07 April 2018 | Palm Beach
02 April 2018 | Palm Beach
19 March 2018 | Florida Straits
15 March 2018 | Grand Cayman
04 March 2018 | Georgetown, Grand Cayman
28 February 2018 | Caribbean Sea
25 February 2018 | Linton Bay
01 February 2018 | San Blas, Panama
15 January 2018 | Yansalidup, San Blas, Kuna Yala, Panama
24 December 2017 | Cartagena, Columbia
17 December 2017 | Cartagena, Columbia
12 November 2017 | San Blas
24 October 2017 | Linton Bay
17 October 2017 | Machu Pichu, Peru
15 October 2017 | Ollantaytambo, Peru
06 October 2017 | Cusco, Peru
02 October 2017 | Puno, Peru
29 September 2017 | Ariquipa, Peru
27 September 2017 | Nasca, Peru
20 September 2017 | Lima, Peru
A Look Back
07 April 2018 | Palm Beach
I thought I might look back at our trip to Panama and Columbia to summarize things for anyone considering going that way. We spent the hurricane season of 2017 in Panama and then stayed for the winter and beginning of 2018 in Columbia and Panama.
For the past few years we have sailed up to New England or the Canadian Maritimes for the storm seasons. This past year we decided to head south below the hurricane belt to Panama and this is what we learned and experienced.
We traveled south through the Bahamas and cleared at Great Inagua for Port Antonio, Jamaica. We spent some time waiting for the right weather to pass though the Windward Passage. Seeing the mountains of Jamaica materialize in the haze is very dramatic. Port Antonio is a great stop with the Errol Flynn Marina offering slips or more economical moorings and is a very secure spot to enjoy the natural splendor and cuisine of the area. From there, after again waiting for weather, we had a 4 day run down to Isla Providencia, a Columbian gem in the western Caribbean. It was a beautiful island to explore by scooter and the people were extremely friendly. Be sure to walk to the top of El Pico, the tallest mountain, for great views all around. We’d heard that fresh produce was hard to come by there, but we found plenty of good produce in the several grocery stores in town. Clearing in is somewhat pricy, as by law you must use and agent for the formalities. Mr. Bush is the local agent and a call on channel 16 to Bush Agency when you arrive will get the process started.
We then made a highly recommended stop in the Albuquerque Cays. They are an atoll like area of coral reefs and two small cays south of Providencia and San Andreas. They are also owned by Columbia and a contingent of navy personnel is stationed there and will want to see your zarpe when you arrive. The water is crystal clear and the diving is superb. Check out our blog for some waypoints to get into and out of the reef.
From there it was an overnight run in no wind down to Bocas del Toro in Panama. As you close the coast the mountains in the background become visible and then the coastline itself. The Bocas area is an archipelago of islands surrounding Almirante Bay with two entrances, Bocas del Toro and Bocas del Dragon. Either are good deep water channels but Bocas del Dragon is marked and is the one used by the ship traffic in and out of the bay.
Clearing in to Panama is somewhat convoluted and can vary depending on where you are. In Bocas, you can anchor, fly your yellow flag, and call customs and they will come to you or go into a marina and the marina will call them for you. We did the latter, and where visited by customs, immigration, health, agriculture, and the port captain. Everybody has a charge and then you go to the port captain’s office to get a cruising permit. The totals were in the range of $3-4 hundred dollars. In our experience it was different at each place we went. The government has recently changed the law and it should make the clearing in process less expensive, but it may take some time for the changes to filter down to everyplace. We also tend to try to do everything by the book and sometimes you might save a bit by shortcutting the process if you want. For instance, when we cleared back in from Columbia after going to Cartagena, we might have been able to use our original cruising permit, but technically you are supposed to get a new one for $185.00, so we did. Another change is that in is no longer necessary to get a domestic zarpe for in country travel. The only thing for sure is that policy and rules change constantly.
There are several marinas in the Bocas area, Bocas Yacht Club and Marina, and Marina Carenaro are close to town. Red Frog Marina is part of an upscale resort on Bastiamentos Island some distance away and Agua Dulce is a small marina at the eastern end of Bastiamentos. Bocas town is a funky, eclectic place where the merchants are all Chinese, with surfers, backpackers, the local Indian community and Panamanian vacationers all thrown in. It’s one of those places where you probably can’t find exactly what you’re looking for but if you look hard enough you can find something that will work. You can spend a lot for a fancy dinner but also get a great lunch for less that you would pay to buy the food and fix it yourself.
We spent two or three months cruising the archipelago and really enjoyed the area and people. We primarily used the Cruising Guide to Panama by Eric Bauhaus. It has great charts and is very accurate, although it falls short on the shore side attractions. The vistas with the mountains in the background are unforgettable. One thing you must prepare for to summer over in Panama is the weather. It s very hot and it rains a lot. We never used our watermaker because we caught rain and kept the tanks full. The boat needs good ventilation and lots of fans for comfort. A lot of folks go into the marinas and run their AC units all summer. There is a huge contingent of expat Americans who live there and have places all over the archipelago and stay in touch by VHF radio. All travel is by boat, as there are no roads and all the residences outside of town are off the grid and depend on solar for power and catch rain for water.
We took Spanish lessons in town and also traveled up into the mountains to Boquete to have a break from the heat and do some hiking. We also put the boat into the marina and traveled to Peru for a month to get a break from the heat. The airport at Bocas has daily flights to Panama City and connections to anywhere.
We finally broke free and sailed east to the Rio Chagres and spent a few idyllic days watching the wildlife. We then went around to Colon and Shelter Bay Marina. We stayed there a couple of weeks and visited Colon, Panama City, the canal, and signed on as line handlers to help an Australian couple get their boat through the canal. I’d highly recommend that experience as we had a blast and seeing the canal from that perspective is beyond description.
From there, it was on to Portobelo, Linton and then the San Blas Islands. The San Blas is an archipelago of islands in habited by the Kuna Indians and they have an autonomous government even though they are a part of Panama. They call their world Kuna Yala. It is an idyllic place of hundreds of small islands covered in palm trees and surrounded by coral reefs. It’s also a land of contrasts. The Kuna people have traditionally lived simple lives, fishing and farming, with land being communally owned. Now with a huge influx of tourists, they are trying to transition to a capitalist economy. Add to that foreigners taking advantage of the situation by chartering to tourists and backpackers and paying no taxes, it creates a volatile mix. Cruising the area requires payment to each community for the right to anchor in their area. Also the people offer seafood, fruit and veggies, and molas and other handicrafts for sale. Molas are a famous product of the area and are traditionally worn by the women. They consist of intricately sewn fabric in many colorful designs. There are also problems with plastic trash and pollution which threaten the area even more. The weather here is also interesting. In the summer there are storms with severe lightning and several boats a year are struck. There are also severe thunderstorms that roll down out of the mountains in Columbia at night called Chocosanas which bring huge amounts of wind and rain. In the winter the wind blows. 25-30 knots tradewinds are not uncommon. As with other areas of Panama, change is a constant and hopefully it will eventually be for the better.
Form the San Blas, we traveled overnite to the Rosario Islands and then into Cartagena. The anchorage is off Club Nautico, the local marina, and was full of boats when we were there. The water is churned by constant water taxi traffic, worse in the morning and afternoon. They also have thunderstorms, called Culo de pollo that sweep through the bay and dump huge amounts of rain. After a week at anchor we couldn’t get into Club Nautico, but we were able to get a slip at Club de Pesca, a private club that rents slips to visiting boats on a space available basis. I would highly recommend it, even though it is expensive, as it is very nice and secure. Cartagena was wonderful with lots to see and do, restaurants and history. The water in the harbor is so fertile that you can almost see the grass grow on the bottom of the boat. In the week we were at anchor we accumulated an inch of growth on our anchor chain. The air is also polluted and the decks and awnings accumulate a lot of black soot which needs to be washed off. If I were to do it again, I’d plan a haul out right before leaving Cartagena.
We left Cartagena and went back to the San Blas for a couple of months to let the winds settle a bit before heading back north. We are glad we did this trip, although we would probably not return unless we plan to transit the canal. Some folks really fall in love with Panama and many US citizens live there or spend the winters there, some in the Bocas area, up in the mountains or around the San Blas. It is possible to get a permanent visa called a pensio’n, which allows easier clearing in and out and discounts on almost everything in country. There are too many places we have yet to see for us to settle, so we’ll keep on keeping on.
02 April 2018 | Palm Beach
We pulled into Key West and passed through the harbor filled with anchored boats, around the north end of Fleming Key and down to Garrison Bight, the home of the Key West mooring field. The drill is to pick one that doesn’t have any floats or tags on it and then go into the City Marina and register. There are over 100 moorings and there were 15 or 29 available when we were there. Ones that are marked with floats are occupied. Make a note of the mooring number and then dinghy into the marina and get signed up. The folks are very friendly and allowed me to use their phone to check in with customs and immigration. Having the Local Boater Option card allowed us to clear in over the phone and it was very painless. The facilities there are nice with heads and showers, laundry and a great dinghy dock, all very secure. After registering you get key cards to allow entry into the facilities.
It was a reasonable walk to the Key West Bight and all the action on Duval Street. We spent 3 days wandering around and seeing our old haunts and finding new places. Everyone was talking about the damage from the hurricane, but it was really cleaned up to our eyes and very little damage was in evidence. I think it was worse further up the keys.
We grabbed a beer and nachos at the Turtle Kralls and watched the crowds go by, had lunch at Maison de Pepe, and a dinner at El Siboney, some of our favorites. The cold front passed by and we were ready to start moving again so we dropped the mooring and headed east up the Hawk Channel and to the Long Key Bight for a comfortable night at anchor. Then an easy day up to Rodriguez Key had us staged to get into Miami the next day. We had planned to go into Dinner Key and the mooring field there, but the weather was going bad again with another front predicted with strong NE winds and we heard that everything was still in recovery mode there after the hurricane so we decided to give it a pass and we sailed over night up to Palm Beach and Lake Worth Inlet.
We hit the inlet at about 2 AM and made our way up to the north end of the lake and dropped anchor in one of our favorite spots at Old Port Cove. As we passed by Palm Beach, Molly was on watch and she saw the coasties patrolling in front of Lago Mar, as the Trumpster was in residence. We were far enough off shore that they weren’t interested in us, thank heavens.
Since we’ve been here we have enjoyed visiting with Denny and Shannon and friends and have had a bit of culture shock with the abundance of groceries and hardware available. I’ve been busy with small boat projects now that I can get parts to fix things. We have been trying to resist getting back into the media frenzy and haven’t turned on the TV yet. Hopefully we can continue to keep our minds uncontaminated.
Our plans now are to head up to Titusville and haul the boat for a bottom job and routine maintenance, and we plan to spend a month in Anna Maria doing all of our doctoring and checkups. Then we’ll be off again to see how far north we can get.
19 March 2018 | Florida Straits
We are in the beginning of the fourth day of our passage from Grand Cayman to Key West. We've had good weather, although little wind, and have been motoring much of the time. We took a rhumline course to Cabo San Antonio at the west end of Cuba and then sailed close in just off the reef to stay out of the counter current along the coast. At 84 degrees west we picked up the main east flowing Gulf Stream and have been booking along ever since. We are now under sail toward Key West at 8 knots over the ground with the boost from the current, in about 12-14 knots of wind from the east. Looks like we'll get in sometime Monday afternoon in time to clear customs and get settled. There's a front coming with some unsettled weather and we'll let that pass and enjoy Key West for a few days. Then we head for Miami and on up to Palm Beach to visit with brother Denny and family. I'll post this by radio and more later when we get internet.
15 March 2018 | Grand Cayman
This place has been a pleasant surprise. We had originally planned to head to the Bay Islands of Honduras and then on to Belize, but reports of piracy off Honduras changed our minds and we has a raucous 5 day sail to Georgetown, CI instead. Arriving late in the afternoon, we called the port security and were welcomed and handed off to the Harbor Patrol who escorted us to a courtesy mooring for the night. Then in the morning they returned and lead us into the wharf for customs and immigration clearance, all at no charge, and then back to a free mooring. After all the expense and crookedness of the past few months we were very pleased.
We stayed at the port in Georgetown for a few days exploring the town and sampling the local fare. Sing’s Roti Shack and Wellies Cool Spot were two of our favorites for good local food. There was an excellent grocery very near the dinghy dock with everything you might want. Georgetown is a busy commercial banking center and also a bustling port with anywhere from 3-6 cruise ships a day and a constant stream of commercial shipping. Downtown is a typical cruise destination with the addition of free range chickens and iguanas running all over the place. There is diving to do right in the harbor, with crystal clear water and beautiful coral and fish.
We then moved around to the north side of the island to North Sound. There is a marked pass through the reef into the calm sound with a controlling depth of 7.5 feet. We went to Governor’s Creek and anchored for several days in this very calm and protected anchorage. There is good access to the beach and walking distance to Camana Bay, an upscale dining, shopping and entertainment complex. Also Foster’s Food Store is nearby with great selection and prices. A Cost U Less store is also here, which is like a Costco but with no membership required. We spent a lot of time on the beautiful beach, and in the clear water.
After a few days we moved across the sound to Kaibo and a very quiet anchorage there nearby the resort. We took a dinghy ride out to Stingray City, a sandbar where very tame stingrays congregate and allow the tourists to play with them and be fed.
Now we are back at Governor’s Creek and plan to head out tomorrow. We’ll take the bus into town today and clear out with customs and immigration and pick up our pole spears and pepper spray, which were confiscated when we checked in, and do some last minute grocery shopping. Molly wants to stop at a used book shop we found and see if she can find any more treasures there as well.
Our plan is to head for Key West, a 3 and a half or 4 day run, or maybe all the way to Miami depending on the weather. Look for some more pictures in the gallery.
Arrival Georgetown, Grand Cayman
04 March 2018 | Georgetown, Grand Cayman
We made landfall at GC at around 6 PM on Thursday, just in time to get on a mooring before dark. We called port security as directed and they took pour particulars and then as we approached we were met by the harbor patrol who then directed us to a free mooring. After a good night's sleep, they then came by and directed us to the customs dock, where we cleared in at no charge. We had to check our pole spears and pepper spray, and will get them back when we check out. Then the harbor patrol directed us back to another free mooring which we can use for as long as we like. This is such a departure from some of the other places we've been. The Islanders have a reputation for friendliness, but these guys are the best. We have been ashore to scan the town, and have lots to investigate. We got in the water once also and the clarity is incredible. We plan to stay here on the mooring for a couple of days and then move around to the North Sound and a more protected anchorage. This one is an open roadstead and there is a lot of rocking and rolling. I'll post a more complete post with pictures when we get better internet.
28 February 2018 | Caribbean Sea
We are in the middle of day 4 of our passage from Panama to Grand Cayman. It started out pretty boisterous with winds in the 20-25 knot range and waves 14 feet. Slowly it has settled and now we are sailing in 17 knots of wind with 5 foot seas. We have had to motor sail a bit to hold our course and not get set too far west. We decided to pass on going to the Bay Islands of Honduras because of some piracy going on there against cruising boats passing by. We wanted to stay way off shore. We might see them another time when we can approach them from the other direction. Now we are passed all that and out in the wide open with 145 miles to go. We might make it in before dark tomorrow or if not we'll heave too off the island until the next morning. We plan to stay in the Caymans for a week or two and then head for Florida. I'll post this via the short wave radio and pictures when we get internet again. All's well.