We have left Portabello. It was a cute little town with a ton of potential. On the last day we went in to provision a little. There is a beautiful church that houses the "Black Christ". People from as far away as Guatemala travel here on their knees as a pilgrimage to pay tribute. The church is exceptionally nice but I can't imagine crawling over all that garbage on your knees to get to it. This is the dirtiest town we have ever seen. There is garbage in the streets everywhere. There is an empty lot where you can drop your garbage off for $1
a bag. They burn some of it and the rest just blows away. The people that live there just seem to throw their garbage in the street. It's a shame because this could be a great tourist destination. The people are all nice and they do seem happy so maybe they just prefer it that way.
Bad news, Blue Kai will not be transiting the canal with us. They have decided to return to Florida. This is sad because they are really nice people and a big part of our cruising group. We are going to miss them a lot. It looks like it will be us, Sueno, and MacPelican crossing together. A lot of our other friends are going as well. Dolphin of Lees is crossing today!!!
We came into the Canal Zone yesterday. It was a little scary pulling in, this is a HUGE shipping port. There are freighters everywhere, lined up to go thru the canal and more coming this way thru from the Pacific. The canal is not really designed to cater to the small cruising yachts and the facilities are just not great. We had an appointment for the admeasurer at 8:30 so we came in and went to "the flats", which is where cruisers can anchor. We have heard bad things about the flats. Bad holding, robberies, a long dinghy ride to the dock. We got measured and headed over to Shelter Bay marina. Our friend Ian on Chaotic Harmony said we should be able to anchor in the back of the marina. We didn't want to call in case they might tell us "no". We also wanted to take there free shuttle bus to pay for our transit, which needs to be done before we can schedule our canal transit. We got there, across the entrance channel of the canal
and Sueno went in first, no problem. MacPelican next but they bottomed out in 5 feet of water. No way we can go in with our 6 foot draft. MacPelican came out followed by Sueno. We headed back to the flats, planning on a long night. We got a call on the VHF from Walka Irie telling us of another place we could anchor. They did say it wasn't great but that it was far better than the flats. We found our way over to them. It was a tiny little makeshift anchorage on a lee shore between some channel markers that the tug boats use. Our first
attempt at anchoring failed but the second time it took. Somehow all three boats squeezed into this anchorage. The guys got into Sueno's dinghy to go in and get the process rolling.
I stayed on the boat to make birthday cakes for Finnley and Noemie, Zack went over to Sueno to play. Everything was going great. A pilot boat circled by us and I stuck my head out of the companion way. One of the guys was pointing and saying she's there. The boat started coming towards me and I was thinking oh shit I am going to have to move and David just left. The guy was shouting "pesce, pesce, fish, the fish" I was trying to figure out what the hay he was talking about when I remembered that Zack has a barracuda head hanging off the back of the boat. SO I pulled it up and said "Solo la cabeza, mi hijo es loco" It's only the head, my son is crazy" They laughed and left. Phew! I was finishing the cakes when Nathalie called to say that Noemie's birthday present was here, just look outside. I went out and a cruise ship was backing in. A huge cruise ship! It was abour 150 feet away from me and I thought I may need some evasive maneuvers. But those guys can drive and we were fine. Or so I thought. I heard a crash on the side of the boat and ran up. We had been anchored about 25 feet in front of a channel marker, (not a great choice but the only one we had) now the marker was hitting the bow of the boat. SHIT we were dragging. I was alone and the guys were all on shore. I started the engine and motored up to keep the boat from going anywhere. I heard MacPelican talking to the guys on shore so I broke in and called for help. Paul offered to swim over but I was fine, so I just waited for David to come from shore. We pulled it up and all was good. But where to anchor now? This is a seriously crowded anchorage. We started driving around and some guy is on the front of his boat waving his arms in an x and looking very much like he is telling us not to anchor in front of him. JERK! We make a couple of attempts at reanchoring but they fail. The guy waving his arms is like frantic by now so we go by him and he is actually telling us to anchor on the other side of Sueno. We had thought of this but it was awfully close to where the tugs come in. He says it's fine. At this point we would have tried anything. We drove up and threw the hook in 15 feet which was a lot better than the 30 we had been in. The anchor took. We were a bit close to the channel, heck we are in it. Lots of tugs and even bigger boats have come in, one kept a spotlight on us, and all has been fine. So I guess we are staying here. Thinking about it later we think the prop wash from the cruise ship must have dug up our anchor because he would have gone right over it. Lesson learned.
We had a nice dinner on Sueno for the birthdays of Finnley and Noemei. David stayed with Flour Girl because we were both a bit wound up after the whole dragging thing. Needless to say neither of us slept all that well that night.
The guys went in and finished our paperwork and we are scheduled to transit the canal on February 16th, which is David's birthday. Sueno is going thru on the 13th and we are all going to line handle for each other. Zack is really exited about going thru, there are supposed to be alligators and all sorts of wildlife in the canal. Wish us luck!!
A little aside about Zack. This kid is amazing at math. He is in 2nd grade but doing 3rd grade math. We started on multiplication and within 3 weeks he knew all his multiplication tables up to twelves. We were playing math for candy and he was getting way to much sugar so I told him he would have to do division if he wanted any more. I thought that I was safe as he has never done division. I
explained that division is the opposite of multiplication and gave him a couple of examples. He got the first 5 correct so I had to quit. We have done 2 lessons on division and he knows all his division tables. He has also started reading chapter books. If only he liked writing that much! He is doing great and having a wonderful adventure!!!
We left the Hollondaise early, about six thirty. We have a 65 mile sail today to get to Portabello. It is blowing about 20 knots, which is a good strong breeze, we should make good time. The passage is out in open ocean and may be a bit rough so I take a Gravol for the first time. That stuff is like magic, I was not seasick at all. We put up the jib only for the sail and we were making great time, averaging 7 knots The seas were not that bad and Zack and I watched some movies and he took a little nap. We were watching Man vs. Wild when Zack heard the fishing line fly. We ran up to the cockpit and David had a fish on. I pulled in some sail to slow us down, (sometimes we are just going to fast and the fish gets away). We were passing an open water fish farm and and it seemed like a big fish, it was putting up a good fight! David got it in and it was a 20 pound tuna! Twenty-six inches long and really fat!. David was excited as this was the first tuna we have gotten on Flourgirl. Zack is super into catching fish also.
Zack and I have been reading Treasure Island, and last night we were reading about Cap't Flint the parrot and all the places he has been. Portabello was listed as one of the ports, which is really cool. Portabello was a big pirate enclave and David read that a third of the worlds gold has passed thru Portabello. We have some high hopes for Portabello! We came around the point and pulled into the bay. My first thought was, this looks just like Coral Bay. The bay is the same shape, the water is the same color, the bay is surrounded by hills, there is a town at the end of the bay. The only difference is the hills are not filled with houses in Portabello. We had a bit of trouble anchoring but finally got settled, had some dinner, FRESH TUNA, and went to bed. Zack said tuna is his new best fish,
Portabello is a lot like Coral Bay! There are derelict boats, some look abandoned. The town is a bit run down and bars seem to be a big business here. People seem to get stuck here like they do in Coral Bay and there seems to be quite a few ex pat drunks. Services are intermittent and like Coral Bay things don't always run like they should. One business has a sign on the door that reads "open some days, closed other days". Chaotic Harmony stopped by to tell us they were going into the bakery to have crepes with nutella and bananas for breakfast, when they got there they were told no crepes today. Zack heard them and I had to make crepes for breakfast. The grocery store is run down and dirty but there is another one that is supposed to be better. Today was Ejay on Cenons birthday. We dinghied to a bar at the edge of the harbor to have a beer and dinner to celebrate. We had a nice time, but they didn't have any wine so they sent a taxi to get some, All the boats ordered dinner and in true Coral Bay fashion it took forever to get the food. The bar did not seem to be prepared to cook for that many people and had to send a taxi to get food to cook. We had tried to call ahead but nobody answered our call. The orders were coming out and it was getting late so we asked about our order and they said it was started so we couldn't cancel it. So we waited, and waited. We asked again and were told our food had been served. Well we never got any food, so we told them to just forget it, they apologized and we left. A man came running down the dock telling us we didn't pay for our food, We told him we didn't get any food and he left us alone. We went home and cooked some tuna. We could feel right at home here!
Our last day in Cambombia, in the San Blas islands, we went in to meet the Kuna family that lives on the island and buy some molas (a traditional Kuna craft, which is squares of cloth that are layered and have designs sewn into them.) As we approached the small village and greeted the family we noticed 2 dead iguanas trussed up and ready to cook. YUK, but i have heard it tastes like chicken and people do eat it in the Virgin Islands as well, but not me. They also had 2 I think pigs in small wooden cages. It's a different culture and I guess you would get tired of fish after a while, which is the main entree here. David has been catching fish just about every day here. Mostly Trigger fish and Lion fish. We have been desperately awaiting the veggie boat and will be eating our canned vegetables if they don't show up soon. The veggie boats are great but there doesn't seem to be any rhyme or reason to the schedule. The other issue is that the boats go to the more crowded anchorages and sell out pretty quickly. We also need the "chicken, egg, and beer" boat to come. We did run out of eggs and since we heard that the egg boat sunk, eggs have been a pretty precious commodity here! MacPelican and Blue Kai went to Nargana and each bought us a flat of eggs so we should be back in the eggs soon!
From Cambombia we moved on to the Hollandes Island group. We met a boat called Respite in Cartegena that told us to go straight to the Hollandes and stay there because those are the best in the group. They are beautiful and we spent our first night in "the swimming pool" which is an anchorage that is open with a big sandy bottom surrounded by small islands, beautiful. The current was coming thru at about 3 knots. It was so strong that MacPelican could not row their dinghy over to Sueno for the pot luck. We moved on the next day as it would probably be a bad idea to let the kids swim in that type of current.
We moved down the Hollandes chain into the West Hollandes. I am not sure the name of the island, it was a small beautiful island with palm trees. That pretty well sums up all of the San Blas islands. There was a reef surrounding the islands and the guys wanted to swim thru the opening in the reef and go spearfishing. There was a nice pool for swimming and snorkeling on the inside of the reef. David and David made it out into the open ocean to snorkel, I got out there but the visibility was not great and it was really rough so I went back into the bay and snorkeled for a while. I saw a couple of small lion fish and a couple of small lobsters, a barracuda and a large school of ballyhoo. The kids had a great time playing on the beach and set up a "poison spear" shop, by collecting discarded bottles and filling them with potions to dip spears into. We had another pot luck on Sueno with Bidule. David and David saw a lot of big fish out on the reef including one 65 pound grouper. We are gearing up to leave for Portabello and make our way to the Panama Canal. Tomorrow is a 65 mile sail so we will start early.
We left the "big city" of Nargana and went back to Wasilidup, which is a very picturesque little island with palm trees and a small sand beach. Zack spent the day on the beach with Noemei and Finley making an obstacle course. They set up a really cute course where you could get your fortune told and Zack set up a race with a trap that you had to jump over. Later that evening we went ll went in to the beach and built a fire to burn our paper trash and roast marshmallows. Roasting marshmallows is a big treat for the kids. Hannah put a starfish into the fire but I think we got to it in time and David threw it back into the water, hopefully no worse off for the experience.
We have moved on to Cambombia, another cute little island ith a beach and palm trees. We got some really bad news. The boat carrying eggs and propane sunk on its way to the islands. If you could see the boats the delivery guys drive around in you would not be shocked by this. Some have one guy driving and one guy bailing, its crazy. But, we have been out of eggs for a few days now and that is messing with the cooking. My guys eat a lot of eggs! We are also out of fresh veggies almost. Fortunately McPelican went to Nargana and brought us out a flat of 30 eggs. Blue Kai also bought us 30 eggs, but we need to hook up with them to get them, hopefully they will still have them. We saw a boat today but he was only selling wine and beer, he had a flat of eggs but we were already in the dinghy to go snorkeling. I guess eggs are back in the San Blas! The veggie boat came yesterday when we were out snorkeling but he is supposed to come again today. So far we have not seen him so it may be canned corn for dinner. Poor us!
We have been doing some nice snorkeling here. There is a great reef with a 20ft wall. David has been catching Lionfish and Trigger Fish for dinner. Today he got a really big Trigger fish. Zack's favorite is Trigger fish. He caught one for dinner in Klein Curacao and ever since then Trigger fish is the best fish ever. McPelican and Chaotic Harmony have all seen a shark in the bay we are in, so we have been hanging fish carcasses over board in an attempt to see one but no luck as yet. Today everyone saw 4 eagle rays on our snorkel but somehow I missed them, maybe tomorrow.
So on our river trip up the Rio Diablo yesterday we saw a cayuka coming down the river with what looked like a dead pig. We called over to the men and they informed us that it was a tapir. A tapir looks a bit like a pig but after researching it on the internet we found that it is actually related to a horse and a rhinoceros. We met a French guy that had married a Kuna woman in the river and told us the guys had been hunting in the forest for 4 days and had stumbled upon the tapir and killed it with a homemade weapon that resembled a harpoon. Pretty crazy because this thing weighed over 400 pounds. He also told us they would be butchering it in town if we wanted to see it. That sounded pretty gruesome to me but some of the crew went in to see it. Well, not only are they butchering the poor thing, they are selling the meat for $2 to $3 a pound. We fortunately still have meat in our freezer, but the other boats we are traveling with do not have freezers and are therefore out of meat. So... they all went in to buy some. Paul brought David a chunk of the meat. It is a red meat, like steak. I cooked a piece up for David for breakfast. It was mild, no gamey flavor and a little tougher than sirloin. He liked it OK, but we are not going to fill the freezer with it. From here on out we will not have much access to the internet so any comments that you want us to see will need to be posted on our sailblogs website where the comments are then automatically emailed to our account that we can receive over the SSB radio from the boat. Here's the link:
So we are still hanging out in the San Blas islands and having a great time. We have done a couple of great snorkels. The reefs here are amazing and go forever. There are huge barrier reefs around a lot of the islands. There are also lots of cruisers and locals fishing on the reefs so there are not a lot of big edible fish. David got some special gear in the ABC's to hunt lionfish with his spear gun. Lionfish are a super invasive species that are taking a huge toll on local fish. Unfortunately they are really beautiful, which makes it sad to kill them. David doesn't seem to mind. He has killed a few and eaten them, he says they are delicious.
We are in Nargana now, which is one of the bigger, less traditional Kuna villages. It is very poor but the people are all very friendly and nice. There are only dirt roads and no cars. There is a playground that the kids played on for an hour or so yesterday and a basketball court and volleyball net. It is a better playground than the one on St John. Although the town was quaint it is mostly shacks with outhouses built directly over the water on small docks. We will not be swimming in this harbor! We walked around the town for an hour or so. Not much to see and even less food to buy. We could not find eggs anywhere. Some fresh veggies but not in great shape and some canned foods. The small launchas that come to your boat in the various anchorages have a far better selection and the prices are lower. We got a chicken off of one of the launches, David said it was the best chicken he had ever eaten. The creepy part is that the chicken comes with the head still attached and usually the feet. Ours did not have the feet but I wasn't complaining. Zack was actually very excited about the head. David chopped it off and they were going to use it for fishing bait. It started to stink so we threw it overboard.
Today we dinghied up the Rio Diablo with our friends on Blue Kai, Sueno, and Mac Pelican. It was great. The river flows thru pristine jungle and the scenery is beautiful. The kids all piled into Blue Kai's dinghy. Zack was fishing, but no bites. We stopped to swim and the kids were catching tadpoles. Some of the tadpoles were midway between tadpole and frog so it was a pretty cool science lesson as well. Back down the river and to get out of the river you need to cross a shallow sandbar with crashing waves. We got totally soaked which erased the fresh water clean we were all feeling after swimming in the water. Oh well, just another day in paradise.