July 20, 2016

Landfall Tobago--we're in the Caribbean, man!

I saw the lights of Tobago when I came on watch last night, and as we rounded Marble Island and headed toward Charlottesville, we entered the Caribbean Sea. Heading to shore was like a cruising cliché: reggae drifting through the streets; the air heavy and warm; and colours that looked so bold and textured they bring to mind a black velvet painting. Formalities (once we assured them we hadn't arrived in Tobago outside of office hours) were easy and friendly. After a yummy lunch ashore the plan was to head back to the boats and swim and nap before celebratory sundowners. This is our 24th country and we've entered our 8th year of voyaging: 30,000 miles of new places, new friends and great adventures. Our afternoon plans changed when we were approached by a guy on the street who was looking for the 'Canadian family'. Evan had gone off separately and discovered the best wifi in town is at the Pearl, which is run by a Canadian woman. Timothy, her son, had befriended an Irish/Brazilian/Australian family and the girl on board was desperate for a friend--so he was playing match maker. The connection was convoluted, but as cruiserly as they come. Meeting new people based on the 3rd, 4th or 5th degree of separation is just part of the charm. So after a brief introduction at a new boat, 'here, we brought you a friend' Maia spent time with a new friend, I luxuriated in the pleasure of jumping off the boat in clear warm water and Evan found enough internet to get some work done.

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July 18, 2016

The Many Toyotas of Suriname

We spent a lot of time driving around the capital of Suriname. About half the population lives there - and the traffic is pretty bad. I started noticing how many different models of Toyotas were around us, most I had never heard of. They mostly drive on the left, and we figured a lot of these cars were used ones imported from Japan. For a interesting read about why used Japanese cars are exported all over the world, even to far away Suriname, read the Wikipedia entry about Japanese car safety inspections. They are frequent, costly, and stringent (no rusting allowed on springs for example). It gets very uneconomical to keep a used car more than 10 years, and so a heavily depreciated car will be exported to a third world, right hand drive country like Suriname. Or New Zealand. Just kidding New Zealand we love you. And if you're going to buy a used car from overseas, a Toyota is usually a safe bet. It became a game in the slow traffic to find models we hadn't seen yet. A good day would get us half a dozen, a slow one only two. Without further ado, the collected Toyotas of Suriname: Alphard Allex Aristo Avensis Auris Avalon Blade Belta Carina Caldina Carib Chaser Crown Corona Corolla Camry Corsa Demio Estima Fielder Funcargo Harrier Hilux HiAce Isis IST Ipsum (good looking compact wagon) Kluger Lumiere Land cruiser Light Ace Mark X (flashy RWD sedan) Mark II Noah Opa Passo Parade Premid Premio Precio Porte Prado Platz (one of our rental cars) Ractis Raum Rav4 RunX Starlet Soarer Spacio Sprinter Tercel Tundra Voltz Vitz Voxy Vic Vessona Wish Windo (like the Samuel L Jackson Star Wars Jedi charactwer Mace Windo)

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July 17, 2016

Who's on Watch-Tobago bound

Evan woke me with a whack. Finding me asleep beside him when all indications were that we were sailing (the banging, crashing and whooshing indicated we were going upwind at good speed) led him to question why I wasn't on watch. He had also been asleep but somewhere in his caveman brain he knew someone needed to keep an eye on the cave, err, boat. The answer, of course, was Maia was on watch. While I could empathize with the fear that woke him (I once woke during a storm; upset no one was keeping anchor watch. Evan sent me to look out our curtained window so I could reassure myself our apartment hadn't dragged) I resented the lost sleep. Passages under 1000 miles feel pretty routine these days. I still prep food for the first two nights, we check weather and carefully plot a route-but there's less anxiety. It's possible to just pick-up and go- timing our departure for a working-hours arrival in a whole new country. Even still, I got up and relieved Maia. Peering into the night for squalls and way ward fishing nets. The passages may have become routine- but the same deep instincts that woke Evan keep us prepared.

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July 14, 2016

Not Dead Yet--adventures in Suriname


It’s been pointed out that I left off with us in a squall, 100 miles from the Suriname River and then went quiet. Sorry about that.

Navigating up the river was straightforward—we came in on the flood and rode it 30 miles to the moorings at River Breeze in Domburg. There we met the marina owners and settled in to the welcoming space with its friendly restaurant, well-stocked book exchange, pretty pool, clean showers and washing machine: Pretty much a cruiser’s paradise.

Our first full day was spent taking the bus into Paramaribo (and learned that buses are cheap, crowded, irregular and slow—we opted to rent a car after our first effort to economize). In the city we checked in; a surprisingly quick and easy procedure for us which turned out to be the exception, rather than the more typical experience. Then we hit a clinic to have my ear infection taken care of. $45 US and a trip to the Apoteek and I had a fistful of new antibiotics. Then it was off to the grocery store.

It’s been five months since we’ve been in a store that boasts more than four or five types of fresh fruits and vegetables, fresh milk or a selection of cheese, baked goods and chocolate.
Paramaribo street scene--all white wooden buildings with dark trim in the historic district

While most tourists probably hit a grocery store now and again for snacks or supplies—in our first four days we went to at least six different shops. We’d slowly wander up and down the aisles admiring options of things we’d long run out of, or never knew existed: real fruit concentrates from the Netherlands, tonic of a known name brand, corn tortillas, fair trade chocolate, sesame oil, bagels, fresh anything…

Who needs a museum?

The hardware stores, chandleries and supermarkets might seem like culture enough, but we did spend a day as tourists; visiting the main cathedral, the rum distillery and Fort Zeelandia, which was originally built by the English then taken over by the Dutch. Most of our time though has been spent trying to decipher Dutch names (why so many letters?), eating fresh tropical fruit (mmmm) and navigating the medical system.
the river at dawn
Just after I finally recovered from my ear infection and we were starting to plan an inland trip to the Amazon River basin-Evan developed symptoms of a heart attack: moderate squeezing pain in the chest, left arm was tingling/numb, he had some edema (swelling) in his feet and ankles and very high blood pressure. The marina owners provided me and Ev with a ride to the hospital and he was quickly admitted into an overwhelmed emergency room.

The experience was intense--the doctors train in the Netherlands, so that was good, but the vibe is developing world. It was the last day of Ramadan, and a holiday, so there were a number of well-dressed people in distress. At one point several ambulances from a car accident arrived--one of the young men died and there was a very public visitation/mourning in the small emergency room. He was a beautiful young guy and looked flawless (Ev saw the whole process of doctors working on him etc-it's a small emergency room) the disbelief in his death was raw and overpowering. At least 30 people were in to see him and were wailing.

Not long after this, the head doctor let us know that while Evan wasn't showing classic signs of a heart attack-he wanted to admit him for observation and to see how he did through the night. The initial EKG was negative (i.e. didn't show any heart irregularities or damage) and they did some initial blood tests which were also negative. But the next day one enzyme marker (CPK) went quite high, which can be a symptom of a heart attack. At this point the doctors admitted him to the cardiac unit for an angiogram-which they (English being a second language-and us not being versed on heart attacks) told us was surgery, not simply an exploratory procedure.

Communication was an issue for both Evan as the patient and me as the family. When I got home from the hospital I realized I had no idea *which* hospital I had left him in. The next day, when I called the hospital to track him down, I was told to come in and look for him-starting with where I'd last seen him. Payment had to be made in advance of the procedure-and my last contact with Ev and his doctors (before I lost them again…) was that based on the blood test he had definitely had a heart attack and needed immediate surgery and likely a stent-but first I had to pay.

Suriname is in a state of economic distress. Bank machines only give out <$200 at a time credit cards aren't accepted at any businesses (or the hospital) and the currency is devaluing on a daily basis. I was asked to pay a deposit. Initially I was asked for $4400 Suriname $$ or about $750 US, but when I returned with that amount I was told that because of the chance of Evan needing more intensive care in I'd need a deposit equalling 6 days in the hospital's Coronary Care Unit or $1200 US x 6 = $7200. And I'd need it by 7am the next day (it was now past bank closing) or they'd delay his surgery…

Eventually, the hospital accepted what I was able to pull together with the huge assistance of Ley and Neil (about $5200 US-we eventually were refunded $2200 so the total cost of care came to $3000). Ev had the angiogram and gleefully learned he has the arteries of a much younger man and that aside from the puzzle of the increasing CPK #'s and high cholesterol that needs treating, his symptoms were likely caused by some type of esophageal spasms-a very common source of misdiagnosed heart attacks.

He left the hospital as soon as he had recovered from the angiogram--something about noisy roommates, a 4 am bath time and the food at the place being a disappointment. Most meals consisted of four slices of bread and a condiment.

So we're back at home on the river-monkeys in the trees, birds overhead. We'll be leaving for Trinidad and Tobago in a few days: Our touring in Suriname limited to Paramaribo and the hospital. But we're all healthy and happy-which we were reminded is what really counts.

June 23, 2016

Not all Dolphins and Rainbows

Last night dinner was interrupted when a pod of Atlantic spotted dolphins came to play in our bow waves. Even in the green-black waters of the Amazon River outflow we could see them as they streaked through the depths before surfacing for a tandem leap. I wanted to say then, that this has been the easiest passage we've ever had. Sailor's superstition means I can't say that out loud though. It's like challenging the gods to toughen us up and throw an 'adventure' our way. Perhaps having held the thought was enough though-with 100 miles to go we find ourselves beating into a squall; Poseidon demanding our reverence and caution by reminding us that ocean passages are awesome, powerful and sublime, but never simple or easy.

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June 20, 2016

Fish for dinner, the Amazon to port

To port lies the Amazon River Delta. Once in awhile the urge to abandon our plans and make a hard left turn kicks in. Sometimes we can yeild to the call of adventure-but this time the wild mystery of the Amazon is going to live as an unfulfilled yearning. I read once that it's not bucket lists that keep us exploring, but unfinshed travels. The sense that if we'd been able to go a little futher, stay a little longer, see one more thing-that the journey would feel complete. So we head out again and again; looking for a fresh view of the familiar, or a sense of belonging somewhere new. Only rarely do we get to stay until we're truly satisfied. We started fishing a few days ago. It is typically me who throws out the lures but with chronic seasickness, thanks to an ear infection, I haven't felt much like fishing. Plus we're in the Saragosso Sea--so sargassum weed tends to choke up a lure almost as soon as it goes in. But with almost 600 miles still to go a fish dinner would be a welcome treat. So I untangled the hand lines, tossed them over and this morning I had an immediate hard hit--which proved my lucky lure was no longer lucky because after the initial strike the line went slack and the lure was gone. Luckily the next lure did the trick and we now have four + meals of Dorado, to help stretch our provisions. Sailing continues to be easy. At night the seas are calm under a bright moon and in the distance a storied river sings her siren's song; urging us to come back. But we sail on.

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June 18, 2016

Sailing to Suriname day 14

We're starting to run low on fresh fruits and veggies; which means it's time to get clever with cabbage. We're not doing too terribly though considering the last truly well-stocked and affordable grocery store was in Port Owen in March. It helps that this is such an easy trip. It's complicated coming up with meals in rough conditions which go beyond 2 tins + 1 bag or box = dinner. Instead we have things like veggie burgers made from butternut squash and feta cheese or sweet and sour coleslaw with cabbage and beets. It really is all about food out here. We're now less than 800 from Suriname. We crossed the equator for the forth and final time a few days ago and changed times on the clock for about the 30th time since leaving home. What we haven't had to do on this passage is raise the mainsail, though we have changed foresail configurations multiple times. Mostly though we spend our days reading and pondering what to make with our diminished stores. Soon enough though there will be a new country and new cuisine.

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June 15, 2016

Halfway Day

At 2636 miles, the trip to Suriname is our second longest passage. Our longest was Puerto Vallarta to the Marquesas when Maia was 9. The difference between voyaging with a 14-year-old vs a 9-year-old is pretty huge. Last time I carried a supply of books, art and science projects and made a lot of playdough to keep her entertained. This time I just made sure our galley was well stocked with baking supplies. Still, 18 days is a long time to be at sea. Fortunately this is a pretty sweet passage. Nights are gentle enough and traffic minimal enough that Maia takes the midnight to 1am slot--giving both Evan and I a four hour rest. She also cooks some dinners, helps with sails and keeps up with school. But she's still a kid, and to ward off the 'are we there yets' I planned a few celebrations. Last night we hit the halfway point and along with a huge pod of porpoises which showed up to celebrate we had pizza as well as dessert crepes with chocolate mousse and berries. Dinner is often the highlight of a day on passage. We dream about ingredients we don't have and then try to make something tasty with what we do. Part of our daily check-in when crossing the Pacific was the recitation of each boat's dinner menu (Whatcha Gonna Do always seemed to have the best meals...). This passage is similar in that Crystal Blues and us compare notes each day. Halfway Day wouldn't be complete without a gift for Maia. I contemplated fresh playdough for nostalgia but instead took advantage of the wifi on Ascension to grab a new episode of a much longed for show. So we watched TV, ate yummy food and enjoyed the feeling of being halfway there. Next up: Equator Day

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Halfway Day

At 2636 miles, the trip to Suriname is our second longest passage. Our longest was Puerto Vallarta to the Marquesas when Maia was 9. The difference between voyaging with a 14-year-old vs a 9-year-old is pretty huge. Last time I carried a supply of books, art and science projects and made a lot of playdough to keep her entertained. This time I just made sure our galley was well stocked with baking supplies. Still, 18 days is a long time to be at sea. Fortunately this is a pretty sweet passage. Nights are gentle enough and traffic minimal enough that Maia takes the midnight to 1am slot--giving both Evan and I a four hour rest. She also cooks some dinners, helps with sails and keeps up with school. But she's still a kid, and to ward off the 'are we there yets' I planned a few celebrations. Last night we hit the halfway point and along with a huge pod of porpoises which showed up to celebrate we had pizza as well as dessert crepes with chocolate mousse and berries. Dinner is often the highlight of a day on passage. We dream about ingredients we don't have and then try to make something tasty with what we do. Part of our daily check-in when crossing the Pacific was the recitation of each boat's dinner menu (Whatcha Gonna Do always seemed to have the best meals...). This passage is similar in that Crystal Blues and us compare notes each day. Halfway Day wouldn't be complete without a gift for Maia. I contemplated fresh playdough for nostalgia but instead took advantage of the wifi on Ascension to grab a new episode of a much longed for show. So we watched TV, ate yummy food and enjoyed the feeling of being halfway there. Next up: Equator Day.

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June 11, 2016

Rescue at Sea

My mum woke me early in the morning, to point out an injured black noddy, a tern. It was perched on the roof, its legs entangled with polyethylene fibres. They're small seabirds, with a long hooked beak and sooty plumage. Apparently, they're very comfortable with humans, to the extent that they can be picked up off their nests. This one was not as sociable. We tried several times to capture it, because it was clearly having trouble flying. I approached it slowly, oven mitts protecting my hands, but it flew away. It returned in a few minutes, and we tried to capture it with a towel. It flew away. Luckily, when it came back, it perched on the side deck, an easy place for us to reach. My dad captured it, wrapping it firmly in a towel before returning to the cockpit where I waited with scissors. It took us a few tries to find the feet, in the towel, (we kept getting beak), but we managed it and took turns snipping at the plastic. It had wrapped tight around its lower and upper legs, but we didn't realize how bad the damage was until we cut away the trailing fibres. On its upper leg, a tight band of plastic was almost cutting off the leg, and it was badly infected. It took quite a while for us to ease the bloody polyethylene off, but we managed. The leg was almost severed, and removing the plastic made it start to bleed. I dabbed some antiseptic ointment, with a general numbing agent on the wound, and we released it. Hopefully, we helped it survive and possibly keep the leg. BTW this is Maia writing, in case you didn't realize.

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