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s/v Always & All Ways
03/11/2011, San Blas Islands, Panama

Today we visited the Kuna Hotel & Restaurant on Kuanidup, the other island in the Los Grullos lagoon. The day had dawned dark and overcast and never really burned off. I did my usual morning thing of writing yesterday's blog, checking email, and listening to the SSB net. Deb slept late ( a good day for it.) Later we had pancakes (with REAL maple syrup – thank you Mary) for a late breakfast and then launched dinghy (I'm getting much better at this one handed bit) and went over to the island. The island itself is your prototypical tropical isle, beautiful tall palms on a sandy beach with waves breaking on the surrounding coral. The “hotel” consists of about a dozen bamboo and thatch cabanas on the beach, each about 10' x 12'. Inside a dirt floor and a couple hammocks, nothing else. This is a KUNA hotel and you get to live like Kuna. There is a shower/bath house in the middle of the island. This is actually very non-Kuna as they always build their banos out over the water on the lee side of the island so that they have a “natural” sewage system, but I guess for a hotel some plumbing is necessary. Speaking of plumbing, they had an elevated water tank and thus gravity feed “running water.” There was, however, no apparent source for the water. The must bring it from the mainland in 50 gallon drums. The restaurant was a long thatched roof building with open sides and two long “picnic” tables. I would guess they could seat about 20. There was also a separate bar with a pool table and a hammock. We inquired at the “Oficina” if we could get a meal there and they said, “Si.” Not knowing exactly what to expect, we decided to eat lunch there. The man in charge offered us the choice of fish or chicken. Deb, of course, chose chicken and I, of course, chose fish. We agreed to return @ 12:00 to eat. As we were returning and pulling our dinghy up on the sand, we heard them ringing the dinner bell and about a dozen guests at the hotel came in for lunch. They were all in the same group and French I believe. Most spoke no English but we exchanged pleasantries anyway in a combination of broken Spanish and broken English. To our surprise, Deb & I were served first, the chicken and fish as ordered with coconut rice, sweet plantains and a lettuce salad. The chicken was a breast that had been butterflied, no skin but with bones still attached. The fish was probably barracuda, a meaty fish with lots of spices. It did not appear to have been a very big barracuda and the natives probably know about cigatura so I figured I was safe eating it. So far no problems. (Cigatura is an orgainsm that lives on coral reefs and is eaten by reef fish. As you work your way up the food chain with larger fish eating smaller fish, it becomes more and more concentrated. It is apparently harmless to the fish, but can cause a variety of ills in humans who consume it. Cooking does not destroy the toxin so if you eat a contaminated fish, you will get the toxin. It is a real problem in the Bahamas, but seems to be less so in the Western Caribbean.) Very shortly the others were served, but they all got pulpo in a red sauce. Since I am not fond of octopus, I was glad we were able to order separately. Beer (walk to bar to buy it) was $2.00 – the most I have ever paid for a Balboa – but ice cold and good. A slice of pineapple was desert. The total bill came to $20 for the two of us, $16 for lunch and $4 for beer. Because we ate there, they told us that we did not need to pay the normal $2 per person fee for walking on the other island, it was free as long as we stayed. We thanked them and returned to the boat where we spent a lazy afternoon reading and sewing (Deb, not me!). The weather was too cloudy for good snorkeling and there is always tomorrow.

Los Grullos.
03/10/2011, San Blas Islands, Panama

The Wednesday Boat count on the SSB net did not mention any boats at their Los Grullos or Gunboat, two places in more or less the same direction that we wanted to see so we weighed anchor and headed W. We had to sail between two parallel reefs until we came to a cut to let us out to the open water, but there was a nice 10 kt. breeze at just about 90* apparent so it was a delightful sail at 5.5-6.0 kts. and since most of the trip was to leeward of a reef, the water was flat. Can't beat that! As we approached Los Grullos, I could see with binoculars that neither it nor Gunboat had a boat anchored there. Los Grullos comprises an interlocking series of reefs forming almost a complete circle around two islands one of which has a “Kuna Hotel and Restaurant”. The other is deserted. The guide book describes anchoring right off the dock of the hotel, but the deserted island looked better to us. We dropped sail and motored in carefully staying in the deep (60-70') water and avoiding the reef and shoals (1-2'). In the guide book, on the chart plotter, and by eyeball it looked like there was a narrow strip of appropriately shallow water in which to anchor over sand. The shoal approaching it rose to only 15' and would have made an OK anchorage, but these shoals are often marl instead of sand and that does not offer good holding , so we proceeded on. The water dropped back to 70'. As we approached the island it rose slowly to 60', 50', 40'. We finally dropped the hook quite close to the island but still in 25' of water – deeper than either the chart plotter or guide book suggested. By eyeball it was clear that any closer to the island, the depths dropped dramatically. So we dropped in 25' over sand, let out 150' and got an instant and solid set. We added the kellet, another 40' of chain (we are now hanging in 60' of water and I wanted the kellet on the bottom) then the bridle and another 30'. I sure am glad we bought that 400' of chain last year. We now have out more chain than we owned last time we were here. I swam the anchor as always and was amazed that I could easily see the kellet on the bottom (in 60') and follow the chain all the way in to a totally buried anchor. We are set for a peaceful night. We are just E of the point of the island so we still get a nice breeze and the water is totally flat because of all the surrounding reefs. Now to see what those reefs look like. As I was swimming the anchor, I continued toward shore and confirmed that we really could not get close enough to drop the anchor in water that was significantly shallower. It went from 25' to 5' very abruptly and anchoring on such a slope was an invitation to dragging. Much better to be where we are in a gently sloping section with a good set. I did, however, notice that right at the sharp up slope was a lot of nice coral beginning @ 20' and dropping to 50' or so. It seemed to stretch quite a distance both E and W. Perfect hookah territory. Later we took the dinghy ashore and while Deb walked the beach – beautifully clean and sandy – I snorkeled some of the reef near shore. Only 5-6' of water, but very healthy reef and lots of fish. I was even able to swim “outside” the reef and only be in 10-12' of water and it was even nicer. “Outside” is a relative term here because there are several broken rings of reef (think onion) that surround the two islands. What is “outside” one reef is “inside” the next. Makes for really great snorkeling or diving. As the afternoon wore on, first one then a second boat arrived at “our” location. The first anchored exactly where the guide book says (amazing how people do that – it doesn't even look like a good spot to me), and the second went up between the islands (with a reef between him and us) and anchored in what I am guessing must be very deep water. Anyway the three of us are spread out enough that it is fine and with the Kuna Hotel here, we were not “alone” anyway. At 5:00 I mixed gin & tonics, but down the shade/privacy curtains, and colored Deb's hair in the cockpit. (Two requirements of my doing her hair: we do it over cocktails and we are both naked (too hot to wear the plastic cape and it saves on staining clothes). Nachos and fajitas for dinner, a brief stint in the net to watch stars, and early bed. Tomorrow we will visit the “hotel” and do some snorkeling / hookahing.

The pizza fiasco.
03/09/2011, San Blas Islands, Panama

Most days here start pretty slowly. I am usually up by 7:00 and most often it is sunny, then shortly it will cloud up with maybe a shower. The showers are always brief, but can be pretty heavy while they last. Eventually, by 9:00-10:00 the skies clear and the sun returns. Trade winds blow constantly and although they are predicted to fade, we haven't seen it yet. Windy (our trusty wind generator) has never been happier! Unless it is really blowing, he doesn't put out many amps (3-4 usually), but he does it 24-7. The batteries like that! This morning we decided to have pizza for dinner and I decided to try the no knead pizza dough from the Cooking for Geeks cookbook. I've actually done similar before. My semolina pizza crust is kneaded a bit, but it, too, sits for all day to develop the gluten in the hard semolina flour. Also my sourdough bread gets kneaded only very briefly and then sits overnight in the fridge to develop. So I mixed up the dough and set it aside. I also decided to try the ginger beer recipe (really a soda, not a beer). I diced up some ginger and boiled it with sugar and water then let it steep while we went to shore to check out the little stretch of beach we were anchored behind. It gets very shallow very quick. The kayak would have worked better than dink, but with my bum arm still pretty tender and useless we decide dink was safer. We pulled dink up on a sand bar and tied her off to a big driftwood stump and waded in the ankle deep water to shore. Shore was not very interesting.Deb found some pretty flowers she had never seen before (and took cuttings of course). Lots of flotsam, but no treasures. While Deb as exploring further, I went back by dink and found a nice spot on the soft sand where I could wiggle by butt to create a perfect seat and then sit there with only a small section of my anatomy touching the sand and the rest sort of floating. With the sun on my back, I focused on a little spot of driftwood that was just breaking the surface in the distance and meditated. It was wonderful. I had to have a homebrew for lunch as I used the yeast in the bottom to seed my ginger beer. Gee life is hard. After lunch, Deb took a nap in the tramp and I read in the hammock. Then we got in dink again and went to explore the other end of the island. It almost looked like we could get through to the other side, but again we ran out of water. I also discovered the dink does not pole worth beans! I had found the perfect bamboo pole and tried to pole us across the shallows, but dink has so much surface area above the water that we constantly were blown sideways. The pizza was an absolute unmitigated disaster! The dough looked good. A bit slack, but easy enough to fix by kneading in a bit of flour at the last minute. I had forgotten to bring the pizza stone, but hd brought my big pizza pan so I spread the dough out on it. The Geek book called for prebaking the dough which I have done at times, but this pan has perforations over the entire bottom and cooks the crust real well without prebaking, so I went ahead and put on the toppings – black bean with bacon, onion, pepper, garlic, and thyme over a tomato sauce and topped with cheddar – delicious. Oven preheated to 550. Pop it in. IT DOESN'T FIT. The pan was too big for the oven. Oh my god, what now? The dough is no where stiff enough to lift off the pan with all the toppings on it. And what to put it on? Wait. If I fold the dough over like a calzone, I can make a shape that will fit on my heavy aluminum square fry pan. Careful, careful, now flip. It worked. I'm a genius. Wait. This pan won't fit in the oven either! Well, the pan will but the handle won't. I had broiled things in it before but then it was OK for the oven door to remain open a bit. Tonight it is not. Curses, foiled again! OK, if I mush it just a bit more, I can flip it again into a lasagna pan that I know will fit in the oven. Done. In the oven. What a circus. For some reason whenever we have pizza, we always end up doing “pizza and a movie” so by a process of elimination (Deb chose 3, I threw out 1, she threw out 1) we chose Clint Eastwood's “Pale Rider.” The good thing about “pizza and a movie” is that the room is dark and we could not see the mess the calzone came out. It actually tasted OK, but the crust was too thick in places and too thin in others (big surprise there) and it really was a disaster, but one we could eat at least some of. Not worth saving the rest. The fish will enjoy it. Tomorrow we will probably move to a place we can snorkel / hookah, but not sure where yet.

Travel Day.
03/07/2011, San Blas Islands, Panama

Having walked all the beaches and snorkeled or hookahed all the reefs, we finally decided to leave Puyadas. I took dink out and retrieved our secondary anchor and brought it back. We then carefully weighed anchor and wove our way back outside the reef relying on a combination of the GPS “bread crumbs” (recorded track of our course IN) and eyeball and depth gauge navigation. We made it out without problems and then turned and raised sail for a nice easy sail back to Nargana. There we anchored near the split between islands (Nargana & Corizon de Jesus are connected by a bridge) and then took the dinghy in to see what we could find for provisions. We struck it big time! Fresh pineapples, oranges, limes, nice looking peppers and cucumbers, pitiful lettuce (but lettuce). Not bad at all. After a quick lunch, we weighed anchor again and sailed NW in a mild NE breeze. Our first destination was the Cocobanderas. The E part is usually crowded and if it was, we would continue to the W Cocobanderas which were less often visited. Even if there was a boat at the anchorage shown in the guide book, we had dinghied to a nearby island and knew we could anchor there. Sure enough E Coco was crowded! I counted 15 boats including a big square rigged schooner and the guide book says it will only hold a half dozen. We continued on. Oops. The W Cocos are crowded too. Not only was there a boat at the recommended anchorage, there were three at our “secret” anchorage! I guess we'll keep going. We turned directly down wind to follow the Mangles Channel down to the next inner ring of reefs, the Naguargandup Islands. Going down wind, gennie was unhappy so we rolled her up and popped open the spinnaker. Great spinnaker run all the way down the channel! Dropping the spinnaker, we turned and ran up the inside of the Naguargandup chain. After passing Cambombia, we worked our way inside the reef and sailed in the lee of the islands. We found a perfect anchorage at the W tip of Guariadup. The reef continues uninterrupted across the whole chain so everything is protected. At the W tip, we were able to anchor close to shore in 20' of water over clear sand. We got a great breeze and totally flat water. After swimming the anchor to be sure it was set (totally buried in the sand), I enjoyed one of the last homebrews in the hammock. It looked like we might get a good sunset for a change as there was no big cloud bank to our W. I made blender boat drinks (fruit punch, coco lopez, rum, coconut rum, and ice) to celebrate. However, as the sun sunk lower somehow these clouds just appeared to hide it, and then it would reappear only to disappear again. In the end, we did NOT see the sun set, but the sky turned a beautiful sky-blue-pink (always my favorite color) with just a tiny crescent moon also preparing to set. Not bad. Showers, spaghetti dinner and early bed.

Masters of Ground Effect
03/07/2011, San Blas Islands, Panama

Pelicans really are the Masters of Ground Effects. They are not particularly graceful fliers, they flap their wings many times for each short glide while circling overhead. Their dives are fascinating – how on earth do they do that without breaking their neck? - but anything but graceful. They don't stretch their necks out to create a streamlined profile, they bend them back over their body and open their mouths hitting the water wide open! Great for gathering in fish, but hell on the jaw and neck bones. Their landings are sort of like a ducks, but again with less grace. They have more of a “splash down” approach. When they are skimming the water however, no Indy car has anything on them (in fact, the Indy folks probably studied the pelican!) Their wingtips are literally 1” off the water. Their wings arch smoothly to their rather bulbous body, creating the perfect tunnel. They rise and fall with the waves always keeping that magical 1” from the wing tips. I've never seen the accidentally dip one into the water. And never seen one touch the water with its belly, they can go forever in this mode. Only when they pull up to climb do they need to flap their wings again. OK you say. I've had too much of this relaxation thing and I'm getting weird. Well, maybe, but I do love watching our “Belizean Airforce” (I suppose I should call it the Panamanian Airforce now, but the term originated while we were in Belize and it stuck.) particularly when they come in at low altitude for a strafing run.

03/08/2011 | seabird1
browns or whites? 'cause they dive completely differently....

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