Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Coco Bandero Cays

Despite the continuing torrential rain, much fun was had in Ratones Cays trading with the fishermen. Perhaps our bargaining skills still need some work or perhaps the Kuna fishermen are just incredibly generous people, as they've enthusiastically embraced "buy one get one free". In this way Ouf ended up with four octopus, three lobsters and two crabs, and less intrepidly we ended up with two large crabs. One of which energetically made occasional bids for freedom which Ellen "crustation liberator" happily encouraged.
It looked as though our diet would be dominated by crab for the next few days, but fortunately the arrival of Steve and Aly on Corisande solved the problem with the four of us quickly devouring the two crabs using an odd assortment of pliers, screwdrivers, skewers, cutlery and fingers.That evening the seas increased with the strengthening wind and despite heroic efforts deploying the kedge anchor in an attempt to ensure Kika's bow stayed into the chop we had a disturbed night's sleep in the rolly anchorage.

The following day the weather promised an improvement, with the first sight of the sun for a few days. We decided to head off in search of a more sheltered anchorage. For once the route was relatively clear of hazards and the wind was not dead-ahead allowing us to sail. An informal race commenced, with Corisande starting, Ouf following and us bring up the rear (50m of anchor chain takes time to recover with a manual windlass - Ouf just pressed a button and Corisande were just more organised and set off earlier) Michele's foot meant that Ouf didn't fancy the hassle of hoisting their main and reefed their genoa to allow us to catch-up.With full main and full genoa we felt slightly smug as we overtook Ouf and then Corisande until Ouf unrolled the remainder of their genoa and caught us up again.In the event Corisande showed the best seamanship, by dodging the reefs in the anchorage and dropping anchor under sail. We would have been next had not an Austrian boat taken up most of our preferred anchoring spot with diagonally deployed dual anchors. After feeling as though we had the San Blas islands to ourselves its a bit of a shock to hear the VHF radio come to life with chat from other yachts and arrive at an anchorage and have to pick our spot between boats.

Half an hour later the now familiar torrential rain started, reducing visibility and making the approach to the anchorage considerably more hazardous. We were thankful that it held off until we were all safe. It's clear why it's a popular place, the guide describes the anchorage as:
tiny palm crowded cays and translucent water colours makes this area one of the prettiest in the islands
Can't wait for a break in the weather to go exploring.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Ratones Cays

Our stay in Ailigandi was wet but interesting. The weather has been pretty dismal since the last update and the boat is a little damp but things seem to be brightening up. We had torrential rain the day after we arrived and took the opportunity to have a good shower, wash some dirty clothes and then fill our jerry cans by bunging up the side deck and syphoning off the water. Since then the boat has been draped with damp clothes and I fear we will smell like unkempt students (old hat for Nick, first time for me!) for the next week.

That afternoon, we rowed to shore with Ouf and went for lunch at the Kuna Cafe. It is run by a group of Kuna retirees, a few of whom were there, counting money from jars of various shapes and sizes. It was very rustic and though I was hungry, I was a little wary. There was a strange, unhygienic smell emanating from somewhere nearby - I did a nasal investigation as unobtrusively as possible - was it the wooden benches we were sitting on? No. How about the PVC floral table cloth, sure to be harbouring a plethora of undesirable bacteria? No, clean as a whistle. Was it the bamboo walls, held so carefully and neatly together with binder-twine? Nothing suspect there. Then it must have been the shabby concrete floor with some dubious unsavoury spillages? Not a whiff. Where was it coming from? Realisation came with relief and then shock. Nick had been sitting next to me throughout and on close nasal inspection he was verified as the origin of the odour. Thankful (sort of) that the all clear had been given to the cafe, I tucked into my meal of chicken and rice with mucho gusto.

It was warm but truly delicious and we had an enjoyable chat in broken Spench to the proprietors. Ouf can speak Spanish which is very annoying as, of course, their French is pretty good too! Nick's Spench is certainly becoming more Spanish and his confidence is growing. I have started learning Spanish and am encouraged by the little I know already - it goes a long way specially if you couple it with mime.

While we were in the cafe, we deliberated over the problem of Michele's (from Ouf) foot. He had stepped off the top deck while on passage the day before and had twisted it badly, straining and possibly breaking some tendons. It so happens, that Ailigandi has the most sophisticated clinic in the San Blas, and having spoken to the restauranteurs and got the herbal remedy for a swollen foot (an immersion of mint in alcohol) we went to the clinic in search of the alcohol. Our group (a limping white man, using a white man and woman as crutches with another white woman asking all and sundry the way) had a Pied Piper effect on the children of Ailigandi.

We arrived at the clinic with about 20 children milling around us. A wheelchair was hastily found for Michele who was wheeled up the ramp, and seemingly straight to the front of the queue, the chair stopping with a small screech of brakes. Amazingly all the children came in too. They didn't go into the consulting room (though I think they would if they had the chance) but sat outside on the waiting benches with Nick and I for about 45 minutes.During this time, they answered a few questions, played and smiled mostly, occasionally touching us lightly. The clinic was excellent. It turned out that one of the TWO doctors who saw Michele had been invited to France, as an English speaking Kuna doctor, and had met Jaques Chirac! Michele was given some anti-inflammatories and a foot splint, and sent on his way with his human crutches and swarm of children.

On Friday morning we had torrential rain once again and as I had poked my head out from under the spray hood, I spotted a dolphin which reappeared and just seemed to be happily milling about the anchorage looking for lunch. During a gap in downpours, Nick and I set off to explore the nearby river. We had to row as the outboard is not behaving itself, and also, it meant that we could see/hear more creatures. Rowing was tough as there was quite a strong current against us but we soon realised it was a very special place and persevered.We saw black herons with green legs, buzzards, a large, noisy kingfisher and little crabs on the banks waving their one oversized claws in some kind of ritual which we didn't disturb in our silent vessel. We also saw Kuna people who rowed up behind us in their painted dugouts with their one paddle, and overtook us with a nod and a smile.The river meandered considerably and, both fired up from what we had already seen, we flexed our muscles and ventured further inland. We rowed past a Kuna cemetery (palm roofs covering well-tended mounds) and found avocado, mango and banana trees amongst the cocunut palms and hibiscus. When our arms were aching, we stopped rowing and just glided back down the river, silently and surprisingly slowly so that we had ample time to listen and watch. Just before we reached the mouth of the river, I looked to the bank and saw an unusually shaped log, which could have been mistaken for a crocodile (something I had been doing ever since reading that small fresh water crocs are to be found in the San Blas) and then it flicked its loggy tail and submerged. Wow!

Hunger saw us once again on the island later that day. We went to find some fruit and veg to go with the lobster that Ouf had bought from the fishermen. Our search took us right into the island and it wasn't long before we were lost and wondering if 'no go' areas exist in Kuna country. We had that horrible experience of seeing a building/road you think is familiar but then all too soon you realise it's slighly different and it's taken you further out of your way. It was discomfiting as we felt we were intruding in certain areas and we became very conscious of our 'strangeness'. It only lasted minutes, however, just ask the nearest child the way and not only will they point, but they will take you there with 20 of their friends and stand and watch you as you struggle with an undignified scramble into your dinghy which is by now impossibly low down in the water. Dinghys are a great leveller.

Having decided that other interesting anchorages beckoned, we raised the hook yesterday morning and motor-sailed here to Ratones Cays - a small uninhabited island with good snorkelling. As soon as we had arrived, we were visited by some fishermen who had lobster to offer, which we accepted for a small fee.(Oh no, not lobster again!) Nick is enjoying his fresh seafood but I know that he is longing to be catching it himself because then it will taste so much better.Later we headed out in the dinghy to explore the reef which was pretty impressive. Nick spoke to a Kuna man who had come to the island to spearfish in the shallows (our hero was duly very impressed and if the weather was better today, I swear he would be fashioning his own spear from a palm trunk). The fisherman had found a conch and gave it to Nick as a 'regalo'. Conch are notoriously difficult to winkle out of their shells but 'No Mercy Nick' winkled and winkled this morning and with the help of quite a large part of the cutlery drawer and a mallet, he succeeded and had conch in garlic for breakfast. Delicious! (It was really pretty good!)

Today looked brighter so I put all the damp washing out to dry, but a black cloud was watching me and no sooner had I stowed the peg bag, than a torrential downpour was upon us. Quicker than you could say 'Oh, for a washer-dryer and a stack of Ariel Ultra' everything was drenched once again. Still, the Panama Yacht club is reputed to have an excellent laundry! Bring it on!

Thursday, March 23, 2006


With the weather forecast predicting NW winds, it was time to move on; our idyllic anchorage in Isla de Pinos would provide limited shelter. The plan is to work our way north-west along the coast of Panama (and the San Blas islands) toward Colon and the canal entrance. We set off at 9.30 in company with "Ouf", planning to head to more protected anchorages in either Mamitupu or Ailigandi (5miles further north) depending upon how well the light allowed us to pick our way amongst the isolated rocks and coral outcrops.

The Panama coast we passed looked magnificently lush, forested hills in the mist, rolling down to a wooded coast-line punctuated by the occasional Kuna settlement. We passed a perfect tropical island, Kwitupu, where we briefly considered a stop until we saw the Spanish translation - "Isla Mosquito". We passed Achutupu at what seemed to be their rush-hour where around twenty dug-out canoes with sailing rigs, appeared to be heading home for lunch after a morning's fishing. Wish we'd taken some photos, unfortunately some tricky reef navigation took precedence to the camera.

Around 3pm we dropped anchor on the southern shore of Ailigandi. We were greeted by some very camp, highly entertaining Kuna Indians. We've marvelled at how fast and skillfully the Kunas propel their canoes, however these gay Indians could have emerged straight from an Almodovar film-set and never been in a canoe before. Much laughter ensured as they struggled to stay close to Kika, and left some Kuna paint marks on our recently cleaned gel-coat.

Ailigandi is a small heavily populated island - think a miniature Manhattan and replace the sky-scrapers with bamboo huts. It seems more developed than Isla Pinos, with a a medical centre and largish school. We also received receipts for our one off $5 anchoring fee, although they seemed more interested in learning about the where we'd come from, information about our families etc etc than actually taking the fee. Looking forward to spending more time exploring after too much time in Isla Pinos was spent trying to get the outboard to work reliably. Currently it seems OK, although it sounds like a rattling bag of rusty nails. There's lots to-do here with a river, reefs and off-laying islands to explore, as well as a Kuna cafe to try - if the outboard doesn't play ball we'll just have to row.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Isla Pinos

As predicted, we reached the San Blas early on Sunday morning. It was about 5am when we were 10 miles from the islands so we hove-to for an hour to wait for the light. As we drew near to the anchorage, we dropped the sails and tried to start the engine but all we heard was a dry groan followed by the sound of our hearts sinking. Nick investigated with a wrench and fairly quickly the engine roared to life.

The anchorage is lovely, sandwiched between the mystical mainland of Panama (just layer upon layer of forest and hills) and the little gem of an island, Isla Pinos.'Ouf' were here to greet us with some coffee and while we were catching up with them we were visited by David, a Kuna man from the island, rather like an emissary, who brought us coconuts and asked us when we wanted to visit the Sila (chief). We went later in the day, with the outboard motor sounding alarmingly rough but doing it's job nonetheless.

The main village of the island is home to quite a large community of Kuna people. They live in small bamboo and palm huts which are surprisingly cool.I had no idea what to expect of the chief (I tried to avoid imagining the regalia of leopard skins, exotic feathers and perhaps the odd decorative bone about his person, but God forgive me, I failed and thus was a little underwhelmed) - the image was more one of Nike than majesty but once I'd got over the disappointment of the plastic flip flops, I began to appreciate the wisdom of these people. They have endeavoured against huge odds, to keep their traditions and culture alive while still being a part of Panama. They have stoically resisted adopting the trappings and luxuries from just across the water with amazing foresight and strength of spirit.
From the start, the importance of their customs was obvious to us visitors, and there was a clear, formal procedure for us to follow - meeting and talking with the chief, paying our small visitors' fee and assuring our hosts that we understood the few rules that apply to visitors to the island. These included not taking photos without permission (well, it's rude isn't it), not taking coconuts from the ground (their main income is from coconuts, and every tree is owned by someone from the island) and consulting the chief before buying products from islanders (in order to discourage competition and greed amongst individuals). Simple but effective rules delivered with clarity and solemnity and sealed with a smile. They help preserve the Kuna culture and maintain the delicate balance between tourists and islanders - we were impressed.
It means that unlike many other places we have been (Eastern Caribbean particularly) our relationship with the people is founded on more level ground - we are not seen merely as a source of income but as (perhaps slightly strange) individuals.

Our first evening here was clouded by the discovery that the outboard had inexplicably died again and we were faced with the dilemma of what to do in a tropical archipelago with no outboard motor and only one oar! Not a great prospect. So, feeling a little pre-occupied the next morning, we hitched a lift into the village in Ouf's dinghy (thank heavens for Ouf) for a trek around the island.
It was good to have a challenging walk after our passage and we returned to Kika feeling invigorated.
After some work on the outboard, it fired up once again although struggled to keep running, but there seems to be a glimmer of hope. Also, Steve, from the other boat in the anchorage, Corisande, kindly donated a spare oar to us which makes our progress through the islands more possible. We were very grateful. The vague plan is to stay perhaps one more day before hopping West to see more of these fascinating islands.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Final night on passage

It's another dark night, the moon has yet to rise and it's more overcast than yesterday so fewer stars. One benefit of the blackness is the spectacular phosphorescence. Breaking waves, our wake and bow wave are full of phosphorescent spots of light. Time slips by unnoticed watching the light show around the boat.

We had a dolphin visit tonight. It was nearly impossible to see them, but their high-pitched whistling was unmistakable, very loud in the cabin, as though it was amplified by the boat.

Yet another change of plan. Rather than head directly for the customs post at Puerto Obaldia, we're making instead for Isla de Pinos, an anchorage 15 miles up the coast. Ouf has spent a day there and it sounds fabulous. We were easily persuaded to relax for a day before dealing with Panamanian bureaucracy. As the saying goes, "All plans set in jelly".

We've taken down the main and are sailing just under reefed genoa to slow down and make sure we arrive in the light. I've been trying to work out why the blackness of the night seems more troubling than normal. I think it's because for all previous night approaches there's always some indication that land is near. Such as the loom of a city, more boats than normal, the light of a lighthouse etc. On this section of coast there are no cities, no navigational aids and there don't appear to be any additional boats. There is nothing looming out of the blackness to indicate we are approaching land, just the GPS plot on our chart telling us we only have 40miles left to go. For a normal landfall we could verify our position by crossing checking navigational light bearings. Here we have to trust the position our GPS is giving us. There's no reason to doubt it, but it's still a little unnerving. I guess we'll get used to it as we head to the more remote corners of the world.

Position @ 23.00 18/3/2006 N9°37' W77°32'

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Heading south on St Patrick's Day

Our passenger spent most of its time preening, followed by squawking, before testing its wings and heading off west. It's 400 miles west to Nicaragua, but there's plenty of shipping around so perhaps it'll hitch a ride on a steadier platform.

Herb's routed us a long way north, feels like we're nearly half way to Jamaica. Ouf arrived this evening taking a more Southern route and "Tomatillo" should get in tomorrow mid-day - although they got a little wet when a wave broke over their stern. It's renowned as a dangerous passage so it's probably best to err on the side of caution, even if we end up adding a day and a half to the passage.

There's no time to get bored - what with daily attempts to fix the outboard and rigging the ratlines, then there's the SSB. We have the Caribbean net at 8am, followed by Panama "connection" net at 9.30. Then a brief rest before we chat to "Ouf" and "Tomatillo" at 11am. We check into Herb at 3.30-4pm, and he works his way round the boats on passage, giving us a call around 4.30pm. We speak to "Savoir Vivre" at 6pm, followed by Ouf and "Tomatillo" again at 6.30pm. In addition there are weather faxes to download and study, emails to write and respond to, leaving just enough time for sail adjustments, course tweaks, watching out for other shipping, cooking, turning eggs, eating, sleeping and routine checks for water in the bilge, condition of the batteries etc.

We're heading for a customs post on the Colombian/Panamanian border called Puerto Obaldia. Once we've legally entered Panama and have a cruising permit we'll start making our way up the San Blas islands to Panama. There are now a couple of other boats we know in Panama so depending upon the length of the wait for a canal transit we might leave San Blas after a week, visit Panama, complete the necessary paper work and head back to San Blas while we wait for our transit.

I'm on watch until midnight. The moon has yet to rise and even though the stars are spectacular, they don't give off much light; it's almost painful peering into the black void ahead of us trying to spot other ships. The wind increased and backed to the north as the light vanished and we found ourselves speeding along at 8-9knots with a double-reef main and small genoa towards Colombia. The main is now down and we're still making 6knots under a small head-sail, but at least now in the right general direction. We've 200 miles still to cover - the plan is to arrive for first light Sunday morning. We'll slow down as necessary so that we don't arrive in the middle of the night - Panama isn't renowned for the reliability or presence of navigation lights.

Happy St Patrick's day.

Position @ 20.00 17/3/06 - N12°08' W77°23'

Friday, March 17, 2006


Today has been another day of constant winds and we have made good progress. Our destination has changed due to the happy fact that the outboard motor is working again. This means we can head for San Blas as originally planned. To that end we gybed the boat and began heading south at 1am. We were joined by another crew member during the gybe - a beautiful but exhausted sea-bird (I've yet to identify it) struggled to land on our life-belt but just managed and has been preening itself for the last 4 hours. It lost its balance at one point and once again, struggled to keep up with us so I slowed Kika down (don't tell Nick) to give it a chance to land which it did. I have heard stories of birds hitching rides before and it seems they only do it when they are on the verge of collapse, so the prognosis isn't great and we mustn't get too attached! It's called Flotsam!

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Curacao to Los Monjes

We finally left the yard in Curacao a week after we arrived - four days longer than our original plan, but with all jobs complete, (there's a job list at the end of the entry, for those interested in the details). The Curacao marina yard was small, but all the better for it as we quickly got to know the other cruisers working on their boats. I drilled my first ever hole below the waterline and despite checking and rechecking with others in the yard I was still apprehensive as the drill attacked the hull. All seems well as although returning Kika to the water was more nerve-racking then normal we didn't spot any new leaks.

We celebrated our much-postponed re-entry into the water by inviting the other cruisers to celebrate our new fridge with cold beer. Sadly by the time I'd finished the wiring, the beers didn't have long enough to cool, so it was the usual Kika warm beer party. Although we were pleased with our efforts, they seemed insubstantial compared with some of the projects being undertaken; rewiring after engine room fire, installing a new engine, removing a layer of the hull then applying an epoxy barrier, gearbox overhaul etc.

Finally by 2pm the next day, we'd transformed Kika from workshop into ocean going sailing vessel and were ready to depart. The other cruisers gave us a great send off as we went astern with our now customary pirouette. We waved goodbye to Ken and Beth on Eagle's Wings, Piet Hein and Tori on Double Dutch, Jasper and Astrid on Antares, Frans on Gemini and Lucas and Matti on Lambada.
We planned our next stop to be the San Blas islands, just east of Panama. It's a six day sail and passes the Colombian coast - renowned for its bandits and dangerously large breaking seas, brought on by the strong winds and counter currents. We'd missed a calm period over the weekend, and with little prospect of the wind easing in the near future we thought we would sail 120miles to Los Monjes, a small island west of Aruba and wait for a weather window there. As Ellen mentioned in the previous entry, our pilot guide finished at Bonaire and the next one doesn't pick up until the San Blas islands. The entry without pilot guide to Spanish Water in Curacao was our first taste of finding our own way in. It was exciting winding our way up the beautiful twisting entrance unsure of what we'd find round the next bend, briefly feeling like navigators of old discovering land for the first time - spoilt only by the occasional shack. For Los Monjes our charts provided no detail of the islands, the only information we had was a sketch map of the anchorage from an ancient pilot book. Nevertheless we had a great overnight sail and arrived at the anchorage to find one other boat; Ouf with Michelle and Isabelle who we'd met in the yard in Curacao. Los Monjes turned out to be little more than a rock with a coast guard station, but we had a fantastic time in the company of Ouf and the Venezuelan fishermen whilst we studied the weather and planned our escape. The fishermen gladly traded fish and lobster for a few dollars and with Ouf's fabulous French cooking they were transformed into the best food we've had so far. We returned the favour, and although a difficult act to follow, Ellen produced some delicious fish and pureƩ pommes de terre.
The only down-side to our stay, which could have been much worse, occurred when the dinghy capsized with Ellen aboard. She quickly swam back to Kika towing the dinghy, but subsequently the submerged engine has failed to show any signs of life, despite the best efforts of the crew of three yachts and off-duty members of the Venezuelan army. The outboard is still in intensive care, having frequent treatments of oil and starting attempts, but it feels like we need to see if our finances will fund a replacement engine and possibly dinghy. Unless we get the engine going while we're on passage we've decided to head directly for Panama rather then the San Blas islands in the hope we can find someone in Panama who can bring the engine to life.

As the passage is notoriously dangerous we decided to contact Herb who is routing us 100 miles north to 14N then west until we reach the longitude of Panama; when we turn South. We're routing around the stormy region, but its adding at least a day and half to the trip.

We set off yesterday (Tues 14th) at 6am and had a fantastic sail in the morning. We were briefly joined by dolphins and bizarrely nearly netted some pineapples which floated past. The wind increased in the afternoon and evening as we headed north on a fine-reach. We made great speed, averaging around 6.8knots and gorged ourselves on lobster we'd purchased the day before. The drains got a good workout overnight with breaking waves putting a couple of inches of water in the cockpit from time to time.

This morning at 5am we made 14N latitude and changed course west. Unfortunately George (the self-steering) wouldn't keep the course, causing the main to jibe a couple of times. So we hove-to and I spent a couple of hours hanging off the back of the boat, fixing the self-steering which had jammed when a bolt had worked its way loose. Once the steering was fixed, we resumed our westerly course and have had a beautiful down-wind sail.

Position @ 15:45: N13°59', W73°25'

We completed the following in the yard:
  • Cleaned, sanded and applied new highly expensive tropical anti-fouling (stops marine life growing on the bottom of the boat)
  • Dismantled and greased sea-cocks.
  • Cleaned, polished and waxed the top-sides.
  • Installed a foot pump for the salt water tap.
  • Self-steering:
    • Shortened the mounting tubes, and drilled to make more secure.
    • Dismantled, cleaned and oiled the bearing.
  • Installed the new fridge:
    • Removed old fridge and filled holes left with polyurethane foam
    • Drilled hole for new through-hull fitting incorporating cooling circuit for fridge.
    • Sealed inside of hole with epoxy - to stop moisture seeping into the hull.
    • Installed new through-hull with generous quantities of polyurethane sealant.
    • Added sea-cock
    • Made new supports for the cooling holding plate in fridge box
    • Plumbed in fridge
    • Re-plumbed the sink.
    • Wired in fridge controller and power to the fridge compressor.
  • Our stern no longer incorrectly reports us as members of the Lymington or Thames yacht clubs
  • Repaired the bilge pump pipe, which I incorrectly routed so that the propeller had cut through it.
  • Organised sail repair to a split in the main.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Hauled out in Curacao

Aaaaah.....another day, another courtesy flag. Our day sail from Bonaire to Curacao last week was swift and straightforward although we were both a little nervous about no longer having the emotional crutch of the pilot guide - we looked in vain for one of this area but no joy - just the electronic charts and good old eyeball navigation. So we motored gingerly into Spanish Water on Curacao's west side. It was quite busy and very, very windy which made anchoring a challenge. In fact, the 'anchor waltz' went on for quite a while and involved a couple of near-misses but it was all good experience! On entering the anchorage, we noticed 'Shoestring' whom we had briefly met in Los Rochas when the skipper, Peter, had sailed past just as I was hauling up the anchor. Judging by the comments he shouted across the water, he was pretty impressed and obviously unaware that it was my first (and possibly last) time at raising it (it's a manual windlass and the anchor's REALLY heavy not to mention the chain!) So on arrival in Spanish Water, Peter once again yelled across to us, this time to impart the crucial news that Happy Hour at the bar was in half an hour and he'd pick us up in his dinghy. He was punctual and what with the extended 'anchor waltz', we were only just ready when he arrived. Happy Hour was happy and we met more Spanish Water residents and Peter mentioned my anchor hauling more than once, which was nice. Nick seemed to be a bit peeved but then I realised he's been doing it for months and no-one's commented on his technique! Sexism is alive and thriving on the high seas! We checked into Curacao the next day and had the opportunity to see a little of the capital, Willemstad. One great feature is the floating market which is made up of Venezuelan boats which bring their goods over to sell. We had a bit of a passion fruit fest - they're so delicious! We learned also that the carnival was this weekend so we spent Saturday afternoon sitting on the river bank enjoying the festivities.

Our main aim while in Curacao is to have Kika taken out of the water to clean and paint the hull. We also intend to insert a new, bigger through-hull for the sink in order to accommodate the needs of our new, 'intelligent' fridge which, once it's installed will be very exciting for the simple reasons that we can have cold drinks and enjoy butter in solid form again. Our old fridge works but it is air cooled and as a result, makes it very hot inside the cabin. It's also quite old and the insulation level is for England and not the tropics. The new fridge is water cooled which means the heat from the fridge will be transferred into the sea beneath us rather than the air around us. It is 'intelligent' in its use of power because it can sense how full the batteries are and if there is enough power, it can give itself a cooling boost in preparation for when the amps might not be so abundant. Well, Kika is now on the hard in Curacao Marina and things are going nicely. Her hull didn't have too much growth but has now been cleaned and sanded in preparation for painting, and the existing through-hull is ready for surgery tomorrow.

We have had to raise Kika's waterline at the stern as she had so much growth on the gel-coat (the part that's supposed to be out of the water) which obviously wasn't good. We are trying to think why we are stern heavy and can only conclude it's nothing to do with us but is, in fact the fault of George, our very heavy wind-vane (poor George takes the blame for a lot of things!) Mind you, Nick's trumpet is also kept in the stern and I'm sure that doesn't help!

Seeing Kika out of the water is both thrilling and interesting. It was the first time for me, and I am very reassured by her long keel and smooth hull. It is also another opportunity to learn about the boat's nature and systems.

There are times when I think I have learned a vast amount about cruising and all it involves, and may even be able to hold my own in a conversation between the shelves in the chandlery, but then something happens, someone mentions something, and I'm forced to admit I still have so much to learn. Sometimes, just a comment from a seasoned sailor (let's call him Nick) can leave me completely baffled and shocked by my ignorance. This was the case with the 'sacrificial anode' conversation we had way back, but even this was eclipsed by the 'transjuicer' (ed: transducer) that he just dropped into the conversation yesterday. Never in my life have I heard of a 'transjuicer'! Sounds like a weapon from Star Wars - he's making it up! But no, it is real and it is on the bottom of our boat, always has been, I just knew it by it's common or garden name of 'the echo sounder'. Sometimes I think Nick holds back snippets of knowledge so that he can drip-feed them to me in order to keep me interested and amazed by his sheer cleverness! Anyway, if you don't know it, I shan't bore you with the whole meaning of 'transjuicer' save to say it's not as interesting as 'sacrificial anode' (I love that one).

Friday now and Kika's hull has a new coat of anti-fouling and a new through-hull for the fridge.

Installing the new cool plate and compressor will take some time and we shall be busy this weekend with this and also finishing the painting and cleaning the gel-coat. We hope to leave for the San Blas islands on Monday. Meanwhile, we are both quite excited because tomorrow we are going to see..........a band. Some cruising friends (Astrid and Jasper on Antares) have friends here in Curacao, and have invited us for a night out on the town.

We have a very active social life on Kika, but it's usually centred around the boats or in the anchorage bar. This is going to be a proper night out with best clothes and everything because it doesn't involve a wet dinghy ride there and back to shore! Small pleasures!