.  We reasoned that if we make good time on this leg of our north bound trip, it will give us more flexibility if the weather slows us down later.

So, after a rainy departure from Guatemala, we quickly made our way north through Belize.  We stopped one night in a deserted, mangrove-lined bay called New Haven, and the next night anchored off the pleasant town of Placencia, where we checked into the country.

Dinghy dock in Placencia.
Belize has quite a few charter operations.  I guess the end of April is a slow time, though, since we have only seen a couple of other boats.
We have seen a few party boats, too.  Maybe instead of going back to Florida, we should just stay here, and give dozens of tourists rides around the Cays?  (I don't think so).
After that, we bucked a north easterly wind to head to the outer reef, where we overnighted off the beautiful South Water Cay.  The next day was spent picking our way through shallow water along the inner side of the reef, dodging coral heads.  It was a relief to finally slip out through an opening in the reef and head to the island atoll of Turneffe.  We thought we might relax there for a couple of days, but once again found ourselves in a deserted, shallow, muddy bay, surrounded by mangroves.

These kayakers were taking advantage of the trade winds to avoid paddling between the Cays.
Tobacco Cay, one of the beautiful Cays sitting right on the reef.
Heading up Blue Creek, into the mangroves around the atoll of Turneffe.  It doesn't look like the boys are picking up Katie's message of peace.

So, today, we turned back to the northwest, and sailed along outside the reef.  About an hour before we anchored, we cut back in through a hole in the reef, and now we find ourselves anchored off the touristy village on Cay Caulker.  At this point, we have covered almost all of Belize, from south to north.  We only have about 10 miles left to go to San Pedro, where we will check out.  Then, we will slip back out through the reef and make our way north to Mexico.  That is still a couple of days away, though.  We are pretty sure we can’t check out of the country over the weekend, so we will rest up from our frantic pace for a day or two, and enjoy Cay Caulker.

Do we feel bad about zipping so quickly through Belize?  Not really.  We have enjoyed one of the things Belize is famous for, which is the calm sailing inside the reef.  You still get the strength of the ocean wind, but the waves are broken by the reef, so you can fly along as if you were on a lake.  And we have seen a few of the beautiful Cays.  We haven’t done any diving, and only a little snorkelling, but after our round of ear infections in Honduras, we are all a bit gun-shy to spend too much time in the water.

To give you a bit of an impression of what it is like to sail in the beautiful calm waters inside the reef, I have put together this time lapse video.  It starts with us leaving the Rio Dulce, on the rainiest day we have had our entire trip.  Then, it transitions to a calm motor-sail, starting with raising the anchor in Placencia, and ending with our arrival at South Water Cay.  I hope it gives you an idea of what it looks like on the days that we move the boat.  Enjoy!

Placencia to South Water Cay from Scot Mountain on Vimeo.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

The Easter Bunny Bash

 Posted by Katie
The Easter Bunny found our boat!

It was a sunny Sunday morning and I was yawning in my cabin.  I had just woken up tired from last night.  Forgetting that it was Easter day I naturally rolled out of bed walked into the salon and …   

WHAT THE?!  The room was covered with chocolate every where I looked. Egg, egg, bunny,egg, bunny and even some lollypops!   I just stood there for a second. Then I remembered it was Easter. How could I have forgotten?  Just then I wanted to run around the room and grab all the chocolate.  But then I remembered that the boys would probably kill me If I touched anything. So I made myself an egg for breakfast instead of chocolate eggs.

Besides the chocolate, there were also Pez candies and lollipops!

After I was done my egg I spotted something in the garbage pile and went over to see what it was.  “Hobbit Pez”, it said. I looked at it and it listed a bunch of characters from the hobbit movie.  Then I realized what it was.  The Easter Bunny had left the case of a hobbit Pez package so we could know which little Pez holders to look for.  For another half an hour I spent trying to get a head start to the candy hunt.

More Hobbit Pez heads and some candied popcorn.

After a while the boys woke up and after they had breakfast we started the hunt.  Despite my head start we all found about the same amount of candy.  But one Pez holder was still missing.  The one named Thorin Oakenshield, the rightful king under the mountain.  Eventually  we found him along with a few other chocolates.  Want to know where he was?  Under the pile of garbage.  Probably wouldn't strike you as the best place to put the rightful king under the mountain huh?  Well that’s where he was.  And as a result to our Easter we now have a HUGE bag full of chocolate.

Thorin Oakenshield, the king under the mountain.  Under the garbage.

Thanks for reading!!!!!!!!!

Friday, April 25, 2014

A Quick Summary of Everything That’s Happened Over the Last Little While

Posted by Alexander and Christopher

Because of our rigorous sailing schedule and all of our business in the last week or so, we haven’t been able to get a blog post out. Although, we haven’t been able, too, because we’ve been doing so many blogworthy things.  So without further ado, Alexander and myself (Christopher) will be doing a short summary of everything that’s happened over the last week or so.

Alexander’s part:

About a week ago we went to our friend Beth’s birthday party. Katie is her age but unfortunately was ill and unable to make it. We went to the party in the R.V. of Beth’s family, picking up a girl Christopher’s age called Africa. The party was to be held at a place that was a bit of a natural reserve where people could go and have picnics and such. Unfortunately due to it being the week of Semana Santa this place was packed! We managed to find a spot and laid out a table with snacks and pop. A bunch of other adults came too.

The Castillo San Felipe.  Beth's birthday party was in the grounds around the Castillo.  The whole thing is quite a big park.

The first activity was the piñata.  A bunch of Guatemalan kids saw the piñata and decided to hang out near by until it broke. This wasn’t a problem because there was plenty of candy, but those kids were the fastest candy grabbers I had ever seen! After the piñata had been smashed to pieces there was cake and presents. We gave Beth a bunch of hair bands, a stuffed animal and some goldfish (The snack). This is actually a better present than it sounds because Beth, being fructose intolerant couldn’t have very much sugar. Goldfish were nice and salty though.

For some reason, we don't have any pictures of the birthday party.  So here are some crazy long neck turtles that we found at a restaurant on the Rio Dulce.

Next all the kids went to the main event. The Castillo San Felipe. A huge Spanish fort right in the park. We went over a moat on a drawbridge and under a portcullis to get in there! There were lot’s of towers and rooms to explore. One room was super dark and had a lone candle sitting on the floor. That was pretty creepy. We spent a bunch of time hanging out in one of the towers but, our favorite part was down in the depths of the fort. There was a room with tunnels branching off with absolutely no lights in them. We went and explored through the utter darkness. Not exactly the best thing if you’re claustrophobic. It was so much fun that we did all the tunnels multiple times. The party was amazing fun.

Still no birthday pictures.  But here is someone bungy jumping off the bridge over the Rio Dulce during Semana Santa.

A few days after that we left the Rio Dulce. We have been sailing for a few days and now we’re in Belize. Christopher’s part begins here in the town called Placencia…

Christopher’s Part:

So, we had arrived in Placencia, and we needed to check in to the country. Naturally we lowered the dinghy and as a family, we drove off in search of adventure or Ice Cream or the place where you check in to the country.

So we went to a fairly nice looking town (compared to Guatemala) and we began to walk around looking for the place where we check in. When we asked some other tourists walking around (It wasn’t a very touristy town, and the locals speak English) we just thought that since they were there, we would ask.

They directed us to a small ferry boat, that was crowded and just leaving when we arrived. we spoke to the man at what looked like the ferry terminal (it was just a wooden bus stop-looking thing that provided shade and was next to where the boat had left) and he confirmed that it took us there to the customs. When we told him that only Dad was going, not all of us, He bellowed in a loud baritone voice for the boat to come back.

We like Placencia, Belize.  It was a nice town - not too touristy, but still had some good restaurants and ice cream.

When Dad had left, we were wondering what to do in the town while we waited, My Mom spotted a little ice cream store called tutti-frutti. We went in and were greeted by a nice lady and the tastiest looking gelato we will most likely ever see (and eat). So we each ordered a cone, and we all could not get over how deliciously scrumptious the ice cream was. We ate all of it and Alexander even got another.

Gelato at the Tutti Frutti ice cream store.  Thanks to our friends on S/V Madcap for recommending this to us.

After that we went back to the dinghy and picked up Dad. We headed back to the boat and when we got there Dad said that we were lucky we had not decided to just go along the outer islands and not check in to the country, which we had considered. He said that when he had been checking us in to the country, he had heard that as of last month, they were cracking down on people who didn’t check in. Anybody they caught doing what we had planned to do, got a $3000 fine. That was made quite a bit of sense considering that the only reason we had considered not checking in was because we had heard lots of other people say they had done that with ease.

Another view of Placencia.  Cleaner than the towns we had gotten used to in Guatemala.

For dinner we decided to go back to the town for dinner and ice cream. We ate at a restaurant called the Purple Space Monkey. It was kind of a silly name, but fun all the same and the food was really good. After dinner we went back to the ice cream place and had more ice cream, this time with Dad. It was as good as before if not better.

2014-04-22 18.12.58
Dinner at the Purple Space Monkey to celebrate our arrival in Belize.  Note the cool "Monashee" crew T-shirts that our Grandma sent us for Easter.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Boat projects update

Posted by Scot

A lot of people think we are on vacation.  I hear a lot of “How is your vacation going?”, or “Sorry to bug you while you are on vacation.”  A vacation to me is lying on a beach somewhere for a couple of weeks with a drink in hand, and putting the rest of your life on hold.  Taking a no-stress time to unwind, relax, and take a break from the rigors of day to day life.  We are definitely not doing that.

I am certainly working a lot less than I do when I am at home, but I am still working a lot.  I just got back from working a week of nights at the Red Deer Hospital, which was as exhausting a week of medical work as I have done in a long time.  But, as Cake says, we've got to have some way to afford this Rock ‘n Roll lifestyle (Cake the band, not the food).

But I am actually doing very little of that kind of work.  Most of the work we are doing involves keeping our lives afloat, well … afloat.  We are still doing all the everyday tasks that you are doing at home, like school, grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning and laundry.  And those all seem to take twice as long on a boat as they do in a house, when you are on land, with a car to get around in.  But we are also doing what seems like a ton of work on the boat, pretty much all the time.  It is a truism among cruisers that the list of boat projects never gets finished – just re-prioritized.  So, instead of a vacation, we prefer to think of what we are doing as a “sabbatical”.  Taking some time off to explore a different lifestyle, and see some different places, as a family.  But still living our everyday lives, with all the attendant hassles.  Not really a typical vacation.

Over the past 10 days or so, we have managed to shift into high gear with boat projects.  Things have been pretty efficient, since while I was home topping up the cruising kitty, Sara was here with the boat, which we had hauled out of the water to get some things done that have needed doing for a while.

Sara, managing the boat work and cleaning the rust off bolts and washers at the same time.  All with a smile on her face!

In fact, we didn’t really need to get the boat hauled.  Everything that needed doing could have waited until we got back to the States.  The first time we considered hauling the boat was when we heard that one of the local marinas here was having a special on bottom paint.  The price was really good – about half of what it would have cost us to get the bottom painted in Florida.  So we went to the marina and checked out some of the other boats they were painting.  We also met Karen de Lopez, who manages the marina, and Richard, who is the owner.  Richard gave us a personal tour of the place, and showed us around some of the more complex projects they were taking on. The quality of the work seemed good, and the people seemed very professional, so we decided to go for it.

In fact, the bottom didn’t even really need to be painted.  It was painted about a year ago, not long before we bought the boat.  While it is recommended (mostly by people that sell bottom paint) to paint your boat every year, lots of people go way longer than that between bottom jobs.  But we are planning to sell the boat when we get back to Florida, and we wanted it to be in as good shape as it was when we bought it.   Also, when we pulled the boat out of the water, we could see some cracking on the upper edge of the old bottom paint.  The folks in the yard here told us the cracks went right down to the primer.  Apparently they were caused by not giving the paint enough time to dry between coats.  I'm not sure if that is true, but the new paint looks perfect, without any cracking at all.

Monashee all masked up and ready for new striping.
The other reason we wanted to get some painting done was purely cosmetic.  For those that have been following the blog faithfully, you may remember that back when we were in Cuba, we stayed in a marina near a cement plant.  The plant blew brown dots of some unknown particle onto our boat.  The resulting marks on the boat were almost impossible to get off.  The only thing that seemed to work was a pink toilet bowl cleaner that they also, conveniently, sold in the marina in Cuba.  Unfortunately, that stuff was so powerful that when we rinsed it off the deck, it ran down the sides of the boat and peeled some paint off our waterline stripe and the upper edge of the bottom paint.  So poor Monashee looked like she had a case of leprosy along the waterline.  Again, not something that really needed to be fixed, but Sara and I found it hard to look at.  While we were getting the waterline stripe painted, it turned out to not be too much more work to get the blue stripe on the top of the hull painted to match, so we got that done too (I think this is called “project creep”.  Same thing happened to us when we got our house renovated).

New bottom paint and waterline stripe, beautifully applied.
We had some other cosmetic things done, too.  There were some gel coat dings around the anchor, so we got those fixed up.  There were also a few bolts through the bridgedeck, under the locker that used to have the huge 10 person life raft in it.  They were intended to anchor the hardware to hold down the liferaft, but since we don’t have that any more, we got the bolts taken out and the holes glassed over.  The fewer holes in the bottom of the boat, the better.

No more gel coat dings around the anchor!  For now anyway.  I'm pretty sure they are unavoidable over the long term, as our 55 lb. Rocna comes up pretty close against the front of the bridgedeck.
Alexander, removing the nuts and bolts that used to hold the life raft in place.
While we had the boat out of the water, we figured we might as well get some of the through hulls fixed.  Early on after we took possession of the boat, we went to change the raw water filter for the air conditioning intake.  We closed the seacock, and unscrewed the filter.  To our surprise, water came pouring out of the ocean into our bilge – right through the supposedly “closed” valve.  So clearly that was a problem.  It has always made me a bit nervous to be sailing along with a through hull that we couldn’t close.  I don’t really like holes in the bottom of the boat that I can’t control.  So we wanted to get that fixed.  We also had some sticky valves on the holding tank drains.  These were identified at our survey last year, but since we hadn’t had  the boat out of the water, we hadn’t gotten them fixed yet.  So we got those done too.

New valve and through hull on one of the holding tank drains.

We also had a tiny drip of water coming in around the starboard rudder post.  Not a big deal, but again, I am not keen to be sailing anywhere in a boat that lets water in through the bottom.  So we had that fibreglass taken down and re-done.

New fibreglass on the rudder post.

Let’s see, what else did we do?  Oh yeah, there was some stress cracking on one of the stainless steel supports for our hard bimini, so we had that re-welded.  It looks great now, with a stronger looking weld than was there in the first place. 

We also got upsold on something that again, we probably didn’t really need, but that seemed like a good idea at the time.  There is a special kind of paint for saildrives called Prop Speed. It is supposed to be a superior anti-fouling for saildrives, and also apparently reduces the drag on the saildrive and props, helping the boat move better through the water.  It is pretty expensive, but we saw it on another boat here, and did a little research on it, and figured we would go for it.  Our props had been pretty heavily fouled with little barnacles and worms, and when we had them cleaned by divers in Honduras, the paint on them had been pretty scratched up.  So they needed something, and this sounded like the best possible solution.

While we were working on our saildrives, Sara also took the time to change the oil in them.  I was pretty proud of the fact that she managed to do that by herself while I was in Red Deer.  Neither of us has ever done it before.  I still haven’t, so I guess that will be her job from now on.

The propeller and saildrive were carefully stripped clean down to bare metal...

... and then the Prop Speed was applied.  Looks fast, doesn't it?

In addition to all that, I bought a few boat parts while I was in Canada, and I spent the day today installing some of them.  Our starboard head still wasn't flushing as well as the port side, despite the hours I have spent hunched over the toilet working on it (vacation, you say?  I don't think so).  So,  I put in a new joker valve, and a new macerator pump.  The old one still seems to be working OK, so now we have that as a spare.  And the head finally seems to be flushing properly.

I also bought a new remote control for our windlass.  The old one cuts out intermittently, and you have to jiggle the wires to make it work.  Still seems OK, but I’d hate for it to quit altogether some time when I really wanted to get the anchor up, so we figured an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.  I’ll put that in tomorrow.

New windlass control on the right, old one on the left.  You can see the electrical tape holding the wire together at the bottom of the old controller.  We might try to get it repaired and keep it as a spare, now that we have a functioning one on the boat.
Finally, Sara took the helm seat in to get it restitched, as the stitching was coming loose in places.  They also put a new board in the bottom, and cleaned it so it looks like new.  She also took part of our sail cover to the same place to get the zippers reinforced.  They did an awesome job, and were fast and cheap.

Monashee all painted up and looking like a million bucks (I hope all this work doesn't end up costing us that).
So I think that is about it.  You can see why it doesn't really seem like a vacation.  But we will be heading back out to sea with a lot of little issues fixed, and when we get to Florida, we should save a lot of money and time by not having to get all this stuff done there.  All that is left for us is to finish up some laundry, buy some more groceries, wash some of the boat yard off the boat, and head down the river back to the ocean, bound for Belize.

Getting lowered back into the water, ever so gently.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Semana Insana in Guatemala!

posted by Sara

This week is Semana Santa in Guatemala.  The celebration of the Easter week.  Semana Santa is a HUGE celebration here and most people take off the entire 10 days.  In addition to those people who come to vacation on the Rio Dulce in their boats for the week, Antigua fills up with people celebrating the more religious side of the holiday.  Here are some images of Semana Santa.

The end of a Semana Santa Procession in the street in Antigua.  Many men in purple robes.

The picture above is the gate to our vacation condo in Antigua.  This is what we saw on Sunday morning at 9:30 as we came out to the gate with all our luggage.  We were supposed to meet our shuttle to take us to Guatemala City so we could catch the bus back to the Rio Dulce.  Uh Oh.  I don’t think our shuttle is going to make it!  Apparently they had shut down the entire city for these walking processions, allowing no cars in.  Our shuttle was sitting in a long line of cars outside the entrance to Antigua.  Luckily we had left lots of time, and it all worked out in the end.

The kids enjoying the pool at the neigbouring marina in Rio Dulce, while I supervise boat work.
The kids have been enjoying the pool at a nearby resort while we have been "on the hard.” Yesterday they swam with 3 vacationing US families who live in Guatemala City and have rented vacation houses here for Semana Santa.  One of the families was here with an NGO, and two were with the US embassy, one being an FBI Agent.  I didn’t know they really existed!

Rio Dulce is a resort area.  The river drains big lake Izabal at one end, and the ocean end provides access to El Caribe and the Cays of Belize.  This area fills up during Semana Santa with all the wealthy people from Guatemala City who keep their boats here.  The river fills up with crazy young Guatemalans on jet skis blasting up and down, churning the entire river into a froth.  Every marina and restaurant is blasting music through speakers out over the river, presumably to attract customers (although it is keeping us away).  It makes a summer weekend in Fort Lauderdale look calm.  I don't think this is really most people's mental image of Guatemala.  It certainly wasn't ours!

Helicopters bringing the wealthy to Rio Dulce for Semana Santa.  And also blowing dirt all over the boats in the yard.
Our Marina has 5 heli pads for the wealthy boaters who chopper in from Guatemala City to get on their boats for the week.  Many of them head up to Belize.  Most of them have their own helicopters so they just park them here while they are on their boats.  The marina has recently added two new heli pads.  You can see how close they are behind the boats in the yard.  When the helicopters land they send gravel, leaves, sticks and other debris onto all the boats.  Luckily we are parked on the other side of the yard but there were a few unhappy boat owners after the first few landings.  Someone mentioned that there will be less debris once a few helicopters have landed and blown it all away.  Hopefully!

Some of the big boats docked at our marina, all tucked away in their boat sheds.
On Good Friday, we were treated to a nautical Stations of the Cross procession in front of the marina.  The jet skis took a break for a few moments as several boats filled with people in purple shirts paraded along in front of the marinas.

Jesus leading the procession of boats.

Purple is the color of Semana Santa.  I'm not sure of the historical reason for this, but everyone involved in the procession was wearing a purple t-shirt.

One of the boats had prominent pictures of the Pope on it's stern.
The Virgin Mary's boat stopped for fuel right in the middle of the procession.  I'm no expert, but I'm pretty sure "Gas Station" isn't one of the traditional Stations of the Cross.

The lead boat with Jesus on the front, and this picture over the stern.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

RD to RD (Red Deer to the Rio Dulce)

Posted by Scot

It kind of boggles my mind that you can start your day in Red Deer, Alberta, and end it in Guatemala City.  The differences between the two places are so vast – culturally, linguistically, geographically, economically and meteorologically -  that you feel like you’ve not only travelled a long distance, but jumped backwards in time as well.

To be fair, in order to cover that much distance, I did have to get up at 3:00 a.m. in Red Deer.  After a week of working nights, I couldn’t fall asleep until about 1:00, so I had a solid two hours of sleep before I had to get up and drive to Calgary to catch the plane.  Going through the Calgary airport to the States is pretty slick – you get to clear American customs in Calgary before you get on the plane.  I think the fact that these guys are not actually located in the U.S. makes them a bit more laid back.  Clearing customs at 5:00 a.m. was pretty quick.

I did manage to grab a few zzzz’s on the plane to Dallas, so I was feeling a bit better by the time I got there.  The Dallas airport is not a bad place to hang out for a layover – mine was 5 hours, which was a bit long, but it gave me a chance to catch up on email before leaving good internet access.  If you do have to hang out at DFW for any period of time, go to the international terminal (terminal D).  It is the newest, and by far the nicest of the four terminals there.  The place is huge, but all the terminals are connected by a train, so you can get from one to the other pretty easily.

Getting on the plane for Guatemala, I noticed an interesting phenomenon.  It seems like the demographics of the people on a plane are determined largely by where it is going, not where it is coming from.  When I flew out of Guatemala, the plane was filled with Americans.  Flying back into Guatemala, the plane was filled with Guatemalans.  I think everyone was heading home for Semana Santa (more on that later).  It was a very different group of people than I flew out with.  A lot more talkative and lively.  And when we landed, they all spontaneously burst into a round of applause.  It seemed like it was just expected, as everyone did it as soon as the wheels touched down.

I spent the night in Guatemala City, which was a little underwhelming.  5 or 6 million of the country's 11 million inhabitants live in Guat City, and it shows.  Apparently crime is a significant issue.  The bed and breakfast I stayed in was in a gated community, and even then it was still behind another big wall.

The next morning, I grabbed the Litegua bus on the way back to Rio Dulce.  The bus station was a full on party at 8:30 a.m.  I don’t know if it was because of Semana Santa, or if it is always like that.  There were clowns, and DJ on a balcony above the bus station blasting out the tunes.  Kind of fun to watch, but it was also pretty manic.

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Clowns at the bus station.  The girl I was sitting beside tried to teach me the Spanish word for clowns, but I instantly forgot it.
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DJ at the bus station in Guat City (up on the balcony).

The 6 hours on the bus back to the Rio was a reverse performance of the trip we had when we left.  The Guatemalan landscape, especially around Guatemala City, looks like a huge corrugated piece of cardboard.  And unlike in Canada, nobody has spent the money to blast through the mountains, or try and straighten out the roads.  Instead, the highway follows every curve and hill, which makes for a slow moving bus.
Eventually, though, I was back in the madness of Fronteras, the town of Rio Dulce.  I grabbed a cab as soon as I got off the bus, and it whipped me straight back to Ram Marina.  Two days and 19 hours worth of travel later, and I was back.

I knew the plan had been to put the boat back in the water at noon, so I was a bit surprised to see it still on stands in the yard.  The boat lift was poised underneath it though, so things looked promising.  Sara was there, supervising a last minute clean of the boat prior to it getting lifted.  So, half an hour after I arrived, I was watching our boat go back up in the slings, and get gently lowered in the water.  It was actually really great, as it gave me a chance to see all the work that had been done on the boat.  The bottom paint looks beautiful – better than what was on there previously.  I’ll write a separate post about the work we had done in the yard.

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Back in the water and looking good!
After we were in the water, a couple of other cruisers who are yard-bound helped us bring the boat over to one of the docks at Ram (thanks John and Sue!).  It was actually a bit tricky.  There is always a pretty strong cross wind here in the afternoon, and after not driving the boat for a few weeks, my reflexes were a bit rusty.  We managed to get it all tied up though, and we spent the evening meeting the cruising crowd Sara has befriended during the 10 days I was away.  They are all nice people, and it was great to get to know them.  We’ll stay at Ram for a few more days and finish up a couple more boat projects, and then hopefully get on our way back down the river and on to Belize!

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Part of the celebrations of Semana Santa at Ram marina is a 4 day promotion for Brahva beer.  The hot Brahva chica stands there and looks good all day, and the guy with the mike yells things in Spanish at the top of his lungs.  Doesn't really make me want to drink Brahva, to be honest.