Posted by: catamarantwooceans | February 20, 2017

On in Pacific Panama

12.2.17 – Sunday – Shimon Doron came yesterday evening after a long flight from Tel Aviv via Madrid. After years of working in the government service he went on to be the V.P of administration in one of Israel’s universities and now chairs the Libyan Jewry organization. He does not have a lot of sailing experience but we’ll take care of that. The man also likes to cook and I will gladly pass the job over to him.

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It was an especially calm morning and when it was almost low water we  took the dinghy and went to search for the missing anchor slash fender slash rope that were lost yesterday. After a few runs of dragging the dinghy’s small anchor on the bottom I had to admit failure and declare the ensemble lost. We decided to move the boat to the other side of the causeway, to the Las Brizas anchorage; had enough of the rolling motion caused by motorboats passing by at full speed. We’ll see how the grass is on the other side.

We wanted to get ashore. On our way we stopped to ask a yachtie about the dinghy dock that is supposed to be there. The answer was not encouraging. Even if you tie the dinghy there you are not allowed to go ashore through the facility’s gate and have to climb  the rocks protecting the causeway – a dangerous endeavor. We continued to shore and then saw the little red boat which is the home of Ali and Gertie, Eric Bauhaus’ parents. I met them in the past and came to say hello. They also discouraged us from using that dinghy dock. I simply turned to Flamenco marina, ready to pay whatever they would want for a day use with the dinghy. Perhaps because of the weekend nobody wanted any payment, especially when we said we wanted to buy some gasoline.

Standing by the road, a taxi came, looking at the driver I recognized Chava, the one who drove me to town more than a week ago. What, mathematically, are the chances for that in a huge city? Probably very slim. We did our shopping and went back to the boat. The wind changed back to its regular northerly direction and making some waves made us rolling just as it was on the other side. Plus the view was not my favorite one. Later in the evening it calmed down; it is better than the other side.

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Tomorrow we’ll give the jib to sailmaker Arnulfo Moore; I hope it’ll be quick and painless.

Lighting the gas in preparation for dinner, the flame went out after a few seconds. Time to replace the gas tank! Once it was done I did the regular test for leaks by using a soapy sponge. Surprise! we have a leak! We tried this and that but could not get rid of the leak. The suspect this time was the tank, an old composite one, the like of which was already condemned in the past. Another task for tomorrow. We changed the cooking method from oven to the Weber grill and Shimon grilled meat patties served with green salad and tahini.

13.2.17 – Monday – Come morning I called the sailmaker and arranged to meet him at 1100. His place of work is on Perico island, just a few meters from the office of Arturo Romero, Marine-Warehouse Panama rep.  Arnulfo Moore is actually an upholsterer who also does sails. His is quite a small operation in which he works with his wife; “she is my boss” he says. After looking at the sail he said the repair would cost 200$ and the sail would be ready the next day in the afternoon. “I will not argue with you about the price but you have to finish it today” I said. After a short consultation with his lady Arnulfo agreed. “Come at four o’clock” he said.

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Arnulfo Moore’s phone is 60080629.

Next item – filling and checking the empty gas tanks and checking the gas regulator. The place to fill foreign tanks is out of town, one hour’s drive away. Arturo called a friend of his, a taxi driver, who took Shimon and all the tanks to the Panagas facility.  Strangely they said all our equipment was in good condition. Maybe we need to use some Teflon tape when connecting the regulator to the tank.

While Shimon was away I had some other jobs; buying spare parts at Tesa, the local Yanmar agent, going to the laundry place and doing some work in the starboard engine room.

At 4 p.m we entered the sail-maker’s den, “ I need 30 minutes more” he said. At 1630 the sail was ready. By sunset the wind abated and we reinstalled the jib. We are ready to go sailing! By the way – Flamenco marina charges 20$ plus the 7% tax for a day for the dinghy entrance. Daylight robbery!

14.2.17 – Tuesday – We motored and sailed towards Las Perlas. Coming to sail on “Two Oceans” Shimon had a secret mission: he wanted to start eating fish, something he has never done before. He used to fish, cooked fish but not eat sea-food at all. On the first evening on the boat he ate grilled fish and today when he caught a tuna trolling, I prepared some sashimi and let him have it.

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We motored and sailed to the anchorage between Chapara and Mogo Mogo and found a god anchorage in the company of four other yachts. In the evening Shimon continued his fish trial by eating fish curry in coconut milk.

15.2.17 – Wednesday – Snorkeling on the reef between the islands we saw a beautiful bluish, white spotted eagle ray as well as some other nice fishes. We then motored – no wind -  to Malaga island, east of Isla Bayoneta. I gave Shimon his first SUP experience and have to report that he did not fall even once.

16.2.17 – Thursday – Down the east coast of Isla del Rey we motored, again no wind, rounded Punta Cocos and took up an easterly heading with trolling on our minds. It did not take long for the first strike, something big took the line almost to the end and broke away. When we pulled it back we saw that the beast pulled so hard that the ring holding the hook opened up, letting the fish escape. Another strike brought a skipjack tuna which we released. At exactly the maximum low water we entered Canas anchorage for the night. As the sun set, Shimon started fishing.He caught a small one and then fought for 20 minutes with a creature that broke the line and disappeared.

17.2.17 – Friday – Gili would fly in Sunday evening and Mike Barker is supposed to replace one of my stays on the same day. It made sense to spend the night in Contadora and go back to Panama City on Saturday. Canas to Contadora is a little less than 20 miles so we had time on our hands. Having promised Shimon more trolling, I planned a route that will take us to deeper water past Isla Elefante to the east and then north, where depth of 70 meters might provide creatures of the deep, like Mahi Mahi or Wahoo. Going east we passed an area full of debris, both plastic and organic; I mentioned the fact that in places like this fish could be found and a few minutes later we had a strike. A small Mahi was brought to the transom but before we could transfer it into the cockpit it flipped and was gone.

We motored on towards Contadora and received a consolation in the shape of a cero mackerel, a good eating fish.

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At the same time the wind rose to eight knots and I opened the jib (main was up already) and shut down the engine. Pure sailing is so much nicer than motoring!

I sent a message to Mike wanting to make sure he was coming on Sunday and was surprised to receive his answer that he would be able to pick my stay from Fedex only on Monday. Arturo of Marine-Warehouse sent a mail saying he was sorry but the tachometer I ordered would not arrive on time due to severe weather in U.S airports. “Do you want a refund?” You bet I do!

18.2.17 – Saturday – If Gili comes on Sunday evening and Mike is only coming on Monday there is no rush to go back to Panama City. At the beginning we thought of spending another day in Las Perlas but that would have meant a longish trip on Sunday. I suddenly remembered Taboga, which is very close to Panama City and we motored there, frustrated by the no wind situation. After an afternoon nap I went into the starboard engine room, to try and understand the source of the not yet identified liquid puddle accumulating in the bilge. This time it was confirmed to be salt water leaking from the pump area and being painted black by residue of oil in the bilge. At first I thought the leak was from the connection of the pipe to the pump; I took it off, put it back in place, tightening the band and then saw that the leak was from the pump itself.

By that time I was awfully dirty and bloody, having been scratched by sharp parts of the engine. Shimon took some pictures and I’m only showing the one in which I managed to fake a smile.

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I have spare pumps and will replace the faulty one, hopefully not going back to the state above.

19.2.17 – Sunday – I entered the engine room at 0800. Changing the salt water pump is theoretically a simple affair but on the Maxim 380, where the engine is situated in a way that the drive is forward and the engine front points to the back – it is quite difficult. Anyway, I took the leaking pump out, found out that one of the water pipes chaffed against something and needed to be replaced. Luckily I had a spare for that one too. It took two hours to complete the job and I went out of the engine room looking just as I did the day before. I had black smudges on my back! How did they get there? “Shimon, when was the last time you washed a baby? come here, I need your help” I shouted from the bathroom.

We motored back to the Las Brizas anchorage to await Gili who is supposed to land in Tocumen airport at 2000. Tomorrow would be a day of preparations for the continuation of the voyage – ending in Ecuador.

Posted by: catamarantwooceans | February 13, 2017

Sailing back to Panama City

7.2.17 – Tuesday afternoon – I dinghied to town and found the Port Captain office. It was lunchtime and the Jeffe (chief, boss) would be back at 1300. I used the time to walk around town, bought some fruit and also found hot peppers, which they call here “chombo” and elsewhere “habanero”. A nice feature in town were the wall-paintings on the various shops, here’s an example.

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The balloon says:”How much can we achieve with a smile”.

Going back to the Capitania I found the Jeffe sitting outside with his men. When I inquired about necessity of paperwork, he waved his hand disdainfully, “we don’t care about it here, you can go anywhere in the area with safety, no problems”. That’s the approach I like! “how about internet?” “Maybe in the Pharmacy, which is a bit far away”. I thanked the guys and went back to the boat. By that time the tide started ebbing and my speed over water gauge showed 1.3 knots. I started up and motored a mile and a half to the north, to an anchorage recommended by the guide between Isla Boca Grande and Isla El Encanto, a very quiet and protected place.

8.2.17 – Wednesday – I woke up very early ( 4 a.m!) and used the time difference to call Gili and Shimon who is the friend joining in a few days. Sunrise made a spectacular scene.

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After breakfast I began washing the boat. With the sun up and the temperature and humidity so high, it was really tiring, but it had to be done! A Nobel prize will be given to the man who’ll invent boat building materials that rejects dirt.

My destination for the day was less than seven miles away, just a starting point for Thursday’s sail to Las Perlas on the way back to Panama city. I thought of going out with the tide, but as the clock showed midday I lost patience and went out. So I had a two knots current on the nose for a while, no big deal, I needed to charge the batteries anyway. I planned on going to Punto Buena Vista, thinking that the wind would be from the north; strangely it was from the south-west so I went to the anchorage near Isla Cerdo (pig island, not kosher) and found it to be quiet nice, with three little rocky piglets on its southern point.

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I took the SUP and paddled around those, enjoying the sea birds on and around them; there were pelicans, cormorants and a flock of small birds, perhaps a kind of petrels, flying in a big formation and acting more like a swarm, rising a diving as a cloud over the surface.

In the evening I started the starboard engine to charge the batteries and did not see water coming out the exhaust. Hey! I just tightened the belt a few days ago, maybe even too tight – I confessed to myself. I let the port engine do the charging and went into the starboard engine room. The belt looked fine and somehow I put it into my head that the problem lay with the water filter; I took it out, rinsed it under the tap and put it back. Started the engine – all seemed fine. Why am I telling you this? Read on!

9.2.17 – Thursday – With forty miles to go to Canas in Las Perlas, I wanted to use the tide to give me a boost out of the San Miguel gulf. High water was around 0300 so I decided to go at five a.m. Woke up started the engines and… no water out of the starboard engine. I thought I’d go out on a single engine and check it later. The current was quite strong, more than two knots as I went forward to lift the anchor.

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                  Before I even started moving

I commenced going around Isla Cerdo; it was very dark as the moon has already set. Looking around I saw a few small lights shining on the water; OH OH, FISHING BOATS! I didn’t plan on those! It was difficult enough to see their nets in daylight – completely impossible in the dark. I was still in shallow water and simply retarded the throttle to idle and re-anchored. It was 0530 and I was determined to fix the starboard engine before daylight. I entered the engine room, on a closer inspection I found that the water pump belt was ruined and had to be replaced. In order to get to that belt you have to remove the other belts and it all that took almost an hour. The moral of the story: things just don’t fix themselves, I should have seen the belt’s condition the day before and not be surprised at 0500 in the morning.

So out we went (Two Oceans and its humbled skipper) on completely flat and glassy sea, starboard engine operating well and giving speed of around 5 knots in the water and the tide doing its marvelous trick. Look at the SOG on the plotter.

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                                     Effortless nine knots

A few fishermen were trying to get the big fish, but I evaded them and got out of the gulf unharmed.

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Out of San Miguel the current subsided but still added two knots most of the way. I anchored in Canas’ northwestern anchorage, ate Pizza that I made on the way and went for a well deserved nap. In the evening a sport-fisherman boat came into the bay. That was the first pleasure craft I’ve seen since leaving Panama City seven days ago.

10.2.17 – Friday – After a restful night I was ready to play with some real sailing as the forecast promised good wind. I went out through the narrow pass between Canas and Isla Del Rey and sailed northeast on on port tack. The wind was unstable in both direction and velocity and at one point, when it went below 8 knots, I turned directly to Contadora, my target for the day, motoring on one engine. A flock of pelicans flew near the boat and I was quick to run inside for my camera to take their picture.

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Around 1000 the wind came; after letting me enjoy sailing in the right direction at 7 knots, it increased to more than 20 true, making for more than 25 apparent. I put the main in first reef but left the full jib. When we were less than two miles from the anchorage the sea state worsened, probably the effect of the tidal current. I can’t remember hearing the sound but right before my eyes a big tear opened on the forward part of the jib. Immediately I bore away until the main blanketed the jib and furled it all the way.

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               Taken two days later when we took the sail down

I turned back to anchor, my mind whirling with thoughts. Anchored, took a deep breath and called Mike Barker, who had helped me with the fiberglass repairman. Of course he knew the right man and would make the contact for me. So tomorrow I will go to Panama City, which was the original plan, probably motoring, maybe I’ll be able to use the jib deeply furled. In a way I was – glad is not the right word – perhaps content that it happened here and not on the way to Ecuador or Polynesia. Now the jib will go to a sailmaker who will repair and strengthen it.

11.2.17 – Saturday – At 0630 the light was good enough to go out. Initially the wind was less than 15 knots and I was motoring with the main in first reef, too close to the wind to use sail only. I passed the time reading accounts of cruisers who did land trips in Peru, in the same places Gili and I want to visit. Looking out from time to time I noticed a grey cloud approaching; it didn’t seem threatening at all but suddenly it blew 32 knots and rained. I released the main and waited a few minutes until it passed. Checked the maximum value the gauge recorded: 35.9 knots!

As I approached the La Playita anchorage the wind blew 20-25 knots. I figured I’d better put out two anchors in tandem and did it but my final position was too close to a 44 catamaran. I decided to relocate. The wind blew so hard that once the aft anchor, to which I tied a fender with a trip-line, came up, I had difficulty in taking it in and decided to throw it into the water and to collect it later with the dinghy. As I backed to go to another location I could not see the fender. Does this mean I lost that anchor? I’ll go later with the dinghy and try searching for it dragging the dinghy’s anchor on the bottom.

Posted by: catamarantwooceans | February 7, 2017

Sailing to Darien

2.2.17 – Thursday afternoon – Once the boat was in the water I had a few things on my list. I approached a taxi driver in La Playita marina offering him the project. Chava drove me first to a company named “Panamatek”, agents for ACR, the company that makes EPIRBs – Electronic Position Indicating Radio Beacons. One activates an EPIRB only in emergency; satellites receive its transmission, pinpoint its position and alert Search And Rescue (SAR) units which are supposed to do what their name implies.

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EPIRBs have a battery life of five years and my unit needed a replacement battery. I was in touch with Panamatek in advance and even got a reply with a quote for the service. Stanley, my canal agent, took the EPIRB to them the same day we crossed the canal. Now, more than ten days later I came to take my revitalized EPIRB. Surprise! “We don’t have a battery right now, we can sell you a complete unit if you like”. I’ll import it through Marine-Warehouse in Florida and come to them for the installation.

Next – to the Rey supermarket and the laundry place. Back at the boat I put everything in place and was ready to go. But go where? My crew for the continuation of the voyage will only come on the 12th; I am not the type to sit and wait, especially not in Panama City. I thought to myself:”Why not return to the original plan and go to the San Miguel gulf in Darien on the east of the country, where one could enter rivers and rainforests and watch birds and monkeys. I sat down and made a Float-plan for that area.

3.2.17 – Friday – The plan for the first day called for sailing 24 miles to Isla Chepo, not a point of great interest, and the next day – 42 miles to Brujas. Having gone to bed early, I woke up at 0300 and said to myself “If I go out now, I can easily get to Brujas today”. So instead of returning to bed I raised the anchor and left the anchorage. I had to go through what, from the distance, looked like a wall of lights, ships waiting for their canal passage and all sorts of crafts either at anchor or moving in all directions. Once I was clear of all traffic I opened the jib, deciding to wait for daylight to raise the main.

At the beginning the wind was about 17 knots from the North and we had great sailing, but with daylight the wind decreased and I had to use an engine all the way. At one point, with the wind from behind, I tried poling out the jib but the wind died and I had to take the pole down; good exercise , though. The entry to Brujas anchorage is complicated, according to the guide; looking at the chart it seemed I could have easily made a few shortcuts on the way in. With the trauma of hitting the rocks in Canas Island still fresh, you can bet that I followed the guide religiously, motoring in very slowly. I believe I mentioned in the past the modern variation on an old adage:”He who was scalded by boiling water puffs to cool the yoghurt”. I anchored behind Brujas point, not far from the fisherman village. 62 miles in a day, that’s a lot.

Fishing for dinner I took three catfish in a row and since I don’t like them and do not know how to cook them I released them and made do with spaghetti and grilled chicken from “Rey”.

4.2.17 – Saturday – Leaving Brujas was less stressful than coming in, mainly because the tide was high. My goal was to get to Congo river in Golfo San Miguel, again a bit of a long passage for a day but if I succeed I’ll gain a day in that area. Again the wind was light and I had to motor-sail. Near Islas Pajaros, bird islands, I passed a fishing boat that had a large number of pelicans around it, probably waiting to snatch a fish thrown by the fishermen. Pelican abound here and the way they fly low over the water or dive-bomb for fish is a sight too behold.

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Turning east near Punta Brava, passing between Banco Del Buoy, which has places with one meter depth at low tide, was nerve wracking, but I followed the waypoints I put into the plotter and never saw less than eight meters on the gauge. A sea bird alighted on the SUP and rode with us almost all the way to Congo river.

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Past Punta San Lorenzo, turning right around the small Isla Batatilla a three knots counter current hit us, slowing us down to 3.5 knots with both engines at cruise power. I was afraid I would not be able to reach the river early enough and would have to anchor near Iguana island, an open, unprotected anchorage. Luckily, as I rounded Iguana island the current subsided somewhat and I motored towards the river entry. At a distance I saw what seemed to be a small fishing boat on my track; getting closer I suddenly noticed that it was a flagged pole and that I was very close to run over a fishing net. Autopilot disconnected, I broke to the right and missed it by meters. It was low water and at one moment the depth showed less than the charted values, understandable in a river outlet. I slowed down when it showed 3 meters and continued slowly with a minimum of 2.4 seen. As I approached the entrance, where a fishing village not unlike Esmeralda was located on the west bank, the depth increased and I could breath easier. 

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                      Rio Congo village – note the low water

I anchored at the recommended anchorage. I was very tired and took a half hour nap – there was some work to be done; Check a suspected oil leak in the starboard engine, check belts and install some bolts surprisingly found missing in the steering system. All that accomplished, I had a refreshing shower, a whiskey and sat down to write this. As the sun went down, a nook on shore, with some white birds on it was painted in that special evening light; awesome!

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As I was sitting writing, feeling as if I was all alone in the neighborhood, I suddenly heard shouting voices outside. A panga with two guys came by, one of them waiving an empty gasoline tank (although his motor was running) and asking for fuel. I didn’t mind giving them a gallon and also some two stroke oil that I no longer needed. They had a lot of fish in their boat, big catfish and a few really big groupers. They said they caught them up river, which is interesting as groupers are saltwater fish.

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I think that’s enough action for today.

5.2.17 – Sunday – I the morning I went up river to take a look at an island near its eastern shore.

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Motored around it and made my way out towards Cucunaty river, again – following a safe route that would enable my heart to keep its regular rhythm. With the high tide I never saw any depth less than 7 meters. On my way I passed a few fishing boats, and remembering my near miss the day before I kept looking around for their nets, also using the binoculars. At one point I left the wheel to check whether there was cellular reception and a few seconds later I heard the engine stop, alarm sounding, and felt the boat stop. My first thought was that the prop was fouled by a rope but as I looked around I saw that I did hit a net. The fishing boat, to which the net belonged was far astern and not coming over. The port engine was free of the net and I tried turning the boat in the hope of release but this did not happen.

For a few minutes I waited to see what they would do and then decided to try and free my boat myself. By that time the tide was already going out so there was a current to consider. I wouldn’t go into the water without putting my anchor down and that I did but somehow the chain got fouled by the net too. Just as I was getting ready to go into the water, the fishermen’s boat came. They cut part of the net and started pulling it in. I cut the part that was stuck on the chain, went into the water, tied by a rope to the yacht and free diving in the current, mindful of the necessity to be careful not to get myself snared in that net I started cutting, first freeing the prop and shaft and then the rudder.

Once that was finished I climbed back on board and waited for the fishermen to come; there was no way I would try to run away. I did feel partly responsible and making the local guys mad was not something I wanted to do. I was ready to pay a sum for their damage and also prepared a bottle of Tequila for them to put things on a friendly atmosphere.

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                                     The fishermen coming

When they came over I asked for the captain; the man came and we commenced negotiations, in Spanish, with me trying to explain that we both shared the fault, me for not seeing the net and he for not marking it with a flag, which he had on board but did not use. The captain was speaking so fast that I had difficulty understanding. At one moment I asked him to stop and came up with five 20$ bills and the Tequila bottle. This had the desired effect but he said he wanted 50$ more. I made an unhappy face, said that he was taking more than half of what I had (almost true) and came up with the additional dough. A few courtesy words were exchanged, specifically in regard to not drinking the Tequila immediately and then, probably in accordance with the captain’s command, one of the crew came over with a big fish for me. This convinced me that the affair was ended to the satisfaction of the captain, which was certainly what I wanted to achieve.

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I motored on to Cucunaty river with no further drama and anchored. Cucunaty, just as the Congo river, is a very wide one and one cannot anchor near shore because of the three meters tide range. I was too tired to take the dinghy or SUP and explore. I’ll do it tomorrow. The 150$ fish, both as sashimi and pan fried in butter, tasted great.

6.2.17 – Monday – A day that you write about just a little can be a great day. I motored just three miles up the river and found the place I was looking for. The river narrowed at about 8 30.0 N and there was a bunch of mangrove islands on the east bank.

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I could approach very close to shore and still saw 13 meters depth. There were signs of habitation around but except for a single man on a panga I saw no one. I went ashore at a place I saw a thatched roof shack but apart of three dogs, a cock and some chickens no human was seen.

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Two pair of pants were hanging there, a neglected cayuca on the beach and no one there. Who feeds the dogs?

I motored to the other bank, thinking that it was the forest side, where I could see some wild life. The trees were all big mangroves and the only life I saw were white Ibis-like birds, which were very cautious and did not allow me to come near and take a picture; I used the Canon big zoom to capture this one.

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Another photo shy creature was a very colorful crab, who was hiding behind a tree trunk and every time  I turned around that tree he went the other way.

Back on the boat I watched the tide play. Places covered by water became mud banks and the boat turned with the flow and not with the wind.

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Dinner – chicken and vegetable curry, yummy.

7.2.17 – Tuesday – Today’s plan was to go to La Palma, the capital of Darien province, a town with more than 5000 people. You may rightly ask what were my reasons for  going to a noisy town and here they are. First, although not uppermost in my mind was the procedural necessity to check in. Secondly, and most important, was the need for communication; in the last few days I could only call using the Iridium sat phone not to mention the lack of internet. I wanted good communication in order to promote an idea that I had regarding the continuation of the voyage.

Up till now the plan was to get to Ecuador, go home for a month and come back to continue to Polynesia via Easter Island and Pitcairn. As readers of the blog know, Gili had to leave the boat when her mother passed away. My new and wild idea was to suggest that she comes back to the boat, sail with me and the friend who is joining on the 12th to Ecuador and then do a land trip in Ecuador and the Peruvian ancient city of Machu Pichu. I broached the idea to Gili and she was enthusiastic about it. So, as I entered the Boca Grande river and got closer to La Palma, cellular and internet became available and we spoke at length about the new plan.

I anchored opposite the town’s boatyard, not far from a dock. I’ll go ashore hoping to finish the formalities, publish this post and find a quiet place to anchor for the night.

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