Friday, September 14, 2007

Chocosano!!! In the middle of the night, of course!

September 14, 2007 Friday

About 2:00 p.m. yesterday afternoon the sky suddenly darkened.  About 3 minutes later one of the notorious Chocosanos arrived!  Everything we had heard and read about these sudden high-wind storms was true.  Chocosanos are a local phenomenon that also occurs in the San Blas Islands.  These are very sudden, high, sustained, straight-line winds that may or may not be accompanied by rain.  They usually last 30 minutes to an hour, but have been known to last as long as 3 hours. 

The winds yesterday afternoon topped at 35 knots.  That doesn’t sound like all that much because we have encountered 35 knot winds while out sailing and managed just fine.  But these winds are different.  Best description I can give is that they are straight-line solid winds, not gusting winds.  This makes a huge difference. 

Now we understand why boats are required to have three 100-foot bow lines tied to the underwater cable anchoring system here at Club Nautico.  The winds started directly on our bow.  They slowly clocked to our port beam, without ever letting up a bit.  The strong wind caused the water to become extremely agitated and caused all the boats to start hobby-horsing like crazy.  Everyone was instantly up in their cockpits ready to start their engines if a bow line failed or if the lines stretched too far and let their sterns pound into the dock behind them.  It was most exciting – an excitement that we would just as soon not experienced.

Then heavy rain began to blow with the strong winds.  The whole thing lasted about 30 minutes as best I remember.  Then it was perfectly calm and still.  I have read that these Chocosanos typically occur in afternoons but the other cruisers here at the marina said that lately these storms have been happening about 3 a.m.  We are glad that the first one that we experienced was during the daylight.  Now we have an idea of what to expect.

All the boats on our dock were fine after the storm passed, but a catamaran on another dock lost one of its bow lines.  It would have been pounded into the dock behind it except for a French sailor berthed next to them.  The 42-foot Manta catamaran has two 20-horsepower engines.  These two engines were not strong enough to hold the catamaran away from the dock at their stern.  The Frenchman tied a line to the catamaran and started his engine.  He used his boat to help keep the catamaran off the dock until the winds passed.  This is the second time the Frenchman has come to the aid of that catamaran this month during these Chocosanos.  How disastrous would it be if the owners were off shopping or doing tourist things when these winds suddenly appeared!  Makes you want to be close to home during the afternoon just to be on the safe side.

Then, at 2:00 a.m. this morning we experienced our second Chocosanos!  This is most unusual to experience two in less than 24 hours, and these were only 12 hours apart!  The one this morning did not have any accompanying rain, just the high sustained winds.  All the boats were again hobby-horsing all over the place.  I was very concerned about the boat on our port side.  It has a large pulpit on the bow that would really beat up our boat, and their bow lines don’t look very heavy-duty to me.  In fact, I think all three of those lines look pretty darn flimsy considering the strain that they must hold.  Plus, that boat does not have any spring lines rigged to the concrete pillars on the dock behind us.  Thank goodness that Bill thought to add two spring lines.  These help keep our bow from turning when the winds come off the beam.  Since the boat next door doesn’t have any spring lines rigged, his bow was being blown sideways and getting much too close to our boat.  We have spare fenders out and ready to try to fend him off if necessary, but I would hate to have to do that because I am afraid one of us could be badly injured as much as that boat was rearing up and kicking all over the place.  A foot or hand between our two tossing boats would be instantly crushed to little bits.  Our boat is 27 tons and his is at least that much if not considerably more.  Not a pretty thought!  But we didn’t collide so all was well.

Some people leave their boats here while doing inland travel in South America – not in Colombia because that is still too dangerous.  But people do fly from Cartagena to various destinations in South America.  They are required to designate or hire someone to care for their boat in their absence.  After going through one of these Chocosanos, Bill and I know for certain that we would never leave our boat here in Cartagena while we traveled elsewhere.  We would be worried sick about our boat the entire time and would not be able to enjoy the vacation.

We hope to get some routine maintenance chores performed here in Colombia where the labor is so inexpensive.  One of the things that has bothered Bill for the past year is the turnbuckles.  The guy in Trinidad last summer put an acid-based cleaner on the turnbuckles when he was cleaning our boat.  This discolored the turnbuckles.  They truly don’t look that noticeable, but they are not the shiny stainless that Bill wants them to be.  He is forever polishing the stainless rail and stanchions, etc., and likes all the metal to gleam spotless.  (Frankly, I doubt that I would ever even notice those turnbuckles; but they bug Bill to no end.) 

Yesterday Bill hired a guy to act as a general manager for the various jobs that he wants performed.  First assignment was to find a stainless man to polish the turnbuckles with jewelers rouge.  Bill had read that this would be the only way to get the turnbuckles back to their original gleaming state.  Alberto, our project general manager, located a stainless man and had him come inspect our boat.  Turns out that our stainless steel turnbuckles are not stainless steel after all.  Our turnbuckles are solid bronze with chrome plating to make them appear to be stainless steel.  Seems like Amel would have made a bigger deal about that fact.  Bronze is the preferred metal.  We were pleasantly surprised to learn that these turnbuckles are solid bronze.  The stainless man did use jewelers rouge to clean one of the turnbuckles as a sample of what he can do if he is assigned the job, and that turnbuckle gleamed again.  Made Bill very happy.  So the stainless man is hired to polish all the turnbuckles.

Bill also wants the hull waxed again, with special attention to the boot stripe and that small white line between the boot stripe and the bottom paint.  That little strip never gets waxed when we get a bottom job.  The painters always tape it off so they will have a straight edge on the bottom paint.  The waxers just wax the sides of the hull down to that tape.  When both jobs are finished then the tape is removed and that tiny strip never gets touched.  And that tiny strip turns yellow-brown and crap starts growing on it immediately.  It is a constant chore to clean marine growth off it.  Another project is to repair a scratch on the bottom edge of the keel.  The bottom paint got scraped a little on a rocky/shell bottom and we want another coat of bottom paint applied to the keel.  Labor rates here in Cartagena range from $20 to $30 for an 8-hour day.  That is incredibly cheap!! 

So we hope to arrange to have the boat hauled for these maintenance projects.  It is just so inexpensive here that if we don’t haul then we would be kicking ourselves for the next year every time we have to scrub the water edge of the hull.  Hauling out is a bit cumbersome because you are not allowed to move your boat at all without first obtaining a letter from the Port Authority granting you permission to do so.  The Port Captain does not deal with private yachts so that means that our agent must first obtain this letter for us before we can move to the haul-out facility and boatyard.  Hoping to do this next week.  This will also allow the project general manager time to locate the various laborers and materials that will be needed.  Bill already met with the boatyard manager and learned that hauling, boatyard time and splashing will cost only about $400.  Again, that is very inexpensive for a 53-foot boat.

While the boat is hauled (about 3 days?) Bill and I plan to stay in a hotel or hostal in Old Town.  That should be fun.  We are looking forward to it.

Today we walked around and visited every ATM we could find.  Each ATM would allow only 300,000 pesos per withdrawal.  We each withdrew 300,000 at three different banks; giving us a total of 1,800,000 pesos.  Sounds like a lot of money until you do the conversion.  That is only $810 USD.  We must pay cash for the marina and everything else; no credit cards accepted and they don’t want US dollars.  Guess we will be visiting the ATMs frequently to accumulate enough pesos to cover our needs.

We like it here so much that we might stay two months rather than one.  Kind of depends on how often these Chocosanos happen.  Wonder how long it takes to get accustomed to them.

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