Our Passage From Cartagena To Puerto Rico

Settle in…this one will take awhile.

To make the Eastern Caribbean, Scott’s plan was to head immediately north out of Cartagena, getting as much distance from the Colombian coast as possible, before turning east in a tight reach run toward Puerto Rico.

With this passage being our longest and most challenging, he decided to defer to a professional, and pay for weather routing. The plan came back for us to follow the Colombian coast, keeping out of some current and then turn north. Scott wasn’t thrilled with the idea, but he resisted the urge to argue.

Taking into account the oncoming wind and waves, and constant use of the paravanes, we hoped for a speed of six knots, worse case five. When we received the route, it had us arriving a day earlier than Scott’s calculations, so there was some back and forth to confirm how fast our boat would be able to travel.

With a weather window that wouldn’t get any better in the near future, we cast off lines, and headed east. Our destination was Ponce, located on Puerto Rico’s south central coast. There were other options, but Ponce was farther east, and had many stores in the area for us to shop (Walmart Supercenter, Home Depot, Ace Hardware, auto parts stores, PetSmart, and….fast foodl!).

Sunday – Day One: We made our way out of Cartagena’s harbor through the north cut. It was shorter than the south route we followed into Cartagena, by more than two hours, but challenging to navigate.

There is an old submerged wall at the north cut, put in place to be a harbor defense. Ships would run aground on the wall, tearing their bottom out. This forced them to use the deeper south entrance, which is visible from forts in the area and more easily defended.

A section of the submerged wall has been removed for boats to pass through, but we were unsure of it’s depth. After inquiring online, a local expat informed us that we had eight feet to work with; more than enough, as we only needed five. We made our way easily through the cut, and out into the Caribbean Sea.

As predicted, our passage began with unusually calm conditions, considering Colombia’s coast is the most challenging Caribbean location to “escape” from. Even with virtually non-existent wind, the swells were very sizable. Luckily, they were far enough apart, so even in a head sea we traveled over them comfortably.

As is usual for this area, the winds picked up considerably as evening approached. We spent the entire night traveling right into 20 knot winds, which was a bit lumpy. I was so grateful for our bow height! Even at nine feet above the waterline, we were getting covered in heavy spray. The pilot house was also worth it’s weight in gold at this point, provding the opportunity to be inside!

Howard did not enjoy the increase in wind and swells. I managed to get food into him in the afternoon, and we made two successful trips to the litter box. I helped brace him as he did both numbers one and two (it was clear by the look on his face that he was mortified by this), and was satisfied that basic needs were being met.

However, later attempts to get food into him resulted in two vomiting episodes, and a generally miserable feline. I tucked him in tight with pillows to keep his movement to a minimum and covered him in cold towels to help keep him cool, which seemed to help.

We began the passage with the saloon doors open and the screen pulled across for fresh air. After dark, the sounds of flying fish landing and flopping in the cockpit was too distracting for seasick Howard. It wasn’t worth risking more vomit, so we closed the doors.

I have a hard time sleeping while on passage, only getting an hour or so at a time, and this time was no different.  It’s hard for me to block out movement of the boat and noise of the motor. On this passage, I was also trying to block out noise of the wind and waves, which was almost impossible.

As a result, I took watch as much as possible, and let Scott store up on sleep. He’d begin the day at dawn, while I rested on the couch and did a few chores. At about 10-11am, I’d come back up to the pilothouse until 5pm, and Scott would come on until I started my night watch, which usually ran from 10pm until 5am.

As usual, I sang my way through eight hours of night watch, while keeping an eye on the instruments and radar. Our Delorme satellite tracker is invaluable when we’re underway. I am able to text with others cruisers, and friends at home, until they go to bed. Then I switch over to friends in the UK as they wake up…awesome!

Monday – Day Two: When I woke Scott at dawn, the winds were back down to ten knots. We opened the saloon doors and the smell of dead flying fish hit us in the face. Scott collected thirty, from both the cockpit and side decks.

Later in the day, he went up onto the flybridge, to investigate an unnerving noise (Many sounds occur in big seas, from unexpected items rolling around. Some are never identified, and remain maddening), and found a dead flying fish up there as well!

Even though the winds had subsided, it took hours for the swells to follow suit, but by late morning we were back in easily tolerable head seas. I took the calmer conditions as a chance for Howard to lap up some chicken broth, and he was able to get some actual rest, wedged in between the legs of whomever was sleeping on the couch.

Again, the winds increased in the evening. Scott was concerned that we were now near the Colombia/Venezuelan border, and asked me to be extra diligent as I kept an eye on the radar screen that night. There haven’t been any recent reports of issues with boats in the area, but it never hurts to be more aware. I saw two or three large ships on the screen, more than twelve miles out; aside from that, we were alone.

Tuesday – Day Three: I’d spent the night hearing almost constant thuds outside from fish impact, and in the light of day I could see why. The dead carcasses were everywhere, and their odor came right through the closed doors. Our saloon smelled like a fish cannery, and Scott’s morning carcass count came to a whopping 130!

Fish aside, by now, I could no longer stand the smell of myself. At night, the saloon and pilothouse doors were closed, to keep flying fish out. This stems from one managing to make it’s way through a window that was barely cracked open on a previous passage. It landed on Scott’s face as he slept on the saloon couch, so now….doors closed at dark!

As a result, the boat gets quite toasty inside at night. We keep fans pointed at us, but it’s still pretty darned warm. The need for a shower was now interfering with what little sleep I manage to get, so I decided that come hell, big wind or swells, I was bathing today! It went better than expected, with the molded shower seat coming in handy, and I emerged a new, non-smelly person.

By late afternoon, the winds ramped up with a vengeance. I spent the night watching winds stay at 20+ knots, almost squarely on our nose. We now had white caps and sizable waves along with the huge swells. At one point, I looked out, and saw the churning sea below us. We were perched up on a big-mamma wave, before sliding down it’s side. I was glad that it would soon be dark, hiding my view of the chaotic water coming at us.

Frequently, as we were coming down a wave, another would hit with us from underneath, and the sound of impact was loud, jarring and scary. Sea Life handled the conditions like a champ; the crew, not so much. Howard threw up again, and Scott went to sleep with the assistance of a Valium.

Wednesday – Day Four: Since we were virtually alone, and there was just the occasional ship passing 12 or 16 miles away, I’d spent the night watching movies. Our friends aboard s/v Prism were also underway, heading from the San Blas to the Cayman Islands. We each have a Delorme, so Shannon and I spent time each evening chatting  back and forth. At dawn, I came off watch and woke Scott. Our morning fish carcass count was only 30. I think we were too much of a moving target, for them to intersect with.

Howard was becoming more tolerant of the conditions underway. He kept down some broth and canned chicken, and made another successful visit to the litter box with help from me for stabilization. I considered it progress.

The stupid, big winds lasted for 18 nerve-wracking hours, before dropping back down to 12 or so knots mid-morning. It’s amazing how quiet and calm 12 knots is, after living with winds in the 20s for so long. The strong winds along with current in the area kept pushing us west during the night but Scott was now able to change our course a bit, putting us more on track for Puerto Rico. We are finally crossed the halfway point, but three more days of this seems like forever!

Thursday – Day Five: Overnight conditions remained the same as the previous night. Winds increased, and we lumbered through the waves and swells. While on watch, I suddenly heard a strange thud in front of me, inside the pilothouse, and knew exactly what had happened….fish breach.

I mentioned Scott being hit in the face as he slept, when a fish came through a cracked window. This time, one managed to travel under the solar panels (which are mounted above the pilothouse, and sit only six inches above the pilothouse roof) and down through one of the small hatches in ceiling! We keep these hatches open, unless the air conditioning is running. With the solar panels mounted just above them, we can get air into the pilothouse without worrying about rain or the sun’s heat coming in, but obviously fish are a concern.

As the smelly fish flopped around on the chart table, I stayed put on the bench and yelled out, “SCOTT!!!!…..FISH!!!…SCOTT??!?!?…FISH INSIDE!!! Scott woke immediately from his sleep, and quickly appeared with paper towel in hand. In the dim light, he located and grabbed the icky, flopping fish and chucked it out of the pilothouse door. Scott then attempted to wipe up the mess left behind; slim, scales and whatever those things throw up when they’re under stress. As you can imagine, the pilothouse now smelled wonderful. Aside from the drama of a fish breach, the rest of my night watch was uneventful. I saw one or two ships on the radar the entire time, none closer than 12 miles.

Day five brought several variables converging at once, making for a stressful day of calculations, schedule change and worry.

After learning that Colombia only sells bio-diesel fuel, we did not take on fuel in Cartagena, A mix of diesel and vegetable oil, it’s make-up “cleans” the build up inside fuel tanks, resulting in clogged filters and the need to change them more frequently to avoid motor issues. Scott stocks spares (of everything), but did not want to make a passage of this distance not knowing how the bio-diesel would react, and not wanting to be in the engine room changing filters throughout the trip.

Scott keeps records of our fuel usage, and accurately knows how much we use, depending on travel speed. What he needed to know, was how much fuel remained in our tanks as we prepared to leave Cartagena . Getting a somewhat accurate read on our fuel levels was challenging, as the tanks are oddly shaped, versus a clean rectangle or square.

There are sight lines marked on the tanks, but Scott was unsure as to their accuracy. After discussions with fellow Krogen owners, who have boats of similar age and cruising distance as Sea Life, Scott calculated, and calculated and calculated some more….and after more calculations was comfortable that we had enough fuel to get us from Cartagena to Puerto Rico, with 100 or so gallons to spare..great!

This was all well and good until day three of our passage, when we began to fight a strong, unexpected oncoming current, which slowed our speed considerably. Scott estimated our speed to average at near 5.5 knots, allowing for slowing from paravane use, increased wind and a running in and out of some current. Unfortunately, we hadn’t been able to shake the current, and winds were also stronger than predicted. These variables had us traveling at an average closer to 4 knots (much of the time, in the high 3 knot range).

At this much slower speed, it seemed our arrival time may be delayed by a day, maybe two. This brought concern as to whether there was enough fuel to continue for that amount of time. We discussed alternate locations (Dominican Republic and Jamaica), but weren’t sure they were viable options for saving fuel. Scott checked the levels again, which was challenging with the movement of being underway. We had fuel left in both tanks, and Scott planned to run one dry, giving him an idea of how much we’d have left in the remaining tank to use.

Meanwhile, I was wrapping my brain around the possibility that we had more days ahead of us than originally planned. My threshold for passages is three days, after that, I’m done; done with wind, boat movement, motor noise, shifts, odd sleep patterns…just done. Our longest trip so far has been almost four full days, and that was more than enough for me. I was already dreading the fact that we had to endure six days to get to Puerto Rico. My passage frustration peaked on day four, and the idea of more travel time made me insane.

Friday – Day Six: During my overnight shift, our speed suffered, averaging  2.9-3.5 knots. We just couldn’t escape the strong, oncoming current, and it was maddening. After awhile, I just stopped looking at the speed. I’d already stopped looking at the weather station, as our wind speed never went below 20. Passages suck.

The only ship that we were able to visibly see (not just on radar) passed by off to our starboard side in the morning. It detoured around us, saving an uncomfortable course change. This photo doesn’t look across the water at the ship. You’re looking at a wall of water.

At roughly 3pm, the winds increased to 30 knots. Our speed, which had gone back up closer to 4 knots, was now back at 2.9-3….terrific.These conditions were insanely unnerving. We were seeing more sky than water out of the front windows, as the boat launched up huge waves. The noise of the wind, and the sound of the motor as the boat battled it’s way up and down the waves was terrifying at times.

When we began cruising, the sight of larger waves and water coming at us scared me to death. It’s one of the main reasons that I choose to do the all-night watch, so I cannot see the big water. I have made great strides along the way, realizing that Sea Life can handle this stuff, and have become much better at looking out the windows. I was very proud of myself on this passage, being able to stare out at a sea in 20+ knots of wind and not flinch….up until now.

At 30 knots, the seas were huge and angry looking, so I did the last of my afternoon watch focusing on the radar, or the computer screen, and not outside. Downstairs on a break before my night shift, I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to go back up to the pilothouse; I was terrified. However, by 10pm, after seven hours of 30 knots and huge seas, I was numb to it, and handled my night shift just fine.

Oddly, as outside conditions worsened, Howard transitioned, and became much more tolerant of all the movement and noise. It was as if he thought this was his new life, and he may as well adjust to the situation. Wind or no wind, wave jolts aside, motor noise be damned, he was gonna eat and sleep as usual.

He began to demand food, jumping from the end table up to the raised galley counter, where he could lay supported by the surrounding fiddles (raised wood trim). I hesitantly fed him, and he demanded more, so I gave him seconds. Later in the day, I noticed that he’d made a successful trip to the litter box on his own. Howard was becoming a champion passage cat!

Scott continued to keep a close eye on our fuel consumption. We were still drawing from the tank that he planned to run dry,  so it seemed that we’d make Ponce without having to paddle….fingers crossed.

By 3am, the winds eased a bit, and were back down to just over 20 knots, but it was still an unnerving go. Shortly after, I noticed a band of rain heading for us. I woke Scott, just to be sure it wasn’t something to be concerned about. After checking the radar screen, he informed me that it would most likely miss us. It did not miss us, and the winds quickly ramped up to 37 knots, with higher gusts….yay for us.

Saturday – Day Seven:  We’d expected to arrive in Ponce Puerto Rico sometime after dawn this morning, but were now just hoping to make it by dark. The good news was that Scott was now completely confident that we had the fuel to get there.

I came downstairs after my night watch to wake Scott, and found Howard laying on the floor outside the galley, waiting for food. He seemed oblivious to the fact that he was sliding back and forth with the movement of the boat. I fed him a normal amount of his usual food, and he scarfed it up. At least someone was tolerating this stuff.

Moving around the boat had been challenging since the beginning. We have grab rails in place, allowing something to hold on to while coming out of the pilothouse and down to the galley, and also going down below to the head.

Getting to and from the couch in the saloon to sleep, was a different matter. Scott is tall enough to reach the grab rail along the ceiling, but it’s a reach for me when we’re not moving, and became impossible during our lumpy ride. I would swing myself toward the couch, using the pole in the galley counter, landing in a flop. Getting off of the couch was more difficult. With nothing to pull myself up, I’d end up launching forward as I rose, going into an immediate crab walk to keep from falling over.

As conditions worsened, it became increasingly hard to move around. Simple things became challenging, and sometimes dangerous. When getting something out of the refrigerator, you had to keep hold of the door with one hand, to keep it from banging into you. Going up and down to the pilot house was hard, even with the grab rails. I chose to almost crawl, keeping a low center of gravity, and my crab walk had become more of a caveman-like stomp.

I was dying for another shower, but it was just too stinkin’ rough to chance it. Instead, I settled for attempting freshness with baby wipes, deodorant and fresh clothes.

In Howard’s efforts to adjust to his “new life,” he attempted sleeping in his usual spots. I discovered him trying to sleep on top of the cabinet below our tv. Again, he was sliding back and forth with the boat’s movement, so I wedged a towel on one side of him for support.  Next, he attempted to sleep in his “taco,” which is attached atop a scratching post, Worried it would topple over, with his weight to one side of it, I took him out and laid the thing down on it’s side. He promptly straddled it, to stretch and scratch. If only I could adjust half this well.

The rain squalls moved over us until late morning. I laid on the couch, listening to the winds howl, and bracing myself against the boat’s movement, having another bought with terror. After some time, I again realized the boat could handle it, but was beyond done with wind, waves and current. With Scott being well rested, he offered to hunker down and keep watch for the final leg, God love him. Not that there was much to watch…winds still mid to upper 20s, with occasional stretches of 30, current still against us and seas still angry.

Scott settled into an iPod trance in the pilothouse, I continued my marathon re-watching of the tv show LOST in the saloon and Howard became an eating machine, making up for lost time earlier in the week;  we were all just trying to get through it.

I’d occasionally check on Scott, and find the winds, current and sea state just as I’d left them. By mid afternoon our speed was thankfully back up to 4 knots, and we were on track to arrive in Ponce at approximately 6pm! Scott was now counting down time to our arrival at the channel’s entrance. From there, it would be less than an hour to the marina.

Soon, Puerto Rico finally came into view! As the coast of Ponce got closer, we kept our eyes glued to the horizon, for a first glimpse of the red and green channel markers.

Just before 6pm, we entered the Holy Land….Ponce channel! As we approached the marina, Scott brought the boat to idle, so he could pull the birds in, raise the paravanes and get our fenders down from the flybridge for docking. We had our slip assignment at Ponce Yacht & Fishing Club, but weren’t up for trying to find it in the dark.  Since the tanks had to be filled at some point, we chose to tie to the fuel dock for the night, allowing us to get that job out of the way first thing in the morning.

At 6:30pm on April 29th, we turned off the motor, which had run for six and a half days. Considering our struggles along the way, we could live with arriving twelve hours past our original target time. Sea Life had handled the passage like a champ. We were reconfirmed of our decision to purchase a Krogen, with it’s incredibly seaworthy, full displacement hull. She was a tank in the heavy winds and huge seas, not slamming up and down, but firmly launching up one side of a wave, before sliding down the other side like a beach ball.

We were completely exhausted, but thrilled to be over this huge hurdle, and safely in the Eastern Caribbean! As we tied up to the dock and opened the doors, Howard was happy as a clam to breath in the new smells, and scope out his land surroundings.

Once we were safely tied to the dock, Scott ran the generator so we could sleep in the air conditioning. Now, first and foremost….showers, showers, SHOWERS!! We enjoyed some well deserved celebratory cocktails with a frozen pizza dinner, and then the crew of Sea Life, Howard included, collapsed into post-passage comas.

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

 

Howard’s Cartagena Vet Visit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

On To Colombia

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

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

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

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

MAQUETA

CUADRO DESEMBARCO

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Howard took his usual post-passage, coma nap.

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are more photos.

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

 

 

 

 

 

Hey Don, Thanks For Going Easy On Us!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Authority implores on the general public the need to:

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Farewell Panama, You Were A Beautiful Host

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

 

Snug Harbor And Our Last Days In The San Blas Islands

We waived a final goodbye to the swimming pool anchorage, and traveled six hours east to Snug Harbor, one of many anchorages, islands and villages farther east in the San Blas. The quiet anchorage was beautiful, surrounded by small islands made up of palms and mangroves, and again set against the lush mainland mountains.

The three of us spent the evening out in the cockpit, enjoying the scenery (us) and smells (Howard).

After parting ways in the Robisons, our friends Ted and Barbara (s/v Rosa dos Ventos) caught up with us in Snug Harbor. The four of us made our way into the nearby village of Playon Chico, connected to the mainland by a long bridge.

We were in search of the usual…veggies, eggs, Coke and Guna bread. As we wandered the quiet streets, a man offered to help us locate a woman who sold bread. We purchased the most delicious rolls from her, still warm from the oven. The man then led us along a narrow path that wove it’s way tightly between some of the village houses; I didn’t dare take a photo at the most narrow spots, as we were practically inside of peoples’ homes!

The labyrinth-like path ended at the village docks, where two supply boats were tied. We were able to buy eggs, beer, sodas and a few veggies right off of the boat.

After we’d returned to the boat, and put away our things, Scott and I took a happy hour ride around the anchorage, exploring our surroundings.

As usual, Scott wanted to get his hiking fix in. He’d heard there was a waterfall in the area so he set out the next day with Ted and Barbara to search it out. The threesome made their way to shore, and into the woods.

They passed by several fincas, or farms, where villagers grow vegetables. One farmer offered to lead the three of them to the waterfall. Having local knowledge is always helpful, and it’s also a nice to learn about plants and such along the way. Ted is fluent in Spanish, and could easily translate information, so they accepted the farmer’s offer and continued on with the now guided tour; one of his helpers tagged along as well.

They learned that dark, dirt-like edges around the garden areas was actually made up of ant nests taken from higher elevations. Cutter ants can tear plants to shreds, but it seems the cutter ants down near the fincas don’t like the smell of the “higher” ants, and therefore keep out of the gardens (not sure if this works for other critters as well).

Water is carried from the falls back down to the village through a  pipe system that follows the trail. In most places, the pipe is raised off the ground in an attempt to keep it as straight as possible, and out of the water, using branches and wires.

The guide pointed out a tree whose fruit is used for containers, when dried.

Voila! Guna tupperware!

We have noticed many of the Guna people with red paint-type stuff on their faces. The guide informed Scott, Ted and Barbara that it is actually a type of sunscreen that comes from the berries on this tree. We’d assumed it the red faces had some kind of traditional meaning…sunscreen, go figure.

They continued on through the woods, making their way higher and higher, with the water line leading the way.

The guide stopped to show the three an ant nest, used to create barriers around gardens in the fincas below.

 

After walking approximately four miles, they arrived at the waterfall. It was time for a lunch break…and a swim!

Fed, rested and cooled off, the group began to make their way back. As they walked, Scott noticed a big line of carpenter ants carrying leaves of a tree, along the top of a water pipe. We’re always amazed at what they can carry, and how quickly they can tear something apart.

Nearing the end of the hike, the guide stopped to pick coconuts, so the three could enjoy some fresh coconut water. Thankfully, Scott has not yet attempted to harvest a coconut himself (Kevin Stotz, if you were here, he’d most likely make you do it!), but I’m afraid that day is coming.

Once they were back down among the fincas, the three were met by other little helpers, who were finishing their day’s work on the farms. They happily posed for a photo.

After only a few days at anchor in Snug Harbor, Scott noticed a good weather window for us to get to Cartagena. Not knowing how long we’d have to wait for another, with early spring weather being unpredictable (scratch that, with all weather being unpredictable), we decided to forgo visiting any more of the eastern islands, and make the jump. It would be goodbye to the San Blas, and sadly, to Panama. Here are more photos.

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

Dinner And Drama

We enjoyed getting to know Michele, who was visiting our friends Dani and Tate (s/v Sundowner), so before she left to go home, Scott and I wanted to have the three of them aboard Sea Life for dinner. Unfortunately, when date night came around, Dani wasn’t feeling well, so Tate and Michele joined us as a twosome.

The four of us enjoyed dinner, and Howard amused us all with his usual antics. He tends to burn off his evening energy by racing around the decks like a maniac, before jumping from the cockpit, to the rail, onto the grill, and then launching up to the flybridge. Because we had guests on board, he was extra wound up, and had too much momentum going from the rail to the grill. Instead of landing on it, he sailed past….and into the water.

Luckily, Scott and Tate were outside, and realized that Howard had gone overboard. They began to try and locate him in the water, while I yelled to them to get a towel (A cat can grab the towel with his claws, and hang onto it as you pull him in. We used this tactic on one of the three times Howard went into the Baltimore harbor).

Scott and Tate spotted Howard swimming off of our port side. On top of it being 10pm and dark (why do things like this always happen in the dark?!?), there was a bit of current running through the anchorage. With the Bengal breed being part of his make-up, Howard is a good swimmer, but Scott was concerned that the current would be an issue. As I was still yelling to get a towel, he thrust his hand into the water, hoping to pull Howard back on board.

As Scott reached toward him, Howard bit right into the last two fingers of his right hand, puncturing the pinky, and tearing through the ring finger. With his bloody finger, Scott was still trying to help Howard, who was now attempting to get hold of our inflatable dinghy. Realizing that his finger needed immediate attention, Tate took Scott inside to help wrap the wound.

By now, I was out on the swim platform, and Howard had made his way around to the back of the boat. As he bit at one of our fenders hanging in the water (we later realized that he popped it; jaws of steel), I realized that Howard had not intentionally bitten Scott. He was just desperately trying to grab hold of anything he could with his teeth, to get out of the water as he swam. Howard grabbed right onto the towel that I threw in the water, and I was able to pull him up onto the swim platform and into my lap.

Michele tossed me another towel, and Howard stayed in my lap as I began to dry him off. Once he’d caught his breath, we moved inside, and I went over his fur with “kitty wipes,” so he wouldn’t ingest too much salt as he continued to dry himself off.

Meanwhile, Tate had helped Scott wrap his finger, and was now attacking drops of blood on the saloon rug with hydrogen peroxide (It took the spots right out, along with those on Scott’s shirt; a nice little trick to remember). He suggested that Scott immediately start taking an antibiotic, so I unearthed a bottle of Cipro from our stash of drugs.

Not fifteen minutes after coming out of the water, Howard was crying for food. He wolfed it down, followed by some water (Maybe he was trying to get the taste of salt water out of his mouth?). Once things had settled down, Tate and Michele headed back to Sundowner. Tate was a huge help, and Michele went home with quite a story!

The next morning, being concerned about a cat bite in salt water, I suggested that we try and raise our friends Ted and Barbara (s/v Rosa dos Ventos) on the vhf. They are both doctors, and I wanted to make sure that we treated Scott’s wound correctly.

We were able to reach Ted and Barbara, but because they were several islands away, and our vhf antenna is not nearly as high in the air as that of a sailboat, it was a very, very hard to hear them through the static. Fortunately, our friend Judy was anchored nearby (s/v Chinook). She heard our struggling conversation, and stepped in to relay the conversation for us through her vhf radio; this was a huge help.

Both Barbara and Ted asked Scott several questions, gathering information about the wound. They instructed Scott to add 1500 milligrams of Amoxicillin per day, to the 500 miligrams of Cipro that he was already taking. The two drugs together helped fight any possible infection in a more broad spectrum. In addition, Scott was told to soak the finger twice a day with a diluted iodine solution, and to not fully close the finger up for several days. This would allow the iodine soak to really clean out the wound.

Barbara and Ted suggested that Scott may need a few stitches to close the wound on day three or four. This posed several questions: Do we make the costly trek to a hospital in Panama City, head back to Nargana, and have it stitched at the clinic there or take our friend Chris (s/v Mr. Mac) up on his offer to close the wound (Between our two boats, we had everything needed for this.)? Of course, Scott was voting for option three. Chris had only stitched up lab animals, but skin was skin….right??

Thankfully, we didn’t need to put any of the options in play. Judy came over to take a photo of Scott’s finger on day three (which I had still not looked at…gross). When she sent it to Barbara and Ted, they said that the finger looked great, and instead of stitches, Scott could get just use a sterile-strip to close the wound (thank you to our friend Maria, who is a nurse, and stocked us up on many emergency items before we left home!).

Of course this meant Scott was out of the water for at least two weeks, something he was not happy about. However, during his entire “sentence,” the winds picked up and it was mostly cloudy, which somewhat softened the blow. Scott’s finger healed beautifully, and he and Howard are still friends…for now.

Our First Visitor!!

Not long after we began our journey, and were spending the month of December in Key West, Florida, several friends visited us during our stay; a quick, easy trip, no customs and warm weather.

Of course, we had a great time with everyone who came to Key West, but we’ve been anxious to have visitors during our travels through Mexico and Central America. While these locations aren’t as developed with resorts, or easy to get to as more familiar locations in the Eastern Caribbean, the towns and anchorages we’ve been to, and their gorgeous surroundings are not to be missed.

We also looked forward to having friends on board, so they could experience a bit of our life at anchor. To date, we’ve been alone on our journey aboard Sea Life, but that was finally about to change!

Our friend Karen contacted us, wanting to visit in February, and I excitedly pitched her the idea of meeting us here in the San Blas. Aside from my sister, Sally (who has traveled on her own to many far-reaching locations, including New Zealand, Thailand, and most recently Antarctica), Karen is one of the most adventurous people we know, so I was sure she’d be up for the adventure. As expected, she jumped right on board with the idea, and would be our first “official” visitor!

Karen’s journey began with a flight to Panama City, where she took a day to explore a bit. Our friend and provisioning master, Emilio, arranged for Karen to see some historic sites of Panama City, as well as a visit to the Miraflores Locks at the Panama canal.

The next morning, Emilo arrived at Karen’s hotel with a carload of provisions for us. Karen had arrived with two bags in tow, completely filled with items we’d requested and ordered from home, carrying  just a backpack of things for herself (and a pair of flippers). Her bags were loaded in with our provisions, and she and Emilio were off to meet Nacho, who would then drive Karen across the mountains to the Carti docks.

During the drive, Karen re-channeled her high school Spanish, and with a bit of Google Translate help, she and Nacho chatted (he remembered driving me…”Oh, the cat!). Along the way, they stopped for a priest and a young man who were walking on the side of the road, hoping for a ride. Nacho turned to Karen and said, “Miss Karen??” It was Karen’s paid ride, so it was her decision whether or not to let them in the car. Not wanting to say no to a priest, Karen gave her ok, and the two additional passengers hopped in.

Once at the dock, Nacho helped Karen find her panga, which we had pre arranged. There was some initial confusion as to which boat was hers, but finally all bags and provisions were loaded aboard one of the waiting boats. Karen would be brought out to us in the Robisons. It meant a short panga ride (20-30 minutes), and a chance to see the rural Guna villages.

We’d been in touch with Karen since she arrived in Panama City, and also along her journey over the mountains, so as the approximate arrival time for the panga drew near, we kept our eyes peeled.

The expected time passed, and then some more time passed…and then some more time. Eventually, our cell phone rang, and it was Karen (we were shocked to have enough signal to receive the call!). She informed us that the panga couldn’t find our boat among the others, and the men wanted to take her back to the dock…what?!?

Clearly, the panga was in the wrong location, as we were one of only five boats in the huge anchorage, and the only one that wasn’t a sailboat! Scott quickly began listing off the islands near us (using both “English” and Guna names for them), and also nearby rivers, hoping that the men on the panga would realize where they needed to go.

When that didn’t work, he went into navigational/survivalist mode, asking Karen questions, trying to find out where she was…”When you left the dock, did you head right or left?”…”From which side of the boat were the waves coming at you”… “What side of your face was the sun on?” This proved challenging for all involved. Karen now had us on speaker phone, and we could hear the men yelling back and forth at each other in frustration.

After talk of leaving her on the island where they currently were (wherever that was), we were finally able to communicate our location using Bradeo’s name (Scott’s village tour guide). We hoped that there was only one Bradeo (and that it wasn’t a name like “Joe”), and Karen would be headed in the right direction.

It wasn’t long before we spotted what had to be her panga on the horizon, and were soon unloading Karen, her bags and all of our provisions; her 20-30 minute ride had taken almost 90 minutes. After a bathroom break, and a cold beer, we took some time to relax before our friend Ted (s/v Rosa dos Ventos) came over in his dinghy to take us over for a walk through the largest village near us.

We were not permitted to take photos in the village, but enjoyed walking among the houses and saying hello to some of the Gunas. Our long day ended with dinner on board and an early night. Things were so crazy, I failed to get any photos of Karen’s arrival.

Bright and early the next morning, we headed back to the Holandes. The wind forecast was predicted to be perfect for Karen’s stay, so we were headed for the swimming pool anchorage. Unfortunately, during our short passage between the reefs, in open ocean swells, Karen became sea sick while trying to check emails (the price for working during vacation!). After emptying her stomach over board, she retired to the guest stateroom, to sleep it off.

We arrived to a fully cloudy, rainy afternoon in the swimming pool, which never happens! However, Scott spotted a Triggerfish under the boat, and decided on an alternate form of entertainment for amusing Karen. While she kept an eye on the fish, Scott set up one of my frozen lobster tails in the water for bait (great). He speared the large Trigger from our swim platform…dinner and a show!

The rains finally ended, and we were treated to an amazing, full rainbow over the anchorage, that faded and then brightened again for quite a long time…welcome to the San Blas, Karen.

Keeping the underwater show going, Scott next lowered the Triggerfish carcass into the water, to see what it might attract. Karen and I were relaxing up on the flybridge, when I noticed Howard in front of me, leaning over so far that he was practically hanging by his toes. I went to grab him, and realized that we had company in the water below.

Two blacktip reef sharks had turned up to sniff out our offering. Howard moved downstairs, and out onto the swim platform for a better look. We quickly squashed his fun, not wanting him to be the second course!

The sharks were sizeable, approximately six feet in length. They would bite at the carcass, but were easily scared off by seeing us above.

By dusk, a third shark had joined in, and we enjoyed a shark-filled sunset.

Check out our “friends” at the bottom of the photo.

Just before the sun set, one of the sharks finally mustered up enough courage to snatch the prize, and just as quickly as they came, they were gone.

The next morning was sunny and bright, and the swimming pool was living up to it’s name; the visibility was insanely clear. We were anchored in ten feet of water, and I could easily see right over the side of the boat, down to the sea floor below, which was littered with sand dollars, conch shells and other interesting stuff.

Karen joined us in the dinghy, as I passed out baked treats to our friends in the anchorage, who we hadn’t seen for awhile. By the time we were through, Venancio, the master mola maker was coming through in a panga. He came aboard, and Karen took time to choose some of his work to take home. Much to Scott’s chagrin, I bought another beautiful mola for myself.

It was now time for water play! Scott took Karen snorkeling on the reef behind our boat. He’d find interesting things to show her along the way, and also snagged some trinkets from to floor below us.

Next, Scott took Karen to the outer reef, for a change of scene.

Karen and I enjoyed some time “bobbing” on our water loungers, and watched a large yacht at the back of the anchorage lower one of their several tenders down into the water. If only the Aluminum Princess had it so smooth and easy going up and down!

I’d rallied a gathering for cocktails and sunset on one of the nearby island beaches, and we headed over to our waiting friends.

Our friends were very welcoming to Karen, as cruisers are, and we all enjoyed a great evening.

Another beautiful sunrise over the anchorage brought a plan to change location.

With the calm wind forecast, we decided show Karen the Coco Bandero Cays, it’s beautiful island views and my favorite beach. Before leaving, we were lucky enough to catch a veggie boat coming into the anchorage..who came to us first!!! We hadn’t seem them before, but were glad for the chance to stock up before leaving. Their daughter swam around the panga while we shopped, and then practiced her motor-starting skills.

With fresh produce on board, we left the anchorage, bound for the Cocos. Just around the corner, our friends Jon and Shannon (s/v Prism) came into view, on their way back to the pool. We waved and snapped photos of each other as our boats crossed paths.

Karen stayed off of the internet, escaped sea sickness and we  enjoyed the scenic ride to the Coco Bandero Cays.

The next day, Karen and I spent the afternoon on my favorite beach, while Scott went out to hunt the reef. We had the beautiful little island all to ourselves.

There were more snorkeling outings, and we also took a dinghy ride around the area, passing over some massive coral. Aside from that, our last day together was spent walking the islands’ beaches and bobbing in the water. We also introduced Karen to the official cruisers’ game of Mexican Train dominoes!

After the crazy panga ride to the Robisons, we arranged Karen’s return pick up through Nacho, thinking that using a Guna driver to set up a Guna panga would work better. We also assumed that Nacho would keep things on time, to avoid waiting at the docks for Karen.

Nacho informed us that a panga would be at the boat to pick Karen up, in the Cocos, at 6am on Sunday morning. Scott thought this suspect, as the sun doesn’t even come up until 6:30am, and the area is much too full of coral for a panga to come out any earlier, even for locals. We expected to see the ride arrive closer to 7:00.

Seven am came and went, so Scott and Karen made their way in the dinghy to the beach behind us, for a cell signal to contact Nacho (Seriously, on board…no signal at all…just behind us on the beach…terrific. The only thing in between us and the tower?…a spindly island. Scott’s convinced that the palm trees here must be lead-lined).

As soon as they left, our friend Ted (s/v Rosa dos Ventos) hailed us on the vhf radio. There was a panga alongside his boat, and he was fairly sure they were looking for Sea Life, and Karen. I was afraid to ask where Ted was anchored, fearing that it was hours away, but he replied that they were in the nearby Western Cocos…whew!

I relayed to Ted where we were, and thanked him for sending the panga in the right direction. Hearing all of this on the portable vhf, Scott and Karen were already headed back to the boat. Ten minutes later, she boarded her ride for the mainland.

In just over an hour, the appropriate time for a ride from the Cocos, Karen was back at the Carti dock with no issues, and on her way over the mountains with Nacho. Aside from having to stop and wait for Nacho to get his breakfast, her trip went smoothly, and she arrived at the airport in plenty of time for the flight home.

The crew on board Sea Life, including Howard, spent the rest of the day relaxing, and enjoyed another beautiful sunset.

So, I think all of the San Blas experience boxes were checked during Karen’s stay: seeing a Guna village; getting sea sick (could’ve skipped that); spearing fish; seeing sharks; eating fresh-caught lobster, fish and crab; snorkeling, hanging with cruisers at a beach gathering; bobbing; having a private beach day;  seeing a long-lasting, full rainbow on the water; purchasing molas, playing Mexican Train dominoes, buying food from a veggie boat and taking in lots of gorgeous views!

Karen quickly adapted to life at anchor with us during her visit, learning where things were, dealing with generator day, helping with laundry, tolerating Scott’s yes’s and no’s on board the boat (yes, you can take all the time you want choosing a beverage from the Engel cooler, but shut the refrigerator door immediately!), helping us prepare to get underway and  personally dealing with the Congresso, when they came for their monthly anchoring fee!

It was so great to see our friend, and have a “piece of home” on board for a bit. We greatly appreciate that Karen rose to the challenge of visiting us in such a remote location, and hope she survived to visit us again! Here are a few more photos.

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

 

 

 

Visiting The Western San Blas

After Howard’s Panama City adventure, we headed back to the Eastern Holandes. We were told that Howard’s post-vet photo didn’t come through on my previous post. It can now been viewed, but here he is in all his shaved belly glory, just hours after returning from his adventure.

Our route took us past the Carti group of islands, most of which had densely populated villages. This overhead photo gives you a good idea of just how crowded they are.

I snapped pictures of the villages as we passed by, and of women paddling their ulus.

We moved father east, and chose to travel through the Lemmon Cays along the way, admiring the return of sandy, palm tree islands and beautiful blue water.

We were amused by these two little huts, smartly outfitted with both solar panels and a wind generator, and also a huge sailing yacht!

In four hours time, we were back in the “hot tub,” and delivered goodies from Panama City for our friends Tate and Dani (s/v Sundowner).

After some time with friends anchored in the area, we returned to Porvenier in early February to see Joe, for Scott’s passport renewal stamp.

My passport stamp date is now different from Scott’s, as I’d flown in and out of Panama when I visited Baltimore, so I am now permitted to be in the country on a “tourist” visa (good for 180 days) until the beginning of April . Since Scott was still working with a “mariner’s visa,” (stamped when we arrived by boat in August), his stamp expires every 90 days, so we needed to get his renewed again.

When we arrived at the immigration office in Provenier, Joe wasn’t there, but the young man on duty stamped Scott’s passport with no problem, (and no charge!) and we headed happily back to the boat.

Our supply of dinghy gas was getting low, so Scott planned to make a stop at the nearby island of Wichubwala while we were here dealing with immigration. However, it was now too late for a gas run, so that would have to wait for morning.

The anchorage off of Porvenier is open to the ocean swells, and even with our flopper stoppers in, it was a rolly go; so much so that Scott got seasick. The next morning, he mustered up the energy to go for gas, only to realize upon arriving at the dock that everything was closed. It was Sunday, so that meant we’d be spending another rolly night at anchor.

Our extra day was not completely in vain, as we were visited by the mother of all veggie boats! The National Waiters panga stopped by on their way to the outer anchorages, loaded with produce.  As they cut open the large bags of potatoes, onions, cucumbers, peppers and other items to sell us, it was like Christmas! The produce was some of the best we’d purchased so far, including a the longest bunch of celery I’ve ever seen!

After filling our dinghy gas tanks on Monday morning, we left the area near Provenier, passing more densely populated islands. After traveling close to the shore of Panama’s mainland, now in the western area of the San Blas islands, we decided to investigate Nalia Bay.

The bay was lined with beautifully lush rain forest. Since we hadn’t seen that much green in months, it seemed like a great place to spend a few days. We had the bay all to ourselves, except for the few locals who were clearing land up on one of the hills, preparing to build a house; they waved their arms in a hello as we dropped anchor.

The surroundings were gorgeous, and it was a treat to have the area all to ourselves. However, in all our excitement, we failed to realize that our anchorage was also surrounded by mangroves….many, many mangroves…which means biting noseeums!

By the time we had pulled all of our screens closed, it was too late. Those evil bugs, the size of a grain of pepper with a bite like a bee sting, had taken over inside the boat. I spent hours just slapping my legs, trying to kill them as they bit me. Scott chastised me, for not “just dealing with it,” but later we both spent the night in long pants and long-sleeved shirts!

Scott finally snapped, as they bit at his uncovered face, and began to smash all he could see on the stateroom wall. Counting each one, he killed 320…just in our stateroom.

Even though the bugs were miserable, the internet signal was surprisingly terrific considering we were surrounded by dense jungle (I have given up trying to make sense of when, where and how internet signals work in the San Blas). We decided to gut it out one more day, so I could upload photos, and get a blog post or two out.

Scott took advantage of his surroundings, and went off immediately the next morning to explore the bay.

He landed the dinghy in a “mud hole,” and ended up hiking through the surrounding hills.

He came back with some great photos of Sea Life alone at anchor, but his shoes were caked in mud.

An additional day was all we could stand, and the following morning we ran, covered in bites, for open water, where welcome winds blew away the unwanted pests.

We continued to follow the mainland coast, and our next stop was the the Robison Island group, where there were many Guna island villages. Here we chose to anchor just off of the mountainous mainland, near three villages, offering us a beautiful view.

The two smaller islands were each made up of one extended family.

There were many more ulus with sails here (notice the man in green shirt falling overboard…which we saw happen several times, as the narrow boats suddenly shifted).

We noticed many more children than we’d seen before, and it was also surprising to see very, very young children out paddling and sailing in ulus without adults. It’s obviously a much simpler, safer life here.

Our friends Ted and Barbara (s/v Rosa dos Ventos) were here when we arrived. We’d seen them at anchor in Isla Mujeres last winter, but didn’t actually meet until we were both in Providencia in June. It was good to catch up with them, and have friends in the anchorage here to spend time with.

There were several inland rivers nearby, so Scott lowered the Aluminum Princess for some extreme exploring. He traveled miles up the up the Mandinga River, lined thick with jungle vines. It became quite narrow in places, and almost blocked his way in others.

He fought his way past the dead wood coming out of the river, which offered more sandy banks along it’s route.

Howard enjoyed the anchorage here as well, and the many smells coming from land close by. When Scott lowered his green LED light into the water each evening, Howard would go right out to the swim platform, for a look at the fish below. However, he also enjoyed waiting for the fish to jump, from the inflatable dinghy, that spent evenings hanging from our port side.

Scott tolerated this surprisingly well, but became pretty peeved when Howard decided that the tiller for the dinghy’s motor made a good chew toy.

Aside from the sound of people talking in passing ulus, or children playing on the islands, it was quiet, and very peaceful. Being close to the mountains, it was cooler here at night, and the smell of smoke from the villages came gently through our stateroom hatch. It was like we were camping, with the smoldering campfire just outside our tent. These things filled in for the feel and smell of fall, that we miss. Here are more photos.

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

 

 

 

Here are more photos.

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

Groceries In The San Blas Islands

As you may imagine, keeping stocked on groceries and supplies in the San Blas was challenging, to say the least. Although we were glad that Howard’s trip to the vet in Panama City resulted in no real issue, it gave me the chance to stock up on groceries and such. As long as the round trip by water and land was already in motion (to the tune of $200.00+ dollars) it was smart to fill the car and get my money’s worth!

With the trip to Panama City being logistically and time challenging, as well as costly, cruisers usually find other ways to get what they need.

There are several larger islands that have tiendas, or stores, on them. They offer a limited selection of canned items, rice, boxed milk and juice and produce that is more shelf-stable, such as onions, carrots, eggs (not refrigerated here) and potatoes.

Boats from Colombia arrive with supplies for these stores at various times each week, bringing with them, among other things, fresh produce. Scott is amazed that these old, wooden boats (that have seen much better days) make the journey to and from the San Blas, without breaking apart in the big waters off of Colombia.

Unfortunately, the fresh stock is usually depleted within two days, so unless you happen to be very close by when the word gets out about a boat coming in, you’re out of luck.

Many out here use the chance to have things brought to them through other cruisers who may be traveling to Panama City, or through friends (or friends of friends) coming to visit. We have taken advantage of all three of these scenarios to restock on hard goods and groceries.

So….unless you are traveling near one of the larger villages when a shipment arrives, or have some form of Panama City connection coming to the area, the usual cruiser method for getting food (aside from fishing) is the veggie boat.

These pangas visit the many anchorages in the San Blas, bringing with them fresh veggies, fruit, beer, boxed wine, soda and sometimes meat and cheese. Their boats are filled with bags and crates of goods, and many also have “mobile” freezers, that may contain celery, parsley, chicken, cheese or butter.

Some items are weighed by a hand-held scale, and others are sold by piece. We (especially Scott) have become familiar with most words needed to communicate what foods we need. For the rest, we just point.

Word spreads of these traveling grocery stores’ arrival over the vhf radio. You may hear, “There’s a veggie boat in the anchorage!” or, “A veggie boat is just left Esnasdup, on it’s way to Green Island.” Some cruisers even have direct access to the boats by phone, and alert others as to when they will be coming to certain anchorages: “A veggie boat will be in the eastern Holandes early tomorrow morning, around 8am.” Knowing a boat is on the way gives you a heads up to stay put and be on alert, so as not to miss your chance at buying food!

In anchorages farther east, such the Holandes (swimming pool and hot tub), where we spent much time, the boats have to pass through stretches of open ocean, and come less frequently when strong winds are blowing. Between high winds and the holidays, we went almost three weeks without seeing one around Christmastime.

Now don’t get me wrong, we’re by no means in danger of starving here aboard Sea Life. We packed her to the gills with canned and dry goods before coming to the San Blas, along with plenty of soda and alcohol. However, you never shake the panic of not having convenient access to things, especially fresh food.

It has become more and more common for pangas to bring pre ordered groceries out to cruisers at anchor, especially to those who stay out for months at a time, or even year-round. Recently, these boats have even started to deliver diesel, gasoline and water…smart thinking!

The veggie boats usually stop first at cruisers who have placed an order, and then proceed to sell to the rest of the anchorage, usually starting at the front of the pack, working their way back. The excitement of spotting a veggie boat is quickly deflated by having it blow by you, and then watching and waiting for it to stop at all the other boats before coming to yours. Since we usually try to be toward the back of an anchorage, and away from any crowd of boats, we are typically one of the last ones “in line.”

This whole process is incredibly stressful for Scott. Once the panga has been spotted, and identified that it is indeed a veggie boat, he keeps track of it’s progress through the anchorage, eyes peeled through binoculars, trying to see how much is being taken at each stop. I commonly hear, “@#%*@#!, so-and-so just hauled up two buckets full of stuff onto their boat! They just got here yesterday, and we’ve been here a week! We’re going to be last, and there won’t be anything left but some rotten @#%*!

These veggie boats must smell interesting to Howard, because once they’re tied alongside us, he jumps up on the rail, or cries to be held, to see what’s going on. Most of the men were taken aback at first, as Howard is much larger than any island cat (he is in no danger of starving either). We hear…“Grande!” or “Mucho Gato!” Several boats have learned his name, and call out “HOW-arrd!” as he appears.

The usual veggie boat produce choices include: cabbage, iceberg lettuce, carrots, cucumbers, tomatoes, potatoes, zucchini, eggplant, and occasionally green beans.

Unfortunately, as you may expect, the quality of these items isn’t always the best. Tomatoes are hard, and very often more green than red. No matter how hard you try, they will not ripen, and instead rot pretty quickly if not used. Carrots and cucumbers can be gigantic, and sometimes bitter as a result.

The outer leaves of cabbage and iceberg lettuce heads are usually peeled off when sold, to exposed the non-wilted, inner leaves. We were so desperate for lettuce after one “dry spell,” that we paid for these sad, little things….the tiniest heads of lettuce ever seen!

Fruit offerings usually consist of pineapple, papaya, apples, limes, oranges, grapefruit, bananas and mangoes (once, I got avocados). The pineapples have been decent, but not nearly as good as the candy-sweet ones we were getting in Bocas del Toro, and the poor apples that I’ve tried are just tart and tasteless. I’m not a papaya fan, and the mangoes are very stringy, making them hard to eat. The damned bananas stay green and hard forever, and then ripen and rot in just days. As a result, we have eaten many banana muffins!

I’ve mentioned before that we have discovered “limon mandarinas” during our travel in Panama. They are about the size of a mandarin orange, and usually beat up-looking on the outside. The inside is orange, but tart like a lime. However, they are a bit sweeter, and juicer than the tiny, key lime-like ones that are also offered, and we’ve come to like them much more. Here’s a quick photo I grabbed from the internet, as we are currently out of them.

Image result for limon mandarina

We’ve gotten good celery and parsley from inside the “mobile” freezer, and there’s almost always “culantro.” It grows wild in the area, and smells and tastes exactly like cilantro.

I once saw shredded cheese in the freezer, and have also heard of people getting butter from it as well.

On one occasion, we were told by a veggie boat that they had chicken (pollo) available. Scott indicated, by putting two fingers toward his eyes and then toward the freezer, that he wanted to “see” said pollo. Out came a whole, dead chicken, and I mean whole…no feathers, but head, beak, legs and feet intact. I was definitely not up for that remote island challenge, so we passed on the pollo.

Overall, there are many more food choices than I expected to get here in the San Blas, and for the most part, we’re satisfied with what we get, and enjoy it. Here’s the result of a good veggie boat visit for us. Notice Howard getting right to work on his favorite…the pineapple tops.

Thankfully, Scott’s prediction of empty bins with only some rotten @*#! left, only happened to us once. There was almost always a decent choice of food left the in the boat when it arrived, and we’d live to eat another day.

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