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s/v Always & All Ways
La Dia de los Diablos.
03/27/2011, San Blas Islands, Panama

I really don't know exactly what the dia de los diablos is supposed to be celebrating. It is, of course, a religious holiday, Spanish Catholic, but there are definitely Afro-Antillean influences as well. The central theme seems to be a clash of GOOD, represented by the beautiful women in their Conga outfits, and EVIL, represented by men dressed in devil costumes. They meet in a dance with fairly high sexual overtones and, of course, GOOD triumphs and the devils disappear while the women celebrate. What made the festival fascinating was the costumes. The Conga outfits include beautiful flowing dresses and elaborate head wear with scarves, crowns and lots of jewelry. The devil costumes are even more amazing. The bodies are fairly typical costumes of close fitting red and black, but the heads are fantastic paper mache creations some of which were more than 6' tall! With these strapped securely to their heads, the guys actually dance in them. They feature grotesque faces with large teeth and the creativity of their design is amazing. One had five skull like faces that looked at you no matter which way the dancer was facing. This was above the “monster” face with its big mouth and teeth. In addition to the devils and congas, there were “clowns”. These were men dressed in raggedy clothes, usually carrying a staff with a doll's head on it and prancing around blowing whistles and displaying 3X size woman's panties to the crowd. One had a large (8'+) boa that he danced with. The clowns wandered through the crowd, “fighting” with each other, and posing for pictures (for a $1.00 donation, of course). Portobelo was mobbed. The road (the ONLY road) was closed to normal traffic and busload after busload of tourists poured in filling all the streets and parks. It was carnival atmosphere everywhere. Booths sold fry bread, or grilles chicken or pork, fried plantains, just about any kind of “street food” you could imagine. Other booths sold beer and premixed Cuba Libra in cans. After wandering around and getting to see some of the costumes up close, we retired to the old Customs House, a 17th century building that served as a warehouse during the days of the Spanish Main. It is now largely empty (a few offices) but very well preserved and open to the public. From the second story we had a reasonable albeit somewhat distant view of the stage and the dancers. It was a good distance for the music which was overpowering up close. By 3:30 the main performances were done and we had had enough of the heat, so we retreated to the boat and a swim. I used the dinghy to go take pictures of a great “fixer-upper” that was anchored behind us in the bay. It would be perfect for my brother Dave. I'll send him the pictures when I have internet and maybe post some here as well.

Late Night Addendum Friday, 25 March, 2011. Pleasures of the Harbor.
03/26/2011, San Blas Islands, Panama

I know, I used that before, but that was for the W Lemmons which are really a lagoon – not a harbor. Portobelo is a REAL harbor, one of the best along the coast. That is one of the reasons it was the major trans-shipment port on the Spanish Main. It is totally protected – N, E, S – by high mountains. Even to the W, the mountains come down to the shore narrowing the entrance. Ancient fortifications still crest the hillsides. The water in the harbor is still. The air is still also. I can hear howler monkeys in the rain forest. I can smell the rain forest. Across the water the harbor lights twinkle. It is quiet. The night is overcast and moonless, but the reflected light from shore illuminates the boats anchored here. Quite a mix. Old work boats, a few derelicts, and lots of “yates”. There are over 30 transient yachts anchored here and a few more or less permanent live-aboards. Yet the harbor is so spacious that triple of quadruple that number could easily fit. I'm sitting out on the tramp, admiring the harbor, and imagining the old Spanish galleons riding at anchor right where I am. It is a magical place that words cannot begin to do justice. The glass of rum is empty so I guess I'll go to bed.

A Dios San Blas
03/25/2011, San Blas Islands, Panama

Thursday, 24 March, 2011. Traveling Day. The morning dawned gray and overcast, wind still blowing ~15 kts. We had decided today was the day to sail to Provenir to clear out as we knew for sure the port captain would be in today and not certain about Friday. It was a perfect day to travel. The overcast would prevent it from being to hot on a down wind run (when the apparent wind – the wind you feel – is decreased by your boat speed and so it tends to feel hotter). We weighed anchor right after the net. Gris Gris asked if we could take a package to someone in Bocas and of course we agreed so we waited for them to run it over in the dinghy. Once under way we were sailing around 6 kts. - up to 7, down to 5 – with the wind @ 120* off the starboard. Nice easy sailing, behind the reef for most of the distance, but even when not, only ~3-5' waves on the stern quarter so still quite easy. Arrived in Porvenir @ 12:30, anchored, ate lunch, went in and got our Zarpe without difficulty, tried (unsuccessfully) to get fruit and veggies at Wichubhuala, returned to the boat, weighed anchor, and headed for Chichime. Arriving in Chichime, we found the usual spots all taken by the 8 boats already present. After cruising around the lagoon and not really seeing any good place to anchor, we were headed back out to try the back side of the island when I realized that right at the entrance there was a good spot of the smaller island (Uchutupu Pipigua). We turned in and anchored in sand with 12' of water falling back to about 25'. We were partly sheltered from the wind by the island which may or may not be good depending upon how strong it blows – we do want some wind for sleeping. Our anchoring spot still left plenty of room for others to enter the lagoon by going behind us so we were not obstructing anyone. We were, however, close enough to the tiny sand island with three palms that it was a reasonable swim over to it. The Cruising Guide said that snorkeling around it was fabulous, but looking from the boat, I couldn't imagine where. I swam over anyway and walked around then walked out to where the water dropped off on each side seeing nothing. Finally I decided that the good snorkeling must be on the inside of the breaking reef that extended out from the island towards the entrance. I put my fins back on and swam in that direction. I was right and so was the book. There was a fairly steep slope running from ~6' to 25' and it was covered with beautiful coral. Quite a few fish as well. Almost out to the point, I cam upon what appeared to be a fairly recent wreck. It was a 30+' sailboat that was lying on its side half way down the slope. The gunnel waan't 10' below the surface. Debris was scattered about for quite an area. He must have grounded on the reef and then slid down with subsequent weather. What an opportunity for a hookah. Unfortunately it was already 5:00 and too late to launch the hookah, but if we stay another day.....

Friday, 25 March, 2011. Just in Time (sort of). The weather forecast shows wind totally dying by tomorrow and so we made the decision to run for Portobelo today hoping to catch the last of the fading wind. If it fades to the E as predicted we might even get a several hour spinnaker run in. The wreck will have to wait for next year, the idea of motoring the whole 50+ miles is just too much. I was up by 6:00 starting coffee and we had anchor up and under way by 6:30. There was still 12-15 kts of wind from the NE and we started out @ 7 kts heading 280* in 3-5' seas, very nice. Wind was about 90* apparent and stayed that way most of the day. Unfortunately the wind did not hold @ 12-15, it died slowly. By noon we were down to 5 kts with less than 10 kts. of wind. Despite its fading, it refused to shift E. We tried the spinnaker, but couldn't keep it full, tried again without the main but same problem. The apparent wind was too far forward. Maybe if I had more experience with an asymmetrical spinnaker, I don't know. I tried every combination of tight and loose I could imagine and just couldn't keep the leading edge filled. Our speed was down to 3 kts. and we would never make Portobelo by dark. Choice: sail to Linton and go to Portobelo tomorrow or use the engine and make Portobelo today. We returned to full sail and then added the starboard engine. This combo put us back over 5 kts. and expected arrival before dark. Eventually as we turned the corner where Panama bends more S, we had to drop all sail and with the wind directly behind us, motored the remaining 8 nm. to Portobelo. As we were approaching the anchorage, we heard someone on the radio announce that the parade tomorrow would be @ 10:00 AM. Lots of people in exocitc costumes, street food, crafts, a real festival day. Sure glad we decided to make Portobelo today! By 4:45, we were comfily anchored and ready to relax. I have invented a new drink called a “Ginger Mojito.” It uses lime juice, simple syrup and rum just like a regular mojito, but instead of mint, it has ginger (like a Dark & Stormy). Really good. I think I will have one now!

Not a Day to Snorkel.
03/24/2011, San Blas Islands, Panama

Deb awakened pretty sore from yesterday's marathon beach walk. We took the morning easy, reading, diving off the bow to cool off, laying in the tramp, reading, etc. I finished “The Satanic Verses” - what a book! Some different from the best seller Clive Cussler type stuff I have been reading. After lunch, we decided (mostly at my urging) to try snorkeling. There was a shallow patch of reef not very far from the boat that had looked good when I checked it out from dink. I attached the rope ladder I had made to make getting back into dink easier (forgot it earlier!) and we motored over and found a sandy spot to anchor. It was shallow, mostly under 6' and there were patches of nice coral, particularly brain coral, but most of it was dead. There was no current to speak of but quite a big surge from the waves breaking on the outside of the drying reef. We circled one section and even the outside wasn't that great. Oh well, I know a nice little patch that is also shallow over in the Swimming Pool that will be perfect. Back into dink – oops, the steps on the ladder are too far apart and it goes under dink when you try to climb it, not actually that much help, but we got it. Out around the reef and over to the Swimming Pool. More wind here and looks like a bit of a current, but no surge as we are far from any breaking reef and it DOES look pretty – lots of isolated coral heads or small groups in white sand with lots of fish. In we go. Wow! There really IS a current – probably 2-3 kts. We swam against it to the start of this patch of reef and just near the top we see three barracuda hanging out together. They are pretty good sized, the biggest about 5' and pretty big around with the others ~4' and skinnier. Barracuda do not usually school or hang out together – they are very territorial – so this was quite strange. I stood on the bottom to hold against the current and we watched them for a bit. Then even standing against the current was not working, so we drifted, swiftly, back to the dink and called it a day. Any place else I could think of to go would have just as bad a current so I guess we'll pass for now. There really isn't much tide here so even at full flood there should not be this kind of current, so it must be wind driven. The wind is still blowing pretty strong and I guess it just moves enough water over the reef that it creates the current unless you are in the lee of an island (which is where we are anchored so comfortably). Sitting in the boat and looking out to the reef to the E I can see breakers that must be topping 10' as they crest. The forecast is for the wind and seas to drop – in fact die – by the weekend. I sure hope the seas do calm down before we head for Portobelo, but it would be nice if we could keep some wind. It will be a down hill run so 15-20 wouldn't be bad at all. We'll have to wait and see, no sign of abatement yet.

No worries.
03/23/2011, San Blas Islands, Panama

We have less than a week left in the San Blas before we need to leave for our haul-out. Our only concern remains gasoline. We gave Sergio about 3 gallons when he came by saying he had none to get home (a very common ploy, I have learned) and he never returned as promised (also common). We waited for three days in W Lemmons for gasoline and it was always, “Manana.” So now we are in the E Holandes, about 20 nm from Porvinir and 9 from Nargana (two places that have gas). The dinghy is down to ~1/3 of a tank with no extra. I still have a gallon or so in the hookah jerry can which I could mix with oil for the outboard, but then wouldn't have more for the hookah. Should we spend a precious day traveling to get gas? Running out would definitely NOT be fun and most of the snorkeling here requires a moderate dinghy ride. On the SSB net this morning, I checked to be sure that both Nargana and Porvinir had gas (they did), but Blue Skies came back and suggested I check with Mark on Melody as he often has gas for sale and he is in the E Hollandes but doesn't have SSB. I called him on VFH and he said he had 5 gallons left to sell. I arranged to pick it up n an hour. I launched dink, measured out 16 oz. of oil, and headed over to the Swimming Pool where Melody was anchored. Mark turns out to be quite an interesting character. For the past 10 years he has been living on a boat in the San Blas. Actually he has two boats that are lashed together at anchor. Once a month he sails (only one of them) to Portobelo where he has a car that he drives to Panama City. He buys ~120 gallons of gas, 200 gallons of diesel, and any groceries or supplies that anyone has signed up for him to get (for a fee, of course). Among the interesting things he has done with his two boats is step a mast right in the water! He put the injured boat between his and with a spinnaker halyard from each mast, lifted the broken mast up a bit, backed out the boat, and laid the mast down on his deck to repair. Once it was repaired, he reversed the process to step it back up. Good thing it is calm inside the reef! I bought his last 5 gallons of gas for only $4.75/gal. (The local price is now up to $5.50, but since he bought it before the big price jump, he still sold it at his usual mark-up.) We now have plenty of gas for BOTH the hookah and the dinghy, so “No Worries.” We did a couple loads of laundry this morning and made water at the same time so we are not too far behind on water. After lunch and after the sheets were dry (We didn't dare leave them flying in the breeze), we went ashore to walk on the beaches of Banedup. Now Banedup is a pretty large island and I suggested to Deb that walking all the way around might be too much, but she just kept on beach combing until we were more than half way around and so had to complete the loop. Looking at the chart, I figure we walked about at least a mile and a half in soft sand and that was if we had walked in a straight line, not back and forth across the beach, into the water, etc. Deb had clearly had enough walking by the time we got back to dink, but she did find lots of neat treasures. We were both hot and tired so when we got back to the boat, we got out the floaties and a couple of beers and cooled off Caribbean style floating behind the boat. Too late to snorkel / hookah today so that will have to wait for tomorrow.

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