Captain Gary's Impersonation of Captain Ron

Mishaps and Missteps on a Short Cruise

late March to early May, 2013

Watch out, Captain Ron, you have Competition

So, Captain Gary is on his way down to Guatemala from Missoula. He sails through security in Missoula, gets to Denver with 4 hours to kill. Goes to the gate. Sits down close to the gate agent's podium, so he'll be sure to keep track of what's going on. Starts reading a book on sailboat maintenance. It was a good book. Very engrosing. He hears the gate agent announce they are boarding the bazillionaires and flight-weary constant travelers. Still time to kill, he thinks, and goes back to reading. When he next looks up, the seats in the gate are empty. The two agents are calmly talking to each other at the podium. The door to the jetway is closed. He jumps up, runs over, says something about I'm on that plane. The gate agents tell him "Sorry, the door is closed." He complains about the plane hasn't left, but they are unsympathetic. They tell him to go talk to the service desk, down the hall. He runs / wobbles down the hall with his backpack, banjo, and "purse" containing camera gear, to the service desk. The agent there is befuddled -- "Sir, the plane hasn't left yet." The agent calls the gate agents, and is further befuddled by their behaviour. Rolls her eyes, then accepts the inevitable and starts looking for a substitute flight. Meanwhile, two other parties show up with similar problems. One was at the gate 15 minutes early. The agent finds Captain Gary a new flight, and books him on through so he won't miss his flight to Guatemala City from Houston. Thank you, at least there is one competent gate agent in United's employ.

When Captain Gary arrives at his yacht, before he can even unpack and settle in he is informed by his trusty boat-keeper that there are bees in the mast. He has to spend several nights sleeping on shore; he's a prisoner outside of his own boat. He spends a week getting them out. He suits up in a funny looking outfit in the 90 degree heat to avoid getting killed by the bees. He tries to replace the sentinels in the mast with the actual halyards. The bees get pissed off. He gets stung. He has to retreat ignominously to a borrowed launch. He does this four or five times. He finally runs a pesticide-soaked rag on a sentinel up inside the mast. The bees are pissed and come after him and sting him some more. He persists, killing the buggers while calmly sweating his buns off in his funny-looking suit. He spends the next two weeks warily looking over his shoulder at the mast through everything he does.

While getting everything ready, Captain Gary notices that one of the jib leads is corroded through and about to break. It should have broken already. "Whatever," he thinks, and puts another spinnaker lead behind it, just in case.

Captain Gary discovers the batteries on his boat are not in very good shape. Batteries are very expensive here, and he is too cheap to buy new ones. He discovers one set of batteries kinda works, and decides they are "good enuf." There is no wind, so he starts the engine and heads off to sail down the river to the sea. The wind blows a little, so he kills the engine and begins sailing. Ah, blessed silence, peace, the beauty of sailing and the jungle. The wind dies when he is half way down the river, in a narrow-ish canyon. His boat looses way, and the river gently eases it towards the bank. Where there are huge overhanging jungle trees. Captain Gary decides the wind will not return and he'd better start the engine so he doesn't get caught by the jungle. But his battery is dead. Stone dead. Not even a click. Captain Gary almost prays, puts the wheel hard over, and a slight puff of wind starts the boat moving. She turns, ever so slowly, and heads out to the middle of the river. "Ahhhhhh, whew," thinks Captain Gary. But the river knows better; her current is sweeping him downstream faster than the piddly breeze is blowing him to safety. The spreaders on Captain Gary's boat make a horrible sound as they scrape through the jungle trees, dragging out all manner of dead lianas, birds' nests and dried moss. The two collectivos full of tourists behind him look on, bemused, and the people mumble and take photographs. Captain Gary is annoyed.

Captain Gary tries to get a ride back up the river the next morning in a collectivo to buy a new battery. But the collectivo operators know his unfortunate situation, and tell him the first boat doesn't leave for an hour and a half, and if he wants the cheap round trip fare he will have to come back with the guy who takes him up, and that boat won't return until 3:00 in the afternoon. Or he can charter a boat just for himself, for 1100 q. Captain Gary is not happy. He bribes a local drug runner who zips him up the river in 40 minutes for 70q. Wow! Captain Gary has to use a collectivo to return, and instead of traveling straight down the river in a timely manner, they tour the whole damn province. They go collect other passengers at every resort known to the driver. They go up the river to the castle, where the tourists in the boat take pictures. They circle a piddly-ass island full of shitting birds, where the tourists take more pictures and ask dumb questions like "What kind of bird is that?" They go up a little creek looking for wayward orphans who sell the tourists all sorts of trinkets made in some other country. They stop at the hot spring for half an hour so the stinking tourists can take a bath, or whatever else they do in hot springs. They finally arrive in Livingston, hours after they left Fronteras. But Captain Gary is ecstatic, he has a new battery. He installs it, and ignoring all prudence, heads out to sea at 13:00. He kinda knows where he is going, but he is not really worried, as he has been this way before. The tide is against him, and it takes an hour to get out to the sea buoy. The wind is on his bow, and he arrives at the islands of southern Belize as the sun is going down. That's optimistic; the sun is already down. Captain Gary turns on the GPS so he can navigate up past the intervening cays and into the sheltered bay at New Haven. But the GPS is unreadable; when he last checked it out it only had a few lines missing from the display. Now every fourth one is missing, both vertically and horizontally, and it just looks like a kid's scribbling. He can see the waypoints, but can't read which ones they are. Captain Gary decides that rather than do something stupid, he will head out to open water for the night. For once, a smart move.

The wind picks up as it gets dark, and soon Captain Gary is having a grand time sailing along smartly in the dark, waves washing over the bow, spray occasionally soaking him in the cockpit. All is good in the world, since he has a new battery and "Auto" is able to steer most of the time.

In the middle of the dark, Captain Gary hears a loud "bang," and the jib starts flailing wildly. He is not surprised, knowing the eye on the sheet lead block was corroded through. Surprise! The block is holding up fine; it was the sheet itself that broke. Auto is driving, and keeps the boat headed on course even with the jib out of commission. Captain Gary goes below and fetches a replacement sheet, removes the old one, ties on the new one, rethreads it, trims it on the winch, and we're back in business. A professional job, for once...

As the night wears on and the boisterous seas continue, Captain Gary notices that the steering feels a bit loose. Uh-oh, he thinks, the "other" steering bracket is about to break. One of them broke two years ago and had to be re-welded; he remembers thinking it would have been a good idea to have them both beefed up. Now he wishes he had. Anticipating trouble, he starts to think about how to deal with it. He will need a flashlight, needle-nose pliers, and maybe a hammer. Sure enough, a few minutes later he's lost all control from the wheel. Captain Gary scrambles for tools, but can't find his headlamp. The best he can do is a crummy regular flashlight. Then he grabs the emergency tiller from the cockpit locker -- it's where it belongs, thanks to meticulous organization. It takes two hands to put the emergency tiller on the rudder post, and the crummy flashlight is too damn big to fit in even Captain Gary's big mouth, so he doesn't have enough hands. After much seamanly cursing and some careful dexterous moves, the emergency tiller is in place.

Things settle back to a semblance of normality, although Captain Gary is now chained to the cockpit with one hand or one leg on the tiller. Auto can no longer steer. It is a long night, but pleasantly uneventful, and the seas settle down by morning.

Captain Gary checks in at Placencia, discovers his steering is really ok and only the cables slipped off the pulleys. He remounts one pulley which was crooked and probably the reason for losing the cable in the first place, then puts the cable back and tightens it up. He sails out to the cays and the barrier reef and enjoys a week of fine sailing and snorkeling and diving.

He works his way north along the barrier reef, snorkeling and diving and generally relaxing. He avoids a few bad squalls, and ends up on the hook behind Coulson Cays. He wants to spend the next day out behind the reef, and decides to go through the cut between upper and lower Coulson Cays to get there, as it is more direct and avoids making a long arc to the south to miss some shoals. He's never been through this cut before, and it looks a bit tricky on the chart. It's a "Y", a narrow slot between the two cays that then splits into two narrow slots with shoals by both islands and a big shoal in the middle after you make it through the slot.

The route through the cays is directly into the sun as it is coming up in the morning, which makes seeing the shoals difficult. Captain Gary decides to be a bit cautious and wait for the sun to be higher so he can see better. He gets out his banjo and plays some tunes. He decides, on the basis on absolutely nothing, that the sun should be high enough by 09:00, and at 08:30 he weighs anchor and begins to work his way around to the cut.

He has some difficulty seeing well on the way up to the cut, but he manages to get there without any mishaps. It is a tight slot and the wind is on the nose, as seems to be usual for these maneuvers. He has to make several short tacks to make it past the cays, but then he is through the slot. Now he just has to avoid all the shoals. According to his chart, the channel to the south is the widest, and that is his planned route. But as he is trying to decide when to turn south to parallel the southern cay, he notices the depth sounder saying he's about to run aground. He has to instantly decide where he is -- is the depth sounder going shallow because he is too close to the shoal off the northern cay, or is he approaching the big shoal in the middle? The light is terrible -- the sun is not nearly high enough, and the view straight ahead is sparkles on water. A quick glance at the cays convinces him he must be too close to the northern cay, as he is barely through the cut. So he puts the wheel hard over to turn to starboard to avoid the shoal off the cay to his left, and sends Malakii smartly up onto the shoal in the middle. Damn.

It is a marvelous clear, blue-sky, pleasant breeze sort of picture perfect day. Captain Gary is humiliated. He should have known better. He did know better. He was just impatient. He has been an impatient kind of guy his whole life. He is still, at age 64, learning to be patient. He has a lot of learning to do. Meanwhile, he may as well try to get unstuck.

He sheets in the sails to try to heel the boat over farther in the breeze, but it's not much of a breeze and the boat doesn't budge. He lowers the dinghy, piles the stern anchor and its rode into it, frees up the spinnaker halyard and ties it to the stern anchor rode, and rows out at right angles to the boat as far as he can, feeding the anchor rode out as he goes. When he gets to the end, he drops the anchor overboard into the clear, deeper water of the main channel. He is going to perform a classic sailboat maneuver, "kedging off," where the anchor ("kedge") connected to the top of the mast is used to tip the boat enough that its keel is more sideways and the boat floats free.

After returning to the boat, he tightens up the spinnaker halyard, and the boat starts to heel over. But it does not float free. Then he runs out one of the main anchors sideways from the bow and tightens it up, so that when the boat heels it will slide off in the direction of the main anchor. The boat pivots a little in the direction of the main anchor, but doesn't really move off the shoal any.

Captain Gary's boat has a relatively flat bottom, and heels fairly easily up to about ten degrees. After that, it takes a lot of force to pull her over any further. Captain Gary tightens the halyard as much as he can, then ties it off. Then he holds on to the halyard and puts his feet on the mast and pulls as hard as he can perpendicular to the mast, pumping and rocking the boat, but she doesn't budge. He performs this antic for quite a few minutes, to no great benefit other than giving himself a good workout. Unfortunately, Captain Gary is a 145 lb. wimp, and cannot heel the boat much past 10-15 degrees, which is not enough.

Captain Gary rethreads the spinnaker halyard back to one of the main jib sheet winches, which are pretty hefty. He cranks, and cranks, and the spinnaker halyard tightens, and tightens. It creaks, and groans, and he is waiting for it to break. But still Malakii does not heel very much. Captain Gary is getting tired, and frustrated, and does not want to break anything more. He is worried that the block at the top of the mast for the spinnaker halyard might break, or the halyard itself might break. He knows it shouldn't, but it is awfully tight. He is wondering whether or not he has the nerve to tighten it any more.

Captain Gary sits down to think about it a bit. A few minutes later, he sees a tourist launch approaching, with a stout Belizian guide driving and two clients hiding under white in the bow -- white hats with neck cloths, white shirts, white pants, white sunscreen. The guide is standing up behind the wheel and demands as he approaches, "Your women and your run!"

Awwwwwww.... Where are the women when you need them? Captain Gary sadly replies that he has no women, but he does have some old rum.

The Belizian is also a sailor, understands what's going on, and has helped kedge off lots of sailboats. Together they bring up the anchors, tie the spinnaker halyard to the back of the launch, and the Belizian pulls Captain Gary's boat over enough that it floats. Captain Gary has the engine running and powers off into deeper water. Captain Gary thanks the Belizian profusely, and waves again as he heads off with his clients.

Captain Gary has an uneventful, enjoyable week and then tries to check out of Belize in Placencia. It turns out to be a holiday, and no one is in their office. He goes back the next day and gets checked out, but his taxi driver never returns to take him back to the dock. He hitches a ride most of the way and walks the rest, in uncomfortable heat and humidity. Then he readies his boat, weighs the anchor, and starts sailing south.

Captain Gary is heading for a safe anchorage at New Haven, but decides because the weather is so nice he will spend the night anchored behind a small cay; that will allow him to get going earlier in the morning because there are fewer shoals to dodge on the way out to open water. As he prepares dinner he notices the barometer has dropped like a stone. He looks around and sees some dark clouds to the east, but it looks pretty much the same as it has been for the past few weeks. "Probably squalls like we've been having all along," he tries to convince himself, but in the back of his mind he doesn't like it. He's never seen the barometer drop like that.

It's relatively calm, and the sun goes down nicely. It's relatively calm, and it's dark. Captain Gary decides to rig a riding sail because the boat is hunting a bit, and he is anchored pretty close in. Then he turns in for the night. An hour later he wakes up. The boat is rocking, and the wind is blowing enough to make noise in the rigging. He sticks his head out the companionway hatch as lightning flashes. There are no stars to be seen. The storm builds. The lightning increases, until it is nearly constant. He can see the shoals to the north of the small cay, and the shoals to the south, and the cay itself about 30 meters away. The anchor appears to be holding, but the boat is hunting quite a bit and there are large waves to the west just past the point where the boat turns at the end of its leash. Heck, there are waves to the east, and there is virtually no fetch because he is anchored so close in to the cay. Cripe, it's blowing really hard.

Captain Gary keeps reminding himself it's the water, not the wind, that is going to cause trouble. The wind makes lots of noise, but it doesn't have nearly the force of the big waves crashing against the boat. Rain starts coming down, first little, then a torrential downpour. He starts to worry about dragging, and decides to reduce the load on the anchor by reducing the hunting. He puts on his safety harness and clips into the jacklines, then crawls up the deck to the bow where he lets the CQR anchor over on a short leash so it will drag and reduce the bow's ability to move. The wind continues to blow, hard, for an hour and a half, but the boat thankfully stays put. Captain Gary spends the whole time sitting in the companionway, watching the cay to be sure they aren't dragging, and the waves just because he can't believe they are so big when he is anchored so close behind a cay. The wind eventually eases a bit; the worst seems to be past, and he goes back to sleep.

Captain Gary is up before the sun rises. There is only a slight breeze, now from the west. It seems he could almost jump to shore, but they are not touching bottom. He brings in the CQR anchor, starts the engine, raises the sails, and weighs the main anchor. They sail off without incident, round the shoal to the south, and point towards Guatemala. He has a pleasant breakfast as the sun is coming up, letting Auto do the driving.

About mid-day, half way to Guatemala, in the Caribbean Sea, with no land in sight, the wind dies. Captain Gary knows it will come up again as the day wears on, but he would like to make it to Livingston today before the tide is running too strongly against him when he crosses the bar, so he lowers the jib and starts the engine. He leaves the driving to Auto and goes forward to relax in the shade of the mainsail. An hour later the breeze increases to where it can help a little more, so he goes aft to raise the jib and trim it.

Yikes! There is smoke or steam coming out of the cabin! He glances at the engine controls and sees the temperature is dangerously high. He does a mad scramble to shut the engine down before it toasts itself. He sets the sails and watches as the engine temperature slowly subsides. There is barely enough wind to make any progress, but they keep moving, maybe two knots. He hand steers to get the most out of the wind. He figures the water pump impeller is toasted, and there is no point in working on it until he is anchored in Livingston as he needs to keep steering in this light breeze if they are going to make it in time.

As he is inching along, a bee shows up. It's not very aggressive, but it is a bee. He wonders where it came from. Were there some eggs left in the hive and they hatched? Is it a scout sent out to look for a new place to set up housekeeping for a whole new colony? He grabs a tee shirt to keep from getting stung, corners it, and squishes it.

Two more bees show up. He squishes them. The bees continue to arrive in twos, threes, fours, fives, and sixes. He squishes them all, steering a little, squishing a lot. He is near panic. If a whole swarm shows up at once he will be in bad shape. Is this some kind of retribution for having destroyed the hive earlier? Fortunately, after about fifteen minutes, the onslaught eases and he is safe.

He arrives in Livingston just after the tide turns, sails across the bar and anchors. He checks in, then goes to work on the engine. Whoppie! The water pump did not go out -- the alternator and fresh-water pump belt broke. He has a spare, but it won't fit. It's too wide, and it's a tad too short. He spends an hour trying to make it fit, but can't. He has a second belt, but it is exactly the same size as the first.

As he is sweating and swearing over the engine, the drain from the galley sink falls off. He pushes the hose from the sink aside so it doesn't interfere with the whole belt business; it's only the galley sink, which is of minor importance. The hose flops over, and water starts pouring into the engine compartment. Yikes! Duh, the sink drains through a thru-hull! He closes the thru-hull, which should have been done before sailing, but which he and many others routinely leaves open. He decides it would be a good idea not to do that in the future.

He continues trying to rearrange the alternator to make the hose fit. While doing so, the hose from the fresh water pump to the heat exchanger falls off. He sets it aside, to be fixed once he gets the #$%!@$#! belt on. He has a third belt, which is not designed for this application. It is too skinny. The ribs are on the wrong side of the belt. It looks like it will break at any moment. But it will fit. He puts it on and tightens it up.

Then he rumages through the storage space under the quarter berth where his spare hoses are stored. Yea! He has a new hose that is nominally the right size. But nominally apparently has different meanings to different people. The water pump outlet is "nominally" one inch. The heat exchanger inlet is "nominally" one inch. They are not the same one inch. The heat exchanger is 15/16, and the water pump is one inch. The hose is for 15/16, and no amount of sweating, straining, cussing, emersing in boiling hot water, pounding of a tapered plug in the opening, or anything else will stretch the hose so it will fit. He goes to bed, thinking he will try to buy a different hose in Livingston in the morning.

In the light of a fresh day, Captain Gary decides it's unlikely he will find a suitable hose in Livingston. He decides to use the old hose to limp back up the river and then get a better one in Fronteras. He puts the old hose back on. As he tightens up the hose clamps, one of them breaks. He gets out another and replaces it.

He steps back and surveys the scene; everything looks ready to go. He goes to the cockpit and starts the engine and it seems to be running ok. He looks over the stern and sees cooling water coming out, but not as much as there should be. He goes below and shuts the engine off. He notices a lot of water in the bilge, and he emptied it the night before. He empties it again. Then he starts the engine again, but still not enough water. He shuts it down and notices more water in the bilge. Not good.

He empties the bilge again, then stands below so he can see the engine and stretches to the limit on his tippy-toes to reach the engine controls in the cockpit and starts her up again. He watches as a medium-ish leak at a hose fitting goes postal, and the raw water pump to heat exchanger hose comes loose and starts spraying water all over. He shuts the engine down and settles in to replace the hose. But... surprise! The two places where this hose connects aren't the same size either. After much pfutzing around, he gives up and grabs his trusty Boye knife and shaves the inside of one end of the hose to fit. Ahhhhh, what a pleasure it is to have a really sharp knife when you really want one. He puts the hose on and tightens the clamps. As he is tightening one up, he hears the dreaded "click-click-click" as the screw skips over the slots in the band. He removes the clamp and replaces it with a new, all made-in-usa all-stainless-all-over one, and curses the cheap incompetent Chinese bastards that made it as well as the cheap greedy international corporate bastards that stocked and sold it.

Captain Gary starts the engine. Water comes out the exhaust -- good. The engine temperature creeps up to where the cooling system should be working, and doesn't go any higher. Yea! He checks the bilge, and it is still dry. He decides to eat breakfast before heading up the river. While munching on his granola he observes the water in the river as it flows past him. It is moving pretty fast, two knots or so. He's going to need a real wind to sail up the river.

He cleans up, tidies up, and stows things that need to be stowed. He starts the engine to ease off the anchor, weighs the anchor and stows it, and points Malakii up the river towards home. He kills the engine, as he doesn't want to push his luck with the wimpy replacement belt. The wind has swapped ends, and he has to tack to make any progress. But he cannot make any progress against the current, so reluctantly he starts the engine again. With the combination of engine and sails, he can make some progress. He tries to get as much upstream progress as he can before tacking, and promptly plows a furrow in a muddy bottom over towards the south shore. Aaaaarrghhhh!! He knew the river got shallow over towards that side farther out towards the bar, but he thought he was past that. He runs out the spinnaker halyard with the stern anchor as a kedge, but with only two feet of chain at the anchor it won't set. So he runs out a bow anchor and puts it on the windlass and is able to spin the boat so she's pointing towards deeper water, but she is still stuck. He runs the stern anchor out again on the spinnaker halyard, and ties a fender to the knot between the two in case help arrives from a local to help power off or kedge. Eventually the tide raises the boat enough to pull her off using the windlass, and he anchors again in deeper water. He begins retrieving the kedge attached to the spinnaker halyard. In order to remove the buoy/fender, he has to get enough slack in the line to lower it to the deck. So he cranks in the halyard and the fender heads up towards the masthead. On the way up, a short line dangling from the fender wraps on the halyard going up the mast and ties itself in a knot. Ugh. Ugh. Ugh. The fender is up about the spreaders, one end tied to the halyard where it goes down / out towards the kedge, and the other end snarled on the halyard where it goes down the mast to the deck. If he feeds the halyard out, the knotted line goes up towards the masthead and jams before the top of the fender is down at the deck and can be untied from the line. It he pulls in on the halyard, the knotted line heads down the mast and keeps the top end of the fender from being pulled any higher before the knotted end is low enough to unsnarl.

With resignation, Captain Gary retrieves his webbing mast climbing steps, attaches them to a spare halyard, and hoists them. He then climbs up to the fender and unsnarls it. It is 11:00 by the time everything is cleaned up and put away. He starts the engine, hoists the sails again, and begins putt-sailing up the river. Most people motor-sail, but because he is reluctant to run the engine hard with the wimpy belt, he can only putt-sail. It is slow progress. With just the sails, there is not enough wind to make any progress against the current. But with the motor assist, he inches along.

Three and a half hours later, he has made it into the Golfete, and a half hour later there is a slight breeze. He kills the engine and sails the rest of the way home in blessed silence. As he sails into Bahia de Buena Vista, he notices that everything is re-arranged, and there is another boat on "his" buoy. He finds an open spot and drops the hook, happy to be home.

But hey! You know that jib lead that was all corroded through and should have already broken off? It never did snap.