Slow Dancing

21 April 2018 | Shelter Bay Marina, Panama
21 April 2018 | Shelter Bay Marina, Panama
21 April 2018 | Shelter Bay Marina, Panama
21 April 2018 | Colon, Panama
03 April 2018 | Linton Bay Marina, Panama
04 March 2018 | Isla Rosarios, Colombia
26 February 2018 | Santa Marta
23 February 2018 | Santa Marta, Colombia
21 February 2018 | Santa Marta, Colombia
09 February 2018 | Santa Marta, Colombia
04 February 2018 | Santa Marta, Colombia
07 December 2017 | Santa Marta, Colombia
25 October 2017 | St. Georges, Grenada
25 July 2017 | St. Georges, Grenada
14 July 2017 | St. Georges, Grenada
29 May 2017 | St. Anne, Martinique
22 May 2017 | Portsmith, Dominica
19 May 2017 | Nevis
06 March 2017 | Pointe a Pitre, Guadeloupe
04 March 2017 | Pointe a Pitre, Guadeloupe

Panama Canal Transit

21 April 2018 | Shelter Bay Marina, Panama
Melissa Cloudy
April 2, 2018

We boarded Nakamakula, a catamaran, to transit the Panama Canal. Greig, Caroline, Dan and I were going to be line handlers. Leonard, Gayle and their daughters, Sydney, Astrid and Scarlett warmly welcomed us. While we waited for our advisor, the sky lightened as container ships, bulk cargo vessels, tankers and autoliners passed through the channel. We watched Panamax container ships (1000 plus feet) with amazement.

We tied alongside Zao, our buddy cat, and waited for Sarocha Naree to squeeze into the first lock. Greig, a boson in another life, prepared the lines. Dan caught the monkey’s fist as the canal worker pulled the line up. The doors closed us into a deep well. As the lock filled, Dan, Greig and Caroline tightened and loosened the lines to keep Nakamakula secure. Sarocha Naree engaged its props as the locks opened. The water swirled and churned as the salt and the fresh water mixed. Our advisor gave direction to the helmsman to turn left, increase prop speed, hold steady. We rose a total of 85 feet (26 meters) through the three chambers of the Gatun Locks.

To complete the transit in one day, we averaged 7 knots per hour as we crossed Gatun Lake to the Gaillard Cut where the Rio Charges flows into the channel. Staging areas for tugs and repair equipment dot the shoreline. A dredge was straightening and deepening the channel in the Gaillard Cut. A steady stream of “big boys and tugs” passed in each direction causing us to roll in the wakes. We were along for the ride.

As the starboard engine began to scream, Leo jumped into action quickly to change a broken belt. We were at risk of losing our place in the queue for transit. Our advisor obtained permission for us to cross in front of a petroleum tanker and to pass along side an autoliner. We tied to Zao, caught the monkey’s fist and watched as the liner entered the lock behind us. The mules pulled the carrier closer and closer with screeching cables until it hovered over our stern. We traveled through three locks into the mixing bowl of salt and fresh water at sea level.

We were humbled by the engineering in building the canals. We watched in amazement as two adjacent ships at Pedro Miguel Lock were joined by a third, a Panamax carrier, in Cocoli Lock. The double locks at Miliflores opened as we entered the channel to the Pacific. The Bridge of the Americas arched over us. We completed our journey in awe.

Guna Yala Part 2

21 April 2018 | Shelter Bay Marina, Panama
Melissa Cloudy
Guna Yala Part 2
March 13-21, 2018

About 80 nautical miles up the San Blas Archipelago are the Central Guna Yala communities. Nargana is “relatively” well-stocked community for provisioning with streetlights. Small commercial vessels from Colombia travel regularly to deliver supplies. As we walked across the bridge connecting Nargana and Corazon de Jesus, Frederico greeted a smile and us with broken English. He, of course, had stories to tell about his family, a project for the disabled and various services (trash, laundry, river tours). He guided us around the two islands that are joined by a bridge walkway. We stocked up on produce and bought Digicel cards. They don’t work for us……Dan’s already unlocked phone seems to be in a loop. He has memorized the message—working, unable to connect, try to sign up using Wi-Fi, iTunes or call your provider!

The outermost islands—Green Island, The Holandes, Lemmon Cays--white sandy beaches, coconut palms, turquoise water, mangroves and reefs appear like Impressionist paintings. Huge waves crash against the outlying reefs to create a wall of white water. These are postcard islands—breath taking. Cruising boats, backpacker vessels transporting passengers between the San Blas and Colombia, and pensio’n live aboard boats move from anchorage to anchorage. Vegetable and fishing boats visit the anchorages. Some islands have villages that are a mix of traditional thatched roofed houses and block or wooden structures. There are some modern conveniences—a few tiendas, sometimes Internet, and motorized ulus. Cellphones are everywhere. The livelihood of the Guna centers on selling fruits, vegetables, seafood, handicrafts, and molas to cruisers and other tourists. The molas are stunning.

The Guna Yala preserved their culture and traditions by choice. Bauhaus writes: Guna Yala is officially part of Panama, but is ruled autonomously by the Guna general “congresso.” On March 4, 1925, the Gunas agreed to be part of the Republic of Panama, under the condition that the Panamanian government respect their tribal laws, traditions and culture in the “Comarca de Guna Yala.”…Some movements toward independence…adopted Guna constitution in 1945 and the grant of full administrative and judicial powers in 1953.” Among the Guna there is a divide between those who have outboards and those who do not. There is tension between backpacker and unofficial charter boats that do not employ Gunas, pay taxes or fees. The Guna are attempting to transition to a capitalist economy through regulations (sometimes reasonable and sometimes not). The inroads of modern technology are changing the culture of the Guna Yala.

Eastern San Blas Part 1

21 April 2018 | Shelter Bay Marina, Panama
Melissa Cloudy
March 13-21, 2018

The coastline of Eastern Panama is dotted with Guna Yala villages on the mainland or on small islands. Bamboo houses are packed closely together with small walkways between them. We saw very few satellite dishes. There is very little light at night. Land is not divided into individual properties and is used for small farms. Coconuts are a mainstay of the economy. Supposedly someone owns every coconut on every island.

We spent time in Puerto Perme, a small anchorage sheltered from the north swells. Each day the Gunas paddled their ulus out to try fishing. Roberto brought his family to collect the "anchoring fee of $10" and to sell vegetables and molas. This was our first experience with the Guna Yala. Roberto hopped right onto the boat with his son. I must say it was a bit disconcerting when he went down stairs to look around. I purchased a beautifully woven basket full of avocados, bananas, plantain, coconut and cilantro.

We traveled to Ustupu. It was great to catch up with our friends, Gerwald and Corinna, on Bellatrix. We wandered around the community, one of the largest in the Eastern San Blas. There is a medical clinic, a large school, several tiendas and a Panaderia for bread. The middle of the village is a large shallow estuary surrounded by ulus and houses. Men in ulus, single log dugout canoes, travel daily to their farms on the mainland. Village houses, constructed of bamboo poles and a thatched palm roof, are lashed together with vines. Inside one house we saw hammocks, scattered children's toys, and an old Singer sewing machine. While the packed sand floors were free of trash, elsewhere was another story. Plastic trash and pollution threaten the ecological balance.

The Guna Yala culture and traditions are well preserved in the more remote villages. Other villages, like Ustupu, are mixed with the older generation still dressed in traditional clothing. The women's clothing is colorful and full of patterns. Molas are reverse applique panels sewn into blouses. The intricacy and layers create pieces of art. The Guna are small in stature and healthy. There is a high incidence of albinism. The society is matrilineal. Husbands move into the wife's household. Women control the money. There are few motorized fishing boats or launchas (similar to a water taxi). Every family has an ulu. In the late afternoons we often saw men and children out for a sail. A square-rigged piece of cloth moves the ulu along on a wing and a prayer. We did not photograph people.

For two days we traveled miles and miles in decent weather. The north wind was not too strong and the sea state was probably the best it ever gets in this part of the Caribbean. We stopped overnight at Achuputu to wait for good daylight. We carefully followed The Panama Cruising Guide, aka Bauhaus, waypoints marking a narrow channel. On our Raymarine chart plotter we "traveled" over land and reefs. Who knew that traveling in the San Blas could be like traveling the AICW without TowboatUS?

The Eastern coast of Panama is the most remote environment we have ever experienced. Guna Yala (San Blas) consists of more than 340 islands along the Panamian coast with the villages that dot small islands and the shore. Few cruising boats experience the picturesque scenes--coconut palms, small deserted islands, mangrove lined streams, virgin rain forests and very different cultural mores.

Obaldia--Clearing in to Panama

21 April 2018 | Colon, Panama
Melissa Cloudy
March 19, 2018
8 40.5'N 077 24.8'W

Mountains rise along the Isthmus of Panama, shrouded in clouds and haze for most of our visit. The rainforests look unexplored. If there is a road, it is only a trail that leads from Panama to Colombia. Obaldia, the military outpost where we cleared into the country, provides a show of force. It was established to help halt drug trafficking. Today illegal immigrants are the primary focus. I saw several nonfunctioning Gator type vehicles and one off road motorcycle. The mules pulling small carts were busy.

Clearing into Panama was challenging. The official process is not difficult, but the conditions in the anchorage are often untenable. Protection from winds and waves is minimal. Slow Dancing rode up and down the swells like a hobbyhorse in the anchorage at Obaldia. The dinghy motor lock broke with the force of the bounce. The dinghy dock requires climbing up on truck tires. A rain shower soaked us just as we arrived at the police station. Ninety minutes later, we were out of there!

Thoughts on Colombia

03 April 2018 | Linton Bay Marina, Panama
Melissa Sunny and Warm
December 2-March 10, 2018

We arrived in a foreign country! We are in Colombia on the continent of South America. The influence of Spanish architecture is evident in the flower-covered balconies, heavy beams and doors that look similar to a fortified building. Parks and plazas provide areas for people to gather, sell fruits and juices, and talk over endless cups of coffee. Cathedrals and churches dot the city landscapes. Vendors line the streets offering every imaginable kind of goods. We listened to rapidly spoken Spanish and watched for smiles and gestures.

Each slice of the country we visited was different--each unique. As cruisers, we visited cities and hiking hubs. I cannot comment on more remote and rural areas. The diversity of climate, terrain, and economic development within the departments was huge. Colombians say that they have 12 different kinds of forests. A spike forest is a cactus "forest." Cloud forests are covered with clouds--light humidity is one type and moisture laden is another type. The nation is fairly rich in natural resources--coal, oil, emeralds, and gold.

Both of us noticed that Colombia appeared to offer more support to disabled citizens than others we have seen. (This may be an inaccurate impression.) There is wheelchair access at street corners and curbs. Individuals travel in wheel chairs--by themselves and with family. Wheelchair lifts in subway stations and on some busses to allow independent travel. Families travel with their disabled (Down's syndrome) members easily. I saw some pretty good travel skills, but I did not see much language.

A socio-economic stratification system was implemented to classify urban populations into different strata with similar economic characteristics. In 1994, this stratification policy was made into law in order to grant subsidies to the poorest residents. The system is organized so that the people living in upper layers (estrato 5 and 6) pay more for services like electricity, water and sewage than the groups in the lower strata. Most Colombians are in the lower levels (estrados 1-3) with less access to hospitals, transportation, and basic utilities. What a law!

There are also very different types of employment opportunities. There is a huge difference between jobs with a permanent contract and contract jobs. A permanent contract ensures that your employer provides some health care and some retirement plan. Contract jobs do not have benefits. In 2017 minimum wage was $250/month plus a transportation subsidy of about $25/month. It is not clear that the reported wage reflects the actual remuneration for the employee.

Colombia's government is a presidential representative democratic republic. The President of Colombia is both head of state and head of government. We saw many election posters and heard several rallies. The election will occur in May. While there are many political parties, the two major ones appear to be the National Liberation Army (Ejercito Nacional de Liberacion - ELN) and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia - FARC). Both parties have a history of violence. The campaign for the upcoming election was not without violence--two bombings with fatalities occurred in Baranquilla. The country is very divided. Younger citizens are hopeful that there will be a total change. They do not want the party that has been in power for many years to be re elected.

The people we met are friendly. Cell phones are used everywhere! They are proud of the progress they have made to turn around Colombia's image. Citizens do not deny its history of extreme violence, drug wars, the paramilitaries and rampant corruption. They point to a growing economy as evidence of change. Although the police force was (and may still be) totally corrupt, they feel relatively safe. Pockets of the country remain unsafe and there is still drug and human trafficking. Gross inequality in wealth distribution, job stability, and opportunity for career advancement are cultural and institutional issues. Progress, tenuous, will likely be slow.

The Colombians we met are hopeful. They believe that Colombia will continue to grow as a tourist destination for all nationalities over the next ten years. While there is fairly robust Spanish speaking tourism economy, we did not see many American tourists.

We met Colombians with overwhelming pride in their country--its natural and human resources. One could spend a year and not see everything. It is beautiful, a country working to emerge from its history.

Reflections of Santa Marta

04 March 2018 | Isla Rosarios, Colombia
Melissa Sunny and beautiful
Dec. 2, 2017 to February 27, 2018

Along the Colombian coast, there are few options for anchorages or marinas. The “loco winds” blow off the Sierra Nevada Mountains and from the Guajira Peninsula. “Loco winds” are gale or near gale force winds 24 hours a day for weeks and weeks. The Marina Santa Marta is right next to the commercial port. Tugs, pilot boats and coastal patrol boats berth in the marina along with locally owned powerboats and cruising sailboats. This was our safe haven.

We dealt with the marina paperwork as well as the immigration/customs paperwork, assisted by the wonderful marina liaison, Kelly, who knows everything a cruiser needs to know.

With paperwork complete, Dan commented, “What have we done?”

Spanish is spoken. It’s a Spanish speaking country, what do you expect? Very few Colombians speak any English and we speak very little Spanish. Our Spanish improved. Their English did not!

It’s about the people. Colombians are friendly and gracious. We heard “buenos dias” from everyone and returned the greeting. People stopped to offer help with smiles and gestures to show the directions. “Gracias” and “mucho gracias,” we replied. Dan’s ability to use the app Maps Me improved!

Santa Marta is a relatively compact city. There is signage on most streets and one can easily walk most places. There are many different types of busses. Taxis are plentiful and very reasonably priced. Our ability to understand taxi fares in Spanish improved!

Street vendors are everywhere, selling everything. My favorite was fresh jugo--limonada or mandarin. We often purchased two freshly squeezed, icy cold drinks for about $2.50. Coffee shops offered tinto (black coffee) and a shady spot to people watch. Supermarkets had a pretty good selection. My ability to read Spanish labels improved!

The Spanish influence is evident in the buildings, the botanical gardens and in the plazas. Our favorite plaza was Parque Bolivar. The restaurant and street scene near Parque di los Novios was terrific. I’m don’t usually write about restaurants, but the food was exquisite in Rocoto and Ouzo. Our Colombian and Peruvian palates expanded!

When we arrived in Colombia, we experienced a new world. It is very different from the islands of the Eastern Caribbean. We truly felt we lived in a foreign country.

Vessel Name: Slow Dancing
Vessel Make/Model: Island Packet 44
Hailing Port: Annapolis, MD
Crew: Melissa and Dan Kenshalo
About: We began sailing on Chesapeake in 2005 on a 34 ft. Catalina. We became full time cruisers in 2012 on our Island Packet 44. Our journeys have been full of fun and laughter.
Slow Dancing's Photos - Main
24 Photos
Created 16 November 2015
20 Photos
Created 13 October 2015
20 Photos
Created 10 October 2015