October 1996 Golfito, Costa Rica
Our first year underway. It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. We departed Portugal last October, crossing the Atlantic by way of Madeira and Gran Canaria to Barbados. It was a a slow passage, there were days and weeks of calms as Alvei rolled slowly on a flat glassy sea. The calms were punctuated by 4 gales. The wind always coming from the south west, the direction we wanted to sail. The last and strongest gale, a solidforce 8 with gusts to near hurricane force 11 saw Alvei hove to in comparative comfort to the natural violence raging around her. Half way across the Atlantic we finally found the trade winds and made good speed to Barbados. We arrived at the other side of The Pond without losing anyone or breaking anything. It was a successful maiden voyage. Or as Hart later commented, "We must have done something right".
Stuck in Bequia again. Soon after arriving in Bequia, the last of the Atlantic crossing crew left. It took several months to reorganize the organization and, with help from a few sailor friends, find enough crew to get Alvei moving again.
Jacks and Capt. Anna. Jacqui Semple and Capt. Anna Stratton of the schooner "Mary Bryant" were at Antigua for Race Week. Jacqui recruited Holger Ludwig a young German with boundless energy and ocean passages to his credit. Anna found Steve McCracken, an American with a degree in economics and a couple of years experience as a professional sailor. Both arrived with an abundance of positive energy and sailing experience. Along with the usual morning work on the ship they learned all the lines, studied line handling procedures and put together an illustrated instruction sheet. Then they put a sailing rig in our shore boat "Heidi" and were seen mucking about the anchorage on a regular basis. Steve's brother Peter made a home page for us on the internet and has been updating the sight with current information. This web sight has become the primary source for finding new people. Steve's stepmother Marcia has also been active in finding new crew.
Daysail. While Claire and Sabine, a former crew member, were on board we decided to go for a daysail across the channel to St. Vincent. After discussing the idea at Schooners Pub one evening during happy hour we soon had about 20 yachties ready to go sailing. The day included a fouled anchor which had to be extracted backward with the help of circumnavigating sailor, Capt. Jack and our scuba tank, an easy beam reach across the channel and a few hours ashore in Kingstown where we took on water and kerosene. On the return I was in the navigation cabin filling in the deck log when I overheard a conversation between Steve, our new first mate, and one of the yachties. The dialogue went something like this: Yachtie: "What if he doesn't find crew?" Steve: "Look at it this way. He went into the forest, chopped down the trees and built the masts and blocks. We don't think in terms of what we can't do."
Underway again. From June to October we cruised along the coast and islands of South and Central America. As it was with the refit in Portugal, our first year underway was slow and at times difficult. This is what happened.
Weighing Anchor. Our hand powered anchor windlass has been the topic of much discussion. Some say it is a beautiful old piece of machinery. Others say it requires too much work. Steve's comment was, "People are always talking about the days of 'Wooden Ships and Iron Men', now they get a chance to do it. What are they complaining about?"Normally we would use 6 on the handles and one in the locker faking chain. However with 3 on the handles and one in the locker; we spend the time making jokes and singing chanties. (What do you do with a whale boat skipper. Soak him in oil till he sprouts a flipper. Hey, Ho, and up she rises, eer-lie in the morning.) As it turns out the anchor comes up in about the same amount of time, with about the same amount of effort and considerably less complaint.
Grenada. It was an easy overnight sail down the Grenadines to Grenada. Still in search of more crew we had just set the anchor when John, a Swedish journalism student, rowed out to inquire about joining the crew. The town of Saint Georges looks like a place forgotten since the 1920's, with it's turn of the century architecture and rusty wrought iron under flaking paint. There is an artfully wrought market place and a beautiful natural harbor to accommodate yachts and commercial vessels. Holger had to return to Germany to take university entrance exams. Unfortunately, our stay in Grenada was less than a week, Andrea had a plane to catch in Trinidad, so we sailed south with a crew of four.
Trinidad. Having heard many stories about crime and poor anchorages I was not looking forward to the visit. We planned a 5 day stay to look for more crew. However, the anchorage at Chaguaramus was very welcoming, with it's numerous yachting facilities and lively social scene. There were many veteran sailors here, some had been here for years, while others had moved south to make repairs during the off season and to avoid the hurricanes farther north. Finally we met others who rowed their dinghies.
Radio Net. There was an 8 a.m. radio net on VHF channel 72. The purpose is to establish communicaton within the boating population, to discuss security problems (there weren't any), hear the weather report (keeping track of tropical waves, some of which turn into hurricanes.), announce social activities and an interesting section called 'treasures of the bilge', where one can sell or trade unneeded items. The morning after our arrival we introduced ourselves and announced we were looking for crew. The next day a young diver from South Africa named Geoff joined the crew.
A Social Event. The next week we had a pot luck dinner and rum punch with 50 or so in attendance. A few days later we sailed out into the Gulf of Paris to take pictures of Alvei under sail. Among the crew that day were Captains Harry, Yogi, Willie and Ingulf who owned and operated the type of charter boats that command a charter fee of 5 to 7 thousand dollars a week. They were sitting back aft poking fun at themselves with comments like this: "You know we are just a bunch of leisure time sailors. We push a button and the anchor comes up, push another button and the sails are set. But to sail like you do on Alvei is to return to your roots. "We sailed back to the anchorage at sunset. Everyone stayed an extra hour sipping beer and champagne and telling stories by the lamp light. (When we departed the charter boat Captains all voluntarily returned to help us weigh anchor, with cases of beer wagered on how fast they could get the anchor up.)
More Crew. We found 2 more crew, Tim and Marianne, for the sail to Venezuela. Tim was finishing a circumnavigation with his parents. Marianne, possibly the last of the vanishing species of aging hippie back packers, was touring Venezuela and studying Spanish.
Isla Margarita. I sailed "Sofia" to Margarita in 1979, at that time there were about a half dozen yachts in the open anchorage off Porlamar. This year I counted 96 boats in the anchorage. After last years disastrous hurricane season boat owners were forced to go north of Cape Hatteras or south of Grenada for their insurance to be in effect.
Anniversaries, Oysters and Beer. Steve, John, Tim and Geoff surprised me with a huge bottle of rum on the evening of 15 July, then reminded me it was