Well the passage that felt like it would never end did end yesterday and we arrived in Panama to Shelter Bay Marina right at the canal entrance. We covered over 1000 miles between here & Georgetown, Bahamas and it was good to sort of catch up to where we'd planned on being by mid February. We left in a calm weather window with light winds in a trough which was good for the first part except that the trough followed us down till well below Jamaica so we had practically no wind for the first 4 days. The Windward Passage was windless and hot! Anyway, then we got a great wind but a little more motion than we wanted since we still have nausea from the ciguatera so I guess that contributed to the passage feeling long. Then on the last night at 12am, I was all settled in on watch with my caramel popcorn, watching a movie, doing the usual 360 degree look over the horizon every 5 minutes and a peek at the instruments, when suddenly we jibed (thankfully we have the new boom brake installed!) - the autopilot had decided to turn in for the night. It was brand new in Ft Pierce. We had a back-up autopilot but the company discontinued all repair parts for it so now it is basically junk and we couldn't engage the windvane since our course was dead downwind and bearing off would've meant we couldn't get to Panama in daylight yesterday so we ended up hand steering for the final 17 hours. That changes everything when you've got a 2 person crew! So needless to say, we were pretty excited as we closed in on Panama yesterday with about 50 ships around us. We got tied up at the marina and were in bed by 9, apparently dead to the world since Slick pulled in to the slip next to us shortly thereafter and knocked on our hull but neither of us heard a thing! It was 11 hours straight of pure sleep!
We didn't celebrate two holidays on this passage- my birthday and Valentine's Day. The closest I got to a birthday present was Jon waking me up at 1230am for my shift and singing happy birthday to me and then saying he was giving me "a watch" for my birthday- yeah, a night watch! Not the timepiece! But he says he'll make it up to me here. I'm waiting......
The passage was pretty quiet on the wildlife front. We saw a bunch of dolphin as always, a few birds, dorado jumping out of the water chasing flying fish and of course the moon was really nice to have. There was only one dead flying fish on deck when we got here which is a lot less than what we usually have. They "fly" right up on the deck and you don't find them until you go forward which isn't very often on a passage. Much to Jon's disappointment, we didn't fish at all this trip on account of the ciguatera- I told him he could but I wasn't up to eating fish or to cleaning it. I hope the symptoms pass but they are definitely lingering and every time I have a beer my feet itch like crazy- another classic symptom. But with $1 beers at happy hour here and a great crowd of sailors from all over the world, it is hard to pass up the opportunity to get to know some of them.
It took hours today to get checked in to Panama, to the marina and to meet our canal transit agent Erick who will help with the scheduling and hopefully smooth passage to the Pacific side of the canal. The new word for the day is "compulsory tip" for the port authorities. Oh well, what can you do? I got the boat hosed down and spiffed up, we hung out with Tim & Nathan some and began troubleshooting the autopilot. Before we knew it, the day was over. We hope to do some inland travel here if time permits and we've got to figure out the autopilot and do some other repairs/fix-it projects. Hopefully getting things shipped in here won't be too difficult. Then another round of provisioning to officially overstuff the boat so we can make it several months minimizing the amount of food we need to buy and we'll be ready to go. We were last here in 2009 but decided to turn back to go make some more money instead of head through the canal. So this feels like a long time coming. Very exciting.
02/10/2012, Passing Cuba
It is Friday, February 10th and we are underway in the Windward Passage between Cuba & Haiti. We sailed all night and then today the wind is lighter so we're motoring. We hurried up and got ourselves to Georgetown, Bahamas to get the boat loaded up with produce & fuel, do laundry, etc in order to use this light weather window since we had some easting to do. We left on Wednesday and hope to continue straight through to the Panama Canal if we can, just to get back on track for timing. So far it has been a most pleasant trip, easy and very pretty with nice weather & a gorgeous full moon still which makes the nights much brighter and easier. There's been a lot of shipping on this route and I'm so thankful we have AIS to better track them and call them by name if necessary. I hope next year we can buy the transmitter so we can transmit our position to everyone around us as well. Right now we only receive their position reports which is most helpful but having more is certainly better if you can afford it.
This is the 3rd time we've passed by Cuba's pretty, mountainous coast and I always have all these thoughts about how different a country can be despite the fact that it's borders are so close to the US and all that we enjoy as citizens. While we do love to travel, I haven't found a place I'd rather live than the USA. And it also seems odd that we are still not free to stop in Cuba even though we keep sailing by it.
So Jon ended up being crew in 3 more of the regatta races the following day at Little Farmers. They came over to the boat in the morning & said they still needed him so..... by the end of the day Saturday he was all bruised up from riding the plank and ready to be done! It was a great experience but you can only take so much... The more colorful pictures on Picasa are from the race that morning where I dinghied out to the course to get closer. There were no women on the boats so I had to be a spectator. Probably just as well!
We had a quiet evening that night and I cooked the grouper that Jon had speared a couple days before. We spent the following day with Frank & Debbie- did a really nice drift dive with Frank, speared some lobster and then went out to dinner that night to watch the Superbowl but for some reason the place we went ended up only receiving the stats for the game, not the game itself. Anyway, the next day I woke up with ciguatera symptoms- a neurotoxin present in some reef fish including grouper. There was a delay between my eating it and getting symptoms. Since we'd had this 14 years ago, it was easy to recognize. Mainly it results in nausea, fatigue, body aches, mouth tingling and sensitivity to cold in mouth & hands. So that's what I've got. I feel better than I did but hope the tingling and cold sensitivity resolves over the next several days. Jon has the same symptoms but milder; he's larger than I am and I had a worse case last time- it builds on itself. I think I'm going to hang up eating any reef fish from now on as I cannot afford to get this again. We should've sought local knowledge on whether this fish was OK to eat since it varies by area but we thought that it was OK. We have a freezer full of lobster which doesn't pose a risk but I'm still not in the mood for it. So I've been making meatloaf, roasting chicken, beans & ham- anything that doesn't involve seafood for the moment! Hopefully it will all pass.
For the short time we were in Georgetown which was less than 48 hrs, we did cram in a walk on the beach at Stocking Island. This beach is one of the best beaches we've ever seen and we've seen a lot of 'em! It has great shelling, is aesthetically very beautiful, it is loved by the mass of cruisers that stay in Georgetown all winter so there's no trash, they made a great trail that crosses the island and the sand is wide, white and beautiful. We'd remembered this beach from last time but now that Georgetown is even more popular with boaters, it is even better since they're taking care of it. Plus Georgetown is a great little town with a real supermarket. We are once again flush with good produce. On the way to Georgetown we saw a whale repeatedly breaching- always funny to see.
So, we had a wonderful time in the Bahamas and wished it could have been longer. The Bahamians were so warm and friendly and reached out to greet us. We also really appreciate the way you don't have anyone trying to sell you anything, you don't have to "hire" someone to watch your dinghy- we found the islands to be doing well and the people happy which makes us happy. The water is stunningly beautiful and the islands we visited were peaceful and just the way we remembered them except better- more trails! We're glad we came this way!
I guess I can take the Bahamian flag down today and with any luck, in a few days I can haul up the yellow Q-flag to get ready to check in to Panama!
We've been hanging out at Little Farmers Cay for the past few days with Frank & Debbie. This is where we pulled in years ago, anchored next to Frank and he came over to our boat, introduced himself & offered us some lobster he'd just speared. And so our friendship began! We've been enjoying diving together again and it's always nice to have more than one person to get a big fish which is what we did yesterday. I saw a really nice sized yellowfin grouper, got the boys with their spears over and they worked together to get it while Deb and I supervised. It had a really deep hole in a ledge, both of them nearly lost their spears but in the end we had 2 large fillets of delicious grouper. We're really trying to enjoy this now since once we leave the Bahamas this kind of fishing will come to an end.
A couple of days ago we hopped on Frank & Debbie's boat and headed down to the next cut towing our dinghies. He anchored in a little cove just inside the cut and since his ear was bothering him, he took us around in the dinghy so we could drift dive & fish and not have to worry about the current. Whenever Jon came up with a lobster, Frank was right there to take it from him. Galliot Cut is where I saw nine eagle rays swimming in formation through the cut, the most I've ever seen at a time. I tried to get pictures but they weren't very clear. Debbie made us a delicious lunch and we had time to just relax & shoot the breeze on their boat. Then Jon & I dinghied back to our boat at sunset.
I made a lemon cake the other day in remembrance of the lemon cake that we were so excited about on the first cruise down here in the Cape Dory. We had our cat with us on that trip and she added a lot of humor and good photo ops to it. It was late in the trip and we'd been saving this box cake to have when our provisions were getting low. It was all frosted and sitting just inside the companionway. Then I passed Kitty's little litterbox out the companionway to Jon for cleaning but we didn't do a very good handoff and it spilled all over the cake. There were two very disappointed campers on the boat that night and the cake went overboard.
Farmers Cay has been a real hoot; everyone is so friendly and it just feels good to be here. The water is so many shades of blue and crystal clear. I took a nice run a couple of days ago and part of my loop around the island included the airport runway. Where else but here would I get to do that? The reason why we're hanging out here is for the 5F's Festival .... The First Friday in February Farmers Cay Festival. There are loads of boats here and the weekly supply freighter arrived this morning blaring Bahamian music as it always does but this week it also was carrying some of the Bahamian C class sloops for the regatta. As we were sitting beachside waiting for the race to start this Bahamian came up to Jon and asked if he would be crew since they were short one. So he got to work his tail off on one with 4 other guys and they won the race! First, all the boats line up between two buoys and anchor. When the race director waves the yellow shirt, everyone (Jon) hauls up their anchor as fast as they can to get momentum and the oversized sail is raised and off they go. In order to avoid capsizing and sinking (which one boat did), there are 4 guys hiked out on pry's (wood planks) (Jon) and with each tack, the pry has to be moved to the other side (Jon) and reweighted with people to balance the boat. On each downwind tack, the bilge pump wires are held up to the battery to pump the water out (Jon) before the next bash to windward. Winners got free drinks for the night but we headed over to the other side of the cay to get mutton stew for dinner with Frank & Debbie. It was a really nice day.
That morning, Jon & I walked on a nice little trail on Big Farmers Cay to a cave. It had a green pool of water inside and plenty of mineral rich water dripping from the ceiling. It wasn't an elaborate cave but it was nice to just be able to go into it on our own and not have to be on a tour for once. The trail continued on over to a windwardside beach full of flotsam, including a few sea beans to add to our collection. If we ever have a house, we envision having a huge, clear vase filled with sea beans.
The wind has picked up over the past couple of days and it is kind of rolly in this anchorage but it's close to the wifi antenna so that is definitely the priority! We joke that when we pull into an anchorage we don't care if it's calm, safe, pretty or anything other than whether there's a good wifi signal! Right Maggie??? It's especially noticeable when the current is really running, pinning us broadside to the wind, creating a roll. Jon staggers out this morning and I'm complaining that I keep waking up in the night hungry, not knowing why. He asks me when in this anchorage am I not contracting at least one muscle to stay in place and I have to say never! Even in bed you're bracing. So wow, am I burning calories all night? No wonder I'm hungry. With all our aches & pains we chuckle that one day we may not be able to climb up into our bed the way we have to. It is like a gymnastics exercise to get up there if a hip or knee is smarting. But we decided we weren't going to talk about what is hurting anymore, only what isn't hurting. Well that frees up a lot of airtime!
A few days ago we spent half a day taking apart the wind generator twice and determined that it definitely has issues that were there right from the beginning, they've just gotten worse. The company is sending us new parts and if we get them in Panama, we can put them in! Thanks Mark for your advice, you were right on!