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by Dan and Jan Ahart
While anchored off La Blanquilla we were visited by three young men, who were members of the local Guardacosta station. They arrived in an outboard powered open boat and signaled that they wanted to come aboard for "inspeccion." Even in a foreign language we had no difficulty understanding uniformed men loaded down with rifles and pistols. There were seven cruising boats at anchor at the time and we were the second and last boat to be visited. The first boat visited was a 52-foot charter boat with a group from France. The French charterers included four young women, who wore incredibly tiny bikinis. I must admit I admired the Comandante's judgment as to which boat he inspected first. Why, he then wanted to waste time with us, I couldn't explain other than the fact that we were flying our large Texas flag and he made an issue of talking about his wild west image of Texas. Anyway, they were polite and after looking over our paper work, declared all was in order and left, but not until after they had asked if we would like to make a donation to their "fiesta," which they were going to conduct at the Guardacosta station on the following Saturday. Having been forewarned that this might happen we gave them a bottle of rum, which had cost us $1.50 in Margarita. We had purchased several bottles for the purpose of contributions here and there and the purchase of fish from the ubiquitous fishermen. The rum evoked huge smiles and lots of "gracias amigos" and hand waving as they left. I'm not one to endorse or sanction bribes or gifts, but his request was made after the inspeccion and besides, that is just the way it works in Latin America. Apparently, government workers, including the military are very underpaid and the only way to expedite anything is to be generous with "gifts." American companies doing business in Latin America are prohibited by American law to engage in such practices, so they are forced to hire "consultants" and "advisors," who do it for them. It is certainly not the American way of doing things, but there is no way to get around it since Latin American culture includes such a huge geographic area and involves hundreds of millions of people. And besides, we are guests in their country, so we need to learn about and respect their way of life.
Among other things we have learned is the necessity of keeping things locked, especially locking the outboard to the dinghy and the dinghy to the boat. No one is really sure if it is local inhabitants, or other cruisers who steal outboards and dinghies, but every now and then we hear of something having disappeared, usually something that was not locked. There is an old saying that some people outfit their boats to go cruising and that others go cruising to outfit their boats. It's a nuisance to lock up the boat when we go ashore or go swimming, especially when it is a hot day, but as another saying goes, lock it or lose it.
Some of the more mundane, but nevertheless useful ideas we have learned or heard of include a sure fire way to stop a flag from flapping loudly and extend it's life indefinitely. That is to laminate it between layers of clear, soft, flexible vinyl that can be purchased in fabric stores. It is much thicker than material used for drop cloths, but can be sewn via a normal household sewing machine. We have also found a great way to keep the main sail "cars" from sticking as they slide up and down the mast track. Lubricate them with liquid soap every month. The soap will wash off with the first rain and carry any dirt and dust with it, which keeps the track clean and while the soap is in the track, it acts as a lubricant.
I've also talked about the importance of properly "setting" one's anchor. A properly set anchor will hold a boat against incredibly strong winds, but one that is not set or dug in properly will allow the boat to drag in even moderate winds. This was driven home dramatically, on our second visit to Porlamar on the island of Margarita. We anchored in five feet of nice clear water and set the anchor by using both engines on 75% power setting to pull the anchor deep into the sand - or so we thought. As is my custom, I always dive on our anchor to visually inspect it wherever possible. To my surprise, our anchor had not dug into the sand at all, but had picked up a wire that was connected to something under the sand. The anchor was barely caught by the wire and any pitching up and down of the boat would have dislodged it. I cut the wire and we properly set the anchor. Later that day a rainstorm blew over creating 30 to 35 knot winds for about half an hour. The harbor was full of boats and four of them dragged up to a quarter of a mile each. All four were trawlers as opposed to sailboats. For some reason, trawlers tend to use smaller anchors than sailboats. This may have contributed to the problem, but my guess is that the anchors were not properly set. Interestingly, all four were also European. We have been told that Europeans seldom anchor in Europe, using marinas instead and are just not well versed in how to set anchors. Luckily several cruisers in the harbor used their dinghies to slow the dragging boats until they could be re-anchored and no damage was done, but in at least one case it was a near disaster as the boat was stopped just short of a reef.
Fiberglass will fix most anything. It is even possible to use modeling clay to make a mold of a broken part and then fashion a substitute out of fiberglass. Obviously this works well only for those parts that are not under lots of heat or lots of stress.
A good-sized soldering iron and or small butane torch is indispensable. We use ours to fix electrical connections and seal lines and sheets (ropes) from unraveling. Other indispensable electric items include a 12-volt drill that can be powered via the ship's batteries, as well as its own rechargeable battery.
Bungee cords are almost indispensable also. They can be used to temporarily rig shade covers, hang fenders (bumpers) and hold almost anything in place that doesn't need to be tied down indefinitely.
Keeping odds and ends and spare parts on board is really a good idea. One day at anchor in La Blanquilla two fishermen came by and asked very politely if I could help them fix their spear gun. After studying it for a while, I was able to fashion a replacement part by cutting a stainless steel
washer in half and connecting stainless wires to it, which in turn were connected to the large rubber "bands" that powered the spear. That got them back in business and an hour or so later they brought us a five-pound king fish as a thank you. More on La Blanquilla in the next chapter.