Ave Maria - The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Trip Start Jan 31, 1996
Trip End Ongoing

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The Ave Maria

Flag of Panama  , San Blas,
Saturday, March 6, 2010

 Nothing builds confidence in a fool faster than having him pilot a fifteen metre vessel into the darkness. Nine fools really, not just passengers, but crew as well, rolling along in two to three metre waves. My job just before taking a turn at the wheel was sandwich maker. Slicing tomatoes, cucumbers and onions with a great big bloody butcher knife. I was deathly afraid of the wave that might throw me against the stove, plunging the ten inch blade into my gut, neck or maybe eye.

At the wheel though, keeping us on a 240 to 260 degree course I couldn't help but wonder if we weren't all just a bit kooky. Nine neophytes, on a boat that can comfortably accommodate seven, sailing in horribly, choppy water, one-hundred and fifty kilometres from the nearest land. The only instruction we'd had was about falling overboard. If one of us were to see such an occurrence, we were to point continuously at the victim and yell. Whoever happened to be closest, was to throw in a long stick with a rope on it. We, at least I, was comforted by the Captain telling us that 37% of those who fall in, do survive. Such is life aboard the Ave Maria.

Thirty hours after leaving Cartagena, through darkness and daylight we did all safely arrive in the beautiful San Blas Islands of Panama. There are are 360 islands in the group and they're occupied and administered by the Kuna Indians. Some friendly, some not so, it's the women who rule the roost amongst the Kuna. And oddly, or maybe not so, transvestites are quite common.

We snorkeled reef and wreck by day, then at night ate the most magnificent lobster, crab and fish; sometimes on the boat stove, sometimes on a wood and palm leaf fire by a deserted beach. Brunella and Lorcan from Dublin handled the cooking like magicians. Had the cooking been left to Ellen and me there'd have been several meals of uncooked and/or burnt seafood that would have been thrown into the sea as we hunted for a working can opener that would have provided us with beans, beans and more beans. We'll never forget Brunella and Lorcan, as we pray that one day they'll come to Canada and feed us like they did on the Ave Maria.

After five days we dropped off Gert-Jan and Niki from Rotterdam; Mike and Christina from Brisbane; and Magnus – who was a fabulous man in the kitchen too – from London. They took a smaller boat to shore, then headed overland to Panama City. Now it was just us and the Dubliners. Three more days of good eating and snorkeling in much less crowded conditions, we thought.

The plan was to head back down along the Panama coast to the outpost village of Capurgana, Colombia. The better part of the first day however, was spent filling the boat with potable water.  We'd run out of granola, beer and eating utensils that weren't rusty. The ice had all melted too, which caused the milk not to pour, but to drop out of its container in white lumps. And the bacon had taken on a smell that could cause you to want give up food altogether. It probably would have been a good time for the Captain to replenish supplies. It probably would have been a good time to ask the Captain why the hell he didn't feel the need to, also. But neither happened. Instead we sailed off the following morning begging for food poisoning, or maybe scurvy. We got a late start the second day, then an early anchoring. The Captain said that the sea might be rough the following day, and that it might be a good idea if we spent the day relaxing. I piped up and said that Ellen was getting nervous about being at sea for so long and that we'd like to forge on if possible. I didn't say that my gums were feeling tender and that I was developing a genuine fear that scurvy might be approaching. The next morning, without a word, the Captain dove into his book about the Red Hot Chili Peppers; we didn't sail a metre. Since we were paying by the day for being on the Ave Maria, it was the most expensive day of reading we'd ever had. The following morning, as we sailed onwards I casually asked the Captain if the sea was rougher than it had been the day before. He told me that it was about the same. Ellen thinks that the Captain simply wanted to be fed and cleaned up after, while he was handsomely paid to read about the Red Hot Chili Peppers. And of course while all this was going on, I was simply getting red hot under the collar. But what the hell could I say. The Captain could have come up with 1,001 reasons why we couldn't sail and I wouldn't have known any better.
The next time Ellen and I come to Cartagena, looking for a boat to Panama we will take a pass on the Ave Maria.
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