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Saturday, 7 February 2015

Picaroon versus the JCB

We made an early start yesterday, and arrived at the boatyard at 8.30am for the expected launch of Picaroon at 9.30am, which was the time of the high tide. Although it’s only a 2ft tide it’s enough to ensure a safe launch, ie.,  no scraping our newly painted bottom. Picaroon had spent the night on the boat lifting trailer, so all was ready for a smooth operation that morning. I scrambled aboard to put out the fenders and sorted out the lines that we would need to secure her once she was afloat again.
??????????Because this is the Dominican Republic where punctuality is perhaps frowned on we’re not surprised that the haul in doesn’t begin till about a quarter to ten. The tides dropped about six inches but there’s still plenty of water to ensure our safe launch. Very slowly, tractor and the hulk, bearing our precious Picaroon creep across the concourse towards the ramp. I’m on board, to throw out the lines once we’re in the water, Jackie is watching nervously on the dockside, as we inch backwards and stop about six feet short of the water.
A few yards away a couple of the boat yard crew are trying to start the auxiliary digger that they use in tandem with the tractor to haul in and out for that extra horse power. It’s not the newest of diggers, in fact it’s perhaps one of the first JCBs ever made, and they’re having a problem getting the engine to fire into action. The stand pipe exhaust is belching black smoke and occasionally great globules of black liquid, which to my limited mechanical knowledge looks wrong. JCBNever the less, the battery seems to be in good order so they keep on cranking. More boatyard crew arrive to will the machine into life, and appear to tinker, but still it refuses to start. Someone arrives with the magic fluid that you spray down the air intake which often will coax a reluctant diesel into action. Half an hour later, with Picaroon and I watching the tide ebb slowly down the dock walls they give up on the old digger, and tell us that they have sent someone into town to hire another JCB, which maybe a little while. They need the extra security of the second JCB to stop the tractor and trailer slipping as we enter the water, so we have to wait, although the tide doesn’t wait of course.
I’m of course stuck up in the air on board Picaroon unable to get down, so I decide that there’s nothing to do but find a good book to while away the time. I decide on re-reading the Columbus log. It’s a copy of the ships log that Christopher Columbus wrote on his voyage to discover America. It’s sort of apt reading, and I ponder on whether he would have had the same problems before setting sail in 1492 with recalcitrant machinery that delayed his fleets departure. But the prologue just sets the scene, telling us a few facts about the man, and how he came to make this momentous voyage, there’s no mention of JCBs breaking down.
About an hour and a half later, there’s no sign of another JCB but a small truck has appeared and is being chained to the tractor. The tide has dropped a good 18 inches but they seem to optimistic that we can still launch Picaroon, so I put down the book and Picaroon begins to inch backwards on the hulk. As the tractor hits the slope close to the waters edge there’s a shudder and a jolt as the chain on the truck snaps tight, then goes loose again. Picaroon is now half in the water, well her aft end is and I go below to check the all important stuffing box, that I fixed last week when we were doing the cutlass bearing. As it was the first time I had stuffed a stuffing box I was nervous that perhaps I hadn’t done the job right. If it wasn’t right water would now be pouring into Picaroons bilge. I took the torch, and bent down to peer into the abyss of Picaroons bilge. Not even a drip, well that’s excellent, I thought, well done me. Back on deck and Picaroon slips unceremoniously into the water, no grounding, and I throw the ropes to secure her to the dock.
Jackie asks for permission to come aboard, it’s the first time she’s been aboard since we hauled out just before Christmas.. She can’t do ladders, which has been the only way to get aboard, and the ladders at Marina Tropical were a little Dominican, shall we say. Picaroon suddenly looks much smaller again now all that keel is hidden beneath the water. It was touch and go as to whether we would splash down today but in the end all went quite smoothly for the Dominican Republic, well except for the JCB.
A couple more weeks in Luperon and then we head for Haiti and Cuba.

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

A Brits first ever Super Bowl musings

In England there’s a programme on BBC radio four called ‘I’ve never seen Star Wars’. It’s a comedy show where celebrity guests are invited to partake in some cultural experience that so far in their lives they’ve avoided, like karaoke, watching a premier league football match, or going to see Harry Potter.
We’ve had to move out of our apartment on Gringo Hill, as Sue has other guests booked. Picaroon is still not quite ready to go back in the water, so we’re staying in the hotel that Rudolf is staying in, for a few days. (Remember Rudolf; cruiser with broken leg, can’t get on or off his boat.) It’s Sunday, and we’ve arranged another Jam session round at his hotel balcony. It’s at this gathering that we discover that today is a big important day in the American sporting calendar, today is the day of the Super bowl final, and Wendy’s bar will be airing it on their big screen. Well actually it’s a white bed sheet strung up at the end of the room, but for Luperon it’s THE place to be tonight. So this afternoon session wraps up at six so our American friends can all get down to watch the match.  Apparently it’s a football game, Rudolf tells me, but it’s not the game that they’re all keen to see, no, the highlight of this big occasion is the commercials that punctuate the proceedings. I assume this is American ironic humour, coming from Rudolf, but the others confirm that the ads, which seemingly will have cost millions to make, are not too be missed, and I have to remind myself that irony is not a natural American trait.
So with nothing better to do this evening we decide that we need to see what all the hullabaloo is about, and trip off down to Wendy’s, for our very own “ I’ve never seen Star wars” moment.
Wendy’s is already full, an hour before kick-off, well, all five tables are occupied by ex-pat Americans engaged in loud animated conversation, and there’s a sense of celebration in the air. We take the last two unoccupied seats by the glassless window, perched on high chairs with a perfect voyeur’s view of the bar, and the screen, showing the pundits pre-game analysis. The volume is loud, and ESPN is in Spanish, which no-ones paying any attention to; the room awash with conflicting electronic and human babble. A couple of our American cruiser friends try to explain the rules of how this football game works so we’ll be able to understand what’s going on when the game starts.
One team, Alisha tells us, will have the ball and they’ll get four goes at taking the ball ten yards forward, if they get ten yards then they get another four goes. The other team, of course will try to stop them, using fair means or foul, to do so. The quarterback is the massive guy at the back who controls where the ball goes, by throwing it to somebody (or was it, catching it). “Hang on, if this is foot-ball, why are they using their hands”, I ask, only to be met with a bemused stare. So now we know the rules.
The match build up continues, the screen now showing about a thousand marching band players doing a choreographed parade, spelling out NFL, in the giant stadium, and footage of the teams trouping out into this massive area, along with cheer leaders and cameo celebrity shots, then the screen goes dead.
We’ve had a power cut, just ten minutes before the start. A temporary supply is rigged up and the screen flashes back to life showing a close up of some woman starting to sing. At this point something very curious happens as the bar falls to a hush and the majority of these wayward independent cruisers stand to attention facing the screen. The singer is belting out the American national anthem and over half the crew in Wendy’s are mouthing the words and welling up.
They’re a curious bunch, Americans, the patriotic streak runs very deep, much deeper than us Brits sat on the sidelines. They are often astounded that we don’t know the ins-and-outs of our Royal Family, that we don’t even know the name of the princesses’ new baby.
The big screen is showing commercials for Coca Cola, MacDonalds, Ford, Doritos, there’s even an elaborate ad for Always, the preferred American sanitary towel, and then the game begins, and everybody goes back to heated conversations.
American “football” players are big lads, huge, and they are all clad in plastic armour and helmets with visor protectors making them appear twice the size they actually are and look more like robots. They line up facing each other in a half crouched position in the middle of the field, and a whistle blows. At this point they appear to run off in all and every direction at high speed with no sign of a ball anywhere until the camera is focusing on some poor soul being buried beneath a mountain of players in the opposing teams’ colours. The blue team, are the Seattle Seahawks, last years’ champions, and in white, the New England Patriots, who are the favourites, so we’re told. Although I try to follow what is going on in the match, I’m at a loss. No sooner have they started with all this running about and bumping into each other, they stop, regroup in the crouched line up and start again. The ball seems to be illusive, I don’t know if they’re allowed to stuff it up their tunic tops, but I hardly ever catch sight of it. Not so the audience in Wendy’s who hoot and howl and holler now as the Patriots gets close to a big blue part of the field, at the far end of the pitch. Here it’s a bit like English rugby, this is the touch down area but, whereas in rugby you have to touch the ball to the ground, in this game it seems that if you’re standing in that area and catch it, that constitutes a score of six points. Then like rugby they get a go at kicking the ball over the goal posts for an extra one point, so it’s now 7-0 to the Patriots.
And now it’s swiftly back to the commercials, in fact, so far we’ve had about ten minutes of play and about twenty minutes of adverts. This one is showing us how the breadwinner of the family is struck down with a dreaded disease, or killed in a tragic accident leaving the family impoverished forever, unless your covered by, and another here with a host of little kids with no legs running about on those prosthetic legs that, what’s-his-face, the South African athlete made famous. I think it was supposed to be about never giving up whatever your handicap, or maybe it was an advert for soup. Another is about a mechanical device that you strap on if you’ve got bad knees, all very inspiring stuff, I’m sure you agree. Despite what Rudolf said about people watching it for the commercials, although I am, the rest of the room is just becoming a cacophony of noise competing with the commercials, and then suddenly the game is back on.
As I said it’s no easy task following what’s going on, for instance, why do they keep showing pictures of blokes on the sidelines with headphones and mics on. They’re not commentators, they look like coaches or managers, shouting into their mics, but to who, or should that be whom. Maybe the quarterback, who seemingly is numero uno hombre, and has a similar hidden headset, or maybe he’s just calling his wife to say that he may be a little late for supper. It’s most confusing. The rising tide of noise explodes as some robot in blue catches the ball in the whites blue area before being crashed to the ground by the incredible hulk.  Patriots 14-Seahawks 14, and thank God it’s half time, I for one am exhausted, and not just a little deaf, with my tinnitus having been kick-started into action. I retire across the street to sit with an old Dominican couple sitting on the pavement outside their house opposite Wendy’s for cinco minutos of tranquillo.
When I get back to the game, half time has turned into the closing ceremony at the Olympic Games. Some girl singer is riding the back of an enormous tiger robot, singing eye of the tiger, I think. Another singer, again a girl is suspended high above the stadium on a flying wire; tough cookies these American female vocalists. I notice that the mic has a safety strap clipped to her wrist although there’s no sign of a safety strap on the flying vocalist. A massive firework display brings the half time show to a finale, coupled with another ad for Coke and MacDonalds, and the second half begins.
All now is unadulterated noise and general pandemonium as the big screen audio competes with the small stadium which Wendy’s Bar has become. High fives are being exchanged as the Sea Hawks surge ahead 27-21, and still I haven’t been able to spot the ball except when someone gets up from underneath a small hillock of robots, and then it’s gone again, among much random running about.
By three quarters time I’ve run out of steam, we’ve failed to win in the sweepstake and my ears can’t tolerate much more of the din. Also I don’t have any idea what’s going on, and truthfully don’t care, I sort of enjoyed the commercials. They weren’t that special and, to my mind, there were too many of them and they got in the way of the game. Had there been fewer ads I may have got the hang of the rules, but just when you thought you were getting close, the commercials would break in and when we got back to the game I had to start over again, trying to figure what the fuss was all about.
We said our farewells, before it finished, came back to our hotel, poured a couple of glasses of rum and switched on the TV to catch the end of the game without the backdrop of Wendy’s Bar. I promptly fell asleep, so I missed the end of the match, I’ve no idea how it concluded, but it was an experience; big screen Super bowl in Luperon. So now we’ve done Super bowl maybe we need to subject ourselves to some other meaningless entertainment, I’ve never been to a karaoke night in my life, the idea sounds positively alien to my musician ethos but, Friday night is karaoke night at Wendy’s Bar and everyone says how it’s a cracking night and we must come down.

As for doing another Super bowl, I think just the one time will be enough, thank you.      

Saturday, 31 January 2015

Check out my new album Turquoise Blues distributed by TuneCore and live on iTunes!

Check out my new album Turquoise Blues distributed by TuneCore and live on iTunes!

I've recently contracted Meniere's disease which has robbed me of my hearing, and so doing live gigs to earn a living has been impossible. they say it will eventually cure itself, but as there's no  known cause and no sure fire cure I just have to live with it, and wait for it to clear of it's own accord. From day to day it fluctuates, some days I can barely hear anything, next day, I may hear at about 50%, but with bad tinnitus. On very occasional days my hearing will return to almost normal and I think it's gone away and cured itself only to wake the next morning to find myself plunged back into the world of almost silence.

As a working musician this makes playing live gigs impossible so that's my lively hood on hold unless of course I could sell the music I have recorded online. I've have albums on apple itunes, and also on a site called bandcamp. The big problem is of course marketing, when there's millions of other artists and bands trying to do the same thing, how on earth do you cut through all this and reach fans that may buy my music. I'm with tunecore which posts my songs to spotify and other streaming stations but the earnings here are pitiful, 0.03 cents for one play is not going to pay the bills. On another site called bandcamp fans can download my album for nothing or pay what they like. Someone once paid me almost $15 for my album, One life to live, which was recorded with some friends and we called ourselves The Beat Combo, in fact that little team made an album back in 2008 that is also available on both sites but I'm afraid both albums have sold less than 20 songs from both albums. It's not they're duff albums, both are joyfull and well recorded with some class songs on both.

So in the world of instant access, it's still all about marketing. Sell your songs to millions of fans world wide says the tunecore ads and keep 100% of the royalties, all for a one off payment of $29-95. Sounds too good to be true, and in the end it is. Some are probably doing great business with this new model music industry, but I'm not and I wonder how many more of us have signed up, payed the fee and have made less in a year than the fee to join in this new internet game.

I'm not saying that it isn't possible, but wading through all the marketing stratagies that are bound to make it all happen is overwhelming, and so I've been happy to continue in the old fashioned way of going out there and playing live, and selling a few albums at the end of the gig. But since contracting Meniere's this has been impossible so I'm going to have another push at online sales until this dreadful affliction, especially for a working musician goes into remission and I can get back on the road.

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Def Jammin' on Durate day

Yesterday, the 26th of January, was Duarte Day in the Dominican Republic, and that means it’s a holiday. The Dominicans have a lot, and I mean a lot, of holidays. It’s quite often a saint, as they’ve got religion, and there’s quite a few saints to go at, and they try not to miss one. Then there’s all sorts of big political stuff like Independence Day and other memorable big dates that mark the history of the island, and then comes the important people days, and I would suppose some of the less important people persons too. When you’ve got a beautiful island like the Dominican Republic, with its vibrant street life, its lush countryside, and its stunning beaches, why work when it could be a holiday. It seems to me that one thing each new government does is to find a reason to add to the number of holidays they have here, that way they stay popular, and get re-elected.

So yesterday it was Duarte Day, and he must be pretty important because the highest mountain in the whole of the Caribbean is named after him, Pico Duarte, and at 6000 meters quite a hike, and quite a statement. Seemingly when the dictator Trujillio was in charge the mountain was renamed Mount Trujillio, as dictators do I suppose, but after his passing/assassination it reverted to Pico Duarte. Anyway there are lots of Dominican flags flying everywhere today, out of houses, on car pendants, big ones and little ones.  Even in this backwater town the local Luperonese take it seriously, get drunk, and play the music loud. Ouch! My Rock n roll tinnitus rings out a little more than usual.

Duarte Day or not, it was a Monday morning so we go down to the boatyard, Marina Tropical, to carry out a little replacement surgery on Picaroon. We’ve received the cutlass bearing we ordered from the states and have had it in the freezer all night. This seemingly, and I can see the science, will shrink the bearing a few miggies of a millimetre, making insertion a little easier. The first problem we encounter is that overnight the bearing has welded itself to the freezer wall. We attack it with a wooden spoon and then a serious knife till eventually she popped free, and we transferred it to our portable cool box. It felt a bit like Christian Barnnard doing his first heart transplant as the ambulance, our Nissan pathfinder, slithered down the muddy track to Marina Tropical.

Now the moment of truth, had we ordered the right size, would it slip in easily or be a pig. I tested it against the shaft and it seemed to be right. So with a bit of wood and a hammer, I sunk the new cutlass bearing into the void that is Picaroons back end, and with the minimum of fuss she was all the way home and we had a new cutlass bearing in place.  
I call Hillbilly Bob on VHF 68. Bob has done quite a few transmission flanges in his time and offered to help out when we do ours. What about now I said, Be over there in fifteen minutes, he says. After a few tries at getting the flange started, Bob reckons we need some of his tools, a sledge hammer and chisels that are on his boat. On the way back to the boatyard Bob’s outboard gives up and we paddle our way over to Rebel Rouser to enlist Robert to tow us into Marina Tropical.  .

This cruising community in Luperon, like the cruising community back in Salinas, is without doubt a joy to be a part of. Selfless, always ready to help, if they know how.. And today, as I have lost my hearing, (the Menieres disease is back with a vengeance, leaving me almost deaf) Robert  is my ears as we brae the shaft onto the flange from the rear of the  boat with hillbilly Bob doing the lining up inside. Within an hour or so, it’s all back together, and I hardly lifted a finger. We’ll buy them a beer or three next time we meet up in JRs.
That afternoon we arranged to go and visit Rudolf, who was the guy that advised us to change the bearing. He’s hold up in the Aparta-Hotel due to having his leg in a splint after falling off of his motor bike last week. He can’t get on or off his boat due to his injury so is staying temporarily in this hotel. We decided to make this Monday afternoon a little jam session at Rudolf’s hotel to cheer him up. Dave, moored next to us came over with his friend Chris, newly arrived, who both have guitars, and Alisha, Rudolf’s wife has a new uke she just bought in Santa Domingo, me and Jackie tagged along with ukes and guitars. My hearing decided to close down to about 30% so the session was tricky for me, but we jam about for a few hours, drink a few beers and have a good time, lots of laughs and a few tunes and to my surprise, the first doobie I’ve seen since leaving the UK over a year ago. After all it was Duarte Day and needed to be celebrated properly.

We’ve been here in Luperon now for almost six months and I suppose we’ve become part of the community, well the community of boaters. We do trivia quiz on Wednesdays at JRs, we lunch with the cruisers at Petulas bar where Cat, formally from Liverpool, has opened a bar with her Dominican fiancĂ© Johnny, and sip a cerveza in Wendys bar with Norm who we met when we were back in Salinas, PR. He owns Wendys, and the Happy Cows Farm just outside of Luperon. About 50% of the cruisers are sort of residents, and the rest are slowly passing through, it’s a tricky place to leave, but we are determined not to be sucked into the “comforts” of Luperon.

The bottom Primer is going on today, Tuesday, we sat around watching paint dry, praying for the rain to stay away, and hopefully by Friday we’ll be back in the water. I jammed the stuffing box with flax wadding and just hope that my tutorial from Steve in Salinas DR taught me how to do it right otherwise the boat could be taking on water when she gets re-launched. The two new coats of anti- foul go on in the next couple of days and then we’re back in the water. We’ll need to do some motoring about in the bay to prove that the prop is lined up OK and that my stuffing box doesn’t leak, which being my first stuffing box solo flight repair, is going to be a tense moment, when we launch on Friday, if we launch on Friday, that’s still in the lap of the weather gods because rain could stop play on our hull painting and delay the proceedings.

Once we get back in the water, and all being well with our fix on the cutlass bearing, stuffing box and flange we’re going to pick one of Jackie’s preferred routes and set sail, maybe for Cuba, and the rhythms of Salsa.