OtterNews.com -- the full on-line record of the 1998-2003 round-the-world voyage of Brec Morgan aboard the Otter!

Note: www.BrecMorgan.com also "resolves" to this site, so it's easy to remember!
Also, see photos of the St. Maarten Yacht Club's March 17th celebration of Brec's return.
The ceremonial "Tossing of the 'Voyage-End Dock Lines'" went off as planned at 1:00 p.m. on Saturday, May 17th.
Click here to order a copy of Brec's Homecoming Compilation of E-Mailed Reports.

Other Pages & Links

Homepage

About Brec's Art

About Brec's Reports

List of Reports

E-mail Excerpts

Block Island Times articles
May 17, 2003-front page
May 17, 2003-full article
March 24, 2001
September 29, 2001

Homecoming Articles

AP Story-filed 5/17/03
New London Day

Links to friends
Link to SV Karma
(a companion vessel during much of Brec's Journey)

Contact Information

for Brec
brecmorgan@aol.com

for John Morgan
(Brother/Publisher/
Editor/Webmaster) brotherjohn@otternews.com
 

Phone for John Morgan
860-857-4936

Regular Mail:
c/o John R. Morgan
P. O. Box 1982
New London, Conn.
06320


E-mail Note:

Please use the following AOL account in the event the e-mails are returned from the above addresses --

OtterNews@aol.com

 

Report Three from the Otter: Aruba Panama
Part I -- Aruba, "One Happy Island" 
                    (in two sections)

Section A Ė Ashore in Aruba

I arrived in Oranjestad, Aruba on Thursday, February 18th and left Tuesday, March 23rd, 32 days later, headed for Panama. I had expected to stay for about one and a half or two weeks at the most . . . Arubaís motto, seen on all the license plates, is "One Happy Island." From the start, they set out to prove it true . . .

I arrived after a five-day sail from Nevis, a distance of 529 nautical miles. The last 30 hours of sailing I had been awake, watching for shipping and doing the more careful navigation required of landfalls.

I was tired when I pulled into the customs dock in Oranjestad. The customs dock is an endless, straight-as-an-arrow pier that the large cruise ships use. It was empty that Thursday at 8:30 a.m. Otter looked small and insignificant tied up there next to giant tires that must have been off earthmovers from the Hoover Dam.

I walked across a large plaza that welcomes up to 3,000 visitors a day, when the cruise ships are in, and into the customs office. The brown-uniformed man behind the desk has light-brown skin, just a little lighter than his shirt. He has a round face that reminds me of my motherís Uncle Oliver and that swarthy side of the Brooks family.

He is speaking on the phone in a soft, mellifluous language I'd never heard before: Papiamento. One of the more obscure languages on this planet, Papiamento is a combination of Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch, Arawalk, and, recently, English. Most of the people on the island speak four languages: Papiamento, Spanish, Dutch, and English.

In my tired state, I watch him slowly and methodically fill in all the blanks on the endless forms he pulls from shelves and drawers. I find this small, finite world oddly reassuring after five days of tumbling waves and the sure knowledge that each moment at sea you need to be alert and on watch. Even sleeping is done with ears open.

I imagine the papers he is filling out -- never to be read again, filed away in a dusty drawer with other papers. I see an anonymous record of my passage, in a drawer, in a warehouse, in Aruba. Like the record of Otterís own wake -- swirling behind a few feet, then disappearing into the vast sea.

There are no fees or charges because, he tells me, they want to encourage people to visit. "Enjoy my stay," he says as I leave.

The Immigration officer drives up to the edge of the pier. He is a very large man in a very crisp white shirt with badges and epaulettes. He is in a tiny, dilapidated, dusty old car. It looks like it would be difficult for him to get out; we conduct business through the window. He stamps some papers and I am officially entered.

The morning has become very hot and the light has a relentless tropical harshness that burns everything. The Otter is rocking, small against the dock. Beyond is the flat, lonely, aqua-blue horizon toward Venezuela.

At the far end of the cruise-ship pier is the entrance to the little harbor. The Seaport Marina docks take up the entire right-side near the Sonesta Suites Hotel and Casino Complex. They also have a pier coming out into the harbor, straight ahead as I enter. To the left are the local inter-island produce boats, loading and unloading on a commercial pier.

The marina's slips were full because of a north wind creating surf along a stretch of hotels and beaches to the north: charter boats that are usually anchored off the beaches had taken refuge in the harbor.

After circling a few times, I was waved in by the owner of a large, black, plywood catamaran called Orowa, owned by Rene and Windie. They told me I could tie up next to them until a slip became available. Both Dutch, they had come to the island seven years ago and had started a charter business with the catamaran. They also had a dive shop and other little businesses going. The Orowa was a permanent resident of the Seaport Marina.

Oranjestad is like a mini-Las Vegas with a Dutch accent. A constant flow of tourists makes the island fairly wealthy by Caribbean standards. The largest architectural complex - about a block square - has restaurants, mall areas with dozens of shops, discotheques, banks, a post office branch, and an Internet cafť. The facades look like Amsterdam on acid -- bright tropical colors and decorative Dutch swirls everywhere. Disney would be proud. Locals call it "The Wedding Cake." Because so many of the tourists are from the States, the Dutch on Aruba feel it is a very Americanized island.

After a long sleep that first afternoon, I wound up going to dinner at Wendy's. A quarter-pounder with cheese, cold orange juice, water with ice, and a hot tea: a feast! I rarely go to fast-food places at home, but the middle-American dream of a regular, repeatable product in a clean, air-conditioned environment doesn't seem so bad now. Especially after eating in little shacks on other islands and five days of canned goods at sea. Since Otter has no refrigerator, ice is a luxury. I loved it!

For two days I cleaned and scrubbed the boat anticipating the arrival of Sandy's sister, Barbara, and her husband, Michael. They flew in from Ann Arbor, Michigan and stayed with me in my tiny accommodations for a week. Putting some stuff on deck and rearranging gave me room in the foc'sle for my bunk.

We sailed over to the anchorage area by the airport for a few days and then up to the beaches by the hotels for a few days. The water at the beaches was cleaner than in the harbor, and we swam and sunbathed a little. While I did some boat chores they did a survey of the hotel bars on the beach. A barefoot bar tour.

The weeks went by way too fast. I actually cooked some passable dinners while they were aboard - not gourmet but good - and we went out and explored a few restaurants, too. When they left, the boat felt very empty. I became depressed and lethargic for a full week afterwards. Such an odd thing, to be on a beautiful paradise island fighting depression.

Aruba was a turning point. I realized that to go on, all downwind, was a commitment to the journey. From here I could still turn and sail north to home again. But once I was through Panama it would be much more difficult.

I had been in touch by phone a lot with home and the phone bills were staggering: almost two monthsí worth of my cruising budget spent on gabbing from the islands with friends, relatives, and occasional business - tying loose ends. I became aware in Aruba that that had to end or I'd be broke by the time I got to the Marquesas!

Another door closed and I felt further away from home. I was homesick. I missed all my friends. It wasn't an extended vacation any longer. This is now my life.

The realization was sobering. I'd led a life for 22 years where I knew what I was going to do every day. I had a clearly defined role; I was needed. I had pattern and structure. I belonged to many civic, religious, social, and art groups and felt good helping contribute to each one. I now felt adrift emotionally and tied to nothing. I felt anxious even about my marriage.

I was needed nowhere.

A full week went by in its grip. The accompanying soundtrack was a tape given to me by a friend -- "After the Rain," a Windham-Hilly thing I played over and over as I withdrew further and further.

The third week in Aruba I started pulling out of the dive. I started running in the morning for 45 minutes to over an hour. Out to the airport and back. The wind always in my face on the way out, a struggle, and at my back on the way home.

I became intrigued by the statues I'd run past. Local World War II heroes. Arubian Masonic ĎGrande Hombres.í Queen Wilhelmina of Holland. Arubian liberation fighters. A magnificent equestrian statue of Simon Bolivar.

I was so impressed with Bolivarís statue that I'd visit it every day. I memorized the plaques. He was born in Caracas, Venezuela on July 24, 1783, and died in Santa Marta, Columbia on Dec. 17, 1830. The liberator of Panama, Columbia, Equador, Peru, Bolivia, and Venezuela.

The stern masculine and benevolent face of the liberator, a broad gesture of freedom granted with the hat upturned in his extended right hand, his left hand holding tightly the reins of the rearing horse. A symbol of vital energy and fire. Justice and compassion as the product of strength and discipline.

I feel the darshan when I am near the statue; I realize how provincial my knowledge of both geography and history really is.

The days get brighter as I catch up on some watercolor commissions and dig into the endless list of boat chores. I prioritize the items and do those that are a must before leaving Aruba.

I see a film every night for six nights at the six-screen theater just down the street, and critique each one in my journal. Then I discover the Internet cafť, where after dinner I spend about an hour and a half opening and printing my e-mail from home and sending everyone notes. (Iím not a typist so it is all very slow, but itís cheap in comparison to the phone!) Then an ice cream at TCBYís next to Carlos Ní Charlieís Bar and back to the boat to reread Sailing Alone Around the World,by Joshua Slocum, a truly great writer and creator of sea imagery.

I have promised myself Iíd attend church services wherever I am on those Sundays when I am not at sea. In Aruba, I attended a Dutch Protestant church for two Sundays. The service is in English and Dutch, but the hymns are all in Dutch. I sing loudly, but a fraction of a step behind so I can hear the people next to me pronounce the words.

The sermon is in Dutch, so after reading the printed English translation handout, which takes five minutes, there is still 10-20 minutes left to the droning in Dutch. The pulpit is a carved mahogany shipís bow, while the minister, in his black robe and white pleated bib and shock of white hair and beard, looks straight out of a Rembrandt painting.

I watch sparrows fly in and out of the windows to a large chandelier in the center of the church. I hear the traffic outside. And it feels like when I was in grade school in the spring and the teacher would drone on while I watched the sun on the trees across the playground. I hear the teacher say, "Mr. Morgan, if youíd been paying attention, youíd know why Jesus turned the water into wine at Cana."

For the second two Sundays I find a Methodist church a block away from the Statue of Simon Bolivar. The congregation is predominantly black, English-speaking West Indians who have come here over the years to work. The hymns are familiar and the music spirited. The minister is one of those rare individuals who can put together a sermon that is clear and deeply felt and holds my attention.

Surprisingly few cruising yachts come through Aruba. The only boat on my dock that has plans to sail on is Tehani, a 37-foot Tayana that belongs to Russ and Barbara Pyros. Russ is a retired engineer/professor from Port Jefferson, Long Island with a bushy white mustache and who makes great chicken soup.

We have dinner together a few times, and tour the island with Jean-Paul, a friend of theirs who lives on the island. Jean-Paul is Italian-Dutch and was an engineer for years at the oil refinery in St. Nicholas, the town at the southeast corner of the island.

He tells us about the front page newspaper article a few years back when a stalk of bananas fell off a produce truck going over the new, little mounded bridge that had been built by the Sonesta Hotel. Being rush hour on the main road downtown, cars ran over the bananas, making a slippery mess that caused accidents and blocked traffic for hours while the fire department hosed off banana mash and pulled cars apart.

Jean-Paul claims that only in Aruba would that be front-page news. I think that the Norwalk Hour or the Milford Mirror could do it justice as well.

I finally start planning my departure. I have become very connected to Aruba: bicycling every day now, I find something else of interest and more to see and learn. The days are bittersweet as I provision and prepare and set my charts in order with courses and mileages indicated for the next leg, the voyage to Panama.

End of Section A

 

Section B Ė Passage to Panama

 

Monday, March 22 --

I do last chores ashore and say good-bye to Tehaniís Russ and Barbara. We promise to see each other for Bastille Day in Tahiti (July 14). I clear out at customs and sail up the coast to the beaches in front of the hotels.

I drop anchor just off shore and go overboard to scrape the bottom and the prop, which have gotten pretty hairy at the dock.

Don and Ellen from Fried Fish, a 50+ foot Morgan, zip up in their dinghy. Theyíre leaving at first light to sail to the San Blas Islands in Panama -- do I want to head out toward Panama with them? I say "yes,"and they zip off. They have an 11-year-old daughter and a 16-year-old son, and came to Aruba for one week. Tomorrow will be their one-year anniversary! I donít feel so bad, having only overstayed my schedule by two weeks.

I have a quiet dinner and do last bits of stowing. I know itís the last time Iíll be able to put anything on the counter and have it stay. The wind, the constant 20-25 knot trade wind, whistles through the rigging.

About a mile behind me, in open water in the direction of Panama, the seas are between 8 and 12 feet. I enjoy my last night in the lee of the shore, in flat water.

Tuesday, March 23 --

7:30 a.m. Start engine, pull up anchor, and motor past Fried Fish. They are stowing their dinghy -- theyíll catch up. I set the Genoa. The wind is almost dead astern. I set the Monitor self-steering vane.

The first few days at sea Iím usually queasy, and this is no exception. The waves get big and I nap all day. In the evening sky I spot my old friend Orion. There is a half moon and filling. The nights wonít be dark. Two freighters pass off along the horizon.

Wednesday, March 24 --

Sunny, clear morning -- dozens of flying fish on the deck and in the cockpit. Joshua Slocum thought they made a "toothsome" meal. I just think theyíre beautiful, but slimy and dead. I prefer opening a can of tuna to cleaning the guts out of these little guys. Iím concerned they will block my scupper drains, so I put knotted ropes into the holes to prevent them from trying to swim home and getting stuck instead.

The sea is a blue-gray -- more like the North Atlantic than the Caribbean. There is a counter-current here sweeping up from the coast of Columbia; I can see it in the wave patterns. The wind from the northeast is the major factor, but there are "anti-waves" that push up against and across the big ones, sometimes cresting together in funny water peaks that tumble forward.

I spot a small log working its way upwind - with the current! It looks odd, as if it were alive and propelling itself. Spot two more freighters.

Thursday, March 25 --

Wind and seas picking up. White caps everywhere remind me of snow. The water generator is keeping the batteries charged after a full night of using the running lights. Underneath the crests of the waves the water is a clear, bottle-glass green. I watch the waves for hours in a trance: beautiful, rolling, liquid-silver backs of 10-foot seas, rolling down the Spanish Main. Sight one freighter today.

Around midnight, I look out the portholes over the moonlit sea, full of whitecaps, cold in the distance, foam all around the boat. Tops of waves are starting to blow off. The cap-rail on the edge of the boat, only inches away, is the edge of my world. Very alone, but not lonely. As if watching a winter storm from the window of a cabin in the wild. I think how odd and strange is my home.

Friday, March 26 --

7:50 a.m. The day starts badly and doesnít get better.

A large wave tumbles into the cockpit from over the transom, half-filling the cockpit with water. I climb over the Plexiglas drop-boards into the cockpit and pull six or seven dead flying fish out of the water, then pull the knots that plug the drains. The water recedes.

8:10 a.m. The CARD goes off (my radar detector) and rather than turn on the radar to see where the ship is I decide to poke my head out the companionway. Iím glad I did. Less than a mile off the port bow is a container ship looming toward us in a collision course. I see waves dashing up over its bow as it plunges up and down and closer. Itís too late to try to raise it on VHF. I turn hard to port and gybe the Genoa to the starboard side. The freighter has a medium-blue hull and passes less than a 1/4 mile away. Adrenaline rush.

Seas now are 15 feet high and peaking into funny pyramids. I tape over the breather holes to the fuel supply and water tank. Itís hot, muggy, and damp below. I risk opening a center cabin-hatch just a crack for ventilation. An hour later a sea dumps across the boat from above, dropping three or four gallons of water straight through the open hatch onto the corduroy cushions of the settee.

Iím furious and start swearing. I lose it and jump out into the cockpit swearing at the sea, daring it to do it again. I give it the finger. I compose myself. Slightly afraid of retaliation, I go below and close the hatch. Itís stuffy and wet, and Iím totally bummed. I donít have the energy to clean up.

2:15 p.m. A roaring wave, like an express train, just washes right over us - a huge thumping as the water hits the clear Plexiglas dropboards in the companionway. Water spurts through the tiny space around the plexi and now soaks everything on the cockpit end of the cabin.

I go into the cockpit and bail with a bucket to help the water go down. Itís above the seats this time. I take 45-50 pumps to clear the bilge of water that went down through the cockpit locker. Itís hard to seal that locker hatch. Another adrenaline rush. I think I know why sailors donít start journeys on a Friday.

Saturday, March 27 --

Extremely lethargic today. Seas moderate. ETA in Panama is Monday. Feel like Iím closing in on the edge of a giant bowl of the Caribbean. Very little water in front of me. That will change when I enter the Pacific, where there will be thousands of miles of water off the bow.

This evening I eat cheese and saltines in my soggy home. I think of our front porch in Milford in the summer with friends over for dinner: three or four cheeses, pepperoni sticks, three types of crisp crackers, chilled sodas and wine, and late afternoon light coming through the screens, softly suffusing the conversation and anticipation of dinner. A warm thought as I stand, food can in hand, and watch the endless sea turning gray in the fading light.

Sunday, March 28 --

Sea is moderating still. I know Iíll be up all night, so I nap as much as I can. Sometimes itís just rest, eyes closed but not sleeping. Spot 11 ships during the course of the day and figure out how to set the guard-zone alarm and watchman on the radar since the CARD is becoming unreliable. Run engine to keep up speed for 15 hours.

Hot, hazy, and muggy -- this feels like the tropics. A passing mega-yacht gives me the weather forecast. They also say there are over 50 yachts waiting to transit the Canal, and are in the "flats," the yacht anchorage/waiting area off the yacht clubs in Colon. Only four or five go through per day, so they say I could be waiting for up to two weeks for my turn.

Sunset this evening: cotton-candy clouds and moon rising astern through a flock of sheep clouds. Iím in the middle of an enchanted scene -- wonder pervades me. The gentle moon tells me to rest -- "Iíll watch for you." But I set the radar-guard, just in case, as we glide down the last stretch toward Panama.

By dark Iím comfortable with the radar-guard, which sets off an alarm when anything gets within nine miles. This allows me to catnap.

Monday, March 29 Ė

2:45 a.m. Iíve been up since 1:00 a.m., when the boat went off-course while I was napping. The auto-pilotís out, and the radarís out, too. This happened once yesterday, but then, suddenly, everything was OK.

I remember a similar problem when Sandy and I were in Block Island last summer. A corroded ground-wire to the engine block was still held in place by electrical tape and was connecting and disconnecting as the engine vibrated.

I move the life raft, open the engine cover, and find the wire. Itís the same problem. Fortunately the 1-2 foot waves only rock Otter gently, or this project would be difficult.

It takes me forever to find a spare crimp ring. I promise myself Iíll put all my electrical spares in the same place when I reach port. Finally, the engine bolt and all other wires are back on and everything works properly again -- Iím relieved.

Iíve been awake all night from one oíclock on, but donít feel too tired: The naps worked.

5:00 a.m. I pick up the light on Isla Grande, the northernmost hump on this part of Panama.

8:30 a.m. I am sailing southwest, past the entrance to Portobelo. The land to my left has high, gray hills with gray mist and low clouds enveloping them: rich shades of gray receding.

I feel the lure of this harbor entrance as rays of sun break through the clouds and dramatically spotlight a silver strip of water at its mouth.

Portobelo, the home of the mystical "Black Christ" statue. Portobelo, the city where all the gold and silver of South America was brought across the isthmus to be shipped to Spain. Portobelo, where there was so much gold in the storerooms that, with no room left, silver ingots were simply piled in the streets. I sailed on.

12:00 noon. I pass through the eastern entrance of the great, four-mile-wide breakwater that protects Limon Bay, the ports of Colon and Cristobal, and, further in, the entrance to the Panama Canal.

I count over 40 freighters at anchor outside the breakwater; inside there are over 20. Now motoring in flat water, I pass close astern of a large Russian tanker, which towers over me.

I round the large commercial piers to the west of the peninsula that is Colon and then slowly motor through the 50 or more yachts anchored in the flats.

It is a truly multi-national group. Flags from many countries flutter in the breeze. And the boats are of all sizes and descriptions, from ones that look like they can barely float, let alone sail, to mega-yachts with crisp crews rinsing off the evening dust.

Around another corner and into the French Canal, a vestige of the French attempt to dig a sea-level canal. With the Panama Canal Yacht Club on my left, Roger, the dock master, guides me to pier #2, third slip on the left, where I tie up and turn off the engine and cover the sails.

This will be my home for two weeks.

End of "Report Three from Otter, Part I"

 

Website Copyright 2002- 2005 by OtterNews. All Rights Reserved.
All Reports and Artwork Copyright 1999- 2005 by Brechin L. Morgan. All Rights Reserved.
Site last updated on 4/05/04.