Some friends we met on our trip…
BIKA (Nina and Henrik)
In Portobelo, we were for almost the first time in our experience not the smallest cruising boat in the harbor. This is because we are anchored next to Norwegian couple upon their 26′ Contessa, Bika. They have lived aboard since 2004 and left Norway in spring of 2005.
Bika is adorable, petite, seaworthy, and very small for a 26-foot boat. Like us, Nina and Henrik do not have refrigeration, nor do they have radar, inboard engine, proper head, roller furling, or many of the supposedly indispensable accoutrements the vast majority of cruisers consider required fare. They vastly outdo us in fact in that they do not have a motor (well, technically they do, a 4hp outboard, but it lives stowed away under the cockpit), nor do they have a sink. The words “hard core” come to mind when searching for a way to describe the Bika scene. They have a website with photos and excellent articles about their trip thus far.
Velella (Jenni and Cameron)
Velella wins the other small boat prize (Ralston 30). They are from Oregon (bonus coolness points—I’m not biased or anything) and we had been trying vainly to catch up with them for the last year or so (it finally happened in Providencia). We met them in La Paz, Mexico, when we noticed that Cameron was paddling a home-built skin-on-frame kayak he made from plans downloaded off the internet. We expedited a friendship with them in that way that only people on boats do—except of course we were more suave in the way we descended on them asking a billion questions: You made that yourself didn’t you? You are in a small boat too aren’t you? Are those kayaks your only dinghy? We are your friends now! They are also both brilliant cooks and have the ability to conjure up amazingly elaborate dishes out of the few square feet of galley aboard. Things I would hardly even consider possible in a regular kitchen. Like cinnamon rolls. Eggplant parmesan. Indian food. Freshly baked bread with herbs and garlic.
Lotus (Jerry and Joni)
We first encountered Lotus as they came careening in towards the dock at Marina La Paz. We rowed the porta-bote out of the way thinking, “hoo boy, THIS we gotta see.” Jerry had Lotus pointed almost perpendicular to the dock and had to be moving at least 5 knots. Joni was on the bow with a rope in hand and we assumed that this was so she wouldn’t be flung too far afield when she was launched at the moment of impact. With less than a boat length to spare, Jerry spun the wheel hard over bringing the boat up neatly and Lotus skidded in parallel to meet the dock with a mild ‘whoomph.’ Joni chucked the line at the nearest person in the crowd that had formed to watch the spectacle and the boat was made fast in about four seconds.
Later on we had an opportunity to get to know Jerry and Joni and found them to be exceedingly generous and all-around neat people who could regale you for hours with an arsenal of hilarious and self-deprecating stories about their own sailing (and boat-building) experiences. They built Lotus themselves, welded it from steel, and it is one of the first of its design. It took them seven years. The exterior gives the impression of being all business and very sturdy looking; no frills. Upon closer inspection, it is impossible not to appreciate the immense undertaking it was to build this boat (or indeed, any boat) and what an amazing job they did. Amazingly, Lotus was Jerry’s first real welding project, and yet the whole thing is impeccably welded with all due respect paid to detail. The interior rates as one of the better-designed small living spaces I have ever encountered.
Sereia (Peter and Antonia)
We met these guys when they retreated to El Salvador in July after being chased out of Acapulco by a hurricane or two. They can swear like proper sailors and travel the seas upon their ‘pimped-out’ Mariner 36, which they have painted a kaleidoscope of bright colors. Antonia is trained as a chef and the bilges of Sereia are packed with things like 50 pounds of fancy French cheese, many many bars of 85% dark chocolate, an arsenal of brine-packed butter. They are making all speed to the South Pacific where, as Antonia says, she is long overdue for some lying around in the orchids on a deserted island, coconuts on her tits and a cocktail in her hand.
(They have an excellent website chock full of great writing and hilarious photo essays. Highly recommended.)
Xenos (Slater and Julie)
Slater and Irish Julie, en route to Ireland, where Julie’s parents will be undoubtedly pleased as punch to see their daughter safe and sound on green Irish soil once again. One of my favorite Xenos stories was when they had not checked in for a week or so and Slater’s parents freaked, called the coast guard to see if any small blue boats had washed up on shore in the local of Costa Rica but lied saying that it was because there was a family emergency (you are not supposed to just bother such folk without a good excuse) and so suddenly the SSB radio is alive with “Has anyone seen or heard word of sailing vessel Xenos” and “Xenos, if you are listening, CALL YOUR MOM!!!”
Celtic Dancer (Derek and Zory)
[Celtic Dancer exiting the bar in Bahia del Sol, El Salvador. Looks hairy but they made it no worries.]
Mexican Zory and Very Very Irish Derek. Derek is like a musical comedy’s caricature of an Irish bloke. He tells excellent yarns, swears profusely, and makes a solid distinction between the words fuck and feck. I think Zory is the only one who can understand his accent when he really get going.
Sparta (Jim and Susie)
We met Jim and Susie at Bahia del Sol in El Salvador. They were the first people we met on the trip who were living on another Searunner 31, which they bought as a salvage in La Paz for $500. Much time, money, and labor later, Sparta is looking great. This was the second interior I had ever seen of another cruising trimaran and it was amazing to see how the same, yet so very different, it was from ours. Of course, the builder suggests basic plans such as put the sink here, settee table slides away like this, etc. but each builder interprets the details so differently.
Woodwind (Jan and Bruce)
Another home-built boat, this time of cedar planks and gaff rigged. My favorite things about Woodwind are that it is an amazingly solid chunk of wood (the hull is something like 2.5 inches thick) and nearly all the hardware is hand-made. There are no cleats, no geared winches, and all rigging is wound around tear-shaped wooden blocks and fastened down with line. The entire boat is basically lashed together and has a very practical and serviceable feeling to it. A lot of personality. When I went down in the cabin, I remembered a house my childhood friend Lara lived in with her mother, which was hand built of pine and cedar and madrone and whatever wood was immediately available and scavengable from the forests of southern Oregon. The house had a warm, varnished woody smell and many nooks and oddly shaped rooms since it was one of those hippy houses that was thrown up initially to get a roof over one’s head, then later expanded with lofts, pantries, water closets, and miscellaneous additions here and there. If we were lucky, Lara’s mother Lynn would let us make peanut butter and honey sandwiches unsupervised (thus, a lot of honey, not a lot of peanut butter). We would then take our sandwiches and hide out in our favorite nooks to eat them. Anyway, I haven’t been inside of that house since I was about six, nor have I seen or heard of Lara in over 20 years. I had totally forgotten about this memory until I wandered around inside Woodwind and so I was very glad to have met this boat.
Bruce and Jan are delightfully weird people with a lot of crazy sailing experiences tucked under their belts. I hope we meet them again sometime. They also have a blog detailing their journey from the Pacific Northwest down through the canal on their way to the eastern Caribbean.