Call For a Tow

September 15, 2008
Last Letter From Home

September 1, 2008
Saying Goodbye

August 15, 2008
The Circle Closes At Arue

August 1, 2008
Last Days In Rangi

July 15, 2008
The Road To Rangiroa

July 1, 2008
A Social Whirl

June 15, 2008
The Land of Men

June 1, 2008
Sweet Days in Hiva Oa

May 15, 2008
Homing In

May 1, 2008
A Perfect Day At Sea

April 15, 2008
Beating Across The Pacific

April 1, 2008
The Worrier Transits The Canal

March 15, 2008
The Boys And The Hunt

March 1, 2008
Sweet Landfall In Panama

February 15, 2008
Gloom in Cartagena

February 1, 2008
Connections With That Long-Ago Girl

January 15, 2008
Where the Boys Are

January 1, 2008
Life On The Hard

December 15, 2007
Last Letter From Vermont

December 1, 2007
The Final Countdown

November 15, 2007
Welcome Aboard Shangri-La

November 1, 2007
More Bad Dreams Than Good

October 15, 2007
When Our Systems Overwhelm Us

October 1, 2007
Shaking Off The Remoras

September 15, 2007
The Deal Is Done

September 1, 2007
The Search For Shangri-La

August 15, 2007
The Birth Of A Dream

August 15, 2007
Tania And Sons

August 15, 2007
About Tania

August 15, 2007
About the Family

August 15, 2007
About Shangri-La

August 15, 2007
Voyage Itinerary

August 15, 2007

August 15, 2007
Tanias Books

August 15, 2007
Chartering With Tania

January 1, 2008
Life On The Hard

By Tania Aebi

When it was discovered hundreds of years ago, the island of Curacao was covered by thick jungle. Then, it became another shipbuilding casualty. All the cooling, moisture-cloud-attracting trees became spars and hulls, and now the forests are made of cacti, and the dry earth absorbs, retains, and radiates the heat. Curacao is the most populated of the ABC islands – namely Aruba, Bonaire, and Curacao -- and it now belongs to the Netherlands Antilles. The capital is Willemstad.

It’s much more difficult to get anything done when the mercury is hanging out between 80 and 90 degrees for most of the sun-drenched day, when the smallest exertion produces rivulets of streaming sweat, and drenched t-shirts. If you’re not accustomed to such temperatures, you need to learn how to relax, to accept an altered pace, to trust everything will get done with time. You learn you need to do so for your own well-being. It’s just too hot to get worked up over anything, especially when you’re on the hard in a yard.

Intellectually, you might know this, but arriving from the colder northern climes with heavy bags that need to be hauled up a ladder from the melting asphalt, then unpacked and stowed, the tyrannical heat can be a bit of a physical shock. When I arrived back to Shangri La in a loaded rental car, after five months of efficient living and preparation in much cooler Vermont, it was early afternoon. The sun already had been baking the entire exposed hull for hours, and there was paltry relief from

Shangri La on the hard.
any breeze, tucked as Curacao Marine is up an inlet of a bay lined with refineries and shipping docks. Nightfall came too quickly, and didn’t get much better, because even though the temperature dropped a bit, on deck at least, that was when squadrons of mosquitoes attacked.

After my first night of sweaty and troubled sleep, I awoke at dawn to find the damp pillow speckled with little spots of blood and itchy raised bumps all over my arms and shoulders — anywhere that had escaped the sheet’s protection and exposed me to the whining formations of thirsty, dive-bombing antagonists. I stumbled out on deck and saw that others about me were already stirring in their lofty cockpits. In a tropical boatyard, where a lot will be attempted as quickly as possible because much nicer places beckon and boats are meant to be in the water, the most fruitful hours are during the early morning between the gloaming and about 9:00, when the sun has climbed high enough to begin its job of scorching the planet. I looked at the piles of stuff waiting to be moved off the galley counters, chart table, and salon table, and stowed. I stared at the ailing wind generator that had been tied off by an annoyed neighbor

My duffels from home, filled with parts and gear; took up the cockpit on my first night aboard.
because of its grinding racket, the lists of jobs that needed doing before my kids and father joined me, and I despaired. I didn’t know how I could make it all happen.

Now, however, after nine days, things are coming together. I’ve done a lot, beginning with rallying by the end of the first day and buckling down to the chores, and befriending Tom, the guy on the boat next door, who offered me the use of his 220-outlet when he found out the only other available plugs for me would have been several extension cords distant. When the appropriate connectors to the outlet were located and wired, an ordeal that involved miles of driving and lots of questions before eventually plugging in and finding that the inverter and batteries were still functioning just fine, my plight began to seem less dire and more like just a bunch of manual labor, organization, and things to learn that I could handle, one perspiring step at a time.

In St. Maarten, when I first got the boat, I’d felt snowed under by this project I’d taken on. Shangri La was a used boat, a good one, but used nevertheless. Tony, the broker, had done a ton of work, as per our

Up and down Shangri La'sladder - a ritual I repeated countless times a day.
agreement, but there was a lot left for me to do as well. I’d said I wanted to take care of the electrical system, in order to be able to gain some understanding of how it worked in the process, but as I didn’t even know where to start, it wasn’t until I found knowledgeable help and a teacher that I began to penetrate the mysteries of regulators, transformers, deep-cycling batteries, inverter/chargers, huge fuses. I still don’t entirely understand the system, but I’m getting close. My bedtime reading these days has been Nigel Calder’s chapters on electricity. Fortunately, broiling under the sun tuckers you out, and between that and reading about electricity lies the trick to being able to sleep in the buggy heat.

As far as yards go, Curacao Marine is pretty nice, with clean showers and toilets, wireless access at a table just outside the main office, an onsite, well-equipped chandlery, and mechanics, painters, and welders available for most jobs. Being a Dutch island, and despite the heat, many of the guys even wear the ubiquitous blue coveralls of the European tradesman that I find reassuring, like they

Installing a new freshwater filter.
have to know what they’re doing to earn the right to wear them. I asked a stainless-steel welder to fabricate a bracket for the autopilot, and he very efficiently got it to me the next morning. Then, he promptly took a look at the engine and gave me some pointers, and made a mount for a fresh-water filter. He, I had to pay, but even though everyone else hauled out here is busy with their own boat projects, some overwhelming enough to make me feel like I’m on vacation, nobody is ever too busy to stop for a moment to advise, or discuss, or to lend a hand.

The ongoing yard conversations are all about parts, steering, refrigeration and electrical systems and repairs, imports, time frames, and the lists that everyone is attacking in their own ways. For entertainment, I’ve invited neighbors over for things like a viewing of the wires behind the instrument panel, or the newly installed charcoal filter in the freshwater line that makes the most awful

Fixing the wind generator.
tank taste potable. In turn, I’ve admired their freshly painted spars and keels, and offered up my own advice.

Then, there’s Tom next door. Most times when I climb up into my cockpit, from the cabin or the ladder, and look over, he’s there, reading a manual, pondering another project, and trying to find the energy and method to do any of it. The stuff and parts piled up underneath his awning makes me think he has the makings to be a yard lifer. He won’t, though. He dreams of the South Pacific and the Indonesian archipelago where was born. He wants to sail back, so he’ll escape the yard eventually, but I still feel for him. He’s seventy years old, and alone, and needs some help, but all I can do is have coffee chats with him, invite him for dinners, and offer rides in my air-conditioned rental every time I go out to run another errand.

I know there are so many tasks that become almost impossible to do on one’s own—tracing a wire or a hose

Rigging the new Monitor self-steering vane.
to its origin underneath floorboards and through bulkheads, for example. Having another set of hands there to hold, pull, and identify makes the job much faster and easier. I know this for a fact because a friend, Ellen, just joined me for a couple of days, and having her to push, or pull, or to remind me of what I said I needed to remember every time we went shopping, changed things a lot. With her, we hosted the yard gang for my first dinner aboard Shangri La. She cooked, I cleaned up in a bucket that needed to be carried up and down the ladder, a nice division of labor. I’m looking forward to being with my kids, having them help out in simple ways that matter a lot more here than they do at home.

I’ve also been spending a lot of time admiring the new self-steering rig hanging off the stern. Over time, I proclaimed so many times that the self-steering gear aboard the boat

Fixing the watermaker; with help.
I sailed 27,000 miles 20 years ago was my most favorite and indispensable piece of equipment that the folks at Monitor unexpectedly offered me one for this trip. There was a basic servo-pendulum model aboard Shangri La already, but on our passage down from St. Maarten, I couldn’t get it to work, not with the ease of function I remembered from the Monitor. By the time we got to Curacao, I’d likened the two pieces of equipment to the difference between a Saab and a Renault. They’ll both do the job, but one feels infinitely better.

So, I’d traded the Renault with a local shipwright in return for him installing the Monitor while I was home for the summer, and he’d just about finished before I got back. A busy guy, he’s always off taking care of other projects and hard to pin down. I keep trying because I want to show him the new blocks and shock cords I’ve installed, get his expert approval, and also ask if he would

Fixing the fridge; with help.
please cut another hole in the wood around the engine compartment so I can access the oil filter and starter more easily. The way it is set up, all I can do is hope the starter never has a problem. But, I know better, the oil needs a changing imminently, and I’d really like the guy to get here with his proper tools for the job before we splash. I’m still waiting.

More than once, it has occurred to me that since I bought her, I’ve spent more time with my boat out of the water than in. I am very familiar with Shangri La’s underbody, which isn’t a bad thing. It’ll be a long time before she gets hauled again. Barring unpleasant possibilities, this won’t happen until the other side of the world, if even, and there is plenty to do that is easier when a boat is on the hard.

To refresh the six-month-old paint job, a guy from the yard has just applied another coat of antifouling, liquid gold that costs $250 a gallon on this island. While he rolled, I figured out how to dismount and disconnect the wind

The guys from the yard, all in various stages of completion on their own boats. We cheered each other on, and helped each other whenever we could.
generator—it needed new bearings and a rectifier, a word that I could never remember whenever anyone asked. It’s a little black box with seven attached wires, three of which are soldered on, and all I know is that it is very important to keep track of which one goes where. It took a couple of days of returning to it before finding where and how to cut the wires, then how to lift the winged beast off its perch on a pole attached to the arch, and then, to carry it down to the table underneath the boat without dropping it or falling off the ladder. Every single screw in the thing was seized up and I didn’t have the proper bearing-removal tools, but through Tom, I met Louis, a man who knew how to take it apart, then press out and replace the bearings I’d already purchased.

In the meantime, a board was measured, cut and lashed to the stanchions to which I’ll be able to attach jerry cans for extra fuel and water. I’ve ordered, measured, marked, and hauled aboard 200 feet of new anchor chain and spliced onto it another 150 feet of thick rode, the cheapest and best form of insurance in the absence of a written policy, I think. I’ve installed and wired a new compass with compensators that’ll hopefully give us

Perpetually shopping for parts for my various projects in progress.
better course readings on this metal boat than the old one. The impellor has been greased, the cooling seawater filter cleaned in anticipation of starting up the engine again after a long and dry hiatus. The aft portholes have been lubed so the boys will be able to open them and get some fresh air from astern when they get here, and the carpeted walls in their cabins have been scrubbed and vacuumed. The fresh water hand pump has all new gaskets, the salt-water foot pump has been replaced, and the wind generator is spinning like a happily charging whirlygig.

Now, I look at my stack of spent lists compiled over the past week and a half that I just can’t throw away. I like to be reminded of everything that had to happen to get here. They’re documents, a record of telephone numbers and email addresses for everyone called or consulted along the way. Reviewing all the checked-off items makes me feel productive, even though the last item on every list says: start new list. And so, I sit here typing and counting the minutes until the boys arrive. Then, we can get this whole show back in the water and on the road with another kind of list, the one with places we’ve been, people we’ve met, things we’ve seen that will make this latest round of work and preparation pay off.

Shangri La's interior when I first arrived, left, and finally, when I had most of the projects done, just before the boys' arrive from Vermont.