Thursday, November 16, 2006

Received new batteries; now a big change in plans

November 12 -16, 2006   Sunday throughThursday

Sunday 12th :  Researched route to Cartagena; looks doable.  Sent email to insurance company about purchasing a rider for Colombian waters.  Dominoes with the fellow cruisers—Judy won with score of only 100. The closest score was 267.  Lowest score wins.  Then we enjoyed lobster tacos for dinner—expensive but delicious.

Monday 13th:  S/V Helen Louise left for Curacao.  They want us to buddy boat with them along the Colombian coast if we can get our batteries installed in time.  They must be in Cartagena by December 1st because their son is visiting and his flight home leaves from Cartagena.

Tuesday 14th:  We checked on our battery shipment from Miami through Am-car.  The shipment left Miami last Friday, supposedly on a ship bound direct to Bonaire.  This is a normal weekly ship route for Am-Car.  The shipment of batteries is not expected to arrive in Bonaire until Thursday.  Sure hope they clear Customs so we can get them Friday, but this is not likely.

Judy started PADI training this morning; she had read the book last week.  She passed first 3 written tests; did one confined water dive and performed about half of the required skills to complete the course.  Then she and the instructor and did one pleasure open water dive to 40 ft.   It was fabulous!   She explored over and around an old sunken wooden sailing ship; looked like something out of a Disney movie. There were lots of colorful fish and one very large emerald green eel with a very large mouth with teeth.   He kept opening his mouth widely toward Judy and the dive instructor, but he did not leave his little nook in the sunken ship.  There was a large patch of what appeared to be brown/black single strand sea plants in a patch of sand.  Each “plant” was about 6-8 inches tall.  Strange thing was that as Judy and the dive instructor would glide near them, these “plants” would retreat quickly back under the sand.  After surfacing the dive instructor told Judy that those were a different kind of small eel.  There is some weird stuff down there! This dive was a very interesting experience and enjoyable.

Then came the afternoon dive. 

First, the dive instructor wanted Judy to sit on the bottom underwater and put on her fins.  Well, that certainly was disastrous!  This was being attempted in ocean surge and fairly shallow water.  She could not stay seated even with the buoyancy vest completely empty; the surge kept moving her all over the place sideways and lifting her upwards.   She eventually did get the fins on her feet but only after becoming very annoyed and upset with the entire process and finding it more and more difficult to breathe through the regulator during this process.  (Try sitting straight-legged on the floor and putting on snorkel fins; and imagine also having on a buoyancy vest and air tank, etc. and fighting ocean surge --- This is not as easy as it sounds!)   The dive instructor next required Judy do a lot of snorkel/regulator exchanges underwater and she hated having the salt water in her mouth; then she began to feel like she couldn’t breathe even though her lungs were full of air (think this would qualify for hyperventilating).   He ignored her signals that she wanted to ascend and started down on the planned next open water dive; so Judy followed.  For about 30 feet down.  By that point Judy was finding it more and more difficult to breathe with the regulator and was getting very panicked.  She finally grabbed the leg of the instructor and signaled to him that she was surfacing.  She surfaced, with the instructor staying with her to force her to go slow enough.  After they exited the water Judy told him she would try it again tomorrow.  This is not what diving is supposed to be.   She also saw a white eel on this afternoon dive before she ended the dive early.  The marine life was pretty and interesting but not so much that it could make up for how panicked she felt about not being able to breathe.

We went to pot luck dinner with the other cruisers and enjoyed a nice evening of conversation.  We grilled two pork tenderloins as our dish to share, but one of them landed overboard because Judy didn’t bring a tray up fast enough when Bill removed the first tenderloin from the grill.  Guess a barracuda ate well tonight.

Also, we have decided that we are not going to attempt South Pacific next year.  We have not been able to obtain all the spares that we would want to have on hand for that long voyage.  Plus, we want to have more experience with this boat before venturing so far with just the two of us aboard.  So we are now thinking of doing the standard “Caribbean Circle” for the next year.  We have until February to make up our minds about this.  Then we must decide whether to head north from the San Blas Islands up to Guatemala and Belize or to head west through the canal.  Decisions, decisions, decisions.

Wednesday 15th:   Judy reported for her second day of PADI training – and her final day as it turned out.  She knew within minutes of entering the water that she was not going to calm down and enjoy this experience like she did yesterday morning.  That experience yesterday afternoon with trying to put on fins while sitting underwater in ocean surge and then switching back and forth from snorkel tube to regulator and getting mouthfuls of salt water was enough to turn Judy against this entire diving idea.  Today she felt like she could not breathe within a minute of getting underwater.  Just felt like her lungs were full of air and it would not go out.  Felt very panicky – just like when she was put into an MRI machine several years ago; very claustrophobic and couldn’t breathe.  So she ended this dive attempt immediately and told the instructor that this diving thing is just not worth the effort.  He said she “had” to get used to having salt water in her mouth.  She told him that she is old enough now that she doesn’t “have” to do anything.  Diving is supposed to be fun; this is not fun; she isn’t doing it.  She is supposed to go back tomorrow for a refund.  Thus ends Judy’s formal training diving expeditions.

The cruise ship CROWN PRINCESS docked here in Bonaire this morning and off-loaded 3100 passengers for the day.  You can only imagine what 3100 gawking cruise passengers do to a quiet little town like Kralendijk.  We were in town enjoying lunch at City Café when the sidewalks and streets began to fill with poorly dressed tourists.  So we ended our day in town and retreated to the comforts of our boat for the remainder of the day.  The local businesses and dive operators love having these cruise ships because it greatly increases their business, but it sure gets crowded on this island.

Scratch Cartagena and the San Blas Islands for the near future.  If our batteries arrive and clear Customs and get installed before the weather changes, then we are sailing straight to Puerto Rico instead.  Then we can have a leisurely trip down island and see everything that we missed when we had to hurry south so quickly last May.  We should be able to get whatever spares we want shipped to the Amel rep in Guadaloupe.  And this gives us much more time to relax and decide exactly where we want to go after the Caribbean – maybe Pacific, maybe Atlantic, maybe who knows.   Had we made this decision last week then we could have just waited until we were in Puerto Rico to buy batteries instead of being stuck here waiting for the ones that we have already paid for.  The weather is perfect for a passage from Bonaire to Puerto Rico right now.  We hope that the weather will hold longer.  If we continued with our plans to Cartagena and San Blas Islands, then we would be stuck there until April or May because of the winter weather.  The next opportunity to go northward from the extreme SW Caribbean is April or May.  It is either that or go NOW.  November is the last weather window to go north before the winter winds set in and make any northward passage impossible. 

Thursday 16th:  We attempted tracing our two FedEx shipments online this morning and learned that Bill’s prescription medicine is still in Puerto Rico (for several days now) and the Balmar smartcharge regulator is still in Curacao.  Both shipments left the US on the same day and should have been here in Bonaire yesterday.  So this afternoon we walked to Rocargo, the agent here in Bonaire both for Am-Car (the battery shipment) and for FedEx.  They said that all three shipments should arrive here in Bonaire this evening.  The shipments should clear Customs tomorrow morning and be available for us to pick up or have delivered to the marina sometime tomorrow afternoon.  We are supposed to pay 5% duty or post a Customs bond equal to 5% of the value of the shipments.  But if we clear out of Customs first and then have the shipments delivered to the marina and straight to our boat and then leave Bonaire immediately, then we are exempt from the 5% duty or Customs bond which would total several hundred dollars. 

So we are supposed to call Rocargo just before noon tomorrow and confirm that all three shipments have arrived.  If all three shipments are here then we will go to Customs and clear out; move the boat to a dock at the marina; and wait for the delivery.  We still have not found anyone to hire to help carry these heavy batteries down inside the boat and to haul away the old batteries.  Each battery weighs 78 pounds.  This will be quite a workout for both of us.

We have submitted a passage planning request to our weather service guy.  If we can get the batteries installed tomorrow and working correctly, and if the weather is still predicted to remain calm, then we might be sailing out of Bonaire early Saturday or Sunday enroute to Puerto Rico.  So if there aren’t any website updates for the next few days, that is why – we are sailing from the bottom of the Caribbean Sea to the top.

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