October 16, 2016

Loving Cartagena

Cartagena at Sunset
We entered Bahia de Cartagena through Boca Grande. During the exploring and conquering of the Americas, the Spanish impeded enemy access to the harbour by laying down coral blocks just under the surface of the wide entrance. If you didn’t know exactly where to go in, you’d rip the bottom off your boat.

Maia's first palata in years--the fresh-fruit popsicles are a Latin American favourite

flowering balconies line the streets
Happily, Cartagena now welcomes English speakers. We entered the bay with hulls intact and camera in hand—ready to shoot photos of the famous statue of the Virgin and Child which graces the inner bay. Oddly—the statue was missing. I wondered if the 60’ tall monument was off for cleaning or repair, but we soon learned the Virgin had been struck by lightning and had blown up.

fruit vendor in the old city
snacks of all types are available from hawkers
Our years in Latin American countries make this colourful and chaotic city feel familiar. It’s a place where shanties abut glossy high rises, yet everyone buys their breakfast arepa from the same street vendor and needs to navigate the same sea-flooded street.

A hat vendor pedaling his wares ;) 
Why I love this place is hard to define. It’s full of unexpected moments: We wandered through the unmarked tunnels of Castillo San Felipe and followed one steep corridor as it narrowed and shrank, growing humid and close as it snaked downward. We considered turning back, but assumed the tunnel must go somewhere—otherwise why would it be open to the public? Eventually it leveled out—arriving at a t-junction which was partially flooded and home to an aggressive looking iguana.

exploring the tunnels in San Felipe
There are daily rhythms in Latin America which never fail to make me smile: bedlam on the streets, a languid siesta, and a night that pulsates. Music everywhere, always…

taking a break at the top of the fort
Apparently if it weren't for this fort Colombians would be speaking English

Mostly it’s the sheer exuberance that makes me happy. The new paint on old buildings is brighter, the flowers and fruit are bigger and the hawkers are louder than in other places. Our cab was in a slow-motion car accident complete with blaring horns and wildly gesticulating hands. Both drivers got out and argued about the resulting dent in rapid-fire Spanish. Passersby and witnesses joined in. With traffic backing up, the other driver offered ours a fistful of cash—about $10 US. With a satisfied grin, our driver drove on to our destination.

Our plan had been to only stop for a few days but with so much to see, do (and eat) we may stretch our visit to 10 or 12 days.

October 12, 2016

Landfall Colombia

Country #29 and as sweet as ever.

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The Passage so Far--Cartegena or bust

It seems Iridium and blogger aren't playing nice and posts with photos are hard to read. So you'll have to imagine the fifteen-year-old sitting on the bow patiently pointing out pooping spotted Atlantic dolphins, or the pod of mamas and teenie tiny babies (they were common dolphins), or the lightning that lit up last night's ocean to a bright steal-white or even that five-mile swath of garbage soup.

Passages always feel like suspended time. We're not where we were; we're not where we're going. There's the sameness; day after day of sea and sky. Except neither the sea nor sky are the same one moment to the next. Moments at sea range from sublime, to frightening, to forgettable. But unlike sublime moments on land; say when you sea a mountain at sunrise or catch sight of your first wild grizzly, there's no simple way to give someone directions so they can experience the same thing. The infant dolphins that came at dusk yesterday, when the seas were mirrored and pink and the breeze was like warm breath on my neck, aren't something I can tell you how to find. I can barely describe how the mamas escorted their wee offspring into our bow waves and then gently pushed them back in place as the tiny torpedoes caught back eddies and awkwardly somersaulted out of the flow.
It seemed mean to laugh.

We read lots on passage and watch the ocean. Yesterday, when the first pieces of garbage floated past, I recalled how 20-years-ago on little Ceilydh we'd alter our course to go inspect anything we found floating at sea. It so clearly didn't belong there--we'd check to see if it was a message in a bottle, lost cargo or wreckage. Now it's different. The first time we came across a garbage gyre I assumed it was flotsam and jetsam from a wrecked ship. It's so incongruous to be in the middle of the ocean and see debris across the horizon. Most of it's so small it's unrecognizable--but always there's flipflops, water bottles and coloured bits plastic that caught some consumer's eye. If it's calm, and I can look down into the water, I can see bits of plastic film. I call it soup because it's not a solid mass. It's the individual pieces of garbage caught by a current, swirled together and broken up by the power of the ocean. If we took a net and scooped up all the rubbish from yesterday's patch we could have collected enough plastic to fill our boat.

The miles are going slowly this passage. It's not just the light winds--the 460 miles are loaded with meaning. This is our last Atlantic passage. In the San Blas islands we'll cross little Ceilydh's long-ago wake. Soon enough we'll no longer be exploring, but revisiting. We'll have done more than turn the corner for home, we'll be headed home.

And so we savour sailing into the sunsets as we make our final purely westward miles.
At 11/10/2016 3:30 PM (utc) our position was 11°34.76'N 074°43.60'W

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October 11, 2016

Garbage Soup

We're sailing through plastic stew. The first time this happened we thought we'd come across debris from a wreck. But hours later we understood: currents concentrate the garbage and the ocean's power renders it unrecognizable. People ask if I'm ever afraid out here. This scares me.

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Passage to Cartagena day 3

Continued light winds and dolphins. When they breathe out their blowholes sometimes we see rainbows in the mist.

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October 10, 2016

Passage to Cartagena

Mellow light wind spinnaker passage populated by pilot whales and spotted dolphins. It took seven years of watching dolphins with a kid for me to spot one pooping.

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September 30, 2016

Waiting for Hurricane Matthew in Curacao

Lovely and well-protected Spanish Waters--there are several anchorage areas and marinas tucked around the big bay
While I’m not *that* prone to magical thinking, I did make that comment about Spanish Waters in Curacao being a good place to hide from a hurricane and whammo, up popped Matthew. I don’t normally hold myself responsible for cyclonic activity, but considering my history with conjuring up tsunamis (three in this voyage) and causing southern Florida to spontaneously burst into flames (I said it deserved to burn after a miserable run in with a powerboat’s wake, and poof!) the odds are looking bad for me.

Then there’s the simple fact that historically Curacao doesn’t get hurricanes—but then we arrived and suddenly one headed straight this way.

Much of our week has been spent tracking and discussing Matthew’s, umm, track. As of this morning, it looks like we’re off the hook. Matthew has ended up going well north of its initial path so rather than getting tropical storm conditions all we really expect is a good deck wash.

We did opt to move the boat into a narrow channel that offers better protection from the south and west. The official anchorages offer great protection in the easterly trades but with a storm on the horizon, the port officials opened up the entire bay to anchoring.

While we were waiting for the storm to decide what it was going to do, we decided to dig into a few projects. Our auxiliary Tohatsu 6 Sailpro outboard has always been cranky—not running more than it runs. Evan broke down and got it a new carburetor—which we assumed would do the trick, but nada—so it’s off to the mechanic tomorrow.

We also have the material for new dinghy chaps. When we were in South Africa we had our old dinghy retubed for about $600. But the tubes are PVC, and they won’t last well in the tropics. With a flat-calm anchorage at our disposal we’re going to get sewing. We’ll also keep painting and varnishing.

Windsurfing lessons for gym class to keep Maia busy and beat the heat
There’s also been time for fun, now that Maia is mostly recovered from Zika. Yesterday we toured the city—visiting the forts; the Curacao liqueur distillery at Landhuis Chobolobo (nothing like bright blue liqueur for breakfast); and the impressive and sobering Kura Hulanda Museum. The museum was high on my list of places to visit. Two of my recent stories have required a lot of research into the African Slave trade—and the Kura Hulanda museum, which traces the history of many of Curacao’s residents, has a sensitive and emotionally powerful display of artefacts from enslaved Africans.

being able to touch these manacles made my blood run cold
After exploring for a few hours we finally managed to get to Marshe Blue for a local lunch (I drew the line at stewed goat head and curried sea snake). Evan had goat (the body bits, not the head)—while Maia and I stuck with the more familiar (and delicious) red snapper.
local lunch at Marshe Blue

Each time we set off exploring we grow to like this place a little more. Our initial impression was Punda was just a big outdoor shopping mall with a gorgeous facade. But as we’ve spent time wandering the narrow streets and popping into the historic buildings I find myself intrigued by the people who decided to settle here. The buildings are all made from coral stone—which because of their high salt content buildings require constant replastering and repainting. But somehow—despite the challenge of maintaining them (and finding a way to make a life in this desert environment) this is an intriguing and thriving island.

boats from Colombia and Venezuela bring produce to the floating market

hanging out on Galactic

This week we’ve also had a chance to get to know the Galactic family. If you don’t follow their blog—give it a read. These folks are hardcore; crossing oceans with toddlers, sending them to school in the Australs and then sailing to South Georgia... Alisa made the off hand comment that even after crossing the South Atlantic she wasn't in a mad rush to hit the grocery store because she's used to provisioning for seven months at a time and it had only been two! Compared to them, we’ve yet to take a risk. Makes me think we ought to go around one more time, just to make it trickier.

baby Ceilidh
But while they may be going for twice in a lifetime—for now, we’ll call once enough. We’ve left some beautiful things in our wake and this week we learned about one of the most wonderful: our dear friend Lewa in Fiji had her second son and honored us by naming him after us. We hope the name brings wee Keffy Ceilidh joy.

September 24, 2016

Weighty matters

I thought I'd write a little essay on boat weights. There is a lot of misinformation I hear from my fellow sailors, so this is an attempt to educate. I'll try not to get too technical.

How much does your boat weigh?

Do you know how much your boat weighs? Probably not. "Wait!" I hear you cry - "I asked the Travelift guy how much it weighed when we last hauled out". Unfortunately the scales on a Travelift are usually just a pressure gauge which is measuring the pressure in the hydraulic system that is lifting the boat. And there is a scale reading in pounds but it's just a scaled pressure value. And they are never calibrated on a regular basis.

They are notoriously inaccurate for a variety of reasons:

- the manufacturer probably sets them to read high to reduce the chance of overloading the lift
- there is friction in the pulleys/wire ropes etc. which can vary from lift to lift
- straps and shackles are changed and they weigh less or more
- sometimes a lift will use 2 straps, sometimes 4 or more on the same lift. Sometimes big heavy spreader bars will be used so that 4 straps can be used. The gauge doesn't know that.

Every time we haul out, I ask the operator the weight. It's never close to the same amount twice. I'm talking thousands of pounds difference here. At one haulout in Australia, we got about 2500 lbs heavier in the four days we were hauled out. I don't think the new antifouling paint was that heavy...

What's the best way to find out how much she weighs at a given time? Lift it with a crane that has a recently calibrated load cell or put it on a trailer and take it to a truck weigh station, knowing the weight of the empty trailer.


Displacement of a boat is simply how much she weighs. When a boat is floating in water, she will displace (push aside), an amount of water that weighs the same as the boat (see Archimedes for further details). The weight or displacement of a boat will vary depending on how much fuel, water, food, and bottles of wine she has aboard at any given time.

"Brochure Displacement" This number you will see printed in boat sales literature. It used to almost always be simply "Displacement   XXX lbs". If you're going to quote one number for displacement of the boat, traditionally it was "1/2 load displacement". The naval architect would assume that fuel and water tanks were 1/2 full, some crew was aboard, some food, some gear, etc. It's an awfully fuzzy figure, because of the assumptions that about how much the food, gear, crew all weighed. They never assume that the boat is going long distance cruising with thousands of pounds of extra gear or food aboard. It's more of a "weekend displacement".

In reality sailboats are always heavier than brochure weights. Manufacturers want to keep weights down because a lighter boat is known to sail better than a heavier boat. Perhaps they don't lie as such, but they can be very optimistic in their numbers and justify it by saying they never weigh the finished boat. O.K. they lie. I would guesstimate that often sailboat brochure displacements were 20% lower than actual weights with minimal gear aboard.

Catamaran builders are even worse. Generally they would quote "Displacement" - but wouldn't tell you they were quoting Lightship Displacement. Lightship is N.A. talk for "Boat is empty of fuel, water, food, crew, and gear". So you get a nice low figure but it's not realistic for how much the boat weighs in service.

Recently the European Union decided that enough was enough, and cracked down. So now in CE marked boats you will see lightship displacement clearly indicated. I think they are supposed to actually weigh a few representative samples of vessels and not just guess at the weights.

A new Fountaine Pajot Lucia 40 catamaran has an "displacement unloaded" of 9800 kgs (21,560 lbs). She is actually 38' overall so that is a very heavy catamaran.

Compare that to a much earlier 1998 F-P Athena 38. Her displacement found in various reviews is between 11,000 and 12,230 lbs. Yes, catamarans have gotten much heavier in the past decades - but I bet that the Athena is probably a bit heavier than the brochure ever said.

The Lagoon 38 was a porker at 15,962 lbs. Empty.

The new Catana 42 Carbon (actually 41'). 8900 kg (19,580 lbs).

Ceilydh's Weight?
Haulout in South Africa

"How much does she weigh Frank?" I asked as we were finally hauled out by a single point crane. Frank said he didn't know because he doesn't have a load cell on his crane. Sigh! But he did say it's a 10T crane. He knows if somebody is pushing the limits of the crane at 10T and we were nowhere near the limit. He said probably 6 or 7T based on how hard the winch was working. Close enough for me.

Our boat is quoted by the designer as "3.5 T empty" i.e. 3500 kg (7700 lbs) and 6T loaded (13,200 lbs). Certainly she was very light compared to any other 40' catamaran.

But we added the bridgedeck cabin structure (~1000 lbs, even when built in a pretty high-tech way), a diesel engine instead of outboards (say 400 lbs weight gain), scuba compressor (100 lbs), scuba gear for 3 (200 lbs?), my tools (shudder), two sewing machines, a big RIB with a 15HP engine, canning jars, spares for so much, boxes of stainless steel fasteners, sometimes 100's of cans of food when crossing oceans, cat litter, shoes... She is down on her lines about 4000 lbs from her empty weight. I'd bet she is probably 14,000 lbs in typical cruising conditions. So when full of gear, she is lighter than similar size production cats that are totally empty!


We'll close with a quick discussion of a number found on boat registration certificates. You might find Tonnage, Gross Tonnage, and Net Tonnage depending on your country.

These have nothing, repeat, nothing to do with your boat's weight.

Tonnage is a measure of the volume of a ship. Historically cargo ships was taxed on how many tuns or casks of wine they could carry. It simply refers to the volume of the ship. Gross Tonnage is the overall volume of the ship, Net tonnage is the volume of the cargo hold and is the value big ships are taxed on by various authorities because it's the measure of the earning power of the ship.

So if the harbour master asks you for your yacht tonnage, give him or her the net tonnage, because it's the lower number, and there is probably some sort of harbour dues based on tonnage!

Wikipedia has a good little article on tonnage here: Tonnage

Further reading: A good article by Phil Berman, a long time multihull sailor and boat broker. It's remarkably honest about the real weights of production catamarans


- Evan

September 22, 2016

Exploring Curacao

Admiring the sea--which we do a lot...

If ever we needed a hurricane hole, Spanish Waters in Curacao would be it. The large bay is entered through a narrow channel, and once inside there are heaps of nooks and crannies. Compared to Grenada (which was chock-a-block), the place is half empty—and honestly, as a hurricane season destination, we can’t figure out why.

Pretty Punda--a more colourful Amsterdam
So far we rather like the place. It’s very arid—almost Arizona or Baja like: so evenings are cool (ish) and days are only mostly stinking hot. But it’s a dry heat. The anchorage may be the most comfortable we’ve been in, ever. Really. I’m trying to recall a calmer anchorage with a more regular breeze… The only downside is the ride to the dinghy dock is a bit far and if the trades are up, it can be wet.

At anchor entertainment consists of watching all sorts of small sailboats and windsurfers out for lessons and races—with nary a jet ski in sight (or within hearing). There’s good public transit, as well as a free shopping bus plus THREE big marine stores, a half dozen huge well-stocked grocery stores (many which offer shuttle service back to the dinghy dock), a great veggie market and, our latest find, The Wine Factory.

the floating bridge swings open for boat traffic
Even though we were after some of the most affordable wines Wine Factory manager Martin Jansen offered us tastes of everything, plus a great bonus—for every twelve bottles we bought he gave us one free. All the freebees were really special wines that he thought we’d enjoy. On top of the lovely service they also offer free delivery.

definitely NOT the jungle
So with our boat stocked back up for Latin America we were free to explore. New friends gave us a couple of tips while Evan was away in Baltimore (to reassure those who asked—he was working for a Vancouver company in Baltimore—we’re not looking at a return to the East Coast). The first tip was to save an hour or more on his airport entry he should fill out an online ED card before flying back here: http://www.curacao.com/en/directory/plan/getting-curacao/online-ed-card/
The second tip was taxis are bloody expensive and it’s actually cheaper to rent a car in advance then to take a cab from the airport back to the boat. So we had a car.

and caves
The island has a lot to offer: There are a few national parks, lots of museums, some great beaches and even a mall. We chose one park rather randomly—we had a picnic, we were hungry and Shete Boka National Park was next up along the road.

The stunning landscape was enough to keep us happy—though the heat took its toll. We look forward to more exploring before we set off again.
and beaches

September 11, 2016

Out with the Old, In with the New

No, this isn't about replacing my spouse or child or cat.

It's about our boat batteries. We use 4 x 6V old fashioned lead acid golf cart batteries. They are not fancy. They are not super lightweight. But they are:

- relatively cheap to buy and replace when required
- have a decent lifespan (this is set #3, each set lasting about 3.5-4 years of heavy daily cycling)
- each one can be lifted without back strain (~64 lbs each)
- can be found in a lot of parts of the world, unlike AGM, Gel, or Li-Ion.

Old bad batteries - heading for recycling ashore
We thought the batteries were maybe starting to get tired in South Africa. But that was January, and we were spending money there like semi-sober sailors on boat gear. And in a Monty Python way, they weren't quite dead yet. So we decided to see if we could keep them going for a few months more. Which turned into 8 more months.

In St. Helena, where we spent 40 days in the lee of a big cliff, the sun didn't shine directly on the boat until late morning, so we had to run the engine an hour every other day. This was unheard of on our boat, which normally relies only on solar power. There, we also found one solar panel had died. So it now became time to replace the batteries. St. Helena and Ascension offer very limited shopping, though we probably could have found something in Suriname. But we were close to the boat gear shopping paradise that is the Caribbean (seriously, we haven't seen such well stocked chandleries since the west coast of the US in 2009)

(Easy way to test your solar panels:  one person throws a towel over each panel in turn, and one person inside reads the amps coming in. A dead panel doesn't change the power coming in)

Budget Marine in Grenada offered reasonable pricing on batteries ($177 each) and a replacement 105W solar panel (~$200). This is about what I paid in Australia for the last set of batteries, and a bit more than 8 years ago for the first set.

New Solar Panel beside old one. The one on the right is the new 105 Watt one, the one on the left that is the same overall size is a 75 Watt one, donated by our friends Cindy and Doug, when they were upgrading their solar panels. It was about 10 years in service with us, and who knows how many on their boat with the previous owner. Look how the cells are cut from a much bigger silicon wafer and so are much efficient in terms of space compared to the older one.

 Our solar panel farm keeps growing. The biggest panel in the middle is 200W, and we have a total of 550 W. Today, in bright sun, our peak power was running at about 33 Amps. That's like having an alternator running all the time. We love having a lot of solar panels.

- Evan