Monday, September 2, 2013

Sweetness and mountains...

Guatemala; The Rio Dulce...

So here we are at our destination.  When we chose it we had no idea how amazing it would be!

As we neared our clearing out of the Belize town, Punta Gorda, the scenery took a dramatic turn for the beautiful.  As we said before; desert isles are of course lovely but for both Duncan and I, this is the landscape for us.

This was one of the 'offices' we had to visit to get yet another bit of paper to be allowed to leave Belize... a time consuming process and a little costly...

Our short sail across from Punta Gorda turned into a full pelt motor, hoping to get to Livingston before the customs people finished for the day.  Although we got there before 4pm, no welcoming committee was there to greet us as the pilot assured there would be, nor did anyone answer our attempted VHF calls (in rather dodgy spanish).  So we waited a night at the anchorage off Livingston which people say is a terrible place to stay.  We were lucky that the wind was not too strong and that our big keel chose the current to lie to, fairly consistently.   Our night was relatively peaceful; we were lulled to sleep by the local drummers and dreams of cool fresh mountains.  Another country, another homemade flag goes up...

All the way from north of Punta Gorda, the sea had gradually turned a murky green to deep impenetrable jade.  Therefore, once in the gravy coloured river estuary, our mourning for turquoise was already over.  What we found when we pulled up a bucket of this water was that it was remarkably clean and sweet, so I did a whole load of clothes and bedding washing whilst Duncan sang along to the Beatles and beamed at the mountains.

In the morning our welcoming committee arrived and we got the formalities done pretty swiftly and so could set off up the Rio...

The gorge gradually narrowed in, so we felt lucky when we managed to find just enough gusts as we twisted and turned to get almost the whole way up by sail.  As the river current is pretty swift, there were just a couple of times that the wind was sheltered by the hills; we resorted to the engine, but only when we started to go backwards...

Each twist and turn gave us something new to look at, we found the fishermen and women especially interesting in their tiny hollowed out canoes.

We saw only more modern looking graffiti inscriptions but we're told that these walls and caves were used from the 18 Century by pirates and Spanish galleons who would inscribe their names for luck on their way out to sea...

We were able to sympathise when many of the Mayans had to grab on to trees or quickly get to the edges when big powerboats roared by...

Since we arrived we've been working pretty hard at finding out about all the marinas, not only in the Rio Dulce (Fronterras) area but also on the lakes either side; El Golfette and Lago Izabal

 This was a great excuse to take an afternoon off and walk up to a hot spring waterfall on Lago Izabal.

So after a lot of looking around we have found our spot and have chosen Burnt Cay marina which is in El Golfette.  We love this place as it's a bit out of the way and run by a lovely couple who know all the people around them.  It feels like a real community and we can't wait to get back to Impetuous and spend some time there next year.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Bye bye Belize...

Don't worry, we haven't fallen off the face of the earth, but we have fallen off the face of Belize and landed here, peacefully cossetted in the arms of the Rio Dulce, Guatemala...

Although we've been in Guatemala for over a week now, I feel we should do a little sum up of our time in Belize.  I don't like having to make myself think back so hopefully we've learned our lesson and we'll try to keep more up to date in future.

Why haven't we kept up to date? The main reasons would be poor wifi internet connections and maybe just not having much to say.   Belize was our holiday so we tootled around in no particular hurry with no particular goal in mind.  The one specific hope that I had was to visit the 'blue hole' at lighthouse reef which looked so beautiful in our guide book, but that wasn't to be this time as the weather was inclement while we were nearby. Otherwise our hopes were to have a nice time and enjoy our boat.

This is what we did and how couldn't we?  We have been in holiday mode spending plenty of time lounging about, reading, swimming, fishing and sailing whenever we could.  The boat looks beautiful but surprising to me there was no-one there to appreciate it.  When I say no-one, we met the odd fisherman or lighthouse keeper who were all delightful but in general we had the places we visited and all the space in between all to ourselves.

I hope this continues on our voyages because peace and space is what we crave.   Belize gave it hand over fist.  

I was surprised by Belize as all I had heard about was her beautiful, threatened and at least partially preserved rain-forests.  As we were necessarily on the coast we saw only the tips of the jungle in Southern Belize but cruising Belize was all about the 'Cay' or 'Caye's.  These are tiny islands dotted about on her coral reef. Belize has a huge area of reef, the second longest in the world.  As these were all a little bit like tropical desert islands we got slightly distracted trying to find the perfect one...

What do you require from a desert island? 

For us it was no-one around, plenty of sand, coconut trees and a sheltered spot for the boat.   Though we found all these things they were never all together and several times we were disappointed to approach an island described as such by our guide book either to find that concrete development and sea walls were being built (Rendezvous and South Long Cocoa Cays) or too numerous times, that all the coconut palms had died out; a very sorry sight.

Ranguana Cay, a contender but a very nervous place to anchor with it's uncharted boulders and rocks.

I've been reading up online about what is troubling the coconut trees. It seems there are two main problems; the rhinoceros beetle and a disease called 'lethal yellowing'. The Asiatic rhinoceros beetle is actually an endangered species but has been thriving in some areas of Belize much to the dismay of farmers and tourism businesses. During it's reproductive cycle the beetle both kills the tree by eating it's growing part then plants it's larvae which feed on the decaying wood, once they hatch they can go on to kill many neighbouring trees.

Perhaps a bigger culprit seems to be 'lethal yellowing' disease which is caused by a phytoplasma type of bacteria which kills the trees quickly and spreads easily but can be stemmed but not cured by antibiotic treatment of the palms. This is why we saw healthy palms on many of the carefully run islands and around villages and towns where people go to the trouble of protecting their trees by frequent treatment. However many remote islands like this one had no such guardian angels.

There are no words for this.

In colonial times Belize was called 'British Honduras', though it has been self governing since 1964, Belize only became completely independent in 1981.  With a complicated history involving piracy, slavery and trade in logged timber; notably highly sought after Mahogany, Belize now sustains its high standard of living for the area by exporting crude oil, sugar and bananas.  Belize is one of the most ethnically diverse countries in the world with several different indigenous Mayan populations, black Caribbean cultures originating from Africa and many other immigrant populations such as whites from North America, Indians and Asians from Korea and China.   Every single general store we went in seemed to be owned and run by these Koreans or Chinese and yet we never saw evidence of them or their cultures anywhere else.

The people or Belize were, excepting the odd customs and immigration officer, incredibly outgoing, friendly and positive in attitude. We were told by a friendly Q'eqchi guy that the interior is empty, they only have a population of less than 320,000 and plenty of space.  Another of our highlights of the visit was meeting 'Harry' whilst anchored off his home in 'blue ground range'.  He flopped out of the ocean into our cockpit when invited and proceeded to show us the new skill of harvesting a conch from it's shell.  This is not a task for the squeamish as they have very cute snail like faces; if it's the food you have available, you learn not to give them time to look at you.  His knowledge, company and catch were traded for a snip of rum and a bag of flour, everyone went away happy.  Ceviche, a salad we weren't familiar with is very delicious made with conch, lime juice, onion and whatever else you have in; in our case corriander leaves and a red chilli.  

One problem we had in Belize was staying afloat.  For navigation we were using our cmap computer charts but found them to be at times way off.  We also had Freya Rauscher's cruising guide to Belize and Mexico's Caribbean coast. Though this pilot guide was the newest edition available reprinted in 2010 there were several times we found it to be out of date or the charts to be just plain wrong.  This meant our navigating was at times tricky to say the least and we're told that the most up to date paper charts are no better. The area just hasn't been thoroughly resurveyed since technology has made things so much more accurate.

It is agreed that a careful bow watch is a must in many of the shallow areas we travelled.  Despite this we found ourselves aground a lot.  Even when we knew it was going to be shallow and that we were going to be close; it was still a surprise when on the chart and the sketch in the book we should have had 8 feet, we ended up with less than our needed 5ft 7.  Seeing it getting shallower whilst keeping careful lookout is not helpful if you have no way of knowing where the deeper water is.  Duncan got pretty bored with rowing the anchor out to kedge our way off.  This is not something I've mustered up enthusiasm to try as yet but it worked well, as did surveying a way out by snorkel!

The next post will find us up to date, in deep water and amongst  mountains again; we hadn't realised we'd been missing hills so much!

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Reef Passes

We're having a wonderful time at the moment; exploring all the cays that make up this tropical bliss. Cruising in the blue waters of these enchanting isles, Snorkeling amongst incredible coral's and generally relaxing.

We're also having to develop a new skill; one of making reef passes. Our first in to San Pedro was generally straight forward. The buoy that was reported to be there, was; the light from a glistening morning sun was behind us and a motor boat came out of the entrance a mile or so before we entered in to it. Nevertheless looking left and right and seeing waves break over reefs as your keel skims over the top of ever shoaling waters; an unnerving experience to say the least.

Our second pass was a little different. It was evening with a blinding setting sun, strong on shore wind and a missing mark. After a little crisis of confidence necessitating another go around we made our second reef crossing. Pin point accuracy, back bearings and transits all seems to play a crucial part in the enjoyment of these islands as do a steely nerve as the depth drops from hundreds of feet to eight in a couple of hundred yards.

The sea settled as we crossed the reef and headed up in to our evenings destination; one of the anchorages off Turneffe island. No sooner than we had crossed the entrance, were we given another big decision; do we eat the beautifully coloured dazzlingly blue fish that we had picked up on our trolling line upon our crossing of the reef? Call me sentimental but I'm just not sure about eating something that looks like an oversized pet. It was a decision resolved as it got off the hook before we got it onboard.

We have a little less than a week to enjoy these cays as we slowly make our way south towards the Rio Dulce. There are simply hundreds of cays and anchorages to explore so there is no way we have time to explore more than a fraction of them. Having worked so hard for so long, its very pleasant to be in such beautiful surroundings. We've for now nothing more pressing than having to decide what to eat for the next meal, whether we should explore the shore or the coral beds.  First, should we finish this chapter of our book, or maybe wait until we've finished the book. The added pleasure is that we seem to have the place to ourselves.  In the last week we have seen five other boats and three of those were all in one anchorage.

Snorkeling has been breathtakingly beautiful. The coral reefs and life around are many and varied. Ruth, who has already seen an eagle ray jumping in a long arc over the sea as we sailed along, saw a turtle placidly going about his way as we snorkeled around the cay in the picture; Carrie Bow Cay. We see dolphins most days and sometimes they swim along with us.

Our provisions have been replenished with a visit to the dusty town of Dangriga. Every day I try to remember my things to do list, but because we have said we're not actually going to do any boat work, I don't have to do any. I'm pushing that really far at the moment by not even writing a list of what I should do. This makes the game of remembering them every day a little like the children's memory game 'I went to the market and bought....' a game I hasten to add, I am spectacularly bad at.

However we have not so long left; in a little under a month we will be back in England and Impetuous will be tucked up safe in the Rio Dulce.  Hopefully some of the jobs will be remembered and completed. 

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

What to eat when the cupboard is bare

Here we are at Carrie Bow Cay about half way down the islands off Belize and our supplies are running thin, so we thought we'd give you an insight into what we eat when we haven't been to the shops for a fortnight...

In England we're used to living without a fridge and as such are used to going to the shops often. Most days on our way somewhere we'll pop in to buy a little something... Of course we also keep our cupboards on both boats stocked with staples such as rice, beans, pasta and lots of canned tomatoes and so we'd never go hungry.

We're down to our last three onions, a small piece of ginger and a bulb of garlic. All the other veg are gone and fruit wise we have a couple of limes and a grapefruit. To be only left with these things is no surprise; it's what we stock up with most, as they last so well and we use them a lot. We've run out of eggs, not because they wouldn't have lasted this long but because we eat so many of them and didn't buy enough.

We haven't been putting any vegetables in the fridge since we accidentaly froze a whole bag of tomatoes! Though we still used them; not good. We also still have half a chicken frozen from Mexico but haven't been in a hurry to eat it; we actually like the vegetarian concoctions we come up with just as much.

So given our food array available we're having muffins for breakfast. Duncan's speciality and great as we don't need the oven to cook them; not a great idea in this heat. These he makes on the stove top in our cast iron skillet; the only ingredients being flour, yeast and water.  We're getting to the end of our jar of marmite but we still have jams given to us when we left Texas (thanks Terrie and Zsu Zsa!)

Last night we had a delicious vegetable satay with our homegrown beansprouts, half a can of water chestnuts and our last pepper. The sauce was made from dried chillis (our fresh ones have dried of their own accord now) onion, ginger and garlic, a pinch of sugar, a dash of fish sauce, soy and tamarind, a handful of peanuts crushed up and a spoon of peanut butter. I'm not of the recipe mindset of cooking so any of these ingredients can be left out, made much more of or other things added, depending on what we have in, or what seems like a good idea at the time; last night some corriander seeds went in too, lightly crushed.

We bought some lovely coconut oil on the last island we were at so we're making popcorn taste more interesting and mixing in shavings of coconut when we make a sweet coating treat. There have been odd scraps of vegetables available for sale at some islands but generally they weren't very fresh, certainly not grown there and very expensive so we've left them.  People here go to shop on the mainland and eat a lot of fresh fish with rice and beans.  We haven't eaten out yet as places we've seen appear to cater for the tourist dollar.  Though we're tourists we don't want to spend that kind of money.

For dinner tonight, unless we catch a fish... we'll have a tomato pasta meal or a chick pea curry.  Duncan has his sights set on a fava bean stew but without any other vegetables I have my doubts...

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Just one of those big blue blogs...

This was the whole point of it all guys, so sorry if it seems like bragging but...

Hard work needs a little admiration to sweeten the deal... (Isla Mujeres, Mexico)

Mexican walls through the looking glass... Could you live with a little less if your back garden gate looked like this?

That's the shadow of our sails leaving Isla Mujeres

Cancun from a distance, we certainly aint stopping there...

It seems obvious where the pass between the reef was from this side...

Duncan auditioning for Miss Belize 2013; we're enjoying sewing our own courtesy flags en route, from charity shop t-shirts we picked up in all necessary colours.

Off with the Mexican, up with the quarentine Belize.  We checked in at San Pedro, Ambergris cay.

Rowing in an inflatable, it's tricky to get a straight square photo but here's to plenty of time to work on it; there is no doubt it will get bigger and bluer as we go on...

This evening, having successfully checked in to our holiday destination, we've been catching up with some radio 4 podcasts and are now listening to a full on Dusty Springfield bliss out.

Just you wait for the phosphoresence photos.... c'mon, we've earnt it!

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Homeopathic beer...

I think one of Englands' great attributes are its pubs and for that matter the beer that is sold within them.  As the seasons change, so do the styles and taste of the beer that is sold.  If I had to write a list of things I miss most about not being in England beer and pubs would be pretty close to the top of it.

Why do I mention this?  Well our fridge is working.  Now, as neither of us has lived with a fridge for collectively about 19 years we are a little unsure of what to put in them.  The obvious stuff; meat, butter of course, but after that...  There is always beer.  Not that English beer is overly cold, we rely on our climate for that.

America has some fine beers too and one that we have particularly come to enjoy is from the Sierra Nevada Brewery.  We stocked up with a crate before we left, we were also given some really nice beers from some friends as a leaving present, but these are special occasion beers so we're trying to make them last.

So to celebrate our fridge working we went and savoured the local brew with the idea of purchasing a few.   We bought a selection of different cans and went and supped them on a nearby wall overlooking the sea. 

'Whats yours like?'  I enquired of Ruth? I could tell from her face the answer was not going to be positive. 

'Doesn't really taste of anything, very fizzy though. How about yours?' 

'Same' I replied. We swapped cans and agreed. 'Its like there is a faint taste of beer but its been so watered down you can hardly taste it, homeopathic beer, mostly water with a hint of bitterness.'

We returned without any; still with the nagging question of what to put in the fridge which will perform far better when full.  For now we have filled it up with water for drinking and have bought a couple more ice trays so we can really churn out ice.

I wonder how we ever managed to live for so long without the luxury of cold water and ice cubes.  Then I remember the amount of time and money that was spent upon our fridge and pour myself another glass of water. 

Monday, July 22, 2013

First impressions of an offshore voyage...

We made it!

I thought I'd just jot down a couple of my first impressions from our first trip while it is still fresh and before we get absorbed in the new 'cruising' way of life here in Isla Mujeres, Mexico.

So we left Galveston last Friday morning and FINALLY headed into the big blue. Now it's Sunday nine days hence and we've just got in.

What took us?

When we left we said we'd be at least a week to our nearest and dearest but I now see that Dunc's deliberate vagueness is the way to go. Of course people want to know when they are 'allowed' to start worrying, but this emphasis on time does not fit with our way of sailing.

Nothing went wrong on our trip... well, that patently isn't true, but the sentiment is; loads of things needed our attention as we went along, but nothing impeded our journey.

The reason it took us nine days to travel what could have been around 650 miles is that we really like sailing.   Listening to the engine rumbling away, we like less.   We're pretty confident that once in favourable winds Impetuous could easily clock off 120-150 miles a day.   However, the path that we needed to take across the gulf of Mexico was not such a trip.

The wind was constantly varying it's strength and direction, though more often than not coming from the South, the East or somewhere in between.   Since our path to the Yucatan channel between Mexico and Cuba was a definite South-East this meant if we wanted to sail, we couldn't go straight there, we probably did several hundred extra miles.   This presented no problem to either Duncan nor I; we were here to go sailing, not to get there quick; just wish I'd told my mum two weeks!

So, do I like it?

This was, for other people, by no means a given. I am not an experienced sailor, but I really did just 'know' that I'd love it.

Did I get seasick?

The fact that I've been horribly sick most times I've been out on a boat (away from our sedate canals that is) was only a minor concern to me. The fact that I've always loved these trips despite being sick has always been an indicator for me just how much I love the sea.

One such trip that particularly sticks in my mind was whale watching when I was nine; I spent the entire time sharing the toilet with my poor mum, but when my mum was in there, I could snatch a weary look out at the ocean and the whales...before returning. It was my highlight of our three week holiday!  Also, my learning to dive program 'down under' included a three day dive trip on the Great Barrier Reef; I remember being up one night leaning over the side feeling retched, when I thought, 'it's slippy and rough, if I fell over, no-one would know I was missing until tomorrow...' this is great!   I love that feeling of being alone and knowing the responsibility is mine.

As it happens, and I can't really explain it, I was not sick once. Sure I felt queasy several times but nothing a lie down or a spot of being outside in the wind couldn't fix.  I can only hope this continues.  Our boats' motion is very gentle and feels reassuringly stable.  Even when slamming into big waves heeled over, she just felt solid and fine. We'll have plenty worse to come over the years so I'm ready for this to change.

Did we get bored?

No no no no no. There was loads to do, though we didn't do many of the jobs we could have done, we just enjoyed the boat. I still love sitting staring out to sea with an empty head and I don't see that changing anytime soon.

Did we have any strong winds?

We had two patches; when two reefs and just the staysail were plenty. I had expected the weather to be bad at times during this trip, so what we got was a pleasant surprise.

The first blew up thankfully whilst I was asleep and which Duncan dealt with the worst of without ever needing any help. It continued to blow hard for 36 hours and the seas got quite big, but it just felt expected, and a bit exciting!

The second blew up fast when we were in the bay of Campeche. We were unsure about which way to go at the time so the weather helped us to choose to head back out, ENE away from the short choppy waves.

In the worst of it, the boat noises; crashes, bangs and shudders; feeling the boat get knocked this way and that, was of course concerning, but very soon I got accustomed to knowing that Impetuous could handle it, no problem... could I, outside helming? I should think so.

Best bits

I love being at sea just as much as I thought I would and wish the trip had been longer.

I was delighted that I could still be well enough inside to cook some of the time and eat Duncan's lovely creations, so we had some excellent slap up meals.

'Beryl' our Aries windvane; once we got the ropes around the right way (oops) she worked brilliantly. It's amazing to just leave the steering to her and know that she almost always does a better job than I could!

We still like each other, see bad bits...

My confidence is growing all the time in sail handling and knowing what to do; though I still need a bit more practice before I want to be the one that goes on deck to reef when an unexpected squall hits...

We're both so proud of all the work we've put into our boat and are now able to enjoy her where she should be!

Bad bits

In nasty seas and strong head winds, our boat doesn't sail very close to the wind. Our enormous genoa rolled up amplifies this. We have always intended to have the traditional cutter rig for which the Alajuela was designed, but have only so far got the sails which came with the boat. Once we make a new smaller jib and modify the staysail we think she will fair much better. There was a whole day and night when we were tacking back and forth struggling to get her to point closer to the wind and in the end we had to be happy with not going backwards. The waves were making steering a careful close course difficult and knocking back any progress that we made.

I got a bit pouty when I saw that Duncan was going to spend the majority of his time reading and not hanging out chatting or teaching me this and that. After a little strop I realised that that's fine; I like my space too and we've bought the Glenans sailing book so I've got a big wedge of french wisdom to draw upon when I've got questions.

Water, leaks and sogginess. The worst leak was our front hatch which at one point literally poured in with each wave that crashed onto the bow. This was not unforseen as we hadn't gotten around to weather stripping it or putting the second clasp on. It is being worked on and hasn't leaked for a few days... The general sogginess of everything gets me down much more than Dunc, who has grown used to his wooden boat; he says that when she is sailed hard that there is usually a constant stream cascading down the inside of her clinker built hull.  Impetuous is apparently quite a 'dry' boat so I should learn to be pleased...  Since we had plenty of fine days in which to air and clean up, I managed.

We'll post some blue water photos and a bit about where we are in the days to come, but for now, I'm eager to go find a COLD beer (still not fitted our compressor for the fridge... maybe tomorrow)

Friday, July 12, 2013

So long Texas, and thanks for all the shrimp...

We sailed down to Galveston last night and anchored off the marina here.  As silence was restored after motoring into the wind, our dolphin playmates continued on their way.  When the boat settled a crackling noise appeared to build and grow.  We cautiously hoped it was the barnacles we'd accumulated in the fresh water being horrified by the saltiness of our new surroundings and giving up the ghost.  We're told it was in fact the sound of cavitating shrimp who are very enthusiastic swimmers.  They squirt out water to propel themselves along so fast that it produces bubbles which in turn pop on the hull; like natures equilvant to a jet ski and no less annoying when trying to get back to sleep at four in the morning.

We woke to see the shrimp boats out in force as gulls flocked around them hoping for a feed.  We'll miss the shrimp we got here, we've consumed pounds of them and could recount all the ways you could cook them a la forest gump.

So this is it, the time has finally come; we just cleared out of customs and we're off!

Its been a lot of work to get to this point and there's plenty more to come, but for now we're ready to go and play in new playgrounds!

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Welcome Aboard


Three weeks ago we had a leaving party. We invited all who have helped and supported us over the years whilst we have been here working on Impetuous.  With the impetus of knowing that lots of people would be looking at the boat inside and out we scrubbed and cleaned our home into a presentable state.

Of course we didn't leave after the party, we rolled up our sleeves (metaphorically you realise, one doesn't need sleeves here unless they're to keep the bloods sucking bugs off you.)  One long list of jobs remained. Once more the boat returned to chaos as we worked through our list, tools and debris once again were scattered across the boat.

Only this time it was worse; we were packing as well.   As lockers were emptied to get to whatever may, or may not be lurking at the bottom needed to finish the current job, it couldn't be repacked until we had decided what should go back in. We packed and repacked, shoehorning more and more of our stuff and supplies in.

Over the last few days I'm pleased to say the dust has settled, been swept away and once more revealed our shipshape boat, so we thought no better time than to take a few photos and give you a little tour.

We often say that we didn't do much to the inside of the boat.   Perhaps compared to the work that has gone on with jobs such as painting, building a rudder, bowsprit and mast, what we have done inside has paled into insignificance.  However, the storm surge that took the afore mentioned items was not selective. Interior doors, cupboard fronts and trim were also washed away, but not completely, so whatever needed to be replaced had to be done so with an eye to what remained.
None more frustrating than the round over; though I should make absolutely clear it is not round; on the drawer and cupboards door fronts. Copying this detail has pushed my wood working ability to new levels.

There is still plenty to do.  But not here. The 'didn't you have your leaving party three weeks ago' joke is starting to wear thin.  We have the most important things and all the others can be added and tweaked in the future.  We've finished the hatch, toerails and lifelines and now have a hank on staysail; the table, cupboard doors, hard dinghy and refrigerator can wait.  Our attention is drawn away from work on the boat and is focusing upon studying the weather and considering our route to our destination for this year.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Just a perfect day...

For this post we'd like you to sing 'perfect day' by Lou Reed to yourself as you read.  If you don't know it or would like a little help, here it is from you tube.  Just click on the play arrow and Lou will serenade your experience of our day...

Roger, our carpenter landlord and Ivan, our Bulgarian friend who is working on another Alajuela 38 nearby, have both been instrumental in the success of our project.

Ivan is a fount of knowledge on all things Alajuela; particularly on design and history; he has loads of books and has done a lot of research which we draw upon often.  Roger has been there with us day in day out whilst we were on his land; lending an ear for our conundrums, offering helpful advice, lending us tools and on plenty of occasions outright teaching us how to do stuff.

We have learned so much from them both that this was their day...

We called Ivan this morning to tell him that today was the day and his reply was characteristic;

'I've been to check; there is no wind',

He can be a bit of a glass half empty kind of a guy.

Then we called Roger; his reply was also pretty characteristic;

'Great, we'll meet you at two, can I bring my boys along and should we bring anything?  Perhaps some ice?'

So it was sorted.

Roger kindly picked up our new (old and battered) spinnaker pole for us at the junk (sorry 'Texas boaters' resale) shop and then picked me up at Blackburns, our marine wholesaler to give me a lift back to the boat.  We'd decided to splash out on brand new jib sheets as our older ones were not long enough for our immense genoa.

We headed out around three and motored out of the channel flagged on all sides by roaring 'cigarette' boats which had been racing and playing poker in Galveston this weekend.  These things have typically two to four engines in them, go up to 80-100mph and make a colossal racket (oh, and consume upwards of a gallon of fuel per minute flat out).

As we pointed our way out of the channel, these powerful boats were all over and were being photographed by a very low flying helicopter.

Once we set our sails it calmed right down, the engine was off by the second channel marker and we were whizzing along at 6 knots.

Then followed an absolutely blissful few hours of sailing.  We weren't really going anywhere; just sailing about, trying her out and enjoying the afternoon sun.

There was just the right amount of wind...

Just the right amount of warmth...

Just the right amount of sunshine...

The right company...

Oh, and just the right amount of wind.

I was unceremoniously dumped (my idea) in the dinghy to bob around and take these photographs while Duncan and the others sailed her on all points of the wind.

 Everyone had a go steering her and a bit of rope handling but mainly we all just sat around beaming at what a beautiful day it was to be on such a beautiful boat.

Then eventually we felt it was getting later and we should head in, so we sailed right the way back up the channel and across the lake back to her mooring.  We did the last 30 meters by engine as it required us to turn around in a tight spot, then we came to a nice peaceful rest.

Rogers' wife Lynn brought us Mexican food and we all sat together in the cockpit as the last remnants of sunlight fell out of the day and up rose the full moon.

It could not have been more perfect.