17 July 2017 | Bocas del Toro, Panama
07 July 2017 | Gallego Caays
19 June 2017 | Dolphin Bay, Bocas del Toros, Panama
11 June 2017 | Bocas del Toro, Panama
05 June 2017 | Isla Providencia, Columbia
26 May 2017 | Providencia, Columbia
20 May 2017 | Port Antonio, Jamaica
09 May 2017 | Mathewtown, Great Inagua
30 April 2017 | Georgetown, Exuma
19 April 2017 | Great Inagua
07 April 2017 | Georgetown
28 March 2017 | Black Point, Bahamas
22 March 2017 | Shroud Cay
16 March 2017 | Old Port Cove, Palm Beach Gardens
05 March 2017 | Titusville
23 December 2016 | Anna Maria, FL
10 December 2016 | Anna Maria, FL
26 November 2016 | Titusville, FL
24 November 2016 | Titusville, FL
16 November 2016 | Titusville
Hanging around in Bocas del Toro
17 July 2017 | Bocas del Toro, Panama
We wound staying several days at the Gayago Cays because of the weather. It was raining and overcast. The weather here is very difficult to predict day to day. The local forecasts are always wrong. Most days have light wind starting in the southwest and winding up in the northwest. The rain is very unlike what we are used to in Florida with a quick rain in the afternoon. Here it can rain for days and sometimes for part of a day and then clear up with no rhyme or reason. We've learned to just take what we get. We have had a tough time with electronics. So far we have had a computer, an Ipod, and a camera die on us. I assume from the heat and humidity. So far the human components are holding up.
We finally moved over to Crawl Cay, a small island surrounded by reefs, with a small restaurant on it. The weather was still overcast, and so the diving wasn't great. I got in to have a look, but the visibility was marginal. The coral was pretty unspectacular. I guess we've been spoiled by the Bahamas. While we were there, one early morning, we had a vicious thunderstorm come by. Lots of wind and lightning, unlike the other rain we've had, which is rarely accompanied by any wind. I guess it's a preview of what we can expect in the San Blas this time of year.
The weather finally cleared and we headed out to the Zapatillos Cays, reported to be great diving sites. As we approached the islands we could see surf crashing over the reef and when we approached the anchorage the surge even in the lee of the island was huge. We anchored in about 15 feet of water and sat for a bit to make sure the boat was well set. The water was so stirred up that we didn't even think about diving, but we decided to put the dinghy in and go ashore to explore. When we approached the shore the surge was so big we decided to anchor the dinghy and I tied the stern to a tree. We had a walk on the beach, and all of a sudden about 15 pangas showed up with around 200 people who proceeded to spread out all over the beach. This was the first nice day in a week so I guess all the tourists wanted to get some beach time. All of them were Panamanians, and ready to party. That was our signal to head back to the boat, and to add insult to injury, as we were pulling the anchor, two park rangers came by and collected $10.00 per person fees for using the park. Ouch!
We came back to the coast and decided to go to an area of small mangrove islands we had seen on the charts. It is an amazing archipelago of small islands with deep channels between, ripe for exploration. We meandered our way up into the complex of islands and found a comfortable spot to anchor. We spent a couple of days there exploring in the dinghy and diving the reefs. The rain has continued off and on, although we've had a few dry days.
We have now come back to the marina and I'm doing a few boat projects and we are getting ready to bid adieu to Bocas and head east towards Colon. We have been continuing to play tourist, and went to the Smithsonian Research Station for a tour (very nice) and over to Isla Caranero for a look around (not so nice). We plan to stop at the Chagres River on the way east for a few days to check out the wildlife and history there.
Dark Lands,Red Frogs and Starfish
07 July 2017 | Gallego Caays
After a few great days at Dolphin Bay we moved over to Laguna Pallos, also known as Dark Land. Depending on who you talk to, the name comes from the fact that there is no light anywhere around there after dark or because of the skin color of most of the people that live in the area. The shoreline is populated with small homes of the local indigenous Indians called the Ngobe. They travel in hollowed out trees called cayugas, which are made by hand. A tree is selected and felled in the forest and the cayuga is made there by carving it out of the tree trunk. Most are big enough for 3-4 people and are propelled by handmade paddles. It’s common to see Mom’s paddling their kids to school in the morning and bringing them home in the afternoon. Also kids paddle them around as well. Commonly we see guys out fishing in them also. Some of these craft are very large and are powered by outboard motors. They have squared off sterns and transoms for the motor and are made from huge trees and may be as long as 30-35 feet.
Over the past few years more expats have put places in the area as well and there are larger homes scattered around the bay. We anchored at the south end of the bay and with friends John and Joanna from Kachina, went in search of an estate which had been donated to the Smithsonian Institute and which we heard had some walking trails. We found the place and the caretaker, Daniel, was very gracious in letting us roam around the place. We saw many wonderful plants and trees, including many cacao trees which must have at some point been part of a farm. We got an up close look at leaf cutter ants doing their thing, carrying leaf parts back to the mound. They actually had made little highways along the path. The Smithsonian has a research station in Bocas and we hope to visit it at some point for a tour, while we are in the area.
We’ve had several days of rain, and it rains every day at some point. The timing of rain is unpredictable and can happen any time, night or day. Some days are complete rainouts, although we have more sunny days than rainouts. We are south of 10 degrees north here and this time of year the intertropical convergence zone (the squally weather around the equator) moves north to this area and is the reason for all the rain. We have been able to keep the water tanks full from the decks and haven’t run the water maker since we’ve been here.
The air temp is warm, high 80’s, although it doesn’t seem as hot as Florida in the summer. The humidity is very high with all the rain. Molly says it’s not hot, it’s Damn Hot. Sometimes it’s hard to sleep with the warm temps but the fans have been a life saver. The bugs haven’t been as bad as expected, an occasional mosquito and sometimes jejenes(no-see-ums), but we haven’t had to close up the boat so it cools us off as the night progresses.
We moved back to Bocas to reprovision and spent a night anchored off the marina and then went down to Hospital Bight between Nancy Cay and Bastiamentos Island and to anchor off of Red Frog Marina and Resort. They were kind enough to let use tie our dinghy to their dock and go to the beach. The place is named after a small red frog that inhabits the area which also has a poison skin secretion used in making poison darts by the local Indians. The beach is a beautiful sight we saw several sloths, and other wildlife walking back and forth. There were several small beach bars and tiendas there for drinks and lunch. It was so nice we stayed for 3 days.
Then we moved back up to a place on Isla Colon called Starfish Beach, because of all the starfish seen there. It’s very near Bocas del Drago, the pass we came in when we first arrived. The beach is very nice, very placid compared to Red Frog which was on the ocean. There are also a lot of small bars and restaurants here as well and it’s very popular with the tourists, who arrive by water taxi. We took a walk along the shore around to the pass and saw several Capuchin monkeys lying around in the trees and another sloth. The Howler monkeys are active there as well. Although we hear them frequently, we have yet to see them. They make a roar that sounds like a lion in the morning and evening and right before thunderstorms.
Right now we are anchored in the Gallegos Cays, a very peaceful place. Today is a rainy day and we need to wait for the sun to go to Crawl Cay and the Zapatilla Cays which are surrounded by coral reefs. We need to have good visibility to navigate through all the coral. Look for more pictures in the gallery.
19 June 2017 | Dolphin Bay, Bocas del Toros, Panama
The sail down from the Albuquerques was mostly a motorboat ride. We sailed in and around squalls the first 25 miles and then the wind died and we motored the rest of the way, which is typical we’re told. There is little wind and what there is light and variable in western Panama. In the morning on the second day we saw a panga (a large outboard powered skiff) approaching with 4 or 5 guys in it and moving fast. We had read about the pirates and banditos up around Honduras and Nicaragua using these vessels to rob cruising boats, so we were a bit concerned as this one approached. We began to see that they all had their faces covered and were standing in the front of the boat. As they passed by they waved and continued on out to sea, apparently looking for fish.
We came into sight of the coast, first seeing the islands and then the mountains in the mist behind them. Bocas del Toro is on Almirante Bay and there are two entrances, one called Bocas del Toro and one called Bocas del Drago. We came in Bocas del Drago and since it was late in the day we decided to anchor for the night and do the customs/ immigration dance I the morning. We pulled into an anchorage known as Big Bight, a mangrove bay a few miles from Bocas town. We were a little concerned about bugs but had no trouble and spent a pleasant night. We could hear many new sounds in the surrounding jungle. There were many interesting bird calls and the howler monkeys got tuned up at dusk and sunup.
The next morning we raised anchor and moved over to Bocas town and found out we could clear customs at the marina, so we took a slip for a few days. Clearing in was fairly painless. There was a total of $115.00 in charges for customs, immigration, agriculture and the port captain and lots of forms to fill out. For those coming this way, I would suggest preprinting copies of you crew list with, names, nationality, birthdates and passport numbers of all on board, as well as copies of your passports and vessel documentation. Everyone wants copies of those documents. It’s also very important to have your clearance from your previous port. Immigration gave us a full 6 months in country, which is fortunate, as sometimes it is less and the visa must b renewed and sometimes you must leave the country. Every port seems to have a different take on the Panamanian Immigration rules. Then we had to go to the port captain’s office to get a cruising permit for $180.00. This document is good for a full year.
We stayed in the marina for a few days to clean the boat, and enjoy the ambiance of the place. The folks there are extremely friendly and helpful. The laundry system is a bit different than we are used to. You drop your laundry off and it’s washed dried and folded in 2-3 hours for $6.00 a load. We’ve paid more at many do it yourself places. The showers and heads were very nice, and there was a bar restaurant called Calypso Cantina, with $1.00 beers during Happy Hour, after which it went back up to $1.25. There is also a panga shuttle to take folks back and forth to town.
We did some provisioning in town and wandered around checking the place out. We got a SIM card for the phone and figured out how to use it, difficult for us with our limited Spanish. It is very popular with the backpacker and surfer crowd. There are also indigenous Indian, Afrocaribbean, Asian, and Spanish cultures represented as well as a large American expat community. This mélange of cultures and the ramshackle nature of the town make for some very interesting sights and delightful street food.
We finally tore ourselves away from the marina and moved down to a place called Dolphin Bay, named after a family of dolphins who live here. We anchored in the south end of the bay near a couple of moored boats and no sooner had our anchor down, when we were hailed by BEN 1, Mary who live ashore above one of the moored boats. BEN stands for Bocas Emergency Network and all the expats who live here have a BEN number, and communicate via VHF radio. Mary and Carl, as you might expect being BEN 1, are the longest residents currently in the area. They invited us for a visit and we had a wonderful time seeing their home and talking about their adventures. All the homes here are off the grid and there are no roads or other infrastructure. The homes are powered by solar, and backup generators, collect rainwater for drinking and all transport is by boat. Most folks go into town once a week for supplies and food. The expat community seems close knit, but there is an extreme sense of solitude and individualism. They are very generous with their time and resources and even let us use their WIFI.
We also visited the Green Acres Chocolate Farm in this same bay. It was started several years ago by some expat Americans who have subsequently moved inland, and was bought 4 years ago by Julie and Robert, an ex dentist from Oklahoma. They give tours of the farm and explain the process of chocolate making. The place is a wonder of tropical plants, trees and birds. They farm organically and with solar powered equipment, make a wonderful dark chocolate for sale locally. We saw many orchids, bromeliads, and tropical ginger, all in bloom. We saw a poison dart frog, which has a poison secretion on its skin and was used to coat the darts the Indians used in hunting. We also saw the tree the Indians used to make the darts with 2-3 inch spines coming out of its trunk.
We saw the cacao trees and the cacao pods growing out of the trunks and limbs. Robert showed us the inside of the pods and we sampled a raw chocolate nut which is covered in a white sweet fleshy substance and the nut is bitter. The combination of the two is a pleasant mixture of sweet and bitter. When the pods are mature, they are harvested (4 times per year) and the nuts removed. This has to be done within 3-4 days of harvesting and the nuts are placed into a bin and allowed to ferment, which changes the nut and forms the chocolate flavor. The fermentation occurs over several days and then the nuts are dried in the sun and then roasted. Then they are ground, the husks separated, and the nuts are ground further into chocolate paste. The equipment he uses is all 12 volt and solar powered, and very ingenious. All in all it was a wonderful day of exploration.
Molly and I went snorkeling yesterday around a mangrove island and saw multicolored soft corals, many pretty fish, anemones and tube worms. We’ve also been busy with boat maintenance lest you think its all fun and games.
Check out the gallery for some pictures of all this.
11 June 2017 | Bocas del Toro, Panama
We left Providencia late in the day to sail down to the Albuqurque Cays, a couple pf small islands surrounded by an extensive reef system. They are owned by Columbia, who keeps a small contingent of navy personnel there to maintain their presence and protect the fishing grounds. Night fell as we left the mountains of Providencia in the distance and we sailed past San Andreas in the dark. San Andreas looks the opposite of Provdencia in that there are many resorts and the population is large. It was lit up like a city as we passed by in the night.
We enjoyed a pleasant sail south in 10-15 knot winds with an almost full moon lighting up the night. Daybreak found us off the northern edge of the reef, so we hove to for a while to let the sun get up a bit higher so we could see the coral. We had some waypoints to follow going in but the charts are known to be way off, so navigating by sight is very important here. As we entered the reef, we found that the waypoints were not good so we wound up navigating with Molly on the bow sighting the coral. We wound our way down to the cays, through numerous coral heads and anchored in the lee of the island. Our plotter had us about 300 yards south of our actual position. We had gotten a call from the fellows on the island and so we through the dinghy in and went in to let them check our paperwork. The Latin countries are very particular about having all the proper paperwork, especially the Zarpe’, which is the clearance to leave port and travel to your next destination. All paperwork was in order and the guys were very friendly.
In the afternoon we snorkeled around some of the heads enjoying the beautiful coral, fish and clear water. We found a couple of conch, which we put in the freezer to enjoy later. We spent a good night there and awoke early to head on south to Panama. We had waypoints for the southern entrance which turned out to be very good. Interestingly, the plotter corrected itself and began showing a correct position for the boat. I’m not sure how or why. The southern entrance was deep and with only a few well charted heads to avoid.
We were able to sail the first 25 miles but then the wind died and we motored overnight and had landfall in Panama in the early afternoon. We entered the Bocas del Drago channel and came into Bahia Almirante. Since it was late in the afternoon, we anchored in a spot called Big Bight for the night. The next morning we moved over to Bocas del Toro and pulled into the Bocas marina, where we cleared into the country. $115.00 for Customs, Immigration, Agriculture and Port Captain, and $185.00 for the cruising permit. We plan to stay in the marina for 2-3 days and then start exploring the archipelago.
For those who might be interested some waypoints for the Albuquerque Cays follow.
Northwest entrance: Outside the reef
12 11.627N: 81 52.776W
12 11.121N: 81 51.790W
12 10.195N: 81 51.284W
12 09.992N: 81 51.123W
Anchorage 12 09.776N: 81 50.919W
Going south 12 09.475N: 81 50.919W
12 09.219N: 81 51.929W
Outside the reef 12 08.438N: 51 53.049W
The north entrance should be done with good light and visibility. Even with the waypoints you will be moving around large coral heads. The south entrance is deep, and although the route comes close to some heads, it could probably be done at night if need be. The Columbian Navy guys will want to see your Zarpe’, passports, and vessel documentation. The stop is definitely worth it if you have the time.
Look for some new pictures in the gallery.
05 June 2017 | Isla Providencia, Columbia
The harbor at Providencia is formed by the main island and a smaller one named Santa Catalina, resulting in a protected anchorage in the prevailing easterlies. Santa Catalina was a the focus of our initial exploration. There is a neat walkway over to the island and then along the shore. There are some old fortifications from when this used to be a pirate stronghold. As a matter of fact, there is a rock formation as you enter the harbor called Morgan's head, which with some imagination has a face on it. We did some snorkeling around it and saw some nice coral and fish. The flora is very tropical with palms, bromeliads and orchids all around. At the head of the harbor is a dinghy dock adjacent to the commercial dock, in town and very convenient. The town is very quaint and picturesque with numerous restaurants and posadas, all very tourist oriented. Most people speak Spanish but also know English so it's fairly easy to get what you need. We had heard that fresh veggies were hard to come by, but there are three markets in town and all are well stocked with fresh and staples. The primary mode of transport on the island is by motorcycle or scooter. We rented scooters on a couple of occasions with friends, John and Joanna of SV Kachina. The first, just to explore the island and go see the beaches. They are mostly at the south end of the island and beyond walking distance. We went to Southwest bay and had lunch and a dip in the water. Lunch was at a delightful water side place with cold beer and fresh fish presented in a delightful lunch. From there we went to Machioniel Bay and a special place called Roland's. Roland is a Jamaican expat and has set a little piece of paradise on the beach, with reggae playing, hammocks swaying, and the rum concoctions flowing. We continued around the island and closed the circle back in town. On another day, we hitched a ride back to Southwest Bay for a holiday celebration put on by the church. We never did figure out what the celebration was for, but it was attended by most of the islands population and there was free soup for all who wanted it. The soup was a bean soup with chicken, pork and yucca which had apparently been cooked overnight in a huge metal cauldron on the beach. It was very good. We were joined by some other friends on the other boats in the harbor and retreated back to the same beach side restaurant for another fish lunch. After, we were lucky to be able to catch a church bus back to town. On several days we just enjoyed strolling around town, either out to Santa Catalina or to Crab Cay, another small island off the main, which is a park. The road down there is full of exclusive homes and resorts, all very pretty. On a few days we had squally weather, but by in large, the weather has been splendid. One day we rented scooters again to ride up to El Pico, the peak, which is the high point on the island. We hiked up a 90 minute trail to the top, and were rewarded with spectacular views of the surrounding reefs and water as well as the beautiful tropical woods on the way up and back. Now it's time for us to get moving again. We plan to leave in a day or two and head down to the Albuquerque Cays for some snorkeling and then on to Bocas del Toro, Panama.
Port Antonio to Providencia- the passage
26 May 2017 | Providencia, Columbia
We left Port Antonio early (6 AM local time) to beat the wind as it built during the day. We motored out of the very calm anchorage and raised the main sail as we left the harbor. Heading due east into a building breeze and a large easterly swell about 6-8 feet, we motorsailed out to a point where we could clear the northeast point and then fell off to where we could pull out some jib. We made good progress and after a few hours were able to clear the southeast point and the turbulent area there. As we cleared the island, the sea state settled a bit and the wind filled in to 15-20 knots out of the east. We set our course southwest for a way point to clear Baho Nuevo, a reef about 190 miles down the way. Soon we were seeing 20 knots gusting 25 and waves around 8-10 feet. The wind vane was doing a great job of steering the boat and we were going fast, seeing 8 knots occasionally as we surfed down the waves under reefed main and jib.
The boat motion was fairly active and even though Molly had done her med routine with Sturgeron, she was not feeling well. The stuff makes her sleepy anyway so she slept most of the day. As night approached we planned our normal watch routine with Molly taking the early 8PM-2Am watch and then me from then on. We had a few times when the wind would settle and the motion would increase with the sails flailing around. I had the main prevented down and the jib on a pole so it was minimized. At the end of the second day we closed the Baho Neuvo reef and came up a bit on the wind on a course to Providencia. And so it went, now on a reach with the pole down and screaming along between 7-8 knots, We threaded our way Between the Serrana Bank and Quito Sueno Bank and the morning of the fourth day found us in sight of the light at the north end of the reef off of Providencia. As the morning sun light up the scene, the mountains of the island became evident ghosting out of the mist. We were still sailing fast but the swell was gone, as we were behind the reef. Providencia has the second longest reef system in the Caribbean after Belize. The light built and the details of the island became evident and as always it was a delightful experience to make land fall after a long passage. Coming into the harbor we were mesmerized by the beautiful tropical flora on the volcanic peaks.
The first day we got cleared into the country and started our exploration. We plan to be here for a week or two and will fill you in on the results next time.