02/23/2012, Shelter Bay Marina, Colon, Panama
Well, we arrived here on Monday after two interesting days in Portobello. In brisk following winds we swept down the 20 miles to Colon, arriving outside the huge breakwater in early afternoon. Getting to the breakwater entrance required manoevuring through a fleet of ships wanting to transit the canal, some at anchor, others underway entering or leaving the hrbor. With the aid of our AIS we could figure out who was anchored and who was underway and in which direction. Taking advantage of a gap in the traffic we slipped into the harbor and across the traffic lanes and over to Shelter Bay Marina.
Here we were guided in to our berth in a marina bustling with boats coming and going, many preparing to transit the canal or having just completed a transit.
We were barely tied up when the boat next to us, from Monteral, saw our Canadian flag and asked about our home port. Learning we were from PEI, we learned we have a very good friend in common, Peter Griesbauer!
They were preparing to transit the canal for a Pacific crossing, and in the two days we were berthed beside them, we quickly became friends. Today we helped them cast off their lines, armed with huge lines and 10 tires (on a 40' boat), the standard fare rented for transiting the canal.
Estelle is now out of the water. We came here for two reasons, to have the engine checked out and to have thhe bottom painted. To do the bottom, we were hauled out, bottom cleaned and ready for paint, but no paint. For the last three days, the supplier has promised delivery, and says it actually was delivered once, but to the wrong person. But the net result is no paint. And we had the engine checked and bad news... no oil pressure. The options for fixing it are remove the engine, dis-assemble and clean the oil lines (plugged when our oil cooler failed in November) and re-install, or replace the engine.
So the short version is, no matter which option we choose, we'll be taking an extended break from cruising. But if we are to have probems in this area, this is the place to have them. Its a first class yard and we have heard lots of reports of satisfied cruisers.
The generator is an other story. In Panama, everything takes four times as much time to do as you would expect. I have made countless calls, sent countless emails, and still nothin definite. But we have more time now, so it may work out.
But tomorrow, we'll take a break from boat issues and head for Peru for 10 days. Then we'll return, make some decisions and move on.
02/18/2012, Portobello, Panama
Coral growing on a sunken coastal trader
Well, we left the San Blas yesterday, taking most of the day to sail 45 miles to Isla Linton where we anchored for the night. Linton is an odd lace. Nothing ashore but a dirty village and one tired bar/restaurant. But there were at least 50 boats there looking like long term residents.
As we sailed out of the San Blas, a large (90') yacht was motoring on a collision course with us, stopping to let us sail across their path with waves from the cockpit. We had seen it anchored with us in a couple of other places. Then they set sail on our course, quickly drawing away from us in the beautiful breeze. We noted the Norwegian flag with the crown in the center. Then today coming in to Portobello, we passed them again as they sailed out in the direction of Colon. Last night (with excellent internet) Jennie found the flag on line... the flag of the Royal Family of Norway. The king is a former olympic sailor and the Crown Prince is also an enthusiastic sailor. We're not sure who was on board, but we choose to believe it was the Crown Prince waving.
Today we had another beautiful sail, just 12 miles from Linton to Portobello in 12-16 knot winds on the beam. Today is part of carnival so we'll head ashore to check it out. Tuesday is the end.
We'll also check out the three forts, ruins from the days of the Spanish treasure ships. Portobello was discovered by Columbus on November 2, 1502 during his fourth trip. It was chosen at the Caribbean trans-shipment port for the gold and silver. Between 1574 and 1702, firty-five fleets of galleons sailed from Portobello for Spain, each carrying not less than thirty million pesos worth of treasure.
The ruins of the forts remain, and we'll check them out. It is also believed that Sir Francis Drake's ship, containing his body is located in the harbour. Drake and Captain Hawkings (with Queen Elizabeth I's blessing) spent a good many years looting the looters. But today all that is long past and all that remains is a small sleepy village with two small tiendas, and a couple of bars.
We're here until Monday when we head for Colon and Shelter Bay Marina where we'll have the engine looked at and the boat hauled for painting the bottom.
02/13/2012, Salardup, Kuna Yale, Panama
Somehow I have managed to be delinquent and have not posted a blog for some time. But we've been busy... for a good part of the time trying to find food. Not very easy to find at the best of times, there was a protest in Panama City that blocked all food shipments for about 10 days, so that the village "tiendas" were pretty much empty. We have been wandering through the islands enjoying snorkeling, beach walking and talking with the natives. Somehow we seem to have gotten to know more of them than other cruisers.
From Isla Gerti, we tired of the 18-22 knot winds and headed for nearby Bahia Nalia, Here we found welcome relief in a quiet mangrove-lined anchorage... until dusk and the no-see-ems descended. We dove below and next morning were off early to the nearby village of Wichubhuala where we found one onion, two tomatoes, two potatoes and all the beer you could ever want.
Then to the West Lemmons, anchoring in the lee of Naguarchirdup, site of the only internet access in Kuna Yale, and a bar where we met a few fellow cruisers. From there off to Waisaladup with excellent snorkeling. Here we had the anchorage to ourselves until Le Levant, a small cruise ship dumped 150 people on the tiny beach complete with beach umbrellas and portable bar. But they only stayed a few hours.
On the unusually crowded beach, we chatted with Salar (Chief) Julio who was looking a bit lost in the crowd. He recognized us from taking his son to the dentist in Nargana a few weeks ago and seemed delighted to see a friendly face. From here, we sailed to Salardup, the most beautiful anchorage yet, surrounded by a ring of six palm covered cays. We'll stay here for a few days.
Now to boat problems... The engine is still acting up. Last week I filled the bilge with oil, owing to a leak at the oil pressuer sender. After some quality time in the engine room on my stomach across the engine, I found the oil pressure sender loose. Tightening that seems to have done the trick.
But now, when warm, the low oil pressure alarm goes off. I am almost certain it is a faulty sender, caused by our oil cooler leak last fall. That let coolant into the oil, and Westerbeke says that that will usually bake the sender. But if not, big problem. So I need it checked by a mechanic with a pressure gauge.
And the bottom is a mess. If an environmentalist saw it, they would try to get it designated as a marine botanical garden. So I have been spending an hour or so a day cleaning with mask & snorkel, but making only slow progress. And last night, the generator failed, so I spent the morning replacing the raw water impeller and cleaning the water intake from fantastic looking creatures.
Since we have to travel to Colon (about 100 miles west) we decided to have the boat hauled at Shelter Bay Marina and get the bottom cleaned and painted. Locating paint has been a 4 day project, but I think I am on the verge of success. And I am trying to get a mechanic from a Mastervolt (our generator) dealer to look at the generator at the same time. It has major governor problems. It will be a miracle if I can co-ordinate it all, but I'm trying, using our super- cheap cell phone service.
And speaking of our cell phone, we have learned how to use it to get on the internet. So far, we have been using it only in remote areas with weak coverage, and very slow response, but it does improve things.
And the last of the news is we have decided to take a trip to Peru when the boat is out of the water next week. It will be out for a week, so we'll do some off-boat touring including Machu Pichu and all Peru's finest in a 10 day trip! So Friday we'll head back west, taking a few days, stopping at some places we passed on our trip down in November.
02/06/2012, West Lemons, Kuna Yale, Panama
The only internet access in the San Blas, max capacity, three users!
02/03/2012, West Lemons, Kuna Yale, Panama
01/31/2012, Ali Tupu
Yesterday we went ashore on Ali Tupu, the small island we're anchored off. We went in the morning because we knew there would be a funeral in the afternoon and didn't want to impose on it. Ashore we met the head priest, preparing for the funeral. Their religion is a sort of mixture between Christianity and their traditional one. The funeral was to be held in a Baptist church, and we provided some white paint to paint the cross. We also donated some bug spray for the ceremony (having been asked for it). Then we met the village Interpreter. About 70 years old, his english was excellent, learned when he worked for the American administration at the canal. I assumed (wrongly) that his title as Interpreter referred to his being able to greet and interpret between the locals and us visitors. He told us about the island, took us around it (200' long, 100' wide), showing us how they have been building it up to combat the rising ocean levels. We visited the school (vacation time here) and had a very informative visit to the island's "Congresso". The Congresso, held Monday and Friday evenings, is open to every villager. But the Sailar (Chief) is in charge. Inside the Congresso, benches were formed in a square with a clearing in the center where a hammock for the chief is slung. When the congresso meets, important issues are raised and discussed. The Silar's decision is communicated through song while in his hammock, and the "Interpreter" then interprets the Sialar's decision to all present. The Interpreter has a special seat, of which he is justly proud, having held his position since 1959. Sialars are elected for life by a free vote by all villagers. Inside the Congresso, Alberto showed us the fermenting "Sugar Wine" made yesterday, for an upcoming celebration. We think it is a sort of presentation into adulthood of village girls who have reached 12 years of age. The "wine" ferments for 9 days, then everyone gets to drink a cup. "Lots of talking" laughed Alberto. Like most villages, Ali Tupu is located on a small island just off the mainland. Huts are built on land that individuals "build" by gathering soil from the nearby mainland and collection coral boulders to form a breakwater. Alberto (the Interpreter) seems to be well off with three houses... one for sleeping, one for cooking and one for day-time use. And he is constructing a fourth... "just in case". When he came to the island, there were just three families and 22 people. Now the huts are spilling over the edges, crowded close together. Diet seems to consist of fish, small reef fish or the occasional small tuna, rice and local fruit (papayas, bananas, pineapples), yucca and a few vegetables. The local Tienda (store) held nothing fresh. In the afternoon we kept away out of respect. The graveyard is on the mainland, half a mile up a small river (their source of fresh water). In early afternoon we watched the procession (two large pangas with outboard motors) head across. The women were all traditionally dressed with bright red scarves. The priest was in the front of the lead panga, chanting his way across and up the river. Funerals are extended affairs here. The church ceremony was held shortly after one o'clock, and by two they were on their way to the graveyard. But the interpreter told us that it would not be until 5:30 pm that the body, wrapped in a hammock, would be lowered into the ground; 5:30 pm is a special hour for the Kuna. In mid-afternoon we went ashore on the mainland for a walk, and could clearly hear all the chatter, men, women and children, practically the entire island, as they waited. As Alberto told us, they are a traditional island, but he can see changes coming and wonders what the future holds. We do too.
01/28/2012, Ali Tupu
Dinner, if I can figure out how to cook it
Yesterday we left Nonomulu heading west into the Gulf of San Blas. Winding our way out of our anchorage between the reefs, we headed down through another channel where we watched in amazement as a small cruise ship ran down in. Taking a ship that size is to me an act of extreme courage. We followed down, passing Acuadup, then out another passage between the reefs, for a short 4 mile sail to the Robeson Islands , the westernmost group of islands in Kuna Yale. Shortly after noon, we anchored off three small hut-covered islands, and soon a stream of ulus began to make their way out to us offering fruit, services, and molas. We are clearly off the cruisers path here. When we arrived there was one other boat, from Switzerland, anchored here. Chatting with them, they said they had been here before and found it the nicest place they had found in the San Blas. They recommended a couple of guided trips that we arranged ashore, while buying some delicious fried bread... not the most healthy, but it won't be a steady diet, so we'll go for it. So we're here for a few days then we'll push on to an interesting sounding anchorage up a nearby river.
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.