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Sunrise: Chasing the dream
Life filled with adventure, both actual and spiritual.
Getting away from
03/28/2013, Waisaladup, San Blas, Panama

The Ulus are designed to sail as well as paddle. This couple sailed right between the reef. She was bailing and tending the sails and he used the paddle as a rudder. We later talked with them and they said they sailed here in 5 hours to fish and sell Molas... then back!

We met someone who was on holiday in Panama on the beach the other day and they said, "Oh it must be nice to 'Get away from it all'"

It had me thinking: Although we are "away from it all" physically, we really have our noses pushed right into "it" most of the time.

First, we are three of us on the boat (38' from end to end with 11' 4" at the widest part in the middle). Any issue is right there and has to be dealt with. No room for elephants on the boat.

Next, we are the mechanics. If something breaks or doesn't function, there isn't a service station nearby where we can leave the boat and have a cup of coffee.

And, our safety is our responsibility. OSHA doesn't do spot checks here. No one will give you a ticket if your kid is not tethered to the boat.

And the power company, well, we are the power company. Any outage is our problem alone.

Oh, and did I mention the water company? Us too.

And there are times when "it" gets to us. Or should I say that we let "it" get to us: An Example:

The other day we sailed into this little anchorage surrounded by reefs. As we were preparing to anchor, Lara started the motor and I noted that it sounded funny. We dropped the anchor a little closer to the beach than was suggested in the cruising guide. The anchor dragged a little more than usual when we set the hook�... (Since we bought our Spade anchor, setting the anchor was a noticeable sinking of the bow as the anchor dug in and stopped within a couple feet of where it hit the sand).

Normally I dive on the anchor to make sure it is in sand and dug in. The girls we excited to go to the beach to see some kids who were there�... so "I will dive on it later."

So, at 1 am, I was laying in bed awake�... thinking: if the anchor drags: 1)will the engine start? What was that funny sound when Lara started it earlier? Is the anchor set? Why did it drag that extra little bit? And I remembered that Lara had said that the windlass was sticking so the chain would not run out when we dropped the anchor�... she had to pull it out of the chain locker. The back up anchor�... Its chain and rode I had transformed it into a drogue and had it stored as such in the aft lazaretto for the passage through the "normally windy coast of Colombia"�... it would take some time to deploy the second anchor. I had eyeballed the anchorage and there was no easy way to sail out of here�... Ugh�... I moved to the cockpit and sat on anchor watch until the girls got up at 6:30�...

That day I asked Lara about starting the engine. She had pushed the stop solenoid when turning the key�... which gave us the funny noise. I checked the voltage on the Lithium start battery: 13.4 volts, which is fully charged. I disassembled the windlass gipsy and cleaned the clutch surfaces and reassembled it. Then I transformed the drogue back into an anchor rode and moved it to the anchor locker as a rode for anchor #2. Finally I put waypoints onto the chart to allow us to sail out through the reef (as a last resort if the engine didn't start), but I did not dive on the anchor (hey, it's a Spade).

Well, at 4 am, Isobel woke us because it was raining in the hatch. I heard the wind pipe up as a squall blew in. I moved to the cockpit. As I stood there, the bow was pushed downwind and I called to Lara that we were dragging. The engine started, we pulled the anchor and moved the boat 50 yards west to the marked anchorage. The chain ran out and the Spade dug in and we were fixed in place again�... although shaken (this was the first time the Spade had dragged since we bought it in October of 2011). The girls went back to bed while I kicked myself around the cockpit for not diving on the anchor.

This morning, I dove on the anchor. It was well buried in the sand. Then I swam to where we had previously anchored. I could see where the anchor had disturbed the sea grass�... and it was clear the path it took as it dragged over the slippery leaves�...

Well, no one else to blame. Only my own lapse to deal with. And Lara, being Lara, tried to make me feel better by asking about the anchor as the problem, or the length of the rode�... no, that was a case of operator error. "it" as in my face again�... no getting away from "it."

03/29/2013 | Uncle Readie
We're not sea creatures. We don't have gills or blowholes. All the water in the entire ocean is trying to kill you all the time. It's up to you to keep it from happening. I trust you to trust your instincts and keep my niece and grand-niece from harm, just like I trust you to show them all the wonder the ocean has to offer. Wonderful and terrifying, that's the world we're in. Thanks for enriching their lives.
03/30/2013 | gil
Your 'it ' is defined by your boat and your basic needs to survive in a basic way. Yes, there are those 'its' you cannot get away from, but they are defined by natural forces and nature.
Yes it is down to you both, but that also true on route 95...A far more dangerous place than that ship of yours. We just get used to pretending that driving a car is not deadly, pretending that driving in a car at 70 mph is more normal than something folks have been doing for thousands of years, sailing.
Keep a laptop stuck to Nav Station
03/28/2013, Waisaladup, San Blas, Panama

With the other boat kids gone, Isobel must find a way to amuse herself again... not too hard!

Someone was talking about their computer sliding all over or crashing to the floor during a passage. We use a wonderful product call a Sea Sucker ( This is a flat piece of silicon (I think) that has a very sticky side and a not quite so sticky side. We put two of them on the nave station (stickiest side down) and put our laptop on top of them. When I need to pick up the computer I have to carefully peal it off the Nav station. I am quite sure that the boat could be rolled 180 and the computer would stay stuck. We have others that we use for anything we need to have stuck in rough conditions. This is not a non-skid pad�... it is like temporary adhesive pad. It would work well for an IPAD in the cockpit, etc�... we fully endorse them!

03/29/2013 | Randy
I have heard mine crash to the sole more than once when I forgot to stow it. Great idea. Hope you never have the opportunity to test while going turtle!
03/29/2013 | Uncle Readie
You fool! Don't mention the turtle! :0
Friends on boats
03/27/2013, Waisaladup, San Blas, Panama

Friends on boats.

The cruising community is a funny one. We learned from some British folks in Warderick Wells, Bahamas to visit our neighbors as that is the way to make friends when you arrive in a new anchorage. Many city dwellers would never conceder knocking on their neighbors door when they move in�... and yet for us there is a need to make friends quickly�... so we go right over, knock on the boat and see if they might be our new friends. Especially if it is a kid boat.

When we saw Salsa arrive in Bonaire, we knew we had to stop by as they had a boy about Isobel's size. This was the start of a wonderful relationship. That was mid February. Since then we have shared many meals, discussed boat problems, fears, good books, theories of evolution, sailing techniques and destinations. We have explored mountains and beaches, snorkeled and just sat together. We have watched each other's kids and exchanged recipes. We clicked really well together.

And, today we parted ways. They are off to head west to prepare for the Panama Canal and the South Pacific�... and we will stay here for a couple more weeks before we pass through the Canal and head to Ecuador.

Lara and I discussed skipping South America and heading out with them, and we have chosen to stick to our plans�...

So, they sailed off. We hope to see them again and we don't know when that will be. It is tough to express the emotion when you see good friends sail away.

That is how life is with us cruisers, it just seems to be a real part of the lifestyle. Every friend we have had along the way, we get to know quickly as we never know when our paths will diverge. It might be a good way to go through life anyway, strike up friendships and develop them fast, as one never knows�...

03/29/2013 | Randy
This is SOOOOO true. Nikki and I have had the same experience about making new friends quickly and the associated emotions when saying farewell - for now. This is absolutely a great life lesson to take with you when you become landlubbers again - if that ever happens.

I have been following your blog post religiously and love reading about the life you are living. I so want to return to the sea - someday. Perhaps the most touching notes are reading about "the little girl". What a gift you guys are giving her. Every kid should have to great fortune to grown up as she is. Fabulous!

Stay safe - fair winds ... :-)

03/26/2013, Waisaladup, San Blas, Panama

Lara shot this photo from the little island. This family was on their way out to the larger island nearby to "clean up" and harvest coconuts.

On th subject of ship wrecks

one can not look at a chart without seeing a symbol for a wreck. One can not sail any where without seeing a wreck. They come in all forms. the last few nights we were in spectacular spot off a tiny islet in the Coco Banderos. On the far side of this tiny islet, the ocean side, there was a small black object sticking out of the water�... the very top of a cabin roof of a fishing vessel. Further out and east of us was a huge prow of a ship pointing up toward the sky as though it was still struggling to stay off the reef that had broken it years ago.

The other day as we were entering the West Lemon Cays from the north I lined up on what appeared to be a huge rock on the shore of the island ahead, thinking that clearly this was what the boats had used as a landmark before the age of GPS�... as we sailed closer a form emerged. Isobel said, "I hope our corse will change before we end up beside that boat." That boat was on its side, on the reef, with the deck facing us, stripped of everything, leaving gaping holes where the hatches had been. Water peacefully lapped against it, washing in and out. We turned into the anchorage before we reached the reef the boat sat on.

Most people don't talk much about the wrecks, unless it is to say something as Isobel did, quietly summing up the dread and fear. Or, if something is said, it is a simple explanation, such as: "clearly, they were out of the channel" or often, "Oh the poor boat." On land, when there is a car crash, the cars are towed away quickly, the glass swept up and oil spilt sopped up. If there is anything, there is just a tire track or a dented guardrail. No sorrow is left.

For me, I wonder what happened. First I think of all the problems that could have lead to the wreck. Then I think of the struggle to get the boat afloat and at what point one gives up. Then I think of the despair and anguish when it is realized that there is not hope of being afloat again. The home lost, all the hard work and sweat that kept the boat in order�... lost. All the mementos and belongings that are left to be pawed through by those who salvage wrecks.

Some wrecks do have simple explanations. There was a boat in Prickly Bay, Grenada that had sunk because its scuppers had plugged with debris and rainwater had filled it. We heard of friends that were sailing with a boat, whose engine stopped while they were under sail. Rather than sailing the boat through the cut in the reef, he went below to diagnose the engine. With no one at the helm, the boat sailed onto the reef. Another boat sailing "off-shore" between Grenada and Bonaire ran on the reef at Los Aves while the couple on board were both asleep below!

In one of Malcolm Gladwell's books, he discusses the cascade of errors that occur in most disasters: The over ride valve fails, the signal light bulb is covered by a sticky note, the buzzer has been removed for repair, and the operator stepped out for a cup of water. If any one had not happened the problem could have been averted. When I see a wreck, I think about what series of unfortunate events occurred to wreck the boat.

I wanted to write about this thing that no one likes to talk about�... and for those of you who want to know what we do to avoid wrecking...

Here is what we do to avoid running on a reef: 1) We always have at least two electronic charting systems going. For much of our trip we have had C-Map on the Chart plotter and Navionics on the Ipad. Here in the San Blas, the electronic charts on the plotter and on the Ipad are very imprecise. Someone has scanned all the charts found in Eric Berhaus guide to Panama and tied them to GPS coordinates. We run a Open CPN (charting software) with these charts. 2) we always have visual watch. In the San Blas, this means that you only move when the light is good and have a constant eye on the water as one can see by color how deep it is. At sea, there is always someone awake and on watch 24 hours a day. We also use AIS and Radar when at sea to make sure we see ships. 3) We always have paper charts and a compass. If we are going further than 5 miles we plot our position on the paper chart periodically so we can establish where we are should the electronics fail. We heard of one boat in the Pacific who came on a yacht who had lost all electronics and had not made a log entry nor fixed a point on a chart since they left�... They we clearly relieved to see another boat! 4) We always plan on something failing�... so we sail on the windward side of the channel, we take the sail cover off even if we are motoring a short distance or running downwind with the genoa only. We clear the decks of toys and stuff even when we expect a short quiet down-wind sail. And Isobel is tethered whenever we are underway. I won't go into all the safety gear we have on board.

03/26/2013 | gil
Good on ya' Capt'n.
All in order and safety minded.
Keep the water out and the people in.
a day on the islands
03/22/2013, Western Coco Banderos

The pack of kids: They barely tolerated being corralled into a static group for the photo!

We felt as though it was a weekend day. We wolfed down breakfast so we could go to the island beach early. While Bill sat in the shade and pondered the green mountains now visible to the south with white fluffy clouds, Lara and Isobel (without floats) snorkeled in the waist deep water nearby.

This is truly a spectacular place. Right off the travel poster, the blues of the water, the palms trees overhead, the densely covered mountains in the distance, the Kuna ula (dugout canoe) passing by, the water so clear that the schools of tiny fish look like they are suspended in air... the perfect white sand with the gentle waves lapping up. And the temperature is perfect. The air so it is perfect when in the shade and warm in the sun. The water temperature warm enough that one can swim in it for an hour without getting cold.

speaking of swimming, Isobel continues to have breakthroughs. Now able to snorkel without floats. Today realized she could hold her breath and stick her head under water... wearing a mask. longer and longer, floating and jumping up and down... free at last in the water...

Lara and I went out around a reef for a snorkel while Isobel played with the kids off of Salsa and Windara. After a long nap we reconvened on "our" island, the tiny one with one palm tree, for drinks and snacks. the five kids roamed around finding crabs and building bamboo structures and sand castles. The adults sat on palm logs around an little table made of a piece of coral and picked a various tasty snacks. The moon was out when the sun set, so we stayed out until 9 pm (cruiser's mid-night)...

03/24/2013 | Scott Kuhner
You people have really discovered what the cruising life is all about. You make us very jealous; because Kitty and I have had to come back to CT for a while and we won't get back to Tamure until May; so i t looks like no Bahamas this year, only Maine this summer.
03/26/2013 | Uncle Readie
Interesting photo-essay in today's NY Times about Kuna culture, rising oceans, and cocaine TV sets.
beach day... nap
03/21/2013, Western Coco Banderos

The day started early with a call from Salsa and Windara: lets meet at the beach. So, by nine am we were on the beach on the larger center island between the three boats.

Yesterday when anchoring we had seen a shipping container at the bottom of a hole at the tip of the island. Being so eirie, a white rectangle below us, we moved to our current location, which is nicer anyway. Apparently there are three shipping containers in this area. What is surprising is that there is a huge shallow reef stretching for a mile between the open ocean and this spot. And this container looks as though it was carefully placed here in 43 feet of water. Anyway someone took a look at it with free dive gear and found it already open and empty...

The kids climbed a coconut tree that was leaning over looking like a row of blond headed monkeys lined up on the trunk. While the women lazed in the crystal clear water with the five kids, the guys took a dinghy out to see what the snorkeling was like on the outer reef. We hoped to find the drop off... but it was sea grass and flat for 1/2 beyond the reef, so we dove on the little coral heads around the dinghy. THe coral is in nice shape here, the first healthy looking coral we have seen although there were only small fish and not many of those.

By noon we returned to the boat and hosed ourselves off. While we were preparing lunch, an ulu (dugout canoe) came by selling pineaples, avocatos, grapefruit, oranges, mangos, boxed milk, eggs and melons. For $20 we bought two pineapples, two avocatos, two grapefruit, a mango and 2.5 dozen eggs. Pretty good for home delivery!

After lunch we all took a two hour nap!

As a note, we are making these posts via HF radio. When you complain about internet speed, consider that we can upload snd download emails at about 500 bytes a minute. (yes I wrote that right!)

03/21/2013 | Uncle Readie
Hey, you don't scare me, bub. Thirty years ago that speed was considered high tech.

Yes, there was an Internet thirty years ago. It just wasn't public. :-P
03/21/2013 | gil
Researching your present location extensively on the web. I cannot believe how beautiful.
Spectacular. I have seen the little islands with just one or a few palms. Like a dream.
03/21/2013 | Scott Kuhner
If possible take your boat and anchor off Ciedras village and then take your dinghy up the Rio Ciedras to wash your clothes. That is where the Cuna wash theirs. However the last third of the way you can use your outboard, you have to row. Coming down the river you can hear the parrots and other wild birds singing in the jungle. Not ot be missed! Kitty and I were there with our kids back in 1987.
Now this is out there.
03/20/2013, Western Coco Banderos

(Now with the photo, how did your mind's eye do?) No photo still... no internet out here! And really not much out here. In your minds eye, picture this: we are anchored in 12 feet of water in white sand. Off our bow is a tiny island with a single palm tree on it. It is all beach around the 200 foot circumference. it is then ringed by coral except about 20 yards which allows access by dinghy. The water is very clear here, so the coral is visible from the dinghy, having us dream of snorkeling tomorrow when the sun it high. Just west of us about 300 yards away is another island, maybe a couple acres. Lots of palm trees there... and white sand beach around it too. Two boats are there, one is a kid boat named Windara and the other a "backpacker boat".

Then there is another island about 1/2 mile to the west about as big as the other with Salsa (kid boat) and a French boat. Oh and there are two mega-yachts anchored back a ways. one of which (I think) is the largest Carbon Fiber structure in the world!.

More tomorrow...

03/20/2013 | Uncle Readie
XPlot suggests you swapped "78" with "87" when you entered your longitude, Captain. ;^P
03/20/2013 | Uncle Readie
I think this is where they are.
03/21/2013 | gil
Yeah...backpaker boat.
clearing in
03/20/2013, Porvenier

Staffan of SV Salsa took this photo as we arrived in Povenier. The two women are in an Ulu, which is a canoe that is carved from a single tree trunk. We think they are mother and daughter. Mother is in traditional Mola and wrap, and the sulky teen daughter is in jeans and a tank top!

It was a two hour process to clear in. We had to pay Immigration $100, the Kuna Congress $35 and Panama $193 for an annual cruising permit. This little island has only the clearance building, a "hotel" and several little houses.

After dinner Stephan (from Salsa) and I went to the village on the island south of us. We picked up a sim card for the phone and some eggs. We took a little walk through town which were wooden open buildings with thatched roofs. All the women were in traditional clothes while the me wore T-shirts and shorts....

03/20/2013 | gil
Wait a minute here. It cost $328. to clear in ?
That just does not seem right. They should pay the folks who sail there under their own power because the will spend money there anyway.
Give those sailors a break !
Isobel Swimming
03/17/2013, East Holandes Cays

On the way to the beach with the engine from Shiver.

Well, it has taken us almost 4 years to find the dream spot to learn to swim! Off a little island SW of us, in protected water about 2 feet deep, Isobel and I played around a bunch, first blowing bubbles with a mask on... then putting the snorkel on she finally combined kicking out behind, and swimming with her hands. She didn't have much to say... but Lara and I are excited. If we can end up in some more places like this we can move quickly to free swimming. It helps to be hanging out with the Salsa kids who are like little fish.

While we were having swimming lessons, Lara was off with the camera. A Spotted Eagle Ray (about 3' across) surprised her so that she didn't have the camera ready. We have been told that there are sharks here: Lemons, Nurse and White Tipped Reef sharks. All are known to be not interested in humans and because the the plentiful reef fish, they are well fed and so not a big concern... although Lara was suddenly concerned and returned to the 2' water to play with us! We saw another bigger Eagle Ray on the way back to the boat.

And how did we get to this little beach? A wonderful Britt named Red, off a boat called Shiver offered us their small dinghy engine! Wow, and how great it was to get off the boat. We will meet up with them on Tuesday to give it back as they will be headed to Portabello as they prepare to sail back to the UK after three years here in Panama. They have two kids, although have only met their 10 year old boy.

We plan to sail to the west Lemon Cays tomorrow and on to Porvenir the next morning.

I hope it is clear that these posts are via HF Radio and that I will update with photos when I have proper internet...

03/18/2013 | Mary Ellen
Home from Bimini- saw Bull sharks,rays, fish,etc.
Enjoying your blog- 6 inches of snow tonight..
Happy ST. Pat;s day
love mec
The spare part we don't have
03/16/2013, Holandes Cays

Well, here we are in the remote San Blas Islands (Guna Yala is the local name. they don't like "San Blas") off the north eastern shore of Panama. Other than a few other sailboats, all that can be seen are palm trees and white sand beaches.We are only "interupted" occationally by the vegitable boat or a Kuna Indian asking to charge their cell phone. A reef 1/2 mile off our bow protects us from the 12 to 15' swells , so the sound of crashing waves to windward is a peaceful sound. The Mountains of mainland Panama are just visible off the stern, not because they are far (15 to 20 miles) but because the air is heavy with moisture that has been picked up by the warm air traveling across the Caribbean sea. This is the same moisture that waters the incredible diversity that came be found in the mountains of Panama. We are very excited to be here and really feel that we have "made it." Also, we are here March 15, with about 40 days before we need to go through the Canal... so we can really relax and explore...

So, yesterday we dropped the dinghy in the water and put the engine on... And it wouldn't start. My default action is to rebuild the carburetor, which I did. Nothing! I am not an expert... so I figured the spark plug would be the next thing to check... no spark. So, I go to the manual and there is a diagnostic test for the Ignition Coil... which fails. Hmmm, I don't have a spare...

So, we move the boat to be closer to the beach and reef for snorkling... and then I spoke to some other boats who let me know that it is possible to have stuff flown in from Miami to Panama City, then for 50 cents a pound, flown to Nargana, which is about 12 miles south of us... Who knows what they will charge us for this little part delivered to Panama... and it will give us so ability to explore.

Are there other spares we should have? Of course I have spark plugs, impellers and carburetor parts...

03/16/2013 | Scott Kuhner
In our two circumnavigations, the San Blas ranks as one of our most favorite places. Each time we were there we made friends with the locals and once we were invited to a chicha (the celebration party when a girl reaches a certain age.) and I danced with some of the local women. (They only came up to just above my waist as the Kuna are the smallest people on the earth secondly only to the pigmy). We also were honored with an invitation to a Congresso, a meeting of all the village chiefs. And during the five weeks were we in the San Blas the first time, back in Jan 1972, we only saw two other yachts. I am sure things have changed a bit since then. We are so jealous of you and do spend enough time to really get to know some of the locals.
BTW Igi money means "how much" when you want to buy something like a mola.
03/16/2013 | Uncle Readie
No, you tell us what spares you should have. You're the Captain. :P

This website post suggests checking out other parts of the ignition system - points and cables.

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