Monday, October 21, 2013

Polar Pacer's Summer - 2013

Polar Pacer’s Summer 2013

Once again we are preparing for winter aboard Polar Pacer after living on Canadian dirt since the end of March.

Green Cove Springs Marina on the St. John’s River in Florida was her resting place for the summer storm season while we reacquainted ourselves with the Province of Alberta where we had previously lived for many years.

The snow we encountered in Virginia on the trip north at the end of March should have been fair warning to us of things to come.

We drove our rental car across the parking lot from the hotel to the closest fast food outlet for dinner.

After a short stop in Ontario we headed west for more snowy punishment.

The view of Lake Michigan from the northbound lane of the Mackinac Bridge.

Ice fishing on Lake Superior.

Our summer island in Alberta was a 5th wheel travel trailer anchored at Hamilton House Bed and Breakfast Inn near the city of Cold Lake.

Not exactly summer when we first came aboard.

 Local wildlife stopping by for a treat.

The view from the starboard ports around the third week in April. Too white!

Finally – a sign of spring as April turned into May.

Knot in Vein’s new inflatable kayak gets an inland test run on the flooded Sturgeon River in St. Albert before making its ocean debut.

 Urban portage.

What would summer in Alberta be without a rodeo? While presenting no competition for the Calgary Stampede, the Cold Lake rodeo in June attracted a number of out of country spectators who were in the area for Maple Flag military exercises at the nearby air base.

 Rodeo clowns in training.

The winning ‘mini chuck’ team.

June also brought heavy rains to much of the province. Two of my aunts were among the thousands of people forced out of their homes.

Wildflowers were abundant.

After celebrating Canada Day in July it was time to prepare the patchwork quilts for the upcoming silent auction at the August family reunion in Rosebud, Alberta.

 Patchwork sewing was a popular activity at the Reunion and good training for Polar Pacer’s canvas repairs.

The Fringe Theatre Festival in Edmonton has been a favorite event of ours for many years and the August 2013 version did not disappoint. We saw some really bad theatre (Moscow Stations, a one man play starring Clayton Jevne), some really good street performers and a surprise encounter with an old friend while we hung out in the beer tent until the thunder shower passed by.

Green onion cakes are a treat that we cannot seem to find anywhere but the Edmonton Fringe Festival.

Zombie bride??

African drummers with a bagpipe accompaniment.

September came with signs that a reunion with Polar Pacer was not far off.

The latest view from the starboard ports.

 Unlike this little fellow we will not hibernate for the winter. Time to prepare for the southerly migration.

Monday, March 11, 2013

What Was New in Varadero?

Cuba 2012 – What Was New in Varadero?

I was happy to see that the ladies’ side of the shower building at Marina Darsena was newly reopened. If you remembered to turn the breaker on ahead of time you could possibly even have hot water. The year before, the roof top tanks had only one possible heat source – the sun.

 Also new in the showers were these reptilian companions to share one’s personal space with.

Ismaili, the dock master, was sorry to have to tell us that the marina had a new rate schedule for 2012

Prices were up by 10 cents per foot for the first two months (now 50 cents per foot per day fpr the first month and 40 cents per foot per day for the second month) and did not drop down to their lowest rate of 30 cents per foot per day until the third month. Water was up to 10 cents per gallon from 6 cents and electricity increased from 25 cents per kwh to 35 cents per kwh. The higher rates would help to pay for the new power and water service pedestals.

On the walk in to Varadero to use the internet we noticed this tent set up on the outskirts of Santa Marta. It looked like the circus was in town. We later found out that it is a new nightclub.

The bread cart was now making the marina a regular stop on its late afternoon rounds. 

The driver was not allowed to come down to the dock but would ring a bell to inform us that he was out front. The Table of Too Much Knowledge was a good vantage point to listen from with pesos in hand, ready to scurry up to the lobby for fresh buns or bread for dinner.

Varadero was a new location for me to celebrate a birthday and the new, privately owned Tio Pepe restaurant hidden away in a residential area across the highway from the marina was the venue of choice for the celebration.

This well presented, delicious spread was way too much food for four people. Lobster, fish, shrimp, chicken, pork, salads, rice and beans, plantain chips, beer and mojitos, and desserts; about $50 including tip. The service was excellent considering the underequipped kitchen they had to work with.

Pat and Addison from Threepenny Opera joined the celebration. 

Ken and Christine off of Sail Away showed in time for dessert. 

Listening to the other cruisers talking about the Sunday Market in Santa Marta it sounded like there had been many changes since the previous year. Sunday market had been primarily concentrated around the truckloads of lower priced and often poorer quality goods brought in from the government farms. With an ice pack in our insulated shopping bag and a few plastic bags for fruit and veggies, we headed across the highway, over the abandoned air strip and through the vacant land on the north side of the village. As we turned the corner onto the narrow street that leads to the market we saw numerous vendors with cart loads of produce and heard the singsong lists of products being offered for sale. Mixed into a string of words that I didn’t understand I heard “mangoes”. It was early in the season so did not expect them to be top quality. The black bean and mango salad we had for dinner that night was perfect.

Mango and Black Bean Salad
1 can black beans
1 can kernel corn
½ diced yellow pepper
3 sliced green onions
1 ripe mango, diced
¼ cup chopped, fresh coriander
½ cup spicy BBQ sauce
Juice of 1 lime
Mix ingredients in a bowl. Omit or substitute as necessary.
The next cart was selling corn on the cob. The husked cob on display was pale yellow and filled with neat rows of perfectly formed kernels. They were being sold by the dozen but I only wanted four cobs. For 8 national pesos (about 34 cents) I looked forward to a treat of fresh corn on the cob with butter and salt. Looks can be deceiving. The kernels were very hard and ripe. Pat thought they were meant for drying and grinding. I think she was right!

There were definitely more vendors on the streets – evidence of Cuba’s move to more private enterprise, a theme that carried over to the main market area as well.
A trip to the market in Santa Marta is an adventure any day of the week. You never know what you will come home with for sure.

Freshly shredded coconut, albeit with song me bits of shell picked up by the rudimentary shredder, was available to purchase at the Santa Marta market. Another new business venture.

Another new offering at the market was these delicious pickled tomatillos, “canned” in recycled water bottles.

Radishes like this don’t happen very often.

4280 Cleaning market vegetables on the dock.

Just down the street from the herb garden in Santa Marta is El Cadiz, a new pelequeria (beauty salon)that was recommended to me by Pat who was pleased with the hair cut that she had received there. I was badly in need of a trim and had some specific requirements. The hairdresser spoke no English. Armed with a few corte de pelo (haircut) words from my Spanish-English dictionary (I had not yet covered that topic in my new Rosetta Stone language learning program.) I explained what I wanted and was impressed with the results considering our limited ability to communicate. It was one of the better haircuts that I have ever had.

New home construction has not slowed down in the ‘burbs’ of Santa Marta.

Out for a walk late on afternoon we met a young construction worker who was happy to be employed in the busy home building industry. Within minutes of our meeting, Eduardo had invited us to his home for coffee. He lives on the property with his aunt and a collection of cousins with their various significant others, most of whom speak no English.With a nine year old girl as translator we were able to carry on a very basic conversation. We learned that one of the cousins was pregnant with twins. The house was sparsely furnished with a new-ish refrigerator and fluorescent light bulbs being the only evidence of modern technology until a copy of an ultrasound was presented for our perusal.

Government sanctioning of a religious celebration was definitely something new. On Good Friday we made the trek in to Varadero to get some cash from the bank only to find the doors locked up tight. We don’t know if this will be an ongoing plan or if it was only in honour of the pope’s visit but for the first time in 50 years Good Friday had been declared a government holiday.
May Day festivities were a noisy, well attended event.

One of several musical entries in the workers’ parade.

A sea of red, white and blue when the procession emptied into the park.

Relaxed and practicing in the shade.

 “Busses” waiting to take the celebrators home.

One of our final “new” experiences in Varadero was fine dining at the very newly opened paladar Nonna Tina serving authentic Italian food.

We joined Debbie, Serge and Madoli for dinner.

The focaccia appetizer that I ordered was different than anything I had eaten before but was very tasty and the lasagne was as good as I have ever had. The service was quick and professional and the atmosphere cozy with only three tables tucked away in the backyard of a home. Not an easy place to find if you don’t already know that it is there.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

A Very Good Fishing Trip – February 4 to 13, 2013

Field Trip followed the shoreline in less than a hundred feet of water while we went out farther where the depths were in excess of 300 feet. A combined race to George Town and fishing derby were underway. Field Trip took the lead in both categories. We were barely out of the cut when they announced their first catch, an 18 inch mackerel. Their speed over ground was also considerably faster than ours. By noon they had announced their third “big one that got away”. It looked like we would be having something other than fish for dinner until we finally landed a 32 inch mahi just before we reached the approach to Elizabeth Harbour. Field Trip were already well anchored by the time we made it in to George Town.

Besides restocking some provisions at the Exuma Market we had a few errands to look after while we were in town. We always return our US cruising permit for cancellation while we are in the Bahamas in order to avoid having it expire when the boat is back in the US. We will obtain a new permit when we return to the US. The rules for renewing state that a permit cannot be renewed within two weeks of expiration and the boat must have been checked in to another country in that time period.

We also wanted to try to activate the internet air card that we had purchased for use in the Bahamas then heard that its success rate was not very good and the support from Batelco left a lot to be desired.

The Batelco employee that helped us with the installation in George Town was knowledgeable and had us up and running quickly after we purchased a SIM card and a $30 pay as you go data card. 

Now we have internet access as long as we are within reach of a cell phone tower. Now that’s progress.

Just when we thought that our engine overheating issues had finally been resolved we had another episode as we crossed the harbour to Kidd Cove to do some shopping. The engine had barely been running long enough to get hot! It turned out that our antifreeze (it seems funny to call it antifreeze in the Bahamas) was too low. We couldn’t figure out where it was disappearing to and stocked up with an extra gallon from NAPA just in case. NAPA is out of town quite a ways but only a short walk if you take the dinghy to the beach at Goat Cay then head north on the Queen’s Highway. If they don’t have their sign up and you reach Darville Lumber you know you have walked at least a mile too far in the heat and will have to retrace your steps.

Painted pods for sale mark the beach access where we left the dinghy.

Even a short stop in George Town warrants a trip to Volleyball Beach where cruisers gather throughout the day for a long list of organized activities or to just hang out and chat.

Mr. Johnson, a local Bahamian historian, gave us a history lesson under the casuarina trees on the beach. It was unscripted and included several personal anecdotes.

Preparations were underway for the Sunday pig roast at the Chat ‘n’ Chill beach bar.

The beach club at the other end of the harbour on Hamburger Beach has had a face lift since last winter and is now known as Big D’s. Musical jam sessions are often hosted here and well attended by cruisers.

It was a good spot for a reunion lunch with cruising friends that we met on our first trip through the Dismal Swamp in 2009.

This will be a short cruising season for us and it was already time to turn around and start making our way north again.

Tom put three hooks in the water as soon as as we had cleared Elizabeth Harbour. It seems that we always catch something on that stretch of Exuma Sound and we hoped to have another productive day.

By 10:45 AM we had caught and landed a 36 inch mahi mahi, more than enough for four meals. We declared it a successful fishing day but kept the lines in the water to see if our good luck would hold.

By 11:45 AM we had two more lines with fish on them. Tom first noticed the rod on the port side bending down towards the water about the same time as he saw a very large fish jump out of the water in the vicinity of the end of the line. We needed to get the other two lines out of the water before everything got tangled up. I quickly wound up the Cuban Yo-Yo line from the starboard side and Tom started to bring in the one in the middle. Tom soon realized that there was a fish on that line as well. In the meantime, the one on the rod was making it well known that he was not happy about having been tricked into chomping down on a bit of wood disguised as a fish, with a large barbed hook attached to it. He was making quite a show of alternately veering off to the left and then the right combined with deep dives and some air borne jumps. We could actually feel the force of his movements on the boat. The hook seemed to be holding fast through all that activity.

How to proceed without risking losing one or both fish?

Best to bring in the smaller of the two first. Hopefully the larger one would keep the hook and tire itself out by the time we were ready for it.

After about 45 minutes of slow and steady winding the line back onto the yo-yo a 4 foot mahi was gaffed, hauled up on the back deck and given a good drink of Smirinoff vodka directly in its gills. The spray bottle of cheap isopropyl alcohol had gone MIA after we used it on fish number 1.

What a crime scene!

Not taking any chances of our next few dinners waking up and deciding to hop back into the water, Tom tossed our catch into the cockpit where I subdued it further with an old bath towel. 

 I think we need a larger cooler.

Then Tom contemplated what to do with the big one. Bit by bit he brought in some line and bit by bit the fish took it back. He still had some fight left in him. The rod and reel were just not substantial enough to handle a fish of that size. First the reel went crazy then the end of the rod broke off. The only option was to hand wrap the line onto a yo-yo.

When the fish was close enough to get a good look we confirmed that we had a big bull (male) mahi on the line. We could also see that the hook was around its jaw which was becoming detached from the body.

When it was up to the back of the boat Tom tried to gaff it only to have the gaff snap and leave him holding the useless wooden handle. The inevitability that the fish was going to die whether we got it on board or not made us more determined not to lose it and have it lost its life in vain. The big question was how to make that happen.

Several of our cruising friends were in the area and had been following the play by play of our antics on the VHF. When we canvassed them for suggestions Corbett on Cookie Monster suggested that we tie a rope around its tail and bring it on board that way. What did we have to lose?

Using a couple of boat hooks we were able to get a rope around the tail and securely tie it to the boat. He would remain there until we were ready for him. Fishing can be strenuous and Tom needed a break.

Fishing, cowboy style.

The remains of the gaff was used to ensure that he stayed on board. Note the lasso also still in place.

The final measurements were 60 inches nose to tail and 12 inches across the his head. Tom estimated the weight to be around 60 pounds.

Tom has gotten very good at filleting since we have been out cruising. Very little is wasted.
We were fortunate to have quite a bit of room in the freezers. After filling them to capacity there was still plenty to share.

We had to slow the boat down to deal with the fish and clean up the mess. Our original destination when leaving George Town had been Black Point. When it became obvious that we could no longer count on a daylight arrival we headed for Little Farmers where we could pick up a mooring ball for the night. There was not enough energy left to look for a secure anchoring spot.