Happy Anniversary To Us!

Yesterday we celebrated our nine year anniversary. The weather was far better nine years ago, when we were wed on the shores of the Chesapeake Bay.

After thinking we had to put our celebratory dinner on hold, due to hours and hours of biblical rain, the waterworks finally subsided in the late afternoon yesterday and we hopped a water taxi to town. We enjoyed margaritas,  Indian food for dinner and a brief walk through town before taking another taxi back here to the marina.

The past nine years has been full of fun and laughter, new experiences, time with friends (old and new) and of course this incredible adventure….Cheers to nine years!

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

Scenes From Bocas Marina

Our current home here in Bocas del Toro is in a slip at Bocas Marina. Thanks to the Island Plantation website, for providing a great overview. Our marina is just across the water from Bocas Town, but unfortunately there is no road through the clump of trees that stands between us and the rest of the island.

Image result for aerial view of isla colon, panama

So, like most everyone else in the area, we rely on water taxis to get to town. The marina offers a free ride four times a day, which is great, and it’s only five minutes from pier to pier.

It’s relatively quiet here, as many cruisers leave their boats and travel home for hurricane season. The long-term liveaboards here have been very friendly and helpful, with suggestions on where to eat and how to find this and that (hardware, propane, etc.).

Many things are brought to Bocas del Toro, and the marina, from David (pronounced Da-veed). Someone makes the nine hour round trip 2-3 times a week, bringing back whatever is needed or wanted (oil for diesel motors, potting soil, mint…yes, it isn’t sold here on the island; basil, but no mint). It’s not a short hop, but much closer than the 20 hour round trip drive to Panama City. Scott decided to send our alternator out to David for repair, as we had no luck with it in Cancun.

The Calypso Cantina bar here serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. It’s a low-key place, that sits on the end of the peninsula, near the pier that leads out to the fuel dock.

Most days, it’s pretty darned quiet at the cantina, but on Friday, they fire up the big grill for barbecue night. Steaks, burgers and pizza are some of the featured items on the menu, and it’s standing room only for grilled food and live music.

Scott and I are addicted to the pizza, with it’s homemade herb crust, roasted veggies, and fresh mozzarella and basil..delish! Each Friday, a different selection of desserts are offered. Last week, I had a hazelnut torte that was the best sweet treat I’d had since the Sugarbakers cake I had shipped to Key West in December (yes, I had it shipped there. I’m telling you, the stuff is awesome).

Every Saturday morning, the “veg” boat arrives. It’s a convenient way for us to load up on some produce, without having to haul it back from town.

The boat is supposed to come at 9am, but island time is never firm, so Scott and I usually grab a seat near the water, and enjoy the view while we wait.

Howard loves veg boat day too, when he gets to enjoy a good chew on a pineapple top.

The water here isn’t very clear at first glance, having more of a murky, green hue to it, but the visibility looking down from the docks is surprising. I’m always amazed at what I can easily see in the shallow waters near the fuel dock.

Icky things bob around in the deeper water.

We pulled into our slip here, so the cockpit offers a view out toward town.

Many different forms of boats go by, with people using all types of paddles. The ladies below are paddling an inflatable, rigid bottom dinghy..minus the inflatable part (they’re sitting at what would be the bow).

This group has lost motor power, so have gone to rowing…with whatever is handy (notice the man in front, using a 2×4). The young boy seems to have the job of figure head.

Scott is in love with the many long, long, long pangas that travel back and forth.

We’ve done a lot of cleaning and maintenance projects while attached to the pier. I have cleaned and washed every inch inside, including walls, ceilings and blinds. The contents of every cabinet, drawer and closet has been emptied out and cleaned, allowing a check for leaks, mold or bugs; so far so good!

A fresh coat of deck paint was applied, especially exciting for me. The before and after was so satisfying!

We enjoyed some lobster for dinner, purchased from a local man who rowed up to our cockpit in his canoe (Scott hasn’t had a chance to scout the area for fish and lobster options yet). $20.00 for four, not a bad deal.

Getting on and off Sea Life has been challenging, as our finger pier resembles something out of a fun house. Notice the almost 45 degree slant.

Thankfully, the pier was recently repaired. It’s not completely level, but a huge improvement and much appreciated. It had been a hard go for me, with my height-challenged legs.

Scott lowered the Aluminum Princess down into the water, in preparation for her many explorations while here in Bocas. She sits in an open slip, right across from ours.

The three of us are settled in, and enjoying our stay!

Here are more photos of scenes from Bocas Marina.

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






Clearing Into Panama…Break Out Your Wallet!

After tying into our slip the marina staff promptly called the various officials to come clear us in, and we were told that it would be at least an hour before they arrived. However, just thirty minutes later, they were knocking on our door(Luckily, we managed to put fresh, dry clothes on. Tying up in the heat has us soaked through)!

Four officials boarded the boat, and representatives from the port captain’s office, immigration, customs and agriculture took a seat in our saloon. The port captain spoke the best (really, the only) English, and was primarily there to inform us as to what the rest needed.

He began by saying that they were offering us the “service” of coming out to our boat. Hmmm, “service.” The only two who actually needed to come on board were the customs and agriculture officials. We were still expected to visit the port captain and immigration offices to register the boat, so they saved us no time by coming aboard. It smelled of a way to get some extra cash (ie, a tip), but this didn’t surprise us and we weren’t up for arguing.

As soon as they were settled, Howard came to greet them. He jumped onto the table and right into the face of the woman from immigration, who was obviously not a cat person (why do animals always seem to sniff these people out??). She recoiled and froze, as if someone had thrown a rattlesnake in front of her. The men from customs and immigration, however, were fascinated with Howard, and tried to coax him closer for some petting. Of course, he wasn’t interested in them, only in agitating the immigration woman, who was already not a friendly person.

The port captain didn’t do anything while aboard but translate, which was definitely useful. For this, he handed us a receipt for $20.00; “overtime” service for coming to the boat. It was 11:30 am on a Monday, in who’s world is that overtime??

Madam Friendly stamped our passports, with a written expiration date of 48 hours. We were expected to see her at the immigration office within that time, to pay $105.00 each for 90 days in the country. So what exactly was the $25.00 service fee for??

She conveniently didn’t have a receipt on hand, for the $25.00 “fee.” The port captain relayed that we’d get the receipt at her office. This excuse seemed sketchy, but since we still had to deal with her, we held our tongues.

The agricultural official was hardly interested in the food we had onboard, unlike the close scrutiny we’d had in Mexico. He barely glanced in the refrigerator, waved off looking in the freezer (Scott’s biggest worry area), and briefly looked into one galley cabinet, before declaring us good.

This man was also responsible for clearing Howard. He watched Howard’s agitating antics toward Madam Friendly, and deemed him healthy and fine (maybe as an “atta boy!”). We were handed a receipt of his “services,” in the amount $35.00.

The customs agent was the most thorough, walking through the entire boat with Scott. He opened all drawers and closets, and inquired about liquor. Scott replied that we had “a few bottles” on board, and quickly shifted the man’s attention elsewhere. Unlike Mexico, where there was a thorough investigation of our engine room and motor, this man didn’t go below, or check any compartments under the floor. When through, he handed us a receipt for his $20.00 service.

So now we, Howard and the boat’s contents were cleared in, that just left the boat itself. We were now allowed to raise the Panamanian flag.

The next day, we headed to the port captain’s office in town, to register Sea Life. We dealt with a different port captain, who had us fill out the same form Scott had completed the day before..arrgh! The man was very friendly and helpful, as the two worked together to complete the form. The captain assisted Scott with filling in the Spanish blanks, and Scott helped him with the details of our boat information.

The subject of how to categorize our boat took some time, which seemed strange. As we travel farther south, most everyone assumes that we are on a sailboat. Sea Life is a powerboat, but  compared to those found in the U.S., she leans more toward a sailboat in speed and seaworthiness. However, the port captain didn’t know any of this, and seemed confused by us being on a powerboat, especially one that had come from so far away.

Scott  handed him our boat card, with a photo of Sea Life, thinking it would help. After much hemming and hawing, and discussion with others in the office, we were classified as a sailboat on some of the paper work, and a yacht on other areas. When all was said and done, we handed over $185.00 , and Sea Life was registered for one year.

Next, we made our way to the airport, in the pouring rain, to see Madame Friendly. The port captain had called ahead for us, to make sure that she’d be there, and not away for lunch. We were told that she was waiting, but when we arrived, soaked from our ten minute walk in the rain, she was leaving her office. Pointing to her watch, we were told to be back at 2:00; it was just after 1:30.

Instead of walking back to town to kill time, in the rain, we decided to settle in and wait for her return. At 2:15, we wondered how much longer she’d be, and discussed leaving. She finally showed just before 2:30, and we waited another 15 minutes before she called Scott into her office.

After filling out more paperwork, Scott  handed over $210.00, which cleared us for 90 days. However, I will be traveling home to Baltimore for a visit (I am thrilled to spend time with family and friends. I’m a people person, and miss my people!), which puts a wrench in the works…so she says.

She claimed that once I leave Panama, the $105.00 fee will have to be paid again on my return, even though I’ll be traveling within our 90 days. This rule really smelled bad to us, and I hope that when I actually fly back, that it isn’t the case. Everyone we’ve talked to about our experiences with Madame Friendly confirms my nickname for her…and then some.

After a full day of offices and officials, and a running total of $495.00, we were officially temporary Panamanian citizens. Our travels in Panama will include the San Blas Islands, where we understand that there will be more fees to pay. Welcome to Panama, please open your wallet!

We’ve settled in at Bocas Marina, with the Panamanian courtesy flag flying in our rigging,  dwarfed by the gaggle of sail boat masts around us. We’re short, fat, different and proud!

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

Our Final Push To Panama

Our passage to Panama was, in a word, terrific! We raised anchor at 7am, and followed both the way points and our track coming into the Albuquerques, traveling right through the reef, stress-free this time.

(If you were following our track on the Delorme link, the Albuquerque Cays are not visible on Google Earth, so it appeared that we were just dead in the water for five days or so. Our zig-zag track leading to it was our path through the coral.)

Scott estimated that the trip would take 28-30 hours, based on us traveling at an average speed of 6 knots. We actually averaged closer to 7 knots, and spent much of the trip at 7.1 and 7.2, with the current in our favor for a change. Considering that our paravanes cost us a half knot of speed when they’re in the water, traveling 7+ knots was fantastic!

The winds were at 13-15 knots as we left, and they dropped to nothing by the late afternoon; the seas followed suit. For much of the late afternoon and evening, our wind gauge read 0, a beautiful sight. Our trip went so smoothly that I was able to catch a nap in our bed, versus the couch. Howard got restful sleep, and was alert and mobile later, begging us for food.

Scott put his lines in the water, with fingers crossed that we’d catch something to fill the freezer with. Almost immediately, one of the lines began to whiz. It was a sizeable sailfish, that we weren’t interested in eating or taking the time to catch. However, that fish had our lure, so Scott began to reel him in. Unfortunately, the line snapped and the sailfish swam of….with our lure. Skunked again.

Just after dawn the next morning, the coastline of Panama came into view.

As the sun rose and we came closer to the coastline, the air smelled clean and fresh coming off of the mountains, similar to the awesome pine smell that greeted us in Guanaja.

As we approached the Bay of Almirante, several small hotels appeared along the shoreline. A large barge replacing navigational buoys passed by us, and those things are much bigger out of the water. We took turns venturing out onto the bow, admiring the coastline, breathing in the terrific smelling air and enjoying the sunshine.

We couldn’t stop looking at the mountains, with their peaks disappearing in the clouds. Later, Scott realized that the lower hills are in Panama, and the higher ones we were seeing are actually in Costa Rica, as the country’s border is very close.

Once inside the bay, the water turned glassy calm.

The color here was more green and didn’t appear to be too clear, until we saw two dolphins headed our way. As they approached the boat and dove down, we could clearly see them at least 20 feet down. We expected them to hang around our bow for a bit, but they went right by us, and I thought they’d gone. I turned to see them doing Sea World-type flips some distance behind us, and wished I hadn’t left my camera inside.

Soon Isla Colon, and Bocas Town, came into sight. Our marina is off of the west end of Boca Town, so we had to make our way around to the other side of the island.

By this time, Howard was more than ready to be there.

An hour or so later we made our final turn, taking us past more of Bocas Town, and heading toward Bocas Marina.

Panama was our destination for hurricane season this year, and the goal for end of year one. The original plan was to be here in Bocas del Toro by late June, and make our way toward the Eastern Caribbean in late October.

After being delayed so long in getting here, and not wanting to rush through the country. we’ve decided to linger here until spring. We’ll stay in Bocas del Toro until mid-November, and then move on to explore more of the eastern coast, and the San Blas Islands (sorry, so canal crossing for us). Here are more photos of our final leg to Panama.

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