12/03/2011, The Hot Tub
The reef off The Hot Tub
We found our way into Green Island, mostly in spite of our charts. We are a bit like the man with three watches... a man with one watch knows what time it is... a man with three is never sure. We have three electronic charting systems (there are really no paper charts for the area except our cruising guide). Two of the electronic charts are, I think, based on the same information. The third is an electronic version of the definitive cruising guide to the area by Eric Bauhaus. His charts are said to be the best, and they have been converted from his paper back guide into electronic format.
So we have been giving his information more weight. But last night working our way into Green Island, we had some tense moments as the sun was no help picking out the reefs (as it usually is) and depths were significantly less than they ought to have been. This morning, we decided that the other charts were more accurate in that area.
So go the challenges of navigation in the San Blas. There is not a single navigation aid in the entire area. As a result, broken hulls are far from uncommon, yachts and commercial vessels alike. Challenging navigation!
But enough of that... we left Green Island (with good light that showed us the way out and confirmed our concerns with the Bauhaus charts) and motored back to the Holandase Cays. We decided to try The Hot Tub, as the Swimming Pool had more (8) boats. The entrance is described as narrow but deep. In the bright sunlight we easily found our way in (going from 100' to 20' in two boat lengths) and anchored in a huge sheltered anchorage alone!
Dinghy launched, we motored out through cuts in the coral to the edge of the reef where we watched waves towering above us come crashing down on the reef, reduced to quiet wavelets that we splashed in. Back in, we beached the dinghy on an un-named cay and wandered the beaches, cooling down in the late afternoon with a swim. Dinner was roast turkey breast. Not sure what we were thinking when we bought it, but it was time to eat it, so with roasted beets and potatoes and a $17,000 (Columbian) bottle of Chardonnay, a nice evening in the cockpit.
12/02/2011, Cayo Kanlidup (Green Island)
Typical Late November, San Blas, Panama
We left the East Lemons and sailed in weather that quickly made us forget the screaming squalls of the previous night. In light northerlies we beam-reached eastward in the lee of the reefs down past the end of the East Lemons and across to the Holandase Cays, about 8 miles away.
The Holandes are a group of cays stretching along another reef structure about 6 miles long. Although called the most popular anchorages in the San Blas, we found few boats there. With anchorages named "The Swimming Pool" and "The Hot Tub", we expected a crowd, but were pleasantly surprised at the few boats we met. Inside the Swimming Pool we found six other boats in a huge, but calm anchorage.
The seas were completely broken down by the reef. We watched as wave after wave pounded the reef, spraying high in the air, leaving us in glass calm waters. Anchored, we took the dinghy over to a nearby small palm covered cay and enjoyed a walk around it, then a swim in the bath tub like waters. Back aboard the breeze drifted through the cockpit to make a perfect evening of star-gazing.
Yesterday morning we headed out and sailed 8 miles down to one of the Kuna towns in the area. It is actually two towns, each on a small island joined by a foot bridge. The towns of Nargana and Corazon de Jesus are really a collection of huts with the one substantial structure being the Bank de Panama. Otherwise, homes were thatch roof huts and bamboo walls.
Anchoring in the small harbour, we were met by an ulu (dugout canoe) with a man who introduced himself as Frederico. Our cruising guide mentioned him as a reputable guide and general help to cruisers. He took our garbage for $1, assuring it would be properly burned. Often locals take the garbage for a fee then just toss it aside, as could be seen from the garbage strewn along the shore. We checked out the airport where Sarah will be leaving from in January, primitive but functional. Then back to the town and Frederico took us to various "tiendas" (small stores) operated out of their homes.
By the time we had finished we had Pina (pineapple), bananas, lettuce, tomatos, carrots and eggs, not bad as we had been told fresh supplies were non-existant. Then we topped up the dinghy fuel. Frederico directed us to a tiny dock where we pulled up, a few minutes later a man came out with two gallon jugs (originally juice containers) filled with gasoline. With a large funnel and a rag for a filter, we topped off our tank.
Saying good-by, we gave Frederico $5 for a fund he keeps to help some of the handicapped children on the islands. And there are more than a few. With the shallow gene pool, handicapped children, including an unusual number of Albino children are often seen. Then out to Kalidup for the night that brought with it a few more squalls just to keep us alert. Today, off to the Coco Banderos Cays, a whopping 3 miles away, for some snorkling.
11/30/2011, East Lemmons
The forecast for yesterday wasn't great, and the day began as forecast... rain squalls every half hour or so. Winds in the squalls picked up into the 20 knot range, but with the heavy rain and behind the reef the seas stayed small. So it was a day for boat chores. I put in a 12 volt outlet in the aft cabin for a fan, checked oil levels, tidied up generally and read. We get the Globe and Mail daily on the Kindle, so we each read it front to back.
As evening settled, the squalls appeared to abate. But at 0300 hrs I woke to screaming winds and the heaviest rains I have ever experienced. We immediately began preparations to get underway in case the anchor let go. By the time I got the instruments on, things settled down to 35 knots.
Through the rain we could see other boats lit up as others were preparing as well. With the engine idling we discussed plans for getting the anchor up and getting underway, where to head, etc. The squall lasted about one hour before the winds dropped to the 15 knot range and we were back in bed. By 0500 we had dropped into an uneasy sleep, waking at 0700 to warm sunny skies and a gentle breeze to dry out things. All told, the only damage was to our sleep and a bunch of wet clothes and towels from the many rain squalls of the past 24 hours but the water tanks are full.
In the anchorage there were a few obvious relocations during the night, but no apparent damage. The forecast for the next few days is for light weather, perfect for snorkeling and exploring.
11/29/2011, San Blas Islands
Lisa, master mola maker and well-known transvestite
Well, today was one best described as "nobody moves, nobody gets hurt". Last night we did our routine evening swim around thge boat as the sun was setting, and before we had done one lap around the boat, the rain was pelting down. Not a problem if you are swimming, but the wind piped up as well. And that set the stage for the next 24 hours... wind and rain, and lots of both. During the night we were up hourly as the boat was buffeted by 35 knot gusts and the rain spewed down. We opened the water tanks and they were full by dawn and spent most of the day quietly overflowing. But that didn't put off our new friends. At 0930 hrs, my great (new) friend Justino (pronounced Yustino) was back ready to clean the bottom of the boat. It didn't really need it, but last night we had to give him food and water for the night, and today he needed money to buy some food for his son's birthday. You might think we were just swallowing a line, but all the cruisers in the area know him well and respect him. When he was done with the bottom (he probably scraped off more paint off that growth), I took him over to a neighboring boat that took him into El Porvenir for his sons birthday (after collecting a few presents for him from boats in the anchorage). While Justino was working on the bottom, Lisa returned, ready to do business. I have only a limited capacity for appreciating molas, so I stayed below while Jeannie negotiated in the cockpit. My input consisted of confirming her choices. That occupied us until about 1100 hrs. Then lunch. If you have all the time in the world, and limited cooking materials, its creativity time... pan fried pizza!!! Delicious with a crust of dough, topped with pesto, sliced turkey, and any vegs that are still edible. Then dinner was BBQ ribs with cole slaw and coconut rice. But the fresh fruit is running low, and believe it or not, here in Panama, they are hard to come by. Projects for the day included a new 12 volt outlet in the aft cabin for a fan for Sarah in Enerio (January) and a few checks (bilge, oil, etc). Other than that, it was open the hatches for air, close the hatches in the squalls, and repeat, many times. It is now evening and the air has cleared and the wind has dropped to about 10 knots. We have lots of towels and things waiting for the dry air... tomorrow., bathing suits, etc. And more exploring... The Holandase Cays and the Swimming Pool anchorage!
11/28/2011, San Blas Islands
Jeannie & Vennacio
The names of the islands in the San Blas are fantastic.
We left Isla Linton on Saturday after poking about some more in the dinghy and a last internet fix for quite a while. Poking through the mangroves, we found a path to nearby Panamarina. Not really a marina, it is a mooring field with about 40 long term storage boats of widly varying quality. Ashore is a small restaurant with some pretty odd but friendly characters. And the start of a travelift facility, one of quite a few that have been started in Panama. But so far only one has been completed.
Back aboard, we raised the anchor and headed out. Next to Isla Linton is Isla Grande, reported to be a touristy place. We motored through past it, but were able to resist its questionable charms. Then along the coast for 10 miles to Green Turtle Marina.
We wanted to check it out as an option for leaving Estelle in December when we head home. I got the phone number on their web site and from the pictures, it looked fantastic. It took four calls before we finally spoke to someone who was actually able to tell us "Yes we have room", So we headed in. And they did indeed have room, lots of it.
In a marina that has capacity for about 50 boats, they had six. The best part.... free for the night, electricity included! So we decided that it looks good for leaving Estelle. We were assured that when we return there will be a restaurant in full operation...we'll see. Oh yes, yet another travelift installation under construction.
Sunday we headed out for the San Blas Islands. Our favorable winds finally deserted us, leaving us motoring for the day. So it was late afternoon as we approached the Chichime Cays. As we did so, a belch of black smoke and flames erupted from a boat. Checking with the binoculars we could see it was ashore on a reef. It turns out it ran ashore a few weeks ago. The owner stripped it of everything of value and then decided to burn it. Its a shame as now there is a burned-out hulk resting at the entrance to a beautiful anchorage. Our other surprise was the 30 boats already anchored.
These islands are not now remote. Before our anchor was properly set, our first Kunas were alongside trying to sell us molas. Of poor quality (Jeannie has been doing her homework... its going to be a Mola Christmas) we declined. They didn't budge. For a half hour they just sat hanging on to the boat watching us. Finally they drifted off and another cayuka was alongside trying to sell lobster. For one of 1.5 lbs or so and one 1.0 lbs or so they wanted $15.00!!! More than I would pay at home. We declined. The third and last visitor offered a variety of services from boat cleaning to laundry or tour guide. We may take him up on the laundry. He left us his business card and cell phone number. In spite of the fact that they live without electricity in primitive conditions, they all have cell phones.
This morning we headed out to El Porvenir to check in and surrender our zarpe. A 30 second and free process, after waiting 1/2 hour for two boats checking on to the country. Then out to the cays! Our first plan was an anchorage in the West Lemmons, but it had about 30 boats and looked pretty commercial. Plan B, the East Lemmons was just a few miles beyond, so we arrived mid-afternoon in a rain squall, but safely anchored with a half dozen other boats.
Then the trouble startedf (for me, at least)... a cayuka alongside. But this time Jeannie was keen; it was Vennacio, one of the San Blas most famous mola makers. An hour later after studying hundreds of molas, our Christmas shopping was done and Jeannie was a happy camper.
Out in the dinghy, a walk under the palms on Nuiudup and back for a cool-down swim. Fresh tuna ($2) for dinner! Tomorrow, more molas (the famous transvestite Lisa) then on to the Hollandase cays and the "Swimming Pool" anchorage.
11/25/2011, Isla Linton
As we approached the coast in mid-morning we heard friends on the VHF chatting, so we called and got the news in Portobello. Based on their description of conditions in the anchorage we decided to push on here.
The guide book says come in to Isla Linton and anchor behind the island. A few years ago we would have had it to ourselves, but the book warned that there would probably be a few others here now. The author obviously hasn't been here for a few years. We were met by a fleet of over 75 boats at anchor, many obviously here long term. So the anchorage behind the island was jammed. But we found space and got safely anchored in time for lunch.
In the afternoon we took the dinghy and checked out the anchorage and the town. The town is a pitiful sight, the poorest we have seen. Garbage is strewn everywhere, even on the corrugated steel roof-tops. The one "tienda" we found sold nothing but soda, water and some candy.
Back in the dinghy we explored some more and ran over to Isla Linton. It is uninhabited except for a clan of howler monkeys who come down to greet visitors. Apparently they are friendly and will let you feed them but can become angry when you show signs of leaving. So we just watched them from the dinghy while they watched us from the palm trees along the shore.
The highlight was an evening visit to Cafe X (I think the X is actually the Greek letter Chi). We went in for dinner and "Free Internet" (a cruisers dream) and had a delicious dinner of shrimp with salad, rice and fries (yes, and the fries were home-made and delicious) with 5 beers for a total of $21. Beer is incredibly cheap in Panama. It was a beautiful warm evening, sitting listening to the huge roars of the tiny howler monkeys and watching the quiet harbor.
Today we'll do a bit more exploring then check out a nearby marina for possibly leaving the boat for a month at Christmas.
11/25/2011, Coastal Panama
Radar pic of ships approaching the canal
At about 3 am our perfect sail sort of died. Well, the winds did, so we flopped around for an hour before furling the jib and turning on the engine. We motored through the shipping lane where we arrived at dawn, having slowed considerably. But that was fine with us, making it a bit easier to deal with the ships. I only hailed one of the six or seven we met and all was fine. We are now just 4 miles from our destination, Isla Linton, where we'll spend a night or two before pushing further east. Then in exactly two weeks from today, we're off home for a month with family and friends for Christmas and skiing!
11/25/2011, Coastal Panama
Breakfast at sea... French Toast & Fresh Fruit
I have just come on watch after a 4 hour snooze. Except for having to run the generator to charge the batteries (our nav system seems to be an energy hog), all has been quiet. Winds have dropped to 8 to12 knots and we are slowly losing the boost from the counter current that runs along the coast here, but it is a beautiful night. Stars cover the sky, more than I think I have ever seen and the warm winds are just enough to keep us cool.
As far as shipping, things have been light. We were passed by one merchant ship about 8:00 pm last night, then contacted another ship that we were converging on. No reply at first, then back came a crisp female voice "This is Warship 462". After a brief exchange she asked that we keep at least a mile away, which we said we would, and that was it. Later in her watch Jeannie passed cruise ship (you can tell them as they are lit up and clearly visible for miles. And so far that's it. But as we approach Colon, the Caribbean entrance to the canal, I expect things to pick up. We'll see.
Plans are now to head past Portobello after reports from cruising friends anchored there that it is pretty bumpy. It is wide open to the west and we have had a lot of west winds lately. Another time. For today its Isla Linton, reported to be a snug quiet anchorage. We expect to be there about 0900 hrs.