Tumultuous Uproar

A cruising boat with a racing problem...

The Medical Teams and The Wanker

08 April 2018
(Channel 14 VHF, San Cristobal, Galapagos, April 7, 7:00 PM)

“Heritage, Heritage, this is Uproar”
“Uproar, this is Heritage.”
“This is Lisa, we are ready for the medical team, rum punch is ready.”
“Roger that Uproar, we will take a water taxi over right away.”

I knew well what awaited me when the medical team arrived, filled with dread. But they arrived with smiles and “Yes please” to rum punch. Adam and Alyssa have a beautiful, traditional, Bruce Roberts design ketch and presently had three crew from Germany. Caroline, one of the crew, is a doctor. They all celebrated their equator crossing as did we on Uproar. Caroline's was most extreme, she shaved her long hair off. Alyssa is a nurse and Lisa as administrator filled out The Medical Team.

I read years ago that sailors who crossed the equator under sail would get a gold earring as a signal to other sailors of their accomplishment. Hmmmm.

During Antigua Classics week, I was fortunate enough to get a crewing spot on Iris J, a 5.5 meter sloop. Patrick Aguillard was also in the crew and had the coolest, gold shackle as an earring. There were times when the waves were filling up Iris J. Patrick became the wanker to keep us from sinking. Perhaps I should explain. Old sailing ships had a bildge pump that had an arm to be pumped up and down. The wanker was one of the lowest positions aboard so became a derogatory term. The motion of the wanker gave it its modern connotation. Nothing personal Patrick, just admired your earring. That and we sure had a great time racing.

Lisa took the hint and ordered an 18K gold shackle. I said I would try but didn't promise anything. I have a strong phobia of needles and medical procedures. If someone starts to describe an operation they had or similar, I have to leave the room. Fortunately, I have had very few illnesses or conditions requiring medical care. Perhaps it is because this phobia keeps me healthy. It would suffice to say that when I am confronted with a shot or blood test, I shake like an old dog shitting razor blades....then the room starts to spin.

The Medical Team was well aware of my condition and my conflicting desire to wear the shackle in my ear. Lisa coordinated the procedure and sheltered me from any details. Three rum punches later, I was lead to our cabin and laid out comfortably on our bed. Lisa held a powerful flashlight and Alyssa went to work. I don't even want to write about the details. They had Lydocaine cream, a sharp needle and a potato. The toughest part was screwing the screw in the tiny hole left by the needle. Nurse and Doctor took turns working the screw through my ear and holding my hand. Lisa even took a turn with the final tightening of the shackle screw. They all shared in the fun.

Somehow it actually worked. OK, I was freaked out a bit but this compassionate team could not have been more kind and gentle. Thanks to The Medical Team, the patient survived!



Polywogs to Shellbacks

04 April 2018
"Passages" is a term often used to describe life-changing experiences. The metaphor is well understood among sailors. Our passages cruising are transitions from one part of the world to another. Uproar's most recent passage from Panama to Galapagos is no exception.

Our most significant passages to date are from Beaufort, NC to the Bahamas; Bahamas to Virgin islands; St. Martin to Bermuda; Bermuda to Martinique; and Caribbean to Panama with a few stops. Panama to Galapagos was a beautiful sail and a passage of significant changes in our cruising lifestyle.

We left from the beautiful Las Perlas Islands, just south of Panama City. The weather pattern gave us a strong, north breeze to start heading south. We left at noon and sailed on a fast, downwind run for the first day. Wind lightened on day two as we knew it would. Prior to departure we changed from our small, #3 jib to our racing, light #1 genoa. This is a well used sail that really piles on the speed in light wind. But the magic ended on day two when the wind drop below 5 knots. We rolled up the genoa and started the engine.

The ocean was listening. Within a few minutes I saw dolphins swimming fast toward Uproar. We have experienced this in the Caribbean. When dolphins hear that engine, they come out to play. They frolicked under our bow, crossing back and forth. Other dolphins swam on all sides, jumping and playing. I woke Lisa up, napping from her previous night watch. We stood on the bow for about 15 minutes watching a dolphin show that would put SeaWorld to shame. At one point three dolphins jumped in perfect unison. Several were swimming on their side, looking right at us. One even swam on her back right under out bow for a minute, what a clown. The water was perfectly flat with that deep blue, clear Pacific. Then they left for other adventures.

Whales started surfacing one half mile to our north. These were small, pilot whales. We saw their fins, spouts and blunt heads. Later in the passage we spotted one whale on the surface slapping his great fin on the water. Sadly that's all we saw of him. A Blue Marlin took a liking to the pink squid we towed and then got really pissed off about that hook. He took out line so fast the reel was smoking hot. I set the drag tight and held on with just a few yards of line left. I couldn't yield any more line. He made a mighty jump and the line broke. Then he jumped again to show his disgust. I wasn't the least disappointed. No way would I land a fish like that, we didn't have room in the freezer for 50 pounds of fish. He gave us a brief show and I'm sorry for his new piercing. Hope the other Marlins don't make fun of him.

The route to Galapagos passes through the Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ), more commonly known as the Doldrums. This is an area where the NE winds of the North Pacific collide with the SE winds just north of the Equator. We have all read stories of boats getting stuck in the Doldrums for days on end. The Doldrums strike up images of endless, glassy seas under a hot sun. Not so, these air masses colliding produce low, gray clouds; light, shifty winds and rain. That's exactly what we experienced.

Uproar received the first rain rinse in two months. We loved having the Panama washed off our decks. She felt clean again. That's the only good about the Doldrums. The seas became a bit lumpy and wind unpredictable. But there was enough wind to sail....right on the nose. I tacked back and forth for hours. Looking at our track, our tacking angles were impressive. Sure I caught some good wind shifts but the 1.5 knots of current behind us helped. I had enough and started the diesel. The next morning we saw blue skies ahead and the wind came from the SE at a light 6 to 8 knots.

This was the SE trades we expected. Even though it was light Uproar sailed along beautifully with our light #1 genoa. The current helped too, giving us an astonishing 7 to 8 knots! Current was not only behind but from our lee side. Fellow sailors, ponder this: Sailboats don't sail straight through the water. The track is to the lee of where a boat is headed. With the current from our lee, we tracked to weather of our boat heading. Not only that but this current pushing us to weather gave us an apparent wind lift. It was bizarre and welcome. Uproar was performing like a TP 52 sailing to weather! The result was that current gave us a free 120 miles on this 880 mile passage.

Night watches were pleasant but surprisingly cold. Lisa set up our stadium seats with backs, pillows and the fuzzy, purple blanket. My Ducati sweatshirt was the standard night watch uniform. We swiveled the chart plotter so we could easily see it from this position. Kindle, Ipad and night stars kept our attention. A little Starling, lost at sea took refuge on Uproar for a day and a half. It would perch in various spots, occasionally flying around and landing back on the lifelines.

Our light #1 genoa gave its all. We watched it slowly delaminate and shred where it crossed the bow pulpit. Tom Pease told me, "I don't know how long this sail will last." We bought it quite used. It did just fine and got us to Galapagos with a huge hole near the tack. We used this sail for our light wind passage from Bermuda and to win the Carriacou Regatta. But this was its last passage. We are back to our smaller #3.

Galapagos is notoriously unfriendly to cruisers. They just don't want us here. Skabenga was turned out to sea where they must sail 40 miles, clean their bottom and return. We stopped Uproar about 20 miles from Galapagos to clean the bottom before arriving. There was absolutely no wind. Current was light too. We turned the engine off in one of the most beautiful seas I have ever seen. Galapagos was in the distant mist. There was not a single sound. I donned snorkelking gear and with scraper in hand dove in. I have to admit to some primal fear jumping off a perfectly good boat in the middle of the ocean. But once in, the beauty of the azure, clear water was enchanting. I scraped some growth off that had hitchhiked over the past week. We continued to motor into Wreck Bay.

But the biggest moment for Lisa and me was when we crossed the Equator. Neither of us had ever been south of the Equator. We had the perfect sailing weather as we watched our GPS go from N to S. Tradition is to have the Shellbacks (those who have sailed over the equator previously) harass and taunt the polywogs (first timers). Lisa and I were lucky there was no Shellback onboard. Then I remembered one of my missions on this passage. I had some of Dad's ashes onboard. Dad was in the Navy and had crossed the Equator. We opened a bottle of good, French champagne, gave the first sip to King Neptune asking his permission to enter his ocean and asking for his protection. We toasted each other and Uproar.

I spread Dad's ashes in the wake of Uproar and said goodbye. Dad, the Shellback didn't give us polywogs the business but he sure made us cry.

Las Perlas Islands, Panama

27 March 2018
If you have watched “Survivor,” “Naked and Afraid,” or “Dual Survivor” you have seen a lot of the Las Perlas Islands, Panama. This group of about 100 islands is only 40 miles south of Panama City but feels like an island wilderness and paradise. Very few of the islands are inhabited leaving plenty of desolate and pristine spots for these shows. We are anxious to head off to Galapagos or we would be spending a lot more time here. Contadora Islands does have plush resort hotels but there aren't many other places for tourists here....unless you come by boat. Calm anchorages are everywhere.

We made a quick trip here before our return to Ohio for Dad's memorial service. We returned here to get ready for the jump to Galapagos and on to Marquesas. But a watermaker hose blew. I had to fly back to Panama City, get a new hose made, spend the night and return to Contadora. Now this essential part of our survival equipment is working fine.

This is our first introduction to the Pacific Ocean. So far, mixed reviews. It's cold! Well, colder than the Caribbean. I bet the water temp is mid-70s. Caribbean is mid-80s. It is also a bit murky due to a lot of plankton in the water. Tides are 14 feet, something else new to Uproar. Between islands there can be some wicked currents caused by the tides. But the beaches and vistas are fantastic. These rugged islands have rocky coves that offer great protection from the gentle, Pacific breezes.

There is some history here besides reality TV. One beach has a 100 year old wrecked submarine! The US built runways on several islands during WWII. The guide book mentions pre-Columbian pottery on the beaches but we haven't found any (saw a lot on Nevis). My return flight from Panama City stopped on Isle San Jose before Contadora. I had no idea there was another stop and was surprised when the Cessna Caravan (turbo-prop 12 seater) descended onto a tiny runway. The cruising guide mentions that San Jose is privately owned. It does mention that cruisers can hike the many roads put in by the owner.

The owner's son, Mark was on the plane with me. We chatted while the plane was being unloaded with food and supplies for the island. They actually have a small hotel and restaurant on the island, Hacienda Del Mar. He invited us to anchor in their bay and dine at their restaurant. Rooms are cottages and they charge per cottage between $180 and $300/night. Four can sleep in the cottages. Trip Advisor gives it high reviews. Mark said it is a paradise to live there. The island is quite large. He has a cattle operation and the many roads and runway were courtesy of the USA. They did have to pave the runway several years ago. There are deer and lots of wildlife on the island. June through October, they can see whales right from their bar.

The best story Mark told me was that there was a German couple who lived on their boat, in a bay on SJ for 45 years! They would sail to Panama once/year to haul the boat, paint the bottom and service the equipment but just lived in that bay full time. His dad gave them several Hectares of land for growing vegetables and they eventually moved onto land. But they lived a reclusive life. When he died, his widow left the island. Mark and his dad visited their camp for the first time. He said it was a real live Robinson Crusoe camp. They later figured out that the guy was a Nazi officer hiding from wartime prosecution. Great story!

There are several small, fishing villages in Las Perlas. Houses are crude, concrete with corrugated roofs. Esmeralda is one town we visited that was supposed to have a store. Well, it was sort-of-a store. A few cans, squashed tomatoes but no onions. The minute we landed our dinghy on their beautiful beach, we were surrounded by a dozen children. They helped us drag the dinghy up the beach, safely away from the rising tide. They followed us everywhere. Lisa was a bit intimidated by them. Some of the pre-teenage girls just couldn't stop looking at Lisa. We went looking for a welder because Chris on Skabenga needed a pin for his anchor roller welded. Miguel said he could do it. On our walk through town, the kids were asking us questions....in Spanish of course. We could answer some but didn't understand a lot of what they were saying. As we left Miguel's house, I felt a little hand in mine. I looked down and a girl, about 4 years old was holding my hand, looking up at me. I proudly held her hand for a block until she scooted off. That was just the day before I became a grandpa! Yes, Liz and Victor had a baby boy, Harlan on March 24.

Chris and I returned the next day with his boat project. Miguel did weld a washer on the end of the pin. The work was crude but he had only a small, stick welder to use. He wouldn't take any money for the job. I brought a few soccer balls and some colored pencils to give away. I made it clear the balls were to share and they understood. Strangely, we had only boys following us around. Without Lisa, the girls stayed away....except for the one girl who stared at Lisa the previous day. She came by and I gave her the colored pencils. She seemed pleased. As Chris and I were leaving, one of the boys came up to me and whispered, “gracious.” I smiled, “denada.”

Panama

27 March 2018
Panama is the land of contrasts. The Kunas in the San Blas region are indigenous people who inhabit tiny, low-lying islands and rule themselves independent of Panama. Panama City has a skyline of about 100 high-rise buildings and a population of just over 1 million (about the size of Milwaukee). Las Perlas Islands are 40 miles south of Panama City. This rocky island group is mostly uninhabited except for a few fishing villages and some resort areas. It has a remote feel that belies its proximity to Panama City. We did not travel much on land but from the sea (both Caribbean and Pacific) the countryside of Panama is mountainous with some areas reputed to be unexplored. Right through the center of Panama is the famous Panama Canal which transfers 5% of the world's shipping between the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. There is a lot going on in Panama!

Uproar sailed from Colombia to Obaldia, Panama on January 5th . We will leave within the week for Galapagos. We have been here nearly 3 months! Our long stay here was not strictly due to the beauty of Panama and the friendly Panamanians. The canal transit alone takes time to arrange paperwork and schedule. We needed long-stay visas from the Franch Consulate to spend the time we want in French Polynesia, a process that took one month. We had visitors from Milwaukee for the transit and some cruising fun with Glyn and Laura in the San Blas. And we traveled back to Ohio for my father's memorial service. Our last adventure here is in the Las Perlas where we are decompressing from busy Panama City.

Highlights were the beautiful San Blas Islands and the unusual Kuna Yala people. These islands are either densely inhabited with thatched huts or uninhabited with cultivated palm trees for their precious coconuts. The coconut islands are postcard beautiful with sandy beaches. There are hundreds of good anchorages protected by an extensive reef system. We enjoyed this 100 mile stretch of Panama in the company of Skabenga and Mana Kai and a return trip with Glyn and Laura aboard. Snorkeling is especially good in some parts of this island chain.

The canal transit is a right of passage. The canal is a serious operation, efficiently run with massive equipment and huge ships everywhere. But it signaled something more to us, the end of our Caribbean voyage and new adventures in the faraway South Pacific. It feels a bit like walking out on the end of a high, diving board. There is no turning back and one has to travel a long way!

Balboa Yacht Club is at the Pacific end of the Panama Canal, just past Bridge of the Americas. It is a mooring field, half yachts and half supply boats to ferry crew and supplies to the ships. There are no dinghy docks but two efficient tenders work 24/7 and pick up after a call on VHF channel 6. But the water and air are dirty here. Our deck was covered with soot and bottom covered with sludge and growth. Workboat and canal traffic often caused rolling, uncomfortable seas. We were here more than two weeks while traveling back to the US and various other tasks. They do have a very nice open restaurant and bar. We were back to hamburgers and wings.

We gladly left BYC and headed just a few miles to La Playita anchorage. Tailings from digging the canal were dumped along a group of small islands extending south of the canal. This was paved into a beautiful causeway developed with restaurants, marinas, chandleries, and bike rental shops. The water was still rather dirty but not as bad as Balboa. I believe I was the only one in the anchorage who swam daily. Oh, the Pacific is significantly colder than the Caribbean. Glyn and I called the temperature “Lake Michigan warm,” around 73 degrees.

Traveling around Panama City is by taxi. They are everywhere and prices are reasonable. While Colon at the Atlantic side of the canal is a dangerous, run-down place, Panama City sparkles and is quite safe to visit. We especially enjoyed the Old City, buildings dating back to the 1600's, many restored. There are wide squares and parks in the old city. We visited often as the French Consulate was located there. We also availed ourselves of the mega-shopping opportunities. Price Smart is a Panamanian Costco and other grocery stores are as complete as the best in the US. Uproar is sunk another few inches from the supplies we put onboard for the long, Pacific crossings. We could probably live three months or more on just the stores onboard.

Adriano, our favorite taxi driver would take us shopping in his small, Suzuki van. He even took us to a number of shops to buy a new outboard motor. Yes, our old Merc died. I removed a spark plug to see if we had spark. When I pulled the starter rope, seawater squirted out the spark plug hole. I pronounced it dead without further investigation. We bought a new Suzuki 15 hp. It is a two stroke which I have mixed feelings about. But it cost almost half what a four stroke costs and is 35 pounds lighter. We really struggled with getting the Merc on and off the dinghy. Our new motor is now Zukey, named after the famous Zukey Lake Tavern, best pizza on the Huron River chain. Now we just need a ZLT sticker to personalize our motor.

The obvious question about Panama City is “why so many tall buildings for a population of just a million?” The answer is simple, drug money! There are 160 banks in Panama and the Panamanian government doesn't ask a lot of questions. They are there to launder drug money. Some of the skyscrapers are standing empty but the money is in a legitimate investment. I guess it is better than being confiscated by the DEA. Regardless of the source, Panama City is a delightful place and stark contrast to the San Blas islands to the north, Las Perlas islands to the south, and mountainous country east and west.

We expected Panama to provide transportation to the Pacific Ocean but she provided much more.

Technology Afloat

11 March 2018
We probably rival a nuclear submarine of five years ago with the technology we have on Uproar. I don't think we are unique among cruising boats. Years ago, cruisers exchanged recipes, sailing strategies, bottom paint suggestions or favorite anchorages. Now, we exchange technology. One would think with a Purdue degree in Mechanical Engineering I would be up-to-date with technology. No f&W)Eing way! I am a Ludite compared to my cruising friends and especially my wife, Lisa.

We spent the afternoon and evening on Skabenga with Chris and Karen. We both have initiated Iridium Go (dubed by Mac Magazine as Iridium No!) This is a satellite system to send and receive Emails and important weather information. Predictwind is the website that broadcasts its magic on Iridium Go. With a substantial donation, we will be able to receive weather information that is particular to Uproar. Here's what they offer. We plug in the polar diagrams (specific performance data for our boat) and the will custom tailor a route that we can sail for optimum speed toward our destination.

Remember, the rhum line is the dumb line! Rhum line is the straight distance between point A and point B. Why not sail this simple rhum line? Predictwind has the answer. Wind strength, direction and current play a part in our passage. They will tell us, "Just point your boat a bit south, when you hit the equator, turn right a bit and then you will sail directly to Galapagos." If it were only that simple. Iridium Go clearly states, "Set up your account at least four days before departure." Why? When you plug everything in, you have little chance of it working! That's why!

Lisa, Karen and Chris have struggled over three pitchers of Pain Killers (don't ask) and the debate about Apple or PC. I am blissfully ignorant. The result is that we spent an two hours downloading movies from Skabenga, Zensation and some other boats. Lisa did sort out our Iridium Go account but it is not password protected. Perhaps that will be rectified tomorrow. She believes we have the proper files for Open CPN navigation software.

OK, here is a rundown of our technology:

Surface Pro 3
HP laptop with 1 terabyte drive (new)
Old PC
Ipad basic (new)
Two Dual GPS receivers (high tech aircraft grade)
Project FI Google phone
5 or 6 portable drives of 1 to 3 terabytes
Open quad band phone
Garmin handheld GPS
Garmin chartplotter (backup without current chart software, it does give position though)
Raymarine E7 chartplotters 2 with new backup. With Cmap charting software for every area we sail.
Open CPN software with charts as backup chartplotter.
Navionics software on Ipad backup chartplotter
Four Kindles (God forbid we should be without a Kindle)

OK, it all mostly works. Cruisers used to meet on the beach to exchange paperbacks. Then they would exchange DVDs. Now we trade hard drives and download movies and Ebooks. I bet we have 50 years of movies, series, and books to read. But that's not enough. I still crave MotoGP racing. Last year in the Caribbean, I learned how to download MotoGP races, hours after completion. Just find the race on Youtube. Insert "ss" after the "." after www. This takes you to a site where you can download Youtube content. I did! I was able to enjoy all MotoGP races. Well, in the middle of the South Pacific our Iridium Go will only download small weather files and simple emails.
Weather info is perhaps more than simple. We can input the polar diagrams for Uproar (specific performance data for First 42s7). The Predictwind program will look at our boat's sailing capability and tell us exactly where we should point her for optimum speed toward our destination. Sure, it may tell me where to steer but will I listen? We shall see. I have a Davis model 15 sextant. I know a bit about trigonometry and where to point it.

Not going to be popular, blog.

20 February 2018
When I started this blog, I promised to tell the good and the bad. Well, now for the not-so-great about the San Blas. I have heard a lot of hand wringing about the plight of the Kunas and their low islands with global warming. I agree that man has caused and will be causing problems for these people and their islands. The “man” I am talking about are the Kunas themselves.

There is not one thing natural on any of the islands controlled by the Kunas. The inhabited islands are right next to the mainland. The Kunas travel upriver to farm, hunt and cut trees for their ulus. They also get water from the rivers in the mountains and pipe it to these islands. The villages on these islands are some of the most densely packed communities I have seen. Outhouses hang over every outer edge of these islands. Trash floats about everywhere. We saw one school yard that had thick layers of trash near the water's edge. One afternoon with bags and gloves could have easily cleaned it up. There is very little vegetation of any kind and certainly none on the shoreline, vulnerable to erosion.

Very few people live on the outer islands, about five miles from shore. Those who do cater to a bit of tourism with a bar or restaurant or primitive guest house. But those islands are “calendar beautiful.” Why? They are nothing but sand and palm trees. These islands have palm trees cultivated on every bit of land as coconuts were and are the currency of the Kunas.

Glyn and I walked around Green Island and noticed burned areas about every 100 feet. It became clear that the Kunas burn an area, cover it with palm fronds and plant coconuts to grow more trees. There is very little grass or undergrowth. OK, this does make for a productive and stunningly beautiful island but it is clear that the shorelines are eroding. Palm trees have small root balls and they topple over in the surf. Most islands in the Caribbean we visit have extensive mangroves, sea grass or sea grapes to protect the shoreline. These are absent in the Kuna Yala.

Now for the editorial: The US spends between $50m billion and $100 billion on global warming/climate change studies and initiatives, both private and public. Has one dollar of that money helped the Kunas? Would it be more productive to have a limited operation to help them clean up these islands, establish responsible waste disposal and educate them in erosion control?
Vessel Name: Tumultuous Uproar
Vessel Make/Model: Beneteau 42s7
Hailing Port: Milwaukee, WI
Crew: Russ Whitford & Lisa Alberte plus Sophie our Jack Russell Terrier
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Flying the colors!
 
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