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s/v Always & All Ways
Cloudy days can be god, too
02/02/2013, Isla Debora, Panama

The morning dawned with heavy overcast and drizzle. Unusual for Panama rally as we usually have RAIN or no rain. Wisps of clouds trailed through the mountains surrounding us and the Indian village, Buena Esperanza, was somehow illuminated sharply under the clouds. I got a photo that may make for a good painting. After breakfast, I donned mask and snorkel to inspect the new props after their maiden voyage and also clean off the paddle wheel so the knot meter would work. (I had forgotten to do that earlier so I had GPS speed over ground, but no speed through water and no apparent wind readings coming over. Since I am evaluating these new props, I wanted all the data possible.) There were about a billion jelly fish this morning! Many of them with testicles. (For those who don't know, that in Cynd-onese for tentacles. Our friend always warns swimmers to beware of jelly fish with testicles.) I managed to inspect both props and clean the paddle wheel without getting stung, but it was a bit worrisome. The props looked good - no loose parts and flopping freely from forward to reverse. It had started to rain harder so I was able to rinse off the salt by just standing on deck for a while. When the rain let up, we decided to head back to our island. We need to be there for Saturday anyway as Brent & Jan are having a party that afternoon. Initially there was little wind although the difference between GPS SOG and the knotmeter told me we had a falling tide with a slight lift in the direction we were headed. Nonetheless, when I firewalled the engines one at a time, I was able to get to 3200 rpm - not the 3600 Yanmar claims for a new engine, but these have 5000 hours on them and this was much better than with the old props. We were also making better than 6 kts on one engine. At cruising rpm we did a little over 5 kts which, considering how dirty the hull is, is quite good. As we motored through the cut between Dolphin Bay and Laguna Pallos, we picked up some wind and were able to sail with just gennie back to the island. By the time we reached the dock we had nearly 13 kts of wind on our starboard bow pushing us backwards and into the dock, but we maneuvered without difficulty and tied up easily. After lunch, we both spent most of the afternoon (which turned sunny) in the cockpit painting. I'm teaching Deb some techniques that she has not been shown and although it is sometimes difficult (I'm perhaps not the best teacher) she is doing really well. I'm still struggling to find the 'voice' I want, but we have fun anyway. A short swim, a couple of walkas around the island looking for any mangoes the oropendula haven't gotten to first (we found none without bites), and it was time for cocktails and dinner - barbecued chicken with beans & rice at Deb's request. Another great day.

More friends
02/01/2013, Anchored in Dolphin Bay, Panama

Yesterday morning we packed up the kayak and left our dock for a leisurely sail over to Dolphin Bay. The wind was only 5-10 kts., but it was from a good direction, so we just unrolled gennie and let her do all the work. We made ~3 kts. which was fine for such a short sail. As we crossed Laguna Pallos and headed into the cut to Dolphin Bay a pair of dolphins approached and swam with us for quite a while. In Dolphin Bay there were several tour boats all looking for dolphins without apparent success. We gloated silently. George told us via VHF that the only shoal we needed to wory about was a small crescent area marked by a PVC post. We could anchor in plenty of water right in front of their house, which we did. After lunch, I took the kayak (Deb decided to nap instead of joining us) and went with George and Allen (another friend and a neighbor to George. We met Allen on one of our first trips to Panama. We were both staying at Dos Palmas and we spent one day together with a real estate agent in a boat seeing several dozen properties. During that trip, we visited both the plot he eventually bought and what became our island!) George led us across the bay and up a shallow creek more than a mile into the jungle. It was really cool with dense canopy overhanging. Howler monkeys growled in the distance. At one point we disturbed a family of bats hanging in a tree and they flew off. Eventually the water got too thin even for our kayaks and we turned back. It was a really great trip. Crossing the bay we were quartering in to a stiff breeze. Without the second person in my kayak, the bow was clear of the water and constantly getting blown to leeward. I had to slide forward and sit just ahead of midship to get the bow to dig in and track properly. That worked great, but then I had not back rest and paddling into a breeze and chop without a backrest is hard work. We eventually successfully crossed the bay and Allen invited us up to his house for a cold beer and to show me around. He has done a nice job - building entirely by himself with hired locals as needed for heavy work. Paddling from Allen's to Always was directly into the wind so I was able to sit in the stern seat and paddle OK. The bow slapped a bit in the chop but it tracked fine. Back at our boat, I made some conch salad (the last of our conch from last summer) and chips to take to George & Sue's as a appetizer. They had invited us up for chili for dinner. Their place is wonderful. We had been here before in our panga, but even so, the grounds and the view were just breath taking. They,too, built the house by themselves with local help. We had a wonderful visit. Although we do not see them that often, George & Sue are friends that we feel very comfortable with and always enjoy their company. Back at our boat, I tried to do some work on the internet which was frustratingly slow despite several bars of signal on the modem. I finally got what I needed to done and after a last look up at the totally star studded sky, we went to bed. Sleeping at anchor is even better than on the dock as the boat motion is nicer. We slept very well.

Water Games
01/31/2013, Isla Debora, Tierra Oscura, Panama

Yesterday we enjoyed just about every kind of water there was to enjoy. The day started out cloudy with intermittent rain - good for our water tanks. Deb had been wanting me to paint (Watercolor) with her for some time so we decided that today was a good choice. At first we each worked on our own paintings and then I helped her with techniques she had not been shown in the watercolor workshops she had been attending at the Calypso Canteena. By then it was noon and after a quick lunch, we dinghied over to Cynde's hose. Deb was going to play Majong, a regular Wednesday affair that she had missed for some time, but first we went to see George & Juanita's building and potting shed. They bought the land right next to Cynde and are planning on building there. At this point, George has built a shed with a covered area for him to have protection from both sun and rain while working and a potting shed with just shade cloth for a roof to let filtered light in on the new plants. It also has benches for working on and even a built in screen for screening soil. Very nice. After the tour, Deb played Majong and I returned to Always. Dinghy is running fine and I always love planing across a totally flat bay leaving a wake that stretches from shore to shore. By now the sun was out and it was a beautiful afternoon. I traded the dinghy for the kayak and headed back out on the water. I paddled over to my brother's island, went ashore and took several pictures for him. (Dave, I'll send them when I have REAL internet.) Several palms that we planted are growing really well and helping build more dry land. The lime tree is really big and healthy, but no limes - not in season. As I was paddling back towards our island, a spotted eagle ray jumped out of the water ahead of me, flipped, and splashed back down. From the perspective of sitting in the kayak, I could clearly see that he had jumped much higher than my head was at the time! Next a dolphin surfaced just in front of me. I stopped paddling and drifted, but although the water was very clear, I never saw him again. e must have been fishing deeper down and just came up for a quick breath. By the time I got back to the dock, I was hot and sweaty, so I went for a swim. The water was very clear and there were millions of tiny bait fish all around that separated as I approached and then closed in again behind me. After cooling off a bit, I got my sun glasses, hat, a beer, and the floatie and lounged floating behind the boat with my ankle tied off to prevent floating away. I had just taken a shower to wash off the salt when Deb called on the radio to say, "Come get me." Drinks in the cockpit and then baked stuffed lobster (also eaten in the cockpit) were followed by a really nice rain shower. It held off until we were done eating and then was just heavy enough to be pleasant to stand in and cool off and rinse off. It stopped in time to open the hatch in our berth for sleeping. Today we leave our island for a bit. We will motor/sail (and see how the new props do!!) over to Dolphin Bay and visit friends George & Sue and also Allen. It has been great being on the island. We both love our house at Discovery Bay, but being here the last few days has reminded me of how much I love the water and how we don't really get that at DB. I think maybe we will stick with our original plan and build down here some day, but until then it sure is nice to be able to bring the boat down and have an instant house on our island!

Island Life
01/28/2013, Isla Debora, Tierra Oscura, Panama

This morning I changed the fuel filters for both engines. That completes the routine maintenance for now. After finishing that, I got Deb to help me launch the kayak (poor thing hasn't been used in a year - just sitting on the forward deck being carried around. She wasn't ready to go yet, so i paddled around our corner of Laguna Pallos. I met several indigenous people paddling their cayugas and felt a kinship as we both moved our skinny little crafts silently through the water. One mother and son were obviously headed for the school (which is closed for vacation) because they had many 5 gallon buckets to fill with water.. Although most native houses are still thatch, each village had a government built concrete school building with a tin roof. In most of the little villages around here Gringos have helps the locals install water catchment on the schools and it becomes a water source for the whole community. I paddled around several mangrove islands and into shallow backwaters just enjoying the solitude. The water was amazingly clear and I could see tons of bait fish, but very few larger fish. I think the locals keep the population of edible size fish right above the non-existent level.. By the time I got back to our island, my arms knew that I was using different muscles, but Deb was ready to go out, so we did. First we paddled along the sore of our island and saw from above the water the areas we had seen below it the other day. Then we headed over to Dave's island (my brother has the island next to us.) and circumnavigated it. We discovered a beautiful shallow 'beach' on the North side of his island. It would take little work to build a dock out far enough to be a great swimming spot, or maybe you could get beach sand to fill in the area next to the land - they still do that down here. After our paddle, we took the dinghy over to see Ken & Vonnie's place. They have a Deltek (US 'kit' house like Cynde's) that is built on one of their five hills. The views were great and the land is maintained in a beautiful fashion. They have a full time caretaker who lives on the property and maintains it. They border on the little village with the school abutting their land. I was curious about their relationship with the village, but they said it was great - just like and small town in New England, the village has all types and once they found out that Ken & Vonnie were not "rich Gringos" to take advantage of, but were nice people who were willing to be part of the community (if a somewhat distant part) and help as appropriate, relations have been warm and rewarding. We wpent most of the afternoon enjoying a delicious lunch and just sitting around chatting. That evening we had our first dinner on the boat! We've been such the socialites. I made a Caesar salad and grill filet mignon on the barbecue. A little red wine (in crystal glasses of course) on our newly refinished cockpit table and it was a wonderful evening. Tomorrow morning I am going over to Mick & Lizza's house to see the power cat that he is building.

Slow Lane
01/28/2013, Isla Debora, Tierra Oscura, Panama

Yesterday was a wonderful slow day. We got up and had a leisurely breakfast after an early morning walk about our island. Then I hung up our shade curtains. We had taken them down to wash and putting them back up involved loosening and lifting all the solar panels to wrap the line around the support posts, so it took a while. Byl noon, Ken & Vonnie picked us up and we all went to Rana Azul. This time is was packed - probably 60-70 people nearly all of whom we knew. We had a great time. By 3:00 they dropped us off back at the boat. It was sunny and warm so we went for a swim. Then Deb did some needle work while I inflated our 'floaties' and drifted behind the boat on one. Soon she was warm enough that she joined me. It was great just floating in the quiet water and cooling off. We had "breakfast for dinner" - bacon and pancakes on our newly refinished cockpit table. (I had routed out the deteriorating formica central circle and replaced it with a marquetry compass rose and then totally refinished the table just before we left.) Later we watched a movie and then went to bed - a nice SLOW day.

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