Ship's Log               s/v Uliad 

February 2:  


     When living on a boat, your dinghy is your car.  It's how you get anywhere and without it, you are literally stuck on your boat.  Unless you really like to swim.  So for a sailor, having your dinghy go missing is about as horrifying as a box full of dead puppies.

     I was reminded of this twice in the past 24 hours.  Box of dead puppies.  Twice

     The first time was in the evening...I took the headphones off the DVD player to tuck Emmett into bed when I hear Jenny from Independence literally screaming at the top of her lungs and pounding on her boat's hull to get our attention.  I jumped in our dinghy and raced over thinking that someone must be dying onboard.  I got there to hear that somehow the line to their dinghy had gotten untied and it had drifted away into the darkness.  When we didn't answer their radio calls, another boat in the anchorage came over and they went out looking for it.

     The wind was really howling, it was pitch black.  One look at the scene and I didn't hold out much hope.  I did my best to talk Jen down from her ledge and pretty soon we saw the rescue party return.  They went over to the Coast Guard base on shore and woke a few guys up.  Soon they were back out at sea in the Coast Guard launch searching for the wayward dinghy.  My logical mind took over and I started studying the wind direction and charts to see where it might be by morning.

    They came back empty handed and all we could do was offer moral support.  It was a good dinghy, God bless it. 

     Otis was back up before dawn and Independence motored off to look for the dinghy.  By dawn, it was flat calm, and sure enough, about 8 miles directly downwind was the dinghy floating peacefully.  About the time they were tying it back on (undoubtedly more securely this time) I climbed out into the cockpit bleary-eyed and ready to start another day.

     No dinghy.

     I noticed that Independence  was gone and first I thought this was some practical joke... Then I saw that the line to our dinghy had been neatly cut with a sharp knife.  It was stolen!  Sometime in the night, someone had silently paddled over to our stern, cut the dinghy's line and absconded with our car!  Grand theft dinghy.  Horrifying. as. a. box. of. dead. puppies.

     Just 8 hours earlier, Jen & Otis looked ready to cry and we were consoling them.  Now they steamed back into the anchorage happy as clams and we were the ones about to sprout tears.  My my how things can quickly change.  Despite his lack of sleep worrying about his dinghy, Otis was pumped up now and ready to help me search.  Fisherman and locals don't much care for inflatable rubber boats, but a good outboard is valuable.  So we presumed that whoever stole the boat probably just wanted the motor.  We told a local fisherman about our troubles and he agreed that it was worth looking around the coves and mangroves to see if the boat was nearby.

    After reporting the safe return of one dinghy, but the loss of another to the Coast Guard, we set off in hot pursuit, giving every fisherman we met a description of the boat and motor, being sure to mention the BIG REWARD for its return with NO QUESTIONS ASKED.  By the time we got around the island, several people had suggested we go to a town on the mainland called Baru.  "Everyone knows everyone on this little island," they told us, "whoever did this probably took it to Baru.  One good Samaritan named Michael even offered to come with us so we could make a police report. 

     It was about a 20 minute ride over open water to shore.  As we entered a big mangrove bay, Michael pointed out a fancy house on shore.  He reported that it was owned by a big narco-trafficker.  I started to think this was a bad neighborhood.  Further up the bay we saw the Coast Guard launch was already exploring the nooks and crannies.  It seems they had the same idea as the fisherman about where to find a stolen dinghy.  We chatted for a while and then as we took off, Michael pointed to a little homestead on shore and said, "Now to Baru".

     I thought we'd stop at the house and have to walk through the jungle to get where we were going.  But just before we got there, a little river opened up, tunneling its way through the mangroves.  A woman on shore shouted hello to Michael, and after about 5 syllables of unintelligible Spanish, he smiled and said, "your boat is here!"  He offered to drive since he knew the river.  And the moment Otis handed over the controls, Michael gunned the motor.  We were roaring top speed down this little winding channel to God knows where, but suddenly it felt like we were joyriding in our swiftboats in a scene from Apocalypse Now!

    The mangrove finally opened up to a little bay adjacent to a dirt street, mangy dog, chickens everywhere sort of third world town.  The mysterious Baru.  Michael trudged us up to the police station where, after much chattering between Michael and the duty officer, he told us to sit down.  The policeman would take our statement and Michael would go get the fisherman who found our boat.  I handed over my Minnesota drivers license for ID and the officer dutifully wrote in his dusty ledger as I explained what happened in my broken Spanish.  By the time he had his paperwork done, a skinny, withered fisherman had showed up.  Apparently he had been here about an hour earlier to report that he had found a dinghy (no motor) floating near shore.

    Michael stressed the BIG REWARD to the chief of police, and with a bit of a swagger the chief told us that he probably knew who would do such a thing and he could probably go find it.  "Big Reward", we reminded him.  Then after a hot trudge through the dusty streets, the fisherman led us to his home.  And there, sitting in the middle of his living room, was my dinghy!

    I felt pretty sure this guy was not the thief.  He reported it to the police right away, after all.  So I shoved a hundred dollars worth of pesos into his hand and thanked him profusely.  The family that had been literally sitting against the walls watching television because the dinghy took up most of the room, they then picked up the dinghy and carried it down to the water for us.  We towed it home and tried our best to feel like celebrating. 



February 3:

     Michael, who had been so helpful to us, also got an even fatter reward from me.  He had given his number to the Chief, who was going to call today when he got the motor back.  But unfortunately, that call never came.  When I called Michael to ask, he first said that we should meet at the bar again.  "Michael, I have no motor to go there," I reminded him.

     "OK, I'll come to your boat," he replied.  I thought that odd that he couldn't tell me over the phone.  In my mind I immediately assumed that whoever had my dinghy motor was now wanting to negotiate it's ransom.  But soon after arriving, Michael reported that the police had rounded up the usual suspects, but no motor could be found.  He assumed that someone had hauled it out of town right away and we'd probably never get it back.  As for the meeting, I think Michael just wanted to talk with his new American friend (and maybe see if any more BIG REWARDS might be headed his way.  Soon after commenting on how beautiful my $15 Casio watch was, I rubbed my stomach and said how we really had to call it a night so we could cook the family dinner.

      Tomorrow we're sailing the 4 hour trip back up to Cartagena so I can go shopping for a new outboard motor.  It has been starting to feel like one disaster after another here in Columbia, and maybe we'll never get out of here. But then again, as Otis said to me, "hey, at least you'll have a good story for the blog."  Having written said story, I remain unconsoled.


February 4:


     We left the next morning to go back to Cartagena and go shopping for a new outboard motor.  The wind really started kicking up about half way there and we spend the final hour motoring into steep, close together waves.  Everyone was getting nauseated and all we could do was shake our heads and say, "Yeah, this is just about Uliad's luck to get caught out in this."  There is a more southerly entrance into the harbor that the ships use and I was tempted to turn in there to get out of the rough seas quicker.  But the shore around the entrance has a bad reputation.  Just a few weeks ago a French catamaran was robbed at gunpoint by some guys in a motor boat there.  And given our luck lately...I decided to stay away.

      Safely anchored, I bummed a ride to shore and promptly marched right down to the Yamaha dealer to place my order.  I now realize how much I loved my 15 Hp Yamaha 4 stroke.  Aside from the times I tried to feed it bad fuel, it has been as reliable as the sunrise.  And everywhere we go in the world, the local fishermen all seem to use Yamaha.  You can find parts anywhere.  (Not that I've ever needed to, but still...)

      At the Yamaha dealer, I sat down with Wilberto who started chatting me up at his cubicle like he was a new car salesman or something.  When I tried to explain what I wanted, he told me that unfortunately, they don't import 15 horse 4 strokes into Columbia.  I could get a 2 stroke 15 Hp, or a 4 stroke 20 Hp.  So I looked over the specs and prices and after deciding that a 20 horse didn't weigh much different than my old 15 horse that as long as I had to go through all this, I should at least upgrade to the 20!   I could have saved a few bucks buying some off brand.  Hey, I could have asked around the harbor and tried to find a used motor.  But the way my luck has been lately, buying an old used motor just seemed like a recipe for one more heartbreak.  It was time for something good to happen for once.  And today, having a brand new 20 horse Yamaha to fly around on seemed good enough for me.  Heck, maybe it would change the whole momentum of our luck back toward the good side again!  So I put down the Amex and bought it.  The whole thing ended up costing me about $500 more than it would have in the US, which is a lot better than had expected it to cost me down here

     The boys in the shop went to work pulling a new motor out of a big crate, adding oil and starting it up.  We walked back and Wilberto went through the whole "new car salesman" thing again showing me each button and how everything worked.  Now of course, there is only one button (stop), only one pull cord (start) and one handle (throttle).  He seemed a bit disappointed that I knew these things already.  Off came the cowling and I went round the inside:  "air intake, carburetor, throttle, fuel filter, oil filter, spark plugs, dipstick, si? "

     Si indeed.  Finally, and with great solemnity, Wilberto produced the "how you say--break period?"  Aah yes, the break-in period.  It seems that I should only run at less than half throttle for the first hour, then half for the next hour and so on up until 5 hours of engine time, at which point I could finally crank this beast wide open.

     So the mechanics carefully mounted my engine on the back of my old dinghy.  They waved goodbye and, with a fist full of paperwork in hand, I puttered off from the Yamaha dealer, being careful not to go much beyond idle speed during the all important break in period.  "This sucks," I grumbled to myself, "It's like I just married Miss America and now I have to wait a week before we can get naked."  Which, it seems, is just my luck lately.


February 7:

     The day after bringing home our new outboard motor, the call came.  It was Michael, from the Rosarios.  He had heard that my old motor was in Baru, and I could have it back for $1000.  "Who has it?  The police?" I asked.  He was (or my Spanish was) a little vague and said I should call him back.

     Now naturally I was incensed.  That takes balls to steal my motor and then turn around and want to sell it back to me!  But then, this isn't America anymore.  Maybe this was just how business was done.  I imagined myself walking into Baru with $1000 in my pocket to meet some shady character in an alley.  What would keep him from just robbing me again? 

     I needed not only a translator, but some cultural advice.  So before calling back, I talked to a few locals here at Club Nautico.  David was a guy who makes a living here helping cruisers with clearance paperwork and such.  I started explaining the situation to him.  As I was part way through my story, a uniformed guy across the table started listening intently as well.  It turned out that he was the Port Captain of the harbor here.  He popped out his cell phone and spoke with someone, then asked if I had the serial number of my motor.

    By the time I got back from Uliad with the identifying information, I was met by a police detective and a Navy launch full of about 8 uniformed sailors.  "Now this is service!" I thought.  I passed on the information and told the whole story again.  A Navy officer took it all down and in excellent English assured me that he'd pass it on to the proper authorities.  They would call me later so they could organize a sting operation!   My day just kept getting more interesting all the time.  Later, a few other locals were more circumspect.  It could very well be the police who have my motor, they suggested.  They might just want a little something for their trouble.  This sort of extortion seems crazy to us Americans, but in a third world country, where government salaries are low, sometimes these "tips" are expected as one of the fringe benefits of being a police officer.  I should be cool for now, they said.  See who shows up.  Make a counter offer.

    Despite high hopes, I never got a call back from the Cartagena SWAT team.  By the end of the day, I ended up calling back Michael just to let him know I was interested.  But could he bring the motor to me in Cartagena?  He said yes, but not today.  It has been really windy and the seas were too rough, but they'd bring it soon.  So at least the game could be played on my turf...a busy city anchorage where any rough stuff would be out of the question.  We have the police and Coast Guard on speed dial...and a number in mind as to how much it's worth to me to get my motor back. 

    At this point, I have no idea how all this will play out.  Will the police show up and take over the case?  Will a couple tough guys show up with my motor.  Will the phone ring again with a counter proposal?  I climbed into bed for the day thinking to myself, "So?  You set off in search of adventure, didn't you? got it now!"


February 11:

    The outboard motor was never heard from again.  Perhaps the thief thought better of showing up in the well-patrolled harbor of Cartagena with stolen property.  Perhaps the call was just a ploy to rob me again.  We'll never know.  My thoughts are elsewhere now.

     For the past few days, I've been pacing like a cat in a cage...waiting for our dodger and bimini to be competed.  Esteban has been around several times taking more measurements.  The final delivery (pushed back twice) is finally set for today.  Meanwhile we've cleared out with the authorities, provisioned the boat, and made ready to leave as soon as the goods finally arrive.  There is a short spell of good weather that opened up yesterday, so we need to go.

    We feel trapped now in Columbia.   We're stuck here waiting to finish a project that never seems to get completed.  We're not accustomed to feeling trapped.  Ours is a lifestyle of tremendous freedom, and freedom...well, freedom is like love...or sex:  If you've never had it, you might not get what the big deal is about it.  But once you don't ever want to be without it!

    We've watched all our friends sail away while we wait for a canvas project gone bad.  We've spent way more money than we had planned on with needing a new outboard motor...not to mention paying a second guy to do our canvas work when the first guy did such a sloppy job.  Lack of money is of course another form of lack of freedom.  I've been finalizing plans to go back to the states for a couple weeks to work soon.  In a couple weeks I'll be back and putting on a tie and rushing to be somewhere by 7am.  The thought has preoccupied my mind more frequently as the date approaches.  However temporary, I'll be giving up that freedom for a while so I can I can buy more freedom!

    So it may come as no surprise that the boat is packed and ready to go.  As soon as the canvas is installed and ready, I yearn to point my bow toward the sea and go.  If it ever comes to pass, we're heading to the San Blas Islands on the coast of Panama.  This area is inhabited by the Kuna Indians.  They are an indigenous group who have shunned outside influences over the centuries and still live in a primitive, traditional fashion.  Needless to say, we'll be out of Wi-Fi range while there, so you may have to wait a while for our next post.  But for a while at least, we'll be free again!

The long awaited new dodger gets installed!!


February 13:

     When I was 11 years old, I remember hearing on television about a fellow Minnesotan named Gerry Spiess who set out to cross the North Atlantic in a 10 foot long boat.  He went on to set a record for the smallest boat to cross an ocean, and subsequently had his brief period of fame on the evening news.  I recall thinking how peculiar for a person from Minnesota to achieve such a feat.  Such an undertaking seemed better suited to someone from Maine who had lived beside the sea his whole life.

     Mr. Speiss went on to write a book titled Alone Against the Atlantic which I had for years meant to read.  In retrospect, it seems odd that I never did.  I spent years reading every sailing story I could get my hands on before we set off in our own boat.  Anyhow, I found the book sitting on the bookshelf at Club Nautico a day before we left Cartagena and knew immediately how I'd spend my time on the long passage.

    There are those who feel a need to test themselves on the ocean.  And Gerry Spiess was certainly one of them.  Reading his book left me shaking my head at how he spent weeks curled up in a tiny space below decks, half-suffocating from gasoline fumes and rotting in dampness.  As a Minnesotan, I guess he didn't know about dorade vents, or appreciate the need for ventilation below decks.  He ate little but canned food, rarely bathed, and hallucinated from the solitude for 6 weeks until he washed up on England's shore.

    It made for a good story, but I found myself shaking my head and asking, "Why?"  This may seem odd, given that I was reading this book as we were banging our way through 10 foot seas and 25 knot winds, fighting seasickness and fatigue, not for glory or world records, but just because we were tired of Columbia and wanted to go to Panama instead.  "Why?"

     I'm not one of those who feels a need to test myself against the ocean.  Years ago, reading books in a comfortable armchair, I thought maybe I was.  But I'm not.  Having gained some small sense of the boundless misery that the wild ocean can dish out, I feel no need to set records.  I pity those who do.

     I do, however, understand the need to get away.  After over 50 days in Cartagena we were burned out.  It had been two months without a day of rain and the whole boat was covered with a greasy dirt.  The polluted harbor water left Uliad's hull covered in slime and barnacles.  Kathleen was suffering from near daily headaches.  We were stressed out from our disastrous canvas project and our stolen dinghy.  All of this led to an uncontrollable urge to run away from it all at the first possible moment; and the willingness to brave far worse sea conditions than we usually would.  The weather reports called for some rough seas, but nothing was supposed to improve for days.  So after a brief discussion, Kath & I agreed.  We would go first thing in the morning.  The weather forecast proved to be entirely accurate.

    30 hours after making our escape, we threaded our way through a few reefs with huge breakers rolling on either side of us.  I had been on watch most of the night due to another of Kathleen's headaches, and I was constantly worrying the whole way in that in my fatigue, I might make some navigational error.  With constant vigilance, we motored our way to the aptly named "Snug Harbor".  A rain shower blew past, rinsing away the city grime of Cartagena.  We were exhausted.  But we had escaped.  We had found our way here through treacherous and poorly charted waters.  We were once again floating in clean water, next to a deserted, palm fringed beach.

    Our crossing will never appear in record books or the 6 o'clock news.  Many saltier sailors than us have put up with far worse.  But like Gerry Spiess, we had voluntarily gone out to meet an angry sea, and suffered our way to our goal. 

    Panama.  It's so nice to be here.  It was so worth it.


February 15:

     The San Blas Islands are located off the Caribbean coast of Panama.  The coast here is rugged, with steep rain forested hills in the distance.  Beyond lies the Darien province of Panama...still one of the most wild places on the continent.  One could start in Canada and drive all the way to the tip of South America...except for one place:  the Darien gap.  The jungle mountains here are so rugged and untamed that to this day, nobody has built a road connecting Panama to Columbia.

     I imagine the terrain here has also played a role in helping the Kuna Indians to maintain their traditional culture in the face of modern incursions everywhere.  They say that most of the Kuna still live almost exactly the same as there ancestors did when Columbus first arrived:  in villages consisting of thatch roofed stick huts, growing crops in the jungle and harvesting fish from the seas.  To this day, they have fiercely resisted modern influences. They are the Amish of Central America.

     Shortly after arriving in the San Blas Islands, we were met by our first Kuna Indians who paddled over to our boat in a dugout canoe with paddles crudely carved from wood.  As they have over the centuries, they were interested in trading with the outsiders and were ready to offer tropical fruit, bread, fish or lobsters.  Another main trading item is the "mola".  Molas are intricately sewn and embroidered panels that the Kuna women make.  They attach them to the front and back of their blouses, and few travellers to this area can resist coming away with one or two of these amazing pieces of traditional folk art.

A traditional dugout "ulu" canoe of the Kuna Indians

     Today we moved to an anchorage behind Isla Tigre where we floated right next to a large village.  Before us we could watch the village go about their daily activities.  Later we went into town and wandered around.  The island was stuffed with these thatch huts, separated by narrow dirt walkways.  The huts themselves had dirt floors, and if there is such a thing as a clean dirt floor, every home had one.  Everything looked carefully swept. 

    The unprepared visitor to a Kuna village might be alarmed that they had walked into a neo-Nazi summer camp.  In front of almost every hut it seemed there was a flagpole flying a red flag with a black swastika in the center.  Fortunately, we had already read about this.  It seems that on February 21, 1925 (long before the German Nazi heyday), the Kuna's rebelled against the Panama government and declared their independence.  The flag of their "Republic of Kuna was this swastika symbol.  So the village was just celebrating their Independence Day, and few of them to this day probably know anything about the Nazis.

     The men tend to wear old t-shirts and slacks, while the women wear more traditional garb:  Mola blouses, gold nose rings, and beaded leggings and arm bands.  The children...well, they don't wear much at all.

     The village was filled with children.  It appeared clear that contraception was one modern influence that had not entered the Kuna culture yet!  Lots of the village kids took an interest in Emmett as we wandered around.  And despite having heard that Kunas don't like having their photos taken, one old Grandmother beckoned for Emmett to come into a little alley where she insisted that I take their photo together.  I guess at her age she felt she could bend the rules a bit...but she still didn't seem to want her neighbors to see.

Kuna Indian woman with EmmettKuna Village street...with Kuna flag

      A number of Kunas wanted to sell us molas or beads and such.  Usually we said no thanks, but on our trip to this village we met a woman  named Namika who beckoned us over to her home to show us her handiwork.  Her designs were so flawless and intricate, that I caved and bought five of her molas.  I don't know what I'll do with them all, but the handiwork is incredible...especially when you consider that it was done on the dirt floor of a grass hut.

      After a little bargaining, we arrived at a good price.  The dollar amount seems like nothing for the amount of work involved in hand stitching these panels; and in retrospect I feel a little guilty that I did any haggling at all.  But what I was really bargaining hard for was for Namika to let us take her photo on the stool in front of her hut where she sat and created these beautiful works of art. 

Buying Molas from Namika in the San Blas


February 16:


   We have arrived at an anchorage famous among cruisers for its sheer beauty.  It is called "the swimming pool anchorage", and indeed the water here is so clear that we feel like we're floating in a swimming pool.  A long reef upwind of us roars continuously with the breaking surf of giant waves.  But here in this little pool, we are well protected.  One tiny island stands off to our left, sprouting with palm trees.  Beneath, the beach and grassy center of this island looks to be as neatly manicured as a tropical resort. 

   It is the sort of place that is so trancendently beautiful that everyone should see it once in their life.  It is also the sort of place that, unless you are go cruising in a small boat, you almost certainly never will.  There are no day excursion boats that come here.  There are no beach bars or homes around.  There are not even any local Panamanians who motor out here for a weekend picnic.  This little sheltered bay behind the big reef seems to have been adopted by sailors, and somehow shared among us for decades without the secret ever getting out.

    We currently share the anchorage with about a dozen boats from half a dozen different countries.  There are big fancy new catamarans and tiny rusty sloops here...all sharing the same beautiful water, island and sky peacefully.  We found our Australian friends on Sonrisa here and took time this morning to catch up over coffee.  Every Monday, so the tradition seems to go, is potluck appetizers on the beach.  So we spent the evening mulling around a picnic table on the beach that someone had cobbled together from pieces of driftwood.  We meet new friends.  Emmett soon learned that there was another 8 year old boy here on a French catamaran.  Although Emmett can only speak about 3 words of French, and Leo could speak about the same number of English words, soon the two of them were paddling off in a kayak having the sort of adventures that 8 year old boys will have.

    Just like that, all the anxieties of our past month seem to fade away.  Life feels normal again.  The desperation to get away from all that was wrong with Columbia seems to have washed us up on the shores of The Swimming Pool, and peace has descended upon Uliad again.  This is the sort of place that has that kind of magic.


February 18:

   Our time in the magical San Blas Islands was cut short by my need to fly back to the USA for business.  The original plan was for me to go back to work for a few weeks as Panama would be the last convenient place to fly home from for a long time.  Kath and Emmett were going to stay in the San Blas while I was gone, but for a variety of reasons, they decided to fly home too.  Kathleen's dog has been having health problems and she really wanted to see her.  And like my work, Panama is the last easy place to fly home from for a long time.

   So we needed to get to a marina near Colon, which is the town on the Atlantic side of the Panama Canal.  In planning any sort of navigation in a sailboat, you first decide what time you need to arrive at a place (preferably in good daylight), estimate your speed and then work backwards to decide what time you need to leave.  The trouble with this passage was that the math just didn't work out.  We wanted to enter the Canal waters with good daylight to see the ship traffic easily, but we also needed to leave the Swimming Pool anchorage with good daylight to avoid hitting numerous shoals.  And we couldn't fit them both into daylight hours.

    We decided to leave before dusk and try not to sail to fast.  With a strong trade wind blowing across our beam, that proved hard to do.  Even with double reefs in the main and jib, we raced along at 7 to 8 knots overnight and by 4am we were at the breakwater to the canal entrance.  The area was well lit with all the ships around, so I had no trouble arriving in the dark.  But nobody was home at the marina at that hour so we ended up driving in circles for a while and finally anchored outside the marina until daylight

    So now we're finally tied up to the dock, snug in the marina.  The boat is plugged into shore power and the air conditioner is chugging away keeping us all cool and comfy for a long nap after the long night's sail.  After that, a long day of work putting the boat away before we go back to visit the good ol' USA! 


February 22:

     When one has been away for so long, the initial impression of the USA is just how easy everything is here.  Everything in MIA and LAX is so carefully engineered to take care of my needs and send me on my way.  It occurs to me how odd that this is not true elsewhere.   Oh...and everybody speaks English.  That really helps.

     Back in Venezuela I tried to get my hair cut in a little shop and have been paying for that language barrier ever since.  Somehow the barber interpreted my gestures and broken Spanish to mean, "Take about a three inch radius around the top of my ears and just shave it to the skin.  Then hack randomly in the back but leave the top alone."  So I've been trying to hide a haircut that makes me look like Moe from the Three Stooges ever since. 

     I went to another hair salon when we got to Cartagena, but lacking the ability to regrow the shaved off hair, there was only so much she could do.  Kathleen has been pestering me ever since to go try again but I have staunchly resisted until I could find a barber whose native tongue was the same as mine.  So within a half hour of setting my feet on US soil I was sitting in the chair of the little beauty shop in the MIA airport explaining my woes.  The beautician had a slight Cuban accent...but I chose to ignore that.  20 minutes later I look human again.  So easy.

     With my business in Long Beach wrapped up, I'm off to West Marine tomorrow morning to spend much of what I've just earned on some boat parts.  It seems to be something of a ritual that every time we come to a new country, we check out the marine stores to see if they have any of the things on our list.  And it seems that if we find even half of what we'd like, it's pretty successful.  Now in the States I can take one trip up and down the isles of a few stores and feel pretty confident that every item on the list will be crossed off.  Even easier: I can go online, place a few orders, and within a few days UPS will deliver a box with exactly those arcane items I've been needing--all without any customs duties or bureaucratic hassles!

     So it's great to be back in the land of easy.  Hell, its all so easy that I'm even tempted to go get my haircut again.  I just have to be careful not to overindulge; after all, the idea was to make some money here. 
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