HiYa!  (this is a Gringo marina)

Britt, Sandy and their boat guest, John (her cousin) came to Red Frog to visit us when we returned.  Our goal:  Red Frog Beach on the other side of the island.  The plan was to do some body-boarding and hit as many beach bars as possible.  The surf was up.  The red (danger) flag was cracking in the stiff wind.  Plan A accomplished.  Plan B-Not so much.  It was Mother’s day.  Well, not completely true.  It was the day after Mother’s day.  By now, you are well-acquainted with our Central American friends’ affinity for holidays, errr should I say “days off work to party?”  All the bars were closed.  No worries, we were all the healthier for it.  On the walk back over the island, Sandy spotted a couple of small crocodiles sunning themselves in a creek.  Suzanne, always on the lookout for the ever-elusive but very colorful poison dart frogs took us up another rill (who says crossword puzzles are a waste of time?) where we spotted and photo’d some Red Frogs.  They’re teeny (about the size of the nail on your big toe).  You’d think that they would be easy to see, but they hang out in the leaf detritus on the ground where fallen wild cinnamon petals (they’re red and pink) are mixed in.

Time to whine, and I’m sure that you’re shedding huge crocodile tears for us.  The aforementioned nav computer that the Admiral repaired now has another affliction.  He works perfectly until he doesn’t.  For the past few times underway, he has been shutting down without any advance notice.  It may be 10 minutes or 3 hours, but once he turns off, you can’t restart him.  The gurus have no idea.  “We’ve never seen that before!”  So…….we got the second “Black Box” stored under the helm (thanks, Roberto and Maria).  Suz spends the next 2 days in computer Purgatory with multiple techs and Scotty getting it set up for our boat.  Oh yeah, there are proprietary charts that are licensed only to us on our unit and yada yada yada.  That’s her problemo. Mine is MUCH more important.

When heading into Bocas on the dink, I heard a “clunk.”  Everything was working great, so check it when I get home.  Won’t bore you with the details, but the hydraulic ram for the trim/tilt broke off and then jammed itself in a very uncomfortable spot.  Translation: You can’t get there from here.  While Suzanne spent 2 days on the phone and in microswitches, I spent my time with a 4# sledge, a gear puller, torch and chain.  Suz had partial success, I had none.  All of the bits and bobs that I needed to remove were welded solid by the combination of salt water and time.  Ten hours, no joy.  That was pretty much the rest of our Red Frog stay.  We headed to Rick and Judy’s place on Friday, as she had the replacement sunshades for our upper deck finished, and we had a weather window to transit to Colon on Saturday.  At Rick’s, we pulled the motor off the dink so I could cut the offending pieces off the outboard without spitting metal shavings all over Alizann’s deck (and rusting in the future).  My angle grinder and ½” stainless steel pivots made quite a mess, but in the end, we won.  I’ll apply a few pesos and utilize FedEx while back in the good ole U.S.A., and life will again be good.

(Private message for my Dearest Mother-in-Law: “Casey, stop here.  This is a long one.  Resume at a later time.:) 

The weather on Saturday morning was beautiful.  What a day to be leaving.  We hung out and did boat chores until 12h45, then took a slow ride out through the Crawl Cay canal, exiting the Bocas.

What a night!  First of all, “Catholic Casserole” for dinner.  You know the one- Mac, cheese, ground beef, green peppers, tomato sauce.  I’m such a cheap date.  Feed me anything with pasta and tomato sauce, and I’m in hog heaven.  Suz was feelin’ a little “urpy” with the 4’-6’ swells (with a fair amount of 8’s) off the port bow, so we were happy that she had a sticktoyourribser premade.  She hit the sack at 18h00 and it was just me and the sea.  That afternoon, the Admiral had commented on the lack of dolphin sightings while underway on this trip.  As darkness fell, I heard the familiar snort, blow, slap and splash out of BOTH of the pilothouse doors.  Hearing that noise from the side is unusual at all.  The dolphins usually swim in groups of 4-6, and usually just play in the bow wave.  In the dark, you rarely are sure that they’re there-you just kinda sense them.  Well… the reason that they were heard alongside is that there were so many of them.  My guess is more than 20.  They were taking turns in the bow wave, then peeling off, only to race up on our stern quarter (s) to keep pace next to the boat until their next turn at the bow.  How did I see them when they peeled off and swam around to the stern if it was dark, you say?  The next part is that the water was filled with bioluminescent plankton.  When they’re disturbed, they light up.  The dolphins looked like they had “vapor trails” streaming off their fins, extending 10-15’ behind them ghosting through the water when out of the cone of illumination cast by our steaming light.  They’re usually here and gone, but this pod kept pace with Alizann for 33 minutes.  (I had just made a log entry, so I know).  Just before the moon rose (nearly full) like a big orange ball off our bow, I caught a meteorite about a finger’s width above the north horizon.  It was one of those that seemed to linger a bit longer than most.  I didn’t see another boat for the rest of my watch, and the radio was dead silent.  My only other excitement was a rain squall that I watched develop on the radar, only to skirt around 2 miles away from us.  Suz got up around 01h45 feeling much better, and I caught a few winks until we entered the Atlantic anchorage outside the Canal around 05h20.  Nearing the opening in the breakwater, we fell in behind the “Caribbean Princess” a small cruise ship, and followed her in.  So much for advance planning, I figured that worst case scenario, averaging 5.5 knots, we’d make it to Colon before nightfall.  Best case, 7.0 knots-in by lunchtime.  At 2/3 throttle, we averaged almost 8.5 knots against the wind and swell!!  Guess we had a good push from current.  Suzanne’s changeout on the Nav computer worked as she planned.  Radar and chartplotter were flawless, she’ll mess with getting the depth data integrated before our next trip.  We’re here at Shelter Bay Marina and it’s hot and humid.  Looks like we’ll get some “liquid sunshine” today, as the clouds are already building at 07h30.

Pretty sure that this’ll be my last report this year unless something really remarkable happens between now and the 18th.  We’ll fly back to the States then to be with family for Christmas.

Mike and Sue (From our Lost City trek) just stopped in.  We’ll do some catching up in the next day or two.

Dang!  One of the hazards of not posting right away.  We went for a nature walk yesterday.  Saw a plethora of tropical birds, including a Toucan.  A troupe of Capuchin monkeys, and an Agouti, as well as a bunch of brightly colored butterflies.

Leaving tomorrow at 05h00.  Imagine that this is REALLY it until I…

Talk to you……..

-Later (next year)

Hola Amigos,

The Red Frog taxi was pretty luxurious and FAST!  Chris, the owner of The Point restaurant had his handheld GPS on board.  He clocked our speed at 47 MPH on our way over to Bocas Town.  Not bad for a non-planing panga.  While we waited for the water taxi to Almirante, it was breakfast crepes at The Crepe Guy.  Oh yeah……he’s a very colorful, stereotypical fifty-something little French dude.  Reminds me of that Chihuahua that’s always admiring your leg (and I say that in the nicest of ways, no disrespect for the Chihuahuas out there).  Our taxi to Almirante was a twin-engine model that they crammed 36 passengers and luggage on.  It was still a rocket ship.  As we idled into the inner harbor at Almirante, I couldn’t help being a Dad.  The young man next to me was trailing his hand in the water.  I gently let him know that all of the bodegas on stilts packed in along the shore were flushing their toilets into the water that we were traversing.  Suzanne had hand sanitizer in her pack….’nuff said.  The four-hour bus ride up to Boquete was a trip.  Our vehicle was pretty luxo.  Air condo and clean.  The scenery?  Spectacular.  The first hour took us along the coastal plain, the last three up and down (mostly up) through rain forest at first, then cloud forest, and finally into Boquete around 17h15.  Besides the nearly-constant mist/rain, our driver didn’t have to worry about any stop signs or even intersections.  There aren’t any.  There’s only one road.  Casa Azul, our bed ‘n breakfast was built in 1915 for an ancestor of the current owner.  It’s a really cute four room house a couple of blocks off the main drag in downtown(?) Boquete.  It’s super clean, AND you have your own bathroom (the deal maker/breaker for me).

Being up in the mountains, the climate in Boquete is decidedly different than down on the coast.  Temperatures are a bit cooler.  We saw 70 degrees in the day, and in the 60’s at night.  Pine trees grow alongside Palms.  It was a nice change to wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts.  The rain showers, ubiquitous along the coast, followed us here.  The vibe is strictly about the Mochilleros (Backpackers).  Hostels abound, and food is inexpensive.  No, I mean cheap.  We went high end one night, eating at Boulder 54.  No reservation, but the Maitre ‘D had just received a cancellation for the table that we would have asked for if given a choice.  Under an open gazebo, and sandwiched between a pond and a fireplace, it was chez cool.  The menu was nouveau cuisine, and the wine list was superb.  We picked out a bottle of Argentinian Malbec (with the help of our waiter/Maitre ‘D) for $24.  “Special on our wines tonight-half price”.  So…….we drank 2, but who’s counting?  Breakfasts at Azul, prepared by Senora Anna.  The rest of our meals were decidedly a bit more low-key affairs.  Lunch of local food at El Saboroson.  After hiking the “Lost Waterfalls” trail (I’ll get to that, be patient), I Googled for someplace close by, as we were kinda tired.  “Mike’s Grill” turned out to be the Expats hangout.  Again, we were “new meat”, and made lots of new fast friends.  (We came back the next night).  Since 2010, when the AARP rag had featured Boquete as a “top place to retire” several years ago, the number of Gringos has increased exponentially.

Whud we do?  Coffee farm tour.  I know, how many of these can you go on?  This one, (The Admiral promises it’ll be our last) was the best.  Panama is not a huge producer of coffee-not on the scale of Brazil and Viet Nam.  But…..they produce some of the finest coffees in the world, as evidenced by their consistent showing in international competitions.  Quality, not quantity is the mantra here.  Let me just say that there are more coffees than you can shake a stick at, running from the robust somewhat bitter roasts that North Americans and Europeans favor, to the aromatic, fruity varieties favored by warm climate countries, to the tea-like beans enjoyed by Far Easterners.  Our guide held up a box, around 20” square and about 7” deep containing Geisha beans that was ready for shipment.  The cost?  Fifty-one thousand dollars.  A cup sells for around $95 in Japanese coffee houses.  At the end of the tour, we had a tasting.  Sampling eight or ten different varieties from traditional to aromatic, I really gained a new appreciation for the beverage.  Yep, we were served Geisha.  I figured that I made around $150 on this tour.

We did the Lost Waterfalls hike in the mist/rain.  It was like a 2-hour version of our 4-day hike in Colombia, complete with slipping and sliding in the mud.  This one even had a stretch so steep that you needed a climbing rope for the up ‘n down.

The best beer in town was sampled at the Boquete Brewing Company.  We couldn’t be here without visiting there.

That’s about it for Boquete.  If we have guests after the Holidays, we’ll probably go back and take a lot more hikes.  The bus ride home yesterday was a lot quicker, as there was no rain.  We’ve been hunkered down today, catching up on bills, laundry, Christmas shopping and blogging while the rain has been intermittently heavy.

Talk at Ya…

-Later

Hola,

Okay, I got the “raspberries” from my Mother-in-Law about the log being too long.  I can’t help it.  First of all, it takes me so long to sit down and write that once I get rolling I don’t wanna stop.  Second, I get the “But what else did you do?” from others.   P.T Barnum said it.  Well, sorta.  Please insert the word “please” for the word “fool” in that (in)famous quote.

I so miss family Thanksgivings.  I don’t give a rip where we are.  In my mind, nothing compares to being surrounded by our family.  We “Facetimed” with Suzanne’s Mom and sister, then with our kids.  The tradition on our side is a shot and a beer at 12h00 sharp, followed by the Detroit Lions game, followed by dinner.  So…we got the shotandabeer with the kids.  The tradition goes back to my maternal grandfather (unarguably my favorite ancestor), who usually waited for about 5 minutes after arriving at our house before asking “What the Hell does a guy need to do to get a beer around here?”  We enjoyed Thanksgiving dinner with Britt, Sandy and a half dozen other pals at “The Cosmic Crab” restaurant.  Owned by Steve and Joan Crabtree, the dining area is an open-sided affair built on stilts over the water.  Just saying that dinner was a buffet does not do it justice.  Joan is an excellent cook, and all of the many dishes were traditional and homemade.

We spent the next week or so hanging with Britt and Sandy.  We followed them out to Isla Bastimentos, anchoring in the harbor at Old Bank.  We hiked over the island.  A slippery, muddy trek and the only way (except by boat) to Wizard beach, it took us around 30 minutes.  Suz and I hung out for awhile and watched the surfers, including Britt.  Swimming from shore was out-way too much surf and rip currents.  On the way back to the Girl, we diverted to another path which led to a small hostel perched on the spine of the island amidst the rain forest.  Along the way, we encountered a bunch of what appeared to be Brahma-type cattle, including a few bulls straddling the path.  There wasn’t any way around them, as the path ran along the top of a ridge, so we cautiously threaded our way through them.  Suzanne didn’t seem fazed, but the words “How did your Mom and Dad die?” kept running through my head like a broken record.  (It seems like I hear that one a lot).  Anyway, all’s well that ends well.  We had a fruit juice at “Up the Hill” before heading down to the harbor.  No cars or motorized vehicles or roads in Old Bank, this village of 1,500 souls.  That evening, Suz and I borrowed “Whimsy”, Britt and Sandy’s sailing dinghy and took a sunset sail in the harbor.

Over the next few days, we hung out with Britt and Sandy, revisiting spots that Suz and I had visited earlier and I have already reported on.  Sandy’s cousin would be visiting in a few weeks, so we wanted to show them some fun spots to show him during his stay.  Suz had heard about a property in Palos Bay that had been donated to the Smithsonian after the owner had passed away which had some good hiking trails on it.  Britt, Sandy, Suz and I dinghied over from Rana to see what was what, and enjoyed some good hiking complete with sightings of some Blue/Green Poison Dart frogs, Howler Monkeys, awesome butterflies, and the usual assortment of tropical flowers and fruits.

Suz and I had a trip planned to travel to Boquete up in the mountains, so we needed to leave the Girl in a secure spot.  To this end, we reserved a slip at the Red Frog Marina on Isla Bastimentos.  Before we parted with Britt and Sandy, they took us in to Bocas Town and introduced us to Graham and Meghan, a pair of South African cruisers.  They have a small shop outside of town where they built “Whimsy” for Britt and Sandy.  Let’s just say that in January there’ll be another boat on our boat and leave it at that.  So far, we’re thinking “Puff” or “Zephyr”.

Okay, just one more thing.  You’ve probably been sitting on the edge of your seat since the Post-Thanksgiving Bee Massacre of 2019.  (Arlo Guthrie, there may be a song in here).  My two bee experts have answered my emails.  #1.  Neither have seen anything quite like it.  #2.  Both have suggested exposure to some type of neurotoxin (most likely pesticide).  That’s it.  Neither can answer “Why our boat?”  “Why were their abdomens adhered to the deck?”  “Why so far from any large-scale agriculture?”  In other words, I think that this weirdness will remain a mystery until I pursue it further (in my spare time).  Not likely.  This may fall into the category of “Stuff happens”.

We’re at Red Frog.  It deserves a little more ink, so let’s do that later.  In the meantime, we’re psyched about hitting the road to Boquete tomorrow.

-Later

Buenos Tarde,

Yahoo! Just coming off nearly 5 days of sunshine-no more whining for a while.  We left Judy and Rick’s place under cloudy skies and 20 knot winds.  One more trip to the “snorkel spot” on the mushroom island, then it was off to our new anchorage.  The aerial pictures of Johnson’s Cay looked like it was taken of an atoll in the south Pacific.  An anchorage surrounded by reef and two small islands. What a perfect place to anchorsnorkelchill.  We crept through the reef, the wind was still blowing pretty good out of the North, sending fingers of spume over the slate-gray water and through our proposed home.  VERY much less than scenic.  Nope.  The Gallegos Cays, a group of around 14 small unnamed islands lay around 5 miles to the north.  It appeared to have a few cuts in the lee of the islets that might give us a nice calm anchorage.  We tucked in a narrow channel between three Mangrove mounds.  The water was calm but we had a really nice breeze.  In the morning, we woke to sunny skies and calm winds.  What a perfect day for snorkeling.  We dropped “White Star” over the side and cruised some promising spots in and around the islets.  Nothing looked really promising but we had a nice ride under sunny blue skies with a cuppa Joe in hand.  What a perfect day to cruise over to Crawl Cay on the Girl.

Crawl Cay lies just south of Isla Bastimentos, and is on the southern route that we forwent in favor of the safer northern route when we went from the Zapatillas to Bocas Town.  The charts and satellite pictures show the track to be littered with shallow reefs and bars.  With the sun high, it seemed like the perfect day to head to this picturesque spot.  Okay…so I’ve told you that the charts of the province are notoriously bad.  We have 3 chart sources up on our navigation devices.  The PC is running C Map charts.  The Ipad is running Navionics.  The Furuno is running its proprietary program.  As we’re slowly rolling the 5 miles into Crawl Cay, the plotters are showing that we’re in anywhere from 1’ to 40’ of depth, while our actual readings are quite often very different.  It’s a good thing that we can see out the window, gauging depth from color.  Hilarious!  Well, we got in without scrapes and bumps, and now we have a course for future reference.  Shallowest depth 15’, although straying even 20’ in either direction could put you on the reef.  (We’ve already shared latitude/longitude of waypoints from our other courses with friends on different boats.)  The pangas raced to and fro for most of the afternoon, ferrying touristas from Bocas Town, snorkeling and enjoying the Bahamian blue water.  We dropped in the water after the crowds left, and found about what we expected-largely dead coral and not that many critters.  Dinghy riding over to the windward side of the island did not reveal much better.  All in all, Crawl Cay was a pretty anchorage and not much else.

Bocas has a very active cruisers/expats “net” which broadcasts on the VHF every morning at 07h45.  Channel 68 is monitored at all hours, but for around 20 minutes or so every morning, anyone can tune in to a moderated broadcast.  The format is as follows:  general check in, community announcements, weather report, boat (and house) problems/solutions, buy, sell & trade, general announcements trivia questions jokes etc.  Our friends, Brit and Sandy had been checking in for around a week, so we knew that they were back from California, but we had not been in contact with them yet.  We didn’t want to bother them.  You KNOW how much work there is to do when you come back to a boat that’s been standing idle for a few months.  Well……they reached out to us the morning of our second day at Crawl Cay.  They were done working and were ready to play.  No winds yet, so surfing was out (Oh yeah-stereotyped Californians).  By the way, if I hadn’t mentioned it already, Bocas is well-known in the surfing community for its’ great waves during the season.  Anyway, we told them that in light of the great weather forecast, we were heading to Starfish Beach (Playa Estrella) on the north end of Isla Colon after reprovisioning at Bocas Town.  Dave and Shelley also planned to meet us there on Friday.  We’d meet them at Bocas Town and cruise up to Starfish together.  We cruised down to BT and dropped the hook in the South anchorage near Halcyon (Brit & Sandy).  After a quick “hello,” Suz and I headed to town to shop.  Besides the usual, I needed to get some epoxy resin hardener so that I could fix a leak in our pilothouse roof (more on that later).  We weren’t on shore more than an hour-and-a-half.  When we returned to the Girl, it was standard operating procedure.  I dropped Suz and the supplies off at the stern, then hooked the bridle up to the dinghy while she went up to the boat deck to bring “White Star” aboard. 

There were a couple of handfuls of (what appeared to be) dead honeybees on the sole of the cockpit-kinda weird.  Suz reappeared immediately from the boat deck.  “OMG! You’re not going to believe this.  There are tons of dead and living bees all over the deck up there!”  “Wear your shoes when you come up.”  Suz isn’t prone to hyperbole, but yeah, right.  We got the dinghy hooked to the crane, and I moved up to my position on the boat deck with Suzanne.  Holy cripe.  There weren’t hands full of bees on the deck, there were hundreds.  Maybe a couple thousand.  There weren’t many flying.  Most were either adhered to the deck by their abdomen, or crawling around in their death throes after separating their thorax from their abdomen.  Probably not the craziest thing I’ve ever seen, but definitely in the top ten.  I spent the 2-hour cruise to Starfish scrubbing dead bees off the decks.  Since then, I’ve reached out to a couple of bee doctors (PhD types) to try to find out what this bizarre behavior was all about.  My guy from Cornell has already gotten back to me without a reasonable explanation.  I’m waiting on a response from the other one.  I’ll keep you posted.

By the way, we spent 4 days at Starfish beach, a couple of them with Britt and Sandy.  SB is a really pretty beach on the north end of Isla Colon, and is super popular with tourists and locals alike.  The water taxis run nonstop into this (inaccessible by road) beach.  The shore is lined with shacks serving food, drinks and selling the obligatory niknaks.  Thursday (the 21st) and Friday were pretty quiet.  Shelley and Dave came up on Friday, and we all enjoyed some conversation and sips.  I’m sure that you remember that bunch of bananas.  Well, even after giving some away, we were left with forty or so, all ripening at the same time.  Necessity is the mother of invention.  Water of one coconut, 3 bananas, 8 cubes of ice, 4 oz. dark rum.  Blend until smoooooooth.  Top with grated nutmeg.  Makes 2 drinks.  Good, and soooo good for you!  Well…maybe not the rum so much.  Haven’t come up with a name for these little treats yet, but let me say that we went through 27 bananas.

In the time that we were there, B & S, Suz and I took a 10-mile (each way) dinghy ride out to Swan Island, a.k.a. Bird Island.  It’s nothing more than a sheer rock rising directly out of the sea.  Palms, White Mangroves and other unidentified trees hold onto cracks and fissures in the rock for dear life.  The attraction is the birds.  Nesting in holes in the rock face are colonies of Boobies, Frigate Birds, and White Tropic birds.  The snorkeling on the leeward side of the island wasn’t bad, either.

The kayaks gave us an opportunity to get away from the beach on the busy weekend.  A 6-mile paddle on Saturday took us to an uninhabited Mangrove-lined bay to the south, while our 10-mile paddle to the north took us to the headland of the island.  I should qualify what I mean by “busy.”  The visitors start coming in by water taxi a bit after noon and leave at five, when the beach closes.  It’s off-season still, so less than 25% of the beach chairs ringing the shore were occupied.  Sooo…not really crowded, but compared to some of the completely uninhabited anchorages we’ve enjoyed, “busy.”  Walking the beach in the early morning was a joy, and we went in on the kayaks for lunch-very good tacos and icy cold beer.

Well….I dropped one shoe, here’s the other.  For a week or so, I had been cleaning up a “tea stained” dribble under the eyebrow outside the pilothouse on the port side.  I had a pretty good idea where it was coming from, guessing that the trim strip covered a joint between the mold for the roof and wall.  If that was the case, water was accumulating above the ceiling in the pilothouse and finding its’ way out under the teak molding, imparting the brown color.  Training from my former life quite often kicks in, or is it denial of the inevitable?  I’m referring to “Give it some time to heal before intervening.”  The boat never heals, but I can avoid a nasty job for a while.  I just don’t sleep at night.  But….I digress.  The issue came to a head after a particularly hard, wind-driven rain.  My rationale for ignoring the problem (it’s not coming inside) was blown out of the water, so to speak.  As water streamed out of the overhead wire chase, I knew it was time to face the music.  There was only one place that water could be entering.  The name boards on top of the pilothouse are screwed into the roof, and the wires for the navigation lights pierce the deck as well.  We had sunny days, and I couldn’t face the prospect of “all play and no work,” so I took the boards off, and yanked on the fiberglass stanchions supporting them.  With a sickening “slurp”, one popped off, revealing a totally rotted wood core.  The other one?  Not so easy.  Razor knife and crowbar, 1.  Stanchion, 0.  Even tho’ it was firmly adhered with 5200 (super-strong adhesive), I knew that it would fail in the future.  The holes for the screws affixing the stanchions to the deck, and the boards to the stanchions were not finished out properly.  This requires drilling a hole much larger that the screw, filling it with resin, then redrilling and placing the screw so that it is completely surrounded by resin.  That way, when water finds its’ way down the screw (and it always does, sooner or later), it just contacts the impermeable resin, not rot-able(?) wood core.  Long story short, I drilled out the holes, reamed out the rotten core, filled with epoxy resin.  This several days project was not without pitfalls and aggravation, punctuated by oaths and epithets, but I’ll spare you the details.  Let me just add that, thanks to the Admiral, I found a new use for tampons.  The board on the starboard side isn’t leaking….yet.  As soon as I can find some more epoxy, I’ll see what lurks under that one.  By the way, in true dramatic fashion, the clouds were rolling in as I made my last pour of epoxy, and it cured about an hour before the skies opened up last night.

This morning, the 25th, we left Starfish and explored an anchorage below Conch Point before settling in uninhabited Big Bight, near the southwest corner of Isla Colon.  It is very peaceful here amongst the mangroves, playful dolphins and howler monkeys. We think that we’ll head over to Isla Bastimentos and find some interweb access tomorrow or the next day.  Until then,

-Later

 

 

 

Buenos Dias,

Well.  A couple days morphed into four.  Or was it five?  The weather was rainy, or threatening rainy, so we just stayed put in our cozy little anchorage behind the reef near Marc and Sydney’s restaurant, Rana Azul.  Between raindrops, I was able to get some wax on the Girl.  It’s not one of those jobs that you just “do.”  You just pick up where you left off.  Kinda like painting the Mackinaw Bridge.  When you get to the end, you just start over again.  Not complainin’, just sayin’.  The Admiral and I liked the cabinet lights in the galley so much that the cabinets in the Heads were next.  (Oh yeah-we anticipated this when ordering lights, switches and wire, so they were on hand, ready to go.)

We had some play time with Shellie and Dave too.  One afternoon, we took the dink over to the next bay to check out their floating house.  What started as one has grown into three floating platforms with living spaces built on top and tied together.  Anchored near shore, and connected to it by a floating dock, it’s been their primary residence for the last couple of years.  In addition to building the floating house, they’ve been clearing the 27 acres that they own on land, and building their “Land House” They’ve already sold a couple of lots, and have plans for a swimming pool.  Keep in mind that this land is only accessible by water, power is provided by solar energy and drinking water falls from the sky.  Quite a feat.  Dave’s construction is top notch, and Shellie has really done a great job with her gardening, adding to the fruit trees left behind by “United Fruit” company when they pulled out years ago.  The rain rolled in, and we were forced to sit and drink beer all afternoon-Darn!

We plan to leave the Girl at Red Frog Marina for a few days when we take a road trip up in December to Boquete, a town up in the mountains.  Shellie decided that we needed to see the marina up close and personal, as well as the development next door of the same name.  Plus…..”They have a great restaurant for lunch, AND a great pool, AND it’ll be empty, AND it’s a private development BUT they never say anything to us when we use the pool, SO bring your suits.  We’ll pick you up.”  Yep.  Gotta love off-season.  We were the only ones at the restaurant, and having sips in the pool was wonderful.

Almirante, the port on the mainland that feeds Bocas Town with twice-a-day ferry service beckoned.  It’s said to be a bit rawer boned than Bocas, so we weren’t sure that it was worth bringing the Girl there.  Also, it’s a commercial port, with Chiquita bananas’ loading dock right in the harbor.  Problem solved.  Dave needed to go in to pick up some building supplies-mortar, grout and etc. for the land house kitchen tiles.  Shellie and he picked Suzanne, Sydney and me up for a field trip to town.  They have a guy there that has a shabby dock for parking their panga, and he sits and guards it for a couple of bucks.  First things first.  It was lunchtime and we were famished.  Of course, D&S knew a place.  The 5 of us piled into a taxi and drove up the mountain to the resort “Bocas Ridge.”  The restaurant there is next to an infinity edge swimming pool, and has a commanding view of nearly the whole Bocas archipelago.  (Starting to see a pattern here?)  The pool was empty, the beer was cold, and we had the place to ourselves.  Back down to town, it was the usual routine-hardware store, multiple grocery stores and a couple of “fruit ladies,” their shops crammed into stalls the size of a small shipping container.  Almirante was indeed a little on the rough side, but the prices for our supplies was much better than Bocas Town. 

At last!  A day that promised to be at least a bit sunny.  We hauled anchor and took a 45-minute cruise to the (right) snorkel spot this time.  It was only 500 meters or so from the little Mangrove island that we had visited before, but this time we were rewarded with some really nice snorkeling.  There was an absolute abundance of aquatic life with many small fishes (Mangroves’ roots provide shelter from predators and are, therefore nurseries for many species of fish) We were concentrating on invertebrates.  There was a variety of anemones, both in color and type.  Sponges ranged in color from orange to bright yellow, to iridescent green, to purple and red.  Arrow crabs, Pedersen shrimp, Flaming Scallops rounded out the lineup.  The water was so warm and the swim so nice that 2 ½ hours passed in a flash.

One day kinda blurs into the next, so just maybe my report isn’t in the proper sequence, but who’ll know?  (Especially if I don’t).  Anyway, we had some more rain and more was forecast so back we went to Marc and Sydney’s.  We had playmates there, and some connectivity to the world wide web.  One morning, Marc appeared with a boatload of fruit from their property.  Limes, oranges, coconuts, and a bunch of bananas.  I’m not talking a lot of bananas, I’m talking a bunch, as in 30 or 40 still on the stalk.  I’m seeing banana smoothies in our future.

We met Rick and Judy at the birthday party, and she had been in daily contact (What’s App) with Suzanne about us coming to visit them on their island.  We hauled anchor on Friday, the 15th, and were at their island, Tranquilo Place in time for sips with Rick, Judy, Holly and Mike (Picaro).  We got the grand tour the next day.  After cruising here, they bought this little Mangrove island around 7 years ago.  They’ve literally been building their island since.  They’ve raised the level of the island around a foot and a half by bringing in 17,000 bags of dirt, and running a gold panning vacuum to bring in sea bottom.  They still live on one of their two boats (this started as a his and hers operation), but have a multi-story building housing a workshop, canvas shop, their kitchen and second story veranda.  The roof supports around 12,000 watts worth of solar panels.  The roof also acts as a catchment, feeding their collection of water tanks adding up to 3,200 gallons.  Rick is building a second residence, again on stilts over the water to house crews of boats that are being repaired here.  He owned a refrigeration business in his former life, and has a reputation for being able to fix anything.  Judging from what we’ve seen on his island, the reputation seems to be well-deserved.

Judy, Suz and Holly had a Girls trip over to Bocas Town yesterday to attend a craft market and to pick up some supplies.  It’s about a half hour ride in a fast panga from here.  Since this weekend was “Bocas Days” celebrating Bocas independence from somebody, I figured that the island was going to be wild.  I stayed home and polished stainless steel under cloudy skies.  I think that I got the better end of the deal.  Sips on our boat last night, after our company was gone, we laid on deck and watched the Leonid meteor shower under a zillion stars, a little Joni Mitchell in the background.

That’s about it.  Cloudy skies today, so more waxin’ and polishin’ (Still sound like a glamorous life?)  Judy came over today to measure for some sunshades that she’ll make for us (To remedialize the ones that our pal (Grrrrrh!) in Grenada made for us a few years ago).  We’ll head over for Happy Hour, then think about where we’re heading off to tomorrow.

-Later

Buenos,

Well…..Bocas Town is an anchorage of convenience-not preference.  No wastewater treatment facility-ALL of the drains empty right into the bay.  We don’t make water, we don’t swim here.  It’ll be our stop for provisioning and internet (Thank you, Golden Grill restaurant).  We had exhausted our shore explorations after dinghying (sp?) over to Lost Boys Blues Bar and Cosmic Crab on Cayo Carnero.  At the Crab, the food was good the connectivity terrible.  Another restaurant/bar owned by U.S. expats holding on by the skin of their teeth.  What’d Jimmy Buffett say?  “Runnin’ from something”?   Anyway, the Girl was talkin’ to us.  ”Get me outta here!”  Suz had heard about a little organic Cacao farm in Laguna Porras (Dolphin Lagoon), and had been in contact with the owner, Julie.  Sounded like a good destination, so we were off, but not before informing David and Donna, aboard “Exit Only” with their son Dave, his wife Sarah and their two kids Zoey and Jocelyn.  Oh yeah, they’re sailing around the world, heading through the Canal as soon as their long-term visas for French Polynesia are in order.  It’ll be their second time around, as their first was when Dave and his sister were kids.

Our visit to Green Acres Farm was the highlight of our Fall cruising so far.  Julie had given Suz the latitude/longitude of the farm.  Although kinda unusual, they made locating Green Acres easy.  When we arrived in the bay, it made sense.  No roads, no town, vague landmarks.  As we studied the place through binoculars from the anchorage, we were amazed at the level of “tidy” that we saw.  Manicured lawn between neatly trimmed bushes, orderly rows of trees and multiple flowering gardens connected by stone-lined footpaths surrounded the 2-story house.  Quite a contrast with so many properties barely holding back the rain forest.  I thought the guy must’ve been a retired dentist or accountant.  Robert, Julie’s husband IS a retired dentist.  They sailed here (That explains the lat/lon directions) around 6 years ago and decided to find some property.  A couple of years on shore was what they were looking for.  Well….two became three, became four, became….  They knew nothing about making chocolate, but hired a local guy to give them a crash course.  There were a thousand or so Cacao trees on the property planted by United fruit years ago, so there was lots of raw material.  The lady that owned the property before them was an avid gardener, thus the lush gardens around the house.  The farm is completely off the grid.  There is no road, nor electricity coming in.  The place is only accessible by boat.  All of their power is supplied by solar panels supplemented by a small generator.  Propane supplies the heat for cooking/chocolate-making.  Robert took us on a walking tour of the farm which lasted around 3 ½ hours.  As you might imagine, he is quite the expert on the local flora and fauna.  The chocolate making?  There isn’t a “season” for cacao.  The trees constantly produce fruit.  Even with 30% of his crop lost to insects and fungus (No pesticides or chemicals are used), that’s still a lot of fruit to pick and process.  Three indigenous guys help with the harvesting and processing.  The processing?  Let me just say that McGyver has nothing on Robert.  He has designed and built all of the equipment that he uses to make chocolate.  I can’t begin to describe the ingenuity it took to create his “factory”, all contained in a 10’x10’ shed.  Just check out the pictures.  When our tour was over, we sampled some of Robert’s chocolate rum mixed with sweetened condensed milk and matched with Julie’s brownies fresh from the oven.  The farm will be changing hands soon, as it’s been sold to a non-profit, Planet Rehab, owned by a couple of guys from the States.  They are planning to maintain the status quo.  R & J came out to the Girl in the evening to share sips and conversation.  Their boat is being refitted, and they plan to resume their cruising after a trip back to the States over the Holidays.  We may see them again, as they will be visiting the San Blas and plan to transit the Canal at about the same time as us in a few years.

Why don’t we make more short and long term plans?  Julie and Robert invited us to a surprise birthday party for their 90-year-old neighbor at “Rana Azul,” a restaurant over in the next bay for the next night.  They told us that the owners, a couple from Luxemburg had a bonafide pizza oven.  All right then, we were in.  We told the crew from “Exit only ” and everyone was psyched for pizza.  We led the way through an uncharted cut to the next bay-Robert assured us that there was plenty of water (and there was).  We dropped anchor in 20’ of water outside the reef, as there was no visibility on this cloudy, rainy windy day.  It was so cloudy, windy, rainy that the party was postponed, as guests were coming from miles around.  Well…Suz and I dinghied in to see about food.  We met Mark, the owner, who informed us that it was “Chicken Night.” Okay, back out to “Exit Only.”  They were set on pizza, and we were in a spot where the wind would blow us into shore if an anchor dragged, so they voted to go somewhere else to anchor.  I went back to tell Mark that we’d come another day, and he told me that they had set a fire in the oven and made dough.  Back to the Girl to pick up Suzanne, and got soaked for a second time beating against the wind and waves.  Suz had called “E O” and they were headed back to re-anchor.  The pizza was great, the beer was cold, and we made some new friends amongst the gang of expats who hang out here.  Participating in the Bocas Emergency Network on the VHF the next morning got Suzanne a new pal.  BEN 13, AKA Captain Ray gave her the coordinates for waypoints leading through the reef near Rana Azul.  It was cloudy, but the wind had abated during the night.  We tiptoed through the reef, and found ourselves in 16’ of calm water right near the restaurant.  Good for future reference.

Suz had heard about a spot amongst the mangroves where there were like a Jillion sea anemones in many different colors.  Exit and we were off to explore.  We got anchored, and did some snorkeling, but were in the wrong spot.  “Exit” checked a spot where a day charter had been anchored earlier and reported a trove of these invertebrates.  Then the sky opened up.  Next morning, the blustery weather continued, so Suz and I decided to head back to Rana Azul and anchor within range of their WiFi router so that we could get some work done.  We followed Cap’n Ray’s course through the reef and dropped the hook in 16’ of water just off the mangrove-shrouded shore.  Suz got some bills paid while I resumed the never-ending task of keeping a coat of wax on Alizann.  We headed in for the rescheduled party and spent most of the evening with Dave and Shellie, whom we had met during our last visit.  Dave and she bought 27 acres on the next bay, and were subdividing it into lots for sale.  I guess there is a HGTV show, Caribbean Life that they were featured in. In the meantime, they had built a “floating house”, and were living the life.  After a few games of pool (Mark has a regulation slate table in his open-air restaurant.  He was a ranked player in Europe before cruising to Panama), Dave looks at Shellie “Did you ask them?”  “No.  Didn’t you while I was in the bathroom?” “No.”  After a night of fun, I wasn’t sure what was coming.  “We have to go back to the States for a couple of weeks in early December.  Would you consider bringing your boat over to our house and house-sitting for us?  We have a 60” TV, hot shower, full kitchen and internet.”  (We’re planning to take a trip up into the mountains and staying for a few days in Boquete at that time, but it’s tempting-Suz and I will have to noodle this one out before we get back to them)

Okay, well it’s been crappy all day after pouring all night, so we’ve been hunkered down leeching Mark and Sydney’s internet (They gave us permission to use it).  It’s been off and on rain most of the day, so I’m still in my boxers cruising the interweb and tapping out this missive.  God bless Suzanne’s sister, Sheila.  She has no idea how many spare parts and miscellaneous doodads will be coming her way before our visit at Christmas.

-Later

 

Buenos Dias,

24 October.  We made all of our “Goodbyes”, and waited semi-patiently for our 15h30 departure time, which would put us into Laguna Bluefield in the Bocas del Toro archipelago by mid-morning.  The weather proved to be benign (as forecast).  Always a question after months of idleness, all systems  functioned well, including the stabilizers that Scotty and I had serviced but not tested.  The new charging parameters that I had set on our alternator regulator were spot on.  The new batteries came up to full charge, and stayed that way throughout the passage.  I went off watch at 01h00.  It was calm and stuffy, so I opened the porthole in the stateroom.  When I awoke at 06h00, it had been pouring for several hours with the wind on the beam.  Try as I might, I couldn’t hide all of the wet cushions, drapes and rug from the Admiral.  Every now and then, we all need a case of “Dumb #ss” to keep us humble.  I have more of those than most.

Laguna Bluefield, an idyllic anchorage surrounded by tropical rainforest was our home for the next 24 hours.  We just napped, chilled and read.  Dolphins danced around the Girl for a few hours and the baitfish “boiled” the water most of the afternoon and evening.  Our next stop was in the lee of the Zapatilla islands ( Numero Uno and Numero Dos).  They are a popular spot for “Day Trippers” from neighboring islands due to their beautiful sandy beaches.  We anchored about a half mile off shore of “Uno”, and dinghied in to a deserted beach where we spent the afternoon.  The morning of the 27th, we were off to Bocas Town.  We tried our luck fishing the Caribbean side of Bastiementos Island with no joy.  At one point, Suzanne looked down from the pilothouse window and saw a Mahi swim by.  Obviously, I was using the wrong lures.  Nearing Bocas town, we realized that we weren’t ready for civilization yet, so headed deep into Hospital Bight on Bastiamentos.  We tiptoed into the uncharted end of the bay, and dropped our hook amidst the Mangrove islets there.  From our lonely base, we explored the bay by dinghy for the next few days.  Oh yeah, don’t forget that it’s still the rainy season.  Just because I haven’t mentioned the fact that there are intense lightning and thunder storms every day doesn’t mean that they aren’t happening.  We had a delivery of boat parts and essential foodstuffs ( Gatorade, Reese’s cups, Pop Tarts, horseradish and etc. ) for our friends (from Santa Marta) Holly and Michael on “Pecaro”, that we received from Dan and Jackie at Shelter Bay.  We dinghied the 4 miles over to where they were anchored in Bocas Town to make the much-appreciated delivery.

We hauled the anchor on the 29th, and made our way to Bocas Town.  Since we already had a track on our chartplotter, the trip out of the end of the bay was much less stressful.  It took 2 tries to get our anchor to set in the rubble-strewn Bocas anchorage, under the watchful eye of the USCG cutter “Confidence”, which was riding at anchor in the Bocas Strait.  For the last few days, it’s been the usual “new port” routine, scoping out grocery, hardware and marine supply stores on shore, and generally sucking information out of anyone that would talk to us.  Yesterday, (the 31rst), we did a 2 tank dive with Bocas Dive Center.  The crew couldn’t have been nicer, but the visibility and dive sites left a lot to be desired.  Not sure if we’ll dive here again.

Buenos Dias,

Touchdown in Panama at 20h00.  Customs was non-existent, which took a load off as we had lots of small, but expensive boat parts intermingled with our clothes in all 4 duffle bags.  Olmero was waiting out front, and we soon were off to Shelter Bay.  The new bridge over the canal had been completed in our absence, and the 2-hour trip was cut by 40 minutes.  The fact that we had arrived after the horrendous Panama City rush hour didn’t hurt either.  The sense of relief that you experience at the end of a long trip soon dissipated.  The hotel/restaurant office was closed for the night.  While Olmero got busy dialing, I checked the boaters lounge.  The A/C wasn’t working, but the couches were not occupied.  Looked like we at least had a place to sleep.  By the time that I got back to Suz, Olmero had located the hotel manager, we got our key and were good to go.

The next week was truly all work and no play.  The morning of the 1st, we checked on the Girl, who had been moved from the secure storage area (surrounded by a 12’ fence topped with razor wire, and occupied by 3 “Junkyard Dogs”) to the work yard.  Alizann had fared well.  A fair bit of mold and algae on the outside, but inside she looked and smelled sweet.  Our favorite marine tech and pal, Scotty was flying in from the States the next day, so we got things ready for an efficient visit.  All the tools and toolboxes were brought up from their homes in the engine room, bow thruster props were removed, the washer/dryer was moved to the companionway to facilitate access to the top of the stabilizers, and etc.  Earlier in the Summer, we had shipped a pallet of stuff including our new Lithium batteries from the States.  We located it in a storage bin, and spent an afternoon taking inventory and stowing our new goodies.  It was like Christmas in October.  We reestablished contact with Demaso (Recommended by a cruiser at Shelter Bay), confirming that he would start work sanding and painting Alizann’s bottom on the 4th.

Olmero picked Scotty up, he arrived just after noon, and by 1330 we were off to the races.  Stabilizers off, oil drained, seals replaced, everything cleaned and put back together by 22h00.  I won’t bore you with the details, but it was up at 06h00 and work until after dark for the next week.  Demaso arrived with his boys as scheduled, which was a relief to me, as we had wired him several boat units ($1K) before ever meeting him.  That relationship was not without drama as we went back and forth regarding materials specified, materials delivered, work quality and etc.  He didn’t speak a word of English, and Google Translate didn’t work worth squat for the local vernacular.  Scotty is a machine, fueled by Coca Cola and peanut M&M’s.  We finished the list and many other projects.  By the time he was scheduled to leave, I have to admit I was slap wore out.  We got the Girl back into the water without a lot of drama, and back to our old slip, D42.  As we were tying up we got a reminder to not swim in the marina as a 7’ Crocodile glided past.  It was so nice to move back aboard and sleep in our own bed again.    Still plenty of work to be done before heading out, but there was light at the end of the tunnel.  I put a new control module in our icemaker (found one for $80 in the home appliance parts website, whereas the boat part dudes listed the same part for around $200.  I love part numbers and the internet).  We now have ice.  Recommissioned the watermaker-it’s only making around 22 gal/hr, instead of the nearly 29 that it’s rated at.  Could be that water temperature is a factor, could be that I’ll have to put in new membranes next year.  I’ll send our specs to Spectra (our watermaker brand) and see what the techs there have to say.

The cupboards were bare, so it was time for the next adventure-provisioning.  We tried our luck on the free shuttle bus to Colon, and did pretty well at “Cuatros Alto” Mall.  The meat at the Rey supermarket looked somewhat suspect, so we limited our purchases to a few pounds.  Although Colon is the largest city on the Caribbean side of the Canal, its population is generally very poor, and the stock in the grocery store reflects this demographic.  Our friend, and long-term inhabitant of Shelter Bay Marina (1.75 years and counting), Spencer was renting a van for a run into Panama City, so several of us chipped in and we were off on an all-day shopping extravaganza.  He knew the city like the back of his hand, and was taking requests.  Suz needed an Alcatel hot spot and some SIM cards (our Google Fi phones didn’t work well in the San Blas islands).  The phones in the U.S. generally don’t use Band 28 which is more or less ubiquitous in many other countries.  Don’t ask me-that’s the Admirals’ job, and she gathered info from various sources for 6 months before arriving at this decision.  She had been in contact with a guy who spoke English at the phone store at Albrook Mall.  He got a hotspot and told her that he’d be in to help her set it up.  Yay!  This is a whole ‘nother story, but the Mall is the largest in Central and South America (It’s over a mile long, and several stories high-people literally take a cab to get from one end to the other)  Spencer knew exactly which entrance to use, and 40 minutes later, we had the goods and were headed to our next stop.  We hit a couple of marine chandleries, the Casa de Jamon (for gourmet foods-they had 20 or so Serano hams hanging in one area), the Discovery Center (beyond description-kinda like a cross between Home Depot, Walmart, and Bed, Bath and Beyond.  You could find everything from power tools to tampons).  Next, it was time to do some serious provisioning.  PriceSmart-Panama City’s equivalent to Costco.  Of course, Spencer had a membership, so it was “Katie bar the doors.”  We rounded out the day and provisions at a regular grocery store(Riba Smith), which was considerably more upscale than the one in Colon.  Eleven hours after we started, we were back home, and filling Alizann.  The deck fridge wasn’t working-#@%&!!.  I had turned it on several days earlier, and heard the compressor kick on, so I ASSUMED that everything was copacetic.  We jammed everything in the galley fridges and icemaker and hit the sack.  Suz spent most of the next day breaking down large packages and vacuum sealing their contents in smaller aliquots.  I thought that the control module in the freezer was shot (as it had been at Atlantic Yacht Basin after storing a few years ago), but after a bit of troubleshooting, discovered that it was just a cooling fan.  (Which had a feedback loop to the module-making it wonky.)  Off to the Alizann hardware store.  Yep-behind the corner settee in the salon there lived not one, but two 6” computer fans.  An hour later, we had cold.

We were getting closer to being outta there when Windows alerted us that there was a new update that needed installing.  No problem-4 computers updated.  Sonofagun!  The Nav computer (You know the one-it has 2 programs of navigation software, our secondary radar and all of our routes and waypoints on it) wouldn’t even boot up Windows.  This looked like it was going to be a big one, so I started another project.  Two full days later, after Suzanne had burned up the phone with Scotty and Rose Point Navigation’s techs, she had reinstalled Windows, repaired a Com port, found our radar and resurrected some vocabulary from her archives that I haven’t heard escape from her lips in many years (maybe since our eldest was a teenager).  She also now had LED lights in all of her kitchen cabinets, activated by switches on the doors.

Weather looking good for an overnighter to the Bocas del Toro archipelago west of Colon, the Girl is shipshape, so we’ll head out a little…

-Later

A belated Buenos Dias,

It’s like that “Thank You” note that doesn’t get sent right away.  The longer you wait, the harder it is to send it.  Well……I hope that you’ll accept my apologies for the 100th time.  Your recalcitrant, writer-blocked, tongue -tied, lazy blogger is back.  Sheesh!....we’ve already been to the States and back.  Rainy season will end in a month or so, but we’re already on the move.

To recap:

               Departed Hollandes on the 31st of May for a 2-hour run to East Lemmon Cay, where we helped a lady with a severe toothache sort out her medication regimen, and explored on the dinghy for a possible future stay.

               Off to Chichime, where we wedged into a very crowded anchorage.  We did a bit of snorkeling, but never went to shore as it really wasn’t very appealing to us.

               The 4th of June saw us leaving the San Blas archipelago.  We were now on a mission to get to Shelter Bay Marina in Colon, the Girls’ rainy season home.  We anchored in Linton Bay, on Panama’s mainland.  It is a very busy little outpost, with a huge mooring field and a small marina.  The whole place looked like it needed a lotta love (and money).

               Next stop was Portobelo, a port and small town, also on the mainland.  We stayed a couple of days, anchored beneath the ruins of an old Spanish fort.  Being a vital port in the Spanish “Triangle of Trade” (Consisting of Santa Maria, Portobello, and Rio Chagres), used to extract the vast quantities of precious metals from South and Central America, it was a juicy target for pirates.  Among others, Henry Morgan had sacked and burned the town.  We explored the ruins and also the town of Portobelo on the other side of the bay.  There, we also got our first glimpses of the “Diablo” buses-ornately decorated school bus-type vehicles which made regular runs between Panama City, Portobelo and Colon.  The paint jobs were crazy.  A visit to the Iglesia de San Felipe was a must, as the statue of the “Black Christ” was ensconced there.  Scores of miracles are attributed to the statue, which was found floating in the bay in the early 1600’s.  Every year, on October 21, thousands of pilgrims from all over Panama converge on Portobelo to celebrate the Festival de Cristo Negro.  While we were anchored in Portobelo,, we had torrential rains.  The runoff from land was so severe that the water in the bay changed from blue to brown.  The lightning was spectacular, but in retrospect, very costly.  When we readied the Girl for departure on the 7th, our primary navigation systems (Chartplotter, Depth sounder, and Radar) were down (and out).  #$@%!!.  That one’s gonna leave a mark on the nestegg.  Fortunately, our PC based backup system was unfazed, so we didn’t have to resort to compass, sextant, and paper charts.

               Dang!  We were here now, but not quite ready for marina life.  So….we passed Colon and headed up the Chagres River, anchoring just inside the bar after threading our way through a tricky passage in the reef.  Sandy and Britt joined us there, as they were on their way to Bocas Del Toro, where they would haul their boat for the Rainy Season.  Suz and I hiked up to Fort San Lorenzo, which guarded this important waterway during the 17th thru 19th centuries.  Britt and Sandy were off the next morning.  Suzanne and I decided to travel up the river to the dam at Lake Gatun.  The trip was about 6 miles up the winding river, with nothing but rain forest/jungle on both sides-just beautiful.  Up at the dam, we watched as a freighter transiting the Canal passed by around forty feet above us.  On the way back down the river, all of a sudden the Howler Monkeys started up in full out four-part harmony.  This was really strange, as it was a beautiful sunny day.  (They usually get rockin’ just before it starts to rain).  Whup! Whup! Whup!  We jumped out of the pilothouse in time to see a military chopper threading its way over the river behind us.  He was so low that he was between the trees on either bank.  Suzanne thought he was going to hit our mast!  He popped up and over us, then he was gone.  Silence returned to the forest.  Guess he just wanted to see what this boat was doing so close to the dam and Canal.  Slip D 42 at Shelter Bay Marina awaited us, so we passed through the reef, and an hour later the breakwall at the southern end of the Panama Canal, entering the small bay where the marina is located.  It is on the property formerly occupied by Fort Sherman, the U.S. outpost that guarded the Caribbean end of the Canal when it was run by the U.S.

The next 10 days were busy, busy, busy.  Here in Panama, the rainy season isn’t just wet…it’s WET!  Mold and mildew are a huge problem when leaving a boat here.  So…….everything came out of every locker and storage space (I have 44 compartments listed in my inventory spreadsheet), the space was cleaned meticulously, then sprayed with white vinegar before being refilled.  The water tanks were drained, opened, dried out and vacuumed.  Fuel tanks were filled to avoid condensation.  Routine maintenance, oil change, filters, fuel filters and water filters were replaced….you get the picture.  Repairs were performed (Yes, the Admiral diagnosed a blown video board in our Nav computer and got one ordered, even though the company was reluctant to send one out to a non-professional).  Of course, it wasn’t all work and no play.  We renewed friendships with other cruisers that we had met along the way, and made some new friends while enjoying Happy Hour at the pool.  The marina general manager, Juanjo, was the manager at Las Palmas where we stayed in Puerto Rico several years ago.  We had a lot of catching up to do.  The week flew by, and we moved to the marina hotel when Alizann was hauled.  We had her shrink-wrapped and put a dehumidifier in the galley sink to keep the humidity down.

The 19th of June came in a flash, and our new driver, Olmero drove us to the airport in Panama City for our flight back to the States.

Okay, I already said we were back, so we’ll get on with this season

-Later

 

Buenos Tarde,

It’s June 1rst, and we’re at anchor at Banedup in the Eastern Lemmon Cays.  Our plan was to move to Chichime today after one night here, but the squalls have been rolling through all morning, with winds gusting to 25 knots and sheets of rain.  It’s certainly not good weather for spotting reefs and shallows, so we moved the Girl to a better spot in the anchorage and will spend another day here.  There are a lot more places that we want to scope out in the next 10 days or so before we leave “Alizann” in Colon, and head for the States.  We’ll be out tomorrow, rain or shine.

We left you in Coco Bandero.  Well, the weather was gorgeous, and the anchorage was absolutely beautiful, so we ended up staying another day.  Coco is one of the most popular spots in the San Blas.  It is the cover photo on the “Cruising Guide to Panama,” and, during season there can be as many as 30-40 boats there.  Besides us, there were 3 other boats.  The anchorage is surrounded by shallow reefs, so we dropped the kayaks in and got some exercise, paddling around the islands and out to the Caribbean on the other side of the barrier reef around a mile or so away.  It seemed like the perfect spot for some aerial pics, so we put “Scout,” our drone up.  I think that he got some good shots, but you’ll have to be the judge.  In the afternoon, we had a visit from Vinancio and his brother.  He specializes in selling Mola’s, hand-stitched artworks of traditional local images.  Much like cross stitching and embroidery combined, they’re created by the local ladies on rectangles of cloth around 16x20 inches in size.  Vinancio is well-known amongst the cruisers, and the Admiral had been hoping that we’d be able to find him.  As it turned out, he found us, thanks to Sandy and Brett on “Halcyon,” who had left us the day before, but had given him our names and location.  My math isn’t that great, but I’m pretty sure that he made around $300/hour in the 2 hours that he spent with us.  When they left, he asked us for one of our boat cards with a note from us that we’d purchased from him.  It seemed strange for us to be giving him a receipt, but he explained that there is so much drug trafficking in this area that he might have to justify to the authorities why he had so much cash.  Go figure.  As they were leaving, I asked him if he knew Apio (our fruit guy).  He asked: “Did you give him any money?”  When I replied affirmatively, he just shook his head.  The next morning, Apio was vindicated.  He showed up with our produce order and got the other half of his money.  We hauled anchor at 1100 for the arduous hour-and-a-half trip to the “Swimming Pool” anchorage in Hollandes Cay.  On our way, we were hailed on the VHF by Tad and Robin aboard “Bisou”, the catamaran that had been berthed next to us for a day or so on Aruba.  They were headed to the same anchorage.

The “Swimming Pool” is another one of the really popular anchorages, and can accommodate 40-50 boats during season.  There were around 10 boats anchored when we arrived, including “Halcyon.”  We were excited, as we had hoped that we’d meet up with them again.  The next six days flew by.  We hadn’t intended to, but the snorkeling, exploring, and visiting with new friends was too good to give up.  Dan and Jackie aboard “Pleasant Living” and Mike and (haircut) Holly aboard “Picaro” from Santa Marta showed up, and it was like old-home week.  Of course, we had to meet Reg and Debbie, aboard “Runner” who are pretty much fixtures in the anchorage.  Although they have been cruising the San Blas for 19 years, they have been at anchor in the “Pool” nonstop for the last 3.  Reggie says that he goes ashore “once a decade,” while Debbie hitches a ride to the mainland a few times a year.  They’ve got a local guy who shops in Panama City for them, and brings provisions out every 2 weeks.  Not my cup of tea.  Diff’rent strokes.  Every evening around dusk, we’d look for the resident Caiman (crocodile) as he/she swam through the anchorage on its way from the barrier reef to who-knows-where.  He was usually accompanied by 2 sharks who glided beneath the boats around the same time.

Before I sign off, let me say a few words about our Panama cruising in general.  Our plan is to spend next season in and around the Caribbean side of Panama, most of the time in the San Blas.  The last few weeks of this year, we’re trying to get a feel for the cruising here and gather intel and make contacts.  At this time, there aren’t many other cruisers here.  It’s the rainy season, and most have headed home.  We’ve had rain nearly every day, usually in the afternoon.  Most days, we can hear thunder rumbling in the distance nearly all day.  In the evenings, we usually get a pretty good lightshow-mostly in the distance, but every so often too close for comfort.  The Admiral says that besides the U.S.A., there’s more lightning here than anywhere else on the planet.                                                                                      As far as the anchorages go, away from the mainland here in the east end of the San Blas they’re very different than what we are used to.  We usually anchor in the lee of a large land mass or in a bay.  Although there are islands here, they are tiny-often no more than a sand spit with less than 10’ of elevation and a few palm trees.  The anchorages are often just spots of water that are deep enough to be navigated, surrounded by many square miles of reef, often no more than a foot or so deep.  It is really strange to look out into the distance and see boats apparently anchored in the middle of open water.  Crazy.                                                                                                                                                

Provisioning here will be different too.  There really aren’t any cities on the mainland here, and none out in the islands.  Several times a day we are approached by local Kuna guys in their ulus and pangas, selling fresh fruits and vegetables.  If you love lobster, this is the place for you.  There are always fishermen coming around with live lobster, octopus and conch, as well as an occasional fish.  This morning, we got a call on the VHF from the sailboat next to us saying that the “Walmart” guy was at his boat.  He had soft drinks, frozen meat, veggies, fruits, beer and etc.  “Did we need anything?”  Turns out that they have been long-term cruisers here as well, and the “Walmart” guy fills custom orders for them on a biweekly basis.  Needless to say, we got his contact info for use next season.  I’m guessin’ that there are more guys out here during season, but I think that we may press the deck freezer back into service and bring out some frozen meat with us, though.                                                                                                                                 

The cell service is virtually non-existent with phones from the U.S.  Up until now, we have had excellent results with our Google Fi phones wherever we traveled-not now.  Yesterday was the first time that we have seen any emails.  Text only.  No images.  Apparently, the phones here are allowed to have more powerful antennas, and it’s necessary to buy a local phone/hotspot to get any connectivity.  We’re getting our weather and texting capability from our satellite device, but we’ll have to do a little more research into our options for communication before next season.  This report will stay in the can until we have WiFi.  That may be much….

-Later

Pages

Captain's Log

 

HiYa!  (this is a Gringo marina)

Britt, Sandy and their boat guest, John (her cousin) came to Red Frog to visit us when we returned.  Our goal:  Red Frog Beach on the other side of the island.  The plan was to do some body-boarding and hit as many beach bars as possible.  The surf was up.  The red (danger) flag was cracking in the stiff wind.  Plan A accomplished.  Plan B-Not so much.  It was Mother’s day.  Well, not completely true.  It was the day after Mother’s day.  By now, you are well-acquainted with our Central American friends’ affinity for holidays, errr should I say “days off work to party?”  All the bars were closed.  No worries, we were all the healthier for it.  On the walk back over the island, Sandy spotted a couple of small crocodiles sunning themselves in a creek.  Suzanne, always on the lookout for the ever-elusive but very colorful poison dart frogs took us up another rill (who says crossword puzzles are a waste of time?) where we spotted and photo’d some Red Frogs.  They’re teeny (about the size of the nail on your big toe).  You’d think that they would be easy to see, but they hang out in the leaf detritus on the ground where fallen wild cinnamon petals (they’re red and pink) are mixed in.

Time to whine, and I’m sure that you’re shedding huge crocodile tears for us.  The aforementioned nav computer that the Admiral repaired now has another affliction.  He works perfectly until he doesn’t.  For the past few times underway, he has been shutting down without any advance notice.  It may be 10 minutes or 3 hours, but once he turns off, you can’t restart him.  The gurus have no idea.  “We’ve never seen that before!”  So…….we got the second “Black Box” stored under the helm (thanks, Roberto and Maria).  Suz spends the next 2 days in computer Purgatory with multiple techs and Scotty getting it set up for our boat.  Oh yeah, there are proprietary charts that are licensed only to us on our unit and yada yada yada.  That’s her problemo. Mine is MUCH more important.

When heading into Bocas on the dink, I heard a “clunk.”  Everything was working great, so check it when I get home.  Won’t bore you with the details, but the hydraulic ram for the trim/tilt broke off and then jammed itself in a very uncomfortable spot.  Translation: You can’t get there from here.  While Suzanne spent 2 days on the phone and in microswitches, I spent my time with a 4# sledge, a gear puller, torch and chain.  Suz had partial success, I had none.  All of the bits and bobs that I needed to remove were welded solid by the combination of salt water and time.  Ten hours, no joy.  That was pretty much the rest of our Red Frog stay.  We headed to Rick and Judy’s place on Friday, as she had the replacement sunshades for our upper deck finished, and we had a weather window to transit to Colon on Saturday.  At Rick’s, we pulled the motor off the dink so I could cut the offending pieces off the outboard without spitting metal shavings all over Alizann’s deck (and rusting in the future).  My angle grinder and ½” stainless steel pivots made quite a mess, but in the end, we won.  I’ll apply a few pesos and utilize FedEx while back in the good ole U.S.A., and life will again be good.

(Private message for my Dearest Mother-in-Law: “Casey, stop here.  This is a long one.  Resume at a later time.:) 

The weather on Saturday morning was beautiful.  What a day to be leaving.  We hung out and did boat chores until 12h45, then took a slow ride out through the Crawl Cay canal, exiting the Bocas.

What a night!  First of all, “Catholic Casserole” for dinner.  You know the one- Mac, cheese, ground beef, green peppers, tomato sauce.  I’m such a cheap date.  Feed me anything with pasta and tomato sauce, and I’m in hog heaven.  Suz was feelin’ a little “urpy” with the 4’-6’ swells (with a fair amount of 8’s) off the port bow, so we were happy that she had a sticktoyourribser premade.  She hit the sack at 18h00 and it was just me and the sea.  That afternoon, the Admiral had commented on the lack of dolphin sightings while underway on this trip.  As darkness fell, I heard the familiar snort, blow, slap and splash out of BOTH of the pilothouse doors.  Hearing that noise from the side is unusual at all.  The dolphins usually swim in groups of 4-6, and usually just play in the bow wave.  In the dark, you rarely are sure that they’re there-you just kinda sense them.  Well… the reason that they were heard alongside is that there were so many of them.  My guess is more than 20.  They were taking turns in the bow wave, then peeling off, only to race up on our stern quarter (s) to keep pace next to the boat until their next turn at the bow.  How did I see them when they peeled off and swam around to the stern if it was dark, you say?  The next part is that the water was filled with bioluminescent plankton.  When they’re disturbed, they light up.  The dolphins looked like they had “vapor trails” streaming off their fins, extending 10-15’ behind them ghosting through the water when out of the cone of illumination cast by our steaming light.  They’re usually here and gone, but this pod kept pace with Alizann for 33 minutes.  (I had just made a log entry, so I know).  Just before the moon rose (nearly full) like a big orange ball off our bow, I caught a meteorite about a finger’s width above the north horizon.  It was one of those that seemed to linger a bit longer than most.  I didn’t see another boat for the rest of my watch, and the radio was dead silent.  My only other excitement was a rain squall that I watched develop on the radar, only to skirt around 2 miles away from us.  Suz got up around 01h45 feeling much better, and I caught a few winks until we entered the Atlantic anchorage outside the Canal around 05h20.  Nearing the opening in the breakwater, we fell in behind the “Caribbean Princess” a small cruise ship, and followed her in.  So much for advance planning, I figured that worst case scenario, averaging 5.5 knots, we’d make it to Colon before nightfall.  Best case, 7.0 knots-in by lunchtime.  At 2/3 throttle, we averaged almost 8.5 knots against the wind and swell!!  Guess we had a good push from current.  Suzanne’s changeout on the Nav computer worked as she planned.  Radar and chartplotter were flawless, she’ll mess with getting the depth data integrated before our next trip.  We’re here at Shelter Bay Marina and it’s hot and humid.  Looks like we’ll get some “liquid sunshine” today, as the clouds are already building at 07h30.

Pretty sure that this’ll be my last report this year unless something really remarkable happens between now and the 18th.  We’ll fly back to the States then to be with family for Christmas.

Mike and Sue (From our Lost City trek) just stopped in.  We’ll do some catching up in the next day or two.

Dang!  One of the hazards of not posting right away.  We went for a nature walk yesterday.  Saw a plethora of tropical birds, including a Toucan.  A troupe of Capuchin monkeys, and an Agouti, as well as a bunch of brightly colored butterflies.

Leaving tomorrow at 05h00.  Imagine that this is REALLY it until I…

Talk to you……..

-Later (next year)

Hola Amigos,

The Red Frog taxi was pretty luxurious and FAST!  Chris, the owner of The Point restaurant had his handheld GPS on board.  He clocked our speed at 47 MPH on our way over to Bocas Town.  Not bad for a non-planing panga.  While we waited for the water taxi to Almirante, it was breakfast crepes at The Crepe Guy.  Oh yeah……he’s a very colorful, stereotypical fifty-something little French dude.  Reminds me of that Chihuahua that’s always admiring your leg (and I say that in the nicest of ways, no disrespect for the Chihuahuas out there).  Our taxi to Almirante was a twin-engine model that they crammed 36 passengers and luggage on.  It was still a rocket ship.  As we idled into the inner harbor at Almirante, I couldn’t help being a Dad.  The young man next to me was trailing his hand in the water.  I gently let him know that all of the bodegas on stilts packed in along the shore were flushing their toilets into the water that we were traversing.  Suzanne had hand sanitizer in her pack….’nuff said.  The four-hour bus ride up to Boquete was a trip.  Our vehicle was pretty luxo.  Air condo and clean.  The scenery?  Spectacular.  The first hour took us along the coastal plain, the last three up and down (mostly up) through rain forest at first, then cloud forest, and finally into Boquete around 17h15.  Besides the nearly-constant mist/rain, our driver didn’t have to worry about any stop signs or even intersections.  There aren’t any.  There’s only one road.  Casa Azul, our bed ‘n breakfast was built in 1915 for an ancestor of the current owner.  It’s a really cute four room house a couple of blocks off the main drag in downtown(?) Boquete.  It’s super clean, AND you have your own bathroom (the deal maker/breaker for me).

Being up in the mountains, the climate in Boquete is decidedly different than down on the coast.  Temperatures are a bit cooler.  We saw 70 degrees in the day, and in the 60’s at night.  Pine trees grow alongside Palms.  It was a nice change to wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts.  The rain showers, ubiquitous along the coast, followed us here.  The vibe is strictly about the Mochilleros (Backpackers).  Hostels abound, and food is inexpensive.  No, I mean cheap.  We went high end one night, eating at Boulder 54.  No reservation, but the Maitre ‘D had just received a cancellation for the table that we would have asked for if given a choice.  Under an open gazebo, and sandwiched between a pond and a fireplace, it was chez cool.  The menu was nouveau cuisine, and the wine list was superb.  We picked out a bottle of Argentinian Malbec (with the help of our waiter/Maitre ‘D) for $24.  “Special on our wines tonight-half price”.  So…….we drank 2, but who’s counting?  Breakfasts at Azul, prepared by Senora Anna.  The rest of our meals were decidedly a bit more low-key affairs.  Lunch of local food at El Saboroson.  After hiking the “Lost Waterfalls” trail (I’ll get to that, be patient), I Googled for someplace close by, as we were kinda tired.  “Mike’s Grill” turned out to be the Expats hangout.  Again, we were “new meat”, and made lots of new fast friends.  (We came back the next night).  Since 2010, when the AARP rag had featured Boquete as a “top place to retire” several years ago, the number of Gringos has increased exponentially.

Whud we do?  Coffee farm tour.  I know, how many of these can you go on?  This one, (The Admiral promises it’ll be our last) was the best.  Panama is not a huge producer of coffee-not on the scale of Brazil and Viet Nam.  But…..they produce some of the finest coffees in the world, as evidenced by their consistent showing in international competitions.  Quality, not quantity is the mantra here.  Let me just say that there are more coffees than you can shake a stick at, running from the robust somewhat bitter roasts that North Americans and Europeans favor, to the aromatic, fruity varieties favored by warm climate countries, to the tea-like beans enjoyed by Far Easterners.  Our guide held up a box, around 20” square and about 7” deep containing Geisha beans that was ready for shipment.  The cost?  Fifty-one thousand dollars.  A cup sells for around $95 in Japanese coffee houses.  At the end of the tour, we had a tasting.  Sampling eight or ten different varieties from traditional to aromatic, I really gained a new appreciation for the beverage.  Yep, we were served Geisha.  I figured that I made around $150 on this tour.

We did the Lost Waterfalls hike in the mist/rain.  It was like a 2-hour version of our 4-day hike in Colombia, complete with slipping and sliding in the mud.  This one even had a stretch so steep that you needed a climbing rope for the up ‘n down.

The best beer in town was sampled at the Boquete Brewing Company.  We couldn’t be here without visiting there.

That’s about it for Boquete.  If we have guests after the Holidays, we’ll probably go back and take a lot more hikes.  The bus ride home yesterday was a lot quicker, as there was no rain.  We’ve been hunkered down today, catching up on bills, laundry, Christmas shopping and blogging while the rain has been intermittently heavy.

Talk at Ya…

-Later

Hola,

Okay, I got the “raspberries” from my Mother-in-Law about the log being too long.  I can’t help it.  First of all, it takes me so long to sit down and write that once I get rolling I don’t wanna stop.  Second, I get the “But what else did you do?” from others.   P.T Barnum said it.  Well, sorta.  Please insert the word “please” for the word “fool” in that (in)famous quote.

I so miss family Thanksgivings.  I don’t give a rip where we are.  In my mind, nothing compares to being surrounded by our family.  We “Facetimed” with Suzanne’s Mom and sister, then with our kids.  The tradition on our side is a shot and a beer at 12h00 sharp, followed by the Detroit Lions game, followed by dinner.  So…we got the shotandabeer with the kids.  The tradition goes back to my maternal grandfather (unarguably my favorite ancestor), who usually waited for about 5 minutes after arriving at our house before asking “What the Hell does a guy need to do to get a beer around here?”  We enjoyed Thanksgiving dinner with Britt, Sandy and a half dozen other pals at “The Cosmic Crab” restaurant.  Owned by Steve and Joan Crabtree, the dining area is an open-sided affair built on stilts over the water.  Just saying that dinner was a buffet does not do it justice.  Joan is an excellent cook, and all of the many dishes were traditional and homemade.

We spent the next week or so hanging with Britt and Sandy.  We followed them out to Isla Bastimentos, anchoring in the harbor at Old Bank.  We hiked over the island.  A slippery, muddy trek and the only way (except by boat) to Wizard beach, it took us around 30 minutes.  Suz and I hung out for awhile and watched the surfers, including Britt.  Swimming from shore was out-way too much surf and rip currents.  On the way back to the Girl, we diverted to another path which led to a small hostel perched on the spine of the island amidst the rain forest.  Along the way, we encountered a bunch of what appeared to be Brahma-type cattle, including a few bulls straddling the path.  There wasn’t any way around them, as the path ran along the top of a ridge, so we cautiously threaded our way through them.  Suzanne didn’t seem fazed, but the words “How did your Mom and Dad die?” kept running through my head like a broken record.  (It seems like I hear that one a lot).  Anyway, all’s well that ends well.  We had a fruit juice at “Up the Hill” before heading down to the harbor.  No cars or motorized vehicles or roads in Old Bank, this village of 1,500 souls.  That evening, Suz and I borrowed “Whimsy”, Britt and Sandy’s sailing dinghy and took a sunset sail in the harbor.

Over the next few days, we hung out with Britt and Sandy, revisiting spots that Suz and I had visited earlier and I have already reported on.  Sandy’s cousin would be visiting in a few weeks, so we wanted to show them some fun spots to show him during his stay.  Suz had heard about a property in Palos Bay that had been donated to the Smithsonian after the owner had passed away which had some good hiking trails on it.  Britt, Sandy, Suz and I dinghied over from Rana to see what was what, and enjoyed some good hiking complete with sightings of some Blue/Green Poison Dart frogs, Howler Monkeys, awesome butterflies, and the usual assortment of tropical flowers and fruits.

Suz and I had a trip planned to travel to Boquete up in the mountains, so we needed to leave the Girl in a secure spot.  To this end, we reserved a slip at the Red Frog Marina on Isla Bastimentos.  Before we parted with Britt and Sandy, they took us in to Bocas Town and introduced us to Graham and Meghan, a pair of South African cruisers.  They have a small shop outside of town where they built “Whimsy” for Britt and Sandy.  Let’s just say that in January there’ll be another boat on our boat and leave it at that.  So far, we’re thinking “Puff” or “Zephyr”.

Okay, just one more thing.  You’ve probably been sitting on the edge of your seat since the Post-Thanksgiving Bee Massacre of 2019.  (Arlo Guthrie, there may be a song in here).  My two bee experts have answered my emails.  #1.  Neither have seen anything quite like it.  #2.  Both have suggested exposure to some type of neurotoxin (most likely pesticide).  That’s it.  Neither can answer “Why our boat?”  “Why were their abdomens adhered to the deck?”  “Why so far from any large-scale agriculture?”  In other words, I think that this weirdness will remain a mystery until I pursue it further (in my spare time).  Not likely.  This may fall into the category of “Stuff happens”.

We’re at Red Frog.  It deserves a little more ink, so let’s do that later.  In the meantime, we’re psyched about hitting the road to Boquete tomorrow.

-Later

Buenos Tarde,

Yahoo! Just coming off nearly 5 days of sunshine-no more whining for a while.  We left Judy and Rick’s place under cloudy skies and 20 knot winds.  One more trip to the “snorkel spot” on the mushroom island, then it was off to our new anchorage.  The aerial pictures of Johnson’s Cay looked like it was taken of an atoll in the south Pacific.  An anchorage surrounded by reef and two small islands. What a perfect place to anchorsnorkelchill.  We crept through the reef, the wind was still blowing pretty good out of the North, sending fingers of spume over the slate-gray water and through our proposed home.  VERY much less than scenic.  Nope.  The Gallegos Cays, a group of around 14 small unnamed islands lay around 5 miles to the north.  It appeared to have a few cuts in the lee of the islets that might give us a nice calm anchorage.  We tucked in a narrow channel between three Mangrove mounds.  The water was calm but we had a really nice breeze.  In the morning, we woke to sunny skies and calm winds.  What a perfect day for snorkeling.  We dropped “White Star” over the side and cruised some promising spots in and around the islets.  Nothing looked really promising but we had a nice ride under sunny blue skies with a cuppa Joe in hand.  What a perfect day to cruise over to Crawl Cay on the Girl.

Crawl Cay lies just south of Isla Bastimentos, and is on the southern route that we forwent in favor of the safer northern route when we went from the Zapatillas to Bocas Town.  The charts and satellite pictures show the track to be littered with shallow reefs and bars.  With the sun high, it seemed like the perfect day to head to this picturesque spot.  Okay…so I’ve told you that the charts of the province are notoriously bad.  We have 3 chart sources up on our navigation devices.  The PC is running C Map charts.  The Ipad is running Navionics.  The Furuno is running its proprietary program.  As we’re slowly rolling the 5 miles into Crawl Cay, the plotters are showing that we’re in anywhere from 1’ to 40’ of depth, while our actual readings are quite often very different.  It’s a good thing that we can see out the window, gauging depth from color.  Hilarious!  Well, we got in without scrapes and bumps, and now we have a course for future reference.  Shallowest depth 15’, although straying even 20’ in either direction could put you on the reef.  (We’ve already shared latitude/longitude of waypoints from our other courses with friends on different boats.)  The pangas raced to and fro for most of the afternoon, ferrying touristas from Bocas Town, snorkeling and enjoying the Bahamian blue water.  We dropped in the water after the crowds left, and found about what we expected-largely dead coral and not that many critters.  Dinghy riding over to the windward side of the island did not reveal much better.  All in all, Crawl Cay was a pretty anchorage and not much else.

Bocas has a very active cruisers/expats “net” which broadcasts on the VHF every morning at 07h45.  Channel 68 is monitored at all hours, but for around 20 minutes or so every morning, anyone can tune in to a moderated broadcast.  The format is as follows:  general check in, community announcements, weather report, boat (and house) problems/solutions, buy, sell & trade, general announcements trivia questions jokes etc.  Our friends, Brit and Sandy had been checking in for around a week, so we knew that they were back from California, but we had not been in contact with them yet.  We didn’t want to bother them.  You KNOW how much work there is to do when you come back to a boat that’s been standing idle for a few months.  Well……they reached out to us the morning of our second day at Crawl Cay.  They were done working and were ready to play.  No winds yet, so surfing was out (Oh yeah-stereotyped Californians).  By the way, if I hadn’t mentioned it already, Bocas is well-known in the surfing community for its’ great waves during the season.  Anyway, we told them that in light of the great weather forecast, we were heading to Starfish Beach (Playa Estrella) on the north end of Isla Colon after reprovisioning at Bocas Town.  Dave and Shelley also planned to meet us there on Friday.  We’d meet them at Bocas Town and cruise up to Starfish together.  We cruised down to BT and dropped the hook in the South anchorage near Halcyon (Brit & Sandy).  After a quick “hello,” Suz and I headed to town to shop.  Besides the usual, I needed to get some epoxy resin hardener so that I could fix a leak in our pilothouse roof (more on that later).  We weren’t on shore more than an hour-and-a-half.  When we returned to the Girl, it was standard operating procedure.  I dropped Suz and the supplies off at the stern, then hooked the bridle up to the dinghy while she went up to the boat deck to bring “White Star” aboard. 

There were a couple of handfuls of (what appeared to be) dead honeybees on the sole of the cockpit-kinda weird.  Suz reappeared immediately from the boat deck.  “OMG! You’re not going to believe this.  There are tons of dead and living bees all over the deck up there!”  “Wear your shoes when you come up.”  Suz isn’t prone to hyperbole, but yeah, right.  We got the dinghy hooked to the crane, and I moved up to my position on the boat deck with Suzanne.  Holy cripe.  There weren’t hands full of bees on the deck, there were hundreds.  Maybe a couple thousand.  There weren’t many flying.  Most were either adhered to the deck by their abdomen, or crawling around in their death throes after separating their thorax from their abdomen.  Probably not the craziest thing I’ve ever seen, but definitely in the top ten.  I spent the 2-hour cruise to Starfish scrubbing dead bees off the decks.  Since then, I’ve reached out to a couple of bee doctors (PhD types) to try to find out what this bizarre behavior was all about.  My guy from Cornell has already gotten back to me without a reasonable explanation.  I’m waiting on a response from the other one.  I’ll keep you posted.

By the way, we spent 4 days at Starfish beach, a couple of them with Britt and Sandy.  SB is a really pretty beach on the north end of Isla Colon, and is super popular with tourists and locals alike.  The water taxis run nonstop into this (inaccessible by road) beach.  The shore is lined with shacks serving food, drinks and selling the obligatory niknaks.  Thursday (the 21st) and Friday were pretty quiet.  Shelley and Dave came up on Friday, and we all enjoyed some conversation and sips.  I’m sure that you remember that bunch of bananas.  Well, even after giving some away, we were left with forty or so, all ripening at the same time.  Necessity is the mother of invention.  Water of one coconut, 3 bananas, 8 cubes of ice, 4 oz. dark rum.  Blend until smoooooooth.  Top with grated nutmeg.  Makes 2 drinks.  Good, and soooo good for you!  Well…maybe not the rum so much.  Haven’t come up with a name for these little treats yet, but let me say that we went through 27 bananas.

In the time that we were there, B & S, Suz and I took a 10-mile (each way) dinghy ride out to Swan Island, a.k.a. Bird Island.  It’s nothing more than a sheer rock rising directly out of the sea.  Palms, White Mangroves and other unidentified trees hold onto cracks and fissures in the rock for dear life.  The attraction is the birds.  Nesting in holes in the rock face are colonies of Boobies, Frigate Birds, and White Tropic birds.  The snorkeling on the leeward side of the island wasn’t bad, either.

The kayaks gave us an opportunity to get away from the beach on the busy weekend.  A 6-mile paddle on Saturday took us to an uninhabited Mangrove-lined bay to the south, while our 10-mile paddle to the north took us to the headland of the island.  I should qualify what I mean by “busy.”  The visitors start coming in by water taxi a bit after noon and leave at five, when the beach closes.  It’s off-season still, so less than 25% of the beach chairs ringing the shore were occupied.  Sooo…not really crowded, but compared to some of the completely uninhabited anchorages we’ve enjoyed, “busy.”  Walking the beach in the early morning was a joy, and we went in on the kayaks for lunch-very good tacos and icy cold beer.

Well….I dropped one shoe, here’s the other.  For a week or so, I had been cleaning up a “tea stained” dribble under the eyebrow outside the pilothouse on the port side.  I had a pretty good idea where it was coming from, guessing that the trim strip covered a joint between the mold for the roof and wall.  If that was the case, water was accumulating above the ceiling in the pilothouse and finding its’ way out under the teak molding, imparting the brown color.  Training from my former life quite often kicks in, or is it denial of the inevitable?  I’m referring to “Give it some time to heal before intervening.”  The boat never heals, but I can avoid a nasty job for a while.  I just don’t sleep at night.  But….I digress.  The issue came to a head after a particularly hard, wind-driven rain.  My rationale for ignoring the problem (it’s not coming inside) was blown out of the water, so to speak.  As water streamed out of the overhead wire chase, I knew it was time to face the music.  There was only one place that water could be entering.  The name boards on top of the pilothouse are screwed into the roof, and the wires for the navigation lights pierce the deck as well.  We had sunny days, and I couldn’t face the prospect of “all play and no work,” so I took the boards off, and yanked on the fiberglass stanchions supporting them.  With a sickening “slurp”, one popped off, revealing a totally rotted wood core.  The other one?  Not so easy.  Razor knife and crowbar, 1.  Stanchion, 0.  Even tho’ it was firmly adhered with 5200 (super-strong adhesive), I knew that it would fail in the future.  The holes for the screws affixing the stanchions to the deck, and the boards to the stanchions were not finished out properly.  This requires drilling a hole much larger that the screw, filling it with resin, then redrilling and placing the screw so that it is completely surrounded by resin.  That way, when water finds its’ way down the screw (and it always does, sooner or later), it just contacts the impermeable resin, not rot-able(?) wood core.  Long story short, I drilled out the holes, reamed out the rotten core, filled with epoxy resin.  This several days project was not without pitfalls and aggravation, punctuated by oaths and epithets, but I’ll spare you the details.  Let me just add that, thanks to the Admiral, I found a new use for tampons.  The board on the starboard side isn’t leaking….yet.  As soon as I can find some more epoxy, I’ll see what lurks under that one.  By the way, in true dramatic fashion, the clouds were rolling in as I made my last pour of epoxy, and it cured about an hour before the skies opened up last night.

This morning, the 25th, we left Starfish and explored an anchorage below Conch Point before settling in uninhabited Big Bight, near the southwest corner of Isla Colon.  It is very peaceful here amongst the mangroves, playful dolphins and howler monkeys. We think that we’ll head over to Isla Bastimentos and find some interweb access tomorrow or the next day.  Until then,

-Later

 

 

 

Buenos Dias,

Well.  A couple days morphed into four.  Or was it five?  The weather was rainy, or threatening rainy, so we just stayed put in our cozy little anchorage behind the reef near Marc and Sydney’s restaurant, Rana Azul.  Between raindrops, I was able to get some wax on the Girl.  It’s not one of those jobs that you just “do.”  You just pick up where you left off.  Kinda like painting the Mackinaw Bridge.  When you get to the end, you just start over again.  Not complainin’, just sayin’.  The Admiral and I liked the cabinet lights in the galley so much that the cabinets in the Heads were next.  (Oh yeah-we anticipated this when ordering lights, switches and wire, so they were on hand, ready to go.)

We had some play time with Shellie and Dave too.  One afternoon, we took the dink over to the next bay to check out their floating house.  What started as one has grown into three floating platforms with living spaces built on top and tied together.  Anchored near shore, and connected to it by a floating dock, it’s been their primary residence for the last couple of years.  In addition to building the floating house, they’ve been clearing the 27 acres that they own on land, and building their “Land House” They’ve already sold a couple of lots, and have plans for a swimming pool.  Keep in mind that this land is only accessible by water, power is provided by solar energy and drinking water falls from the sky.  Quite a feat.  Dave’s construction is top notch, and Shellie has really done a great job with her gardening, adding to the fruit trees left behind by “United Fruit” company when they pulled out years ago.  The rain rolled in, and we were forced to sit and drink beer all afternoon-Darn!

We plan to leave the Girl at Red Frog Marina for a few days when we take a road trip up in December to Boquete, a town up in the mountains.  Shellie decided that we needed to see the marina up close and personal, as well as the development next door of the same name.  Plus…..”They have a great restaurant for lunch, AND a great pool, AND it’ll be empty, AND it’s a private development BUT they never say anything to us when we use the pool, SO bring your suits.  We’ll pick you up.”  Yep.  Gotta love off-season.  We were the only ones at the restaurant, and having sips in the pool was wonderful.

Almirante, the port on the mainland that feeds Bocas Town with twice-a-day ferry service beckoned.  It’s said to be a bit rawer boned than Bocas, so we weren’t sure that it was worth bringing the Girl there.  Also, it’s a commercial port, with Chiquita bananas’ loading dock right in the harbor.  Problem solved.  Dave needed to go in to pick up some building supplies-mortar, grout and etc. for the land house kitchen tiles.  Shellie and he picked Suzanne, Sydney and me up for a field trip to town.  They have a guy there that has a shabby dock for parking their panga, and he sits and guards it for a couple of bucks.  First things first.  It was lunchtime and we were famished.  Of course, D&S knew a place.  The 5 of us piled into a taxi and drove up the mountain to the resort “Bocas Ridge.”  The restaurant there is next to an infinity edge swimming pool, and has a commanding view of nearly the whole Bocas archipelago.  (Starting to see a pattern here?)  The pool was empty, the beer was cold, and we had the place to ourselves.  Back down to town, it was the usual routine-hardware store, multiple grocery stores and a couple of “fruit ladies,” their shops crammed into stalls the size of a small shipping container.  Almirante was indeed a little on the rough side, but the prices for our supplies was much better than Bocas Town. 

At last!  A day that promised to be at least a bit sunny.  We hauled anchor and took a 45-minute cruise to the (right) snorkel spot this time.  It was only 500 meters or so from the little Mangrove island that we had visited before, but this time we were rewarded with some really nice snorkeling.  There was an absolute abundance of aquatic life with many small fishes (Mangroves’ roots provide shelter from predators and are, therefore nurseries for many species of fish) We were concentrating on invertebrates.  There was a variety of anemones, both in color and type.  Sponges ranged in color from orange to bright yellow, to iridescent green, to purple and red.  Arrow crabs, Pedersen shrimp, Flaming Scallops rounded out the lineup.  The water was so warm and the swim so nice that 2 ½ hours passed in a flash.

One day kinda blurs into the next, so just maybe my report isn’t in the proper sequence, but who’ll know?  (Especially if I don’t).  Anyway, we had some more rain and more was forecast so back we went to Marc and Sydney’s.  We had playmates there, and some connectivity to the world wide web.  One morning, Marc appeared with a boatload of fruit from their property.  Limes, oranges, coconuts, and a bunch of bananas.  I’m not talking a lot of bananas, I’m talking a bunch, as in 30 or 40 still on the stalk.  I’m seeing banana smoothies in our future.

We met Rick and Judy at the birthday party, and she had been in daily contact (What’s App) with Suzanne about us coming to visit them on their island.  We hauled anchor on Friday, the 15th, and were at their island, Tranquilo Place in time for sips with Rick, Judy, Holly and Mike (Picaro).  We got the grand tour the next day.  After cruising here, they bought this little Mangrove island around 7 years ago.  They’ve literally been building their island since.  They’ve raised the level of the island around a foot and a half by bringing in 17,000 bags of dirt, and running a gold panning vacuum to bring in sea bottom.  They still live on one of their two boats (this started as a his and hers operation), but have a multi-story building housing a workshop, canvas shop, their kitchen and second story veranda.  The roof supports around 12,000 watts worth of solar panels.  The roof also acts as a catchment, feeding their collection of water tanks adding up to 3,200 gallons.  Rick is building a second residence, again on stilts over the water to house crews of boats that are being repaired here.  He owned a refrigeration business in his former life, and has a reputation for being able to fix anything.  Judging from what we’ve seen on his island, the reputation seems to be well-deserved.

Judy, Suz and Holly had a Girls trip over to Bocas Town yesterday to attend a craft market and to pick up some supplies.  It’s about a half hour ride in a fast panga from here.  Since this weekend was “Bocas Days” celebrating Bocas independence from somebody, I figured that the island was going to be wild.  I stayed home and polished stainless steel under cloudy skies.  I think that I got the better end of the deal.  Sips on our boat last night, after our company was gone, we laid on deck and watched the Leonid meteor shower under a zillion stars, a little Joni Mitchell in the background.

That’s about it.  Cloudy skies today, so more waxin’ and polishin’ (Still sound like a glamorous life?)  Judy came over today to measure for some sunshades that she’ll make for us (To remedialize the ones that our pal (Grrrrrh!) in Grenada made for us a few years ago).  We’ll head over for Happy Hour, then think about where we’re heading off to tomorrow.

-Later

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