Thursday, 29 August 2013

Nosy Neighbours

Yes, that's us - nosy neighbours. We have progressed beyond simply sitting on deck looking out at the scenery and now frequently use our binoculars to get a close up look at what is happening on the decks of other boats, and we even (shockingly!) listen in to other people's conversations on the VHF radio. For the non sailors out there, it is customary in the San Blas to use channel 72 as the "hailing" channel. That means that when you are in sight of another boat, (VHF range is usually line-of-sight) you can call out the name of the other boat on channel 72, and if the other boat responds, both parties agree to move frequencies, usually one up or one down, to have their conversation and free up channel 72. The thing is, everyone else can move up or down and listen in too. I imagine it is much like the days of party lines on telephones.

So, when we are bored, or when we are curious, we listen in. Most of the time, the conversation between other boats is about trying to fix some random boat or technology problem, which is generally not that interesting and we go back to 72 to wait for something else to come by. Some couples on boats have a portable VHF that one of them will take with them in the dingy if they go off exploring on their own and then you hear conversations like, " What time will you be back, honey?" or "Do you want me to take the chicken legs out of the freezer for dinner?" (We had mild envy that some of these boats have freezers on board, but in this cloudy weather it has been a struggle to keep our fridge going with our solar panels, so I can't imagine we'd ever be able to keep up with the energy needs of a freezer; it would become a "slushy" instead.)

Occasionally, listening in on the VHF has been very helpful, like when we overhear people talking about the pros and cons of a place we're going to be visiting, or once Phil was able to offer a tool to someone who had a boat problem and bemoaned that he didn't have the right thing to do the job. Several times we've heard comments about the weather, from boats who have better access to forecasting tools like satellite imagery or radar. About half the time their predictions are correct and it is helpful, and the other half the time it has the same limitations of weather forecasters anywhere: rain when it should be clear, wind when it is supposed to be calm, and so on.

The other day we suffered the common fate of eavesdroppers: discussions of a party were going around and we were not included. Served us right for listening into what was none of our business, I guess! But all was not lost, and we heard a "Diva, Diva" on the radio the next morning and got our own official invitation and enjoyed a fun night socializing with other cruisers.

This new unbecoming behavior might just be a sign that it is time for us to move on; that palm trees and white sand beaches aren't quite as stimulating as one would hope. And indeed, as I may have mentioned in previous posts, we are thinking about moving further west along the Panamanian coast, but we're just thinking about it, and who knows, if something interesting is on the radio, we might stay here another day...

P.S. An update on our boat pets: Jayne and Phil, They left us just over a week ago now and we were very sad to see them go, especially because now we have to go back to fighting over whether the Captain or the Crew is responsible for washing dishes. Last we heard, they were in Colon, waiting for a boat that could take both them and the motorcycles all the way to Colombia.

P.P.S. An update on our location: If you click on the link above called "Diva's location via satellite" or if you get re-directed to the "findmespot" website via an email, it has been recommended that you click on the "satellite" tab in the upper right hand corner of the map. The default image is using the "map" tab and I have been told that it seems as if Diva is simply floating in the ocean next to nothing. However the satellite image shows the groups of islands and gives you a better sense of where we are.

P.P.P.S. An update on sharks: I have now seen several sharks and have survived to tell the tale! Two were on the ends of fishing lines - one of these was 6 feet long - but both were let go, thankfully. One was while I was in the water, and despite knowing logically that it wasn't going to hurt me, I turned around, swam away and got out of the water quite quickly! Anyways, they have been fascinating to see and someday, as I have promised many times, I will post pictures.

Sunday, 18 August 2013

The delights of palm trees and sandy beaches

So, the San Blas is growing on us. We have been spending the last week in two delightful anchorages, the East Lemmons and then the Lagoon in the Holandes Cays. Both boast sparkling clear water, lots of reef with interesting fish, and pretty little white sand islands with coconut palms. Our boat pets, as previously mentioned (Jayne and Phil, Canadians with an interesting adventure of their own, are still with us, and the company has been lovely.

In fact, we were so lucky to be in the Holandes anchorage at the right time for even more socializing. The weather bestowed us with three days of clear skies and rain-free nights, and one of the other boats in the anchorage decided it was time to take advantage of the gap in the clouds and organized a beach bar-b-que and invited all the boats nearby.

The little island on which the bar-b-ques was held was no more than a lump of sand protruding out of the sea. It was only about as big as the backyard of one of the houses in Manitoba where I grew up. One of the other cruisers said that when he had been here two years ago, there were a couple of palm trees and a Kuna family living on the island, but now it was just sand. Global warming is particularly dangerous in this part of the world.

We all brought foil packages to roast in the driftwood fire. (Not to be snide, but ours had lobster tails in garlic butter.) There were seven boats in the anchorage and every boat joined in. There were several Americans, from the east coast, west coast and midwest, a French boat, an Australian boat, a Panamanian one, and even a small fluffy white dog named "Duke". Many people had been in the San Blas for a while, at least months and sometimes years. There were many sailing stories exchanged (the wind blew THIS hard) and lots of questions about where each boat might go next. It was a lovely evening and a great chance to meet our "neighbours".

If you have been following the Spot track, we are now back in a place we've been before, Rio Diablo, in the south-east corner of the San Blas. We have gotten some laundry done, re-provisioned with food, water, diesel and beer, and carried out a desperate, but ultimately futile search for internet. The plan for the next couple of days is to check out Cayo Banderos, another "stunningly beautiful" anchorage, according to the guidebook, although I've yet to see any ugly cays so far! After that, we're thinking about starting to work our way west and also coordinating with our guests on their next move.

Monday, 12 August 2013

Cruising and cruising

We have acquired new boat pets - two lovely Canadians! Okay, they aren't pets, they are much more useful than the cat or dog fish ever were, doing things like dishes and staying up late and drinking lots of rum with us. Jayne and Phil (yes, another Phil) are siblings who are riding their motorcycles from the Arctic Circle southward - their adventures so far are posted at - and we met them outside the immigration building in Porvenir, where they were looking to do some cruising of a different sort in the San Blas.

As an aside, yes, we did make it in to Panama City and back. The journey there took 3 hours over a very twisty road; we had 3 hours in the city where we hit the bank (almost literally when we couldn't get exactly what we needed); and we bought loads of groceries, including essentials like nutella and 5 cases of beer, and also bought a Panamanian SIM card. So we are reachable by phone, just as soon as we get closer to the coverage areas! It took 2 hours to come back into the San Blas and two dingy trips to get all the groceries from shore to the boat. But in typical fashion, we had lots of help from local Kuna men at the dock area. Their eyes were agog at the amount of beer we had - drinking is discouraged by the Kuna religion so I guess we wouldn't make for very good Kuna. And a couple of days after all of that, we made it back to the immigration office where we paid our fees and signed our paperwork and we, and the boat, are now legitimate visitors of Panama, with the privilege of being here for up to one year. So, as the Captain would say, "Job done!"

Diva is now anchored in the East Lemmon Cays, where we have been before, and we are waiting for the perfect combination of wind and lessening hangover to head over to the Holandes Cays, supposedly the creme-de-la-creme of cays hereabouts. I have bought several molas*, the local Kuna handicraft, but other than that, we've been swimming, reading, eating, and oh, the aforementioned drinking. The monsoon trough* is now further to the north of us, instead of on top of us, so our weather has improved slightly although still mostly cloudy.

* Your research projects for today. Perhaps google or your search engine of choice for further explanation? If you find anything good, post it back in the comments for those too lazy to do homework.

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Going round in circles

After many weeks of motoring, today we sailed! Only a few miles, but it felt really nice not to have the rumble of the engine drowning out everything else. And good luck is in the air, because yesterday we managed to acquire our visas into Panama. (AND the Captain found his unlocked phone, which was a three day search of the boat. "I've just put it somewhere safe," he said.) Therefor the plan for tomorrow is to head to Panama City to visit the bank, and buy a local SIM and an enormous quantity of groceries!

We counted our pennies after we paid the immigration man and we bought seven small lobsters for $8 - a feast. The Captain has mastered the art of negotiation with the Kuna fishermen, so we can get a pretty fair deal. Earlier last week we bought some small parrot fish and had beautiful steamed fish stuffed with limes and onion. So maybe not total self sufficiency, but supporting the local economy.

Cruising the Kuna Yala is a curious experience. There are beautiful islands with palm trees and stunning white sand beaches (which light up brightly with each flash of lightning in the night), and then a whole pile of other boats tucked into the popular anchorages. And the anchorages are popular because they are the ones that are easy to get to, the unpopular ones accessible only through a narrow maze of reef. The outer island anchorages are also a bit odd because you feel very exposed and unprotected, with only a couple of small palm tree islands providing next to no shelter from the wind. However, the labyrinth of coral does have its benefits, blocking most of the swells and keeping the water calm. But it isn't what you'd think, when you thought of a sheltered anchorage (if you've had occasion to think of these things, which I have frequently of late.)

Many of the boats this time of year are full of "backpackers," young people hitching a lift from Panama to Colombia with stops in the San Blas. We can tell the backpacker boats since they are full of bikini clad women and often men with bad farmer's tans (my prairie roots are showing with that description) and everyone is sitting up on deck in the hot sun, which those of us down here for more than a week tend not to do. Sometimes we've counted 8 or 10 people on a 40 foot boat, and my question is, where do they all sleep?

Other then the backpackers, we haven't interacted with too many other boats. There are some long-time cruisers down here, from what we hear on the Panama Connection Net, broad casted over the SSB radio, but it is the wrong time of year for lots of boats to be passing through. Too many thunderstorms! Although in the spirit of acknowledging that I am suffering through the definition of "tropical paradise," we have been fine, not having dragged anchor in the wind, nor been hit by lighting, all possibilities. (Now I need your collective "knock on wood", please.)

The current plan is to keep circling around in this part of Panama for at least a couple of weeks more, or until we start to get dizzy. Will keep you posted.

Saturday, 3 August 2013

The mysterious business of what we do all day

For those of you watching the spot this week, you will have noticed that we have been on the move nearly every day. We have been going about the business of finding food, acquiring water, having laundry done, and checking in with customs and immigration to be legitimate visitors of this country. While you might do all this in the space of an afternoon, it is taking us days to get this all done, and we're not even finished yet.

The difficulties lie in the fact that not all the services are in the same place, nor do we have the language facilities to find out easily where they are and how to get what we need. Last weekend we were in a community were we could get some basic groceries and laundry done, Monday's project was to fill up the boat with water at another island (which took ALL day), and Tuesday and Wednesday we made our way to the western side of the San Blas, where we thought we could get money, but it did not work out for us. And tomorrow's project will be to visit immigration. (And then we will try again to get some money.) So every day has involved waking up and eating breakfast, getting the boat ready to move, pulling up the anchor and motoring for two to three hours, putting down the anchor in a new spot and making sure we are secure, maybe a quick swim if the water looks nice or going ashore to do what needs doing, making dinner, reading or watching DVD tv for a couple of hours, and then we head to bed and start it all over again the next day. It's been a tough life. (wink, wink)

Right now we are anchored in the East Lemmon Cays, a very popular anchorage. Unlike anywhere else we've been since we left Sapzurro, we've seen lots of boats coming and going and there are five anchored quite close by. There are beautiful little sandy islands all around us, which look like what you might imagine when you think "deserted island," but these ones have Kuna huts or lots of backpacker type people who are dropped off by boats and spend the night in tents under coconut palms. It's one day in the same place, a bit of a break before we start off again tomorrow.