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Date: 30 Sep 2009 23:07:58
Title: Albuquerque Cays

Dear Friends                "12:09.71N 81:50.52W"
 
As always, we like to take you to places you've never heard of and we hope that the Albuquerque Cays is no exception.
 
Anyway, first things first, what has happened since the last blog? Well, since no one has complained that we've had no blog in 5 weeks I assume I'm writing for record purposes only... but if you've read this, do email and say Hi !
 
 
Michael spent a lovely peaceful time at Starfish beach (pic above of Indian dugout paddling past) and back at Bocas and also cleaned the boat to a spotlessness not seen since delivery. It makes you realise how grubby things get when you don't have a proper spring-clean every now and then. But it's all a question of priorities we suppose - hammock or mop - hmmm?
 
George returned on schedule in mid September, complete with our new cabin boy - Matt, from West Sussex UK. Matt has quickly acclimatised to life on Blue Sky and to the heat here in a Caribbean Summer. Here he is posing for the camera in the Albuquerque Cays... (watch this space for the post-haircut photos...)
 
 
As well as Matt, George brought back a few things for the boat including some new LED navigation lights. Which prompts me to a moan on a matter of such importance that we'll probably be emailing the RYA legal chaps and chapesses about it.
 
This Week's Moan - Useless Navigation lights
 
When we bought Blue Sky, she was fitted with Hella nav lights on the bow, fitted to special brackets on the pulpit. These come with a handy push button release cover so you can change the bulb easily. They also mean that the covers fall off in a bit of rough weather, so after our Biscay adventures in 2006, we arrived at La Coruna with only one of them.
 
We replaced what was left with lights of Greek manufacture, but of similar design - the brand escapes me now. Predictably they met a similar fate in the Caribbean, though the port light fell off on these whereas the Hellas lost the starboard light cover.
 
Thinking we needed lights without quick release covers (doh!) we invested in an expensive pair of Aqua Signal series 40 lights - at $80 a pop. Here the cover is fixed and the bulb and holder screw in from underneath. The trouble is with these that the seawater gets in too and the bulb holder looks like the sort of thing you'd find in an attic. After a year in the Caribbean the connections had corroded away so as to be barely identifiable. Added to which the plastic casing cracked (was repaired with araldite) and the screw on part of the bulb holder disintegrated. What a load of garbage - useless after one year.
 
So George has brought back some Aqua Signal series 32 LED lights. They are small and the only fixing provided is a single machine screw fitted on the aft end of the light to screw into a tiny plastic nut.. This for a light fitted to the bow of a boat and subject to green water hitting it when the bow goes under in rough weather. Surely the designers have Never seen a boat, let alone been troubled with the requirements of Nav Lights?
 
Further, the (kinda) fresnel lens over the LED and the clear plastic cover over that are just tacked in with a dab of glue - which was loose on our lights even before fitting. AND the LED connections were exposed to seawater despite the entirely false claim that they are sealed.
 
These, Dear Friends, are safety issues - your lights fail and other boats can't see you or know what direction you're moving in or who has right of way. We notice that the Aqua Signal lights have CE marks which don't even meet the design specification for the mark, let alone anything else. We believe that all these lights should have warnings saying that they are suitable for use for up to a year, in coastal conditions only, provided they are carefully cleaned with fresh water after each trip out from the dock. We have more detailed observations that we'll put to the RYA legal people.
 
So enough of that, postal conditions in the UK mean that we lack more anchor rollers and flags, our ragged ensign will have to do a bit longer.
 
We wandered around a bit in the Bocas area and went off to Zapatilla Cays with Darien and Dyllan of the Calypso Cantina, Bocas Marina (facebook - 'calypso cantina'). We went exploring for turtles on the beach after dinner and were accosted by a young US female apparently 'looking after' the turtles who said "you're not allowed to wander round on your own". Quick as a flash Michael replied "that's all right then, we're in a group". Anyway... we saw one female hawksbill on the beach and a hatchling which had got stuck on its way to the sea, which we duly sent on its way, but no giant leatherback as we'd hoped.
 
We knew we had to check out of Panama by the end of September as you only get a 3 month cruising permit and visa, then have to go out for 72 hours and start again. So rather than continue to spend our money in Bocas we've taken it to San Andres island, Colombia where we'll be in a day or two.
 
We checked out of Bocas on the most ridiculous procedure we've yet encountered in 3 1/2 years of cruising - and we include Cuba in our comparison. First the port captain - 20 minutes and $10 to get our Zarpe - OK. Then Customs, who wrote out a handwritten certificate of 'inspection' (they didn't even ask where the boat was)  30 minutes and $20.
 
Immigration next - at the airport - "Oh you'll need copies of both the data page and immigration inbound stamp from your passports". Yup, no copier in the airport, back to town and return to airport with copies.
45 minutes later the guy is still completing a single page form and Matt over my shoulder is incredulous at the slowness. Then "I'll come and inspect the boat now" (surprise) "OK then, let's go". So we ferry him back in our dinghy and he sits down in the cockpit fills in yet another form (obviously duplicating previous data) and then asks for $25.
 
I've had enough (and I'm late for lunch ...)
"But you've not inspected anything"
"I need to inspect the boat to see that everything's OK"
"OK, what exactly are you inspecting?
"To make sure everything's OK and it's safe"
"But, with respect (funny how that always means the opposite) you're not a marine surveyor and the seaworthiness of this yacht is not your concern, so what exactly are you checking?"
 
Anyway, this carries on for some time and it is clear that all he wants to do is fill in a form and get $25.
 
He gives up first, I've worn the bugger down. He even gets out his (ancient, dog eared) piece of paper that explains 'The Inspection', reads through it and goes quiet - it clearly says nothing about actually visiting the boat but deals with passports and people (OK readers, you figured this out already !). Eventually I realise I've won and offer him his $25 anyway because I know he cannot now take it - predictably he refuses and his humiliation partly compensates us for 3 wasted hours running around with nonsense.
 
 
This was Friday and we sail up to Starfish (above) to chill and swim. We spend the evening introducing Matt to Chinese Chess, eating and swapping stories, to the accompaniment of the solo dolphin circling us in the night and gently breathing.
 
We had a reasonable sail up here to the Albuquerque Cays just south of San Andres island, itself to the south of Providencia which we visited in June. They look like this (sky dark w. storm approaching)...
 
 
The reef entry here is really quite perilous but we made it in safely and took the tender ashore to the waiting contingent of Colombian boy military who maintain a presence in 30 day shifts. They were all extremely polite and eventually tried to explain that they'd been here for 25 days, there were 13 of them and did we have any 'comida fresco'? So we took the boss (maybe 21) and a soldier (18 or 19) and brought them back to Blue Sky to raid our lockers as they were so polite in asking and obviously in need. They declined our offer of cerveza or ron - not allowed ! On return we were carefully shown to their camp and given the prime seats under the shade while they prepared coconuts for us to drink from and presented us with a sack of coconuts to take back - their only possible item of barter.
 
So here we are, chilling again and I've spent so long writing this that it's almost too late to go snorkelling on the reef.
 
But here's always manana.
 
Best Wishes
 
George, Michael and Matt
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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