Ship's Log               s/v Uliad 


October 1:  

 

     Leaving my last day of work in New Mexico brought nearly as much happiness as leaving my permanent job did a year ago.  In 9 long weeks, I realized 2 things:  first, being a doctor is still a lot of fun, but not nearly as much fun as being out sailing.  Second:  no matter what I'm doing, it's hard being away from Kathleen and Emmett.  Part of me thought that maybe it would be easier working long hours if I didn't have to worry that Kathleen and Emmett were sitting at home waiting for me.  Not true.  It's even harder coming home to an empty hotel room each night. 

    Our original plan for the summer was for the family to come and join me at my little town for part of my time there...but one look around and we realized that Kath and Em would find very little to do there.  I didn't want to have them sitting around watching TV all day, so we all ended up seeing very little of each other.

   After finishing my contract in New Mexico, I flew to Las Vegas this weekend to teach at a seminar for other physicians.  Despite Kathleen's distaste for much of what Las Vegas stands for, she was kind enough to come join me here for a couple days.  I needed to show her a good time, which meant finding something more than slot machines and girly bars!  And after an austere summer out in the desert, I was ready to have a little fun myself before we head back to Uliad.

    Step 1 was a trip to the Spa at the Bellagio.  I knew Kathleen would appreciate wandering through the Bellagio's amazing gardens and admiring the unbelievable, ostentatious cut flower arrangements everywhere there.  I made her a reservation for a manicure and pedicure after getting off the plane and while waiting for her...what the heck, I got myself a shave and haircut in old fashioned barber shop.  I sat in a big barber chair fit for Al Capone while a Russian lady named Luba reassured me that she has been doing this for 30 years as she came toward me with one of those old fashioned straight razors. 

    Kathleen declared my makeover a success and I admired her neat and polished nails.  Our next appointment was dinner.  Kathleen loves modern art, so I made us reservations at a restaurant appropriately called "Picasso".  The dining room here has 20 million dollars worth of original Picasso paintings on the walls, so you could be forgiven for not noticing the food.  In fact the food was equally spectacular.

   The next day, we slept in late and then wandered down to the last-minute ticket booth on the strip and got seats for "Mamma Mia" at Mandalay Bay.  We brought take out food from a great Asian place called The Grand Wok back to our hotel and lounged around for a while until show time.  The show was great!   We topped off the night by taking the monorail back to the Venetian and after wandering along the faux-grand canal, we had a late night dinner at another great asian bistro/nightclub called Tao.

   Yesterday Kath had to fly back to Utah where her friend Nancy has been watching Emmett.  We lounged at the hotel pool for a while until her bus came to take her away.  Kathleen may still be no fan of Las Vegas, but we did have a great time by looking beyond the smoky casinos, cheap buffets, and seedy entertainment.  Of course, the top shelf dining and entertainment doesn't come cheaply here...I'd better go give my lectures and pay for all that fun!

   

   

 

 

 October  5:

    Let me begin this entry by apologizing to all those who may have depended on my blog to help them waste time at work or wherever.  I've not been writing as much over the past month while back in the states.  Not for lack of material, mind you.  Working in rural New Mexico has been quite an adventure.  But with privacy laws in the US as they are, and recognizing that my personal editorials might not always be appreciated by the citizens who hired me to come to that small town...I thought it best that I bite my tongue for a while!

     But now, the saga will continue...tomorrow morning at the ungodly hour of 4am, I'll set off for the Minneapolis-St Paul International airport to make my way back to Uliad.  My first adventure will likely come in convincing the airline that each of my bags does not weigh more than the permitted 40 pounds.  Then I'll have to convince Trinidad Customs officers that all those books I'm carrying are not being carried because I plan to open my own bookstore.  We have some long passages ahead, and books get devoured quickly on passage, we've learned.  Hence the heavy bags.

    My head is already swimming with all the work to be completed so we can get Uliad out of the storage yard.  Hopefully, I'll arrive to find the welding, painting, woodwork, and sail repairs completed.  But that will still leave the bottom paint, the solar panel install, the wiring of the wind generator, the varnishing, and the canvas work.  I've got to put Uliad's name back on the hull after the paint job.  I've got to re-rig the sails and get all the engines up and running after storage.  And I've got to find a place to put all these books. 

    Fortunately, my Dad has volunteered to come along and help out.  Coming down to the Caribbean to float next to a perfect beach is one thing, but it takes true parental love to be willing to come down to live in a hot, dusty boat yard and work.  Despite my warnings, I don't think he knows what he's gotten himself into.  And then I handed him two extra pieces of luggage to carry filled with, yes, heavy books.

    Kathleen knows EXACTLY what she's getting into, so she has decided to stay back in the states for an extra week and a half before flying down with Emmett.  By then, she's hoping that most of the heavy lifting will be done!  Fair?  Maybe not, but in reality it will be much easier for me to tear up the boat getting my projects done without too many other people trying to get their projects done at the same time.  And since MY projects involve crawling the farthest down into the various bilges and dark holes on board, I guess I'm the one who has to go first.  Perhaps, after my work is done and Kathleen arrives to do her packing and arranging, I'll be free to crack a beer in the shade and read a nice book... 

 

 

 October 8:  

     The first thing I always notice when returning to the Caribbean is the air.  Even when your plane arrives late at night, it is still warm when you step out of that air conditioned airport into the soft night.  The air is thick with humidity, and with the taxi windows rolled down it feels like you're gliding through velvet.  Aaahh.  The frogs chirp, the wind rustles the palm trees, folks chatter and laugh in little dive bars along the side of the road...everything is just as I left it.

     Of course the same thick warm blanket of air that can feel so cozy at night can be suffocating in the daytime.  Early the next morning I'm trudging down the side of a busy highway to get to the boatyard.  By the time I arrive I'm already soaked in sweat...and it's not even 8am.  I must admit I was a bit nervous as I turned the corner in the yard to get my first look at Uliad in 3 months.  But there she was, right where we left her.  Only now, she looked so different I could hardly recognize her.  We had the boat repainted over the summer and Uliad's hull is now a rich, deep blue color.  Wow.  Even with rubbing compound smeared all over her hull I could tell the results were going to be spectacular.  David, the head of the painting crew soon wandered up.  He's a quiet, humble man.  I thanked him and told him how great everything was looking, but he just looked at the ground and mentioned that he'd need a few more days to finish up as the rains have been slowing him down lately.

First Glance at the New Uliad

     I had expected this.  In the Caribbean, there is always something slowing one down.  "No problem, David," I told him.  We had a room at a nearby hotel, so I'd be out of his hair for now.  The project manager, DJ, soon appeared and warned me of the mess he had left below.  Appropriately warned, I surveyed the situation.  Apparently the sanding of the deck had taken place with the main hatch open because there was paint dust everywhere.  Apparently the welder didn't bother to clean up all the shards of insulation that he had scraped away before welding a hole in the cabin.  And then of course, there was the giant pile of assorted gear that we had stuffed below for safekeeping.  All there, right where we left it. That's the trouble with leaving a mess...everyone else who came along behind us felt it was perfectly OK to leave their mess as well.

     But dust and clutter will clean up easily.  The important issues are all fine:  no mold, no odors, no bugs or rodents, nothing stolen.  The rest I can deal with. 

    David asked for two more days to finish up the paint work, which means I'll leave the mess alone until Friday.  That has given me time to schedule a few other contractors to come and finish their work.  I've fetched a few supplies I'll need.  And I scheduled a appointment for us to be lowered back into the water at the end of next week.  It'll be great to be floating again. 

 

 

October 11:

     Every friday, I have noticed, all the painters do a little "limin' " after work.  (hanging out, relaxing = limin' )  Beneath one of the boats in this corner of the yard, they tune in the soca music on their grubby little radio, set a chunk of plywood on a box, and start playing a raucous game of dominoes that continues well into the night. So to say thanks for a job well done, I bought a case of Carib and a few bags of chips for the boys tonight.  I wandered around passing out beers only to notice that, while they hadn't finished working yet, most of them had already started drinking their own beer by 4 pm.  But that's OK, they were all more than happy to finish theirs so they could come get one of mine.

     The gift of beer gave me an excuse to chat them up about their careers in the boat yard here...I was surprised to find just how long all of them have been painting boats.  It seems I have hired a pretty experienced group.  Personally, I think my brain would have fried long ago working in this heat and breathing these paint fumes. 

      I have been spending the last few days getting a number of projects done:  changing some hoses on the engine, mounting and wiring a new solar panel, upgrading the wiring for our new wind generator, and so on.  Inspired by the great new paint on Uliad, I also decided to paint the outboard motor and the boom.  They look much nicer for my efforts!  The same cannot be said for the dinghy, which was apparently left sitting in a mud puddle all summer long.  After several scrubbings, it still looks like a piece of crap. 

     The trouble with a newly painted boat, is that all of the not-new things suddenly look a whole lot worse.  The canvas awning that covers our cockpit suddenly seems very faded and frayed.  The winch handle holders are yellowed and old.  The mast is filthy.  The more work you do on a boat, the more work needs to be done next! 

      We have a date scheduled next Friday to get carried back over to the waterfront and set afloat again.  Kathleen comes Wednesday night.  Hopefully I'll have my projects done in time to get some cleaning done as that is what she'll notice!

 

 

October 15:

 

 

      Kathleen and Emmett arrived late tonight with 7 more bags of luggage in tow.  I don't know where she puts it all, but somehow Kathleen always finds room for everything.  It is great to be all together again.  Being apart for most of the summer has been really hard.

     I did manage to get most of my own stuff put away just in time to pack their luggage into the main cabin.  After hauling 7 large duffel bags up a 12 foot high ladder, we decided to let them sit there until morning.

     The other exciting thing to happen today is they came to remove the plastic tent that has been covering Uliad's deck all summer long.  And they put on a new coat of bottom paint.  So Kathleen's first view of the boat as she walked up at night actually looks like the real thing now.   In the dark she was impressed with how good the boat looks on the outside, but of course the light of day will really show her off.  I wish I could say she was impressed with how the inside of the boat looks.   The dust from sanding the hull and decks has managed to creep into everything on board.  I'm pretty sure they left the main hatch open while they were sanding because there was thick layer of paint dust around the companionway.  I've vacuumed it all twice, but it seems to keep settling everywhere.

    Outside, the painters continue to touch up a few last areas and have finally started reinstalling all the deck fittings and washing down the decks.  With luck and perserverance, we may actually make our date with the travelift on friday. 

 

 

 October 19:

 

     We're floating again!  After much hard work to get everything ready, the stacker showed up Friday morning and lifted Uliad off her stands to carry her down to the water.  The painters slapped a little bottom paint on the few last spots that were hidden under the blocks and then came the giant Travelift with its big slings to cradle our boat and lower her down into the water.

     I was the only person allowed onboard during our lowering.  As we started to float free, I went below to check all the seacocks (no leaks!) and start the engine.  The diesel started right up and we were good to go.  With the rest of our crew aboard, we motored our way over to a slip at Crew's Inn Marina.

    Now we have had a long time to imagine all sorts of horror stories about our freshly painted boat getting scratched up the first time we tried to dock at a marina.  After all, I had probably forgotten everything about how to maneuver my boat in tight quarters over the summer.  I'd been having so many of these bad thoughts, in fact, that I had seriously considered whether we just wanted to take a mooring out in the harbor.  But one look at the rolling, swaying masts out in the bay seemed to be all the encouragement we needed to set course for the marina.

    We made the turn for our slip only to find our neighbor had thrown a mooring line right across our spot.  I let loose with my saltiest yell that he'd better get that line off NOW!  OK maybe I over did it a bit... I think I may have frightened the poor guy.  But hey, did I mention my Brand New Paint Job?

    I really can't say enough about how horrendously hot it is in Trinidad.  By 9 am the sun beats on your head like a hammer.  Just standing behind the steering wheel for 20 minutes and tying some lines off had me literally drenched in sweat.  By mid day, you need to stop for a cold bottle of water just walking to the bathroom.

    But being down next to the water again is already helping.  Not having to walk across a muddy gravel yard to get to the boat means we're finally winning the battle against dirt.  I put the dinghy in the water today and we can finally drive to the store instead of making a hellishly hot trek down the road.  Bit by bit, I'm starting to feel human again.  The boat is coming back to life.  And life is getting back to normal.

 

 

 October 22:  

     Dad and Faye flew back to the USA early this morning, along with several suitcases full of stuff we had no room for on the boat.  When Kathleen arrived with her and Emmett's 7 pieces of luggage, I couldn't imagine where it was all going to go, but Kathleen is pretty amazing when it comes to packing.  Since we're repacking the boat, Kathleen also felt it would be best to gut everything and clean all the shelves and closets and lockers before filling them up.  She has been working like a slave, but today finally took a day off to relax and read before finishing up tomorrow. 

    Emmett has hooked up with a Scottish boy about his age and they've been playing in the marina's pool or watching movies in the air conditioned comfort of the boat each afternoon.  For my part, I am slowly working my way through a long list of boat projects -- reinstalling everything that had to be taken off for storage/painting, connecting the new gadgets we bought over the summer, and tracing down the problems on 3 or 4 wiring problems that appeared.  I'm convinced that boats begin to rot as soon as they stop being used. 

   Kathleen has a long, sad history of bad birthdays.  (Last year was spent seasick somewhere off the coast of Georgia)  True to form, she spent her birthday yesterday sweating, and rubbing a cleaning rag around various hard to reach spots on the boat.  She insisted that she just wanted to get the work over with.  We finally dragged her away to dinner last night, filled her with a few cocktails and presented her gifts.  I've had to promise her a "do-over" birthday sometime in the future though.

   So after all the long hours of work, we're finally starting to think about being able to leave Trinidad in a few days.  I can't wait.  I'm sure there are nice parts to this big island, but Chaguramas isn't one of them.  Garbage floats in the water along with frequent films of oil on the water.  Everyone is working--like us.  Working to get out of here.  And did I mention that it is really, really hot?

 

 

October 27:

 

    I'm sure Trinidad has its lovely parts.  The lush jungle covered hills around Chaguramas harbor screech with birds and frogs and who knows what else.  We took a great hike one day through those hills and down to a pretty little beach on the north coast.  There's a rich cultural melting pot of East Indian and West Indian and South American here.  There's steel drum music and Soca music.  There's great new foods and fresh tropical fruits & veggies

    But sadly, we spent little time exploring those parts of Trinidad.  We were here to get work done, and that we did.  And the newspapers and media here constantly alerted us to daily acts of random violence--murders, armed robberies, kidnappings, sexual assaults, and of course "choppings."  The more we heard of all that, the more content we were to just stay behind the steel fences of the boatyards.

    So for me, I fear I'll always associate Trinidad with the searing heat of the sun, the dirty muddy polluted boat yard, and day after day of backbreaking labor.  We have a beautiful, newly repainted boat now to show for it, but it was exhausting. 

    Trinidad is work.  Trinidad is pain.  Trinidad is filth and sweat and travail.  So we couldn't wait to get the hell out of Trinidad as quickly as possible.  Finally by yesterday we had the boat ready, the groceries bought, and a good weather forecast.  So we jumped at the chance to head north to Grenada.

    We cast off the docklines around 5pm and slowly motored past all the sad suckers who had to stay behind.  And in a little while that sorry, dirty harbor shrunk away behind our stern and we were surrounded by beautiful green islands again.  As we turned a corner and could see open ocean again, two dolphins swam by as if to welcome us back again.  The sunlight faded away as the trade winds filled in and we hoisted sail and set the autopilot for our destination.  The stars came out to greet us...more stars that we had seen for a long time.

    It was a perfect sail:  flat seas, moderate breeze on our beam, everything working onboard.  Nothing to do but watch the sea, the stars, maybe hold hands in the moonlight and talk about wonderful things to come.  This is Uliad, our home.  And it finally feels like we're back. 

What a great paint job!Kathleen relaxing after the sail to Grenada

    Here's a couple shots of ULIAD anchored off Grenada, looking splendid in her new coat of paint.  (Check out the mirror-like reflection of the water in photo 2...very nice!)   If nothing else, Trinidad did give us a great paint job.

 

October 31:

 

     We made it back to Grenada in time to see our old friends from "Whisper".  They were stuck here a while because their cat was having surgery.  All went well and they left yesterday morning.  That left us with no further distractions but to get the final boat work finished.  We had shipped all the parts for a new 12 volt refrigeration compressor and yesterday Basil and his two apprentices came to install it.  Of course, nothing goes easy on a boat, so after removing the old compressor, we spent most of the day routing copper tubing through various inaccessible pathways.  Routing refrigeration lines, I would learn, is even more difficult than routing new wires, because the tubing cant bend too much or it will kink and then you have to start all over.

     While they sweated and crawled, I did manage to fix a few other little things around the boat.  I have also discovered since we unplugged from shore power that one of our battery banks is not holding a charge properly.  So after staying up until 2 am trying to "equalize" the battery (which is sort of a way to rejuvenate old, tired batteries), I finally had to declare the whole thing a lost cause.  They were 6 years old, which is geriatric for AGM deep cycle marine batteries.  We needed new batteries.

    This was a real disappointment for several reasons.  First, these giant batteries are shamefully expensive, and I thought I was finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel with regards to boat spending.  Second, they live in a box in the deepest, furthest recess of the engine room.  Just climbing far enough in to see them is a chore, much less to disconnect them, lift them out of the box and then out of the narrow confines of the engine room.  And third, each battery weighs 160 pounds.  Not exactly something that you just reach way in and pick up.

    So at 2am last night I climbed into bed pretty bummed about the task awaiting me this morning.  I awoke and ate breakfast slowly, trying to delay the invevitable.  A call to a store confirmed that, regrettably, they did have my batteries in stock and would bring them by around 10am.  That gave me just enough time to move the boat to a marina dock, put on my pre-stained "engine room" clothes and dive in.  By the time I had wedged myself into position to disconnect the leads to the battery, I was already soaked in sweat.  This sweat then turned out to be the perfect conductor of electricity, which I discovered the first time I took a socket wrench to a positive battery terminal.  I was a real Ben Franklin there.  I had four posts to disconnect and of course the next one was negative and by the time I got around to the last positive post I had forgotten about my previous shocking discovery and was reminded all over again.

    Safely disconnected, the next job was to get these heavy beasts out.  I may have not paid much attention during the electricity lectures back in physics class, but I still remembered about simple machines: with a combination of pry levers, pulleys, and inclined planes, we managed to extract the old batteries and deposit them dockside.  By now I look like I have just climbed out of a dirty lake.  Only it was my own sweat that had me completely drenched.  Yuck.

    Now, when I called the boat store to order up the batteries, I asked if they'd take the old ones for recycling.  This suggestion was met by much hemming and hawing on the other end of the line, followed by, "well, we don't exactly recycle here...but I guess we can dispose of them for you".  Great.  I had images of 160 lbs of lead getting thrown in the nearest convenient ditch.  But Grenada has its own way of recycling here.  Even as we pulled Uliad up to the dock, an energetic but toothless guy ran down to help with the docklines.  He introduced himself as Ashley, and claimed to be capable of "all kind of boat work, Cap."  "I do washin' an polishin' mon.  I do paintin and varnishin."  His eyes darted around for wood.  "I see dat table dere need some work.  I could strip it down for you, put a nice shine back on dat table!"     Next to the table sat the old batteries.  "Hey!  What you gon' do wit dose?  You wan I could tek dose?" 

    "Tell you what, Ashley," I offered, "you help me carry the new ones onto the boat, you can have the old ones."  Ashley seemed thrilled, as did the delivery man who no longer had to deal with my old batteries.  He hauled down the new batteries with such gusto that Kathleen ended up hiring him to revarnish the cockpit table after all.  This guy looked like he could really work.  Shortly after consummating that deal, he was down the dock chatting with another local guy on a fishing boat.  And soon one of my old batteries was being loaded onto the boat. This was a guy who never quit hustling.  Over the course of the afternoon, I learned of Ashley's 8 children from 6 different women (and with so few teeth!) and mused that his boundless energy is apparently not limited to "polishin' and waxin' boats". 

Ashley the hustler

     I never did hear what sort of profit Ashley turned by flipping my battery.  (All he'd say was that he gave one to a friend and kept one for himself)  I guess they must still have some value.  After all, the things are huge.  Even in the sorry state they're in, they'll probably be able to start the guy's outboard every morning for another 5 years.  My sweat + electricity + metal tool test confirmed that they ain't exactly dead yet.

   So this left the enterprising Ashley at the end of the day with one old 160 pound battery, plus a days wages from Kathleen for the fine job he did on our cockpit table.  I guess that's recycling, Grenada style.  When those old batteries finally run down too far to start an outboard or light a floodlight, I wouldn't be at all surprised to see that fisherman figuring out how to charge his cell phone with the juice that's left.  And as for Ashley...well, I was telling this whole story to the dockmaster at the marina (who also inquired if I still wanted that old battery).  He looked at me, then the battery, and said "Well, that should be pretty interestin' to watch him tek it home.  Y'see over dere.  Dat bicylce b'long to Ashley."  Like I said, the guy can hustle.

 

 

 

     

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