Friday, October 19, 2007

Barnacle capital of the world -- but we love this city

October 13, 2007 Saturday
Bill spent the past 2 days working his little skinny butt off!  Thursday morning he decided it was time to clean the saltwater strainer for the sea chest.  Oooohhhh….that was nasty!  It was so clogged with tiny bits of sea grass that I am surprised that it allowed sufficient flow for the air conditioners and toilets to work properly.  Then he decided that since he was already hot and sweaty that he would also clean out our sump bilge.  He does this every 3 months or so.  Well, that turned into a major project!

He borrowed a wet/dry vac from Paul on BLUEPRINT MATCH.  (We really have to buy one of those…..if we can ever find one that is 220v-50hz.)  When he suctioned out the bottom 2-inches of water in the sump bilge, he could see that the copper ground strap had broken.  The ground strap connects wiring, engine, generator, fuel tank and other things to a keel bolt at the bottom of the sump bilge.  This ground strap was intact when Bill cleaned out the sump bilge when we did the haul-out in Grenada in June.  So sometime between mid-June and mid-September the copper ground strap had corroded in two.  Really not a good thing!  Bill had noticed when we were hauled out here in Cartagena recently that the new zincs on the rudder looked abnormally corroded for 3 months use.  And the ground plate for the SSB radio looked corroded, something which we had never noticed before.  Bill was concerned about both of these and was worried about galvanic corrosion.  He had noticed an electrical wire hanging in the water from the boat next to us last week.  There was a taped splice actually in the water!!!!  When Alberto dived to check our prop for barnacles, he received an electrical shock when he touched the prop.  Hey…people could get killed that way!  We told the dock master and he rectified it immediately and will be chastising the caretaker of that boat for carelessness.

Bill found our trusty worker-friend Alberto.  If anyone knows where to find items needed for working on a boat in Cartagena, it is Alberto.  Alberto examined the bilge and ground strap arrangement and off he and Bill went to find the copper for replacement.  They were back in about half an hour with a perfectly sized strip of copper.  It was 1/8-inch thick and 2-inches wide.  They bent it in the appropriate dimensions for a proper fit and made a hole to connect to the keel bolt.  This was not a simple job!  Plus, like everything on a boat, access was torturous!  The keel bolt is more than 3 feet down in the sump bilge.  The bilge sides make an opening of only about 18-inches by 12-inches.  Try reaching 3-feet down when you can’t get into the opening!  Bill thought he was becoming a contortionist.  But it finally was securely in place. 

Today Bill worked on getting the wires attached to the upper end of the new ground strap.  This required trips to 2 stores for terminators (why is it that no matter what spares you have onboard they are never the right size?), and it took half the day to finish this project.  After many exclamations of distressed words that shan’t be repeated here, Bill finished the job by early afternoon.  Hope this new thicker ground strap lasts longer than the original one did.

October 16, 2007 Tuesday

Think I mentioned last week how tiny the taxis are here in Cartagena.  Most seat only 4 people, the driver and 3 passengers.   These are all either Chevrolets or Toyotas and the two brands look identical.  We have never seen these tiny Chevrolets or Toyotas in the states.  There are also a couple other modes of public transportation in addition to the normal busses.  There are bicycles with covered 2-passenger trailers attached on the rear; remind me of rickshaws.  We often see housekeepers or nannies picking up small children from school or doing household shopping using these bicycle taxis.  They are most often seen in the middle-class residential neighborhood on Isla Manga.  These are just standard old-fashioned bicycles so the driver must have strong legs.  Then there are these small motorcycles that one sees zipping all over the place.  If the driver is alone on the motorcycle, he will be wearing an orange vest with large numbers across the back.  He wears a helmet and also carries a second helmet, usually on the left handlebar.  This second helmet is for when he picks up a passenger.  He may or may not also give the passenger an orange vest with the same numbers on the back.  These are the numbers of his license to operate as a single passenger taxi.  These motorcycle taxis are most popular with young women, but we have also seen a few men using them.  We assume this is an inexpensive form of taxi service.  We have also seen police check points to confirm that the driver’s license to operate a motorcycle taxi is current.  If the license is not current then the motorcycle is confiscated and placed inside the back of a large police truck.  Don’t think they haul the person to jail, but they definitely take away his motorcycle.  The bicycle taxis do not appear to require any special license to operate.

Yesterday SCOTT FREE (Heather & Scott) and UNPLUGGED (Tom & Colleen) arrived here in Cartagena.  UNPLUGGED arrived and anchored under sail because their prop was fouled so badly with vegetation that they could not use the engine.  Both boats had enjoyed a leisurely 10-day coastal passage from Aruba.  They said there was almost no wind and they either motored or motor-sailed the entire way.  Quite a difference from the strong winds we experienced when we made the offshore passage from Curacao and over the top of Aruba down to Cartagena.  They enjoyed all their stops along the coast and found all the people to be very friendly.   In fact, they did a bit of land exploration at each of their stops along the Colombian coast.  The bad stories that one hears about cruising the coast of Colombia are blown way out of proportion.  We have not talked to one person who has had a bad experience except for the guy who anchored in Los Rosarios and was boarded; and he was anchored at the island closest to the mainland and completely away from the rest of the Rosarios islands.  He chased the 2 guys off the boat and took away their weapons.  Sounded like pretty inexperienced criminals to us.  Los Rosarios is a group of small islands about 20 miles south of Cartagena.  Maybe there is more danger in the coastal areas of Colombia between Cartagena and Panama, but it appears to be quite safe in the other direction from Cartagena to Aruba.  It is not safe to travel inland in most of Colombia yet; but the coastal areas appear to be just fine.  If you plan to travel inland from Cartagena, it is safest to do it by plane.

Probable change of plans --- again!  As most cruisers say:  our plans are written in jello.

We are now toying with the idea of cruising up and back down the western side of the Caribbean next year; and delaying heading to the South Pacific until spring 2009.  I am ready to head towards New Zealand, but Bill still is not keen on the idea of crossing the Pacific; he doesn’t want to commit to the time required to sail completely around the world.  And he believes that once we go through the canal that we would be forced to continue all the way around.  There are other options:  like the Sea of Cortez, Ecuador, Peru and Chile.  (Did you know there is a canal system in Chile that sailboats can cruise?)  Anyway, since we will already be in Panama it makes sense to continue up to Guatemala or Belize and Honduras; then back down to San Blas Islands again and maybe even back to Cartagena for a few months.  Gives Bill another year to maybe get more interested in doing the South Pacific.  We will have to make our decision on this by the end of the year because our insurance renews in January and we will need to tell them the geographic boundaries for which we want coverage for 2008.

October 19, 2007 Friday

Wednesday was a fun day for me; not so fun for Bill.  Bill was filling our water tank with dock water because we certainly would not operate our watermaker in this filthy water.  He got busy doing something on a computer.  It wasn’t until the water was overflowing into the main saloon that he finally realized what was happening.  The water only got into 2 floor lockers but that meant Bill had to completely empty those 2 lockers; dry everything; and then replace the contents.  It is a good idea to go through lockers every now and then, but this was not how he planned to spend that particular day.

My fun day was visiting thrift shops down in what we would call the barrio.  Judi on FIA has been in Cartagena for more than 5 months and she has been just about everywhere during that time.  She is the “social director” for cruisers here now (every anchorage needs one).  So Judi agreed to show several of us where the thrift shops are located.  Joanne on CALICO JACK and Kim on MIRAMAR accompanied us, and the 4 of us were actually able to squeeze into one of those tiny taxis.  Judi soon left us to our own devices because she had errands to run.  They must leave Colombia again soon because you are only allowed to be in Colombia a total of 6 months during any calendar year.  You initially get 60 days and can apply for a 30-day extension, then you leave the country; then you can re-enter for another 60 days and then apply for another 30-day extension.  After that second 90 days is up, you must leave the country for the balance of that calendar year.

Joanne, Kim and I had a good time browsing through the thrift shops.  These are really tiny “shops” in an alleyway.  We were the only gringos in that area.  A well-dressed young Colombian woman came up to Kim and Joanne and told them to hold their purses in front of their bodies so they wouldn’t be robbed ---this was in Spanish and that was the best we could make out of what she was saying to them.  Both Kim and Joanne know lots more Spanish than I do.  A few minutes later a Tourista Policia (armed with the obligatory big gun) arrived and proceeded to follow us around for the next hour.  He stayed a couple of yards behind us and waited outside the entry of each “shop” while we browsed.  Kim and Joanne didn’t even notice him until I pointed him out when we walked away from that alleyway.  He followed us several more blocks down the main boulevard until we reached a “safer” area.  He never said a word to us, but he was obviously alerted by someone that tourists were in the local market sector.  Cartagena does not want tourists robbed or harassed in any way because they are trying desperately to get tourist business back to the city like it used to be before their civil war and drug wars.  This is the safest city we have ever visited --- including any city in the US.  BTW, this local market sector is the La Matuna district of old town Cartagena that I mentioned earlier.  Guess that is why there is no tourist information on La Matuna; it is just the main shopping district for the locals.  Very interesting place.  Wish I had brought a camera, but I didn’t carry any purse or bag.  Instead I wore tight jeans --- no one can pick your pocket if you wear tight jeans.  People were cooking all sorts of food in pots set up right on the sidewalk; some of which looked and smelled really good!

My reason for this thrift shop expedition was to buy clothes to give to the Kuna children when we visit San Blas Islands next month.  We are bringing clothes, candies and crayons and construction paper for the children; fishing hooks and nylon line for the men; and reading glasses and sewing needles for the women.  Bill might also give some of his older tee-shirts to the men.  We really won’t give these things to the Kuna because that creates a charity expectant society.  Instead, we will trade these items for whatever the Kuna have to offer.  A kid can bring us a pretty shell and get a pair of shorts or a tee-shirt, but he must give us something to trade.  We don’t want them to start expecting hand-outs from visitors.

After we completed our bargain purchases we walked down the main boulevard to Vivero.  Vivero is a 3-story business that could best be described as a Caribbean version of a Target or Wal-Mart.   We each made a few purchases and walked on.  This time through the produce and flower market.  We planned to catch a taxi back to the marina but decided that we would treat ourselves to lunch instead.  So we walked past the Clock Tower, past Plaza Simon Bolivar, and down the side street to Crepes and Waffles.  After a 3-hour lunch we found a taxi and went home.  A very fun day away from the marina.

Yesterday morning we awoke to canon fire!  A beautiful old tall-ship arrived in the bay.  They fired a 7-gun salute and the salute was returned from one of the very old forts on Tierra Bomba, the island just south of Boca Grande at the entrance to the Bay of Cartagena.  The tall-ship was dressed; meaning that she was flying flags completely over the ship, up the forestay, across the triadic stays, and down the backstay.   This was a ship of the Argentinean Navy, we think.  The uniformed crew was standing at attention on deck and crew were also standing at attention at the end of each yardarm.  True old navy tradition!  Quite a sight to wake up to.  Stick your head out of the companionway hatch and find smoke wafting up from canon fire and this beautiful old tall-ship being maneuvered into dock by tugboats.  I do not think this ship has an engine, as she sailed into the bay and then was maneuvered to dock by 2 tugboats – a truely traditional tall-ship.  Wish we knew her name, but we never saw the stern.

This morning Alberto went diving under our boat to remove any barnacles.  The large inlet to the sea chest was completely clogged with barnacles.  We had noticed that water flow to the toilets wasn’t as strong as normal, and the salt-water pump started making a whining sound; so we assumed that the flow was restricted.  Sure enough, Alberto said it was packed solid with barnacles.  Alberto also said there were big barnacles growing on our newly painted bottom section of the keel.  We splashed 3 weeks ago today!.  One would expect that $300 gallon of Hempel Globic anti-foul paint to have worked better than that!!!   There are no barnacles at all on the hull, which is painted with Micron 66.  Interlux Micron 66 is by far the best anti-foul paint for the warm waters of the Caribbean, worth the extra cost; but not available in Colombia.   If you come here on a boat, be sure to clean your seawater strainer at least every 5 days and have a diver clean your prop and inspect the bottom at least every 2 weeks.  Cartagena truly is the barnacle capital of the entire world.

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