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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.