Tuesday November 5, 2002
Clearing-in to Venezuela and More Boat Trauma
Back to civilization. Back to automobiles,
high rises, honking horns and big cities.
Clearing-in to Customs in Venezuela is a
different proposition than the islands north. Yes, you can
do it yourself if you plan to spend the day taxiing from one
government office to another, spending a lot of money, and
really straining your Spanish language muscles. However, most
people just hire an agent to take care of it for them. The
agent most cruisers choose to clear them in to Margarita is
Marina Juan, owned by (who else?) Juan,
is a full service operation as he will so happily tell you.
There is one big long dinghy dock you can tie to, where he
employs a guard during daytime hours. As you walk down the
dock towards land and his office, you'll find a sign listing
all the services he offers: Customs & Immigration representation,
Internet, fax, and phone services, a mail drop, wash and fold
laundry (drop it off before 9am for next day delivery), island
tours, market runs every other day, a book swap
list goes on and on. If you were to find his office by land,
he can be discovered down a barren dirt road where the mangroves
about a half a mile past the abandoned high rise
that used to be the plush Concorde Hotel. Follow the stray
dogs and muscle cars until you see a one room building with
a covered cement patio with a handful of taxi drivers drinking
cold beers on the little wall next to a cactus in the shade.
I wasn't sure what the actual incarnation
of a man offering so many services in Venezuela might look
like, but I think in the back of my mind envisioned one of
those slimy guys in a back alley wearing dark glasses and
trying to sell stolen watches out of the folds of his overcoat.
On the contrary, Juan is a handsome Latin man with a warm
smile and a firm handshake. His voice is rough- perhaps even
grizzly- as you would expect from someone who has smoked for
many years. Dressed in army green cargo shorts, hiking boots
and a vest over his white tee-shirt the day we saw him, he
was busy bustling around his office talking into his handheld
VHF while simultaneously photocopying boat papers for another
customer and greeting us as we arrived. His dark wavy hair
with the appropriate spattering of gray, along with a full
beard, complete the expected portrait of an honorable Latin
sailor who can get things done for you, without missing a
step of debonair flair. Did I mention he speaks French and
Portuguese as well?
Juan took care of everything for us. He
sifted through our boat papers to find what he needed, and
showed us before photocopying everything, including our passports.
He gave us a map of the island, explained all his services
and said that this list was not complete. If we were to encounter
any complications or required any assistance whatsoever, to
speak with him and he could most likely help one way or another.
We could return that afternoon to pick up our clearance papers.
And when we did, it was all wrapped up neatly, in a manilla
envelope with Force Five written on the top.
From there, we had planned to take a taxi
into the town of Porlamar to get the local currency of Bolivars,
and perhaps have lunch. But, as Juan had been preparing our
papers, we ran across a gentleman who could perhaps fix Viva's
outboard, and he knew of another guy who could perhaps look
at our bent engine shaft. Just a stone's throw from Juan's
place- we went down the beach in search of an expatriate named
Don who can be found at the local watering hole and restaurant,
Jak's. We figured it would be better not to wait to get them
to have a look.
Jak's (short for Jaki, a little Thai woman
we were later to find) was already bustling with life at 9am.
Perhaps five or six Venezuelan teenagers were opening things
up at their spitfire owner's command. It wasn't clear who's
roles were what. One moment a kid would be pouring us coffee,
and the next we'd see him banging on someone's outboard motor
in back. Before we knew what was happening, it seemed Curt
and Steve were escorting the infamous Don and his sidekick
Chris, out to our boats to take a gander at our mechanical
problems and assess if they might be able to help. Feeling
like nothing more than woman folk, Pam and I were left at
Jak's for the "brief detour" in our day's plan.
I don't know how, when, or what really happened
literally. Before I knew it, I was back on Force Five with
three men and a blow torch. Somehow the plan changed drastically
when I wasn't looking. A tropical depression had begun to
roll through, and the anchorage was rolling something pretty
hefty in the gray drizzle. I sat in the cockpit, feeling somewhat
queezy, peering down at our engine with three dudes taking
our boat apart. As I understood it, they had to pull the shaft
to assess if, and just how much, it was bent. Fair enough.
The part I was wary of was the hole this would leave in the
bottom of our boat. Their plan was to plug it with a broomstick.
"Hell," Don said, "I must've sailed around
the world twice with a broomstick plugging up a hole in our
hull." This, I suppose, was intended to put this "Skirt's"
mind at ease, but it did nothing of the sort.
Yes. I know I'm a chick. But I'm not a dumb
one. And I don't think it's unreasonable to want to raise
my hand when the boat's rolling all over the place, with two
rotty old sailors wielding a blow torch in our home
the plan being to pull stuff out, leaving a hole in the bottom
of something that's meant to float on top of the water. Furthermore-
this was not even to fix it. This is to see if it needs to
be fixed. And if it did, we could plan on hanging out in Porlamar
with a broomstick in our boat where the sun don't shine
until the new part arrived. Well- we all know how long we've
waited for parts from the States before. But I did my best
to keep my lip zipped.
Now imagine that Curt has been instructed
(by these two salty dogs we found at the bar), to don his
mask and snorkel, hop overboard, and pull this shaft out of
the bottom of our boat. "Wait, wait, wait. And then you
guys are going to jam the broomstick in this hole from the
inside? Isn't water going to be gushing in the boat?"
I asked. That was the plan I was told. Curt was already in
the water. I could hear him widdling the shaft out of its
slot. And of course, don't forget
the boat is still
rocking like mad, it's drizzling, and there's a blow torch
teetering in our cockpit with each swell. I tried not to lose
it. Particularly when seawater started to gush into the boat
as if someone had set off a garden hose. Curt's pulling as
hard and as fast as he can under water- occasionally coming
up to gasp for air, while Tweedle Dee and his partner Dum
are attempting to stop the flood with the sawed off broomhandle.
Water is sloshing around the floor of the boat. They're yelling
instructions to Curt who can't hear them, so I'm in the cockpit
(holding down the blow torch from rolling over with the swell)
relaying the shouts to Curt in the back. I am thinking, but
not saying aloud, "This is unbelievable."
It did nothing to set my mind at ease when
Don, as soon as the gushing subsided, was all of a sudden
in rush to "be somewhere at 5." About this time
Curt has realized that they can't pull the shaft out of the
bottom of the boat, because the rudder is in the way. "Didn't
someone think of that before you got it half way out?"
I ask- not doing such a great job at hiding my irritation
at this point. The three guys are staring at each other, in
a mildly awkward manner, but trying not to appear so in front
of one another.
Don dodges the question. "Well, you
ain't gonna git that mother out before sundown tonight anyways.
Tell ya what kids, what d'ya say tomorrow morning you come
pick up one of my dive tanks, and Curt- you can tryin' push
the shaft back in, and then out through the inside of the
boat? Does that table come out? If the shaft won't come out
through the bottom, then ya gotta pull it out through the
inside. And it aint' comin' out through the inside with that
table there in the way."
I am staring at Curt as if there is no one
else on the boat with us, more or less ignoring Don and his
sidekick altogether. "So, does that mean we spend the
night with the shaft half way out of the hull and a sawed
off broomstick keeping us afloat?"
"It'll be fine babe."
I disappear below, picking up a book and
heading for the v-berth. Let these guys figure it out. Obviously
I am not part of what's going on in the first place. I still
don't even know how we got to this point. There I remain until
long after the Tweedles leave. I hear Curt doing, I don't
really know what, in the salon and cockpit (afterall- this
is only less than three feet away from where I'm curled up
this is as far away as I can get from him- a
fact that only serves to fuel my simmering temper further).
The swells rolling into the bay haven't subsided, and so I
am wedged into one corner, trying to talk myself down from
my state. As the boat rolls, I can clearly see the shaft in
my mind's eye
sticking three and half feet out of the
bottom of the boat, swinging like a pendulum with the swells.
In my state of mind, I was slightly consoled, if not perhaps
sadistically delighted, with the revelation that- if the boat
sinks- big deal. We go home once and for all.
When I feel mildly able, I emerge, knowing
that now, whether I feel like it or not, we will need to discuss
what further damage Curt and the Tweedles plan to do tomorrow.
I have already decided I should not be on the boat. I have
already decided laying into Curt cannot help the situation
and, my seething anger aside, I know he is only trying to
what he thinks is best (but I'm still so pissed I can't see
straight). When I come out, he is treading so lightly, he's
practically speaking in falsetto. "How's your headache?
You want me to make something to eat?"
"No thanks. I'm not that hungry. So-
can we just talk about what you and your buddies plan to do
tomorrow, and maybe you can walk me through it so I don't
feel like I'm getting anymore surprises?" My jaw is tight,
but I think he knows I really am trying (afterall, not a moment
passes when I don't have one eye tuned to the floor in search
of seawater). We cautiously enter into a discussion about
what our options are. "Do you think you can get the shaft
back in the way you pulled it out?" "How can you
get leverage underwater to push?" "If you get it
back in, there's nothing else- aside from the table- that
could prevent you from getting it out?" "If it is
bent- how long 'til the new part arrives and will it have
to machined once it arrives?" "Does Don have a guy
that can do that for us?" "Is this even where we
want to do it? Can we make it to Portalacruz and have the
boat hauled?" "Do we really trust Don and Chris?"
Many questions Curt couldn't answer. But he was forthright
about it. And you could see he was trying to gather his thoughts
and consider our options as well. He looked like he had the
weight of the world on his shoulders, and I was softened by
the fact he was trying to hide it. Nothing would be solved
tonight. He needed to talk to Don again in the morning.