Howard’s Trip To Panama City

In late January, Howard began showing symptoms of a urinary issue; many trips to the litter box, leaving just dribbles behind. Before we left Baltimore, I’d visited our home vet, Dr. T., to stock up on various medications that Howard might need, so luckily there were antibiotics on board for him.

After a week, Howard showed no sign of improvement, so at Dr. T’s recommendation, we doubled his dose, meaning getting two eye droppers full of medicine in him instead one….fun for all!

Almost three weeks later, Howard was just marginally better. He then began throwing up, and I couldn’t get him to keep anything down. After three days with no water, we were very concerned, and began to make a plan to get Howard to a vet in Panama City.

The glitch was, that we had cleared out of Panama in December. There is a checkpoint stop on the road to Panama City, and if you do not have a valid stamp, off to jail you go. Our hope was to appeal to immigration on the island of Porvenier. Recent laws prohibit checking in and out of Panama in the San Blas. Boaters who are cleared into the country are only able to visit Porvenier to renew their stamp for an additional three month stay.

We left our anchorage in the Coco Bandero Cays, and traveled four hours to Porvenier, with fingers crossed that we could plead our case. Scott sent me in alone, to deal with the immigration officer, since only one of us needed to travel to the city, and we may have better luck with a female pleading the case.

“Joe” was a bit miffed that we’d checked out of the country 45 days earlier, bound for Cartagena, and were still in the San Blas (cruisers often do this with no problem…until there’s a problem). Because we both had “time” left in the country when checking out in December, Joe told me that if we traveled back to Portobelo (14 hours by boat), the immigration officer there would be able to cancel our exit stamps.

We didn’t have the extra days that it would take to do this, and then get to the vet. There was also the issue of getting back to the San Blas, with winds expected to pick up. I explained that we’d had steering trouble, and were unable to get back to the mainland by boat (a big fib on my part).

After two hours of back and forth, with few words understood between us, many pictures drawn and tears on my part, Joe told me to have Scott come to the office. When Scott arrived onshore in the dinghy, I told him to relay that he spoke no Spanish (when in fact, he can get by quite well now), and brought him up to speed on the story inside so far.

Once we were both back in the office, there was more of the same back and forth, before Joe finally consented to canceling our exit stamp, marking next to them in Spanish that seas were not good for us to make it to Cartagena. He told us to come back to see him for Scott’s renewal stamp (mine was due much later, as I was re-stamped when flying back in from the U.S. in October), and then again to get stamped out of Panama.

Thrilled that our pleas had worked, we raised anchor, and made a quick hour-long run to an anchorage near the docks at Carti, which is on the mainland. I’d contacted Emilio, who we’d planned to use for provisioning, and asked him to help me arrange transportation to get Howard and me to the vet, as I had no idea how to proceed.

Howard was loaded into his carried, and Scott took us to the dock in the dinghy, where we hopped into a running, air conditioned suv. It was a three hour ride across the mountains, through a checkpoint at the border of the Guna Yala region, into the city and to the vet. The driver maneuvered the road like the car was on fire, hitting the many curves and potholes at full speed. I was shocked that the car’s axles didn’t snap. Howard endured the “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride” like a champ.

As we came down the mountain road, and headed toward the city, the driver pulled into a gas station…presumably for gas. He stopped the car, with the engine running, and proceeded to take a nap! When I realized what was going on, I was both irritated that we’d stopped for this, with my cat needing to get to the vet, and glad that he had the good sense not to fall asleep at the wheel.

Deciding  that a ten minute nap was fair, I watched the clock, preparing to wake him up. He popped up on his own, after seven minutes, declared, “Good! and we continued on. We made our way into town, and I was delivered right to the door of the vet.

I didn’t have an appointment, and thankfully a young  man waiting with his own cat helped me to speak with the woman behind the counter. After a very short wait, Howard and I were in a room with a vet, who thankfully spoke English. She took Howard away, to use gas to relax him for testing. Howard is not a good vet patient. At home, there is a “caution” sticker on his folder.

In the meantime, Emilio arrived to sit with me, in case I needed help with translation. The vet spoke very good English, but Emilio did help me arrange a hotel for the night. With the “Carti” road closed at 7pm, there was no way to get back to the boat in the same day.

Howard’s initial tests: blood, urine, xrays and sonograms all came back clear. Hmmm. I arranged for him to stay overnight, wanting him to receive fluids.

Emilio then took me shopping, stopping first at Riba Smith, a large grocery store with many American items. I was in heaven, and loaded up on cream cheese, butter and other goodies from home. We then went to a nearby mall, where I was able to buy some magazines printed in English! I arrived at the hotel later that evening, with some McDonalds food in tow.

After turning the air conditioning down to a chilly 68, and watching some English channels on tv, I happily fell asleep in the comfy hotel bed. At 3am, I woke in a sweat. When I tried to adjust the thermostat, it crackled and sparks came out…not good.

I called the front desk, and they sent someone to “check” the thermostat, most likely thinking that I couldn’t manage to set the temperature on my own. After getting his own set of crackles…and some smoke, the man cried “Oh!…Bad!,” and called back down to the front desk.

I was told that they were happy to move me to another room, but unfortunately it was on a different floor. That didn’t bother me in the least, as I was determined to absorb as much air conditioning as possible, so I loaded up my backpack, and made my way down two floors at 3:30 am, barefoot and in my pajamas. There I resumed sleep, in a freshly cooled room.

The next morning, after enjoying the complimentary breakfast buffet (I am told that all hotels/B-n-Bs/inn, etc. are required to provide a free breakfast to their guests), I met Emilio and his friend, Gil, who sped me off for more provision shopping.

Our first stop was to Pricesmart, a membership bulk store owned by Costco. I loaded my cart with soda, bacon, lunch meat, cheese, vinegar (used for monthly toilet deep cleaning, and laundry) and various other things. The next stop was to a local bulk store, which offered some of my wish list items at better prices than Pricesmart, such as wine, rum and sprite.

I checked in with the vet, who said that Howard hadn’t eaten, but she didn’t expect him to while in a strange and stressful place. He’d been given fluids, and a shot of both antibiotic and something for his stomach. She declared Howard ready to leave, so we planned one more stop before heading over to pick him up.

Our last stop was one more visit to Riba Smith, where I purchased more cold items, and some bags to keep them cool for the journey back to Sea Life.

Emilio said his goodbyes, as he had another client to meet. Gil would be taking me to collect Howard and then to meet my ride back across the mountain. Emilio’s help had been invaluable, knowing where the stores were, which ones had the items I wanted and at the best prices. The process would have taken far longer on my own.

Gil and I arrived at the vet, where Howard was growling at anyone who came near him. He calmed when he heard my voice and received some petting in his carrier. I paid my bill of 180.00, which included the vet visit, overnight stay, xrays and sonograms of stomach and bladder, blood and urine tests, two injections each of antibiotic and gastro meds, iv fluids and some cat food for urinary tract health…much cheaper than US prices!

Nacho, the driver who would take us back to the Carti docks, was waiting outside a small local restaurant at the start of the mountain road. We loaded all of my things, and Howard, into his car, filling all but the passenger seat (the area behind the back seats was piled high, and the floors under both Howard and me were packed full).

Along the way, we stopped for Nacho to relieve himself behind the car, a much faster delay than the previous driver’s nap. At the Guna Yala checkpoint, the official who came to the car windown to check my passport was intrigued with Howard, waving over the other guards to see him, calling, “Howard, Howard!”

When we arrived at the Carti dock, I asked Nacho to help me get a panga ride back to the boat, as I hadn’t prearranged one. He loaded my things onto a panga, with several locals onboard waiting to depart. It took five trips of heavily loaded wheelbarrows to get my stuff onto the panga, and when I walked down the dock with Howard, to get on, the driver wasn’t happy. Apparently, Nacho had told him that I had only a few things. “Senora”, he said, “this is a supermarket!” In his defense, it was a huge amount of stuff.

After a short, five minute ride, we were back at Sea Life, where Scott was waiting to help unload my things. Howard was glad to be home, and seemed none the worse for wear. He immediately wanted food, ate plenty of it and then settled into a deep sleep in his taco, sporting his new haircut.


Scott was quite peeved that after the whole, logisticly-challenged ordeal, the vet had found nothing wrong with Howard. We think that his urinary issues were near done, and the gastro stuff had almost worked their way through; the injections may have also helped resolve both issues.

In the end, maybe Howard just wanted a few days away from the boat….and an adventure.

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

Our Passage From Roatan to Providencia

To travel straight through from Roatan to Bocas del Toro, our first stop in Panama, would mean running approximately 140 hours (or seven days) straight through. You now know how I feel about lengthy passages, and since there are several secure places to anchor and explore along the way, we obviously chose to break up the journey into several legs.

Our first stop along the will be Providencia. The island sits off of main land Nicaragua, but is owned by Colombia. It’s a popular stop for  cruisers on their way to and from Panama.

Monday: We left our Fantasy Island family in the early morning, for a 70-80 hour run to Providencia . A “great” weather widow had been predicted for days, with winds at 5-10 knots, and waves at 2-3 feet, sometimes less. Before we even tossed the lines, Scott bashed a toe when making final checks in the engine room (good thing he’s better at shaking off pain than I am).

We headed east, with our slip neighbors on Scurvy Dog off our port side, as they traveled to Guanaja for a few days. After six hours or so, as we passed by Guanaja, the winds and seas picked up considerably. By evening, we were into a hefty, unnerving head sea. If I had to describe it, the movement feels like being on a roller coaster ride, when it’s traveling across a stretch of short hills; a continuous undulating motion.

Unfortunately, the sea state had me too rattled to do my usual night shift, so Scott filled in. I laid down with Howard, who was also less than thrilled with the change in wind and seas. He hadn’t used his litter box in over a day, and now that we were under way, his bladder was beyond full. The poor guy was too nervous to get to his box, with our rolling, up-down movement, so he relieved himself on a towel in front of the saloon doors. When he finally finished, I threw it outside into the cockpit, to deal with it once we’d anchored. He then settled into his usual travel spot on the couch.

After re-acclimating myself to passage rolling, I realized that we’d been dealt a bad hand with the forecast, and that the winds weren’t dying down anytime soon. I relieved Scott in the wee hours of the morning, and he got some rest.

Tuesday: The winds died a bit during the day, but were still nowhere near what was predicted. We’d set a course to travel almost 40 miles off the coast of main land Honduras, hoping to keep clear of any pirate activity that randomly occurs in this area.

In the early morning, I spotted a large boat on the horizon. I thought it was something commercial, and went to wake Scott so he could confirm. He didn’t feel that it was a commercial boat, and changed course to stay away from it. We haven’t needed to check for boats at a greater distance until now, so by the time I noticed it, the boat was within two miles of us.

When Scott changed course, the boat did the exact same. Three more times Scott changed course, and three more times the boat followed our course change. After the fourth course change, Scott said to me, “they’re coming at us.”

I began to immediately shake uncontrollably, at the thought of being boarded. We’ve heard about many incidents of cruisers being boarded, robbed and assaulted while passing through this area, and therefore chose to travel this far off shore. This was not what we had planned for.

Scott put out a pan pan call on the vhf, stating that a large, steel boat was coming at us. A pan pan is an international radio distress signal,  less urgent than a mayday signal. At the same time, I was alerting my brother-in-law on the Delorme, as he’s our level-headed, emergency go-to. I gave him a brief description of what was happening, and he received our latitude and longitude coordinates with the text.

The boat replied to Scott’s pan pan, saying that he saw us. Scott made him aware that he’d mimicked four course changes that we’d made,  and the captain replied that he was heading for La Cieba, on main land Honduras. Scott replied, “fine, you hold your course, and I’ll hold mine.” It took forever for him to move away from us, and then finally turn away.

Shortly after, a huge pod of dolphins arrived for a visit; there must have been 15 or more. It was as if they knew we’d been shaken, and were there to lighten the mood. They stayed and played around us for almost 30 minutes, before heading off on their way.

It got hotter and hotter as the day went on. We tried to keep the pilot house doors open, and let in as much air and breeze as possible, but had to close the port side after a large wave broke on us, splashing water all the way down into the saloon. The heat made it even more challenging for me to sleep, but Howard was faring better, sleeping under a fan, with a damp towel.

In the early evening, I spotted another boat on radar. This one was smaller and farther away. I woke Scott, and we both watched  it slowly approach. The boat had running lights, and when it got closer to us, they changed course and moved away. We assumed they were legitimately fishing,  and running without radar, making it unable to see us until we were very close. Big sigh of relief number two!

I finally got some bits of sleep, and relieved Scott sometime around midnight. The stupid winds were sustained at 23 knots, and as a result the seas were big. Scott’s toe was looking really ugly, and we assume he’d broken it. Luckily, he says, it’s a “non-essential” little toe. We were on track for arrival in Providencia by sunset on Thursday. A few hours later than we’d planned, but still better than a Friday arrival.

It had become sauna-hot inside the boat, as we weren’t getting  air from the strong winds outside. By now, I couldn’t stand the smell of myself, and vowed to take a shower the next day, no matter how challenging!

Wednesday: We listened to Chris Parker at 7am. His forecast must have been for a parallel universe, because we were seeing a much different picture outside our windows. Instead of his continued forecast of 5-10 knot wind, we had sustained 20s. with large swells. At several times, Scott would take us down a half knot or so in speed, to try and improve our ride, and we watched our arrival time get later and later. We were now on course for a Friday morning arrival…for the love of Pete!

At this point, Howard and I were thoroughly done with this passage! The seas, wind and heat had gotten very old. Howard kept trying to relocate, becoming sick of just laying on the couch under a damp towel. Unfortunately, moving around was a wobbly go, and every new location was unstable, so inevitably it was back to the couch.

As we passed far off of the Honduras/Nicaragua border, Scott spotted two large ships on the radar, at the point where we were to make our final turn. Thinking that they were up to no good, and working together, he changed our course to avoid coming close to them. However, they never moved, so we assumed that they were just fishing, most likely with one large net strung between the two of them…whew!

With the worst of the “threat” area behind us, it was time for me to bathe! I could stand it no more, and went down for a shower. Luckily, our guest head has a built in seat, and I made good use of it, emerging a new and unoffensive person!

As I came on shift at 9:30pm, lightening was visible all around us. Lightening is one of Scott’s two biggest fears (fire being the other). It’s scary enough when you’re at anchor, or in a slip, but on a passage, you’re an open target. I kept an eye on the radar, watching the front come closer and grow larger.

At the same time, the winds became more and more calm, subsiding to 3 knots…calm before the storm?  I hoped not.

On a positive note, Scott had finally caught sight of the Southern Cross constellation, before coming off watch…..pretty cool!

Thursday: I woke Scott in the early morning, as the front had finally come to within ten miles of us. We watched, amazed, as the whole ugly thing broke apart and passed by, moving off behind us. We were grateful to have dodged the bullet.  However, the stronger winds had that had been blocked for the last twelve hours or so by the large storm front came quickly back, in full force…terrific.

As the morning went on, Howard must have thought that the motor was never going to stop, so he may as well eat. He was a machine, making up for lost time, and chowed through an entire can of food in a flash. His balancing skills also improved, as he braced himself in front of the food bowl.

Finally, we caught sight of Providencia in the distance!

We had somehow made up time, and were on track to arrive and anchor at 1pm…hooray!! We stared at the island, as it inched closer. This time Scott was the impatient one, feeling that we must have slowed down (we hadn’t), and why the heck was it taking so long?!

As a final icing on our passage “cake,” the entire island was suddenly blocked from view…by rain. A lot of rain….a big, wide dark swath of pouring rain.

Luckily, there was no lightening associated with this one, and it moved quickly. In just minutes, we were traveling through a downpour. However, with no lightening threat, and little wind increase, we were happy to have the boat get a good rinse before coming in to anchor.

As we came into anchor, I immediately hailed our friends, Marina and Kevin, on s/v Lucky Seven. We hadn’t seen them since we left Isla Mujeres two months ago, and I was eager for a hello. Marina replied, saying that it was good to finally see us arrive, and Kevin came over by dinghy soon after we dropped anchor.

We all went into town together, rapidly chattering to each other as we tied to the town dock and made our way to find Mr. Bush, the customs agent; we needed to start our check in, and they needed to pick up their papers. Mr. Bush started our check in process, but there seemed to be no hurry to finish. We expect it to take a few days.

Once back aboard Sea Life, we probably should have slept, but were too wound up. Kevin soon hailed us on the radio…”we’re coming over.” We had drinks, and enjoyed a dinner of peanuts, pretzels and potato chips, while catching up on the last two months of each others cruising lives. In no time, it was 9:30, and Marina declared it time for us to sleep!

With our windy, bumpy passage behind us, we look forward to exploring Providencia for a week or so…..or at least until I can forget the last four days! Here are photos from our passage.

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






Movin’ Down Island

With the forecast calling for winds below 20 knots, we planned to move out of El Bight and farther down the coast yesterday morning. However, on our trip into Bonacca for some food and an ATM run, the winds appeared to have picked up instead.

The Aluminum Princess slogged through white caps and sizeable waves in the open waters between our anchorage and town. With Scott wanting to tow her behind us when we moved, and concern for a comfortable stay at anchor, we decided to wait until this morning to change our location.

However, as I worked in the cockpit late yesterday afternoon, I noticed that the towels drying on the line weren’t whipping quite so violently (after getting slapped pretty good in the head by one earlier, I should know). Realizing that the winds had died down, I woke Scott from a nap, and we scurried to ready and go. It was only an hour ride to our next anchorage, but we liked the idea of waking up the next morning already settled.

We raised anchor and headed out of El Bight, around the corner and further down the coast of Guanaja. As always, the views did not disappoint along the way.

As planned, the Aluminum Princess tagged along behind for the ride. After a short and easy hour, we arrived at our next anchorage, off of Graham’s Cay.

Graham Thompson runs a small resort on his island, appropriately called Graham’s Place.

We’d already planned to visit, having heard great things from fellow cruisers. Most hotels and resorts, and some islands in general, aren’t always welcoming to cruisers. Sometimes this is for good reason, but for the most part it’s frustrating and unnecessary. In addition to him being friendly toward cruisers, we now have another reason to like and meet Graham.

Unfortunately, we had no luck with Mexican Fed Ex, and getting the compressor for our refrigerator through customs. At whits end, Scott got Defender involved, the company we ordered the parts from. After more back and forth with no clear instructions or reasoning on the issue, Scott told Fed Ex Mexico to send the stuff back.

He then received an email asking for his credit card number, to pay for “fees and storage.” There was no cost given for said “fees and storage,” and Scott replied that he did not intend to pay. He was through with the matter, having done what little they’d asked of him, with no result or explanation as to why.

Defender has been just as frustrated with the issue. They have someone who deals just with Fed Ex, and with international shipping, and can’t get a resolution. Fed Ex Mexico wants Defender to pay 500.00 for return shipping. Defender has decided to just let the parts go, write it off and refund Scott his money (less original shipping). The company has been terrific to us the last few years, during our refit, and this is a true testament to their exceptional customer service, going above and beyond for Scott.

Ok, so we now turn to Honduras, and getting the stuff shipped there. I again reach out to our friend Louis, who is proving an invaluable resource. He suggested that I contact Graham Thompson, to ask how to proceed. A great idea; a local man, who could point me in the right direction.

It turns out that Graham didn’t point at all. He quickly replied to my email, giving me the information for a shipping company based in Miami, that he and his son use for things that they cannot get locally. Once our parts are in Miami, we can choose to have them shipped via boat or plane, with his name on the package. When they arrive in Guanaja, Graham will be notified. He will pick up the items, pay the fees and we can reimburse him…hoo-RAY!

However, this stupid saga continues. When Scott called Defender to re-order his parts, he feared the sale price originally offered had ended. It indeed had, but they honored the sale price for him…of course. However, the parts are now on back order until the end of the month! This was disappointing to hear, as we know that there are perfectly good parts sitting in Merida, Mexico!

We plan to go ashore and say a big hello and thank you to Graham, as well as get final details before the parts come in to Defender and the order goes through. Since it will take weeks for that to happen, and for the stuff to arrive here, we plan to stay here a few days and then head on to Roatan. We’ll stay there for a few weeks, and then return here to wait for our shipment. Neither location is a bad place to be stuck!

Here are a few photos from our short trip “down island.”

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

Bonacca, “Venice Of The Caribbean”

Bonacca sits a half mile off of the main island of Guanaja. More than 6,000 people live on this tiny cay, which is less than 100 acres. It was originally two islands, connected by a boardwalk, that was gradually (manually) filled in with rocks and sand to expand the town. I copied an aerial photo from the internet, to give you an idea of how populated it is.

The town has many small canals running through it, earning the name “Venice of the Caribbean.”  I mentioned previously that there are no real roads, only narrow, concrete walkways. As a result, there are no cars, scooters or bicycles in the tiny city, just foot traffic. Many of the homes and businesses are on stilts out over the water, some as high as three stories.

It seems like just about anything you might need can be found here, if you are willing to look or ask: hardware, groceries, fruits & vegetables, meats, fresh bread, cell phones, marine parts and clothing. Signage is almost non existent, usually just something small and hand made.

After waiting a day, we came back to town to see the port captain this morning, in hopes that our papers would be ready. Before we got to the office, he passed us on the street and told us to meet him in ten minutes. We visited some of the grocery stores, more about those later, and then went to see him.

We needn’t have rushed. When we arrived, he was working on paperwork for one of the commercial boats. “Copies” are made by using two forms, with a piece of carbon paper sandwiched between (I have no idea where you can even get carbon paper!).

The sandwich is then loaded into…wait for it…a typewriter. I’m not sure why he didn’t enter the information on his computer,which he has, and then print it out.

This typewriter wasn’t a “newfangled” electric one, but the good old fashioned kind. He had to stop at one point, to wind the ribbon, which had loosened. As he typed, he’d say the words out loud to himself in Spanish. I guess it was to keep from making mistakes, which must work, because he never reached for the white out.

I also noticed today that there was (again) an old style phone/fax on his desk. He uses the phone, but I’m guessing that the fax part doesn’t work, which must be why he used up all of the data on his cell phone.

After about thirty minutes, the commercial boat papers were finished, and the man was on his way. I guess commercial boats are exempt from this new faxing-the-mainland policy. It took less than ten minutes for him to communicate to us that our papers were good for all of the bay islands, and that they expire in thirty days. At the end of thirty days, we can get an extension, which we plan to do. Here’s hoping that there are no new policies by then!

The town of Bonacca is so unusual, unlike anything we’ve seen. We’ll visit again later in the week, as fresh produce arrives on Thursday mornings, and look forward to enjoying a beer with the locals. Here are some more photos of our day in town.

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

A Challenging Customs Experience

We’re having a much different check in experience here in Honduras than in Mexico….

Yesterday morning, we moved Sea Life to a spot behind town, and out of the swells coming from the southeast. This would make our dinghy ride to town for clearing customs more comfortable, as we hadn’t yet unloaded the Aluminum Princess.

We took our inflatable dinghy to the fuel dock. Friends told us that the guys working there are very friendly, and will let you tie up at the dock while clearing in. The man working was very friendly. He told us that it was no problem to leave our dinghy, Scott got a bit of gas for it and we were able to get rid of some trash as well.

We then made our way into town. The “streets” are narrow, concrete walkways, with houses and stores on either side. The buildings are very close together, and finding our way to the port captain’s office was a bit like maneuvering through a maze at times, but we managed it.

The port captain told us, in very very broken English, that we had to see immigration first. As we came out of the office, a man named Mario offered to take us there. We’d heard that men will approach you, offering help getting to customs, stores. the bank, etc., and will ask for a fee in return. Originally, we’d planned to maneuver the town by ourselves, but it was proving quite a puzzle, so we agreed. When asked his price, Mario responded that we could give “whatever we wanted.”

We weren’t at immigration long, but needed to have a copy made in order to finish with them. Mario took us to a store where we paid for one copy, a water for Scott and a juice for Mario. We returned to immigration,  handed over the required paper and headed back to the port captain.

Mario came in handy here, because as I mentioned before, the port captain spoke very little English. He stopped helping us several times to answer and talk on his personal phone, and had  trouble filling out the form that we needed. It was in both Spanish and English, and you’d think it was something he’d have done many times, but Scott had to help him fill it in, and correct mistakes that he made. All of the information was on the paperwork we gave him, but he entered several things in the wrong place.

Mario decided to interrupt, and tell Scott that he’d need 20.00 US dollars for helping us. Scott replied that it was a deal, if he took us to the rest of the stops we needed and showed us back to the fuel dock.

The port captain finally finished, and we were told to go and pay our “fee.” We asked if we needed to bring back a receipt, and he said no. After we paid the fee, and got that receipt for our own records, we’d be done…great! Mario led us to a lady who took 10.00 US dollars per person, for an environmental fund, and we were through clearing in.

From there, our next stop was a phone store. We’d purchased a smart phone in the Bahamas, planning to have it unlocked and use if for internet data as we traveled. That backfired, so we wanted to start again. We were sold a phone for much more money than expected, or than we’re used to (we usually pay much less for new phones, when upgrading through our cell phone providers). Thankfully, the internet plan was very affordable.

As we waited for the man to set up our phone, the port captain came in. I don’t know how he knew where we were, unless Mario mentioned the phone store stop in Spanish at some point. He told us that we needed  to come back to his office. It was unclear why, but we told him we’d return when our phone was ready.

Before we could finish and go, another gentlemen came in to tell us that the port captain needed us back (I’m thinking he wanted a tip). We told him that we already knew, and he wandered out.

Back at the office, we were told that our papers had to be faxed to mainland Honduras. It was confusing to us, to Mario and, it appeared, to the port captain. He took our copies back, and rattled on about it again, in Spanish. Again, Mario told us that the papers had to be faxed. Ok, but why did our copies have to be faxed?

After much more unclear conversation back and forth via Mario, we were told that we could put our Honduras courtesy flag up, and to come back later in the afternoon for the papers. O..kay…what time this afternoon?? The port captain said to come at 3pm, and asked where our boat was, so that he would be able to look at when we returned (not to board it, just to see it).

Scott was miffed about the whole situation. We’d planned to re-anchor in a new location once we were cleared in, because it offered more protection from the east winds that were predicted to blow for the next week. So not only did we now have to come back to town, we also had to wait to re-anchor.

Scott has been battling a bad cold since we arrived. He felt better as we made our way to town, but was now wiped from walking through town in the heat, and what little patience he has was spent.

Having no choice but to come back later, Mario took us to an ATM machine, showed us some stores in town that we may need and also a few restaurants. We then went to buy ice. After asking for four bags, the woman returned with four half gallon-size bags of frozen water….ha!

Scott asked if it was purified to drink. The woman responded yes, but when we cut the bags open to dump the frozen blocks into our cooler, they each had a dirty, brown center. We were concerned about drinking it, but our cruising friend Elizabeth has since told us not to worry. I think Scott’s want for ice in his drink will win out over his concern for some brown color!

Finally, Mario led us through many left and right turns, eventually leading us back to the dinghy. We thanked him for his help and headed back to Sea Life, so Scott could rest and we could get some lunch.

Scott headed back into town at 2:30. A French boat had anchored right near us, took their dinghy to town, and came back shortly thereafter. We assumed that they were told to come back after lunch as well, so Scott wanted to get ahead of them.

When he arrived, Mario was there to take his dinghy line. He thanked Scott for the money we’d paid him. He’d bought rice, beans and meat for his mother with it, but ran out of gas as he was cooking the meat, so he wanted more money to buy some. He told Scott that he’d help him later for it. Scott replied that he’d paid Mario for helping us, that we didn’t need anything more and that he was sorry, but wasn’t just going to give him anymore money.

Then, the man who’d come to the phone store to tell us that we had to return to the port captain’s office (even though we’d already been told) asked Scott for money for a juice. He wanted money because he’d spoken to us…???  Scott offered him 10 lempira, and was told that it wasn’t enough for a juice. It was only about .45 cents, but we had no reason to pay him anything.

When Scott got to the office, there were already four people waiting, which quickly grew to nine, including Scott. Apparently, they were all told to come back at 3:00. Luckily, one person in the group spoke Spanish well. She relayed to Scott and the rest that faxing the papers to the mainland seems to be a new procedure, so they can keep track of boats coming through the area.

The group waited, as the port captain took photos of papers with his phone. It seemed crazy that there was no other way to get copies of this stuff to mainland Honduras. No fax machine or scanner? The port captain then got up to leave, mumbling something in Spanish. The designated translator told the group that he was leaving to go add data to his phone….good grief.  I cannot believe that Scott didn’t have to be flown off the island with a brain aneurysm at this point.

During this customs circus, Scott learned from a British couple also waiting that this was day three of them of trying to get papers. The port captain returned, and after some more time told everyone to come back tomorrow…or the next day (again, shocked at no aneurysm). Some stayed, but Scott returned to the boat so we could get re-anchored before the winds were stronger, and get a good spot before others arrived.

So that’s where we stand. We have no papers, but are told that “we’re good.” There’s no telling how long it will take to get said papers, and that’s incredibly frustrating. Our biggest gripe is that we had papers in hand, and they were taken away. To quote the band Genesis, “It’s no fun, being an illegal alien!”

However, once settled back at the boat, we remembered that some of our cruising friends have taken days to clear into countries. They’ve also had to travel back to customs offices much farther away, involving taxis and ferries, for missed items or details, so it could be worse.

We are a short dinghy ride from town, and the port captain. The winds won’t be favorable to head to another anchorage for almost a week, so we’ll take the time to explore the area, as there is much to see and do on this side of the island. Not such a terrible situation after all, I guess!

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

Adios Mexico!!!!

After ten weeks and two days, we are saying goodbye to Isla Mujeres. The wind forecast looks really good for us to make a run for Honduras, so the last few days have been frenzied.

We hopped the ferry to Cancun, and loaded up on things at Walmart that we may not get as easily as we travel south. We’ve learned to take our luggage with us, for easy transport back to the boat. As we prepared to go, Howard decided to try and stow away to Walmart.

We filled both bags and our backpack, and headed back to the island.

The next day, we shared a golf cart with Kevin and Marina, our friends on Lucky Seven. They were taking advantage of the weather window to make a run for Cuba, so we all headed to Chedraui for a big grocery run. We each stuffed our carts full of food and beer. I didn’t think that everything would fit on the golf cart, but we made it work.

Next, it was time to load everything into Kevin’s dinghy. I was sure that we’d have to make two trips, but the guys were determined to make it all fit. There was even room left for the four of us, around the tower of beer. With all that weight, it was a wet ride back to the boat!

After unloading our things, and a quick trip to the dentist for Marina, we stopped for lunch and then rode around the island a bit, before returning the cart. Kevin convinced Scott to take the cart “off road.” As you may imagine, it didn’t take much convincing. I was sure that we’d break an axle on the poor thing.

We also enjoyed one more look at the beautiful eastern coast of the island.

Then it was on to Villa Bella, for margaritas and mojitos. Marina turned 50 on Wednesday, so we took time to celebrate.

On our way back to town, we stopped in at the Soggy Peso, for a quick goodbye to our friends Ron and Delores, who have been so welcoming to us. Their help and advice on all things Isla Mujeres and Cancun were invaluable!

After returning the golf cart, we decided to stop in at the Drunken Mermaid, for 2 for 1 mojitos. Marina spotted a bottle filled with clear liquid and insects. We were told that it was tequila…with scorpions. With the 50th celebration underway, two shots were ordered, complete with icky insects. Before being served up, the stingers are cut off.

An intimidating presentation..

Needless to say, they weren’t the most tasty things. Marina put hers in her mouth, and promptly spit it out. Kevin managed to chew a few times, before doing the same.

On a recommendation from our Drunken Mermaid bartenders, we then went to Olivia’s, and had a great dinner. Dessert came with a sparkler, in honor of Marina’s celebration. Afterward, we stopped to pick up their laundry. There are no self serve laundromats here. You drop off one day, and pick up the next. For a few extra pesos, you can get same day service.

With a big bag of laundry in tow, we headed back to the Drunken Mermaid for one more cocktail, before calling it a night. We were glad to have a chance to celebrate with Marina and Kevin, who we’ve grown quickly attached to.

The next morning, the four of us went back to town to clear out of the country. It took three hours, and went as follows:

We started with some paperwork at the port captain’s office, and then a trip to the local stationary store for a copy of said paperwork. Back to the port captain’s office, and then to the bank, where we paid roughly 24.00. We needed two copies of the receipt for the port captain, so it was back to the stationary store. That receipt goes back to the port captain, then we waited for our paperwork to be filled out. From there, we went to immigration. Thankfully, they made their required copies on site for us..whew. After a few stamps, we were officially cleared out, and ready to leave what has become our temporary home.

We went out for a final dinner nearby, at the Sunset Grill, enjoying time with fellow cruisers who we have come to know and love!

As I type this, we are preparing to raise anchor, head out of the anchorage and break away from the fleet. I am torn, as we have come to love it here. It’s hard to leave friends that we’ve made, especially ones who are continuing north, and away from our path. There are several that we will cross paths with again, in both Honduras and later in Panama. The thought of familiar faces along the way is comforting.

Our passage to Guanaja (gwa na ha), Honduras will take between 60 and 70 hours, our longest yet. We’re both a bit nervous about the journey. After sitting still for so long, it’s going to be an adjustment as we hit the open ocean again. We’re hoping that the forecast treats us well, and that most of it will be somewhat smooth.

Look for my next post from Honduras, and remember that you can always see where we are through the link on our Where Are We Now page. Adios Mexico, you’ve been good to us! Here are some more photos.

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



Our Fight With Customs

The compressor in our refrigerator went up a few weeks ago, and it’s been a hard go ever since, trying to get a replacement. We’d heard from several sources that having things sent into Mexico can be a nightmare. Still, we need the parts, and so the process began. We started with the “West Marine” in Cancun, Servimar. The man there said that he thought it was possible to get it through his rep. Delivery would be ten business days, and he’d get back to us to confirm…we’re still waiting.

With little faith in that avenue, we were told to order through Defender, (a company that we used extensively throughout our refit, and offer fantastic customer service), mark it for a “yacht in transit” and have the parts shipped directly to the Fed Ex office in Cancun. The package arrived in Merida, Mexico (three hours from Cancun) three days later! Unfortunately, it’s been there for the last two weeks.

We received an email from both Defender and Fed Ex that the shipment was being held in customs, and awaiting further information. Several phone numbers were provided, but no information needed for shipment. We went to an internet cafe in town to make the call. Thankfully, the owner phoned on our behalf. After some arguing, he was told that there would be an email sent, with the required information. Scott returned in the afternoon, and Adrian phoned again. After more arguing, and some hang-ups on the customs end, it was determined that they would only proceed through email. O-KAAY.

After several emails, Scott was told that he needed an agent to proceed, but there was no information provided. Scott replied, asking for some help, and was provided with a list of agents. He emailed all of them. Only one replied, asking for details and information that Scott had already included in his original email to all of the agents.

Things went quiet on Thursday and Friday, as everything here shut down for the Easter holiday. On Monday, Scott sent an email asking for an update. He got a reply that without a commercial invoice, they could not proceed, and that they could not help him.  ???????  We ordered the parts from a commercial company, and are willing to do or provide whatever they need to get these things shipped! Scott then asked what he needed to do to proceed, what more information did they want? We’ve had no reply.

We have now contacted Defender. Scott explained that unless they have a way to help us, we’ll need to have the items returned for a refund. We’ll start again fresh in Honduras, with an agent. Defender has contacted Fed Ex and Mexican Fed Ex, but we are still waiting for a response. The winds don’t look good for us to head for Honduras for another week to ten days, so we are willing to give it that long.

In the meantime, we are fortunate that our refrigerator and freezer also have a 120 volt powered holding plate system as well. However, that means we have to run the generator every day for a few hours, as opposed to every two to three days. Generators like to run with a full “load” of things drawing power, so we’ve been making water like crazy, and using the ice machine as well. We end up with extra power, as the solar panels put out a ton during the day, so I am also washing clothes, towels and sheets like mad. Silver lining??

Scott can’t stand this process, so we’ve shifted things a bit. We defrosted the freezer, and that will act as our refrigerator until we get this settled. Howard was very intrigued with the process.

I purchased an Engel eight years ago, for our winter cruise to Florida, and it has been acting as our beverage fridge. For those who don’t know, the Engel can act as a cooler, fridge or freezer. It has a compressor, and works on either 12 volts or 120. Things stay incredibly crazy cold, and it freezes things into a hard block; it’s worth it’s weight in gold.

It’s now loaded with almost all of the contents from our freezer.

The contents of our refrigerator went into a cooler out in the cockpit, until we got the freezer defrosted and dried out a bit. I have one less shelf in there, so things are a bit piled up, but it’s doing the job.

So that’s our customs saga. We continue to wait, but aren’t holding our breath.

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


Clearing Customs In Mexico

I thought I’d share the lengthy customs process that Mexico has. We’d heard from several sources that clearing customs in Mexico can be challenging. They require you to clear in with the Department of Agriculture and sanitation, customs, immigration and the port captain, as well as get an import sticker for your boat. All of this involves trips to many offices and the bank, hopefully when all of these places are open. One of our cruising guides and an online reference site both suggested to stay at Marina Paraiso, where the dock master will be your “agent,” and help you check in. After an eventful passage, and two cool, cloudy, bumpy, windy, windy, windy, maddening weeks at anchor, some time at a pier and help with customs sounded like a great idea.

As we arrived in the area on Tuesday afternoon, and the marina came in sight, we hailed them on our vhf radio but got no response. Instead of hovering and waiting for someone to eventually answer, we decided to just go and tie up at the end of a pier, dealing with an actual slip reservation afterward. When we arrived, a friendly dock hand was waiting to help catch a line and tie us up. He informed us that “Chepo,” the dock master, would be along soon to help us with customs and a slip reservation.

Soon after, Chepo arrived with some papers to fill out for the marina, and told us that he’d be back at 8:30am the following morning, to start the customs process. Although we weren’t cleared in yet, it was ok for us to wander the marina grounds, use the pool and visit the bar and restaurant. After having just finished a 51 hour run, some food (that I didn’t have to cook) and a margarita sounded very inviting, so we showered off our crossing and headed to “Barlito.” Luis made us some delicious margaritas, we shared an awesome buffalo chicken sandwich and then collapsed into comas.

The next morning, at 8:30 sharp, Chepo came to give us some papers to fill out (boat name, documentation number, captain’s name, last port of call, etc.). We then followed him to the marina office, where he made copies of our passports, the boat’s documentation form and a courtesy clearance form that we’d gotten from Customs and Border Patrol in Key West (we’re not required to clear out of our own country, but Mexico still wants to see something). We also filled out a crew list (obviously short, since it’s just the two of us, and Howard doesn’t make the cut) that he copied as well.

Chepo explained that he’d pay for all of the fees, and then we’d reimburse him. In addition to the customs and immigration fees, the marina charges 50.00 for Chepo to help us, and then we add on any tips that we wish to give to him and the officials. Fine with us, one stop shopping sounded great.

As soon as we got back to the boat, Chepo was right behind us with the man from the Dept. of Sanitation. He took our temperature and asked us about our general health, did we have any symptoms of sickness (fever, nausea, etc.) and if we’d had measles and flu shots. In the small world we live in, this man went to college in Baltimore, and rented a room from a woman who lived in Canton (a neighborhood just to the east of downtown Baltimore)!! We chatted about the area, the blizzard that the Baltimore had just gotten and then he was on his way.

The Dept. of Agriculture was next. They’d deal with our fresh food and Howard’s papers. Any meat that we have is supposed to be in supermarket packaging. I disregarded this, against Scott’s wishes, and broke up the packages to vacuum-seal the meat into smaller, more compact packaging. I had the freezer full of it, and the stuff would very likely be confiscated. Chepo suggested that we put the meat into a cooler, and stash it in the engine room. He was already earning his tip! As I started to stuff a soft sided cooler with most of the freezer’s contents, there was a knock on the side of the boat. It was a diver, who was cleaning the bottom of a nearby boat. Chepo had sent him to get our cooler. It would be stashed on the boat that he was cleaning, and we could grab it back when the Dept. of Ag. had gone. Chepo’s tip grows!

Two people came on board from the Dept. of Agriculture. I think that one was training, but was never sure. They poked around inside our refrigerator and freezer (I’d left some meat in there, figuring that an empty freezer was more suspect) and asked about any fresh produce. All I had left after our two weeks at anchor were some onions, garlic and sweet potatoes. They asked how long we were staying. We were about to reply at least a month, when we caught sight of Chepo, who was holding up five fingers. Not even thinking of questioning this, we replied five days. They spied my bread, and looked it over. In the end, they didn’t confiscate anything, and turned to Howard.

The man petted Howard, who was very curious about the attention. However, when the man tried to see Howard’s teeth all bets were off, and he received a sound hissing with a swat. I picked Howard up, and then the man tried to see if Howard was neutered. He poked around more than I thought necessary, as it should be pretty obvious that important parts were missing. As this was going on, Howard was trying to attack both me and the man. Soon, the man was either satisfied, or just nervous for his safety, and stopped poking and prodding.

They took Howard’s vet papers, with proof of his shots, and also his international health certificate. I was told by Chepo to meet them up at the marina office. Once there, the two spent more time than I expected on the papers. It seems that they were trying to find out what kind of codes to mark on their form. They asked how old Howard was, which was noted on his papers, and if he was a male..really, did you not just poke all over him on board?

They finally finished their form and gave me a copy, along with my original vet papers. I headed back to the boat, where Scott had just finished with the customs officer. This man was concerned that he could not locate a serial number on our motor. Scott explained that the boat was 30 years old, and that this was a re-manufactured motor, which may not have the original number. I don’t know if the man was concerned about the motor being stolen, or that we stole it, or what. He and Chepo spoke awhile, and the man finally let it go, but told us that we’d have to have the number to get an import sticker for our boat. Again, I think Chepo smoothed this over, growing his tip even more!

Then, we both went to the office, where we met with an immigration officer. We filled out forms similar to those that you are given on an airplane as you come into a foreign country, and he made copies of our passports. Quick and easy.

I was then asked to bring my cat form back to the office for the Dept. of Agriculture people. When I returned with it, I realized that in all the confusion of what codes to enter, they had forgotten to stamp and sign the form…please make my cat legal!! Now, there were four people at various tables, and Chepo was dancing back and forth between them and the copier. It was a small circus, and I excused myself back to the boat, to let them get on with it.

It was approximately 12:30. We had lunch aboard, and then decided to move the boat to the slip that we’d spend a week in. The winds were picking up, and only supposed to get worse as a cold front arrived, so we wanted to make the move sooner than later. As we tied up in our slip, we noticed how sooty our transom was, from the passage here.

Once we were settled in, we spent some time on the bow, in the sun, and waited for Chepo. After all of the forms were completed, copied and compiled, he took them to the port captain for us. Just before 4pm, he arrived back at the boat with a stack of papers.

We again accompanied him back to the marina office, where we paid for a week’s stay, and settled up with him for all of our fees and tips. They totaled just under 300.00, which was well worth us staying in one place, and Chepo doing the chicken-with-it’s-head-cut-off dance! So we were now cleared and legal, except for the boat. If we planned to stay more than 30 days, we had to get an import permit for it. We thought it was worth taking care of it while we were in Isla Mujeres, rather than being stuck farther south, at 31 days, and not having access to get a permit.

The next morning, we rode our bikes into town and hopped on a ferry that would take us 20 minutes to Puerto Juarez, where the import office was located.

After arriving at the terminal in Puerto Juarez,I resisted the giant beers for sale in the ferry terminal, and we made the short ten minute walk to the office.

Chepo had told us to see Elizabeth. We located her, and handed over copies of all of our papers. She also needed a copy of Scott’s import card. Since we only had the original, we were sent back down the street to a hotel, where we could get a copy made. We were pretty sure that there was a copier somewhere in that massive building where she was, but didn’t argue. Upon finding the hotel, we paid a man five cents to copy the card, and headed back to Elizabeth. In under five minutes, we had a sticker, good for ten years. Total for sticker and round trip ferry (less the cerveza I had on the way over) was 82.00. We were beginning to think that we should stay for a year!

After ferrying back to Isla Mujeres, we had some lunch  at a nice second story restaurant that was great!

We enjoyed the fact that after two days, and much help from Chepo, we were all (us, Howard and the boat) cleared into Mexico, and were now proudly flying the Mexican courtesy flag…Hurra!

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