First Galapagos Dive
13 July 2019 | San Christobal, Galapagos
After a day working through the to-do list we went diving yesterday at Kicker Rock
. It was a suitably spectacular experience. The rock itself is awesome, jutting high out of the sea. As soon as I can get some decent bandwidth I will post more pictures. For 'mature' divers, used to gentle Caribbean conditions the diving was extremely challenging. The water is COLD so we needed much thicker wetsuits than we are used to, requiring more weight. The visibility at this time of year is relatively poor and there was considerable surge around the rock.
Was it worth it? Definitely! The sea life is totally different to the Caribbean, much bigger for a start. We saw large turtles that were completely unafraid and inquisitive, a school of big tuna, something I've always wanted to see in the water, a number of black tipped sharks and one Hammerhead shark! Actually I, who was very keen to see a Hammerhead, missed it completely and Janaki, who was distinctly more ambivalent about the idea, got a very good look at it, such is the fickle nature of wildlife watching.
One of the more remarkable experiences was swimming through a large school of smaller fish known, unfortunately, as a baitball. We have done this before but normally with small silver fish that are beautiful but do not obscure the light. This was very different. The fish were larger and darker and the ball was much bigger. The result was they could completely obscure both your surroundings and the light. It was like swimming in a moving cave, very strange and disconcerting. It became quite hard to maintain depth control and orientation. The photo does not really do it justice as I was a bit preoccupied at the time.....
After the dives we went to a beach and saw sea lions and marine iguanas. It was remarkable to watch these ungainly reptiles climbing into the surf and swimming away.
By the end of the day, having dragged our gear back to Leela and cleaned up, we were utterly exhausted so today will just be a local walk and a quiet day. The wind is up and there is a big swell coming into the bay making us roll a lot. I have set up a bridle that is helping but some time on land is going to be good.
Galapagos First Impressions
09 July 2019 | Wreck Bay, San Christobal, Galapagos.
1. We are horizontal again
2. It is COLD
3. Sea lions run this place
4. It's wonderful
I better clarify those....
It is wonderful to not be inclined at 20deg and bashing, sometimes violently, up and down. Ten straight days of sailing close hauled is exhausting. Being able to walk down the boat instead of swinging from the monkey bars is such a luxury.
Cold? Well night time temperatures fall to about 63F (17C) and it is often drizzling. For us delicate tropical flowers that is cold. We have had to unpack blankets and clothes we did not expect to see until New Zealand. This is not all bad. We are really enjoying the cool air after the oppressive heat and humidity of Panama and the afternoons seem to be bright and warm.
Sea lions along the foreshore go where they want and stay where they want. People have to adapt. We went to a restaurant for lunch that had a sign up asking people to use the other entrance as the sea lions had decided they liked the access ramp. There is a catamaran anchored near us that clearly spent some time preparing their defences. No matter, a young sea lion has decided he likes their cockpit and there he lives. He pops into the water for a cooling dip every now and again and climbs back onboard over large, carefully placed, ball fenders with apparent ease, a remarkable sight given he just has a pair of flippers.
We are SO glad we did not let all the alarmist online chatter put us off. The entry bureaucracy was impressive but not unpleasant. The town is attractive and quiet with low key tourism. Fresh fruit and vegetables are readily available and astonishingly cheap. The people are delightful, cheerfully greeting one another and always ready to smile and help. There is absolutely no sign of the aggression so often just below the surface in the Caribbean islands. All good so far.
We are not ambitious to do all the plethora of tourist things that are available. We have about a month here so there is no rush. We are going diving on Friday and will get a taxi over the highlands some time. Mainly we are happy to just chill out and enjoy the ambience.
There is, of course, the job list. Our shakedown cruise went really well but it did expose some things that need to be addressed before we head out. Tomorrow maybe.....
PS. Look up Boobies diving on YouTube. They are awesome.
More Like It
06 July 2019 | 200nm ENE of San Christobal, Galapagos
We seem to have timed our tack to the west well. We are still hard on the wind but holding the rhum line to our destination uncannily well. The Hydrovane continues to do all the work with us along for the ride.
We are pretty well heeled over while close hauled so we contemplated heaving to for meals but that is a bit of a palaver and it seemed a pity to disrupt a well balanced setup so we experimented with just easing the sails. There seems to be a sweet spot where they are not flogging but boat speed drops from around 6kts to 3kts and the heel angle goes to about 5deg from the normal 15-20deg. This is much more comfortable and safer for doing chores and eating meals. When we are done we just have to tighten back up and away we go. This is not going to work downwind but I suspect we will just have to reef the double headsail.
We should be in San Christobal, Galapagos on Monday morning. I will be glad to get the bureaucratic nonsense, that is apparently inflicted on you there, done and we can enjoy a couple ofp weeks of R&R before embarking on the big one. The current passage is about 850nm although we will have sailed a lot more than that due to the contrary winds (we have already done 927nm). The next leg is about 2,800nm but both the wind and the seas will be with us so probably three times as long. We are feeling much better about that now. Management of the key commodities, water, power and sleep, have all gone better than we anticipated.
Anyway, plenty of time to think about that later. Right now we are looking forward to some dry land and unbroken sleep.
Making (slow) Progress
02 July 2019 | N Pacific Ocean
320nm of the route covered 439nm sailed doing it.... Dodging or failing to dodge thunderstorms and battling current and winds coming straight up the rhum line. Seas lumpy and sky completely overcast. I thought the Pacific was all about lethargically running downwind on slow rolling swells and worrying about sunburn??
Actually it is quite invigorating beating upwind again and the new Hydrovane is working AMAZINGLY well. I expected it to be tested then packed away for emergencies but we have used it pretty much continuously. Good thing given the total lack of sun.... We seem to be south of the worst of the ITCZ so no more firework displays, just the odd rain shower and light squalls that need little action.
We have hardly seen a thing for the last two days, a few distant boats, a solitary dolphin and a few boobies checking us out then moving on to look for more luxurious accommodation. We plan on pressing on westward tonight then putting in a long southerly tack in the morning once the east setting current subsides.
All good onboard. We were very tired for the first couple of days but they were VERY busy and we are starting to settle into a watch keeping routine and get enough sleep. As I write this it is 11pm. Janaki is asleep below and I am on watch. The stars have finally come out on a moonless night and we have a trail of phosphorescence streaming behind the boat. The 6kts close hauled into a lumpy sea feels like 90mph and It seems, for all the world, like riding some crazy bucking rocket ship across the ocean.
Life at a churning 20deg tilt takes some getting used to. Every move feels like a gym workout. I will not be sorry when we find the southern trades and some nice flat downwind sailing but that is a long way off. We will be beating upwind all the way to the Galapagos and I think that could take another seven days at this rate. Crazy way to travel.....
On the move
30 June 2019 | 200nm south of Panama City
We hope this finds you all well. As we are setting off on the first leg of our Pacific crossing it seemed like a good time to update our plan and our communications options.
We are currently enroute to the Galapagos from Panama. After about three weeks in the Galapagos we will set sail for French Polynesia (the Marquesas). We plan to stay in French Polynesia until next May or June then continue our journey across the Pacific, aiming to arrive in New Zealand November 2020, in time for the Americas Cup.
This email address (email@example.com) should be good any time but please don't send attachments or photos without prior discussion. The satellite link when we are offshore is SLOW.
I will continue to ramble away on the blog when I get the chance. If you are a Facebook user then friending me will give you notification of new blog posts.
For those that want to get closer to the 'action' when we are offshore I will provide position tracking and brief updates onÂ CruiserSat.net. Our track will be here:
If you click the 'follow' button and put in your email you will get an email notification for theÂ updates. If that is too much information then you can just bookmark the link - or ignore it altogether.
The track position will update every four hours and we will try and provide a quick text update every day or so. There is a 'blog' tab at the top of the page to get to the updates. I will try and post a daily update.
CAUTION: there are MANY minor technical issues that can stop the satellite communications working and all of the above rely on it so please do not get concerned if we go off the air. We have other communication tools in the very unlikely event of a real problem.
The passage so far? It has not been boring.... More on CruisersSat.
It's a Boat.....
24 June 2019 | Vista Mar Marina, Panama
The to-do list was free of essential items and we were all set to head out for the Galapagos today. Then I decided to just check the radar. We don't use it a lot but consider it essential safety equipment. It did not work at all. After several trips up the mast, to no good effect, I pulled the radome down and managed to find a boat with the same radar, importantly, at a significantly lower elevation. They kindly tested our radome on their system - nothing. At least the cable in the mast was probably OK.
We could probably send it back to Raymarine and get it repaired but that will not be free and will take a month so we bit the bullet and ordered a new one. It is a significant upgrade as it used chirp technology
(using a coded signal instead of a simple pulse). It should have better resolution and use a good deal less power. It can also communicate with the MFD using WiFi as well as the cable so, if the cable is actually bad, all I need to do is get power to it, a relatively simple fix.
Anyway, we should have it here by Friday and be on our way over the weekend.
The radar joins a long list of "good thing it failed before we left" items. I wonder how long the "wish it had failed before we left" list will be.....
We will keep you updated.
40 Miles Done 12,400 To Go
02 June 2019 | Vista Mar Marina, Panama
Actually the 40 were in the wrong direction but that's sailing.... What we have done is left Panama City for a marina just down the coast to have a BIG rest and finish our preparations for the crossing to the Galapagos.
We realized that, although the S. America trip had been great, it had been pretty hard work. When we got back it was full-on boat prep followed by the fairly taxing canal crossing and a grueling cycle of provisioning and prep in Panama City.
All of this had left us pretty depleted and the crew has to be ready for the trip as well as the boat. The trick now is to actually rest. We PROMISED ourselves a day off today but the anchor chain is covered in growth from the Panama City anchorage. This is now happily rotting just in front of our berth so the boat stinks. It's going to be hard to ignore that one. Then the head sink decided to stop draining last night. Day off tomorrow? Fat chance. We are definitely not bored...
The job list is getting shorter and Leela is in the best shape she has ever been in. Our stern clutter of ladder, dinghy Davits, solar panels and Hydrovane self steering all seem to happily coexist, even with the dinghy in the Davits, much to our surprise.
The new windlass purrs instead of grinds and all the other little mods like the raised cockpit connector and the new chair at the nav station are making life onboard more comfortable.
One nice job we (mainly Janaki) got done was getting the boat name on the front of the hull. The name on the stern is now completely buried under sailing clut so we needed to do this a long time ago. The print shop in Panama City made it an easier task than we anticipated.
We got our long stay visas for French Polynesia and we can stay there until at least July 2020 so we are not feeling rushed. Another week here should see the job list done then we will focus on the weather window. It is going to be a pretty tough trip to the Galapagos with lack of wind or contrary winds and squalls. We have been looking at the weather patterns and heading south nearly to the Ecuador mainland before turning west is likely to be the best option to find some sailing wind and conserve fuel, an important factor on the next two legs of our journey.
More when we are on our way.
The Panama Canal
23 May 2019 | Panama City
The Panama Canal crossing was quite an event but it all went pretty smoothly for us. I will try and summarize it here. There is a good deal of administration before you can actually make the passage. The boat has to be measured and inspected and the equipment checked. They and a couple of crocodilhref't like people breaking down in the locks. Then you have to rent large fenders and special, stronger, lines to use in the locks. We used an agent for all of this and it went very smoothly. We also had to have four line handlers and an advisor from the Canal Authority on board so it got pretty cosy.
Our school understanding of the Panama isthmus is that it connects North and South America so it must run north-south and the canal east to west. In fact there is a really big kick in the isthmus and the canal runs from the northwest to the southeast which is completely confusing, at least it confused us. Another misconception is that the canal is a continuous entity. In fact it consists of two sets of three locks with the very large Gatun Lake in the middle.
Normally we go through the locks rafted up to one or two other sailing boats, in this case we went through rafted with a single, larger, boat. We went through the first three locks up to the lake at night. On the way up you always go behind a cargo vessel on the way down you go ahead of them. I think it's to avoid too much turbulence on the smaller boats (us) as the water enters the lock.
We had a pretty easy run up the locks because we were rafted up to the other sailboat, who was rafted up themselves to a small cruise ship, which was tied to the wall. This meant we didn't have to handle any lines on the way up. We moored up in the lake for the night and set off across the lake early in the morning passing a lot of large ship traffic. Gatun Lake is actually an amazing nature reserve. The canal authority does not allow any recreation or development around the lake so it is a huge wilderness area. We saw lots of birds and a couple of crocodiles.
Going down needed more care as the two of us were tied into the center of the lock with four lines that needed to be slowly slackened as the water level drops. Too fast and the raft drifts towards a wall, too slow and it risks jamming in a cleat - NOT good....
Anyway it all went fine and it was quite an experience as the last lock gate opened to the Pacific. It was actually a strange feeling, both momentous and anticlimactic.
Janaki did a totally spectacular job, doing all the very tricky boat handling AND catering for the mob onboard (I needed to be on deck making sure it all stayed safe - that's my story anyway.....).
We are now anchored in the bay in front of Panama City. This is not a great spot. The water is filthy and there is something of a security risk but we are glad the canal is behind us and we can focus on the remaining tasks and provisioning before we set off towards the Galapagos islands as soon as we possibly can.
Who Would Have Guessed?
15 May 2019 | Shelter Bay Marina, Panama
Seven years ago Janaki decided we needed a boat to keep me busy during retirement and give her some peace and quiet. That did not work out so well..... We now find ourselves on the brink of an adventure that we had no idea we wanted back then.
This weekend, all being well, we will pass through the Panama Canal and into the Pacific. Reading this as I write I feel like I'm talking about someone else. I guess it will sink in by the Galapagos.....
We will probably be on the Pacific side of Panama for about a week. Then it is a week's sail to the Galapagos islands. We have a permit to be there for a month but may not stay that long before heading for French Polynesia. We, and a number of our friends, have one year visas for French Polynesia so we plan to stay there until next April and the end of the cyclone season before heading westwards to New Zealand. At this stately rate I will be seventy by the time we get to Australia. That is assuming we don't peel off to Indonesia or Borneo enroute. I guess this blog has a few years in it yet.
Wrapping Up a Great Trip
09 May 2019 | Medellin, Colombia
As we get ready to head back to Panama we are reflecting on one of our best trips ever. Peru was constantly amazing and we have had a couple of very pleasant weeks in Colombia (apart from the dentist....). We spent last week in the coffee country which was very pretty but without the grandure of Peru. Contrary to all the guides, we thought Salento was a scruffy, overcrowded dump and we got out of there to a delightful Oasis in the valley as quickly as we could.
However, the nearby town of Filandia was delightful and probably the nicest community we came across in Colombia. Hopefully they avoid the path Salento has taken.
We rented a car for this trip which proved to be quite an adventure. The main roads between towns are mainly paved but once you are off them roads vary from dreadful to completely impassable. Google maps was largely useless at distinguishing between them so we spent a lot of yesterday trying to get to a fairly large town with two access roads showing on the map that simply faded out into tracks. In the end we had to book into somewhere else because we simply could not get there.
Otherwise driving was pretty exciting. Hours and hours of tight mountain roads going in and out of the clouds
with masses of large trucks and frustrated drivers overtaking on completely blind bends. Yesterday we saw two overturned trucks, one right in front of us, and we were surprised that they were the only accidents we saw. Every journey took twice as long as the usually accurate Google predicted. We will be quite pleased to return the car later today.
Anyway, that wraps up the S. America trip. The main album is here
and an extended wildlife album is here
. I will start a new album for the Pacific crossing.
We are a little anxious about getting back to Leela. It will be hot and wet in Panama and we are really hoping we don't have a mold problem. We are also a bit intimidated by the still remarkably long to-do list. It will all come together.....
More Pacific Preparations
01 May 2019 | Medellin, Colombia
We have spent a lot of time getting Leela in good shape and now we are working on the crew. We both had incipient dental problems that we did not fancy dealing with in the Pacific so we decided to spend some time in Medellin getting fixed up. It turned out to be an awesome choice for a number of reasons. Firstly our dental problems were more serious than we had realized, particularly Janaki's loose crown. Secondly we found a great dentist who speaks English, is willing to work with tight schedules and communicates quickly and directly using text messages. Thirdly the costs are MUCH less than the US. The following is a rough breakdown (all in USD):
Panoramic x-ray, US $200, Col $14
Deep cleaning, US $250, Col $46
Molar root canal (Graham), US $1200, Col $220
Molar Dental implant (poor Janaki), US $2500, Col $846
Total, US $4150, Col $1126
All this in ultra modern facilities with super-friendly staff and a complete absence of delays and BS.
A pretty fancy apartment is costing us $59 a night and the climate is perpetually delightful. Based on this experience we would not hesitate to come here for dental, and probably medical treatment.
Anyway, we have another ten days in Colombia with a trip to coffee country and some dental follow ups then it's back to Leela and getting ready for the canal transit. We still have a bit to do on the boat but we are getting itchy to be on our way.
Culture Shock and Departing Thoughts on Peru
26 April 2019 | Medellin, Colombia
At 4am this morning we left our rustic accommodation in the Sacred Valley, Peru
We are now ensconced in a VERY fancy high rise apartment in Medellin, Colombia, complete with rooftop pool, gym, pool room and jacuzzi. It all feels a bit weird but we will get used to it.
Peru has been an amazing experience, exotic but easy, despite the language barrier. We learned enough Spanish to get by and mime or Google Translate filled the gaps. Everyone has been very tolerant and helpful.
So what did we love? The scenery of the high Andes has been wonderful and amazingly diverse, high plains, jungle, steeply folded mountains. I cannot think of a country with such a diversity apart from perhaps our next destination, Colombia.
The flora and fauna has been equally fascinating, exotic birds and beautiful butterflies abound. Janaki has been wonderfully patient as I chase around with my new camera trying to get 'the shot'
An array of very strange insects (I only got bitten once....)
And a wide variety of beautiful flowers with many different types of orchid and a surprisingly large number of cacti given the altitude.
There has been so much to see that I have made a special album for the wildlife, link here
The history has been very interesting, notably the remarkably sophisticated pre-Incan pottery
And the amazing Inca stonework, from the high terraces
to the dense communities
to the intricately joined structures of the temples.
Here I have had to be the patient one as my tolerance for history is considerably lower than Janaki's. Fortunately pretty much all of the historical sites have great wildlife or views.
We have been blessed with off-season crowds (still big in places) but generally fine weather and the air, apart from in Lima, has been clear and crisp. It's not everywhere you can take a picture of the moon like this with an ordinary camera.
There were a few less lovable aspects of Peru. The architecture outside preserved historic districts or high mountain villages is unremittingly aweful. The 'functional unfinished' school.
Almost every town is a forest of bare brick, concrete, empty windows and rebar. Part of the reason for this is that you don't have to pay full property tax until the building is 'finished'. Duh, why would anyone finish a building? There appears to be no environmental aesthetic, in strange contrast to the huge interest in decorative fabrics and pottery. Perhaps that is just for the tourists ...
On which subject, the sheer number of souvenir sellers, mainly selling the same stuff, gets tiresome. You are bombarded with offers wherever you go. Pisac was the nadir, not only were there streets full of stalls but the locals had entirely lost their town square to a permanent mess of high-sided and covered souvenir stalls which seems like a real loss to the community.
Even on the hiking paths there are rows of old ladies in local dress hawking a variety of nic nacs, very few of which they have made themselves. We bought as much as we needed and then some. In this case we succumbed and purchased some bracelets for bartering along the way.
The last issue, the mainly plastic trash, is shared with nearly everywhere we have travelled. It is everywhere, Including some surprising locations. It is pretty depressing when you are driving across the high Andean plateau, many miles from everything, and you have to look at the view past a twenty yard strip of old plastic rubbish. The only respite was in the state run archeological parks that were kept immaculate.
I've dwelt on these issues a lot but it was certainly not enough to spoil a truly amazing experience. When we come back to Peru we will escape the 'gringo trail' and explore the Andean foothills above the Amazon basin.
The S. American album is growing here
Peru - Part 2
17 April 2019 | Cusco, Peru
Sorry - long post - but things have been happening too fast to keep up.
Well 16,000ft turned out to be challenging. Janaki had a very bad first night but recovered well when we found out you can buy Oxygen in a can.
We have been slowly descending from the Colca high spot so no more issues. Apart from the altitude travails we loved the Andean plateaue, at around 14,000' it goes on for ever and is visually stunning, with strange rock formations, herds of Alpaca and Vicuña and active volcanoes on the horizon. (more pics here
The Colca Valley was also visually amazing although the Canyon end was perhaps not as impressive as some we have seen. The thousands of years of intensive agriculture in this dip in the Andean plateau was definitely worth seeing.
It was helped by Paul, our remarkable guide. He grew up in the Colca Valley in a family where even Spanish was a second language yet he spoke perfect English and was an enthusiastic font of knowledge about everything to do with the valley; history, flora, fauna, economics, social structures, everything. It was a great experience. Seeing the huge Condors soaring through the Canyon was definitely worth the effort as well. This one will have a wingspan between nine and ten feet.
Our experience with guided tours in Peru has not generally been like that. The norm has been poor to incomprehensible English and shallow knowledge. The visit to Puno and Lake Titicaca was a mixed bag, for me at least, Janaki was less troubled. Puno is a scruffy place that just acts as the gateway to the lake. We took a two day tour that included a visit to the floating islands of Uros (people really do still live on islands made of root mass and reeds which they initially made to escape the predations of the Incas)
and a home stay on an island further out into the Lake, which was very enjoyable and gave us a real insight into how they lived. This is Mama preparing dinner.
The downside of the trip was the constant commercial pressure. At times it felt like we were little more than a flock of wallets being carefully shepherded between shopping opportunities. Even the lovely home-stay family pulled out the standard range of stuff and guilted us into buying things at about three times the already inflated market prices - oh well.... This is something you have to live with in Peru. They do make some lovely (and VERY expensive) things but mostly there is a constant pressure to buy cheaply made souvenirs and (probably not) 'Baby Alpaca' knitwear. They are not as agressive as in India or Thailand but it is pretty constant and you have to develop a no-eye-contact policy to avoid being captured. There are thousands of stalls selling stuff everywhere we go. We have no idea how anyone makes a living with this much competition and the vaste amount of tied up inventory.
There are a few travel lessons we are re-learning. We have been happily paying about $12 for a main course at the typical (tourist) restaurants, not wildly expensive by US standards but it mounts up when you have to eat out a lot, then we went to the San Pedro market in Cusco (which was designed by Gustave Eiffel before his famous tower) and one end was about 100 micro-restaurants, serving all sorts of different dishes. We ordered quinoa soup, fried fish with rice and lentils (delicious) and Muna (mint) tea. The price? $1.50. We will have the hang of it before we leave.....
Airbnb has been working well for us. It is less sociable than hostels but the freedom to cook our own meals and relax in our 'own' space has been good. We had a well located apartment in Arequipa. A modern high rise apartment in Puno (with very challenging stairs at 12,500ft) and we are now in a lovely old Spanish colonial building in Cusco.
Generally the hosts have been a great resource for local knowledge and problem solving
We are now looking around Cusco and, after the initial shock of hyper-tourism, are really enjoying it. That can be the topic of my next post.
I have created a new photo album for our S. American trip here
. I have tried to annotate it in comments and would appreciate feedback on whether that is helpful.
Peru First Impressions
03 April 2019 | Arequipa, Peru
It's been a while since I last wrote. We are now in Arequipa, Peru after a few days in the capital, Lima. Lima seemed a lot wealthier and less dangerous than my last visit thirty-five years ago but it still doesn't have a lot going for it as a destination apart from some great murals. That was not a big deal as all we wanted to do was relax after a month working on the boat and we found a lovely hotel to hang out in. The Peruvian people are generally really nice although a little more reserved than the Colombians. This is probably due to the novelty of tourism in Colombia. Peru has had to deal with the descending hoards for ever ...
We are really enjoying Arequipa. It is not wildly touristy so we can see a little more of Peruvian life. One interesting aspect of the town is that, as we saw in Seoul, all the shops selling a particular item congregate in one area. For example, the area around our apartment is entirely shops selling rooftop solar water heaters. Yes, it is that specialized. Around the corner they all sell (BAD) wine, one street over is toys. Even in the huge market it is very clearly divided by commodity. The fruit market area is spectacular.
There are a few travel tribulations. The water supply to most of the city went off this morning. Apparently it 'might be back on tomorrow'. I guess we will all start to pong together so not a huge deal for a day or so. They are organized for this so buckets of water are available for essential services. Unfortunately no one drinks the tap water anyway so that is not impacted.
Arequipa is at nearly 8,000' and surrounded by snow capped volcanoes. They are hard to photograph from the town because the air is very hazy but we are going up through them to Colca Canyon later in the week so I should be able to get some better pics then. Now we are just enjoying the place and adjusting to the altitude before we go much higher. The high point of the Colca trip is over 16,000' which should be interesting. I had no trouble with the altitude on my last visit but I was a LOT younger.
It's a Boat.....
23 March 2019 | Shelter Bay Marina, Panama
Lest you were thinking this is all glamour.....
Even to get this far I had to remove the autopilot actuator, the rudder angle indicator, one bilge pump and a bunch of structure. We are getting there.
17 March 2019
Even after six years there are a few parts of Leela that have not been closely inspected. After today's experience that ends now. We had never needed to remove the steering chain that goes over a sprocket on the wheel hub and connects to the steering cables.
Anyway, we decided to replace the steering cables as a precaution before going blue water. The photo is exactly as found. This is a critical center link in the steering chain. If it failed the two chain sections would fall down the pedestal and prevent wheel steering. In the worst case they could jam the cables and prevent the autopilot working.
So... neither split pin has been flared at all and one has almost fallen out. The way the chain was installed this opening link was not visible until the chain was removed from the pedestal. The previous owners were not DIY buffs so this was almost certainly yard work.
The lesson for us with this and the no-brand cutlass bearing that came unglued, is to trust no one and check everything. I'm pretty sure this is our last 'unexplored' territory but I'm going to lose some sleep thinking about it.
The good news today is we have reached the turning point. The steering is in pieces, the autopilot is disassembled, there are bits of Hydrovane scattered all over the boat, the prop shaft, stuffing box and cutlass bearing are all out, the boat is at maximum (and impressive) disruption. BUT, now we can start putting stuff back together having considerably de-risked our future travels. All good news - apart from needing some small and obscure parts that are almost certainly not available in Panama - it's a boat.....
Tree House Life
16 March 2019 | Shelter Bay Marina, Panama
When we were kids, living in a tree house was a wonderful fantasy. Well. I'm sorry to report that, at our age anyway, it's not all it's cracked up to be. Apart from the constant ladder climbing and the boatyard dust, the lack of plumbing is the biggest hassle. The boat toilet is out of action and we cannot use the sink drains which definitely complicates life, but we do get plenty of exercise on the long walk to the bathrooms. No matter, it's just something that has to be done and this is our first haul since St Kitts in 2017 so we we're due for some boatyard penance.
We are making progress dealing with the last preparations for the Pacific crossing. The new ablative is on the bottom. Janaki bravely took on the job of stripping, lapping and rebuilding all the cone valve
through-hulls and I was ready to work on the Hydrovane
self steering installation until a sharp eyed yard worker noticed that our cutlass bearing inner sleeve was stuck firmly to the prop shaft and freely rotating in it's bronze case. This would definitely have failed badly on a long trip so a very good find BUT it means taking the propeller off, removing the shaft and then getting the remains of the old cutlass bearing out. None of these are trivial tasks so we are set back a few days (again).
Because we don't want to put the boat back in the water after servicing all the through hulls then leave it unattended we will leave it on the hard until we get back from our trip to Peru in May so tree house living will persist for a while - oh well....
Yesterday was a very sad day because we had to say goodbye to our good friends Jeff and Molly as they headed through the Canal into the Pacific. Our dream had been to cross the Pacific together but it turned out that they are on a much faster schedule than we are and there was no way we could be ready to keep up with them. In any event we plan to savor both S America and the Pacific for as long as it feels good and that was just not going to work for them at all. Anyway, it was a delight to spend some time with them and we will keep in touch as we both move west. Their blog is here
Panama Canal Practice Run
07 March 2019 | Gatun Lake, Panama
We are in Gatun Lake half way through the Panama Canal acting as line handlers for our Aussie friends on Capel Mara. It is a great learning experience before we take Leela through to the Pacific. It was pretty hard work and fairly stressful but we will do a couple of transits before we do it for 'real'.
Interesting aside - we are moored to a bouy close to a 36" steel pipeline which appears to be the dredging outflow pipe from the new canal. Every now and again the dredger picks up a bunch of rocks and they clatter down the pipeline next to us. The sound is spectacular, like a million quarters picked up in a giant vacuum cleaner. All conversation has to stop until they go past. Going to be a long night.....
Back to Reality
03 March 2019
After two days spent mainly working overhead while lying on a pile of chain and eating falling rust (nicely salted....) I finally got the old windlass out. After thirty-six years it definitely did NOT want to come out but a couple of backing studs and the handy prop puller got the job done. As always, fitting the new one should be a lot easier. I was thinking of trying to refurbish the old one as a spare but it's done it's time and is totally trashed so that plan is off.
Shelter Bay Marina
03 March 2019 | Fort Sherman, Panama
We are loving This place
! It is a very professional setup with everything you might want except shopping - more on that later.....
The location is the real prize. It is almost within sight of the bustling Panama Canal entrance but feels like another planet. The marina is on the old 2nd world war military base, many miles from any community and on the edge of the Fort San Lorenzo National Park. The animal and bird life around the marina is amazing. This morning on our regular walk we saw two large packs of Capuchin monkeys, a pack of howler monkeys and masses of birds including a flock of toucans. That was a pretty typical morning. Crocodiles occasionally swim between the boats (there is a swimming pool!).
I have posted lots of pictures in the 'Current Cruising' album
. All the good wildlife photos were taken by a fellow cruiser, Shiera Brady. She has two vital ingredients, a great camera and a great eye. Her website is here
Because this is the gateway to the Pacific there are a very seasoned bunch of sailors passing through and everyone is happy to share information and ideas. It is very envigorating on so many levels.
The price you pay for 'splendid isolation' is supplies. There is a daily shopping bus to Colon but that is often full and takes between one and two hours each way as you have to cross the Panana Canal or, when the access is closed, go on a ferry. When you do get to Colon it is unfortunately too dangerous to leave the fairly isolated mall. There is also a weekly bus to Panama City which is about two and a half hours each way. For us this is a price worth paying for the delight if walking in a veritable zoo each morning.
Another Huge Change
19 February 2019 | Shelter Bay Marina, Panama
We have just transitioned from the sublime tranquility of the San Blas Islands to the industrial hyperactivity of the Panama Canal entrance.
The top image is self explanatory. The bottom image is a screenshot of our navigation system showing all the AIS (Automatic Identification System) symbols of the vessels in the Canal approach. The chunky symbols are - well chunky - mainly huge container vessels and tankers. Slipping through the breakwater entrance between them is certainly interesting.
Leela is now safely inside the breakwater and tucked into Shelter Bay Marina while we pop back to the States to sort out some admin and pick up the inevitable shopping (boat bits....). We have been working hard to be ready for the Pacific but we still have some readiness issues and time is passing so it remains in the balance right to the last moment.
Chanticleer has Arrived!
11 February 2019 | Rio Diablo, San Blas
After a long hard journey from New England our good friends and Pacific crossing buddies Jeff and Molly Bolster have arrived in the San Blas. It turns out they too have been on again off again about the big trip but, right now, after a couple of bottles of wine, we are going for it. Tomorrow might be a different story.... We both still have some concerns about readiness but we have agreed that, being ‘mature’ cruisers, we are unlikely to be in better shape in a years time so if we want to do this we need to get on with it. I’ve had a couple of wins on the boat this week including fixing a niggling intermittent fault on the engine tachometer and stripping and cleaning the dinghy carburetor which have improved my confidence that we are on top of the boat issues.
We have a pretty intimidating job list for the next month including installing the self steering, a haul out and a brief trip to New England to sort out some admin, get some electronics repaired and see friends, plus all the horrendous admin required for the canal passage and the visit to the Galápagos Islands. As someone pointed out this week when I was grizzlies about the job list, “it’s an adventure not a vacation”.
Right now I’m going through the inevitable shopping list while Janaki takes Jeff and Molly on a guided trip up the Rio Diablo bird watching.
It’s a Boat....
02 February 2019 | Combombier, San Blas, Panama
Swam under the boat today for a quick check - shouldn't have looked..... The centerboard was hanging down a bit and I was sure I had stowed it completely so I gave it a shove. There was a clunk and down it came, minus the wire. Oops - our draft has just gone from 4' 6" to 10' 6". Worse still it clunks every time the boat rolls when we are not sailing on the wind.
The VERY good news was that I could still see the end of the wire inside the centerboard housing. I was running a little short of air (snorkeling) but I decided to shove my arm into the centerboard slot to see if I could grab the wire - BAD mistake. Apart from the fact that I could have got my arm stuck, a terminal error, the slot was lined with razor sharp barnacles. I stopped bleeding after about thirty minutes.....
Having stopped to consider my options (and stem the leaks), I managed to borrow a long scuba hose from Erica on Endless Summer that allowed me to stay under the boat. I cleaned the barnacles out of the slot and managed to get hold of the end of the wire which is now hanging under the boat. I also managed to hacksaw the old wire loop off so we are all set for a repair in the morning. We need to partially lift the centerboard with a line from the stern, because the wire is now too short to reach, then re-thread the wire and clamp it up with a couple of small D clamps that I was fortunate to have onboard. That should be good for a while - the Pacific? Not so much....
The Panamanian Coast
02 February 2019 | Nargana, Panama
Leela anchored off the mangroves and mountains of the Panamanian isthmus in very different weather.
02 February 2019 | Rio Diablo
We have left the islands for a while to explore the Panamanian coastline. It is cloudier and grayer but there are a number of rivers that are fabulous for birdwatching. We have done two trips up the Rio Diablo now, seeing a huge variety of birds including Toucans, Woodpeckers, Kingfishers, herons and an enormous array of small fly catchers and the like. I do need to give a shout out to the Merlin Bird app
from Cornell University. It is a big download but it is a wonderful app, making identifying birds easy and having wonderful photos.
Apart from the birds the river is incredibly peaceful the only people we saw yesterday were a young local couple in a dugout canoe collecting fresh water. We actually gave them a tow back to the river mouth to save them some time and effort.
We were so taken by the river that we will probably head down the coast to another one but we do have to head to an outer island for a day or so to charge up the batteries and make some water. It all needs careful planning in this cloudier weather.
Back in the Water
28 January 2019 | Saladarup, San Blas Islands
Unfortunately scuba diving is not allowed here but the snorkeling can be remarkably good. This afternoon we did a drift snorkel (towing the dinghy) through the cut between the two islands. The coral was in encouragingly good shape and we saw a number of small squid including this VERY small one. He clearly did not want to be photographed so he made himself as big and spiky as he could which was pretty impressive given that he was less than an inch long.....
More Boat Stuff
27 January 2019 | Salaradup, San Blas, Panama
I was not the only one having a notable boating experience yesterday......
A Better Day
27 January 2019 | Salaradup, San Blas, Panama
Sorry about the dark post.... Feeling better today. We had a gathering of the clans yesterday to celebrate Australia Day and it went off in style with beach games, windsurfing lessons, dugout canoe races and lots of good food, drink and company. It was a cloudy day which was good as we could spend more time on the beach without frying. There has been a lot of cloud here which is challenging our decision not to install a wind generator. We shall see how it goes. I am loathe to hang any more clut on the back of the boat.
Dereck kindly lent me his windsurfer and it was very gratifying that, at sixty seven and after a thirty year break, I could still actually do it reasonably well. Mind you, I feel like I was run over by a truck this morning.....
We will spend another week or so poking around the islands before heading to the canal and decision time. We are STILL undecided which is ridiculous but there it is.
The Veggie Boat
25 January 2019 | Saladarup, San Blas Islands
We are in an idyllic spot with a number of small palm covered islands set on a ring of coral reefs. Without the local charts it would be quite tricky getting in but, once inside, the water is completely calm and very clear. It may not be quite so idyllic tomorrow as it is the gathering spot for all the Australian boats in the area and various hangers-on to celebrate Australia Day, a celebration that is inclined to get a trifle rowdy....
But today is the veggie boat. It is pretty intimidating as it is about 10' longer than Leela and they are MUCH less concerned about their paintwork. Anyway, we managed without incident. Prices were definitely on the high side but, as the alternative is a day's sailing outside the reef then a night in a marina, they can pretty much charge whatever they want and the variety of stuff they carry is remarkable.
We are regularly approached by boats selling seafood but that is all a bit sad, undersized lobsters, octopus caught using Clorox and normally ornamental reef fish. Unfortunately we are part of the problem. Tourism, along with severe over-population due to better healthcare has resulted in the local consumption rate going up exponentially and they have pretty much fished the place out in ten short years. What with that, the worsening diet, booze and the copious amount of trash that they just toss into the sea they have become a poster child for the awesome destructive power of western capitalism and a depressing microcosm of the human condition. Ain't no such thing as paradise......
Sorry, having a dark day..... On a lighter note, we are enjoying the company of the rally boats and actually getting to know a few people better. The area is visually stunning and the weather is being kind to us, with less wind for a while. We are going to spend a couple more weeks here in the islands, hopefully with Chanticleer at some point, then head down to the canal entrance. We STILL don't know if we are going through this year. We will have to decide at some point. It is an irreversible step so not to be taken lightly, but we are laboring it a bit.....
Failure to Launch
21 January 2019 | Cayos Holandes, San Blas Islands, Panama
Yup, still in the same spot, growing roots or at least weed.... We have made a couple of failed attempts to move but they did not come to anything. Our theory is that all these island are very similar so why leave a really sheltered spot with great views and great company for the uncertainty and hassle of a new anchorage? Hassle? A bit. When you arrive anywhere here you will be gently accosted to buy, Molas, often undersized lobsters, fish, etc. The locals can be quite persistent but, if you stay in the same place a while, they get bored with paddling over and leave you in peace until you wave them over, an altogether better arrangement. We have a Mola (pictured) that we love but one is enough.
While we chill here we are mulling (not for the first time) a whole new plan. We are not completely convinced that we are ready to head over the Pacific. To some extent this is natural caution about boat and crew readiness but it is more about not wanting to dash through S. America and Central America. They are both SO interesting and attractive that our time here feels way too short. Anyway, we will keep working it and let you know when we make up our minds. I guess if we keep procrastinating the decision will be made for us as the Pacific needs a degree of preparation and commitment.
We will make another attempt to move tomorrow morning. We spent so long saying goodbye to people today that it got too late to go. I have confirmed that today's goodbyes are valid for 24hrs. Upside is a couple of Aussies from a large three-master back in the bay swung by and invited us to a beach barbecue this evening.
The social scene can be a bit overwhelming. We had a six hour barbecue party on another island yesterday dominated by a petanque competition which Team Leela managed to win after a nail biting comeback in the final where we were 8:1 down (first to 11) but clawed our way back. Things had gone on a bit long and the entire spectator fleet had headed back to their boats in order to get across the reef before dark so the prize ceremony was âlow key' then we had to dash off while we could still navigate our way home. All interesting stuff.
A Very Pleasant Change of Pace
17 January 2019 | Cayos Holandes, San Blas Islands, Panama
This is my first post by satphone for some years so I have no idea if it will work. I cannot pop it up on Facebook until I get Internet access again. We were very sorry to leave Colombia. It is a truly amazing place and people and it felt like unfinished business but this is a very pleasant change.
We have not really been in a remote island anchorage (i.e. no bars and no city dust and noise) since the Bahamas and that was in 2014! This is truly remote, no bars, no internet, no electricity, almost no motors. The locals visit us, and they do visit, in dugout canoes using hand-carved paddles. The Kuna seem very lovely but we have to remember that the 'cultural experience' is primarily transactional. They see cruisers come and go every day and their interest in us extends to extracting a few dollars. They are happy to stay for a bit of a chat (via Google Translate) but business is business. We did run into a few young children on a beach and stopped for a bit of a play. They were an absolute delight, happy, healthy and carefree and very quick to laugh. Their lack of stuff certainly did not seem to bother them in the slightest. This is in stark contrast to my excess of stuff, which bothers me enormously - oh well.
Talking of 'stuff', today the local 'head man' dropped by and managed to sell us a Mola (more on them later) and a couple of young men bought us a VERY large lobster that I paid $10 for and then discreetly released over the other side of the boat. I know - pathetic - but I made a contribution to the local economy and allowed a large lobster to go on making baby lobsters so I generally felt good about the whole transaction. Cheap at $10. Thinking about killing (or not killing) things for food, I caught my first large Mahi Mahi on the fast but uneventful crossing from Colombia to Panama (thanks for the lure Martin. It worked first time!). My satisfaction with the successful hunt was tempered by the gory process of killing and processing the large fish. This is particularly difficult on a small boat underway and we will be getting blood out of lines (and clothes) for a while. Perhaps that was why I was driven to release the lobster. Enough savagery for a few days. Good thing we both like lentils and tofu....
We are comfortably anchored in a fairly small sand hole surrounded by extensive reefs with palm covered islands scattered around us. It is very beautiful and it is good to be able to swim again, despite the crocodile rumors.... The snorkeling (scuba is forbidden here) that we have found so far was OK but we need to explore further. Unfortunately the surf on the fringing reef is HUGE so we will not be going there. When I look at that surf I think "no-one in their right mind would go out there in a small sailboat" - oops..... We will need to go and check in sometime then we think we will probably come back here. We are not inclined to 'tick islands off'. They are all very similar and we would prefer to get to know one spot better.
Still got Stuff to Learn
12 January 2019 | Isla Rosario, Colombia
Well.... That sucked. We left Cartegena with a careful plan to maximize the potentially light winds. The maximization definitely 'worked' - we ended up with mid 20's gusting high 20s with truly horrible seas, short, steep and random. Anyway, it was about 10pm and we were feeling pretty lousy but pressing on when there was a loud bang and the main cross support of the davits disconnected. We slowed the boat down but we were still rolling like a pig and the dinghy was threatening to pull the davits completely apart. By now the moon had set so it was pitch dark and both of us were seasick for the first time in five years. Are we having fun yet?
We managed to lower the dinghy into the water and get it on a very short tow without having to unclip the davit lines, not possible in any event. The dinghy thrashed around appallingly but the davits were now safe so what to do next? The closest shelter was back to Colombia and Isla Rosario and we had been there before so the anchorage was familiar. Fortunately this direction seemed to at least reduce the dinghy thrashing but I was waiting for it to be swamped the whole way back.
We got to Rosario at about 3am and crept through the reefs with a couple of different charts as it was utterly dark. Unsurprisingly, the Colombian navy intercepted us on the approach (this area is well monitored). After about twenty minutes of Google Translate yelled between boats, I managed to explain what was happening and they very helpfully led us the rest of the way to the anchorage and wished us a good sleep. Boy! Was it good to have the hook down and the sea flat.....
If you cannot be good be lucky.... The custom bolt that had come out had fallen into the bottom of the dinghy and nothing had been distorted by the incident so it has all gone back together really easily. Our plan is to do it all (well - not ALL) again tomorrow. What joy....
Like all incidents, there were lessons to be learned:
1. There is no such thing as a 'benign' passage. You always need to be prepared for the worst. Leaving the dinghy in the davits when going offshore was a HUGE error of judgement that could have got us into serious trouble.
2. You need to touch every part of a boat regularly and I mean EVERY part. Every fitting, bolt, structure etc. There were a disturbing number of other loose bolts on the davits.
3. Emergency equipment and supplies need to be checked and properly located all of the time. We struggled to find a number of items as we rolled around in the dark - not least being seasickness medications.
4. Cruising can be a lot of fun but it can also be extremely dangerous and needs discipline and constant vigilance. After nearly a month of living it up in Colombia we were way off our game.
Anyway, you don't learn much when things go well and the difference between doing it right and getting away with it is not always apparent so it was a valuable experience. Hopefully these notes will give you some ideas minus the pain.
A Tale of Colombian Grace (and My Stupidity)
08 January 2019 | Cartegena
Yesterday we went to a fairly distant mall to do a resupply run. By the time we were heading home we we're both pretty frazzled so finding that both my credit card and my driver's licence we're missing was not a happy moment. I went back to the supermarket, nothing (although the fact that they had a big pile of other credit cards made me feel a bit less foolish), the mall security, nothing, so the taxi was the most likely place. There are thousands of small Yellow taxis in Cartegena so it was going to be a tough one.
Another taxi driver at the ramp suggested I come back the next day and look at the mall security camera footage and get the taxi number. It was a great idea but easier to check the marina security cameras as they were closer. We found the number quite easily. The marina used it to get the driver's name and phone number and a few hours later the taxi driver was waiting at the marina gates with both my cards.
As a side note, I was checking for bogus transactions pretty frequently as I did NOT want to cancel the card, and yes, the driver was appropriately rewarded.
I'm not sure how many countries this would happen in, certainly few with zero form filling or beaurocracy. Once again stuff seems to work here and the Colombian people rise to the occasion. Loving it here.
The picture? I decided a picture of a credit card was not a great idea and this little beauty was fishing of our Stern dock line this morning.
Remote iPad Display - UPDATED
06 January 2019 | Cartegena
A number of people have asked me how to use a remote iPad as a cockpit screen for a PC that is safely down below. This is particularly useful for those using OpenCPN
for either direct navigation or display of satellite imagery (more on that later).
UPDATE: Complements of Ted Owens, a fellow Suzie 2 rally member. If you do not need the extended functionality of OpenCPN such as selecting chart groups and switching between charts, the iPad app SEAiq
provides a simple KAP charting tool. At first glance this works fine although there are no file management tools so I would add and remove charts as needed. It is definitely more electronically robust but the unpredictable switching between charts and satellite imagery does not work for me. I am talking to the author to see if there is any chart selection capability planned.
If you want to use OpenCPN I have finally managed to create a solution that seems to be reasonably robust using the Splashtop
application. This is a free app pair. Splashtop server goes on the PC and the client app goes on the iPad. I change the PC screen resolution to something that has a similar ratio to the iPad screen in order to maximize real estate. In my case this is 1400:1050 but yours may be different. It takes a bit of getting used to but this app provides reasonable remote control of the PC including panning and zooming and selecting and deselecting charts.
So - here is the wrinkle. both the PC and the iPad need to be on the same network and the following WiFi networks do not work:
1. The multi-function display (Raymarine anyway but probably all of them)
2. The Iridium GO
3. Smartphone hotspots
What does work is a cheap WiFi router. Many of them come with external power supplies that provide 12V so they can be hacked to connect to the boat 12V system. To my surprise there were no real issues with not being on the internet. Some devices ask if you want to create a local network but it works fine. You can also connect your MFD to this network if you want to.
For me this is no more than an additional navigational aid. I would not want to rely on anything as complex and unreliable as a networked Windows PC as my primary navigation source. Our navigation capability in order of approximate priority, depending on chart quality is as follows:
1. Raymarine MFD running Navionics+
2. iPad 1 running Navionics+
3. iPad 1 running Garmin Bluechart (at the moment......)
4. PC running OpenCPN with various charts and satellite imagery
5. iPad 2 running Navionics+
6. iPad 2 running Garmin Bluechart (at the moment......)
7. Smartphone providing Lat/Longs
8. Paper passagemaking charts
9. Multiple bluetooth GPS devices
10. A sextant (we need to be in REAL trouble for this to come out....)
If OpenCPN becomes more prominent in our navigation hierarchy we might get another minimal PC to provide redundancy but I am loath to add to the electronic clutter and have another thing to maintain.
Feel free to ask questions or proffer alternative solutions.
Happy New Year
01 January 2019 | Cartegena, Colombia
We wish you all well for the New Year.
After a difficult 2018 we have resolved to make 2019 a better year, to the extent that we control the forces that buffet us.
It was hard not to be uplifted by the Colombian's approach to the new year. They moved on to the streets in their thousands and essentially turned the whole old City into a giant open air restaurant. The crowd was really dense but the atmosphere was completely relaxed and happy. We are still Loving this country and it's delightful citizens.
We are going to spend a few days more here trying to wrap up all the gnarly bits of 'real' life that follow you around and chew at your heels regardless of where you are. Then we will head for the San Blas Islands for some blue water and swimming.
Take care and enjoy the new year.
23 December 2018 | Puerto Nariño, Amazonas
Wow.... That was an amazing (and exhausting) few days. We spent the first night in Leticia which is a fairly scruffy town but we actually liked it. The place is full of energy. Despite having no roads into the town and being more than 500 miles from the nearest highway the streets are constantly full of tuk tuk's, motorbikes, cars and people. The noise is awesome, with or without the parrots. Fortunately our Airbnb was out in a quiet area so we slept well.
The next morning we were picked up by Sergio, our (very organized) tour operator
and taken to the public boat heading up river to Puerto Nariño, a distance of about seventy kilometers. The boat ride was an experience in itself. Firstly the river is incredibly wide even 1,500 miles from the river mouth. The boats are long and thin, like oversized canoes with huge outboards that travel at about 35kts while weaving through the floating logs that are a constant presence on the river.
Puerto Nariño is an interesting place. It has a population of about 4,000 but no vehicles at all, well, apart from a couple of community owned tractors. No cars, motorbikes, ATV's, not even bicycles. Everybody walks everywhere on reasonably well maintained concrete and brick paths. It makes for a very calm and safe place, with kids happily playing everywhere with no need for adult supervision. The atmosphere is wonderful. There is nearly always some kind of sport going on in the stadium. There are food stalls on the 'streets' and even where there are not food stalls people seem to pull their tables out and eat on the street anyway. There are a number of restaurants serving pretty simple food and lots of accommodation for the travellers that make it this far off the beaten track but the place does not feel overwhelmed by tourists.
I'm not going to give a blow by blow account or our experiences, in part because it is a bit of a blur and there are lots of Amazon tales online already. We spent some time walking in the jungle, both in the daytime and at night. They are having a lot of rain early in the wet season so mud was a dominant theme.... We spent a lot of time on the river and adjacent lakes in a small boat, both by day and by night. It was wonderful to see the extent of the forest and realize that it goes on for hundreds and perhaps more than a thousand miles in all directions.
The photos (here
) tell most of the story but we saw many things that my camera could not capture including many monkeys, pink dolphins, three toed sloths and many different birds. I do need to talk about the monkeys we interacted with. Normally I don't like these canned animal experiences but all the monkeys we came into contact with we're rescued, mainly by confiscation as illegal pets. They we're completely free to come and go as they pleased but had clearly decided they were on to a good thing and stayed around the rescue centers. They also seemed to love the interaction. The howler monkeys in particular were incredibly affectionate and actively solicited scratches and strokes.
We spent the last day in a Peruvian village where we had a really nice lunch of local fish and vegetables before heading back to Leticia on the high speed boat. Well, it was high speed until it ran out of fuel about five miles from Leticia. We enjoyed a locerly peaceful sunset, drifting down the Amazon, while we waited for some fuel to be delivered. Nobody seemed in the slightest perturbed by this. Perhaps it is a regular event but nobody in Colombia seems to get perturbed by anything. I just hope I can eventually cast off some of my 'first world' angst and learn to treat life the way people do here.
And Now For Something Completely Different
19 December 2018 | Leticia, Colombia
Well, we are right in the middle of the Amazon jungle and, to our surprise, nearly five degrees south of the equator. Also surprisingly, it feels cooler than Cartegena. It must be the absence of concrete and the presence of millions of trees.
Talking of millions, millions of paraketes roost in the trees in the town park. There is a whole jungle out there but that's what they have chosen.... When we got to the park, before they arrived, we thought there is no way we are going to hear parrots above the cacaphony of generators and motorbikes but within half an hour they managed to drown out the entire town. It was awesome. This video is one tree among hundreds, all full of squabbling paraketes.
We are off up the river at 6am tomorrow - VERY exciting.
19 December 2018 | In transit
Please excuse the gushing but I am definitely in love with Colombia. The environment is stunning, mountains, jungles, rivers, more birds than anywhere on the planet, amazing history, but what most impresses me is how utterly civilized it is in the true sense of the word.
Everything works, public transport is excellent and easy to use, even with minimal Spanish, flying is still enjoyable with superb airports and new planes. There is zero graffiti and everywhere is pretty clean and tidy. People are out on the streets as couples, families, groups, talking and laughing. They seem genuinely relaxed and happy, even in the middle of a large city. Everyone who we interact with smiles, not a 'have a nice day' synthetic smile but real warmth. The taxi drivers promptly give the correct change. Street vendors correct you if you give them too much money. It really is a fabulous atmosphere.
The most telling example of the degree of true civilization was on our drive back from Mompox. We we're on a lightly traveled highway and the driver was stopped at a police checkpoint (remember, this is a country only ten years out of a fiftyfour year civil war).
In the US it would be 'keep your hands visible on the wheel' and wait for the cop to approach. He will have his hand on his gun as he does so. In rural Colombia the driver reaches into the glove box for his documents as the policeman approaches - a VERY dangerous thing to do back home. The policeman comes up to the vehicle, smiles, reaches into the open window, shakes the driver's hand then politely asks him for his papers. It was actually quite shocking.
So this is the 'dangerous' Colombia. Kids and families on the streets, smiling cops greeting you, people relaxed and enjoying themselves. A total delight. I don't want to completely underplay the risk. There are definitely places not to be at night but that is universal in big cities. It just feels good in a way I have not experienced for a while. I really could live here if I felt that we could get our pathetic Spanish up to speed.
Anyway, if you want your spirits lifted from all the 'developed' world gloom, GET ON A PLANE TO COLOMBIA! You will not regret it.
We are currently in Bogota airport, on our way to Leticia, a town on the Amazon at the tri-boder with Brazil and Peru so more adventure to follow.
Arriving in Cartegena
16 December 2018 | Cartegena, Colombia
Arriving here is a lot like sailing through New York. Lots of big traffic and plenty to look at. We are now anchored pretty much in the middle of the city which is good and bad... The good bit is obvious - it's a buz. The bad bit came as a bit of a surprise. We have been given a 'special' anchorage for the rally which is apparently directly on the route used by the fast launches that ferry tourists from cruise ships to the old town and they are NOT going to move. Anyway they seem perfectly happy to go past us at considerable speed and about 10' away. It gets quite lively. Such is urban sailing......
More on Cartegena later.
14 December 2018 | Off Cartegena
This technique is as old as sailing but seems rarely used these days. We were having a pretty boisterous time yesterday the wind was 25-30kts, sometimes more and dead astern. The seas were 12-14' on the Stern quarter. The motion was not pleasant. We we're yawing off the tops of the waves, sliding down them sideways, which induced considerable roll and then doing it all again. The autpilot was managing it remarkably well but working really hard.
After copping a couple of boarding waves over the stern quarter we decided we needed to do something about it so we used a technique we learned at a seminar held by Rene Teulering in Sint Maarten on crossing the Pacific.
We rigged ten feet of anchor chain to our Stern anchor rode then attached a fender to the connection point. We streamed 100' of rode from the stern in a loop attached to a Stern cleat. Then we tossed the chain / fender combo over the transom. The effect was immediate and dramatic. The fender submerged and the rode tension increased. When the boat started to yaw the rode grabbed it and damped the whole motion down. The yaw was dramatically reduced, the roll pretty much disappeared and the autopilot was much relieved. We also had no more boarding waves. There was little impact if any on boat speed. We may actually have gone faster without all the yawing. Rene's rule of thumb was:
25kt = 1 Fender
30kt = 2
35kt = 3
Below 20kts it was not really needed and the drag became more apparent. Anyway we will not head out into any more strong downwinders without this.
If you do decide to try it there are a couple of things worth noting;
1. Stream the whole rode before deploying the fender. The loads get high
2. Likewise, rig in a way that you can recover it onto a winch unless you want to stop.