Good Day,

……2 foot seas are better than 4 foot seas-we waited until Sunday to leave Shelter Bay.  We pulled out of the marina and anchored in the “Flats,” the anchorage outside the Canal.  We figured that we’d have a bit of growth on the bottom after the Girl had been sitting in the marina for 5 weeks.  Getting into the water in the marina with the resident alligator (around an 8-footer) didn’t seem prudent.  “A bit of growth” was an understatement.   An hour-and-a-half later, Alizann’s bottom was pretty clean.  Boy, did we take it on the nose from the top-dollar guy that we brought over from Panama City last Fall to do our bottom paint. Live ‘n learn.  We figured that our 16h00 departure would put us at Escudo Veraguas a bit after daylight.  Cruising into the setting sun, 2’ seas and spaghetti for dinner?  For me, it doesn’t get much better.  Neither of us slept well.  Maybe it was the slow roll of small swells-who knows?  Even though we were 10 or 12 miles offshore, we banged through a patch of trash washing out to sea from the mouth of a river.  I was about ready to move us further offshore when the water cleared.  We arrived at Escudo Veraguas, dropped the hook in the lee of the island and crashed until 13h00.  Although it’s a fairly large island, only 4 families live on Escudo (Shield).  We spent the afternoon dinghying up and down the southern coast, exploring the isolated beaches and hidey holes.  There was a bit of swell wrapping around the island, so we decided to limit our visit to one nights’ duration.

Next stop was Cayo de Agua.  Again, this wasn’t much of an anchorage, just a shallow spot tucked up next to shore.  With the settled weather predicted to hang around for a few more days, we figured anchoring here would work out fine.  There were a half dozen completely remote beaches on the north side of the island, and we wanted to check them out.  Normally, they’d be pretty windy/wavy, but this week they were just serene.  If we were sun worshippers, any one of the beaches would be ideal for hanging out.  Instead, we took most of them in on a dinghy drive-by, stopping at one for an hour dip.  The next day was a wash out (literally).  It misted and rained all day long.  Unmotivated, we both lazed around on the back porch most of the day and read.  Not to be denied, Alizann got some of our attention.  The watermaker’s high pressure alarm was yelling at us and the unit shut itself down.  I had a pretty good idea what this was all about.  Over the past months, our water production had been steadily declining.  We were living on borrowed time, as our membranes were 9 years old (normal life span on a pleasure boat-around 5-6 yrs.).  Of course, I didn’t have spares onboard.  They have a finite shelf life, and are about one boat unit ($1K) apiece.  Well…..I did have chemicals to acid, then to alkali wash them.  While recirculating the solutions through the unit from a 5-gallon bucket, Suzanne kept them hot by microwaving them a quart at a time.  We’re making water now, but only 18 gallons/ hour, not the 30 that our machine is rated.  I’m hoping that we can limp along like this until the Fall.  Showers will be at a premium.

The mist subsided and the sun came out, so it was time to move it.  We were kinda undecided as to where when a WhatsApp came in from Judy and Rick at Tranquillo Place.  “I heard you on the net.  Are you coming to visit?”  That settled it.  We had a nice day catching up on events and got a chance to check out the progress on the house that they’re building.  Listening to the daily cruiser’s net, we realized that the Super Bowl was coming up this weekend.  The Point restaurant at Red Frog has a 16’ projection screen on the beach and had a Super Bowl party planned.  ‘Nuff said.  I called my buddy, Chelsea at Red Frog, and she got us in “to your old slip.”

“What do you do all day?  Eat bon-bons and drink umbrella drinks?”  Nope.  We got up yesterday, grabbed the heat gun, putty knives and sander and stripped off about 18 (no exaggeration) coats of varnish and epoxy, going down to bare wood on the portion of the caprail on the port side of the salon.  It’s always been a problem area and was getting pretty ratty looking, with water getting under the coating.  Since we were side-to on a long dock, it was a perfect time to get to it.  The cloudy skies helped keep the temperature down to 80 degrees.  Perfect weather for heat-gunning.  Got a coat of varnish on before heading over to the Point for dinner.  The Admiral’s day was complete.  We spotted a tree sloth on our way over.  Chris, the manager caught us up on all the Red Frog scuttlebutt.  We also met his new right hand, Ricardo, replacing my girlfriend Jelly who had departed for Isla Colon around Christmas.  We got home after dark, but were not deterred.  Suz held the light, while I got another coat of varnish on.  I woke up at 03h00 to heavy gusts of wind.  Seconds later, true to the forecast the skies opened up.  …….and, it was a PANAMA rain!  When it stopped at 05h00, I headed out to dry off the rail.  As soon as I got back to bed, another gully-washer started.  It’s almost noon.  It’s been raining off ‘n on all morning.  The varnish has some foggy spots in it, but experience tells us that they will probably resolve after we get a good, dry day.  There’s more, but I’ll bore you with that…..

-Later

Hola,

So…we met a nice couple and their two kids at the pool one evening.  One thing led to another, and before we knew it, we were signed on as crew to help them transit the Canal.

James, Jess and their 2 girls, Maren (12yrs.) and Kaia (7yrs.) are taking a couple years off from their jobs as surgeon, nurse practitioner and kids to travel just as far as they can get on their sailboat “Soteria,” a 54’ Amel Super Maramu.

Our adventure began on a Wednesday at noon.  We arrived at “Soteria,” and greeted Christian and Izzy (Crew from “Roald Amundsen”) who would also be helping with lines.  We stowed our gear-not much, just a couple pairs of shorts, tee shirts work gloves and inflatable life preservers, and headed out to the anchorage in the flats past Shelter Bay’s channel.  The plan was to anchor and wait for our agent to arrive at 14h30.  Even though we were inside the breakwall, the high winds and seas made getting the hook to set a bit of a challenge. 14h30 came and went.  Michael called the agent.  Change of plan.  He would now arrive at 17h30.  We bobbed around and shared stories for a few hours, and Jess served up a couple of lasagna dishes-one vegetarian and one with meat.  It was the harbinger of the cuisine quality for the rest of the trip.  Two days of full like you’re full over Thanksgiving.  The agent finally arrived just around dark and gave us instructions.  We would be rafting up with 2 other boats, a catamaran and another monohull when locking through.  In the locks, we would always accompany a freighter.  So, the procedure was as follows:  In the fairway outside a lock, the three boats would raft up and proceed into the lock as one.  In our case, the catamaran was in the middle between the 2 monohulls.  Upon exiting a lock, we would break up the raft and proceed individually to the next one.  Repeat until the Pacific Ocean.  No worries.  Suzanne and I had played this game before.  For James and Jess?  No prior experience with rafting OR locks.  Understandably, a little trepidation.  Especially,since it was now dark.  Where was I?  Oh yeah.  We now have the anchor up, and we’re proceeding under the  brightly lit new Atlantic Bridge approaching the fairway to the Gatun Lock.  The freighter that we’ll follow into the lock is ahead of us and joined by a tug.  Then it stops.  Or does it?  It’s a half mile ahead of us and hard to tell.  Meanwhile our agent gets off his radio and tells James to just tread water for a bit in the wind and current.  The 2 other pleasure boats with us are doing the same.  Two other tugboats join the freighter ahead.  What the heck?  After 40 minutes or so of this, our agent, Ricardo tells us that the Captain of the freighter and the tugboat captains are having a little discussion.  The freighter needed 3 tugs to guide it into the lock-not unusual.  When only 1 arrived, the freighter had to drop anchor in the fairway to the lock.  Again, no big deal.  The other 2 tugs arrived, and the freighter hauled anchor.  Big deal!  He had hooked a cable on the sea bottom and it had fouled his anchor.  Now the Captains are arguing about whether or not the cable has cleared.  Freighter says “No,” tug Captain says “Yes.”  I looked at my watch when we finally entered the lock.  22h06.  Locking proceeded without incident.  The French catamaran in the middle was responsible for propelling and steering our raft, and he did a great job.  After locking up to Lake Gatun, we motored to a huge mooring buoy, rafted up with our catamaran pal and cracked a beer at 00h40.  Our agent left, and informed us that our next agent would join us at 07h30, expecting to leave immediately.  The next morning, as we motored across Lake Gatun, Jess indulged us with breakfast burritos-eggs, cheese, potatoes, sausage, bacon, salsa-you get the picture.  Suz and I split one.  It was a beautiful sunny day with a light breeze, so the twenty or so miles across the lake was a real treat.  We encountered many commercial vessels coming and going through the canal as they travel at a much higher speed than we.  Just before we entered the Culebra Cut, the narrowest portion of the Canal, we were instructed to pull to the side and wait.  A propane tanker was just exiting the lock several miles ahead of us and coming our way.  At current speeds, we would pass them in the Cut.  The width (or lack of it) in the cut would preclude us from maintaining the requisite separation from the floating bomb, so we needed to wait for him to pass by us before we proceeded on.  Homemade pizza and beautiful weather and scenery eased our pain.  We entered the Pedro Miguel lock and had to wait 40 minutes for the freighter behind us to arrive.  Suz WhatsApped our driver, Olmedo who was to meet us at the Balboa Yacht Club on the Panama City end of the Canal.  James grabbed a mooring ball at the yacht club (and I use that term yacht club VERY loosely).  We had a teary goodbye from the kids (I don’t think that they thought we were leaving) and a heartfelt “Thanks” from Jess and James.  (They said that our presence calmed them and they were able to enjoy the experience-Go figure!).  Anyway, I think that the Admiral and I got the better end of the deal.  We were able to spend a couple days with a truly delightful family.

True to form, when the launch brought us to shore Olmedo was waiting.  I think that we were home by 22h00, truly whipped.

-Later

Good Afternoon,

Christmas flew by in a blur.  We got a chance to see our kids and grandkids, as well as most of Suzanne’s family.  The exceptions were Suzanne’s brother’s gang, who were welcoming Suzanne’s Mom’s newest great-grandchild into the world.  Jeremy, our eldest, and his wife Jodi also informed the fam that they’d be welcoming in a new great-grandbaby in July of 2020.

The flight back to Panama was uneventful once we got on the plane.  It was a good thing that we got to the airport good and early.  Panama (and some other countries as well) doesn’t like folks flying in without a ticket out.  If you arrive in Panama and Immigration does not allow you in, it’s the airline’s responsibility to fly you back out.  Needless to say, that costs the airlines money, and therein lies the rub.  We didn’t have a plane ticket out of Panama.  This wasn’t our first rodeo, and before we left Panama, we had the marina draft a letter stating that we had a boat there (our way out of Panama).  Suzanne had our vessel’s Coast Guard documentation and Panama cruising Permit, so we were covered.  Trouble was that neither the gate agent nor his supervisor knew how to handle us.  After several calls up the chain of command, they ended up with the U.S. Consulate, who helped sort things out.

Next choke point.  Panama Customs.  We had one-and-a-half duffel bags full of clothes packed into 4 duffel bags.  The rest was filled with boat parts.  The ladies at the x-ray machines eyes lit up when our bags passed through.  Over to the Customs office.  Nope, we weren’t going to be able to get our stuff through at this late hour.  We’d have to leave it and come back tomorrow (Okay, that’s a $240 roundtrip cab ride), and pay for an agent to deliver the goods to our boat.  KaChing!  Forty minutes later, the officer basically shook his head and told us to get outta there and never do this again.  This is a story in and of itself, but I won’t belabor it in order to protect the innocent.

Lotsa boat parts means lotsa projects:

Outboard on the dinghy-Fixed

Remote battery monitor and shunt on the Lithium Batteries-Installed

Leaky toilet (of 3 years duration and multiple parts replaced)-Fixed

Super-bright LED lights on bow and stern with panic switch next to bed-Installed

Leaky nameboard on roof of pilothouse-Repaired

LED lighting throughout the boat-Upgraded

Wheeled and waxed all fiberglass from caprail up

Rubbed out and polished all stainless steel

Depth data integrated into our repaired Nav system-You go, Suzanne!

It wasn’t like we had anywhere to go.  The winds were consistent at over 25 knots, with seas ranging from 8’-17’ for nearly 2 weeks straight.  The good news was that until 2 days ago we didn’t have any rain.  We got some good hiking in, including a twenty-something kilometer jaunt over to Fort San Lorenzo.  Lotsa Toucans, Monkeys, mammals and assorted other birds.  We also acted as the net controllers for the Shelter Bay Cruisers Net on the VHF for several days.  Suzanne did the weather and I handled the rest.  (Many locations have “cruiser’s nets” every morning.  They cover anything from local services and events, announcements, alerts, and general communication between cruisers in the area).  Suzanne and I also hosted a “Movie night” in the lounge here at Shelter Bay.  We screened a first-run movie on the flat screen, attended by 20 or so other cruisers.  Our days usually end with a dip in the pool, Suzanne heading to the “Aquafit” class and me heading to a lounge chair for some reading.  There are plenty of activities here.  The cruiser’s potluck on Sunday evening showcases some significant cooking talents.  Monday morning’s nature walks always features some impressive animal sightings.  Carlos, a local amateur historian has given a few nice seminars in the evening, as well as walks around the abandoned U.S. military base here.  Along with an all-day trip to Panama City, and a bus ride to Colon, we kept pretty busy.

The” Roald Amundsen”, a square rigger was docked here at the marina.  It’s a sailing ship built in the 1950’s sometime.  It’s owned by a private foundation in Germany and in the 5 months that it doesn’t have a crew of high school aged students on board, it takes on charter guests.  The kids left on an overland trip to Costa Rica and when the boat was between semi-permanent crews, the captain gave us a tour.  It was fascinating.

We did a canal transit, acting as line handlers for a family of four as they made their way to the Pacific.  I think that in the interest of brevity, I’ll do that passage in a separate entry.

So…. It’s been raining for 2 days now, but the good news is that it is signaling the passage of a cold front, and the high-pressure system over the northeastern part of the Caribbean is dissipating.  The permanent Low off the coast of Colombia will also shrink in size over the next few days, making for good passage making conditions throughout the western Caribbean.  It’s come none too early.  I’m feelin’ the urge to move, and I’m no fun when feeling caged.  Our plan is to leave Shelter Bay on Saturday (the 25th), traveling for 15 hours to Escudo de Veraguas, a small island around 20 miles off the coast of Panama.  We’ll stay there and snorkel and explore for a day or two until the weather chases us onward to Bocas del Toro.  Until then…..

-Later

 

 

HiYa!  (this is a Gringo marina)

Britt, Sandy and their boat guest, John (her cousin) came to Red Frog to visit us when we returned.  Our goal:  Red Frog Beach on the other side of the island.  The plan was to do some body-boarding and hit as many beach bars as possible.  The surf was up.  The red (danger) flag was cracking in the stiff wind.  Plan A accomplished.  Plan B-Not so much.  It was Mother’s day.  Well, not completely true.  It was the day after Mother’s day.  By now, you are well-acquainted with our Central American friends’ affinity for holidays, errr should I say “days off work to party?”  All the bars were closed.  No worries, we were all the healthier for it.  On the walk back over the island, Sandy spotted a couple of small crocodiles sunning themselves in a creek.  Suzanne, always on the lookout for the ever-elusive but very colorful poison dart frogs took us up another rill (who says crossword puzzles are a waste of time?) where we spotted and photo’d some Red Frogs.  They’re teeny (about the size of the nail on your big toe).  You’d think that they would be easy to see, but they hang out in the leaf detritus on the ground where fallen wild cinnamon petals (they’re red and pink) are mixed in.

Time to whine, and I’m sure that you’re shedding huge crocodile tears for us.  The aforementioned nav computer that the Admiral repaired now has another affliction.  He works perfectly until he doesn’t.  For the past few times underway, he has been shutting down without any advance notice.  It may be 10 minutes or 3 hours, but once he turns off, you can’t restart him.  The gurus have no idea.  “We’ve never seen that before!”  So…….we got the second “Black Box” stored under the helm (thanks, Roberto and Maria).  Suz spends the next 2 days in computer Purgatory with multiple techs and Scotty getting it set up for our boat.  Oh yeah, there are proprietary charts that are licensed only to us on our unit and yada yada yada.  That’s her problemo. Mine is MUCH more important.

When heading into Bocas on the dink, I heard a “clunk.”  Everything was working great, so check it when I get home.  Won’t bore you with the details, but the hydraulic ram for the trim/tilt broke off and then jammed itself in a very uncomfortable spot.  Translation: You can’t get there from here.  While Suzanne spent 2 days on the phone and in microswitches, I spent my time with a 4# sledge, a gear puller, torch and chain.  Suz had partial success, I had none.  All of the bits and bobs that I needed to remove were welded solid by the combination of salt water and time.  Ten hours, no joy.  That was pretty much the rest of our Red Frog stay.  We headed to Rick and Judy’s place on Friday, as she had the replacement sunshades for our upper deck finished, and we had a weather window to transit to Colon on Saturday.  At Rick’s, we pulled the motor off the dink so I could cut the offending pieces off the outboard without spitting metal shavings all over Alizann’s deck (and rusting in the future).  My angle grinder and ½” stainless steel pivots made quite a mess, but in the end, we won.  I’ll apply a few pesos and utilize FedEx while back in the good ole U.S.A., and life will again be good.

(Private message for my Dearest Mother-in-Law: “Casey, stop here.  This is a long one.  Resume at a later time.:) 

The weather on Saturday morning was beautiful.  What a day to be leaving.  We hung out and did boat chores until 12h45, then took a slow ride out through the Crawl Cay canal, exiting the Bocas.

What a night!  First of all, “Catholic Casserole” for dinner.  You know the one- Mac, cheese, ground beef, green peppers, tomato sauce.  I’m such a cheap date.  Feed me anything with pasta and tomato sauce, and I’m in hog heaven.  Suz was feelin’ a little “urpy” with the 4’-6’ swells (with a fair amount of 8’s) off the port bow, so we were happy that she had a sticktoyourribser premade.  She hit the sack at 18h00 and it was just me and the sea.  That afternoon, the Admiral had commented on the lack of dolphin sightings while underway on this trip.  As darkness fell, I heard the familiar snort, blow, slap and splash out of BOTH of the pilothouse doors.  Hearing that noise from the side is unusual at all.  The dolphins usually swim in groups of 4-6, and usually just play in the bow wave.  In the dark, you rarely are sure that they’re there-you just kinda sense them.  Well… the reason that they were heard alongside is that there were so many of them.  My guess is more than 20.  They were taking turns in the bow wave, then peeling off, only to race up on our stern quarter (s) to keep pace next to the boat until their next turn at the bow.  How did I see them when they peeled off and swam around to the stern if it was dark, you say?  The next part is that the water was filled with bioluminescent plankton.  When they’re disturbed, they light up.  The dolphins looked like they had “vapor trails” streaming off their fins, extending 10-15’ behind them ghosting through the water when out of the cone of illumination cast by our steaming light.  They’re usually here and gone, but this pod kept pace with Alizann for 33 minutes.  (I had just made a log entry, so I know).  Just before the moon rose (nearly full) like a big orange ball off our bow, I caught a meteorite about a finger’s width above the north horizon.  It was one of those that seemed to linger a bit longer than most.  I didn’t see another boat for the rest of my watch, and the radio was dead silent.  My only other excitement was a rain squall that I watched develop on the radar, only to skirt around 2 miles away from us.  Suz got up around 01h45 feeling much better, and I caught a few winks until we entered the Atlantic anchorage outside the Canal around 05h20.  Nearing the opening in the breakwater, we fell in behind the “Caribbean Princess” a small cruise ship, and followed her in.  So much for advance planning, I figured that worst case scenario, averaging 5.5 knots, we’d make it to Colon before nightfall.  Best case, 7.0 knots-in by lunchtime.  At 2/3 throttle, we averaged almost 8.5 knots against the wind and swell!!  Guess we had a good push from current.  Suzanne’s changeout on the Nav computer worked as she planned.  Radar and chartplotter were flawless, she’ll mess with getting the depth data integrated before our next trip.  We’re here at Shelter Bay Marina and it’s hot and humid.  Looks like we’ll get some “liquid sunshine” today, as the clouds are already building at 07h30.

Pretty sure that this’ll be my last report this year unless something really remarkable happens between now and the 18th.  We’ll fly back to the States then to be with family for Christmas.

Mike and Sue (From our Lost City trek) just stopped in.  We’ll do some catching up in the next day or two.

Dang!  One of the hazards of not posting right away.  We went for a nature walk yesterday.  Saw a plethora of tropical birds, including a Toucan.  A troupe of Capuchin monkeys, and an Agouti, as well as a bunch of brightly colored butterflies.

Leaving tomorrow at 05h00.  Imagine that this is REALLY it until I…

Talk to you……..

-Later (next year)

Hola Amigos,

The Red Frog taxi was pretty luxurious and FAST!  Chris, the owner of The Point restaurant had his handheld GPS on board.  He clocked our speed at 47 MPH on our way over to Bocas Town.  Not bad for a non-planing panga.  While we waited for the water taxi to Almirante, it was breakfast crepes at The Crepe Guy.  Oh yeah……he’s a very colorful, stereotypical fifty-something little French dude.  Reminds me of that Chihuahua that’s always admiring your leg (and I say that in the nicest of ways, no disrespect for the Chihuahuas out there).  Our taxi to Almirante was a twin-engine model that they crammed 36 passengers and luggage on.  It was still a rocket ship.  As we idled into the inner harbor at Almirante, I couldn’t help being a Dad.  The young man next to me was trailing his hand in the water.  I gently let him know that all of the bodegas on stilts packed in along the shore were flushing their toilets into the water that we were traversing.  Suzanne had hand sanitizer in her pack….’nuff said.  The four-hour bus ride up to Boquete was a trip.  Our vehicle was pretty luxo.  Air condo and clean.  The scenery?  Spectacular.  The first hour took us along the coastal plain, the last three up and down (mostly up) through rain forest at first, then cloud forest, and finally into Boquete around 17h15.  Besides the nearly-constant mist/rain, our driver didn’t have to worry about any stop signs or even intersections.  There aren’t any.  There’s only one road.  Casa Azul, our bed ‘n breakfast was built in 1915 for an ancestor of the current owner.  It’s a really cute four room house a couple of blocks off the main drag in downtown(?) Boquete.  It’s super clean, AND you have your own bathroom (the deal maker/breaker for me).

Being up in the mountains, the climate in Boquete is decidedly different than down on the coast.  Temperatures are a bit cooler.  We saw 70 degrees in the day, and in the 60’s at night.  Pine trees grow alongside Palms.  It was a nice change to wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts.  The rain showers, ubiquitous along the coast, followed us here.  The vibe is strictly about the Mochilleros (Backpackers).  Hostels abound, and food is inexpensive.  No, I mean cheap.  We went high end one night, eating at Boulder 54.  No reservation, but the Maitre ‘D had just received a cancellation for the table that we would have asked for if given a choice.  Under an open gazebo, and sandwiched between a pond and a fireplace, it was chez cool.  The menu was nouveau cuisine, and the wine list was superb.  We picked out a bottle of Argentinian Malbec (with the help of our waiter/Maitre ‘D) for $24.  “Special on our wines tonight-half price”.  So…….we drank 2, but who’s counting?  Breakfasts at Azul, prepared by Senora Anna.  The rest of our meals were decidedly a bit more low-key affairs.  Lunch of local food at El Saboroson.  After hiking the “Lost Waterfalls” trail (I’ll get to that, be patient), I Googled for someplace close by, as we were kinda tired.  “Mike’s Grill” turned out to be the Expats hangout.  Again, we were “new meat”, and made lots of new fast friends.  (We came back the next night).  Since 2010, when the AARP rag had featured Boquete as a “top place to retire” several years ago, the number of Gringos has increased exponentially.

Whud we do?  Coffee farm tour.  I know, how many of these can you go on?  This one, (The Admiral promises it’ll be our last) was the best.  Panama is not a huge producer of coffee-not on the scale of Brazil and Viet Nam.  But…..they produce some of the finest coffees in the world, as evidenced by their consistent showing in international competitions.  Quality, not quantity is the mantra here.  Let me just say that there are more coffees than you can shake a stick at, running from the robust somewhat bitter roasts that North Americans and Europeans favor, to the aromatic, fruity varieties favored by warm climate countries, to the tea-like beans enjoyed by Far Easterners.  Our guide held up a box, around 20” square and about 7” deep containing Geisha beans that was ready for shipment.  The cost?  Fifty-one thousand dollars.  A cup sells for around $95 in Japanese coffee houses.  At the end of the tour, we had a tasting.  Sampling eight or ten different varieties from traditional to aromatic, I really gained a new appreciation for the beverage.  Yep, we were served Geisha.  I figured that I made around $150 on this tour.

We did the Lost Waterfalls hike in the mist/rain.  It was like a 2-hour version of our 4-day hike in Colombia, complete with slipping and sliding in the mud.  This one even had a stretch so steep that you needed a climbing rope for the up ‘n down.

The best beer in town was sampled at the Boquete Brewing Company.  We couldn’t be here without visiting there.

That’s about it for Boquete.  If we have guests after the Holidays, we’ll probably go back and take a lot more hikes.  The bus ride home yesterday was a lot quicker, as there was no rain.  We’ve been hunkered down today, catching up on bills, laundry, Christmas shopping and blogging while the rain has been intermittently heavy.

Talk at Ya…

-Later

Hola,

Okay, I got the “raspberries” from my Mother-in-Law about the log being too long.  I can’t help it.  First of all, it takes me so long to sit down and write that once I get rolling I don’t wanna stop.  Second, I get the “But what else did you do?” from others.   P.T Barnum said it.  Well, sorta.  Please insert the word “please” for the word “fool” in that (in)famous quote.

I so miss family Thanksgivings.  I don’t give a rip where we are.  In my mind, nothing compares to being surrounded by our family.  We “Facetimed” with Suzanne’s Mom and sister, then with our kids.  The tradition on our side is a shot and a beer at 12h00 sharp, followed by the Detroit Lions game, followed by dinner.  So…we got the shotandabeer with the kids.  The tradition goes back to my maternal grandfather (unarguably my favorite ancestor), who usually waited for about 5 minutes after arriving at our house before asking “What the Hell does a guy need to do to get a beer around here?”  We enjoyed Thanksgiving dinner with Britt, Sandy and a half dozen other pals at “The Cosmic Crab” restaurant.  Owned by Steve and Joan Crabtree, the dining area is an open-sided affair built on stilts over the water.  Just saying that dinner was a buffet does not do it justice.  Joan is an excellent cook, and all of the many dishes were traditional and homemade.

We spent the next week or so hanging with Britt and Sandy.  We followed them out to Isla Bastimentos, anchoring in the harbor at Old Bank.  We hiked over the island.  A slippery, muddy trek and the only way (except by boat) to Wizard beach, it took us around 30 minutes.  Suz and I hung out for awhile and watched the surfers, including Britt.  Swimming from shore was out-way too much surf and rip currents.  On the way back to the Girl, we diverted to another path which led to a small hostel perched on the spine of the island amidst the rain forest.  Along the way, we encountered a bunch of what appeared to be Brahma-type cattle, including a few bulls straddling the path.  There wasn’t any way around them, as the path ran along the top of a ridge, so we cautiously threaded our way through them.  Suzanne didn’t seem fazed, but the words “How did your Mom and Dad die?” kept running through my head like a broken record.  (It seems like I hear that one a lot).  Anyway, all’s well that ends well.  We had a fruit juice at “Up the Hill” before heading down to the harbor.  No cars or motorized vehicles or roads in Old Bank, this village of 1,500 souls.  That evening, Suz and I borrowed “Whimsy”, Britt and Sandy’s sailing dinghy and took a sunset sail in the harbor.

Over the next few days, we hung out with Britt and Sandy, revisiting spots that Suz and I had visited earlier and I have already reported on.  Sandy’s cousin would be visiting in a few weeks, so we wanted to show them some fun spots to show him during his stay.  Suz had heard about a property in Palos Bay that had been donated to the Smithsonian after the owner had passed away which had some good hiking trails on it.  Britt, Sandy, Suz and I dinghied over from Rana to see what was what, and enjoyed some good hiking complete with sightings of some Blue/Green Poison Dart frogs, Howler Monkeys, awesome butterflies, and the usual assortment of tropical flowers and fruits.

Suz and I had a trip planned to travel to Boquete up in the mountains, so we needed to leave the Girl in a secure spot.  To this end, we reserved a slip at the Red Frog Marina on Isla Bastimentos.  Before we parted with Britt and Sandy, they took us in to Bocas Town and introduced us to Graham and Meghan, a pair of South African cruisers.  They have a small shop outside of town where they built “Whimsy” for Britt and Sandy.  Let’s just say that in January there’ll be another boat on our boat and leave it at that.  So far, we’re thinking “Puff” or “Zephyr”.

Okay, just one more thing.  You’ve probably been sitting on the edge of your seat since the Post-Thanksgiving Bee Massacre of 2019.  (Arlo Guthrie, there may be a song in here).  My two bee experts have answered my emails.  #1.  Neither have seen anything quite like it.  #2.  Both have suggested exposure to some type of neurotoxin (most likely pesticide).  That’s it.  Neither can answer “Why our boat?”  “Why were their abdomens adhered to the deck?”  “Why so far from any large-scale agriculture?”  In other words, I think that this weirdness will remain a mystery until I pursue it further (in my spare time).  Not likely.  This may fall into the category of “Stuff happens”.

We’re at Red Frog.  It deserves a little more ink, so let’s do that later.  In the meantime, we’re psyched about hitting the road to Boquete tomorrow.

-Later

Buenos Tarde,

Yahoo! Just coming off nearly 5 days of sunshine-no more whining for a while.  We left Judy and Rick’s place under cloudy skies and 20 knot winds.  One more trip to the “snorkel spot” on the mushroom island, then it was off to our new anchorage.  The aerial pictures of Johnson’s Cay looked like it was taken of an atoll in the south Pacific.  An anchorage surrounded by reef and two small islands. What a perfect place to anchorsnorkelchill.  We crept through the reef, the wind was still blowing pretty good out of the North, sending fingers of spume over the slate-gray water and through our proposed home.  VERY much less than scenic.  Nope.  The Gallegos Cays, a group of around 14 small unnamed islands lay around 5 miles to the north.  It appeared to have a few cuts in the lee of the islets that might give us a nice calm anchorage.  We tucked in a narrow channel between three Mangrove mounds.  The water was calm but we had a really nice breeze.  In the morning, we woke to sunny skies and calm winds.  What a perfect day for snorkeling.  We dropped “White Star” over the side and cruised some promising spots in and around the islets.  Nothing looked really promising but we had a nice ride under sunny blue skies with a cuppa Joe in hand.  What a perfect day to cruise over to Crawl Cay on the Girl.

Crawl Cay lies just south of Isla Bastimentos, and is on the southern route that we forwent in favor of the safer northern route when we went from the Zapatillas to Bocas Town.  The charts and satellite pictures show the track to be littered with shallow reefs and bars.  With the sun high, it seemed like the perfect day to head to this picturesque spot.  Okay…so I’ve told you that the charts of the province are notoriously bad.  We have 3 chart sources up on our navigation devices.  The PC is running C Map charts.  The Ipad is running Navionics.  The Furuno is running its proprietary program.  As we’re slowly rolling the 5 miles into Crawl Cay, the plotters are showing that we’re in anywhere from 1’ to 40’ of depth, while our actual readings are quite often very different.  It’s a good thing that we can see out the window, gauging depth from color.  Hilarious!  Well, we got in without scrapes and bumps, and now we have a course for future reference.  Shallowest depth 15’, although straying even 20’ in either direction could put you on the reef.  (We’ve already shared latitude/longitude of waypoints from our other courses with friends on different boats.)  The pangas raced to and fro for most of the afternoon, ferrying touristas from Bocas Town, snorkeling and enjoying the Bahamian blue water.  We dropped in the water after the crowds left, and found about what we expected-largely dead coral and not that many critters.  Dinghy riding over to the windward side of the island did not reveal much better.  All in all, Crawl Cay was a pretty anchorage and not much else.

Bocas has a very active cruisers/expats “net” which broadcasts on the VHF every morning at 07h45.  Channel 68 is monitored at all hours, but for around 20 minutes or so every morning, anyone can tune in to a moderated broadcast.  The format is as follows:  general check in, community announcements, weather report, boat (and house) problems/solutions, buy, sell & trade, general announcements trivia questions jokes etc.  Our friends, Brit and Sandy had been checking in for around a week, so we knew that they were back from California, but we had not been in contact with them yet.  We didn’t want to bother them.  You KNOW how much work there is to do when you come back to a boat that’s been standing idle for a few months.  Well……they reached out to us the morning of our second day at Crawl Cay.  They were done working and were ready to play.  No winds yet, so surfing was out (Oh yeah-stereotyped Californians).  By the way, if I hadn’t mentioned it already, Bocas is well-known in the surfing community for its’ great waves during the season.  Anyway, we told them that in light of the great weather forecast, we were heading to Starfish Beach (Playa Estrella) on the north end of Isla Colon after reprovisioning at Bocas Town.  Dave and Shelley also planned to meet us there on Friday.  We’d meet them at Bocas Town and cruise up to Starfish together.  We cruised down to BT and dropped the hook in the South anchorage near Halcyon (Brit & Sandy).  After a quick “hello,” Suz and I headed to town to shop.  Besides the usual, I needed to get some epoxy resin hardener so that I could fix a leak in our pilothouse roof (more on that later).  We weren’t on shore more than an hour-and-a-half.  When we returned to the Girl, it was standard operating procedure.  I dropped Suz and the supplies off at the stern, then hooked the bridle up to the dinghy while she went up to the boat deck to bring “White Star” aboard. 

There were a couple of handfuls of (what appeared to be) dead honeybees on the sole of the cockpit-kinda weird.  Suz reappeared immediately from the boat deck.  “OMG! You’re not going to believe this.  There are tons of dead and living bees all over the deck up there!”  “Wear your shoes when you come up.”  Suz isn’t prone to hyperbole, but yeah, right.  We got the dinghy hooked to the crane, and I moved up to my position on the boat deck with Suzanne.  Holy cripe.  There weren’t hands full of bees on the deck, there were hundreds.  Maybe a couple thousand.  There weren’t many flying.  Most were either adhered to the deck by their abdomen, or crawling around in their death throes after separating their thorax from their abdomen.  Probably not the craziest thing I’ve ever seen, but definitely in the top ten.  I spent the 2-hour cruise to Starfish scrubbing dead bees off the decks.  Since then, I’ve reached out to a couple of bee doctors (PhD types) to try to find out what this bizarre behavior was all about.  My guy from Cornell has already gotten back to me without a reasonable explanation.  I’m waiting on a response from the other one.  I’ll keep you posted.

By the way, we spent 4 days at Starfish beach, a couple of them with Britt and Sandy.  SB is a really pretty beach on the north end of Isla Colon, and is super popular with tourists and locals alike.  The water taxis run nonstop into this (inaccessible by road) beach.  The shore is lined with shacks serving food, drinks and selling the obligatory niknaks.  Thursday (the 21st) and Friday were pretty quiet.  Shelley and Dave came up on Friday, and we all enjoyed some conversation and sips.  I’m sure that you remember that bunch of bananas.  Well, even after giving some away, we were left with forty or so, all ripening at the same time.  Necessity is the mother of invention.  Water of one coconut, 3 bananas, 8 cubes of ice, 4 oz. dark rum.  Blend until smoooooooth.  Top with grated nutmeg.  Makes 2 drinks.  Good, and soooo good for you!  Well…maybe not the rum so much.  Haven’t come up with a name for these little treats yet, but let me say that we went through 27 bananas.

In the time that we were there, B & S, Suz and I took a 10-mile (each way) dinghy ride out to Swan Island, a.k.a. Bird Island.  It’s nothing more than a sheer rock rising directly out of the sea.  Palms, White Mangroves and other unidentified trees hold onto cracks and fissures in the rock for dear life.  The attraction is the birds.  Nesting in holes in the rock face are colonies of Boobies, Frigate Birds, and White Tropic birds.  The snorkeling on the leeward side of the island wasn’t bad, either.

The kayaks gave us an opportunity to get away from the beach on the busy weekend.  A 6-mile paddle on Saturday took us to an uninhabited Mangrove-lined bay to the south, while our 10-mile paddle to the north took us to the headland of the island.  I should qualify what I mean by “busy.”  The visitors start coming in by water taxi a bit after noon and leave at five, when the beach closes.  It’s off-season still, so less than 25% of the beach chairs ringing the shore were occupied.  Sooo…not really crowded, but compared to some of the completely uninhabited anchorages we’ve enjoyed, “busy.”  Walking the beach in the early morning was a joy, and we went in on the kayaks for lunch-very good tacos and icy cold beer.

Well….I dropped one shoe, here’s the other.  For a week or so, I had been cleaning up a “tea stained” dribble under the eyebrow outside the pilothouse on the port side.  I had a pretty good idea where it was coming from, guessing that the trim strip covered a joint between the mold for the roof and wall.  If that was the case, water was accumulating above the ceiling in the pilothouse and finding its’ way out under the teak molding, imparting the brown color.  Training from my former life quite often kicks in, or is it denial of the inevitable?  I’m referring to “Give it some time to heal before intervening.”  The boat never heals, but I can avoid a nasty job for a while.  I just don’t sleep at night.  But….I digress.  The issue came to a head after a particularly hard, wind-driven rain.  My rationale for ignoring the problem (it’s not coming inside) was blown out of the water, so to speak.  As water streamed out of the overhead wire chase, I knew it was time to face the music.  There was only one place that water could be entering.  The name boards on top of the pilothouse are screwed into the roof, and the wires for the navigation lights pierce the deck as well.  We had sunny days, and I couldn’t face the prospect of “all play and no work,” so I took the boards off, and yanked on the fiberglass stanchions supporting them.  With a sickening “slurp”, one popped off, revealing a totally rotted wood core.  The other one?  Not so easy.  Razor knife and crowbar, 1.  Stanchion, 0.  Even tho’ it was firmly adhered with 5200 (super-strong adhesive), I knew that it would fail in the future.  The holes for the screws affixing the stanchions to the deck, and the boards to the stanchions were not finished out properly.  This requires drilling a hole much larger that the screw, filling it with resin, then redrilling and placing the screw so that it is completely surrounded by resin.  That way, when water finds its’ way down the screw (and it always does, sooner or later), it just contacts the impermeable resin, not rot-able(?) wood core.  Long story short, I drilled out the holes, reamed out the rotten core, filled with epoxy resin.  This several days project was not without pitfalls and aggravation, punctuated by oaths and epithets, but I’ll spare you the details.  Let me just add that, thanks to the Admiral, I found a new use for tampons.  The board on the starboard side isn’t leaking….yet.  As soon as I can find some more epoxy, I’ll see what lurks under that one.  By the way, in true dramatic fashion, the clouds were rolling in as I made my last pour of epoxy, and it cured about an hour before the skies opened up last night.

This morning, the 25th, we left Starfish and explored an anchorage below Conch Point before settling in uninhabited Big Bight, near the southwest corner of Isla Colon.  It is very peaceful here amongst the mangroves, playful dolphins and howler monkeys. We think that we’ll head over to Isla Bastimentos and find some interweb access tomorrow or the next day.  Until then,

-Later

 

 

 

Buenos Dias,

Well.  A couple days morphed into four.  Or was it five?  The weather was rainy, or threatening rainy, so we just stayed put in our cozy little anchorage behind the reef near Marc and Sydney’s restaurant, Rana Azul.  Between raindrops, I was able to get some wax on the Girl.  It’s not one of those jobs that you just “do.”  You just pick up where you left off.  Kinda like painting the Mackinaw Bridge.  When you get to the end, you just start over again.  Not complainin’, just sayin’.  The Admiral and I liked the cabinet lights in the galley so much that the cabinets in the Heads were next.  (Oh yeah-we anticipated this when ordering lights, switches and wire, so they were on hand, ready to go.)

We had some play time with Shellie and Dave too.  One afternoon, we took the dink over to the next bay to check out their floating house.  What started as one has grown into three floating platforms with living spaces built on top and tied together.  Anchored near shore, and connected to it by a floating dock, it’s been their primary residence for the last couple of years.  In addition to building the floating house, they’ve been clearing the 27 acres that they own on land, and building their “Land House” They’ve already sold a couple of lots, and have plans for a swimming pool.  Keep in mind that this land is only accessible by water, power is provided by solar energy and drinking water falls from the sky.  Quite a feat.  Dave’s construction is top notch, and Shellie has really done a great job with her gardening, adding to the fruit trees left behind by “United Fruit” company when they pulled out years ago.  The rain rolled in, and we were forced to sit and drink beer all afternoon-Darn!

We plan to leave the Girl at Red Frog Marina for a few days when we take a road trip up in December to Boquete, a town up in the mountains.  Shellie decided that we needed to see the marina up close and personal, as well as the development next door of the same name.  Plus…..”They have a great restaurant for lunch, AND a great pool, AND it’ll be empty, AND it’s a private development BUT they never say anything to us when we use the pool, SO bring your suits.  We’ll pick you up.”  Yep.  Gotta love off-season.  We were the only ones at the restaurant, and having sips in the pool was wonderful.

Almirante, the port on the mainland that feeds Bocas Town with twice-a-day ferry service beckoned.  It’s said to be a bit rawer boned than Bocas, so we weren’t sure that it was worth bringing the Girl there.  Also, it’s a commercial port, with Chiquita bananas’ loading dock right in the harbor.  Problem solved.  Dave needed to go in to pick up some building supplies-mortar, grout and etc. for the land house kitchen tiles.  Shellie and he picked Suzanne, Sydney and me up for a field trip to town.  They have a guy there that has a shabby dock for parking their panga, and he sits and guards it for a couple of bucks.  First things first.  It was lunchtime and we were famished.  Of course, D&S knew a place.  The 5 of us piled into a taxi and drove up the mountain to the resort “Bocas Ridge.”  The restaurant there is next to an infinity edge swimming pool, and has a commanding view of nearly the whole Bocas archipelago.  (Starting to see a pattern here?)  The pool was empty, the beer was cold, and we had the place to ourselves.  Back down to town, it was the usual routine-hardware store, multiple grocery stores and a couple of “fruit ladies,” their shops crammed into stalls the size of a small shipping container.  Almirante was indeed a little on the rough side, but the prices for our supplies was much better than Bocas Town. 

At last!  A day that promised to be at least a bit sunny.  We hauled anchor and took a 45-minute cruise to the (right) snorkel spot this time.  It was only 500 meters or so from the little Mangrove island that we had visited before, but this time we were rewarded with some really nice snorkeling.  There was an absolute abundance of aquatic life with many small fishes (Mangroves’ roots provide shelter from predators and are, therefore nurseries for many species of fish) We were concentrating on invertebrates.  There was a variety of anemones, both in color and type.  Sponges ranged in color from orange to bright yellow, to iridescent green, to purple and red.  Arrow crabs, Pedersen shrimp, Flaming Scallops rounded out the lineup.  The water was so warm and the swim so nice that 2 ½ hours passed in a flash.

One day kinda blurs into the next, so just maybe my report isn’t in the proper sequence, but who’ll know?  (Especially if I don’t).  Anyway, we had some more rain and more was forecast so back we went to Marc and Sydney’s.  We had playmates there, and some connectivity to the world wide web.  One morning, Marc appeared with a boatload of fruit from their property.  Limes, oranges, coconuts, and a bunch of bananas.  I’m not talking a lot of bananas, I’m talking a bunch, as in 30 or 40 still on the stalk.  I’m seeing banana smoothies in our future.

We met Rick and Judy at the birthday party, and she had been in daily contact (What’s App) with Suzanne about us coming to visit them on their island.  We hauled anchor on Friday, the 15th, and were at their island, Tranquilo Place in time for sips with Rick, Judy, Holly and Mike (Picaro).  We got the grand tour the next day.  After cruising here, they bought this little Mangrove island around 7 years ago.  They’ve literally been building their island since.  They’ve raised the level of the island around a foot and a half by bringing in 17,000 bags of dirt, and running a gold panning vacuum to bring in sea bottom.  They still live on one of their two boats (this started as a his and hers operation), but have a multi-story building housing a workshop, canvas shop, their kitchen and second story veranda.  The roof supports around 12,000 watts worth of solar panels.  The roof also acts as a catchment, feeding their collection of water tanks adding up to 3,200 gallons.  Rick is building a second residence, again on stilts over the water to house crews of boats that are being repaired here.  He owned a refrigeration business in his former life, and has a reputation for being able to fix anything.  Judging from what we’ve seen on his island, the reputation seems to be well-deserved.

Judy, Suz and Holly had a Girls trip over to Bocas Town yesterday to attend a craft market and to pick up some supplies.  It’s about a half hour ride in a fast panga from here.  Since this weekend was “Bocas Days” celebrating Bocas independence from somebody, I figured that the island was going to be wild.  I stayed home and polished stainless steel under cloudy skies.  I think that I got the better end of the deal.  Sips on our boat last night, after our company was gone, we laid on deck and watched the Leonid meteor shower under a zillion stars, a little Joni Mitchell in the background.

That’s about it.  Cloudy skies today, so more waxin’ and polishin’ (Still sound like a glamorous life?)  Judy came over today to measure for some sunshades that she’ll make for us (To remedialize the ones that our pal (Grrrrrh!) in Grenada made for us a few years ago).  We’ll head over for Happy Hour, then think about where we’re heading off to tomorrow.

-Later

Buenos,

Well…..Bocas Town is an anchorage of convenience-not preference.  No wastewater treatment facility-ALL of the drains empty right into the bay.  We don’t make water, we don’t swim here.  It’ll be our stop for provisioning and internet (Thank you, Golden Grill restaurant).  We had exhausted our shore explorations after dinghying (sp?) over to Lost Boys Blues Bar and Cosmic Crab on Cayo Carnero.  At the Crab, the food was good the connectivity terrible.  Another restaurant/bar owned by U.S. expats holding on by the skin of their teeth.  What’d Jimmy Buffett say?  “Runnin’ from something”?   Anyway, the Girl was talkin’ to us.  ”Get me outta here!”  Suz had heard about a little organic Cacao farm in Laguna Porras (Dolphin Lagoon), and had been in contact with the owner, Julie.  Sounded like a good destination, so we were off, but not before informing David and Donna, aboard “Exit Only” with their son Dave, his wife Sarah and their two kids Zoey and Jocelyn.  Oh yeah, they’re sailing around the world, heading through the Canal as soon as their long-term visas for French Polynesia are in order.  It’ll be their second time around, as their first was when Dave and his sister were kids.

Our visit to Green Acres Farm was the highlight of our Fall cruising so far.  Julie had given Suz the latitude/longitude of the farm.  Although kinda unusual, they made locating Green Acres easy.  When we arrived in the bay, it made sense.  No roads, no town, vague landmarks.  As we studied the place through binoculars from the anchorage, we were amazed at the level of “tidy” that we saw.  Manicured lawn between neatly trimmed bushes, orderly rows of trees and multiple flowering gardens connected by stone-lined footpaths surrounded the 2-story house.  Quite a contrast with so many properties barely holding back the rain forest.  I thought the guy must’ve been a retired dentist or accountant.  Robert, Julie’s husband IS a retired dentist.  They sailed here (That explains the lat/lon directions) around 6 years ago and decided to find some property.  A couple of years on shore was what they were looking for.  Well….two became three, became four, became….  They knew nothing about making chocolate, but hired a local guy to give them a crash course.  There were a thousand or so Cacao trees on the property planted by United fruit years ago, so there was lots of raw material.  The lady that owned the property before them was an avid gardener, thus the lush gardens around the house.  The farm is completely off the grid.  There is no road, nor electricity coming in.  The place is only accessible by boat.  All of their power is supplied by solar panels supplemented by a small generator.  Propane supplies the heat for cooking/chocolate-making.  Robert took us on a walking tour of the farm which lasted around 3 ½ hours.  As you might imagine, he is quite the expert on the local flora and fauna.  The chocolate making?  There isn’t a “season” for cacao.  The trees constantly produce fruit.  Even with 30% of his crop lost to insects and fungus (No pesticides or chemicals are used), that’s still a lot of fruit to pick and process.  Three indigenous guys help with the harvesting and processing.  The processing?  Let me just say that McGyver has nothing on Robert.  He has designed and built all of the equipment that he uses to make chocolate.  I can’t begin to describe the ingenuity it took to create his “factory”, all contained in a 10’x10’ shed.  Just check out the pictures.  When our tour was over, we sampled some of Robert’s chocolate rum mixed with sweetened condensed milk and matched with Julie’s brownies fresh from the oven.  The farm will be changing hands soon, as it’s been sold to a non-profit, Planet Rehab, owned by a couple of guys from the States.  They are planning to maintain the status quo.  R & J came out to the Girl in the evening to share sips and conversation.  Their boat is being refitted, and they plan to resume their cruising after a trip back to the States over the Holidays.  We may see them again, as they will be visiting the San Blas and plan to transit the Canal at about the same time as us in a few years.

Why don’t we make more short and long term plans?  Julie and Robert invited us to a surprise birthday party for their 90-year-old neighbor at “Rana Azul,” a restaurant over in the next bay for the next night.  They told us that the owners, a couple from Luxemburg had a bonafide pizza oven.  All right then, we were in.  We told the crew from “Exit only ” and everyone was psyched for pizza.  We led the way through an uncharted cut to the next bay-Robert assured us that there was plenty of water (and there was).  We dropped anchor in 20’ of water outside the reef, as there was no visibility on this cloudy, rainy windy day.  It was so cloudy, windy, rainy that the party was postponed, as guests were coming from miles around.  Well…Suz and I dinghied in to see about food.  We met Mark, the owner, who informed us that it was “Chicken Night.” Okay, back out to “Exit Only.”  They were set on pizza, and we were in a spot where the wind would blow us into shore if an anchor dragged, so they voted to go somewhere else to anchor.  I went back to tell Mark that we’d come another day, and he told me that they had set a fire in the oven and made dough.  Back to the Girl to pick up Suzanne, and got soaked for a second time beating against the wind and waves.  Suz had called “E O” and they were headed back to re-anchor.  The pizza was great, the beer was cold, and we made some new friends amongst the gang of expats who hang out here.  Participating in the Bocas Emergency Network on the VHF the next morning got Suzanne a new pal.  BEN 13, AKA Captain Ray gave her the coordinates for waypoints leading through the reef near Rana Azul.  It was cloudy, but the wind had abated during the night.  We tiptoed through the reef, and found ourselves in 16’ of calm water right near the restaurant.  Good for future reference.

Suz had heard about a spot amongst the mangroves where there were like a Jillion sea anemones in many different colors.  Exit and we were off to explore.  We got anchored, and did some snorkeling, but were in the wrong spot.  “Exit” checked a spot where a day charter had been anchored earlier and reported a trove of these invertebrates.  Then the sky opened up.  Next morning, the blustery weather continued, so Suz and I decided to head back to Rana Azul and anchor within range of their WiFi router so that we could get some work done.  We followed Cap’n Ray’s course through the reef and dropped the hook in 16’ of water just off the mangrove-shrouded shore.  Suz got some bills paid while I resumed the never-ending task of keeping a coat of wax on Alizann.  We headed in for the rescheduled party and spent most of the evening with Dave and Shellie, whom we had met during our last visit.  Dave and she bought 27 acres on the next bay, and were subdividing it into lots for sale.  I guess there is a HGTV show, Caribbean Life that they were featured in. In the meantime, they had built a “floating house”, and were living the life.  After a few games of pool (Mark has a regulation slate table in his open-air restaurant.  He was a ranked player in Europe before cruising to Panama), Dave looks at Shellie “Did you ask them?”  “No.  Didn’t you while I was in the bathroom?” “No.”  After a night of fun, I wasn’t sure what was coming.  “We have to go back to the States for a couple of weeks in early December.  Would you consider bringing your boat over to our house and house-sitting for us?  We have a 60” TV, hot shower, full kitchen and internet.”  (We’re planning to take a trip up into the mountains and staying for a few days in Boquete at that time, but it’s tempting-Suz and I will have to noodle this one out before we get back to them)

Okay, well it’s been crappy all day after pouring all night, so we’ve been hunkered down leeching Mark and Sydney’s internet (They gave us permission to use it).  It’s been off and on rain most of the day, so I’m still in my boxers cruising the interweb and tapping out this missive.  God bless Suzanne’s sister, Sheila.  She has no idea how many spare parts and miscellaneous doodads will be coming her way before our visit at Christmas.

-Later

 

Buenos Dias,

24 October.  We made all of our “Goodbyes”, and waited semi-patiently for our 15h30 departure time, which would put us into Laguna Bluefield in the Bocas del Toro archipelago by mid-morning.  The weather proved to be benign (as forecast).  Always a question after months of idleness, all systems  functioned well, including the stabilizers that Scotty and I had serviced but not tested.  The new charging parameters that I had set on our alternator regulator were spot on.  The new batteries came up to full charge, and stayed that way throughout the passage.  I went off watch at 01h00.  It was calm and stuffy, so I opened the porthole in the stateroom.  When I awoke at 06h00, it had been pouring for several hours with the wind on the beam.  Try as I might, I couldn’t hide all of the wet cushions, drapes and rug from the Admiral.  Every now and then, we all need a case of “Dumb #ss” to keep us humble.  I have more of those than most.

Laguna Bluefield, an idyllic anchorage surrounded by tropical rainforest was our home for the next 24 hours.  We just napped, chilled and read.  Dolphins danced around the Girl for a few hours and the baitfish “boiled” the water most of the afternoon and evening.  Our next stop was in the lee of the Zapatilla islands ( Numero Uno and Numero Dos).  They are a popular spot for “Day Trippers” from neighboring islands due to their beautiful sandy beaches.  We anchored about a half mile off shore of “Uno”, and dinghied in to a deserted beach where we spent the afternoon.  The morning of the 27th, we were off to Bocas Town.  We tried our luck fishing the Caribbean side of Bastiementos Island with no joy.  At one point, Suzanne looked down from the pilothouse window and saw a Mahi swim by.  Obviously, I was using the wrong lures.  Nearing Bocas town, we realized that we weren’t ready for civilization yet, so headed deep into Hospital Bight on Bastiamentos.  We tiptoed into the uncharted end of the bay, and dropped our hook amidst the Mangrove islets there.  From our lonely base, we explored the bay by dinghy for the next few days.  Oh yeah, don’t forget that it’s still the rainy season.  Just because I haven’t mentioned the fact that there are intense lightning and thunder storms every day doesn’t mean that they aren’t happening.  We had a delivery of boat parts and essential foodstuffs ( Gatorade, Reese’s cups, Pop Tarts, horseradish and etc. ) for our friends (from Santa Marta) Holly and Michael on “Pecaro”, that we received from Dan and Jackie at Shelter Bay.  We dinghied the 4 miles over to where they were anchored in Bocas Town to make the much-appreciated delivery.

We hauled the anchor on the 29th, and made our way to Bocas Town.  Since we already had a track on our chartplotter, the trip out of the end of the bay was much less stressful.  It took 2 tries to get our anchor to set in the rubble-strewn Bocas anchorage, under the watchful eye of the USCG cutter “Confidence”, which was riding at anchor in the Bocas Strait.  For the last few days, it’s been the usual “new port” routine, scoping out grocery, hardware and marine supply stores on shore, and generally sucking information out of anyone that would talk to us.  Yesterday, (the 31rst), we did a 2 tank dive with Bocas Dive Center.  The crew couldn’t have been nicer, but the visibility and dive sites left a lot to be desired.  Not sure if we’ll dive here again.

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Captain's Log

Good Day,

……2 foot seas are better than 4 foot seas-we waited until Sunday to leave Shelter Bay.  We pulled out of the marina and anchored in the “Flats,” the anchorage outside the Canal.  We figured that we’d have a bit of growth on the bottom after the Girl had been sitting in the marina for 5 weeks.  Getting into the water in the marina with the resident alligator (around an 8-footer) didn’t seem prudent.  “A bit of growth” was an understatement.   An hour-and-a-half later, Alizann’s bottom was pretty clean.  Boy, did we take it on the nose from the top-dollar guy that we brought over from Panama City last Fall to do our bottom paint. Live ‘n learn.  We figured that our 16h00 departure would put us at Escudo Veraguas a bit after daylight.  Cruising into the setting sun, 2’ seas and spaghetti for dinner?  For me, it doesn’t get much better.  Neither of us slept well.  Maybe it was the slow roll of small swells-who knows?  Even though we were 10 or 12 miles offshore, we banged through a patch of trash washing out to sea from the mouth of a river.  I was about ready to move us further offshore when the water cleared.  We arrived at Escudo Veraguas, dropped the hook in the lee of the island and crashed until 13h00.  Although it’s a fairly large island, only 4 families live on Escudo (Shield).  We spent the afternoon dinghying up and down the southern coast, exploring the isolated beaches and hidey holes.  There was a bit of swell wrapping around the island, so we decided to limit our visit to one nights’ duration.

Next stop was Cayo de Agua.  Again, this wasn’t much of an anchorage, just a shallow spot tucked up next to shore.  With the settled weather predicted to hang around for a few more days, we figured anchoring here would work out fine.  There were a half dozen completely remote beaches on the north side of the island, and we wanted to check them out.  Normally, they’d be pretty windy/wavy, but this week they were just serene.  If we were sun worshippers, any one of the beaches would be ideal for hanging out.  Instead, we took most of them in on a dinghy drive-by, stopping at one for an hour dip.  The next day was a wash out (literally).  It misted and rained all day long.  Unmotivated, we both lazed around on the back porch most of the day and read.  Not to be denied, Alizann got some of our attention.  The watermaker’s high pressure alarm was yelling at us and the unit shut itself down.  I had a pretty good idea what this was all about.  Over the past months, our water production had been steadily declining.  We were living on borrowed time, as our membranes were 9 years old (normal life span on a pleasure boat-around 5-6 yrs.).  Of course, I didn’t have spares onboard.  They have a finite shelf life, and are about one boat unit ($1K) apiece.  Well…..I did have chemicals to acid, then to alkali wash them.  While recirculating the solutions through the unit from a 5-gallon bucket, Suzanne kept them hot by microwaving them a quart at a time.  We’re making water now, but only 18 gallons/ hour, not the 30 that our machine is rated.  I’m hoping that we can limp along like this until the Fall.  Showers will be at a premium.

The mist subsided and the sun came out, so it was time to move it.  We were kinda undecided as to where when a WhatsApp came in from Judy and Rick at Tranquillo Place.  “I heard you on the net.  Are you coming to visit?”  That settled it.  We had a nice day catching up on events and got a chance to check out the progress on the house that they’re building.  Listening to the daily cruiser’s net, we realized that the Super Bowl was coming up this weekend.  The Point restaurant at Red Frog has a 16’ projection screen on the beach and had a Super Bowl party planned.  ‘Nuff said.  I called my buddy, Chelsea at Red Frog, and she got us in “to your old slip.”

“What do you do all day?  Eat bon-bons and drink umbrella drinks?”  Nope.  We got up yesterday, grabbed the heat gun, putty knives and sander and stripped off about 18 (no exaggeration) coats of varnish and epoxy, going down to bare wood on the portion of the caprail on the port side of the salon.  It’s always been a problem area and was getting pretty ratty looking, with water getting under the coating.  Since we were side-to on a long dock, it was a perfect time to get to it.  The cloudy skies helped keep the temperature down to 80 degrees.  Perfect weather for heat-gunning.  Got a coat of varnish on before heading over to the Point for dinner.  The Admiral’s day was complete.  We spotted a tree sloth on our way over.  Chris, the manager caught us up on all the Red Frog scuttlebutt.  We also met his new right hand, Ricardo, replacing my girlfriend Jelly who had departed for Isla Colon around Christmas.  We got home after dark, but were not deterred.  Suz held the light, while I got another coat of varnish on.  I woke up at 03h00 to heavy gusts of wind.  Seconds later, true to the forecast the skies opened up.  …….and, it was a PANAMA rain!  When it stopped at 05h00, I headed out to dry off the rail.  As soon as I got back to bed, another gully-washer started.  It’s almost noon.  It’s been raining off ‘n on all morning.  The varnish has some foggy spots in it, but experience tells us that they will probably resolve after we get a good, dry day.  There’s more, but I’ll bore you with that…..

-Later

Hola,

So…we met a nice couple and their two kids at the pool one evening.  One thing led to another, and before we knew it, we were signed on as crew to help them transit the Canal.

James, Jess and their 2 girls, Maren (12yrs.) and Kaia (7yrs.) are taking a couple years off from their jobs as surgeon, nurse practitioner and kids to travel just as far as they can get on their sailboat “Soteria,” a 54’ Amel Super Maramu.

Our adventure began on a Wednesday at noon.  We arrived at “Soteria,” and greeted Christian and Izzy (Crew from “Roald Amundsen”) who would also be helping with lines.  We stowed our gear-not much, just a couple pairs of shorts, tee shirts work gloves and inflatable life preservers, and headed out to the anchorage in the flats past Shelter Bay’s channel.  The plan was to anchor and wait for our agent to arrive at 14h30.  Even though we were inside the breakwall, the high winds and seas made getting the hook to set a bit of a challenge. 14h30 came and went.  Michael called the agent.  Change of plan.  He would now arrive at 17h30.  We bobbed around and shared stories for a few hours, and Jess served up a couple of lasagna dishes-one vegetarian and one with meat.  It was the harbinger of the cuisine quality for the rest of the trip.  Two days of full like you’re full over Thanksgiving.  The agent finally arrived just around dark and gave us instructions.  We would be rafting up with 2 other boats, a catamaran and another monohull when locking through.  In the locks, we would always accompany a freighter.  So, the procedure was as follows:  In the fairway outside a lock, the three boats would raft up and proceed into the lock as one.  In our case, the catamaran was in the middle between the 2 monohulls.  Upon exiting a lock, we would break up the raft and proceed individually to the next one.  Repeat until the Pacific Ocean.  No worries.  Suzanne and I had played this game before.  For James and Jess?  No prior experience with rafting OR locks.  Understandably, a little trepidation.  Especially,since it was now dark.  Where was I?  Oh yeah.  We now have the anchor up, and we’re proceeding under the  brightly lit new Atlantic Bridge approaching the fairway to the Gatun Lock.  The freighter that we’ll follow into the lock is ahead of us and joined by a tug.  Then it stops.  Or does it?  It’s a half mile ahead of us and hard to tell.  Meanwhile our agent gets off his radio and tells James to just tread water for a bit in the wind and current.  The 2 other pleasure boats with us are doing the same.  Two other tugboats join the freighter ahead.  What the heck?  After 40 minutes or so of this, our agent, Ricardo tells us that the Captain of the freighter and the tugboat captains are having a little discussion.  The freighter needed 3 tugs to guide it into the lock-not unusual.  When only 1 arrived, the freighter had to drop anchor in the fairway to the lock.  Again, no big deal.  The other 2 tugs arrived, and the freighter hauled anchor.  Big deal!  He had hooked a cable on the sea bottom and it had fouled his anchor.  Now the Captains are arguing about whether or not the cable has cleared.  Freighter says “No,” tug Captain says “Yes.”  I looked at my watch when we finally entered the lock.  22h06.  Locking proceeded without incident.  The French catamaran in the middle was responsible for propelling and steering our raft, and he did a great job.  After locking up to Lake Gatun, we motored to a huge mooring buoy, rafted up with our catamaran pal and cracked a beer at 00h40.  Our agent left, and informed us that our next agent would join us at 07h30, expecting to leave immediately.  The next morning, as we motored across Lake Gatun, Jess indulged us with breakfast burritos-eggs, cheese, potatoes, sausage, bacon, salsa-you get the picture.  Suz and I split one.  It was a beautiful sunny day with a light breeze, so the twenty or so miles across the lake was a real treat.  We encountered many commercial vessels coming and going through the canal as they travel at a much higher speed than we.  Just before we entered the Culebra Cut, the narrowest portion of the Canal, we were instructed to pull to the side and wait.  A propane tanker was just exiting the lock several miles ahead of us and coming our way.  At current speeds, we would pass them in the Cut.  The width (or lack of it) in the cut would preclude us from maintaining the requisite separation from the floating bomb, so we needed to wait for him to pass by us before we proceeded on.  Homemade pizza and beautiful weather and scenery eased our pain.  We entered the Pedro Miguel lock and had to wait 40 minutes for the freighter behind us to arrive.  Suz WhatsApped our driver, Olmedo who was to meet us at the Balboa Yacht Club on the Panama City end of the Canal.  James grabbed a mooring ball at the yacht club (and I use that term yacht club VERY loosely).  We had a teary goodbye from the kids (I don’t think that they thought we were leaving) and a heartfelt “Thanks” from Jess and James.  (They said that our presence calmed them and they were able to enjoy the experience-Go figure!).  Anyway, I think that the Admiral and I got the better end of the deal.  We were able to spend a couple days with a truly delightful family.

True to form, when the launch brought us to shore Olmedo was waiting.  I think that we were home by 22h00, truly whipped.

-Later

Good Afternoon,

Christmas flew by in a blur.  We got a chance to see our kids and grandkids, as well as most of Suzanne’s family.  The exceptions were Suzanne’s brother’s gang, who were welcoming Suzanne’s Mom’s newest great-grandchild into the world.  Jeremy, our eldest, and his wife Jodi also informed the fam that they’d be welcoming in a new great-grandbaby in July of 2020.

The flight back to Panama was uneventful once we got on the plane.  It was a good thing that we got to the airport good and early.  Panama (and some other countries as well) doesn’t like folks flying in without a ticket out.  If you arrive in Panama and Immigration does not allow you in, it’s the airline’s responsibility to fly you back out.  Needless to say, that costs the airlines money, and therein lies the rub.  We didn’t have a plane ticket out of Panama.  This wasn’t our first rodeo, and before we left Panama, we had the marina draft a letter stating that we had a boat there (our way out of Panama).  Suzanne had our vessel’s Coast Guard documentation and Panama cruising Permit, so we were covered.  Trouble was that neither the gate agent nor his supervisor knew how to handle us.  After several calls up the chain of command, they ended up with the U.S. Consulate, who helped sort things out.

Next choke point.  Panama Customs.  We had one-and-a-half duffel bags full of clothes packed into 4 duffel bags.  The rest was filled with boat parts.  The ladies at the x-ray machines eyes lit up when our bags passed through.  Over to the Customs office.  Nope, we weren’t going to be able to get our stuff through at this late hour.  We’d have to leave it and come back tomorrow (Okay, that’s a $240 roundtrip cab ride), and pay for an agent to deliver the goods to our boat.  KaChing!  Forty minutes later, the officer basically shook his head and told us to get outta there and never do this again.  This is a story in and of itself, but I won’t belabor it in order to protect the innocent.

Lotsa boat parts means lotsa projects:

Outboard on the dinghy-Fixed

Remote battery monitor and shunt on the Lithium Batteries-Installed

Leaky toilet (of 3 years duration and multiple parts replaced)-Fixed

Super-bright LED lights on bow and stern with panic switch next to bed-Installed

Leaky nameboard on roof of pilothouse-Repaired

LED lighting throughout the boat-Upgraded

Wheeled and waxed all fiberglass from caprail up

Rubbed out and polished all stainless steel

Depth data integrated into our repaired Nav system-You go, Suzanne!

It wasn’t like we had anywhere to go.  The winds were consistent at over 25 knots, with seas ranging from 8’-17’ for nearly 2 weeks straight.  The good news was that until 2 days ago we didn’t have any rain.  We got some good hiking in, including a twenty-something kilometer jaunt over to Fort San Lorenzo.  Lotsa Toucans, Monkeys, mammals and assorted other birds.  We also acted as the net controllers for the Shelter Bay Cruisers Net on the VHF for several days.  Suzanne did the weather and I handled the rest.  (Many locations have “cruiser’s nets” every morning.  They cover anything from local services and events, announcements, alerts, and general communication between cruisers in the area).  Suzanne and I also hosted a “Movie night” in the lounge here at Shelter Bay.  We screened a first-run movie on the flat screen, attended by 20 or so other cruisers.  Our days usually end with a dip in the pool, Suzanne heading to the “Aquafit” class and me heading to a lounge chair for some reading.  There are plenty of activities here.  The cruiser’s potluck on Sunday evening showcases some significant cooking talents.  Monday morning’s nature walks always features some impressive animal sightings.  Carlos, a local amateur historian has given a few nice seminars in the evening, as well as walks around the abandoned U.S. military base here.  Along with an all-day trip to Panama City, and a bus ride to Colon, we kept pretty busy.

The” Roald Amundsen”, a square rigger was docked here at the marina.  It’s a sailing ship built in the 1950’s sometime.  It’s owned by a private foundation in Germany and in the 5 months that it doesn’t have a crew of high school aged students on board, it takes on charter guests.  The kids left on an overland trip to Costa Rica and when the boat was between semi-permanent crews, the captain gave us a tour.  It was fascinating.

We did a canal transit, acting as line handlers for a family of four as they made their way to the Pacific.  I think that in the interest of brevity, I’ll do that passage in a separate entry.

So…. It’s been raining for 2 days now, but the good news is that it is signaling the passage of a cold front, and the high-pressure system over the northeastern part of the Caribbean is dissipating.  The permanent Low off the coast of Colombia will also shrink in size over the next few days, making for good passage making conditions throughout the western Caribbean.  It’s come none too early.  I’m feelin’ the urge to move, and I’m no fun when feeling caged.  Our plan is to leave Shelter Bay on Saturday (the 25th), traveling for 15 hours to Escudo de Veraguas, a small island around 20 miles off the coast of Panama.  We’ll stay there and snorkel and explore for a day or two until the weather chases us onward to Bocas del Toro.  Until then…..

-Later

 

 

HiYa!  (this is a Gringo marina)

Britt, Sandy and their boat guest, John (her cousin) came to Red Frog to visit us when we returned.  Our goal:  Red Frog Beach on the other side of the island.  The plan was to do some body-boarding and hit as many beach bars as possible.  The surf was up.  The red (danger) flag was cracking in the stiff wind.  Plan A accomplished.  Plan B-Not so much.  It was Mother’s day.  Well, not completely true.  It was the day after Mother’s day.  By now, you are well-acquainted with our Central American friends’ affinity for holidays, errr should I say “days off work to party?”  All the bars were closed.  No worries, we were all the healthier for it.  On the walk back over the island, Sandy spotted a couple of small crocodiles sunning themselves in a creek.  Suzanne, always on the lookout for the ever-elusive but very colorful poison dart frogs took us up another rill (who says crossword puzzles are a waste of time?) where we spotted and photo’d some Red Frogs.  They’re teeny (about the size of the nail on your big toe).  You’d think that they would be easy to see, but they hang out in the leaf detritus on the ground where fallen wild cinnamon petals (they’re red and pink) are mixed in.

Time to whine, and I’m sure that you’re shedding huge crocodile tears for us.  The aforementioned nav computer that the Admiral repaired now has another affliction.  He works perfectly until he doesn’t.  For the past few times underway, he has been shutting down without any advance notice.  It may be 10 minutes or 3 hours, but once he turns off, you can’t restart him.  The gurus have no idea.  “We’ve never seen that before!”  So…….we got the second “Black Box” stored under the helm (thanks, Roberto and Maria).  Suz spends the next 2 days in computer Purgatory with multiple techs and Scotty getting it set up for our boat.  Oh yeah, there are proprietary charts that are licensed only to us on our unit and yada yada yada.  That’s her problemo. Mine is MUCH more important.

When heading into Bocas on the dink, I heard a “clunk.”  Everything was working great, so check it when I get home.  Won’t bore you with the details, but the hydraulic ram for the trim/tilt broke off and then jammed itself in a very uncomfortable spot.  Translation: You can’t get there from here.  While Suzanne spent 2 days on the phone and in microswitches, I spent my time with a 4# sledge, a gear puller, torch and chain.  Suz had partial success, I had none.  All of the bits and bobs that I needed to remove were welded solid by the combination of salt water and time.  Ten hours, no joy.  That was pretty much the rest of our Red Frog stay.  We headed to Rick and Judy’s place on Friday, as she had the replacement sunshades for our upper deck finished, and we had a weather window to transit to Colon on Saturday.  At Rick’s, we pulled the motor off the dink so I could cut the offending pieces off the outboard without spitting metal shavings all over Alizann’s deck (and rusting in the future).  My angle grinder and ½” stainless steel pivots made quite a mess, but in the end, we won.  I’ll apply a few pesos and utilize FedEx while back in the good ole U.S.A., and life will again be good.

(Private message for my Dearest Mother-in-Law: “Casey, stop here.  This is a long one.  Resume at a later time.:) 

The weather on Saturday morning was beautiful.  What a day to be leaving.  We hung out and did boat chores until 12h45, then took a slow ride out through the Crawl Cay canal, exiting the Bocas.

What a night!  First of all, “Catholic Casserole” for dinner.  You know the one- Mac, cheese, ground beef, green peppers, tomato sauce.  I’m such a cheap date.  Feed me anything with pasta and tomato sauce, and I’m in hog heaven.  Suz was feelin’ a little “urpy” with the 4’-6’ swells (with a fair amount of 8’s) off the port bow, so we were happy that she had a sticktoyourribser premade.  She hit the sack at 18h00 and it was just me and the sea.  That afternoon, the Admiral had commented on the lack of dolphin sightings while underway on this trip.  As darkness fell, I heard the familiar snort, blow, slap and splash out of BOTH of the pilothouse doors.  Hearing that noise from the side is unusual at all.  The dolphins usually swim in groups of 4-6, and usually just play in the bow wave.  In the dark, you rarely are sure that they’re there-you just kinda sense them.  Well… the reason that they were heard alongside is that there were so many of them.  My guess is more than 20.  They were taking turns in the bow wave, then peeling off, only to race up on our stern quarter (s) to keep pace next to the boat until their next turn at the bow.  How did I see them when they peeled off and swam around to the stern if it was dark, you say?  The next part is that the water was filled with bioluminescent plankton.  When they’re disturbed, they light up.  The dolphins looked like they had “vapor trails” streaming off their fins, extending 10-15’ behind them ghosting through the water when out of the cone of illumination cast by our steaming light.  They’re usually here and gone, but this pod kept pace with Alizann for 33 minutes.  (I had just made a log entry, so I know).  Just before the moon rose (nearly full) like a big orange ball off our bow, I caught a meteorite about a finger’s width above the north horizon.  It was one of those that seemed to linger a bit longer than most.  I didn’t see another boat for the rest of my watch, and the radio was dead silent.  My only other excitement was a rain squall that I watched develop on the radar, only to skirt around 2 miles away from us.  Suz got up around 01h45 feeling much better, and I caught a few winks until we entered the Atlantic anchorage outside the Canal around 05h20.  Nearing the opening in the breakwater, we fell in behind the “Caribbean Princess” a small cruise ship, and followed her in.  So much for advance planning, I figured that worst case scenario, averaging 5.5 knots, we’d make it to Colon before nightfall.  Best case, 7.0 knots-in by lunchtime.  At 2/3 throttle, we averaged almost 8.5 knots against the wind and swell!!  Guess we had a good push from current.  Suzanne’s changeout on the Nav computer worked as she planned.  Radar and chartplotter were flawless, she’ll mess with getting the depth data integrated before our next trip.  We’re here at Shelter Bay Marina and it’s hot and humid.  Looks like we’ll get some “liquid sunshine” today, as the clouds are already building at 07h30.

Pretty sure that this’ll be my last report this year unless something really remarkable happens between now and the 18th.  We’ll fly back to the States then to be with family for Christmas.

Mike and Sue (From our Lost City trek) just stopped in.  We’ll do some catching up in the next day or two.

Dang!  One of the hazards of not posting right away.  We went for a nature walk yesterday.  Saw a plethora of tropical birds, including a Toucan.  A troupe of Capuchin monkeys, and an Agouti, as well as a bunch of brightly colored butterflies.

Leaving tomorrow at 05h00.  Imagine that this is REALLY it until I…

Talk to you……..

-Later (next year)

Hola Amigos,

The Red Frog taxi was pretty luxurious and FAST!  Chris, the owner of The Point restaurant had his handheld GPS on board.  He clocked our speed at 47 MPH on our way over to Bocas Town.  Not bad for a non-planing panga.  While we waited for the water taxi to Almirante, it was breakfast crepes at The Crepe Guy.  Oh yeah……he’s a very colorful, stereotypical fifty-something little French dude.  Reminds me of that Chihuahua that’s always admiring your leg (and I say that in the nicest of ways, no disrespect for the Chihuahuas out there).  Our taxi to Almirante was a twin-engine model that they crammed 36 passengers and luggage on.  It was still a rocket ship.  As we idled into the inner harbor at Almirante, I couldn’t help being a Dad.  The young man next to me was trailing his hand in the water.  I gently let him know that all of the bodegas on stilts packed in along the shore were flushing their toilets into the water that we were traversing.  Suzanne had hand sanitizer in her pack….’nuff said.  The four-hour bus ride up to Boquete was a trip.  Our vehicle was pretty luxo.  Air condo and clean.  The scenery?  Spectacular.  The first hour took us along the coastal plain, the last three up and down (mostly up) through rain forest at first, then cloud forest, and finally into Boquete around 17h15.  Besides the nearly-constant mist/rain, our driver didn’t have to worry about any stop signs or even intersections.  There aren’t any.  There’s only one road.  Casa Azul, our bed ‘n breakfast was built in 1915 for an ancestor of the current owner.  It’s a really cute four room house a couple of blocks off the main drag in downtown(?) Boquete.  It’s super clean, AND you have your own bathroom (the deal maker/breaker for me).

Being up in the mountains, the climate in Boquete is decidedly different than down on the coast.  Temperatures are a bit cooler.  We saw 70 degrees in the day, and in the 60’s at night.  Pine trees grow alongside Palms.  It was a nice change to wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts.  The rain showers, ubiquitous along the coast, followed us here.  The vibe is strictly about the Mochilleros (Backpackers).  Hostels abound, and food is inexpensive.  No, I mean cheap.  We went high end one night, eating at Boulder 54.  No reservation, but the Maitre ‘D had just received a cancellation for the table that we would have asked for if given a choice.  Under an open gazebo, and sandwiched between a pond and a fireplace, it was chez cool.  The menu was nouveau cuisine, and the wine list was superb.  We picked out a bottle of Argentinian Malbec (with the help of our waiter/Maitre ‘D) for $24.  “Special on our wines tonight-half price”.  So…….we drank 2, but who’s counting?  Breakfasts at Azul, prepared by Senora Anna.  The rest of our meals were decidedly a bit more low-key affairs.  Lunch of local food at El Saboroson.  After hiking the “Lost Waterfalls” trail (I’ll get to that, be patient), I Googled for someplace close by, as we were kinda tired.  “Mike’s Grill” turned out to be the Expats hangout.  Again, we were “new meat”, and made lots of new fast friends.  (We came back the next night).  Since 2010, when the AARP rag had featured Boquete as a “top place to retire” several years ago, the number of Gringos has increased exponentially.

Whud we do?  Coffee farm tour.  I know, how many of these can you go on?  This one, (The Admiral promises it’ll be our last) was the best.  Panama is not a huge producer of coffee-not on the scale of Brazil and Viet Nam.  But…..they produce some of the finest coffees in the world, as evidenced by their consistent showing in international competitions.  Quality, not quantity is the mantra here.  Let me just say that there are more coffees than you can shake a stick at, running from the robust somewhat bitter roasts that North Americans and Europeans favor, to the aromatic, fruity varieties favored by warm climate countries, to the tea-like beans enjoyed by Far Easterners.  Our guide held up a box, around 20” square and about 7” deep containing Geisha beans that was ready for shipment.  The cost?  Fifty-one thousand dollars.  A cup sells for around $95 in Japanese coffee houses.  At the end of the tour, we had a tasting.  Sampling eight or ten different varieties from traditional to aromatic, I really gained a new appreciation for the beverage.  Yep, we were served Geisha.  I figured that I made around $150 on this tour.

We did the Lost Waterfalls hike in the mist/rain.  It was like a 2-hour version of our 4-day hike in Colombia, complete with slipping and sliding in the mud.  This one even had a stretch so steep that you needed a climbing rope for the up ‘n down.

The best beer in town was sampled at the Boquete Brewing Company.  We couldn’t be here without visiting there.

That’s about it for Boquete.  If we have guests after the Holidays, we’ll probably go back and take a lot more hikes.  The bus ride home yesterday was a lot quicker, as there was no rain.  We’ve been hunkered down today, catching up on bills, laundry, Christmas shopping and blogging while the rain has been intermittently heavy.

Talk at Ya…

-Later

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