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Thursday, 12 June 2014

Luperon, my kind of town

Yesterday, I'm standing at the counter of a small grocery come off licence type of Colmado (shop) in the centre of the town of Luperon, waiting to buy a packet of cigarettes, along with few other locals also waiting. There's a local police officer being served who turns and smiles at me, he says, "Como esta", I say, Bien, gracias, e tu, "bueno gracias" he says, and we shake hands like old friends. Next to him, another local asks, in English, "where are you from" England I say, "Oh, Eng-a-land hey, lubbly jubbly" he says, and we laugh. A little kid pushes in front of me, oblivious of the queue, and pushes a crumpled note towards the shopkeeper, who takes it, serves him some sweets and he's gone. It's a slow queue of about six of us standing patiently at the counter, engaged in animated and good hearted conversations, that I don't get, but I can feel it, my Spanish isn't quite that up to speed.  The shopkeeper weighs out small portions of this and that for the police officer that takes time. People pass by the open-to-the-road counter and exchange friendly  banter loudly, with either the shopkeeper or the queue. It's a lively ten minutes whilst I wait to be served, it's a popular little shop, almost a meeting place, more than a shop.
We've just been round the corner to a mini supermacado to buy some eggs and bread, and a couple of bottles of wine, guided there by some guy who wants to help, he speaks good English, wants to be friendly, but I'm a bit suspicious of his motive. Turns out he just wants something to eat in payment for his trouble. We give him four rolls and fifty pesos so he can buy some salami to put in them, that was enough, and as we pass him after buying the cigarettes he gives us a big smile and a wave from across the street.
The streets are alive, awash with people, it's Saturday, noisy people, noisy little motor bikes, weave in and out of the street gatherings, kids laughing, playing, speakers pump out Dominican pop music to a small bunch of teenagers that have taken up residence in the middle of the road, some sit in chairs in the road, parents with babes in arms getting down with the kids, sway to the rhythm of the day.  Each doorway seems to have at least one person, sometimes two, elderly ladies or gents,  sat on an old chair taking in the view, with a cheerful smile and a ready "hola"(hello) as we pass, it would be impolite of us and them not to exchange this simple greeting.
Luperon is alive, life plays out on the street, a ramshackle street, a mish-mash of dwellings, and workshops and the tiniest of stores. We pass one of these no bigger than a garden shed where two young trumpet players are having a music lesson that spills out into the street, everywhere is life in chaotic abundance. And litter, and lazy dogs, missing pavements, holes in the road, watch your step, is the order of the day, and don't trip over those motor bike parts strewn around the guy who's fixing his bike on the pavement.

Then there's the gringos, the cruisers, the live-aboards that have adopted, and been adopted by Luperon, who spend time gossiping, in JRs, or Wendys, (coldest beer in town says the sign) or having breakfast in the upper deck under a corrugated roof on the first floor completely open to the breeze where they serve only breakfast, all day.

 It takes about half a minute after walking in to any of these watering holes to strike up a conversation. "what boat you on, I'm Liz, anything you need to know, want, just ask". Hi, my names Less, need a haircut, a massage, just call me on 68" What did you say your name was, sorry, "Less" oh like more or less I says, " gee that's funny,but  no, more like Lester, but call me Less".

Then we run into hillbilly Bob Mathews, in JRs bar, in a garden courtyard, still on the street. Bob plays fiddle, well, is revisiting the fiddle after a 13 year break, we fall into an easy conversation about music, mostly, and then Cabarete falls into the dialogue.

"I was in Cabarete, in January" drawls Bob, "looking after a small apartment block" That wouldn't be an apartment block just behind Janets' supermacado I butt in. "Yep, looked after it for a friend of mine called", called Jerry I says, "Hell yeh, you know him". Well not exactly but I do know his wife, although I haven't seen her for over 30 years. She used to be married to my best friend Smoke who lives in London. We ran into the brother of the owner that died, down in Salinas, Tony and Rose, they're on a boat called English Rose.
It was one massive coincidence that we had run into them, especially as I had only just remade contact with Jerrys wife, Judy, Smokes' ex of more than thirty years ago now about to live just down the road from us in the Dominican republic, and now we find another link in hillbilly Bob, here in Luperon. Sometimes life throws up the strangest of circumstances, or is it the smallest of worlds.

Luperon; I think I'm going to enjoy our stay here, it's full of cruising characters, and a pageant of humanity that is the real Dominican republic, all colour and chaos, and open hearts.  There'll be the rouges and ruffians lurking, as in any poor and impoverished country, or even in the grand cities of the world, you can't avoid stumbling into a bad experience where ever you lay your hat, park your yacht, choose to be, but hey give me Luperon over Salinas, give me Republica Dominicana any day over Americanised Puerto Rico with its faceless malls, everybody locked inside the bubble of their air-conned all terrain 4x4s.

Luperon hasn't got a good reputation amongst cruisers, especially the cruisers from the USA, the air-con cruisers Roger called them, I think maybe it's just too real, no Disney style fa├žade, no KFC, Burger King, Walgreens, etc., etc., no gloss. They pass remarks like oh no Luperon, an open sewer, a place to avoid at all cost. But they are so missing the point, the point of travel, the shedding of your preconceived notion of how the world should be just like home, and horrified when they find it's not, so they by-pass Luperon, or get out fast to nestle in the comfort of Salinas Bay, with easy access to a mall. We sort of warmed to Puerto Rico, did a lot of shopping, got comfortable I suppose, but we're so glad we finally made it to Luperon, and our beloved island of Hispanola.

We heard all about the corruption of the customs comandante, the shear unhelpfulness of officials, the hassle of checking in. We climbed the steps to the Aduantes' office, after crossing the makeshift bridge spanning a finger of mangrove swamp, to be greeted by a guy surfing facebook, earphones in,"COMANDANTE" he called, and a casual figure in T-shirt and flip-flops appeared from round the corner with a beaming smile. "Hola, como esta ustedes" Bien, gracias, we chime "e tu?" Bien, bien says he, shuffles some scraps of paper on an old clip board and asks for our despacio. "Si ests Bueno, muchos gracias, and in English, Welcome to Luperon. We shake hands and climb back down the stone steps, across the crab infested swamp and make for the nearest cold cerveza (beer). No hassle, no bribes, no problem, absolutely chalk and cheese to our dealings with Homeland Security and Puerto Rican USof A.  
Tomorrow we'll be heading back to Cabarete to luxuriate in our apartment for a few days; long showers with running water, toilet that flushes without being manually pumped, huge bed, swimming pool and dramatic Robinson Crusoe beach.  Come next weekend though, we'll be back in Luperon, play a gig at JRs, and board Picaroon to start on our list of jobs and take up the life of Seadogs in old Luperon......check out Cols song at.......................... 

Wild night in The Mona Passage

Desecheo, is a seven hundred feet high island of desolated rock at the northern tip of the Puerto Rican trench and is where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Caribbean Sea. It's about twenty-five miles off the north western tip of Puerto Rico and where we would make a left turn to start our crossing of the Mona Passage. This far the seas and weather were as predicted, light winds and slight seas, so we were sailing under genoa and mizzen, but with the engine running. The sails were up to just steady Picaroon and maybe give the engine a bit of help. Just west of Desecheo we could see white tops on the seas which meant that perhaps conditions would freshen and we'd be able to cut the engine and enjoy a nice sail for a bit.
As we struck out into the Mona Passage leaving Desecheo in our wake, the seas turned decidedly boisterous, and Picaroon began to roll with the waves that were marching in just off our beam. The seas climbed aboard within the first five minutes and sloshed across the cockpit and half-filled the well where Jackie was standing, wrestling with the wheel. This well is where any stray rubbish tends to migrate to; old cigarette boxes, wrappers, the dross of living aboard, it's also where the two drain holes are, should the sea decide to come aboard. We roll uncomfortably to the opposite side and another great gush of sea makes its way on board, rushing down the decks and out of the scuppers, but the cockpit is still awash with the dregs of the Atlantic. The dross has been washed to the outlet drains and blocked them, so I scrabble about under Jackies feet to clear them, and the water leaves and goes back to where it should be, in the sea. Time to find the safety harnesses and get clipped on we think, this could be a bumpy ride.
The waves start to increase in size, perhaps twenty, sometimes thirty feet high or that's what it looked like from Piccars' cockpit. Most roll under Picaroons keel, bearing us into the air where we're able to catch a glimpse of the next candidate for Picaroons sea-washed decks. The genoa has been furled away, the wind has risen too much for comfort, but we leave up the mizzen to keep her steady, and Mr engine Sir still purrs away, below pushing us out of sight of land as Desecheo disappears into a gathering thunder storm a few miles behind us, we just hope that's not going our way too.
The day was fading and keeping the sea from mounting Picaroons decks was impossible, "Oh shit" Jackie would exclaim, hanging on to the wheel, me gripping the rail with a dead mans' grasp, as another wave rocked and rolled us, and then the rain started.  Above us a great lump of charcoal cloud had caught us up and was starting to unleash a torrent of rain, buckets of rain, waterfalls of rain began to penetrate our un-waterproofed  bimini, our only shelter. The sea attacked from both sides, the heavens above us drenched us and the soft furnishings of Picaroons cozy cockpit.
By now it had grown dark, the noise of the sea crashing around Picaroon and the winds of the storm wailing in the rigging, the rain relentless, it was becoming decidedly unpleasant. The one advantage of the onset of night was that we could no longer see the waves about to devour us, and although still making for a very scary ride, they had settled down to just horrible, as opposed to life threatening. The gizmo that tells us where we are also has a radar, so we turned that on to see where the storm above us was going, and if we may escape it soon, it had been raining a deluge for more than three hours, and although we had our English foulies on we were thoroughly and absolutely ringing wet, and still hanging on, clipped on, to one of those big dipper rides that you wished you'd said no to, but this is no Blackpool pleasure beach ride, no siree, there's no way out.
The Radar shows just one weather system in the Mona Passage, they said there would be isolated thunder storms, and we're slap bang in the middle of it. It's tracking our course, as though we have some magnetic attraction, there's  no escape, as it gathers itself for another assault, reeling around in a fiendish orange overlay on our chart plotter. The night thickens, we're getting weary, no we're worn out with being this wet and this bounced about. This was never our idea of what sailing the Caribbean would be, and we both thought silently that all this dream of buying a yacht had been a huge mistake, but neither of us voiced that thought. Standing under the waterfall that was cascading over the helmsman, yours truly, I broke into a rendition of "singing in the rain" at the top of my voice, and Ewans song, "Sailing close to the wind" that was on our last album, it seemed to help, but it didn't stop the rain, it didn't stop the seas paying us the occasional visit. It rained and rained all night and into the dawn. Just before dawn the lights of a distant Dominican Republic, dipped in and out of view as we rode up and down, the roller coaster ride of the Mona Passage swell.
The night seemed never-ending but after ten hours, the rain eased, and dawn broke majestically, in pink, orange and purple robes of the dying storm we had finally escaped. Everything was a mess aboard Picaroon, below stuff had spilled from what we thought were locked cupboards. A fire extinguisher had released itself from its clip and disgorged its contents around the galley floor, coating all the charts, books and minutia that had joined it on the floor. Wet clothes, shed in the storm littered the floor, all was chaos, and above deck too, stuff had been washed this way and that, in the dark we didn't notice, but as dawn broke it became apparent that it had been somewhat of a rough passage.
At long last, and it was a long last, we turned into the entrance of Samana Bay, Mr Engine Sir still beating in the heart of Picaroon, the mizzen raised, sometime in the middle of the night, to keep the rolling to a minimum, fluttering limply in a lifeless morning air. Samana Bay is big, much bigger than it looks on the chart, and it takes us the best part of the morning, Picaroon wallowing in an uncomfortable swell, until we get within hailing distance of Bahia Marina, where we'll find sanctuary from our ordeal. Our calls on the VHF bring no response, and we contemplate anchoring, but too tired to make any sensible decisions, we continue to try. At last we make contact, were only half a mile away from the entrance, and a voice says come in to slip 51.
We land in heaven, well it appears like that after thirty hours of hell. This is a five star Marina with infinity pools, Spa, restaurants, and staff that are ever so polite and correct, dressed in white, all marble and coral stone, incidental soothing music that you can barely hear, jazz, Frank Sinatra, and that transcendental stuff that just washes over you in the background. It's uncannily quiet too, hardly a soul about to cause a ripple in the tranquillity of the place. It's a dream, it must be a dream I am having in between those half hour watches we took in the middle of the storm, in the middle of that black as coal night, sailing the Mona Passage.
But no, we didn't sink, we didn't die, there wouldn't be two middle aged women in scant bikinis, dancing, inappropriately to muzac around an infinity pool in heaven, we must be in Bahia Marina in the Dominican Republic.

Saturday, 24 May 2014

Nano tech surveillance, La Paguera to Boqueron

Boqueron bay is flat calm in a pale sunrise, the bay is huge, perhaps two miles across and protected from the ocean by a sunken reef that stretches across the entrance, about a mile from the shore. We came in through a cut in the southern end, called Canal Sur, (South) which was marked by a big green buoy, at about three in the afternoon and anchored about 200 yards  from the palm fringed beach that stretches a good mile from end to end.

The passage from our last port of call, La Parguera, took us round a particularly nasty bit of Puerto Rico called Cabo Rojo, pronounced Roho, which means cape red in Spanish, named seemingly by Christopher Columbus, who must have been colour blind. I thought it looked more mucky brown than red, but Jackie was a little more gracious and reckoned it was perhaps more tan. So Cape Tan it is then; the entrance to the dreaded Mona Passage. The seas around us turned from deep blue to turquoise and far from being tempestuous, were slight to moderate, as we nautical fellows categorise these things, this indicates that we're in shallower waters, and even though we were at least two miles off shore the depth thingy was showing about 30 feet. The wind was on our tail, which always makes for awkward sailing, trying to keep the sails full of wind is difficult. We want to head north east-ish, but so does the wind so we fall away from our course and put the wind more on our beam, or side if you like, but this takes us off our course and away from the coast. Jackie, who has an intuitive feel for this sailing business now, says that it'll be ok, we'll head out for about an hour, then turn and run in the opposite direction on a beam reach, the best point of sail, which will take us slap bang into Boqueron. There's not a lot of wind, about 12-15 mph,  we've only got the genoa and mizzen up, I suggest we hoist the mainsail, but Jackie who has an intuition for this sailing  lark decides we don't need it, and an hour later she's proved right.

About this point we're visited by a big brown seagull type bird that dips and swirls around picaroon as though it's some kind of scout for Homeland Security, and I scrabble to find the camera, but by the time I've got it we look around and there's no sight of it at all, like a will-o-the wisp it's gone. Earlier we had a butterfly that fluttered about the rigging, we're three miles off shore, what an earth is a butterfly doing three miles off shore, another eye in the sky no doubt working for Homeland Security with some fancy nano hi-tech camera system.

 You may think I'm a bit OTT about these US Homeland security folks but in La Parguera they had this huge air balloon thing tethered at least a mile high that the conductor of the Lake Taho symphony orchestra says can spot drug runners coming out of Columbia, which is a long long way from here so I wouldn't put it passed them to be tagging birds and butterflies with mini cameras. Oh, that conductor, just a part time resident of La Parguera out for a morning punt on his paddle board who stopped by to say hello, and had we been staying until Thursday, don't ask me why Thursday, he would have invited us across for cocktails. He mentioned being a bit of a tri-athlete,  maybe he was on a strict training schedule, that ruled out cocktails till Thursday, I don't know, you work it out.

But I digress, having turned Picaroons' bow to face the western shores of Puerto Rico, and with the wind now on our starboard beam, she picks up speed and the winds freshens. Looking at the projected track on our chart plotter we're bang on course and trying to catch sight of the buoy that marks the cut through the reef. There's a strong current running up this coast, and although it feels like we're flying along we're only doing about five knots, and heeled over the wind picking up to a healthy twenty-five knots now.  By the time we're passing the buoy, with the reefs safely avoided the wind has increased somewhat and although we've only the mizzen and genoa up Picaroon is heeled more than is comfortable. "A good job we didn't put up that main sail" I said. Jackie gives me one of those looks, that says, "listen to your wife"; time to reduce sail and haul in the genoa. With Jackie at the helm, able seaman Col wrestles with the sails as we turn into the wind, trying to manipulate three ropes. One winds the sail in, the other two are the sheets that need taming to avoid a bad wrap, or furl as we say.  Now like most people I've only got two hands and with the wind now blowing at thirty knots this operation proves a trifle messy, as the genoa crashes and flaps madly, sheets get stuck on bits of the boat they shouldn't, or should have been uncleated before we began to furl. Finally I get the job done, now time to drop the mizzen, and sail into the anchorage safely on Mr Engine Sir, now purring away below. "I'm afraid I can't drop the mizzen" I say, "looks like the halyard has got itself jammed around the winch". No amount of tugging and heaving will free it so we resign ourselves to keeping the mizzen up, and just spill the wind from it. Anyway it always looks good from the shore when you see a yacht coming in under sail, and it impresses other cruisers that may be, no, will be watching.

Greta May, with the Welsh couple Dave and Jane aboard who we met in Salinas and La Parguera, have just weighed anchor, off to clear out in Mayaguez,  as we glide by and we give her a wave. Jane calls out from the helm, there's plenty of water, bye. That was sort of stating the obvious, I thought, I suppose she meant you can get quite close to the shore before dropping the anchor. After our experience with La Parguera we're a bit more cautious, and still sporting a mizzen full of wind we decide to drop the hook about two hundred yards from shore. Picaroon swings to face the wind, the chain tightens and we stop, take transits, engine off.  An early G&T rounds off a successful days sailing, we can tackle the mizzen later when the wind drops, for now it's just steadying Piccars as she lies at anchor in Boqueron Bay.

(Jackie to John Parlane, (RYA Instructor); maybe we shouldn't have missed out on the 'Competent Crew' course!)

Continued by Jackie:  The G&T slipped down easily but no time for another; we had to go ashore to clear in with Homeland Security at Mayaguez. With the sail covers on and the dingy back in the water we headed for the shore, not knowing where to tie up, how we would get to Mayaguez and just hoping that we were late enough for them to tell us to come tomorrow morning.

 We found a rickety dock close to a small sandy beach and hopped ashore. Walking into a small square we headed for a bar and ordered a couple of cold beers. Col asked if there were any public phones around and immediately two locals offered us their phones, a fellow cruiser who had settled in Boqueron for over thirty years was the first and I phoned HS to announce our arrival. For most cruisers this would be enough but as we had been naughty by not clearing in at Culebra from St. Thomas, HS in Ponce had told us very clearly that we would have to appear at Mayaguez in person, after phoning of course. The officer on the other end of the phone was about ready to go home and I suppose thought we were calling from the boat, he said, "Yes, just come tomorrow after 8am; do not leave your boat; do not bring anything ashore with you apart from your papers" etc., etc. Phew! Well that was a relief and we ordered another beer. OK, now how do we get to Mayaguez tomorrow we pondered and no sooner had this thought crossed our minds when another phone was thrust at us with Raul on the other end. "I'm out of town just now but I can give you another number to call". We call Elvin who agrees to pick us up at 8am for the thirty minute drive to Mayaguez.

 Elvin is a very friendly and chatty local chap who had lived and worked in the US for many years so his English is perfect and Col chats with him all the way about the history of Puerto Rico, America, Dominican Republic. Soon we pull up at an impressive Georgian building and approach the first HS Officer who waves me towards a glass-fronted counter which looks remarkably like a Bank at home. Behind the glass another Officer indicates we should sit down and wait.

 A couple of minutes later, he beckons me to the counter and a strange exchange begins.

Me; "We have arrived in Boqueron from Ponce and I have come to clear in"
HS; "When are you leaving"
Me; "Well I am not sure, it depends on the weather"
HS; "Why are you here"
Me; "To clear in"
HS; "You don't need to clear in if you have paid in Ponce, you only have to come to clear out"
Me; "But the Officer in Ponce said we had to come because we had been naughty and they want to teach us a lesson"
HS; "Who was the Officer, ah yes Rxxxxxxz, just a minute".
HS goes off to phone his colleague in Ponce and ten minutes later comes back to the counter;
"Officer Rxxxxxxz says you have misunderstood him and you don't need to be here, just come when you're ready to clear out".

Both Col and I know this is not how it was explained to us but I am not arguing and a little light comes on; maybe we can clear out now and save another trip so I ask "How long after we clear out do we have to leave?"  (We've heard its only 24 hours but worth asking.)

HS; "You give me the date you're leaving and I can fill in the form" he advises rather confusingly.
Me;  "I can't give you a date because I am not sure when we'll be leaving".

Now I can see that I am beginning to try the mans' patience, so I decide to give him a big smile, thank him for his kind assistance, collect Col and Elvin and get the hell out of there, only dashing back for my hat which I left on the seat. On the way back we call into a supermarket for supplies and I muse on whether the quick dash back for the hat was a little risky and, with my back-pack on, I could have been mistaken for a terrorist and got shot.

Oh well I live to fight another day and it may have cost us $35 for an unnecessary trip but at least we are legal, have restocked the wine cellar, and are not 'invisible' as Officer Rxxxxz had warned us against.

Once that weather window opens we'll be back in Mayaguez where we may have a more sensible exchange, who knows.

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Fred and the tank

Fred has a lived in face, like a Christmas walnut, a knowing half smile and a quiet and measured American drawl. He’s a thick set man who moves slowly through the world in old T shirts and well-worn shorts with the residue of an engineers’ work that seldom sees a washing machine. He’s a convivial character, a quiet man, but engage him on any mechanical or seafaring issue and you could be there all day. He may have an appointment but now he’s in conversation it’s going to have to wait, there’s a story to tell, and it just may take a while.
Although Fred looks like he hasn’t got two pennies to rub together he flies a small plane, has a forty foot yacht, and houses here in Puerto Rico and another in the nearby island of St Thomas. He tells stories about being at sea on rescue tug boats, and of trouble shooting large oil installations all over the world, Fred is an uber engineer, who has a way to fix anything that’s mechanical. If Fred gives you some pearl of wisdom regarding anything mechanical, you need to listen, and listen good, his advice is probably spot on. We paid a visit to his boat yesterday which was strewn with tools as he  tackled some job or other. On the stereo an aria from some obscure opera played in the background, Fred is cultured.
Before we set off on our adventure to St Thomas Fred had warned us about our fuel tank, and how we needed to make sure it was clean. “You need to cut a hole in it” he had said, which seemed a bit drastic at the time, but after all the problems we had on that trip to St Thomas we’re now taking his advice.
There’s about thirty odd gallons of diesel in our tank, it’s about three quarters full, and lies under the floor in the middle of the boat. The plan is to empty the tank, cut a new access hole in the top of the tank, which is aluminium, and make a new hatch cover to cover the hole. This will enable us to get to the rear of the tank which at the moment is inaccessible as there’s a baffle running across the middle,  it’s there to stop the fuel sloshing about too much when the boats sailing.
Fred has given us a small sheet of aluminium and I borrowed a jig saw, from Freds’ friend Bob, to cut a new hatch cover. I spent yesterday cutting and drilling the new hatch cover, now I have to set about cutting the hole in the tank. So the next task will be to empty the tank and to do this I’ve borrowed, from Fred, a pump. It’s not a fancy pump, just an electric motor with a switch taped onto the side of it, and some plastic hose. Fred reckons it can pump about twenty gallons a minute, but here’s where it could get messy as we are going to use five gallon jerry cans to collect the diesel. It could all go horribly wrong as our jerry cans could be full in seconds spilling fuel all over the boat. But if it all goes to plan we’ll have an empty tank that we’ll be able to scrub out, and a new access hole.
Well it turned out to be more than messy, we hooked up the plastic tubes, poked one in a jerry can, and the other I held under the surface of the diesel and flicked the switch. There was a gurgling sound and a bit of foaming in the pipes but no diesel came out of the end Jackie was holding in the jerry can. Fred had said “you’ll need to prime the pump, it’s centrafugal” as if I would understand. I sort of knew what he meant so prior to starting we had poured some diesel into the pipes and filled the pump, but I obviously had missed something. We tried filling the pipes a bit more which entailed decanting, very messily, via a small funnel, a bit more diesel. Jackie holding one end up in the air, me with my finger over the other end. We plunge my end into the tank, losing some on the way and switch on, but still only a gurgle, not twenty gallons a minute, not even a trickle.
After a few repeated attempts we finally got it going, the trick was to have my end of the tube completely full of liquid and held under the surface of the smelly stuff in the tank. At last the jerry cans started to fill up and after about an hour we had sucked all the diesel out, except for a half inch that we had to use a hand pump, before mopping out the last of it with one of those towel mats you find on pub bars. Safe to say it hadn’t been the best start to a day, and we both reeked of eau de diesel, now it was time to cut the hatch, but first a fag-break out on deck where the fresh morning breeze cooled our sweaty selves.
Cutting through the aluminium tank was easy and we soon had a 9 X 7 inch hole which revealed a mess of black congealed gunge on the bottom of the rear of the tank. We set too with scrapers and metal scrubbing pads, Jackie took the rear of the tank, brave girl, I did the front half. We scrabbled about, getting into weird positions to reach all four corners, like playing some demented game of twister. It took all day but finally we had two, if not shiny, but almost pristine halves, which we decide to let air till tomorrow when we’ll put the fuel back. We go ashore for a cold beer where we meet Fred at the bar, who’s impressed that we’ve managed to get the job done, we’re just pleased it’s all over.
“You put the diesel back in the tanks yet?” says Fred, “because you know what I would do. Whilst it’s empty you should check the bottom of the tank. You just need to disconnect those four hoses and lift it out and take a look.” Well what could we say, we knew he was right, but we also knew that the tank was sitting on a rubber mat in a rank bilge that was going to mean another horrible job, but if Fred was advising us to do it, do it we must. So the next day out came the tank, which was fairly easy but it revealed a gunge ridden mess beneath it. I paddled about bare foot scooping up sludge into a bucket, mopping with rolls of kitchen towel, whilst Jackie hauled the disgusting heavy rubber mat on deck where she scrubbed it with sea water and Dr Mechanico. “This is a much worse job than yesterday” she said, and she was right.
The bottom of the tank turned out to be still in good nick, just a bit of old flaking paint, and some pitting but not badly. So with a nice clean bed for it to sit on we put the mat back down, reconnected the tank, fitted the new hatch cover, along with the old one and filled it up using the Baja filter. We went ashore for a well deserved cold beer, and bumped into Fred.
 “Shame you put it back, I could have ultra-sounded it for you” but I show him some photos and he reckons it’ll be OK. “Show Richie those pictures” Richie is sat on the bar stool he seems to occupy most of the day, another quiet man, who always says Hi, but little else. If Fred defers an opinion to Richie, I’m impressed, must be another master engineer, maybe, or just a tank expert, I don’t know. “Hell, I’ve seen worse pits on my face” says Richie. They agree that the tank should be good for a few more years. “Just make sure you keep that bilge dry” says Fred and he ambles off into the night.

So that’s the tank job, done and dusted, a major headache out of the way, and one less thing to worry about, now we just need to sort out that broken bolt on the stuffing box, replace the morse cable and we’ll be good to go, that is unless we uncover something else. As Freds’ boating friend Bob says though, “If it ain’t broke, take it apart and find out why”.