Changes All Around!

September 20, 2012

Ole was contacted at the last minute to switch to the Azamara Quest for this contract…long story…but as usual everything worked out for him to join the ship in Barcelona.

It’s pretty empty here at the dock, with Rick and Goldene from Magic Places and Rick on Cape Star the only folks on the dock. The good news is that I do have company whether I want it or not – there’s a black cat on the dock who’s lived here on his own for nearly 11 years, scrounging and ingratiating himself with whoever strolls down the dock to feed him. In terms of feral cats, “Slacker” has it made. It’s clearly HIS dock…none of the other 40 feral cats venture down here except a timid little tabby named “Debbie” who Slacker seems to tolerate. [Read more…]

Back Aboard Emma Jo in Mazatlan

August 20, 2012

After 5 weeks in Norway, with Ole working like a lumberjack felling trees, chopping kindling, ripping down a storm-damaged pier with his bare hands, and generally buffing up with physical exertion, I was laid up with a bad back, lending not much more than hanging curtains, keeping the place clean and Ole fed, and “oohing and aahing” at the displays of manly skill.

We got back to Mazatlan to find Emma Jo in fine shape, and Ole impressed with the galley refit and general state of the work. He, of course, had his own punch list of little things for Marine Services Mazatlan and Rick to touch up…but all in all, she’s looking like somebody cares about her.

Ole’s got just a couple of weeks here, then he’s off to work again. I’ll be alone on the dock, pretty much, until the cruisers start coming back south in early November.


Summer Travels in Norway — Hurtigruten

July 9, 2012

M/S Richard With, courtesy of

M/S Richard With, courtesy of

We joined the m/s Richard Witt, a coastal ferry, for just 48 hours…but it took us on a spectacular journey along the fjords and into Geirangerfjord, Alesund, and Trondheim, before letting us off on Nessna, a neighboring island to Ole’s home place on Gjaeroy.

After three weeks on the second-largest cruise ship in the world, the Richard Witt was a welcome change. While the food was fantastic, there wasn’t the sense of high-end luxury so much as comfortable, utilitarian transportation. We met people literally from all over the world…Spain to Mexico; Australia to France, the U.S…and even Norwegians who use the system to get from one place to the other. [Read more…]


June 1, 2012

Splash Day

Splash Day

After 10 weeks in the yard, getting the bottom stripped, barrier-coated, and painted…and the galley torn apart and rebuilt…and the master stateroom demolished to make way for high-tech water tank repair…and new wall coverings in the master stateroom and bath…and new non-skid on the main deck…and a brand new paint job on the blue trim…Emma Jo was launched and motored to her temporary home at Marina Mazatlan.

It went as smoothly as it should have after 10 weeks on the hard…the starting batteries were dead (which we discovered while in the slings in the lift and about to back out); the electrical system was screwed up, with switches in the wrong place and mislabeled; and the mysterious workings of the valves that control the freshwater system onboard led to just hooking up to shore water; and the galley finish work wasn’t finished. [Read more…]

Watch Your Belongings on a Costa Rican Bus!

Early February found us getting excited to get back to the boat, and Dale and Linda still having the time of their lives cruising the southwest coast of Panama, toward their ultimate rendezvous point with us here in Puntarenas.

We had more company on the ship, with old friends of Ole’s from over 20 years ago joining the cruise on February 6 – Roar and Trish Molvik. We were able to entertain them at Chops, the specialty steakhouse where you can’t get away from the table in less than 2-1/2 hours, and enjoyed the do-it-yourself Bloody Mary bar on one of the sea days.

The exciting part of the February 6 cruise was a group of bikers who brought 36 motorcycles aboard, ranging from Honda Gold Wings to Harleys of every shape and vintage, and a few custom bikes that defy description. I spent the last hour before departure in St. Maarten watching them all come back aboard after their island tour with the local Harley club, and as the last bike came aboard, a HUUUUGGGGEEEE Boss Hoss (manufactured in Tennessee, I gather), I stuck out my hand, introduced myself as the Chief Engineer’s wife, and he said, “Great! I’d love an engine room tour!” To which I responded, “Great! I’d love a ride on your bike!” Deal, he said, and we made arrangements for both.

On Wednesday, early in the morning of February 10, I got one of the best bike rides of my life, even though it only lasted about half an hour. The bike, equipped with a 400 hp Corvette engine, was painted in blue flame, and the chrome on it shone like a musical instrument. We only drove it as far as the gas station on the east end of Charlotte Amalie, but on the back of that bike I could feel the surges of unrestrained horsepower when he held back and then throttled up. What a machine! And, like most bikers, what a wonderful guy!

As we prepared to fly home on February 20, we found ourselves with a total of three suitcases, two briefcases, a chart tube, a back-pack, and a tote bag in addition to my purse. All told, we figured we brought a couple boat-units worth of stuff along, everything from varnish to gaskets to spark plugs and oil filters. Each bag weighed in at 52 lbs., and the tote bag and backpack probably weighed in at 25 lbs. each. We managed to check the three suitcases and carry the backpack, chart tube, briefcases and tote bag successfully aboard the airplane and then to the Hotel Santo Tomas in San Jose for our forced overnight. We aimed at taking the bus into Puntarenas on Sunday, the 21st.

We were at the bus station by 8:50, missed the 9:00 bus, and with all of our stuff, waited in a crowded terminal until the next bus, which arrived about 9:30. We wrestled all of the stuff to the luggage bay, checking the three suitcases and backpack, then carried aboard our briefcases, chart tube, tote bag and my purse. (Are you starting to get the picture?) We sat in the third row opposite the driver, and Ole put his briefcase and my heavy pink and purple tote bag in the overhead directly over of our seats. I carried my purse and briefcase with computer at my feet. During the ride, we joked about the very large and prominent sign just three seats ahead of us that said, in English, Spanish, and German, “KEEP AN EYE ON YOUR PERSONAL BELONGINGS.” Get the picture yet?

The ride down to sea level from San Jose was just over two hours, along good paved highway, not nearly as third-world and ziggedy-zaggedy as we had expected. There were perhaps four stops before we got off at the Costa Rica Yacht Club on the outskirts of Puntarenas. Ole grabbed his briefcase, leapt down to organize getting the suitcases out of the luggage bay, leaving me to wrestle my purse, my briefcase, the pink and purple bag and the chart tube. But when I stood up to grab the pink and purple bag, it was gone. Vanished. Disappeared.

I couldn’t believe it. In the overhead was the big Ziploc bag with my toothbrush in it (had been in the pink and purple bag). I walked up and down the aisle at least three times, glancing down at people’s feet, but nothing. Looked at people’s faces. Nothing. Asked for help. Nothing.

In that bag were, in no particular order:

  • the digital camera, with all of our pictures from November, December, January, and February
  • the 160 gigabyte hard drive, with all of our pictures from 2004 to the present
  • the iTunes library containing all of our music, all of our personal files for banking, correspondence, and archives going back to 1998
  • the iPod itself, with the only living copy of all of our music
  • a brand-new, never been used SPOT gps messenger we could use to check in with family and friends whenever we change positions
  • a new gasket for the replacement exhaust elbow
  • the two most recent issues of PassageMaker
  • four brand new cruising guides for the Costa Rican Coast all the way up to the Sea of Cortez (NOT cheap)
  • a new Harry Potter movie
  • my personal journal
  • the phone charger for my cell phone
  • and basically irreplaceable stuff.

I could barely say hello to Dale and Linda, I was so shocked. I put my stuff onboard Emma Jo, then caught a cab to the police station, where I waited in the sun for 45 minutes before being invited in and being assigned to the secretary to take my statement (denuncia). That took nearly an hour, including interruptions on the telephone, accidentally erasing the computer-based interview form a couple of times, and refusing to find me anyone who spoke English. I definitely got the feeling they were just going through the motions.

It’s clear to me we’ll never get the stuff back. It’s also very clear to me that the thief was an opportunist – we were the only people on that bus with as much stuff as we had, and the only obvious non-Costa Ricans. But damn, whoever it was was good – to move that heavy bag from directly over our heads without our being aware of it was masterful. I’m hoping they’ll see the camera, the iPod, and the Harry Potter movie, and toss the rest – it’s of no use to anybody but us. I’m praying that they erase the hard drive before they decide to use it or sell it. I’m angry at myself, angry at us, for joking about the sign right in front of our faces. In the past three years, bussing from Fronteras on the Rio Dulce into Guatemala City countless times, bussing from Bocas del Toro to David just as many times, never have we seen such a sign. It’s obviously a big enough problem here in Costa Rica that a sign is needed. Dumbass Gringos.

Hence the limited number of pictures.

In spite of the loss, we’ve tried to remain upbeat during the remaining days with Dale and Linda. We had a dinner out, an interesting $100 cab ride to sort out the paperwork transferring control of the boat from the Bixlers back to us, an afternoon at the pool, and a couple of very long cocktail hours on the fly bridge. They took great care of the boat, great care of the cats, and had the time of their lives cruising some pretty spectacular and unspoilt cruising grounds. We put them on a van to the airport on the 25th, and were a bit unsure what to do with ourselves finally being alone back on the boat. And Barclay – we’ll have to watch her for signs of depression, she got so close to Dale during these past few months.

On Saturday, I put Ole on a bus (oh no, not again) for San Jose, so he can fly up to Orlando for a management meeting. Crappy timing, as it will cut our cruising down from ten weeks to about seven, but we’re hoping to make it up to Huatulco before he has to sign on to Independence on May 5. I’ll spend the week he’s gone re-marking my territory, taking inventory of stores for a two-month cruise, and seeing what I can do to replace some of the things we lost.

A Welcome Visitor Joins us from Norway

Aboard Independence of the Seas

The first part of August was fairly routine, with Ole working long days and me holing up in the Cigar Bar (my “office”) to read and enjoy my daily latte. Afternoons were taken up by reading, keeping up with the news, and painting.

Ole and Andreas atop Gibraltar

The routine was changed with the welcome arrival of Andreas, Ole’s oldest son, on the 15th of August for two weeks of living the high life. Andreas and I managed to get ashore in every port, doing everything from walking tours on our own to ship-sponsored excursions, understanding that Ole could get ashore only occasionally.

The first port call, Gibraltar, Ole and Andreas went on a taxi tour up to the top of the rock, but were disappointed because there were so many people with two ships in, they didn’t get a chance to see the apes.

Poetto Beach, Sardinia

We lucked out in Sardinia, though, and caught a city bus together to go out to Poetto Beach, touted to be one of the best in the Mediterranean. It was pleasant, but crowded – and after having had so much solitary beach time on Emma Jo, we realized it just wasn’t our cup of tea to stack ourselves up cheek by jowl with thousands of strangers.

Andreas and I took the bus to Florence, and walked around on our own. He was stunned by the art and architecture, and was great company. We found a great little restaurant located in an interior courtyard away from the teeming tourists and had authentic pizza.

In Cannes, we opted to just take a walk, visiting the theater and investigating the famous handprints (the other end of Grauman’s Chinese Theater) lining the sidewalks.

We opted to explore Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia Cathedral on our own, and it was by far the highlight of the entire summer. Taking the Metro from Las Ramblas, we stood in line perhaps 10 minutes, paid our admission, and rented the audio guide for an additional fee. We were glad we did. This cathedral is a work in progress, started in the early 1900s, and designed by a heretical architect named Antonio Gaudi, who was so far ahead of his time that his contemporaries must have thought him crazy. Having seen St. Peter’s in Rome, the Duomo in Florence, and Chartres and Notre Dame in France, I can honestly say this building is the most spiritual building I’ve ever seen. We walked around the outside, through the inside, and spent nearly three hours in awe of the scale and symbolism of the place. Words just can’t do it justice – the best I can say is that the cathedral appeals to anyone of any religion, and feels like a forest inside, the vault being constructed of columns of differing material, and the ceiling being supported by branches and decorated with carved abstract leaves. I’ll direct you to a link, here, that will provide more detail, but in the meantime, here are a few photos.

Both Andreas and I were thrilled to have seen this in our lifetimes. We wrapped up our visit with an obligatory call in at the Barcelona Hard Rock (Andreas is a collector) for overpriced burgers and loud rock and roll, strolling the Rambla back to the shuttle bus.

Lisbon also presented the Hard Rock challenge, so we explored the Metro, found the t-shirt, and walked Rossio Square, stopping for a cold one on a charming side street.

In Malaga, we took a short tour by horse-drawn carriage, and just strolled through town, stopping to have a coffee and a snack.

Medieval Village on Spain/Portugal Border

We took a ship-sponsored excursion in Vigo up to the Portuguese border and visited a small medieval walled city as well as the fortress in Vigo that has been converted to a park.

It was hard to say goodbye on the 29th, but we felt so lucky to be able to share the ship and all of the experiences with Andreas. Hope it won’t be too long before he comes back!

The end of August, the ship added an out-of-the-ordinary 4-day cruise from Southampton to Cobh, Ireland, which we visited last summer.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the Cobh visit actually happened on the ship. The few Swedes aboard had raided Ikea in Southampton, buying them out of crayfish, and sponsoring a Crayfish Party on the forward mooring deck for the tiny Scandinavian population onboard. Apparently it’s traditional in Sweden to have such a party once a year, eat your brains out, and drink accordingly. Here’s the evidence!

A Fitting End to a Brief Visit in Norway

Bocas Marina
Bocas del Toro, Panama

Ole Paints the Roof

The first week of June was our last week in Norway, and lucky for us, the weather turned sunny long enough for Ole to coat the roof of the house, which was rusty and in serious need of attention. As he often said this visit, “now it looks like people live here, instead of just sheep.”

During the week we managed to visit many folks on the island for dinner, including Lyder and his family, Liv at her new cabin, and Wenche and Odd Kaare (distant cousins of Ole). A couple of different versions of moose stew demonstrated to me that I love that meat – rich and sweet.

Seagull Eggs for Breakfast

An odd culinary experience was a first (for me) tasting of seagull eggs for breakfast, courtesy of Wenche and Odd-Kaare. When you think about it, folks who live on an island this remote are accustomed to taking advantage of every single opportunity to gather food – from fishing to berry picking to nest raiding. I must say that while it definitely was an egg, the texture and color were more intense, and the idea was a bit weird to me. Just gave me pause to consider where my food comes from. As an American, I’m used to my food coming from Safeway wrapped in plastic. Here, you see it alive and frolicking before you exercise your “top of the food chain” predatory rights.

Scouts Camping Next Door

Another exciting addition to our last week was the arrival of about 50 10-year-old Boy Scouts from the local community, as well as their chaperones. They’re camping just between us and the road in several enormous canvas teepees, and are here to learn some of the local traditions that internet-game-playing TV-watching 10-year-olds just don’t seem to know how to do any more: how to find, catch, and clean fish; how to tie knots (so your boat doesn’t drift away); how to spit-roast a lamb; and other boy scout stuff.

Rodoy Music School Concert Cast

Lyder invited us to a local concert given by the community’s music school on our final Saturday afternoon. The community may have close to 2,500 people, scattered among the mainland and several little islands – and the music school, of which Lyder is the director, has about 80 students. Forty or so students between 8 and 15 years old gathered on Saturday, June 6, to share their accomplishments with about 200 proud parents and interested locals. Ole and I were thoroughly impressed with the professionalism and skill the kids showed, and were delighted to see some truly talented kids. While a few kids played solo keyboard or guitar pieces, there were several groups with drums, keyboard, rhythm, bass and lead guitar, as well as soloists and backup vocals. We realize that Norway is VERY expensive, with a tax rate of about 50%. But seeing the quality of music education, the state of the art equipment, and the ferry system putting on an extra boat to transport the audience from several islands (in other words, tax dollars at work), we might want to give some thought to quality arts education in the US. Though it’s not the best picture, here is the cast doing their final bow.

Enjoying a Wild Night with Raymond, Britt, Wenche, and Odd-Kaare

After the concert, we walked across to Britt and Raymond’s cabin for an evening snack and were joined by Wenche and her husband Odd Kaare. We laughed, ate, and drank until they spoke English and I spoke Norwegian. Amazing what a little lubrication can do! At the end of a lovely evening, we walked back home and enjoyed the sun peeking around the Rodoy “lion” at 2:30 in the morning. Spectacular to watch the sun go sideways across the sky instead of up and over. In this part of the world, the sun comes up around June 1 and sets again sometime in early July. Hard to believe until you’ve seen it – and it makes getting to sleep at night very interesting!

We packed and closed up the house to leave on Monday, June 8, to fly to Oslo for an overnight. Petter took the train from Lillehammer to join us for dinner and a very short visit. Then Tuesday morning, the itinerary was Oslo/Amsterdam/Panama City, where we stayed a couple of days to get some business done on the house project. We were able to get back to Emma Jo in time for cocktail hour on June 11. It was sure good to see everyone, and to find the boat so well taken-care-of by Brian. The cats were thrilled to see us, circling our feet and smelling the suitcases to see what we might have brought them! It’s good to be home.

May in the Med…and Norway

May 1, the port of call was Cagliari, Sardinia. We opted to head to town for a walk, and found ourselves in the midst of an annual Mayday tradition that goes back 352 years in Cagliari – the Festival of Sant’ Efisio – the first of which (352 years ago) was said to have been responsible for the end of the plague in Sardinia. The inhabitants of the island decorate oxcarts with representations of regional plenty (fruits, breads, flowers, grains, baskets, pottery) and village-specific costumes, and form a parade around the town of Cagliari, which ends with a 4-day procession of the Saint to a village up the coast and back to his place in the Cathedral. It was one of those “National Geographic” moments that we’ll savor for a long while.

May 2 found us at Civitavecchia, the port city of Rome. Expensive as it is, I talked Dale and Linda into joining the “deluxe” 10-1/2 hour excursion – the same one that Suzanne and I did last summer. In reality, if you’re only going to be in Rome a short time, seeing the biggies is, I think, the most important thing to do. That having been said, though, we didn’t take into consideration that in Europe, May 1 is a holiday. The Vatican was closed on Saturday, and would be closed again on Monday, so who knows how many hundred thousand people were in line outside on this particular Sunday – and inside St. Peter’s Basilica, it was a madhouse of a crowd, so much so that the guide was told to keep our group moving. Dale just held his camera up over the crowds and kept snapping pictures – don’t know if he got any good ones. But seeing the vastness of St. Peter’s, the majesty of the Sistine Chapel, and major historic ruins on every streetcorner was worth it. Here they are at Trevi Fountain, wishing their way back to Rome!

Livorno was the port call on May 3, so we just booked a shuttle bus to take in Pisa and Florence on our own. I know I wrote about it in last summer’s entries, but the place is mythical. Not just art, but GREAT art everywhere — and a wonderfully walkable old quarter that just begs for picture after picture. To top it all off, there was a bit of a national market going on in the main square, with food, wine, and craft exhibits from all over Italy. Just had to grab a few pictures, taste a few samples, and wish like crazy I could spend a few months here…

Cannes was the fourth port day in a row, and as we were visually and physically overwhelmed from three straight great days, we opted to take the water taxi in and just stroll, looking for a place for lunch. Ole was able to get free for a few hours so he joined us. Cannes was getting ready for the film festival, with tents being erected all over the marina, yachts pulling in, and in general, the town getting spiffed up. Looking for a bathroom, we wandered into the casino at the exhibition center, where Linda promptly won 60 Euros on a slot machine, but, seeing as how she doesn’t read French, couldn’t figure out why the cashier only gave her 4 Euros. My rusty French interpreter skills were called upon (never thought I had the language skill to argue casino winnings!), all was set right, so we wandered over toward the market for lunch — moules frites! Haven’t had those since we were in Pornichet!

Ladder for the Sherry-Sipping Mouse

Boy, were we happy to have a sea day! Then we called at Cadiz, and took a tour over to Jerez for the sherry tasting and a glimpse of the Royal Spanish Riding School. We went to the school first, and as it was a Thursday, there was no scheduled show. Instead, we got a private tour of the stables, a peek into the rehearsal where we were fortunate enough to be able to see a few horses dancing, and a chance to walk through the exhibit of riding costumes and an elaborately poured taste of sherry. It was a bit disappointing, as our look at the rehearsal was so short. But it all got better at Gonzalez/Byass, home of Tio Pepe sherry. I enjoyed that tour so much last summer, I thought it might be fun to share it with Dale and Linda. This time I learned something, though, I hadn’t seen last time I was there – there is a legend about mice who live under the casks taking a liking to sweet sherry. Apparently a workman saw a mouse lapping up a spill, so every day he left a little snack and a glass of sweet sherry for the mice – but had to build them a ladder to get to the glass. Don’t believe me? Here you go.

We had two cold and rainy sea days back to Southampton, where Dale and Linda left to spend ten days in London, and Ole signed off the ship May 9. While we were aboard, we discussed our bi-annual Norway trip, and as he had heard some bad news about an elderly aunt and cousin, we opted to go immediately to Norway instead of back to Panama.

We arrived in Oslo on Saturday, then took the train to Halden to visit Andreas in his little flat. After a nice two-day visit, we flew from Oslo to Bodo, then took the high-speed boat up to Gjaeroy. As much as we cursed the work back in the summer of 2007, when we arrived we were glad we had done it. The fence Ole and Petter built then has kept most of the sheep out, and after just a couple of days of good weather, Ole had the last 50 meters finished.  And the brush we cleared two years ago hasn’t dared come back!

We’ve never been here together this early in the year, and the weather has been outstanding for 66 degrees North/13 degrees East. Daytimes in the high 60’s with clear blue skies, little to no wind, and a sun that slides sideways around the sky, dipping below the horizon for just about two hours each night. The weather allowed us to work a little, fish a little, and generally enjoy life in this part of the world.

May 17th is Norway’s Independence Day, and a very big deal for everyone. We joined the celebration at the church, then the parade to the school for a day of eating, games, and stories. After watching the 17th of May Parade in Ballard and Poulsbo (Washington) and comparing it to what happens in little towns all over Norway, it’s quite a different holiday in the home country. First of all, the parade is not something you watch – it’s something you join. Second, the festivities are more for the children than anyone else, with ice cream, games, and stories geared to teach the children their history. And third, it’s a chance for women to show off their bunad, the local costume many girls get for confirmation at age 15. What impressed me about being with the residents of this little island this time, though, was that many of the 76 local people approached me to speak English – that didn’t happen when I started coming here 20 years ago.

Picnic on the Beach, May 18, 2009

The 18th was so fine and fair, we went with the little 14-foot skiff (4 hp motor) around to a bay for our traditional outdoor picnic – complete with driftwood fire and shirtless sunbathing – it must have been all of 78 degrees!

The next visit was a sad one. Ole’s last surviving aunt, Marit, died the day before we arrived back in Norway, and the 19th of May we gathered with Ole’s family for her funeral, in nearby Tjongsfjord. After the funeral, we opted to stay a few days with his cousin Aud and her husband Eilif, at their summer cottage in Velanfjord. As always, we thoroughly enjoyed their company, the view, and fine conversation. This time it included time indoors around the woodstove, as the weather turned too cold to spend much time down by the boathouse.

Ole has asked me several times if I would consider spending more time here. I must confess, it’s beautiful. But when the wind shifts north, it’s easy to remember we’re on the Arctic Circle – and as we’re offshore, on an island, we’re the first land any wind from the west hits – and that usually brings rain. If we were to spend more time here, we definitely need to invest in some infrastructure – communication, internet connection, satellite tv or radio – as well as upgrade the house, which hasn’t seen much upgrading in its 50 year history. All of this to tell you that the weather shifted, and we’ve had almost a week of blustery, rainy weather, which makes it a bit difficult to get out and do any yard work, much less travel across the fjord for an internet connection and groceries! Frankly, we’ve had better infrastructure on Emma Jo!

Speaking of internet connections and infrastructure – while we’re here, we cannot get connected from the house, much less the island. We need to travel across the fjord about 15 minutes to, of all things, a guesthouse/inn called Klokkergaarden, run by an ambitious and capable young woman named Malin – who transformed a former parsonage turned sheep barn into a charming tourist destination here in Rodoy Community – much to the surprise of the older local residents who said it couldn’t be done. She’s been the subject of many business articles in the Norwegian Press, up to and including a nomination for Norwegian Businesswoman of the Year. When we’re here, we try to get over at least once for a meal and a chat, bringing the computer with us – and Malin is kind enough to let us check email.

Another wonderful visit was with Ole’s cousin Lyder and his family (see pictures above) for a dinner of moose stew and some lovely companionship with his wife, Solgunn and their children Gunnar Haakon, Anne Marie, and Ole Kaspar, who’s a bundle of three-year-old energy. We were treated to a musical serenade of a song Lyder wrote to commemorate this island (Gjaeroy), and will be travelling next weekend to see a concert put on by the local school children and organized by Lyder, their music teacher.

We’re hoping the weather turns back to at least partly cloudy, so that Ole can finish coating the roof of the house and repairing some fascia boards to keep the place tight and dry until our next visit. One can only hope!

Transatlantic Cruise Aboard Independence of the Seas

April began with a sudden feeling of dryness…where has all the rain gone? Oh yeah – it’s Panama – where in the dry season it rains every day, and in the wet season it rains ALL day every day. Pleasant daytime temperatures, not too hot, led to visions of getting the varnish done on the bow caprail and a coat or two all around. I planned to do one coat every day from April 2 until April 11 – but then it started raining on the fourth day.

I sang at the Cantina again – and when we ran out of common material, we added a few verses to the improvised “Bocas Bottom Feeder Blues:” (it’s a basic three chord, 12-bar blues) – here goes:

Started varnishin’ on Monday
They said it’d be sunny all week long.
Yeah, I started varnishin’ Monday,
Said it would be sunny all week long.
Well, Thursday it started rainin’ —
Now all my motivation’s gone…

So I spent my time cleaning the inside of the boat ready for Brian’s cat sitting service, getting some help from Margarita from the Marina. Really helps to have somebody willing to stick knives and microfiber cloth into all of the louvers…

April 11 I took off on the early morning flight from Bocas to Panama City, for a reasonable 2:30 flight to Miami to join Ole after an overnight in a HOTEL! With CABLE! And a BATHTUB!! And ROOM SERVICE!!! Oh, we cruisers celebrate the small comforts of life. It really was a bit of a break-in period for the outright decadence of the Chief’s cabin on the Independence.

April 12 I took the crew shuttle to Ft. Lauderdale to meet Ole and the ship, and our friends Dale and Linda joined us for the Atlantic crossing cruise and the first Med cruise of the season. It’s their first trip to Europe, and they are tickled pink to be able to join us and get what we’re sure will be a first taste of the banquet that is the Mediterranean.

The first six days we spent at sea, following 30° North pretty much 2/3 of the way across. No Titanic passage for US! We had fantastic, warm, sunny weather and light breezes all the way across, making us wonder what all the hubbub about crossing the Atlantic was. We played $10 a day in the penny slots in the Casino, went to shows, shopped, and tried to work off some of the extra meals in the gym every other day, warming up the muscles and the feet for Europe. We split up the dining experiences among the Windjammer, the Dining Room, the Italian restaurant Portofino, and the steak house Chops, as well as taking a few quiet meals in the cabin. Ole joined us for lunch and dinner every day, and it was great for him to share his experience of his fantastic workplace with friends.

The first port call was a new one for me as well – Ponta Delgada in the Azores. What a pretty place – not at all tropical – it’s a volcanic set of islands with cloud forest and a permanent halo, being the first land for hundreds of miles in any direction. Dale and Linda and I took a little walk, and as it was Sunday, town was pretty deserted. It was charming, though, with a distinctly Portuguese colonial feel. After our walk, we opted to join a private tour and drive up to an area with twin volcanic lakes called Sete Cidades. Though it’s tough to see in the pictures, one lake is blue – the other green – even though they are only separated by a thin strip of land. All of us were impressed with how prosperous, tidy and friendly the island seemed. It’s not exactly on the beaten tourist path, which may have something to do with the local attitude.

Second port call was also a new one for me, as well as Ole – it was Funchal, Madeira. It’s a bit south and east of the Azores, so it has more of a subtropical feel, and has been visited by tourists since the 17th century. There’s a lot more development and tourist infrastructure, including a step-on-step-off bus tour and two Madeira wine houses that offer tours and tasting, so we opted to go that route after a half hour walk into town. Ole was able to get away for lunch, and we were talked into a wonderful (but pricey) seafood restaurant up on the bluff away from town that the locals prefer – called O Barqueiro, it sits across the street from a developed path down to a natural swimming spa. It was in the high 70’s, which didn’t stop the mad dogs and Englishmen from having a dip.

One more sea day, then it was Vigo, where we called last summer several times. Again, we opted to walk, saving our big bucks for the Florence and Rome excursions to come next cruise. After spending so much time roughing it in terms of clothes and shoes in Panama, I persuaded Dale and Linda to join me for some department store time, during which Dale found a dress shirt and some new tux shoes, so I guess it wasn’t all girly shopping. Stopped for a lunch of seafood in the Medieval quarter of the city, and had a wonderful, relaxing visit.

We arrived in Southampton on April 26, and I took advantage of the proximity to a good hairdresser and Marks and Spencer to run some errands. Dale and Linda strolled the city on their own, and seemed to have a grand time exploring. The highlight was the sail away, though, as it’s about an hour and a half downriver, passing the Isle of Wight, Portsmouth, and a summer home from Queen Victoria’s time, as well as some 18th century fortifications at the mouth of the river. One of them is privately owned, converted into a James Bond/Sean Connery sort of mercenary’s paradise – apparently he’s behind on his payments and the government is trying to evict him – but he’s not going quietly!

First call was again, Vigo – and Ole joined us for lunch at a restaurant recommended by Captain Teo called El Mosquito. It was charming, reminding me of the small country places we discovered while we lived in France. While we were there, a Spanish couple at a neighboring table chatted with us, and before we knew it, had treated us to a round of local liqueur. The friendliness of Spain just cannot be topped in my book.

Monument of the Discoverers, Tagus River, Lisbon

Second call was Lisbon, where Dale and Linda and I walked two miles down the Tagus River to the Monument of the Discoverers, celebrating the important Portuguese contributions to navigation. Across the street, in an old monastery, is the Lisbon Maritime Museum, with a fascinating collection of ship models from the 1400s to present time, as well as costumes from the various naval ages, and a reconstructed stateroom from the king’s yacht. For fellow boaters, I can’t recommend any better fun than touring maritime museums – and this was one of the best.

Gibraltar was the third port, and the three of us joined a taxi tour to the top of the rock, taking in St. Michael’s Caverns, the Barbary Apes, and the 18th century network of British fortified tunnels that Swiss-cheese their way through the rock. Linda and Dale just had to join the fun.

Dale is a real picture-taking-fool, and I highly recommend visiting his website as well. You’ll see that he and Linda are fellow DeFever owners, and spend their summers in Puget Sound and Canada and winters in their motor home, lately of Key West.

Defever Rendezvous

Yesterday saw Ole off again for Independence, five weeks earlier than planned. But the last few days of February and first couple of days of March were fantastic for both of us.

So many Defevers, so little time to see them all!

I joined him in Ft. Lauderdale on February 26, and at the end of his course, we were off to Useppa, trying to beat the clock and arrive at the resort and our host boat Last Laugh before the last water taxi of the day. It was a smooth ride as far as Naples, then the Friday traffic took hold, and as we phoned Captain Steve to arrange for the boat ride from Bokeelia out to Useppa, we got snarled up. Good karma prevailed, as Steve’s previously scheduled fare was late, so we arrived at the dock to the amazing sight of over 25 unmistakable DeFever hulls gleaming in the sunset.

Nancy and Hank Haeseker showed us our quarters aboard Last Laugh, a 52 Pilothouse Offshore Cruiser. You wouldn’t think that 3 feet of boat length would make that much difference, but Last Laugh felt acres bigger than 49-ft Emma Jo. The guest cabin and head in the midships felt as spacious as our master cabin! Last Laugh is the big one, second from the left.

We were quickly introduced to several other DeFever cruisers, and as night fell, joined in for dinner at the Useppa Lodge.

Our presentation on Saturday morning was scheduled second, following a truly magnificent presentation and slide show by Robin and Jim Roberts on Adventures, another 49RPH, about their cruise from New England up to Nova Scotia.  We may just have to invest in more camera gear and slide software…it was breathtaking! But, prepared as we were, we acquitted ourselves well for our first Rendezvous and presentation, especially after the 130 or so attendees found out where we’ve been without stabilizers! Saturday was filled with seminars and presentations, which included our two travelogues and one about hurricane preparedness that showed three different strategies and three different results. Lunch was a barbecue at the facility, followed by “open houses” of willing boats at the marina. We sure learned a lot about what can be done to bring an older boat up to modern standards – and as different as decorating tastes can be, a Defever is still a Defever. Saturday night we again joined several other folks at the lodge for a fantastic dinner and great conversation.

The Lodge at Useppa Island

On Sunday morning, Nancy and Hank prepared a gourmet brunch – and afterwards, Ole and I decided to explore Useppa Island. It’s a picturesque place, currently used as a hotel and marina, and home to a rather exclusive community of beach homes. It’s past has included a stint as a training ground for the ill-fated Bay of Pigs mission to Cuba in 1961, host for all manner of illustrious sport fishing guests (including the Bush Family, among other notables), and cruising destination for all kinds of boats.

Sunday afternoon included more open boat tours at the marina on Cabbage Key, where there were a few more 49RPH, a 65 Grand Alaskan, and a few interesting custom designs. The highlight of the afternoon, though, was a prime rib dinner with all the trimmings and cocktails courtesy of Arthur Defever himself, who unfortunately, wasn’t able to attend.

What we enjoyed about this three-day getaway was the chance to meet and share with other DeFever owners, see solutions in action in the various open boats we visited, gain ideas for upgrades and interior decor, and generally mingle with some truly great people. While only together for a few short days, we feel so grateful to have found this community of kind, knowledgeable, and hospitable folks. If you want more information about Defever boats, the trawler lifestyle, or the community at large, we encourage you to visit