The Vilisar Times

The life and times of Ronald and Kathleen and our voyages aboard S/V Vilisar, a 34.5-foot wooden Wm-Atkin-designed sailing cutter launched in Victoria, BC, Canada, in 1974. Since we moved aboard in 2001 Vilisar has been to Alaska, British Columbia, California, Mexico, The Galapagos and mainland Ecuador, Panama and Costa Rica.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Bahia de Caraquez, Ecuador, Thursday, 26 October 2006

Step or unstep?

I am not really a very decisive person. Presented with a complex problem, I tend to poke at it with a stick and turn it over with the point of my shoe for a while. A long while even. Especially if my “knowledge base”, as one says in the business corporations is insufficient and even more especially if the consequences of one’s decisions, the potential for an unhappy ending, are large.

I hate indecision! Caught on the horns of a dilemma, one says so appropriately. Even in restaurants, I don’t spend a lot of time perusing the menu. I pick something out fairly rapidly and move on to the conversation. Back in my banking days, the colleagues who suffered the most were the ones trapped in some situation, private of professional, that they felt to be bad but were unable to change. Maybe it was a boss who was grinding them down. Perhaps there was constant stress at home that they were unable to alleviate. They suffered, in any case. (One colleague at the German bank I worked for once told me that he hated his job and wanted to quit. But his wife would never accept that. He was trapped. “Sometimes,” he told me over lunch in the cafeteria, “I wish I would have a heart attack and die or at least be an invalid just so I wouldn’t have to come into the bank.” Here was a man who really needed to make some decisions, to cut the Gordian knot!)

On the boat, due to my inexperience especially in matters technical, I have often been stymied by some technical question and fret that I may be doing something that will actually cause more damage than it fixes. I would worry the problem for days, poking it with a mental stick or turning it over carefully with the toe of my cerebral shoe. Asking other cruisers for advice or going on the web can be useful in times like this. But, I have noticed that, if I ask five people for advice I wind up with six solutions and I am left alone with my problem. If you are short of cash you had better be doing most of the boat work yourself.

After over five years aboard Vilisar, of course, I have built up a little experience, and I notice now that certain problems tend to reappear. Or at least whatever the new situation, it may require materials, tools, procedures or processes similar to what I have already encountered. Acquiring skills is therefore one way to reduce Indecision Factor with its attendant depressing tension.

Of course, sometimes the whole ‘problem’ turns out to be a complete let-down. I think back to the trepidation we felt as we crossed the Straits of Juan de Fuca from Port Townsend, Washington, to Watmuugh Bay, at the bottom of Lopez Island in the San Juan Islands, on 09 September 2001 on our very first “cruise” aboard Vilisar. Quite aside from the historical significance of the date (we had learned of the attack on the World Trade Centre form TV early that morning in Port Hadlock Marina), after reading the cruising guide about the strait, we were psyched about passing Point Wilson and crossing this famously threatening body of water. Aboard were also Kathleen’s parents – also their first yacht voyage -, which increased my sense of anxiety and the awareness of increased responsibility. I was nervous and irritable for days beforehand. We buddy-boated with our new friends, Bob and Rita Valine, who had returned several months earlier from a dozen or so years in Central America, had just completed the refit of their beautiful custom-built steel gaff-rigged ketch, “Ritana”, and were heading back up to British Columbia and home. In the end the crossing was totally uneventful: dead calm and we motored the whole way. One friend has a T-shirt that says, “Worry works! 99% of the things I worry about never happen!”

Knowing in advance how to deal with something certainly reduces the tension. Crossing Juan de Fuca that day was an event because it was our first crossing of anything except Port Townsend Bay. Now we have somewhere between 10,000 and 15,000 Nm and five years of living aboard Vilisar behind us. We have confronted a lot of “issues” both of a sailing nature and of a repair and maintenance nature; now, if a problem comes up again, we likely have the skills and even the materials and tools necessary to deal with them relatively efficiently. But, if our ditty-bag of tricks contains something for a serious problem, a problem with far-reaching consequences, the tension goes up again. Captain Ronnie starts fussing and worrying at the problem again.

My worry this time is the spot of rot at the masthead. The first time I encountered a small piece of wood rot on Vilisar I nearly died of apoplexy. But rot no longer worries me over-much now. It’s kind of a fact of life on a wooden boat; you keep inspecting for it, and you fix it as soon as you can. As one shipwright told me, “It’s a wood boat. Expect to replace the whole thing in stages over the next one hundred years.”

But I am under tension in this case. Just how serious is it, and what can I do in the time available? My worries are certainly not decreased by the fact that we are running out of time here: Our Ecuadorian visas expire soon, and we are actually leaving this weekend for Venezuela. My inspection up the mast a few days ago indicates that the starboard side of the mast is rotten down for a distance of about 12-15 inches, i.e., to well below the throughbolt that holds the masthead corona (helmet) in place. That bolt is also the axis around which the mainsail-halyard sheave turns so I cannot pull it out without first setting a padeye and moving the tackle to that. I certainly don’t at the moment trust the strength of the wood up there enough to hang my life on it! I think that the mast could well be rotten right up under the steel corona at the top of the wooden mast. The port side is probably still sound, I hope. I suppose that rainwater or condensation has worked its way either down through a leak in the corona; maybe it has gained entry around the throughbolt or even around the little screws holding the VHF antenna to the outside of the mast.

But what to do? For a couple of days I seriously consider trying to effect the repairs in situ. I discuss a number of alternatives with some knowledgeable cruisers and research things on the worldwide web. Maybe I can clean out the rotten wood, soak the remaining timbers in something and then fill the hole with something else. The more I think about it though, the more I realize that to have piece of mind when we cross the Pacific in the future, the mast needs first to be unstepped, laid out on sawhorses on shore (or even, I suppose, laid lengthwise on deck) and worked upon properly.

That said, quite apart from the fact that we have no time left, Bahia de Caraquez does not have any real facilities for yachts. There is no boatyard, few skilled workers. I ask Mr. Chavez over at the auto-parts store if there is perhaps a truck with a crane on it in Bahia. “No, I don’t know of one. It would have to come from Puerto Viejo. That’s going to be pretty expensive!” I had thought that, if they could back the crane into the yacht club driveway, and I anchored Vilisar down just off their launching ramp, the crane could pick the stick out of the boat with a sling around the spreader plates and lay it out on the ground for me. Alternatively, the big wooden fishing boat anchored off Puerto Amistad has some promising looking heavy lifting gear on it. But it has also upped anchor and left for sea. But, there’s no time for any of this now.

So after days of postponing a decision (and rising tension) while I work on alternatives and discuss what to do, I finally come to a decision. Yesterday, Bill of S/V Que Onde comes over once again to give me a hand. At the masthead again in the bosuns chair (I have been up so often now that it is beginning to seem easy!), I sound out everything by tapping with small ball-peen hammer. It all seems to be on the starboard side. I start digging out all the rot I can get at with wood chisels, scattering a cloud of powdery red-brown dust into the wind and down to the decks. The broken chunks of wood are feather-light and have absolutely no strength to them. You can snap them off easily between your fingers. After 45 minutes, I am down to the hard/healthy wood, the chisel is knocking emptily upwards on the bare metal of the corona and horizontally through to the metal sheave. The throughbolt is laid bare and the cavity is about the size of two fists.

Because it is a little oily, I might not ordinarily use wood preservative if I am going to follow up with epoxy (my long-term plan). But I reckon I shall give the gaping hole a good soaking of something toxic for fungus and leave it exposed until we get back in May next year. I try applying the preservative with a turkey-baster but wind up getting more on me than on the wood. Too much, too fast! So I pour out some liquid into the plastic bucket that is holding the tools and start applying preservative with a small paint brush. That works. After finishing I go over the rest of the masthead, tapping with the little hammer but find no other obvious rotten spots. As Bill lets me down slowly, I inspect everything again, paying especially close attention around the new spreader plates. But everything else looks and sounds healthy.

By the time I reach the deck I know pretty much what I shall be doing to repair the mast. That metal corona has to come off and I shall take the opportunity to have a new one fabricated out of galvanised steel. Of what I can see up there (I cannot really view the top of the mast itself) the welded attachments at the masthead look pretty good. But it’s the same waterpipe metal that failed us in the spreader plates and, once removed and available as a model, it should be no big deal to make a new one. I will sleep better at night when I have more confidence in the rig. With the helmet off, I can also more easily rebuild the masthead by scarfing in hardwood pieces and gluing them with epoxy. The mast should then be as strong as new. The repairs completed, the mast r-stepped and supported by our rejuvenated shrouds and stays, we should have a really strong rig again, one that will carry us across to the Seven Seas and beyond.

I am satisfied that I have done what I can for the moment. With a further six months visa-time after arriving back next summer, I can either find a way to unstep the mast locally and do the work here, or spend the time and money and sail down to Salinas to the marina/boatyard. The first alternative is my ideal if I can do it: it seems more “self-sufficient” and will give me a bigger sense of achievement. And, of course, we shall save nearly a thousand bucks too by doing it here! And, after all, that’s half the price of a new cruising mainsail! At the Club de Yate I shall have also have Victor, the bosun, to help me at a reasonable price and will be situated right in town to get supplies.

In the afternoon, I start cleaning up the mess from several weeks of boat work. I also get in the dinghy at slack tide and spend a dirty hour or so getting the completely corroded chain shrouds off the boomkin astern. Sure is time to get them replaced! I have the chains already cut and ready but Dennis Trudeau (S/V Dream Maker) comes along in his inflatable dinghy after walking the dog ashore. He recommends washing the galvanized chain in vinegar and painting it. So I take his advice. He thinks even just porch paint will work but I decide to use metal primer and the black car-paint we have used for the galvanized metal shrouds. Although it’s actually a perfect day for painting, sunny and breezy, the painting is making a mess of the deck and I lose patience. I resolve to take them down to Victor. He’ll be glad to have the work and he’s not expensive. At the cost of help around here you can afford to hire out some routine work. What that would cost in Long Beach or even San Carlos doesn’t bear thinking about. $60 and hours?

I also try out the “oxidante”, the rust converter spray on the forestay. It’s German stuff by a company called “Würth”. Once it’s dry, I try painting the galvanised wire with the black paint. Looks pretty good. The forestay is spliced around the mast at spreader height. Too bad I have already put the bosuns-chair tackle away or I could bring the stay in to the mast and ride up and down in the chair to paint. Oh well, I’ll just paint the 12 inches of galvanized chain at the bottom of the stay and as far up the wire as I can reach by way of experiment and let everything else go until we have the mast on the ground next spring. I’m actually looking forward to that now.

Travel plans

We leave here by bus on Sunday morning (on Saturday night we shall be celebrating Pierre’s birthday. Pierre and Heléne are a young couple aboard the little yellow plywood boat out of Toulouse called “Caracolita”. They are leaving soon to fly back home to have their baby girl in February.) The first stage of our trip is to Riobamba and the high sierras for two days with Gerardo Chacon. Then, on 02 November 2006 we fly to Caracas, Venezuela, for our next little adventure. When we get to Caracas we shall likely be taking the bus to the ferry for Isla Margarita. If you are interested in information on the island, visit

We still have to finish stowing everything. Greg, an American chap working for Puerto Amistad, will be checking the boat weekly, starting the engines, etc., and I have asked Carlos and Raimondo to check on things especially when the river is running full during the rainy season and sending logs and mangrove islands to the sea. This stuff can foul your anchor chain. Our anchor is set extremely well here after five months here. The holding is very good. But I shall be glad that somebody will be keeping an eye the things.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Bahia de Caráquez, Ecuador, 22 October 2006

Theoretically I should have my rig pretty much back together again. I have had all galvanised shrouds, both uppers and lowers, newly re-slushed and have even re-installed the four lower shrouds. They shackle to the brand-new galvanised spreader baseplates that I had made of strong steel. (Kathleen will bring top-grade new hot-dip-galvanised shackles back with her from Germany in the spring to replace the old ones) At least the mast is not waving in the air when we start rolling at the tidal changes and it looks very solid again.

While I was at the masthead the other day, however, I determined that there is wood rot near the top of the mast. Early this morning while the estuary is still calm, Bill comes over from S/V Que Onde. Our plan for the next few hours is to put the re-slushed backstay on again, bolt the two new wooden spreaders to the baseplates and get the rejuvenated port and starboard upper shrouds back on. While I am at the masthead, too, and after I have shackled the backstay to the tang that is welded to the masthead corona, I resolve to have a good look at the extent of the rot.

I pick away the rippled skin of paint, and started digging in behind the long bolt that goes through the mast horizontally to hold the masthead corona (helmet) on. The bolt also acts as the bolt shaft of the main halyard sheave. The bosuns chair I am in is dependent upon that sheave! In a few seconds and just using my fingers, I have peeled back the surface paint and dug out a lot of punky wood making up the mast on the starboard side. I can see the throughbolt and can even poke in there and touch the sheave with a small screwdriver. Just under VHF antenna wire had been led externally up the mast and fastened with those little screw-down plastic electric wire holders, rot has also set in. It extends to below the level of the sheave.

I sit back in the bosuns chair and try to take stock. The ideal approach would be to unstep the mast at a dock somewhere, lay the mast out on sawhorses in a yard somewhere, get that corona/helmet off (it requires unwiring the masthead navigational light, disconnecting the VHF radio antenna and removing the wind indicator.). That would even be an ideal time to have a new galvanised steel masthead corona fabricated as well; the one at present is made of the same softer water-pipe metal that had failed us as spreader base plates.

But, the closest yard for such activities is at Salinas, some two hundred miles south. Not only is it expensive there, we also have too little time on our visas to do the trip and get the work done. We are leaving here in six days for Venezuela with only a few days left on our visas for when we return. Unless we wait until end-May to return to Ecuador, we will not have much time to do boat work before we have to leave the country. A trip to Santa Lucia Marina and yard in Salinas takes two or three days if we go non-stop down the coast and we would then have to leave the boat there till we returned in the spring, I think that would run about $450 a month. Phew! We are talking several thousand dollars plus the work and haulout and unstopping the mast. And, of course, no time left!

I wonder to myself whether instead the rot damage can be repaired in situ, either with the helmet still in place or even removing it. I cannot remove the throughbolt because it holds the main halyard sheave in place and I need that to get to the top in the bosuns chair. So, I would have to leave the helmet in place and work around underneath it. But maybe that would be good enough.

I discuss the predicament with a few savvy boaters around Puerto Amistad. Like me, they think that, if I can dig out all the rot I can actually get at and give the healthy wood around the wound a good soaking with penetrating epoxy (‘Git Rot’ or ‘Crack Creeper’ are brand names, or even just West System two-part resin without any filler), that should take care of the rot in the remaining rot timbers and provide a good base for filling in the hole. For that task I consider using West System epoxy mixed to a peanut butter consistency using their filler or even just sawdust that I can get from Maestro Luiz, the carpentero across the street. I have also heard of mixing strips of cloth or fibreglass into the paste to give it even more strength and also requiring less expensive epoxy. That hole filler would be stronger even than the wood itself!

I am also investigating using something like ‘Splash Zone’, a two-part epoxy putty that you mix in water and then pack in into the hole. I have big cnas on board for emergency underwater repairs. My internet investigations reveal that it is now considered a bit old fashioned compared with newer products (Kevlar?). But I am in remote Ecuador and I already have a good supply of Splash Zone on board. I need to research this some more. The more critical question is whether it will cure in the air after it has been mixed in a bucket of water.

(I also know of one US cruiser who got two other sailboats of his size or bigger to park on either side of him. They used their main halyards to unstep the mast, which they then laid on a panga and took the mast ashore to work on it. That sounds kind of cool but I think I may take a pass on that and go for the in situ approach. Every day more boaters are leaving here and we are running out of time.)

The final alternative is to dig out all the rot, spray it, say, with Clorox to kill the fungus (dry rot is actually a fungus), and then just leave it to dry out while we are away. Or, I could just use the Git Rot approach and leave the whole wound open till we get back. The problem with that is that we are heading into the rainy season and there will be more rainwater getting into the mast.

Actually, now I am getting keen to get the rot cleaned out of the ‘wound’ in situ, treat it with epoxy resin and then fill the whole with epoxy filler. Just to be sure I may also set two fibreglass girdles around the mast, one just above and one just below the sheave area to give the masthead area more strength. I would really like to get that whole corona off to make sure I get everything. But I would need first to set a padeye up there so I could rig the bosuns chair. (Maybe this would be the best time to revert to my idea of getting ratlines installed so I can climb to spreader level and then install foldout steps for the last third of the way to the masthead and a double set of steps where I need to stand and work at the masthead. Then I am independent of the sheave and the bosuns chair.

So little time!

Saturday, October 21, 2006

By Ronald J. Bird

Ecuador, Friday, 20 October 2006. The first round of Ecuador’s national elections took place last Sunday with a plethora of candidates vying for the voters’ attention. There is a presidential system in Ecuador something akin to the one in the USA. A president and a vice-president are elected as a team by direct popular mandate under universal suffrage. There is no Electoral College to skewer the popular vote. But Ecuador is also not simply a plain-vanilla, two-party state: there are many parties. To ensure therefore that the new administration has a recognisable popular mandate, runoff elections are held until someone gets a clear majority.

The first electoral round culled two clear leaders for the presidential run-off race: Àlvaro Noboa, the candidate of the conservative right, and Dale Correa, the moderately left-wing contender. The former polled approximately 28% of the popular vote (roughly 5 million electors in a total population of about 13.5 million), Correa about 25%.

Neither candidate is off the political scale. That said, however, the candidates could hardly be more different in platform, geographical stronghold, personal background, personal wealth, political experience and even outward appearance. True to classical democratic theory (if not always in practice), the electorate in Ecuador will now have clear alternatives when they enter the polling booths next on 26 November.

On my right, representing the status quo, Noboa

Noboa is considered to be the richest man in Ecuador. His heartland is the Costa region, his money comes from huge plantations of bananas, his base is the huge harbour town of Guayaquil, a city of 2.6 million, as well as the smaller towns and villages along the Pacific Coast. Here he led the pack with some 37 percent of the popular vote. He represents the old-money oligarchy and is therefore pro-capitalism, pro-American, pro-Catholic and pro-status quo. He has run for president before and has been in governments, so he can be considered to be as corrupt as the rest of the Old Guard who have traditionally run the government for their own pockets including an important share of oil revenues.

Although in his late-50’s and married to a glamorous young blonde, Noboa himself is physically short and overweight with greased-back thinning hair, thick 60’s-style dark-rimmed spectacles, and a short bull neck. Not photogenic at all although he must have some sort of allure. He has the international outlook of the inherited-wealthy and has spent time in Europe.

Ask the locals why Noboa should have done so well and some of them answer it is because he is already so rich that he won’t need to steal from the poor. A “devil you know” approach?

And, on my left, the contender, Dale Correa

By contrast, Correa is in his late 40’s and strikingly good-looking. He either has a Ph.D. in economics from the University of Illinois he studied economics at Louvain in Belgium. The papers have reported both and maybe he did both. Certainly, his wife is Belgian; he has four young children, the youngest also photogenic like his dad. Correa went to the same private-high school as Noboa in Guayaquil but a few years later. No silver-spoon child, he and his siblings were raised by a widowed, single mother in Guayaquil; some consider him a social interloper for pulling himself up by the bootstraps and by Noboa and others, as a brash political ingénue. He served in a past government as Minister of Economics but resigned in protest and struck out on his own. His base is Quito, the capital city, a city of 1.6 million, along with some of the prosperous provinces in the north (e.g. Otavalo).

Correa sees himself as a progressive with an urge to put an end to the prevalent corruption in Ecuador (locals are, admittedly, more than a little cynical about anybody who says this), spread the oil wealth more widely and encourage small and medium-sized businesses to create employment in tourism and agriculture. He is opposed to TLC (trade liberalisation) through a free-trade agreement with the Norteamericanos. He would also close the small but touchy American air base at Manta. (It was granted at the time of American support during the financial crisis in 1999/2000 and is restricted only to use for seaborne drug interdiction/defoliant-spraying missions into Colombia. But the base is an affront to some Ecuadorian’s national pride. Beyond that, there is also a worry that the air base will drag the country out of its neutrality in the Colombian drug and rebel wars.)

In fact, Correa strongly favours free trade, but on a regional basis only. He has not only openly professed his ties to Chavez in Venezuela and the new direction that Chavez has taken, and he is not shy about his friendly attitude to Castro’s Cuba as well. His opponents beat with this and, despite his moderation and lack of histrionics, call him a wild man just like Chavez. He pumps hard for the apparently still very-much-alive quest for a Bolivarian Gran Colombia, i.e. the political union of Venezuela, Colombia, Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador.

Bolivarian Gran Colombia

Newcomers to this part of South America will be surprised to hear that the idea gets any hearing at all. The concept of a Gran Colombia has been around since the days of emancipation from Spanish rule. It was born with the ideals of French Revolution and grew to maturity when Napoleon created a practical opportunity by conquering Spain and Portugal. For all intents and purposes dead, the idea is apparently still revered in patriotic Ecuadorian song and story. Back in the second quarter of the 19th Century it was frustrated by local conservative economic and religious interests who feared an end to their oligarchy. But the fear and resentment of American hegemony in Latin America as well as the stifling influence of Latin America’s traditional rulers has either kept the idea alive or fanned it back into life. Some of the modern Gran Colombian candidate-countries have rich petroleum resources (Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia) and can use it to peddle their influence (Chavez in particular). The proponents tend to be left-wing/progressive and eager to usher in a new era. (Already Bolivia has a left-wing indigenas president (Morales); Venezuela has Chavez. Peru has recently got rid of Fujimori, a dictatorial conservative, in favour of a more middle-of-the-road president, Colombia is governed by Uribe, a centrist.)

Free Trade

There is already vestigial regional-free trade through, on the one hand, MERCOSUR (Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay and Venezuela; Bolivia is joining; Ecuador, Peru are only Associate Members at present; Brazil is striving for a political and economic leadership role in South America in competition with Venezuela and the USA) and, on the other hand, the early stages of the American-sponsored FTAA (Free Trade for the Americas) as well as Central American Free Trade (CAFTA). MERCOSUR has been around for a while. But, both FTAA and CAFTA now seem stalled. The moderate governments of many poorer Central and South American countries were eager to find access in the First World for their agricultural and, in the case of Brazil and Argentina, for example, for their industrial products as well. The Americans were eager to gain more muscle for their “leadership” in Latin America.

But, although the treaties have been signed by some countries, most have failed to ratify them. As far as Ecuador is concerned, Washington has anyhow put off indefinitely any free-trade discussions with Ecuador because of what the USA sees as the nationalisation of Occidental Oil’s operations in Ecuador. Without going into detail, Ecuador wants the very one-sided royalties deal with “Oxi” renegotiated in light of the current high price of crude. They also want compensation for significant environmental damage in the Oriente’s jungles and much stricter eco rules going forward. Oxi has been unresponsive, Quito took over their ops though not their ownership, then sat back and waited for talks to begin. But, Oxi, not surprisingly, clearly has lines to the Bush White House. Washington is just ignoring Quito. No doubt they are also waiting for the election results.

The Liavathon distracted

In another sense, however, and quite aside from local oil issues in South America, the United States has allowed itself to become completely absorbed by the Middle East (Iraq, Iran, Syria, Israel). Almost as importantly, its foreign policy has now become almost completely militarised; they don’t even talk the language of trade. Local voters and governments have become more afraid of America’s now naked and expansionist imperialism. Regardless of party affiliation, nobody here seriously expects the next U.S. administration to talk any other talk or walk any other walk. The genie is out of the bottle.

Moreover, since it was the USA which torpedoed the WTO’s Doha Round of trade liberalisation last summer by its refusal to reduce the huge subsidies to its agri-business, it appears that the Bush Government is no believer in the efficacy of friendly and unfettered trade as a basis for international relations.

Washington might not like it, but American distractions and different wave-lengths may have opened the door wider for those who resent American domination. Latin America’s experience with neo-liberal globalisation has anyway not been entirely happy. Becoming more vocal and gaining in impact, the ideological opponents are those favouring: more government involvement in economic development; more national self-determination; more progressive, just and widespread social security, health care, education and housing; and a more equitable distribution of wealth. If this resembles the “Social Contract” that Americans and Europeans created over the 100 years until about the time of the Vietnam War, the only surprise is the speed with which American, Canadians and Europeans are trying to jettison it.

Stratified Ecuador

Ecuador is a rich country with many poor people. At the top is a small coterie of extremely wealthy land-owning plutocrats who control the power, move their money out of the country in a flash if they feel threatened and have excellent access to Washington. There is no question about how these people will vote in the runoff election at the end of next month. They might have few actual votes, but their money provides them with lots of influence (campaign contributions, TV time, payoffs, etc.). In any society like Ecuador’s, there are also the “Tory working-class” or their equivalents in a peasant society. Significant numbers of even impoverished people will tend to vote for their social betters and hope their own precarious economic situation will not get any worse.

There is also a relatively small but savvy and well-educated middle class in Ecuador. Such people live from current income rather than (largely inherited) wealth. But they were nearly wiped out by the financial crisis five or six years ago. The only mobility these people can exhibit is geographical: many individuals left for the USA or Europe when inflation went out of sight and the banking system went down taking middle-class savings and small-business loans with it. The overseas boltholes in the USA/Canada and the EU have largely now been closed (leaving only expensive and risky illegal means). At home, things are perhaps going better for the moment. But, as a voting group, they are wary and could go either way in the runoff election, small business people, shopkeepers and tradesmen perhaps throwing their weight behind Noboa of the right, with teachers, civil servants, students, etc. turning to Correa on the left.

A Classic Democratic Campaign

In classical democratic theory, of course, voters should always be offered clear choices. The theory is honoured more in its absence in countries like the USA or, for that matter, in most of Europe too. Candidates there all tend to be well-groomed, well-mannered, look-alike centrists who are becoming more cheese-paring conservative by the year.

By contrast, Ecuador’s run-off system this time round has produced a clear choice between a conservative, don’t-rock-the-boat, elect-your-social/economic betters, pro-capitalism and pro-American oligarch versus a youthful, modern and dynamic, time-to-try-something-new, progressive and experimental candidate who apparently is not afraid to strike out in new paths of independence. Indeed, he has shown himself even willing to grasp the third rail of Latin American politics (i.e. Cuba and Venezuela).

Much will depend now upon how the remaining roughly half of the voters will vote next month. The other four main candidates still obviously have a role to play as power-brokers. They are mostly centrists – i.e. Christian Democrats, Christian Socialists.

The Indigenas Wild card

One wild card is the indigenous vote. Noboa and Correa each received about a third to two-fifths of the popular vote in “their” metropolitan areas. The third-strongest candidate, though below twenty percent of the overall popular vote nationally, was …… Gutierrez. He may have “swept” the Oriente, but this is meaningless politically because, although the jungle is the largest geographical portion of Ecuador and rich in oil, it is very sparsely settled. More significantly, however, he was a strong runner-up in the Serrano and made a decent showing along the Costa. He himself is an indigena; certainly, the native people backed him strongly. He is not an internationalist and wants to protect the small farmers from an avalanche of American (or European) subsidised agricultural products as has happened in free-trade Mexico, for example. He wants more justice for the native people (they represent about …% of the population and are increasingly feeling their political mettle).

Clearly, Correa and Noboa will be soliciting Guterriez’s help to swing the indigenas vote. Rightist Noboa has said he is opposed to free trade in agriculture; this might endear him to the small farmers and since bananas enter the USA with little or no duties he himself has no great personal incentive to push for TLC in foods. But he is unlikely to find it in his heart or amongst his backers to find the will to shake up the class and caste barriers in Ecuador that work to keep the native people poor and downtrodden. Correa touts free trade though, of course, not with the USA and only along regional lines. On the other hand, he is certainly progressive enough to bring native rights into his platform. How the centrist presidential also-rans will decide will likely also depend upon the personal deals they cut for themselves with either Noboa or Correa.

The Home Stretch

The candidates will now perhaps have to choose their words more carefully. Already the battle has changed from policies and platforms and become more characterised by personal invective. Noboa accuses Correa of being an ally and friend of those heathen revolutionaries and shit-disturbers, Castro and Chavez. The usual scare tactics. And anyway, he adds, Correa is too green and needs to get a little more experience under his Gucci belt. Correa underlines his independence from Big Brother in Washington and his desire to kick-start the economy. He reminds one that he is a self-made man, not a money-aristocrat. And he’s certainly no crypto-toady or stalking horse for the Americans, he says, implying that Noboa is.

While an international team of Latin Americans acted as independent observers of the first vote, labelling it as fair and democratic, with over a month to go the parties are starting to get tense. The tone has degenerated somewhat and there are accusations of voting irregularities. The candidates will be appearing on television again. Out in the boondocks, no doubt, they will be focussing on the marginal constituencies while also negotiating in smoke-filled rooms with runner-up candidates to collect the now uncommitted remaining half of the voters. Expect to see the centrist candidates as senior ministers in any new government.

Clearly Ecuador has some big decisions to make in the next few weeks. Perhaps any new government will be corrupted by the lolly once they are in power or frustrated by the realities of governing. For the moment however, the good news is that democracy in the form of general elections appears to be alive and well in Ecuador.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Bahia de Caraquez, Ecuador, 18 October 2006

“Independent Voice” article

I posted my article about global-free trade some weeks ago, i.e. at about the same time as it appeared in print in Ontario. I notice it has now been posted to the website of the newspaper. It made it to the front page.

The Spreader Saga continues (skipped this if you don’t like boat stuff)

As I wrote in the last blog, laying out a work plan in my mind is a long way from actually getting the job done. (Another cruiser pointed out, as an aside, that George W. Bush is finding the same thing out about world domination.) So, just like Barbara’s Son, I plan to “stay the course” despite all the difficulties, making the bits and pieces of my rig “enjoy the fruits of democracy” as I understand it. (Hmm! Isn’t that what Dubbya has been saying too?)

After Victor, the bosun down at the Club de Yate, finished slushing the lower shrouds, after Maestro Quanqui’s machine shop finished making the spreader base-plates and getting them galvanized in Guayaquil, and after Maestro Luiz made up the wooden spreaders – everything now seriously heavy-duty; we may roll right over on the first wave -, I am set to start reinstalling the rig. Andrew and his family had left for Canada aboard their S/V Nueva Vida. (Indeed, more than ten boats have departed Bahia de Caraquez for Canada, Panama, Central America and Mexico [sometimes via The Galapagos] or just the 200 Nm down the coast to Salinas for their annual haul-out before either returning here or heading north or west.] Will I be able now to find a helper.

Enter Bill of S/V Que Onde, a native San Franciscan who has been solo sailing for several years. He returned recently to his boat from his travels in the Andes where he also volunteered at an orphanage in a remote part of Peru. He is a trained rigger and he offered to give us a hand to pull me up the mast. I have not yet got tackle that that allows me to pull myself up, and Kathleen does not feel she has the strength. One result is that I rarely get to the top of the mast to inspect for myself: I am the one who is always pulling someone else up. This has always worried me a bit since I have not seen firsthand what the mast is like from top to bottom since the first and only time I was ever up there - back in Comox, British Columbia in 2002. Kathleen and Andrew both said it looked all right but it is not good to have to reply only on second-hand reports.

So here’s my chance! With the renovated lower shrouds already back on board and the bronze turnbuckles installed and waiting at deck level, it is time to install those the new steel/galvanised spreader base-plates, hook up the lower shrouds to them, and then remove the two upper shrouds, the backstay and perhaps even the jibstay to take down to Victor for slushing. With the four-part purchase tackle still installed after weeks of intermittent use, Bill first pulls me up to the spreaders in the bosuns chair (his more comfortable version rather than my very uncomfortable chair) and then starts sending up tools and bits and pieces in a bucket attached to the jib halyard. (Kathleen stands by the extra safety line, i.e. the topping lift attached to the harness around my chest).

Everything gets awkward while a bosuns chair is swinging around at spreader level and normally simple job at deck level can suddenly get a little fraught. We have chosen a time in the early morning tidal cycle when there should be no waves and before the overcast clears away for the naked sun to grill me. But every little wavelet and every rocking of the boat from people on deck moving around is transmitted to the height and augmented. You need one hand (and your legs and feet) to hold on, one hand to hold the first plate in place and one hand to get the foot-long galvanized bolt through the plate to the other side. Then you use your spare (fourth) hand to hammer the bolt through. With one more hand you try to twist the nut onto the threaded portion that is just peeping through enough on the other side to be seen but not yet quite out far enough to take the bolt. Many-armed goddess Shiva would make an ideal rigger!

This whole procedure is made more, shall we say, ‘interesting’ because the backs of the plates were coated in a white and sticky bedding compound of thick pudding consistency. It is meant to stay flexible over years so as to provide a waterproof seal between the plates and the wooden mast. We don’t want rainwater to get in behind the plates and cause rot, now, do we?

Also, the through-bolts have to be protected inside the wood. The classical method is to coat them in pine tar, which is what I am doing. The tar also helps the bolt slide through the wooden mast more easily. Visualise for a moment, if you will, the poor boater swinging back and forth in a sling halfway up the mast and while unintentionally sliding forward on the wooden seat of the bosuns chair as he works. His hands, and indeed his arms, clothing, face and legs, are smeared in white caulking compound and black pine tar. He is struggling to keep from swinging in wide arcs while, with sticky fingers, holding base-plates on opposite sides of the mast, hammering in the bolt and attempting to get the nut started on the thread. The equatorial sky becomes blue with curses and grunts and groans.

With the thick coating of gunk on the back, the bolt is just barely long enough to get the nut started on the top bolt. Finally it goes on and catches the thread. I tighten it down with an adjustable wrench. Caulking compound squeezes out from around the top of the plates. Every attempt to set the lower through-bolt, however, is frustrated. The holes do not line up! Damn and double-damn. I struggle and curse and strain and burst until I finally come to the realization that, although I had given Meastro Quanqui the old plates as models, something is not working out. I use a long screwdriver to help hammer out the two bolts again (thereby also messing up the threads which have to be filed clean before making another attempt), drop them into the bucket and then pry the sticky plates one at a time slowly and messily off the mast. Everything is sent below in the pail. Exhausted, I beg Bill to lower me to the deck as well.

Clearly the bolt-holes are misaligned. It should not be too big a deal to expand the one hole into a slot and reinstall everything. But it means more running around and another go up the mast. I am pooped and, until I get my strength back, I am discouraged. Bill and Kathleen are encouraging. “It will all be much easier the next time. You will know how to do it and where the problems are.” I pray they are right.

A day later I am back up there. I had taken one of the spreader base-plates to a little machine shop near the anchorage the day before. The elderly Ecuadorian man drilled another hole and then chiselled and filed the two holes into a slot. Since the newly exposed metal is not galvanised, I paint that part with metal primer, applying a new coat of bedding compound to the back when the paint is dry. At the spreader level, the bolts now line up. “Alleluia!”, sage ich. I first dip the threads in pine tar and insert the bolts. I then paint the shaft with tar. Slip, slop! In they go as if eager to be back home. With both nuts set over the protruding threads, threads that are well covered in pine tar and bedding compound (that should mean that they can be loosened at some hopefully remote time in the future), I tighten them with the crescent wrench. The bedding compound squishes out again but this time I tidy up with a popsicle stick. Very professional looking, if I say it myself. I might not get an ‘A’ for ‘workmanship’, but I am satisfied with my progress and a little proud that things are coming together. Exhausted again, I am returned to the deck.

A day later, yesterday, Bill pulls me back up, this time to the very top of the mast. Since we use the mainsail halyard for the four-part purchase (bosuns chair), and since this halyard goes over the large sheave set inside the top of the mast, it is difficult to get right up to the masthead. Any work at the top is done therefore at arms length. Reaching the antenna, wind indicator and masthead light situated right on top is impossible without some place to stand or with mountain-climbing gear. Had I been up the mast more frequently in the past, I am sure that I should by now have installed mast steps! Drat!

But I get to work cutting the mousing wire (thin and malleable seizing wire used to make sure that the bolt does not vibrate itself out of the shackle. The shackles connect the shrouds and stays to the masthead tangs. Since, at the angle I am working at ensures that I cannot get pliers up there to unwind the wire, I have a hacksaw sent up and in a couple of strokes each, I free up the shackles. Whatever was used as ‘never-seize’ works wonderfully. It is awkward to reach them but the bolts turn relatively easily after, what?, twenty years in place. Thank goodness!

Before unbolting the shackle I hook the jib halyard to the top end of the upper shroud each time so that it will not drop uncontrolled to the deck or into the water, perhaps also smacking me hard as it falls. With the shackle now unbolted it is easy for Bill to let the first shroud down and lay it out on the deck. I get to work on the backstay. It is still attached to the turnbuckle on the boomkin astern. Its weight therefore means I cannot take enough pressure off the shackle bolt to free it up. Bill installs the topping lift to act as a surrogate backstay and then takes the backstay off the stern turnbuckle. Hanging straight down it becomes possible to loosen the shackle bolt and lower everything away.

By this time I am shaking with exhaustion again. Two hours seems to be my maximum up here. In fact, between removing the first shroud and the backstay, I have had Bill lower me as far as the spreader base-plates where I can reposition myself more comfortably in the busons chair, have a little rest and a stretch. My back and arms are killing me! I want to get the last upper shroud and, if I can, the jibstay as well. But I do not have the strength any more and I insist I be lowered to the deck. Maybe later in the day. But for the moment, I am played out.

Bill pulls out his own climbing tackle and is up the mast like a monkey, pulling himself up and walking up the mast in his bare feet. Makes it look real easy! He works up there for a while and we finally get the port upper shroud down to the deck. He does not think we should take off the jibstay without having a surrogate. So we declare the climbing over for the day and down he comes.

At deck level I inspect the thimbles on the ends of the shrouds. They are rusty and crummy looking but otherwise all right. The twine used for serving
the cable is still in very good condition even the part that did not get slushed when the rest of the standing rigging was done in Comox back in 2002. Victor should be able to dress this stuff up easily. The portion of the upper shrouds that reaches from the spreaders to the masthead is bare wire and looks rusty but strong enough. In the one 8-inch section where the twine was frayed bare from the fence when we were up on the makeshift grid, I see that the galvanized steel wire has not actually been parceled, i.e. small strings laid in the grooves of the wire before the serving is done (i.e. wrapping with twine). On the other hand, the wire appears to have been coated with tar before being served so the wire looks bright and new where it has been scraped clean.

By mid-afternoon I am feeling better again and I impose upon Carlos and Raimondo from Puerto Amistad to transport the cables down to the yacht club in the panga. Victor gets right to work on them. I also take a ball of twine down to the Club and re-wrap the exposed portion, instructing Victor to make sure that that section gets lots of paint.

I have recovered my strength and am rather wishing I had taken the time to get the jibstay off and over to Victor for slushing. Nevertheless, it has been a good days work. The really good news is that our mast is stayed once again and no longer emits groaning noises in the mast collar when the boat rolls in the waves at tidal slack. Victor promises that the slushing will be finished today. Perhaps tomorrow I can set the spreaders, get the upper shrouds reinstalled and the jibstay down to Victor.

Kathleen happily notes that we shall soon have completed all the repairs that we have set out to accomplish since arriving from Mexico:

à A new windvane-steering tab (plus a spare) waiting to be installed;
à New spreaders (plus spares) and new spreader plates;
à A thorough re-slushing of the standing rigging;
à The bottom painted with anti-fouling paint;
à Freshly painted topsides;
à A new bobstay installed; and
à The dinghy totally repainted and chafe protection installed along the gunnels.

There are in fact, however, several items still to be completed before we can set sail for French Polynesia in the spring of 2007.

à Paint inside of cabin and improve appearance of cabinetry (it looks tired and needs sprucing up. I wish I could speak with Joe May who built the inside of the cabin and ask him what he would recommend.)
à Touch up paint amidships on the port topsides that was scuffed when we were leaning against the wall.

à Replace all the old galvanised shackles with quality new ones (cannot yet find good quality ones here in Ecuador). I am using the old shackles as an expediency till we return in the Spring;
à Install two new chain boomkin shrouds;
à Sew new hanks on the head sails;
à Go over the sails and reinforce any weak spots;
à Get a new jibstay cover made (Linda of S/V Dreamer Maker will make one if we can get the Sunbrella somewhere);
à Dig out and repair the rot spots at the mast head.
and replace boomkin shrouds astern.

Yes, ROT! While I was working at the masthead yesterday I noticed wood rot under the metal strap of the masthead corona. Imagine a helmet over the mast head unto which are welded tangs for the upper shrouds, the jibstay and backstay. The VHF antenna, the masthead light and various other items are attached to this helmet. The helmet has two chinstraps pointing down the side of the mast from the helmet and a large bolt goes through the chinstraps to hold everything in place over the mast. Under one of the chinstraps where there is a wooden spacer, I found rot under the white paint. It extends to the mast itself right next to the chinstrap.

Since I was nearly the end of my strength and needed to get the upper shrouds off, I did not take the time yesterday to examine the full extent of rot. From superficial observation, it does not seem that extensive. But, the old saying is that, where there is a little rot, there is probably a lot of rot. I mentally kick myself for not getting up that mast more frequently and spotting this much earlier.

Bill and I discuss how to treat it. He looked at it while he was up there and does not think it is serious. “Just soak it with Kuprinol (.e. copper nitrate solution) and leave it,” he says. But, I want to sleep anights. So I shall probably get up there again soon, dig out the rot so I can see the full extent of it, treat it with Kuprinol and then, when it has dried, pack it with epoxy putty or a wooden scarf and epoxy. Unless the rot is very extensive, it is situated so that it does not, as far as I can see, impact the actual integrity of the mast. When I get to New Zealand I shall pull the ‘helmet’ off the masthead and get a new one made out of galvanised steel (the old one used the same soft-metal water-pipe material that was used for the spreader baseplates; the sun seems to make it tired.), inspecting the wood underneath and treating it as necessary. When we finally get that done, we shall in the end have a rigging system ready for the next thirty or forty years!

Monday, October 16, 2006

Bahía de Caraquéz, Ecuador, Monday, 16 October 2006

Borrowed Keys

It has been weeks since I have been able to blog. Of course, I could have blogged while sitting in the darkened and even air-conditioned Genesis Internet Café in town. The machines are fairly fast, the screens easy on the eyes. But, by the time I finally get in there of a morning, by the time I have rowed in from the boat, by the time I check my emails and read the latest dispatch from the war-crimes and mismanagement front, my motivation has drained. My best time for writing is late at night, if I cannot sleep, or early in the morning while I am still fresh. This means I am aboard Vilisar at this very moment and things are quiet at 0500 in the morning: nobody talking; no loud background music.

Working aboard the boat, however, means having a laptop. But, the monitor on the Compaq failed months ago. Jan, from S/V Claire de Lune, took the laptop with her when she went to California on “home leave” and dropped it off at CompUSA, where we still have a valid maintenance agreement. Even with a full two weeks, they were not able to get a new monitor installed in time for Jan to bring it back with her. It lies in limbo somewhere, no doubt waiting to be picked up at the shop even though Jan told them to ship it to Catonsville, MD, so that Kathy’s parents could bring it with them when they come to visit in December.

I shall beg the whole question about relative standards of service in the USA and the so-called primitive Third World except to say that dealing with most large-scale American retailers can be at least as frustrating as trying to negotiate service with the local smithy or carpenter here in Bahia. Without the laptop, Kathy and I have been tied to the expensive internet café for proofreading and translating work, and I have more or less foresworn blogging.

Yesterday, just before they left for a trip to the USA, our friends, Katie and Jim aboard S/V Asylum, offered to lend us their spare laptop. Bless them! Here is the first instalment on the borrowed keys.

The Spreader Saga (boat stuff; skip it if you like)

We have had no functioning shrouds on our mast. At high tide waves are set up when the river flowing through its estuary at 4 or 5 knots to the sea about a mile away meets the incoming tide. If there is a wind coming over the hills from the beach your boat turns sideways to these waves and you start to roll. During this hour or so, our unstayed mast arcs through the sky above the boat with the masthead whipping back and forth and low groans emanating from below the deck where the mast passes through the 5-inch thick mast collar and wedges.

Both avid readers of “The Vilisar Times” will recall that during our voyage from The Galapagos some months ago, the constant sailing to windward caused of one of the lower shrouds affixed to a tang at spreader level to fail. In fact, neither the shroud nor the tang themselves failed: it was the metal which was used for the base-plate – a homemade affair fabricated from metal waterpipe to which chain links had been welded for tangs – and the whole corner was torn, tang and all, the shroud collapsing onto the cabin roof in the night while we were at sea. We stopped the boat and got the sail off her as we were afraid we would be dismasted. We had to motor the remaining two days to Bahia.

Also, while two months ago, when we had Vilisar up on a makeshift grid here in Bahia to coat her bottom with anti-fouling paint and to give her topsides a new coat of white paint, the starboard wooden spreader split when the boat leaned over against a fence. By that time, my confidence in the whole spreader set-up, baseplates and wooden spreaders, had evaporated, and I resolved to replace everything that was remotely suspect up there.

My plan was quickly formulated: remove the galvanised shackles holding the lower shrouds to the tangs and drop the shrouds to the deck; unbolt the two wooden spreaders from the base-plates and send them down to the deck; get the base-plates off either side of the mast for lowering. No problem!

“The best-laid plans of men and mice aftimes gang awray!” (pace Robbie Burns). First, just getting the bosun’s chair rigged with its double-purchase tackle takes me a few hours: it insists upon twisting so badly while being hoisted with the main halyard that it is impossible to haul up even its own weight. I finally figure out that everything has to be stretched out on deck to the same length as the mast is high and only then hauled up. And this is step one.

Once up there, - many thanks to another cruiser, Andrew of S/V Nueva Vida (Nanaimo, B.C.), for doing the pulling – it is very heavy work to loosen the weathered single bolt holding each spreader. I eventually get one spreader unbolted and lowered away. The port spreader bolt, however, cannot be loosened in situ so is eventually lowered with the base-plate still attached. The long through-bolts holding the plates to the mast have to be hammered out a centimetre at a time. I am quickly exhausted to the point where I am shaking. Working from the bosun’s chair is also very painful after a while; your hips and legs first become very painful and after a while turn numb as the blood is cut off.

In the end, getting everything off her takes two trips up the mast on consecutive days. The upper shrouds (running to the masthead) are left in place for the moment even though they were totally useless without spreaders. Finally back at deck level, I spend hours removing the cotter pins and loosening all the heavy bronze turnbuckles which connect the galvanised, parcelled and served shrouds to the bronze chainplates bolted to the hull. Since the turnbuckles have not been turned (or buckled, for that matter) for quite a few years, they are very stiff and I cannot work them all. But I eventually have all the shrouds disconnected and lying in parallel arcs on the deck from one side of the cabin around to the other. I work out the copper cotter pins on the turnbuckles as best I can, wasting some in the process and set the heavy bronze turnbuckles aside to be taken to the smithy for him to heat and free them up. Some of them are so stiff that I cannot budge them a millimetre. A day or two later, I get a panga to carry me and the shrouds down river to the Club de Yates where Victor, the bosun, is going to slush them.

Carrying one of the spreaders as a model, I also pay a visit the next day to Maestro Luiz, the carpentero across the street from the anchorage. I describe my intentions and settle on ordering new spreaders made of a very strong tropical hardwood called, I think, Quaycam. Each spreader costs $15. He has them done in a few days but they lie in his yard for weeks while I attempt to get the base-plates made.

To get this step started, off I go with the old base-plates in my mittens to Maestro Cuanqui across the estuary by ferry in San Vincent. (I also take along all the bronze turnbuckles as well as a tab for a Cap Horn windvane steering that I have borrowed from Bruce on S/V Chance Encounter, Toronto, Canada. Our tab has been “missing in action” since the voyage from The Galapagos. The actual tab is of wood and Carpentero Luiz makes me a new one out of tropical cedar [Morel?] for $10. However, it needs a U-shaped stainless steel bracket for mounting.) Maestro Cuanqui quotes $100 to make spreader plates out of “acero negro” (“black steel”), to fabricate a windvane-tab bracket out of stainless and to free up of all the bronze turnbuckles. Since after discussions with other cruisers I was expecting to pay about $90, I agree at once. The work, which is finished punctually a week later, is first class, the mast plates now seriously heavy-duty. The only joker in the pile is that the base-plates have to be galvanised and that means they have to be sent now to Guayaquil. Eventually, however, they arrive back. The galvanising costs $30. Up to now the spreaders and plates have cost about $100 including painting.

The new windvane steering tab (plus a reserve one that we also had made) is also back aboard. They cost $40 each. After now nearly four weeks with an unstayed mast – we have grown accustomed to the noises and the rather frightening perspective of our mast tip waving in the air above us - we are nearly ready to reinstall everything. Meanwhile, so many boats have been leaving for The Galapagos and/or destinations in Central America or the USA that I may have trouble finding somebody to pull me up the mast.

There are still a few other hurdles to get over. I want to replace all the shackles in the rigging with new galvanised ones. But while I can get stainless steel shackles here, getting good-quality galvanised ones is proving very difficult. Galvanised steel is stronger and will not work-harden like stainless. I want to keep the whole standing rig from the base-plates at the masthead above to the bronze turnbuckles at the chainplates below in the same metal, i.e. galvanised steel. I have a couple of irons (so to speak) in the fire but if they fail I am not sure what I shall do. I could have the smithy make shackles in steel but they would have to be sent away to be galvanised and we are coming up to a travel deadline in early November. I would have to install them when I return from Venezuela in the Spring when I shall likely have very little time to clear out of Ecuador before my visa expires. The alternative is to have Maestro Cuanqui make them now out of stainless.

Nevertheless, after nearly a month of painfully slow steps, we are getting close to having a standing rig again. When the plates and lower shrouds have been re-installed, I shall take off the upper shrouds and perhaps even the fore and aft stays and have Victor slush them too. They could certainly do with it even though I plan eventually to replace the bare and now rusty forestays with stainless steel wire to prevent staining the sails with rust. The problem of course is getting the stainless steel wire in Ecuador. I sure do not want to order new sails and have them filthy within a few days or weeks of sailing in the South Pacific!

I should mention, if I have not done so elsewhere, that we now also have a freshly painted dinghy with two new 7 ½ foot oars (from carpentero Maestro Luiz) and even new stainless steel oarlocks with high shanks that I had made at another smithy in town. Looks cool!

Our life in Bahia

Our lives on Vilisar are quiet. Without an outboard motor, we usually row into shore sometime in the morning when the tide is running in our favour and try to return when the tide has turned. There are ways of sneaking up the side of the channel and then cutting across the main current to Vilisar when the tide is running against us; there is no way I can row fast enough out in main channel when both the river current and the tide are adverse. Occasionally friendly cruisers with motorised inflatables will give us a tow if we really have to get out to the Vilisar at an inconvenient time in the tide cycle.

Kathleen has been getting a lot of proofreading work, which of course means that she has to spend her days in the internet café. (This may change now that we are using this borrowed laptop; she can work whenever she likes on board, put everything on a flash memory stick and send it off from the internet café.) Once ashore, I usually putz around trying to move the Spreader Saga another episode. Occasionally I also get some translating work and then hunker down to get it done.

General election in Ecuador

Bahia is generally a pretty sleepy little town. But there was a Federal general election yesterday (Sunday). We don’t have access to TV ourselves, and no doubt most of the campaigning is done there. But, since voters here in Ecuador are not generally isolated out in suburbs or barricaded behind their air conditioning, there is an old-fashioned, direct-contact feel about the campaign. Every party has an open-air shop cum campaign headquarters in town with lots of flags and posters. Each HQ has a huge public address system from which competing campaign songs are beamed out into the streets and across the waters. These songs – especially composed for each party and repeated ad nauseum - are also broadcast by pickup trucks or cars that cruise the streets until late at night with speakers on top. We joke that the election campaign has degenerated into the “Battle of the Songs”; the new president will be picked like a Euro Song Competitor.

Things here in Ecuador are by no means as noisy and raucus as Mexico. But Ecuadorians still seem to live in wrap-around sound. Restaurants either play loud music or the TV is running. In one restaurant where we frequently eat almuerzos (a cheap set lunch found everywhere and usually costing only between $1.25 and $1.50), there are two televisions and the radio is also usually playing. The TVs seem always to be showing old episodes of ‘Bewitched’ and ‘I Dream of Jeannie’ with dubbed Spanish. But Ecuadorians, maybe because the population is generally much younger than in Canada, the USA or Europe, do not seem to mind the racket. But many are also just too timid to ask for the noise to be turned down; if I ask, the restauranteur will usually turn the music down and people at neighbouring tables nod at us in appreciation. My point is that Ecuadorians let all this – including the election songs- fade into the background.

Every few days, however, one of the party hopefuls arrives in town. There is an after-dark motor cavalcade of hooping and blinking cars and large stake trucks full of cheering people, often campesinos, waving flags and singing the appropriate (I assume) campaign song. The candidate rides in an open car or jeep or standing up in the back of a pickup. All very open. Nothing like the main candidates in the USA moving around the country by chartered airplane for the next staged photo op or the next canned speech before a carefully vetted audience to be broadcast in short clips later on that evening’s news. As the cavalcade approaches, people come out of their houses to watch. Free goodies are sometimes thrown out into the hands of bystanders. One candidate, Nuncio, and his cohorts were even throwing buns in clear plastic bags. The children scurry to pick them up.

Since our Spanish is not yet up to political debate, we are not very well plugged into the campaign. But it appears that left-of-centre candidate Dale Correa, a US educated (Ph.D. from Univ. of Illinois) economist is in the lead though with only about a quarter of the popular vote. He was economics minister in a previous government but was kicked out or resigned over some economic issue. He is a ruggedly handsome mid-40’s.

Along with furthering small and medium-sized business and cleaning up corruption, his policies, interestingly, also include moving toward a ‘Bolivarian’ political union of Columbia, Venezuela, Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador, i.e. all those countries that were part of the revolt against Spain led in the early 1800’s by Simon Bolívar and Mariscal Sucre. Correa promises to clean up corruption, create jobs in agriculture and tourism, keep ‘dollarisation’ (although he says he is sceptical of it), make petroleum benefit all Ecuadorians (and not just the corrupt elites), reject free trade with the USA, preferring instead to emphasise MERCOSUR (a free trade arrangement in South America) as well as other regional arrangements and insist that Ecuador as a sovereign nation not be dictated to about whom it can have relations with (read Chavez/Venezuela). With the recent collapse of WTO free-trade talks, these regional free-trade arrangements have perhaps taken on new urgency. Some of the potential members (Venezuela and Ecuador) have petroleum. Chavez in Venezuela is pushing hard for leadership of such a grouping. (The USA has anyway stopped talking to Ecuador about free trade because Ecuador nationalised Occidental’s oil leases in the Amazon basin. The deep reason behind this is that the royalties agreement with ‘Occi’ is decidedly one-sided in Occi’s favour. Occi has also been playing fast and loose with the agreement and has seriously polluted the environment down in jungle as well.)

Correa’s main rivals seem to be León Roldós, a centrist, and the beautiful and vivacious, young-forties and fashionably blond, Cynthia Viteri-Kelly (she calls herself only Cynthia in her campaign posters). Roldós and Cynthia seem to me to be talking only generalities and tiptoeing around key issues. Like Democrats in the USA, they seem to be trying to get elected by not being too controversial and/or resorting to doubletalk. For example, Cynthia might be willing to talk about Gran Columbia but would put more Ecuadorian troops on the border with Columbia. Go figure! The conservative candidate is Alvaro Noboa. He’s all for free trade but, curiously, not in agriculture.

The first voting was yesterday (Sunday), and there will be runoffs until a clear call is made for a new president by the citizens. We have not heard the results yet because we have not yet been ashore today. The elections are also for federal vice president, for deputies to the national congress in Quito, for all the provincial governors and parliaments and right down to the Alcaldos (mayors) and councillors in the municipalities. Aside from the widespread democratic aspects of all this, it seems amazing that at any one time the whole country can be swept by some fervour and the same party could be brought in nationwide at all levels of government. That would certainly make things easier for the party in power since they would not have to deal with recalcitrant locals. One would also not have to endure the never-ending electioneering that we see in other federal states (like Germany) where there is always an election campaign going on somewhere in the country and where state elections determine representation in the federal upper house.

From what I can glean from the newspapers, all voting is done with paper ballots and by lists of candidates. Perhaps because it is considered uncorrupted and the guardian of Ecuadorian political purity, the Army is being used to transport and guard the ballot boxes. International observers have been invited to witness the elections. Polls opened at 0700 and closed at 1700: El Comercio newspaper in Guayaquil predicts that final results will be available within thirty minutes of closing.

More seriously for us yachties , no alcohol is allowed to be served from mid-afternoon Saturday till after the polls close. But this being Ecuador, it was decided to treat Puerto Amistad as a free zone. As long as there were no beer bottles on the table, you could have your drink. I guess that satisfied everyone because, at one point, about six or eight police officers came in for a meal and, although we wondered if they might object, there was no fuss whatsoever. I did not check to see if they were following the same procedures that we were.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Bahia de Caraquez, Ecuador, 03 October 2006

If you are heartily sick of Bush's foreign policy, it pays to remember that his is not the only voice in the USA. There are also civilised elements that want something very different.

Visit www.wws.princeton,edu/ppns./report/FinalReport.pdf

and read at least the Executive Summary of FORGING A WORLD OF LIBERTY UNDER LAW, the report title for The Princeton Project For National Security