May 21st, 22nd 1982

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Wrapped up against the weather

A common or garden day under sail – + really under sail this time.  The wind was thoroughly against us, but nonetheless Jack decided to hoist the sails, + start to tack.  That was certainly OK by us – sailing is far preferable to motoring.  It is far more restful + peaceful, + also provides a far smoother ride (compare the handwriting for yesterday’s page, written under sail, + today’s, written while motoring.)  Under sail, the boat keels over to one side, + then just pitches up + down.  With the engine on, the  boat just ploughs on thro’ the waves, pitching + rolling violently.  Unfortunately, we had to switch from sail when we met a storm in late afternoon, so dinner had to be prepared under difficult conditions.  (Delicious tho’ – steak + potatoes.)  Val + Alma not feeling well – sea-sick, especially when down below.  I even felt not perfect myself, + I’m never sea-sick (as I keep telling myself.)  My turn for the dawn watch, 4 till 7 (we’ve moved them all back 1 hr.)  Very tedious – not a ship in sight, + nothing to do.  Tho’ I did see my first shark, the usual ominous dorsal fin, then a dark long shape, 5 or 6 ft  long, right next to the boat.  Weather squally + unpleasant, + the wind still in the wrong quarter, so we used the motor.  I read “The sailor who fell from grace with the sea” (prophetic?) – a frightening tale.  Not much of note for the rest of the day.  Hooked our first fish, but he broke the hook + got away.  Jack put a new hook on, but left the rod lying about, + I got a hook in my bare foot, tho’ luckily without damage.  In the afternoon, Val cooked a superb stew, (tho’ she would put lentils in it!) which was appreciated by one + all.  And after that it was just about time to start the watches.  Mine was first, 7 till 10, + a dismal 3 hrs.  The weather was lousy, + the time dragged.  About the only excitement (?) was that the running lights kept going out.

Of course you can’t compare the handwriting, but believe me, the difference was notable.  Otherwise, just a pretty normal day on board – passing the time reading, eating.  Unless there is something dramatic going on with the weather, it is all just a bit dull.  In particular, we were well stocked with film for the camera, but soon discovered there was very little to take pictures of, with the ocean in particular being spectacularly dull; there are only so mant pictures you can take of the ship’s wake, and the rest of the view is uniformly dull.  But we are travelling, with the prospect of more exciting adventures to come.

May 20th 1982

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Alma, Val and Jack

Our departure time was put off until 2 – first, because J + A wanted to see if their friend Jan was returning on the morning launch, + then because Jack wanted to pass Cape Malo in daylight tomorrow, so that he could calibrate his walking log.  In the meantime, I completed a couple of jobs Jack had asked me to do – file off the rubber post cap so that it would sit properly, + hang a picture.  The first job I completed to my satisfaction, the second less so (the picture hung crooked).  However, those little chores completed, + lunch finished, we winched up the anchor, started the motor, + set off.  And you can believe me, it certainly felt good to be on our way again – we have had more than our fill of Panama, especially since we were only going to stay for 3 or 4 days.  One huge advantage of the Alma over the Crusader is that it has an automatic pilot, relieving one from the tyranny of the helm.  They only keep a formal watch at night – during the day, just anyone who is up on deck keeps an eye out for ships etc.

A leisurely afternoon – I finished reading “Beggarman, Thief”, the sequel to “Rich man, poor man” – of course, + tho’ I sort of enjoyed it, it wasn’t anything like as good as its predecessor.  Far more melodramatic + unreal.  I’ve now moved back to “Kon-Tiki”, which I’d started but not completed, + val, having finished Catch 22, joined me in a nautical oeuvre, a book of short stories called Sea Quest.  A good meal of onion soup, followed by mango pie, + then at 8 the watch began, 3 hrs apiece.  Val had 8 till 11, Alma 11 till 2, me 2 till 5, + then Jack.  I slept till my watch, + even so did not find it easy to stay awake.  There is a good system they have worked out, using as kitchen timer to mark off every 30 mins, when one should check gauges etc.  The rest of the time, you just watch out for ships – or rather lights.  I was delighted when 5 o’clock came, + I could crawl back into bed for a couple of hours.

Ande so, a life on the ocean wave – at last! – and relatively calm and emotion-free on board. It is fortunate that they have a substantial library on board, as it is clear I at least will be getting through them very quickly. And the autopilot really does make a huge difference – the thought of manning a tiller 24/7 is a daunting thought… but that was what we had been due to manage.

May 18th, 19th 1982

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Val + Alma went off to do some washing ashore (if you understand me) in the morning.  Jack worked on his rudder post, and I got on with my assignment: fitting up a couple of fans, one in our cabin, + one in the main saloon.  Electricity is not my forte (I sonmetimes wonder what my forte is) but I was pretty well pleased with the job I’d done.  Val, Alma, + a friend of hers called Joan, came swimming out at lunchtime, dragging the boat behind them, + then lunch once again – a grilled cheese sandwich – quite delicious.  In the afternoon, Val + I cleaned the sides of the boat – she did one side, I the other, + seeing as everyone else had disappeared for various reasons (tho’ I don’t really think anyone would have complained had they been there) we took ourselves a cleansing, refreshing swim.  We went over to the village later, to have a beer, to see Joan off on the ferry, + to shower.  By the time we got back, + had eaten, time for bed.

Today, with any luck, we would be under way (again).  However, first things first.  Val + I were dispatched to the island to undertake the great mango hunt.  J + A had a friend on the island who had several mango trees in her garden, + tho’ she was absent, we had permission to purloin what mangos we could.  Alma had the idea that I would be able to climb the trees, but when we arrived, I only had to look at the tree to reject that notion.  In fact, we were beginning to despair of returning with any mangoes, till we discovered we could get Val up onto the roof of Jan’s bungalow.  From there, she could pick some + knock others down, so we ended up with quite a respectable total.  We bought some bread, had a farewell beer on dry land, + rowed back.  Jack was still working on the rudder post, so it didn’t look as if we would be leaving today, especially when, just as he’d finished, 2 friends arrived in their boat to invite J + A over for a farewell drink.  Still, a good meal in the evening, + the promise to leave tomorrow.

We have become used to delay – it seems to have been our major way of life for ages now – but it does seem as though we are going to be off soon, and Jack seems to be a more experienced sailor than Dave, and so with greater hopes for a successful journey.

May 17th 1982

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Panama Day!

Shopping day.  Panama day – with any l;uck our last Panama Day… in the city anyway.  An early start, up at the crack of dawn (6) + over to take the 7.30 ferry.  Once there we split up, Jack to see to his purchases, the rest of us to see to ours.  The Post Office + bank first, + then I strolled over to the travel agency in the YMCA, to check out flights on from Tahiti.  Needless to say, they were ridiculously expensive, + Jack + Alma seem to think we only have to put up $600 apiece as our bond for leaving, so we left it (+ may live to regret it.)  We then caught a taxi to visit a friend of Alma’s, Anita, a writer + painter, in an apartment overlooking the ocean.  She was very nice, made us coffee, drove us to the supermarket, + arranged to meet us for lunch.  Then a swift dash around the shelves – tho’ we didn’t load up nearly as much as I thought we would – no more than I’ve seen plenty of the farmers’ wives shove into their baskets at Norman’s.  The biggest pain was getting a taxi afterwards – the crop was scarce + the competition fierce.  However, we managed it in the end, + then had to guide our driver to our destinations: first, a Chinese fruit + veg market, + then to the Yacht Club.  First real work of the day – lugging all the boxes ‘n bags down the stairs.  A leisurely couple of hours then, before lunch – Val + I had leathery hamburgers + tough chips.  J + A had arranged for a friend of theirs to come by + pick us all up, so, when it looked as tho’ he wasn’t coming (+ after work 2 – lugging all the stuff back up again) we persuaded some delivery guys with a van to deliver us + groceries to the pier.  Jack then shot off again to buy some ice (meanwhile, work 3 – groceries onto ferry) + while he was away, friend turned up – with ice.  It was starting to look as if Jack would miss the ferry too, but he turned up in the end, in the nick of time.  A hectic, busy day, + by the time we were all on board the “Alma” once again – it took 3 dinghy trips to ferry everything across – we were all shattered.

All a bit procedural, running through chores.  But there does at least seem to be a sense of urgency, a feeling that we will soon be on our way… again.

May 16th 1982

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Taboga

Quite a lazy Sunday.  In the morning, J + A were going over to Taboga to look for a piece of wood, so that he could fix the rudder, so we went along too, just for the walk.  I’m not sure we were wise, tho’, as a long hot walk it turned out to be, right to the other end of the village.  However, we found a suitable piece, + rewarded ourselves first with a swim, + then a drink.  Then Val + I swam back to the boat.  Once we’d said we would do it, we were both a little nervous at committing ourselves.  It’s not that it’s a long way from ship to shore, but we’re neither of us strong swimmers, + our (my?) confidence is even weaker.  Still, we made it, (as you’ve probably gathered) tho’ I for one was glad to feel my feet on solid deck once again.

From then on, very little.  Val unpacked, then sewed, while I caught up with this thing, + then read.  I’m reading “Rich man, poor man” + tho’ at first I thought it would be too soap opera-ish, I really got involved with it (as one is intended to with soap opera, I suppose.)  And that just about accounts for the day, apart from dinner in the evening.  It’s a relief to be with people who don’t necessarily regard reading as a worthless activity.  In fact, tho’ it’s early to say, + I shall probably regret saying so, J + A seem to be an improvement on D + M.  At least they don’t row all the time, so there’s not the dreadful atmosphere that you could cut with a knife that often was present aboard Crusader.  There are debit marks too.  Alma is inclined to be bossy, but that’s easy enough to live with.  Jack is tight with his money – quite an old woman about it,  but that shouldn’t be too much of a problem at sea.  They don’t keep booze aboard (because of the expense, I suppose.)  Worst of all is the generation/culture gap – we don’t really have a thing to talk about.  Still.  Not for long, eh?  And the boat is definitely a step up the ladder – a modern fibre-glass boat, in beautiful condition, immaculately furnished, + with our own cabin.  Who could gripe?

All looking positive so far, even managing the swim – I can be a nervous soul about such physical challenges.  It is a little difficult to write this and try to respond to the diary entry in question, and not allow what I know of the future to intrude.  And on that, somewhat gnomic point, I shall conclude.

May 15th 1982

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The “Alma de Libertad”

Up early + immediately busy – today we were away from Colon – for good we hoped, + off to Taboga.  Showers first, then coffee + toast aboard Crusader, then packing, + a final load of washing, all at a furious pace so that we wouldn’t miss the 9.50 train to Panama.  To the last, Dave trotted out the same clichés, about how sorry he was that it hadn’t all worked out, but that he wasn’t going to battle all the way across the Pacific etc etc.  Poor sad man.  Goodbye, kiss kiss, + a near trot to the station.  Needn’t have bothered – we’d forgotten it was Saturday, with a different schedule.  So we sat around for an hour, drinking milk, reading the paper.  Then our last transcontinental train journey, getting off at Balboa, + walking, heavily-laden to Pier 18, finding it, after one false start, with the kind assistance of a local lady.  We knew we’d missed the 12 o’clock ferry, so after checking when the next one was (5), + having a glass of milk in the café, we decided to while away the afternoon in the theatre.  We’d noticed Balboa High School was putting on a matinee of Godspell, so we trudged back there.  It was pricier than we’d imagined – 3 bucks cada uno – + I’ll admit I didn’t have high hopes for the quality of the thing, but really, in virtually every respect, it was absolutely stunning.  The singing, the dancing, the acrobatics, the set, all the technical stuff, was all of the highest quality.  Jesus lacked a little charisma, + Val didn’t like the script, but otherwise…  And one moment, at the very end, when the stage had just emptied, + suddenly Jesus came running back on, was as good a moment of theatre as I’ve ever seen.  Anyway.

Off to the ferry, which we caught in good time, + were met at the other end by Alma + Mike, a friend, who took us around to the house of a friend of theirs, Rene, who cooked us a splendid meal + plied us with drink.  Unfortunately, Jack drank too much + passed out before the meal.  Mike rowed us back, + we settled in to our new home.  A good start.

Which brings to an end our relationship with Dave and Monika, at least for the time being. As has been clear from this diary, we found him a difficult man to get along with, and in the end it was probably as well that we did not set out into the Pacific with his and Monika (and the cats!), as one felt that sooner or later either the boat or Dave would blow up. However, I also feel that I allowed my emotions to run away with me, and that often I was too harsh in my criticism. They treated us astonishingly well, more or less as surrogate children, with both the generosity, and the control, that that relationship implies.

We did stay in touch with them, and visited them in… 87 maybe? Their Pacific adventure had come to a close shortly after we left, and they were back in the States, living in their property in Indiana. Dave was much the same as ever, taking us out into his backyard for some shooting practice, sending us off down river in a canoe… but generally being a good host. His latest enthusiasm was the MIA, looking in SE Asia for US servicemen missing in action, aqnd he had already visited as part of this. Have to say, it all sounded a bit Boys Own adventure to me, but then, that was pretty much how Dave saw his life.

For many years, we exchanged Christmas cards, but he died some ten years ago – we received a nice letter from their son, informing us of this.

But for us, a new vessel, a new purpose… new hope!

May 14th 1982

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The Crusader – a final picture?

The first piece of news I received was that Dave couldn’t get the engine to start.  That immediately signalled my work for the morning: to sit + hand Dave tools.  I am not complaining, since he certainly had the hard part.  Being stuck with your head in that engine is no joke – it’s hot, hard + sweaty.  Nonetheless, acting as fitter’s mate to Dave is no joke either.  Val was wise – she trotted off to Lawrence’s boat to do a couple of pieces of woodwork over there – minor repair jobs – + while she was at it got a bit carried away, going into the whole spring-cleaning bit, inside + out.  She was back on board the Crusader for the major excitement (maybe) of the day.  Ed Lesesne was trying to manoeuvre the Sleeping Tiger, a big trimaran, onto a new berth.  To do so, he had to squeeze past the Crusader, +, of course, managed to ram us, right smack on the wind vane.  Ho hum.  Dave was not pleased.  Anyway, Dave managed to get the solenoid off, fixed, + back on again, when piece of excitement 2 came along, Buddy telling me I had a phone call from Jack Hughes.  “Well, are you coming?” he asked, to which I replied no, because $10 per day each was too much.  “So what can you afford?”  About half, I suggested.  “Alright,” he said, after a moment.  So then we arranged when we were coming out (after I’d confirmed with Val.)  Apparently, Dave had been a real shit when I was on the phone.  Everyone there had been sticking the knife in on J + A, + Dave had been indulging in a piece of self-glorification, saying how well he’d treated us… + all while Val was standing there.  When I returned with the news, everyone warned us to be careful.

A relatively peaceful afternoon – Monika was annoyed with us, because she’d all but arranged for us to see the captain of a freighter that night.  However, she improved around 5 when Dave broke open the champagne (he can be nice when he wants) + then we followed up with more drinks.  We also went on a grand tour, to say goodbye to various of our yachtie friends – + receive drinks from quite a few.  Doug, Buddy, Ed Kirby, + in the bar Jean, Clay, Ed Lesesne, + Fred the Dentist (Fred + Debbie were away.)  Returned to Crusader late, very drunk, for a meal.

And so, suddenly, another possibility has resurged, been offered, and accepted, and despite the angst that this has caused, we are on our way again! Or if not quite yet, then imminently. I think my annoyance at Dave springs from something which is not explicit in the diary, that he was suggesting, in front of Val, that we had been ungrateful. Despite the inevitable annoyances, this was not the case. Still, it was understandable that he should feel overlooked, and clearly he was able to overcome his feelings sufficiently to give us a proper send-off, champagne and all.

May 13th 1982

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An old photo – I really am running out.

Gary had agreed to give us a ride back to Colon this morning, so we had to get ourselves over to his house.  Kelly didn’t seem to want to drag himself out of bed to row us ashore, so once we’d fixed ourselves a bite of breakfast, he told us to take the dinghy + leave it up on the shore.  So goodbye + away.

At Gary’s in good time (after all my practice over the last day or 2, my rowing was now pretty good) where we sat around for a while, waiting for him to be ready.  However, a far more pleasant ride back to Colon than we’d had coming out, in Gary’s very new-looking Beetle.  I also took him in for a drink at the yacht club (while Val disappeared to grab a shower – we were both pretty grubby), + then, after we too had wished each other Godspeed + good luck, he left.  I moved round to say hello to Doug McAlpine, a New Zealand guy we’d met a couple of days ago, + he bought me a couple of beers, + invited us to call round + see his boat sometime.  From then on, it was virtually the great boat hunt all day – quite a few new ones had come in while we were away, so there was a bit of scope.  Fortunately, D + M were busy with a couple of their friends, allowing us a little freedom.  No. 1 was a Quebecois boat – it took quite a while to get thro’ to them, + then they told us they were full.  No. 2 was a big racing boat, + they invited us on to have a look around – really beautiful inside… but no vacancies.  On to Pier 7, the main visitors’ pier, where we encountered some friendly responses, but no offers.  Dave gave us some work to do now, listing some charts he’d just bought, but fortunately we could do that in the bar.  Where once again we got talking with various people, Val with the English crew of a big 3-master, + me with a Canadian family.  Nobody exactly dragged us on to their boat, but a couple of people said they’d ask for us over their ham radios.  So not a wasted day.  We visited Doug in the evening – he seems a very nice friendly man – + then returned to the Crusader for dinner.  Dave in a strange mood – after the meal, he mysteriously dragged M away for a walk, the only conjecture he wanted to discuss us.  Sod ‘im.

A mixture of serious boat-hunting and taking advantage of the hospitality on offer.  Good to spend some time with Doug from New Zealand – I don’t usually offer plot-spoilers of what ius to come, but there is a name to look out for.

May 12th 1982

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Some ruins at Portobello (not much of a picture, but the best I can do.)

Not much of a day really.  When I arose, Gary had long since left in his canoe, + Kelly + his mate (I still don’t know the guy’s name) were just about to go off fishing.  Which was where they remained all day, till about 5.  That didn’t leave the rest of us much to do – tho’ if we’d really wanted, I’m sure we could have found something.  So we read all day – I read a book + a half, finishing off my spy novel + a book called “The man who gave the Beatles away”.  Pretty trashy really, but of some interest to a Beatlephile like myself.  Kelly + mate finally returned with a vast hoard – a turtle, a lobster, several crab plus a few large fish.  There was so much I was despatched to the mainland to buy some ice to preserve some of it.  I saw Gary there, + persuaded him to come out with me.  Another feast that night – Lucy is a very good cook, tho’ she cooks her stuff rather too rich for me.  I used to consider myself an adventurous sort with food at one time, but I now find myself becoming set in my ways, in that respect anyway.  More of a mellow evening tonight tho’ – the result of less dope + booze, I guess.  I should say something about Kelly + Lucy – interesting people, both.  Physically, Kelly is tall, well-built, long-haired, with many large tattoos + much native jewellery.  He doesn’t look at all like his 41 years.  Somewhat distant in his manner, but with an attractive giggle + grin.  He’s worked in films + photography, mostly in connection with indigenous Indians.  Connections with Survival International, + you certainly get the feeling that he’s seen + done much, + met many people.  Considering his many abilities, strikes one as curiously helpless.  Which is where Lucy comes in.  A recent addition, a remarkably beautiful Panamanian girl, with Chinese blood, with other things to give Kelly – devotion, get-up-and-go, cooking.  Difficult people to get to know, but worth it.

If you are waiting to hear where we are heading next, and how, another frustrating delay, still just passing time in Portobello.  I have very little recollection of Kelly and Lucy now – and could not recall how we had met them – but they have proved to be welcome distractions from our life in 

May 11th 1982

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Portobello bay (but not Survival!)

Up at a respectably early hour, + into town. Today we were off to Portobello, to visit Kelly + Lucy, + see what they were up to.  Also, to be honest, to get away from Colon, +, more specifically, D + M, for a day or 2.  We were able to find where the buses left from, but we had to sit down + wait for an hour and a half before a bus left (one that would take us, at any rate.)  A pleasant enough journey, mainly because we were both engrossed in our books – Val is reading Catch 22, + I had The Eye of the Needle, a very well-written Graham Greene-like spy novel.  When we approached Portobello, I put down my book, + looked out of the window.  Just as well, since I was able to spot Kelly’s trimaran sitting in the bay, + we were able to get off the bus at the nearest point.  A beautiful-looking boat, called Survival.  I yelled a couple of times, + Lucy rowed out to pick us up.  Apparently, I looked like some friend of theirs – otherwise, we might not have received the welcome.  I rowed back (with a slight detour to collect an errant canoe.)   The canoe belonged to Gary, an American friend of theirs who lived in Portobello, who was also on board.  Kelly + Lucy both went out windsurfing, + when they got back, Val + a lack local guy went out to give it a try.  Val didn’t think she did very well, but she looked pretty good to me.  Later, Kelly + the black feller went fishing, + came back with a ray.  Then came the evening sexism, when Kelly, Gary + I went to the bar in town, leaving Lucy + Val to the cooking (the other feller had already left.)  We had a good time – the row across was very spooky (especially since we were a bit stoned), + we downed a few beers before rowing back.  Then, some excellent food, some more grass, + an improvised music session, accompanying some of Kelly’s native rhythm tapes.  Heavy, stoned stuff.

I am going to assume that Kelly and Lucy were people we had met at the Yacht Club at some point – those regular readers with good memories might know who they are, but can’t say I remember myself. Still, it gave us an excuse to get away from Colon for a bit, and though it clearly did not push us any further towards leaving, presumably there was nothing obvious in the pipeline. And it was good to socialise with people who were closer to our own way of thinking. And, of course, to access some drugs once again.