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Purpose Spark

Saturday morning and there was no wifi or signal at Aloha so I fired up the bike to explore Minca, get some more offroad practice and maybe catch up on some writing. I do like multiple reasons. In a way, going downhill is harder than coming up. It’s easier to come off under braking especially locking the front wheel. Best not touch the front brake if possible.

Wherever I went in Minca, there was no WiFi. Ordering tea for the purpose of using the Wifi resulted in me drinking tea impatiently thinking of internet connection. This wasn’t working out. I gave up any online interest although the phone now had a signal for checking messages and other small-screen keyboardless stuff. Walking around Minca revealed some tucked away hostels and juice bars. More than was first apparent although it is still not a large town. What’s clear is that there is a business opportunity here due to the growing number of backpackers now that the road is paved to Minca.

I crossed the small bamboo bridge across the river and made my way back toward where I parked the bike and heard someone call “Paul!” It was Herbert and Alle in a cafe and I went to join them for a while. They had hiked up to Pozo Azul waterfall and recommended I go since I had transport. Taking this as another omen, I took the bike up and swam in one of the upper pools where there were no people. The water was cold, straight off the mountains so I was less than a minute, enough for a wash and cool off before riding back down to Minca. the ride was better than the swim.

The softer parts of the track up to Aloha had deeper ruts than yesterday and although I was riding better, I got off at the deepest stretch and walked along the edge while keeping the bike under power to guide it through the ruts.

Sunday was a day of reading and sleeping. I was beginning to feel cold, I had caught some sort of chill which sapped my energy so retired to bed and stayed there until Monday lunchtime. I was off my food. I met Greg and Adam round the campfire that night who were fascinated by my life journey to that point, especially sailing from Turkey to Colombia and find myself here, now at this retreat. I said I was simply following the omens. Talking with Greg and Adam was an unexpected pleasure. It’s rare to speak openly with people right off the bat, at least for me it is, but this place around a campfire had something special.

I had committed to the timetable for the retreat but Tuesday morning came and I hadn’t the energy to face yoga at 6.30 so missed the first session. I needed rest and recuperation and wasn’t in the mood for socialising, Even less than usual.

Greg runs Purpose Spark and an exercise had us randomly selected our various groups of three. Mine included Keely from Gravesend and Makete, a hugely talented songwriter/musician from Montana. The various sharing exercises opened us up in preparation for the sessions to follow, including the medicine ceremonies.

My automatic judgments were still running riot in my head but I got used to telling them to shut up while I started to get to know this community…

Any comments, feedback or suggestions are gratefully received. Please add one using the comments link below.

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Aloha Ke Akua

The ATK TT 180s need attention and Michael and I ride them to the dealer. I never tire of riding here. It’s exciting and takes skill to survive and thrive. The taxi drops Michael at the Old Town and continues to drop me at my bus at the Berlinave Bus Terminal so that I can continue to Santa Marta to collect the 125 and ride up to Aloha Ke Akua for the Sacred Medicine retreat.

4 hours, I understood the journey should be. 5 and a half hours later, it was dark and the driver pointed down the road toward the Marina where the motorcycle was stored. “Si, gracias!” Instead, I head for the main road for pizza and beer. I’m hungry and decided I didn’t want to ride into the jungle in the dark. I needed to find the Positano hostel I booked online while on the bus.

The hostel was 20 minutes walk from the pizzeria but easy to find via google maps. Clean and cheap, I dumped my rucksack in one of the three dorms and went to cool off in the pool before settling down in my bunk logging onto the wifi.

Breakfast was basic but filling and the Colombian coffee, divine. I normally steer clear of coffee as I believe it’s not healthy for me but how bad can something be that tastes so good?

There’s no rush to get to Aloha so I leave the hostel at the check out deadline and sweat my way across to the marina 10 minutes away.

I have trouble starting the bike until I find the choke lever on top of the carburettor. I’m up and away, across the city to highway 90 and looking for the exit to Minca. It’s not long, I veer off the highway and into the twisty tarmac scaling the foothills of the Sierra Nevada.

Some of the hairpins are sharp and I use the scooter with its pillion up ahead as my guide. If he slows sharply, there is good reason. The road is a bikers dream, smooth, undulating with sweeping curves and hairpins. It reminded me of Devon with a tropical twist.

Suddenly, I’m in a village swarming with caucasian backpackers, hippies and gap year travellers. This must be Minca. I was expecting a mini Santa Marta but Minca had the air of a frontier post. A jumping off point into the wilderness for intrepid explorers. The tarmac came to an abrupt end on the bridge and my route was a T junction to the left that looked like a concrete drive to a private property. It was good that I stopped for a wander so that I got my bearings although either way would turn into dirt track soon enough.

I didn’t want to drag my rucksack around Minca with the hostel’s location not clear in my mind so I got back on the bike and headed up the track to Akua Ke Akua. The concrete didn’t last long before it turned into a single dirt track. It was pretty rough in places and I soon caught up with 4 wheel drives lumbering their way up the track like overweight hippos.

Where the track sloped down into a hollow, rain collected into muddy pools that vehicles hollowed out deep ruts. Sometimes there was an easy line for a motorcycle to skip around or over the ruts but sometimes, through the mud was the only way. Local moto taxi riders on standard road bikes with pillion and backpacks were making it look like child’s play. I found it just as difficult as my weekend at the BMW off-road school that I attended 10 years ago. I was conscious of my laptop on my back too. I didn’t want to tumble in a muddy puddle.

Like most things, the secret is to commit to a path and go for it. Hesitate in the middle of an obstacle and you’re off. If you take a few miles an hour extra then you can be through the worse with the momentum and picking up traction on the other side. I started standing on the footpegs and powering through the shallowest ruts if there were no dry path. Sometimes I slid around a little but never came off.

I stopped to check the Sat Nav which told me I was on the wrong track. I didn’t remember a junction but turned around anyway, descending the mountain for ten minutes. I asked a passing moto taxi rider who pointed the way back up the way I had come saying “Past Casa Elemento.” I had been at the sign to Casa Elemento before the Sat Nav was telling me lies. I followed the moto rider and passenger to Casa Elemento who pointed the fork to Aloha Ke Akua. It was an enjoyable ride but the bike and I were now plastered with mud.

Walking through the gate, I met a young muscly lumberjack looking man with a wild beard and announced that I was Paul, come a few days early for the retreat. It was clear this was the first he had heard of it so I gathered that this was not Ryan I had been messaging on Facebook. This was Jason, his business partner.

It was 5 minutes until lunch, just in time for a quick tour of the farm before settling down to eat. I was in cabana number two, a palm-thatched 4 berth dorm with a stunning view south-west over the mountains and the road to Barranquilla and Cartegena that I had become so familiar. After lunch, I settled into the hammock taking in the warm mountain air listening to the birds and grasshoppers, contemplating the series of coincidences that led me to this place: Thomas’ candid share about his ayahuasca experience; Herbert’s partner booking him into Aloha Ke Akua; the use of the bike from Santa Marta. A book lay on top of the locker: “The Celestine Prophecy” a story about coincidences not being accidental. What a coincidence. I felt I should read it and sat back in the hammock feeling I was in the right place at the right time. It was Friday afternoon and the retreat didn’t start until Monday.

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Submarine

“Can you wear this uniform?” as Micheal hands me some surf shorts and a white t-shirt. I don’t mind. My laundry needs doing anyway.

We prepare Pantelisa for mystery clients. Not a mystery to Michael, a mystery to me until he shares more details as the day progresses. Three gay guys on a complimentary (exploratory) day out to discuss the possibilities and opportunities for chartering Pantelisa.

Frank is a warm and ebullient American from New York with a talent for marketing as I listened to the conversation throughout the day. Joshua appeared to be his partner: a Colombian with a good command of the English language. The second Colombian, I couldn’t catch his name, did not speak English and was left on the sidelines throughout the day. I sympathised since I was reminded of the occasions Herbert used to prefer to speak German on the crossing.

We slipped the lines and gently reversed out of the berth avoiding the web of lines holding the other vessels to their berths, and headed out of the harbour toward Isla Grande, turning south as we pass the two old forts that used to guard the harbour entrance. Michael gives an impressive history lesson on the forts as we bi-sect them.

Isla Grande is quite a long way for a day out. It takes at least a couple of hours to get there. We would like to get the sails out but there is not a breath of wind as we motor down the coast. Our course looks like we might approach close to the treacherous reefs around the island and after some contemplation, we turn East to stay in deep water well away from the coast of Isla Grande.

We anchor south of the shallow channel between two islands and see quaint palm-thatched beach huts on the shore. The water is deep enough to go closer to them but my skipper is happy where we are and we settle down for a few beers and a swim in the warm Caribbean water.

We don’t stay long as the day is short to fit so much in. Toni suggested a lagoon nearby that was deep enough fro Pantelisa’s generous draft of 2.2 metres. The plotter indicates a reef on the chart of at least three metres. Reefs are worrying, they are not often flat all the way along. I stand at the bow looking ahead into the green depths to get ahead of the game. The channel markers seem reliable and we read 3 to 4 metres plus all the way along as we enter the lagoon.

There#s a party beach at the entrance with booming music and moored motorboats. We are the only sailboat to drop anchor just inside the lagoon and a flotilla of locals swarm around us selling fish and whatever else as I seek refuge below and allow the clients to enjoy their negotiations. Me? Quero de nada!

We enjoy a lobster lunch and 80’s disco music before hauling anchor to Playa Blanco, a busy white sanded beach stretching for a mile or two up the coast. I’m not convinced by the holding of the anchor. The breeze is light but we are on a lee shore (blowing on) as is common in the daytime on a warm day when the thermals draw the sea air inland.

I dive on the anchor. There is plenty of chain but the anchor is resting on rock. Pantelisa is being held purely by the weight of the chain and anchor since there is nothing to dig in to. We aren’t moving and we aren’t staying long but I keep a weather-eye on our position.

Heading home, we deploy the Genoa to give the clients a sailing experience, even though there isn’t quite enough to stop the engine and let nature carry us. It was nice seeing a sail full of wind though. That was enough.

Rounding into the harbour, a vessel on AIS is barely visible on the surface. Anonymous in its detail on the plotter, we see the conning tower. It’s a Colombian Navy submarine. We wave to the three officers on the tower. As they pass to our port side.

It is dark by the time we reach Cartegena and we navigate all the way into the Old Town Quay. The icing on the cake for the clients. Michael asks me to contact Toni to invite him for food or drinks. Toni isn’t happy and asks if the US flag was still up. Yes, it was but I put it away as I hear that foreign vessels aren’t popular in the town, especially US flagged vessels.

The atmosphere aboard becomes muted but Michael and I stay for a glass of wine before returning to Club Nautico.

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Easy Rider

We were up before dawn the next day Santa Marta bound to collect the motorcycles. Rosalie cadged a lift too and we were huddled in the Land Cruiser bouncing along the rough concrete streets of Cartegena before the morning ‘workaday’ crowd barrelled onto the roads to race towards hated jobs.

I was warned that my backside would be sore from the motorcycle ride but it was already getting that way being perched in the centre of the rear seat of the land cruiser.

Along highway 90 are various stalls grouped into roadside villages and we stopped at one for some natural coconut refreshment.

We headed up in the foothills near Santa Marta to collect Daniel, the 5th member of the bike squad. He had a bike at his house but Michael took that and Dan joined us in the Land Cruiser.

Rosalie bailed out later near a random street in Santa Marta and we headed to the Marina.

The motorcycle key management system was of Latin style, you know, none. We spent some time trying random keys in random bikes. Toni said “I don’t know why you guys put tags on these keys. There was no response like he was speaking a language from another planet. Pretty soon we took off through the streets of Santa Marta, weaving in and out with Colombia’s best.

Rolf was following in the Land Cruiser squeezing through spaces like he was on a bike too, driving like a local. We had arranged to meet at the first fuel station out of town but Dan had passed us all and disappeared over the horizon. We stopped for lunch at a roadside cafe where Michael managed to reach Dan on the phone and told him to wait at the toll gate where he was and we continued our lunch.

We collected Dan at the toll gate and had to take him to the next fuel station. Dealing with locals here seems to be the equivalent of herding cats. I get the feeling almost nothing is thought through. Early days though, maybe it’s just a series of one-offs.

The road to Cartegena is smooth and flowing with long spaces between the traffic. There is a hard shoulder most of the way which makes a convenient undertaking lane if there is oncoming traffic visible along the long straights.

My bike was an ATK TT 180 enduro style. Dan was on an ATK TT 125 and seemed to have the legs of the 180. We were weaving in and out of the traffic toward Barranquilla to rescue the boat batteries from bureaucracy. The hot Colombian air was hardly cooled by the coastal breeze and the sweat could be felt sticking my t-shirt to my back under my backpack.

The motorcycles swarmed like bees through Barranquilla. We were Gladiators in the motordrome making our way to the customs office.

Dan and I waited in the shade of the trees while Toni, Michael and Rolf entered the dead air-conditioned atmosphere of the government office. Barranquilla is hot and dusty, the longer I sat, the dustier I became. After 90 minutes, Toni said we might as well head back and they would follow later. With that, we took off.

I asked Dan “You know the way back to the Marina in Cartegena right?”
“Si, no problemo!” and proceeded to weave through Barranquilla stopping every few hundred metres as Dan asked the way…

Out of Barranquilla on highway 90, you can’t go wrong. It’s the only highway between there and Cartegena so all we have to do is sit there and allow the road to roll away under us village after village.

The toll gates are free for motorcycles so we coast straight through a metre wide path along the side passing all the impatient car drivers that had raced past us miles back as they fumbled for change and waited to pay their toll.

The villages have speed humps too. Traffic builds in queues as the trucks slow to crawl over them. Dan and I filter down the inside or continue at speed and stand on the footpegs over the speed humps. The bikes rise gently under us as we roll steadily into the open space ahead.

We hit Cartegena at 5pm, rush hour, and the battle with the traffic is joined a few hundred metres at a time as Dan resumes his relay of direction finding. I learn to keep more distance between us as Dan can spontaneously come to a halt at unlikely looking junctions. Eventually, I take the lead as we come into sight of the dock cranes at Manga. I know the proximity of the Marina to the docks and we soon reach Club Nautico as we follow the coastal streets.

I’m parched and ready for a beer. Dan has no money (he says) and I buy him a couple of drinks as we wait for I’m not sure what. I presume Dan is staying the night on Pantelisa but I say nothing. I’ll leave that to the guys when they return from Barranquilla.

Hunger creeps up on me and I invite Dan for a Schwarma up the road. The food is cheap and good. Dan is a good guy and helps me carry beer from the supermarket back to the Marina for the guy’s return. Rounding the corner, we see the bikes are back, placing a hand on the engine reveals they are still warm so not long returned and we make our way to Toni’s catamaran. They are just finishing dinner so just in time for drinks and a fuzzy head for the morning.

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Cartagena de Indias

The leg to Colombia felt very much like a continuation of the Atlantic. We were 50 miles north of the Colombian shore to avoid the rising sea as the waves enter the shallows steeply near the coast.

Even so, to the south, we could see the white bloom in the night sky, reflections of the city lights of Santa Marta and Barranquilla. Tomorrow we would set foot in Colombia at Cartegena.

Moving the spinnaker boom to the port side to get a more southerly bearing to the wind revealed a break in the mounting on the mast and the boom had to be retired. Not a big problem as we had only one day of sailing left to go.

The hazy high rise skyline of Bocagrande condensed into view out of the distant mist. The coastal boundary of Cartegena. The entrance to the harbour was protected by a shallow rock barrier where in the past enemy ships might founder as they attempt an invasion of Cartegena. Rolf could not determine the depth or width of the channel that suggested an entrance and we decided on caution and headed south to round the southern point of Isla de Terra Bomba.

We hailed Eidleweiss on the VHF, Toni’s vessel, and received a broken response. 10 minutes later the transmission was much clearer. Instructions were to head toward the Bocagrande skyline and adjacent rock barrier.

Concerned that there might be a mistake, I asked if they could see us on the AIS. “I can see you in real life!” came the reply. The channel through the rock barrier was narrow but deep enough for cargo ships. This would save 4 hours or so.

Approaching the barrier we observe a dinghy well away from the shore waving a Swiss flag. It was Toni and Michael welcoming us to Colombia. This was why the transmission was so improved. The handheld radio had been less than a mile away from us.

The harbour was dominated by a statue in the bay surrounded by cardinal markers. It looked an odd place to have a statue until I learned that this area was a broad and shallow reef.

Soon we nosed our way into a narrow space between vessels on the end of a pontoon in the Club Nautico Marina.

Mission accomplished. Pantelisa had been delivered to Colombia.

Herbert left Pantelisa within a couple of hours as he was now reunited with Alexandra who was already based at a high rise AirBnB pad in Manga nearby.

Crossing an ocean for a loved one was something I’d only ever encountered in poetry and music. Herbert lived it. My reward? Homelessness came to mind. Pantelisa had been my home for the past three months and now my plans were lost in a fog of uncertainty. I was booked onto a Sacred Medicine retreat near Minca in a weeks time. All I had to do was to tread water until then. Michael and Toni allowed me to stay aboard and help with Pantelisa for the time being which was a relief. I heard that Toni needed some motorcycles moving from Santa Marta to Cartagena. A 200Km trip that sounded an interesting gig so I offered to help, even if it meant moving them one by one over the next week.

Toni had some business retrieving some lithium boat batteries that were being held to ransom by Colombian customs so a plan was set for four of us to drive to Santa Marta the next day and return via Barranquilla with four bikes. The fifth being left behind so that I could ride to the retreat in the mountains at the end of the week.

Meanwhile, Michael wanted to retrieve his Kawasaki Ninja today so I went with him in the Toyota Land Cruiser via the Tigo cellphone dealer so we could both get a data Sim for Colombia. In true manjana style it took over 2 hours to get the sim. Long enough for me to lose track of our parking token required for exit to the car park necessitating a €5 bribe to the security guard.

The Ninja was located at an apartment on the coast so Michael and I drove along the beach nearby to grab some lunch. The beach reminded me of a rustic version of Miami. Miles of straight sand lined with luxury apartments as far as the eye could see.

Michael walked into the building and emerged from the garage a few minutes later on the sports bike and turned toward central Cartegena with me tailing in the Land Cruiser. The traffic is a crazy competition to be the first to fill spaces in the traffic ahead. I couldn’t always stay right behind the Kawasaki but the distinctive black and yellow helmet was always in view.

Arriving in Manga, Michael stopped and pointed across the road and I noticed Rosalie looking bemused that Michael was on a motorcycle with me following in a Land Cruiser. Yesterday, we were simply boat crew. Rosalie hopped in and caught up on the afternoon’s events on the way back to Club Nautico.

I had no Colombian currency. I worked out it was roughly £3.00 for $10,000 (Colombian Pesos). The problem was solved by paying for dinner with Debit card and gathering in the cash contributions from around the table. I was already on the way to becoming a Peso Millionaire.

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Rosalie

I was up at 7, irrationally keen to set off. We were 22 hours from Martinique so it wasn’t logical to go now and arrive at the Marina offices before they were open. 11am would be good enough. The morning was bright, warm and clear and already families were snorkelling off their boats through the bay and along the rocky shore. Guadeloupe is on the list for national roaming charges for my phone provider so I logged onto the internet and caught up on messages. The less I’m connected to the web, the fewer messages I get; the opposite of what I expected to happen. Herbert and I relaxed in the sun and swam around the boat in the warm turquoise water. After a longer than expected Skype call, we set off just after midday.

The sea was kinder to us today as we were broader on the wind steering a more southerly bearing. The warm land was drawing the air in from the west over the cooler sea. And we were unusually on a starboard tack going south until we reached the bottom of Guadeloupe and the wind flipped to push the sails across from the east. We had the usual calms in the lee of Dominica and Martinique and the leg was uneventful.

As usual, I could get no sense out of the La Marina du Marin office regarding marina instructions and I switched off the VHF and headed directly for the Carenantilles boatyard a mile to the north. The channel was clearly marked on the plotter but obscured in reality by scattered moored vessels and we weaved our way through the chaotic anchorage.

We had a name of a contact at the boatyard and we were met by a friendly French family together with Anna, the helpful boatyard manager. There turned out to be no mooring available. Not surprised, to be fair, the way of my previous experience of Martinique. We tagged onto the end of a pier that constituted half the boat launch.

Pantelisa was too fat to remain there when a catamaran came to be launched and we were pushed over to the gas station perched on the end of the other leg. There was no water or electricity but at least we had easy access to land and so stashed the dinghy away.

Two days later an irate French woman hammered on the cabin and told me I had been there two days, which I knew already since I had slept there two nights already. She ran the combined gas station laundry and bar. She bellowed that she had a business to run but what she really wanted was Pantelisa to be moved and eventually got round to mentioning it.

A Belgian catamaran arrived wanting to fill up and one of their acidic crew member’s said we could use the mooring around the corner. I went to confirm this with Anna first, to his displeasure, but couldn’t find her. It turned out he was lying. We backed off the dock looking for an alternative solution. Anna was on the shore waving and offered us either a space on the rafted pontoon floating out into the anchorage or at the end of the row of boats on the end of the established floating pontoon. We chose the latter although it wasn’t a real space as all the cleats were used up.

We reversed next to the end boat and secured the stern to the single available cleat shared with our neighbour and tied ourselves to the boat while we hailed a dinghy to take bow lines out to the buoy to our port and the cleat to our starboard on the pontoon parallel to us the metres to our starboard. The guy in the dinghy said that would be a problem if another boat came to moor in the space beside us but I said it wouldn’t since there were no more cleats available on that side and the parallel pontoon was fully occupied.

We borrowed a long hose for water and extension leads for the electric and we were as good as moored up for the last couple of days. It was easier to relax away from the gas station and dinghy dock.

Rolf arrived on the evening of the 6th before dark and we celebrated by going out to a meal at Mango Bay. Herbert brought up the subject of boat hitchers looking for passage to Colombia and the conversation turned to experiences with various nutters and delicate people that complained about breaking fingernails and getting wet. The consensus was that since we were already proven as an effective and harmonious crew, and we were already provisioned and set to go we would stay as a trio.

Half an hour later, Rosalie had tracked us down and joined us at the table. Herbert explained our conversation and Rosalie pleaded her case.

She’s quite the mediator, a smoother operator you will never see, Rosalie.

We felt awkward and didn’t want to feel bad and decided it would have to be a unanimous decision to accept. Even though there was no evidence of long fingernails and hairspray, It was me that said no, we should stay as a trio, to end the discomfort and the matter appeared closed as Rosalie left the restaurant carrying her disappointment with dignity.

The next morning, the subject cropped up again and Rolf felt like helping Rosalie out. Herbert was for it too so I went with the majority. I collected the boat papers and headed for the Captainarie at 10am for checking out, via Kokoarum to wait for Rosalie while Herbert messages. After an orange juice and an hour of interneting, hosting a mosquito feast around my ankles I messaged Herbert to say no sign of Rosalie and headed for the clearing out terminals at the Captainerie. Forty minutes later, I was back at Mango bay, papers and passports in hand ready to go but first, lunch.

Moments later, Herbert received a call from Rosalie and tells her we have already cleared out, it was too late. She said she would go to the Captainarie to get the paper and meet us at Mango Bay.

She’ll see you later, and no-one dares dissuade her openly, Rosalie.

She must have sprinted all the way as she appeared at Mango Bay within half an hour with an exact copy of my paperwork with her details included in the crew list. We welcomed her to the crew and relaxed with a celebratory lunch before heading off.

Rolf volunteered to swim out to the buoy to retrieve the bowline and at 3pm we were heading out of the harbour bound for Cartegena, a rainbow astern signalling our departure as it did the morning of our arrival. I wasn’t unhappy about leaving Martinique. I had never felt particularly welcome here as it was so busy. I was grateful to Anna, the boatyard manager. She felt like she had been our only ally and we bought her a bottle of wine to express our thanks.

Mokta and his French family were very welcoming and helpful too. They were on a Dufour 560, a huge monohull, about 4 boats down. Socialising was limited for me since my French language and their English was limited. Herbert was our unofficial French diplomat…

Martinique faded into the distant haze before sunset and reappeared as anonymous lights on the horizon after dark. Other than that, this Caribbean crossing felt like a continuation of the Atlantic: same sail configuration, same wind direction. Rosalie had settled in well and proved a competent short-fingernailed crew member. Having one more German speaker tips the balance into German being the predominant language of conversation although English is used quite often to include me when I’m close by.

Ther is plenty of space on Pantelisa for 4. Technically space for 8 to 10. The main thing I notice is coming up to the cockpit, where there used to be space, there is a body, so lying down outside was a bit more restricted than before unless you were there first. It wasn’t a problem though as everybody shuffle’s up to make space without having to ask: almost psychic.

Rolf admitted he hates cooking so Herbert and I relieve him of that duty as we prepared dinner, following the retreating sun, Colombia bound…

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The Double Deuce

We reached Nevis shortly after sunset and picked the closest mooring ball to shore on the northern edge of the field. These balls had a secondary line attached that we could easily hook, unlike the Martinique balls that you had to wrestle your own line through a steel ring set on the top, while the wind pushes the bow away from the mooring.

We chilled out on Pantelisa with a meal of pasta and created a plan for the evening that we would return at about 10.30 unless we both agreed otherwise. Herbert joked that I would be the one staying out way past midnight and I laughed since no social occasion usually keeps me out that long.

With our plan agreed, we rowed the dinghy ashore. I warned Herbert that the beach was steep and waves would rise suddenly but we easily surfed a swell which deposited us on the sand perfectly and we stepped onto the sand dragging the dinghy up before the next wave came.

Walking into the Double Deuce, there was an easy atmosphere, not crowded but sociable. I asked if Mark was around. He was. Cooking out the back. I went to say hello and he remembered me and asked me to stay long enough that he could come and talk when the food orders stopped coming in.

Herbert and I sat at the bar chatting with Expat Nevis residents: sailors that somehow ended up on this volcano protruding out of the sea. We tucked into the El Dorado rum until Mark was free and then had a good catch up.

Mark put me onto a Rival 34 which peaked my interest. A good blue-water boat same length as Glee but GRP instead of steel. Should I own a boat? I’m not sure, but I would like a base to call my own and I know I’m a good skipper now. It sounds ideal.

Herbert kept asking if I was ready but I kept wanting to stay just a bit longer and we headed for the dinghy at 11.50. Pinney’s beach was throbbing with drums and rhythm. It seemed like the population of Nevis was all here.

Launching the dinghy into the waves, we catch a big one that Herbert took the brunt of but we were out past the breakers and digging the oars in rowing toward Pantelisa. Halfway there, the Four Seasons Resort’s firework display kicked off so we stopped and watched the show reflected in the water from the most perfect position.  When the display stopped, we found we had drifted to within 30 meters of Pantelisa, which was an easy few strokes home.

It was the perfect end to an amazing day, starting off with drizzle and uncertainty and ending in joy and kicking off a whole new year.

I was up just after dawn and Herbert was still sleeping. It was easy for me to slip the mooring in the still morning air and motor out of the mooring field and head for Guadeloupe. Herbert emerged bleary-eyed, surprised that we were moving, on the one hand, grateful for the opportunity to sleep and on the other, feeling left out as a valued member of the crew.

We were hard on the wind beating against the waves bound for Deshaies, a bay I had enjoyed with Susie and Anna on Spirited Lady of Fowey in April. It was hard going, too rough to read, sleep or do much of anything. Montserrat came and went and we coasted into Deshaies at 8pm. There were three boats showing on the AIS. More like thirty in the bay. We cruised around the bay at tickover, there was little wind so plenty of time to pick a spot a safe distance from other vessels. I check the depth. 18 meters. We need at least 4 times the length of chain out as the depth. We have 70 meters and the swing arc for that amount is hard to gauge to the distance to the neighbours. I decide to go further in to find shallower water.

Dropping anchor on a few likely spots resulted in us dragging and pulling up weed. How do people find a holding here? Another attempt was interrupted by a shouting Frenchman waving from the vessel 30 meters astern. “Parlez Vous Anglais?” “Non” as he continues waving. Herbert continues winding in the anchor and says we have a chain on our hook. The French guy is in 18 meters of water so we have at least 36 meters of his chain and possibly anchor hanging off ours.

I try to think while this frantic Frenchman is bellowing incomprehensible communication. I use the snubber line to hook the chain off the anchor but now there is no way to save the snubber as the full weight of his ground tackle is hanging on the line. We drop it in order to silence the frantic Gaul. I should have hooked the head of the anchor and let out the chain and his tackle would have slipped off the end of our hook but I had no head space to work that one out until after the tension was resolved. We were now minus a snubber but on the plus side, no harm was done to crew or vessels.

Last April, I remember a French boat coming into the anchorage when Susie was there having the same problem and retreating to deep water after some verbal abuse. I can understand their problem now. I wouldn’t recommend Deshaies to anyone. The holding is poor and harbour overcrowded. If you don’t hook a chain, it is likely that someone else will hook yours.

We tried one more time in deep water. Our anchor held briefly but dragged again so we made our exit toward Pigeon Island 9 miles south.

We passed a few fishing buoys so kept a sharp lookout so none would tangle in our prop as we motored through the still night air, what with the day nor wind not really going in our favour. Within a couple of hours, we approached a cluster of mooring lights atop masts swaying gently in the swell. There were a few boats here but there was space and depth was three to four metres into bare sand and good holding. 20 metres of chain was ample and Pantelisa slowed with a soft jolt as the chain became taught and anchor dug in.

It was 23:30 and a peaceful spot in the heart of the Jacques Cousteau Nature Reserve. Much nicer than Deshaies, although there was nothing nearby apart from a beach bar and a few houses scattered up the hillside. We could have been here by 7 if we’d come directly. Even though it was further, we would have had a better angle to the wind and avoided the stress of ploughing weed and chain out of the seabed at Deshaies.

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Illegal Immigrants

Pretty as a motion picture was the animated graphic forecast on Predict Wind’s Android app. The accuracy however, could not be guaranteed.

We motored all the way out to the Banc du Diamant with the wind dead astern, not worth deploying the spinnaker boom as it would be back in within an hour or two. As soon as we changed course to 340, the beam wind propelled us forward at 8 to 10 knots. Even with one reef in the sail, we were heeled over more than we were used to but the handling on the helm felt well balanced and not overpowered. Pretty soon we settled down to a steady 6 or 7 knots.

West of Dominica was a dead spot. Flat sea, no wind. Herbert was on watch and did his best to not use the motor but there is nothing much can be done with limp flapping sails. We crept out of the shadow of Dominica an hour into my watch just before 3am into a keen blow of 20 knots which put us on heel again and 4 hours of rapid progress.

6.30 we were in the lee of Guadeloupe. A dead zone for the rest of the day. The calm extended almost to Montserrat.

Getting to Nevis about 23.00, we approached the yellow buoy we were meant to pick up for customs. I didn’t like it so close to Charlestown and the ferry dock so I veered north to the mooring buoys designated for cleared vessels. Much quieter and serene.

Dawn broke on the 31st December to a mirror sea: silver under a grey drizzly sky. It looked more like Scotland than the caribbean. Ben Nevis and Loch Ness perhaps. We wanted to be away early before the customs boat had a chance to cruise around the mooring field but there was little movement apparent anywhere.

We kicked off our clothes and plunged into the warm,  clear water to shake off the fatigue and slumber before motoring to St Kitts in a soggy stone sky.

Our outboard was kaput. We were here on a lead from a friend of a friend. Names are changed to protect the innocent.

Following the yellow catamaran in that raced past us and rudely halted itself in front of the harbour entrance, we crept past and looked for Tim’s boat, Bounty. We couldn’t see it from the water so we moored at the fuel dock near the entrance and found him two or three boats away. Tim was our contact but he didn’t seem particularly pleased to see us.

“The dinghy and outboard are over there next to the customs office but you need to clear in before I can help you.”

Ah, that was a problem. My friend had told me there was no need to clear out of Martinique and waste two hours clearing in in St Kitts since we would load the dinghy and outboard at the fuel dock and be away.

Since we had not cleared out of Martinique, we could not clear in anywhere else. A shortcut that had become a road-block.

Our choices were either to risk it and risk detention or abandon the mission. The customs office is perched high on the quayside and has the view like a guard tower over a prison complex. We bought some time by refuelling Pantelisa and, for the sake of one piece of paper and the gaze of officialdom, we abandon the mission.

Technically, we are not legally allowed to go ashore anywhere without that piece of paper. This was a consideration for stopping anywhere but Martinique. We had time to get back and wanted to enjoy the journey back rather than hammer the overnight shifts. We’d be doing that to Colombia on the next leg anyway.

We told Tim we would leave it so we’d be off and handed him a four pack of beers. Tim had warmed to us by then and showed us on the chart some nice anchorages along St Kitts that might be good for New Year’s Eve.

Exiting the harbour, there was 15 knots of wind helping us down the coast. I liked the sound of Cockleshell Bay on the south coast with a Reggae Bar on the beach. We were not disappointed. The sun had broken through the cloud by then and we found ourselves anchoring in three meters of turquoise water with firm holding. With us as the only sailboat in the bay, it made for a picture perfect postcard scene.

Herbert took the snorkel and mask to inspect the anchor and the topology in case of any swing we might have. Level as a billiard table on the seabed except for scattered urchins instead of balls.

We deployed the dinghy and rowed into the beach locking the dinghy to a heavy ring set into a concrete block resting in the sand. The Reggae bar was how you would imagine a remote rustic Caribbean beach shack to be.

Walking through the row of loungers and umbrellas to the bar looking out to Pantelisa was a dream scene hard to believe. We planned to be here long enough that we could get to Nevis after the customs and immigration closed at 3pm and nab a mooring buoy for the night. As it was so nice we stayed way beyond then.

This made up for the disappointing morning in Port Zante. Nevis was a short motor to the mooring field, weighing anchor into a beautiful pink sunset with a three-masted tall ship on the horizon, we made the mooring ball just before dusk. This day had it all: rain, sun, uncertainty, beauty and adventure… and our minds turned to celebration…

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The Bucket Holder

28th December 2017
The first time since Glee, I was the skipper of a vessel, except this one will be off its mooring ball. Herbert and I deposit Thomas and his luggage ashore at 10.30 and we refill our water tanks. We arrange to meet at Kokoarum after returning Pantelisa to the mooring. All set, we fire up the outboard and it dies within 30 seconds. I’ve already let go of the line and we are drifting with the wind toward Mexico. Our Aussie neighbour on Aegis was watching, probably with some amusement, as we paddle Hawaii 5’0 style against the trade wind and the Aegis tender comes to rescue us. An hour and a half later of spark plug cleaning and pull cord workouts we hail the capitainerie on the VHF who tell us 5 minutes. 20 minutes later I call again and they say “We are too busy” Empty promises from officialdom strikes again. We flag down our nearby Neighbour, Thomas on Shiraz who kindly ferries us and our dinghy ashore.

The consensus is that we have a carburettor problem and we add the task of repair to our growing list of issues. We bid farewell to our former skipper and set about planning the time we need for chores and travels. Ideally, we want a Marina spot and Martinique fails to fulfil our needs both here at La Marin as well as at Fort De France. We feel like Josef and Mary returning to Bethlehem for Christmas. There is no room at the inn.

I’m not too taken with Martinique. Whilst it isn’t hostile, it is too crowded and too busy for my tastes. I feel no empathy either from or toward the place. But at least we were ashore and I set about compressing and uploading my Atlantic vlogs to youtube and planning a resolution to our transport problems. The sole available outboard mechanic (Meca’ bats) can only fit us in next week. I ask about some carb cleaner but the mechanic takes time to explain the intricacies of the Yamaha four-stroke carburettor. I abandon the thought of a DIY carb clean pretty quickly. The results of our efforts to coordinate and resolve our various problems are mixed. 3 steps forward and 2 back at the very least.

I check the winds on the internet and make a tentative plan to sail up to St Martin where I know I have allies and I can reunite with some good friends. Herbert is up for it. He’s already put a lot of trust in me as a skipper and I’ve so far proved myself with manoeuvrability around the harbour and docking to the buoy and thinking ahead before acting (apart from letting go of the dinghy line before the motor was running).

Herbert and I feel slim reward for the day’s efforts as we dine at the internet table at Kokoarum. I settle for a chicken burger in the absence of all their vegetarian options. It’s either chicken or grass. We head off back to the dinghy tied up near Meca’ bats about 9pm.

Passing the dinghy dock at Kokoarum, we spy a couple either mooring up or unhitching their dinghy and decide to abandon the walk to our own and try our luck to find prompt sanctuary aboard Pantelisa for the evening. We meet Byron and Katie who are only too pleased to give us a ride, especially as it’s pretty much on their way to their own boat, Ceylon. They remind me somewhat of Riley and Alayna from Sailing La Vagabond. Fellow free spirits that take a bold step into the unknown and work life out as it happens. We had the pleasure of sharing a beer with them onboard Pantelisa, brightening up a dreary slog of a day.

I awoke at 2 am, a little hungover, and set about sorting through the options for escaping the mooring field. Predictwind.com’s animation puts the wind direction swinging from the south-east after 2nd January. That puts the mockers on making it back to Martinique from St Martin for collecting Rolf on the 6th. Plan B. There are nice marinas down at Grenada and the wind direction is friendly both ways between now and the 6th so that’s what I propose to Toni, the owner. The answer later in the morning would be no, he has a better idea.

30th December
Katie comes by to take me and Herbert ashore at 7.30 and we three share coffees and a green tea. True to form, the waitress brings black tea and says “We have no green.” These little signs that life isn’t currently 100% in alignment. I tell her I’ll take the bag out early so it’s only light brown then. I set about reigniting the todo list and call Toni. He thinks we can make St Kitts and back before the wind changes and we can collect a dinghy from a friend of his there. I feel like an employee and agree although the plan is sound. I’ve not set foot on St Kitts before and Herbert is up for the challenge so that’s what we commit to. With that commitment, a lot of stress and uncertainty dissipates. I feel good about escaping Martinique and good about the mission ahead and head toward the capitainerie to settle the bill and clear out.

Halfway through clearing out, Herbert comes in and tells me Toni says we don’t need to clear out as we will pick up the dinghy and come straight back to Martinique. So we abandon the computer terminal and leave.

Thinking about it, it makes it difficult to get ashore anywhere else, like Nevis to see a friend that owns a beach bar there. We will have to be outlaws to do that. Cest la vie!

We retrieve our dinghy from the dinghy dock without even bothering to try and start the outboard. A French couple is just leaving and Herbert uses his best French to secure a tow back to Pantelisa. The members of the sailing community, really are gems. Everyone is so pleased to help their fellow mariners without thought of reward. It’s an attitude that seems embedded in the cruising world.

We immediately deflate and pack away the dinghy and put the ‘bucket holder’ on its frame. Everything here must have a use. We slip the lines at 12.45 and then follow the convoy exiting the channel from the harbour to the open water…

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Arrival: Martinique

We arise one after another. Herbert was already enjoying the Martinique morning while I prepared my cereal upon a level surface for the first time in weeks.

Motoring into La Marina Du Marin. I hail the Marina to announce our arrival and the response is that Pantelisa has no reservation and there is no space for new arrivals. I relay the information to Thomas who tells me to tell them that we made a reservation days ago “Try again.” is the order. Did the entry magically appear? No. I radio for a mooring ball. “Go between mark 7 and 8!” We see no marks and abandon the VHF to take any mooring ball we find.

At 2 pm the dinghy is deployed with the 2.5 HP Yamaha outboard. It’s tiny. Thomas and Herbert go to clear in at immigration and connect to the world wide web. I opt to remain aboard since they will only be a couple of hours and three guys with three bags looks a little too intimate in a dinghy so small. Anyway, one more day won’t make much difference. I’ve already missed the Christmas routine of greetings. Besides, I can use the opportunity to catch up on some sleep and then go in later.

6pm my phone rings unexpectedly. It’s Thomas “Someone has stolen our dinghy…” This is not the welcome I had in mind for celebrating our acheivement…

With Herbert and Thomas stranded somewhere in Martinique, darkness falls and I settle down to some writing and editing since there isn’t much else available and the cleaning can wait until daylight. I’m too tired for reading tonight. 8.30pm and some activity on deck. Thomas and Herbert are delivered by the crew of the Czech boat “Victoria.”

The next morning, we slip the lines on the mooring ball and motor round to the old galleon “Victoria.” The sea bed is grass and holding poor for the anchor so we tie alongside Victoria’s service boat and intrude on Josef and his crew to take photographs and talk about their project. I’m not sure where Thomas’ interests were at the time. Victoria is moored in a quiet corner of the bay. There are an eclectic collection of vessels scattered around the lagoon which reminds me of where I was moored in St Martin. Freedom seekers existing on the fringes of the state prescribed way of life.

We secure another mooring buoy slightly closer to shore and not so close to other vessels. Josef swings by soaked by the spray whipped up by the headwind as the dinghy moves through the water and ferries us ashore so we can work out our game plan. Drifting into the dock, we spy our dinghy and outboard. Whoever took it brought it back, it is a mystery but the game is now changed…

Thomas goes to the chandlery, which is now open, to get a cable and lock while I catch up on contact and updates. There is so much to do, it feels overwhelming and I restrict myself to messaging and telephone calls which keeps me busy throughout the day. With this being Thomas’ final evening before he flies home, and treating us to a beer and tour of his own boat moored in the marina, Herbert and I offer him a farewell meal at Kokoarum, and we make our way through the tropical downpour to secure a table. The tables are full, the restaurant heaving and the band is swinging. The contrast is too much for me after the quiet of the sea and I give up the battle to communicate over the noise and take in what I can. I was happy to return to Pantelisa in our overcrowded dinghy and staying relatively dry of rainwater from the ankles up.

Things were looking up. We had transport, a mooring and a cold beer aboard a luxury yacht in a tropical paradise. Even though our mission to Colombia was not complete, this felt like the closing of a chapter and I felt sorry that our harmonious trio was disbanding…

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