March 31st, April 1st 1982

posted in: Innocents Abroad | 0
Dave napping

A dreadful night, just appalling.  I spent the first 2 hours on the floor, (so Val tells me) + then did sleep for a little while… and then started throwing up.  At regular intervals too, about hoursly, I should say, tho’ eventually I was able to fix that by stopping drinking water, thereby cutting off the supply, so to speak.  Val left at about 8, checked up on me at about 11, + finally my throbbing head allowed me to get up at about 1.15… to a certain amount of fairly understandable good-natured ribbing.   Coffee + a cheese sandwich improved me about 300%, + then Dave sent me over to sand down the hull of John’s boat.  (That’s something I forgot – we helped to get it up on the railway + out of the water on Monday.)  A pretty unpleasant job – hard work, monotonous, + clouds of red dust… one way to work off a hangover, I suppose.  Roberto (Dave’s Cuna helper) + I worked till 6, before I jumped in the shower to wash off as much of the muck as I could.

In the evening, the 4 of us went to a carnival held in the Army base.  A small fry affair, really, but it made a nice change to get out nonetheless.  We ate some junk food, bought some stuff (a few hats, + a silver necklace for Val) + even had a ride… well, Val + I did.  And we sheltered from the rain quite a bit – just like home.

The next day, Val spent the whole day as she had the day before, slaving over a hot sewing machine with Monika, making mostly clothes, while I spent 8 hours at the hull of John’s boat, sanding away.  The dust was much worse today, partly because I was working twice as long, partly because there was no wind to take the stuff away, so I was absolutely covered in the stuff.  I must have got quite a bit of it inside me too, since I definitely didn’t feel good, even after a shower, + I completely lost my appetite, even for Monika’s cooking, + settled instead for a quart of milk.  This greatly disturbed Dave, whose 2 great loves seem to be booze + food, + for different reasons I was off both.  I was dog-tired too, so settled for an early night.  Or relatively so, at any rate – I had to persuade Val to stop sewing at about 11.

March 30th 1982

posted in: Innocents Abroad | 0


Tuesday the 30th was rather more productive, tho’ again not of anything of huge importance.  Val went around finishing the ends of ropes – not in the approved manner with whipping yarn, but with a blowtorch! – while I sawed the ends off some bolts.  Then, when V + M went off on sewing detail, mending clothes, making clothes, making flags – I took a generator cover off, gave it a fresh coat of white paint, and then painted on a blue Maltese cross.  I was quite pleased with my achievement – I had to draw it right, then colour it in without going over the edges, never my strong suit at primary school.

In the evening, after an (as usual) splendid meal, we all went over to a party aboard a neighbouring boat, to celebrate him fixing his engines.  Not a wonderful party, but loads of booze, so I proceeded to get smashed.  Talked with a couple of people, quite a time with a nice feller called Buddy, about his life.  After that, my memories are hazy.  We left… we must have… + I was the usual pain in the arse, sitting down on the pier etc.  Ho hum.

Once again – and you can sense my growing frustration – a relatively lazy day, not making much progress, actually spending time on a cosmetic task.  But good to socialise, to drink, to chat…

March 29th 1982

posted in: Innocents Abroad | 0

Tricky to document the events of the day, since it is now 3 days on, and as it wasn’t a day of especial note, it has mostly slipped from our memory.  Dave had said that I would be going up the mast – it needs painting – a task about which my feelings were mixed – but he seemed to change his mind in any case.  Dave left to go to the US base hospital in the morning, so as I was left without a supervisor, I left Val + Monika clearing up while I went into town to pick up our photos.  They were rather disappointing, lacking in colour + interest, tho’ as usual, a second view improved them in our esteem.

The afternoon was spent with some piddly little jobs – tying down things (which will doubtless be untied again at least once before we go), checking thro’ some fanbelts, that sort of thing.  The evening was spent in the usual way, eating + drinking to excess, with the TV on as background.

Little to comment upon here, but it did reflect much of our liofe at this time; becoming mildly frustrated at – mostly – doing very little.

March 28th 1982

posted in: Innocents Abroad | 1
Suitably dressed for brunch

Our first night on our new berth was very comfortable, the air conditioning aboard keeping things wonderfully cool – we even had to use a blanket.  And then it was time to doll ourselves up ready to go out to the Officers Club for champagne brunch.  It was odd – Monika seems to be huge in comparison with Val, yet Val got into her clothes with no trouble, while Dave’s clothes – or trousers anyway – were far too big for me, + he’s not in that bad a shape. Anyway, we got ready, + off we went, along with John + Barbara, 2 of their friends (he’s pretty good, she’s a pain in the arse), + Elizabeth, a French girl they’re looking after.  She has just left the yacht she’s been travelling on from Colombia, because it seemed the captain was a slob (though it also seemed she was making a melodramatic mountain out of a mundane molehill.)  The meal was terrific – virtually all you could eat + drink, tho’ the latter was limited to champagne + bloody marys (+ later Bucks Fizz, when it occurred to me that they had orange juice too.)  Unfortunately, the company was by no means up to the standard of the cuisine.  We weren’t even sitting next to Elizabeth, who’d been travelling in South America and so I’m sure would have been interesting.  There was also a far livelier bunch on the next-door table, which didn’t add to our satisfaction.  But still, you know what they say about beggars.  We all got a bit sozzled, some more than others, me a bit less than I expected, + then back to the boat.

The afternoon was very lazy indeed – that’s what comes of heavy drinking in the morning – sitting around, watching TV, + yes, eventually, eating again.  When the days done, + we’d started, + finished, drinking again, + returned to our private quarters, I couldn’t help feeling rather depressed.  About our lack of progress towards sailing.  About a certain incompatibility with Dave + his way of looking at the world.  And something of a return of my old self-dissatisfaction at the way my life is passing.  Ho hum.

Once again we were treated right royally, a huge leap up from sardines and the like, so my apologies for my somewhat churlish comments.  Elizabeth was the first – though by no means the last – yacht traveller that we met who had problems with their captain.  And there are hints of a growing dissatisfaction with the progress – or lack of it – that we are making towards departure.

March 27th 1982

posted in: Innocents Abroad | 0

After breakfast this morning, we collected together a collection of all the bits + pieces of stuff D + M no longer want for a yard sale, a regular Saturday event at the club.  Then Val + I were introduced to our new home, aboard the motor boat of Laurence, a friend of Dave’s.  Work for the rest of the day was: for Val, sitting in some very hot sunshine trying to sell the stuff (and there weren’t many buyers), while I was aboard the new one, first of all helping Laurence to clear some stuff out of it, + then set to work with soapy water on the floor + upholstery.  The boat was really nice, but had been left for just a bit too long, + the damp had made its mark.  A pretty lazy afternoon, just taking plenty of time clearing up, showering etc.  Generally the days seem to fall into  a pattern, of work finishing off at about 4 or 5, then an hour or two of washing up, sitting around, having Dave say what a good job we’d done (after he’d  moaned + complained all day) + then break out the booze + have a damn good meal – Monika is a good cook.  The discussion this evening was the IRA, by the way.  Dave’s solution is, of course, military.

March 26th 1982

posted in: Innocents Abroad | 0
Little Big Foot, ship’s cat

The morning’s work was to finish off the car, just to give a second coat of brown paint to the strips of metal which were worst affected by rust.  And then a third coat too, since the white paint was showing thro’.  When I stripped off the masking paint, it still didn’t look too wonderful – it had only been hand-painted after all – but it still looked a bit better than it had.  Then a few little jobs in the afternoon – fixing up a lazarette cover, collecting together some things for a yard sale.  Then dinner, and booze (plenty of booze; that is definitely one thing that Dave is excessively generous with, is the booze) + a long conversation across the dinner table with Dave.  Dave has the military mind – ultra-style – who can only see the military point of view.  Our discussion tonight concerned Vietnam in particular, and one’s obligation to King + country in general.  Hm, interesting.

Mime and more

posted in: Hotel Lessons | 0
Our group today (missing one)

And so, for the first time, I was able to run a session just one week on (as promised) from the one before.  Now came the time to discover whether there could be any continuity.  And on that basis, it did at first seem like a complete failure. For at 2.00 I was entirely on my own.  I can be patient in such circumstances (if I am brutally honest, there is even a hint of relief that I will not be called upon) so waited, but at 2.30, when there was still no-one else there, I was just packing my stuff and departing to leave when Ali, one of the stars of last week’s session, breezed in.  I was mildly huffy at what I saw as his unpunctuality, but then others drifted in too.  It would appear there had been some confusion about the time, with a large board advertising the class at… 2.30.

In fact, there were nine of us altogether: three from last week, two I had met before at other sessions, and four complete newcomers.  There was the usual haphazard start as people arrived, but this is something I am getting more used to.  And we had our first cross-cultural issue with a game of “zip, zap, boing”, with a Syrian married couple somewhat unnerved by using the word “zip” (similar to a Syrian swear word.)  I had met the same issue in Lebanon, but we were able to move past this relatively smoothly.

The pattern has become to demonstrate (or refresh) a particular Drama technique, and then to get the various pairs to use that in a scene.  Or not, if my powers of communication are not sufficient to get the point across.  We introduced using the idea of a rope, and all seemed happy, but when we shared the results of their own devisings, there were very few ropes in evidence.  Not that it mattered.

It is tricky.  I use mime a good deal in such work, for it moves away from the inevitable problems of expressing themselves in English, but mime has its own particular difficulties, and is scarcely intuitive.  But it does mean that we can all watch, and appreciate, each other’s efforts.  And we have some natural performers.  And others whose confidence builds even during one session.  When one considers (as I am sure is the case) that their exposure to this sort of creative work is so limited, it is very heartening.  And if it means they get out of their rooms for a while, so much the better.

Our final scene was to use an old device of mine (aren’t they all?!): two people annoying each other on a bench, and using increasingly violent – and absurd – means to attack each other.  I demonstrated the approach with Ali, much to the amusement of all present. 

And so, onwards.  Sorted out the time issue with hotel management – they were most apologetic – so hope we can move on smoothly next week.  Onwards and upwards.

March 25th 1982

posted in: Innocents Abroad | 1
Squeezing into the lock behind huge ships

Nobody really expected us to be underway at 4.30, so we’d arranged that Les would come and get us when the pilot arrived.  Rather surprisingly, we were called at 5, + under way at 5.30… things were looking good.  It was really very pleasant moving away from the Yacht Club in the dark – smooth, peaceful.  It is definitely a pleasant way to travel.  However, our early start was soon put to naught, when the pilot received the news on his radio that we couldn’t go thro’ when we were supposed to go thro’, but had to drop anchor for an hour or 2, + sit and wait.  The only advantage to this situation was that it enabled us to sit down + have a proper breakfast – pancakes + maple syrup.  However, finally we were ready to go thro’, lashed together to another small yacht, + edging in behind a great big freighter.  Once we were in, + the gates shut behind us, the guys threw down a line to us from each side.  We connected our ships lines to these, + they were pulled up + made fast to capstans at the top.  Then, when the waters came pouring in to fill the lock, the ropes had to be kept taut + even, to hold the position true.  This job was gone thro’ 3 times for the 3 locks, raising us up to Gatun Lake.  It was here that the Alpha Centauri “broke down” – really Les wanted to spend some time up on the lake there.  It was quite funny listening to Les telling his story to the skipper of the other yacht, who was genuinely keen to help out if he possibly could.  And since we weren’t aware if the pilot wasn’t in on the story, we nearly gave the game away.  Ho hum.

We hitched a ride back to shore with the launch which took the pilot off (unfortunately thereby missing out on lunch) + then hitched back to Colon – 2 rides – no trouble at all.  In the afternoon, we started work painting the trim of Dave’s car – painting over the rust + cracks really – + then in the evening we all went out to dinner, to a Chinese restaurant for a huge meal.  Couldn’t help thinking, looking back over the day’s work, that maybe Les had some regrets for not taking us on for certain – we got on pretty well, didn’t make idiots of ourselves, + seemed to get on pretty well with everyone: Les, Paul, Linda (the crew).  Or maybe it’s just conceit.

Not sure I know how we came to be crewing for Lesley, but I suppose it was all good experience, and, by all accounts, such crossings are good social occasions. I should explain: all boats, even down to single-handed ones, are obliged to transit with a minimum crew of five, plus a pilot from the Canal Authority, in order, when going through the locks, to have one person on each line, which goes from the boat to each corner of the lock, to keep it taut (and the boat level) during the turbulence of huge amounts of water pouring into (or out of) the lock; the fifth person is to man the tiller or wheel. Hence the need for yachts to take on temporary crew.

And it was at this point that we began to realise Lesley’s strategy in previously offering for us to crew with him as far as Gatun – he just wanted us to fulfill the crew requirements, not to assess our abilities. And his subterfuge with “breaking down” in Gatun was just part of this strategy.

Boat-owners are in a strange position. In many ways, they live a privileged, easy-going lifestyle, but in many cases the boat is all they own, and unless they are retired with a good pension, they often have no other income, especially if they sold everything up in order to buy the boat. Lesley was an example of this, attempting to monetise his boat by offering paid places for crew. But the fact that he wasn’t exactly overwhelmed with potential crew-members shows the weakness of this – most people in a position to offer themselves as crew do not have a lot of money – they tend to be young and footloose, liable to disappear if a better offer appeared, while people with money want something rather more luxurious and comfortable… and it soon became clear that Lesley was not the most congenial of hosts/captains. He was out to save money wherever he could – hence the free stop-over at Gatun… and, in a smaller way, the way in which we were given no booze, no lunch, and, when we left, 50c to cover the cost of the train! All in all, we reckon that he may have been conceited in reckoning he missed out on us as a potential crew, but we certainly did well to avoid travelling with him.

(And there was a certain amount of schadenfreude when we discovered that Linda, his one remaining crew member, left him before the trip across the Pacific.)


March 23rd, 24th 1982

posted in: Innocents Abroad | 0

Before I start on Tuesday, I’d netter add to Monday that Val + Monika spent a large part of the day shopping  – they seemed to get on quite well too.  Right: Tuesday the 23rd.  Dave + Monika left around 10 to go over to the other side – Panama not Russia.  They were going over to help some friends come through the canal tomorrow.  That left us on our own, but before he left, Dave gave us 2 huge books on sailing to read thro’, so we weren’t going to have nothing to do.  First tho’ was some shopping – taking in a film, buying tennis shoes.  In the afternoon, after lunch, just a few little jobs before getting down to our studying.  Telly for a while in the evening, but unfortunately the English language military service here isn’t up to much – lots of very old US programmes + movies, with “General Hospital” – a dreadful US soap.  So, an earlyish night, since tomorrow we were helping to crew “Alpha Centauri”, Lesley’s boat, thro’ the Canal.

So Wednesday.  The pilot was supposed to turn up at 7.30, so that was when we dragged ourselves up + around there.  And that was where we stayed till 11 – 5 small yachts had hoped to leave, + only 2 got away, + we weren’t among them.  Lesley rang up, +, surprise surprise, was put off till the morrow.  Still, it gave us the chance to look at the interior of another boat, + it really couldn’t have been more different.  Crusader is laid out more like a motor home, quite cramped, so that you have to squeeze thro, tho’ at the same time cosy.  The main cabin of Alpha Centauri is incredibly spacious, + the whole thing is fitted out really much more like a modern apartment.  The main difference is the difference in the beam – AC’s is much broader.  Anyway, we said we’d return tomorrow (we discovered later that the time we’d been given to leave was 4.30 am!) + after a peanut butter sandwich, we headed down to check out our visas.  However, we were assured we were OK for a while longer (I have my doubts.)  D + M returned late-ish.

It appears that problems with bureaucracy are pretty much universal, so it was no great surprise that we did not get away on time.  Good to see how different boats are arranged, but no conclusions as to which is better.  Presumably, we will find out later.  Otherwise, a couple of days of inactivity; not unpleasant, but we are starting to get itchy feet.

March 22nd 1982

posted in: Innocents Abroad | 0

Today was the day we shifted the engine.  It wasn’t quite aligned with the prop-shaft, so had to be shifted along an inch or two.  Not an easy matter as you can imagine – the thing is considerably bigger + heavier than a car engine.  For the most part, I acted as fitter’s mate, passing tools more or less efficiently to Dave, who was lying with his face down in the engine, undoing bolts.  A couple of times I helped out when 2 things needed doing at once – putting some leverage up on a bolt, unscrewing something.  This is where I made fuck-up no.1.  reaching down into the engine with a socket on the end of a long extension, I knocked it against something.  Off plopped the socket, + dropped into the bilge, never to be seen again.  Dave was pretty good really.

Next job was putting a heavy wooden beam thro’ both portholes, + throwing a chain round it to winch up the engine, + then more bolt-loosening, + putting in of wedges before letting it down again.  Then came fuck-up no. 2 – when taking the beam back out again, I let one end drop, smashing down onto the chart table, taking down a small wall-mounted tray, + breaking a parallel ruler.  Dave was less understanding this time, tho’ he still didn’t really blow his top.  However, the engine was nicely aligned now, Dave thought, so all there was to do was to test it.  Unfortunately, it wouldn’t start, so after messing about with it for a while, Dave went to find his mate to help him out.  That more or less released me from duty, since there isn’t enough room for 3 people to stand around the engine – I just had a couple of errands to perform, such as beer-fetching + general tool clearance.  Finally, just as it was about getting dark, it was all put together again, tested… + it worked, just fine.

Edson, the mechanic, stayed for dinner, a splendid feast.  Monika really is an excellent cook.  That night, Dave also let us have the cabin, with its double bed, which was nice of him.  I think he rather enjoys seeing Val strip, but it’s right what he says – privacy is a luxury there is just no room for on a small boat.

Not exactly covering myself in engineering glory, never having had much of a mechanical side, so I haven’t already established myself as a complete nincompoop.  I shall just have to try harder to make myself useful.