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Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Offer accepted on Picaroon

This was our reaction to the email from Brian at BVI yacht sales at 8-30 yesterday morning which simply read, I think we have a deal.
 Sure enough, there was the signature of the owner right next to ours at the bottom of the PDF of the contract.

We're about to become the owners of a Hardin Sea Wolf, all being well with the survey, and to say that we're excited would be an understatement. Our bid went in just before the weekend, and so we had to endure the whole weekend of anticipation, not really expecting our new bid to succeed, even thinking someone else had made a higher bid, but then we opened our email first thing Monday morning and BAM!!!!. There it was the words, Dear Jackie, "I think we have a deal"

I don't know what's going on here, maybe it's the heat, maybe we've both lost our presence of mind. You see we needed to buy a car for living in the DR and we had decided to look for something small and economical. What did we end up buying, a big six cylinder, 4 wheel drive Nissan Pathfinder which is huge and built like a tank. A good car to be in if your in an accident, said the salesman.

When it came to buying a boat, our first boat we were going to buy something not too big, maybe 34-36ft easy to handle for a couple of small and aging sailors. What did we end up buying, a 41ft ketch with an extra six foot log sticking out the front. The bowsprit.

So this is it, we're just a stones throw now from owning this beautiful old girl, who goes by the name of "Picaroon" which according to wikipedia means pirate boat, we've got ourselves a pirate ship, we've gone and bought Captain Ron's boat, albeit in rather better shape than the one in Captain Ron.

Next week we'll go back to Puerto Rico where she will be hauled out and surveyed in Fajardo. The broker, Brian, in the BVI will arrange all this as it's a two day sail to bring her round from Salinas and a two day sail back to Salinas. Were rather hoping that we can do the return sail to Salinas which would serve as the sea trial that we need to do. It would also help us to get familiar with the workings of a ketch rig which we have never yet sailed. Of course we will have an experienced crew for this which we can learn from, so that would be the best plan. Then we berth her back in Salinas Bay, complete the paperwork, pay the money and she will be ours.

We've come along way from my very first entry in sailblogs, "So we've bought the wellies" from novices to navigators, from our start yachting course to our dayskipper practical in force nine gales in Scotland. The dream we dared to dream all those years ago has finally come to a pass.

Once she's ours, we'll need to bring her back to the Dominican Republic, and probably to Luperon, but before doing this we're going to have to sail her somewhere that is not too challanging. Somewhere close by where we can figure out all the sheets, sailplans, instrumentation, how to anchor safely and how to get in and out of marinas without spiking a million dollar yacht on the end of the bowsprit.

Where might that be you may ask, well just a couple of days sail from Salinas is, yes you guessed it, The BVI - got there in the end.

Friday, 11 October 2013

Head, Heart & Intuition

There's a saying, don't let your heart rule your head, and another that says, trust your intuition. Both of these we have applied to great extent when deciding which boat we will eventually buy. As you know, if you've been following this blog, we've been researching, viewing and sailing lots of different boats over the last five or six years. All this ground work has of course been worthwhile so that we don't jump in and make the wrong choice. After all this is probably the first and last boat we ever buy so we don't want to make rash or wrong decisions.
When we were newcomers and a bit green behind the gills with all things boaty, we were attracted to boats built in the far east, the Cheoy Lee, Formosa, Tayana, Hans Christian and a few other makes I can't quite recall. These boats looked, to our na├»ve eyes, all that a boat should be; a romantic vision, a symphony of craftsmanship, with carvings, bowsprits and figureheads that would plough the oceans in search of adventures. These were the boats that we dreamed of owning one day, but the more we researched we began to understand that, as pretty as these vessels were, they were more than likely to be costly to maintain, and wouldn't sail as well as more modern designs.  So we stopped looking at these romantic visions of sailboats, and started to listen to our heads rather than our hearts.
The search for our perfect boat, one that didn't have all that bright work,  a nice looking plastic, easy to maintain yacht eventually led us last year to the C&C landfall. With its spacious galley, big heads and sleek lines, she  looked the ideal boat. We found her languishing, unloved in Luperon,  and promptly put in an offer. Suffice to say we didn't buy "Seagulls", you'll know why if you've been following this blog, or scroll back, if you've a mind too.
So after heeding all the advice, taking into account all of our five years of painstaking research we have fallen head over heels,..... not a good idea on a sailboat,..... in love with a bloody Formosa, and a little less so with a Tayana 37 and we've put offers in on both boats. We have stopped listening to our heads, employed our intuition and soon, we hope, will be the owners of one of either of these boats.
However, the excitement of last week, when were went aboard these two boats in Salinas has turned to frustration, no not frustration, perhaps suspended anticipation as we wait for a response from the agents/owners. You see,  it's not just a question of emailing them an offer price, we have had to download official forms/contracts, print out, fill in the blanks, scan and email back. They then send these same forms to the owners who then have to fill in their response, mail back before we can know if our offer has been successful, or not .
Every morning we open our mail in anticipation, only to be disappointed, and so we're still waiting. Maybe today, maybe tomorrow, it's like being a kid waiting for Christmas, it seems like it's been forever, although it's only been a few days.
We posted a question on a website called cruisers forum where yachties give each other advice. Should we buy the Tayana or the Hardin sea wolf? As to be expected we've had plusses and minuses from sailors who have responded, it hasn't made things any clearer, just muddied the waters. Our  Intuition says, Tayana 37, heart says Sea Wolf, and head says neither, but I'm in no mood to listen to my head, I just want Christmas day to come so I can open my presents.

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Preamble to the Puerto Rico adventure

Due to violent storms in the Dominican Republic we have not been able to post on the internet for three days so the following  blog is a bit late in arriving.

It is a long tale of our trip to look at a couple of boats in Puerto Rico and so I have posted it in three separate postings but they should read as one.

There's a lot to read, but it needed telling like this.

Mission impossible/Puerto Rico

Google maps are brilliant, but like the way that travel brochures, filled with pictures of exotic beaches, don't show you the bugs and mosquitoes, google maps don't show unhelpful desk clerks and customs officers.

We had our travel plans and schedule for our trip to Puerto Rico worked out in meticulous detail. Jackie had done her homework and although the timing was always going to be tight we had enough wriggle room to get from the Dominican Republic to Puerto Rico, see a couple of boats in Salinas, and back in twenty four hours.

We took the luxury Metro bus, that has such good air con that it's best to pack a fleece for the four hour ride to Santo Domingo and arrived at 3pm.
The ferry wasn't due to sail until eight so we had plenty of time to sort out our tickets which we had reserved online with the agent in Santa Domingo, all we had to do was find the office. We thought there could be a hiccup here as we hadn't received the confirmation email their website promised.

One important detail we had missed when we decided to travel on the Tuesday night ferry was that that particular Tuesday was a holiday in the Dominican Republic. Of course that wouldn't affect the travel agents office, would it? WRONG. We had no trouble finding the office but the steel bars on the doors were closed with a big padlock. We headed for the port, on foot, only to find after a very hot fifteen minute walk through the Zona Colonial that we had been going in completely the wrong direction. We decided we were perhaps better off in a taxi. The said "taxi" should have been in the scrap yard a couple of years ago, but as our driver had been recommended by the nice policeman we had asked for directions we jumped in and found ourselves at the ferry port within ten minutes. It was now about 4pm.

The office was open for business; probably the only thing open in the whole of Santo Domingo, so we stepped inside, to buy our ticket to ride. The charming girl on the desk took our passports and started to process our booking. "Esta" she asks, " Do you have the ESTA"?
Our grasp of Spanish is not very good but we gather that what she is asking for is our travel visa to enter Puerto Rico, which we are expecting to get when we arrive. It turns out that we can't travel without having this document but we can go online and fill out the form, pay 40 dollars and then she can book us on board. Oh good, that sounds easy then, so can we do that here? "No es no possible" All we need to do is to go back into the centre and use one of the many internet cafes, but of course as it's a holiday today there's none that are open. OK, so we need to get into enterprise mode here. We need a computer to go online and a printer in a city we don't know, where everything is closed and we need to get this before 6pm and it's about 4.30.
We decide that a hotel may be the way forward and take a taxi to be eventually dropped at the very very posh  Inter-continental on the Malacon. The reception guy speaks English and is able to help.
Bingo!!!! They have a pc and a printer we can use. We find the "ESTA" site and fill in the form, pay online, email the pdf to the hotel desk because the printer for this pc is broken. The reception staff print out our Visa and call us a taxi and don't even charge us, "muy amable" (very kind) our taxi speeds us back to the ferry port.
The office is still open and we present our ESTA to the charming lady who needs to check through everything very slowly. There's a deadline for boarding, and it's fast approaching. We present ourselves at the customs desk with tickets and 100 bits of paper. A very puzzled officer has to call another officer and then another as he can't make his computer accept our documents. Five minutes to the deadline and we're through into the embarkation hall. Another official takes our documents and we're ushered into a room to be confronted by that woman in the James Bond movie, you know the one with the spikes that flick out of her shoes, who is very sceptical about our intended 24 hour visit to this outflung corner of the US of A.
Two minutes to go!!
So you're visiting a friend, you travel all this way to spend one hour with a friend whose second name you don't know, mmmmmm.  Eventually she smiles, and says
"Have a good trip" and we are hustled to the gangway that is in darkness, Jackie bangs her wrist, which will swell to a big bump as we finally stumble into the entrance hall of the Caribbean Fantasy and the steel doors clang shut behind us.

"Welcome aboard, here is the key to your cabin, bon voyage".  

Caribbean fantasy and a sea wolf..........

The ferry which I suppose could accommodate a couple of thousand people had only eighty passengers.  In the bar a lone girl singer belted out Spanish Karaoke to a crowd of two, whilst upstairs in the lounge a five piece latino band played to no-one at all. We spent the evening away from all this on the open deck, with a bottle of wine, well two actually. The ferry finally set sail at 10pm and we went to bed.

At 6am the next morning we stood on the deck of the Caribbean fantasy;  they must have been on the rum when they came up with the name. It's just a huge car ferry, with 3 casino tables, lots of fruit machines, and massage parlour. Jackie had packed her cosi, but the swimming pool was somewhat of a disappointment, no bigger than a jacuzi, empty and decorated with  beer bottles. It was, let us be kind, somewhat  uninviting.  The fantasy belched diesel fumes into a vermillion sky and we watched the sun rise behind the silhouette of Puerto Rico.
We docked at 8am, on schedule and waited in line at immigration. The line moved painfully slowly but by nine o'clock it was our turn. We handed the immigration officer our documents, had our finger and thumb prints scanned, and were photographed by a mini camera. He just needed to check one small thing and ushered us into an adjoining glass room, offered us a seat and said this will only take a couple of minutes. The door automatically locked as he left the room.

 The couple of minutes turned into three quarters of an hour as he returned to his watchtower to grill the rest of the passengers. Homeland security wasn't rushing and our tight schedule was being squeezed. Eventually we were waved through and we took a taxi to a car hire company we had found on the net, that sat right on the P2, the road we needed to get to Salinas, which we reckoned would take about an hour and a half, although the taxi driver told us it would take three hours. We hoped he was wrong.
We had planned to reach Salinas by midday, see these two boats, drive back to Mayaguez and catch the same ferry back to DR at 8pm, tight but do-able.

All didn't go smoothly at the car rental office though. They couldn't process our rental with my debit card, but luckily Jackie had a credit card which would do the trick. So the nice lady, Stevie, at Enterprise started the processing again.  "Can I see your license?" and Jackie handed over her license. "I'm sorry" she said this license has expired in March 2013. Oh no! Now what?!  Well they juggled things a bit and somehow managed to satisfy their systems that we were good people of honest intent and we finally set off in our little red Honda to our rendezvous in Salinas with Jean, pronounced John.

It was about 10.30am and we were at least an hour adrift from our plan. On top of all of this we were going to have our schedule squeezed some more. The car hire office closed at 5pm and we had to be back on board the Caribbean Fantasy by 6pm at the latest.

Of course, one small detail we had overlooked was that in America, and in American colonies, like Puerto Rico there is a speed limit of 55mph. We didn't have a map, all we knew was that Salinas was just off this highway called P2, so if we stay on this road which we had seen on google maps, that became the P52 around a town called Ponce we would be fine. That was until we called Jean to get directions.

Turn off at La Isabella and call me, he said, which we did and pulled into a Shell garage, to get some bottles of water, and call Jean, on a bad line and his Spanglish accent. The check-out man in the garage told me that Salinas was the next turn on the right along the highway we had just turned off, great almost there, it's about midday, and almost back on schedule.
Jeans' directions seem to contradict the guy in the petrol station, but we go with his, thinking maybe the boat isn't exactly in Salinas we go under the main highway, get lost in a town we know is wrong, turn round looking for a left, or was it a right turn he said. Miss the turning altogether, take a wrong turn onto the slip-road to the highway going the wrong way and locked into a shouting match that is de rigueur for all married couples driving to places they don't know, without a map in a foreign land with tight deadlines to meet. Now we're heading down this motorway in silence looking for the opportunity to turn around but there are no exits for what seems like miles and miles and we're running late. The guy at the Shell garage said that there were no signs for Salinas, Jean said something about 65, and right in front of us is a big sign that says SALINAS, 65. Well what about that, we found it by mistake, call jean who talks us through the middle of town, on a mobile that keeps dropping out and arrive very hot and desperately in need of a cigarette, the car is a no smoking car.

It's about half twelve by now, and in the scorching heat of a the day we step into Jeans RIB for the short ride across this beautiful bay to where the Hardin sea wolf is moored about half a mile offshore.

We climb aboard and fall in love.

She could do with a little TLC but she is beautiful with her two highly varnished wooden masts gracing a cloud dappled blue Caribbean sky.    


After  viewing the Sea wolf Jean drops us back at the Marina, where we've arranged to have a look at a Tayana 37. This will be our first opportunity to get on board the yacht that has been pinned to our wall in England for the last five years. We find Jane aboard, she's in her 80s', her husband isn't there and she wasn't expecting us till mid-afternoon. The boats in such a mess, she says,  we say we'll grab a bite to eat and come back in a while and not to worry. We get back about an hour later and her husband Dick is now back and they invite us on board. This is a beautiful boat, a boat they took delivery of,new, in 1984 and are now having to sell as their sail buy time has come.

This has been their home for 20 years, and it has that feel about it. They have lovingly looked after their boat and it shows. If we had the money to buy her, then I'm sure we would but at $65000 she is beyond our budget. We just had to get on board one of these fine vessels though to see if what we had dreamt about all these years was true, that this would be our dream boat, the ideal size for us, and one that would sail anywhere and we could feel good about.
Jane and Dick are a lovely couple and they chatted away freely extoling the beauty of their baby. And suddenly it was 3.30pm, and we had to get back on the road if we were going to make it back to the car rental office by closing time of 5pm.

The drive back was tense with the clock ticking down the minutes and a distinct lack of signs telling us how far we still had to go to Mayaguez. "Was that 55 miles to go or 55km" I said. The speed limit signs said 55mph so are the signs in miles or km. I start to ignore the speed limit and stay glued to a van that's dodging in and out of lanes heading in our direction keeping a sharp eye out for police. It's all 110% concentration but as ten to five ticks by we hit the outskirts of Mayaguez and phone the office to tell them where we are. It's rush hour in the city and we begin to crawl, it's five to five.
We pull into the Enterprise yard with two minutes to spare, and the heavens open.

We made it!

A taxi arrives to take us back to the Caribbean Fantasy waiting at the ferry port where we check in and get on board, dump our stuff and have a shower. Then it's out on deck for cold Presidente and a cigarette.

We stay there watching the sun setting over Puerto Rico, and polish off a couple of bottles of wine. We talk endlessly about those two boats, and buy both of them, before falling into our bunks at about half nine.

We rise at about 5.30 and watch the dawn break as we glide towards Santo Domingo with even less people on board than the outward voyage. Mind you this passenger list has a bit more cinematic qualities about it. We've got a chapter of Hells angels and an order of nuns aboard. The Nuns are all kitted out in white from head to toe. Two are on deck for sunrise and one of the Hells angels is there to bring them a couple of chairs for them to sit in, I thought that was a quaint juxtaposing of angels.

We anticipated all sorts of difficult issues arising when we hit customs at Santo Domingo but we glide through with just lots of bienvenidos, have a nice stay, and we're back where we started 24 hours ago.
Back on the Metro luxury bus and by 4pm we're home at Orilla Del Mar.

That was some adventure.