Little Compass RoseCaribbean Compass   December 2006
 
 
Memories of the Caribbean
by Matti Lappalainen
It has been an interesting journey for more than three years now. A lot of water has gone under the bridge and a lot of beer has gone down my throat. In the beginning of my sailing career I sailed with my wife. Then we had a couple of traumatic experiences which now, 20 years later, seem not too dramatic at all, but she quit sailing. Many years ago I started to plan my solo circumnavigation - I knew that I would start it one day. But would I finish it? That I was not so sure of, and then I decided to let The Lord decide.
Leaving Europe, I visited Madeira, the Canary Islands and Cape Verdes, was sailing to Brazil but landed in Barbados, visited the island chain down to Trinidad, continued to Venezuela, the ABCs, Colombia and Panama, then Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia, including historic and scenic sights such as Cartagena, Panama City, Machupicchu and Lake Titicaca. I visited all the inland places by bus or by plane: South America must have been in the front row when The Creator gave out the good things.

I hiked the high Andes at 17,400 feet. I fished for piranhas and got a caiman instead. I rode in an Indian canoe through rapids in a jungle and visited the world's highest single-drop waterfall. I was a little worried about malaria, dengue fever, parasites and melanoma, but seldom used mosquito nets, insect repellents or sun lotion. I ate anything and anywhere, from street vendors' carts to first-class restaurants, and fought the occasional diarrhea.

I captured lobster and fished for wahoo in the turquoise waters of the Caribbean, jumped in the carnivals of three countries, and drank too many rum punches.
I remember the mighty ocean, the blue Caribbean Sea, the warm turquoise waters of the lagoons and the never-ending sound of the ocean pounding on the reefs. I watched the great whales jump and dived with colourful fish and turtles. I remember the many hours when my beloved 40-year-old sailing craft Snoopy and its 40-year-old Ford Industrial diesel engine and the 40-year-old Swedish variable-pitch transmission worked hard against the current and the prevailing wind and I worried if we'd make it to the next port. We always did. Though the Finnish yacht industry builds some of the finest yachts in the world - Swan, Baltic and others - the building of steel yachts has traditionally been quite limited and Snoopy is now probably the oldest steel yacht built in Finland originally as an truly ocean-going yacht and it's carrying its title very well. It takes five-metre seas beautifully, balances easily under sail and its deep hull steers without problems.
I remember the sapphire tropical seas which wash the flourishing emerald isles and frost them with frothy fleece. I remember the song of the whisking wind as it plucks the taut steel shrouds and "strums the sheets like violin strings in rhythm to salty sea shanties" (from a poem written by Jeannie Kuich, Caribbean Compass, May 2005). I remember the joyful dolphins which used to come and play for a while by the bow wave, the little flying fish that could not yet get properly off the water and tossed against the waves when the others were already flying far away.

I remember the great Blue Emperor butterfly by a little waterfall in Trinidad, the clever Cicho dog which sang sometimes with a band at the marina restaurant, the lizard at the swimming pool which used to come to watch when I was exercising.
I remember the wild rapids of the rivers and the smell of a beautiful small blue orchid in a rainforest, the sound of thundering waterfalls and the wet mist in the air. I remember the freezing cold of the Andes highlands at night, the strenuous heat and sweating in the southern Caribbean marinas, the sound of a mosquito close to my face in the darkness of the night when I was trying to sleep, the nuisance of the mosquito net over my bunk and the smell of repellent smoke and Baygon spray when fighting the mosquitoes, flies and cockroaches which were almost impossible to get rid of.

I remember the sound of howler monkeys in the Venezuelan jungle, the hungry piranhas in Brazilian Amazonas where part of the scenery was like in the Lake Country back home in Finland, the great caiman which opened its jaws towards me, the tiny hummingbirds flying like the bees, and the little bird which came to rest on the cabin roof 500 nautical miles from any land, the hundreds of seabirds which dived after the sardines so numerous that the sea was like boiling, the funny talkative parrot in Tropical Marina and the many green parrots flying over the Maraval golf course in the early morning when sunrays were just starting to reach the valley over the mountain, the little yellow birds which came to sing and woke me up at the boatyard and ate breadcrumbs on the solar panel, the leatherback turtle as big as a table at Manzanilla beach in Trinidad and the little turtle which could not resist the temptation to come closer to follow my diving in Grenada, the awesome divers' wrecks and the wonderful undersea coral world in clear Bonaire waters where I was floating like in the air with the colours fading down deeper in bluish shades and finally disappearing far below to the deep blue.

I remember when a shark bit off the blades of my towing generator's cast-aluminum propeller.
I remember the sometimes surprising prices of products and services in different countries. One bag of laundry could cost US$20, where elsewhere a good lunch in a restaurant cost US$2.50. I remember when my thick letters from the Caribbean got opened by Customs in Finland. They were looking for weed but found only local newspaper articles.
I remember the beautiful island of Margarita where I visited the world's "second" (or was it the "third"?) longest beach and the prices at Porlamar supermarkets that were hard to beat in the Caribbean. I remember the tread of the thieves and pirates on the Venezuelan shores where so many incidents occurred.
I remember the old colonial cities, particularly Cartagena, Panama and Quito, with picturesque streets and some of the most beautiful buildings I have ever seen. Some buildings were copies from Europe, I was told, but many were originals created by Spanish and Italian architects. No sea can match the Mediterranean in a cultural sense, but no sea can match Caribbean as a year-round happy hour.

Trinidad was the island I liked the best, a rich country in many ways. I spent almost a year there having my beloved Snoopy refitted because the work progress was so slow. I remember the superb taxi services of Jesse James, the talented and friendly Trini people, the bustling city of Port of Spain which had grown so much from the time I lived there as a young man, and the endless fêtes and jump-ups that lasted from Christmas to Carnival (some say they last from Carnival to Carnival). I remember the creative costumes of the Carnival bands, the endless lines of paraders and the rumble of the steel bands, the amusing songs of the calypsonians, the many carnival-time shows and the superb Dimanche Gras. I remember the early morning Jouvert where I got lost in the darkness and followed the wrong band.

I remember the relaxing, sometimes exciting, social life in Chaguaramas marinas, the many fine sailors and great personalities: the Swedish metallurgist Carl-Erik who had circumnavigated twice, had sunk two boats and hesitated to raise sails anymore but continued his never-ending refitting project; the US Navy submarine man Arthur who set off to St. Martin but turned back from Grenada to return to his home in Tropical Marina; the retired Swiss Air captain Otto who rented a single-engine plane to see from the air where he was going to sail next and gave away copies of his book for two beers; the Helsinki-born radiologist Kalle who knew the way with the ladies and had a reputation all the way from Trinidad to Dubai; the fine couple of Jane and Dick from North Carolina who were always looking for new hands for the Thursday afternoon bridge club; Bob, the single-hander, flyer and PR-man from California of the Good Time Charlie, whom I first met two years ago in Fort de France where he arrived without a mast and invited me for a drink. This was my first visit to a boat which had white wall-to-wall carpeting, central air-conditioning and an ice-cube making machine.

I remember more fine people, sailors from different parts of the world and from all walks of life who followed in my wake and whom I followed. Especially I remember the single-handed sailors, gentlemen and ladies. We are the same species. Particularly I remember the Norwegian single-hander Anders who had circumnavigated four times (although some of it may have been done aboard a merchant ship); and single-hander Helen Carter, a slender South African lady close to retirement age, who refitted her small teak sloop to a junk rig in Chaguaramas and headed for Norway; and the Swedish single-handed lady about the same age as Helen who came one day to Colon Yacht Club, ready to transit the Panama Canal and sail to South Pacific with her 6.5-metre sloop! Her only worry was how to accommodate the four line handlers and the advisor.

I remember the chocolate beauties of the Caribbean isles and the blossoming señoritas of the Spanish Main, particularly the señorita who was attending the "full service marine store" in Panama City. I met people who had never met a Finn, and they studied me with interest. I may have brought them a disappointment since I am nothing special.
I owe a letter to many I have met during the past three years. Many have helped me and given me good advice, and with many I have had a beer or two and a good laugh. Particularly I owe Pepe, the tall white-haired American who helped me fix an electrical problem; Scot, the American single-handed circumnavigator, an English teacher from the "Bay Area", whose humour was so close to mine; the Swedes, Danes and Norwegians, the fearless Vikings, who so readily accepted me as a part of the Scandinavian family; the Germans. particularly Ingo and Regina, who sailed using only electronic charts and admired my poor German; the Americans and Canadians with whom I felt at home; and the fine Englishmen, particularly Brian, the metallurgist, a sturdy man not to be taken lightly in boxing or wrestling, who helped me with my paint-blistering problem; Mike and Dawn of the White Princess who gave me diving practice and helped me repair the rigging; and David, the medical doctor and Brazilian adventurer, a heroic single-hander who got struck by lightning, nearly died and lost all his electronics and whose new book has a word or two about me.

And of course I remember many of my countrymen, particularly Tapio, the physicist fisherman, who got my weatherfax working; Ari, who advised me how to get my battery charging; Arvo, who helped me with my SSB radio; Heikki, Pekka and Kauko, who could circumnavigate without asking any help in technical matters, who didn't mind if I called them in uncomfortable hours with my satellite phone; and Seppo, the boatbuilder and steel man, who owned Snoopy's sistership and helped me with many questions particularly concerning the peculiar variable-pitch propeller system.

I owe a lot to my wife Eeva who so patiently has followed my sailing, jumped with me in the Carnivals and helped whenever needed. And to the rest of the family who applaud when I get somewhere and sympathize when I'm in a little trouble. (When I'm in big trouble, I don't tell them.) Last but not least I thank Helena, who sends money from my bank whenever needed. Without her I would have been in trouble many more times.

I wish you all the very best and please drop me an e-mail some time at matti_lappalainen@yahoo.com.
I have experienced a lot in three years for an old man, but there are more things I want to do. Soon I will see French Polynesia; is it as beautiful as I have been told or is it just an over-advertised legend? And some day I would like to sail Snoopy to Antarctica.

     
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