I’m Back

It’s been awhile since I’ve updated.  I needed a vacation, so I took one.  The vacation included a vacation from updating the site, but not from writing.  Strangely enough, the vacation involved a trip back stateside – where most of my friends leave when they take vacation.

No reason for worry.  All is well.

After Dan left, I took some time to regroup and then did some boatwork and then got ready for a trip back “home” – to Texas.  Lauren took off for places unknown.  I was alone again and it was good.

There was some organization necessary to leave the boat.  Funny how something that provides so much freedom can be such an anchor when you try to leave it.

Leaving

The marina here was full.  There was a more expensive marina open, but I’m broke.  There was the ghetto marina down the way, but that was in the ghetto – and what I have onboard I’d like to keep onboard.  I could leave the boat anchored, but if we got a Cullo de Pollo (a storm with heavy winds/rain common here this time of year) my boat could drag or (more likely) another boat could drag into mine.

The solution came from somebody else.  Kenny was sailing a boat that he had been the unofficial guardian of back to Panama.  They were trying to sell the boat.  The boat was on the market here (Colombia) for too long, and the owner – a very wealthy Frenchman – decided Panama would be better.  Kenny was the guy in charge of moving this boat from Colombia to Panama.  The reason this mattered to me was that the boat was effectively moored here, though technically moorings are illegal.

But sailors are an inventive bunch, and probably have less respect for rules than most.

And so, to skirt the issue of a mooring – they’d simply dropped an 800 pound anchor in the bay and tied off to that.  The anchor is the best mooring I’ve ever ran across, but it was still an anchor – and therefore, if anyone cared – it was semi-legal.  Of course this is Colombia and there’s the everpresent question – who gives a shit?

A fair question.

So the Frenchman’s boat sailed to Panama, leaving this massive anchor to my disposal while I returned stateside to do silly amounts of paperwork and work on taxes and deal with things and see family and watch Netflix in A/C while ordering Chinese takeout.  Or Thai.

In order to nullify the risk of someone else’s boat bumping mine, or something going horribly wrong onboard without someone onboard – I left a local guy that I’d grown to trust onboard.  For about $40/day, he’d spend the day cleaning, waxing, etc – and watch my boat at night, in the case of a Cullo De Pollo.

There was only a small hangup in the plan, when I went to take money out and found that neither of my credit cards nor my debit cards were working.

That tiny issue compounded further when I needed to pay for overstaying my visa at the airport.  Explaining to the customs agent the irony involved in the situation – me trying to leave Colombia, and the only thing holding me here a charge levied against me for the crime of not leaving soon enough – afforded no reprieve.

I fixed it all, though luck was in play.  Nothing else was interesting about the travel.

Texas

Texas was the same as I’d left it.  Only the people had changed. People don’t really change though – more accurately their life situations had changed. Some of them, at least.  New kids.  Weddings.  Moving.  New relationships formed, old broken.

Back home I was greeted by a mother that was very happy that I hadn’t been abducted by a local druglord.  And it was a boat-Christmas event again – a huge stack of boxes from Amazon and marine chandleries waiting next to my bed.  Hot showers were an option for the first time in almost a year.  Air conditioning while sleeping.  But first I need food. And drink.

A good Mexican Martini and a pile of enchiladas made everything right in the world.  Colombia may be Latin America, but Mexican food is something they haven’t figured out.

People

I’d made the mistake, on a previous return to the state of Texas, of announcing a homecoming.  That led to too many people trying to squeeze in facetime to be relaxing, and those that didn’t get facetime ended up being disgruntled.  This time it was quieter.

Family visited first.  It’s funny that when I lived closer to them I didn’t put as much weight on seeing them.  With the increase in physical distance, the time spent with family has more value.  That’s a good thing.

Then I needed to move from the Houston area to the Austin area.  There was a wedding, and several groups of friends that I hoped to at least have a drink or two with.  My motorcycle didn’t fire up right away, which put a kink in the plans.

The battery, no doubt.

I tried charging it to no avail.  It was time for a new battery.

Naturally,  AGM sportbike batteries are in short supply in a town of 3,000 people. I went to a larger town, no dice. I needed to head back into downtown Houston to find the right battery in stock. So I did.

Then I was off, speeding through 100+ degree weather, in full riding gear, under a broiling sun, across the smoking pavement, riding a bike which constantly registered a temperature over 215 degrees F.  A suit crammed into saddlebags, a couple changes of clothes stuffed into a backpack.

Arriving in Austin was exactly what it was supposed to be.  I saw my dog.  Somebody who cared opened the door. I was greeted with a comfortable, if not familiar, place to lay my head and spend my time how I would like.  There were dates set for the wedding.  There was a group birthday party.  There were things, but not too many things.

But getting exactly what you think you want isn’t always what you actually want.

After the wedding and the birthday party and the trip to Lukenbach, Texas on the motorcycles and the deeper conversations with friend and the centering conversations with those who’d circumnavigated via sailboat – I had nothing to put effort into.  Which, I’ve learned, isn’t a healthy state.

Suddenly it was time to ride the motorcycle back to the Houston area and I was leaving and it was hot and everything was unfinished and there was never enough time and too much time.

Back in the Houston area we went to a Houston Texans preseason game.  Originally I thought it would be just something to occupy the time, something fun to do with Mom and the little brother.  It turns out, though, that even after leaving that kind of thing so far in the rearview – beer and nachos and football is fun.

Regresso

The airport was the typical struggle – too much crap and not enough space and TSA being jerks and me not having a return ticket so it appearing that I was staying in Colombia forever and them not understanding that a man can leave a country in a boat.   The flights being crammed and babies crying onboard.

But it’s nice to have a good excuse to tune out the world and read.

I hit CTG about 11PM.  Customs had a huge problem with me importing a Garmin GPS/radar combo, despite the large and clear markings “Yacht in Transit.”  Rather than argue, I played dumb gringo and assured them I would never, ever do something so stupid again.  That act is becoming my Ace in the hole.   How much of it is really an act I remain unsure.

Thanks to good friends here, my dinghy was at the dock when I got there.  When I got onboard the boat it was locked but the key was were it was supposed to be.  The boat was clean, organized, and better than I’d left it.

I packed everything inside, did a quick check of the major systems, and before I realized it I was asleep.

The next couple of days were an attempt to get back in the swing of things. I needed to get my life, here, back in order.  Cell data needed to be purchased.  The fridge cleaned out.  Groceries purchased.  Water hauled.  Aguardiente chilled. The bottom cleaned.

Having something to do, whether I did it or not, felt new.  Felt good.

In the same way that seeing friends and family felt good, it was good to leave them again.  I wonder if people really can grasp that. The feeling of forever leaving.  And it being right.

I was heading to the Rosarios soon, a bit of sailing needed to put the world in perspective.

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Back in CTG

It’s rarely enough time.  In anything. Well, anything good I suppose.  Dan was leaving and it felt like too soon.  We were headed back to CTG, and I wanted another week in San Bernardos.  We all did.  But the boring stuff we’ve named “real-life” was calling, and unfortunately we had to take the call.  I have a permanent “Out Of Office” voicemail, but not everyone is on the same wavelength. Alas.

The way back to Cartagena from San Bernardos is against the wind and waves. There’s also a daily/nightly wind pattern in San Bernardos (and a very similar one in CTG) this time of year.  The wind typically begins picking up mid afternoon, and typically from the North.  It can climb from 8-10 knots to 20 or more until later in the evening – usually peaking around 10 or 11PM.  At that point it begins to slow down again, and (usually) by midnight or 1AM it’s back to almost nothing.  Motoring against 20 knots of wind isn’t something I planned on doing – so we picked up our anchor in San Bernardos about midnight.

With the anchor up, I dropped back offshore and made a very conservative curve around the barrier reef to open water.  Once out of the lee of the islands – we took a 5 foot sea on the nose, with about 5 knots of wind.  The wind was dying, but it had already worked the seas up a bit.  With both engines on, and not a shred of sail up – we were motoring about 5 knots.  50 miles is a long way at 5 knots…

Lauren and Dan crashed – I was solo again on the Caribe, in the middle of the night – just my electronics casting a dim glow in the cockpit and only the rumbling of the diesels to occasionally drown out the sound of the waves breaking over the bow.  NOMAD settled into a rhythm, and before I knew it – we were back in the Southern portion of the Rosarios.

Anytime I have to sail (or motor) through an island chain or reef at night – it increases the pucker-factor.  The SOP is to slow down to a crawl, and pretend like my life depends on following the previous GPS track (if I didn’t have a previous track, I wouldn’t do it) – all while paying very close attention to the sounds of the ocean.  You can usually hear a reef break before you can see it at night, unless there’s a full moon.

So we crawled through the Rosarios.

Once we got back into open water, the wind moved to a more favorable angle.  I raised the main, let out the genoa, and turned off one engine – all without stepping on, or waking Dan.

The sky started to turn pink, then orange, and then it was dawn and Dan started stirring.  He took the wheel while I napped, and an hour later I woke up to guide us into the bay in CTG.

I really do love this city.  But the itch gets stronger everyday.  The feel of miles vanishing beneath the keels of NOMAD is one that I almost don’t remember. Still, there’s much work to be done.  There are systems to install, engines to repaint, things to fix, and things to improve.  And here I know the right people to help with the various projects – so it’s far more efficient to do most of that work here.

So coming back to CTG is bittersweet.

We arrived, squeezed into the anchorage, and shut everything down.  I was beaten – a full day of diving followed by a full night of navigating took it out of me.  So I told Dan and Lauren they were welcome to use the dingy, but that I needed sleep.  I went below, Dan and Lauren went to explore Cartagena again.   Dan’s got a sense of humor, so you should Google that hotel in the last picture.

Conversing with saints...

Conversing with saints…

Posing...

Posing…

Borracho

Borracho

The infamous Hotel Caribe

The infamous Hotel Caribe

And then it was evening, I was awake, and Dan and Lauren and I ate dinner and had drinks and talked.  Dan left mid morning the next day and then my life returned to being governed by boat-projects.

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Wrapping Up San Bernardos

We’d finally had some success spearfishing in Colombia.  The Rosarios didn’t produce much for me, but it was starting to seem like the San Bernardos might be the ticket.  Here we were able to land plenty of food-fish, and saw some fish that we could be proud of.  If we were lucky – we might get another chance at those fish in the latter category.

This was our last day in these islands.  Puffer Dan was on a schedule.  He’s all responsible and stuff.  And despite hating being on a schedule, I’m more than happy to make exceptions when friends come and visit.  Especially one that enjoys shooting and eating fish.  Or ones that look good in bikinis.  Dan falls into the first group – but unfortunately not the second.  Alas. 

I was a little foggy, but not bad, at 6:30 when I crawled out of my bunk.  The coffee was on and our morning smoothie was in the blender. That’s a nice way to wake up in paradise.  I took a look around and smiled and started going through the gear we needed to bring. 

We had the coffee, had our smoothies, packed our gear, and then headed with Payllo to make the daily gas run at the most populated island (people per square meter) on the face of the Earth.  True story.  At this island there are indeed many people.  And there are fish-pens.  The last part is cooler to me. 

In these fish-pens there are fish that the locals have caught and are raising.  They raise them and then either a) sell them to outsiders or b) have a big party and eat a big grouper/snapper/shark. In these pens was proof that there were good fish around.  Of course, the fact that all of these fish had been caught is also proof that these guys are hardcore fishermen.  With their nets and traps and lines – they catch a lot of fish.

On the ride out I got suited up again.  Payllo wanted to know where we wanted to go.  There was apparently another spot that we could try, but it would be closer to the island.  I’m of the belief that the best fishing is the furthest from the humans.  The honest truth is we manage to screw up the environment in many different ways, so getting away from that is the key. 

We dropped the “anchor” (a large rock tied to several lengths of ancient rope) in the same spot as the day before.  I flipped in, loaded my gun, dropped the flashers, and kicked off into the blue.  Today I was looking for The Ledge. 

The Ledge is where the “shallow” (50-60 ft) area drops off into The Abyss (? ft).  The Ledge exists in most good reef spearfishing spots and all good bluewater spearfishing spots.  Though, often, in bluewater spearfishing spots – The Ledge is several hundred feet under the water.

I kicked and kicked and kicked.  Eventually the hazy light-blue of the bottom faded into a deeper darker blue.  Here small schools of baitfish were hanging midway in the water column.  This was The Ledge.  I dove to 55 feet.  There I saw The Ledge.  The issue was it was another 30 feet to the top of The Ledge.  To get to the bottom of The Ledge, I’d need to be pushing 100 feet, freediving.  That’s pretty damn deep.  All of my freediving, recently, was restricted to 50 feet. 

I dove and dove, but wasn’t comfortable pushing it that deep.  If I’d been diving with some deeper divers or some certified freedivers – this story might have been different.  Needless to say, The Ledge was big enough to hold fish, it was deep enough to hold fish, but it was too deep to get to without pushing my luck.  With that realization I decided I’d hang around it and dive around it – hoping to bump into something pelagic with the same ideas I had about ledges near bluewater.

I had three fish in the bottom of the boat and a fourth on my spear, most from the area around The Ledge – when Puffer Dan swam up to me, blocked my way back to the boat, and shared some very important information with me.  He said, “the vis here sucks.” 

I think I told him to move, but I may have just ignored him.  You see – we were on the deep side of The Ledge.  We were in 200 foot of water or more.  Dan couldn’t see the bottom, so he thought the visibility was bad.  What he hadn’t grasped was that even if the visibility was 199 feet – he would only see blue when he looked down, here.

Dan was convinced the visibility sucked though, and in a few minutes I noticed him in the boat. Then Lauren joined him. Then I joined them both and we moved on.  Of course the other spot we were going to was 500 feet away, with the same visibility.

Here I switched to exploring.  I wasn’t finding much life here, but Dan managed to spear one of my favorite fish.  I swam around for a bit and managed to get a decent Cero Mackerel to come into the flashers, then I chased him and pinned him to the bottom with my spearshaft.  When I got back to the boat, I decided that was it for this spot. 

In the boat I was greeted with a pleasant surprise – Puffer Dan had expanded his target species (from puffers) to include Rainbow Runner.  I love Rainbow Runner.  Love.  They have a pink and firm meat.  Something between the red of tuna and the white of wahoo.  Closer to wahoo, but firmer.  Very tasty.  I learned later that Dan shot the Rainbow Runner, then brought it back to the boat and asked Payllo if it was a good fish before I got to the boat.  Luckily for all of us, it wasn’t just a good fish – it was a great fish. 

So when I saw this, I was a happy dude.  We had Cero Mackerel, Rainbow Runner, and Ocean Trigger for food.  Meaning we could cut up an epic sushi lunch, and then cook an epic fish dinner.  And we did. 

Fresh food!

Fresh food!

Back onboard, I left Dan to butcher the fish while I took about 50 pounds of fish over to our friends at the hostel.  I was greeted warmly and though the travelers didn’t care, the locals were really excited and the hostel owners started feeding me beer again. 

When I came back to the boat I used a very dull knife to attempt to cut up sushi.  Dan inhaled the sushi like a Hoover while I tried to savor it.  Having fresh sushi, on the back of my boat, anchored over a reef in crystal clear turquoise water anchored off of some remote Colombian islands is something worth remembering. 

Fresh sushi

Fresh sushi

There were some rumors about a cockfight on the inhabited island.  I share no particular love for chickens, beside loving to eat them – so I was excited about seeing it.  When in Rome, right?  Dan even more excited when he learned that you could buy a cock, fight it, and then make money if it won.  He was in.  I was excited about the whole thing, hoping to have another genuine Colombian experience.

About this time, my friend Kenny sailed in from the Rosarios.  He came up next to us, we chatted quickly and he went off to anchor. 

Kenny dropping by...

Kenny dropping by…

Naturally, there was a mixup in dates and times on the cockfight.  Likely a combination of alcohol consumption and a language barrier.  And as we learned that we wouldn’t get to see a cockfight, my dreams of titling a post “Dan’s Cock” faded.  It was certainly a disappointment.

This, of course, opened up our afternoon. With some time, Dan was able to do some work on deck-cleaning (he’d sprayed suntan lotion on the decks and stained them), I was able to scrape the bottom (my guy in Cartagena screwed the pooch on this one), and Lauren worked on the wood. I did a quick once-over on the rigging and gear and then we went over to talk with Kenny.

Kenny learned we had cake onboard, so he came over and had desert, while we ate gnocchi and marinara and parmesan-encrusted chicken.  There were a couple of good stories shared, we talked about the rich that owned property here and the obvious ties to the obvious business the rich were obviously associated with here in Colombia.  Then I needed to take a nap – the way back was against wind and waves all night – as I moved my condoamaran back to Cartagena.  Kenny left and took a few pounds of filets back with him. 

An hour and a half later I crawled back out of my bunk, got stuff under control, and pulled our anchor.  We were heading back to Cartagena.  Dan was heading home.  I was going to be up all night.  We were all happy, but we all wanted way more time there.   

Very little of that was on my mind, though.  I was busy hoping for a smooth, issue-free ride back to Cartagena – against wind and waves that were predicted to be un poco fuerte.

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Out There In San Bernardos

Dan cleans fish

Dan cleans fish

We gave our guide some fish.  Then I took some fish over to our friends at the hostel.  They were happy to trade the fish for beer.  I was happy to trade the fish for beer.  Win-win, I reckon.  With this trade, I’d finally accomplished a pretty massive achievement onboard – trading fish (which I usually have plenty of) for beer (which I’m usually out of).  

Ceviche and Puffer Dan's battle wounds

Ceviche and Puffer Dan’s battle wounds

Back onboard I whipped up some ceviche, which Puffer Dan quickly began shoveling into his mouth.  Lauren made an angelfood cake, with whipped cream frosting, topped with fresh strawberries.  I could lie to you and tell you we weren’t eating like Kings and a Queen – but that would be a lie.   The above pic shows how bad loading Dan’s speargun was wrecking his stomach…  

Ceviche, con mango

Ceviche, con mango

That night we went back to the hostel and had a couple of drinks, then came back to NOMAD – where Lauren crashed and Dan and I sat up talking and solving the world’s problems, while we attempted to find the bottom of a bottle of Colombian rum. 

Puffer Dan and the Rum

Puffer Dan and the Rum

But we didn’t get too crazy. 

Tomorrow we had another spearfishing date with our guy Payllo, but this time an hour earlier.  And it was open season on any edible fish – the hostel wanted as much fish as we could give them.  And I was bringing my flashers and Dan was bringing his floatline.

We would be ready in case some of the larger underwater species made an appearance.

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