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.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Re: Earning while cruising

Many cruisers provide skilled labour to other cruisers at prices that are lower perhaps than in the USA, but are sharply higher than most local craftsmen. Maybe the cruiser craftsmen are better although not always. At least there should be no language difficulties and therefore less static in the communications. Some cruisers also write articles or sell photographs to sailing and other mags. The internet makes this possible.

Internet work

There are, however, also other ways to earn some money thanks to the internet. My wife is a proof-reader for verbatim court reporters in the USA, for example, and I translate German legal and business texts into English. We know also of one retired high-school history teacher in Port Townsend, WA, who researches online the history of mining claims in the NW States for use in court battles. Another acquaintance provides indexing for publishing companies.

I am sure that many cruisers would like to hear of other online ways to make money as you cruise.

There are some obvious and some less obvious advantages.

The work can be done anywhere and in your own time. We have done work, for example, in the remotest coves of Alaska and BC as well as in Mexico, The Galapagos, mainland Ecuador, Venezuela, Germany, The Netherlands and England. I have even translated big projects whilst at sea. We receive the work by internet and send the completed job back the same way. Sometimes the world time differences are a competitive advantage and sometimes a disadvantage. Billing is also done by email and, in Europe at least, payment is sent directly to your account anywhere in Europe by direct transfer and you can check it online. Basically you never see your clients and they never see you. Although sometimes you do build up a relationship with a client, the relationship is generally superficial at best. At least there is no office bullying or gossip and your office and work overheads are substantially lower (i.e., no commuting, no car, no dress-up office clothes, no office lunches, no entertaining, etc.) Importantly, depending upon where you live, the income earned from online work outside your country of domicile may be taxed at a much lower rate and sometimes not taxed at all.

The disadvantages?

Communications are the biggest problem. Staying in email contact from a boat can be challenging. Although things are getting better all the time, you generally need to be near a harbour or at least near a coast to be in touch. If you rely on work from (e.g., translating) agencies, for example, they tend to shop the work around to 100 people and the first one to reply gets it. Unless you are near wi-fi in harbour, of course, you are at a response disadvantage. You otherwise have to visit cyber-cafes ashore; you can take your own laptop and go online on the cyber-cafe's wi-fi, if they have it; we tend to use a flash memory to transport data. Agencies also take a big cut in the money received from the end-user, so, if you can build up a clientele yourself, you make more money. The disadvantage with that is that now you are running a business, and you can't just say you are busy and go sailing for a few days. Sailmail and similar programmes have problems with attached files which can be a serious disadvantage. In Canada and the USA we used cell phones with data transmitting ability and this is increasingly available (GRSM technology, for example; cell phone companies offer data programmes at reasonable rates even here in Ecuador). There are alternatives when you are not near wi-fi or cellphone towers. We used an Iridium sat phone in Alaska and Northern BC. It worked just fine for voice but was extremely slow and therefore very expensive for data and ate up all the money we were making. But at least we kept the contact to our customers while we cruised very remote waters. Staying in contact is getting easier as technology progresses so rapidly. Wi-fi didn't even appear until just a few years ago and now is becoming increasingly prevalent. As to payment, some US clients don't understand direct transfers and insist upon paying with cheques (older mariners will remember them! Little bits of paper that are passed around the bank-clearing systems for years, frequently are claimed to be in or to have been lost in the mail, and take days at best to be credited to your account!) In this case you will need a friend or sister-in-law back home who is willing to cart the things to your bank for you.

The real disadvantage of online work, of course, is that working online keeps you away from all that boat maintenance that you would much rather be doing. And sometimes it even gets in the way of sailing too. The best online earning source is without a doubt notification from a solicitor that you have become the heir to a large fortune.

So, how about some other tips and ideas for earning while cruising.

And, if you liked this tip please, send $1,000 to my account.

Ronald Bird

S/V Vilisar, Victoria, BC

In transit at Bahia de Caraquez, Ecuador

Custom-built Wm Atkin Design

Monday, October 01, 2007

Bahía de Caraquéz, Ecuador, Monday, October 01, 2007

Ecuadorians seem constantly to be going to the polls. Last year when we arrived here at the end of May, the first round of the federal general elections to take place in September were just getting geared up with a plethora of parties aiming at least to make it into the run-offs. The run-offs themselves followed six weeks later with Rafael Correa, up-start leftist economist, pitted against tough conservative Alvaro Noboa, the Banana King of Ecuador and the country’s wealthiest man. Going into last October, Noboa was the clear leader. But as polling day approached, more and more people were undecided. Since voting is compulsory and since these don’t-knows were unlikely to stay at home just watching futbol, how would they mark their ballots? In the end, the voters largely stopped their ears to Noboa’s fear-mongering about communists, Castro knock-offs and 'Chavistas' hidden under the beds waiting for Correa to take over to come out and steal or nationalise your granny’s little hut. Instead they voted their hopes and aspirations and went for Correa by a big margin.

Back then Correa was still fairly new to the game and was unable to field a slate of congressional candidates in time. His party, Alianza P.A.I.S., an acronym on the Spanish word “country”, was therefore going to be facing an hostile congress and he would have to appeal over the congress adn directly to the broad mass of voters even after he was elected president. In addition to cleaning up corruption (endemic in Ecuador and a< way of life and wealth amongst congressmen), getting rid of the US airbase in Manta (it’s reputedly to stop the flow of drugs out of neighbouring Columbia but is the only such base in South America), rejecting an already-negotiated free-trade agreement with the U.S.A., re-structuring the staggering IMF debt and re-negotiating the highly disadvantageous deals cut with international oil back when petroleum was still selling at $7 a barrel, Correa promised during the presidential election campaign that the constitution would be democratically re-written.

The path Correa has chosen has already been trod by Hugo Chávez in Venezuela and Avo Morales in Bolívia. In those countries too, the existing constitutions were designed to keep power in the hands of elite groups and the presidency was passed back and forth between Tweedle-dee and Tweedle-dum. Many potential voters were discouraged or prevented from voting. Correa’s presidential platform promised a new constitutional assembly and a new constitution based upon democratic principles.

Getting the new constitution in place has been a top priority for the new government. The electoral process, at least, could not have been more democratic. Like Chávez in Venezuela, the first step here was a nationwide referendum to approve the very idea of re-writing the constitution. PAIS carried that vote by a very large majority. Now that they have taken the risk of electing a new and progressive president, the electorate apparently is not then going to withhold approval for Correa’s programmes. You get the man, you take the plan! His popularity has only grown since he was elected to office and he has thrown himself into this fray again with his usual vigour. He is young, articulate, intelligent, approachable and accessible, and, as one local lady said to me with glowing eyes, he is, “guapisimo!” (super handsome).

Yesterday’s election was for deputies –
– to the Constitutional Assembly. One might think that such an issue would elicit nothing but yawns. But 130 seats were up for grabs and there were over 3,000 candidates. All the usual parties took part; an important point since the opposition could have boycotted the process as it has done occasionally in Venezuela. Nobody here, thank goodness, has been screaming “unfair” or “fraud”, as the opposition has also stupidly done in Venezuela, thereby marginalising itself. I guess the opposition here has learned that lesson. So, once more into the fray, dear friends - there every day on television was the now-familiar shirt-sleeved Mr. Noboa railing against the government and on behalf of his “Stop Correa” campaign. For the first time, social and economic groupings not specifically organised as political parties were also encouraged to take part. A new federal campaign-financing law even made money available to them for advertising, organising and proselytising.

On the surface, this past year has been the greatest taste of real democracy that Ecuadorians have had for generations. After eight presidents in as many years, after street action has chased more than one president out of country for corruption, after decades of economic decline and ignominious financial collapse, after building up a colossal burden of debt, the auguries are positive. The voters have finally given up on Yesterday’s Men; the world petroleum price is at an historic high; Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaraugua and even Argentina and Brazil have trodden the same or similar paths path and are doing all right; Venezuela is willing to help out financially; Correa is popular and reasonable: this looks like Ecuador’s best political chance in ages.

As the campaigning by law came to an end three days before the votes were to cast and as the campaign dust settled, it looked like Correa and PAIS will sweep the board. The party now has a real grassroots party organisation and, across the nation, has fielded a broad slate of candidates for the Constitutional Assembly. Coming up to Election Day PAIS looked set to gain 65-70 of the 130 seats.

Voting is done electronically here. And, people don’t travel far from their constituencies on Election Day because voting is by law obligatory. Even Ecuadorians living abroad get to vote: there are lots of them in the U.S.A., Canada, Spain and Italy; in fact, some twenty percent of Ecuadorians actually left the country over the last decade for legal or illegal jobs abroad because things were so bad here. But, although electronic, every voter gets a personal printout of his vote and there is a paper backup for invigilators and counters. Correa’s victories have always been attested to as fair and above-board by the OAS, the EU and by the Jimmy Carter organisation.

Here in Bahía de Caráquez, a quiet resort town midway up the Pacific coast, voting took place at the local Catholic high school. When I arrived about noon the park in front of the school was a colourful throng of people of all ages (see photos). Weekend life had become centred at the park. Even the tricicleros and the taxis were all lined up on the side streets instead of over closer to the centre of town. Music was coming from various cars and there was a constant flow of curious vehicles, many full of campesinos come into town by the truckload to take a look. Alcohol sales are banned Election Day and the days before and after, though I could see some surreptitious imbibing going on, and of course the dedicated boozers knew enough to stock up in advance. But no drunkenness and no rough behaviour to be seen. Over at the entrance to the school there were two uniformed policemen standing watch and there were riot police stationed out of sight down at the police barracks at the other end of town. But otherwise, all very peaceful. Street-food vendors had set up all around, the food smells drifted across the shady park, reggaeton music was pulsing and there was a happy and peaceful family-picnic atmosphere.

Electronic voting certainly makes the tabulating of results extremely rapid. Within half an hour of the polls closing the TV was revealing a landslide for Correa and PAIS. Even here in the province of Manabí and in Guayas (around Guayaquil, i.e., Noboa’s stamping grounds), the vote has gone strongly to el Presidente Correa. By nightfall at six o’clock he was announcing victory from the presidential palace in Quito and saying ironic goodbyes to the corrupt congress that will surely be wiped out by the new Constituional Assembly and the new constituiton to come. Fireworks and party music emanated till late in the night here in the streets in front of PAIS’ party headquarters.

This is the third and very encouraging democratic step towards reform in Ecuador. Power is passing out of the hands of the old rulers, perhaps irrevocably. The large indigenous population support Correa, the only presidential candidate last year who could even speak their language. His promises to alleviate poverty and help the huge numbers of the impoverished, and his moves to improve the lot of the broad mass of Ecuadorians, e.g. a better economy, less corruption, better schools, improved social security, better healthcare, has obviously brought him support not just from the poor and dispossessed but, as the large majority proves, even from the aspiring middle class. Only Yesterday’s Men still rant about reds.

With 90.06 percent of the vote already counted, PAIS has received 61.7 percent of the votes cast, the next three parties receiving only between four and seven percent each. Noboa barely made a showing. Correa is now positioned strongly in the democratic saddle. This is his third major election victory in roughly a year. Since PAIS will dominate the Constitutional Assembly, its work is likely to be done quickly and will surely bear Correa’s stamp. He will be presenting reform proposals and it is unlikely that they will go unheeded. Probably Ecuador will wind up with expanded franchises and a voter drive, a uni-cameral legislature, longer presidential terms and, just like every other representative democracy in the world except the U.S.A., the possibility of presidential re-election ad infinitum.

Ecuador desperately needs economic and political stability and it looks like they are getting it. The economy is already doing better. Backed up by a generous offer from Venezuela, Correa has already addressed the issue of international debt re-scheduling: the IMF and the World Bank are no longer lenders here (or anywhere else in Latin America anymore) so the country is also free to rid itself of the burdensome and counter-productive Structural Adjustment Programme that was foisted on them by the international lending cartel. Furthermore, contracts with Big Oil have also been or are now being re-written to increase the government “take”. Given the reduced load of debt repayment and the inflow of money from oil (now selling at around $80 a barrel worldwide), Ecuador’s precarious financial situation is improving by the day. Expect some of this to start flowing increasingly into infra-structure, healthcare and schools. Here in Bahía de Caráquez, for example, a new, two-kilometre traffic bridge is promised across the Rio Chone.

Given its oil riches, Ecuador should soon actually be booming to the benefit of amuch broader range of citizens. And, Correa looks set to be around for a while.