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s/v Always & All Ways
A Warm Welcome.
Mark
03/22/2012, Albuquerque Cays, Columbia, SA

Thursday, March 22. This morning we went ashore to “check in” with the local officials. We were not sure what to expect as we had heard various stories from different cruisers. As it turned out we were very warmly received. We took the dinghy ashore and spoke (in Spanish) to a couple of young guys on the beach. They went to get “Senior” who was at least 23 y.o. and the man in charge. He led us across the island to their office where he dutifully copied the info from our zarpes into his log. While we were waiting we were served orange juice from Army canteen cups. After the paperwork was complete he welcomed us to the island, invited us to come watch TV with them if we wanted and offered water or food if we needed it. We were welcome to stay as long as we wanted. We couldn't have asked for more. Next we took the dinghy and sounded the sandy area in front of the boat. Finding depths of at least 6' all the way in, we weighed anchor and slowly motored across the sand until we could drop anchor and still be over the shallow sand once we fell back on it. We will take a picture and post it when we can but it looks really cool to see our boat sitting over the white sand just off the island. After we relocated, we did boat chores. Deb cleaned the windows in the salon and I repaired the high output alternator ( a ground wire was disconnected and the fuse on the hot side had corroded to nothing.) Then the water maker failed with a “Needs Service” light. It turned out that the replacement filter I had installed before leaving was not up to the 160 psi that was required. It split. So I put the old one back on. It still drips a little, but it works and I have a drip ledge installed so it cannot drip on the motor now. Next time in the US, I'll have to get a high pressure filter. For now I can still make fresh water, I just have to run the bilge pump after each run. In the afternoon we took the hookah out to one of the baby atolls. Craig & Liz came along as well. It was fantastic. All along the edge it dropped from 1-2' to 30'. Beautiful coral and lots of fish. We even saw a fish we had not seen before – almost clear with black tail fin and pectorals. Deb looked it up and it is a “masked hamlet.” Also saw a large midnight parrot fish – quite rare. I found a large conch just as we were ending our dive and that prompted a “hunt” for more to make conch salad. We tried the grass just off the island, but the crew on the island can obviously swim that far and there were shells but no live conch. Further off the island, in another patch of coral Craig & I each found a large conch. I also found a 3-4' grouper. Tomorrow I'll return with a spear gun and hopefully we will have grouper for supper. We were invited over to Salida for cocktails and once again the apps turned into supper. They have a very nicely set up boat. (It is a Robinson-Cane, same as the Moorings cats.) Almost caught up on sleep. Another early bedtime and we will be all set. What a great day it has been.

WOW!
Mark
03/22/2012, Albuquerque Cays, Columbia, SA

Wednesday, March 21. It was a great night. The wind built slowly until by dawn we had double reefs in the main and about 1/3 of gennie not because the wind was too strong, but because we wanted to slow down to arrive mid-day. The stars were phenomenal. The Southern Cross was high in the sky and rotated through the night, its tail always pointing to the non-existent South pole star just like the big dipper (which we could also see) rotates about the North pole star (which was below the horizon). At about 0300 there was a meteor shower. One even appeared to curve and change course as it passed the Southern Cross. Even with our sails reefed down, we were making 6-7 kts in ~ 15 kts of true wind on a close reach – these cats do love to reach! Salida and we changed places through the night with them appearing to the East and South of us by morning. Instead of reefing so much they had just sailed tighter to the wind (and thus more East) to slow down and and were heading back West (and thus down wind and slower) by morning. We arrived at the Albuquerque Cays nearly together. I first saw land at about 0730. Two small rounded bumps on the horizon and one ragged bump quite a ways to the West, but still East of our way point on the SW corner of the atoll. As we got closer it became obvious that the ragged bump was not an island, but a warship. Hmmm, maybe we'll swing a bit wide of that point. The Albuquerque Cays atoll covers an area of several square miles, but except for the two islands on the SE corner, nothing breaks the surface or really gives an indication of the depths which rise from off soundings to 30' in several boat lengths. What a shock early explorers must have had! We had good charts and way points from previous cruisers so entered without difficulty. Salida chose to go first and I let her. Once we were into the “lagoon”, it was easy to see where the water was 50' and where it was 6'. We followed the waypoints and also eyeballed it in too the center and up to the islands. At one point we saw a large motor launch filled with soldiers that we thought might be approaching us, but they turned and disappeared behind as we kept our attention forward to avoid errant coral heads. Off the Northern end of the Northern most island there stretched a beautiful patch of white sand that might have had 8” or 8' of water over it. We approached very slowly and watched the depth jump from 25' to 6' in a boat length. Larry always says that “Six feet is good water.” (He is from the Gulf coast of Florida.) But when it jumps up that quickly, I get nervous so we dropped the anchor right there in the sand and backed out to deeper water. As we drifted back, Deb noticed that the chain was going off at an angle and, sure enough, when we went back and picked it up, it had snagged a coral head. Since it never had tension on it, it came up easily and then I backed carefully straight back form our anchor as we laid the chain. It set well and we let out more chain, the kellet and the bridle. If we were to drag, the anchor would quickly be in 25' of water, so we set up for that possibility. When we swam the anchor, the first thing we noticed was the incredibly beautiful coral right below the boat. We then swam up to the shelf and it turned out to be ~8' deep and extended at that depth for quite a ways. We probably could get the boat all the way on to the shelf. (Maybe tomorrow.) After lunch and a nap, we took the dinghy exploring. There were three tiny atolls within easy distance of where we anchored. Each went from ~30' up to 6' or less with sandy centers and coral surrounding. We anchored dink in the closest one and went snorkeling. Unbelievable! Very healthy coral, lots of reef fish and crystal clear water. This is definitely hookah territory-the walls are fantastic and spread out across the bottom in fingers at ~30' in pure white sand. The others were the same. Tomorrow we dig out the hookah and set it up. Craig and Liz from Salida are certified divers as well and we will offer them to use it too. The launch that had left full of men returned with only two and ignored us. Then we saw that the warship was gone. Probably this was the “changing of the guard” with new soldiers dropped off and the old ones relieved. Generally the guards here welcome cruisers. You cannot officialy clear in to Columbia here, but as long as you have a Zarpe to San Andres, they welcome you to stay a bit and enjoy the atoll (You cannot go on the military island, but the other island is for fishermen and I believe we can go ashore there.) We had heard that the Commandant in charge a few days ago was not welcoming at all so hopefully it WAS a change and the new ones will be more usual. We will find out tomorrow. We invited Craig & Liz over for “sundowners” and chicken wings. It was a typical “Belizean sunset”, i.e. no sunset as a cloud bank covers the horizon, but we had a good time and got to know Craig & Liz better. An early bed to catch up on sleep and a peaceful night in very tranquil waters with a nice Caribbean breeze to cool things off.

Fun Day at Sea.
Mark
03/21/2012, Somewhere in the Caribbean

Tuesday, March 20. Isn't that what the cruise ships say? Well, today really was! It didn't start that way, however. We got up at midnight. I had everything set before we went to bed, jack lines rigged, dinghy secured all lifelines up, etc. I fired up the engines, raised the main and prepared to weigh anchor. Except that there was a HUGE chunk of coral that somehow got wound not only around the chain, but the bridle as well. It measured at least 2' in all directions and the windlass had trouble lifting it. No way we could knock it loose from standing n the tramp and poking it with the boat hook! So, I launched the dinghy, drove it around and in between the hulls to wrestle with the monster. With moderate difficulty I got the briddle unhooked from the chain, unwound from the coral and handed up to Deb. Then I had to lift the chain to try to unwrap it. Fortunately we were in only 18' of water; unfortunately our new 26 lb. kellet was attached beynd where the coral was wrapped so I had to lift 18' of chain and the kellet. Also unfortunately, there was a pretty strong current putting as strain on the chain. Somehow I got enough slack to loop it over the coral and it worked.The monster sprung free and headed for the bottom. I re-stowed the dinghy on its davits, powered forward while Deb raised the rest of the chain and anchor and we were (Finally) off. We motored out around the reef and headed for the Albuquerque Cays. Salida left Bocas about the same time. They were about 12 miles West of us and 4 or 5 North. The day delay to avoid rain cost us about 5 kts of wind but also gave us calmer seas. They were 3'-5', mostly 3' with a rare 10' thrown in to make sure we were paying attention. It was beautifully sunny with wind less than 10 kts. From the NE. We motor sailed most of the day with all sails up making 5-6 kts. By evening the wind picked up and we were able to turn off the engine and just sail which made it quieter for the off watch person to sleep. We truly could not have asked for a more beautiful or fun day at sea.

On our way (REALLY)
Mark
03/19/2012, Zapatilla Cay, Panama

Monday, March 19. No rain during night (so maybe we could have left??) Nice morning with even a bit of sun. We did our final Skype calls from Cynde's, showed Colleen and Bob the boat, and left Cynde's about 11:00 AM for the Zapatilla. Nice sail across Dolphin Bay (but no dolphins) averaging 4-5 kts. Shortly after entering Bahia Almirante, it started to rain and the wind dropped and was right on the nose so we dropped sail and motored the rest of the way to Zapatilla. The rain only lasted about ½ hr. and by the time we were anchored, the sun was out. After getting the cockpt all cleaned (the last thing to be cleaned.), I went for a swim while Deb napped. Craig on our “buddy boat” is not feeling well (cough/cold sort of thing) and they may or may not leave with us at midnight, but we are going regardless. We have waited long enough and everything looks good. It would be nice to have the company, but we are going either way. An early supper and then to bed and sleep until midnight. Tomorrow will be 24 hrs at sea. It feels so good to finally be underway.

Cool Pool Works!
Mark
03/09/2012, Bocas del Toro, Panama

OK, so we are STILL waiting for a weather window to head North to the Albuquerque Cays and beyond. Who ever heard of two solid weeks of gale force winds and 10+ foot seas in March in this part of the Caribbean?? Anyway, while we are waiting, we are not suffering too much. One of our new pleasures is the "cool pool." This is Panama's answer to New Hampshire's hot tub. (It is entirely my own creation.) As I originally envisioned it, it was a cement structure about 5' x 3' x 4' deep with a seat built into one end. Somehow the project grew and now we have a beautiful tub with a mosaic sun on the floor, a moon on the seat's backrest, and waves along the walls - all in mosaics of tile left over from our and our neighbor's bathrooms and kitchens. The far side of the pool sports and "infinity edge" that overflows into a drain. The pool is filled from overflow water from our rain catchment system. First rain fills the "roof washer" that gets rid of any dirt, etc. on the roof. This requires about 1/8" of rain. After that, the rain fills two 1250 gallon tanks for our domestic water use. After they are full, the overflow goes into our new pool. When it is full, the overflow goes over the infinity edge and into a drain down to a creek below our house. If that sounds like a lot of rain, remember that this is a rain forest. Yesterday we got nearly 3" of rain and the all of the above were filled to overflowing. The constant flow will keep the pool clean without a mechanical pump or filter. (At least that is the plan.) Since the pool is not heated and is on the North side of the house and therefore in the shade, it remains at about the average daily temperature, which right now is about 80*. At the end of the day when we are hot and tired, we retire to the "cool pool". It feels moderately cool as we get in, but not enough to make us want to hesitate - really just the same sort of contrast that a hot tub provides. Sitting in the cool pool and watching the displaced water fall over the infinity edge, we can relax and cool off. Today we got to use it for the first time. IT WORKS! It felt really great. We stayed in for 15' or so and were really refreshed and cooled off to enjoy the evening. So soon we will be leaving on our extended cruise (weather permitting), but in the meantime, all is cool!

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