April 30th 1982

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Monika and the fish

An early start yet again – much more of this will kill me, I know.  We called the launch over to pick up John, Barbara, + Eddie, + I went ashore with them to see whether we could buy some diesel, to call another friend of D + M’s to see whether they would like to come out before we finally got away.  Back to the boat, + work again – I assure you boat life isn’t all lying in the sunshine.  In fact, as yet, it hasn’t been that at all.  Their friends arrived + stayed for an hour or so, + then once again I went back with them to purchase the diesel – my last chance of dry land for a while – back to the boat, + then in a short time off we were, into the Big Pacific.  It really wasn’t all that exciting – after 6 weeks waiting, the excitement sort of loses its edge.

Anyway… once we were clear of any immediate hazards, at about 11, Val took the wheel, till about 1, when I took over.  Steering is both easier + harder than with a car.  There’s very little other traffic, + the road is as wide as you want to make it.  On the other hand, you have to keep the  boat to a compass heading, + the blasted thing will keep swinging about.  We kept the engine running all day – we did add a stay sail for a while, but that didn’t really help matters.  We also trailed a fishing line, + much to everyone’s surprise we caught one after about 3 hours, a good-sized tuna.  I burnt my hand trying to stop the line, but it was worth it, since Monika cooked it for supper that night.  Later we caught 2 more, dolphins this time, tho’ one got away right at the end, + one we threw back – we didn’t even have room to put it in the freezer.

Problems late at night, when Dave noticed the mizzen was loose – it ripped the mounting for the back stay right out of the deck, so there was panic for quite a while, Dave rushing round tightening things up.  I took the helm from 7 to 10, + finally came in for some sleep at about 11.  Generally, a good day.

And so, the real thing at last.  Out in the ocean, taking the wheel, catching fish… and then eating it.  All good… except for the mast, of course.

April 29th 1982

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Leaving, and saying goodbye

Up with the lark once again, at 5.30, + just a couple of little jobs while we waited for the pilot to arrive.  Dave, predictably, was worried – about the toilet.  So I had to go + fetch a spare, which we stowed in the canoe.  Ho hum.  Then… off at 7.  A substantial crew: D, M, Val, me, John, Barbara, + Eddy, the young guy.  And a really good transit, I’d say.  What were the highlights?  In our first lock, we tied up next to a tug, + did suffer some damage – not a good start, you might say – losing a fair lead, and twisting the rail round the top of the boat, when we bounced against the tug in some turbulence.  There was a good deal of agonised shouting – aw shits + goddams, but that was all predictable, tho’ disappointing after the quiet discipline of, say, Scott’s boat.  We went thro’ a pretty severe thunderstorm, + consequently got very wet.  These all sound bad things, don’t they.  Right.  On the plus side we made excellent time, at least until halfway.  Then, in the down locks, we first had to wait for an hour, + then spend ages waiting for a big ship to come in behind us.  Even so, we arrived at 7.30… good time indeed.  I also had the opportunity to listen to the Walkman – now there’s luxury.  And, of course, the food was excellent throughout, + there was plenty of booze.  I think Barbara + I successfully managed to get on each other’s nerves, but not so anyone could have noticed.

When we arrived at the Balboa Yacht Club, there was no-one around to show us a mooring, so we had first to go + tie up at the fuel dock.  Dave took the opportunity to call some friends, who came out to visit us.  However, by this time Val + I were bedded down on mattresses on top of the cabin – we were both pretty well exhausted.  Quite a feat, bedding down 7, but I believe it was managed quite well.

This was our third transit (or partial transit) and was probably the most trouble-free, despite the problems mentioned above.  One incident unrecorded – when the lines are thrown down to the boat from the dock, each one is attached to a monkey’s fist, a ball at the end, covered in rope.  We are warned not to try to catch one, as they are hard and heavy, but in one lock, with these things being thrown in, one of them was on its way to smash into Barbara’s head, and Eddy just reached out a casual hand and caught it before it… well, probably killed her.

But we are now on the Pacific side of the Canal, with no intention – or need, we hope – to return.  Onwards and westwards.

April 28th 1982

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Panama City

Everyone had told Val she’d never be able to get me up at 6, so that we could catch the early train to Panama, but she made it, + once I’d thrown up. I felt… well, still pretty awful, but human, anyway.  A cup of coffee, then out for our train.  When we arrived, our next task was to make our way safely from the station safely to the city centre.  We set off in what we thought was the right direction, but were immediately turned back, by someone warning us off our chosen route.  Luckily, a kindly American chanced along, and gave us directions for a safe way.

Primary objective in the  big city, for me certainly, was breakfast, but in this we were at first foiled, since McDonalds, our chosen venue, didn’t open till 10.  Despite my pangs, I was determined to have a last Big Mac, so we got on with shopping in the meantime.  And things went remarkably well.  The main object of the exercise was to purchase my birthday present, a Sony Walkman 2, and straightaway we found the shop where Scott had bought his, + where we paid the same price he had – $115. (He said $125 at first.)  Then, with some walking back + forth, we were able to satisfy pur shopping needs – as well as my craving for McDonalds.  Our final tally was 3 shirts, 2 watch straps, a swimming costume, a pair of plimsolls, a bottle of alcohol (to clean the tape recorders), a pair of socks, + 2 apples.  Plus an extra set of headphones back in Colon.

We returned by bus, missing a 3 hour wait for the train.  M was a bit shirty, saying there was much to do (+ implying we’d been skiving off – a bit of bleeding cheek, we thought.)  As it was, there wasn’t so very much to do, a couple of silly little jobs, which we quickly got out of the way (while Dave didn’t get on with his, blocking the hole round the mast.)  I carried on taping in the evening, finally finishing at about 12, then a hot shower, + bed.  Not the relaxing evening we’d hoped for, which rather annoyed is… but still.

I am assuming we had permission to go off on our shopping trip – I can’t imagine us going off without it – so Monika’s reaction was a little uncalled for. And not so much to do either.

April 26th, 27th 1982

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Eddy on board Crusader

Not a spectacularly busy day.  D + M drove into town fairly early to arrange for our transit, returning with the news that it was set for Thursday.  Val + I were assigned various minor irritating little jobs to do around the boat, but considering the imminence of our departure, + the fact that there were still important things to do, we pretty much wasted our time.  We loaded 2 foldaway bikes on board, stowing them inside the canoe.  Once again, Val was busy with her sewing needle.  Still, a good meal in the evening, sort of spicy meatball things.

In terms of getting work done, Tuesday was very little different.  Once again, Dave + Monika spent much of the day tackling various administrative tasks, leaving a couple of jobs for us to get on with.  The electric and antenna wires running to the mast had to be fastened to the mast – Dave opting for utility rather than prettiness + twisting some old pieces of wire round the steps to hold them in place.  And then we had to screw on the ship’s bell.  In the afternoon, I started our farewell party early, chatting with Eddie, a young guy from the neighbouring boat, and drinking beer.  I also scrounged his tape recorder + a connecting lead, plus some tapes, + started taping, mostly light rock stuff.  However, those activities were curtailed at about 5.30 when the party proper began.  I’d already warned Val that I intended to get drunk, and that was what I proceeded to do.  Fairly sensibly, I stuck with the draught beer that Dave had laid on.  Val braved the Bacardi + coke.  However, neither of us had eaten anything since breakfast, so both beverages had the desired effect.  And I would say it was a very successful party.  Most people got drunk, and everyone seemed to enjoy themselves, with some people who never usually danced dancing.  Finally met Kelly (see March 17th)+ his very attractive girlfriend.  However, Val the life + soul.

All the evidence suggests that we will soon be on our way- farewell party is the biggest clue. Which cannot come too soon, so far as we are concerned.

April 25th 1982

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Val posing with beer (under the express directions of the Captain!)

…was a Sunday.  More than that, it was election day at the club, which took Dave away for the morning.  It would have been nice if Monika had gone too, so Val + I could have got on with listening to the music we like, but she was still around, so Val did some more sail-sewing, on the dinghy sail, while I started to plough thro’ a weather book – weather seems to be my assigned specialty.  Unfortunately, I didn’t understand very much at all.  Still, I persevered.  Dave returned at lunchtime with the news that the good guys (from our point of view anyway) had won most of the places, + to drag us off to a celebratory lunch of Chinese food at the club.  There were drinks afterwards of course, but Dave, then I, then Val excused ourselves slowly, + one by one returned to work, mainly getting Dave up the mast to fix the lights.

In the evening, D, M, me, John, Barbara + Ed went for a Chinese meal – Val was the sensible one who stayed behind to read + listen to music.  Unfortunately, they were all drunk, + I was sober.  To make things worse, a loud argument developed, sparked by club politics.  D + M continued when we got back.  For once, Dave was right.

Still finding it difficult to comment on the day, since the same thing is happening, over and over. Shouldn’t really have any complaints, but we were finding it frustrating.

April 24th 1982

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And yet more frustrating still.  Yesterday we did little – today we effectively did nothing.  Not quite true – Val was busy all day, even though she was just about the only one.  She was assigned the task of some more sail-sewing, and that lasted her up until about 3, when Dave decided work was over for the day.  I did virtually nothing.  I taped for a while.  Then I worked on the 2 foldaway bikes for a while – they too are going with us.  When I compare the clean, open, easy-to-work-on decks of the other boats with our cluttered mess, I could weep.  Oh well.  And D + M did absolutely nothing, so far as I could tell.  Anyway, as I said, an early finish to the day’s labours, which meant an early start to the evening’s drinking.  A good meal too, + then the Oscar show, 3 hours worth.  Val gave up early, but I watched to the bitter end.  “Chariots of Fire” won best picture, much to my surprise (and delight.)

Famously, the Oscar ceremony which announced that the “British are coming!” Otherwise, another of those sort of days. As you can probably tell, I am starting to run out of photos of Panama, but still a trick ot two up my sleeve.

April 22nd, 23rd

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For once, a day of work that was entirely satisfactory, certainly from my point of view.  In the morning, it were as though I were trying to re-introduce pole-squatting as a major sport, since I spent getting on for 3 hours up the main mast.  The job was to fit a new bridge piece (sort of a mini-spreader which sticks forward) which meant having the piece of wood pass up and down various times to be planed, drilled, etc.  The most difficult thing up there is always having to put tools, screws, material away, and then dig them out again, usually discovering they’re in the wrong hand.  However, I seem to have lost completely my nervousness about working at a height, and it is intensely satisfying to be able to complete the work satisfactorily, and see the tangible results. 

After lunch, a variety of small jobs up the mizzen – fixing a deck floodlight, (which didn’t work… and I told Dave to check it) and a couple of aerials.  As usual, we have back-up systems for everything.  Most tricky was affixing an insulated retainer for yet another aerial, out at the end of the spreader, so I had to pull the seat out to reach it.

Finally, was able to relax with a couple of drinks, + then dinner, with John + Barbara present.  A good relaxed evening.  John is very good company.  Dave, as usual, went to sleep.  Although basically a lazy person, I do enjoy working when I get going, + the job is something to get one’s teeth into.

In contrast, Friday was relatively speaking a complete waste of time.  Oh, we got the canoe on board.  And Val spent ages cleaning up the batteries.  And Dave drilled 4 holes.  Which was just about it for the day.  Which is very silly really, since there is still much to do.  Dave put off climbing the mast to fix up the rest of the electrics.  The strain of a month’s work is beginning to tell, I think.  At any rate, Val + I have arrived at one of our pissed off with the Simons phases once again – at Monika’s silliness + at Dave’s insensitivity + bullheadedness.

As I have already said, irritation with our hosts does seem to preoccupy me a great deal at this time; read cumulatively, they come across as a massive whinge, and rather an ungrateful one at that. Still, I can’t go on apologising for it ad nauseum.

April 20th, 21st 1982

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Once more unto the mast dear friends once more… yes, another mast day, much like many of the ones that have gone before (and, the way things are going, many yet to come.)  The most frustrating thing is that Dave is such a poor organiser of labour.  For much of the day, I and sometimes Val as well, follow him around like a lap-dog, merely watching like medical students while the top surgeon performs the operation.  Which is stupid, since there are many things we could do, if only we were told.  It’s true that for very short periods – often in the late afternoon – Val + I are used effectively, but that is such a small part of what is possible.  And yet nearly always at the end of the day, when we sit down to our meal, Dave is very congratulatory about the progress we’ve made.  If we ever really put in a proper day of hard work, I don’t know what he’d say.  I messed around for most of the day, only working in one concentrated burst at about 4, putting up a couple of spreaders, and a few stays, right from the top of the mast – it was fun up there.  V + M were sensible enough to go and get some shopping done in the afternoon – they sure had nothing better to do.

Today, Wed the 21st, was even less productive.  For an hour or 2 after breakfast, I watched Dave drill a piece of metal to fit on the boom, then we fitted it, + then D + M took the 2 big cats to have some shots ( I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned that Fluffy had kittens a few weeks ago – they’re ready to head off into the big world now.)  Val + I went in to get some shopping, and got on each other’s nerves, + then did nothing for the rest of the day – Dave had disappeared to fetch an engine, + returned very pissed off when he couldn’t find part of it, so no more work.  Val + I did take out the canoe for a paddle, at Dave’s suggestion.  It was fun.  A beer or 2 with Ed Lesesne, + then, for once, a different restaurant to eat in, making a pleasant change.

More of the usual frustration, which does reflect pretty accurately the feeling we had of being a bit stuck, but with the prospect of an ocean trip to come, something we felt we had to put up with. Don’t think I have mentioned the cats before (though there was a picture, I think) because they played so little part in our lives. Useful food, I suppose, should we be shipwrecked.

April 18th, 19th 1982

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View of the deck from on high, including my Crusader crosses

A 2-day 1-page entry – I haven’t done one of those for a while, and I’m feeling tired.  Also, the 2 days were very similar in many respects.  However, Sunday morning started off, at least, weekend-style.  We all went out to visit Laurence + Claudia, our landlords, for breakfast.  All very pleasant – they have a beautiful house (tho’ somewhat marred, to my mind, by the presence of 3 bloody great Dobermanns) and the breakfast was excellent.  Returned around 12.30 or so, and began work.

Can’t really remember the different particular jobs for Sunday + Monday, but most of the time I was up the mast.  One general pattern has been to mark off on the wire stays their correct length, then I would unbolt them from the mast and lower them down, + Dave would take them into town to have loops spliced into them.  The trouble was, virtually every time they would manage to mess things up, , making the wire too short or too long, so we’d have to rig something up.  However, we got something done, even if it did take 3 times as long as it should have.  We also got the spreaders put on – I’ll admit I was rather nervous trying to fit them into their brackets – they would have made a nasty mess of the deck.  On Monday, we had to fashion the metal ends of the spreaders first – not easy, so I mostly left it to Val, who has more patience for such things.  I’m more or less comfortable going up the mast now – once I’m up there, + tied on, I’m even pretty comfortable.

A good meal Sunday night – sort of stuffed, rolled meat.  Ed Lesesne joined us, + it was interesting getting them both to talk about Vietnam.  War horrifies yet fascinates me.  The nuclear bomb vs Biggles, I suppose.  Monday night was another pizza night, with John, Barbara, + Buddy.  We’re getting rather fed up with them, but still I must admit I do enjoy the evening – plenty of beer, plenty of food.  Early nights Sun + Mon – I was shattered both nights.

Am becoming increasingly comfortable with working up high, and it certainly gives me a (spurioius?) sense of moderate expertise. I remember Dave telling me that I had obtained a marketable skill… but I had serious doubts.

Ed was one of Dave’s friends, a bit younger than him, and with the usual shattered home life – a wife and children elsewhere. Interesting to hear him talking of Vietnam, and the hostile reaction he had received upon returning; not the returning, conquering heroes, but finding themselves cast as the bad guys, being spat at, accused of mass murder.

April 17th 1982

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Awoken by Dave at around 4, twice (the first time didn’t register.)  Today really was moving day – Dave had the keys to the truck himself, so couldn’t be let down.  We loaded just a few things from the locker onto the truck, and then set off for Laurence’s beach house, me riding in the back.  I passed the time by reading a trashy novel, “The president’s Plane Is Missing”.  Then, at Lawrence’s, the work of the day.  By the time we’d finished, the truck was just about as full as it could be, + only a few things had to be left behind.  I had a cosy little hole left for me, + with a cushion beneath me, + the tarpaulin stretched over the whole thing as a roof, I was just fine.  An uneventful journey too, except when I had to yell at Dave to stop the truck because his ocelot skin was about to fly away.  We arrived at the storage place in good time, and then the workers there took over the bulk of the work.  They certainly knew their job too because they managed to pack it all in – bar about 3 boxes – into really what was a space not much different from a garden shed.  On the way back, I was able to make myself really comfortable – stretched out under the sun in my cushion reading my book.  And naturally enough, there was a beer stop.

After we returned, + just put away the very few items that hadn’t made it into storage, a lazy time.  Val washed the dishes, Monika washed the clothes, Dave disappeared somewhere or other, + I simultaneously watched telly + did some taping.  In the evening, we’d all been invited to a barbecue, a political affair thrown out by one group of contenders in the forthcoming club elections.  D + M are friends to many of them, so I reckon our invite was pretty automatic.  Plenty of booze, plenty of food – unfortunately, we’d just stuffed ourselves with pizza in the afternoon, so I at least couldn’t do full justice to things.  Also, from our point of view, the party was very dull, so it was good to be able to use our early start to the day as an excuse for leaving early… tho’ we were tired.

Just a day of acting as labour for Dave… which is fair enough, considering the way we are being treated.