11 March 2018
We probably rival a nuclear submarine of five years ago with the technology we have on Uproar. I don't think we are unique among cruising boats. Years ago, cruisers exchanged recipes, sailing strategies, bottom paint suggestions or favorite anchorages. Now, we exchange technology. One would think with a Purdue degree in Mechanical Engineering I would be up-to-date with technology. No f&W)Eing way! I am a Ludite compared to my cruising friends and especially my wife, Lisa.
We spent the afternoon and evening on Skabenga with Chris and Karen. We both have initiated Iridium Go (dubed by Mac Magazine as Iridium No!) This is a satellite system to send and receive Emails and important weather information. Predictwind is the website that broadcasts its magic on Iridium Go. With a substantial donation, we will be able to receive weather information that is particular to Uproar. Here's what they offer. We plug in the polar diagrams (specific performance data for our boat) and the will custom tailor a route that we can sail for optimum speed toward our destination.
Remember, the rhum line is the dumb line! Rhum line is the straight distance between point A and point B. Why not sail this simple rhum line? Predictwind has the answer. Wind strength, direction and current play a part in our passage. They will tell us, "Just point your boat a bit south, when you hit the equator, turn right a bit and then you will sail directly to Galapagos." If it were only that simple. Iridium Go clearly states, "Set up your account at least four days before departure." Why? When you plug everything in, you have little chance of it working! That's why!
Lisa, Karen and Chris have struggled over three pitchers of Pain Killers (don't ask) and the debate about Apple or PC. I am blissfully ignorant. The result is that we spent an two hours downloading movies from Skabenga, Zensation and some other boats. Lisa did sort out our Iridium Go account but it is not password protected. Perhaps that will be rectified tomorrow. She believes we have the proper files for Open CPN navigation software.
OK, here is a rundown of our technology:
Surface Pro 3
HP laptop with 1 terabyte drive (new)
Ipad basic (new)
Two Dual GPS receivers (high tech aircraft grade)
Project FI Google phone
5 or 6 portable drives of 1 to 3 terabytes
Open quad band phone
Garmin handheld GPS
Garmin chartplotter (backup without current chart software, it does give position though)
Raymarine E7 chartplotters 2 with new backup. With Cmap charting software for every area we sail.
Open CPN software with charts as backup chartplotter.
Navionics software on Ipad backup chartplotter
Four Kindles (God forbid we should be without a Kindle)
OK, it all mostly works. Cruisers used to meet on the beach to exchange paperbacks. Then they would exchange DVDs. Now we trade hard drives and download movies and Ebooks. I bet we have 50 years of movies, series, and books to read. But that's not enough. I still crave MotoGP racing. Last year in the Caribbean, I learned how to download MotoGP races, hours after completion. Just find the race on Youtube. Insert "ss" after the "." after www. This takes you to a site where you can download Youtube content. I did! I was able to enjoy all MotoGP races. Well, in the middle of the South Pacific our Iridium Go will only download small weather files and simple emails.
Weather info is perhaps more than simple. We can input the polar diagrams for Uproar (specific performance data for First 42s7). The Predictwind program will look at our boat's sailing capability and tell us exactly where we should point her for optimum speed toward our destination. Sure, it may tell me where to steer but will I listen? We shall see. I have a Davis model 15 sextant. I know a bit about trigonometry and where to point it.
Not going to be popular, blog.
20 February 2018
When I started this blog, I promised to tell the good and the bad. Well, now for the not-so-great about the San Blas. I have heard a lot of hand wringing about the plight of the Kunas and their low islands with global warming. I agree that man has caused and will be causing problems for these people and their islands. The “man” I am talking about are the Kunas themselves.
There is not one thing natural on any of the islands controlled by the Kunas. The inhabited islands are right next to the mainland. The Kunas travel upriver to farm, hunt and cut trees for their ulus. They also get water from the rivers in the mountains and pipe it to these islands. The villages on these islands are some of the most densely packed communities I have seen. Outhouses hang over every outer edge of these islands. Trash floats about everywhere. We saw one school yard that had thick layers of trash near the water's edge. One afternoon with bags and gloves could have easily cleaned it up. There is very little vegetation of any kind and certainly none on the shoreline, vulnerable to erosion.
Very few people live on the outer islands, about five miles from shore. Those who do cater to a bit of tourism with a bar or restaurant or primitive guest house. But those islands are “calendar beautiful.” Why? They are nothing but sand and palm trees. These islands have palm trees cultivated on every bit of land as coconuts were and are the currency of the Kunas.
Glyn and I walked around Green Island and noticed burned areas about every 100 feet. It became clear that the Kunas burn an area, cover it with palm fronds and plant coconuts to grow more trees. There is very little grass or undergrowth. OK, this does make for a productive and stunningly beautiful island but it is clear that the shorelines are eroding. Palm trees have small root balls and they topple over in the surf. Most islands in the Caribbean we visit have extensive mangroves, sea grass or sea grapes to protect the shoreline. These are absent in the Kuna Yala.
Now for the editorial: The US spends between $50m billion and $100 billion on global warming/climate change studies and initiatives, both private and public. Has one dollar of that money helped the Kunas? Would it be more productive to have a limited operation to help them clean up these islands, establish responsible waste disposal and educate them in erosion control?
Panama Canal, Chapter two in the voyage of Uproar
20 February 2018
Panama Canal! Just the name conjures up images of the massive effort in mosquito infested swamps to build this wonder of the world. Estimates are that 30,000 workers died during construction. Milwaukee played a large role in building of the canal with Bucyrus Erie and Harnischfeger equipment doing the heavy digging.
Lisa and I were fortunate to have seven friends from Milwaukee come for the transit. Well they didn't all come for transit on Uproar. Karen Shipley from Milwaukee and MAST racer joined Chris Crews for extended cruising. We did introduce them in Barbados over a year ago. Karen bravely gave up her dirt-dwelling existence to join a South African with a boat name, Skabenga, meaning scoundrel in Afrikaans!
We are truly blessed to have such good friends who want to share in our adventures and support us in our travels. Glyn and Laura Livermore spent three weeks sailing with us in San Blas and left just after the canal transit. Tom Heinrich, Ken Quant, Missy Suring, Bill Ashby, and Jeff Bird traveled to Panama to help transit Uproar and Skabenga and share in the adventure. We had a great time and their presence helped overcome the greatest sacrifice in our lifestyle, missing family and friends.
All congregated at Shelter Bay Marina. This out-of-the-way marina was built from the remains of a US Navy Seal Base. Thousands of Navy Seals trained here for jungle combat during the Vietnam years. The marina is miles from Colon, there are no beaches and alligators roam the marina, inhibiting swimming. Strangely enough, this is a home base for many US and Canadian sailors. By home base, I mean they live here for years on end. There is a real yachting community here. With all of the beautiful places we have visited, SB Marina doesn't even make the top half of the list. But community is strong and there are many boats here who have not left their slips for quite a few years.
We did enjoy the camaraderie of cruisers here and the knowledge base for transiting the canal. We were encouraged to paint our boat name on the theater wall (not sail loft) as a momento of our transit. Laura Livermore, Uproar designated artist did us proud!
The transit required a lot of paperwork, measuring of Uproar and inspection of our safety gear. Cost for the transit alone was about $1500! Marina fees and other costs for the area added a bit to this. Erick Galvez was the local agent we hired. Transit can be done without an agent but Erick made this all so easy, I would highly recommend his services.
We were instructed to anchor in The Flats, commercial area of Colon and wait for our advisor. Rick, hydrographic surveyor, jumped aboard and made himself right at home. He seemed as excited as we were. Rick explained what we were to do and how to get through the locks. Uproar had a private locking throughout. We were center tied with two lines on each side. Most boats raft together to transit. Our center tie required more line handling but felt very safe.
Rick was an enthusiastic coach as we locked up the three locks to Lake Gatun. Uproar was behind a large freighter but had plenty of room. Having Glyn, Laura, Lisa, and Tom on the lines made it easy. Everyone knew just what to do and executed the transit perfectly. We rounded the corner and tied to a large buoy in Lake Gatun. Rick warned us not to swim as there were huge alligators in the lake. We heeded his advice.
Our night on the lake was quite and serene. We also had a front row seat for the huge ships entering and exiting the Gatun locks. Glyn, Tom and I sat up late watching the show. At least Glyn and Tom were, I was accused of snoring the ships through the locks.
The next day we were concerned about getting an advisor to continue. One boat we knew of was stuck in the lake for a few days as no advisors were available. Frank, 31 year veteran of the canal joined us mid-morning. Just as he climbed aboard, we saw Skebenga come through the locks. Skabenga was delayed a day. We were hoping to lock through with them but they got bumped. That meant they had to spend a night in the Colon Flats and start their transit very early in the morning.
We motored for about 4 hours to get to the next set of locks, down toward the pacific. Just before the locks we saw Skabenga tied to a mooring waiting for their turn in line. We rafted up briefly with them, then headed for the locks. Skabenga was in the west lock, Uproar in the east. It was fun to watch our friends go through, just ahead of us. Skabenga was followed by a huge auto carrier. These are rectangular beasts!
Uproar was followed by a large freighter but it was not as imposing as the auto transporter. We marveled at the electric “mules” or engines who guided and towed the freighters through the locks. Some ships have only 3 feet clearance per side while transiting. The mules keep them centered with no scratches to their paint.
Unfortunately, Frank, our advisor wasn't the cheerleader Rick was. Frank was ready to retire and I would add, overdue. At the Miraflores lock, last one, he had us pull over to a dangerous seawall. There was no wall for fenders. Lisa jumped off onto the wall (she was not supposed to leave the boat) and shoved the fenders down to save Uproar's topsides. The canal workers just stood there and watched. But enough of that, no harm, no foul!
The last lock brought us right to the famous Bridge of the Americas. What a sight! We sailed under the bridge and took a mooring at the Balboa Yacht Club, right at dusk. Cheers and champagne flowed on Uproar.
I am still struck by the enormity of going through the Panama Canal. Lisa and I transited the Welland Canal from Lake Erie to Ontario (essentially the easy way down Niagra Falls). The Panama Canal itself was interesting but not that awe inspiring. The wonder of it is that we have really turned a page in our cruising life. Lisa has pressed hard to get to the South Pacific. We loved the Caribbean and would have enjoyed many more years there. But Uproar was meant to sail and so is her crew. We are now ready for the Pacific. Wish us well or better still, come and join us on Uproar.
Visit to Mormake Tupu
19 February 2018
A new bottle of Abuelo 12yo rum came aboard today. It may be helping me catch up with my blogs. The past few months have been a whirlwind on Uproar. San Blas is a region unlike any other place we have visited. I've written about the beautiful islands and unusual people who inhabit this area but there is still more to be said. Lisa, Laura, Glyn, I visited Isla Maquina or more commonly called, Mormake Tupu. This means mola making island. Molas are the intriguing needlework, embroidery quilting artwork of the Kunas. Venancio, one of only four mola making men in the San Blas visited Uproar weeks ago. We succumbed to his fine art and bough six molas at far above tourist prices. But they are treasures of art.
We told Venancio our friends from home would be visiting and they would like to see his molas. Sure enough when we anchored in East Lemon Cays with Glyn and Laura, it wasn't long before Venancio came in his ulu (dugout canoe) to show them his wares. Laura is an artist in fabric herself and loved the display. Venancio's brother Idelfonzo mentioned he gives tours of his island, Isla Maquina. A few days later Uproar anchored in the lee of his island. Idelfonzo motored out in his ulu and informed us we could find better anchoring in another spot. We followed his recommendation and he ferried us ashore.
Ashore was his own dock leading to his extended family home. That is typical of the Kuna, they have multiple generations living under one palm-thatched roof. Idelfonzo (name was a challenge for all to remember) immediately brought us into his home, a long and narrow hut with sleeping hammocks, cooking fire and even a small store with a non-working refrigerator. We followed him through the village to the Saila, chief of the village. The Saila was not only the chief but medicine man. He had bowls of herbs and leaves he was quite proud of. There was also a Tapir in one cage and monkey in another. Children were all around and not the least bit shy of seeing visitors. We were informed that we needed to pay $5 to the Saila for anchoring in his village. We did with no reservations. This was not a “shake down” we experienced in some areas where no village was in sight.
Idelfonzo gave us an extensive tour, showing us the school, churches, both Christian and Kuna and meeting hall. They hold counsel every evening. The hall was closed and we could not enter. I bought a package of Kuna Cola (like Coke) and there was much discussion for what the cost would be. I may have received the Yankee discount (double the Kuna price).
We walked by one hut where a family was outside. They held up a young baby and pointed to Idelfonzo. All were laughing hysterically! They made it clear it was his baby. Idelfonzo acknowledged it was his in a quiet voice. He was quick to change the subject. Human nature knows no borders.
One meager hut shadowed an old lady who wanted us to see her molas. She spread them on the sand floor with pride. They weren't that great and we weren't interested. Idelfonzo told us to pick one out. He would pay for it and give it to us as a gift. He explained she need money. We did and asked if we could take her picture. He said we would need to pay her $2 for a picture. I handed him a $2 bill. She was quite reluctant until he explained it was real US money. We took a few pictures. Laura felt bad that this lady sold her sole to us for $2.
I asked Idelfonzo about Nuchu. He took us into his hut and showed us a basket full of carved idols. Each family member had a Nuchu, made specifically for them. If they were sick, the Nuchu would be brought to the medicine man of the village for inspection. Sometimes the medicine man would send the Nuchu to another island for another consultation. Idelfonzo warned us not to touch a Nuchu. He held them up to show us and said, “If you touch this, you die because you are not Kuna!”
I had read that they will sell a Nuchu to outsiders that does not have spirit. The guide book says these are cheap balsa wood replicas. I asked Idelfonzo if I could by a Nuchu. He didn't say much until we got back to his hut. He brought out a Nuchu his nephew had carved. It was three feet tall with two falcon heads at the top and a large nosed face below. It was very heavy wood and took a lot of work to carve. “Five dollars, but it is sleeping so you will be safe.” Sold! That Nuchu is strapped to Uproar's bimini frame. Since, we have caught a large Barracuda! The Nuchu was facing toward the cockpit and Lisa and Laura thought it was a bit creepy. They said it should face aft. Sure enough the next day it had turned aft. I swear, none of us turned it aft!
We asked if we could buy Dulup (lobster). Right next to Idelfonzo's hut was a stone enclosure or aquarium. We saw a variety of fish there when we landed on the island. There was also a pig and chicken in cages. He said there were lobster there. He and another friend put on masks and jumped into the enclosed pool. This was their livewell! After 15 minutes or so, they snared four small lobsters for us. Cost was $20. Idelfonzo said we were to pay his friend because they were his lobsters.
Idelfonzo mentioned his niece had trouble with her eyesight for making molas. He asked if we had glasses. We gave her a pair and she was so pleased. Two other ladies came shyly toward us, wanting glasses. We emptied our backpacks with two more pairs. The seemed to scrutinize them and accepted them without a word of thanks. Well, we tried.
This island was certainly a community. I estimate it to be between five and eight acres. We were told 275 people lived there. Idelfonzo was sincerely interested in the welfare of his neighbors. He was a gracious host to us while showing his home and sensitive to his neighbors. The Kuna lifestyle seemed worlds apart from ours but we are of one blood. Experiences like this are the priceless rewards of the cruising lifestyle.
Return to San Blas
17 February 2018
Glyn and Laura, long time sailing friends from Milwaukee, joined us on Uproar in Colon. They were having quite a journey. They visited Bill and Judy (who sailed with us for the Great Lakes part of our journey) in the Bahamas, then flew directly to Colon for three weeks on Uproar. Lisa and I finished our official business, registering for the Panama Canal passage and applying for a French, long-stay visa for French Polynesia. With Glyn and Laura settled in, we headed back to San Blas.
It was far from an easy trip! Winds had picked up and were over 20 knots from the northeast, exactly the direction we were headed. First day was a motorboat ride to Portobelo, 22 miles driving into 6 to 8 foot seas! We made it and had an interesting walk around this quirky town. Portobelo was the first Spanish settlement that shipped gold and silver back to Spain in the early 1600s. It is heavily fortified but was still a favorite target for pirates, sacked and burned multiple times.
Day two was much the same but our course tipped a bit east. We motorsailed in strong winds and building seas. Perhaps some seas were over 10 feet. Miramar was listed as a possible anchorage in the guide book. It was just barely capable of accommodating Uproar. The entrance was surrounded by reefs and rocks. Tricky doesn't begin to describe the safe passage but once inside, all was quiet. We anchored Uproar near two rows of derelict fishing boats. Commercial vessels were using the narrow channel and shouted to us that we were in the way. We rowed lines to shore and to one of the fishing vessels until we were clear of the channel. But when tide went out, we were aground. The bottom was soft but I don't sleep that well when Uproar is not floating. Next morning we were able to use the anchors to kedge off the bottom with ease and go back to the rolling seas.
Day three was a bit longer but we were able to sail much of it. Perhaps we were getting used to the rough conditions. After three long days slogging to weather, we anchored in East Lemon Cays, San Blas. Ahhhhh! Uproar sat still at anchor in clear water and perfectly flat seas. OK, there were about 20 other boats in the anchorage but this took nothing away from the beauty. We stayed two days and snorkeled right off Uproar on some of the most beautiful coral reefs we have ever seen. Five islands surrounded the anchorage with sandy beaches and palm trees. There was even a small restaurant and a few huts with coolers of beer. Paradise at last!
Glyn and Laura took the passage in stride. It was worth it to visit San Blas. Venancio came by in his brother's boat to show Glyn and mostly Laura his molas. Laura, an artist herself, enjoyed seeing these needlework blouse panels. Venancio and his brother made themselves at home in Uproar's cockpit and showed Laura and Lisa about 100 molas. Venancio's brother, Idelfonzo, invited us to tour their traditional village on Mormake Tupu. The name means “mola making island.” I will write a separate blog about this tour. We were given real insight into the lives of Kunas on this tour.
Uproar took us to other idyllic, palm covered islands of Green Island, Coco Bandero, Gunboat Cay and back to East Lemon, Banderup. We did stop at Naragana, one of the more populated islands for some groceries and to visit again with Frederico and mi amigo, his son, Bastor. Bastor was sound asleep while he was waiting for his shorts to dry in the sun. He came out of his hut wrapped in a towel to say hello. We walked the bridge to the island of Corizon de Jesus and saw the boys stacking up barrels and boxes to re-install the basketball backboard they had fiberglassed back together.
The contrast between the inhabited islands and uninhabited islands couldn't be more stark. Inhabited islands are very crowded with palm huts and a few concrete buildings for schools, etc. There are only a few trees on these islands and sandy paths between huts. There is no grass or vegetation. Outhouses are just booths hanging over the water. Sad to say, garbage and trash goes right into the ocean too. One cruising friend pointed to a diaper floating by, “at least it was nicely folded.”
The inhabited islands are close to the mainland so inhabitants can paddle up the rivers for farming and hunting. Outer islands are usually not inhabited. They are the coconut farms. Glyn and I noticed that there were burned patches among the towering palms. We deduced that these burn patches were prepared to grow more palms, we saw coconuts covered with fronds sprouting new trees. These islands were devoid of any plant life other than coconut palms. Coconuts are very important to the commerce of the Kuna.
The 10 days in San Blas went by quickly. The ride back to Colon was the opposite of our slog to San Blas. Strong winds on the beam had Uproar rushing along for another visit to the quirky town of Portobelo the first day, then a broad reach for 22 miles back to Colon. At Colon we berthed at Shelter Bay Marina waiting for our canal transit.
Glyn and Laura know well that anyone who sails with us will be blogged about. I have a lot to say about them sailing with us and I have little to say about them sailing with us. Glyn and Laura just fit right in. The three weeks they spent with us flashed by. We had some great meals, played cards, drank some rum, played some music, swam, snorkeled, sailed and did it all over again. The weeks were filled with activities and new adventures, culminating in our Panama Canal transit. It was hard to say goodbye when they taxied away from the Balboa Yacht Club.
San Blas home of the Kunas
15 February 2018
San Blas Islands are know by the locals as Kuna Yala (land of the Kuna). This 100 mile stretch of the Panama Caribbean coast starts at the Colombia border and encompasses the coast line and outlying islands. Panama has given up trying to assimilate the Kuna into Panama and allows them to self-rule. They are still Panama citizens and can vote in Panama elections but make their own laws. Each village has three Sailas or chiefs. The traditional villages have council every night where the chiefs lay in hammocks and discuss matters of the village. These councils can become boring so one member is appointed to scream out at times to wake up those who are bored. We did not attend council but visited one of their meeting buildings.
Kunas are the second smallest race on earth. Only the African Pigmys are smaller. Their main source of income is selling coconuts. We were warned not to take a coconut, even from uninhabited islands. They also hunt and farm off the rivers that spill into the Caribbean. Fishing and lobstering are other sources of food and income. Their society is matriarchal. Men take on their wife's name and move into her family. Women control the money and business. Women have an elaborate, traditional dress with strings of beads covering much of their calves and forearms. They wear headscarfs and blouse with front and back pieces of artistic needlework called molas. These molas are truly art and any cruiser has many opportunities to buy them. We bought six.
Enough about the Kunas, google if you want to learn more. I will have a difficult time describing our journey through their land. As mentioned in our last blog, we were “billed” for just anchoring in their waters. This seemed inappropriate after we paid $400 clearance fees into Panama. I politely declined to pay more. Seems the Kunas know there are dollars on yachts and want some for themselves. We gladly traded with the ulus (dugout canoes)that came by offering fruits, vegetables and lobsters. We did pay the chief of one island when we were presented to him after touring his village. I'm sure the $5 we paid went to good use.
But when anchored in a remote island with no inhabitants, we were approached by a boat trying to collect $60! I calmly discussed that we already paid to enter Panama, showed them our papers but they still insisted that that was “different.” I used my negotiating tactic that has worked well in the past. I just sang Bob Marley “Redemption Song” until they were sure I was crazy and left! I had to repeat this performance at a few more islands with similar results. Good that they left us with smiles. Who doesn't like Bob Marley?
The eastern San Blas consists of islands just off the mainland that contain villages. Uproar traveled with Skabenga and Mana Kai throughout. Not many cruisers venture into this area. Anchorages are between the mainland and islands. The water is murky and is reported to contain crocodiles. After anchoring at Mona island, I went for a swim. Shortly after, Skabenga called on the radio and said they saw a 10 foot crocodile right next to their boat.
Further west we encountered reefs and offshore islands. Kunas live only on islands close to land where they can paddle up the rivers for their farming and hunting. Offshore islands are heavily planted with coconut palms. These islands are idyllic, sandy beaches with towering palms. They are postcard beautiful! Anchorages are calm and water clear.
Our flotilla of Uproar, Skabenga, and Mana Kai (Skupman) cruised these delightful islands in perfect weather. We visited Naragama, one of the more advanced islands for some groceries and a nice, local lunch. Coco Bandero, Green Island and East Lemon Cays were some of our favorites.
We cut our San Blas visit to a short two weeks because we needed to go to Colon to get registered and documented for the Panama Canal transit. But we would soon return....