Ship's Log               s/v Uliad 

 July 1:   


   Trinidad is an island of neary 2 million people, but the numbers seem to be dropping quickly.  It seems that this island is in the midst of an unprecedented murder spree.  Every morning here at the Crew's Inn marina, the local newspaper is left on our deck.  The first few pages are filled with all the murders, kidnappings, and assorted violent crimes that have taken place in the last 24 hours.  After travelling through all these placid little everybody-knows-everybody islands, it is a bit shocking to read.  One unique crime found here is "chopping".  What is chopping, you might ask?  Well, in jungle covered tropical areas, machetes are as common here as leaf blowers are in the suburbs.  You can probably guess the rest.  So when one guy attacks another with a machete that happened to be conveniently nearby, it gets reported in our morning newspaper as so-and-so was arrested for chopping.  Nice.

    The heat and humidity down here has been making all of us irritable.  Weapons of any sort (even machetes) are probably not a good idea to throw into the mix.   Despite the fact that most of this gang and drug related violence taking place away from here, it has us just paranoid enough to stay in the marina and work on the boat rather than explore the island.  It's generally not recommended to go anywhere outside the fences that surround the yards & marinas after dark. 

    Adding to this bleak impression...I went over to Peakes boat yard today where we'll soon be having Uliad hauled out.  It's a big, dirty gravel field surrounded by barbed wire and filled with boats up on stilts.  It is a giant parking lot for yachts.  There are flood lights on tall square towers and even elevated guard booths.  Except for the yachts, it looks like a prison camp. 

   So it's not all palm lined beaches and crystal clear waters to this life.  Every so often, a ship needs a shipyard.  And shipyards the world over tend to be dirty, polluted, industrial places like this.  It is pretty nice to have a nice marina with a pool, shore power, unlimited water, and a morning paper.  We can sit down below in the air conditioning and think we're in a grand spot and forget that  shipyard isn't waiting for us just down the shore in a couple days.  Well, that fantasy lasts until we open the morning paper anyway.

    The other interesting thing in the newspaper here is that there is little regard for standard English in print.  All the reporters spell phonetically, and quotes are made verbatim.  For example,  one article talked about how the Army had moved into a particularly crime ridden neighborhood and one resident was quoted on the front page as saying, "All dem bad boys gon in hiding now, some leave Richplain and some on de low.  So we free to move how we accustomed doing."  Now I have no doubt this is what was said to the reporter, and there are plenty of neighborhoods in the US where the same interview could have taken place, but I have a feeling that back in the states, an editor might have made a few corrections in spelling and such before printing the quote.  Even government ministers are quoted as saying things like "Dem gots to be watchin theyself."    It would be interesting to sit through a school spelling class down here. 

Three days of mayhem in Trinidad Newspaper


 July 3:




   Our haul out went smoothly yesterday.  I was up very early making last minute preparations:  flushing the heat exchangers with fresh water, topping off a water tank, paying the marina bill...  We were the first scheduled haul and we pulled in just after 8 am.  It is always impressive to see our home lifted up over our heads.  After a good pressure washing of the bottom, the Travelift set us down on a big transport car that moved us down to a corner of the yard.  Then workers came and pushed big blocks and jack stands into place and finally, a long rickety metal ladder for us to climb up a good 10 feet onto Uliad's deck.

Uliad goes to the boat yard in Trinidad

   They say that nothing happens quickly here, and aside from the haulout, this has been true.  It takes multiple calls to different contractors to get someone to come over.  Then more calls to drag a cost estimate out of them.  I can't imagine how hard it will be to actually get someone to do the work.  One helpful piece of advice another cruiser gave us was this:  When somebody tells you "tomorrow", it doesn't mean tomorrow.  It just means "not today".  Since hearing that, I've learned to push for someone to tell me "today", and not to sit around waiting for someone who was going to come tomorrow.

   After hauling out, we were told, an air conditioner will be brought over right away to your boat.  So by 10 am it's getting pretty damned hot and still no AC.  Over at the office, they sounded surprised and made a call.  Pretty soon a short Indian guy with no teeth comes over and says that he runs "Cosmo's Yacht Services and he'll bring us an air conditioner tomorrow.  uh-oh.  I pressed for today, but the best I could get was "first thing tomorrow."

   In Uliad, it was up to 94 degrees in the cabin below before (thank God!!) the afternoon rains came.  I worked through the downpours on deck, showering off the sweat and disassembling deck equipment at the same time.  Kathleen lay below with both bedroom fans trained upon her, cursing I imagine. 

   By this morning, it had cooled off some down below.  But in the process of doing that, we also let in a small swarm of mosquitoes which feasted on Kathleen's legs all night.  More cursing.  By 7:30 our Air Conditioning man had not shown up.  by 8:30 Kath was back in her position in front of the fans and Cosmo was not answering his phone.  We've been working with KNJ Marine services as our project manager here, so we put them on the task of hunting down Cosmo.  By 9:30 we agreed that we'd call KNJ every hour and remind them of our plight.  By 10:30 I suggested that we all go spend the day in the air conditioned office of KNJ glaring at them. 

   Finally at about 11am, Mr. Cosmo showed up with a brand new air conditioner in the back of his pickup.  I presume he was out shopping for it all morning.  He set straight to work and I gladly volunteered as his helper to get the thing running.  And by 11:30, we once again had cool dry air filling the cabin!   I was so relieved I could have kissed Cosmo right there...except for that he's a dude...and he has no teeth.  I guess I could have asked Kathleen to do it, but she had finally stopped cursing now so why rock the boat?




 July 9:   


   Em and I got up at 4am today to catch a cab to the airport and begin the long series of flights back to Minnesota.  Let's see, it the past week we've gotten contractors lined up to do some welding repairs to Uliad's hull, build new davits for the dinghy, paint the whole outside of the boat, make a new downwind sail, sew some small repairs on the mainsail, replace the teak cap rail, and sew a new dodger and bimini to keep the rain and spray out of the cockpit.  Now I need to go home and work to pay for it all.

   Meanwhile, everyone we talk to down here says that you'd better not expect anybody to get any work done if you're not staying on top of them all the time.  So Kathleen is staying on in Trinidad a while to make sure that the hired contractors actually show up and do the jobs.  We also hired a local project manager to also make sure it all gets done.  After living in the yard for the past week and having to climb down a shaky ladder and hike across the yard every time you have to go to the bathroom--there's no way either of us want to stay here for a couple months and do the project management ourselves.  I'm sure Kathleen will be highly motivated to rattle some cages and get the work started so she can get back home, too.

   It will be interesting to see how we feel about being back.  After living on the boat for 9 months, I'm sure all the unlimited water, electricity, and space will seem luxurious.  Will the pace of life drive us crazy?  Will I hate going back to the working world?  Time will soon tell.   



 July 15:   

    The transition back to America has gone smoothly so far.  Our flights went smoothly, but I couldn't help but notice how nice it was to travel without the stress of deadlines:  No rush to get the vacation started, no stress over getting back to the office on time.  Whatever happens to the flight schedule--its all no big deal.  Our only glitch was a two hour delay in our last flight to Minneapolis, so I did feel bad that my Dad had to stay up so late to pick us up.   But hey, he's retired too.  The same feeling of freedom struck me today as I was taking a walk during an Orlando rush hour.  The traffic is backed up, everyone is in a hurry to get somewhere, and how nice it is to just not be rushing around anywhere! 

   After going back home and attending the annual family reunion, I flew off to Orlando, Florida yesterday to teach my usual medical procedures course.  So today I got to put on a suit and tie for the first time since last November and talk medicine again.  Fortunately, I did remember how to tie my tie, and so far (knock on wood) I don't seem to have forgotten anything medical. 

   Watching Emmett transition back has been interesting.  On one hand, I'm so proud of how well he can communicate with adults.  He can talk intelligently to family about his travels and be very thoughtful and polite.  This is no doubt the benefit of spending so much time with grown ups while cruising.  But he can also be socially immature when interacting with other kids.  At the reunion he had swarms of boys to play with all day and once during a particularly chaotic moment in the basement he just sat down and put his hands on his ears and started crying saying, "I just need everyone to be quiet!!"  I wasn't expecting it, but I guess it would make sense that after so many tranquil months on quiet beaches that the mayhem of 6 kids yelling and chasing around in a small place could be a bit overwhelming for him.  A little "quiet time" and he was soon ready to go join the fun again.  Later in the day, I noticed him on the verge of another meltdown.  Another boy broke a rule while they were playing baseball and Emmett's eyes started to fill  with tears as he yelled "He can't do that! He can't do that!"  Em just didn't know quite what to do in that social situation.  But he's a smart guy and pretty soon he had it under control again.  He's just really out of practice with interacting with his peers.  He could do this one on one with friends on the boat, but never in big groups like this.

   So for all the benefits of going cruising, we do need to give Emmett some more experience this summer in playing with groups of kids his age.  I'm guessing that Em won't mind that assignment.  Aside from these few incidents, he had an absolute blast at the reunion.

   Kathleen, however, reports a different story.  She struggles in the heat to get contractors to come and get started on Uliad.  By tow days ago, she was starting to go berserk in the heat and decided that, for better or worse, she had to get out of Trinidad.   Several visits with welders finally brought job quotes and will hopefully lead to that project starting before the end of the week.  Unfortunately, one of the welers sounds like he has a crush on Kathy so she's trying figure out how to get him to come do the work without putting herself in a scary situation.  To top it all off, our project manager  at KNJ Marine started having chest pain last week and now has to have bypass surgery.  So Uliad is being left in the hands of his assistant.  Can ANYTHING just go smoothly in Trinidad?!  I'm starting to wish I was still there watching all this rather than leaving it to Kathleen.  But it would probably only be worse for us both to be so irritable on the same boat.  At the end of the day, it looks like we're just going to have to leave it to KNJ and hope for the best.



  July 23



   How quickly our lives have changed!  Kathleen arrived back from Trinidad on Saturday.  Sunday I flew by myself to Albuquerque with a couple suitcases full of work clothes to start my locum tenens assignment in a little town an hour south of there.  I glanced in the mirror in an airport bathroom and had to laugh...I've become the bleached out hair-free spirit-beach bum-looking guy who will probably not strike confidence in my colleagues and patients at first glance.  I remember in the past thinking that doctors who do locums work are probably a group of unmotivated slackers who's careers are more of a hobby between windsurfing trips and now, sure enough that's me.  Hopefully a tie and a stethoscope around my neck will help make my first impressions.

   I have moved into a room at the Best Western which will be my home for the next two months.  It ain't much, but it will do.  And a brief drive around this desert town confirms that my accomodations are as good as it gets here. The comforts of home--air conditioning, long hot showers, reliable fast internet service, well stocked stores, etc.-- they all seemed like a real treat at first.  But already I'm starting to miss life on the boat.  I get up by myself...go off to work alone...come home to the same (although the bed has been made) empty room.  After the whole family being together in the same small space, I now am all alone in a space as big as the desert sky.

   This little desert town may be only an hour's drive from Albuquerque, but it is really, really rural.  It is located in a dry field of rocks along the Rio Grande river, with mountains to the east and west.  A few determined ranchers grow chiles and alfalfa along its banks.  Navajo indians live (God knows how) in the hills.At night the desert breeze smells of sage and sand, and the sky blazes with stars.  Aside from that, there is nothing. 

   How much nothing?  Consider this.  In 1945, when our government was looking for the safest, most secret, out of the way place they could find to explode the world's first ATOMIC BOMB, they chose a spot just 20 miles from here.  That's how far away we are from everything.

My new backyard

    After living at sea, I can appreciate the beauty of nothing.  The broad, high plains of this desert remind me of the open sea.  Only frozen, immobile, and silent.  Perhaps this stark environment makes a more quiet, gentle spot for me to re-enter the turbulent life.



 July 28:  

   I don't thing anyplace else in the world has nearly as good of retail shopping opportunities as the USA.  Even out here in the middle of nowhere, I can go online, find just about any damn thing, and have it shipped right to my door within a week.  You have no idea how amazing that is unless you've spent some time in places where telecommunications, shipping, and customs personnel seem to conspire to make such a thing impossible.   From the comfort of my hotel room I've been charging through my list of things wee need for the boat with gusto.  We're going to have to watch ourselves with this novelty!   

    My other mission lately has been to restock our DVD movie supply.  You might think that when out living the adventurous life, you wouldn't need movies, but sometimes it turns out to be a great treat to just sit in our cabin in the evening and watch a movie.  We brought quite a few along, but after 9 months we'd pretty much exhausted our supply.  Voila!  It seems that hollywood has continued to pump out new ones since we've been gone.  Once again shopping at the Movie Gallery across the street turns out to be quite a bountiful experience! 


 July 31:  

    Being a long way from anywhere can be useful sometimes.  Aside from the first atomic bomb test near here that I told you about, the government has several other useful projects going on out here in the New Mexico desert.  There is Roswell, of course, where conspiracy theorists claim that an alien space ship crashed in the 50s and our government did autopsies on the Martians.  And then there is the White Sands Missle Range just south of here.  These broad, flat, empty plains must be perfect when you're a bit worried that your radical new missle design could turn out to be a spectacular disaster.

   And then there is the Very Large Array National Radiotelescope.  About 50 miles west of here there is a broad high plain surrounded by mountains.  This turns out to be the perfect spot for astronomers.  The thin atmosphere at 7000 feet gives clearer observations, and the lack of people and surrounding mountains means no radio wave interference.  So our government built the worlds largest array of radiotelescopes up here.  If you've ever seen the movie "Contact" with Jodie Foster, it was here with this equipment that she first heard the signals from the aliens.

   Driving an hour each way just to see some giant satellite dishes out in the desert is not exactly prime tourism, but hey...there wasn't anything better to do back in town.  So I drove out today to see where my tax dollars are going.  To be honest, it's a pretty amazing site.  You can see it from 7 miles away as you come down the mountain rim and standing underneath one of these dishes they are huge.  They're mounted on rails so they can move all the dishes close together for a really high resolution picture, or they can spread them across 15 miles for maximum sensitivity of the very faintest signals of electromagnetic activity from billions of light years away.

The VLA What are they looking at?

   So after a quick tour of the visitor center to refresh my knowledge of physics, I wandered out under the nearest dish to snap a few photos.  The sign at the start of the trail tells me to stay on the path and watch out for snakes.  Underneath the dish, I'm looking up at the enormous structure wondering if I should instead be checking the bushes for rattlesnakes and all of the sudden, the antennas started moving in perfect unison.  The hum of the machinery echoed out across the plains as 27 giant radiotelescopes turned their attention westward toward God-knows-what.  And then, perfect silence again.  I made it back to the car (no snakes sighted) and was a bit disappointed that the gift shop was closed...although I can't imagine what sort of souvenir I could possibly want from here. 

   Then a long hour's drive across the vast expanses of central New Mexico.  So that should tell you a bit of what my life is like out here when that was my excitement for the week. 



                       created by Steve Erickson 2007-2012
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