Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Chief Engineer Bitching: Damn Euro, Politics, Rubin and Geithner

 If you happen to be way to the LEFT, or way to the RIGHT, please do not read this because you are not going to agree with anything I am saying.

If you happen to not want to hear anything political from me, please do not read this because it is certainly political.

We have paid an average of $1.10 USD per liter for diesel in all the countries we have visited...some more, some less, but it averages $1.10 USD...this is $4.18 USD per US gallon.  We are not complaining about that.

Now we hear that in Turkey diesel will cost 1.51 Euro per liter which is $2.13 USD per liter, or $8.10 per US gallon.  If the Euro was valued where it should be at about par to the USD, diesel would cost $1.51 USD per liter or about $5.74 per US gallon, still on the high side of the range we have paid, but within reason, I think?

I assume you see my point.  The damn Euro is certainly overvalued!

Here is a little History:
You all know Timothy Franz Geithner is an American economist, banker, and civil servant. He is the 75th and current United States Secretary of the Treasury, serving under President Barack Obama. He was previously the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York (NY Fed).  He was Under Secretary of the Treasury for International Affairs (1998–2001) under Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin.  Many people believe that Rubin was his mentor and that Geithner was Rubin's protege.  Rubin, you remember was the voodoo economist who, in my opinion, really hurt President Clinton's administration.   Clinton did not ask Rubin to serve a second term.  Upon Rubin's retirement, Clinton called him the "greatest secretary of the Treasury since Alexander Hamilton." On April 18, 2010, in an interview on ABC’s “This Week” program, Clinton said Rubin was wrong in the advice Rubin gave Clinton not to regulate derivatives.  I assume you all know how derivatives hurt all of us and was the root of the financial crash involving AIG and others.

 Rubin was replaced by Clinton In 1999, and affirming his career-long interest in markets, Rubin joined Citigroup as a board member and as a participant "in strategic managerial and operational matters of the Company, but no line responsibilities." The Wall Street Journal called this mix of oversight and management responsibilities "murky."  In an interview with the WSJ, Rubin said: "I think I've been a very constructive part of the Citigoup environment." Separately, the WSJ noted that Citigroup shareholders have suffered losses of more than 70 percent since Rubin joined the firm and that he encouraged changes that led the firm to the brink of collapse. As of June 30, 2008, the notional value of Citigroup’s derivative contracts exceeded a whopping $37 trillion.  Remember, Rubin told Clinton not to worry about derivatives. 

I had a hard time understanding why the Euro is so inflated until that I read that the NY Fed, which operates as the agent of the U.S. Treasury in currency operations, confirmed it had supported the Euro. It intervened in currency markets in the fall 2000 when the Euro was on par (equal to) the US dollar.  The NY Fed sold dollars and bought euros to bolster the European currency.  It a short period the Euro increased in value, and the rest is history.

OK, EU.  Have you returned the favor?
OK, Rubin and Geithner, what are you going to do next?

Friday, March 25, 2011

2 weeks in Paradise; how much more can we endure!

It is hard to believe that another 12 hours will mark 2 full weeks that we have been sitting in this anchorage.  At least it is beautiful.  That helps with the boredom.  I have read several books and am currently laboring through the 1100 page "Alaska" by James Michener.  As much as I love to read, even reading is becoming a trifle boring.  Read a few pages; look at the pretty water; read a few pages; watch the hundreds of hydroplanes and resort go-fast ferries zipping back and forth between the resort islands and the airport; read a few pages; watch the turtles and rays; read a few pages; watch the local men do weird things on strange boats; finally it is time to cook dinner and then watch a couple of hours of DVDs; and another day has passed.  

Several times we have taken the ferry over to the main island of Male to enjoy lunch and do a tiny bit of grocery shopping for perishables.  That helps the day pass much more quickly as this usually turns out to be a 4 to 5 hour excursion.  

Arrival of the transport ship is delayed.  We are not upset by this because we sort of expected it  not to arrive on time.  It is a brand new ship that just left the shipyard where it was built near Beijing.  It stops in Korea, Taiwan, Saigon and then picks up the cradles in Singapore; then straight to Male.  As of today the ship is en route from Taiwan to Saigon.  Originally it was supposed to arrive in Male by March 25 (today), but obviously that did not happen; and arrival is delayed by a few weeks.  As long as it arrives here in time to get to Turkey in time for us to sail to meet our grandchildren in Athens in June as planned, we will be happy.   Whether the transport ship arrives in Male the third week of March or the third week of April, it doesn't matter to us.  In fact, later is better as the southwest monsoon strengthens and forces the Somali pirates back to their shores.  That decreases the chances of our transport ship being hijacked, so delay is not a bad thing.   We planned to have the boat hauled immediately in Marmaris for routine bottom paint, service the bow thruster and service the autoprop.  But if the transport ship is delayed too long, then we can simply delay that haul-out until late August or even September.  Some of the other yachts waiting for transport are stressing out over the slight delay; we aren't worried about it.

One day we found Wall Street in Male.  Bill couldn't resist snapping a photo with his phone.

Other photos he could not resist were the motorcycles driving off the ferry.  These motorcycles are loaded onto the ferry before the passengers; then they are last off when reaching the ferry destination.  The drivers hold the cycles upright in the rear of the passenger cabin during the short ferry trip.  Then they drive the cycles down a rickety moveable ramp.  Doesn't this all sound ever so safe?  We watched one man fall while attempting to ride down the ramp.  Fortunately, his leg wasn't broken.

This life jacket sign posted in the front of the passenger cabin in the ferry caught my eye. (As always, click on image for larger view.)   Notice it reads right to left.  That is what caught my attention.  I looked at it as we westerners normally would and wondered why the kid had removed the jacket in the second image.  That is when I realized that this sign reads right to left instead of left to right.  And what the heck is with that crazy part tight around the neck?  Looks like it would choke the wearer when in the water.  

Today we went ashore with folks from a couple of other boats.  It is a Friday -- Holy Day -- and everything supposedly is closed.  But they had scouted out a small restaurant on this airport island that serves customers in the few tourist hotels on Hulhule Island.  This restaurant told them they would be open on Friday, so we went for a nice walk around the island.  Arrived at the restaurant and they were closed.  Figures.  

But there was someone inside and he said they would open at 13:30.  It was only 12:45 but he opened up early just for us.  That was nice and kept us from having to sit out in the heat for 45 minutes waiting for the normal opening time.   Several of us opted for the chicken submarine sandwiches; and they were pretty good.  Randal on M/V DORA MAC ordered a Beef Burger with Cheese.  One normally would expect to be served a regular cheeseburger.  In Muslim countries there is never a hamburger on any menu.  It is always called a beef burger -- musn't even taint the menu with the word "ham" even though there is no pork in what the rest of the world calls a hamburger.  And one doesn't order a cheeseburger because then you might get a hamburger bun filled with plain cheese.  So to get a cheeseburger, you order a beef burger with cheese.  Notice the "beef" in Randal's beef burger today -- a scattering of very thin slices of beef about 1/2-inch by 1-inch in size.

Yesterday we removed the large chart of the Indian Ocean and Red Sea from our saloon table and replaced it with a chart of the Mediterranean Sea and Black Sea.  Over the chart we place a sheet of stratoglass that is cut to fit the table.  This holds the chart in place.  (Note:  this works for us because our table has a high-gloss finish; this will not work on most boat tables with the dull finish.)  We might not physically be in the Med yet, but we have mentally moved on. 

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Chief Engineer reports on Innovative Equipment

I just found this photo on my phone.  I took it while we were in Sri Lanka.  As we visit new countries I like to search out new products, tools and equipment...things of special note, that I have never seen before, or things that just grab my attention.

While walking through the Galle, Sri Lanka port area, I happened on two guys using a Weed Whacker, but I had never seen this piece of yard maintenance equipment before. 

It consisted of a 3 wheel cart pulled by one man.  The cart had a 220 volt electric motor attached to it.  Attached to the shaft of the motor was a piece of twisted steel cable and at the end of the cable the man had tied some plastic strips.  One man pulled the cart and the other used the "business end" to cut grass.  Note the special designed safety clothing and protective eyeware.  BTW, they were almost finished cutting all of the grass on a fairly large field when I took this photo...AND...the cart appeared to have lots of hours of use.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Assalaam Alaikum!

Assalaam Alaikum!  This is the Maldivian greeting to a visitor or friend.  According to the Maldives Visitors Guide, this greeting denotes the Islamic culture of the people and comes with a fervent wish for peace.  Our pronunciation:  AH-sah-lah-am     I-like-um

I have yet to even get off our boat, so have not seen anything of Male yet.  Bill has been ashore a couple of times, but since the agent told us not to leave our dinghy at the ferry dock area it has been impossible for us both to go ashore at the same time.  We think we have figured out a way to leave the dinghy at the dock/wall without it getting damaged.  If it works, we will finally go ashore together tomorrow.  Today everything is closed and the ferries are not operating.  Every Friday is the Holy Day and everything is closed except the resorts.  As in many Muslim countries, the normal work week is Sunday through Thursday; and weekends are Friday and Saturday.  This particular Friday is a very special Holy Day -- the anniversary celebration of the arrival of Islam in The Maldives.  

Here are a few of the dateline highlights mentioned in the Maldives Visitors Guide:
Archeological records indicate that the first humans to visit the Maldives stepped ashore over 5,000 years ago.  Supposedly, the Maldives were first colonized by an Indo-Aryan race between the fourth and fifth centuries B.C.

1st Century AD -- the Periplus Mari Erithraei, a Roman manual of navigation, mentions islands assumed to be Maldives
2nd Century AD -- Ptolemy refers to Maldives in his geography
362 AD -- a Roman historian records the visit of a delegation from Maldives islands to Rome bearing gifts to Emperor Julian
662 AD -- a historical Chinese document records that the King of Maldives sent gifts to Chinese Emperor Kao-Tsung of the Tang Dynasty
1153 AD -- Abu-al Barakaat brings the enlightenment of Islam and Maldives converts to Islam
1558 AD -- Portuguese invade Maldives
1573 AD -- Mohamed Thakurufaanu liberates Maldives from the Portuguese
1752 AD -- The Malabars invade and rule for 3 months
1887 AD -- Protectorate agreement with Great Britain
1932 AD -- First constitution enacted
1953 AD -- The first Republic
1954 AD -- Failure of the first Republic
1965 AD -- Independence from the British
1968 AD -- End of the monarchy, beginning of the second Republic
1972 AD -- Development of the first island resort  (and now there are hundreds!!)

The Maldives consist of 1190 islands grouped into 26 atolls scattered over an area of 90,000 square kilometers straddling the equator between latitudes 7 degrees 6 minutes North  and 0 degrees 42 minutes South, and between longitues 72 degrees 32 minutes East and 73 degrees 46 minutes East.  Of these 1190 islands, only 200 are inhabited.   Many of the tiny atolls are leased to tourist resorts.  The resorts owns rights both to the land and the surrounding seas; I do not know how far out from land these rights go, but yachts are not allowed to anchor anywhere near most resorts.  A few of the resorts welcome yachties and charge fees for landing your dinghy or simply for walking ashore.  The fees quoted to cruisers we know have ranged from $25 to $200 per day.   Very, very, very few resorts allow cruisers to walk ashore without paying a fee; although at least one resort has allowed cruisers to dine in their restaurants (those very expensive restaurants!) without charging an additional fee.  That particular resort does charge a fee if a cruiser wants to walk the grounds or use the swimming pool or beach or snorkel or anything else except purchase a meal in their restaurant.

Male is the capital and is located in the center of the Maldivian islands.   The Male atoll is approximately 32NM long and 20 NM wide.  It is not the largest atoll in the Maldives.   Huvadhoo Atoll is 45 miles by 35 miles.  Ari Atoll is 48 miles by 15 miles.  And the largest atoll has 2 names; it is the Milandhunmadulu and Thiladhumathee Atolls combined.  That combined atoll is 82 NM long and 20 NM wide.   As you can imagine, the fetch inside these atolls can create nice sized waves during strong winds.  We are here during an extremely benign northeast monsoon and it is quite calm.  Supposedly, it can get rougher during the normally much stronger southwest monsoon that occurs June through September.

Male is approximately 425 nautical miles southwest of Galle, Sri Lanka.  The atolls of Maldives are part of a greater geological structure known as the Laccadives-Chagos Ridge that stretches over 2000 kilometers.  The islands are low lying with the highest point at approximately 8-feet above sea level.   Because the Maldives are equatorial, severe storms are extremely rare.   Tsunamis caused by earthquakes in Indonesia are a real problem for these low atolls as there is no high ground anywhere. 

Population of Maldives is approximately 300,000 --- 100,000 of whom live on Male.  The waters are pristine.  About 90% of the Maldivian economy is tourism and they take eco-protection very seriously.  The marine life is incredible.  Diving is superb.  

BTW, there is a turtle hanging around our anchorage.  It is the largest green turtle that we have ever seen.  And it is also the first turtle we have seen since the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.  Yesterday a small boat motored by and a man held up a freshly caught octopus, indicating that it was for sale.  We shook our heads and he continued on.  Octopus is good but I don't know how to clean and cook it.  Wish our friends, Paul and Michele of S/V FREE SPIRIT, were nearby to teach us. 

Happy St. Paddy's Day!!

Chay, Katie & Jamie on S/V ESPIRIT invited us to celebrate St. Patrick's Day with them.   

Irish stew and green beer bread, accompanied by green beer, of course!   

The stew was delicious.  First time I have eaten stew with cabbage in it.  It has been a long time since any of us has tasted stew; it isn't something one normally thinks about cooking in the hot tropics.   

Luckily it wasn't all that hot last evening as the northeast winds that should have arrived in December are finally here.  We all thoroughly enjoyed the Irish stew and beer bread.  I let the other 3 adults enjoy their green beer as I never touch beer regardless of its color.

I baked a lemon cake and Katie let me borrow some green food coloring for the frosting.  So we had a green desert to top off our meal to celebrate St. Paddy.

Notice the wall on the shore behind Bill and Chay.  We are anchored in the only place allowed in Male, which is on the northwest side of the island of Hulhumale.  The island of Male has a stone or concrete wall built up higher than this one.  The wall completely surrounds the entire island of Male; their effort to try and keep the sea from washing completely over the island.  This wall on Hulhumale does not go completely around this island yet, but in time it will also encircle this island.  All of the Maldives are atolls -- which are the remaining edges of coral, some sand filled to create actual small islands, that once surrounded the edges of volcanoes that have sunk back into the sea.  

The Maldives are sinking.  It is a geological fact.  One might wish to blame the rising water on increasing sea levels due to global warming.  But the fact is the atolls are the final stage of sinking volcanoes.  It is estimated that many of the Maldivian islands will be uninhabitable and under water by the end of this century.  

Better hurry if you want to vacation in this beautiful paradise.  The coral cannot grow fast enough to maintain these fragile low-lying islands.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Arrived in Male

It seemed to take forever to wash the mud off the anchor chain when we left the Bolghatty House Marina.  We had been berthed stern-to with a lot of anchor chain out to hold us steady in the strong current that switched direction several times each day with the tides.   I’m sure our friends on the dock waving goodbye wondered why Bill was being so meticulous about not letting mud get into our anchor chain locker.  Two reasons.  We don’t want to smell mud and the smell would be noticeable down inside the boat eventually.  And, more importantly, our chain locker drains to a gray-water bilge and mud might clog the drain.  As Bill washed down the anchor chain we drifted with the building current.  We had left the slip at slack high tide, but that doesn’t last long.  Current was already building on the out-going tide.  Several times I saw depths under our keel as low as 3/10 foot.  Gosh, I hate shallow water!  At least we knew it was a very soft mud bottom and we could plow through it a bit if we did go aground.   Finally Bill finished washing off the mud and we motored around to the Quarantine anchorage in front of the Malabar Hotel.  S/V ESPRIT was already anchored by the time we arrived.  We both planned to get an early start on the out-going tide the following morning.  

We did not set an alarm and were a little late leaving.  ESPRIT was out at the crack of dawn and were about 2 hours ahead of us.  As we motored out of the long channel an Indian warship came rapidly past our port side – with 5 guns manned by teams and another man standing on the bow with an automatic weapon.  Glad to see them headed out for patrol while we would be sailing down the coast.  Much later about 70 miles south we heard an Indian Coast Guard ship hailing commercial ships saying that they were doing Anti-Pollution Exercises.  That totally cracked us up.  There is so much pollution of every kind in India that you cannot believe it.  The air is so bad that it is impossible to see the land from less than 1 mile offshore.   The trash in the water is not as bad as in Indonesia or Malaysia, but there is still plenty of it.  The tides causing such strong currents in the many rivers washes trash back and forth for miles daily.  It never goes away.  Just back and forth.

Once we cleared the coastal fishermen, it was clear sailing the rest of the way.  Closer to shore the fishing boats were operating individually.  Once past 50 miles offshore, the fishing boats operated in groups of 5 to 8 boats.  Each boat was fishing independently, but they stayed very close to one another.  The Somali pirates have captured many Indian fishing boats and currently hold more than 200 Indians hostage.  These boats have no insurance and the families don’t have the kind of money required to pay ransom, so these hostages have no hopes of being released.  It is a real problem.  Guess by staying in groups they hope to mitigate the chances of more boats being captured.

During our first day and night we were about 50 NM off the coast when hordes of tiny insects filled the cockpit.  Why in the world are insects way out there?  There is nothing for them to feed on out over open ocean.  Winds were perfect and seas were almost flat.  Perfect sailing conditions for the first 24 hours.  We were taking it very slow because Friday is the Holy Day in the Maldives and we would not be able to clear in until Saturday morning.  We were trying to time our arrival appropriately and did not want to sail over 5 knots.  Saw a good bit of commercial shipping traffic all down the coast of India.  Ships always traveled in groups – at least 2 together and sometimes a group of 5.   Covered 136.9 NM during the first 24 hours.

The second night out I was a little more nervous because we were farther off the coast and farther south, soon past India altogether.  There have been no reported pirate attacks in this area, but that doesn’t mean anything given the increase in the number of pirates out there this season.  We passed across the 9 Degree Channel; saw 3 small groups of commercial ships headed toward the Red Sea.  As we neared the 8 Degree Channel we saw what turned out to be the final group of Indian fishing boats off to the east.  In the 8 Degree Channel we saw only 2 cargo ships headed toward the Red Sea, loaded high with containers. They were already moving at 18 knots.  Good luck, guys!  

After crossing the 8 Degree Channel north of the Maldives, we saw no more marine traffic – at least not during daylight hours.  Around 03:00 an unlit boat passed south-to-north on a parallel course 1 mile off our port side.  This unlit boat went between S/V ESPRIT and us.  It was impossible to see anything by only starlight.  But it showed up very clearly on radar.  We assume it was a simple fishing boat.  

The wind died on the second day so we motored or motor-sailed the rest of the way to Male.  It got noticeably hotter as we progressed farther SSW.  And we thought India was hot!  Sailed 139.6 NM during the second 24 hours of this passage.

Day 3 the wind picked up a tiny bit to a whopping 7 knots and we could sail 3.4 knots boat speed-over-ground.  That was too slow, so we continued to motor-sail; getting hotter and hotter.
 About 17:00 hundreds and hundreds of porpoises arrived to put on a show for us.  They filled an area of more than a quarter mile in each direction, completely surrounding our boat.  These were the smaller type porpoises, not the large bottlenose type.  Bill calls them spinners because they love to jump high out of the water and spin and flip.  Sometimes they do this in what appears to be formations.  

They were speeding toward us from every direction.  Then they would play in our meager bow wave.  It was a delight to watch them play and jump and spin.  This was almost as large a pod as we had seen outside Fatu Hiva in the Marquesas 2 ½ years ago.  There the water was roiling with porpoises.  This time they weren’t quite that dense, but there were easily between 700 to 800 of them showing off.   What a delight for our final day at sea in the Indian Ocean.

About 19:00, the sun had gone down but it was still light enough to see, another pod of at least 100 porpoises came to visit us.  Many of these were standing straight up out of the water as they performed their acrobatics.  Many were twisting 3 times around as they jumped high.  Lots of splashes; they were having a great time – this time all on our port side.  But there was insufficient light for our crappy camera to get any photos.  

Much later in the night, after the sliver of moon was already gone, I could hear splashes again all around us.  I assume more porpoises were playing in the dark.  

A couple of hours before the first large pod arrived at our boat, S/V ESPRIT reported they had seen a small pod of whales swim past their port side.  Jaime said he also saw a sailfish jump in the distance.  But they were not visited by the huge pod of porpoises that came to see us.  ESPRIT remained 5 to 7 miles ahead of us the entire passage.  Each of us continued to keep our speed down so that we would arrive at Male shortly after daybreak rather than in the middle of the night.  My favorite thing on the final night watch was looking up in the sky at the Southern Cross.  Don’t know when we will be seeing that star formation again.

Shortly after 07:00 on Saturday morning we anchored in the designated spot for clearance into Male.  The water is very deep in these atolls, but there is one spot at the SW side of Male that is only 20 meters; that is where arriving yachts are supposed to anchor.  We had sailed 118.4 NM during the third 24-hour period of this passage.  Total trip from Cochin, India to Male, Maldives was 394.9 nautical miles and took 71 hours.  Could have shaved at least 6 hours off that easily, but did not want to arrive at an atoll during darkness.  

Male is a very busy place!!!  There are ferries of every sort moving fast in all directions to the many different tiny islands in this enormous atoll.  And resort private ferries zipping at high speeds crisscrossing the regular ferries.  Add to that 20 cargo ships and the local fishermen and dive/tour boats – and this place is really hopping!  This will take some adjustment on our part.

Despite having emailed our agent 72-hours in advance of arrival, again 48-hours in advance of arrival, again 24-hours in advance of arrival, again 12-hours in advance of arrival, and yet again 30 minutes in advance of arrival (and hailing him on arrival on the appropriate VHF channel) – the agent was a no-show.  Four officials arrived to clear us in and we again printed all the information we had provided to our agent days earlier.  They called our agent and he asked us to give our passports to one of the officials and he would collect them and get us cleared in with Immigration.  Four hours later we were still waiting for the passports to be returned.  Finally, Katie on ESPRIT called the agent and he said it was now okay for us to move to the “safe” anchorage north of the airport on the next island, and he would return our passports to us there later.  Really getting our money’s worth out of this required agent, aren’t we?

We managed to avoid all the zipping and speeding little boats and ferries and made our way safely to the “safe” anchorage.  This is a crowded anchorage.  Something else we will have to adjust to once again.  Many of the large tour/dive boats are anchored with multiple rope lines rather than anchor chain.  These ropes pointing off in opposite directions from the bows of many boats makes motoring through this crowded anchorage a true challenge.  We opted to drop anchor at the rear of the pack, close to where the ferries go back and forth; so our anchorage spot has a lot of wave action.  The waves we can handle; doesn’t bother us.  What does bother us are the flies!!!!!    

The agent’s representative, Abdul, arrived with our stamped passports at dusk.  We were on ESPRIT for drinks so that made it easy for him; cover 2 boats at once.  We still have not seen or heard from Mohammed, our supposed agent.  Now that we have our passports, we can go buy SIM cards for the cell phone and 3G.  Bill is off with Katie this morning to search for these.  There is one very annoying thing we have encountered already (besides the millions of flies) – we are not supposed to leave our dinghy tied anywhere along the dock or wall.  That means only one person can go ashore at a time; the other person must take the dinghy back to the boat.  Since I am in a pissy mood this morning (I did not want to cover up in this heat to go ashore and women should be covered in this Muslim country) Bill volunteered to be the one to take the ferry over to Male and find SIM cards.  He gets to wear shorts.  Whoever said life is fair?

A ship finally has been named for our transport.  Unfortunately, it will be a bit later than originally stated by the shipping agent.  So we will be in Male for several weeks – sitting on the boat the entire time because we are not allowed to leave the anchorage and only one of us can go ashore at a time.  The good side is that gives us plenty of time to prep BeBe for shipment.

BTW, when we were clearing in the Customs official told us that there are 39 Somali pirates in prison in the Maldives.  I have no idea where they were caught or when.  

While waiting in the Quarantine anchorage we watched yet another new manner of fishing.   We truly thought we had seen every manner of fishing imaginable by now.  But this one takes the cake.  If you look very, very closely in the water next to the boat in this photo (right near the back side of the white top cabin) you might be able to see the snorkel tube of a man in the water.  He is being towed by a rope tied to the boat.  He is looking for fish (remember, it is very deep here).  Then he points which direction the boat should proceed.  Now, while he is in the water looking for fish the men above are throwing chum into the water.  They throw small fish and pieces of fish in the water to attract larger fish.  My goodness, I would be afraid of attracting sharks.

Once the swimmer decides the fish he can see are in the right position, he signals and most of the men in the boat quietly get into the water and start deploying and arranging a large net.  The boat circles around and the net is closed up.  All the men get back into the boat.   Soon they are pulling in the net.  On this foray they collected a haul of fish several feet deep in the net.  Most of the fish were 2-feet in length, some greater.   An unusual way to fish.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Farewell dinner

Since four of the five American boats left in Cochin would soon be departing to sail down to Male, Maldives to transport our yachts to Turkey, we thought it would be nice to have a farewell dinner together with all the Americans.  S/V ESTRELLITA will soon be the only American yacht left in Cochin.  They will return to Thailand and spend another year in SE Asia.  The rest of us are shipping to the Mediterranean.

We took the ferry to Ernakulan and hailed 4 tuk-tuks for the ride to The Grand Hotel on MG Road.   We have been told that every city in India has an MG Road.  Obviously, it must stand for Mahatma Ghandi.  This would be like every city in America having an MLK road or street or boulevard; obviously, named in honor of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The 4 tuk-tuks considered this to be a race.  These tuk-tuks are adventurous enough when they are driving "normally."  Racing is downright scarey.  But nothing any of us could say would slow them down.  Ours was the last to arrive at the hotel.  But the others cheated because they came in the rear entrance; whereas, we arrived at the proper front entrance.

Dinner was good, as usual.  (Mushroom masala and nan again for me; going to miss that dish -- and mundane grilled tiger prawns and french fries for Bill).  Visiting with everyone was fun.  We will miss Bill and Amy.  I know they will enjoy traveling SE Asia later this year and will meet a whole new set of cruisers as the next year's group arrive in the fall.  They will have some adventures going the South African route next year, more than likely.  I don't see the Somali pirate situation improving over the next year to the point that they would feel comfortable sailing across the northern Indian Ocean next season.  So South African it will be for them.   Maybe we will meet up again in the Caribbean in a few years.

In the group photo from left to right:  Jaime and dad Chay from S/V ESPRIT,  Ruth and Randal from M/V DORA MAC,  Bill and Judy from S/V BeBe, Amy and Bill from S/V ESTRELLITA, Linda and Michael from S/V B'SHERET, and Jaime's mom Katie from S/V ESPRIT.

Everyone in the photo above transported their yachts to Marmaris to avoid piracy except for Amy and Bill on S/V ESTRELLITA.  Bill really wanted to circumnavigate on his own keel.  So they turned around to Phuket, spent a full year in SE Asia, personally replaced the chainplates on their boat as a safety precaution for the notoriously rough southern Indian Ocean, and then sailed the South Africa route.

The highlight of the evening was when someone said he thought that Ronald Reagan would go down in history as being the best president ever in the USA.  Ruth is a die-hard Democrat; and, as such, does not have a high opinion of ANY Republican president -- and most definitely does not think highly of Ronald Reagan.  The look on her face when he said that was hysterical.  Can't remember laughing so hard over a facial expression.   Of course, the person who said that then elaborated why he believes this.  And she could not argue with any of his reasons because he worked in government through several presidents and knew al lot of the inside doings; whereas, Ruth knew nothing about any of it.  Right or wrong doesn't matter.  Everyone is entitled to their own opinion when it comes to politics and government.  It was the look on her face that was so very funny.  Bill tried to get her to duplicate that expression for the camera, but she couldn't do it twice.

A British sailor flew to the new Karpaz Gate Marina that is being built in Northern Cyprus -- the one where we have been provided a free berth for one year beginning in May 2011.  This marina is supposed to be completed by May 2011.  He also plans to berth there and wanted to see first-hand how it was progressing.  Here are a couple of photos taken earlier this week.  I seriously doubt this marina will be completed by May.  But maybe it will be close enough to completion by the time we arrive in late August.  As long as there is electricity and water, a secure dock and transportation to markets, then we will be happy there.

I have scheduled this to post on March 12 -- the day that we should arrive in Male.  I did not want to publish that we were at sea, just being extra cautious what with all the increased piracy in the general area.  Will update again soon after our arrival in Male.

Happy  Birthday to our son Aaron, born this day 36 years ago in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.  But really a true Texan through and through because he was conceived in Texas and returned there when he was 7 months old and has lived in Texas ever since.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Up the river

One day Chay, Katie & Jamie on S/V ESPRIT took a tour up the river with Nazar in his little boat and invited us to join them.  

 This was a nice way to spend a hot sunny day.   Nazar brought plastic chairs from his home and placed them in the boat so we each had a place to sit with some back support.  I brought a large umbrella.  I felt ever-so-British (sort of African Queen-ish) sitting in the front of that small boat in the plastic lawn chair shaded by my big umbrella.

We thought Nazar was going to take us up the river right next to the marina, but he turned south and then west beneath Bolghatty Island, past the next island (don't know the name) where the new port facilities are located, and then north alongside Vypin Island.   As we approached the new port facilities Bill pointed out that this would never happen in the USA today.  Security would have been all over any small boat approaching a commercial port in the USA today.  I wondered if we would be stopped by security here.

But we got very close (actually beneath the loading cranes) and never heard a peep from anyone telling us to move away.  Seems like they would have learned after that small boat approached and blew the hole in the USS Cole in Aden, Yemen several years ago.  That was in this general part of the world.  One would think they would be a bit stricter about security now.  This is a brand new port facility.  They need to take measures immediately to ensure it is not an easy target.

As we neared one of the bridges we noticed that several boats had decided that the bridge supporting pylons would make perfect moorings.

This is also something that would never be allowed in the USA today.  It would be far too easy for one of those boats to be loaded with explosives and blow up a bridge.

As we continued up the river we saw hundreds upon hundreds of fishing boats.  Some looked bright and new and others looked worn and aged.  This is the type of small fishing boat that the Somali pirates have been capturing for years and used as small mother ships during their pirate attacks.  Today there are more than 200 Indians being held hostage in Somalia -- all simple fishermen who have no hope of anyone paying any ransom for their release.  Here is a photo of one of the older boats filling with ice.
Another half-hour and we reached a Catholic church built right on the river's edge.  Nazar said this church is many hundreds of years old, built during the time that the Portuguese controlled this part of India.  The architecture of this church is different from any of the other churches we have seen locally.   Mass was being held as we passed this church and the singing was very unusual.  Sounded very nice and reminded us of the beautiful singing in the churches in the Kingdom of Tonga. 

Along this long river ride we saw all different methods of fishing -- hand lines, small hand nets or seines, fishing poles, stakes to attract fish and the ever-present Chinese fishing nets.

There were dozens and dozens of Chinese fishing nets on every tributary of the river.  And this is just one of many rivers that feed into the large harbor at Cochin.  I believe the same things exist on every one of these rivers.  Heaven only knows how far up the rivers this fishing continues.

Eventually the river widened a lot.  Nazar motored over to the opposite side and stopped where a large rectangle had been walled off.  He explained that this is a fish farm.  Actually, he called it a place to grow fish.  We told him that in the USA we call this a fish farm.  He explained that someone can lease the walled rectangle of water for a period of one year.  There are small locks that are closed off to prevent any fish from escaping into the river.  Several men will take turns staying at the fish farm as security guards to prevent anyone from stealing the fish.  Each man stays there for a 12-hour shift up to an 18-hour shift.  It is guarded 24/7.   There is a small shack for them to shelter inside.  In July (which I believe is the height of rainy season) they will open the locks and catch escaping fish into nets.  The fish should be approximately 16-inches long at that time.  That is considered a good-sized fish around here.

The lessor also can sell the coconuts and dried palm fronds from the palms that grow on the wall of the fish farm.  Nazar explained that not everyone has cooking gas because it costs money.  The poorer people cook by burning palm fronds and old coconut husks.  He said his wife does not like cooking with palms because it is too smokey.    We saw several men with narrow canoes who were collecting the fallen palm fronds and old coconuts.  You can see a couple of these men in the background behind Jaime.

And onward we continued. 

Nazar turned right into a branch of the  river after explaining the fish farm.  After awhile he stopped at a small concrete and stone building with a "Toddy" sign.  He told us it was time for a toddy.  I guess this word came from the years of British colonial rule.  Turns out that the toddy is coconut beer.  That is the only thing they sold to drink.  I passed on tasting this supposed delight, but the other 3 adults sampled a couple of bottles.  They said it tasted like lemonade with beer added. 

The Toddy place also served a set menu of food.  They had sliced homemade bread, a starch dish that we know as cassava but they call something else I can't say, and some fried tiny fish topped with sliced onions.  You eat the whole little fish, head and all.  I passed on tasting any of the food as well because I wasn't hungry.  Bill tried a few of the fish and said they were okay; tasted a tad bit strong.  But the cassava dish was apparently pretty good.  A little spicy but not too much.  Jaime chowed down on that.  Teen-aged boys can always eat.

As we were leaving, the shear pin broke on the outboard engine.  Nazar maneuvered back to the shore and replaced it.  Wish we had an outboard that used a shear pin.  On ours we must replace the entire propeller when the hub starts to spin.   While Nazar was doing this little repair, the "beer truck" arrived with a delivery of more coconut beer.  The beer delivery truck was a narrow river canoe.  What else would one expect out here where there are no roads or bridges.

We continued down the tributary for a bit more, then turned right on yet another tributary.  One could get lost on these waterways very easily.  This particular area had new construction amidst the very old buildings.  At almost every home a woman was doing laundry at the river's edge.  Each home had stone steps leading down into the river.  The women would stand on the steps in ankle-to-knee-deep water and pound the clothes on the stone wall.  It was the same at every home we passed.

Soon we turned right again.  My internal compass said we were heading back to the main river that we had originally come up.  We passed another large group of Chinese fishing nets.  We noted that all these had lights on them.  None of the others we have seen had lights.  So we assume they fish as night in this particular backwater area.  Still would like to know why these are called Chinese.  One net had been modernized.   It had a blue metal frame used to lower and raise it rather than hanging ropes.

We entered a very wide area of the river and could see the white church in the distance on the far side.  Rather than continue that far, Nazar turned left.  This put us going south down the western side of Bolghatty Island.  The marina is on the eastern side of Bolghatty Island.

As we turned left beneath the southern end of Bolghatty Island to return to the marina, we noted how extremely large the mimosa trees are on the tip of this island.  We have lots of mimosa trees in southeast Texas, but nothing like these.  At home mimosas grow about 20-25 feet tall.  Here they are enormous by comparison.  These trees spread wide like huge oak trees.

And that was our day on the river with American friends Chay, Katie and son Jaime on S/V ESPRIT.