Christmas And New Year’s Eve. In The San Blas Islands

We’re alive and kickin’, here in the San Blas islands! Internet service is more available than expected, but usually requires precise placement of a cell phone (used as an internet hot spot) at the highest outside point possible. It’s a familiar sight here, to see phones encased in plastic bags, hanging from, or being hoisted up a mast. At best, the service comes and goes, making uploading challenging, with the strongest hours coming in the middle of the night…oy! Some people have boosters installed on board, to up the strength of the signal. Others travel to anchorages that may have better service.

We do not have a booster, and are trying not to spend our time chasing the internet, so getting a signal worth doing anything, for any amount of time, is basically a crap shoot.

I’ve finally caved, and have spent several all-nighters (with nap breaks during weak service periods) while we’re in a location with decent service, to catch up a bit, and share what we’ve been up to for the past two months. Yes, I guess I could have written a post without photos attached, but that would just be mean.

We made our way from Linton Bay, on Panama’s mainland, to the eastern Holandes Cays in the San Blas islands, where we anchored in the Swimming Pool. Named for it’s shallow, clear blue water, the pool lives up to it’s name. The anchorage provides an nearly 180 degree view of the surrounding reef, and the breaking waves are easily heard day and night.

The views behind us were just as beautiful, with the colors of patch coral in the distance.

On our first morning at anchor in “the pool,”  we had a visit from Venancio, one of just a few master mola makers in the San Blas. We’d been told to keep an eye out for him, and were surprised to see him so far east.  Venancio told us that he makes the eight hour round trip to the eastern Holandes from the island where he lives, just once a week, so we were lucky to catch him.

Venancio came aboard with a trash can full of molas, and some beaded bracelets. He took each mola out, and explained it’s design as he laid them out for us to see. They were beautiful; full of color, and all hand stitched.

We chose several of our favorites, and then Venancio packed up his trash can, loaded it aboard the ulu (wooden canoe) and covered it well, protecting the molas from the salt air and spray.  Mola purchase in San Blas..check.

The week before Christmas, we heard a general announcement on the vhf that there was going to be a cruiser gathering on Barbecue Island, located at the front of the anchorage, just behind the reef. We were excited to meet the other cruisers in the anchorage, and arrived with an appetizer to share with the group. The weather was perfect, and we met many new friends. (photo courtesy of s/v Sundowner)

Once the sun set, locals on the island, who run a small “resort” (I use that term very loosely) lit a bonfire for us. Their fire starting was far from skilled, as we watched them spray the huge pile of wood and palm fronds with gasoline! (photo courtesy of s/v Sundowner)

As expected, Scott spent many hours in the Aluminum Princess, exploring the anchorage and the area around the expansive reef.

He always has his pole spear handy, as his snorkeling outing often turn into hunting expeditions…many times successful ones!

Scott dropped a lobster head into the water behind the boat, to see what might bite. It seems that Triggerfish find them pretty tasty. Regulars here in the San Blas refer to Triggerfish as “Bob.” Maybe because there are many in the waters here…not sure. Bob likes lobster.

On windy days, current would run through the anchorage at close to four knots, making swimming very challenging. Scott’s solution was to take the Princess to one end of the anchorage, tie himself to it with a 30 foot line, and drift along behind it, as the boat made it’s way back through the anchorage in the current.

He  caught quite a few very large conch like this, having just enough time to get to the bottom and grab them before being pulled along. Neither of us were up for the job of cleaning conch (eewww), so we shared them with some of our new friends in the anchorage…and joined them for some fresh ceviche as a thank you!

We would get regular visits from the Gunas, in their ulas (dugout canoes). They usually had molas and jewelry for sale. We already had more molas than needed, but were happy to fill their water jugs with fresh water, and occasionally a juice for small children. They also took our aluminum cans, to sell to the Colombian trader boats who recycle them.They both row and sail the ulas, and the women’s traditional dress is beautiful.

There is no trash removal service here in the San Blas. Bottles are broken into pieces (the theory is that the pieces will eventually turn into sea glass) and dropped overboard when in deep water (at least 150 feet), along with steel cans (anything that will rust away). This isn’t just practice reserved for the San Blas islands, the U.S Coast Guard has similar requirements for trash removal offshore.

All other trash here is burned. Being new to the San Blas, we weren’t sure which beaches were acceptable for this, as all of the islands here are owned by Guna families, whether they are inhabited or not. Until we learned the rules of trash burning etiquette, Scott improvised.

Channeling his inner “MacGyver,” Scott fashioned a rack from a wire coat hanger (I’m shocked that we had one on board, although he probably had it squirreled away for just such an occasion),and placed it in the bottom of an old varnish can. He punched holes in the bottom for air, and voila!, a burn can for the grill was born.

This would have been the perfect solution if we burned every day, or made less trash, but we do neither of these things. Instead, Scott would spent two hours or more burning everything from paper to an old pair of shorts.

Positive…our trash burned down to a tiny pile of  ash. Negatives..it took hours, and we had to close up the saloon, to avoid being choked out from the smoke.

Luckily, or new-found cruiser friends invited us to join them for a trash burn run. We followed them about 20 minutes from the pool, to a beautiful spot, where they meet to burn trash. Fires are made near the waterline, so that high tide will wash away the leftover ash.

We soon realized that trash burning here is a social event. Once the trash has burned, and while we wait for the ashes to smolder and cool, it’s time for bobbing with drinks in the clear blue water; now that’s my idea of a day’s work!

By the way, wearing some kind of shirt is a must in the water here  (unless you’re our friend, Sharda, who is blessed with skin from Trinidad!). I learned this the hard way, frying my shoulders and back from the reflection of the hot sun off of the water.

When we first arrived, there were few boats in the anchorage  here, but during  the weeks of Christmas and New Year’s Eve. the numbers grew.

 

Of course, Christmas would not be complete without lights! We lugged along our holiday lights, and Sea Life was quite a festive sight in the anchorage. (photo courtesy of s/v Sundowner)

After enduring a stretch of windy weather in the pool, with the accompanying currents and insane salt spray, we decided to change locations for the next go-round. After the new year, we headed around the corner to the Hot Tub (yes, from the pool, to the hot tub..tough times).

With more protection from the winds, the water in “the tub” is much calmer, and the current much less strong. In addition to more beautiful views, the water is supposed to be warmer than in the pool, hence the name. However, we found it to be much cooler…ahhhh, refreshing.

 

 

Scott found a great honey hole around the corner, catching lobster and Lionfish. They are invasive, so he tries to kill them whenever he can. Lionfish are also good eating, but challenging to clean, due to their poisonous dorsal fins.

Once again, Scott used lobster tails for bait, and attracted a huge Bob! He grabbed his pole spear, and shot it right from the cockpit, without even getting wet. Unfortunately, Big Bob did not go down without a fight, flopping and bleeding all over the cockpit when Scott removed the spear tip.

Scott delivered this massive fish to our friends, Jon and Shannon, on s/v Prism. They were waiting for a new dinghy motor, requiring them to row everywhere.

In case you’re wondering, Howard is enjoying life in the San Blas. He keeps an eye on us from one of his favorite perches, up under the solar panels, and loves when the fish light goes in the water each night.

So our first few weeks in the San Blas were off to a great start. We made many new friends, and enjoyed the beautiful views. More to come, as we explore new anchorages. Here are more photos.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Provisioning For The San Blas Islands

We plan to spend the winter months in the San Blas Islands, located on the northwest coast of Panama, in the Caribbean Sea (more to come).

Image result for map of the san blas islands

The islands are remote and primitive, so Scott and I have gone into “food panic,” buying as much as we can stuff onto this poor boat. The consensus is that there are veg boats (with iffy produce and uncertain selection), and locals selling bread, fish and lobster; aside from that, you’re on your own.

While we were in Bocas, and familiar with stores and stock, Scott and I took the Aluminum Princess on a provisioning run from Red Frog Marina to Bocas Town. We tied to the small pier outside The Pub restaurant, having been told that the expat owner was friendly to cruisers.

Once in town, we hit the ground running. Our first stop was to one of the larger hardware stores, where we emerged with miscellaneous items for Scott, and a huge trash bag full of paper towels and toilet paper. From there, we went to Super Gourmet, who stock hard-to-find and specialty items from the U.S. After that, our two regular grocery stores, ending at Isla Colon, owned by our new friend, Felix.

As we checked out, with two carts full of items, in addition to the pile of stuff we’d lugged in with us and the stack of beer and sodas that Felix had brought out from the back, the girl behind the counter offered to have our pile of stuff driven to wherever we needed to go. Our plan was to take a taxi back to The Pub, but a free ride was even better!

In no time flat, a pick up truck pulled up in front of the store, and three men loaded our endless packages into the back, bucket brigade-style, tossing our heavy items in the air to each other; Scott tried to help, but was politely squeezed out. We’d asked the counter girl about tipping, and were told, “Nothing. This is a service that we provide, free of charge. No tip is necessary.”

Once all of our things were loaded into the bed of the truck, Scott and I hopped inside, into the frosty-cold, air conditioned truck (it was only a three minute ride, but any a/c is good a/c); all of the “loaders” got in as well! As an added treat, the driver serenaded us in Spanish for the short ride, much to the chagrin and groans of his co-workers.

Once at The Pub, all three men got out with us to unload. Scott and I were barely able to grab a bag, as the caravan of Isla Colon employees made it’s way through the restaurant and out onto the pier where we prepared to load the Aluminum Princess ( for a moment, the restaurant owner thought he was getting a forgotten order delivered). The three made two quick trips with our things, and then smiled and waved us goodbye. Wow.

Now that the heavy lifting was done…literally, Scott and I quickly loaded up the Princess, and then took time to have lunch. We were hungry, and wanted to give a show of appreciation to the owner of The Pub, for allowing us to use his pier and haul our things through his restaurant.

After recharging with food and drink, we made our way back to the marina and unloaded everything onto Sea Life.

We then got to work finding space for everything, beginning with loading up the area under the couch. The sleeper sofa in our saloon has been “gutted,” allowing for a huge amount of storage space. I resisted at first, but am now so grateful for all of that room!

I also resisted keeping a log of our food and toiletry stores, but have since come around to the idea. It’s much easier to zero in on where something is, and keep track of what we have, if it’s all written down.

By the way, when you panic about stocking up on food, this is what happens. I’d forgotten to buy spreadable butter, and Scott offered to go back and get it, saying that he’d seen some in Isla Colon. When I unpacked everything, here is what he’d bought.

Notice the amount…..five pounds! Seriously, it’s huge; I measured the stupid thing, to make sure it would fit in the fridge! (it just fits)

Once the couch was stuffed full, we crammed the tower of sodas and beer into the guest stateroom, along with bottles of wine and bags of flour, sugar and rice.

Various things were placed in plastic bags or tupperware containers, and stored in the lazarette, up on the flybridge and in bilge areas. After that, any remaining items were jammed into any cabinet or closet that had an available nook or cranny. Sea Life just kept “swallowing it up,” as Scott likes to say. She’s full to the brim, and we’re heavy in the water.

In addition to and inordinate amount of canned goods, paper towels, toilet paper and various liquids, we’re stocked up on dry goods (pasta, instant potatoes, Bisquick, crackers, spices, etc.), jarred sauces, candy, snacks, cheese, BUTTER, all types of frozen meat and various other refrigerated and frozen items.

We’ve also filled up on as much ice as room will allow. Scott’s anxiety for running out of this precious item is off the charts. He loooves his ice, and we won’t be able to buy it in the San Blas. We have an ice maker onboard, but running it on our batteries for a day yields enough to make two drinks; he’s panicked.

So we’re as ready as we’re going to be, for three or so months of off grid/grocery store living. If we starve, it’s our own fault. Who knows, maybe we’ll open our own San Blas grocery store!

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

 

 

Scott’s Bachelor Days

While I was gone for five weeks, Scott enjoyed some serious bachelor time. A conversation two weeks into my trip home went something like this:

Me: How is everything?

Scott: Ok, but the boat kinda smells.

Me: Have you done laundry? (keep in mind, I’d been gone for two weeks)

Scott: I’ll probably do it tomorrow.

Me: Are you showering regularly?

Scott: Well, maybe not as regularly as society would like.

Me: Ok, so the laundry stinks, and you stink and therefor the bed sheets also stink. Maybe this the cause of said smell.

Scott: And I may not be rinsing the sink as good as I should, ’cause it kinda has a smell, too.

Me: Please pay someone to clean the boat before I come back.

Scott’s answer to the squashing the smell? When I talked to him the next day, he’d sprayed some body spray into the air conditioning vents, so the smell would travel down into the stateroom. I told him I was actually fine with that, but to still do the laundry, and shower more often! Thankfully, when I came back, everything smelled and looked normal.

In the meantime, Pete, our neighbor across the pier, had to empty his fuel tanks for repairs, and offered it to us…free of charge. Scott just had to get it from Pete’s boat to ours.

After waiting in vain for the mechanic at the marina to help out with pumping the fuel, Scott went to town and bought 100 feet of hose, removed his pump from our engine room, assembled everything on the pier, and pumped 350 – 400 gallons of fuel from Pete’s boat, across the pier and into our tanks.

Before beginning, Scott moved all of the fuel we had into one tank, just in case Pete’s fuel wasn’t the cleanest. As always, Scott filtered the fuel down to 10 microns as he pumped it, and said that it looked great. It was a bit of a hassle, but the process saved us approximately $1,000.00!

There were also several excursions on the Aluminum Princess while I was gone. Scott’s first outing was to the Snyder Canal.

Bocas del Toro is home to Panama’s first man-made canal. The Snyder Banana Company received permission from the Colombian government in 1899 to construct a canal from near Isla Colon to nearby Changuinola, in order to develop banana plantations on property recently obtained from the estate a German banana grower in the area.

There needed to be some way to transport banana bunches to ships waiting in Almirante bay, so construction of the the Snyder Canal began. The United Fruit Company purchased the Snyder Banana Company in 1899, and completed the canal 1903.

In addition to bananas, the canal was used to barge construction materials, supplies, bridge and steam locomotive parts and personnel to Changuinola. A telephone line was installed along the length of the canal, to communicate the control of heavy barge traffic.

Bridges and railroad systems were eventually built, connecting port facilities to plantations from Changuinola to the Costa Rican border 30 miles away.

 By 1909, with the railroad system in place for transporting bananas to newly opened port facilities located on the mainland, the Synder Canal was declared obsolete and was abandoned.

Referred to as “the other Panama Canal,” the Snyder Canal parallels the Caribbean coast, not far from Bocas del Toro. These days, the shoreline has grown into the canal in many spots, making for interesting travel. Scott also passed several local Indian homes on his journey.

As most of the land along canal is also fronts the Caribbean Sea (canal on one side, Caribbean Sea on the other), Scott noticed many investor signs along the way. It seems that they intend to eventually develop the shoreline here.

As the canal ends, the water opens up again, with field-like grasses on either side.

Scott next traveled the Rio Banano, a small, natural river nearby. Unlike the man-made canal, the Rio Banano is thick with mangroves. They crowd the shoreline, and hang down from above like tropical stalactites.

Scott navigated the twisting, turning path through the muddy, sediment-filled water. He hoped that his prop didn’t snag anything along the way, not wanting to put his hand in the murky water to free it.

Scott loves a good day of exploring, and enjoyed discovering these two interesting waterways. Here are more photos of his Aluminum Princess excursions near Bocas.

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

Exploring Bocas del Toro

The country of Panama is an isthmus (a narrow strip of land with sea on either side, forming a link between two larger areas of land), bordered by the Caribbean Sea to the north and the Pacific Ocean to the south. Bocas del Toro is located at the northwest end of Panama, near the border of Costa Rico.

Image result for location of bocas del toro

Bocas del Toro Province is made up of an island chain off the Caribbean coast, and a section of nearby mainland. The archipelago separates Almirante Bay from the Caribbean Sea, and is made up of 10 islands. It was originally dubbed “the Galapagos of Panama” for its scores of biologically unique islands and islets. Our marina is on the main island of Isla Colon, where the capital, Bcocas Town is also located. The archipelago also includes 50 cays and some 200 tiny islets.

Not surprisingly, during the 17th century, the archipelago became a haven for pirates. They repaired ships on the islands, built others with wood from the forests and fed upon the many sea turtles in the area.

Gold was not plentiful in Bocas del Toro, so the Spaniards did not colonize the region with the same ruthlessness that was seen in other parts of Panama and the Caribbean.

From the 16th century to the mid-1800s, Bocas was little more than an uncharted frontier. Blazing sun, torrential rain, floods, bugs, landslides, and a plenty of feverish diseases made it pretty inhospitable (hmmm, aside from the landslides and diseases, sounds pretty familiar to us!). Later on, a little fishing village settled where Bocas Town is today.

Bocas town

In 1899, the United Fruit Company planted itself in Bocas town and over the next century that followed, it established vast plantations that stretched across the entire peninsula. Based in Bocas del Toro, the company rapidly expanded through Central and South America, constructing elaborate networks of roads, bridges and canals as well as entire towns and cities to house their workers.

However, one by one, plantations began to fall to a mysterious and deadly infection. “Panama disease” was a fungus that incubated in the soil and spread by floodwaters. By the 1920s, the banana plantations had died out.

During World War II, the Japanese cut off the world’s supply of abaca, which is used to make Manila hemp, the raw fiber in rope. Unable to tie their warships, the U.S. government enlisted the United Fruit Compnay to grow abaca on an industrial scale, and  Bocas del Toro was suddenly booming again.

Today, United Fruit is part of Chiquita Brands (based in Cincinnati), and their workers in Bocas del Toro Province grow and export three-quarters of a million tons of bananas annually.

Chiquita

Alright, enough historical tidbits….Now that the Aluminum Princess was in the water, and we’d made a dent in the to-do list, it was time for some exploring. Our first run was an hour-long ride along the shoreline of Bocas Town, just before sunset. Restaurants, hotels and homes in all conditions are crammed together, many  built entirely over the water.

Carenero Island is just off of Isla Colon, and Bocas Town, so we took a spin past that shoreline next.

While perusing the piers of Marina Carenero (because Scott never tires of looking at boats), we noticed this interesting tenting over a boat having work done. It strapped right to the pier, providing a sturdy structure for the work being done inside.

On the other side of the island, as we motored close to some over-water houses, Scott caught sight of a Maryland registration sticker on a small sailboat that has seen better days; neglected boats make him sad.

A few days later we took a longer ride, heading around the corner from the marina and over to the small settlement of Saigon, which backs up to the far side of Bocas Town. Most all of these houses sit over the water, in all shapes and sizes.

Next it was on to Starfish Beach. We actually didn’t see any starfish, just several interesting, low-key restaurants. We made a mental note for a future visit.

On our way back to the marina, we enjoyed views of the gorgeous clouds over the mountains of nearby Costa Rica.

Scott was concerned about leaving the Aluminum Princess in the water for days at a time, and set about devising a way to allow the bottom to dry. His answer? Tie off the bow of the Aluminum Princess to Sea Life’s windlass, lifting it out of the water and up toward the pier. From there, Scott gave it a good heave, and hauled her out. It’s quite a sight, but it works.

While I am visiting friends and family at home, Scott has plans for day-long excursions in the area. Here are many more photos of our first days exploring the waters of Bocas del Toro.

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

Sea Life’s Web TV Debut!!

Sea Life has debuted on the web! Our crusing buddy, Kevin, sent us a link to Cruiser TV, a new web tv show.  The first episode features Isla Mjueres, and guess who’s in the opening scenes (with the Aluminum Princess floating proudly behind her)?? Sea Life also appears clearly in the background during a later segment as well…howdya like that?!!

We’d heard that they were filming for the show when we were in Isla Mujeres, but had no idea that Sea Life would be in the footage!

The video is 26 minutes, and although it’s not the best produced show on the net, it was neat for us to see Sea Life! She appears at about 35 seconds in, and again at about 2:05. Check it out!!

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

Rondón

When we visited Delmar on our golf buggy day, he invited us to return for a rondón, a traditional African-Caribbean dish. It sounded like fun, and meant more coco locos, so we agreed to come back. After spreading the word around the anchorage a bit, we wound up with a group of ten. Delmar’s place is “just around the corner” from the anchorage, so we were able to arrive by water.

We are unable to get off of the bow of Aluminum Princess, so while the inflatable dinghies pulled up onto the sand, Scott anchored us fore and aft.

We then waded to shore, and made our way across the beach and up the steps to Delmar’s.

He immediately came to greet us, and made quick work of cutting coconuts, which he serves the coco locos in.

He was quite the one man show, serving us drinks, and another group food. We chatted and enjoyed the view, while waiting for our turn at rondón.

 

After doing a bit of research, I’ve learned that rodon is a soup made up of different types of seafood (fish, crabs, small lobsters or shellfish), with coconut milk, plantains, vegetables, peppers and spices. The word rondon comes from the words “run down”, which refer to going down somewhere to look for vegetables or fruits for cooking the dish.

Rondón is a traditional dish shared by different countries, so the ingredients and spices vary from region to region. Our rondón meal was “interesting;” not the most flavorful meal I’ve ever had. Aside from a dumpling, plantains, and some kind of fish, it was hard to discern what else was on our plate (I’m fairly sure that it included a pig’s tail).

Both the food and sauce were grayish in color, and it was very hard for me to get a knife through any of it it. Oh well, we try and be open to new things on this journey, and the drinks and views more than made up for it.

When it was our turn to eat, we all gathered around a large table under the palapa. Delmar played music for us while we ate. I think he enjoyed the break.

After dinner, some of our group made their way back to the anchorage, while Kevin and Marina and Scott and I stayed. Delmar built us a fire on the beach, and we enjoyed ourselves until way after dark.

Although it wasn’t our favorite meal, our host, the atmosphere and of course the coco locos were great, and we can now check rondón off of our list!

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

 

Our Last Days On Roatan

As I’ve mentioned, we returned to Fantasy Island to prepare for our journey toward Providencia, and eventually Panama. Scott was finally able to repair our refrigerator with only a few slight snags along the way. Things were pretty disheveled for a few days, but well worth it to finally have normal cooling and freezing on board…hurray!

We rented a car, to visit Eldon’s for a fill up on cold and frozen foods. Luckily, I remembered that Howard is soon due for his rabies shot. Since I’d much rather take him by car, than by dinghy and cab in Panama, I searched out a vet on the island. Dr. Soto, at Animal Kingdom, was great. He saw us with less than a day’s notice, and was very good with Howard, despite my cat’s “sassy-ness” (If anyone happens to be cruising in Roatan, and are in need of a vet, I’ve included Dr. Soto’s information in my photos).

Howard pitched such a fit that I think only half of the vaccine actually went in, the rest running down my hand. Nevertheless, I left with paperwork that shows Howard’s rabies vaccination is good for another year, which is most important to customs officials. The charge for our entire visit was 13.00 U.S.!! At home, the vaccine runs 60.00, in addition to the cost of a vet visit…so Animal Kingdom’s price was a great surprise! Howard was not as impressed or happy as I was about this.

Even thinking about the whole experience stressed him out.

Now that Howard was set, we focused on the rest of our pre departure errands. We first grabbed a quick lunch at Bojangles. They are the only U.S. fast food-type place on Roatan, and we were surprised that they beat out McDonald’s. Pizza Inn also shares the space. Apparently, it’s also in the U.S., although we’ve never seen one in our area. After our chicken lunch, we made stops at the marine store, Ace Hardware and Eldon’s, for a final “fill up.” I’ll miss that awesome American item-filled store!

Next up was the Megaplaza Mall (I think “mall” is a stretch”). There are several useful places here…two phone stores, two banks, a pharmacy, several clothing stores, a few food places, a second hand store and a place much like Walmart, which had everything from furniture, to electronics and appliances, to housewares, to toys and mattresses. We found some shorts for Scott at one of the clothing stores, and scored a 4.00 salad spinner at the second hand store!

We also made a stop into the pharmacy. They operate differently here than in the U.S., in that everything is located behind glass cases. You ask the counter person for whatever you need, there are no off the shelf items.

After we’d run all day, it was time to make some popcorn for the cruisers, and head to the pavilion for Friday movie night. The movie of the night was Captain Ron, a favorite of Scott’s (I’m learning that it’s a favorite of most cruisers). It was a fun way to unwind from our whirlwind day. Here a a few more photos.

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

Guanaja…It’s SOO Pretty Here!

The waters surrounding our anchorage off of Graham’s Cay were beautifully clear.

Scott enjoyed many hours of exploring and snorkeling. By the way, the Aluminum Princess has recently been equipped with an oscillating fan (thank the Lord) and a rod holder…ain’t she fancy!

In the evenings, Scott would drop his fish light off of the swim platform, providing hours of entertainment for Howard. The fish were so intriguing, that he eventually ended up hanging down and swatting the water…I couldn’t watch.

We also took the Aluminum Princess over to Savannah Bight for a “drive by.” Sitting opposite Graham’s Cay, on mainland Guanaja, Savannah Bight is the larger of two main settlements on the island.

We all enjoyed the anchorage here, especially Howard. He spent much more time outside.

Unfortunately, due to stronger winds in the wrong direction, we were unable to anchor here this time around. A weather window appears to be opening early next week, for us to start our journey toward Panama, so this morning we raised anchor, said a second goodbye to El Bight and headed for Roatan.

Scott wants to repair the fridge while we are plugged in, as cooling the unit back down will take a decent amount of power. We’ll also do a final grocery run, to stock up on cold and frozen foods, since we’ll be back at 100%. Hopefully, there will be time to squeeze in an outing before we shove off.

In the meantime, here are some photos from our anchorage off of Graham’s Cay. If you like pretty water, click here.

And here are some Guanaja grocery photos that I forgot to include with Shopping Day, for those who are interested.

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

Captain’s Corner – Refrigeration And Windlass Repairs

So the refrigeration issue in detail for those interested:

The failure was the result of a determined calculated risk during the refit.  I decided to save $4k and leave the 30+ year old 12VDC air cooled thin plate evaporator systems for the fridge and freezer.  The reason being, we had redundancy in the form of a 120VAC water or air cooled holding plate system for both.  Also on board is a 120VAC/12VDC Engel that can operate as either fridge or freezer.

To keep the fridge going on 120, the issue became the amount of generator run time to rely solely on the holding plates.  Instead of an hour or two every other day, it was two to three hours per day.  To top it off, now I had excess solar coming out of my ears (edited for television) because the 12VDC fridge and freezer weren’t running due too the holding plates being cold.  But I couldn’t run the holding plate compressor off the inverter, utilizing the excess solar due to start up load.

Well, you know how it goes….the fridge compressor locked up.  It is an old Danfoss BD2.5 (the predecessor for BD35) with R-12.  I decide to replace the entire system due to age than to just replace the compressor and deal with all the refrigeration work, oil and compressor compatibility.  It also allows me to upgrade to a BD50 multi-speed compressor system.  I hope to see a difference in energy consumption is this warmer climate or at least, better performance.

While both boxes are empty I will also seal and caulk the lower moldings as they have started to weep a little condensation when the doors are opened and closed.  I had not thought to do so during the refit, and they have been cold ever since.

Hopefully the freezer compressor hangs on for a few more years!

The windlass:

I originally was going to replace the unit, but after days of very large hammers, pry bars, saws and eventually a cutting torch to disassemble the thing to remove our pulpit for deck repairs (when the teak decks were removed by previous owner, they skipped this area due to difficulty), I realized the genius of the extremely heavy, yet simple engineering, that requires only basic parts I can have machined anywhere in the world if needed.  So many less parts, gears, seals etc. than a horizontal style.  Did I mention the unit weighs a few hundred pounds?!

The issue at hand was when the top nut is loosened a multiple spring pad pushes the top drum up, which is keyed to the main shaft allowing the clutch pads to slip, letting the un-keyed wild cat to freewheel.  This was not happening, because the top drum had some shaft corrosion causing friction to overcome the spring pressure.  This is one of the reasons that I demolished the original windlass during disassembly.  Lesson:  disassemble windlass periodically and lubricate main shaft,  a very simple process, due to its design.

Here are some windlass photos.

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

Returning To Guanaja

On Sunday we made our way back to Guanaja. We’re going to pick up our refrigerator parts, that have been delivered to Graham’s Place, and spend some more time on the island. The plan is to then return to Fantasy Island Marina, where Scott can fix the refrigerator and cool it back down while we’re plugged in. We’ve paid for a month’s slip rental there, and Steve was nice enough to let us split the time.

With head seas forecasted, I was not looking forward to the six hour trip. We only had a three hour ride from West End around to French Harbour, but the head seas made it a nasty go; a repeat made me cringe. Thankfully, the winds were much calmer this time, and aside from having to cool Howard down we had a good run back to beautiful Guanaja.

The forecast calls for strong winds this week (surprise), so we tucked back into El Bight. It offers more protection for us, than if we anchor off of Graham’s Cay. We’re surrounded by the familiar sights of Manati bar and Han’s place.

Monday morning brought pouring rain (not called for), a beautiful rainbow and then more stormy clouds. It was neat to watch them settle down onto the mountains around us.

By mid morning, there was a break in the weather, so we jumped into the Aluminum Princess and headed for Graham’s Cay to pick up our parts and grab some lunch. It was just a quick 20 minute ride, and the sun came out to greet us as we arrived at Graham’s Place.

However, not two hours later, as we were finishing our yummy fish sandwiches (mine blackened and Scott’s fried), I noticed the sky darkening again. We paid our bill, jumped back into the boat with our boxes and set off for El Bight. Within minutes, the seas went from calm and clear blue to threatening grey. We made our way through an angry chop back to the boat, amidst building white caps. As usual at times like this, we were glad to be tucked into the Aluminum Princess.

Once aboard Sea Life, we unpacked our boxes in the cockpit. Corrugated cardboard is a favorite place for cockroaches to lay their eggs, so we bagged it up (unbeknownst to Howard, as he can’t resist a box) and set it out into the Aluminum Princess. Our parts now wait in the saloon, until they are installed.

The process was costly (2,000.00 in total: cost of parts, shipping to Miami, shipping to mainland Honduras, customs fees, and shipping to Guanaja..plus a tip for Alex, the manager at Graham’s, who was such a great help to us), but took just under two weeks. All in all, we can’t complain, especially since Defender was great enough to refund Scott the cost of his first order to Mexico (minus the shipping). It seems that they are having such a problem with Mexican Fed Ex customs that the parts will just be written off as a loss. Their customer service is fantastic!

In the meantime, our windlass decided to give us attitude as we came in to anchor on Sunday. Scott spent yesterday taking it apart and repairing it. Thankfully, no part ordering necessary! He promises to do a short Captain’s Corner post on the repair soon. Once the windlass was back together, he fixed a problem with the valving in our shower fixture in the guest head. Because why be bored?

The heat and humidity are in full force (86 degress, with 70% humidity by 8:30am), so we do our best to move as little as possible. Howard doesn’t quite understand the heat. He’ll get a wild hair and have a crazy session in his latest play area, an Ace Hardware bag. The thing has been torn almost to bits.

Exhausted and hot, Howard will splay out for a nap in his Africa basket taco. If his breathing gets consistently fast,  we’ve started placing a cold, wet towel on him. It seems to work well at cooling him down (with great success on our trip here from Roatan). I’m shocked though, at how much he’s starting to tolerate it.

Once cooled down, it’s into a good, deep sleep.

Last night we visited Hans’ place, catching up with the regulars and enjoying some pizza. We’ll stay in Guanaja for a week or so, before returning to Roatan. Here are some photos of our trip back, and the last few days.

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