Iani and S/Y Arabella / Яни и корабът Арабела

Яни и Номадите

Яни и Номадите

We met Iani Georgiev by chance here in the BVI, a Bulgarian from Sozopol, who lived and worked in the USA and Hawaii with extensive sailing experience, and is now one of the crew members aboard S/Y Arabella. Iani is the chief mechanic and engineer aboard the boat and we were very pleased to find him in the same anchorage where Fata Morgana stopped for a few days. We spend a few hours with Iani before Arabella sailed away to her next destination.

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Срещнахме Яни Георгиев случайно в Британските Вирджински Острови. Българин от Созопол, който е живял и работил в Америка и на Хаваите, с дългогодишен опит в морепплаването, Яни е днес главен механик и инжинер на борда на Арабела. Срещнахме го в същото заливче, където пуснахме котва и прекарахме заедно няколко часа, преди Арабела да отплава към следващата дестинация.

Иво и Яни

Иво и Яни

Arabella is a 157 foot mega yacht with three masts. She has a Jacuzzi, and the main salon can offer a seated dinner for up to 48 guests. The salon also features a bar as well as a buffet station. Below decks, Arabella has 20 staterooms and can provide overnight accommodation for up to 40 guests.

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Арабела е 157-футова (48-метрова)тримачтова мега-яхта. В основният салон могат да вечерят 48 госта. Разполага с бар и джакузи, 20 кабини с двойни легла за общо 40 госта.

Арабела

Арабела

Arabella was originally built in 1983 by the Palmer Johnson Shipyard. Her first incarnation was as a 110 foot (33 m) yacht designed by MacLear & Harris. She was originally launched under the name “Centurion.” The actress Kelly McGillis, who stared in the movie “Top Gun” with Tom Cruise, was one of the first owners. She sailed Centurion across the Atlantic Ocean and described the voyage on the David Letterman Show.

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Построена през 1983 г. от корабостроителят Palmer Johnson и проектирана от корабният дизайнер MacLear & Harris, Арабела първоначално била 33 метра. В началото се е казвала Сентурион. Една от първите собственички на кораба е Кели Макгилс, актрисата, която играе с Том Круз във филма Top Gun. Тя плавала на борда на Сентурион прекосявайки Атлантическия океан и по-късно разказва за приключението в шоуто на Дейвид Ледърмен.

Арабела

Арабела

In the 1996, Centurion was damaged in a shipyard fire. Then along came Don Glassie and John Taft. They were successful hotel entrepreneurs from Newport, RI who were developing properties in South Beach. They took one look at Centurion and knew she was a yacht worth restoring. With their hotel backgrounds, they knew people would love to sail on a beautiful mega yacht which was outfitted as a floating luxury hotel.

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През 1996 г. Сентурион претърпява пожар в едно пристанище. Двама предприемачи работещи в сферата на хотелиерството, Дон Гласи и Джон Тафт, решили, че си струва да реставрират Сентурион след пожара. С техният опит в хотелиерската индустрия те решили, че много хора биха се радвали да мореплават на борда на такава красива мега-яхта, като плаващ луксозен хотел.

Арабела

Арабела

Our yacht began her new career by traveling to Fairhaven MA where she was lengthened and 47 feet (14 m) were added to her mid-section. Rechristiened as “Arabella,” her next stop was the Newport Shipyard for a total refit. Twenty private cabins were built into her hull, a new interior was installed and a third mast was added along with new rigging and sails. In 2000, Arabella embarked on the next stage of her career as a USCG-certified charter yacht with trips in the Caribbean and the Northeast United States.

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И така, надстроили кораба добавяйки още 14 метра дължина по средата и нарекли новият кораб Арабела. Инсталирали 20 частни кабини, нов интериор и добавили още една (трета) мачта. През 2000 г. Арабела стартира новата си кариера като чартърна лодка с екскурзии в Карибите и североизточните американски щати.

Iani and Arabella photo by Iani Georgiev

Iani and Arabella
photo by Iani Georgiev

* For more information about the yacht Arabella, visit arabellavacations.com

* For this article I have used photos of S/Y Arabella from the official website www.arabellavacations.com

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Passage South. Betsy Bay to Booby Cay

 

Day 1 George Town to Long Island

 

Day 2 Long Island to Crooked Island

 

Day 3 Crooked Island to Aclins

 

Day 4 Aclins to Mayaguana

 

Passage South Map

Passage South Map

 

Day 5 Mayaguana West Side to Booby Cay

Thursday, March 13

From Betsy Bay we sail east along the south coast of Mayaguana Island. The cruising guides advise to stop at Abraham Bay, an anchorage only 6 mi east from Betsy Bay, with a settlement nearby, the only all-weather anchorage in Mayaguana. But we decide to keep sailing for 18 more miles to the easternmost point thus shortening the distance for our next passage to Turks and Caicos with 18 miles.

We are doing 7 knots and get to the easternmost point of Mayaguana in the early afternoon where an anchorage is indicated on our charts between the main island and a small cay, surrounded by reefs from all sides.

“There are places where in settled conditions you can work your way in through cuts in the reef due south of Booby Cay, but we think you’d be crazy to attempt it.”

I am quoting from The Bahamas Cruising Guide, page 264. So, according to the cruising guide we are crazy to attempt anchoring near Booby Cay! Well, according to us, they are liars. Getting through the cut in the reef on the south side of Booby Cay is no problem at all. It is a wide deep (18-20 feet) cut, no current and no swell. We slowly and carefully sail through it (no engines), terrified for no other reason but the cruising guide’s warnings.

Once through it, the anchorage is huge and calm, gradually becoming shallower as we sail closer to land, but is sand everywhere with few coral heads which are well indicated on the charts and visible in day light. Holding is excellent. Mayauana to the west, Booby Cay to the north and a massive reef all around to west and south like a fence make it a delightful place to wait for a weather window (unless a hurricane hits, I guess). It can get a bit wavy in south and west winds, but nothing unbearable. One thing is true, though: there is nothing here, no fuel, no freshwater, no public laundry, no shops. The nearest civilization is 18 miles away. But guess what, we don’t need fuel, we produce our solar electricity and fresh water, and we have a fridge full of tuna. We don’t need no civilization!

Booby Cay in Mayaguana is the wildest place we have been to in the Bahamas, our last Bahamian stop, and our favorite anchorage where we spend 6 unforgettable days. Mainly, because of the recently wrecked boat we found there from which we salvaged a bunch of useful things, as well as the hundreds flamingos nesting in the shallow waters near the beach this time of the year.

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Passage South. Aclins to Mayaguana

Day 1 George Town to Long Island

Day 2 Long Island to Crooked Island

Day 3 Crooked island to Aclins

Passage South Map

Passage South Map

Day 4 Aclins to Mayaguana

Wednesday, March 12

We sail east from Aklins Island to Mayaguana, passing the Plana Cays on the north side and doing one big tack inside the Myaguana Passage. The current here is about 1 kt against us. We are getting southeast winds, very light, no big waves, the boat is happy, doing about 4 kts, no stress, no banging. Yes, we will get to destination, Betsy Bay on the west coast of Mayaguana, in the middle of the night again, but who cares?

In the Mayaguana Passage one of the fishing poles we are trolling behind the boat hooks something big. It is just after sunset. It takes Evo quite some time to bring the fish up after a fight of epic proportions. I try to slow down the boat pointing into the wind, as the speed, about 6 kts now, makes it harder to bring the fish.

It is a big-eye tuna, 30 pounds of light-red flesh, the biggest fish we ever caught.

Evo with tuna

Evo with tuna

Once on board, it feels like we have a visitor, someone we don’t know. The fish, lying on his side, trembling, one eye looking at us, is frightened.  We feel guilty, ask Neptune for forgiveness and mercy on our souls. A great big fish is dying on us. We respect him and love him. He is our brother, and we will eat him.

30-pound tuna

30-pound tuna

It is the best tasting fish the first time we eat from it, but after a week of tuna-sushi, tuna in tomato sauce, grilled tuna-fillet with lemon and pepper, we feel we have overdosed on tuna and just want to eat chicken again…

Tuna chops

Tuna chops

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Passage South. Long Island to Crooked Island

Map of our Passage South

Map of our Passage South

Day 1– George Town to Long Island

Day 2

Sunday, March 9

In the afternoon, after snorkeling in Dean’s Blue Hole for a few hours, we continue sailing south along Long Island west bank for 15 NM more. We round Long Island South Point around 5 p.m. and set course for Crooked Island, some 30 NM southeast, across Crooked Island Passage.

The wind is from northeast at 10-15 kt, dropping to 2-6 kt for a few hours, and then picking up to 10-12 kt again. The seas are calm, the sailing is beautiful.

We arrive in Pittstown, on the northwest side of Crooked Island, in the middle of the night, 3:30 a.m., and drop anchor exactly where the charts indicate an anchorage. The place doesn’t really look like an anchorage, a long straight shoreline exposed to northwest, west, and southwest winds and swells, but we calculated that in the northeast to east winds we are getting, it would be calm and smooth as a lake. And it is.

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Bitter Guana Cay

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The 700 Bahamian islands and cays are all low-lying flat tablelands of sand, coral, and limestone on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean, averaging not more than 30 meters/100 feet in elevation. Most of the smaller cays are uninhabited, covered with low tropical vegetation, small spiky palm trees and cedars. 

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One such cay is Bitter Guana Cay in the Exumas where we stop for a few days for a total do-nothing relaxation period away from everything and everyone. The island looks like a chocolate-covered puff-cream pastry. The white sand is the vanilla cream filling and the limestone is the chocolate on top, which is now all cracked-up and melting away as a result of some glorious roaring Jurassic convulsion of the earth’s crust.

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On the west side, the side of the shallow Bahama Bank, the anchorage in front of the small beach is completely protected from east, north and south winds and big ocean waves.

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We spend a few days here alone, with no other boats around, swimming, fishing, climbing the crumbling sandy ridges, exploring the small cave, feeding the population of hungry but friendly iguanas with whatever leftover food, which is not much, sorry, iguana-buddies.

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Only once a dinghy stopped by our iguana-island and a young couple spent the afternoon on our beach, completely naked and happy, their white butts shining like vanilla ice cream under the mighty all-seeing ever-smiling tropical sun. We forgive them the trespassing, just because they were naked and therefore totally free and defiant, and because they too shared some food with our iguanas.

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On the other side of the island, the Bahama Sound, the sea is not so kind. It is scary and menacing, deep blue-purple color, east winds and huge waves pounding the rock. Here the ocean dropoff plunges to depths our depth founder will never record, some of the deepest ocean water in the hemisphere. We stay away from there. For now.

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Bimini, Gateway to the Bahamas

Beach, North Bimini

Beach, North Bimini, Bahamas

 

The Bahamas is truly a fascinating place. It is a country made of water, ancient lava, and sand. Of its 470,000 km2 of territory less than 5% is land: a chain of over 700 bizarre-shaped flat tropical islands and cays.

Bimini, the closest island to the United States mainland only 40 miles east of Miami, is our gateway to the Bahamas. We drop anchor in front of Big Game marina and clear customs and immigration in under one hour. None of the Bahamian officials has any intention of inspecting the boat; it is only a question of filling a few forms and paying the entry fee of $320 (even though it is printed $300 on the receipt).

We spend two days walking around South Bimini and visiting Alice Town on North Bimini.

Bahamian lizard

Bahamian lizard

In the Bahamas we were expecting to find luxurious hotels and resorts, crowds of vacationing tourists, and Johnny Depp chilling on the beach. Instead, we find ourselves in a sleepy settlement of a few hundred inhabitants surrounded by vast sandbanks, its small houses with boarded windows painted pale blue yellow and pink, the cars driving on the wrong side of the narrow streets without sidewalks.

Bimini Big Game Club

Bimini Big Game Club

There are about five or six shops in Alice Town of which four sell alcohol, a church, a school, a bank, and a little dark library, totally abandoned, with piles of wet books lying all over the place, the librarian is nowhere to be found.

Bimini library

Bimini library

Hardly any other tourists but us are to be seen walking around and the locals all smile and say hi, how are you. They look chill, and slowly, without pressure, decorate the town for the Christmas festival which begins at noon.

A small stage with huge speakers on both sides is being installed in front of the church. Across the street, on a vast green loan, a trampoline for the kids and tables where women sell homemade delicacies out of pans and pots are already set. Grilled fish, rice and beans, fried chicken, ox tail in tomato sauce: everything 10 dollars. Men are standing by in the shades sipping beers, waiting for the music to begin. There will be a live performance organized by the school and later, when the sun goes down in the Gulf Stream, everyone will dance and have fun.

Stage for the Christmas festival

Stage for the Christmas festival

We like this place. After almost a month of intense work on the boat we switch into a chill mode.

South Bimini beach and anchorage.  The boat anchored in the distance is Fata Morgana

South Bimini beach and anchorage.
The boat anchored in the distance is Fata Morgana

 

Ivo and a Bahamian friend talking about life on Mars in the little boat crossing from South to North Bimini

Ivo and a Bahamian friend talking about life on Mars in the little boat crossing from South to North Bimini

 

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Old house destroyed by storm, Alice Town, Bimini

Old house destroyed by storm, Alice Town, Bimini

 

 

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Waters of Chaos

This is the story of how we almost died one night when the sea was not there anymore, but a black raging mass of liquid walls and howling winds; when the whole world had disappeared and our small boat left all alone in the entire universe was doomed. This is the story of how we passed Neptune’s first test on our way to becoming sailors.

 

 

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After two months in Guatemala, we begin a long passage north, 500 miles from Rio Dulce back to Key West Florida, where we planned to do some work and improvements on our 38-feet 2001 Leopard catamaran Fata Morgana. We start in rainy weather with unstable north winds and high seas in the Gulf of Honduras.

The very first day two of the blocks, old and rusty, which hold the boom attached to the traveler break. Ivo uses a rope to tie the boom immobilizing it in the center of the boat. This causes the mainsail to rip off from the base where it is attached to the boom, about two feet. We reef it to the first reef and thus we are able to sail. From now on, for two weeks and a half, we sail with a crippled main and a boom stuck in a central position.

For the next 17 days and nights, the wind is always coming from the direction where we want to go: north-northeast. The good thing about it is that we don’t have to play with the boom much. The bad part is that we have to tack constantly climbing against the wind at a very slow speed, thus covering at least three times the distance.

Many cruisers turn on the engines in such situations in order to go faster motorsailing. Not us. We never use the engines. If there is no wind, we wait. If there is little wind, we drift slowly. If the wind is too much, we reef. We drop anchor and lift anchor under sail most of the time. The two engines on our boat are for emergency situations only, and this is not an emergency situation. Yet. This is just a part of it, part of sailing.

It takes us a week to get to Isla Mujeres Mexico as we make the big mistake of choosing the Belize Inner Channel instead of the offshore route. The current in the 100-mile long channel running between the shore of Belize and the barrier reef is going south, flowing against us like a river, robbing us of at least 2-3 knots. The waves, 4-5 feet coming at an angle from northeast, are stopping us some more. Add to this not one but two mean winds, one northwest descending from the Belize mountains, and one northeast pushing from the sea, and try to sail between them, going north, tacking a hundred times per day with a reefed main and no engine! Not fun.

Our progress is between 1 and 3 miles per hour. We cover about 20-30 miles per day and anchor at night. Being able to stop and get some rest at night is the sole reward we get for sailing in the channel, but it’s not worth it.

After three days of this struggle we are finally out of the channel and sail for three more days and nights nonstop to Isla Mujeres. The plan is to anchor there and get some rest, a day or two, stock up on provisions, check the weather forecast, and cross to Key West: 300 miles northeast of Isla, where the current of the Yucatan Channel and the Gulfstream merge.

In the morning on the seventh day of sailing, we arrive in the familiar anchorage in Isla Mujeres in front of El Milagro Marina, exhausted, but happy we made it. The day is beautiful. We plan to go shopping first thing after we check our E-mails, and then we can sleep all night; sleep like babies.

While the rest of us are checking E-mails, Ivo is checking the weather.

“Strong north winds and big waves are coming soon,“ he announces, „we can’t sail directly to Florida. The best thing would be to sail east to Cabo San Antonio, Cuba, then to Havana, and cross the Gulfstream from there, the same way we came. But we have to go now, immediately, before the weather hits, or wait here for a week or who knows how long. We only have a few-hours window, we have to hurry up, let’s go!”

I take a look at the forecast and maps on the PassageWeather website. “Let’s wait. It doesn’t look too good. What if we cannot make it inside your ‘few-hours window’ and we hit a storm? I am not doing this! Haven’t you learned yet? In sailing the most important thing is waiting. Waiting for good weather. A week, a month, doesn’t matter, we wait here!”

We start a huge fight, like always, and the kids interfere. Both Viktor and Maya want to get to Key West as soon as possible; they don’t want to wait. Three against one.

We lift anchor one hour after we dropped it, without setting foot on land, without shopping or getting any rest, and we begin the 100 miles passage east-northeast across the Yucatan Cannel, trying to run in front of bad weather with a mainsail that doesn’t work quite well. There is your classic recipe for disaster.

Twenty miles offshore, the north winds pick up. The sky becomes thick with dark clouds and the first squall hits, rain and all. We reef the main to the second reef and the jib, and ride it out, 40-knot winds. It pushes us south. All night we fight with three more of these squalls. No one sleeps, we wait for the day. The day comes but it doesn’t look good. The north wind doesn’t drop below 25 knots. The powerful Yucatan current is flowing north, against the wind. When you have a strong current and strong wind in opposite directions, you get enormous waves, taller than the boat, from the direction of the wind. Not long, slow, sleek waves, but sharp, quick, confused ones. These are the worst possible conditions, and small crafts should not go out in the middle of such a mess.

Ivo is at the helm hand-steering since more than 30 hours and we are still in the middle of nowhere. We get pushed south after each squall and coming back north is impossible. We are so much off course, we start looking at the charts to see if we can go somewhere else, south, but there is nothing south of Cuba.

As the second night of this passage approaches, the north winds pick up even more reaching 30-35 knots, steady. We are now begging for those 20-25 knot winds which terrified us in the beginning. With the enormous waves charging at us, and the boat heading off course in a direction where there is no land any time soon, it becomes one of these ‘emergency situations’ when the engine is your only hope. We bring down the sails, turn on the two motors and abandon the boat in the hands of the autopilot, direction Cuba.

It’s only the beginning of the night; only the beginning of our worst nightmare. We find ourselves between two worlds: the above and the below, the air and the water, the living and the dead.

The world above has become a black rampaging monster. The monster is facing us with its cold mouth gaping wide open, and deep from its infinite entrails comes a powerful endless roar. Its breath is loaded with the screams of thousand flying witches, his fury is sublime. Thus is the wind.

The world below has gone mad too. All the underwater invisibles have gathered below the surface of the sea around our boat and are restlessly pushing and pulling us, throwing walls at us: a bizarre sadistic game. Each wall is the last. Will the boat go through it? Will it pass? Or will it turn over? That’s it! This time we won’t make it. How about this one? And the next? We have loads and loads of these, even worst, even bigger, coming from everywhere. Thus are the waves.

 Viktor, Maya, and I sit in the cockpit, protected from the outside hell by the thin plastic enclosure. Our lifejackets are stowed away in the starboard engine room, not accessible under the present conditions. So if the boat turns over and sinks we will find ourselves floating in the middle of the sea without lifejackets, in the dark. I promise myself that from now on, if we survive this, the lifejackets will always be close to us when sailing. Viktor has a whistle hanging on his neck, a submergible flashlight, and a knife. Maya is armed with another flashlight and the flare gun. I am holding the submergible VHF radio and a glowing stick. We count: Nine more hours of darkness. Eight and a half more hours of darkness. The time is slowing down, stopping, going backwards, laughing at us. The night is here to stay.

Ivo is out on the deck holding on to the rigging, screaming at the world above and the world below, losing it:

“Why, Night, why? I can’t see anything! I can’t do anything! That’s enough! Stop! There is nothing I can do; I don’t see! I hate you Night; how can I fight if I see nothing, if I’m blind? This is not fair. I am sorry. I didn’t know… I don’t see, I see nothing…” His hopeless howls are terrifying us more than the storm.

Maya is crying. “Mum, let’s call someone on the VHF, let’s ask for help. Let’s call!”

“There is no one around us, there is no one to call, we are all alone,“ I cry back. „Plus, we are not sinking yet, so we have no reason to call for help.”

We can only call nearby vessels on the VHF radio, we don’t have a satellite phone (we don’t have any phone), and there are no vessels near by. We have never been more alone, more abandoned.

We are also beyond exhaustion, especially Ivo who has broken all records for staying awake up on his feet, night after night after night.

“You deserve it,“ I yell at him, „but we don’t!”

The port engine suddenly stops. We are left with only the starboard engine, but the boat keeps going. The boat, our Fata Morgana, keeps going, against the wind, against the waves, against all odds: she takes it. She is like a brick house, they told us, heavy and stable. Such are the Leopard catamarans built in 2001, you will see when you hit bad weather.

Sometime after midnight on the third night, Ivo falls asleep in the cockpit. Viktor and I take turns at the helm, although we do nothing, just sit there and stare at the GPS and the wind-speed indicator. Wind is still the same. The autopilot is navigating and the starboard engine is slowly pushing us towards Cuba. Twelve miles left. Six more hours of darkness. How many more waves?

By this time, we are beyond fear. You can only feel fear for so long. After some time, you just get used to it, accept your situation, prepare mentally for all the imaginable possibilities, for the worst, and ride it out. You kind of become numb. But you never stop hoping. We came so far, why not getting all the way to the shores of Cabo San Antonio? Why not getting to the shallow calm waters where our anchor can reach down and grab the sand? Can you imagine? Land, safety.

Then I fall asleep.

The next morning is the most beautiful perfect morning in our lives. Fata Morgana is anchored, gently swaying on top of crystal blue waters. I can see the bottom underneath. The shore is so close. We sit in the cockpit in silence and look at each other smiling. We breathe. We breathe as if it is the first time we are breathing in our lives, like if we are being born, but realizing it and enjoying it so much, big gulps of air, can’t get enough of it.

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16 Advantages of a Simple Kayak

A simple kayak will:

 

1. Get you to a shallow place

A simple kayak will take you to the place you want to go, even if it is too shallow for a dinghy.

The drought of a kayak is 0.0002 ft.

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Near Comunidad Indigena Caxclampon Pataxte, Guatemala

 

2. Get you to a quiet place

The kayak has no engine, therefore it makes no noise.

Sneaking near an indigenous home on Lake Izabal, Guatemala

Sneaking near an indigenous home on Lake Izabal, Guatemala

You can sneak upon people’s properties without being noticed; or float downriver without disturbing the wildlife.

 

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Floating down the River Polochic, Guatemala

3. Get you to a tight place

You can paddle even in mangroves, between roots and branches.

 

Mangroves near Cayo Levisa, Cuba

Mangroves near Cayo Levisa, Cuba

4. Get you to a beautiful place

With the kayak you will be able to explore the most beautiful places on your journey.

 

Lago Izabal, Guatemala

Lago Izabal, Guatemala

5. Not pollute the waters

Keeping the environment clean (and having your conscious clean) is another advantage of not having an engine.

River Lilies

River Lilies

 

6. Save you money

This is an obvious one. No engine= no fuel= no dollars

 

Mira and Ivo paddling. Photo bi Joni Spencer

Mira and Ivo paddling.
Photo by Joni Spencer

 

7. Provide a nice spot for kids to do art while under sail

 

8. Provide a dark shady spot on the boat for resting

Maya sleeping under the kayak

Maya sleeping under the kayak

9. Keep you in shape

Paddle, paddle, paddle! Often living on a boat means less physical exercise. Paddling the kayak will make you spend that extra energy and it is good for your heart and muscles.

 

Maya and the kayak in front of Fort Jefferson, Florida

Maya and the kayak in front of Fort Jefferson, Florida

10. Take your kids and their friends off the boat

The kayak will become a favorite jumping-off platform and transportation for your kids, no matter how old they are. They will paddle between boats to pick up their friends, go to shore, or to explore the region.

Maya and Noial in Rio Dulce, Guatemala

Maya and Noial in Rio Dulce, Guatemala

 

11. Provide transportation for Cuban officials

If you ever sail to Cuba you will be unpleasantly surprised how many times you will have to deal with officials. Every time you move the boat from one cayo to another you will have to do another immigration checking out and checking in. The Cuban officials will board the boat every time to verify if there are any undocumented people on board (you are not permitted to have Cuban friends visiting the boat EVER even if the boat sits at the marina). Making the officials paddle to the boat instead of taking them there by dinghy is a nice little revenge.

 

The Cuban officials will come aboard no matter what; if you are on a dock or at anchor.  Here Ivo and an immigration officer paddle the kayak, El Poderoso (the name of the kayak means The Mighty One in Spanish) back from the boat anchored at Cayo Levisa. Fastest kayak ride ever, said Ivo.

The Cuban officials will come aboard no matter what; if you are on a dock or at anchor.
 Cayo Levisa, Cuba

12. Be loved by children everywhere

When you show up with a kayak in an indigenous Mayan village in Guatemala, you become The Event of The Year. Not you, the kayak!

Finca Jocoro

Finca Jocoro

There hasn’t been any scientific research done on the subject of How many indigenous kids can sink an unsinkable kayak, but the experiments have already started.

 

Near Finca Jocoro, Guatemala

Near Finca Jocoro, Guatemala

13. Help you make friends

Your new indigenous friends will visit your boat if you invite them. They are as curious about your way of life as you are about theirs.

 

Friends from Playa Pataxte visiting the boat

Friends from Playa Pataxte visiting the boat

You may take a few kids to the boat on your kayak, the rest will arrive shortly with their lanchas and cayucos.

 

Our kayak also has new friends!

Our kayak also made new friends!

14. Transport you and your groceries

You can park your kayak on the docks everywhere and visit the local village or town. Be sure to lock it against theft, though. When you comeback with bags full of fruits and vegetables, the kayak will be there for you. It will take more load than you think.

 

Agent Orange waiting for us next to Angelica and Andrea... Rio Dulce, Guatemala

Agent Orange waiting for us next to Anthonia and Andrea…
Rio Dulce, Guatemala

15. Transport 10 cases of 24 beers!

Yes, it will. You can load as much cases of the cheapest beer you ever saw on a simple kayak as you want. 10 is not the limit!

 

Ivo, happy, with 10 cases of Brahva, El Estor, Guatemala

Ivo, happy, with 10 cases of Brahva, El Estor, Guatemala

16. Pull your boat

When there is no wind there are but a few alternative ways to advance with a sailboat without using engines. Put your flippers on and go push the boat; or jump in your kayak and pull! Ivo has done both, but he prefers to pull: it’s more efficient. His record speed pulling the boat by kayak is 0.5 knots!

Ivo pulling the boat, Lago Izabal, Guatemala

Ivo pulling the boat, Lago Izabal, Guatemala

 

The story of Agent Orange

 

A few months ago, our good friends Neith and Sherry gave us a kayak along with a bunch of other useful things, before heading off to the desert in New Mexico where they will take part in The Solar Ark Project. We named the kayak El Poderoso which means The Mighty One in Spanish after Che Guevara’s famous motor bike. But after some time, we nicknamed him Agent Orange, as the kayak’s most notable feature is his bright orange color.

 

Agent Orange is a simple plastic unsinkable kayak. We didn’t realize then how much we will be needing it on our travels. The kayak became one of our most treasured possessions. We use it for transportation to go from the boat to shore and back when we are anchored someplace, as well as for a number of other things and I am sure that the list of ways to use it will keep growing with time.

Sailing into the sunset

Sailing into the sunset

 

 

 

 

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Maya’s New School

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„Good morning students! This is your new classmate, Maya. She will be studying with us in fourth grade. I want you to welcome her in our class and show her respect. Maya comes from another country, from Canada. We all have to help her to feel welcomed in our school and in our country, Guatemala. We are all happy when someone from another country comes to study with us. That means they want to learn about our country, our culture, and language. But we are also lucky to have them among us because we also learn from them, about their country and culture. The foreign students enrich our knowledge about other places in the world. And this is why today we are very fortunate to have Maya with us, we have to appreciate this. Welcome in fourth grade, Maya! Luis-Pedro, bring a chair and a desk for Maya from the other room and put it over there.“

 

Maya's classroom

Maya’s classroom

 

Facing the class, Maya beside him looking at the cement floor, her heart racing with excitement, el profe Estuardo says these words in Spanish, his right hand resting on Maya’s shoulder. She doesn’t understand what he has just said, she doesn’t speak Spanish yet, but I do. I lean at the door of the classroom peeking inside. About twenty kids in uniforms, from eight to fourteen years old, are standing up very still, listening carefully to their teacher. His words bring tears in my eyes. I will never forget this moment. 

 

Maya's first day at school.

Maya’s classmates on her first day at school.

 

Maya starts school two days after we arrive in Rio Dulce. The subscription procedure takes less than a minute consisting in meeting the teacher and asking him if she can start school. Sure she can, no problem, he answers with a smile, and so she is immediately admitted. No paperwork, no photocopies, no fees. The only thing we have to provide is a few cuadernos (notebooks) and a school uniform.

 

Taking measurements for the school uniform. This woman is the only tailor in the village who makes the girl's uniforms.

Taking measurements for the school uniform. This woman is the only tailor in the village who makes the girl’s skirts.

 

The school is a small one-story building under a great ceiba tree: a row of four classrooms with permanently open doors and windows where a total of about sixty local kids between five and fourteen years of age gather every day from 7:40 am to 12:30 pm. There are a bunch of sun-stricken village dogs who also attend the classes on daily bases walking in and out the open doors, undisturbed, occasionally chasing the neighboring chickens who venture in the schoolyard looking for bugs.

 

Kids in front of the school building

Kids in front of the school building

 

The schoolyard is covered with gravel and mud puddles, with palm trees and flowers that never cease blooming in the humid hot air of Rio Dulce. Between classes, kids run around and women from the village come to sell snacks: coquitos (peeled orange halves with salt and pepper), jugo (juice), heladitos (small ice creams).

 

 

Maya playing with the kids in the schoolyard

Maya playing with the kids in the schoolyard

 

In the morning, instead of a school bus, a lancha passes by to pick up Maya and the other boatkids as well as kids who live further down the river.

 

The school lancha (like a school bus) passes every morning in the anchorage to pick up kids

The school lancha (like a school bus) passes every morning in the anchorage to pick up kids

 

Maya is not the only boatkid going to El Relleno school.

 

Cline, 4, s/v Souricat

Coline, 6, s/v Souricat

 

Noial, Lovam, Ilan, and Coline, also go there.

 

Lovam, 5, s/v FriendShip

Lovam, 5, s/v FriendShip

 

Maya loves her new school. Next Monday, she will be doing an oral presentation about Guatemala’s national flower, La Monja Blanca.

 

 

Maya waiting for the school lancha in the morning

Maya waiting for the school lancha in the morning

 

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Waters with a Taste of Mountains.

„First the earth was created, the mountains and the valleys. The waterways were divided, their branches coursing among the mountains. Thus the waters were divided, revealing the great mountains. For thus was the creation of the earth, created then by Heart of Sky and Heart of Earth, as they are called. They were the first to conceive it.“

-Popol Vuh

River and Mountains

River and Mountains

 

Very gently, like a thief entering a sleeping house, the fairy Morgana slides through the gates of the mountain: the mouth of Rio Dulce. It is the entrance to another world. Rocky shores (temples without roofs) overgrown with dark trees. Dark trees (sorcerers with sleeping birds and snakes in the hair) stretching thin fingers down, down to the green waters of the river. Green waters of the river (messenger of the tallest mountain and forgotten places) carrying aromas and the petrified reflections of ancient gods.

 

The Entrance of Rio Dulce

The Entrance of Rio Dulce

 

Nothing happens. Like in a vacuum. Like in a dream. Rocky shores, dark trees, green waters of the river-serpent. Only forest butterflies, men of maize in cayucos carved from tree trunks fishing with nets made out of Mayan secrets, and our alien boat sailing through the mountains perturb the slumber of this enchanted world.

Nothing happens for three days and three nights. We remain anchored near Cayo Quemado, a few mile before the town of Rio Dulce, unable to continue, slowly letting Guatemala soak in our bones through our skins, through our eyes, ears, and mouths.

Our mornings are populated by crystal drizzle, the smell of small fires, and the cry of a black forest bird.

A silent cayuco sneaks next to our boat. A mother with three children older than time are selling tamales. She made them this morning over the fire, with her hands and her magic. She put a chicken bone for a skeleton in the middle of corn-rolls and wrapped them, like you would wrap a newborn baby, in palm leafs. Over the fire, under her spell. They taste of palm leafs, smoke and flesh.

 

Quiche woman with baby selling Tamales from her canoe

Quiche woman with baby selling Tamales from her canoe

 

Our afternoons move slowly in the heat of the summer and even stop for an hour or go backwards. Time here is not the same.

On the second day we meet the river people. Half human half fish they live in the river from the waist down and in the forest from the waist up. They have small wooden houses built on the river banks. Their canoes glide like snakes on the surface of the waters. They have no other roads but the rivers. Their enemies are the invisible river crabs.

 

River People's House

River People’s House

 

Our evenings are purple with white dots. Purple like the mountain. The white dots are river lilies and egrets returning to sleep in the trees.

 

River Lilies

River Lilies

 

Our nights are filled with the distant songs of frogs and cicadas, and the melancholic cries of the river manatees.

 

Sunset over Rio Dulce

Sunset over Rio Dulce

 

Daily prompt 

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