Although I wasn’t feeling well, with a bit of a stomach bug, we were ready to go, with anchors up at our scheduled departure time of 6 a.m. Coleen raised the anchor using our manual windlass, and let me know she was going to dangle the anchor for a bit because it was quite muddy. The skies had a few scattered clouds but were mostly clear. The water in the bay was flat calm, as we motored out the channel into the sea. We were glad to be underway, but a little sad about leaving a place we had called home for several months.
We planned to be in Cartagena before 5 p.m. as it was about a fifty mile run. We should have a little time to spare. I kept watch all morning as Coleen was busy with school work and writing her book for Nanorima. Sometime before noon I gave her the watch. About ten minutes into her watch, while she was horsing around with the dog, we heard a horrible sound, like the engine was choking or having a terrible cough. I quickly realized that sound was no water coming out the exhaust and asked Coleen to turn off the engine.
Darn it, I was pretty sure it meant the water pump belt had given way. Changing the belt was something that had eluded me in the past and I usually hired someone to do it. In fact the previous day, I’d had someone change the altenator belt and the water pump belt had checked out fine. It was all just too complicated for my meager mechanical ability. Now I was stuck. There was not much wind and we were not even half way to Cartagena.
I went inside and took off the engine cover to confirm my suspicions. Yes, the water pump belt was nearly falling off. Next step was to put up some sail so we would possibly have some maneuverability if needed. I put up the mainsail. At almost this exact time, the autopilot decided to quit working, so I had Coleen hand steer, not that we were moving, but to at least to try keep us from going backwards.
I went back inside, gathered up my tools and set to work. To change the water pump belt means first removing the altenator belt. Yes, the same one I had just paid someone to put on. He’d spent almost an hour working on it and he knew what he was doing. I had little hope. I took out the altenator adjustment bolt, but couldn’t budge the altenator to get the belt off. I tried without success to remove the adjustment bolt for the water pump. I threw my hands up in the air, put the cover back on and said, we’ll just try to sail.
We had just enough of a tiny breeze to slowly tack our way offshore, and then tack back, but we were making little forward progress. I was concerned about what we would do once we arrived in Cartagena with no engine to help us maneuver through the channel and get anchored, especially with the forecasted wind predicted to be on the nose. Would there even be enough room to short tack? After pondering it for a few minutes, I decided the prudent course of action would be to turn around and head back to Puerto Velero. We could drift/sail downwind, and it would be easy to get to the anchorage in the forecasted wind, and worse case we could get a tow from the marina. It all sounded like it would work, so with sad, droopy faces, we altered course.
We had a nice downwind run making less than 3 knots. I couldn’t manage to get the whisker pole down to use the jib, so we were under mainsail alone. Not remedying that problem probably cost us a few hours, but I tried hard to pull it down, blistering both hands in the process (only later when we were anchored did I realize the pole’s halyard was wrapped around something). Still we were moving and it was comfortable. After about 4 hours, the wind completely died. We were twenty miles from Puerto Velero with not a breath of wind. We sat there bobbing, so I decided maybe I’d better try again.
Other than getting hot and dirty, I had no success, so put the cover back on again, and did my best not to get discouraged at my lack of mechanical ability. We were becalmed all night and I really didn’t like it a bit. It was our first time in eight years to be in that position, as always before if there was no wind we could use our engine to get moving. I really wasn’t sure what I was supposed to do. Keep the sails up or take them down, or what if we drifted too close to shore? I decided if that happened I would just drop the anchor.
I spent a lot of time thinking about my life choices and wondering if this cruising thing was still a good idea. I was very weary of working on the boat and thought that perhaps RVing would be better. At least I could pull into a place for repairs or AAA would come out. Or even better maybe I could find someone who would like to go with me who had mechanical ability and perhaps was a better sailor. I would make a good first mate. Those things that go through your mind when you stay up all night and don’t feel well and are stuck on a sailboat bobbing around like a cork.
Coleen and I took turns on watch. She would give me one hour to sleep and I would give her two… after all she is my little girl. She never once complained, always got up for her watch promptly which I appreciated, as that last five minutes of your watch is painful. It was a long night, and sometimes we would be moving at one knot, sometimes not at all. I would try all sorts of maneuvers with the sails, and must have rolled and unrolled the jib dozens of times. I thought perhaps we were aground or had snagged something, but there just wasn’t enough wind to keep up moving. I even thought of perhaps launching the dinghy and rowing to tow us, but that was a silly idea.
By six a.m. we had a bit of wind, but it was right on the nose. Still it was something and I thought well we will just make long tacks. Our first long tack was fun, even at six a.m. as we were sailing along as close reached as we could manage making four knots. It seemed like a race car after 1 knot or even worse 0 knots. We tacked back to shore, and I was very dismayed to find we ended up in almost the same spot.. making less than one mile to the good after two hours! I decided I’d better try that engine again.
We stayed within two miles of shore making small headway at one knot, with Coleen at the helm, while I tried again. This time I had my long time friend DJ, on Facebook Messenger, and he was texting me instructions as I would send him pictures. I worked hard for quite a while, with my blistered hands know covered black in belt dust. At one point the boat lurched sending all my socket heads into the bilge, which I had opened to close the seacock. That gave me a much needed laugh. Finally after many messages, I had a new belt on, everything was tightened and we fired up the engine. Perfect amounts of water shot out the back of the boat as the engine hummed happily. I put the cover on, took the helm from Coleen, put us on a course for Puerto Velero and cried like a baby for a few minutes. I was ecstatic that I’d been able to fix it. I vowed to write down a very detailed set of instructions for my ships notebook so next time it would be easy breezy.
We made it back in to Puerto Velero just before one o’clock, with our tails between our legs. The only one happy about our arrival was Prince. He perked up like crazy dancing around, like he’d come home. So our little shakedown cruise popped up a few issues, all which can be fixed, except maybe the autopilot. Through it all we both stayed calm and did what was needed. I learned that being becalmed is not that bad and that I need to have more confidence in my mechanical abilities.
I was incredibly tired, dirty, and hungry but ever so thankful it all worked out. I worked on the autopilot last night to no avail. Today the wind is not so favorable, so I will rest and hopefully feel a bit better by tomorrow when we set off again.
Assuming our propane tank shows up today as promised, we will be heading for the San Blas Islands in Panama late next week. The San Blas are a group of over 300 islands scattered 120 miles along Panama's Caribbean coast. They start near the border with Colombia which is where we are headed first, a little town called Obladia, where we will do our official paperwork to clear into the country. It's about 200 miles or about two straight days and nights of sailing. From there we we spend several weeks meaddering about exploring, with no set schedule.
Only about fifty of the islands are inhabited, and those by a group of native people know as the Kuna Yula. They live a mostly traditional life, speak their own language, live in huts that blend into the landscape, and most have no electricity. Coconuts are the main line of business, and the people grow their own food. There are few shops and little to buy, although supposedly from time to time boats come from Colombia with veggies and fruit to sell.
So this means we need to bring everything we need for several weeks. There will be no running to the supermarket or convenience store. If we don't bring it we will do without. So, for the next few days we will be on a shopping spree. I have several pages of lists with everything from AAA batteries to restocking the medical kit. Of course with a growing teenager on board it also means a LOT of food.
I started yesterday with a trip into the big city of Barranquilla. First stop was the brand new Ace Hardware store, which as it turns out was having their own "black Friday" sale, early with everything in the store 20% off and I may even win a new car I found a nice young man with good english, who helped me cross many things off my list. The prices are higher in Ace Hardware than in the local stores, but most of the local hardware stores have all their goods behind a counter, and rather than browsing you have to ask for what you want. My spanish does not extend to hardware items.
Next up I took a taxi to my favorite part of the city known as Centro. At one time it was the city center, with a broad avenue with trees down the center known as Paseo Bolivar. Now the fancy part of the city has grown to the west with its big shopping malls and high rise apartments, but Centro, has the hundreds of tiny shops, street vendors, places that fix just about anything. It seems to me a bit more like old time Colombia and I love the sights, smells, and busyness of it all. I got dropped off near the street with all the fabric shops. My mission was to find swimsuit and sail bag fabric. There are more than a dozen fabric shops all next to each other. I stopped in the first and when my spanish word for swimming, did not produce results, did my best swimming imitation, which garnered a few laughs but got results. The young lady helping me motioned me to follow her. We went out into the street, down three shops, where she found the fabric, cut it for me, filled out a ticket at their counter, and then took me back to her shop to pay. I got two meters of two different fabrics for about $6. I gave her a tip for her efforts.
I looked through all the shops for fabric suitable for sail bags, and finally found it in a shop where I'd been a few weeks back buying foam. Amazingly the lady at the counter remembered my name! I got 6 meters of nylon fabric for sail bags for $3.
I was hungry by now, and recalled a lady selling empandas on the corner. An empanada is a flaky little pie usually filled with beef or chicken. I asked for one with chicken and she also made me a fresh glass of lulo juice and motioned for me to sit in one of her little plastic chairs. It was $1 for the fresh juice and empanada, best lulo juice ever! Not a very fancy sidewalk cafe, but the food was excellent.
My next shopping attempt was not so successful. I had noticed block after block of automotive parts and accessory stores, and had hoped to find a portable inverter, a device you plug into a 12 volt outlet that allows you to run an AC device. Our ship's inverter, a $1300 piece of equipment, literally went up in smoke a few days ago. I knew I wouldn't be able to replace it here, but had high hopes of finding a portable one. I walked for blocks , using my umbrella for shade, popping my head in every shop, with no luck. This is kind of a big deal, as it means no Kitchen aid mixer or blender, which bummed me out. No power tools, which is kind of a relief, but I'm really super bummed because it means no SEWING machine. I'd really looked forward to doing a little sewing while anchored off those coconut tree lined islands. Coleen is bummed because it means no computer for her! I have a very, very old IBM thinkpad with a 12 v adapter so at least we will have something.
I was so incredibly hot by the time I gave up and boarded a bus, someone kindly gave me their seat. The 20 minute bus ride took me back to the fancy part of town, and I spent the rest of my time doing a little Christmas shopping.
Overall it was a fun day, but I was exhausted by the time I took the bus and motorcycle taxi home. Coleen gathered all my bags and put them aboard, and then handed me an icy cold drink she had waiting for me!
Sunday --- food shopping for several weeks... stay tuned....
We aboard the Glass Slipper were way overdue for new mattresses with our old ones being reduced literally to crumbs that had to be swept up daily. I hemmed and hawed trying to come up with a plan for getting new ones as one our location is quite remote, and two I wasn't sure how we would find what we need using our limited Spanish.
Enter our new friend Laura, a lovely young lady who lives in Baranquilla and offered to help us find our way.
Just getting to Barranquilla is somewhat of a challenge involving a bicycle ride from the docks to the clubhouse, a moto (motorcycle taxi) four kilometers to the highway, where we wait in the hot sun under the shade of an umbrella for the yellow and red bus which runs every half hour or so. There's a bit of road construction underway so it's about a 30 to 40 minute ride to the city. The bus is always crowded and it can be a challenge to look out the window through the crowd and find the right stop. The "air conditioning" is having the windows open, which works great until you are stuck in traffic. Several times along the way, vendors hop on and off the bus, trying to sell boxes of cookies, snacks or even ink pens. They have a tricky marketing strategy where they hand one to everyone on the bus, give their spiel and then take back the ones not sold. It's a bit hard to give back a box of cookies that only cost 75 cents... so it usually works on me.
We had plans to meet Laura at a the Exito, a huge supermercado, very similar to a Walmart. We looked at the mattresses they had to offer, but none were the right size. We walked a couple of blocks and had a great lunch in one of the nine shopping malls of Barranquilla. Laura encouraged me to try a dish local to Medillin which involved a lot of meats, rice with coconut, fried egg, plantain, beans and an arepa. It was a lot of food, but quite good... meanwhile Coleen had a Subway sandwich. We had fun learning new spanish words and helping Laura with her english (which is already quite good). Oh and that huge drink is a limonada, a great non alcoholic drink made with limes.. my favorite Colombian beverage.