Sailing Vacations: Meridian

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Venezuela - 10/2005 Transportation - 10/2005
Shopping - 10/2005 Eating Out - 10/2005
Health Care - 10/2005 Boat Projects - 10/2005
Visits - 10/2005 The Race - 10/2005
Getting Ready to Go - 10/2005 The Boat Search - 07/2005
The Boat System Configuration - 07/2005 Ready to Go Sailing - 02/2005
Joergen's Perspective - 02-03/2005
Venezuela
October, 2005
 

My Last update was in July!!!! And it’s now October! WOW, where did that time go?

It’s hard to believe we have been in Venezuela almost four month by now. Time has passed so quickly and we have been too busy to update our web page. I guess it tells it all, we have had a wonderful time.

You might recall from my last update, that I was somewhat discouraged by my encounter with the coast guard just after our arrival here. It was actually not the coast guard but Guardia National (the national guard) I had a nasty experience with, and I still consider them the worst scum in this country, - really bad, nasty thieves, corrupt men in uniform, sponsored by one of the most corrupt governments in the world.

However, the people of Venezuela have outweighed this negative element by far. The Venezuelans are a kind, loving, caring and fun people. The country is beautiful and the climate close to perfect. As a family, we all agree that we could actually LIVE HERE!

The longer we have stayed here, the more we learned to appreciate it. We have made many friends, not only in the cruising community, but also among the Venezuelans.

We have learned to get around by local transportation, mostly local busses, although the closest classification of the public busses here would be "total wreck" to Canadian standard.

Found local markets, places and restaurants etc. Although I don’t speak many words of Spanish, I manage to get around, shop at local markets, and communicate with people, sometimes without Timmy’s help! She speaks really good Spanish now!

Transportation
October, 2005
 

To get around in the local area is quite easy. There are several levels of transportation, and you move up (or down) as you gain experience.

There are a number of English-speaking taxi drivers catering to the foreign cruising community here. They are quite reasonable, charging Bolivares 10,000 per hour or approximately US $ 4 per hour! They know where you can get EVERYTHING!!! And can negotiate good prices for you, - quite easy and convenient.

The next level is local mini taxi. They have set charges depending on distance. However they will ALWAYS try to get more out of foreigners. You have to negotiate the price BEFORE you get in!!!!!!!!! Timmy’s best Spanish lessons have been from fighting over the price with local taxi drivers, her favorite pastime! The fare to downtown Puerto La Cruz from the Marina is Bolivares 5,000 – 7,000 or $2 – 3, depending on your negotiation skills and energy level.

Next level is a local maxi taxi. They are LARGE, VERY OLD American floaters. They are so rusty and dilapidated, that it is unbelievable that they actually run! Absolutely NOTHING works except the engine reluctantly running and wheels turning and normally they have some kind of breaking capability. OH by the way, the music system is normally top notch and blaring with Latino tunes. They are quite cheap as you share the ride with anyone going in the same direction. Believe me, they can pack quite a few in these monster floaters. The fare to downtown Puerto La Cruz would be about Bolivares 650 or 25 cents per person!

The next level is the local bus. This is the cheapest form of transportation and the most ENJOYABLE! We have become quite accustom to using the local buses. Again they are equipped with top-notch audio with huge speakers, blasting loud Latino music to a level that if you don’t hold on, you will be blown out. People on the buses are friendly, helpful and accommodating. You get a real close up of the culture and it’s a fun experience. The cost to downtown Puerto La Cruz is Bolivares 450 or 18 cents. Well for that price you can't expect an air-conditioned bus of course or even a bus with all windows in etc. in. But it works – well most of the time.

Shopping
October, 2005
 

Shopping in Venezuela is interesting. You can buy anything! Designer fashion both real stuff and fake. The grocery stores are certainly comparable to those in Canada or better. You can find large American style shopping malls, European shopping centers, fancy cafés, restaurants etc. all at very reasonable prices. Then of course you have the local shops with limited and local selections but very cheap and you can find a good deal here.

Eating Out
October, 2005
 

Eating out is again VERY inexpensive here. The most expensive main course at the “fancy” marina restaurant I have seen is Bolivares B16,000 or US $ 6.5. With drinks, desert etc. you have to try really hard to exceed $ 10 per person. Our favored restaurant is a Lebanese restaurant in Puerto La Cruz. The food is FANTASTIC!!! My favored main course is chicken with vegetables wrapped in fresh Egyptian warm bread with an unbelievable sauce. It’s however a bit hard on the budget as they charge B 6,500 or $ 2.5 for it! With a couple of beers it easily sneak up to $ 3, so we don’t go there too often, only a couple of days a week.

Health Care
October, 2005
 

Health care is very high standard here. We have all had out teeth checked and done. The clinic had more sophisticated equipment than I have seen anywhere in Europe or North America. Many of our American friends without a health care plan or a limited one back home, have found a health care paradise down here. Everything from eye laser surgery to serious heart and cancer surgery are performed here to world-class standards, at a fraction of the costs elsewhere. Hopefully none of you reading this, needs new kneecaps, hips, shoulder repairs etc., however, if so, go to Venezuela and let the savings pay for a unique vacation at the same time.

Sadly, health care is poor standard and totally insufficient for the poor. The high level health care here does NOT cater to the poor who can’t pay. The government is trying to do something about it, which for Venezuela is a huge problem. The president's good friend Fidel Castro in Cuba receives free oil, and Cuba reciprocates by exporting a large number of Cuban doctors to improve the health care for the poor here. I guess the health care to the Cuban people, (there are only poor people in Cuba with the exception of a few high level government crooks), is of no concern to Castro! Politics!

Boat Projects
October, 2005
 

We have used our time here dodging the hurricanes, to do a few major boat projects. Our saloon badly needed to be re-upholstered. There is a German professional upholster working out of our marina. He has a reputation of doing the best job in the world, real German quality craftsmanship. Not cheap though and not quickly. He works only when he’s sober, which is not too often as he needs to consume 30 – 40 beers daily! to sustain himself. We picked quite expensive soft Italian leather for the job in a light blue color. The German master took only 6 weeks to finish the job, not bad considering the obstacles. And it really looks fantastic!

Another project was to renew the saloon headliners (ceilings), which were originally plastic and cracked. We hired a local carpenter to do the job. He turned out to be very nice, but didn’t have a clue as how to do the job. His entire toolbox was in a small canvas bag, the size of a lady’s evening bag, no electric tools here. After a week of struggling, we came to the conclusion that he could NOT do the job. We hired a more experienced carpenter from the boat yard at the marina, keeping the first guy on as well, as he was kind and a bit too old to “fire”, and I took the job as full time supervisor. After another two weeks the job was done and we are happy with the result, expensive looking ultra suede paneled ceilings.

Also we managed a quick haul out. A rubber membrane beneath one of the sail drives had gone loose. Nothing serious, but I want everything perfect. We had some minor cosmetic fiberglass work done, as well as an extra couple of anti fouling paint on the water line, the rudders and the bow. MERIDIAN looks brand new.

Visits
October, 2005
 

My beloved mother in-law Jill was here with her fun sister, Suzie. We had a wonderful time with those very energetic ladies and lots of fun. Timmy has described the time with Jill and Suzie in more details, which I’ll refer to. Personally I felt very rewarded by their statement that “this was one of their best vacations ever!”, what a privilege to be able to share our rather adventurous life style with these two young hearted ladies. I think we gave each other a very good time,- thanks Jill and Suzie.

We sailed from Puerto La Cruz to Isla Chimana Segunda, where we met with another Catana, S/V TRIO, with a wonderful couple we had met from here, Paul & Susanne. Paul & Suzanne was anchored at Chimana Segunda and weighed their anchor as soon as we arrived in the bay and followed us to nearby island Isla Caracas, where we both anchored for the night. It’s nice with a buddy boat for security in these waters. Next morning we sailed up to Isla Coche, where we had some wonderful days in June on our way down here. This time we stayed two nights, enjoying the beach, the resort swimming pool and the company of TRIO. We taught Paul & Suzanne to play the card game “Casino”, and had a good time.

The next stop was Isla Margarita, the tax free holiday paradise in Venezuela.

After a couple of days with Kirsten & Bent in Polamar, Margarita, and a major provisioning, again with lots of generous donations from them, including enough wine to sustain us for a week of sailing, we got them on board, weighed anchor and sailed a short distance to Isla Cubagua just South West of Margarita to anchor for the night.

Next morning it turned out, that Bent had had some problems sleeping in the hot confined space in the port forward cabin. During the night he had moved to the cockpit to get some sleep. Bent is a police officer and I thought it pretty cool to have our very own police guard in the cockpit in these pirate-infested waters!

Poor Bent didn’t get too much sleep, and I’m not sure he shared my enthusiasm for the added security.

Next day we had a 10 hour sail to the offshore Island Tortuga. A very remote island, uninhabited, except for a few fishing camps, an interesting hotel with maybe 4 rooms and sand floors, a Guardio National tent with a few guards and 17 other boats anchored.

The miles long beach with white powder sand is gorgeous, the turquoise water clear and warm. We enjoyed three wonderful days with our Danish friends in close to paradise.

Kirsten & Bent had brought the delicacies of the world!!!!!!!!!!! Danish rye bread mix, Danish snaps (Aquavit), Danish marinated Herrings etc. In Tortuga we enjoyed a FABULOUS Danish lunch, with fresh baked rye bread and of course a few snaps, respectfully cooled down to minus 18 degree Celsius to go with the Herrings, followed by a few beers to help with the digestion. Both Bent and I had a very long snooze during the afternoon siesta, could this be heaven?

After Tortuga, we sailed back to Puerto La Cruz, our home away from home here in Venezuela. I think both Kirsten & Bent looked forward to some kind of civilization, if Venezuela can fall under that category? Poor Bent did not get too much sleep on the boat. During our weeklong sail we didn’t have too much wind for some real good sailing and we had to motor quite a bit. I wasn’t too pleased with that, but I think it suited Bent quite well? I must admit I failed miserable to make a real sailor out of Bent!

On our way down here from Tortuga, in the middle of the ocean, with no land in sight, we heard a big BANG. We happen to hit THE only log out there! Incredible, with SO MUCH space around us. We thought we had lost transmission on the port engine and shut it down, getting back on the starboard engine only. Back in the marina I put on my dive tanks to access the damage. Fortunately it turned out that propellers or sail drives had not been hit and we only had a minor dent on the starboard bow, more of a cosmetic kind.

We spend the next couple of days showing Kirsten & Bent the Puerto La Cruz area, the local areas, our favored restaurant etc., and way too early, it was time for our friends to return by ferry to Margarita, to have a couple of days, recovering from the harsh sailing life. I believe we are still friends, despite the tough sailing experience for first time sailors? Well, Bent and I go back to kindergarten. We look forward to seeing them again somewhere for some more sailing, next time I will perhaps make a real sailor out of Bent?

The Race
October, 2005
 

Now, those of you who don’t like bragging, skip this section, because I’m gonna brag now!

After Bent & Kirsten’s return to Denmark, our friend Pierre, the owner of the boatyard here at the Bahia Redonda Marina, completely unsolicited offered to repair the dent in the starboard bow, from the impact of the wood log, FREE!!!!!!!!!!!!! Not that it was a major repair or an expensive one either, but just very touching. The people of Venezuela are just very caring, warm and giving (Pierre is French though, but have lived here for 35 years). ONE CONDITION THOUGH! Pierre is the prime force behind the annual Bahia Redonda Classical Regatta 2005, “THE RACE”, and I had to promise to sign up for the race.

Well, I had considered that regardless, so we had a deal. THE RACE took place over the weekend of October 14 – 15. Many take this regatta very seriously, soliciting top crew to crew on their boats. We got several request from “professional” crew, to crew on MERIDIAN. However, I declined all, declaring, that I had my crew! I felt, that we have sailed MERIDIAN for a year, - competently, so why would we need additional crew? We should bloody well be able to race her as well.

We went out on the racecourse one and a half hour before the start to practice. Dina and Nadine on the jib sheets. Dina releasing the sheet and Nadine taking in the sheet and trimming during upwind tacks. After 15 – 20 practice tacks, we had it down to seconds! Timmy, on the navigation and timing for the start! The race course was only about 12 nautical miles long, about two hours in VERY light wind.

Saturday our timing was off by one minute for the start, but we got underway ok. The first start was purebred racing boats, the next racing cruising boats, then ocean cruising boats (heavy boats) and last the much faster catamarans.

We started 35 minutes after the first start, came in 46 min. earlier than the next catamaran! and had passed many of the monohuls!

Saturday night we had a big regatta party around the marina pool, BBQ, live music, fireworks, 500 people, and great fun.

Sunday, out on the racecourse again. This time around, Timmy had the timing down to the second! We got the perfect start, crossing the start line on the second!

Seriously, any regatta results are determined 50% by the start and 50 % by the upwind tacking, - all three girls did a perfect job again, and again we had no competition.

Sunday night there was a cocktail party with the awards ceremony. MERIDIAN won first place in our class! The Captain and his three girls were up to receive the trophy, Bolivares 2,150,000.00 (approx. $ 1,000.00) and five days free stay at the marina. WOW, I was a bit more than proud! WE had just proven to ourselves, that not only could we sail MERIDIAN around the Caribbean, but we could also race her competently as well! THIS WAS THE CAPTAINS REWARD!

Getting Ready to Go
October, 2005
 

So what is next?

Well, as I have written earlier, we don’t have any plans, and we stick to them. The outlook however is the Eastern Caribbean next, i.e. Grenada, The Grenadines, St Vincent, St Lucia, Martinique, Dominica, Guadeloupe, Antigua, Nevis, Montserrat, St Barths, and St Martin, - probably in April. From St. Martin? Europe? US East Coast? Or back down to South America? We will see.

We are getting MERIDIAN ready to go out to sea again, very reluctantly leaving wonderful Venezuela most likely during the first week of November, after the Halloween party at the marina.

My next update will probably be from somewhere in the Eastern Caribbean in January / February. Timmy will keep you posted on a monthly basis.

The Boat Search
July, 2005
 

My initial focus in search of a suitable boat was a medium to heavy displacement mono hull sloop such as Halberg Rassy, Najad or Island Packets; all strong sea worthy blue water offshore boats.

That focus was suddenly thrown off track, when Tamara announced that she wouldn’t live on a “slanted floor” or in a “basement” either, “so why don’t we look at a catamaran! Mono hulls heel over and your living quarters are below the water line (basement)." It basically put me into a coma, as I have never even remotely thought of a catamaran and my preconceived idea of such a vessel was, that it wasn’t safe for offshore work, they can pitch pole or capsize!

However, Tamara didn’t budge so I had to take a closer look seriously, I could always discard this idea when I had proven it wasn’t a good idea.

To cut a long story short, it took me three years of studying anything I could find on catamarans and test sailing many in offshore conditions. That changed my previous misconception completely! New material technology has completely changes the boating world. Weight is a catamaran's (cat.) worst enemy, and today you can use high tech sophisticated fibers such as Kevlar and carbon to build incredibly strong boats that are very light, thereby eliminating one of the cat's biggest disadvantage. Further, generally a cat can’t tack well (i.e. sail close towards to the wind) due to the lack of a keel, which you find on mono hulls to keep them upright (with a heel). However some cats come with dagger boards (light keels) you can lower when sailing upwind and tacking, thereby eliminating another weak point of a cat compared with a mono hull. The third negative point of a cat compared to a mono hull can unfortunately not be eliminated! The price! You basically buy TWO mono hulls with a huge bridge deck in-between.

After test sailing many different cats, the French build Catana catamaran quickly reached the top of our list. Unfortunately also the most expensive! However, the Catana meet most of our criteria, of which the most important was safety in offshore conditions combined with up wind (windward) performance and comfortable living space.

After a long and intense search we finally found a lightly used and very well equipped Catana 431 located in Tortola, British Virgin Islands (BVI). After sea trial (in 30 knots of wind in the tail end of hurricane Ivan) and a marine survey by a professional marine surveyor, the deal was done. We had the boat!

We took possession of the boat on October 15. 2004, and I was on board the boat on October 12th. The first main objective was to be ready to move the boat in case of a hurricane threat, with the hurricane season not over (ends officially on November 15. in the Caribbean, but you can still risk a hurricane up to early December.), and also to familiarize myself with all the SYSTEMS.

The Boat System Configuration
July, 2005
 

The fist couple of weeks I was in Nanny Cay Marina. It was hot (the boat was 40 C at mid-day), buggy and challenging. What the heck had I gotten myself into?! I was on a very steep learning curve, spending hours every day in the engine rooms and reading operator's manuals, trying to make sense of all the mechanical and electrical systems onboard.

You basically run your own city! You have your own power plant generating electricity in both 12V DC and 110V / 220V 60 Hz AC. You have your own water supply plant, with water maker, pressure vessels, hot and cold, storage tanks and numerous pumps.

You have your own sewage systems, with toilets (called heads on a boat), storage and disposal systems with numerous pumps and valves. You have your own propane gas system for cooking and BBQ. You have your own diesel engines (two in all) to help you move around in tight quarters and in no wind conditions. They need substantial maintenance with fuel filter, oil filter changes every 150 hours of operation, not to mention sail drives and propellers with gear oil change and zinc anode changes etc. annually, and you are your own diesel mechanic! Then you have the rigging, both standing (mast, boom, spreaders, spars etc) and the running rigging (lines, winches, sails etc.) so you are your very own rigger and sail maker as well. Flattering with all these tittles I’m not sure I asked for or wanted, but I got them anyway!

We are also our own telecommunication company. I use “we” now, as I’m trying sneakily to shuffle some of that stuff over on Tamara’s plate. We have VHF radio for coastal communications and close ship to ship communications. We have SSB (single side band) radio for long distance ( thousand of miles) ship to shore and ship to ship communication as well as weather forecasts and slow inexpensive e-mail.

We have a satellite phone (Inmarsat M), where we can reach or be reached anywhere in the world. Also we have a satellite communication system (Inmarsat C) for fast expensive e-mail, faxes and data transmissions.

The manuals for all these systems take up several meters of bookshelves. YES! We are on a steep learning curve, but after a few months we are “getting the hang of it” little by little. We are definitely never bored, always something to do.

The boat is completely self-contained, and we are not dependant on marinas at all. We have relatively large freezer and refrigeration capacity for our food supplies. We produce all our water using a reverse osmosis system producing 10 – 15 US gal per hour (40 – 56 liters per hour). With the new hard top bimini, we have a rain collection system, with which we expect to collect an equal amount or more in rainwater(to be tested over the next few months).

We produce average 100 – 120 AH (Amp hours) per day from our solar array (7 x 75W panels). This covers a little less than half our daily (24 hours) consumption(250 Amp hours), so the balance is produced from the engines two 130 Amp alternators, running the engines average 5 – 10 hours a week. We plan to install a wind generator, which will produce average 150 Amp hours per 24 hours, when we get down to Trinidad (the cheapest place to buy it). This should make us completely self-sufficient using renewable resources only.

Ready to Go Sailing
February, 2005
 

Finally we got Nadine onboard. After a week in St. Martin with Nadine, we were READY do go sailing. First up to the North East coast of St. Martin to some nice beaches. Very French with topless (and less!?), crystal clear water and nice sandy beaches. The sail up was varied with almost all points of sail in 10 - 20 knots of wind.

Then to St. Barts on a beam reach in 15 - 20 knots wind, a beautiful sail. St. Barts is French and the place to see and bee seen. Very fashionable with fancy and expensive stores and restaurants, though also very pretty and charming.

At each new country and even sometimes within the same country on different islands, you have to check in and out. The procedure is to set the quarantine flag (Q Yellow) as soon as you arrive in "their" territorial waters. After the anchor is set, the Captain takes the dinghy to "town" to find Customs and Immigration for clearing. Sometimes Customs and Immigration is not the same place and you never know which to clear first? It changes with the weather?

After clearing the boat and crew in, all are allowed ashore to explore the new place. The clearing procedures is generally straight forward, but lots of paperwork to fill out and showing boat papers (registration documents, home port, tonnage, etc.) then crew information with passports etc.

After St. Barts we sailed down to St. Kitts which is an independent country (St. Kitts and Nevis two island next to each other). The anchorage was not very nice. I took the dinghy to the marina to leave it there for clearance, knowing the customs office was three miles out of town! and the immigration was the local police station in the middle of town. A security officer asked me to pay $5 to leave the dinghy at the marina (the only option as there was no dingy dock!!) A local offered to drive me to the custom office for $25!! and told me it would take 1 - 2 hours to clear custom not to mention immigration. I met some cruisers at the marina dock which further discouraged me, stating that St. Kitts isn't very cruiser friendly. I quickly made up my mind and decided to wait with clearance till the next day ( provided we didn't have to leave earlier than the customs office opened), as it was late Saturday afternoon anyway. We left Sunday morning at the crack of dawn! We sailed down to the next island South, Nevis, which is the same country! Everything was closed including custom so we couldn't clear in / out here either. Timmy and I "snug" into town anyway for a nice walk in a very quiet nice little clean town. The sail down to Nevis was great ,on a beam reach in 20 knots of wind, relative calm sea with 6 - 8 foot waves on 10 - 12 foot North East swells, clicking 12 knots speed! It doesn't get much better than that.

Leaving Nevis early Monday morning, (too early for clearance!?) we had another great sail down to Montserrat, another independent island state with 8000 inhabitants. The only place to clear in and out is in a small bay (named Little Bay!) where we anchored in 35 feet of water in BIG rolling North Easterly swells. It was a challenge to launch the dingy and even more of a challenge to moor the dingy at the town dock in 12 foot swells. I had to up and climb the dock when the dingy was "airborne" on a swell. Custom and immigration was very efficient and friendly and took only 10 min. to clear both in and out at the same time!They didn't question where we had been since clearing out of St Barts and we got a 74 hours permit.

Montserrat has a 3000' volcano on the Southern part of the Island whish erupted 10 years ago and completely destroyed the Capital Plymouth and the Southern half of the island, and it is still active. The entire Southern half of the island is off limit! Totally deserted with only burned buildings and a brown lava moon landscape. Plymouth is a ghost town, totally in ruins and deserted, very eerie.

The reason we can give you a first hand account of this devastated area is, that we had to abandon the anchorage on the North West coast where we checked in due to the big swells and go down the cost to find a sheltered bay. The first and only available is just off Plymouth in front of the volcano. Despite no one is allowed into this area, a ship always has the right to seek shelter in bad weather!? If you read this, the volcano didn't erupt overnight! Tomorrow morning we plan to sail down to Guadeloupe (French) where we expect to stay / sail a week or two before heading South again down to Dominica (Independent and Spanish peaking) and then to Martinique.

Joergen's Perspective
February-March, 2005
 

We have had some wonderful sailing since we left St. Martin in February, which is described in more details on both Timmy’s and Dina’s page – check it out.

I’ll therefore just add a few things from my perspective.

The boat is really a dream to sail, strong, sea worthy, fast, comfortable and easy to handle, also when the wind pipes up. Timmy and the girls are getting the hang of it and becoming real sailors! It feels good to see the competence level rise and realize that I’m slowly but steady getting some really competent crew on board.

Flemming will join us from March 22 till April 16. I look very much forward teaching him sailing and make a competent crew out of him!

As a boy I loved fishing, and I have fond memories from the many countless hours I spend as a boy fishing alongside my hometown river or the nearby North Sea, often with my best friends alongside.

Later I lost the passion for fishing? Well I still enjoyed it, as long as I had someone to put on the bait, take the fish off the hook and clean it – yes I like to BBQ it myself!

Realizing that I will not succeed to delegate these tasks in fishing to the crew, I had to face the brutal reality: Do it myself.

The boat came with a fishing rod with a reel. However, not strong enough to land the HUGE fish I was planning on getting in the freezer, so I bought a REAL deep sea rod and reel with some monster bait / hooks!

My first catch was a big Barracuda just offshore Antigua. After only a five min. fight I got the beast in to the transom, where it decided to get off the hook! I was fine with this decision, as we don’t want to eat Barracuda and I didn’t feel like risking my fingers taking it off the hook. Joergen was sure he had a huge fish Joergen caught a big baracuda that got away

My second catch was a NICE BIG King Makrel just offshore St. Kitts. It gave me a good fight, but after only five to ten minutes it gave up? When I got the fish out of the water, only the head was left?! A shark or tuna had stolen my BBQ Makrel! Now that annoyed me big time and I decided to use the fish head as bait to get my fish back WITH the tuna, shark or whatever beast took my Makrel. Well, it didn’t happen.

My third catch was just outside St. Barts. It felt BIG! But after a few minutes there was no resistance at all? The thing had bitten the steal line attached to the nylon line over and left with one of my fanciest “squid lure”!

Still no fish on the BBQ but I’ll keep working at it and will report when it happens. Oh I forgot, we had BBQ Red Snapper in Guadeloupe, I bought it on the local fish market. Where there is a will there is a way!