We got back to the boat at Green turtle Marina on Sunday, Jan 22nd, loaded with more supplies. Green Turtle is an odd marina. With substantial docks and room for about 75 boats, there were two boats in obvious storage and two, including us, with people aboard. Other than docks, there is nothing even remotely nearby... no showers, no internet, no dockmaster. Entry to the marina can be hairy. Opening on a small bay, itself open to the ocean, it is subject to the large ocean swells pushing you in. Originally there were two orange balls to guide you in, but one is now missing. With the swell pushing you in and the waves crashing ashore on either side and ahead of you, it can be a tough approach. It is literally, make a mistake, loose the boat. The first two times we entered it wasn't so bad with the swell not running straight in. This time we did some impressive rolling, but because we knew the entry, we carried on. A number of boats start in and just quit, turning and leaving. When we arrived, we were met with three laborers who each ran down to a different dock and began yelling at us in Spanish and waving madly. After a few frustrating minutes, we decided on which dock we would take (lots of space available) and just headed in. Again all three wanted to pull on the lines without seeming regard for the consequences. But after a bit of yelling on my part and a few minor bumps, we were in. Our exit on Monday was equally hair-raising. Walking down to check it out before we left, we watched waves breaking in a spot where we had never before seen it... a new shoal to avoid discovered. But we made it out and were safely anchored in the East Lemons by late afternoon. That night we welcomed a heavy shower to wash the salt from our trip off the boat. Tuesday was spent relaxing and organizing things aboard. Two nights here and we were ready to move on. So we set sail for a new (to us) destination, Gunboat Cay where we met up again with Bruce and Nancy Montgomery on Seabird. Another "visual navigation" entry through a small cut in the reef and we found our anchorage. By now we are getting used to anchoring in deep water... 40' is not unusual, with 200' of chain holding us securely. Not the calmest night, and with no place to land (Gunboat is tiny and has a number of Kuna homes on it), so in the morning we headed out for more exploration, sailing another 5 miles to the island-town of Carti. Here we were met by "the harbormaster" in his ulu, showing us where to anchor. And he was helpful as the water went from 65' to 15' in about one boatlength. Then he arranged with us for a shopping tour of tht island. About 1/4 mile in diameter, it holds 1700 people in very tight quarters, often with no more that 3' between huts. Pickings were scarce, but we came away with some fresh fruit and a few veggies. After our bumpy night in Gunboat we decided Carti's open anchorage was not for us, so another short jog to uninhabited Nonomulu where we tucked safely behind the island out all the swell. Anchoring was a major project as the windlass decided to both jam and have a foot switch fail. But after some sweaty work, the anchor was set and drinks in the cool evening made it all just a memory. This morning, after a beautiful (read calm) night, time to work on the windlass, and after two hours, it seems to be back in order. But it is on the Replacement List for the summer. The rest of the day was spent on a few more odd jobs and exploring, then deciding how to cook three huge crabs we bought from a couple of Kuna fishermen. Dinner tonight, seafood medly.
01/21/2012, San Bls, Panama
Sarah enjoying the Holandes Cays
Well, I don't know how I have done it, but we have been back on board since Jan 7th, and no time for the blog. So here's a short summary:
After 2 weeks in BC skiing and visiting family, we flew from Vancouver to Panama City on Jan 6th with daughter Sarah. Both Jeannie and I were suffering from a sort of flu, but we headed back. I was feeling OK, but the descent was really painful for Jeannie. In Panama City we spent the night then headed for Green Turtle Marina, but not without a major grocery shopping expedition in Colon. Quite hectic, but as there are virtually no provisions available in the San Blas Islands, we really needed to stock up, and did so. Somehow at home we can't go two days without going to the grocery store, but here in a little over an hour we had three shopping carts loaded with provisions for (we hoped) a month.
Back at the boat we loaded and stored provisions into the evening. Next morning we headed out to the San Blas. The wind was NE@12-18, and our course ENE to ESE, so it was a close hauled day (46 miles) and we arrived at Chichime, the closest San Blas anchorage, in late afternoon with an excellent coating of salt all over the boat.
Anchoring took a few attempts to get well set in 45', not my favorite anchoring depth, but all went well, and we settled in for drinks on deck and dinner as the sun set behind the palms.
Monday morning we did a quick sail down to the East Lemons, another group of cays where Sarah and I snorkeled the nearby reef. We walked ashore on Banadup. But Jeannie's condition was deteriorating, so next morning we headed down to the village of Nargana where there is a small clinic. Here the doctor prescribed medication for both of us as I was none too hot also. Sarah with her medical training and excellent Spanish was a huge help in getting us sorted out.
Back aboard, we had an impressive array of decongestants, cough sirup, ibuphrophin, and anti-biotics. All for $41.00, with no charge for the doctor.
Next morning I was recovering quickly and we set sail for West Holandes Cays where we anchored in the lee of Narguadup and ???. We spent three days here, walking ashore and meeting the Chief (Julio) and the locals, and enjoying spectacular snorkeling just off the boat. Time flew past until it was time to head back to Nargana where Sarah caught her flight to Panama City and back to Vancouver. As we were saying good-by to Chief Julio, he asked if we could take a boy back to Nargana to see the dentist bout a toothache. No problemo. By the time we left, we had three passengers and a load of coconuts aboard. But it was a beautiful 2 hour sail in fresh winds, so all was well.
Another visit to the doctor, and he wasn't pleased with Jeannie's progerss, so we stayed put and had a series of daily visits. In the mean time, I spent three frustrating days on the engine, trying to figure out why it stalls at low speed, just as we are approaching the anchorage... not a good thing. And more engine alarms. After three days, I finally found some bad connections that caused the voltage regulator to shut down and the system voltage to be so low that the fuel solenoid dropped out, shutting off the fuel supply. So with some cleaning, all now seems fine.
In company with Seabird, who had come into Nargana with us, we took a trip up the Rio Diablo, which empties into the Caribbean at Nargana. Our tour guide (and new best friend) Frederico, guided us across the shallow bar and into the river, past a 6' Caiman (type of alligator). We quietly dinghied up the six miles to the point where it became too shallow. The river was busy with ulu's (dugouts) paddling up for fresh water. There is a pipe tht normally supplies water to the village from the fresh spring, but it broke last fall and has not yet been repaired. So a lot of the natives work is just lugging water from 6 miles away. Not having to paddle, we found the river beautiful, but if I were doing it for water, it would be hard work indeed.
A final visit to the Doctor confirmed what we had been suspecting... time to see a specialist in Panama City. So Thursday we headed back to Green Turtle Marina and taxied in to the city. Within two hours, we had not only been able to make an appointment, but also had been seen by an ENT specialist. He confirmed the nature of the problem, but assured us that it was on the mend and that continued treatment would see everything back in order.
Much relieved, and with some new meds, we are now enjoying a couple of days in Panama City, compliments (I hope) of Blue Cross! It also gives us a much needed opportunity for re-stocking in groceries. So tomorrow will see us back to the boat and off to enjoy the remote beauty of some of the worlds most beautiful cruising.
I have added a photo gallery of San Blas pics.
12/08/2011, Green Turtle Marina, Panama
Recharged! Cell phones, that is...
Our overnight in The Hot Tub eventually streched to three nights. The plan was one or two, but we just never got away. But we are not unusual. On our second morning a boat came in with a German flag. On our way out snorkeling we stopped by. They have spent the last ten winters here... not just in the San Blas, but here in the Hot Tub! Seems to be that sort of place.
With the great variety of scenery, both above and below the surface, we were well entertained. In addition, it was time to begin to think about leaving the boat for a month when we go back to Canada for Christmas. We had a few visits from he Kuna, not selling but asking for us to re-charge their cell phones! An incredible contrast as they paddle up in their dugout ulus, waving a cell phone and charger! But we were happy to oblige.
So the days passed quickly. But the squalls still hung on. They seem to be at their best at night, but having the anchor hold through 40 knots, we were relatively relaxed through them (I checked the anchor out diving, and it was totally burried, a great sign).
But on Tuesday it was time to leave, staging for our run back to Green Turtle Marina. So we headed back to the East Lemons where we spent an unusually quiet night. Then the next day we sailed 35 miles back to Green Turtle Marina. Our sail was generally great, but also included a few excellent squalls, including one as we approached the marina entrance, causing us to just sit and wait it out in teeming rain and squally winds. But we were soon safely tied up and spraying ourselves for protection from th no-see-ems... an excellent supply here, available for export! Its an excellent marina that is just a few yeas old and still trying to build a client base. We highly recommend it. Here's h web site: http://turtlecaymarina.com/marina.html
From here, taxi to Panama City then home to Charlottetown and Vancouver, Christmas and church then skiing with family. Back aboard in early January!
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.