Howard’s Cartagena Vet Visit

Howard was coming due for his yearly rabies vaccine. Few animals enjoy vet visits, but instead of being quietly terrified (as my last two female cats were), Howard is very “sassy.” He has a Caution sticker on his file at home, and the older and stronger he gets, the more “piss and vinegar” he spits out at a visit. If anything more than a quick vaccine is needed, we have to take him in for the day, to be put under anesthesia.

As we travel, vets and techs are always surprised at Howard’s size when he comes out of his carrier. At just under three years old, he’s 16lbs and very strong. In Roatan, the vet sprayed some pheromones in Howard’s direction, in an effort to calm him. I wanted to inform the poor vet that there weren’t enough pheromones in the building to calm Howard when he’s mad, and I was right. The vet only got half of the vaccine amount in, the rest going all over me and Howard’s fur. Knowing that Howard has no chance of catching rabies, half a shot didn’t concern me. All I wanted was that piece of paper showing a record of the vaccine for customs, which we got…for only $15.00!

Extra stresses, like dinghy and panga rides, and hot car and rooms only make vet visits while cruising worse, and after a terrible experience in Bocas del Toro, we now try to minimize things that will accentuate said “sass.” Cartagena seemed like a good place to get Howard his latest rabies vaccine: we were at a dock, so getting on-and-off the boat was easy; with the great exchange rate for our U.S. dollar in Colombia, the vet visit was affordable and cabs were cheap. There was a vet in the Manga neighborhood, not far from the marina. Scott and I went on a reconnaissance mission, and all seemed good, so I made an appointment.

On vet day, we loaded Howard into his carrier, walked him through the marina and out to the street to catch a cab. He stayed calm, and seemed to enjoy taking in all the smells as we walked. The short cab ride was air conditioned, and so was the vet’s office (both things were taken into account on the recon mission….a cool cat is a less stressed cat), so things were going along smoothly.

Our wait was short, and we were soon back in the exam room with the vet. He wasn’t fluent in English, but was very friendly. We managed to get Howard out of his carrier, vaccinated and back in before he hardly had a chance to hiss…excellent!

The vet suggested that Howard also have a vaccine for Feline Leukemia. Howard is never around other cats, to contract the disease, so I declined. After the rabies vaccine, the vet again stressed the Leukemia one. He even phoned his daughter, who spoke fluent English, and had her talk to me.

It wasn’t that I didn’t understand, I just didn’t want to put Howard through another vaccine. However, worried that a customs agent somewhere in the Eastern Caribbean may require it, I changed my mind. We pulled poor Howard back out of his carrier for vaccine number two….BAD idea.

Howard knew he was still at the vet, and coming back out of that carrier meant nothing good was going to happen. He came out growling (skipping hissing, and going right for growling), and fought hard as Scott tried to restrain him long enough for the vet to get the vaccine in. When the needle went into his skin, Howard lashed out at the nearest thing possible; unfortunately, the nearest thing was Scott’s hand, and he suffered another puncture wound to the hand.

Scott released our seethingly angry cat, and cleaned his hand in a nearby sink. The vet held up the half-full needle and looked at me, as if to imply that he wanted to inject the remainder. Fat chance! We’d all had enough drama and stress for one day.

I blamed myself for not leaving well enough alone. We’d had the best ever vet visit going, and changing my mind had caused havoc. I should have known better, and felt terrible for both Scott and Howard. Howard only lashed out in fear and anger, trying to protect himself from perceived danger, not knowing that he was hurting Scott. Thankfully, this wound was nowhere near as serious as the bite Scott received in the San Blas, and it healed quickly.

So, I again walked away with half a dose of vaccine in my cat, and another updated record. Fingers crossed, we’re free of vet drama for another year and things are back to normal in Howard’s world.

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

 

 

Our Visit To Cartagena’s Massive Castillo San Felipe de Barajas

From our slip at Club de Pesca, we had a great view of Castillo San Felipe de Barajas. The massive fort dominates an entire section of Cartagena’s skyline, and is the largest, most complex Spanish fort ever built in the New World. These photos  I found online give you an idea of just how mammoth this thing is.

Having never met a fort he didn’t like, Scott obviously wanted to visit. The sheer size intrigued me, so I was game as well, despite Cartagena’s intense midday heat.It was  just a short taxi ride to the fort, and after purchasing tickets, we made our way up the switch-back ramps that lead to the top.

 

Once there, we took time to enjoy views of the city below.

We then met our guide, who lead us on a tour, and provided us with many interesting facts about the fort and its history.

The original fort was commissioned in 1630 and was quite small, with eight batteries for artillery and barracks for 24 soldiers. Construction began on top of the 131 foot-high San Lázaro hill, and the fort took its shape over a period of 120 years. The original portion of the work, which included constructing the “old fort,” should have taken five years, but the governor’s unmerciful schedule pushed workers to complete it in just one.

In 1762 an extensive expansion began, which resulted in the entire hill being covered over with the huge fortress (online photo).

Slaves used pickaxes and shovels to first clear the highest point on the hill (pickaxes and shovels..no small feat), and then began building the fort from the top down. Using rectangular blocks gouged from both the coral reefs offshore and from a quarry nearby, the hill was covered with walls and ramps; sentry stations; watchtowers and bell-towers; weapons plazas, ramparts for cannons and artillery.

Structures were also built to maintain 500 troops at any one time, such as a central kitchen, laundry, hospital, foundry and huge cisterns to collect water during the rainy season, in preparation for times of drought.

There are extensive labyrinth-like tunnels that run under the fort, many dug by Welsh miners brought over especially for the task. The main underground tunnel runs along the perimeter of the fort’s complex at sea level. Chambers within it could be exploded, preventing the advance of overhead attackers.

This complex system of tunnels connected strategic points of the fortress, and were used for moving and storing provisions (food, weapons, gunpowder, etc.) as well as re-positioning troops or even evacuation, if ever needed, through a protected exit at the base of the fort.

The tunnels were constructed in such a way that any noise reverberated all the way along them, making it possible to hear the slightest sound of the approaching enemy’s feet, and also making it easy for internal communication among troops. Soldiers used verbal commands, or sent alerts by ringing bells with pre-arranged codes, their sounds echoing through the intersecting tunnels.

There are only a few tunnels open to the public, and I can only imagine the fear in taking a wrong turn (like a rat in a maze). We came upon a group of girls who had gotten turned around, and were a bit panicked. I was glad to have a guide to take us through the dark maze; at times, we used our cell phones for light!

As we entered the tunnels, our guide pointed out exposed sections of the coral and brick construction.

The strategic placement of the San Felipe was key in its defense. Located at the base of the fort was a “hospital” for lepers (where treatment consisted solely of prayer), which was avoided by all who feared the dreaded flesh-eating disease, believed to be caused by demons. The area surrounding the castle on three sides was a mixture of lowlands and hills, frequently flooded by seasonal heavy rains.

An elevated roadway connected these inhospitable surroundings to the fort. It served as a route for supplies, but was useless to attackers, as the road was well protected by the fort’s cannons.

Swamps lay on either side of the road, thick with swarms of mosquitoes carrying malaria and yellow fever that had been introduced to the New World by the African slaves, further hindering enemy troops; an army weakened by disease, exhaustion and thirst was an easy foe for the Spanish to overpower.

The fort itself was actually seven defensive structures, with overlapping fields of fire. Should an attacker actually breach one of the outer parameters, they’d find themselves confronted with a hail of gunfire coming from two or more of the remaining six fortifications. It was a death trap waiting to trap any enemy fool enough to accept the challenge.

The photo below shows long, angled sections designed for artillery fire.

Cannons fired through the upper openings, while men with rifles laid down to fire through the holes below.

The small slits at the other end allowed enough room for rifles to fire out, but prevented enemy fire from coming back through.

The entire massive fortress stands as a testament to Spanish tenacity and genius. It was truly impregnable, and was never taken, despite numerous attempts to storm it.

The geometry of San Felipe was years in advance of that practiced in Europe; a full half-century would elapse before fortifications on the continent would rival this enormous fort in Cartagena. Along with the old City of Cartagena, the fort was recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984.

When our tour was over, we spent more time admiring the views of Cartagena, from high atop San Felipe.

At night, the fort is lit with a warm glow, like a towering beacon on the hill. Here are a few online photos, the second is the view we had from our slip:

I have to say, the imposing and impressive Castillo San Felipe de Barajas was worth the day of sweat.

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

 

Cartagena’s Historic Walled City

Without doubt, Cartagena’s old walled city is its key attraction. The imposing walls were built to protect the city from pirate raids…an annoying side-effect of being a prosperous city on the Caribbean Coast of South America (I found this great aerial view online).

The city was founded in 1543, and served a key role in the organization and expansion of the Spanish empire. By the early 1540’s, had established itself as the main gateway for trade between Spain and its overseas empire.

During the colonial era, Cartagena was a key port for importing African slaves, and especially for precious metals. Gold and silver from mines in New Granada (what is now modern day Colombia and Panama) and Peru were loaded onto ships  bound for Spain, causing the city to be raided numerous times by pirates.

As a result, construction began in 1597 on a walled fortification around the city, which took nearly two centuries to complete, due to repeated damage from both storms and pirate attacks. It was finally finished in 1796, making the city virtually impenetrable.

In 1984, Cartagena’s colonial walled city and fortress were designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The massive coral-constructed walls are 30 feet high, and 65 feet thick at their base, complete with angled bastions (sections that project out from the wall and built at an angle, to allow defensive fire in several directions), towers and cannons.

The seven miles of huge stone walls that surround the historic center are in remarkably good shape.  The wide, expansive tops of the walls now serve as walkways for visitors, providing scenic city and sea views.Another online photo, showing the extensive upper walkways.

 

Inside the old walls, Cartagena’s historic streets are packed with churches, plazas, shops, cafes and restaurants, and the city is bursting with color. In addition to buildings of all shades, flower stalls, local lunch spots, produce carts and shops are a rainbow of bright hues .

A popular item seen in the city’s shops are items made from reed grass and wood. After the reed is hand-dyed, it’s cut into small pieces and used to accent wooden bowls and vases with bright, beautiful patterns. I couldn’t resist them, and chose this bowl to take home.

 

In addition to the endless shops in old Cartagena, many street vendors line the sidewalks with vibrant items for sale as well. The colors draw you in, and make it hard not to walk by without purchasing these beautiful items.

Even donkeys are colorful in Cartagena.

Old Cartagena has a very European feel, with it’s narrow streets, quaint balconies and  many church steeples visible from the city streets; a stark contrast to the Central American locations we’d visited over the last 18 months. It was as if we’d crossed an ocean instead of having made a thirty-some hour passage on the Caribbean Sea.

Modest houses and mansions alike are adorned with overhanging balconies of all shapes and sizes, and shady patios,  most accented with bright, colorful plants.

 

Large wooden doors are a common sight in many of the city’s houses. We were told that the large doors were used by carriages, and that the smaller doors within the larger doors were used for servants. We also heard that the smaller doors were used to prevent a hot blast of the tropical air entering the building when the door is opened, by minimizing the size of the entryway, and the larger door is used for big deliveries. Whatever the true meaning, the historic doors are beautiful.

Doorknockers, called aldabas in Spanish, are a common sight in Cartagena. The aldabas come from a time when social hierarchies meant families were eager to display their status. The size of the aldaba was an immediate indication to the public of your social standing and wealth. It was the ultimate status symbol, and a constant reminder of your place in Cartagena society.

In addition to their size of each aldaba had a symbolic meaning. The animal shapes corresponded to the owner’s profession:

Lizards represented royalty, signifying a family’s Royal Spanish background.

A fish or mermaid referred to the merchant class, particularly those who made a living from the sea.

We were told that lions represent teachers…and also the military.

Today, the aldabas are simply decorative, and Cartagena’s many shops sell all varieties and sizes.

Cartagena’s “fruit ladies” are a fixture on the city’s streets. They sell fresh fruit at a very cheap price, and also accept a tip for photos (we paid for some, and snuck in a few others).

The women were originally from San Bassilo de Palenque, which is located to the south of Cartagena. The small town was founded during the Colonial Era by runaway slaves who claimed to be obligated to no government.

The Palenqueras were so successful, that the town was able to negotiate its freedom.  In 1691 a royal decree established the village as its own entity, making residents the first free Africans in the Americas. The town is widely considered to be one of the first “free” towns in The New World.

On two ends of the city’s walls, restaurants are located atop the bastions, providing great views of the modern city and sunsets over the water. Cafe del Mar is at one end of the city, and draws a big crowd for daily sunsets.

From our slip at Club de Pesca, we could see Casa de la Cerveza, and enjoyed several fireworks displays that were set off here during our stay.

Cartagena’s most famous landmark, the Torre del Reloj, or Clock Tower, was once the main gateway to the walled city.

Of the three arched doorways, only the central one existed originally; the other two were occupied by a gun room and a chapel. In 1874, a clock was added to the gate, brought over from the United States. It was updated 63 years later, with a Swiss clock, which is still in place.

A short, fifteen minute walk from our marina put us at the clock tower gate. We seldom ventured in during the day, as the heat was brutal. By late afternoon, the sweltering temperatures would subside, and a much welcome breeze would blow, allowing us to wander and enjoy the city as it came alive in the evening. I borrowed this online photo of Cartagena aglow at night.

Colombia was not on our list of places to see, but every cruiser friend we met who’d visited told us that Cartagena was a must-do. We are thrilled to have listened to them, as this beautiful, historic city is a gem. Here are more photos of Cartagena’s colorful walled city.

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

 

 

On To Colombia

After spending four months in the San Blas, doing short, 2-4 hour jumps at most, between anchorages, we now faced a thirty-some hour run to Colombia. Whenever we settle in for an extended period, the thought of a long, overnight passage is unsettling. It’s always nerve wracking as we set out. Seas that were previously the norm for us, seem insanely huge until we get our passage “pants” back on.

We settled in and had an easy trip, with no severe waves or wind. After 27 hours, we approached Cartagena Bay, noticing the increased presence of fast pleasure boats running in and out of Cartagena (yay….wakes!).

The Colombian National Navy has a base near Cartagena, and we saw several of their ships on our way into the harbor.

We passed the remains of several forts, their walls still mostly intact. At one time, all of Cartagena harbor’s natural entrances were protected by forts, and the huge  Castillo San Felipe de Barajas that dominated the city to the east, from atop it’s rocky cliff.

MAQUETA

CUADRO DESEMBARCO

Many of these forts are still standing in some form, and we passed several on our way into the bay.

After passing towns and villages,  we eventually got our first glimpse at the modern skyline of Cartagena’s Boca Grande peninsula.

To the west was Cartagena’s commercial port, reminding us of scenes from our home port of Baltimore, Maryland, and it’s busy commercial shoreline.

As we came further into the harbor, the expanse of Boca Grande’s high rises came into clear view. The bright, white buildings with their blue and green glass windows gleamed among the palm trees and blue sky.

The Castillo Grande Lighthouse, and remains of Fort San Matias stand as a reminder of Cartagena’s history, among the modern skyline.

As we neared the harbor, the old, walled part of the city came into view, with it’s many church steeples rising into the midday sky.

We arrived at Club de Pesca, and headed for our slip. Docking was a bit challenging, as we only have one motor and don’t have the luxury of a bow thruster (they provide propulsion, making a boat more maneuverable). We usually rely on the outer poles of a slip, resting against one as we pivot into the place.

The slips at Club de Pesca didn’t have outer poles, and there were only finger piers on one side of our slip. That meant we had to come into the slip without making contact with the boat next to us, and without a pole to use for pivoting…making  things extra challenging.

Luckily, our friends on s/v Sirena were docked right next to us, on the “open” side of the slip. They’d heard us hail the marina on vhf, and Shawna was out on the bow, in case she needed to fend us off. That left me free to keep watch on the very large boat on the other side of us, as he stuck pretty far out past the short finger pier. There’s always a flurry of activity, and calling back and forth as we back in, but everything went fine.

We were required to use an agent for clearing into Colombia, and Julio was waiting for us on the dock as we came around the corner to our slip. He collected our passports and other needed documents, and was off to begin our clear in process. We settled into our slip, with a great view Roman Bridge, and the edge of the walled city.

 

We could see over to the many church steeples in old town, and also had views of Castillo San Felipe; behind us, the skyline of Boca Grande.

Howard took his usual post-passage, coma nap.

Once rested it was “turtle” box time. He loves to get under this collapsed box and run around, wearing it like a shell. Throw in some string and a straw, and it’s pure bliss…cats are weird. After clearing in, it was time to again raise the Colombian courtesy flag, and Howard helped make sure we had the right one.

 

 

Scott visited the atm to withdraw some cash. The exchange rate in Colombia (as we learned during our stays last year in Providencia and San Andres) is insane: 3,000 Colombian pesos to 1 US dollar; we’re millionaires here! Scott returned with a fist-full of bills…..20,000, 50,000, good grief!

We began to explore our surroundings. Shawna and Chris (s/v Sirena) filled us in on the need-to-knows: locations of grocery stores, restaurants, ice cream spots, etc., and we perused the marina grounds. It was a full house, with lots of daily activity, in the form of washing, waxing and detailing. I think most of the boats were cleaned more than they were used!

The fuel dock was a traffic jam every day, with boats of all sizes waiting in line to fill tanks and/or jugs. It was amusing for Scott to watch the organized chaos.

We stopped at one of the two restaurants on site for a happy hour cocktail, and were convinced that there was a meeting of the Colombian mafia at a nearby table. It was like a scene out of Scarface or Goodfellas. We remained quietly amused, not needing Colombian enemies.

Shawna had told me of the many kitties that call the marina grounds home. I bought some cheap cat food at the grocery store, and carried a bag with me whenever we came and went (Of course, I couldn’t get the bag out, without giving Howard some… I called it his McDonald’s treat). The cats came to know our step, and would pop out of their shelter spots, or run up to us for food.

Groucho (aptly named by Shawna because of his black mustache) was one of my favorites. He was very vocal, always greeting us for food near the rear marina entrance. If I thought I could talk Scott into it, and if there was a chance that Howard would share his space….and food, we’d have a second cat.

Club de Pesca in located in the Manga neighborhood, just a short walk across the bridge from the walled city. It was a very safe area, and we enjoyed wandering the streets.

Of course….Scott can always sniff out a unique vehicle.

Shawna and Chris took us to their favorite local find, D’Res. It was just across the park outside the  marina, and had terrific steaks at great prices! We returned several times, to get our red meat fix.

The streets of Cartagena are insanely clean, with crews sweeping them every morning. However, the condition of the sidewalks are treacherous. If you’re not frequently looking down as you walk, it’s easy to twist and ankle on the horribly uneven surfaces, or in the patches of rubble “repairs.”

In other places, exposed rebar and open holes wait to cause you harm, making it challenging to try and find your way along streets and across intersections, while looking down for these sidewalk traps.

In the late afternoon, when the marina office is closed, we enter through the old walls of Fort Manga, a daily reminder of the history surrounding us.

We ventured out to the nearby mall, in search of a sim card for our phone and of course, a McDonald’s fix for Scott. They made the food to order; still quick, but deliciously hot and yummy….. the best McDonald’s ever!!!

You couldn’t spit without hitting an ice cream place in the mall (or in all of Cartagena for that matter). I counted four, just in the food court area, including a McDonald’s stand-alone kiosk. At most locations, there is a separate ice cream counter, next to where you order burgers and fries. They’re serious about ice cream here.

Scott sought out a dermatologist in Boca Grande, and made an appointment for some routine scans. He walked there and back, past the high-rises and beaches. As a reward, he visited Burger King after the appointment, for another fast food fix. Much to his disappointment, it was not nearly as yummy as the McDonald’s food we’d enjoyed at the mall, much to his disappointment.

We were spending a month in Cartagena, so Scott took time for some boat projects. He replaced the raw water impeller, during routine maintenance of the pump. He finds it more thorough to just take the pump apart, so he can inspect all of it’s workings.

An oil change for the motor was also in order. During the process, he used a jiggle siphon to transfer oil from a five gallon bucket that he’d purchased in Bocas del Toro, to smaller containers for easier storage.

And, our poor, dirty cockpit got a fresh coat of paint…hurray!

As usual, we’re one of the smallest, oldest boats in the marina…but we’re ok with that. We’re enjoying our Cartagena home, and look forward to exploring the walled city!

Here are more photos.

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

 

 

 

 

 

Hey Don, Thanks For Going Easy On Us!

With Tropical Storm Don predicted to make a direct hit on Grenada, we prepared for 60 knot winds (always prepare for the worst). Scott secured loose things on the flybridge, stripped the canvas off of our bimini (canvas that shades the flybridge driving station), took the window covers off, removed our flags and stowed our extra solar panels (more on those later).

He tied an additional line to the mooring ball; readied our anchors in case we needed to drop them; put our large fenders in the cockpit, making them available in case another boat broke from it’s mooring and drug toward us; brought in our flopper-stoppers (large plates that hang from the paravanes, and reduce rolling at anchor…greatly reduce); and raised the paravanes, to reduced risk of another boat hitting them, making us more maneuverable through the anchorage should we need to move in a hurry.

While we were preparing the boat, the island of Grenada was preparing as well. One of the local radio stations broadcasted storm preparation information, and we heard the local Red Cross and Coast Guard making contact with each other over the vhf radio.

Businesses were required to close at 3pm, and we were very surprised to hear that public water and sewer were to be turned off at 7pm! Here’s a posting from the National Water and Sewerage Authority, with some interesting information:

ADVISORY – NAWASA TO SWITCH OFF ALL WATER SYSTEMS ON TUESDAY JULY 18TH, 2017

The National Water and Sewerage Authority (NAWASA) wishes to advise the general public that following a meeting of its Disaster Preparedness Committee, the following decisions were made:

– ALL WATER SYSTEMS will be switched off later this evening. A timeline will be provided once an update on Tropical Storm DON is received from NaDMA.

– Once our systems are switched off, consumers island wide will have their service interrupted WITHOUT A DEFINED RESTORATION TIME.

– An analysis of ALL water systems will be conducted by our engineering team on Wednesday July 19th and restoration will commence thereafter.

The Authority implores on the general public the need to:

• Collect and store water in clean, non-corrosive and mostly tightly covered containers both in and out of your refrigerator. To increase shelf life of water, group bottles in dark plastic trash bags to keep light out.

• Store enough water for each member of your family and pet. week.Have at least a minimum of three days supply, of thirty-five gallons per person, per day for domestic use. OUR MAIN ADVISORY – Water collection and storage to last minimum of three days and a maximum of 1 week.

• Store water in bath tubs, drums, pails and buckets for flushing of toilet, washing and general cleaning.

• Shut off water tanks and individual property connections. Your water can be shut off at either the outlet valve or the water meter. Everyone in your home should know where these are located.

NAWASA apologises for the inconveniences likely to be caused by this decision, but advises that this precautionary measure is necessary to safe guard our infrastructure and is in the best interest of the consumers we serve.

 

When our preparations were complete, we spent the rest of the day checking various online sites for updates on Don, and just waited, along with everyone else in the bay. Scott had a pre-Don cocktail, and Howard kept watch for fish.

Watching for fish can be tiring. Sometimes  you have to lay down on the job.

We were getting reports that Don was speeding up, but the eye was collapsing, and that wind speed predictions had dropped a bit; all good news.

As the day wore on, the winds died completely, and by early evening the bay was lake-like.  We watched the barometer drop on our weather station, and considered this the calm before the storm. The bay was noticeably less crowded, as many chose to hunker down in marinas or other island locations.

By sunset, Don was predicted to only cause us an hour’s worth of havoc, and at a much lower intensity. We began to get a decent swell coming into the bay, and readied for our 60 minutes of storm drama.

Instead, Don fell apart as it passed twenty miles south of us. We watched the radar updates online, and by 10 or 11pm, the storm, now reduced to a tropical wave, had officially passed us by without incident.There had been no wind to speak of, and we only received a quarter inch of rain.

The incoming swell lingered on though, and we continued to roll around for hours. Rolling back and forth (actually, Sea Life tends to lumber back and forth, as opposed to rolling) wasn’t as irritating as the noise from one of our paravane cables rubbing along a mast wire; the metal scraping sound was maddening. Realizing that Don was now a non-event, Scott lowered our paravanes and put the floppers back in the water….ahhhh.

So, Don fizzled out, thank goodness, and we dodged a tropical bullet. I’d like to believe that this was our one and only scare for the season, but we’ve learned all too well on this journey that Mother Nature is fickle.

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

 

 

Tropical Storm Don, Our Grenada Welcome Wagon

I have much to catch up on, but for now, a current update…..we arrived in Grenada a week ago, and Tropical Storm Don is our welcome wagon. Here’s a photo of Don’s predicted path. We are the bottom-most island/dot, in the yellowish-brown, with a 50-60% change of winds over 39 knots.

[Image of probabilities of 34-kt winds]

The storm is essentially passing right over us, with it’s specific path having very different results.

A tropical system spins counter-clockwise, with the top/north half having the most intensity.  Think of a pinwheel, sucking wind off in it as it spins. As the storm moves, that wind in the north half is given a extra boost, doubling it’s strength.

At the bottom of the pinwheel, the winds oppose the movement of the storm, and are much less, so south of a storm is where you want to be (scratch that…not anywhere near a storm is where you really want to be!).

If Don passes just north of Grenada, we expect sustained winds in the 25-30 knot range,  clocking around in every direction. However, if the storm tracks a bit south, we’ll get more direct winds, sustained closer to 45 knots….possibly as high as 60 knots.

None of this is life threatening, and we are preparing for maximum winds, just to be safe. Unfortunately, there are not completely protected anchorages or marinas here in Grenada, so we’re just gonna have to ride it out with fingers crossed.

We are currently in Prickly Bay, on Grenada’s south side. Many cruisers come to Grenada for hurricane season, so the bays are crowded with boats.

Map of Prickly Bay, Grenada

 

Image result for aerial view of prickly Bay

Our plan was to anchor, but we arrived to find that the marina here had filled most of the bay with mooring balls. Prickly Bay is safer than most, as far as local crime, so we chose to stay and take a ball. For those who may not know, a mooring ball is anchored to the bottom with a metal shackle. From there, a line travels up to the surface with a float/ball that you attach a line to.

On the positive side, balls are usually well spaced, and there’s no worry about boats with little anchoring experience breaking loose and dragging. The downside is that you’re never sure what condition the balls are in; whether the lines are still strong and the shackles are good. Several boats here have broken from their mooring here, drifting through the anchorage, one as recently as four days ago.

Our quandary is whether to stay here on the ball, and risk it breaking, or having other moorings break, and those boats drifting our way. Or, head for another bay that is just as full, and risk anchors dragging (instead of moorings breaking) and boats drifting. We considered going to a marina, but they aren’t much more protected from heavy wind, and Scott’s concerned about being tied down and not able to swing with the winds, or cut and run if needed.

Here is Don’s timeline…..Murphy’s Cruising Law: Bad shit almost always happens at night! (we are between the blue line, and the S to the right…roughly 10pm-midnight)

cone graphic

So, we’re hunkering down here in Prickly Bay, and hopeful that Don gives us a gentle welcome to Grenada.

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

Farewell Panama, You Were A Beautiful Host

After spending eight months in Panama, we prepared to leave the San Blas Islands, and head for Colombia. Our original plan was to be in Bocas del Toro by the end of June, and stay for a month. After that, it would be on to the San Blas for the month of August, and then head for Colombia in September. As we’ve well learned, weather rules the cruising world, and as a result, we didn’t arrive in Bocas until the first week in August.

Since we’d arrived late, and paid several hundred dollars to clear into Panama, I told Scott it would be a shame to rush through the country, so we slowed our plan. Almost three months later, we’d grown attached to the laid back, comfortable town of Bocas del Toro, and the scenic surrounding islands. We met new friends, and frequented stores and restaurants in town so much that we were recognized on the street.

We ate fresh made pizzas at Bocas Marina’s barbecue night, got to know most every happy hour special in town (Scott even came to like sushi!) and never got tired of the mountain views.

At Red Frog Marina, we were surrounded by lush jungle rain forest, and enjoyed the short walk through tropical scenery to the beach, for yummy tacos. The staff quickly became friends, and the sights and sounds of the property were truly beautiful.

 

Scott crawled through caves with bats, hiked trails on Red Frog’s property and explored the archipelago with the Aluminum Princess.

We went to Sunday parties at Ron Azul,  attended many happy hours on Red Frog’s dock, survived crazy, crowded, high-speed panga rides to and from town and celebrated Thanksgiving at a terrific potluck with friends during our final days in the area.

It was hard to cut the apron strings and leave Bocas, which will always have a special place in our cruising memories, but there was more of Panama to see.

As we headed for the San Blas Islands, our route took us to more beautiful locations. The shoreline scenery at Escucdo de Veragus was almost otherworldly, and we spent hours in the dinghy taking in the sights.

Portobelo’s harbor was quiet and picturesque, and we enjoyed roaming the ruins of the many forts that surround the town.

At Captain Jack’s, perched on a hill in town, we were welcomed with cold towels, local info., and delicious food. We’d have liked to linger longer in Portobelo, but weather pushed us on.

Next was a pit stop at Linton Bay, for an overnight trip to Panama City, and a visit to the Panama Canal. We spent hours watching the huge ships close up, as they passed through the locks on their way to the Pacific.

Then it was on to our hotel for the night, where we continued to watch the ships pass by. It was also a treat to watch tv in English, and take roomy showers.

Our return trip toward Linton Bay was by train, on the Panama Canal Railway; what a cool way to travel! We spent the entire ride out on the observation deck, getting up close and personal with our surroundings.

We took advantage of a lull in the wind, and enjoyed a calm ride over to the San Blas Islands, where we enjoyed a tropical Christmas and spent almost four months surrounded by gorgeous water and uninhabited palm tree islands.

Scott fished almost every day, catching endless lobster, then using the heads as bait for delicious Trigger fish!

 

There were endless anchorages, some near the lush, mainland mountains and others surrounded by reef and palms. 

We enjoyed getting food from veggie boats, and interacting with the friendly Guna people.

For somewhere so remote, our social calendar was quite busy! We made terrific friends here, who we’ll keep in touch with for years to come. There were many beach parties, as well as trash burning gatherings, which was always a good excuse to bob in the water.

During our time in the San Blas, we had our first official cruising visitor. Our friend Karen made the adventurous journey to see us, and we had a ball catching up, introducing her to our friends, and showing off our “neighborhood”!

Scott continued his explorations, by land and sea, and Howard spent his time in Panama as he does in every location we visit, playing, napping and watching for fishes….and occasionally sharks, and generally keeping us on our toes!

 

 

So now it’s time to move on, and leave where we’ve called home for the last eight months. We could spend years here, or very easily live here. The country is beautiful, and offers much to see and do on the water and inland, as well as in Panama City. Our departure is bittersweet, but we look forward to our next stop, and for the adventure to continue.

 

 

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