A Floating United Nations

During the past week, we have had guests aboard Audentes from Panama, England, Canada, and Poland. Much like the UN, everyone dislikes Americans but is polite enough not to say so to our faces. Also similar to the UN, we Americans do whatever we want and don’t care at all what anyone else thinks. There are a few things that we do agree on: rum is good, French people are bad, and sailing is better than working, no matter where you are from. The cultural exchange has been interesting and any differences of opinion were drowned in a steady stream of booze. The active social scene of Balboa has been a welcome change from my normal monk-like existence, but the trip to the Galapagos is going to serve as a much-needed detoxification.

The drama of the past week was provided by the realization that my only debit card went missing on Tuesday. Whether I accidentally left the card in a store after a purchase (the last place I used it claimed not to have it), lost it somewhere on the boat (I occasionally leave it behind when I go ashore for security reasons), or one of any number of other equally possible scenarios, the simple fact is that I am without the card that allows me to withdraw money in foreign countries. A small consolation was provided by the fact that I have an adequate reserve of cash available and that there are worse places than Panama to endure this debacle. Still, the lousy phone systems here combined with the limited global reach of Bank of America made for several frustrating days. Normally, my parents provide crucial support from the U.S. for these types of issues, but, as luck would have it, my mother is spending a month at an ashram in India for an intensive yoga course and my dad is traveling for business in Europe and Africa for a couple of weeks. This leaves my brother Brian holding down the fort in the U.S. and he was extremely helpful in handling this banking fiasco. Further compounding the difficulty of quickly obtaining a replacement card in a 3rd world country was the fact that I have no physical address at which I can safely receive mail. These are the logistical nightmares that most people do not dwell upon when they are daydreaming about sailing in the tropical waters of the Pacific. I wish that I could say that this story has a happy ending, but the saga continues. The best help that the bank could provide was to send a replacement card to my parent’s home in Georgia.

In the meantime, I have decided not to wait around in Panama, but to prepare to set off for the Galapagos. Hopefully, my card will catch up with me somewhere in the South Pacific and, in the meantime, I will have to creatively finance my voyage. As a result, expensive habits such as eating and brushing my teeth may go by the wayside. Luckily, the week was not consumed entirely by frustration of the financial kind. There was also plenty of frustration of the sexual variety as well. Most people would be thrilled to be constantly surrounded by gorgeous women and, in this regard, the women of Panama do not disappoint. However, sometimes it is less painful to be confined to a small isolated vessel with only my own unwavering reflection to gaze at in the mirror. At least being alone on the ocean provides the comforting reassurance that there are no opportunities being missed, no amorous advances going unrequited, nor any prospects going unfulfilled. Ah, but I am just a normal man, though perhaps too much of a sentimentalist and we all know that society does not need too many sentimentalists. And so forth.

Having struck out with the locals, I shifted my attention to the fairer sex of other nationalities. No sooner did I exhaust my limited Spanish vocabulary on the locals than a dinghy full of Polish women rode up and drank their way through our already depleted liquor cabinet. These four intrepid sailors from Poland are in the process of a two-year circumnavigation aboard two identical 28-foot Manta’s, a racer-cruiser designed in Poland. The two boats are racing around the world as part of a promotional campaign for the builder. Despite the fierce competition that a race around the world suggests, this race is the most friendly and least cutthroat competition imaginable. During calm seas in the middle of the Atlantic, the two boats even tied up together and chatted in the middle of a passage. For those readers not familiar with racing, it is not common that two America’s Cup competitors will stop during a race for a friendly chat unless it is to exchange subpoenas. Although the prospect of sailing around the world in someone else’s boat sounds ideal, the cost saving efforts of the builder has left some gaping exclusions from the usual inventory of boat equipment aboard. Among these exclusions was an adequate anchor (several other cruisers pitched in to purchase one for them since they considered the original anchor unsafe), anchor chain that can best be compared to a brittle dog leash, one set of charts for two boats, and a nearly inaccessible life raft. Suggesting that the communist censorship of Poland is still alive and well, the journals of the crew that are posted on the website following the race are edited by the builder to reflect only the positive aspects of the boats’ performance.

In between losing my access to money and being shot down by women of all nationalities, I managed to find time to work towards obtaining a visa and cruising permit for the Galapagos Islands. In speaking with other sailors, it seems that the laws governing the allowable duration of stay in the Galapagos varies widely. Many boats arrive unannounced and claim that they are stopping in the Galapagos for emergency purposes. Why it is necessary to go through the formalities of propagating this obvious lie is beyond me, but the Ecuadorian authorities attempt to discourage sailboats from overstaying their welcome by limiting the emergency visit first to three days and then to two or three weeks. Not surprisingly, the permitted duration of the visit can be influenced by some well-placed money in the right hands, but I chose to hire an agent prior to my arrival in an attempt to avoid any awkward bribery situations. Fellow cruisers have suggested that the use of an agent will allow me to stay for three weeks and visit four different islands, so I proceeded to fax my boat papers and copies of my passport to the agent, as well as to wire $175 to some truly offshore account. At this point, I guess that I have a visa waiting for me, but who can really tell?

So, barring any more financial snafus on my part or any new problems with the boat or any unattractive weather forecasts or the extremely remote chance that one of the beautiful Panamanian women will actually like me, I am planning on setting sail for the Galapagos sometime during the upcoming week. The backlog of boat projects is slowly dwindling and the time for final provisioning is growing near. The main challenge now is to mentally transition from the soft living of life at anchor to the more demanding focus required for completing an extended offshore passage. If TV has taught me anything, it is that the sea can be unforgiving for those who are unprepared and we are fighting every instinct that could result in an entertaining movie, a harrowing journal entry, and a thoroughly miserable experience. Hopefully, the passage will consist entirely of fair winds and following seas, but we are preparing for the worst. Once properly prepared, all that remains is to haul anchor and go. We are eager and ready … almost.

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