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

Buenos Dias,

A seventy-five yard swim to shore and the shore line was off.  Suz held Alizann in place while I got back on, then it was anchor up as usual.  We were right on the Colombian border with Panama, so it only took us 45 minutes to motor over to Puerto Obaldia in Panama, where we would clear in.  We had heard that the swell coming into this north-facing bay could be treacherous, but Poseidon was smiling on us today.  Even tho’ we put out a ton of anchor chain, we sat on the pile of chain, never testing our anchor in the non-existent wind and swell.  Obaldia has a very substantial concrete dock for transients’ use.  One problem.  It’s 8’ off the water with no ladders, and a flush concrete surface with no handholds.  As we were puttering around the dock, trying to figure out how to get off the dinghy, a couple of SNF (national defense force) troops came out to see what we were doing.  After some negotiation in sign language and broken Spanish, we ended up mooring to their boat, then climbing across it to another boat, then up to the dock.  They couldn’t have been more helpful to the aging Gringos.  That was the easy part.  Two hours later, our paperwork from Colombia (all in order), had been perused, okayed, and the 87 Panamian Immigration and Customs forms (all in quintuplicate, keeping the carbon paper industry in fine form for their shareholders) had been duly stamped, stapled and filed for future reference.  Oh, did I mention that we were fingerprinted (both hands, including thumb), and photographed for posterity?  The Caribbeans MUST love the sound of stamps hitting documents, and let me tell you, the legs on their desks are doubly stout-I believe to withstand the constant beating.

Done with the formalities, it was time to explore the village, so wonderfully illustrated in the “Cruising Guide to Panama.”  I’m guessin’ that the pictures in the guide were taken a few (or so) years ago.  Obaldia is obviously a shadow of its’ former self.  The streets were bare, there were little signs of commerce, ‘cept the hand-written sign announcing “gasolina viende”.  Okay, we needed gas for the dinghy, so I returned to shore with our 5 gallon can and our hand truck, while Suzanne idled offshore in the dink.  In the back room of a storefront were around a dozen 55-gallon drums of gas, along with, (I’m guessin’, a hundred cases of beer).  Our 5-gallon can was filled by 5 one-gallon bottles.  With the help of another SNF guy, we were off the dock, and back to the Girl.  Under lowering black skies, we got the anchor up and headed west to Isla Pinos.  Lightning all around, we motored through several squalls on our way to Isla Pinos, more or less the entrance to the San Blas archipelago.

We dropped the hook in 2.5 meters of water off Isla Pinos.  We stayed for two days.  A half mile to our left was a traditional Guna Yala village.  A quarter mile to our right was a beach bar, run by Gunas, but powered by a generator, and crankin’ out Soca music.  We were guessin’ that the traditional village tolerated the bar, as it was a source of income, and all income and natural resources are shared by all.  When we ventured to shore, we were superstars.  (White, and not from anywhere around there).  The kids followed us everywhere like the two pied pipers-it didn’t hurt that the Admiral had a bag of hard candy.  Next day, we put the kayaks down to reconnoiter the exit, which looked dicey on the charts, only to find that exiting to the north would not be a problem.  We visited with some kids, and much to their delight, taught them a few phrases in English, which they repeated incessantly as we paddled away.

Our next stop was to be Snug Harbor, About halfway between Isla Pinos and Devil Cays.  We threaded our way through the “Inside Passage”, thanks to Eric Bauhaus’ “Guide to Cruising Panama’s” guidebook.  An officially uncharted area, Eric’s book is the bible for getting through this 100 mile long archipelago.  When just off a lee shore, we had a visit from the Panama military.  True to form, Suz had all of our papers in order, and presented them before being asked.  Although we were boarded, none of the troops came further onboard than our cockpit, as the Commandante was satisfied with our papers.

Our next stop was Snug Harbor, named by pirates, privateers and the British military alike for its safe anchorage.  We (I) decided to enter from the East, as it would save a half hour of time, and it was again threatening rain after a whole day of it.  We were nearly in, in flat skies (no visibility of shallow areas), when we heard that abhorrent sound, the bane of all seamen.  We were aground on a reef.   Shhesh!   Really?  We were hard on, so went above decks to see if we could ascertain where deeper water was.  We certainly weren’t ready to lose our Girl at this point.  The propeller wouldn’t get us off, so we used the bow thruster, timed with the rise and fall of the swell, to rotate us into deeper water.  We got the Girl afloat again, and backtracked our course in to get to deeper water.  We circumnavigated the island to the north, and entered from the west with our skirts up at dead slow (once bitten, twice shy), and motored to the most conservative anchorage.  It was time for (double) sips, and a change of knickers.  Next morning, we launched the dink and reran our reciprocal course. Another 15’ to the port would have gotten us through.  Next morning, amid black/blue clouds all around and 2 ‘’ of clay around the 200’ of anchor chain, we were off to Coco Bandero

Now moving west, we were getting into the most popular cruising grounds of the San Blas.  We were headed to Coco Bandero, one of the most popular anchorages.  We were gratified to see only 4 boats there.  During high season, there can be as many as 50. We sauntered in, the lone. “Stink Boater” amongst the sailboats there.  Dutifully, we anchored down wind of the ragbaggers.  With the kayaks down, we paddled by “Halcyon,” in the afternoon, and invited them for “Sips.”  Turned out to be a good match, and we hope to see Sandy and Britt in the future.

It’s 16h20, and we have not seen our guy, Apio, who has our money and our order for frutas, and legumas, supposedly to be delivered today.  In the meantime, we have scored 3 lobsters, big ones, for 10 bucks.

-Later

Buenos Tarde

Maria took care of getting our zarpe to clear out of Colombia, and brought it to us in the morning.  We snapped a few photos with her, paid the rent at Club Pesca marina, and were off the dock by 09h30.  Cruising south through Cartagena Bay, we saw at least 8 Colombian naval warships laying at anchor.  Guessin’ that had something to do with all the saber-rattling that our dear POTUS was doing regarding the Venezuelan issues.  Our first leg took us to Isla Grande in the Rosario islands, just 20 some-odd miles from Cartagena.  Just an overnighter, we were off the hook by 07h00, on our way to Tintip.an, some 30 miles south.  We spent 2 nights there, one on the hook and one on a mooring ball after the park rangers told us that we weren’t allowed to anchor there.  We had planned on anchoring in a lagoon on the west end of the island, but the route suggested by the Colombian Cruising Guide took us through 3’ of water.  That would have been a big “Ouch”  It was no big deal, however, as the seas had been like a pool of mercury for the past few days.  Anchoring on the south side of the island was very comfortable.  A half mile to our west was Isla Islote, the most densely populated island on the planet.  At just over the size of 1 ½ football fields, it is home to more than 1,200 souls.  Don’t ask me, I haven’t had time to research it.  Google it yourself.    Next stop, Isla Fuerte, another 30 miles to the south.  Again, another day with seas less than 1 meter (We are starting to get used to this).  The cruising guides suggest anchoring south of the island, but we snuck up into a little bight on the east side and anchored in 10’ of water over a sandy bottom.  Usually, the “boat boys” are out to the Girl asking if we want to buy anything, or offering services.  Not here.  They asked where we came from, and if we had anything for them-water, fruit, beer, etc.  As usual, we enjoyed the afternoon, puttering around in “White Star” and swimming.  We launched “Scout”, our drone, and snapped a few decent photos.  Next was the 80 mile trip to the Colombia/Panama border.  We were up at Oh-Dark-Thirty, and underway by 04h00.  The Admiral went back to bed, and we were on our way.  Lightning lit the sky on both sides and in front of the Girl.  The radar showed a squall line of red (no Bueno) blobs around 15 miles ahead of us, directly in our course.  Decision time.  Lightning brings eighteen kinds of bad JuJu when it strikes near a boat.  The line of storms was nearly three hours ahead of us, so I opted to let Suz sleep and forge on.  As it turned out, the squall line dissipated after an hour as day dawned, and we just received a steady drizzle.  There must have been some high winds, however, as the seas resembled a washing machine-lots of high, unorganized waves which lasted for an hour or so.  We were out of the National marine park for most of the day, so it was okay to fish but the freezers were full.  No lines went out.  We arrived at Capurgana on the Colombian mainland around an hour before dark.  The anchorage there is more of an open roadstead, not really a bay and it was rolly.  We opted to move up to Sapzurro to see what it was like.  Much better.  In the north corner of the bay, we anchored in 14’ of water and took lines to shore, keeping the Girl’s bow pointed into the slight swell.  With lines to shore, it felt like North Channel and Newfoundland cruising.  In 9’ of water, we’ve been here for 2 comfortable nights, planning to leave and check in to Panama, just around the corner, tomorrow morning.  Yesterday, we walked part of the Capurgana/Sapzurro trail, and checked out the Diana Cascada (waterfall).  The rainy season hasn’t really arrived in earnest yet, so the falls were just a trickle.  We cruised the village of Sapzurro, and made it home just before it started to RAIN.  As our friend, Andy would say, it was a real “turd floater” (referring to the latrines in Viet Nam).  It rained all afternoon.  I had to bail out the dinghy, as it was nearly full of water halfway through the afternoon.  These two villages, Capurgana and Sapzurro are like the outports in Newfoundland, accessible only by water, so there are no autos-just motos and horses.  Today, we hiked to Capurgana, 2 ¾ miles over the ridge.  It was a slippery, greasy stroll, but we were rewarded with some beautiful views when we popped out of the rainforest on the crests of the mountains.  Along the way, we trekked by flowering Hibiscus, Heliconia, and many tropical plants that we’ve had the pleasure of killing in the privacy of our own home.  Suz spotted a Green Frog, whose powerful neurotoxin is instrumental in fabricating poison darts, and many tropical birds.  There were some pretty steep ups and downs, but they didn’t compare to the 40-minute hills on our Ciudad Perdida hike.  Back at the Girl, we took a swim in the 85-degree water as the drizzle came down.   

Our stay here has been pretty entertaining.  The guys are out in their pangas, morning and late afternoons fishing.  They catch bait fish with throw nets and dump them into their boat.  Then, they throw handfuls of them into the water and toss their handlines in to catch the bigger, edible fish.  Very strange, watching them bailing water INTO their boats to keep the baitfish alive.  Yesterday, we watched the local kids, under the tutelage of an adult bandmaster practicing with their percussion instruments and marching along the shore..

We’re sitting on the back porch now, listening to the Howler Monkeys in the forest, having sips and getting ready for dinner.

No internet, just cell service so no pictures.  We’ll head to Puerto Obaldia, around the corner in Panama to check in tomorrow, then off to the San Blas archipelago.

-Later

 

Buenos Noche,

So… we’ve had a couple days of on and off rain.  Gave us a chance to catch up on some inside cleaning and minor repairs.  This 140’ spaceship pulled in next to us yesterday.  The Captain, Grant came over to ask about getting SIM cards for the crew’s phones, and Suzanne ended up ministering to his upset stomach and changing some Colombian pesos for his Greenbacks.  Our phones came in handy for him as well.  He and his Mate, Elisha gave us the Cook’s tour tonight, and the boat is truly remarkable.  I think that we’ll see him again, as he recently bought a small island on the Pacific side of Panama, and we’ve got an open invitation to come and visit when we’re there in a couple of years.  We’re leaving Cartagena tomorrow morning, island-hopping to Colon, Panama.  We expect to arrive there around the 12th of June.  In the meantime, while we are in the San Blas islands I’m thinkin’ that we won’t have any connectivity, so we’ll talk at ya’

-Later

Buenos,

So…we’re luxuriating in bed on Sunday morning, and the air conditioner in our room goes off at 08h00.  Hmmmmh.  No voltage at the panel.  None of the breakers flipped.  No voltage at the pedestal on the dock.  Look over to the fuel dock-the LCD lights for fuel prices are out.  No worries, we close down the Girl-she’s fine on solar and battery power for up to a few days, and head out to breakfast.  Jim and Carole had told us about a favorite breakfast spot of theirs: “Stepping Stones” and it was on our “To Do” for the day. It being Sunday, the bumper-to-bumper stream of traffic headed into Getsemani and the walled city had slowed to a trickle. As we turned off the main drag onto one of the side streets, we realized that there was no power here, either.  There were a few portable generators running on the sidewalks with power cords trailing into buildings.  Other than the sound from these humming engines, the neighborhood was pretty quiet.  Well, we found our restaurant, but as you can imagine it was closed.  We talked to some folks who told us that the power was out in the whole city, and would not be back on until 17h00.  We had planned on a quiet day anyway, so after returning to the Girl for breakfast, we headed back across the bridge to visit the Cathedral and explore the streets and alleys of the Old City.  Apparently, we were among the few that didn’t get the memo about the power outage, as town was pretty deserted.  We did get a few miles in, though, walking the entire top of the old walls.  As promised, the advent of cocktail time brought the restoration of power to the city.  I couldn’t find anything about the days’ outage, but found several articles on the internet about Colombia’s power grid being inadequate to provide power to all areas of the country at all times.  Also, rolling blackouts are not uncommon in Cartagena.

We got our breakfast at “Stepping Stone”, and the food didn’t disappoint.  The restaurant was started by two Australians in 2017.  The mission is to hire kids from disadvantaged backgrounds who otherwise would be unemployable, training them to raise themselves up by working in the food service industry.  You don’t need to change the world, just change the little piece around you.  After breakfast, we hoofed it up to Castillo de San Felipe, the largest Spanish fortification in the New World. There we hired Raphael, who spoke passable English, to guide us on our tour of the fort.  It is really remarkable.  One of the best restorations and biggest that we’ve visited in our travels.

Convento de Popa sits atop the highest point in Cartagena.  We hired a cab first thing in the morning to drive us up.  Besides being unbearably hot, the authorities warn against tourists walking there, as the road goes through some sketchy neighborhoods.  On our way there, we observed a heavy policia presence, but at 08h30, it was still 88 degrees with humidity in the 90’s.  The Augustinians built a small wooden chapel on the site, which was replaced by the much larger convent in 1612 after taking 6-7 years to build.  It is well outside the old walled city, but is a strategic location due to its’ altitude and the fact that it overlooks Fort San Felipe. Therefore, over time fortifications were added to the original structures.  The self-guided tour takes around 30 minutes.  The restoration of the chapel and buildings surrounding the courtyard was well done.  The view from the surrounding balconies is stunning.  …..If it was good the first day, might as well go back the second. When we returned from la Popa, we walked back to “Stepping Stones” for a second go.  We spent the rest of the day just schlepping around town, finishing with dinner at “Da Oliva” near the marina.

Wednesday morning.  It was cloudy.  The weather report forecasted a 70 percent chance of rain.  Cartagena hadn’t seen a drop in over 5 months.  I’m not sure if it was my imagination, but as we made our way through Getsemani and the Old City to the Naval Museum, the sense of anticipation was palpable.  Maybe the rainy season was finally here. 

The Museum turned out to be a pleasant surprise.  It garnered mixed reviews on social media, but our experience was very positive.  We hired a guide, Miguel, who spent an hour or so interpreting the various exhibits for us.  We were able to tie together some of our Cartagena history loose ends, discovered that as a U.S. ally, Colombia sent troops to Korea, and learned about Colombia’s modern navy.  The Chocolate Museum provided a sweet rest stop on our stroll through the city.  In the retail shop, we tasted their wares, then stoked the local economy at the cash register before leaving.

Suzanne’s been dying to see a Tree Sloth since we arrived in Colombia to no avail.  The warning signs along the road to Mompox depicting Sloth crossings reminded me of the numerous Moose crossing signs in Newfoundland.  Lotsa signs, no animals.  Well….she heard that there were Sloths in the city park, Parque de Centenario, just outside the wall. We didn’t even know what we were looking for, but soon enough we saw a Sloth and baby in the top of a Tamarind tree.  Pictures were tough through the foliage, but The Admiral’s day was complete.  The locals still holding their collective breaths, it started to drizzle around 17h00 on our way home.  Thunder boomed all around us, but the rain never started in earnest.

Well, the rainy season is here.  It rained most of the day yesterday, and there’s heavy overcast today.  We’re starting to think that we’ve “done” Cartagena, and maybe it’s time to move on.  Suz took inventory of our supplies yesterday and the grocery store is on the short list for today. 

That said, I’ll talk at ya’

-Later

Pages

Captain's Log

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

 

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