Sunday, November 14, 2010

Weather is a State of Mind

Today we put on our rain gear and waddled through torrential downpours to trek up a pretty steep climb for Thai food. It started with 6 of us and ended up with a party of 9 very committed diners. To get there we hired a water taxi and he drove us 15 minutes over the not so smooth waterways between a number of nearby islands. We were wet to start with and the ride did not dry us out. The climb was through the back paths of a town and up the hill behind it to the top treeline on that island. Photo quality views along the way of backyards, narrow footpaths, foliage, jungle, and washed out ravines were right out of an adventure movie. The mud and muck was worth it though.
Thai spice aromas were carried away from the house specialties and reached our noses before our eyes found the place. The restaurant has one cook, one waiter, and one bus boy. Your meals are cooked to order, and brought out one by one. We ate, drank, swapped stories, voiced opinions, and compared sea moments from unforgettable times.
Seats were shifted so all could be involved and time just stopped for about 3 hours. Then the rain abated,we noticed the sun was setting, and it was time to leave the hillside retreat behind...but not forgotten as we all had ordered another meal to take away for later. Food is a big part of cruising, but not nearly as important as good company and a chance to glimpse into another person's view of the world.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Trip to Changuinola

October 29th, 2010
It's a rainy, drip drop day here in Panama. We traveled yesterday to Changuinola. First we hitched a dinghy ride with another boater to Bocas Del Toro, the town nearest our marina. There we bought ferry tickets for the 30 minute boat ride to Almirante. At Almirante you either take a $1.00 truck/taxi ride to the bus depot and then buy a bus ticket, or hire a truck/taxi to take you where you need to go. Our $1.00 driver negotiated a $15.00 fee for taking four of us to our final destination.
When we arrived the commerce in town is situated on one long street until you hit the central market district and then it is two streets of shops and services. Our driver pointed out the shops we needed for boat supplies, paint for automotive use, a hardware store, 4 grocery stores, and a very good Chinese restaurant.
First we explored the main "mall" area. Here a mall is like Saturday market spaces where the owners display their wares on table tops and a piece of fabric/tarp hangs between them and the next vendor. The vendor has a strange collection of items--no rhyme or reason for what you may find. There may be locks with silverware, clothes and pans, shoes and guitars, but most shops also had a set of drums for sale. The famous music man (salesman) did a great job of convincing this town of the need for a drummer in the family. We found a dollar store where everything was priced from 35 cents to $35.00--must be an old sign.
Exploring further down the street we found the town square. All cities have a park like setting where festivals and gathering occur in this centrally located block. Benches and walkways criss cross through and surround the square. Old men sit on shady benches and young mothers watch their children from these seats. Being hot and thirsty we made our way to the AIR CONDITIONED restaurant. Here we ordered beers for lunch and toasted Mike's (from Respite) first social security check. The nice thing about Latin America is there is no hurry ever. We sat, talked, drank and ate for two hours. Around 2:00 we again braved the heat and began serious shopping. At 3:30 it was time to rehydrate in another air conditioned bar/restaurant. Around 4 we headed to the bus depot (the second busiest spot in town) and found an air conditioned bus ride back for $1.20 per person--we were the only non-locals and we were treated well.
The road took us through a jungle like preserve that lays in this area, and up and down the hilly terrain. We passed the local dump, guarded by a female mannequin dressed in a police uniform holding a dead plastic bird. (Their version of a scarecrow) Many of the vultures kept their distance and rummaged through the bags in the back of the dump. Once back in Almirante we arrived to the ferry and found 3 bus loads of backpackers (ages 18-45) waiting for the same ferry ride. The ferry stops at 5:30 and is first come first serve...we feared we were going to have to find a bed for the night. But a local hustler got us to the front of the line and on the last ferry of the day. We arrived back to our boat around 6 and poured a chilled drink to rehydrate and relax with before watching Matrix, part 1. Just another day in paradise.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

New Pictures For the Blog

Click our link on this page called Photos of our Adventure or go to:, to see some of our newest pictures.

We’re Back on the Boat in Bocas

After spending an incredible 4 and a half months in the Pacific Northwest (with many highs and lows) we are back on the boat in hot muggy and buggy Panama. I posted some pictures of our summer. They are on our pictures part of the blog. We had a 6 hr flight from Florida, where we had visited Helen’s brother, back to Panama. Arriving at 7 PM, we spent the night in PC. The next day we caught the overnight bus back to Almirante, arrived there a 6 AM, took a truck taxi to where we caught a water taxi to take us back to Bocas. We waited around Bocas to have breakfast before taking another water taxi back to the boat. It was a very long two days of travel. We have been here two weeks and have had to order more parts from Marine Warehouse who have been incredible. Our batteries were toasted and our control cables were frozen. So here we sit, waiting till the next ship arrives, probably two plus weeks. Unlike Shelter Bay last year, we have not had the daily thunder storms and the buckets of rain. The temp during the day is 85 and the temp at night is in the mid 70’s--not bad but the boat doesn’t really cool off much. We had a great Halloween party at our local Cantina and have posted some more great pictures on our page. It is nice to be back home. I just wish we could get away from the dock for awhile.

Bringing our blog up to date.

As all of you know we have been lax about updating our blog. It is a real catch 22 when you get behind. All sorts of new stuff is happing but I need to mention things of the past first.

The Trip from Hell

Here is a summary of our trip back to Panama. It was one of the few times we had a schedule to meet. Only in an emergency will we do this again. Life is too short!

Day 1 Oil filter fails and the low pressure alarm goes off. I was able to replace the oil filter and stop the leak but only after two tries--ended up with about two quarts of oil in engine sump to clean up. Just did that yesterday. Messy job but learned bleach removes those stains. P.S. Helen was dodging without power the two reefs as I worked.

Day 2 Coming into Guanaja's reef our engine lost power and was starving for fuel--could not run over 1000 rpms, not good for beating into strong head winds and current. We anchored right after we were safe behind the reef, changed the filter and it seemed to help, also some water in fuel. (Same problem 4 days later). Looked at filter and it was clean with no water. I have no idea what is up. Oh yeah, I also noticed the line to reef the jib was hanging overboard so I dove and unwrapped it from the transducers. While under I noticed the drive line was 3/4 of an inch sucked in--later for that problem...and of course then the holding tank that needed to be drained didn't work--tried to fix it but hand dumped over the side what I could get at. Literally what a shitty day.

Days 3 to 3.5 No matter how I tried we can't motorsail faster than 2.5 knots due to the current, head winds, and 5 to 6 ft seas. I tried to sail off wind and still no luck. We were burning about 1.5 gals an hour doing this and we were going to run out of fuel if this continues. Broke the boomvang off at the mast. Basically the housing, pulleys, and attachment bracket just blew up in many pieces—13 years of sun exposure and fatigue. Was able to jerry rig a single line boomvang that lasted the rest of the trip.

Days 4 to 4.5 wind came out of the north, northeast at about 25 + knots seas were only 5 to 6 because we were in the lee of the Banks. Could only sail at about 6 knots because we only had the mainsail so we decided we needed to try to get the jib up. I was able to finish the sewing of the jib in the cockpit while under way (It had ripped out earlier that month). Left the lee of the banks and the seas built to 8 to 10. No way were we getting the jib attached and up so we decided to make a quick stop at Providencia to have some calmer waters. The autopilot was having trouble maintaining course because of going downwind and large seas so the off course alarm was going off every 3- -6- seconds during Helen's watch. After about 20 seconds it would adjust to course so the alarm would stop only to start again. Got to Providencia, put the jib up in 20knts of wind but no seas, and took a needed 6hr nap before we left.

Day 5-6 Seas were down to 6 to 8, the wind was still 25 + but we were hauling ass and it felt great. Autopilot was still having some trouble but not as bad as the day before. We were getting into potentially big squalls and ship traffic so we started radar only to have it die in about 2hrs. Ended up being corroded connections but it still died about every 3 hrs or so. Helen said the head was backing up so I went to dump the holding tank. Turned it on and nothing happened. The outlet was clogged. I figured we had knocked the calcium off the walls during our rough passage and that it had blocked the outlet. Put a quart of muric acid in the tank and let it sit. 6hrs later I opened the valve which was clogged and shit flew all over the forward bilge and under the bed area. Not a good thing. Connected the macerator and it still didn't pump. Took the whole thing apart and all the blades in the pump were broken off. It took me 1 hr to find my spare impeller but I did have one. There are 4 bolts that hold the pump to the motor, three had rotted off and broke when I took it apart and this was my last backup macerator. I put it back together with silicone and one bolt--it worked sort of. It was leaking and sucking air so it took 20 minutes to drain the tank, but at least we didn't have to bucket and chuck it. for 36 hrs more.

Day 6++ The seas were 8 to 10 + but had a 6 to 8 second period so they looked huge but it wasn't all that uncomfortable. There were a few waves that were much bigger than 10ft and reminded me of the Northwest. We were having squalls all day long and got overrun by 4 or 5 with 2 that had winds of over 35. It was good practice to shorten sails before we were over run. The foot of the jib, which I had not resewn because it looked ok, ripped out along the seam of the sun cloth. It wasn't going to damage the sail but if I let it continue it would make a lot more work for me so we rolled in the jib. The wind was actually out of the north and a little west so it worked out ok. We still had 25+ winds so we could maintain about 6 to 7 knots with just the main all the way out. The last 10 hrs the wind shifted to due south and was 20 knts on our nose again. We were again motoring at about 5.5 knot into wind with a 8 to 10ft following sea ugh!!! We were going to be making our approach after dark. Not my best choice but I had not calculated the miles to and from Providencia so here we come. We checked into the morning net and asked for some waypoints to get us in the dark. Another cruiser sent us some that afternoon. They were great. The lights in Drago were weird and wild, similar to the run way lights approaching O”Hara airport we guessed. There were red and green entertwined because there were 4 or more bends in the path and no clear entering point. We shot a gap, lined up. and they worked. We anchored at 10pm, and slept soundly for the first time in a week.

The next day I went to check the engine and found that somewhere on our trip the 3/8" plate bracket holding my watermaker pump had broken off in the middle and the pump was laying loose on top of the engine. So much for pickling the membrane. I am going to try to find a piece of PVC tubing I can put the membrane in and pour solution over it for storage. Might work, but I will bring back a membrane as well.

Looking back there was nothing I could have done to prevent any of the problems, it was just one of those trip you want to get behind you. I could have done a better job at figuring mileage. I had just not figured it was 35 mile out of our way to go to Providencia. At least that was the difference from going straight from the Hobbies south to Bocas or going to Providencia then to Bocas.

Now we are here and almost have forgotten our HELL trip, it is time to go see Kiele for the first time. Cool!!!

Life is great! Except for all the stuff that broke the boat did great in those conditions. I still feel good about our boat and its abilities.

Roatan Our Favorite Place So Far

Roatan is by far my favorite place that we have cruised to in the past 4 years. We felt safe and welcomed everywhere we went. The food was good, and by Central America standards it was very clean and properly prepared. The local people were friendly and always willing to answer questions and help out. A large percentage of them spoke English so practicing our Spanish was made easier. Fresh fruits and vegetables were available from trucks almost everyday. There were three modern grocery stores that stock anything you could want. Best if you got there the day they were stocking as the locals know some supplies are short. Transportation was easy and affordable. You could ride the collective bus or take a local cab. The airport was centrally located making it one of the best places to have visitors, and that’s what we did.

Our pregnant daughter was first and had a wonderful visit as did we. I have written a blog about those experiences. The highlight of her visit was relax time and the dolphin encounter.

My sister and brother in-law were second. This was the first time they had come anywhere to visit us on the boat. We had an incredible time exploring, eating, drinking, and most of all diving. We were able to dive every day. On one occasion we had a 6-8ft shark swim right between our group. It turned out to be a Hammerhead which even made it more exciting. On every dive there was something new and exciting. We were diving with Tim and Paula on Hooligan, and, John and Kathy on Mystic Moon. Thanks to them I was able to dive over 65 times during the 3 months I was in the Bay Islands. I felt this was quite a birthday present to myself on my 60th year. I am very proud of that accomplishment after about 10 plus years of only using scuba gear to clean the bottom of the boat. Except for being a short visit I know Cheryl and Rich had a wonderful adventure.

Our last visitor of the season was our son Mike. He wrote a great blog about his trip as well. Again the time was short but we had a fun time diving everyday and just having good times on island time. We spent the last full day doing ziplines with Helen and exploring the local jungles. We also had never done ziplines. Oh what fun.

Part of the problem of keeping the blog up to date during our stay in the Bay Islands was exactly what made it so great. Everyday we basically did the same activities: get up, eat breakfast, listen to the nets, determine when and where we were going to dive, have lunch on our way to explore the island, do our shopping, and the big decision of the day was where the evening sundowner was going to be. Life was simple but oh so great!

The only problem from the outside world that affected us was the whole time we were there a drug war was happening on the furthest east end of the island. But unlike Mexico it was a local problem with one drug lord wanting his stolen coke back from those who stole it. There was actually a road block not allowing any outsiders into the area so the two sides could “duke it out”. Except for hearing the horrific stories, we know of no cruisers who were affected. We will definitely be back to Roatan some day but for now there is still a lot to discover out there for us. Maybe we will find another favorite place in the world.