Rotten masts and a nearby Pirate attack!

Larry and I prepared to depart for the San Blas IslandIMG_20190128_082743

Well it hasn’t been a great sailing and cruising year for Maiatla. Our beloved boat is still in Fort Sherman marina in Panama where we have been since early 2016 where we bedded her down after completing our Mexico to the Galapagos Islands and Panama cruise. That was a great and eventful voyage which is now the subject of our newly released book, Slow Boat to Panama: Mexico to the Galapagos and then Panama, which became available on Amazon in November of 2018.

Final Book Cover -2cfront

Due to work commitments and some family health issues our time aboard has been limited to 9 weeks over the previous 12 months to perform some much needed maintenance while sneaking in a couple getaways to the remote San Blas Islands.

The past 6 years driving the boat hard in the humid tropics has taken its toll, expanding my list of repairs and refurbishing. Some of our main issues include but are not limited to the following.

Leaking Engine raw water pump.

Leaking Hydraulic steering pump.

Bearings failing in the head sail roller reefing.

VHF radio not transmitting.

Leaking port holes in aft cabin with broken dogs (latches on 4 ports) which require re-welding.

Electrical short in navigation lights.

Cockpit dodger needs replacing.

Electric flush toilet, pump seized.

Holding tank masticator pump seized.

All the sails are in need of some re-stitching and repairs- Some chaffing.

Bottom needs anti-fouling paint with new sacrificial zincs on rudder and drive shaft.

The wind Generator stopped working on this voyage and will either need rebuilding or replacing.

And if all of the above was not enough, there is some dry rot at the top and bottom of both main and mizzen mast which will require cutting out and rebuilding of these sections of Maiatla’s Spruce spars.

DSCN1877      Rot in the bottom of the mizzen mast.

Also while inspecting the rig, I discovered  cracks in the masthead tangs which  the  shrouds attach too. The tangs will required re-welding if I don’t want the mast to fall down. The above list is not comprehensive, but just some of my major projects.  Welcome to long term cruising and performing boat repairs in foreign ports.

My first visit to the boat was in the early part of 2018 and I was fortunate enough to have a friend, Rick Veters accompany me to help tackle the repairs which included the removal and repair of the mizzen mast as well as the painting of the bottom of the boat.  Fortunately when we left the boat in early 2016 I had the boat hauled out of the water and shrunk wrapped and had a dehumidifier installed to combat the mold. When I saw the boat again after almost two years, she was in surprisingly good condition. After a good scrub with soap and water, inside and out she was quickly ready to move aboard. Now livable the real work began.

The last pic is the completed main mast repairs.

Rick and I spent 4 weeks working on the boat then managed to get her to the point we were able to head out to the islands for a little exploring, rum drinking and R&R. The repairs went well and we had a great time doing it.

The 500 year old fort at Puerto Bello.

 

9 months later I again returned to the boat to carry on with the repairs which included this time the repair of the tall main mast. I spent the first 3 weeks alone in Panama working away but later a friend, Larry Berg joined me to lend a hand and to accompany me on another voyage into the magnificent San Blas islands. And again there was lots of rum.

In Puerto Bello we signed a flag and presented to the cruisers bar. Great hang out.

RIMG0067

With most of the major project now completed we are planning on departing Panama to sail up north some 900 miles to the Rio Dulce in the country of Guatemala where we will sail up the river into the jungle where there is a marina where we can leave the boat for the up and coming hurricane season. The voyage will take 3 to 4 weeks with planned stops at a pair of offshore islands owned by Columbia. Isla San Andres and Isla de Providencia.

 

The San Blas Islands, 350 islands spread out over 700 sq/miles of ocean. (* percent of the islands and cays are uninhabited.RIMG0092

The pirates attack!

The week before mine and Larry’s intended sail to Puerto Bello and the San Blas Islands, some local cruiser were attacked, just 20 miles up the coast from us.  I was of course concerned and like everyone else in our marina, anxious to hear the detail and to see if any arrests would be made. See blow the details of the attack as posted on the cruisers website- NOONSITE.

DATE: 2019-01-13 21:30
Country Name: Panama
Location Detail: Portobello
EVENT: Robbery
HAND: 2
Stolen Items: Currency, personal electronics
SECURED: Unknown

 

DETAILS OF ARMED ROBBERY:

A private yacht with 3 of 7 crew onboard was approached by 6 men armed with handguns, using the pretence of selling water at 2130 HRS. They boarded aggressively and hit one crew member in the head with a gun and then spent considerable time ransacking the boat, terrorizing the crew that was made to lay on the floor all the while the armed boarders repeatedly yelled “cocaine, cocaine”. Cash, phones, computers and electronics were taken. Jewelry was left behind, no drugs were (found) onboard.

Coincidentally, the yachts tender, with the 4 remaining crew returned to the boat, which hastened the thieves’ departure without making further direct contact. A full police report was made, to local police and Aeronaval.

CSSN NOTE: Attempts to board other yachts in the anchorage were made this same night most likely by this same group of armed thieves. One later boarding (the same night) was only deterred when the owner’s large dog made its presence known on deck (see details below).

DETAILS OF ATTEMPTED BOARDING:

A panga with 4+ men attempted to board a cruising yacht anchored in the bay at around 2300 HRS (the same night – January 13th). Surprised, the owner came on deck and responded aggressively verbally, and was only able to dissuade the hostile boarders when his large, 60 lb. dog came on deck. Holstered pistols were visible to the captain.

After departing the panga lit up and then attempted to engage with another nearby yacht. The owner spoke Spanish and after much angry yelling the panga departed. Earlier this same night a cruising yacht was boarded by armed men, and the occupants’ pistol whipped and robbed at gun point.

While at the marina, one night I shared a few rums with the crew of a 130’ schooner that had just made the run from Mexico to Panama and they told me of their encounter with Pirates off of Nicaragua. As it was told to me, they said when they were about 20 miles off shore, sailing fast the two men on watch spotted on radar a small boat some miles ahead that was crossing their path but instead of carrying on the boat came to a stop directly in front of them and appeared to be waiting. No lights were visible ahead so the crew sounded the alarm and quickly all 8 crew members were on deck. Two armed with shotguns.

The 130 Schooner that was stalked by Pirates.

The captain ordered that all the deck lights be turned on so they could see if anyone attempted to board. They said it was a tense few moments when a 30 foot boat, all paint black materialized out of the night. The boat was dead in the water but inside they could see six men, all dressed in black wearing balaclava masks. The pirate boat, perhaps seeing the crew of the schooner ready to repel boarders with force, watched as the schooner sailed on. It was obvious that this black boat and its crew were not fishermen and apparently up to no good. The mate of the schooner later said to me, “we could have done a lot of people a big favor if we had just opened up on them with the shotguns!”

Pirates have been raiding the Caribbean for centuries and they are still here.

Despite the apparent danger of further attacks, Larry and I decided to go ahead with our plans to visit Puerto Bello and then on to the islands for a couple of weeks of snorkeling on the magnificent reefs and explore the islands that are home to the friendly Kuna Indians.  As time would prove, we would evade all pirate attacks and have a wonderful time of it before returning to Canada.

I would arrive back in Vancouver, greeted by a snow storm that immobilized the city forcing me to hold up in a B&B just 30 miles from home to wait it out. Larry’s trip home was better than mine. He was not greeted by a snow storm in Edmonton Alberta, just a -41C chill. I will take the heat of the tropics over the cold of the north any day.

Well that’s about it for now. I will keep you all posted of our preparations to head north.

Thanks for following.IMG_20190127_095002.jpg

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Magazine Take 5’s Latest Maiatla Adventure and Book Release.

Vancouver Island Magazine, Take 5 and its owner and managing editor, Marian Sacht has been supportive of our voyages since 2012. However the magazines support has not been limited to publishing my writing endeavors about our travels. Marina has been an eager an active crew member on four of our voyages as we ventured down the coast from Vancouver Canada to the very heart of Central America.

Janet and I were fortunate enough to have Marina aboard Maiatla on our latest adventure to the Galapagos Islands of Ecuador. Aside from publishing a few articles that I had written of our travels, Marina produced and published on YOUTUBE  a 12 part mini video series chronicling our voyage to the Galapagos. Click on the link at the top of this page and see the videos and visit Take 5 at https://take5.ca/take5-magazine/

I wish to thank Marina for her support and friendship over the years.

Take 5 cover

Maiatla Story-2

Latest Book Released!

Andy with book 2

Media release.

Vancouver Island, Canada, resident bluewater sailor, adventurer and authorAndrew W. Gunson has just released his latest title,

SLOW BOAT TO PANAMA: Mexico to the Galapagos and Panama. The fourth book in Gunson’s “Naked Canadian cruising series” chronicling his latest deep sea voyage sailing on a 53 foot ketch, Maiatla II, to the enchanted Isles of Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands.

Andrew and his eager crew depart Chiapas, Mexico on the Pacific coast, determined to cross the 1000 miles of trackless open ocean that lay between them and their intended destination, the legendary Galápagos archipelago that straddles the equator some 660 miles off the coast of Ecuador.

Despite months of meticulous planning and preparation, from the onset, the crew is plagued with light winds then mechanical breakdowns which would culminate with the loss of their navigational computer followed by the failure of the vessels main engine. Powerless with the nearest land being over 500 miles away, the captain and crew struggle against strong equatorial currents that seemed determined to sweep the vessel past their intended destination and out into the vastness of the great Pacific Ocean.

Then as they approached the outer reaches of the Galápagos Islands, a series of vicious gales and lightning storms materialize with the south-east winds which seem to conspire with the currents, threatening to drive the stricken vessel ashore, to shipwreck the Maiatla and her crew upon a desolate volcanic isle ruled by marine iguanas and lumbering tortoises.

Undeterred, the crew battles on until a full 11 days after departing  Mexico, the Maiatla drops anchor in the protected waters of Puerto Baquarizo  on San Cristóbal Island, Galapagos, just in time for Christmas celebrations but there is little time for sightseeing as the vessel required repairs. With visitors permit in hand, Andrew and Janet Gunson along with a cast of crew, would spend the following three months exploring and island hopping throughout Galápagos.

Join the Gunsons and crew as they ride horses up an active volcano and tour the hinterlands of one of the world’s great tropical islands, Isla Isabela. Or harness up and strap yourself in as they repel hundreds of meters down and ancient magma tube.  Wander with giant free roaming tortoises. Swim with black marine iguanas, green sea turtles, sting rays, hammerhead sharks, playful sea lions and precocious Antarctic penguins.

Take a mid ocean skinny-dip hundreds of miles from land accompanied by hundreds of friendly bottle nose dolphins and a pod of pilot whales. There is never a dull moment for the crew of the Maiatla as they attempt to complete the final leg of a four year journey from Vancouver Canada to the gateway of the Caribbean Sea, the Panama Canal.

Andrew and Janet Gunson have been married for over thirty years and have been liveaboard sailors and cruisers for almost as long. Their home of choice is a 53 foot center cockpit sailboat named Maiatla where for 10 years they lived and raised two children in various locations along the British Columbia coast while ranging as far south as Mexico and west to the Hawaiian islands, adventures that would later come to print in the Voyage of the Maiatla with the Naked Canadian and The Tahiti Syndrome Hawaiian Style. 

Their most recent voyage commenced in October of 2012, which saw them departing Ladysmith harbour, Canada, bound southward along the Washington, Oregon and California coasts. Over the subsequent three years, they ventured further south on a quest, visiting México, Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua and then Costa Rica. After a disastrous run-in with corrupt customs officials, and with his arm in a sling and a damaged boat, they fled Costa Rica during a gale to run 805 kilometres (500 miles) north up the coast, reaching the safety of Chiapas, México.

Slow Boat to Panamá: México to the Galápagos Islands and Panamá, is the tale of the continuation of this voyage, their fourth season exploring Central America—a journey which would prove to be their most thrilling voyage to date. 7”x10” paperback. 426 pages and 117 pictures and maps.

Slow Boat to Panamá: México to the Galápagos Islands and Panamá, along with Gunson’s other titles are available in hard copy or eBook version from Amazon.ca. or at your local retailers of nautical books.

Order direct from the Author and save! @ gunsonaj@hotmail.com

For more stories and pictures go on line and visit;  https://thenakedcanadian.wordpress.com

Final Book Cover -2cfront

Into the Bowels of the Earth we Go! Galapagos Style.

Ready to repel

While visiting the Galapagos Islands we had the opportunity to visit and repel down into the only vertical magma tube in all the Galapagos.  Below is the excerpt form my journal of that incredible experience.

We were met onshore by Jorge, the ranch owner and our guide, who quickly ushered us into a pickup truck taxi, the back full of ropes and repelling harnesses.

With only one main road across Isabela, we found ourselves on the same road we had taken to get to Sierra Negra when we went horseback riding a few days earlier. Instead of driving all the way to the top of the mountain, the taxi made a shape left turn into the dense jungle. The small truck bounced down the rut-filled muddy road. After half a kilometre or so, the trees thinned, revealing a couple of cow pastures. We came to a halt in a tiny clearing, just big enough for the truck to turn around before coming to a stop.

Jorge helped Janet and Teri out of the back seat, then he unloaded the repelling gear out of the box. As soon as this was accomplished, the taxi pickup retreated down the road to be quickly swallowed by the jungle. With the noise of the truck gone, the sounds of wilds greeted our ears. Birds chirped or warbled while the bush rustled as if countless insects and tiny creatures were on the move. The air, thick with humidity and laden with a light mist floating through the underbrush, smelled of damp earth and rotting vegetation. The pungent decay left a tart taste upon our lips. However, high at the tree top level, the upper branches swayed with the same stiff wind that had the harbour dancing.DSCF2022

Working our way across the ridge top.

In Spanish, Jorge gave instructions in how to don the equipment, and as soon as everyone was geared up and wearing Styrofoam helmets, Jorge led the way down a muddy trail that meandered towards a nearby hill. After crossing several murky rivulets that bisected the path, our guide stopped to show us a clump of ferns that, Jorge said, represented the four endemic genera of ferns found nowhere else on Earth. He held out the leaves of each plant for the women to examine, cradling the plant as delicately, and with as much reverence, as one would a fragile and ancient treasure.

Yep, looked like a fern to me, and I can only assume pulling out a machete and hacking your way through the jungle, like you were in an old Tarzan movie, would be frowned upon.

With the heat, we all were sweating profusely, and by the time, we climbed the steep hill and crested the top, my underwear was soaked, salted and royally chaffing. We had only ascended 50 metres (164 feet) or so, but from the ridge top, scarcely a few metres wide, we were treated to a mountaintop panoramic view of the south side of Isabel and its neighbouring islands.

Before us lay what looked to be unbroken jungle. Some 12 kilometres (8 miles) in the distance and far below, we could see Puerto Villamil, its streets and the harbour. We now felt the full force of the wind, which was cool and refreshing on our dripping faces. It was a miraculous sight, so we spent several minutes taking stills and video of the vista as well as each other. When done, Jorge instructed us to turn around while pointing to the small valley and three depressions in the jungle.GOPR0955_Moment

The opening of the great magma tube as seen from the ridge top.

Jorge went on to explain that down there were the openings of three magma tunnels, or shafts, each 20 or 30 metres (65.6 to 98.4 feet) across. He said his family had owned this land for many years and ran cattle here. Amazingly, they did not find the shafts until recently when mysteriously one of their cows went missing. The cow literally dropped off the face of the earth. During the subsequent search for the beast, they found the vertical shafts. The cow, the true discoverer of the only vertical magma tube in the Galápagos Islands, was eventually located on a ledge deep down in the main shaft.DSCF2044

Teri enters the hidden entrance of the massive tunnel.

As we visually searched the jungle below from the ridge top, the deep holes were invisible. Our guide moved us along to the far end of the knife-edge ridge where a metre or two (3.2 to 6.4 feet) on either side was a shear drop-off. Carefully moving along the ridge top for approximately another 100 metres (328 feet), we followed the trail leading steeply downward back into the jungle.

All of us were thankful Jorge had constructed a handrail out of old rope to cling too as the slope was slick with mud. With some trepidation, we followed our guide down into the valley and up to the opposite side of the ridge. From this vantage point, we could now see a break in the tress below where Jorge said the first of the shafts was located. He led us around the lip of the hole until we came to a rocky outcropping, and at its base was a small hole of 2 metres (6.4 feet) tall and about half as narrow. Again a rope handrail marked the path that we were to take. Jorge disappeared inside; the rest of us paused for a moment to get our bearings, catch our breaths and take a drink from our water bottles. As I passed the bottle to Janet, I could see she was suffering from the heat and strain of the mountain hike. The trail ahead led nearly vertically downward, and I was fearful of her falling or not being able to get back if she were to descend much further.

It felt like it was miles back to the clearing were we were to meet the truck, and there were many hills to challenge us further.

“Hun, how you doing?” I asked as she took a long draw from the water bottle. “You know, if you have had enough we can wait here for the others to come back,” I offered.

I wanted to carry on, but if Janet had reached her limit, we would stay. I knew the hard part was just beginning, and perhaps this would prove too much for her. Janet wiped the sweat from her brow and passed the bottle back to me, which I returned to my backpack.

“No, I’m okay. If we take it slow, I’ll be fine. I’ve come this far,” she said.

One by one, we dropped into the hole. The tunnel covered maybe 5 metres (16.4 feet) before the ceiling vanished. Inside, on a small ledge barely big enough for the four of us to stand side by side, we all gazed in wonderment at what lay before us.

It was a great cavern of perhaps 50 metres (164 feet) in diameter, with a dome ceiling high above where the apex or crown had once collapsed, permitting an intense beam of sunlight to pierce the earth. Great vines, as thick as a man’s arm, firmly rooted in the jungle above, draped downward until they reached the sloping sidewalls of the cavern where they again took root. In an effort to reconnect with the jungle above, new shoots, thick with emerald leaves, climbed the fractured walls in a bid to regain the sunlight.

Lava tube 1

The view when you first enter the tunnel.

As if raining, large water droplets wept from the porous stone above, causing the dome and side walls to glisten and shimmer as if gilded in liquid silver. The air was earthy, damp and dense, making it more laboursome to breathe than the open air above. The rush of flowing and dripping water hauntingly echoed through the chasm, adding auditory stimuli that chilled the spine while completing the image one would expect when venturing into the bowels of the earth.

The cavern was a sight that could have inspired Jules Vern to pen Journey to the Centre of the Earth or serve for the opening scene of an Indiana Jones’ movie. All we needed to complete the adventure was to be pursued by a villainous doctor and poison dart-spewing Amazonians.

Jorge called to us from somewhere below, breaking the entrancing spell and calm of the muted moment.Ven aquí abajo.” (“Come down here.”) His demand now echoing from the walls.

Apparently, we were so enthralled with what was above we had not taken much notice of what lay below. The muddy trail we were on slopped steeply down for perhaps 30 or 40 metres (98.4 or 131 feet) where it abruptly ended at a ledge where Jorge stood. From there, the trail became even steeper, and instead of a footpath, the trail was now a makeshift rope ladder with wooden rungs that appeared to end at another drop off. It was here at the last drop off where the walls of the cavern narrowed even further, becoming vertical. The magma tube formed a perfectly round shaft that plummeted off into utter darkness.

Reluctantly Mark and Teri took hold of the dirt-caked rope and did as our guide asked. I waited for our friends to get ahead some distance before turning to Janet to say, “So, babe, what ya think?”

I was surprised when she replied, “You first, but give me your hand.”

It only took a few minutes to descend to the ledge where Jorge was busy securing a pair of lanyards to a repelling rope, which lay atop the crudely constructed rope ladder. From there the trail sloped downwards, only to drop out of sight into a hole I suspected had no bottom.

Jorge tested his pair of lanyards by leaning back with his full weight. Satisfied the knots would hold, he looked at us all and queried, “¿ quién es el primero?” “Who is first?”

I looked at Janet, who quickly said, “This is it. This is as far as I go. I will wait for you here.” She gave a nervous grin.

I agreed to go first, but only after I helped Janet find a comfortable place to sit—well, as comfortable as one can be on a narrow ledge just a slip away from oblivion. I took Janet’s lanyards and made sure she was securely tied to the repelling base line in case she slipped, fainted or if there was an earthquake. It was at this time I remembered we were deep inside a part of a volcanic chain that was still classified as active. The last eruption of nearby Mount Wolf was a mere 33 years ago, and in geological terms, that was merely seconds ago!

Tensely, I took a good look overhead where I spied a surprisingly large number of boulders in the walls and dome that looked suspiciously loose. The scree or rubble slope we had descended likewise contained precariously perched rocks ranging from fist size to that of small cars, all appearing poised to tumble at the slightest provocation. An old high school geology lesson suddenly flashed back as I suddenly remembered the term “scree” comes from the Old Norse word for landslide. Perhaps this was not such a good idea after all.

With Janet safe for now, I joined Jorge on the precipice where I secured my pair of lanyards, which were an arm’s length to the base line, with cinch knots one atop of the other. The idea is to climb down until the lanyards become taught, then slide the knots down the base line to waist level, and then climb down some more. The theory is if you were to slip and fall, the cinch knots would tighten under your weight on the base line and arrest your fall. It was comforting to know how in theory it worked, yet in practice, with wet, dirty and worn lines, it was nerve wracking. Perhaps I should have enquired of Jorge how he intended to rescue someone dangling from a single rope while suspended hundreds of metres in the air. However, with the language barrier, I deferred asking.

I copied Jorge’s example and tested my knots by applying weight to them, and as I did, Jorge gave me one last set of instructions. He told me when I get to the bottom, I should not move around as there is another hole that drops straight down hundreds of metres. I was to carefully move to one side of the ladder and wait for him.

To make sure I understood, he walked his two fingers across his flattened palm, then with a fading scream, he simulated a man falling off a cliff.

Fucking great,” I thought.

Tied off, I began to make my way down the slope, kicking loose small stones and dirt, creating tiny avalanches as I went. After 30 metres (98.4 feet) or so, I found my ass hanging in midair over a blackness that appeared to have a substance or density to it. I searched for the next rung on the weather-eaten rope ladder and tested the wood slat carefully until I was confident it could hold my entire weight. I now understood why Jorge was happy to have the biggest guy go first-I was the ladder’s stress test. Step by step, over the rim I went to be swallowed by the complete darkness. I was thankful I had brought a headlamp and not accepted the handheld flashlight our guide was ready to provide, but the headlamp was only useful to see the next rung. I also brought gloves, the textured palms helpful in clinging to the slime-covered rope and ladder. After 20 metres (65.6 feet) or so, I paused to have a look around, but all four sidewalls were too far away to be illuminated by my headlamp and any hope of seeing the bottom at this point was obviously fruitless. I was suspended on a rope ladder, encased in utter darkness, depriving many of my senses. It reminded me of the night-time dives I had made while working on the oil rigs, descending to work on the well’s blow out preventer located on the sea floor.DSCF2114

Andrew (me) holding the bones of Jorge’s lost cow.

Water was still streaming down, forming tiny waterfalls around the rim above. I was now more soaked than before, if that was possible, and not surprisingly, despite sweating profusely, I was now cold, as the temperature had dropped rapidly. The ladder shook from the weight and struggling of the others above as they too made their decent. As I looked upward to where I had come, illuminated by the faint daylight above, I saw silhouettes of cascading rocks and dirt as they broached the rim to plummet towards me. Fortunately, the rocks’ momentum launched them far enough out to miss me as they passed by, just barely. I would not need the helmet in this instance; still I was thankful for having it, nonetheless.

Teri’s foot appeared over the rim, sticking out, hesitantly searching for her next rung. I could not dawdle any longer, so I carried on down until a ledge covered in broken rock became visible. Back on relatively solid ground, I untied myself and carefully moved a few metres away from the ladder in the direction Jorge had instructed, away from the now steady stream of falling debris. Nervously, I waited for the others to land.

Jorge was the last to descend the ladder and join the three of us standing tensely in the dark. My friends likewise brought headlamps, but it was obvious they would be insufficient in exploring the cave. Fortunately, Jorge brought the powerhouse. Jorge unslung a potent flashlight from his shoulder and aimed it overhead to illuminate the sidewalls and a dome almost as large as the first one where we had left Janet.

Jorge went on to explain that we were standing in a massive magma chamber, with what looked like a single tiny opening in the ceiling high above, our point of entry and regrettably our only point of egress. (Again from my high school geology lessons.) Molten rock underground is called magma, but when it reaches the surface it becomes lava. The rock walls here were smooth, as if having been plastered or polished, but instead of being solid black like the solidified lava flows above; the rocks were splashed with colour, in varying shades of red, as if stained by the very fires of hell. Which by all accounts, it was. Colours ranging from blood red to almost pink, and embedded in the surface were billion of gold specks that danced when you passed your light overtop of them.

DSCF2084

Teri descending down the ladder just before the next big drop off.

Jorge called this room “the discotheque.” At first, I was puzzled by his comment and thought perhaps I misunderstood him, but it suddenly became clear when he started to shuffle his feet and mouth a disco beat while flashing his light on the ceiling. The dancing light brought to life the myriad of colours while the gold specks remarkably resembled a nightclub’s mirror ball. We all laughed.

With the room better lit by all of our lights, it became evident we were standing atop a rubble pile, remnants of the partially collapsed ceiling. The thought of earth tremors giving us a shake kept crossing my mind.

“So how deep do you think we are, Andy?” Mark asked as he stared back up the long rope ladder and the distant prick of light, representing the surface. “Two hundred feet?” he guessed.

I was the first down, so I had some time to count the rungs of the ladder. It was easy to calculate how far it was back to the last landing, which was approximately halfway back to the surface.

“I’d guess an easy 250 feet, straight down, maybe a bit more,” I offered.

Mark hadn’t taken his eyes off the light above. “That’s a long climb back up, and I wouldn’t want to have to do it in a hurry or try and get a body out of here,” Mark concluded, with a nervous chuckle. Being an advanced life support paramedic and trained in the art of rescuing people, I was not surprised he would contemplate such a thing, but I was a little concerned he choose to use the word “body,” as in dead, instead of “patient,” as in still alive! As we were the only four down here, I couldn’t help wonder whose body he might be referring too? Being the largest, I would most assuredly give him the most trouble if it came to that.

“Yes, I know what you mean,” I agreed, then added half-jokingly, “You know, I don’t think you could get a tour like this back in Canada or the States. The liability insurance would be a killer.”

Carefully, Jorge led us down the rubble slope for a few metres before coming to a stop. He shone his light straight down into another shaft that was almost perfectly round and perhaps 15 metres (49.2 feet) in diameter. Jorge told us that after they found this place, he had led a scientific National Geographic team down to this point. They repelled straight down another 200 metres (656 feet) to the bottom where they found the remains of several species of birds and reptiles, some of which are now extinct.

“Did you go all the way to the bottom?” I asked Jorge.

Jorge laughed, “No! Muy asustado.” (“No! Very afraid.”)

As we moved back up the slope, we came across a large pile of heavy bones. I pointed them out to Jorge, which brought a smile to his face. Jorge raised his hands to his temple and spread his fingers to form horns and said, “Mi vaca.” (“My cow.”)

Ah, so here were the remains of the discoverer of this magnificent magma tube.

I said to Mark and Teri, “I don’t imagine there was much more than hamburger left by the time the cow got all the way down here, eh?”

We explored on, discovering three more large tunnels that penetrated the dome above. These horizontal tunnels were reported to extend for kilometres underground, leading further up the mountain. We were told by Jorge that most of tunnels and shafts were still unexplored or mapped and he had no plans to explore further. Apparently the park’s board has been putting pressure on Jorge and his family to sell them the property so that they could explore further and open it up to thousands of paying tourist. Jorge was adamant he would not sell; he wanted to leave the land to his children.

At the top of the rubble pile, Jorge had us climb a low rock face, and at the top, hidden from view, was another small tunnel with a low ceiling, requiring us to hunch over to enter. Like most of the tunnels we had already seen, the floor was covered in broken remnants of what was once the ceiling. The collapse most likely occurred after the magma had drained away and the tunnels cooled and contracted.

At times, wading through puddles of water, we penetrated deep into the mountain. The tunnel grew smaller the further along we went until we were only able to proceed on our hands and knees. I was not sure how long it had been since we left Janet on the ledge above, but I was thinking we should start back. When I informed Jorge so, he said he had one more thing to show us and it was right ahead.

We all crawled over one more boulder and under a rock bridge to find ourselves in a slightly larger room, but not large enough to stand. Here was Jorge’s pride and joy. On the tunnel walls and floor was some magnificent quartz crystal deposits. How theses delicate crystals had formed here and did not get destroyed by the molten magma, I could hardly guess. I found the formations fascinating, but I had my mind on returning to Janet’s side, so after taking a few quick pictures, I lead the way back to the base of the rope ladder and began my ascent.

The long climb back out of the pit wasn’t as bad as I had imagined, and I was happy to find a still content Janet perched on her ledge as I had left her. With everyone safely back on the surface, we hiked to a nearby ridge top to take one last look and to allow the hot wind to course over our muddy and weary bodies. Our guide led us back along the trail we had come until we reach a small hill, and atop of the knoll was a cabin.GOPR0954_Moment

The tiny one room shack only possessed two walls on the side that would normally face the prevailing winds—much cooler in the living room when you only have two walls instead of our customary four. Inside the cabin sat a table and chairs, with beds all made and ready. Apparently this was where Jorge or one of his cowboys slept while tending cattle. Interestingly, some 20 metres (65.6 feet) away was a concrete block, duel outhouse with running water. It was there we washed off much of the mud that had accumulated on us. The twin stalls had doors, but no hinges. I had to lift one of the heavy wooden doors into place so that the ladies could use the facilities.

“Just knock when you are done,” I said to Janet as the door slammed shut.

From the outhouse, it was a surprising short downhill walk (thank God) back to the clearing where the taxi was waiting for us.

A Night Watch and a Frigate Bird at the Mast Head!

Frigate airborneNight watches can be lonesome affairs for some. There they sit by themselves in the dark with only the pale illumination from the wind instruments and the radar to navigate around the cockpit, where anything beyond their outstretched hand is nothing but an ebony blur. Imagine driving a car through a prairie wheat field, racing over hill and dale with your eyes closed, your eyes blacked out and you may start to appreciate the feeling of what it is like sailing hard and fast over a dark, moonless sea.

I’m often asked, “what do you do with all your spare time at sea?” “Especially at night?” “All night!” A question which is usually followed by, “I just couldn’t sit there all night and do nothing.”

When I hear this it’s hard not to laugh. For me, night watches can be the best part of voyaging. I’m a loner by nature so the solitude of night watches fits my soul like a comfy pair of slippers and fleecy housecoat. Some of the strangest and most thrilling things I have witnessed at sea, has occurred on my night watches. Once in a lifetime sights, sounds and visitations which are entirely my own that no others in the world will witness.

Experiences which are uniquely my own that will never be repeated in the exact same way.  Simple, but profoundly fascinating things such as two opposing waves cresting together then exploding in a bio-luminescent eruption of neon blue light and water. A shooting star streaking over the masthead only to perish in the sea to the west. Dolphins and whales come to boats at night to play, as do flying fish and flocks of Storm Petrels, red pouched Frigates and Blue Footed Boobies come to hunt by the navigation lights, or perhaps to simply rest upon the deck.

I rarely read or write at night. I will listen to music or a distant radio station on the Ham radio but more often than not, I will just sit and think introspective thoughts, or musings often inspired by my Maiatla world that surrounds me. It can be fine entertainment and it is rarely disappointing.

This night I was sitting in the command chair behind the helm with the automatic pilot doing all the driving. The sails were set to make the most of the fresh, following breeze and we were clipping along nicely. The top of the dodger was open as I had unzipped it to let the bracing breeze blow through. It was a cloudless night with the heavens alight with far too many stars even for the most vivid of imaginations. As the boat rolled this way and that with the rhythm of the sea, the mastheads and light scribed and arc through the heavens.  As I gazed aloft contemplating the origins of the universe, the constellations above were suddenly blackened out. The stars vanished, but just for an instant then they reappeared right where they had been. As I continued to watch, the stars, a small sections of the sky repeatedly vanished only to instantly reappear.

I was tired so it took my foggy brain several moments to focus then comprehend what was happening.   The fork-tailed creature was well over a meter (3.2 feet) long and wider again by half with its black wings stretched out from its sides. The frigate bird made several passes around the mast-heads and around the boat. I first assumed that he was hunting, using the glow of the navigation lights up on the bow to spot fish near the surface. However, this bird did not seem to hover over the boat as if wanting to hunt, this bird’s focus appeared to be on the top of my masts. After several more passes it became clear that the frigate had selected my mizzen mast as a roasting spot. He was attempting to land, perhaps for a siesta, which would make sense as the Mexican mainland lay just five short miles to the east, and it was late.

Now amused, I intently watched as the bird made its final approach and with landing gears out and wings back stroking, the bird attempted to settle but just when his webbed feet found its footing, I heard the thud and I believe I saw feathers fly as the bird was viciously catapulted off to the port side. Undeterred, the bird circled around for a second attempt at landing but at the last moment, there was a thump and wings again whipped about in an effort to regain control as it was once more ruthlessly cast aside.

I sat there for about 20 minutes while this stupid bird made several more attempts to land atop of my mizzen mast without success. Finally, the majestic frigate bird had enough of Maiatla’s rejections, battering’s and bruising’s so it flew away into the dark night never to return. Although I felt the bird’s pain I could not help but chuckle a little as I had been wondering how much abuse the bird would put up with before it gave up attempting to fly through the spinning blades of my wind generator. In this wind the saber-like, black carbon fiber blades were nothing more than a blur. The dammed bird was lucky it wasn’t decapitated.

I returned to thinking about everything, then nothing at all, that is until the dolphins decided to come for a visit.

Some of other SV Maiatla bird encounters.

Port Dover Regional Library.

DSCF4792The Naked Canadian, Blue Water sailor, Adventurer, cruising Author  and Vancouver Island resident, Andrew Gunson was welcomed for a book signing by staff at the Port Dover Public Library after he made a generous donation to the Norfolk County Library system.

Andrew Gunson met with library officials on Wednesday, after they included two of Gunson’s titles to their extensive catalogue of non-fiction travel literature.DSCF4783

The “Voyage of the Maiatla with the Naked Canadian” a book chronicling Gunson and his family’s 14 month sailing voyage from Vancouver Canada to Mexico and back. And “The Tahiti Syndrome, Hawaiian Style” an epic account of the family’s voyage from Vancouver through the Hawaiian Archipelago. Both titles are now available in paperback through the Norfolk County Public Library system.

Gunson is also about to release his latest titles, A slow Boat to Panama, a two volume set chronicling his 5 year voyage from Vancouver Canada, down through Mexico, Central America, Galapagos Islands then onto the Caribbean Sea after transiting the Panama Canal.  Mr. Gunson has been invited back to perform an author’s reading so watch Norfolk’s Library calendar events for possible dates.DSCF4785

In the meantime, either visit one of Norfolk Public libraries or order your own copies of this author’s salty tales on line from Amazon.ca in hard copy or e-book version.

For more stories, pictures and some great YouTube videos visit Gunson’s blog at

https://thenakedcanadian.wordpress.com

The Best People are Cruisers!

Way back in 2001/02 while cruising Maiatla down to Mexico, we met so many great people, many of them are still our friends today. One of those people was a very talented musician by the name of Travis Burke of the Sailing Vessel Mystery Tramp, then out of San Fransisco. On our recent voyage down to Costa Rica we were able to hook up with Travis at his Bar, La Perla Negra located on the Gulf of Nicoya. One night after the bar closed, my wife Janet and I sat around with Travis to talk old times and as often happens, Travis pulled out his guitar to play us some of his new music. One of those songs I video recored so you can hear him too. check it out!travis

Click on the youtube link: Travis Video at La Perla Negra, Costa Rica. 

Travis is the author and performer of my own personal theme song, The Naked Canadian which is track #8 on his, The Ocean is a Woman CD. Travis is also headed back into the recording studio this spring with a new batch of songs. We can’t wait.

Ocean The Ocean is a women CD Lick here

You can also check out Travis Bar and resort, by following this link.  La Perla Negra Link; la perla Negra