Farewell Bocas, We’re Finally Moving On

Now that Otto has finally passed safely by, the offshore wind and wave forecast for the coming week looks good for us to finally move!

We’re  raising our 350 feet of chain this morning (we were anchored in 70 feet of water), and will begin heading toward the San Blas Islands. Along the way, we plan to anchor in Escudo de Veraguas, a small, isolated island off the coast, which is part of the Bocas del Toro province.

After leaving Escudo de Veraguas, we’ll visit the historic town of Portobelo, whose  Spanish fort ruins have been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

We’ve been in Bocas del Toro for almost four months, longer than any other stop on our journey so far. Our stay here has been awesome; we’ve seen many beautiful sights and made new friends. We’ll miss the Bocas area so much, but are excited to be moving on again, and to visit new places.

Keep your eye on our Where Are We Now page, to track us as we move!

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

A Thanksgiving Celebration At Red Frog Marina

With Otto making landfall on the Nicaraguan coast, the offshore waters were far from ideal for travel. It was Thanksgiving, and the cruisers at Red Frog Marina were gathering for a potluck, so we decided to join in.

We arrived at the main pier bright and early, and plugged in. It was a hot, humid sunny day..perfect timing for air conditioning!  I spent the morning baking homemade rolls and chocolate peanut butter cupcakes,  while Scott took Howard out to explore the pier.

At 3pm we headed up to the courtyard area in front of the marina office, to meet the others. The counter in the laundry area was packed with food, and a table in the office provided a place for the many desserts. There were thirty or so of us, with half the group from countries outside the U.S. We enjoyed each others company, and stuffed ourselves full.

We’d heard that  the surge from Otto had greatly reduced the size of Red Frog beach, so Scott decided to take advantage of easy land access from the pier, and go see for himself. When he arrived, the views were much different than just a few days before.

We’ve learned that the beach here disappears every December and January, due to large surf caused by north winds (as you may imagine, it’s a popular area for surfing during this time), and comes back in the spring. Otto’s surge caused the the beach to shrink earlier than normal.

As long as he was out and about, Scott traipsed through some of the jungle trails again, noticing effects from the surge in some of the lower trails there as well. He also spotted some more dart frogs.

Scott returned from his journey with a souvenir and an idea.

He got right to work with a saw, and in no time, we had cups! (Please forgive my husband’s horrible shirt)

Although Otto delayed our departure plan, we are thankful to have spent the holiday with friends, and to have had just a bit more time at Red Frog.

Here are a few more photos.

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



Happy Birthday Howard!!

Howard turns four this month. At 16 pounds, we sometimes forget he’s still so young, until we see him do things like this:

And this:






Howard eased into life aboard at Henderson’s Wharf Marina, in Baltimore, becoming quite comfortable with boat life.

He took several “dips” in the Baltimore harbor, but has yet to swim in the Caribbean, although I’m sure that’s coming.

Howard is very good at letting you know when it’s time to eat, and knows just what to do to get under Scott’s skin.

He’s not thrilled with traveling, but tolerates it pretty well.

Throughout our journey, many different animals have caught Howard’s attention.

He  likes to supervise boat projects, and enjoys intense play sessions, followed by an epic nap.

Howard has provided us with endless entertainment, good company and much “sass” on our journey, and always catches the attention of locals and other cruisers as we travel.

We didn’t plan on having a cat aboard during this adventure, but cannot imagine the past year without Howard. Happy birthday to our boat cat!

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


Hurricane Otto Comes Calling

The tropical low that we’ve been watching for the last ten days has finally strengthened into a tropical storm, and  is expected to become Hurricane Otto in the next day or so. For reference, Bocas del Toro is located to the right of “San Jose,” in the little bay (cut-out) on the north coast of Panama.

Current Storm Status

Later this week, high pressure is expected to steer the storm west, making landfall north of us, most likely along the Nicaragua/Costa Rica border.

It’s rare to have a named storm this late into November, even in the warm, Caribbean waters this far south. Some tidbits from the Weather Channel:

Prior to January 2016’s strange Hurricane Alex, only 18 storms of at least tropical storm strength had formed on or after November 21 dating to 1950.

Only nine tropical cyclones became hurricanes in the Atlantic Basin after November 21 from 1950 through 2015. The last to do so was Epsilon, in December 2005. 

Only one of those nine hurricanes occurred in the southwest Caribbean Sea, Hurricane Martha in 1969.

The good news is, that as of now we are not in the storm’s direct path, and will instead be getting the “fringe” effects of strong winds and rain. Having owned waterfront property for many years on the Chesapeake Bay, we unfortunately have first-hand knowledge of tropical storm and hurricane winds. The best scenario is to be where we are now, in or off the bottom left quadrant of a storm, where the winds are weakest.

With the increased wind directions more firm, we’ve decided to leave the anchorage near town, as it is very exposed to the west, one of the predicted wind directions. While we are confident that our anchor, the Hulk, will keep us firmly set, the chance of other boats dragging into us is one we don’t wish to take.

Last month, from our slip in Bocas Marina, Scott saw boats drag through the anchorage and into the mangroves during a routine thunderstorm. Our many near miss experiences in the anchorage at Isla Mujeres were enough, thank you.

While should not see big wind and water here in Bocas, the waves off shore are becoming huge, at 12 feet or more. Once the storm passes and makes landfall, it will take days for the seas out there to calm, so we are in another holding pattern.

Our plan is to leave here, and make our way to the San Blas Islands, an archipelago made up of approximately 365 islands and cays, of which only 49 are inhabited. They lie off the north coast  of Panama, east of the Panama Canal (much more on this later).

We’d hoped to be halfway there by now, stopping to anchor at several locations along the way, and arriving in the San Blas before swells from the Caribbean’s Christmas winds increase.

Last week, forecasters weren’t sure if this thing would develop, and if so, where it would go, so we waited; not wanting to be stuck in an unprotected anchorage for days, with strong winds coming at us. This week, and for the near future, we cannot move because of large swells offshore. Yay for us.

We are tucked in behind the mangroves, just off of Red Frog marina. For now, the winds come and go, and so does the rain, but we expect things to pick up over the next few days. On the bright side, it’s peaceful here. There is less chop when the winds blow, and our friends are in view just off the bow.

Howard is enjoying the quieter location, with far few pangas buzzing by, and spends time out on the cockpit. He usually waits for Scott to set up a chair to sit in, and then happily takes it for himself.

The fresh air inspires energetic play sessions with his favorite bags, which is exhausting.

So once again, we’re playing the weather window game, to which there are no rules or time limits. While we wait, there is plenty of rum on board, and movies on the hard drive.

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







A Month Of Holidays

November in Bocas, and in all of Panama, means holidays, parties and a lots and lots of drumming. There are eight holidays in the month, all  marked with parades made up of school bands, with several adult groups walking throughout as well (haven’t been able to figure out who they are, or what they signify).

Practice for the parades begins weeks ahead, with drums echoing throughout town. School bands practice daily on the sides streets, marching down the middle of the road, with no closures or police. It’s like a flash mob parade, appearing out of nowhere, and cars have no choice but to take another road (ha, and they’re aren’t many others!).

The town is awash in Panamanian flags. They hang from buildings, cars, boats, ferries and zig-zag across the main street. Sea Life showed her Panamanian pride as well!

Many stores are open for business, despite the holidays. All of the Chinese-run grocery stores remain open, but the Chinese-run hardware stores choose to close. We assume that people working  jobs that require them to shop at the hardware stores are off on these holidays, but people always want to buy food! Most souvenir and gift-type shops along the main street are open, and as you’d expect, government businesses are closed on these days.

Since most all of the “regular folk” have the days off, local beaches on the holidays are mobbed; much like July 4th in the U.S. The public dock that leads to Red Frog beach was packed with pagas of all sizes.

Here’s a brief rundown of November’s holidays, and what they signify:

November 2nd – Dia de los Difuntos (Day of the Dead): This isn’t a patriotic holiday, but it is a special day in Panama and all over Latin America. People pay respects to their loved ones who have passed away. Traditionally, they go to the cemetery, visit the graves of their friends and family, bring flowers and gifts and make any necessary repairs to their tombstones (like new paint).

Day of the Dead is a “dry” Panamanian holiday. Bars close at midnight on November 1st and stay closed until midnight the following evening. Sale of alcohol in the province of Bocas del Toro is prohibited on this day. Luckily, we did not come to town planning to stock up on alcohol, as we had no idea of the “dry” rule.

November 3rd – Separación de Colombia (Separation from Colombia): What is the nation of Panama today didn’t come to be until 1903.  This holiday marks the day that Panamanian separatists proclaimed their separation from Colombia. It’s a very important part of Panamanian history, and is  celebrated with three big days of dance, party and music.

Novermber 4th – Dia de la Bandera (Flag Day): The flag of Panama was drafted in secrecy and presented the day after the separation from Colombia was proclaimed.

Flag of Panama

The red and blue rectangles represent the liberals and the conservatives, the two political parties of the time. The white stands for an agreement of peace between them. The blue star symbolizes purity and honesty, and the red star authority and law. Hanging it correctly has the blue star and red rectangle on top.

By the way, this is a pet peeve of mine. It makes me insane when I see the Maryland flag hanging upside down. If you’re going to fly it, do it right!

We were in town shopping on Flag Day, and had to weave in and out of spectators. and the parade itself, to get where we were going. When our shopping was done, we watch some of the parade while waiting for the panaga back to Red Frog.

November 5th – Día de Colon (Colon Day): This holiday celebrates the day that the separation of Panama from Colombia was official.

November 10th – Primer Grito de Los Santos (First Cry of Los Santos): This date commemorates an uprising in the village of Los Santos in 1821, and is recognized as the first step toward independence from Spain.

November 16th  – Dia de la Fundacion de Bocas del Toro (Bocas Day): The province of Bocas del Toro was founded on November 16th, 1903, only 14 days after the creation of Panama as a sovereign state. This day also marks the culmination of all the drumming practice that is heard throughout the previous weeks.

Bocas Day features a big parade on Isla Colon with students coming from all over the province to participate. We’ve learned that these kids have good reason to be practicing so much; it’s a contest. There are three categories for prizes: niños (10 years old and younger), colegio (high school) and independiente (adults).

We were anchored off of town on Bocas Day, and I heard the drumming begin at 5:30am! A ferry arrives daily, from nearby Almirante, loaded with trucks full of groceries, goods, and supplies. It also acts as a passenger ferry, but we have seldom seen more than a few people aboard as it arrives.

Bocas Day was much different. The ferry came twice, each time loaded down with many more passengers than cargo. Band members also arrived by ferry, and we could here them celebrating on board, long before they passed us on the way to the dock.

Scott and I went into town that afternoon, and watched the end of the parade. It went on for six hours, beginning at 10:30am, and ending around 4:30. During this time, there were several periods of heavy rain, but the parade participants were undeterred. Later that evening, it rained biblically,  for hours, and we still heard drumming late into the night.

Scott and I meandered through the crowds, watch a little of the parade and enjoyed some yummy street food. I had a noodle bowl, with tender, delicious chicken. Having eaten mystery meat at a previous event, Scott chose a skewer with the same chicken, because the meat was identifiable.

November 23rd – Dia de Bastimentos (Bastimentos Day): Bastimentos was founded in the same month (November) and year as Bocas del Toro, and this is another day full of parades and parties. “Basti” Day is located in Bastimentos Town, which is at the opposite end of Bastimentos Island from the Red Frog property. The little town is much more hilly, and must be a challenging go for those parade kids!

November 28th – Independencia de España (Independence from Spain): What started with the uprising in Los Santos ended 18 days later, in the proclamation of a new nation, independent from Spain: Gran Colombia.  Gran Colombia consisted of modern day Panama, Colombia, Venezuela  and Ecuador. Panama celebrates two Independence days; one from Spain and one from Gran Colombia. Any reason for another parade!

Many islands we’ve visited have celebrated holidays or carnival during our stay, and it’s been fun to experience the sights, and sounds in each location Here are more holiday photos.

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


Back At Anchor

Leaving Red Frog Marina, we headed back to anchor off of Bocas Town for a few days. I wanted to make a final trip to town, some  fresh produce before we continued on, and was also interested in renting a golf cart to see more of Isla Colon. After that, the plan was to anchor at several places in the area, and then head east along the coast of Panama.

Once again, Mother Nature had other plans. A tropical low was trying to form, just north of Panama, and the timing would conflict with anchoring in areas along the coast, as they don’t allow for good protection in certain wind directions.

The wind forecast was all over the place, predicting very strong stuff one day, and backing down on it the next. There was also a threat of squalls every day, but we are confident in the hulk, and decided to take it day by day, relocating if needed.

We decided to focus on the positives…the weather was breezy, more cloudy and cooler. All good things for being at anchor, and unplugged from air conditioning! We were also just a stone’s throw from a free dinghy dock, so shopping and other things in town were easy and convenient. Anchored off of town gave us unobstructed views of Costa Rica’s mountains on the horizon, and we were timed perfectly to enjoy the supermoon!

We decided to use our extra time, and have a golf cart day. There are all-terrain vehicles for rent in town, but I wasn’t interested in driving one myself, and Scott couldn’t guarantee not scaring me to death if we rode together. Helmets are required to ride the ATVs, and I’d be sitting right on top of the motor. Both of those thing spelled hot for me, so a golf cart it was.

The man behind the counter told us that we were restricted as to where on the island we could go, as the carts aren’t built to handle the condition of the roads in some areas. So of course, at the first opportunity, Scott turned to the right when he should have stayed left.

Once on the forbidden path, we passed many signs for Plastic Bottle Village, and it finally came into view.  A community of buildings and houses is in development, with used plastic bottles as core material before they are covered in concrete. The castle-like, quirky entrance was definitely eye catching.

As the roads became more hilly, muddy and bumpy, we passed under a huge canopy of bamboo, thickly anchored in the ground. It was like driving in a fairy tale, and Scott wished he’d had access to bamboo this thick when building a tiki bar each year, for our  summer parties on land.

Not wanting to challenge the poor cart any further, Scott admitted defeat, and we turned around. It was lunch time, and we stopped at Scully’s for a cold drink and some food. Owned by American expats, Scully’s sits on the waterfront, with several inviting seating options.

Sadly, our little cart was not the best built model. It had been stalling on us all morning, when we slowed or came to idle, and the steering was similar to that of an amusement park bumper car. I spent most of the drive holding my breath as we’d make an unexpected, hard swerve toward the edge of the road, with Scott yelling, “I can’t help it, this thing is garbage!”

When we got into the cart to leave Scully’s, it wouldn’t start. Scott tried and tried, and waited and tried, and waited and tried some more, then made a call. A mechanic brought us a replacement cart, and we left him to deal with the dead one.

While this cart definitely ran better, the steering was worse! Scott was too worried that he’d run over some poor person walking alongside the road, so we called it a day, and headed back to the rental shop. Since we’d only had the cart for just under half a day, they refunded us some money, which was fair.

Bocas had proved to be spear fish-challenged for Scott. There just weren’t many areas to find fish and lobster. However, Scott is nothing if not diligent, and finally came up lucky, bringing home four lobsters, and a black crab.

Howard was fascinated with Scott’s catch, and watched intently as Scott prepared them. Contrary to what you may think, he wasn’t interested in engaging with, or eating the crustaceans. With more than enough lobster,  and because boiling water would heat up the boat, we decided to release the crab.

We picked up many little geckos on our decks while at Red Frog, and one has recently made it’s way inside.  Scott noticed it in the galley, near the sink, coiled up like a snake. Since then, we’ve spotted the little guy in other areas of the boat as well.

Howard has failed to notice our latest stowaway, and that thing better hope I don’t wake during the night to find it crawling across me.

Heavy rain was often visible on the horizon, and the skies became dark each day, but we managed to dodge severe weather.

We enjoyed a few more trips into town (Scott actually requested that we revisit sushi!), and I was able to get in another barbecue night at Boca Marina’s cantina. The supermoon caused higher than normal tides, and when we arrived, it was either slosh through the water, or walk across the soggy, muddy grass.

Sadly, their delicious pizza that I came for wasn’t offered on our last visit, so I settled for a less yummy burger.

Weather threat aside, we are enjoyed being back at anchor, and hoped to be on the move again soon. Here are more photos.

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