Friday, 27 September 2013

Through the canal (the preamble)

The Captain and I will be waving on Sunday afternoon to the camera at
the Miraflores lock in the Panama Canal at about 4 pm EST. You might
see us if you click this link:

We are line handlers on the sailboat Moonshadow, while Diva waits for
us safely in the marina in Bocas.

I will be back with the juicy details and pictures in a couple days!

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Livin' it up (and spending all our money) in Bocas

We have been in Bocas del Toro for almost a week now.  The boat is in a marina, paid up for a month, and has once again become a home that doesn't roll about, threaten to relocate itself in the middle of the night, or transport us from one magical place to another.

The benefits of marina life:
  • No rolling, bouncing, swinging in the wind, rocking or any other boat movement.  The first night I woke up and wondered if I was still on the boat.
  • Access to beverages beyond beer (but don't worry, we haven't given it up yet) just by walking down the dock.  We can get a mean hamburger too.
  • Unlimited water and electricity - even hot showers!  (Why I want this in the tropics is kinda beyond me, but sometimes I turn it on just a little bit, because I can...)
  • Wifi - yay!
  • New marina friends, including those of the canine persuasion.
  • Security that the boat will be ok while we leave her and go have some land adventures (more on that soon).
The disadvantages of marina life:
  • Our view has become distinctly less spectacular, particularly since our last stop before arriving in Bocas was the remote island of Escudo de Veragus - pictures below.
  •  Limited breeze.  This is a very sheltered spot, good for the boats, a bit hot for the humans.
  • Bugs! See above - a good spot for boats AND bugs, not so good for me.
  • $$$$ - Not only do we have to "pay to park" so to speak, but the access to the marina amenities and the short jaunt in the dingy over to the town means that we are going through our bank account way faster then Diva on a calm sea with a nice breeze and a clean bottom!

The beautiful, isolated island of Escudo de Veragus

The Captain and likkle boat in a sortof beach cave, carved out of the soft rock by the crashing waves.

On the east end of the island.

On the west end of the island

A tiny sea turtle, who was being pushed back to the beach by the waves.  We tried to take him out beyond the surf, but I'm not sure he made it.  This end of Panama is supposedly a very important sea turtle nesting ground.

Tony (on the left) and Anne (on the right), who we followed to Bocas.  They arrived a few days before us, but fortunately saw us just as we arrived in the bay and helped us get a spot in the marina.

Bocas town, from the balcony of the dive/surf shop with a cafe where we had our first Bocas' breakfast.

Chili!  On Sunday there was a community chili cook-off.  For $3, you could sample chili from 14 different stations, and vote for your favourite.  I only made it to 6, but Phil did them all, some twice for extra re-consideration.

The chili cook-off tents on the beach.  Just what everyone wants on a hot day on the beach - chili?!?

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Up the Rio Chagres

Up the river without a paddle... Actually, we have two oars if necessary, but they are much better with the dingy than with Diva. Yesterday we left Portobelo and motored for 5 hours, crossing the staging ground for tankers and cargo ships entering the Panama canal from the Caribbean. On our AIS system, we could pick up 81 different boats' signals! I imagine it is like sailing with icebergs - the ships are sooo BIG. The AIS info on one gas ship said it was 200 metres long and it did look twice as long as the 100m cargo ship next to it. Took lots of pictures, but it is hard to do justice to the sense of scale with camera photos.

It is odd to be on Diva in fresh water. We went for a quick swim yesterday and the water is clean and relatively clear, but you have to work a lot harder to stay afloat. The Chagres River is around 100 metres wide and 7-14 metres deep so it is easily navigated. It ends with a dam that is connected to the canal system and it is also used as overflow in the rainy season. We've been told the Canal Authority warns boats on the river before they open the flood gates, but then again, we've heard lots of "urban legend" equivalents about boats that weren't warned or didn't take any notice. But if you listen to everything people say you'd never get to go anywhere. It hasn't rained much here lately either, so we should be fine.

Recent wildlife experiences have been multi-sensory. Yesterday we saw dolphins while underway. We went exploring by dingy in the river and saw three long black monkeys (including a little one, awwww) in the trees. We've heard the howler monkeys roar often, including a dawn cacophony that was probably a morning greeting song in howler speak, but just sounded really noisy to me. See if you can find a howler monkey video on Youtube so you can get a sense of how they sound. It is a cross between a blizzard wind and a car motor.

This morning I also saw a toucan in the trees; I think he was looking for his fruitloops.

We coordinated this trip up the river with two other cruising boats: Moonshadow and Palvo Real. So in spite of our rather remote location, yesterday's evening included a robust game of Mexican Train dominos on Moonshadow (this is a good group game, by the way, remenicient of Uno and regular dominos) and tonight is chicken curry for all aboard Diva. Tomorrow we will probably head back out to sea and make our way towards Bocas del Toro on the west coast of Panama.

Cruising along the Panamanian coast - photo credit: John Rogers, Captain of Moonshadow

At anchor, (we hope!) waiting to go through the canal.

The AIS targets - we are the red boat with the red line behind us (our track) and all of the yellow and green triangles are ships, most of them tankers.

Heading up the river.

Behind us, the catamaran Palvo Real, and Fort San Lorenzo on the hill.

Coming round the bend of the river. Photo credit: John Rogers

If you zoom in, you can see that I'm on the helm.  Photo credit: John Rogers

So much Mexican Train fun! l-r, John Rogers, Anne Peacock, Deb Rogers, Tony Peacock, the Captain and myself. Photo credit: John Rogers and the self timer function on his camera.

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

A thousand words

 A glimpse of the last two months. Hope you can feel a bit of the tropical warmth coming your way...

One of the small inhabited islands in the San Blas - Rio Azucar - translates to "Sugar River." We came here twice because we could take water on board via a hose and their dock. Photo Credit: JD

What $1 can buy you in Snug Harbour.

Octopus with potatoes and onions, and a little garlic and balsamic vinegar.  Tasty, but a bit chewy!
Listening to the Panama Connection Net via SSB radio with my morning cup of coffee.  We only have a receiver, so Diva can't check in, but we listen for the local cruiser 'happenings' and the weather. JD

New friends!  Jayne Davidson and myself - only a year between us, both of us having left good paying jobs in big cities for other adventures, so we had lots in common. PD

The Captain, cooling off with Diva in the background. PD

If Jayne and I run out of money, maybe we can sell calenders? PD

The gang of four: two Phils, a Jayne and a Julia (and Diva in the background.) PD
For entertainment, there was fishing, which wasn't always this exciting, but Phil had caught a dogfish, a 3 foot long shark.  Fortunately, (especially for the shark) it got away. JD

There was also a lot of sitting around trying not to get too hot.  I must have had some breeze on the back of the boat. PD

We socialized with other cruisers at a beach bbq one night. The weather was stunning for three days in a row when Jayne and Phil were with us. I don't know who they talked to about weather for their San Blas trip, but it sure worked. PD

Occasionally we had to re-provision the essentials.  This is what 8 slabs of Balboa beer looks like in our dingy. PD

Eating roast chicken and chips (french fries) in between provisioning and trying fruitlessly to find out how to work the cell system to get data.  If only I knew then what I know now... PD

All that beer successfully loaded on the boat.  No, it didn't get to stay in the cockpit, even if it was easy access.
A sunset from the edge of the San Blas, Nargana. Note the trading boat that didn't quite make the reef! JD

The Phils had enormous backgammon games, spanning hours and requiring much beer and rum. Thankfully, it was equal opportunity loosing. PD

A fishing boat, with all its gear seemingly rusted in the "out" position.

Our charts for this part of the world were not accurate.  Here you can see that we appear to be parked on an island!

The remnants of a Kuna house on a sand spit, just off Conch Island.

Diva, looking content in the Coco Banderas Cays.

Oh yes, I appear to live in a postcard. Now if only I could get the horizon to hold straight...

With this picture you have to feel the hot sand at your feet and hear the rustle of the palm fronds in the breeze.

A conch shell in a Kuna garbage pile. It was almost a foot long.

Jayne and a treasure from the sea.

The Captain, his toes and his boat.

But the weather didn't always cooperate. Jayne and Phil left and we had a couple of storms.  This one in particular had striking (but daunting) cloud formations. It blew for an hour and a half, but not more than 30 knots, and we were fine.

On our second last night in the San Blas the friendly fisherman came by.  Even though we had chicken curry already made, the Captain broke down and purchased these fine boys for $6.

Add a little garlic, butter and cream. Serve with pasta and red wine. Finish with a bar of dark chocolate, and another dinner on "Chez Diva" was a resounding success.

One last San Blas sunset, looking out over Punta Porvenir.
Photo credits to Jayne and Phil Davidson where indicated.

Friday, 6 September 2013

Lightning Constant

Some things never change - here in Panama we have lightning every night. Sometimes there is thunder and rain too, but often there is just lightning on the horizon, somewhere far in the distance. Here in Portobello, that is the same, although so much else has changed from our experience in the Kuna Yala.

We have left the San Blas. We had a glorious "last supper" with lobster that the Captain had bought for $6 cooked in butter, garlic and cream on pasta, served with red wine and a bar of dark chocolate for dessert. Then it stormed the next day, so we didn't leave after all. But the NEXT day was lovely and we motored our way through the reef and around the point.

We had two nice days of travel, with a balanced combination of motoring, motor-sailing (motoring with the mainsail pushing us along a bit) and proper sailing. We spent the night in Turtle Cay Marina on the dock, where we were able to refuel and re-water. (Re-water? - not sure of the proper term for filling the water tank.)

Now we have been in Portobello for two days and it is a bit of a funny spot. The bay itself is quite lovely, with green hills all around. We've heard monkeys hooting and birds calling and just a few minutes ago there were about 15 swallows of some kind all sitting along our jib sheet. It is fun to be back in a different kind of ecosystem then sandy palm tree islands.

The town of Portobello is a run-down Caribbean town, with lots of concrete construction, but brightly painted. It is an in-between-spot for cruisers: they are either getting ready to head out to the San Blas or down to Colon to go through the canal. There may be as many as 50 boats here in the harbour with us, but as many as a third of them seem to be abandoned. It's hard to know what you do with a boat when you are tired of it and can't sell it. Portobello Harbour seems to have been many people's answer.

For me, it has the amenities I have been missing. Yesterday we took a bus into Colon and bought some much needed items, such as a new inverter for the boat (although the one we had convieniently gave up the ghost the day before we arrived), a mobile internet stick so that we can get internet off the cellphone network, and a whole pile of groceries. We also had yummy hamburgers up at "Captain Jack's", a cute bar that caters to the sailing crowd, and a number of cheap beers at a not-so-cute-but-functional shack on the waterfront where the salty dog sailors hang out and can give you the local gossip.

I am glad for a little change, even though I never thought I could get tired of crystal seas and white sand islands. Oh well, there is always the lighting.