Our Final Push To Panama

Our passage to Panama was, in a word, terrific! We raised anchor at 7am, and followed both the way points and our track coming into the Albuquerques, traveling right through the reef, stress-free this time.

(If you were following our track on the Delorme link, the Albuquerque Cays are not visible on Google Earth, so it appeared that we were just dead in the water for five days or so. Our zig-zag track leading to it was our path through the coral.)

Scott estimated that the trip would take 28-30 hours, based on us traveling at an average speed of 6 knots. We actually averaged closer to 7 knots, and spent much of the trip at 7.1 and 7.2, with the current in our favor for a change. Considering that our paravanes cost us a half knot of speed when they’re in the water, traveling 7+ knots was fantastic!

The winds were at 13-15 knots as we left, and they dropped to nothing by the late afternoon; the seas followed suit. For much of the late afternoon and evening, our wind gauge read 0, a beautiful sight. Our trip went so smoothly that I was able to catch a nap in our bed, versus the couch. Howard got restful sleep, and was alert and mobile later, begging us for food.

Scott put his lines in the water, with fingers crossed that we’d catch something to fill the freezer with. Almost immediately, one of the lines began to whiz. It was a sizeable sailfish, that we weren’t interested in eating or taking the time to catch. However, that fish had our lure, so Scott began to reel him in. Unfortunately, the line snapped and the sailfish swam of….with our lure. Skunked again.

Just after dawn the next morning, the coastline of Panama came into view.

As the sun rose and we came closer to the coastline, the air smelled clean and fresh coming off of the mountains, similar to the awesome pine smell that greeted us in Guanaja.

As we approached the Bay of Almirante, several small hotels appeared along the shoreline. A large barge replacing navigational buoys passed by us, and those things are much bigger out of the water. We took turns venturing out onto the bow, admiring the coastline, breathing in the terrific smelling air and enjoying the sunshine.

We couldn’t stop looking at the mountains, with their peaks disappearing in the clouds. Later, Scott realized that the lower hills are in Panama, and the higher ones we were seeing are actually in Costa Rica, as the country’s border is very close.

Once inside the bay, the water turned glassy calm.

The color here was more green and didn’t appear to be too clear, until we saw two dolphins headed our way. As they approached the boat and dove down, we could clearly see them at least 20 feet down. We expected them to hang around our bow for a bit, but they went right by us, and I thought they’d gone. I turned to see them doing Sea World-type flips some distance behind us, and wished I hadn’t left my camera inside.

Soon Isla Colon, and Bocas Town, came into sight. Our marina is off of the west end of Boca Town, so we had to make our way around to the other side of the island.

By this time, Howard was more than ready to be there.

An hour or so later we made our final turn, taking us past more of Bocas Town, and heading toward Bocas Marina.

Panama was our destination for hurricane season this year, and our “end of year one” goal. The original plan was to be here in Bocas del Toro by late June, and make our way toward the Eastern Caribbean in late October.

After being delayed so long in getting here, and not wanting to rush through the country. we’ve decided to linger here until spring. We’ll stay in Bocas del Toro until mid-November, and then move on to explore more of the eastern coast (sorry, so canal crossing for us). Here are more photos of our final leg to Panama. (**Again, for those who may not know, you can click on a photo, to scroll through the album. Clicking on the “i” at the top right will open a window for any captions.)

“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”

Fishing And Relaxing In The Albuquerque Cays

Please forgive the lapse in posting. In addition to battling spotty internet service, I am switching to Google Photos and also honing my skills in Photoshop. Bear with me while I familiarize myself with these things, as I’m far from computer savvy. Until I rename my albums in Google, the links to more photos at the end of previous posts won’t work, so if you get the urge to “walk down our memory lane”, hold off for a bit.

Now, on to catching you up……The water surrounding the Albuquerque Cays was gorgeous! 

Clear, Bahama-blue water reflecting off of shallow white sand bottom, framed by green and brown of the surrounding reefs. The whole area is encircled by darker shades of deeper blue water, with the bottom easily visible 30 feet straight down below us, and 80 feet out at an angle.

 

We anchored in front of the larger cay, where the military “Flies” base is located. The island is so thick with palm trees of all sizes, shapes and shades of green that you cannot see any sign of life or shelter on it, until a small glow of light appears after dark. We never tired of admiring the view, it was straight off of a calendar page.

 

Of course, Scott got right to fishing. On his first venture out he caught a glass eyed snapper (which we enjoyed several times in Providencia) and a decent sized mangrove snapper.

 

 

The reefs weren’t terrifically colorful, but they were very, very healthy. Scott commented on how big the fragile, larger coral was (elk horn, stag horn, etc.). Some of the monstrous brain coral was so large that it broke the surface in places. Unfortunately, there weren’t too many fish, and lobster were non existent. We assume that the commercial fisherman have depleted the supply, setting up their own lobster traps farther out.

However, Scott was not discouraged, and ventured out nearly every day. I tagged along one morning, to get some photos and enjoy some bug-free sun and reading while he searched the waters below.

 

 

After an hour or so, Scott came back empty handed. He’d noticed the head of a large snapper peeking out of a hole, and waited for it to exit. When the fish made a move into open water, Scott shot it through the back. Unfortunately, the tip of his spear broke off, rendering it useless for another shot as the wounded fish swam away.

Scott came up into the dinghy angry and frustrated, wanting restitution for his tip. That fish was going to be dinner, come hell or high water! We headed back to Sea Life, where a new tip was put on, and a mission was set. I skipped this go-round, preferring to stay clear of the battle ahead.

Back at the scene of the crime, Scott found the large snapper again in his hole and fired another shot. This stunned the fish, and it came out of the hole swimming aimlessly. Scott seized his opportunity, and took a final shot that went through the snapper’s gills.

With his restitution in tow, Scott swam hard for the surface, not wanting to share his kill with any lurking sharks or barracuda. He was glad that the snapper wasn’t at it’s full strength, because the fish fought hard on the spear all the way to the surface.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, I was quietly enjoying a book. When I rose to close the shades against the hot afternoon sun, I heard the dinghy motor and saw Scott approaching. He triumphantly raised his kill (too large to fit in the five gallon bucket) for a photo.

Here is his first snapper…

 

And the trophy snapper…

 

The fish was fat, heavy and long. At 23″, it was more than enough for several dinners, starting with yummy fried fish sandwiches (on my homemade ciabatta bread!).

Now that the fridge was full of fish, and his hand was feeling the pain of battle (bruising between the thumb and forefinger), Scott took a day off. We both relaxed, watched movies, napped and admired our surroundings.

 

 

Aside from the occasional lap against the hull and the sound of waves crashing on the outer reef, our days were dead quiet at anchor here. The Flies only ventured into sight in the late afternoon, when they spent time line fishing from the beach. Except for the glow of a nightly campfire, we didn’t see or hear the commercial fisherman either.

The sun light on the small cays at dusk was beautiful, and for the first time since we were in Key West, in January, we had an open view to the horizon for sunset.

 

Scott enjoyed hours of stargazing each night. Even with light pollution visible from San Andres, 40 miles away, the stars were thick and brilliant. The Milky Way wound clearly through the sky above us, like someone up there had spilled their morning glass of full fat.

We could have stayed for weeks, but it’ was time to move on and continue the journey to Panama, our most southern location to date. Here are more photos of our beautiful anchorage in the Albuquerque Cays. (**for those who may not know, click on the first photo, to scroll through the album with larger views of the photos)

“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”

Happy Anniversary To Us!

Yesterday we celebrated our nine year anniversary. The weather was far better nine years ago, as we were wed on the shores of the Chesapeake Bay.

After thinking we had to put our celebratory dinner on hold, due to hours and hours of biblical rain, the waterworks finally subsided in the late afternoon yesterday and we hopped a water taxi to town. We enjoyed margaritas at The Pub, Indian food at OM and a brief walk through town before taking another taxi back here to the marina.

I’m still having uploading issues, so photo editing and posting has come to a halt. Fingers are crossed that all will be resolved this weekend, and I can start to catch up next week.

The past nine years has been full of fun and laughter, new experiences, time with friends (old and new) and of course this incredible adventure….Cheers to nine years!

 

“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”

We’re In Panama!…More To Come

We arrived in Panama on Monday morning, but have been plagued with technical difficulties. Currently, I cannot upload photos, and hope to have the issue resolved next week.

Stay tuned for news on our last days in the Albuquerque Cays, and our final leg to Panama!

“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”

Traveling To The Albuquerque Cays And Meeting The Colombian Military

The Albuquerque Cays lie 36 miles south, southwest of San Andres. It’s a 5-6 hour trip for us, and a nice way to break up our journey to Panama. The two small cays, surrounded by many reefs, are also owned by Colombia. One is used by commercial fisherman, and the other is a small base for the Colombian military.

The forecast called for little chance of squalls, low wind and relatively decent size swells. As we prepared to raise anchor, Scott noticed the skies ahead were a bit ominous. For the last few months, we’ve had multiple, instant downpours each day. Out of nowhere the wind will whip up, with sheets of rain right behind it. The downpours lasts for 1-3 minutes, and then the skies clear as fast as they darkened, so Scott wasn’t concerned as we raised anchor and headed toward the channel.

Of course, this rain decided to linger. For the next 30 minutes, as we maneuvered through the channel, staying to one side to allow room for an incoming freighter, the rain poured so hard we could no longer see the anchorage behind us or the horizon in front of us. The winds kicked up to almost 30 knots, filling the harbor with white caps and giving us a good roll. This made putting the paravanes out challenging, as the winds threatened to push us into shallow water (we come to idle to put the birds in).

We entertained the idea of throwing out the anchor, and waiting for the weather to pass, but decided just to slog on. The winds eventually slowed, but the rain continued at a steady pace; thanks for the send off, San Andres! By the look of our radar screen, we worried that there was a squall headed our way, but fortunately the big red blob broke up as it approached us, and we were just in for a lot of steady rain.

Photo: Luckily, this giant mass of red broke up before hitting us full force.

Photo: Instead, we just had steady rainfall.

After the heavy rain ended and the swells calmed, it remained cloudy all the way to the Albuquerques. We’d planned to arrive in the early afternoon, with the sun high overhead to help see any coral below the surface. The completely overcast skies made navigating through the reef more challenging than normal.

Scott has literally thousands of hours on the water, and is excellent at reading it. Me….nada. He’s had similar time and experience behind the wheel, and can make decisions on course adjustment in a blink. Again, me…not so much. If the sun had been shining, the plan was for me to be out on the bow as we approached the reef, so Scott could steer (Sea Life doesn’t turn instantly, so there’s a learning curve that I’m still working on).

As we approached, the skies brightened a bit, but the sun just wouldn’t pop out. The cloudy skies made it much harder for either of us to see possible coral heads, especially when we couldn’t agree on what was dark blue, or dark blue-green. Luckily, Scott had some way points from our friend Kevin, who’d come through the week before (charts for the area are terribly inaccurate), and we used them to feel our way through the reef. Once safely inside, we could admire the beautiful view!

Photo: The Albuquerque Cays come into view

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As we were deciding where to drop anchor, the military hailed us on the vhf…in Spanish. Scott replied in English, which usually clues someone to reply the same (most port captains, military, etc. speak enough English to get their point across), but they came back in Spanish again. Scott then replied that he didn’t understand…more Spanish.

Luckily, the only other boat anchored in the area was Kalea, who’d been near us in the Providencia anchorage. Iris speaks Spanish, thank goodness, and relayed that we were being asked to anchor closer to the island. Once anchored, we were expected to come ashore with our passports and paperwork from San Andres.

This was different from what we’d heard about the Albequerque Cays. People have told us the military doesn’t really “check” you in, at most they may swim over to your boat just to make contact. However, we weren’t interested in making enemies with any part of the Colombian military, so if they were requesting us to go ashore, that’s what we would do (We’re not really sure why there is a military presence here, there’s certainly no “threat” of any kind. It’s more likely a pride thing, rubbing the fact that these cays are Colombian owned into nearby Nicaragua’s face).

The entire time we anchored and Scott made sure we were set, and then put the dingy in the water, we were being watched by five men standing amide the palm trees at the edge of the beach. One was dressed in camouflage, and carried an AK-47 assault rifle, while the rest wore t-shirts and shorts. The men appeared to be in their mid twenties, at most, and the whole scene gave off a weird “Lord of the Flies” vibe.

Scott made his way to shore and beached the dinghy (with no help from said five “Flies” men).

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Anderson, who seemed to be the “commandant” of the group, and the oldest (Fly), pulled out a crumpled piece of scrap paper and copied down information from our passports and paperwork. They asked how long we were staying, and Scott wanted to tell them maybe four days, maybe a week, but with his limited Spanish and their complete lack of English, communication was difficult.

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Just to make sure all was clearly understood. Scott later took a letter back, that he’d written using our English/Spanish dictionary (thank you John and Lela, s/v Yachtsman’s Dream!). I’m sure it read like something written by a five year old, but the intent was understood.

Now that we were anchored, and “cleared in,” Scott got right to exploring in the rubber dinghy, putting together his plan of attack for fishing in the coming days. As he was getting comfortable on the bow, with his evening “sun-downer” in hand, he noticed the “Flies” waving him over. Having no idea what this was about, he again made his way to shore. He left his drink behind, but sadly, I couldn’t convince him to change into a shirt with sleeves.

After almost 30 minutes I looked to shore, and could see no sight of Scott, our dingy or the Flies. I began to panic, envisioning Scott being beaten to death, in typical Lord of the Flies style. I scanned the horizon with binoculars, with no luck. Finally, as I scanned behind us, I caught sight of this:

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Once Scott had arrived onshore the Flies handed him their own translated letter. It seems they wanted to borrow our dinghy and Scott’s spear, to go fishing. Scott told them that if they wanted to fish, he’d be happy to take them, but they’d have to use their own means of catching the fish. The men agreed, and off they went.

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There were many one word and hand-signaled conversations. At one point, Scott was asked to go faster. He explained to them that our little two horsepower motor could go no faster, and to try would result in them rowing back to shore. The Flies then pointed toward the Aluminum Princess, asking how fast it went. Scott acted like he didn’t understand that one.

They made a stop at the island which is used by the commercial fisherman. Scott noticed a five gallon bucket, full of large lobster tails. He’d relayed to the Flies earlier, that he wanted to catch lobster while here in the cays, and was sure that they understood.

As they now smiled and pointed to the contents of the bucket, Scott hoped that he might get one or two as a thank you….no dice. The Flies chatted with the fisherman a bit, one of whom spoke very good English (Scott wondered why Anderson didn’t use this man as an interpreter…or a teacher), before climbing back in the dinghy.

Eventually, the Flies asked to return to the island, where they continued to line fish from the beach.

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Anderson asked Scott to stay awhile. He replied, using his best hand gestures, that it was time to eat with his wife and then go to bed.

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After Scott’s little adventure, we felt that it was safe to say the Flies approved of us. It was time to relax and enjoy our beautiful surroundings.

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“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”

Scenes From San Andres

There has been much to see and do during our stay here in San Andres. Shortly after we arrived, the island celebrated independence day (July 20th), complete with a parade and week-long festival. Scott and I planned to watch the parade from the flybridge, but the crowds were too thick to see through.

The parade lasted five hours, and that crowd stayed put for the entire thing (I never would have made it). Our friends Jack and Monique (s/v Aloha) ventured in for an up close and personal view. Here are a few of their photos:

As Providencia did for their carnival, San Andres held a beauty contest during the independence festival. Of course, that required a parade as well, and the contestants rode through the streets on decorated golf carts.

We’ve gotten to know our way around the busy downtown streets, and are constantly amazed by the number of motorcycles and scooters here (notice the clever sun covers). The flow and noise of traffic in the small area is amazing.

Benches along the mains streets are very unique, and make for great photo opportunities (unbeknownst to this local girl).

San Andres is full of beautiful tile work, murals, etc., as we saw throughout Providencia. The colors and patterns jump out at you, as you travel throughout the island.

We land our dinghy at nearby Nene’s Marina, and have spent much time at the little bar there, enjoying the breeze that goes through . The ladies who run it are very friendly, and the beer is cold.

Like everywhere else in the world (except for the U.S.), soccer is insanely popular here. We came out of dinner one night to find the streets jammed with people watching a game, obviously a very important one. They were gathered in front of every bar, restaurant and convenience store, eyes glued to the tvs inside.

Putting the pieces together as best we could, it seemed to be a collegiate national championship. When the game ended, the local team must have won. The crowds climbed onto their motorcycles and scooters, and into cars, and began an impromptu parade in and around the downtown area. Luckily, we crossed through it easily on our way back to the anchorage. As we climbed back aboard Sea Life, the lights of the auto parade, with horns blaring, stretched as far as you could see.

The water in and around our anchorage here is very clear. We’ve taken the Aluminum Princess out to the shallow, Bahama blue water for some bobbing, and have also made use of our water loungers, just off of the swim platform.

After a very enjoyable two weeks and change, we’re moving on today. We’ll raise anchor as soon as I post this, and make a six hour run to the Albuquerque Cays. It’s a remote anchorage, with only commercial fisherman and a navy post. No land to speak of, no stores, shops, restaurants, parades, festivals..or tour boats! It’ll be a nice break, before we continue on to Panama.

There is a tropical system forming to our north, that will most likely become a category 1 or 2 hurricane for either Mexico or Belize. We are far south of any danger, but it’s strength is sucking out all of the wind and squalls for the next week..terrific! The weather forecaster we listen to on the SSB radio says that it’s a good week to travel if you’re motoring, so we’re off. We are undecided if we’ll stay in the Albuquerques a week or more, or continue south in a few days, while the weather is quiet.

There won’t be internet access for us until we reach Panama. So the blog will go dark for the next week or more. Be sure to check in on us, using the link on our Where Are We Now page, as we make our final push to Panama! In the meantime, here are some more scenes of our time in San Andres.

“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”

 

Eating And Shopping On San Andres

We’ve had a chance to eat at several restaurants during our stay here, and most are very affordably priced. After noticing La Regatta on my morning walks, Scott and I treated ourselves to a nice dinner out.

We enjoyed the walk down the path leading to the restaurant, with it’s quirky decor.

We were seated at a table on a pier out over the water, giving us a great breeze as we ate our meal.

One of our neighbors here in the anchorage recommended Breadfruit, and it’s become a regular stop for us. They have a great assortment of fresh bread and pastries. I was reluctant to try their cakes, having that bar set very high from my beloved Sugarbakers Cakes back home (if you live within a 50 mile radius of their location…GO!) .

We can get two orders of scrambled eggs with toast, fresh juice, water and a large pastry for 10.00 (includes tax and a tip), which is not too shabby!

Scott discovered El Corral, along the promenade. It has been a welcome answer to his McDonald’s cravings. I passed on the burger, but the fries were pretty darned good. There’s also a Subway across the street from the marina where we land the dinghy. That’s been great as well!

As far as day-to-day groceries, there are two large stores with a great selection of fresh produce. We’ve been able to get broccoli, mushrooms, green leaf lettuce and fresh basil! Many fruit vendors with carts of all sizes can be found throughout the downtown area, selling avocados, mangoes, bananas, and some stuff we’ve never seen.

There are many small markets on the island as well. One in particular sells things imported from the U.S, and we’ve enjoyed finding familiar items, like Philadelphia cream cheese (we have found nothing similar to cream cheese in either Mexico or Central America).

Prices here are pretty cheap for soda, and even cheaper for beer. Scott wanted to stock up on Coke for his evening cocktails, so we did a big “can run.” He humped 102 cans back to the boat on his back….a man on a mission.

His months-long search for stainless steel chain finally came to an end on San Andres. After scouring several hardware stores in town (all of which have a great overall selection), we arrived at this one. Orders are placed at the counter, similar to an auto parts store in the U.S.

The man who waited on us spoke great English, and when the exact thickness of chain that we wanted wasn’t available, he told Scott to go across the street to the warehouse, and see if what they did have in stock would work.

The warehouse was a two story building packed full of stuff. The men inside showed Scott the chain, which worked just fine, and they cut it and carried it back across the street for payment. Quest complete!

Shopping “for fun” is big business here. If you’re looking for perfume, scented body lotion, linens, electronics, athletic shoes and clothing, liquor, luggage or candy, you’re on the right island! Everything is duty free, and some stores carry all of these items. La Riviera is one of the largest, and has locations all over downtown (and downtown ain’t that big!), with their “flagship” store along the promenade.

And, Under Armor is in the house! For those who don’t know, this world wide athletic clothing company is based out of my hometown of Baltimore, Maryland! (read how they got started – early history)

In the midst of the larger stores are many small stall-type shops, selling the usual beach-type clothing, woven bags and trinkets.

So there seems to be something for everyone here on San Andres. The many places to eat and shop have definitely kept us entertained. Here are many more photos.

“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”