May 7th 1982

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Next morning, the 3 crew people were off to San Leandro, one of the local old abandoned forts.  They invited us along, but really we were too tired.  However, they also mentioned a guy they’d met in Balboa who was looking for crew, so I decided (with a very heavy heart) to set out once again.  Dave hadn’t given us a very reliable report on Jack + Alma, + tho’ we didn’t accept Dave’s word as gospel, it was as well to explore every opportunity.  So, once more the tedious train trip, + the hot walk out to the club.  Had a run in with an immigration officer there too, who, when I was making enquiries in the office about boats, tried to tell me I wasn’t allowed to go as crew.  I ignored him, + trotted out to the anchorage to contact this guy – his note was still up, so there was still a chance.  Not to be however – I hailed the guy, + he rowed out to me, but he’d taken on the guy he required the night before.  Annoying, what?  Tho’ to be fair, he had only required one person + we were 2.  Still, it was a very hot day, and I was grateful for the ride back to the club from a passing car, + then relaxing in the bar with a coke.  I talked with a couple of guys, but didn’t receive any enlightenment, so headed back to the station – a long wait, + then that journey again.

Val was pretty depressed to hear my news, especially since she’d had no luck herself, other than a bunch of reports of unreliability about J + A.  Ho hum – after some thought, we decided that probably we would pass up on the “Alma” trip.  Plan for the evening, as introduced by Dave, was pizza, + then the casino.  The crewies came along, but Val cried off.  It made for an OK evening, plenty to eat + drink, + the casino, tho’ sloppy by GN standards, was fun.  Everybody won, anyway, except Dave, who didn’t gamble, + me, who lost 50c of Monika’s money.  Seems just about like my luck lately.

It looks like two possibilities disappearing on the same day, which is disappointing, if not entirely unexpected. And rather wearying, chasing down possibilities without much of a sniff of success.

Still, life goes on, including social occasions. The GN reference is to thw Golden Nugget, a casino in Piccadilly Circus, where I worked before we set off on our travels. And taught me, by the way, that gambling is a mug’s game, all the more so in games of pure chance, where the house has a built-in edge that can never be dulled.

May 6th 1982

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Taking the ferry to Taboga

As Dave had already arranged himself a transit crew, Val + I took the opportunity of missing out on this particular trip.  First, we didn’t want to spend a whole day going thro’ the Canal again, especially with Dave, + secondly we had read a note about a boat going off to the South Pacific, which we wanted to check out.  Unfortunately, the thing was out at Taboga, an island just a few miles out.  Scott came out early to deliver the crew, so took us back to give us coffee +_ corn flakes, before dropping us off at Pier 18, where the launch out there left from.  A pleasant enough journey out there, + we were able to hire a small launch to take us put to meet jack Hughes, captain of the “Alma de Libertad”.  He seemed friendly enough, + invited us down.  And the boat was lovely – attractively laid out, + comfortable.  A little smaller than the Crusader, but you would never know from inside – 2 separate cabins, for a start.  Jack told us he was going to Tahiti, and required $10 per day each, plus we needed $600 each to enter Tahiti.  We could afford all this, just, but it didn’t leave us much headway.  Jack rowed us back to the mainland, + we had a couple of beers at the local hotel, + chatted.  The launch back left at 5.30, so we were left to our own devices for the afternoon.  We wandered round Taboga, a surprisingly pretty place, ate a frugal meal of bread + spam, read, + I swam.  Jack’s wife, Alma, came in on the ferry we were to leave on, + she added the unwelcome info that they required all the money in advance, in cash.  Hm.  They invited us out to visit next week, + we said cheerio, not feeling anything like as elated as we probably should have done.  A nightmare journey back – ferry, then a long wait for the last train, then a for walk before collapsing aboard Crusader at 11.30.

A possibility, but already arriving with serious drawbacks – but at least it demonstrates that there are some possibilities out there, even though the season for transatlantic traffic for yachts is starting to come to an end.

May 5th 1982

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Crusader at the dock

The final stretch was just about the worst.  Dave woke us up at about 3, since, much to our delight, we were chugging back into Balboa.  He was his usual jittery self, of course – shouting + yelling, + the very opposite of the quiet efficiency we’ve encountered on other boats.  Despite Dave blowing frantically on his bugle, no launch came out from Balboa Yacht Club to show us a berth – this was much as expected.  However, there was a large boat occupying the fuel dock too, so all we could do was cruise round + round, in the dark, with Dave getting angrier + angrier.  We nearly tied up to the entrance buoy – but eventually just found ourselves a mooring.  Dave cracked open a bottle of champagne – Val + I took a token glass, then collapsed onto our bed on the cabin roof.

After a few hours sleep, I took the train across to Colon, to put under way immediately our search for a new boat.  John + Barbara had left, Buddy was away, + some of the others already seemed to know about our misadventure – Dave had rung Ed.  Still, a few people raised their eyebrows when they saw me, + (under orders) I had to fence a few questions.  A lady called Jean was about the nicest, giving me a beer + a sandwich, + generally just being sympathetic.  By chance, also made contact with an American couple, going to Santa Barbara, + that was a possibility.  Nothing better tho’, so I took the train back.  Discovered we were going for dinner at the infamous Scott’s, along with 3 other people that Dave had hired for the next day to transit (covering himself as usual.)  They seemed alright tho’, – names Ron, Barbara + Tracey.  And the meal was terrific.  Scott was Nanciless, but had managed to provide a most wonderful spaghetti, with plenty of booze, +, (since I was able to get away from Dave) good conversation.  Oh, I am so looking forward to being my own man again, rather than a mere adjunct of his whim.

Back again, and immediately into the hunt for an alternative means of travel.  One problem is that, having spent the last six weeks or so around yachts, we are completely sold on that as the way to move on, at least from Panama, and anything else would seem like a comedown.  Still, we shall just have to take what is available.  In the meantime, we are in a (slightly more) difficult position with Dave and Monika.

May 3rd, 4th 1982

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Porpoises… or dolphins

Dead, dull, depressing days, both of them.  Not that they didn’t have their high points, there’s no doubt about that, but we were just getting angrier + angrier with Dave, not for anything major (apart from the fact that the cunt had turned around for really no reason at all) but for all the little things.  Like the way he wouldn’t take the wheel.  Starting at 3 am, Val + I shared the helm for 19 hours, + then Monika took over for the next 8.  Like waking Val up from a long sleep to close the hatch – + then doing it himself.  For getting annoyed at things which fell over when he was the one who’d put them there.  Most of all for not being what he’d said he was, which was determined + capable.  I’m not saying it was his fault exactly, but we were lost for ages.  The guy couldn’t work out where we were – and didn’t (or wouldn’t) believe it when we did get a reading.  We discovered later that he had been making a stupid mistake throughout.  Not important, but just typical of the guy.  The best moment was when the porpoises started playing next to us, just like in the movies, jumping, diving, etc.  It was fun to try shooting practice at bottles of soda – Val got pretty good with a .22 revolver.  The Walkman got a bit of use too. 

On Monday, one of my best moments was sitting downstairs, drinking a couple of beers, + so getting mildly sloshed, listening to Bobby Dylan on the headphones, + reading James Hilton’s “Goodbye Mr Chips”.  Nice, warm, mellow.  And on Tuesday Val started wearing the thing at the helm.  Probably not the sort of thing we should have done, but we both didn’t really care any more.  On Wednesday, the sea was so calm, so placid, like a millpond, and a hazy fog all around us.  Then, as night came on, nasty, choppy, bouncy water.  I quit the helm + went below, hoping by the time morning came, we would be at Balboa.

The example of the watch, and its haphazard arrangement, was just an example of Dave’s leadership style.  And with someone having to man the wheel 24/7, it would have become something of a burden.  But still, that was now in the past; we were killing time, just waiting to get back to Panama and looking for an alternative.

May 2nd 1982

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Dave and Val

A bad, bad day.  I emerged at about 3.30, + took over the helm from Monika.  At about 5, the same thing happened as yesterday morning when I was at the helm – the engine cut out.  Seemed to be the same problem, so we had to go through the same procedure – engine covers off, + checking the fuel thro’ the various filters.  When we’d just about discovered what was wrong, Dave called a little pow-wow, right there, amongst all the junk.  It seemed a crazy thing to do, because, even more than yesterday, we were just drifting in heavy-ish seas, with no means of control, so we were just pitching + rolling, + gear was spilling around down below.  Anyway, the point of this little board meeting was ostensibly for Dave to consult with us as to our situation, but effectively for him to tell us that he had decided to turn round + go back.  First reason, the engine; second reason, the mast.  Nonsense, I’d say.  I think his heart wasn’t in to the trip in the first place, + these relatively minor problems merely provided an excuse to swing round + head back.  We hadn’t given the boat a proper try.  All right, we had to do some repairs, but that was why we’d loaded the boat up with so much junk, to do running repairs if we had to.  And at the first sign of trouble, we turn back.  Val + I both felt sick.

Anyway, we turned back, + motored for about 2 hours, + Dave came into the cockpit to say we’d try something.  We turned round once again + put up the sails.  She sailed beautifully.  And then after 2 hours, Dave turned us round again, + sailed us back towards Panama.  Unbelievable!  Just destroying any pretence that we were turning back for practical reasons.  Oh, much verbal agonising from Dave of course… the shit.  Val + I more or less shared the wheel for most of the day.  The sailing was beautiful – calm, peaceful, relatively easy.  Val + I hit the sack, together for once, at 8.30.  What a great big wet wank.

You are going to have to forgive me a little here, I feel. I – well, we – was just so angry with this huge turnaround in our hopes, and I felt I had to lash out… and Dave was the obvious target. Actually, I was far too harsh – continuing into Earth’s biggest ocean with various things starting to go wrong was definitely reckless in the extreme. Even so, the fact that, actually, we were so little prepared was a major factor. Dave had done very little sailing, so tackling the Pacific was a step too far, especially with a newly refurbished (and amateurishly refurbished, at that) boat was dangerous. And despite the the fact that we were well-provisioned was no help, as it was not stored in a way suitable for being at sea. And having trays of eggs crash onto the cabin floor was not sensible.

So I was very angry, even if a lot of that was irrational.

May 1st 1982

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Monika at the wheel

Pete’s birthday today – Happy birthday, Pete.  First night at sea – not too bad, tho’ we didn’t really get a great deal of sleep, this looks like being a tiring trip.  I got up at 6, to find Val at the wheel – she’d been up since 4.  After a while I took over, + then encountered our second problem, when the engine cut out on us.  Dave got the covers off, + checked the fuel supply, since that is what seemed to be the problem.  And so it proved, with a very badly clogged fuel filter, which Dave replaced.  It held us up for about 2 hours tho’, during which time all we could do was drift, more or less, the rudder being virtually useless.  Still, back on course once again by about 10.  Monika stayed below for the vast majority of the day, still feeling pretty ill – a combination of sea-sickness + her period.  We encountered some bad weather, but that cleared up later in the afternoon, + I was able to sunbathe while at the helm.  I’ve promised myself to learn a knot a day, and started today with the bow-line – there; that’s interesting isn’t it.  Monika cooked us steak for the evening meal (tho’ I must say, I’ve got rather bored with steak – we’ve had something of a surfeit just recently.  Val took the wheel for a while while I ate, + after, + then I took it back till about 8.30, by which time I was shattered, + so hit the sack, when Val took over again till about 11.30.  I must say we seem to do more than our fair share of time at the helm.  I know Monika has been unwell, but Dave is rarely at the wheel at all.  Yet he doesn’t get much sleep – he just tinkers around, or just chats, or takes cat-naps out in the cockpit.  Talking of cats, they’ve both been very good really, far better than I thought they would be.  Anyway, enough for the day.

First hints of a bit of.. well, friction is too big a word, but suggestions of unfairness can easily fester, and the haphazard way that watch is being allocated – more or less randomly, so it would seem – can lead to such things. Still, apart from the trouble with the engine, all continues to be well.

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.