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Voyage of Traveler / Blog » Caribbean

Voyage of Traveler / Blog

January 16, 2012

Voyage of Traveler: A Three Year Circumnavigation 2007-2010

Voyage of Traveler: A Three Year Circumnavigation 2007-2010
Part 1 of 4 (Click the Play button on the screen and then the video will begin after 40 seconds.)


Part 2 of 4


Part 3 of 4


Part 4 of 4


April 19, 2010

Traveler Postcard From Panama Canal

April 8 and 9
Panama Canal

What a contrast between our two days transiting the Panama Canal, and what an exciting and wonderful experience.  On board Traveler were Barbara and her two longtime friends and our guests, Marsha and Bill Horsfall (he is 87 and this was one of his Bucket List things to do), Brian, two professional line handlers and a Panama Canal Authority Advisor (same as a pilot for ships, but if the boat is under 65 ft. they’re called advisors and get less pay.)

Day One.  On the Atlantic side, at the Shelter Bay Marina, there was some confusion about the meeting time and place for our line handlers to come to the boat.  They were supposed to meet us at the marina, but an hour after the appointed time and when they were very late, I checked my cell phone and saw I missed a call.  It was from our agent to say the meeting place was changed at the last minute.  So now we were behind schedule, and if you are late for your transit appointment the Panama Canal Authority fines you $1,500!  With the two line handlers on board along with our ten rented truck tires, wrapped in plastic so the top sides don’t get scuffed, hung in place as added fenders (very much needed!), we got to the meeting place for the advisor just with 15 minutes to spare, only to find out he was running late (no fine if he is late), and so our appointment to transit was pushed back from 4 pm to 5:30 pm.  Hurry up and wait.

To transit the Panama Canal from the Atlantic to the Pacific, which is generally a north to south direction, four miles south of Colon there are three consecutive up-locks called the Gatun Locks.  After that you motor across a huge lake, Lake Gatun, for about 30 miles, passing ships going the other direction along the way.  Then there is one down-lock, called the Pedro Miguel Lock, followed by the relatively small Pedro Miguel Lake.  Finally, there are two consecutive down-locks called the Miraflores Locks, after which you are at sea level on the Pacific side.  Each lock lifts or lowers about 25 ft., so the large lake in the middle is 75 ft. above sea level.  If you get a very early start, like 5 or 6 am, you can make it all the way through in one day during daylight.  Because of our late afternoon starting time, ours was a two-day transit.

As we were about to enter the first lock, the PC Authority instructed our advisor via radio, along with the advisors on two other yacht, to raft together, with the biggest boat, a 46 ft. Bertram sportfishing boat, in the center. While the line handlers on the Bertram (obviously not pros and drinking beers) were rigging spring lines between the boats, they screwed it up and took 15 minutes to do a job that should have taken just three or four minutes.  During that time, the wind pushed us slowly into the path of a ship that was underway at about 4 knots and moving into final position in the lock.  The ship was unable to turn or stop.  And because we were side tied to the Bertram we could do nothing to get Traveler out of the way of the ship. The ship blasted its very loud horn five times, which is the signal for, essentially, “I can do nothing to avoid the impending collision between my ship and your small boat, and so you must either move out of the way immediately or brace for collision.”  You can only imagine the stress I was having.  It was a very close call, but the guys on the Bertram got their act together (with instructional help in Spanish from our pro line handlers) and managed to move Traveler, the small yacht on the other side and themselves out of the ship’s path.  After that, the guys in the Bertram were needlessly heavy on their throttles, both forward and reverse, nearly causing the deck cleats on their boat to rip out. I found out later the owner of the Bertram was not on board and this was a delivery crew.  Even though we were side tied and basically being towed by the Bertram, to ease the strain on the lines, I was at the helm with the advisor giving near constant instructions: “Forward just a bit, that’s good, now reverse a little. Stop. Turn to port a little, that’s good.”  He was also giving instructions in English (to Brian and Barbara) and Spanish to our line handlers: “Take up the slack on the port side stern.  Keep the tension steady and even on both sides.”  After an hour and a half or so, we made it through the third lock well after sunset.  As planned, we took a nearby mooring on Lake Gatun for the night.

Day Two: The next morning, a new advisor was ferried out to our boat at 0600 and we were underway before the sun came up.  After a light rain shower of 15 minutes, we had a beautiful day.  Shipping traffic was relatively light that day.  We passed, as I recall, about ten ships going the other way as we crossed the lake and went through the Gaillard Cut, named after the chief engineer responsible for the most challenging part of the canal’s construction.

A little history note: In the late 1800s the French tried to build a canal across the isthmus of Panama.  But they ran into construction difficulties, workers were dropping like flies from illness and then they ran out of money.  A few years later, with the clandestine help of the US government, the State of Panama declared their independence from Colombia to form their own country.  The first formal act of the new Panamanian Government was to sign a treaty with the US giving us the canal zone and the right to construct, own and operate the canal.  From 1908 to 1914, under the leadership of President Teddy Roosevelt, the US built the Panama Canal, at the same time both separating two continents and joining two oceans.  But it was not easy.  Altogether, ten thousand people died building the canal, most of them while laboring in the Gaillard Cut through the mountain range.  Many of the deaths were from industrial accidents, but most were from malaria or yellow fever.  One of the French laborers who was hospitalized with yellow fever and nearly died was Paul Gauguin, then in his early 20s. He recovered from his illness and went on to become one of the world’s greatest artists. I have one of his paintings on Traveler, “Tahitian Menu,” painted near the end of his life when he was in Papeete.

When we went down the three locks on the Pacific side, beginning about noon, we had fabulous conditions (daylight, no wind, no rain, good visibility) and to our surprise, the entire lock to ourselves!  Our advisor, who has been doing this for 20 years, said he has never been on a boat that had a lock to itself, or even heard of one.  He joked that we must know el presidente. It was actually just a scheduling fluke, in our favor.

After completing the transit, it felt strange to be back in the Pacific Ocean and once again on the west coast of North America.  Like finishing a good book, for my three-year circumnavigation you might say I’ve started the final chapter.  If you look at a world map, like in the back of a Lonely Planet travel guide, heck, I only have about two more inches to go and I’m back home!

I really wish Barbara could finish the voyage with me.  But she had to fly back to work.  So it is just Brian and me for the final push up the coast of Central America and Mexico over the next ten weeks.

I’m starting to make some plans for a homecoming party at the Balboa Yacht Club for July 3.

Our next Postcard will be from Costa Rica.  Until then,

Living the Dream,
with Brian

April 11, 2010

Traveler Postcard From San Blas Islands, Panama

Filed under: Year 3: July09 - July10 Greece to Newport Beach, CA, Caribbean — mrlawlerjr @ 2:56 pm

April 7, 2010
San Blas Islands, Panama

After Brian and I arrived at Colon and checked in with the Panama Canal Authorities to have Traveler measured and paid the fees ($1,750 for a boat our length to transit the canal), we scheduled a transit date of April 8 and 9. That gave us about a week to visit the San Blas Islands, a vast archipelago of 340 islands on Panama’s Caribbean coast midway between the Canal and the Colombian border.  The San Blas Islands are a favorite stop for cruisers either before or after transiting the canal.

On April 1 Brian and I anchored at one of the more popular islands (but only four other boats when we were there) called Chichime.  Within a few minutes three colorfully dressed Kuna Indian women, probably related, paddled out to Traveler in a dugout canoe to offer to sell us molas.  A mola is a hand stitched colorful quilt of cotton fabric, usually about 8″ x 10″ and often made into decorative throw pillows or stitched onto the front of a t-shirt.  Each mola is unique, takes a Kuna woman about a day to make, and costs about $20.  I bought six.  Not sure what I’m going to do with them when I get back, but they are beautiful.  We went ashore and made friends with the man of the family (only six Kuna live on this gorgeous tropical island.) The next morning he took Brian out in his dugout canoe to the reef to spear fish and try to catch lobster with a snare.  They brought back a couple of lobster, which we ate for dinner.  We also gave this Kuna family some medicine for their sick grandmother and some milk for a nursing dog with puppies.  One of the puppies, about 6 months old, broke its pelvis from a falling coconut, causing it to walk with a severe limp.

Barbara arrived the next day, April 2, by flying in a small plane from Panama City to the tiny island of Porvenir, just three miles form Chichime, where we dinghied in to meet her. After getting by without Barbara for the past three months, it was really great to have her back onboard Traveler.  We celebrated with a Captain’s Brunch with champagne!  The tiny runway at Porvenir was built by the US Navy in WWII and is the only airstrip in the San Blas, with one flight a day.  We then sailed four miles to the Lemon Cays, anchored and learned from a neighboring yacht that the group of 20 or so yachts in that popular small group of islands (within the San Blas Islands) were having a potluck dinner and happy hour that night.  Some of the cruisers had sailed from California or from Florida, got this far, and decided they didn’t really need to go any further–they had found their paradise–and have been cruising the San Blas for four or five years!

We stayed a week, snorkeled every day, met Kuna and explored uninhabited islands (loved Coco Bandero), and then had to sail back to Colon to transit the canal.

We stopped for the night along the way at Portobelo (also spelled Porto Bello and Puerto Velo on some charts).  What an amazing history.  Discovered and named by Columbus on his Fourth Voyage, it became the primary port for the Spanish galleons to transport gold and silver from throughout Central and South America to Spain.  For over one hundred years, one-third of the world’s gold passed through Portobelo.  The ‘Queen’s Pirate,’ Sir Frances Drake, the first British navigator to circumnavigate the world, died of yellow fever here in 1596 and was buried at sea at the mouth of the deep bay in a lead coffin.  Later, in 1739, at the height of the Spanish gold shipments, Adm. Edward Vernon sacked Portobelo and made off with millions in gold.  After that, the Spanish crown abandoned the overland route across the Panamanian isthmus and ordered its ships to sail the long way around Cape Horn to and from the west coast of South and Central America.

Portobelo is also famous throughout Panama for the colonial church, built in 1776, which contains the life-sized statue of the Black Christ on the cross.  Thousands of pilgrims come to Portobelo, many of them crawling on their knees to show respect (and a handful of those crawling come from as far away as Costa Rica!) each year for the Festival of the Black Christ.  The statute was being shipped from Cartagena to Portobelo when the ship sank in a storm.  The statue, in a wooden crate, floated, was found by fishermen and brought to Portobelo–considered a miracle.  That year, yellow fever swept through nearly every village of Panama killing thousands, but no one died in Portobelo–considered another miracle and attributed to the Black Christ–which is believed by the devoted Catholics of Panama to have miraculous healing powers. I said a prayer to the Black Christ for Traveler’s safe passage on our remaining 2,700 miles, the home stretch.

The next Postcard will be about our transit of the Panama Canal.

Living the Dream,
Michael with Barbara and Brian
Yacht “Traveler”

April 9, 2010

Traveler Postcard From Panama Canal

Filed under: Year 3: July09 - July10 Greece to Newport Beach, CA, Caribbean — mrlawlerjr @ 4:23 pm

Colon, Panama
April 8, 2010

Today at about 4:30 or 5:00 pm local time (2 hours ahead of Pacific daylight savings time) Barbara, Brian and I begin our two-day transit of the Panama Canal, and we are all very excited.

You can watch us transit live by logging on to, then click on the web cam, then select the Gatun Locks, which we will go through today.  Tomorrow (Friday) morning we will go through the Miraflores Locks at about 10:00 am (I’m only guessing on tomorrow’s time).

On board Traveler, with me at the wheel, we will have:
Barbara and Brian as “line handlers” paired up with two professional line handlers, bow and stern. We will also have a “Canal Advisor”–like a pilot, guiding me in the cockpit.
In addition, we have two guests, Bill and Marsha Horsfall (friends of Barbara) joining us.

Transiting the Panama Canal is a significant milestone for Traveler’s three-year circumnavigation, geographically, chronologically and psychologically.  We still have 2800 miles of mostly upwind sailing to go to Newport Beach over the next three months.  But it is all relatively easy coastal cruising along the Pacific side of Central America and Mexico.  We will soon be on the home stretch.

Living the Dream,

March 23, 2010

Traveler Postcard From Cartagena

Filed under: Year 3: July09 - July10 Greece to Newport Beach, CA, Caribbean — mrlawlerjr @ 11:26 am

Hola de Cartagena, Colombia,

We enjoyed our five-day visit to historic Cartagena.  This was our only visit to a South American port, and my first time ever to this continent.  We now have seen on this voyage six out of the seven continents of the world.

We anchored off the cruisers’ favorite marina, the Club Nautico.  The marina was nearly full and the few spaces available were in shallow water, too shallow for our 8 foot draft.  But we are quite happy at anchor, using the dinghy to get ashore.  The old restaurant and bar at Club Nautico were torn down about a year ago and a new building was under construction for several months.  But the owners got into a dispute with City Hall, and now the lawyers are involved and construction has halted, so it is a mess.

We liked to walk or bike ride around the old walled city, especially early in the morning or at night.  The midday sun is just too hot, in the upper-90s and humid.

Last night, in lieu of a Captain’s Dinner on Traveler, we had a farewell dinner for Kellie at a fun Cuban restaurant in the old town.  Kellie has been with us for the past seven weeks, joining the boat in St. Martin on February 2 for her second long tour on Traveler. This time she got to visit Anguilla, St. Barts, Saba, the British and US Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Jamaica and Colombia. She is flying today to Managua, Nicaragua to join her friend, Dylan, to travel around Central America for a month or so.

One of the highlights of our time here in Cartagena was a visit aboard the USS Freedom, the US Navy’s latest and fastest, high-tech, stealth ship.  It is the first of its class, a Littoral (means coastal) Combat Ship.  Its published speed is 40+ knots, but when it is lightly loaded it can reach up to 60 knots!  That is an incredible speed for a ship that is 385 feet!  Freedom is still on its maiden voyage, from Wisconsin where she was built by Lockheed Martin, to San Diego, her home port, due to arrive there on April 23.  She is powered by four Rolls Royce jet engines (no propellers) which combined can pump 12 million gallons of water per minute–the equivalent of being able to fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool in just three seconds!  Anchored just 200 yards away from her, I tried to pick Freedom up on my radar, and there was nothing there!  The stealth technology is amazing!  Google “USS Freedom LCS 1″ for photos and articles about it, or check out their website at  Special thanks to LCDR Mark West for the great tour.

So now it is just Brian and me, and we set sail for Colon, Panama in a few hours.  It is a 258nm passage to the west, and it should be a comfortable down wind run.  It should take us about 40 hours, assuming we average 6.5 knots and sail a straight course.

The good news is that Barbara will re-join Traveler in Panama, although it will be a short ten-day visit while she is on her Spring Break.  But we get to do the Canal together!

Living the Dream

March 22, 2010

Traveler Postcard From Historic Cartegena

Filed under: Year 3: July09 - July10 Greece to Newport Beach, CA, Caribbean — mrlawlerjr @ 7:59 am

Hola de Cartegena, Colombia,

Did you know there was a huge, historic battle between the Spanish defending Cartegena and the invading British in 1741?  King Philip of Spain had spies in London who discovered, in 1740, that the British were planning a major assault on Cartegena.  On learning this, the viceroy of Cartegena, which was then the most important Spanish colony in South and Central America, requested Spain’s most feared and heroic military leader, Don Blas, to lead the defense of the walled city.  Spain had spent 100 years building the wall around Cartegena and several forts around the harbor to defend her.  Most of the gold shipments from the New World to Spain passed through Cartegena. The British knew it had been nine months since the last shipment, so they reasoned a massive fortune awaited them.  If they could only capture Cartegena’s mighty Fortress of San Felipe, strategically located on a hill guarding the harbor and the walled city, the rest of the city’s defenses would fall quickly.

Don Blas, born in the Basque country of noble parents, was a living legend. At age 16, already an officer, he lost his left leg in the Battle of Gibraltar.  However, he continued his distinguished military service to the king, with more battle wounds to come. In the Battle of Toulon he lost his right eye, and later in the Battle of Barcelona he lost his right arm.  Still, at age 52 (quite old for those times), he agreed to cross the Atlantic and go to Cartegena to prepare the troops for the British invasion.  He had only 500 Spanish soldiers plus about 2,000 slaves and native Americans, which he armed and trained in four months to help defend the city.

On March 15, 1941 the first three of Adm. Edward Vernon’s fleet anchored off Cartegena, waiting for the other ships to arrive.  Over the next few days, a terrifying sight developed as 186 ships gathered for the invasion. Not counting the sailors (who stayed on the ships), Vernon had 23,600 men and 2,070 cannons ready for battle.  One of his officers was Lawrence Washington, George’s half brother.  The Washington family admired Adm. Vernon so much they named their farm Mount Vernon in his honor.

The battle began on April 1.  Adm. Vernon sent two of his largest warships into the harbor to bombard Fort San Felipe.  Lucky shots from gunners at San Felipe, aided by a chain stretched tight across the channel to stop the British ships, hit and sank both ships right in the narrowest part of the harbor, blocking the channel so the other ships could not follow.  Adm. Vernon then decided to off-load his cannon and mount an assault by land.  This took about a week, and resulted in one of the bloodiest battles in British history.  In addition to the casualties of war, during that week, many of the British troops became ill, mostly dysentery, malaria and yellow fever.  The epidemic spread quickly through the officers and soldiers to the point where the vast majority where unfit for duty and a retreat was ordered.  It took a month for the British to tend to their wounded and get ready for sea.  In their retreat, they destroy the minor forts that were taken.  Finally, on May 12 the siege of Cartegena was over.

But during the battle, while leading his soldiers, Don Blas took a cannon shot to his good leg, and died of his injuries shortly after the last British ship returned for England.

Two interesting footnotes.
1.  The British were so sure the would prevail that they struck a victory medal as soon as the siege was underway.  It depicted Don Blas kneeling before the British commander with the inscription, “The pride of Spain humbled by Ad. Vernon.”  The Brits apparently thought it was ungallant to conquer half a man (Don Blas’ amputations were well known), so the artist put his arm and leg back on for the medal, for the surrender that never occurred.
2.  Had the British won the Battle of Cartegena, historians believe that not only Colombia but all of the Spanish colonies throughout South and Central America would have fallen like dominoes and become British colonies.  And consequently they would be speaking English, rather than Spanish, throughout North and South America today.

Enough of the history lesson.  In my next Postcard I’ll share with you our visit to this historic city.

Living the Dream,
with Kellie and Brian

March 18, 2010

Traveler Postcard–”No more bad luck!”

Filed under: Year 3: July09 - July10 Greece to Newport Beach, CA, Caribbean — mrlawlerjr @ 8:22 am

“I’ve had enough bad luck.  No more bad luck!”  I was just listening to Eric Clapton crying the blues on my iPod, and I can really relate.

I was reading in one of the two dozen sailing magazines I keep on Traveler about another full time cruiser spending so much time fixing things on his boat.  He said, half jokingly, “Every part, every system, everything on a boat is either (a) broken, (b) just about to break, or (c) will break eventually.”  I’m beginning to think he speaks the truth.

So far this voyage, the list of mechanical, electrical, rigging, plumbing, and other things that have broken or somehow managed to go wrong is long, and never ending.

The current “To Do List” when I arrive in Cartegena includes (and I’m only half way there):

1.  The radar screen freezes.  Good thing the visibility is good at night and I haven’t really needed it.  We’ve seen only six ships in two days at sea.  I’ll have a Raymarine technician check it out, if and when I can find one.  With the past as a guide, it will probably be a part that will have to be ordered, will take a week to get here and will cost about a grand (also known as one boat buck.)

2.  The cotter pin (probably only a $1 part) on the starboard side jib car failed.  No idea how. Without it, the boat cannot be sailed, at least the jib cannot be used on a port tack.  I have two dozen spare pins, all the wrong size.  Maybe I can jury-rig something.

3.  The connector for the blue wire on the alternator broke off.  Again, no idea how, but at least I’ve become enough of an amateur marine electrician to diagnose the problem myself.  This means (a) the tachometer won’t work (no big deal), and (b) the alternator can’t charge the batteries (hum, this is a big problem). In addition to the engine-powered alternator to charge the batteries, I have solar panels (which work well, but not nearly enough to provide all my power needs), a wind generator (which works well when the wind is over 15 knots, and it has been under 12 this passage), and a gas-powered Honda portable generator.  The generator works great, but it’s noisy and I have to keep refilling its small gas tank–a bit of a challenge in rolling seas.  And it seems odd to be motoring in light air and have to run the generator at the same time to charge the batteries.  This loose wire thing can be fixed, but by a qualified marine electrician in Cartegena.

4.  And, more importantly to Brian and Kellie, the stereo has a power short.  It keeps going dead then restarting.  Very annoying when you are trying to listen to the Flaming Lips, for example.

But my worse luck this passage happened off the boat.  Yansen missed his flight back to Indonesia.  It wasn’t his fault.  He arrived at the Kingston Airport, ticket and passport in hand, several hours before the departure time.  It was the ticket I bought for him on line with Expedia.  I typed in “Kingston” as the departure airport, meaning Kingston, Jamaica.  But the box just said Kingston (not Jamaica).  Somehow, the ticket ended up departing from Kingston, Canada!  (No where on the ticket did it say “Kingston, Canada” as the departure city, just “Kingston” plus the three-letter code, which we know now is the code for Kingston, Canada.  The first leg of Yansen’s flight was form Kingston to Toronto, and Air Canada flies to Toronto from both Kingston, Jamaica and Kingston, Canada.  Not until Yansen arrived at the Kingston, Jamaica airport, after a two-hour bus ride and after we had departed for Cartegena, did he discover the mix up.  The $1,200 ticket was non-refundable.  I learned of the problem via an email from the manager of the marina where we stayed–Yansen returned there to try to sort things out.  After a few sat phone calls and several more emails and reviewing my options (which weren’t many), I had to buy a new ticket for Yansen, for another $1,200.  Ouch!

As the country Western song goes, “If I didn’t have bad luck, I’d have no luck at all.”  Time to change that. Wish me luck.

Living the Dream,

March 16, 2010

Traveler Postcard From Jamaica, Mon!

Filed under: Year 3: July09 - July10 Greece to Newport Beach, CA, Caribbean — mrlawlerjr @ 1:03 pm

March 16, 2010
Port Antonio, Jamaica
18-10.8N, 076-27.2W

Day-O!  Port Antonio was the inspiration for the Harry Bellafonte’s “Banana Boat Song.” (”Work all night for a drink of rum!  Daylight come and me wanna go home.”)

We just departed the Errol Flynn Marina in Port Antonio, where we stayed for three nights.  The marina is named after the actor who had a vacation home here.  Did you know he made 60 films back in Hollywood’s golden years?

A few days before our arrival Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz were wrapping up “Knight and Day,” expected to be released this summer.  We met some of the locals who assisted with the production, and they said the celebrities were nice and fun to work with.  TC also filmed “Cocktail” here.

We rented a car and had a local show us around–really the best way to see a new country.  Highlights included swimming under a waterfall, seeing the Palace Hotel, and having some good, local Jamaican food at a locals’ favorite beachfront restaurant outside of town. Brian had ox tail, Kellie had curry goat, and I had jerk chicken.

We feel like we could have stayed another week or two, as there was so much we didn’t get to see: the beaches and nightlife of Montego Bay, watching the sunset at Rick’s Cafe in Negril, Dunn’s River Falls near Ocho Rios, touring the Bob Marley Museum, seeing Goldeneye, the estate where Ian Fleming wrote most of his novels (hey, I’m a big James Bond fan.)  Oh, well.  Next time.

Jamaica is a great place to visit, but not so much to cruise around.  Officialdom is the problem.  It takes a half a day to check in and then another half day to check out, and you must check in and check out each time you move the boat, even if it is to the next harbor a short distance away.

Jamaica is a huge island, the third largest in the Caribbean (behind Cuba and Hispanola).  It has a population of 2.5 million, about of third of whom live in the capital of Kingston, and boasts the world’s greatest coffee (from the Blue Mountains) and the world’s fastest human being (from last summer’s Olympics.)

But the big news is that Yansen quit.  He missed home, his mother is not doing well, and he was becoming unhappy on Traveler.  We had a farewell Captain’s Dinner for him last night and remembered all the amazing experiences we have had together. I put him on a bus to the airport this morning.  It was sad saying goodbye, and we hope to see him again.  We wish him a “Happy Long Life.”

So now it is just Kellie, Brian and me, and we are underway to Cartegena, Columbia, 475 nm due south, a three-day passage.  We expect to arrive at Club Nautico the afternoon of March 19.

The next time we will see this latitude (18N) we will be approaching Manzanillo, Mexico, on the home stretch, around the first of June.

Living the Dream,
with Kellie and Brian

March 13, 2010

Traveler Postcard From Haiti

Filed under: Year 3: July09 - July10 Greece to Newport Beach, CA, Caribbean — mrlawlerjr @ 8:15 pm

Port Morgan
Ile a Vache, Haiti
Lat 18-06.24N
Long 073-41.57W

Bon jour,

The cruising guide warns yachts sailing between Puerto Rico and Jamaica to avoid Haiti altogether, especially the southwest corner of the island.  It recommends giving it a wide berth, passing at least 50 miles offshore.  There are a lot of desperate people with nothing to lose. Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. Piracy has been a part of their culture for hundreds of years, since the days of Capt. Henry Morgan (the port we are in is named after him and this is where his ship sank.)  And all of that was before the January 12 earthquake.

Since then you have seen the footage on CNN and read newspaper and magazine stories about the current situation.  Suddenly, there are 2 million people homeless with a huge percentage of the population injured and/or unemployed, spending all day trying to scrounge for themselves and their families, with very little food, clean drinking water or other necessities available.

This is now our third day in Port Morgan on Ile a Vache (Cow Island) at the SW corner of Haiti.  It has been an amazing experience, mostly in a good way.

On our arrival here we found it to be a very sheltered harbor with three other cruising sailboats at anchor (always a reassuring sight), two from France and one from the US.  We were immediately greeted by a dozen, friendly, polite boat boys who wanted to help us, clean the boat or sell us something.  We bought four drinking coconuts for $2, a nice way to start our visit.  A lobster fisherman paddled his dugout canoe to Traveler and sold us seven live lobster for $10, and Yansen made us a great dinner that night.

Next we gave away our care packages to four young men, each with six to eight in their families, and each had paddled out to Traveler. This included a bag of rice, a sack of potatoes, a salami, Frosted Flakes, a bag of Chips Ahoy cookies, four rolls of toilet paper, a toothbrush and toothpaste, a razor and a bar of soap.  Our donations were well received, as you can imagine.

The island has a population of 12,000, with 99% black and descendants of slaves.  It is about 7 miles long and 2 miles wide, and is situated just 6 miles off mainland Haiti.  We learned that Ile a Vache has no cars or electricity, just a dozen or so rural villages with foot trails connecting them.  About 90% of the island’s population has never even been to the mainland–so they have never seen a city, or a car, or used a telephone, or watched TV, or used a computer. Wow!

We had two guides take us on a hour-long hike to the main village for market day.  It was more of a sight-seeing field trip than provisioning, as there was very little offered for sale that we wanted.  The local bananas, however, were tree-ripened and excellent.  We saw lots of used clothing, probably donated items, offered for sale.

The fishing boats are mostly sailing vessels without engines. We rode one, with our guides, from the market in the main village back to Port Morgan.  It was a fun, memorable, downwind sail that took about a half hour.

We then rented horses to ride the island’s rolling hills, or at least we tried to do so.  The horse I was assigned to ride was pregnant, near full term, and didn’t like my weight on her back.  And the horses assigned to Kellie and Brian didn’t like each other, at all.  One violently bit the other on the neck and they both bucked, throwing Kellie and Brian off the homemade saddles.  It was a wild and memorable ride, and lasted barely five minutes.

We met the captain and crew for “Sea Hunter,” a 220 ft. research vessel specializing in recovering ship wrecks.  A few months ago they discovered the “Port Nicholson,” a wreck that was sunk by a German U-boat in 1942 off Boston in 650 ft. of water.  It has, they say, billions in gold and plutonium in its holds.  They plan to recover the treasure in the coming months.  Check out their website at  The Sea Hunter came to Haiti on a humanitarian mission with over a hundred thousand dollars worth of aid.  Unfortunately, its distribution was a disaster.  The ship and crew were first swamped with customs officials and police, who took the best for themselves, and then hundreds of desperate Haitians started fighting for the aid.  One man punched a woman in the face and took from her what she was given.  It got so out of control that Gary Esper, the captain, fired two warning shots into the air trying to regain control and ordered everyone off his ship.  By then, there was not much left.  The police arrested one of the locals hired by the Sea Hunter to facilitate the distribution, and demanded a payment of $10,000 US in customs duties (which Sea Hunter refused to pay). The police tried to detain the Sea Hunter because the captain fired a gun into the air and refused to pay the duty.  The situation was so bad that Sea Hunter left quickly without unloading a mobile field hospital, which was the most important single item they brought with them from the US to Haiti.  All this happened a few miles away on the mainland, and we met up with them the following day here at Port Morgan, where they were trying to unwind and enjoy themselves, and clean up their ship from all the mess, before returning to the US.

The Port Morgan Hotel, run by a Frenchman, is the only hotel on Ile a Vache, and I’d give it, generously, two stars (by American standards.)  But it is one of the finest hotels in the country, and one of the few that is open for business.  The food was excellent.  We had a fabulous fish dinner here our last night. At the hotel we met a French woman who had been working for the past five weeks in Port-Au-Prince for a Swiss charity that focuses on children.  She lived in a tent with few amenities.  She was at the hotel to take a weekend off.  She said one of the many shocking things she saw in Port-Au-Prince were all the flies, millions of them.

We are now in the Eastern Time Zone and have traveled through 21 out of 24 time zones, completing 7/8ths of the circumnavigation.

In a couple of hours we set sail for Port Antonio, Jamaica, an overnight passage of 155nm.  Look for our photos from Haiti, which I’ll post when we get to an internet cafe in Jamaica.

Living the Dream,
with Kellie, Brian and Yansen

March 8, 2010

Traveler Postcard From Santo Domingo

Filed under: Year 3: July09 - July10 Greece to Newport Beach, CA, Caribbean — mrlawlerjr @ 9:18 am

March 8, 2010
Santo Domingo
The Dominican Republic


After a most unpleasant experience with the officialdom in San Pedro de Macoris, our first port of entry in the Dominican Republic, we sailed 35 nm west to the nation’s capital, Santo Domingo, the oldest colonial city in the New World. What a contrast. Here the customs and immigration went very well, one of the easiest and most pleasant I’ve experienced on the voyage.  We took a berth at the Marina Bartolome Colon (only $26 per night).

The marina has both private armed security guards (pistols and shotguns) and armed military guards (AK 47s).  I asked if the heavy security was “necesario,” and was told “si.”  When I told the guards that we (Kellie, Brian, Yansen and me) wanted to walk from the marina to old town to sight see (it was about 7:30 pm), they said it was unsafe for tourists to walk around at night, especially through the area between the marina and old town, and strongly advised against it. But one of the guards, dressed in plain clothes and packing a visible pistol holstered in his belt, volunteered to escort us.  Yansen was a bit shocked and joked with me about the VIP treatment.  Just then (emphasizing Yansen’s point) a uniformed police officer stopped heavy, fast-moving traffic on the city’s main boulevard using his flashlight and whistle so we could safely cross the street.  It felt a little weird having a bodyguard for our two-hour stroll through the city, especially with all the locals staring at us.  We did not see any other tourists.  I got the impression that it is rare for Americans to visit Santo Domingo.

The next night Brian and Kellie ventured out alone.  I was a little concerned when I got up the next morning and I found they had not returned to Traveler.  They finally returned at 10 am with stories of a really fun night out on the town, and begged me to stay a few more days.  One of the locals they met with, Andres, is the 22-year old son of one of the wealthiest men in the country, and he showed Brian and Kellie a good time.  In the wee hours, Andres took Brian and Kellie to his home.  Brian said it was the biggest and nicest home he has ever been seen, rivaling anything in Newport Beach or Beverly Hills.

Last night was Carnival.  The DR celebrates it on the first Sunday of March, regardless of the start of Lent. The parade had nearly 200 amazing entries in colorful, fantastic costumes, and took five hours to pass.  It was an incredible sight and rich display of their culture, music and wild dancing.  They say Dominicans learn to dance before they learn to walk.

Unfortunately, the festivities were marred by some violence that I witnessed (and perhaps more that I missed.) Two rival gangs were mixing it up, and a couple of police stepped in to take control. One of the gang leaders, with all of his buddies watching, started mouthing off to the police and resisting.  Big mistake.  The police pounded him with their night sticks.  Standing just a few feet away, I caught it all on my video camera.  It was ugly. (Think LAPD and Rodney King.)

Then, about an hour later and near the end of the parade, I sensed the beer-drinking crowd was getting rowdy. Yansen got lost in the crowd hours earlier, and Kellie and Brian wanted to cruise around on their own and try to find their local friends, so I was by myself.  I decided it was time to head back to the boat when I heard Bang! Bang!–two gun shots fired in the crowd about a boat length away from me.  The crowd panicked and ran, but I remained standing next to a tree, watching and wondering what had happened, if anyone was shot.  I saw three police quickly disarm the shooter, rough him up a bit, and haul him off to jail.  Fortunately, no one was shot.  Strangely, within a minute, everything was back to normal, as if nothing had happened. Could violence be that common here, I wondered as I walked quickly back to Traveler?

We went shopping yesterday for food to donate to families in Haiti, our next stop.  I bought four each of the following, so each of us could adopt a family for the day:  a large Italian salami, a bag of rice, a sack of potatoes, Frosted Flakes cereal, a small bag of Chips Ahoy cookies, toothpaste and toothbrush, a pack of four rolls of toilet paper, a bar of soap and a disposable razor.  We also plan to do some volunteer work at a school.  I’ll let you know how it goes in my next Postcard From Haiti.  We set sail in just a few hours.

Living the Dream,
Michael and Team Traveler

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