Saturday, 14 April 2018

The Letting Go Process of Ula

A running commentary could be heard for miles blasting from the loud speaker of the two-tiered tourist boat:
"Looks like the purple pirate ship are having some problems, folks."
We had just untied from them and were slowly pulling away when their prop wash thrust us instantly to a 90 degree angle. Our bow was aiming right for the concrete wall of the first lock in the Panama Canal at an alarmingly fast rate.  We were no longer a 14 tonne vessel, but a cork bobbing around in the rapid-like, airated water, not able to get any traction or momentum of where we wanted to go. Regardless of this helpless feeling, I was frantically trying to do all that I could to save poor Ula; spinning the wheel in full rotations from one direction to the other while simultaneously thrusting the throttle into forward and reverse as the rugged edge loomed frighteningly close, baring it's jagged rough edges like a wild, ravid monster.  In the background I could hear the faint cries of line handlers and advisor, "ohh..ohh..aagh!" every time we were inches from the unforgiving wall of doom.  Dave saved the day by running the length of the bowsprit, jumping onto the canal edge, shoving us off and jumping back on in time!
We had survived lock #1, five more to go! But there was no time to celebrate or even take a breath, we were required to motor up to the next lock and tie up alongside the tourist boat again.
Bottom of the lock.

Top of the lock (water filled in).

Part of me wanted to run from embarrassment instead of facing all those people and to let Stu, our linehandler friend and very experienced yachtsman take over. I didn't.  Perhaps there was some pride that motivated me to stick at it but I thought if I give up now on a bad note, I may never have the confidence again to helm. That scared me more.

Should we be concerned about the
water escaping?!

Our other linehandler had suggested we make a sign advertising our blog and already while waiting at the first lock, people had looked it up and apparently were yelling out my name (couldn't hear sitting at the helm), asking the boys and crew if we'd sailed from NZ etc! The power of the internet..I just wanted to cower away in a corner!
One tourist asked Stu what happened back there, to which he replied, "oh you know, just doing some pirouettes in the canal!"  He did go on to explain what happened. This time we also had the attention of a 4-tiered watch tower packed full of eager onlookers and cameras for online pressure!
Cousins in England watching live!

This was exactly why we were reluctant to meet the buyer's condition of delivering Ula back through the Panama Canal for storage at Shelter Bay Marina on the Caribbean side.
We were desperate to get home so had dropped the price to ridiculous to ensure a quick sale.  We couldn't have asked for a better buyer in terms of being easy to deal with, straight up, no mucking us around and wanting to help make it easy for us to get going.
For three weeks I had been constantly fielding questions from all advertised posts on various online platforms.  I had sent tons of photos, listened to peoples' personal stories politely and accepted a number of offers and promises of cash ready to go...all availing to dead ends. It was a draining roller coaster.
Salem found! Hide and seek creativeness required!

Thankfully, we did have some amazing friends in the anchorage that made life easier, were encouraging, uplifting, helpful and incredibly hospitable.
Very happy Eli with his first course!

Red moon rising!

Mr Buyer's condition was the delivery, as previously mentioned, all at his expense, including a week staying at the marina.  We'd accepted his offer as he'd been the only genuine one.  But we were reluctant, struggling with doubts of the price being too low and trust issues; due to a previous committment, Mr Buyer had to return to the US which meant we were sitting waiting for a week or two between the offer and the proposed canal transit/payment.
Voicing our trust/patience issues through a family whatsapp group between NZ, Panama and England, my sister decided to do some stalking of the buyer to help ease our minds. She found him alright, with his profile picture and job description. She questioned with alarm, "have you seen his job title??"..  Check it out: (He's no longer in this job at the time of writing)..

Regional EXBS (Export Control and Related Border Security) Advisor...the programme “seeks to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and destabilizing accumulations and irresponsible transfers of conventional weapons by helping to build effective national strategic trade control systems in countries that possess, produce, or supply strategic items, as well as in countries through which such items are most likely to transit.”
Sister's comment:
"So either he’s a really reputable guy or he suspects you guys of holding a weapon of mass destruction! 😂 Either way I think he's good for cash!"

That was the guy..he'd confirmed with us the bomb disposal operation costing tens of millions we'd got caught up with down island (see previous post).

The timing was not great for the sellers' market. The previous two months had seen widespread devastation throughout the Caribbean and US being hit hard with Hurricanes Harvey (category 4), Irma (category 5), Maria (category 5), and Jose (category 4).  Then, Tropical Storm Nate hit Nicaragua, demolishing Costa Rica with severe flooding before continuing onto the US. These caused horrendous mass destruction on a colossal scale.
Our hearts go out to the thousands of displaced families and businessess for their loss and the challenges they face to start over from nothing.
On a completely selfish, materialistic point of view, while thankfully we had remained safe from the carnage all around us, these disasters had created an influx of cheap boats between the US and Caribbean. Flooding the market with not only private boats but whole charter fleets that had been wiped out, selling for less than a few thousand dollars, obviously requiring some work. Our custom, project boat with no glitzy appeal and barely any modern comforts could not compete with the competition.
A day in the life: ceiling hangings filled with mangos
and pineapples: bliss.

We had to face the facts: cut our losses and sell cheap.
A friend very kindly helped me get some perspective sometime later on the term, "cutting our losses:" We may not have come back with a deposit for a house as we'd hoped, but we were able to pay for our flights and a vehicle.  We don't have to worry about any debt or ongoing expenses, such as very pricey boat storage. On top of this, we have had almost two years in total of living in the Caribbean as a family where we didn't have to go out and work.  We experienced crazy things, saw beautiful places, met some amazing people and discovered new skills we never realised we had-the kids also.

S/V Lungta departing the shores of San José. 

It was sheer delight to see the transformation in Eli between our two trips: returning from the first trip he was almost in a state of post-trauma, he was so consumed with how our newbie-ness appeared to other sailors, that we were doing things "wrong."  By the end of the second trip he had confidence in himself and a certain resolve that he feels at home amongst the sailing community and possibly considers a career in the boating industry.
Let me tell you about one incident that unintentionally helped the boys realise their own abilities...

Dave and I had to get supplies in Panama city. This trip entails a 10 minute dinghy ride, plus lock up of dinghy, a walk to the bus stop, a wait of up to half an hour, (dont forget the intense, energy-zapping, humidity to add to the mix), a ride to the bus station/mall can take at least 30 minutes, traffic depending.  Walking through the massive mall can take 30 minutes easily, then finding the shop(s), what's needed and decision making.  Then add all this onto the return trip home.  Makes for a big day with lots of walking and waiting for buses. Not big on the boys' fun list when they could just stay home on the boat. They have vhf if they need to contact anyone in the anchorage.  The thing with Panama is weather reports cant tell you when there's going to be a localised blow that can have winds screaming through at 40-50 knots for a very intense hour or so... We were returning home one day on the bus, watching the anchorage as we drove alongside, all looked fairly well and benign. Getting the dinghy out from the dock, I noticed what looked to be a yacht up on the rocks on the far side of the anchorage.  We arrive at the boat shortly after to three wide-eyed boys eager to tell us of their harrowing morning..the winds had gathered momentum across the wide fetch of the bay, screaming through and creating decent waves, forcing boats to stretch out on their chains, being shoved around in all directions.  The boys intently watched their position to make sure they weren't dragging (a very common occurrence in that anchorage). After some time, nerves on edge, they decided that Eli would start the engine and motor forward some while Salem sat on the bow in the howling winds and spray motioning as to what was happening with the anchor chain (the course of action we had discussed previously).  Eden went below and stuck his head under his pillow! They continued at this for up to an hour till they felt they were safely holding.

My initial reaction was sorry they had to endure that alone.  Part of me felt terrible for leaving them to deal with that scary situation but the main feeling that sat with me was of pride in my boys, that this was actually a moment of empowering for them, to see what they were capable of: keeping themselves safe. It's not a situation I would wish on them, but I'm truly grateful it happened; especially with the successful ending!
Slight diversion there, back to the delivery and locks: we had survived the first set of three locks.
Stu offered to helm for the next 4 hours or so back up to the Gatun Lake to give me a break and sort out lunch. We couldn't make it through in good enough time which meant an overnighter at the Lake. (See previous Canal post for description and picture of lock system).
After a long morning of waiting for the call on the vhf, our new advisor rocked up from the pilot boat and it was action-stations again.  We were tying up next to a pilot boat and the Captain was really helpful offering advice about what to do for each lock and what to expect with the winds and turbulence in the water.

Holy ship that's close!

Happy to report, it was a successful three locks!
Nearing sunset as we approached Shelter Bay Marina, Dave and I felt we couldn't really relax until we were tied up at the dock. But of course, one last surprise: in spite of our last two experiences of really successful marina berthing, this one turned out to be a nightmare. Forward and back we trudged for half an hour between the flash boats and concrete finger berths, with a good amount of onlookers and confusing, conflicting directions being yelled from various people, all the while trying to get our stern in on the right angle but she just wouldn't cooperate. Never had the prop wash been so difficult to work with. Stu took over and struggled also for just as long but finally managed to get close enough to throw a line and be pulled in. Hallelujah!

Debriefing with Stu, he said with their full keel they always radio ahead for dinghy assistance when entering a marina - we had never considered doing that! The general consensus was that she was "a pig" to manoeuver (poor Ula!). It was a realisation that she was no longer the right boat for us. Stu also suggesting next time we buy a boat to run it by him first! Something more user-friendly would be more ideal and enjoyable.
But hey, we had completed our mission-delivered successfully and incredibly without any scratches!!  (The bowsprit chain saved the hull from the concrete of doom).
Eden (7) was among the many waiting at the marina for us.  He had very bravely opted to meet his friends' mum at the bus station two days beforehand, taking the two hour bus journey back with her for to stay with them on their boat as a surprise for one of the boys' birthdays!
Eden's bus trip across the isthmus of Panama.

Another interesting comment that emerged from cruisers we had previously met was they instantly noticed how much younger and happier Dave looked!
The next few mornings I was awoken early to the sound of a trumpet call, followed by chanting and marching..the noise was carrying across the water from the military base!  Our days were filled with offloading food and gear. The boys were stoked to have a good amount of friends and it was nice to be a bit more chilled this time around.
Jungle walks from marina.

Discovery tour amongst ww2 relics to the
shrill sound of howler monkeys!

Mr Buyer came toward the end of the week to take more notes and then it was time to leave with him, with all our bags and boards and spend the night with him as he'd previously offered.
Leaving Ula for the last time.

We had a great evening, his hospitality and entertaining stories making for a wonderful end to what could've been a tumultuous, emotional time.  Being an employee of the American embassy, we felt like we were staying in some 5 star resort!

The flashest place we've ever been to!

Hibiscus eating lizard!

Lunchtime we were escourted to the US embassy to do the final signing in front of  an official notary.  Quite an experience in itself, which I probably can't write about!
Spent our last evening in Panama in a budget hotel, with a great view and found an awesome little food spot with great food before our 3am wake up call.
Loved the pellet furniture..great food too!

Rogelio, our legendary taxi guy who's services we'd used on a number of occassions and made us feel like we had a paid security guard, picked us up for the drive to the airport.  We couldn't believe the amount of traffic pouring into the city at that time. Apparently the roading infrastructure has not been well planned.  With only one road in means people have to leave insanely early to get into work. Rogelio (pronounced rohelio), said in the next hour traffic will be at a stand still.
Flight #1 to Miami.
Lady seated next to Salem was having a
good chuckle.

Flight#2 to LA, arriving at another b-grade hotel early evening.
We were able to keep our luggage stored at the hotel and took a roadtrip out to the beach: Santa Monica Pier...

Getting face carved onto plaster of paris (?).

Eden tipping and grooving.

Taxi return took an interesting turn.  We were having pleasant conversation. Dave asked about population of LA: approximately 10,163,507 but there's a lot of illegal immigrants. During their holiday peak season though, they receive around 4 million visitors... that's the population of NZ visiting LA, Dave retorted!!
Toward the end of the drive I kept thinking the area looked really unfamiliar.  I had shown the address from my phone to the driver, but trust issues rose with the money meter and the background thoughts of our flight out that evening, which I continually pushed aside knowing it was not till 11pm.  Sure enough, 10 minutes later, the driver stopped, declaring this was our spot.  The horror on our faces, stress in the air was instantly noticeable.  I showed him the address again saying this was definitely not our spot. He wasn't very impressed that I'd apparently only shown him part of the address and we were still another 10-15 minutes away and the meter was already over US$30.  The Morroccan (??memory a little hazy on exact details, apologies!) driver very graciously offered to turn off his meter and get us to our destination for no extra charge!  Suffice to say, we gratefully made sure to pay him extra. Never had a b-grade hotel looked so good!!
10.50pm our adventure was not over yet, our dozing in the airport was interrupted by a special announcement:  the health department had shut down the catering company for the airline, due to listeria and given the long haul, 12 hour flight with over 300 passengers they felt they couldn't in good conscience risk it.  Rather than facing disgruntled passengers fighting over the toilets, they felt it would be easier to feed us with crackers, chips and sandwiches: awesome.  Thanks American Airlines.  They promised compensation, which arrived a few weeks later in the form of a $100 AA voucher each which cant be transferred or traded or refunded.  The only flights leaving NZ are direct to the US, something we definitely are not going to be able to afford before the one year expiry.  I was so looking forward to plane food too!

Touch down due to the date line was two days later.  
Drive home through green..

never ceases to amaze!

Salem calf-whisperer!

Five months have passed.  Arriving home nearing the beginning of summer made for an easy initial transition: we had temporary cheap accommodation at my ever-patient parents.' Dave was able to return to his previous work, I was able to get some casual jobs in between homeschooling.  Surf being top priority for holidays and weekends.

Salem pig-dogging..ever hopeful of a barrel.

The new year, slotting into work and school, coping with my ongoing, often-times, debilitating neck injury issues, lacking patience with the saving/starting over process, and unsure of direction and purpose, things gradually began to crumble to a very stressful state of mind to me. In spite of my very supportive friends.
Salem's bivvy set up for homeschool
bush overnighter.

At the recommendation of a friend, I have since sought out counseling to help me cope, recognise signs, give me tools to overcome.

The most recent discovery/breakthrough has been in the form of finding my passion/purpose: discovering I can go crew on other people's boats to get my fill, which in turn eases the pressure from Dave. He is happy to stay home and get his fill with surfing. Reurning from the latest trip, I'm feeling more appreciated and realising what I can do to make a difference.
Isla San José Panama

Watch this space for my latest crewing episodes.
Thanks for the encouraging feedback throughout this journey, it has been really rewarding and I'm working on a couple of ebook ideas..will keep you posted.

Thanks for reading:)

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