Saturday, 13 February 2010

Crewing on High Five

My name is Bob Matthews and I had the pleasure of sailing with High Five. I met the family in Curacao at the boat harbor yard on the evening of the 17th of January, 2010. You immediately got the impression that the family was very well liked as the night watchman escorted the cab through the yard down to dock and went to find the boat. Since he went in the opposite direction from where the boat was moored Caribbean efficiency was the second demonstration to occur. In the morning Gary checked the rigging and found some parts that were better in place than not while Janine looked after provisioning and exiting immigration and customs from Curacao. The boys helped both processes. In the afternoon High Five made a short hop up the island to a beautiful bay with an interesting entrance – hard left, hard right, keep close, OK we’re in. On the way the main went up to ensure everything was functional, only one item – the down haul – needed to be added. Refreshing (sort of in 28 C plus water) swims were the order of the day plus a few relaxing beverages and sustenance. High five and Solange 4 waited for first light to exit the harbor as the navigational aids for exiting were the same as entering – visuals on the bottom; sure a good thing the water is clear, then off to Aruba. Nice breeze so got the sails up and they gave this neophyte his first lesson in trade winds and islands. The waves go around the island and then get together from different directions as you leave the lee side and create quite a confused sea. The winds were blowing in the 20s and the seas were not small. Once we got well off the lee side the sea got organized and High Five enjoyed wonderful down wind surfing conditions although it was faster and more comfortable to gybe a few times. Every one drove – the boys are very accomplished helmsmen; arrival in early afternoon. The boys put the dingy in the water, the beach was nearby and the main airport runway just a short distance from the moorage; cruise ship coming and going, Solange arriving, dinner after cocktails at a beach restaurant. The boys provided the taxi service to and from the boats, all very laid back. Early departure for the “Rocks” – most westerly part of Venezuela staffed by the coast guard. Trades down in the morning so motored off in the dark and away from Aruba without experiencing too much confused sea. Lots of commercial traffic to watch out for. The breeze filled in fairly quickly about with first light and off High Five went for another downwind day with I think 3 gybes to get to the “Rocks”. Great sailing and the boys joined the 3 of us for breakfast and some fun driving in good breeze and surfing conditions – what a way to live!!! Afternoon arrival at the Rocks with the wind around 30 knots. There are 2 rocks which they blasted material from to make a breakwater between them and there is a rope strung across on half of the resulting harbor which you are allowed to tie to – interesting process as the wind compresses over the breakwater and felt to be in the 35 to 40 knot range. When we were tied on, the Coast Guard wished to come and inspect High Five; unfortunately the Coast Guard did not have a boat. So High Five had to drop the dingy in the water to get them. The boys normally do this task including putting the outboard on but given the wind Gary and I helped (I think they were interested in my ballast). It was a good thing as the dingy went air born as soon as it was over the water – about a foot and a half off the water with Gary and me hanging on. Passenger and motor stabilized the situation and Gary went in to pick up the Coast Guard. No customs papers were required but completed a safety inspection inventory, had a couple of beers and supplied one of the officer with a pack of smokes; nice guys and really impressed with the admiral (Janine) who signed all documents while the Captain (Gary) looked on. We then were allowed ashore for a look around but were told “no Picture” part way through the visit. Two fishing boats arrived and tied one on the other – long narrow vessels with crews of 8 or 10 individuals. Some of the crew were interested in staring at Janine in a less than casual manner. Given the strong wind and the neighbours we decided an early departure was warranted, after libations and sustenance and a sleep. I think we left around 03:30 in the dark and howling wind. The lee side of the Rocks provided a very disorganized sea which lasted for at least half an hour. New moon, little light, motor sailing with the jib only; big surfing and a few “by the lee” gybes while it was dark. Solange had decided to stay so we were off on our own; boys asleep, Gary trying to catch a few bits of rest. First light was really welcome. You could then see the waves and take the appropriate action. Another great sail to Cape Elna (?) (Just looked on Google and I can find the bay but no name). It is called Cabo de La Vela, (Cape of Sail) We arrived around early afternoon and decided to go to the village on the beach, Gary spotted a store so we headed for that part and we were greeted and helped up the beach with the dingy by the local children. The store was closed, indefinitely, so we were invited to the greeter’s restaurant – restaurant, family home, boarding house, provisioning area etc. Gary’s Spanish was quite functional and soon we had beer (warm) and advice on the town’s amenities. Almost immediately a lady approached Gary with a Disney book and wanted to practice her English – Gary read the Spanish, the teacher (the lady explained she taught primary school) read the English comparative. The Boys soon took over from Gary so school was in. The people were very nice and while the life style was very rudimentary the community appeared stable and functional. Lots of fish, lobster and fresh fruit was readily available. In due course we retired to High Five for libations and a lobster dinner. The next morning we returned to the village for a walking tour and provisioning including more delicious papaya which Janine had been serving to start breakfast – how decadent is that? We headed for the “restaurant” and were greeted again, escorted through the village on the tour and provisioning expedition; we even got ice for the beer which we froze hard using High Five’s freezer. In mid afternoon Solange came by so we headed off for Five Bays, an overnight passage - moderate breeze and wave pattern. The boys drove until around dark and then retired for movies and sleep. Janine and I took the 6 to midnight watch and Gary got a little rest. It was a beautiful clear night but no real star visible to steer to. The moon finally showed up shortly after I took over from Janine so I could steer down this broad highway of reflected moonlight – nature was taking it easy on the old guy. Around midnight Gary came up and I retired for a snooze. Around 4 I got up and found Gary relaxed in the cockpit – wind had dropped, sea was very modest and Auto was driving. Gary got a little more rest while I watched for freighters and tried to stay awake. Dawn brought a little more wind and Janine from her nap. Light breakfast, including papaya, and steadily increasing breeze. Gary had been counseling Solange on the benefits of gibing downwind rather than rhumb lining it for better comfort and greater VMGs. Solange arrived at Five Bays pretty much with High Five. The wind had really strengthened by this time and Gary was driving as we approached our destination. The seas were fairly orderly so good surfing conditions – Gary got the new record of 14.6 knots which is pretty impressive for a furniture factory! Five Bays (middle one) was very dramatic – deep fiord like bays, sand beach at the head and some very high mountains within 5 to 10 miles (one mountain is high enough to even get snow!). I stayed on High Five while everyone else went ashore – greeted again as they landed and again by a restaurateur. Friendly and hospitable and warned of significant outflow winds at night – no seas, just wind. Looked like a place to spend a few days and probably have dinner ashore the next night. Beautiful evening, dramatic tropical setting, how good does life get? In the middle of the night lights come on, people are on deck moving about, wind is loud, guess I better get up to see if I can help. Gary and Janine have righted the dingy which on one of the gust of wind had flipped over. The gusts bounce off the mountains and high valleys and thereby manage to come from every direction on the compass (randomly) at about 30 to 35 knots. We get the engine off the dingy and Gary commences full WD40 treatment. While looking after the engine we conclude that a second night in this bay may not be desirable. In the morning it is virtually calm; just a tropical paradise. How things change!! After breakfast and discussions with the crew of Solange we decide to head around the corner to a beach resort just south of Santa Marta. We motor sail to charge the batteries and as we are going past the main port Gary observes that a freighter is really close on shore (not in the harbor) and looks to be stopped; and has two tugs standing by. We hung around and watched the “ungrounding”. This cruising has all sorts of unexpected treats to fit into one’s days. Then we went around the corner to “Miami Beach”, Columbia. Beautiful beach, backed by high rise apartment blocks with mountains in the background; and then the paddle boats and jet skis. One paddle boat drove right into the side of Solange while they were videoing the crew of Solange. At this point we decided that a lot of cruising boats did not stop here. An enterprising restaurateur used a paddle boat to approach the cruisers and invite us to his restaurant. We visited later for a meal; good seafood, the ladies had mounds of shrimp. The 5 blond boys attracted a lot of attention – in particular 3 young girls stopped, stared and appeared to be discussing the boys. High Five’s engine did not start so we were very appreciative of the Solange “ferry”. All of the boys are just excellent around boats and dingys, capable and responsible. Early evening ready for an early start. Solange lead off in the morning (Kevin seems to hardly sleep) so we had a nice target ahead of us to steer for – stern lights going in your direction are so handy! Not much wind and quiet sea so we charged the batteries. As it got light the breeze started to fill; Gary made an excellent call to continue charging the batteries and use the head sail instead of putting up the main so as not to wake the boys. About an hour later the breeze was really up and big seas. Also this day we had to cross the mouth of a river which certainly steepened the seas. Estimated at 35 knots with larger puffs and seas running up to 14 feet on the weather side of the river mouth. The batteries were charged so we decided to shut down the engine; a really big puff just as a large confused wave lifted High Five and we basically rounded up. Engine back on for improved steering. Very challenging steering in these conditions and somewhat tiring. When we got past the mouth of the river the seas became somewhat more orderly and less steep but the wind held. We got around the cape and the seas flattened considerably and Janine took over driving and smashed Gary’s record surf of 14.6 knots by hitting 14.9 knots; great ride now and even caught a Barracuda(not for eating). The Mahi that was caught a few days previously was very tasty and the fish that broke the 150 lb. test line 4 times were never seen, thank goodness! Into an uncharted bay which was recommended (hand drawn chart with a turning point indicated on top of now an extended sand bar) and proved to be good anchorage in shallow water – dragged slowly on the first set, retrieved the anchor to discover a garbage bag, once removed we held nicely – nowhere is safe from our junk! Beverages and relaxation, some commiseration with the crew of Solange as it was a tough day and they sailed it with a reefed main which added to the tendency to round up plus it does not have the same tendency to surf and reduce the loads. Janine got some great pictures of Solange surfing a couple of time as we passed them. Gary got a fabulous picture of Janine steering the boat with a wall of water catching up to High Five, and that was when the seas had flattened out! Early night with the intention of heading to Cartagena the next morning. We were not sure if Solange was going to come or wait an extra day. Up early to leave and first to rise Kevin had Solange under way before us. We headed out very shortly thereafter making sure we avoided and “moving” sand bars as this time we were headed downwind. Relatively modest breeze in the high teens or low twenties for a very pleasant non challenging motor sail while charging the batteries. The entrance to the harbor is very narrow where they blasted a hole in the underwater wall protecting the entrance from pirate etc in olden days. The boats went through the pass in close formation and into the huge interior harbor. Very interesting approaching the city with modern buildings, then the historic fort and then more high rise buildings on the beach front. Gary tried to raise the marina on the radio but everyone was involved in the police return of a stolen dingy. In due course we learned that there was no room at the dock just then but that we were welcome to anchor and use the marina for dingy access etc. The marina was under construction and quite rudimentary but we could get ashore, go shopping, go to a cruises “pub night” which was fun and met a lot of very nice people. A day at anchor and shopping for groceries, time in a internet café answering emails etc, back on the boats when Janine alerts us to a person in the water with an over turned boat – rescue time for first the individual and then the boat and motor. We towed the inflatable to High Five and Gary got to work on the engine. We were still minus a functioning spark plug wrench but a call on the radio quickly remedied this. Spark plugs out and pull the starter for an explosion of water from the cylinders! More WD40, new spark plugs from another cruiser and it runs. The rescued lady, when showered and somewhat out of shock from flipping the inflatable, was most appreciative of Gary’s immediate and effective work in getting the engine cleaned of water and running. Janine, Gary and I went on a tour looking for spark plugs for their inflatable engine plus a wander to historic Cartagena. It was interesting and when we got to the walls overlooking the ocean we were happy we came in the previous day – the wind and sea were really up and looking a bit uncomfortable. Taxi back to the other (much nicer) marina to see about moorage there, with some success thankfully. We also encountered a very pleasant bar and restaurant which appeared to be patronized mainly by locals so we thought we might come back for dinner. After the odd beverage and discussions with Solange it was determined we would have an adult night and the boys would stay on the boats and enjoy movies so off we went to dinner at the marina restaurant; quite a good meal and great company. Following dinner we opted for a visit to historic Cartagena for a jazz concert but it was over when we arrived, very early for this part of the world! We went for a walk about and ran into a few local color people including a family who were partaking of ouzo and invited participation. Kevin stood in for all of us; it did not bode well for his morning! Eventually we took a taxi back to the marina, entered past the guard and called the boys for a ride home. Beautiful sunrise in the harbor with the contrasts of old and new. Another day of school for the boys at the internet café, a search for spark plugs (eventually obtained), food, beach volleyball for the boys, outboard repair for Gary (with enabling beverage to fend off the heat) and a sort of successful engine start (would not idle). Dinner out with cruising friends of Solange, they were in an apartment which they rented while there boat was in the boatyard for repairs and general maintenance. They had a good experience which was good news for Solange as its teak decks are being removed and replaced with fibre glass. Very enjoyable relaxed evening and Kevin had recovered from the ouzo enough to enjoy a couple of beer! Back to High Five, pack and be ready for an early ride to the airport on my journey back to reality. Up early, sad goodbye to the Canadian Family Minielly and many thanks for a great trip.

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