The first of our big passages hello pacific. I think I’ve been waiting my whole life for you. Here we are on day 5 of the passage and I now understand why people would actually want to travel by sail boat. Flat seas, 10 knot winds from behind, blue skies, amazing. We set off on the afternoon of St. Patrick day. I unfortunately took a seasickness pill that made me loopier than just being at sea, it has so much calmer than our anchorage in Panama city It was heaven to finally be on our way again. Like a weight had been lifted off of us. The first day we each saw a few ships, and then nothing until yesterday. It is sweltering hot in the day but at night time, especially the first few nights it was beyond freezing. T-shirt, long sleeved shirt, fleece, foul weather coat, long pants and rain pants, wrapped in a fleece blanket and still chilly. We are doing watches now. Finally starting to get into the rhythm of it and feeling less of a zombie than those first few days. Phil is on watch from 7-11, I’m on till 2 am, He’s back on until 6 or so, then I’m on till 11 am, then we nap as needed until the next night. Those first few days you feel like the night of the living dead. But we are more into a routine now and feeling better. WE have been away from shops for nearly 2 weeks and still have enough food for an army. Actually worried about eating all the fresh stuff before Galapagos in case they quarantine it and try to take it away. Day one was a lovely sail, day 2 we put up our big spinnaker and flew before the wind, day 3 we put fishing gear over board, Phil caught our first fish ever, a skipjack tuna (about 6 lbs.) within 30 minutes of putting the hook over. With our trusting fishing guide in hand we managed to kill and fillet it and have some for lunch, pretty incredible. I decided I didn’t want to miss out on the fun so I put the line back over, by 6 pm I was reeling in my first catch a 5 lb. yellow fin tuna, delicious. Tried a recipe for ceviche (lemon onion, tom, pepper and raw tuna) delicious, and had the rest marinated in chili sauce the next day with coconut rice from my hand collected and grated coconut, talk about eating local!. Realised we are going to need to work out more fish recipes soon. Yesterday was a day of rest. Our big spinnaker had some pre-existing love wounds on it including a patch that featured duct tape. So we have been relying on the little on. The wind typically fails a least 2 times a day and we’ve used nearly half a tank of diesel so far, with the doldrums left to come. Still have lots on board though. Later that same day we had a pod of dolphins come and ply, there were 5 of them, playing in the bow waves, going from the front of the boat to the back, playing with each other, hey staid with us for 20 minutes at least and it was such an incredible experience, it really felt like a privilege to be out here and see them. That night as I was trying to sleep at 7 pm (a hard thing to do even when exhausted Phil shouted for me to come up. The nights have been so dark, not a star in the sky because of the clouds and no moon so it is hard to tell the horizon from the water, but the phosphorescence has been amazing. Our friends were back, leaping around the boat, we could only see the; bioluminescent splashes where they landed, One of them came like a bullet under the boat; the only thing giving him away was the trail of green. Yesterday was the long liners, from out of nowhere, haven’t seen another person for 4 days this little 25 foot outboard boat comes up to us and tells us in Spanish they have a long line out for fishing. I have never woken up so fast from a nap hearing Phil talking to another boat. That was the first of 5 separate fishing teams, some asked for food, others just escorted us through and past their lines so we wouldn’t snag it or break it and one guy looked really angry when we told him we had no cigarettes on board. My favourite boat was Devino nino jesus. I couldn’t’ imagine being stuck out on the water 100 miles from shore with no shelter, it is hard work. Whatever they were doing with those long lines it was more wildlife than we had seen in ages, big game fish jumping, our first potential shark spotting (just saw a fin from a distance), a school of big fish leaping out of the water like dolphins, incredible. Today is a day for recouping, Spinnaker has been taped, Dishes washed from last nights feast of vegetable stir-fry and homemade apple crumble (which Phil has declared to be his new favourite boat thing), a fried breakfast this morning. It is so much better than just hanging on. I’m typing on the computer in the shade of our sunshade, trying to keep the spinnaker flying as we head ever closer (currently 58 Nm from the equator. We have bought a bottle of champagne to celebrate, but not sure how that I’ll go with our current eta of 5:30 am. Another night watch ahead, a blackness, broken by the kitchen timer ringing every 10 minutes, sometimes a sail change, often watching the birds that pluck things from our wake, the bioluminescence of the waves, or our wake behind us, sheet lightening last night, stars if we are lucky. A quiet, peaceful, happy time. Looking out for boats, but knowing you are probably not going to see them. I love it here, I told Phil I hope that this will be sailing from now on. I know we won’t be that lucky but it has been heaven. Off of the computer, time to check the weather and see where the intertropical convergence zone is, how many more days will we be able to sail before we hit the doldrums? Will try to type again soon.
A part of Panama that even I could love! It took us only a day to sail from Panama city to Las Perlas, beautiful winds, calm seas and you could actually see that we were leaving the smog behind. What a blessing. Our little Seamonkey was laden with fruits and vegetables, packaged meats, only 2 loaves of bread for Phil (a mistake we realized quite early on) and enough blocks of cheese for an army.
Las Perlas is a common visiting spot for boats en route to Galapagos or those just getting away from the city. Because it is so close it makes it really easy to get to. Phil had carefully picked our anchorages from our Panama cruising guide, a purchase I wasn’t sure about at the time but was so worth it after the sailing we’ve done and the secret spots it let us find. We sailed past Contdora, the island where most people sail to (closest to Panama city and has a tienda (shop) and facilities and looked over our shoulder to see a fleet of no less than 40 boats all anchored there, we had only just escaped that kind of madness and I wasn’t ready to sign up for another session of “the net” again. I think Phil knew I needed to be away from people so he sailed me on to a tiny bit of island that had 17 feet of tide. It is incredible to sit in one spot and watch the landscape shift around you. The thing that took my breath away was the bird life. It is the first time we had heard birds (with the exception of the mockingbirds and the damn parrots in a cage at Isla Perico) and it was beautiful. That first night we lit the bbq, had a beer (not the most delicious as it had been frozen and thawed numerous times, but delicious none the less and enjoyed. We had arrived at mid-high tide and tiw as amazng the next morening to see an island where there had only been water the day before. We were woken up to the songs of birds singing on our rigging, and perhaps trying to make a nest in our folded up sail, we might never know! I jumped overboard and that is when we realized, that although we were in paradise it still had drawbacks. The water was green and as thick as pea soup But worse than that was the state of our boat bottom. Poor little seamonkey, barnacles almost an inch thick as far as the eye could see, tiny shrimp making a biofilm over everything. I now understand so much better why people study natural things for materials sciences, those barnacles hung on with a lot of force better even than 5200! So scraper in hand I went at it. I was probably in the water close to an hour and when I came out I was as close to hypothermic as I had been sine my childhood swims in Emerald lake. It is such a strange feeling to be shivering uncontrollably when it is 30 C outside. I wrapped under a few blankets and when I finally warmed up we went to explore low tide land. The tiny top of the mangrove bushes near us were now trees standing a solid 10 feet above the water level. The small breaking rocks that we hadn’t even been able to see the day before was an island. It was incredible. We headed to low tide island first; the shells were amazing and the comb jellies, glimmering past us in the water. Periwinkles, crabs in tide pools, so cool! Then we headed to the islands that had “land bridges” at low tide. Where the water had reached was now a scorched desert, barnacles crackling as I walked over them (and felt a little stab of revenge for all that the ones on the boat had put me through). There was a river that was cut off at low tide with some amazing puffer fish, small fry and other pacific fabulous creature, a solid 10-15CC higher than the water coming in. I found a beautiful scallop shell to go digging with and my biggest regret was not having a better pacific ID book. Our last stop was the seashell beach. It was like the Party beach we drove up to in Barbuda but only with whole beautiful pink shells. It was beautiful. A good rest under a tree, past some oyster catchers on a rock that we hadn’t seen on the way back home, one again reminding us of the dangers of crazy tidal regions and then to work on the boat. These jobs are never done it seems. Phil spent the afternoon putting our rain water catchment in place after scrubbing the dirt from the solar panels and roof, so gross! In the meantime a boat with some fishermen came into our previously deserted bay, oh well; it was nice to have the place to ourselves while it lasted. The next morning we decided to move on to another anchorage, this one featuring a fabulous long beach. More than that was the bird life. As we were sailing in we saw a flock of birds, at least in the hundreds fishing. We couldn’t make out what kind they were but in our bay we saw passing flocks of pelicans, cormorants, terns, gulls, swallows. It felt prehistoric watching them wheel about the boat and dive to fish. They were everywhere, huge flocks flying past us, they roosted on some uninhabited islands nearby so that was our adventure for the next morning, A beautiful picture perfect island, small rocks and trees covered in white, turned out it was guano. Palm trees that someone obviously was caring for. Such a beautiful place. Our trip to the shore in front of us had a long walk on the beach, but also a road going past so not quite that same deserted magic. That afternoon we were again in the water scraping away, this time the visibility was even worse, like swimming in mud. I couldn’t tell if the shrimp were from our boat or just passing along in the water but when I was done I was once again blue, but also covered in shrimp, yuck! These are not the delicious eating kind, although I would have loved to have my revenge on them with their bigger cousins too. Time to move on again, we sailed all day nearly 17 miles down to the southern end of Las Perlas to a beautiful anchorage, or it would have been if there wasn’t a huge swell rolling in. As it was it was one of our harrier “check it out sessions” Phil the surfer wasn’t happy with the shape of the wave breaking on the beach, I wasn’t happy with the roaring of the surf so in the end after a miraculous U turn we were out of there and looking for another spot to rest. We had left early in the day so had plenty of time to sail onwards. We headed west to the last island in the chain and found a perfect spot in paradise. It is Phil’s favourite anchorage to date, me to maybe. A huge beach covered in palm trees and green plants, red cliffs. It is apparently privately owned, but here were no lights that we could see, no traffic to hear, it was heaven. When we arrived there were three other boats in another part of the bay, but this bay was so huge we still found a spot all our own. The first night we fell asleep to the sound of surf breaking on the beach. We spent the next day trying to get the boat sorted out. Once again, my least favourite thing to do, attacking the barnacles, this time I was learning though and managed to put on my wetsuit staving off the cold! Phil worked on other bits and pieces around the boat, the list is ever growing and I’m looking forward to the day we can just relax without a kazzilion things we should be working on. The next morning up again and back to work on things, We had a fabulous field trip to shore though, the swell was finally calm enough to land the Mighty Quinn on that stretch of beach and we walked and walked, found and harvested our first coconuts for eating, saw snake tracks and wild pig tracks and even heard one in the jungle. It as the wildest place we have been on this trip. Saw a jellyfish unlike any I had seen before floating past us beneath the portabote, showing us it wasn’t really mud soup water. We got the watermaker working, the latest bane of our existence and filled our tanks (the sludge left in the filter was amazing). Managed to husk, grate and toast my first coconut, delicious, although my first attempt at coconut milk left something to be desired. Then it was onto our final preparations for the Galapagos passage. Cooking up a storm, pasta, coconut curry and rice, chicken, steak. Our fridge was loaded. Phil connected a new system so we can now charge the batteries while the engine is running, installed a see-through shower curtain over our instruments in case of any splashes down below and started to get our fishing gear ready. The next morning we had a few jobs to finish up with, and didn’t’ rush like the usual 7 am departures, instead we had a really beautiful day and left around 1;30 pm, onto Galapagos
Such a country, some people love it here and there are things I can really understand about that, but some of the time it is so beyond frustrating it isn’t true! Some of Panama has been breathtakingly beautiful. We’ve seen dolphins, iguanas, butterflies, incredible birds and yesterday a family of 2 toed sloths, incredible!!! Mama and baby in one tree, daddy in the other, we are going to try to go and see them again today. Even more amazing, we saw them when they were awake, apparently a rare treat! Bad things have included flocks of vultures, I have never really seen a flock of vultures and it isn’t pretty. They were burning weeds for the first week we were here too, so every day smoke and ash covered the boat. It felt like hell. On a brighter note we have also had some amazing adventures, including the mall (where I was stumped while trying to order a baked potato from Wendy’s another crushing blow). Luckily our Spanish has gotten marginally better, making communicating simple things easier, but more complex ideas are still beyond us. The gutting news of the day is that we can’t get the boat hauled out, even more sad because we really thought we were organized and ready for it all a week ago. That means in the next two days getting ready for fuel/water/food then heading off to Las Perlas then Galapagos! We have never had the boat so full of food and drinks, not sure where we are going to fit more. There are so many more adventures to do here too, always the way, you discover more the longer you are in a place. Hopefully will try to do some research about good things to do (for not that much money) in San Cristobal Galapagos, from the sounds of things it can be really expensive, but I’m sure we will find some good adventures none the less. Really looking forward to good clean water and a snorkel in las perlas, apparently the diving is incredible, but with this head cold I don’t think I’ll be trying to equalize my ears any time soon! It will be nice to be in a beautiful place to clean the boat (groan)… at least we will probably get faster at it! Phil has just gotten back from cleaning out our poor engine on the mighty Quinn. The boat SANK while tied up behind the yacht the other day, phil says it was just swamped but still!!!! He got in and bailed faster than someone in a Bermuda fitted dinghy! Amazing, he got it up and floating and had it driving like a race car not long afterwards.
That’s all for today, I’m going to go curl in bed, 32 C, feels like 37 C outside, or maybe a fever, who knows. More soon
Being in a big city finally affords the luxury of shops, but every time we head out shopping we realize more and more how lucky we were in Bermuda. The grocery stores all had fresh meat and while you had to pick the vegetables carefully there were always good ones to be found. Phil has come to realize even the boat stores and hardware stores have been vastly better stocked than the ones here in a huge city. It might be that all of the parts are here, just spread out, or they might really not have the selection. In any case, we have been running all over town trying to get all of the things we need for the next leg of the trip.
Marcelle and I had a fabulous adventure to the Mercado Amados (a fruit and vegetable market). After standing on the side of the road for an hour waiting for the bus, the American’s we were with decided to catch a taxi. Really I would have been happy to get in for $4.00 but after the first 2 drove away I would have gladly paid $5.00. But they were having none of it, so we stood and waited for another 30 minutes to save a dollar. The market was impressive, lots of fruit and veg, we got the tourist prices of course but it wasn’t too bad, and the produce was worlds better than what you can find in a grocery store. Laden with bags (including Marcelle’s best buy of the day 4 tiny pineapples for a dollar) we headed to a lunch stall and had our $2.50 for chicken, rice, beans and strangely spaghetti! Neither of us speak much Spanish but we still managed to have a good conversation with the lady who ran the shop (originally from Dominica). The next day Phil and I did our big store shopping, we went to MegaDepo, Panama’s answer to Costco without a membership, it was wonderful! We have eaten through our cashews that Hilary brought us in Bermuda and have finally restocked the supply, found a solar garden light that is our new energy efficient anchor light, went to a hardware store and bought all of the pieces to make a rain water collector and stopped at the nice grocery store for chocolate muffins, nice meat and a few delicious treats for our passage. Met another lady coming back to the boats who refused to pay 8.00 instead of 6 to get home with her $400.00 worth of groceries, I find it hard to understand. Especially when after we eventually got into a taxi, they charged us $ 10 and we were completely laden (including bags on laps and at feet). Anyway, I am glad that Phil and I are together and don’t mind spending on taxis if we really need them, and equally don’t mind walking or taking the bus. Especially in a country where although there is that level of always being pressured to spend, they are also trying to earn a living, costs aren’t so cheap here and gas is expensive. That is my rant for the day. A few more trips to shops close by and hopefully we’ll be able to do some fishing now (Phil has been loving his fishing book), found our bbq gas supplies and a few other odds and ends. We have two more trips planned into the city, one to go to the mall (such a treat to buy everything we need in one place) and hopefully back to the fish market for another chill afternoon.
I finally feel like you are caught up on this place! Sorry for all of the writing, will try not to get so behind again. Hugs to everyone!
First city we’ve been in since Toronto? London? Skyscrapers, taxis everywhere neighbourhoods, a beautiful waterfront walkway, it is really nice to be in a city again. Poor Phil had to make it back to Colon to finish paperwork we weren’t able to sort out because of Carnival, he still had to pay overtime even though the holiday was over, oh well, Panama, land of bureaucracy and as many extra charges as they can get away with. The next day Norberto and I made our way to Vacamonte, to check out a possible place to get our boat hauled out. It was a great adventure a day on the buses and for 25-50 cents each way a fabulously affordable way to see the city. We made it to Albrook mall and then onto the bus to Vacamonte, we went over the bridge of the America’s and into Vacamonte, a small town, I felt like there should be tumbleweed blowing by. We had a lunch fit for kings for $4.00 in an open air restaurant with the most incredible fresh juice imaginable, we ended up having at least 3 glasses each (and I tried a different one each time). I think the trip was worth it just for the juice! We had to get on another bus to get to the port and almost made it, but we got to a checkpoint and the guard came on the bus, pointed at me and Norberto and we were escorted off. Thankful for his Spanish again we were asked what we were doing (trying to check out the haul out facilities) and if we had permission (no) and were told we could wait for another hour for the bus to come back, but we weren’t allowed in without special permission… honestly what a pain in the behind. Meanwhile while we were waiting the guards tried shooting hoops with coconuts (10 cents for every basket, the old guy won the money). We managed to catch a lift with a very quiet guy in a pickup truck and then spent the rest of the afternoon finding our way home on the bus. We got back in time to see bloody Francisco, our slimy line renter/ line handler provider collecting the lines from Phil and giving him a refund, he did not however collect his tires, even though I went back to find him and tell him he needed to come and get them. I shouldn’t be disappointed in humanity, but he embodied everything slimy and corrupt about this place. I’m looking forward to getting back to somewhere a little less corrupt. Friday, our last day with Norberto was another wandering around town day, we found our way to San Felipe, the old part of town with an amazing fish market (although we all decided it would have been outlawed in our respective countries for lack of refrigeration, not including the stall with the ladies screaming and running out, we guessed a rat??? A delicious treat of seafood in a lemon marinade and then beers (Milwaukee draft) served in a Styrofoam cup watching the tide roll in. Guys who would have made Chris cringe fiberglassing their dinghy, no gloves, no respirator and heaps of glass while the tide was out, and scampering to get out of the way while it rolled back in. Then lunch, at the delicious stall, 3.00 for a huge plate of beans, rice and meat. Delicious. Walked into the old town, down to a beach, saw some stalls with tourist things, then a tiny alleyway, filled with shops and repairs places; it was like a secret path, filled with magic. I want to go back. Finally a plan to head back to the hotel district for a drink with Mike and Paul before everyone except me and Phil left panama. Norberto taught me the value in stopping in an air-conditioned restaurant for a beer, of walking and of laughing. Waking up in the morning to watch the sunrise. Then on Saturday, he went home… we both feel so lucky to have had such a great visit and transit with him. Norberto has an incredible business in the Azores whale watching, diving and doing research with the University and we have both decided we would love to go and visit one day! He is one of those people who are genuinely good and will be a friend for a long time I hope. For anyone interested check out his website www.norbertodiver.com
Man alive, we have been here over a week and I haven’t written anything! Hopefully you’ll forgive me. I think I’ve been recovering!
So, first off, let me tell you about the anchorage. It is a mix of boats in transit, boats wanting to be in transit and the weird ones who just like living here all the time. Lots of space on this side, but on the other side of the causeway (literally less than a 2 minute walk) there is another anchorage with people tucked in quite close together called Las Playita. We can hear them on the radio, can walk over to meet them in 5 minutes, but it takes about 30 minutes to dinghy around the point to where they are! The tides here are incredible, apparently up to 5 metres, so anchoring now has the additional calculation of how much scope do we need for high tide (you have to put out 5 x as much chain as the depth we are in). Happily our anchor is set in a lovely spot and we are happily at home.
Getting to shore is a bit of a challenge. It seems that the ramp to the floating dock (and part of the floating dock itself) has collapsed into the sea some time ago, so now you tie up to the floating dock and have to get into a small red dinghy that has ropes to pull you towards shore. I have started to realize more about the tides too, at low tide, you can nearly hop across the gap, at high tide it is a ways to pull. The dinghy is always a bit wet, always a bit tippy and always lots of fun! The stairs are slimy and made of concrete and a good place to meet lots of people. Finally, we are in a place where you can hear any language and it is lovely. We have a place to get rid of trash, haven’t found a place to get water nearby but can go to shore for free!!
There is a local ‘net’ here, on our VHF radio, on the other side it was lonely, no one checked in, here the radio is buzzing all day and at 8 am there is the “good morning cruisers” to let everyone know it is coming. It has been a great resource. Phil and I never check in, just listen to see if there is useful information and the people that have been here a long time are more than willing to share which is good. Where to find a photocopier, what plays are happening in the city, the meaning of a leap year, the weather, things to buy/sell/trade, where to get work done, how to get to an embassy it has all been spouted about on the net. I seriously think some of these people just love to talk. We have cringed a few times at some of the jokes and have heard more than one weird interchange, someone forgetting the name of a place announced she had Cruiseheimers, another person wanting to thank someone for rescuing his dinghy asked for a “round of clicks” the noise that the radio makes when you push the button to talk, and a few seconds of clicking was heard, so strange, but yesterday the weirdest… a new boat (purchased for 2 million according to the owner) came on the net saying he would like to “host a lifestyle party and in the interest of confidentiality click now to let them know if people were interested” I have never heard the net quite as quiet as at that moment. Oh I laughed!
Our little neighbourhood used to be American territory, but since they have given the canal back to the Panamanian’s it has been developed as an upscale tourist area. Lots of posh restaurants, these weird bicycles that remind me of Fred Flinstone’s car (fits four adults, plush two children) are peddled slowly up and down the road. A shoppette, selling bread, and tins of things and beer for a dollar with free wireless where all the cruisers hang out, a few pizza places with wood burning stoves (hopefully Phil and I will be heading there for a date soon) fishing shops, boat shops and some duty free shops. No fresh fruits or veg to be found, but still, you can stay here for a while. We have briefly seen Allan and Pers again before they headed to the Galapagos, have met a few other cruising people and had a lovely surprise from Bruce and Marcelle (from Adventure bound) of 15 gallons of water, an incredible treat! We’ve managed to meet up with them a few times for beers and dinner and are realizing what a community this can be. So, that’s where we are and it looks like we’ll be here for at least another week waiting to see if our boat can get hauled out to repaint the bottom. If it doesn’t work out we’ll just have to clean it a lot, but hopefully we’ll know in a week or so if it is possible! Fingers crossed!