Monday, September 29, 2008

Repairing the Adamo

As many of you know, we were hit by lightning in Venezuela. The damage was mainly to the electronics: Autopilot, depth sounder, VHF radio, Stereo, alternator, automatic battery selector and various light bulbs on the mast. We also had five small holes blown into the hull where the lightning escaped from the stays. These were all above the water line, so no threat to the boat.

Despite the strike, we stayed on the river. I guess we wanted to enjoy what we came to see and were subconsciously procrastinating on the upcoming unpleasantness (dealing with insurance and repairing the boat back in Trinidad!)

We were mentally prepared for much more damage. We contacted our insurance company and they e-mailed over the process for filing a claim: two estimates for each item, followed by endless forms and several weeks of delay in getting a response. Once the claim is approved, you can start on the repairs. When all is fixed, then they make you sign a release and two weeks later you have your money (minus the huge deductible). If you have been following the blog, you know how long it takes to get one estimate to get work done on you boat in Trinidad, much less two quotes for each repair job. That could take over a month! Then you have to actually get the people to show up and do the work.

After the shock, we said NO THANKS to that. Sue notified the insurance company we would not be submitting a claim and I went into the "Crazy German" mode to do the repairs myself. 11 days later, everything but the autopilot was fixed. We shipped that back to Raymarine in the US for repairs via Fed Ex. Getting the package picked up by Fed Ex took seven days. The Fed Ex guy kept finding something wrong with the paperwork (lots of customs forms for exporting to the US). Every time I called the company I got a different story and also a different price. The price issue is important because you have to leave cash for the pickup and it has to be correct change. It actually became kind of humorous. The marina office would call to give us our daily notification that the package was still there. Could we come down and make the necessary corrections?

Our buddies on L'Aventura were dealing with their own problems with customs, trying to get a freezer part into the country. I figured if I showed up looking like this at customs maybe something might get done.

But they require "proper attire". Sense of humor still intact after the lighting strike. All is good and we are looking for our next adventure.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

More Cool Pics from Venezuela

Rain on the Orninoco

Warrau baby

Land crab, bound-up so it will not bite or run away.
Two of these make a great he-crab soup!

Early Morning Canoe Trip

Warrau Pet

The Adamo at anchor, Hyacinth floating by

High and Dry storage

Check out this Smile

Natural gas rig flames at night

The big red boat

This flower is wrapped in a husk that looks like a string bean. If you tap it, it opens up like a magician's trick.

Do we look like cruisers yet?

River Dolphin (Boto) at play next to the Adamo

This is not my picture, but this is what they
look like underwater

Friday, September 19, 2008

Lightning Strikes Twice: Sue's View

When people say lightning doesn't strike the same place twice, they are wrong! We were hit again in the Manamo River. For all of you who have followed us from the beginning you know we were hit just before we set out from Daytona. So once again the autopilot is fried along with the alternator, VHF, spreader lights both fore and aft, stereo, etc. It also shot down the stays and blew several small holes in the hull. So we have been busy getting repairs done and will send the autopilot back to the US for repairs or replacement. Insurance won't do it this time as we have a high deductible and the process of two estimates, blah blah blah...was too painful. Sometimes I wonder why we even have insurance. We will haul out on Tuesday afternoon and will remain in the sling for a couple of hours so we can repair the holes just above the waterline. Fortunately most of the repairs are completed or nearly completed. The hull of our boat looks rough though. It is stained with the brown mud of the river; the paint is deteriorating, and now we have a few small holes in it. The oily water here leaves the waterline black as well. We are waiting until we get back to the USA to do a new paint job. It is just too hot here to undertake that task at this point.

Having to go through the process of repairing things again is almost unbearable. We had just finished getting Adamo into shipshape after two months of work. But, a look on the bright side, we can still keep moving while the autopilot is being repaired. It just means someone has to be sitting at the helm at all times which is tiring. Oh well, it is sailing after all.

In the meantime, Phillip is a happy camper since we have met back up with our friends on L'Aventura. They, too, have been doing a lot of work on their catamaran. Misery loves company! At least we can have fun in the interim. Cocktail hour is thriving in Trinidad.

We are contemplating our next move so stay tuned.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Trading for the Dugout Canoe: by Phil

At the start of the river trip I was hell bent on getting a dugout canoe. As we got further up the river I wanted one even more. When we anchored up for a couple days, I planned on getting one at this village. We offered a kayak for a dugout canoe earlier in the trip and they just laughed at us. We asked Danni, our guide, how long it takes to make a canoe. He said, “one month.” That explains why everyone had laughed at us. Then later we asked Danni if he would trade a canoe for a 3.3 hp mercury outboard motor and that made everyone scramble to find one. Then Danni said, “I will bring a canoe tomorrow.” So we agreed and the next day he brought us one, and we traded the 3.3 motor for a 16 foot canoe.

At this point the trip was a success to me! But there is more. The chief came by the boat after seeing Danni's new motor. He wanted to trade a large pirogue for a 15 hp motor. I don't think he understood that we live on our boat and could never use a huge boat like that. We traded some ropes for his paddle instead. It is a great paddle, well broken in and large! So now I need to practice using the paddle in the canoe so I can get around as well as the Indians. On the way out of the river the people who said no to trading a canoe saw we had one and also saw the kayak. They most have been thinking what did they trade for it. Now I am sealing some small cracks that are customary in these canoes, these cracks are filled with tar. I will pick out the tar and fill it with wood filler. I look forward to bringing it back to the States to go kayaking with Doug and Gram.

Invitation to Dinner - Warrau Style

One afternoon Danni was aboard the Adamo after trading Phil for a dugout canoe (But that is an entirely different story to be told later). A small fishing boat pulled up on our port side and wanted to trade fresh fish that were still flopping around in the bilge. We traded a box of shelf milk for two large cat fish. Danni then offered to cook the fish and invited us over for dinner at his "casa".

We all knew that this would be an unforgettable experience and gladly accepted the invitation. In the late afternoon, we dinghied to the village and docked up at his house.

Danni and his wife were busy cooking on their wood burning stove. The stove consisted of a wooden base on pylons that was detached from the house itself. Yet it was close enough to still be under the extension of the roof. On top of the log base was a dried, six inch high clay cooking surface, three by four feet in area. Split firewood was arranged in a star pattern on top of this surface, with the center lit. The cook can then adjust the cooking temperature by pushing the split logs closer or further apart. The clay retains heat as well, so the entire contraption is quite functional and can get very hot if needed. I thought it was an ingenious solution for houses which are built on stilts over the water and are only made of wood and palm fronds.

Word had gotten out in the village that we had printed photos of Danni's children for him. While our hosts were preparing dinner, a procession of children entered his hut, dressed in there finest clothes to have their picture taken. Over the course of our five day stay at the village, we printed over 75 pictures of children and families. It was a huge hit with the Indians and was a fantastic ice breaker for these quiet and reserved people. Kids and adults crowed around during picture time and then again the next day when we distributed them out. They analysed and discussed every photo with each other. Then as quickly as the crowd had gathered, it would disperse until the next photo op or picture delivery.

When dinner was ready, Danni offered us each a bowl filled with stewed cat fish, plantains and onions in a most tasty sauce, with a side of fresh flat bread that had just been prepared on his clay stove. We liked the bread so much that Susan got the recipe so that it can become part of our cooking repertoire.

Dinner was eaten sitting on the floor. The men and guests eat first. The guests each received their own bowl while Danni and his sons preferred to share out of a community bowl. Susan was the only one who got a spoon. Everyone else ate with their hands.

We communicated in our Tarzan Spanish using our dictionary and sign language. Despite the language barrier, we were able to converse about family, travels, culture etc... At night, power is provided by a generator (courtesy of Chavez). When the power can on, someone showed up with an electric keyboard and asked us to play. Sue and I played Heart and Soul as a duet. Then I played the little bit I could remember without having practiced in over a year. I don't think Mozart was too well received. Boogy woogy jazz seem to go over better.

The next evening, we cooked pancakes for the village on Danni's stove. I'm not to sure how well they were liked. But I did point out to Susan, that they ate them all and that the maple syrup was all gone. It must have been OK. We then brought the TV and DVD player from the boat and played a movie for them (Too Fast, Too Furious) The younger guys really liked that one. Sue sat with a group of kids and taught them some English. It was a wonderful time.

Here are some more photos we took and printed for them.

Check this guy out. His 40 hp is pushing him along while he is bailing the boat with a scooper!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

"Crocodilio" Hunting

The following morning, Danni was back at the boat, inquiring whether we wanted to go to the jungle that afternoon. We were still pretty wiped out from all the activity and continuous trading from the day before, so we declined that idea. Then he suggested "crocodilio" hunting that night. Before I could respond, Phillip was saying "yes, yes, yes". At seven that evening we boarded Danni's dug-out pirogue again and set off on a nighttime hunting expedition. We motored on a plane over the mirror like water in the darkness. The sound of Danni's 40 horse engine and the wind rushing past our ears, drowned out the evening's jungle noises. With a habitual, perhaps even instinctive pull on the engines tiller, the pirogue turned towards the shore piercing through the jungle trees masking the rivers banks into a small cano. Once inside, Danni cut the engine and began to paddle gently, quietly up the narrow jungle stream.

A flashlight in hand, our guide searched the mangrove like roots for the shy caimon. Twenty minutes later he spotted on whispering: "crocodilio". He maneuvered the boat closer, without ever lifting the paddle out of the water. We could see the caimon's glowing eyes reflecting in the flashlight's beam. Just as quietly as we had drifted up to the caimon, it retreated in a backwards motion, sinking its protruding snout and eyes below the water's surface. Danni ran to the front of the boat in pursuit with his flashlight beam, but he was gone.

Shortly there after, we came upon a 6 footer. Danni shown the light while I took aim. I took the shot and hit the caimon. Danni rapidly paddled for the spot where it went down. Shining the flashlight into the muddy water. It looked as though he was going to jump in after him. Dani holding the paddle had his arm up to his shoulder in the water and his nose two inches above the water's surface, poking around trying to find the caimon. After a five minute search, he gave up with great disappointment. That "crocodilio" would have fed half of the village.

We returned to the Adamo empty handed at midnight. The next night, Danni invited us to go again. I asked what time he would pick us up. "8:00pm" "Okay" I said, "What time is it now?" Danni walked out of his hut, looked at the sun and said "5:00pm". He was the Warrau version of Crocodile Dundee.

That night Danni caught one baby caimon by hand. He kept it for a photo op. "Too small to eat" he lamented.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Piranha Fishing

As we had arranged the day before, Danni showed up at the Adamo at 6:30am. Phil and I had packed light for our trip: a water proof bag containing two diet cokes, one tomato, a bag of goldfish snacks, a camera and the hand held VHF. Danni had also packed lightly. He had a few shrimp swimming around his leaky boat, a spool of fishing string and one hook. He asked us if we had any rods, then told us to get them and a knife as well.

We kissed Sue goodbye and with great anticipation boarded Danni’s 25 foot long, 3 foot wide pirogue.
Danni’s was a home built boat, as most of them here are; a dugout canoe with a crude frame and wood planks installed to raise the gunwales. Fabric from old jeans and tar was used as a filler between the planks of wood to keep the water at bay. The boat leaked incessantly, and the faster the boat went, the more water got pushed between the cracks. One spot spewed like a little geyser shooting a stream of water 6 inches into the air and then into the bilge of the boat.

The first thing you notice when you step on board a pirogue is how tippy the boat is. You just don’t hop on. You gently board, balancing yourself while others aboard counter balance your weight to keep it upright. Once seated, you don’t move around much, particularly underway.

Phil was seated on the bow facing aft. I was sitting on a wood plank facing forward. Danni put the engine in gear and we began puling away from the Adamo. We started slowly, then a little faster, then a little more and finally our guide opened her up all the way. We were zipping along at over 40 mph with an inch of gunwale between us and the river's surface. Phil was grinning ear to ear. This was definitely very, very cool.

After skimming along the water for 5 minutes we turned off of the main river into a side cano (a small creek leading into the jungle). Our first task of the day was to find monkeys. Having shut down the engine, Danni paddled quietly, deeper into the jungle.

We could hear monkeys chattering and cracking branches as they swung from tree to tree; but we did not get to see any that morning.

Next we were off to go piranha fishing. By now the sun was beating down again. When you are so close to the equator, you can feel the sun searing your skin. Two weeks ago, in Trinidad, we were as close as you can get to the sun. It was directly over head and it was HOT. Danni brought us to a shady spot along the edge of the river. A cool breeze kept us comfortable as we watched him catch one of the shrimp swimming in his bilge, hook it and toss his hand line in the murky water.

Within a minute, he pulled in a small catfish. He asked for our knife and filleted the finger sized fish into strips of bait. He handed us each a strip and began baiting his own hook. Phil and I followed his lead. We dropped our lines in, and before long we were pulling in red bellied and black bellied piranhas.

Here's the crazy part. You unhook them and drop them in the bilge to swim around your feet! Fresh water is always coming in the boat, so you are really sitting in a big, huge live well. Surprisingly, the fish were not as aggressive as you might imagine. They lay in the bilge without moving around too much.

Back at the Adamo, we cleaned the fish and pan fried them. The verdict? Piranhas are a tasty, mild fish, but quite bony. I think the Adamo crew will stick to larger, not so bony fish.

In the evening, Danni showed up again to go find some monkeys. I guess he won't quit until you get what you paid for. Sue joined us on this trip. It was fun to watch her as we took off in Danni's low-slung, go-fast boat. She looked like she was having a great time, but also had a look of disbelief that people zip around in these boats everywhere.

Our guide brought us into a different cano this time. As we penetrated deeper and deeper into the jungle, the now familiar sounds of monkeys in the distance, came upon us. This time however, an entire troop of capuchin monkeys, heading to their night-time resting spot, used the branches overhead as a bridge to cross the cano. Danni's persistence had paid off, as I am sure it had many times in the past.

Heading up River

After our time in Pendernales, we headed up river early in the morning. The Manamo was wide and surprisingly deep, ranging from 20 to 50 feet. For miles all you could see was the jungle encroaching on the calm flowing mocha colored water. We welcomed the isolation after our time in Chagaramas, the busy port back in Trinidad. As we motored along, we were oblivious to the political turmoil in Venezuela. President Hugo Charvez had kicked out the US ambassador and his entourage; and travel warnings were posted for Americans heading there. Fortunately, the natives were also completely clueless about the international goings on.

As we approached the first Warrau village, we could see them running down their board walks to the canoes. By the time the Adamo was 200 yards from the village they were on there way to intercept us. We had been warned that the first few enclaves were not really interested in trading, rather they were looking for handouts from sailing vessels heading up river. It is tough to resist the cute little faces of small children hoping for some candy or treats. Before we knew it, we had handed out nearly half of our push-pop supply.

Trading or "cambio" is a major activity for Warrau Indians. They trade hand woven baskets and purses, beaded necklaces and bracelets, fresh fish, as well as cheaply carved balsa wood toy boats. In exchange, they receive food (milk, flower, rice, eggs), clothing, fabric, needles, thread, and medicine among other items.

We proceed on until we reached a split in the river. Along the left branch was a larger Indian village. The right branch was broad and split off into other tributaries. The depth in the split decreased to 15 feet. Perfect for anchoring.

It wasn't long before boats from the village began showing up to trade. The second boat to arrive had a friendly Indian, who spoke Spanish (most of the Indians only speak Warrau). Once he realised we were Americans, he handed us a piece of paper that had a hand written recommendation in English from a previous cruiser. The paper explained his name was Danni and he was the local guide. He could show us monkeys and caimons or take us piranha fishing. We used an English-Spanish dictionary to boost our virtually nonexistent Spanish language skills to communicate. In the end of the conversation we had agreed to go see monkeys and fish for piranhas in the morning, as well as recopy his recommendation on new paper, since his was falling apart.

The latter ultimately gave us an opportunity to really get to know the village. We didn't just recopy the text, rather we typed it up and included a photo of Danni at the top of the page. When he saw that he asked whether we could take pictures of his kids and print them. This lead to pictures of other kids etc... but more on that later.