Feliz Pascua!

The Girl was resting so comfortably (and clean) that we didn’t even leave her all afternoon and evening.  Periodically, gusts of wind would race up the bay, causing our wind generators to really fly.  I love the sound of money going into the bank.  I think that we finally have our renewable energy sources tuned in.  The solar panels and the wind generators are at full potential.  We’re covering all of our electrical loads, and putting the surplus in the battery bank.

Warning:  A small bit of tech talk ahead.  I think that I told you that I had rewired our 110VAC watermaker to run off our inverter, so that we could make water while underway without running the generator.  That experiment didn’t work out so well at first.  The watermaker was drawing so much power that the alternator never fully charged the house battery bank, so…the engine start battery (which also runs the CPU controlling the engine) never got it’s share of juice.  As the start battery’s voltage dropped, the low voltage alarm on the John Deere panel went off, signaling that the CPU was not getting enough voltage to run the engine.  (Bad Juju!)  Eureka moment!  A month or so ago, I figured out that I could reprogram the alternator regulator in such a manner that we could overcome that problem.  After a half dozen passages, I can now confidently report that the fix is working.  We no longer regret not purchasing a 12VDC watermaker.

We had a wonderful night at anchor.  Absolutely no chance of rain, so we inflated the Air bed that our pals Dick and Jan bought us and slept up on the boat deck.  Under the full moon, we didn’t see many stars, but it was all good.  Friday morning greeted us with a conundrum.  We were only allowed one night in a bay.  The wind was, if anything, blowing harder than the day before.  We decided to stay put.  If the Coast Guard chased us out, we’d head back to the marina.  After a breakfast of Tuckmuffins (a legendary breakfast treat in my own mind), we dropped the kayaks into the water.  Paddling out to the opening of the bay, the Admiral found that she couldn’t paddle against the (I’m guessin’-30 knot winds).  One gust hit me on the beam and nearly knocked me over.  Back at the Girl, we had a refreshing swim/read/nap afternoon.  17h00 (park closing time) came and went without a visit from the authorities, so we had another quiet night on the hook.

Saturday morning we were up and out in order to get ahead of the winds, which increase as the day progresses.  We still had 20+ knot winds and 4’-6’ seas, but they were on our stern.  After a year or so without fueling, the Girl was thirsty, so we put on 575 gallons of diesel before returning to our slip.  We got our backpacks loaded up for our forthcoming hike to Ciudad Perdida on Monday, then took a stroll through town.  Holy week is a big deal here in this predominantly Catholic country, so the city was rockin’.  We snagged a table at “Ouzo” before the dinner rush:  Crispy pork belly app., Duck Confit Ravioli for Suz and Hornido Sofrito for Yours Truly, all washed down with a pitcher of Sangria de Casa (tinto).

We hit 07h00 Mass this morning, only to find out that the Easter schedule was different than the usual-it started at 06h00.  That turned out to be okay.  Forty-five minutes into the service, Father was just getting warmed up, so we still got an hour and fifteen minutes of religion even tho’ we were 45 minutes late.  Suz looked like Death during church, and she’s been in bed since we got home at 08h00.  It’s 15h00 now.  The lower G.I. funk has been going around, and it looks like she’s the latest victim.  We’ll see about the hike tomorrow………

-Later

Ola, Amigos!

We’ve had a couple of quiet days, just hangin’ on the Girl taking care of the necessaries.  Holly the haircutter invited us to a potluck the other night, and we met half a dozen other cruisers.  Most are on the other dock, so we hadn’t interacted with them yet.  Among a few other pearls of wisdom, we found out that all of them were making water here at the docks, and most of them had been here at least 6 months.  We have never run our watermaker at a dock, for fear of fouling the delicate membranes with any petroleum pollutants which may be in the water.  Long story short, we made water for 7 hours yesterday without any issues.  We still won’t make a habit of it.

Yesterday we rinsed off our trusty little ship and polished some stainless steel.  The dust here is unbelievable.  You can rinse down the decks, come back a day later and still get a wave of brown water streaming out the gutters.  We’ve learned to keep the hatches mostly closed since we were having the same problem inside.  Thank goodness for Vornado fans.  At night, we turn on the airco in our stateroom.

 

We’re into our second day of “Lose incredible amounts of time to computer crap”.  Yesterday, I cleaned up our main navigation black box.  We still had routes and waypoints from Labrador and Newfoundland clogging up the memory.  That went smoothly, just took some time.  Then we started on the PC based program.  I got stuck.  The Admiral couldn’t help.  Then……I know better, but consulted multiple forums and flogged around for a few hours without result.  Suz says that John on Seamantha uses the same program-he’ll know.  What’s Apped him last night.  Talked to him this morning.  All good.  I just heard a “Woohoo!” from the pilothouse while I’m peckin’ away in the cockpit.  Here’s the deal.  There aren’t any official charts of the area we’ll be visiting next (The San Blas Archipelago in Panama).  The definitive cruising guide for the area has been compiled over the years by Eric Bauhaus.  He has taken over a million soundings and created a whole portfolio of charts which can be found in his book “The Panama Cruising Guide.”  These charts have in turn been magically turned into an electronic format for “Open CPN,” an open-source navigation program created by a group of cruisers.  Suz downloaded these on to our nav PC months ago, but never said “Abracadabra!” so our boat did not appear on the electronic chart.  Well, she did her prestidigitating today, and made it so.  When she called me up to the pilothouse a couple hours ago, it was working waaayyy cool.  When she closed the program and tried to reopen it, it crashed big-time.  She’s been up there for all this time trying to resurrect it.  In the meantime, I’m hogging up the bandwidth downloading 650 other charts to the laptop.  Okay, I’m heading up to see how it’s going.  Hahaha.  She’s got GPS position, AIS targets, and depth working on the Open -CPN and the Bauhaus charts.  And you thought that she was just another pretty face.

Well, we spent another day manually entering the latitude/longitudes for waypoints and anchorages in the San Blas islands.  It was painful, (I think that there were around 140- some odd positions) but will be well worth it over the next year.  It was time for a break, so we decided to take the Girl up to a couple of the bays in Tayrona National Park.  We had passed them on our way here and they looked, and we had heard, that they were pretty cool.  Problem was that you need a cruising permit and permission from the Port Captain here in Santa Marta to anchor there.  Our trusty lady at the desk, Kelly failed us big-time on this one.  She told us that the cruising permit could be had in a day, and that as soon as it was in process, we could head out.  We paid for the cruising permit last Friday, planning on heading out on Monday.  Monday morning, we head to the office for our permit.  Kelly’s on vacation for 2 weeks, but David, the Agent here at the marina will handle it.  Come back this afternoon.  The Port Captain had to check with the bank to make sure our $$$ had been deposited, manana.  Tuesday morning.  He’s working on it.  Come back this afternoon.  Manana.  Wednesday morning.  David’s meeting with the Port Captain.  Come back this afternoon.  No can do.  “Can’t we go, since he has our money, and it’s in process?” No.  We’re resigned to not being able to go, and having a cocktail up on the boat deck, when David appears around 17h30 with a gorgeous document in his hand.  Yay!  Weather’s supposed to be iffy-very windy and high seas.  We’d already decided not to go.  Didn’t tell David that.  So, we are in this conversation with him, and he tells us that he’s so happy that we got the permit ‘cause he worked so hard to get it.  His contract here at the marina is up, and his last day is Sunday.  He’s a full-time business student at Magdalena university, and his last year will require his full time attention.  After he leaves, Suz and I decide that we should probably go-it’ll make David happy.  My concern is that David is also the Agent at the marina, acting as the go-between with Customs and Immigration.  I have a shipment of boat parts coming that I don’t want to pay duty on.  Hopefully the new guy knows the ropes and will get our stuff through the maze.

Thursday, 07h30, and I hail the Port Captain on the VHF.  Yep, we get permission to anchor for 1 night each at 2 bays up in the park (The limit is 1 night).  The wind was brisk when we pulled out of the harbor, but nothing really significant.  As we turn the corner 45 minutes later and start heading East, the breeze is picking up.  Picking our way between a rocky point on the mainland and a small island, the sea becomes a washing machine.  Breakers are crashing over the shallows on our port and starboard.  It looks scary, but the guides that we’ve read say that we can go through.  Well…we never see less than 66’ of depth.  Boy, it was kind of a puker.  27 knots of breeze on the nose with a beam sea.  We could hear the cupboards being rearranged, and took a peek down into the salon.  Oh yeah!  Our recliners had slid across the floor, bunching up the rug in the process, but were now stable in the center of the boat thanks to the bunched-up rug.  An hour-and-a-half later, we turned the corner into Bahia Neguange, more or less out of the wind-driven waves.  Up at the head of the bay, all appeared calm.  Before we dropped the hook, we let the boat settle into the wind, and found that the swell rolling into the bay was right on our beam, making for a bit of a roll.  Nope.  Even with the flopperstoppers out, it’d probably be an uncomfortable stay, and we were looking forward to some peace.  Out of the bay and into the one next over, Bahia Gayraca.  Much better.  The swell wasn’t funneling in to this one nearly as much and we had a nice breeze.  We dropped the hook in 22’ of water around 150 yards off the beach and put out 150’ of chain, just in case.  We got the cupboards and inside of the boat tidied up, then took to scrubbing the layer Santa Marta dust off the outside while enjoying the sunny afternoon.

-Later

Buenos Dias,

Our “go to” lady here at the marina is Kelly at the front desk.  (She’s one of the 3 people in town that speaks English-not dissin’, just sayin’).  We have a Q&A with her at least twice a day, and she’s invaluable.  She guided all of our paperwork through Customs and Immigration without us ever seeing an official.  Nice!  She also acts as our go-between with the marina manager and the dock supervisor.  IMHO this place would be lost without her.

Back to our walkabout, the visit to the Museo D’Oro turned out to be a hidden gem.  Besides exhibits featuring gold jewelry (as the name implies), there is a wealth of information regarding the Sierra Nevada regions of Colombia.  The museum also happens to be housed in the building in which Simon Bolivar laid in state after his death in 1830.  Written descriptions in Spanish and English attend each display.  We learned more South American history in two visits than we had in the previous sixty-odd years.

Adjoining Simon Bolivar Parque and adjacent to the Gold Museum is Juan Valdez coffee shop.  This is the Colombian version of Starbucks, with coffee that is ten times better.  Most of the best Colombian coffee is exported to Europe, with the inferior mass produced beans staying in-country, or exported to the U.S.A. The Juan Valdez chain’s aim is to introduce Colombians to their finest coffees. However, it was a total shocker when we were charged 13,000 pesos for a large cappuccino and a large latte.  Ohhh…. That’s around four bucks.  Needless to say, we’re now regulars.  The coffee dude doesn’t ask our names anymore.

In the morning, fruit vendors ply the streets, pushing their handcarts.  Some have amplifiers and loudspeakers over which they hawk their wares in the concrete canyons between the high rises.  Whole pineapples go for 3,000 ($.90 U.S.).  Bananas, Mangos, Pineapples and other South American fruits that I’ve never heard of are equally inexpensive.  After we buy fruit for the boat on the sidestreets, we have a favorite guy by Bolivar Parque that sells plastic cups full of sliced fruits, accompanied by plastic forks for 2,000 a pop.

We’re not really sure what the diving here is all about, but there are several dive operations in town.  We’ve visited a couple of them, and may go for a dive or two while we’re here.  -Keep you posted.

Besides street food, we’ve eaten at a couple of recommended restaurants.  “Ouzo”, is highly rated by both Tripadvisor and fellow cruisers-very good, with Sangria that is superior (or maybe it was so because we had been walking all afternoon).  Lamart, a funky little place recommended by Andrea (up at Minca), served up a mean Ceviche, followed by a very good main course of fish. A couple of other restaurants were good, but not memorable.  The common denominator is that all have been very inexpensive by North American standards ($30-$40 U.S. for 2 drinks, apps, and entrees).  Kinda makes going out a very viable alternative to staying home and cooking.

Back on the docks, we filled our water tanks with the tap water.  No good! No good! No good! cried another North American who had been here for 6 months.  “I was sick for a month, and Nigel, down the dock, ended up in hospital for a week (he has other health issues) from drinking the water.  Sheesh!  What a dummy.  We’ve been drinking tap water since we left home 5 years ago, but this IS South America.  So we’ve just taken on 300 gallons of potentially poisonous H2O in our public health graduate’s pristine water tanks. W.H.O website says that a cup-and-a-half of bleach in each tank should do the trick, so now our dishes, laundry, and skin is whiter than white.  The Admiral does this procedure once a year, so the drill wasn’t unfamiliar.  Meanwhile, we’re buying bottled water.

You know that these two science majors are nerding out on history these days, and our visit to the gold museum just whetted our appetites for some South American rat facts.  After a twenty minute, two dollar cab ride, we arrived at Quinta San Pedro Alejandrino, the estate at which Simon Bolivar spent his last few weeks. The botanical garden there was very much less-than-spectacular, but the colonial architecture and the artifacts on display more than made up for it.  With the help of our sorta English speaking guide, we learned more about General Bolivar, a.k.a. El Libertador.  Our taste of history at the estate provoked us to dig deeper, thanks Google, when we got home.

Monday the 8th, 08h30.  Time for our road trip to Mompox.  Sue and Mike joined us for the 5 hour trip, driving out of the shadow of the Sierra Nevadas, through the lowlands leading to and surrounding the once-busy port of Mompox on the Rio Magdalena. Established in 1540, the town was the major port linking the coast to the interior of the colony. During that period, goldsmithing and ironwork flourished in this center of commerce.  Late in the 19th century, trade routes changed to another branch of the river Magdalena, and Mompox has been in decline ever since.  As of late, it has been increasingly popular as a tourist destination, due to the plethora of colonial architecture there.  By no means touristic(?), I can see this sleepy village exploding on the traveler “must see” scene when the local airport and highway are completed.  We stayed at a small, 8 room hotel on the river in Mompox. It is a charming little property housed in the historic Portales De Marqueza warehouse. Our cook, Margherita served us up a savory breakfast of local fare which generally held us until dinnertime every day.  Jim and Carole joined us, and the six of us wandered town, taking in the local culture.  We visited several churches, took a three hour boat ride into the Pijino swamp, and plied basically every street in this busy little village.  Feeling like we had seen all there was to see in Mompox, Suz and I came home on Thursday, leaving Jim, Carole, Mike and Sue, who were spending another day (Their rooms were prepaid).

Suzanne prepared a fantastic chicken curry yesterday.  Mike and Sue joined us for dinner when they returned from Mompox, as we figured that they wouldn’t want to chase for food after the long drive home.

The washer quit yesterday with a load still in the drum.  Sleep last night was sporadic.  I hate having things broken.  This morning, while Suz was having her hair cut by a fellow cruiser, I pulled the doors and moldings off the cabinet where the washer/dryer sits, and pulled it out so I could take the cabinet apart.  Good news was that the failure was located in the switch that stops the washer when the lid is open.  I couldn’t fix the switch, so I bypassed it by jumping the wires.  All good!  The Admiral says that she’ll enjoy sleeping with the Maytag repairman tonight.  T.M.I., I know.  No worries, I won’t keep you posted.

-Luego

Buenos Tardes,

So… we’re getting ready to start our second week in Colombia, and what a time it’s been.  Right now it’s 92 degrees and 88% humidity at 13h00. It has become pretty clear to this Gringo why siestas are the order of the day here.  I’m hidin’ out, peckin’ away at the laptop with the sweat rolling down my spine.

The crossing was a dream.  We had 2’-4’ seas on our quarter most of the way.  At 06h00 on Saturday morning (36 hours into the trip), we rounded the point north of Santa Marta.  It’s not unusual to have 40 knot winds with the current piling the waves up around this point where the Sierra Nevadas rise up out of the sea.  This passage is consistently rated as one of the most difficult in the WORLD!  Yeah, that includes Cape Horn.  My red-headed weather forecaster and lifelong companion hit the nail on the head.  5-10 knots, 1’-3’ seas, as we watched the sun rise over snow-capped mountains.  I got the 2 Blackfin tunas that we caught filleted and into the freezer as we eased our way down to the IGY Marina at Santa Marta.  After we had the Girl properly secured in her assigned slip, screens and sunshades in place and lounge chairs out, one of the dock guys came by.  He didn’t think that the other guys had put us in the best spot and wondered if we might want to move before it got windy.  Long story short, we moved.  Later that night the wind came up to a steady 27 knots with gusts into the mid 30’s.  At 22h00 Suz and I were on the dock securing extra lines across the slip next to us, happy that we had moved.

Small world time.  We introduced ourselves to the Australian couple on the sailboat next to us.  They told us that they had some friends from Michigan that they had met in Indonesia several years ago and had travelled quite extensively with them.  Suz asked what city in Michigan.  “Grand Rapids” The name of their boat?  “Nepenthe” Aha! Must be talking about Carol and Jim (You remember them-we met them in Guadeloupe a couple of years ago.  You know the couple that started a 2 year circumnavigation and ended it 17 years later.) Well….Turns out that they didn’t go back to land after all, and they were about 20 miles up the coast here in Colombia. The 4 of them had just returned from a trip up the mountain to Minca, and were planning a 4-day jaunt to Mompox(Mompos) the next week.  Carol hoped that our new pals, Sue and Mike would talk us into joining them.  No problem!  Mompox was on our list of places to visit.  We got a hotel reservation, arranged transportation for Sue, Mike and ourselves, and made a plan to meet up with Jim and Carol there.

For the first day or so, we just got the “lay of the land” here in Santa Marta.  We quickly found out that in this city of 400,000 or so, about 3 people spoke English.  Crash the Spanish “How-To” books, and gracias de Dio for Google Translate.  After hitting the ATM, I finally found out what it feels like to be a billionaire.  (A Coke costs around 5,000 Colombian pesos. 10,000 COP is around $3.15 U.S.)  It took awhile to get the conversion thing figured out.  We had planned to do some hiking/touring inland from Santa Marta (hereafter SM), so we checked out the tour operators in town.  We settled on “Magic Tours,” and booked a day trip to the small village of Minca, located up in the mountains around an hour from SM.  It seemed like a good way to check out their operation before booking our big trips with them.

The next morning, our driver was at the marina gate.  We drove through the narrow streets of SM, congested with cars, motorbikes, bicycles, and yes, horse and mule-drawn wagons.  It took me about 5 minutes to realize that renting a car and driving in this snarl of apparent traffic anarchy was TOTALLY OUT OF THE QUESTION.  Nonetheless, we popped out the other side and made our way up the serpentine road to Minca.  So what’s in Minca? Not much.  Some small farms, growing coffee and cacao and some small hostels.  It’s known as a hub for backpackers and trekkers, and there are scads of them there.  Suz and I were definitely the oldest non-locals by 30 years.  What’d we do there?  We met our guide, Andrea and our 5 fellow walkers.  Our first walk was to a small coffee plantation, where we stopped and had some killer coffee.  One of our companions was a Brit who didn’t like coffee, so they brewed her a cup of Coca tea.  We also learned that only the indigenous men, not women, chewed coca.  It is legal to grow and smoke marijuana in your home, but not in public, nor is it legal to sell it.  Oh….the useful information tangents that we get off on. After the coffee farm, we hiked for another 2 hours to a small waterfall, where we cooled off under the rushing water.  From there, it was another hour or so to Andrea’s dad’s house on the side of the mountain, where he cooked us a wonderful lunch followed by some cacao drinks. Besides the ignominious moment when Yours Truly slipped off the bridge comprised of 2 bamboo poles spanning the creek, the hour long walk back to the village was uneventful.  I really thought that the least one of my companions could do was follow me in to the drink, or at least suppress their laughter, but no.  It wasn’t to be.  Ego severely bruised, but ankles unharmed (although rather soggy) I trudged (squishelly) down the jungle path.  Our ride arrived, and we decided we’d stick with Magic Tours for our next outings.

The Santa Marta marina is right in the center of town, so walking access is very easy.  Before it gets too hot, our routine has been to put a few miles on and explore.  After our Minca experience, we headed back to Magic with Mike and Sue in tow, to book our hike to Ciudad Perdida (The Lost City).  It’s said to be a pretty strenuous hike, so we’ve been trying to get some walks in before, even though we know that we won’t be able to get in shape walking on the flat at sea level.  We’ve got our trek scheduled to begin the Monday after Easter.  We’ll keep you posted.  If you want, you can check out The Lost City at:  https://ciudadperdida.co/

Lotsa stuff here in SM, so I’ll talk at ya

-Luego

Adios, Curacao!

As usual, leaving a comfy berth and heading into an unfamiliar one was kind of a Yin/Yang thing.  On the one hand, we had seen what we wanted to see on Curacao, but the familiar routine was comfortable.  On the other, the prospect of visiting a new island was exciting, but would we really like it?

We decided to shorten the trip by 20 miles, so we obtained an anchoring permit, allowing us to move north up the west coast of Curacao and anchor overnight in Santa Kruz Bay before heading west to Aruba.  The Girl was off the dock at Santa Barbara Plantation at 09h00 and had the anchor down (for the first time) in Santa Kruz by 12h30.  A guy in a tourist snorkel boat comes by and tells me we NEED to leave.  We’re right where he takes his snorkelers to the sunken boat nearby.  Well…..ask me-it’s all good.  Tell me…..we may have an issue. I told him that his snorkelers were welcome to swim near our boat-no problem.  He didn’t like that idea, and as he motored off, he let me know that he’d be back “Motherf#$@r!”.  The Admiral and I didn’t like the idea of sleeping with one eye open, so when he was out of sight, we moved over a hundred feet.  Before dinner, we had a visit from the Coast Guard, as the lady issuing our anchoring permit suggested we might.  They boarded us, checked our papers (which were all in order), and bade us good night.  We were up, and the lines were out by 06h45.  In 15 minutes, the drought was over.  We had a nice 34” Mahi in the cooler, and life was good.  No bites the rest of the trip.  The seas were predicted to be 3’-5’, they were actually 2’-4- all the way over, and we got a nice push from the current.  Aruba Customs and Immigration was a breeze.  After the paperwork, an officer came on board, exchanged pleasantries and sent us off.  The marina was a couple miles away.  We motored over and Med-moored (stern in, bow tied to a mooring) against the wall just inside the jetty with the help of a dockhand in a dinghy and one on the dock.

The dude from “Carvenience” picked us up at 09h30 the next morning, took us back to his office and we were in business with our rental by 11h00.  The first order of business was to find a battery for our engine starting, as our current (no pun intended) one was darn near dead.  Budget Marine had one size 8D in stock, so one boat unit ($1K) poorer, and one battery richer, we were almost good to go.  Almost, because the battery box for said behemoth (156 pounds) has about 20” of clearance above it and is situated at about chest height when you’re kneeling in front of it.  Jair, the manager at Budget said “No problem, I’ll come over after work and put it in for you and take out and dispose of the old one”.  He said that he was really strong, shouldn’t be a problem, but I had my doubts.  The last time that we changed batteries, we got 3 football players from Florida Central to do the honors.  Suz and I managed to get it out of the trunk and down to the dock, then on to the stern of the Girl with the help of a dock hand.  At 18h30, Jair and his wife, Natasha show up, and he’s ready to go.  He couldn’t get the battery down the ladder into the engine room, but this wasn’t MY first rodeo.  I had the salon floor ready to pull up, so we took out the floor panels and lowered the unit into the engine room with ropes, while Suzanne was down below, steering.  That was the easy part.  Now, the battery had to be lifted into the battery box that is tucked back in the corner.  Let’s just say that it took a half hour or so of noodling different ways to get the job done without result.  In the end, pride was the solution.  He said he was strong, he said that he could do it, and by Gosh, he wasn’t going to be humiliated.  Up and in.  We spent the next hour or so chatting with Jair and Natasha about their daughter, Bella, who is an autistic savant.  She was talking by age one, reading before 2, knew several languages before age 5 (self-taught), and is a whiz at math. Of course, we were fascinated and mostly just listened intently while they described their now 14 year old’s exploits.  It seems that her extraordinary talents are balanced against some behavioral issues and present quite a challenge for both her teachers and parents.  We meet some pretty interesting people in our travels. 

James and Pam, aboard “LoveZur” (Thanksgiving dinner in Antigua- 2017), were in a slip around six boats down from us.  After being in Aruba for 7 months, they knew the drill.  Over cocktails, they read us in.  We knew what groceries to buy at which stores, what day of the week that they stocked, Senior discount day, etc.  They told us about the facilities at the two Renaissance Hotels where we had privileges etc. and etc. The island of Aruba is fairly small, so it’s pretty easy to cover the high points in a week.  We drove from the Dutch military base in the south to the California Lighthouse in the north.  We visited the beaches and the “Hotel Zone” on the west (Leeward) coast to the rock-strewn east (windward) shore.  We climbed to the highest point, Mt. Hooiberg and signed up with “Mermaid Divers” to explore the depths. James and Pam hadn’t done much exploring, as he had been dealing with some now-resolved health issues, so we dragged them along on a couple of our jaunts.  Compared to the “B” and “C” of the ABC islands, Aruba is super touristy (like athleticism-Is that really a word?).  Anyway, we hit the tourist spots.  My favorite was the butterfly farm-I had never been to one before, and our guide imparted some fascinating facts about the life and times of butterflies.

We got our boat chores done. I needed to fabricate some attachments for the terminals on our new battery, as the new one wasn’t quite the same as the old one.  It took a little time to find the parts that I needed, but a picture of the final result garnered a “Nice” from Scotty, our “Master of All Things Krogen” guru back in the States. We had also developed a fuel line leak when leaving Curacao the week before. Jair put me in touch with a local guy, Roberto, who made up a new hose patterned after the one that I removed.  Nothing’s ever easy.  The new one leaked at the other end, and I ended up replacing some flared fittings (Also supplied by Roberto) before the Girl was leak-free.  Sheesh!

Okay.  You know the plan.  We are staying in Aruba for a couple of weeks. Wait for a weather window.  Go to Colombia.  It’s been windy as all get out for weeks, with seas to match.  We’re laying in bed the morning of Thursday, the 28th and Suzanne busts out with “I’ve been watching the weather for the route to Colombia for a month or so, trying to figure out a pattern.  The offshore high in the western Caribbean is contracting right now.  It’s too bad that we aren’t leaving today.”  Well…….’Nuff said.  Aruba wasn’t really our cuppa tea.  By 09h00 we had called the marina at Santa Marta.  Yep, they had room for us.  Reservation made.  Told Hans and crew at Renaissance “You know that month’s berthing that we paid in advance……?” New bill computed, refund made by 12h00.  Rental car? “Okay if we bring it back a day early?”  Check.  Mexican rice casserole, Tuna salad, carrot and celery sticks cut (for the ride) Ditto.  Guest stateroom (It’s midship-quieter and less motion while underway) bed made.  We were off the dock at 16h30.  Had to show up at Customs in person and with boat, so a 45 minute ride in the wrong direction to take care of that bit of business. We were enroute to Colombia forty minutes ahead of schedule.  Sunset.  Dinner.  I am off to bed and Suzanne will take the first 6 hour watch, so I’ll talk at ya….

-Later

Adios, Curacao!

As usual, leaving a comfy berth and heading into an unfamiliar one was kind of a Yin/Yang thing.  On the one hand, we had seen what we wanted to see on Curacao, but the familiar routine was comfortable.  On the other, the prospect of visiting a new island was exciting, but would we really like it?

We decided to shorten the trip by 20 miles, so we obtained an anchoring permit, allowing us to move north up the west coast of Curacao and anchor overnight in Santa Kruz Bay before heading west to Aruba.  The Girl was off the dock at Santa Barbara Plantation at 09h00 and had the anchor down (for the first time) in Santa Kruz by 12h30.  A guy in a tourist snorkel boat comes by and tells me we NEED to leave.  We’re right where he takes his snorkelers to the sunken boat nearby.  Well…..ask me-it’s all good.  Tell me…..we may have an issue. I told him that his snorkelers were welcome to swim near our boat-no problem.  He didn’t like that idea, and as he motored off, he let me know that he’d be back “Motherf#$@r!”.  The Admiral and I didn’t like the idea of sleeping with one eye open, so when he was out of sight, we moved over a hundred feet.  Before dinner, we had a visit from the Coast Guard, as the lady issuing our anchoring permit suggested we might.  They boarded us, checked our papers (which were all in order), and bade us good night.  We were up, and the lines were out by 06h45.  In 15 minutes, the drought was over.  We had a nice 34” Mahi in the cooler, and life was good.  No bites the rest of the trip.  The seas were predicted to be 3’-5’, they were actually 2’-4- all the way over, and we got a nice push from the current.  Aruba Customs and Immigration was a breeze.  After the paperwork, an officer came on board, exchanged pleasantries and sent us off.  The marina was a couple miles away.  We motored over and Med-moored (stern in, bow tied to a mooring) against the wall just inside the jetty with the help of a dockhand in a dinghy and one on the dock.

The dude from “Carvenience” picked us up at 09h30 the next morning, took us back to his office and we were in business with our rental by 11h00.  The first order of business was to find a battery for our engine starting, as our current (no pun intended) one was darn near dead.  Budget Marine had one size 8D in stock, so one boat unit ($1K) poorer, and one battery richer, we were almost good to go.  Almost, because the battery box for said behemoth (156 pounds) has about 20” of clearance above it and is situated at about chest height when you’re kneeling in front of it.  Jair, the manager at Budget said “No problem, I’ll come over after work and put it in for you and take out and dispose of the old one”.  He said that he was really strong, shouldn’t be a problem, but I had my doubts.  The last time that we changed batteries, we got 3 football players from Florida Central to do the honors.  Suz and I managed to get it out of the trunk and down to the dock, then on to the stern of the Girl with the help of a dock hand.  At 18h30, Jair and his wife, Natasha show up, and he’s ready to go.  He couldn’t get the battery down the ladder into the engine room, but this wasn’t MY first rodeo.  I had the salon floor ready to pull up, so we took out the floor panels and lowered the unit into the engine room with ropes, while Suzanne was down below, steering.  That was the easy part.  Now, the battery had to be lifted into the battery box that is tucked back in the corner.  Let’s just say that it took a half hour or so of noodling different ways to get the job done without result.  In the end, pride was the solution.  He said he was strong, he said that he could do it, and by Gosh, he wasn’t going to be humiliated.  Up and in.  We spent the next hour or so chatting with Jair and Natasha about their daughter, Bella, who is an autistic savant.  She was talking by age one, reading before 2, knew several languages before age 5 (self-taught), and is a whiz at math. Of course, we were fascinated and mostly just listened intently while they described their now 14 year old’s exploits.  It seems that her extraordinary talents are balanced against some behavioral issues and present quite a challenge for both her teachers and parents.  We meet some pretty interesting people in our travels. 

James and Pam, aboard “LoveZur” (Thanksgiving dinner in Antigua- 2017), were in a slip around six boats down from us.  After being in Aruba for 7 months, they knew the drill.  Over cocktails, they read us in.  We knew what groceries to buy at which stores, what day of the week that they stocked, Senior discount day, etc.  They told us about the facilities at the two Renaissance Hotels where we had privileges etc. and etc. The island of Aruba is fairly small, so it’s pretty easy to cover the high points in a week.  We drove from the Dutch military base in the south to the California Lighthouse in the north.  We visited the beaches and the “Hotel Zone” on the west (Leeward) coast to the rock-strewn east (windward) shore.  We climbed to the highest point, Mt. Hooiberg and signed up with “Mermaid Divers” to explore the depths. James and Pam hadn’t done much exploring, as he had been dealing with some now-resolved health issues, so we dragged them along on a couple of our jaunts.  Compared to the “B” and “C” of the ABC islands, Aruba is super touristy (like athleticism-Is that really a word?).  Anyway, we hit the tourist spots.  My favorite was the butterfly farm-I had never been to one before, and our guide imparted some fascinating facts about the life and times of butterflies.

We got our boat chores done. I needed to fabricate some attachments for the terminals on our new battery, as the new one wasn’t quite the same as the old one.  It took a little time to find the parts that I needed, but a picture of the final result garnered a “Nice” from Scotty, our “Master of All Things Krogen” guru back in the States. We had also developed a fuel line leak when leaving Curacao the week before. Jair put me in touch with a local guy, Roberto, who made up a new hose patterned after the one that I removed.  Nothing’s ever easy.  The new one leaked at the other end, and I ended up replacing some flared fittings (Also supplied by Roberto) before the Girl was leak-free.  Sheesh!

Okay.  You know the plan.  We are staying in Aruba for a couple of weeks. Wait for a weather window.  Go to Colombia.  It’s been windy as all get out for weeks, with seas to match.  We’re laying in bed the morning of Thursday, the 28th and Suzanne busts out with “I’ve been watching the weather for the route to Colombia for a month or so, trying to figure out a pattern.  The offshore high in the western Caribbean is contracting right now.  It’s too bad that we aren’t leaving today.”  Well…….’Nuff said.  Aruba wasn’t really our cuppa tea.  By 09h00 we had called the marina at Santa Marta.  Yep, they had room for us.  Reservation made.  Told Hans and crew at Renaissance “You know that month’s berthing that we paid in advance……?” New bill computed, refund made by 12h00.  Rental car? “Okay if we bring it back a day early?”  Check.  Mexican rice casserole, Tuna salad, carrot and celery sticks cut (for the ride) Ditto.  Guest stateroom (It’s midship-quieter and less motion while underway) bed made.  We were off the dock at 16h30.  Had to show up at Customs in person and with boat, so a 45 minute ride in the wrong direction to take care of that bit of business. We were enroute to Colombia forty minutes ahead of schedule.  Sunset.  Dinner.  I am off to bed and Suzanne will take the first 6 hour watch, so I’ll talk at ya….

-Later

 

 

Goedenmiddag,

Well….I’m still playin’ catchup, ‘cause I was playinhookie for months. I took some editorial liberties with the Bonaire and Curacao visits.  We visited both islands twice.  Bonaire #1 was from October 4th-December 5th.  Curacao #1 from December 5th-January 31rst.  Bonaire #2 from January 31rst-February 27th.  Curacao #2 from February 27th-March 21rst.  Sooo….we had nearly 6 months split between the 2 islands.

For the sake of brevity(?), some stuff was omitted:

The kids’ visits

The flu (or whatever-we had our shots) that put both of us down in bed for a week when we returned to Bonaire after Jeremy and Jodi’s wedding. (Yep!!!)  My cough is still hanging on nearly 2 months later.

Many memorable dive trips

More great restaurants

Lotsa fun with John and Paulette

Gulp! Mea Culpa, Mea Culpa, Mea Maxima Culpa!

-Sooner

Goedemorgen,

Well….it’s always nice to get a quick and dirty overview of a new location. The Admiral found an outfit that offered tuktuk tours of Willemstad, so the day after we arrived, we Tucks were tucked in the back of a tuktuk with our new friend Nigel at the wheel.  At 6’ 8”, Nigel hadn’t fit the profile of former tuktuk drivers in southeast Asia, but after he folded himself in, he was one with the machine.  We spent a couple of hours together, seeing the sights, learning some history, and ugh! talking politics. It was a blast.  Note to selves… “Schedule tuktuk tours for the kids.”

Our favorite tour director, Paulette scheduled a dive trip for us with Go West Diving out at Westpunt, the western end of the island.  Marilyn and Steve, friends of John and Paulette’s from 2 other boats joined in, and we car-a-vanned out to west end.  We did 2 boat dives on the dive boat, captained by one certifiably crazy captain-they were delightful.  Of course, you can’t do an outing with J&P without food.  We had a late lunch at Playa Forti restaurant, located on a cliff overlooking the azure blue Caribbean sea. Second note to selves... “The kids will love this restaurant.”  By the way, there was a nice little bay near the restaurant where the fishermen cleaned their fish and threw the offal into the water.  Yuck?  Well no, not really.  The turtles were always present in droves.  The chance of seeing a turtle was 100%.  (third note to selves).

I’m pretty sure that I mentioned that we were moored in the entrance to a large lagoon called Spanish Waters.  The several square mile lagoon made for great exploration, both by kayak and dinghy (cocktail cruises). Literally, 100’s of boats were either moored or berthed in there.

More tourist stuff. We toured the Aloe farm and the Curaloe product manufacturing facility, a commercial Ostrich farm, and the ChiChi studio (Serena’s Art Factory).  Gotta check out the fat lady figurines at:  https://chichi-curacao.com/

“De Koksmaat,” a top-end kitchen supply store was a regular stop for us (you know us, hardware stores and kitchen shops). Owned by Monica and her husband Wilfried (a retired high-end caterer) had a small commercial kitchen in one corner. In this kitchen, he put on a weekly cooking demonstration, each week with a theme.  Wil would cook one course per hour for 4 hours from 1100-1400 every Saturday.  His philosophy was that great food needn’t be complicated to cook.  No, we didn’t hang out for 4 hours.  We’d show up for the last 2 courses, but by the time we left Curacao, he knew that we were coming, so he’d reserve a couple servings of the first 2 for us.  Oh yeah, we bought a few gadgets too.

We’re still looking for fun stuff to do when the kids arrive, so it was our duty to take a day trip out to Klein Curacao, a small island around 8 miles east of Curacao.  Although there are many operators who go there, the gang aboard “Blue Finn,” a 75’ catamaran came highly recommended.  We were rather familiar with the boat, as she came past our dock twice a day-early morning and late afternoon.  The boat had a great playlist and a killer sound system.  Looked like the crew was always having a good time.  It was a no-brainer.  They picked us up at the Girl, then we motored over to Jan Thiel, where we picked up the rest of the touristas.  We had a wonderful day, anchoring on the lee side of Klein.  We had time for a snorkel before lunch was served on the stern of Blue Finn. Afterwards, Suz and I walked this small coral islet to the lighthouse on the far side.  We climbed the lighthouse, snapped a few pics and checked out a shipwreck nearby.  A bit more swimming, then sailing back to Curacao with an open bar with a never-empty glass completed the day.  The Admiral and I decided that it probably wasn’t a great day for our soon-to-be 1 year old grandson or anyone that couldn’t/shouldn’t handle a day of extreme sun. Grandpa and Nanna (did I really say that?) had a great day, though.  (fourth note to Selves.)

Crikey!!  Christmas sure got here in a hurry!  We got the Girl all dolled up a couple days ahead of time.  Suz had her Flamingoes in their Christmas hats and driftwood Christmas tree inside, and I (a.k.a. Clark Griswald) had my strings of lights outside (on a timer, of course).  Off to the States to see the fam, John and Paulette kept an eye on our little ship.

Back from our Holiday foray to the States, it was time for the Pagara celebration.  Don’t ask me-I have no idea about the origin or the meaning of the festivities.  The high point is the lighting of millions (literally) of firecrackers in and around Curacao, with the majority taking place in the Petermaii district of Willemstad.  Strings of firecrackers, bound together in 8” diameter snakes up to a couple hundred meters long are laid out in the streets and lit on one end.  After 250,000 firecrackers have blown, you can’t see across the street the smoke is so thick.  Walking along and following the main fuse is painful, as unlit ‘crackers blown from the main bunch explode randomly in the smoldering ashes.  Okay, those are the big ones.  Smaller strings, maybe only 10,000 or so, are going off here, there, and everywhere for 4 days.  The strings on the sidewalks are setting off burglar alarms, the ones on busy streets and sidewalks are stopping traffic.  Stores pop up in empty locations selling nothing but firecrackers.  Hey, any excuse for a party.

Suz and I were interested in the “Coral Restoration Project,” so got up with Ruud, at his shop Atlantis divers.  There, he taught us how to clean the “trees” that he was growing coral on in the bay prior to transplanting it on the reef.  With the participation of many dive shops on Bonaire and Curacao, the intention of the project is to rejuvenate storm-damaged reefs.  The project is going well, as evidenced by the new patches of vital coral in many areas around the islands.  We visited him several times, cleaning algae off the PVC trees with toothbrushes and scouring pads.

Our kids, Jeremy and Alison are both certified divers, but neither had been diving for years.  We needed to find a place where they could do a refresher dive, and their non-diving spouses/kids could chill on the beach.  Enter Samantha.  We had met her and her partner,on our trip to Klein Curacao. They both worked at, and told us about a dive shop at Blue Bay.  Sounded ideal.  Suz and I road tripped there.  Nice sand beach, palapas, 2 restaurants.  Check.  (fifth note to selves).

Getting’ wordy…

-Later

Ola, Amigos

The thirty-five mile or so trip from Bonaire to Curacao is an easy one.  The wind and current is always at your back, thanks to the Trade Winds.  You (almost) don’t even need to check the weather, just throw a dart at the calendar and go.  Halfway across, we passed another Krogen 48 going the other way.  Chuck and Barb, aboard Tusen Tak were headed back to Bonaire from their seasonal haulout in Curacao for the 8th year.  They went to Bonaire 8 years ago, fell in love with the island and diving, and never left.  This’ll be their last year in Bonaire, as they’ll head back to the States, sell their boat, and R.V. around North America for the next few years.  We dragged lines all the way, and passed through several patches of water that were literally “boiling” with schools of feeding Tuna, but got nary a bite-Boo!  Our destination was Santa Barbara Plantation Resort.  A spot on their quarter-mile long floating dock in the channel leading into Spanish Water lagoon would be our home for the next couple months.  As we pulled alongside, our pals, John and Paulette aboard “Seamantha” were waiting to catch our lines.  Later, they whisked us off to Willemstad, a 30 minute drive, so that we could clear in with Customs and Immigration. Locating the offices would have been akin to the search for the Holy Grail on our own.  Each was on a different side of the harbor, and located amidst a warren of alleys and one-way streets.  It sure is nice to have friends like J & P.  We hadn’t seen them since Martinique back in May, so had plenty of catching up to do.  Paulette, like Suzanne, is a “research queen” and having been on Curacao for 6 months had a ton of local knowledge for us, right down to where to take our dry cleaning.

The resort hotel at Santa Barbara was our choice for the simple reason that both of our kids and their families were coming to visit us (at different times).  Our dock paralleled the sandy beach at the hotel, providing a nice sheltered place to swim.  We had 2 swimming pools and a “splash pad” at our disposal, as well as a fitness center and 3 restaurants (where we received a 20% discount).  If the boat got “too small”, we could always get a room at the hotel to overflow into.  The hotel is located within the Santa Barbara Plantation development, which covers 1,500 acres of the southeast end of Curacao.  There are paved roads with platted building lots covering a small portion of the acreage, but only 50 or so homes have actually been built.  So…….there is plenty of undeveloped “bush”, which makes for lots of hiking and mountain biking. We took maximum advantage of both opportunities.

We had a little adventure on one of our mountain bike treks.  Suz and I were heading down a dirt two-track through the bush on our way to a path we knew.  All of a sudden, a helicopter appears.  It is hovering at about 100’ of altitude, around 200 yards behind us, and sidling sideways, keeping pace with us, it’s gun door pointed toward us.  We had planned on stopping at a rifle range up ahead for a water break.  As we did, the helicopter stopped and hovered.  We figured that these military guys were just using us for practice until 3 white SUV’s roared up the track and positioned around us.  Flak jackets, semi-automatic weapons and faces as serious as a heart attack accompanied the guys that got out of the vehicles.  Hmmm.  “You guys coming up for some target practice?”  After a little discussion regarding who we were, where we came from, and why we were there, we were informed that it was “Not safe for you to be here”, and that we were to leave immediately.  Interesting.  We had been out here several times before, hiking and biking.  On the way home, we stopped at the Seru Boca marina and related our story to Robbie, the marina manager there.  Yep, he had gotten a call about us.  He told us that the military was looking for some Venezuelan illegals who had come ashore nearby, and that the troops should have told us instead of being so mysterious about it.

Besides hiking around our area, one morning we joined a local hiking group to a peak overlooking Pescaidera Bay. The hike was led by a naturalist who stopped along the way to identify and tell us about some of the local flora.  Although there weren’t many English speakers in the group, they were enjoyable to walk with.  Of course, a visit to an island without taking the guy who doesn’t like heights (Yours Truly) to the highest point wouldn’t be any fun at all.  We drove to the west end of the island to the national park there and scaled Mount Christoffel.  Most of that hike was an uphill on a reasonably wide path, but there were parts that traversed narrow (at least to me) ledges along drop-offs, ending with a short climb up the rocks at the end.  I had a hard time enjoying the view, as the Admiral scampered around the edges at the top snapping pics in a 20 knot breeze, because I was thinking about having to get down. (What a weenie!).

Shete Boka is another national park at the west end of Curacao.  It stretches for a couple of miles along the windward shore.  As is typical of the windward side, the land is very rocky and arid.  The sea can be wild, crashing in on the near vertical fossilized coral shore.  The park has dirt tracks which connect several scenic points along the shore, so each can be accessed by driving.  There are also hiking paths, so we had the chance to get around 10 km of walking in.  The wind was really blowing, and we got some good pictures at one of the bokas, where the waves were rolling in to this indentation in the rocks.  At another boka, a cave could be entered from the land, winding down to a small grotto which was open to the sea.  So much for staying dry, as every 10th wave crashed over the flimsy platform, leaving you crouching in 2 feet of water.  Another of the trails coursed inland, and up to a small promontory about a mile or so from the shore, giving us a totally different perspective.  We’d be back 2 more times, as both of our kids wanted to visit too.

Well then, that’s 1100 words, so let’s continue

-Later

 

Bon Tarde,

Here are the odds ‘n ends to wrap up Bonaire.

First, the couldabeena cruise ender.  I told you about the Ostracod night dive.  Suz and I came back to Alizann in the marina and were rinsing off our dive gear in the cockpit.  The wind was blowing offshore, and bringing with it a “chemical/electrical” burning smell.  Eagle nose mentioned it, I kept on rinsing.  A bit later….(well, let me say that the Admiral never uses that word unless seriously provoked).  I turned and saw that the electrical power cord entering our boat from the dock was completely melted where it entered the inlet.  The fiberglass above it was covered with a black plume of soot.  We hadn’t even unlocked the door into the salon, but when we did, the acrid smell was just a tad (yes, that’s sarcasm) stronger.  The back side of the power inlet is under the corner of our settee.  Also, under that space is a heat exchanger for our diesel furnace, the control for our cockpit winch, our power cord winch and its’ controls, assorted cabling for our stereo, and a 110V supply for an outlet.  I was afraid to pull off the cushions and remove the cover for the space.  When I did, I saw that the conduits and many of the wires had been reduced to a dripping mess (they looked like candle wax).  The backside of the power inlet had the consistency of that marshmallow that fell off the stick and into the fire at camp-black and easily crumbled by hand.  Soot covered everything, and the odor was intense.  The next compartments contained our non-perishable food.  Since our heating ducts pierced the bulkheads between them, the soot had permeated all cabinets up to and around the right angle 7 feet away.  We kinda lost our appetites, so spent the rest of the night trying to salvage what we could.  Suzanne pulled all the sooty labels off cans and jars, relabeling them with magic marker after washing every single one.  Every product in boxes came out.  Rice and flour went into Tupperware—You get the picture.

Now the postmortem.  We could have very easily lost our boat.  If you’ve ever seen a plastic boat on fire, you know EXACTLY what I mean.  Why did the fire self-extinguish?  All of our wire conduits are marine grade and self extinguishing (don’t cheap out with the Home Depot stuff).  I think that the presence of the cushions over the space caused the fire to oxygen-starve, as it must have all happened within seconds or less.  So, what caused this near-catastrophe and how could it have been avoided?  Okay, we all check the ends of our shorepower cords a couple times a day to make sure that they’re not warm (did that).  Routinely pull ends of cords apart to check for corrosion (do that).  Take apart power inlet to snug up screws and check for corrosion on the backside (got me on that one).  Unplug shorepower when leaving the boat.

The next week was spent ripping out old wiring and replacing, scrubbing, scrubbing, scrubbing, and applying 3 coats of paint, while the overlying, upholstered cushions lived in garbage bags containing baking soda.  Sunshine helped too.  Suz could still get a faint smell of smoke from the lockers-a 12V ozone generator from Amazon took care of the last bits.

As long as we’re on “Oopses,” here’s one for you.  Suzanne and I were doing a beach day at Coco Beach, just down the street from our marina.  It was a “No cruise ship” day, so we were nearly the only ones there.  We snagged a couple of lounge chairs under a shade and were peacefully reading our Kindle’s when I caught movement out of the corner of my eye.  I looked to my right while exclaiming to Suzanne that “That idiot is going to drive his jeep onto the beach!”  Whoa!  Nobody at the wheel.  The jeep careened over the foot-high seawall, across the 15-foot beach and straight into the water, where it stopped, hanging precariously on a rock ledge, it’s rear wheels in 2 feet of water, its front wheels hanging several feet off the bottom.  Every wave rocked the vehicle, threatening to pull it off the ledge into deeper water.  I yelled for the beach dudes working the bar.  Two of them tried to keep the car from slipping deeper, while I sent the third to fetch rope.  He came back with a clothesline.  “That’s all we got.”  “Dude, we need to tie this vehicle to the palm tree up there.  Go to “WannaDive,” they must have a longer, stouter rope.  Meanwhile, a beachwalker and a couple in scuba gear are on the scene, helping to hold the aspiring submarine.  I swear, the owner must’ve lived in his car, because life possessions, seat cushions, and last months garbage were all floating out.  Suzanne went into action, fishing crap(coke cans, bags of M&M, plastic bottles, etc) out of the water until the oil/gasoline slick chased her to the showers.  Yay!  Guy’s back with a real rope.  They get a line around the trailer hitch and we tie it to a palm tree on shore.  There’s been a guy watching the scene unfold from a distance.  A light goes on, and I walk over and ask him if it’s his jeep.  Yep.  I ask him if he’s called anyone to retrieve his car.  Well…. maybe later he’ll call a friend.  Even though I remind him of the ecological damage he’s causing, he seems unconcerned, As I’m calling the authorities, he melts away.  The cops never came, but I called STINAPA, the managers of the national Marine Park, and within a half hour they had a crew and a pickup truck on site fishing out the mess.

 

I mentioned that there’s no anchoring anywhere around Bonaire.  When we arrived, all 42 moorings were occupied, so the marina was our only choice.  (By the way, if you’re headed to Bonaire, make a marina reservation as the moorings are first come first serve-no reservations).  Many of the moorings were occupied by participants in a large sailboat rally slated to leave Curacao several weeks hence.  Nonetheless, when we passed by the mooring field on our way to dive, we would notice several new boats in the field every day.  Finally got the memo from some sailing friends that we met there.  The grapevine knows who’s leaving and who needs a mooring.  The minute that a mooring is vacated (or before if the incoming boat ties their dinghy to the mooring), the ball is re-occupied.  A few weeks in, we had met enough friends that we were now part of the grapevine.  The day that we moved out onto a mooring, we had 3 choices.  Well……. that night was an adventure.  We had a wind shift, then the wind died (unheard of), and we found ourselves literally on top of our neighbor boat.  They were very gracious, but I stayed up all night fending off their boat so they could sleep.  The next morning, we were back to the marina, but not before calling our new friends, Dennis and Karen, stuck on their sailing catamaran “Toes in the Water,” in the marina.  They popped out and snatched our mooring as they were a few feet shorter than Alizann.  It only took a day or 2 for the grapevine to get us out onto a ball with more swinging room.  And……. we could dive right off the stern of the boat.

Thanksgiving was closing in on us fast, so Suz got a feast organized.  She and Karen from “Toes in the Water” started working on the menu while we decided on the guest list.  We ended up with Karen and Dennis, Dan and Roseann (our morning water aerobics pal) from “Exit strategy”, and a couple of their friends who we had over for dinner but never saw again so don’t expect me to remember their names.  The Admiral/Chef outdid herself.  Roast turkey, mashed potatoes (of course), homemade bread, cranberry/citrus salad, sweet potatoes, ambrosia, pumpkin pie and Hooch (yeah their was a bit of alcohol in it) pie.  Wine from Martinique (France) helped wash down the goodies from apps to the main course, while liqueurs chased dessert.

Okay, that’s it-off to Curacao.

-Later

Hey There

So…..Whadja do on Bonaire?

You got the diving part-lots of it.

After dives on Klein (Little) Bonaire, accessible only by boat, we’d stop at the sandy beach there.  I’d drop the Admiral and our beach shelter on the shore, take the dinghy out to a mooring and swim in.  Did I mention that anchoring anywhere around Bonaire or Klein Bonaire is strictly forbidden?  Well, it’s a good thing.  Keeps the reefs from being destroyed by anchors and chains.  Picnic lunches, reading, napping and floating on our swim noodles was the extent of our activities on Klein.

Flamingoes are a big attraction on Bonaire, which fulfills all of the requirements for an ideal Flamingo breeding habitat.  About 2,500 of the Southern Caribbean’s 50,000 Flamingoes reside on Bonaire.  The population can rise as high as 7,000 as the birds fly regularly between Curacao, Venezuela and Bonaire.  Flamingoes are the only filter feeders in the bird kingdom.  They stand in shallow water, tilting their heads upside down while stirring up the mud on the bottom with their feet.  This they draw into their mouths where their tongues, acting like a plunger forces the muddy water through lamellae on the bill, filtering out small edible bits of plant and animal matter.  We spent a fair bit of time, both on the North, and South ends of the island, where salty ponds supported flocks of these colorful guys.  By the way, the adults are pink from the betacarotene in the animals that they eat.  The juveniles start changing from white to pink as their diet transitions from herbivorous to carnivorous.  The Papiamento word for Flamingo is “Chogogo.”

The Yellow Shouldered Amazon Parrot is a bird whose habitat is primarily in Bonaire and Venezuela.  The population of these birds on Bonaire has been decimated by poaching (they’re beautiful birds, and in high demand as pets) and loss of habitat.  Fortunately, it is now illegal to own Yellow Shoulder’d’s in Bonaire.  Echo Bonaire is a facility dedicated to “Conserving the endangered Yellow Shouldered Parrot of Bonaire through conservation management, local community engagement and research.”  Suzanne and I visited the facility and received a tour from its’ director Julianka.  We visited the cages where injured and confiscated birds were being rehabilitated-over 75 parrots and 100 Brown-Throated Parakeets have been returned to the wild.  She also showed us their nursery, where plants are grown to reforest areas of the island as parrot habitats.  Some 85 acres have already been created, and fenced off to keep invasive herbivores (feral pigs, goats and donkeys) out.  We told Julianka that we’d be at the northwest coast the following Saturday where more trees were to be planted.   If you want to know more, check out www.echobonaire.org.

Okay, so let’s talk about the donkeys of Bonaire.  They were originally left here by the Spaniards who visited the islands briefly in the early 1600’s, before moving on to the South American mainland in their quest for gold.  (In fact, the Spaniards labelled these the “Islas Inutiles”- The useless islands, as they lacked any sources of gold).  The feral donkeys have become a real problem, as they are responsible for wreaking havoc with all edible vegetation.  Car/donkey confrontations are also a real problem.  Enter “The Bonaire Donkey Sanctuary,” whose “primary objective is to offer a sheltered, protected life to all the donkeys of Bonaire.”  The sanctuary covers around 400 acres (I think) near the airport on the south end of Bonaire.  Sick and wounded donkeys are brought there from elsewhere on the island.  They are then nursed to health and housed for the rest of their lives.  The Sanctuary also participated in a program to castrate males in the wild to control population (Until the “animal rights” folks got involved and put a stop to this humane way of controlling the population-ed.)  We visited the Sanctuary by truck.  Driving through the habitat with a bag of raw carrots provided for some interesting pictures.  Want more?  https://donkeysanctuary.org

Ever drink a cactus?  The Cadushy (cactus) Distillery will give you a chance to do so.  This small distillery formulates several liqueurs from a sustainable crop (they collect cactus on the roadside).  Their distillation apparatus is TINY and looks like it could have come straight from your uncle’s place in the hills of North Carolina.  It took about 10 minutes for the tour, a half hour for the tasting.  I think that the stuff is an acquired taste, but hey, we were here, we hadda do it.

Alleta has a goat farm in the middle of the island where she raises milking goats.  She makes and sells feta cheese, goat milk, and goat milk yoghurt.  What started out as a hobby has morphed into a full-time (although definitely on a shoestring budget) business.  We had a chance to milk goats and play with some babies which had been born several weeks earlier.  They were the cutest, and we got some good pictures.

We decided that we needed a quiet “Beach Day.”  Remembering “Sorobon” resort from our outing at Lac Bai, we figured that renting a cabana on the beach there would be a perfect way to chill on the water while staying out of the sun.  (Neither of us can afford a lot of time sunbathing these days.)  At Sorobon, a small exclusive resort, the pamper factor is high.  The palm-thatched bar afforded cold drinks and a delicious lunch while the windsurfers on the bay provided entertainment.

Regatta week in Bonaire brings sailors from all over the islands to participate in the races.  It also creates a mess on the reef that parallels the shore road in Kralendijk.  The Monday after the festivities ended, we joined around 100 other divers for a reef cleanup.  In all, we pulled a bit more than half a large dumpster of bottles, cans, and other assorted trash off the bottom.  “Thanks for the help” came in the form of a barbeque dinner at “Dive Friends” resort.  Suz and I won two reuseable grocery bags in the raffle-Wahoo!  

Every couple months or so, (I really never figured out a schedule, think they do it when the spirit moves) a park ranger leads a hike which involves climbing Mount Brandaris, the highest peak on Bonaire.  The hike is timed so that the sun is setting just about the time that you reach the summit.  The view for 360 degrees is nothing short of incredible.  Being that the first half mile down would be a scramble down a scree-covered face and a foot-in-front-of-foot on narrow ledges, Yours Truly who doesn’t really care for heights was just a tad concerned as the sun went down.  As I crouched low and sweated every step, Admiral Mountaingoat nursed me along.  It was pitch dark by the time we got back to “Jason” our trusty little Toyota Hilux truck.  It was an incredible experience, and being in the park after closing felt like a taste of forbidden fruit.

The majority of the slaves on the island worked on the salt pans in the south.  You may be aware that salt was the major (sustainable)  export from Bonaire for many decades.  In fact thousands of tons are still exported by the Cargill Corporation to this day.  Production goes like this:  seawater is pumped into huge holding ponds where it is allowed to evaporate, leaving sea salt behind.  Back in the day, this salt was harvested and transported to waiting ships by slave labor.  As you may imagine, this was back-breaking work, and the sunlight glaring off the snow white salt often resulted in blindness for the workers there.  Nowadays all operations are mechanized.  After working 6 days in the pans, the slaves made the 8 mile trek to Rincon, where many of their families lived, to receive their weeks food rations at the King’s warehouse there.  After a day off, it was an 8 mile trek back to the salt pans for another week.

The King’s warehouse now contains a cultural museum which is well worth the stop.  After visiting the museum, Suzanne and I returned on the last Saturday of the month for the cultural market.  Not many tourists, but the locals turn out in force for food, music and activities for all ages.

Okay, that’s it for now.  More adventures…..

-Later

 

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Captain's Log

Buenos Dias,

Touchdown in Panama at 20h00.  Customs was non-existent, which took a load off as we had lots of small, but expensive boat parts intermingled with our clothes in all 4 duffle bags.  Olmero was waiting out front, and we soon were off to Shelter Bay.  The new bridge over the canal had been completed in our absence, and the 2-hour trip was cut by 40 minutes.  The fact that we had arrived after the horrendous Panama City rush hour didn’t hurt either.  The sense of relief that you experience at the end of a long trip soon dissipated.  The hotel/restaurant office was closed for the night.  While Olmero got busy dialing, I checked the boaters lounge.  The A/C wasn’t working, but the couches were not occupied.  Looked like we at least had a place to sleep.  By the time that I got back to Suz, Olmero had located the hotel manager, we got our key and were good to go.

The next week was truly all work and no play.  The morning of the 1st, we checked on the Girl, who had been moved from the secure storage area (surrounded by a 12’ fence topped with razor wire, and occupied by 3 “Junkyard Dogs”) to the work yard.  Alizann had fared well.  A fair bit of mold and algae on the outside, but inside she looked and smelled sweet.  Our favorite marine tech and pal, Scotty was flying in from the States the next day, so we got things ready for an efficient visit.  All the tools and toolboxes were brought up from their homes in the engine room, bow thruster props were removed, the washer/dryer was moved to the companionway to facilitate access to the top of the stabilizers, and etc.  Earlier in the Summer, we had shipped a pallet of stuff including our new Lithium batteries from the States.  We located it in a storage bin, and spent an afternoon taking inventory and stowing our new goodies.  It was like Christmas in October.  We reestablished contact with Demaso (Recommended by a cruiser at Shelter Bay), confirming that he would start work sanding and painting Alizann’s bottom on the 4th.

Olmero picked Scotty up, he arrived just after noon, and by 1330 we were off to the races.  Stabilizers off, oil drained, seals replaced, everything cleaned and put back together by 22h00.  I won’t bore you with the details, but it was up at 06h00 and work until after dark for the next week.  Demaso arrived with his boys as scheduled, which was a relief to me, as we had wired him several boat units ($1K) before ever meeting him.  That relationship was not without drama as we went back and forth regarding materials specified, materials delivered, work quality and etc.  He didn’t speak a word of English, and Google Translate didn’t work worth squat for the local vernacular.  Scotty is a machine, fueled by Coca Cola and peanut M&M’s.  We finished the list and many other projects.  By the time he was scheduled to leave, I have to admit I was slap wore out.  We got the Girl back into the water without a lot of drama, and back to our old slip, D42.  As we were tying up we got a reminder to not swim in the marina as a 7’ Crocodile glided past.  It was so nice to move back aboard and sleep in our own bed again.    Still plenty of work to be done before heading out, but there was light at the end of the tunnel.  I put a new control module in our icemaker (found one for $80 in the home appliance parts website, whereas the boat part dudes listed the same part for around $200.  I love part numbers and the internet).  We now have ice.  Recommissioned the watermaker-it’s only making around 22 gal/hr, instead of the nearly 29 that it’s rated at.  Could be that water temperature is a factor, could be that I’ll have to put in new membranes next year.  I’ll send our specs to Spectra (our watermaker brand) and see what the techs there have to say.

The cupboards were bare, so it was time for the next adventure-provisioning.  We tried our luck on the free shuttle bus to Colon, and did pretty well at “Cuatros Alto” Mall.  The meat at the Rey supermarket looked somewhat suspect, so we limited our purchases to a few pounds.  Although Colon is the largest city on the Caribbean side of the Canal, its population is generally very poor, and the stock in the grocery store reflects this demographic.  Our friend, and long-term inhabitant of Shelter Bay Marina (1.75 years and counting), Spencer was renting a van for a run into Panama City, so several of us chipped in and we were off on an all-day shopping extravaganza.  He knew the city like the back of his hand, and was taking requests.  Suz needed an Alcatel hot spot and some SIM cards (our Google Fi phones didn’t work well in the San Blas islands).  The phones in the U.S. generally don’t use Band 28 which is more or less ubiquitous in many other countries.  Don’t ask me-that’s the Admirals’ job, and she gathered info from various sources for 6 months before arriving at this decision.  She had been in contact with a guy who spoke English at the phone store at Albrook Mall.  He got a hotspot and told her that he’d be in to help her set it up.  Yay!  This is a whole ‘nother story, but the Mall is the largest in Central and South America (It’s over a mile long, and several stories high-people literally take a cab to get from one end to the other)  Spencer knew exactly which entrance to use, and 40 minutes later, we had the goods and were headed to our next stop.  We hit a couple of marine chandleries, the Casa de Jamon (for gourmet foods-they had 20 or so Serano hams hanging in one area), the Discovery Center (beyond description-kinda like a cross between Home Depot, Walmart, and Bed, Bath and Beyond.  You could find everything from power tools to tampons).  Next, it was time to do some serious provisioning.  PriceSmart-Panama City’s equivalent to Costco.  Of course, Spencer had a membership, so it was “Katie bar the doors.”  We rounded out the day and provisions at a regular grocery store(Riba Smith), which was considerably more upscale than the one in Colon.  Eleven hours after we started, we were back home, and filling Alizann.  The deck fridge wasn’t working-#@%&!!.  I had turned it on several days earlier, and heard the compressor kick on, so I ASSUMED that everything was copacetic.  We jammed everything in the galley fridges and icemaker and hit the sack.  Suz spent most of the next day breaking down large packages and vacuum sealing their contents in smaller aliquots.  I thought that the control module in the freezer was shot (as it had been at Atlantic Yacht Basin after storing a few years ago), but after a bit of troubleshooting, discovered that it was just a cooling fan.  (Which had a feedback loop to the module-making it wonky.)  Off to the Alizann hardware store.  Yep-behind the corner settee in the salon there lived not one, but two 6” computer fans.  An hour later, we had cold.

We were getting closer to being outta there when Windows alerted us that there was a new update that needed installing.  No problem-4 computers updated.  Sonofagun!  The Nav computer (You know the one-it has 2 programs of navigation software, our secondary radar and all of our routes and waypoints on it) wouldn’t even boot up Windows.  This looked like it was going to be a big one, so I started another project.  Two full days later, after Suzanne had burned up the phone with Scotty and Rose Point Navigation’s techs, she had reinstalled Windows, repaired a Com port, found our radar and resurrected some vocabulary from her archives that I haven’t heard escape from her lips in many years (maybe since our eldest was a teenager).  She also now had LED lights in all of her kitchen cabinets, activated by switches on the doors.

Weather looking good for an overnighter to the Bocas del Toro archipelago west of Colon, the Girl is shipshape, so we’ll head out a little…

-Later

A belated Buenos Dias,

It’s like that “Thank You” note that doesn’t get sent right away.  The longer you wait, the harder it is to send it.  Well……I hope that you’ll accept my apologies for the 100th time.  Your recalcitrant, writer-blocked, tongue -tied, lazy blogger is back.  Sheesh!....we’ve already been to the States and back.  Rainy season will end in a month or so, but we’re already on the move.

To recap:

               Departed Hollandes on the 31st of May for a 2-hour run to East Lemmon Cay, where we helped a lady with a severe toothache sort out her medication regimen, and explored on the dinghy for a possible future stay.

               Off to Chichime, where we wedged into a very crowded anchorage.  We did a bit of snorkeling, but never went to shore as it really wasn’t very appealing to us.

               The 4th of June saw us leaving the San Blas archipelago.  We were now on a mission to get to Shelter Bay Marina in Colon, the Girls’ rainy season home.  We anchored in Linton Bay, on Panama’s mainland.  It is a very busy little outpost, with a huge mooring field and a small marina.  The whole place looked like it needed a lotta love (and money).

               Next stop was Portobelo, a port and small town, also on the mainland.  We stayed a couple of days, anchored beneath the ruins of an old Spanish fort.  Being a vital port in the Spanish “Triangle of Trade” (Consisting of Santa Maria, Portobello, and Rio Chagres), used to extract the vast quantities of precious metals from South and Central America, it was a juicy target for pirates.  Among others, Henry Morgan had sacked and burned the town.  We explored the ruins and also the town of Portobelo on the other side of the bay.  There, we also got our first glimpses of the “Diablo” buses-ornately decorated school bus-type vehicles which made regular runs between Panama City, Portobelo and Colon.  The paint jobs were crazy.  A visit to the Iglesia de San Felipe was a must, as the statue of the “Black Christ” was ensconced there.  Scores of miracles are attributed to the statue, which was found floating in the bay in the early 1600’s.  Every year, on October 21, thousands of pilgrims from all over Panama converge on Portobelo to celebrate the Festival de Cristo Negro.  While we were anchored in Portobelo,, we had torrential rains.  The runoff from land was so severe that the water in the bay changed from blue to brown.  The lightning was spectacular, but in retrospect, very costly.  When we readied the Girl for departure on the 7th, our primary navigation systems (Chartplotter, Depth sounder, and Radar) were down (and out).  #$@%!!.  That one’s gonna leave a mark on the nestegg.  Fortunately, our PC based backup system was unfazed, so we didn’t have to resort to compass, sextant, and paper charts.

               Dang!  We were here now, but not quite ready for marina life.  So….we passed Colon and headed up the Chagres River, anchoring just inside the bar after threading our way through a tricky passage in the reef.  Sandy and Britt joined us there, as they were on their way to Bocas Del Toro, where they would haul their boat for the Rainy Season.  Suz and I hiked up to Fort San Lorenzo, which guarded this important waterway during the 17th thru 19th centuries.  Britt and Sandy were off the next morning.  Suzanne and I decided to travel up the river to the dam at Lake Gatun.  The trip was about 6 miles up the winding river, with nothing but rain forest/jungle on both sides-just beautiful.  Up at the dam, we watched as a freighter transiting the Canal passed by around forty feet above us.  On the way back down the river, all of a sudden the Howler Monkeys started up in full out four-part harmony.  This was really strange, as it was a beautiful sunny day.  (They usually get rockin’ just before it starts to rain).  Whup! Whup! Whup!  We jumped out of the pilothouse in time to see a military chopper threading its way over the river behind us.  He was so low that he was between the trees on either bank.  Suzanne thought he was going to hit our mast!  He popped up and over us, then he was gone.  Silence returned to the forest.  Guess he just wanted to see what this boat was doing so close to the dam and Canal.  Slip D 42 at Shelter Bay Marina awaited us, so we passed through the reef, and an hour later the breakwall at the southern end of the Panama Canal, entering the small bay where the marina is located.  It is on the property formerly occupied by Fort Sherman, the U.S. outpost that guarded the Caribbean end of the Canal when it was run by the U.S.

The next 10 days were busy, busy, busy.  Here in Panama, the rainy season isn’t just wet…it’s WET!  Mold and mildew are a huge problem when leaving a boat here.  So…….everything came out of every locker and storage space (I have 44 compartments listed in my inventory spreadsheet), the space was cleaned meticulously, then sprayed with white vinegar before being refilled.  The water tanks were drained, opened, dried out and vacuumed.  Fuel tanks were filled to avoid condensation.  Routine maintenance, oil change, filters, fuel filters and water filters were replaced….you get the picture.  Repairs were performed (Yes, the Admiral diagnosed a blown video board in our Nav computer and got one ordered, even though the company was reluctant to send one out to a non-professional).  Of course, it wasn’t all work and no play.  We renewed friendships with other cruisers that we had met along the way, and made some new friends while enjoying Happy Hour at the pool.  The marina general manager, Juanjo, was the manager at Las Palmas where we stayed in Puerto Rico several years ago.  We had a lot of catching up to do.  The week flew by, and we moved to the marina hotel when Alizann was hauled.  We had her shrink-wrapped and put a dehumidifier in the galley sink to keep the humidity down.

The 19th of June came in a flash, and our new driver, Olmero drove us to the airport in Panama City for our flight back to the States.

Okay, I already said we were back, so we’ll get on with this season

-Later

 

Buenos Tarde,

It’s June 1rst, and we’re at anchor at Banedup in the Eastern Lemmon Cays.  Our plan was to move to Chichime today after one night here, but the squalls have been rolling through all morning, with winds gusting to 25 knots and sheets of rain.  It’s certainly not good weather for spotting reefs and shallows, so we moved the Girl to a better spot in the anchorage and will spend another day here.  There are a lot more places that we want to scope out in the next 10 days or so before we leave “Alizann” in Colon, and head for the States.  We’ll be out tomorrow, rain or shine.

We left you in Coco Bandero.  Well, the weather was gorgeous, and the anchorage was absolutely beautiful, so we ended up staying another day.  Coco is one of the most popular spots in the San Blas.  It is the cover photo on the “Cruising Guide to Panama,” and, during season there can be as many as 30-40 boats there.  Besides us, there were 3 other boats.  The anchorage is surrounded by shallow reefs, so we dropped the kayaks in and got some exercise, paddling around the islands and out to the Caribbean on the other side of the barrier reef around a mile or so away.  It seemed like the perfect spot for some aerial pics, so we put “Scout,” our drone up.  I think that he got some good shots, but you’ll have to be the judge.  In the afternoon, we had a visit from Vinancio and his brother.  He specializes in selling Mola’s, hand-stitched artworks of traditional local images.  Much like cross stitching and embroidery combined, they’re created by the local ladies on rectangles of cloth around 16x20 inches in size.  Vinancio is well-known amongst the cruisers, and the Admiral had been hoping that we’d be able to find him.  As it turned out, he found us, thanks to Sandy and Brett on “Halcyon,” who had left us the day before, but had given him our names and location.  My math isn’t that great, but I’m pretty sure that he made around $300/hour in the 2 hours that he spent with us.  When they left, he asked us for one of our boat cards with a note from us that we’d purchased from him.  It seemed strange for us to be giving him a receipt, but he explained that there is so much drug trafficking in this area that he might have to justify to the authorities why he had so much cash.  Go figure.  As they were leaving, I asked him if he knew Apio (our fruit guy).  He asked: “Did you give him any money?”  When I replied affirmatively, he just shook his head.  The next morning, Apio was vindicated.  He showed up with our produce order and got the other half of his money.  We hauled anchor at 1100 for the arduous hour-and-a-half trip to the “Swimming Pool” anchorage in Hollandes Cay.  On our way, we were hailed on the VHF by Tad and Robin aboard “Bisou”, the catamaran that had been berthed next to us for a day or so on Aruba.  They were headed to the same anchorage.

The “Swimming Pool” is another one of the really popular anchorages, and can accommodate 40-50 boats during season.  There were around 10 boats anchored when we arrived, including “Halcyon.”  We were excited, as we had hoped that we’d meet up with them again.  The next six days flew by.  We hadn’t intended to, but the snorkeling, exploring, and visiting with new friends was too good to give up.  Dan and Jackie aboard “Pleasant Living” and Mike and (haircut) Holly aboard “Picaro” from Santa Marta showed up, and it was like old-home week.  Of course, we had to meet Reg and Debbie, aboard “Runner” who are pretty much fixtures in the anchorage.  Although they have been cruising the San Blas for 19 years, they have been at anchor in the “Pool” nonstop for the last 3.  Reggie says that he goes ashore “once a decade,” while Debbie hitches a ride to the mainland a few times a year.  They’ve got a local guy who shops in Panama City for them, and brings provisions out every 2 weeks.  Not my cup of tea.  Diff’rent strokes.  Every evening around dusk, we’d look for the resident Caiman (crocodile) as he/she swam through the anchorage on its way from the barrier reef to who-knows-where.  He was usually accompanied by 2 sharks who glided beneath the boats around the same time.

Before I sign off, let me say a few words about our Panama cruising in general.  Our plan is to spend next season in and around the Caribbean side of Panama, most of the time in the San Blas.  The last few weeks of this year, we’re trying to get a feel for the cruising here and gather intel and make contacts.  At this time, there aren’t many other cruisers here.  It’s the rainy season, and most have headed home.  We’ve had rain nearly every day, usually in the afternoon.  Most days, we can hear thunder rumbling in the distance nearly all day.  In the evenings, we usually get a pretty good lightshow-mostly in the distance, but every so often too close for comfort.  The Admiral says that besides the U.S.A., there’s more lightning here than anywhere else on the planet.                                                                                      As far as the anchorages go, away from the mainland here in the east end of the San Blas they’re very different than what we are used to.  We usually anchor in the lee of a large land mass or in a bay.  Although there are islands here, they are tiny-often no more than a sand spit with less than 10’ of elevation and a few palm trees.  The anchorages are often just spots of water that are deep enough to be navigated, surrounded by many square miles of reef, often no more than a foot or so deep.  It is really strange to look out into the distance and see boats apparently anchored in the middle of open water.  Crazy.                                                                                                                                                

Provisioning here will be different too.  There really aren’t any cities on the mainland here, and none out in the islands.  Several times a day we are approached by local Kuna guys in their ulus and pangas, selling fresh fruits and vegetables.  If you love lobster, this is the place for you.  There are always fishermen coming around with live lobster, octopus and conch, as well as an occasional fish.  This morning, we got a call on the VHF from the sailboat next to us saying that the “Walmart” guy was at his boat.  He had soft drinks, frozen meat, veggies, fruits, beer and etc.  “Did we need anything?”  Turns out that they have been long-term cruisers here as well, and the “Walmart” guy fills custom orders for them on a biweekly basis.  Needless to say, we got his contact info for use next season.  I’m guessin’ that there are more guys out here during season, but I think that we may press the deck freezer back into service and bring out some frozen meat with us, though.                                                                                                                                 

The cell service is virtually non-existent with phones from the U.S.  Up until now, we have had excellent results with our Google Fi phones wherever we traveled-not now.  Yesterday was the first time that we have seen any emails.  Text only.  No images.  Apparently, the phones here are allowed to have more powerful antennas, and it’s necessary to buy a local phone/hotspot to get any connectivity.  We’re getting our weather and texting capability from our satellite device, but we’ll have to do a little more research into our options for communication before next season.  This report will stay in the can until we have WiFi.  That may be much….

-Later

Buenos Dias,

A seventy-five yard swim to shore and the shore line was off.  Suz held Alizann in place while I got back on, then it was anchor up as usual.  We were right on the Colombian border with Panama, so it only took us 45 minutes to motor over to Puerto Obaldia in Panama, where we would clear in.  We had heard that the swell coming into this north-facing bay could be treacherous, but Poseidon was smiling on us today.  Even tho’ we put out a ton of anchor chain, we sat on the pile of chain, never testing our anchor in the non-existent wind and swell.  Obaldia has a very substantial concrete dock for transients’ use.  One problem.  It’s 8’ off the water with no ladders, and a flush concrete surface with no handholds.  As we were puttering around the dock, trying to figure out how to get off the dinghy, a couple of SNF (national defense force) troops came out to see what we were doing.  After some negotiation in sign language and broken Spanish, we ended up mooring to their boat, then climbing across it to another boat, then up to the dock.  They couldn’t have been more helpful to the aging Gringos.  That was the easy part.  Two hours later, our paperwork from Colombia (all in order), had been perused, okayed, and the 87 Panamian Immigration and Customs forms (all in quintuplicate, keeping the carbon paper industry in fine form for their shareholders) had been duly stamped, stapled and filed for future reference.  Oh, did I mention that we were fingerprinted (both hands, including thumb), and photographed for posterity?  The Caribbeans MUST love the sound of stamps hitting documents, and let me tell you, the legs on their desks are doubly stout-I believe to withstand the constant beating.

Done with the formalities, it was time to explore the village, so wonderfully illustrated in the “Cruising Guide to Panama.”  I’m guessin’ that the pictures in the guide were taken a few (or so) years ago.  Obaldia is obviously a shadow of its’ former self.  The streets were bare, there were little signs of commerce, ‘cept the hand-written sign announcing “gasolina viende”.  Okay, we needed gas for the dinghy, so I returned to shore with our 5 gallon can and our hand truck, while Suzanne idled offshore in the dink.  In the back room of a storefront were around a dozen 55-gallon drums of gas, along with, (I’m guessin’, a hundred cases of beer).  Our 5-gallon can was filled by 5 one-gallon bottles.  With the help of another SNF guy, we were off the dock, and back to the Girl.  Under lowering black skies, we got the anchor up and headed west to Isla Pinos.  Lightning all around, we motored through several squalls on our way to Isla Pinos, more or less the entrance to the San Blas archipelago.

We dropped the hook in 2.5 meters of water off Isla Pinos.  We stayed for two days.  A half mile to our left was a traditional Guna Yala village.  A quarter mile to our right was a beach bar, run by Gunas, but powered by a generator, and crankin’ out Soca music.  We were guessin’ that the traditional village tolerated the bar, as it was a source of income, and all income and natural resources are shared by all.  When we ventured to shore, we were superstars.  (White, and not from anywhere around there).  The kids followed us everywhere like the two pied pipers-it didn’t hurt that the Admiral had a bag of hard candy.  Next day, we put the kayaks down to reconnoiter the exit, which looked dicey on the charts, only to find that exiting to the north would not be a problem.  We visited with some kids, and much to their delight, taught them a few phrases in English, which they repeated incessantly as we paddled away.

Our next stop was to be Snug Harbor, About halfway between Isla Pinos and Devil Cays.  We threaded our way through the “Inside Passage”, thanks to Eric Bauhaus’ “Guide to Cruising Panama’s” guidebook.  An officially uncharted area, Eric’s book is the bible for getting through this 100 mile long archipelago.  When just off a lee shore, we had a visit from the Panama military.  True to form, Suz had all of our papers in order, and presented them before being asked.  Although we were boarded, none of the troops came further onboard than our cockpit, as the Commandante was satisfied with our papers.

Our next stop was Snug Harbor, named by pirates, privateers and the British military alike for its safe anchorage.  We (I) decided to enter from the East, as it would save a half hour of time, and it was again threatening rain after a whole day of it.  We were nearly in, in flat skies (no visibility of shallow areas), when we heard that abhorrent sound, the bane of all seamen.  We were aground on a reef.   Shhesh!   Really?  We were hard on, so went above decks to see if we could ascertain where deeper water was.  We certainly weren’t ready to lose our Girl at this point.  The propeller wouldn’t get us off, so we used the bow thruster, timed with the rise and fall of the swell, to rotate us into deeper water.  We got the Girl afloat again, and backtracked our course in to get to deeper water.  We circumnavigated the island to the north, and entered from the west with our skirts up at dead slow (once bitten, twice shy), and motored to the most conservative anchorage.  It was time for (double) sips, and a change of knickers.  Next morning, we launched the dink and reran our reciprocal course. Another 15’ to the port would have gotten us through.  Next morning, amid black/blue clouds all around and 2 ‘’ of clay around the 200’ of anchor chain, we were off to Coco Bandero

Now moving west, we were getting into the most popular cruising grounds of the San Blas.  We were headed to Coco Bandero, one of the most popular anchorages.  We were gratified to see only 4 boats there.  During high season, there can be as many as 50. We sauntered in, the lone. “Stink Boater” amongst the sailboats there.  Dutifully, we anchored down wind of the ragbaggers.  With the kayaks down, we paddled by “Halcyon,” in the afternoon, and invited them for “Sips.”  Turned out to be a good match, and we hope to see Sandy and Britt in the future.

It’s 16h20, and we have not seen our guy, Apio, who has our money and our order for frutas, and legumas, supposedly to be delivered today.  In the meantime, we have scored 3 lobsters, big ones, for 10 bucks.

-Later

Buenos Tarde

Maria took care of getting our zarpe to clear out of Colombia, and brought it to us in the morning.  We snapped a few photos with her, paid the rent at Club Pesca marina, and were off the dock by 09h30.  Cruising south through Cartagena Bay, we saw at least 8 Colombian naval warships laying at anchor.  Guessin’ that had something to do with all the saber-rattling that our dear POTUS was doing regarding the Venezuelan issues.  Our first leg took us to Isla Grande in the Rosario islands, just 20 some-odd miles from Cartagena.  Just an overnighter, we were off the hook by 07h00, on our way to Tintip.an, some 30 miles south.  We spent 2 nights there, one on the hook and one on a mooring ball after the park rangers told us that we weren’t allowed to anchor there.  We had planned on anchoring in a lagoon on the west end of the island, but the route suggested by the Colombian Cruising Guide took us through 3’ of water.  That would have been a big “Ouch”  It was no big deal, however, as the seas had been like a pool of mercury for the past few days.  Anchoring on the south side of the island was very comfortable.  A half mile to our west was Isla Islote, the most densely populated island on the planet.  At just over the size of 1 ½ football fields, it is home to more than 1,200 souls.  Don’t ask me, I haven’t had time to research it.  Google it yourself.    Next stop, Isla Fuerte, another 30 miles to the south.  Again, another day with seas less than 1 meter (We are starting to get used to this).  The cruising guides suggest anchoring south of the island, but we snuck up into a little bight on the east side and anchored in 10’ of water over a sandy bottom.  Usually, the “boat boys” are out to the Girl asking if we want to buy anything, or offering services.  Not here.  They asked where we came from, and if we had anything for them-water, fruit, beer, etc.  As usual, we enjoyed the afternoon, puttering around in “White Star” and swimming.  We launched “Scout”, our drone, and snapped a few decent photos.  Next was the 80 mile trip to the Colombia/Panama border.  We were up at Oh-Dark-Thirty, and underway by 04h00.  The Admiral went back to bed, and we were on our way.  Lightning lit the sky on both sides and in front of the Girl.  The radar showed a squall line of red (no Bueno) blobs around 15 miles ahead of us, directly in our course.  Decision time.  Lightning brings eighteen kinds of bad JuJu when it strikes near a boat.  The line of storms was nearly three hours ahead of us, so I opted to let Suz sleep and forge on.  As it turned out, the squall line dissipated after an hour as day dawned, and we just received a steady drizzle.  There must have been some high winds, however, as the seas resembled a washing machine-lots of high, unorganized waves which lasted for an hour or so.  We were out of the National marine park for most of the day, so it was okay to fish but the freezers were full.  No lines went out.  We arrived at Capurgana on the Colombian mainland around an hour before dark.  The anchorage there is more of an open roadstead, not really a bay and it was rolly.  We opted to move up to Sapzurro to see what it was like.  Much better.  In the north corner of the bay, we anchored in 14’ of water and took lines to shore, keeping the Girl’s bow pointed into the slight swell.  With lines to shore, it felt like North Channel and Newfoundland cruising.  In 9’ of water, we’ve been here for 2 comfortable nights, planning to leave and check in to Panama, just around the corner, tomorrow morning.  Yesterday, we walked part of the Capurgana/Sapzurro trail, and checked out the Diana Cascada (waterfall).  The rainy season hasn’t really arrived in earnest yet, so the falls were just a trickle.  We cruised the village of Sapzurro, and made it home just before it started to RAIN.  As our friend, Andy would say, it was a real “turd floater” (referring to the latrines in Viet Nam).  It rained all afternoon.  I had to bail out the dinghy, as it was nearly full of water halfway through the afternoon.  These two villages, Capurgana and Sapzurro are like the outports in Newfoundland, accessible only by water, so there are no autos-just motos and horses.  Today, we hiked to Capurgana, 2 ¾ miles over the ridge.  It was a slippery, greasy stroll, but we were rewarded with some beautiful views when we popped out of the rainforest on the crests of the mountains.  Along the way, we trekked by flowering Hibiscus, Heliconia, and many tropical plants that we’ve had the pleasure of killing in the privacy of our own home.  Suz spotted a Green Frog, whose powerful neurotoxin is instrumental in fabricating poison darts, and many tropical birds.  There were some pretty steep ups and downs, but they didn’t compare to the 40-minute hills on our Ciudad Perdida hike.  Back at the Girl, we took a swim in the 85-degree water as the drizzle came down.   

Our stay here has been pretty entertaining.  The guys are out in their pangas, morning and late afternoons fishing.  They catch bait fish with throw nets and dump them into their boat.  Then, they throw handfuls of them into the water and toss their handlines in to catch the bigger, edible fish.  Very strange, watching them bailing water INTO their boats to keep the baitfish alive.  Yesterday, we watched the local kids, under the tutelage of an adult bandmaster practicing with their percussion instruments and marching along the shore..

We’re sitting on the back porch now, listening to the Howler Monkeys in the forest, having sips and getting ready for dinner.

No internet, just cell service so no pictures.  We’ll head to Puerto Obaldia, around the corner in Panama to check in tomorrow, then off to the San Blas archipelago.

-Later

 

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