Posted by: catamarantwooceans | July 14, 2008

June 2008 – Honduras to Panama

June 1st – Bad night! The wind did not come down as I hoped it would. I slept with intervals, looking out from time to time to see that we were stationary. When morning came it was apparent that we were not going anywhere.Patience, Miki! I passed the time reading, saw the movie “Apocalypse Now” (nothing to do with my mood, of course) checked engine oil level and then remembered that yesterday when I took the main-sail down it stuck for a while until I released the leech tensioning line. I went to look at the newly bought and installed headboard cars and was shocked to see that the upper car parted company with the track on the mast and that the aluminium part holding the cars together has bent! I tried to imagine a possible reason and all I could think of was that when I winched the leech for the first reef it exerted pressure on that part, but aren’t those exactly the conditions it was built for? I just paid 528$ for it and it did not stand the first test! It took me quite a while to dismantle the damaged parts. I’ll try and use the sail, cautiously, without it and contact the company to complain. I’m sure I’ll be able to have a part like that made for a lot less. Danny Kav, who is on his yacht in Greece, is looking at the weather for me and sent an SMS saying that tomorrow we can expect SE 10-15 knots. At this moment, 1600, I can see 27 on the wind speed dial…
In the evening more wind, top gust was 33 knots, Avel Mad dragged again, put a second anchor and finally was secure. I let out more scope on my anchors just to feel better.

June 2nd – In the morning I remembered the dream I had at night and even before breakfast went to execute the idea that occurred  to  me in it, namely lashing the car that was left useless on the mainsail track to the sail. This may be better than the original system!

headboard

Cooking dinner yesterday the gas ran out and I connected the other tank. These are big ones, made of light composite material and last me about three month each. Now boiling water for coffee, the flame fluttered and died. Checked the transparent tank – it was full. There must be some dirt plugging the tiny aperture the gas passes through. I remembered reading somewhere that the way to clean it is not with any sharp object but rather with Acetone. A Q-tip immersed in the stuff did the job.The wind showed 15-18, more than I expected or wanted. Looking out to sea I couldn’t see any big waves and so made up my mind to leave for Guanaja. Ben was a bit sceptical but decided to follow. The wind was straight on the nose and the sea wasn’t really calm. Still, I could motor at 4.5 knots which meant getting to destination in four hours. Looking back at Ben I saw Avel-Mad  butting into the waves, sending spray flying off her bow. Obviously Ben did not like it, put up a reefed mainsail and started doing tacks while motor-sailing. I was quite comfortable, staying most of the time inside the cabin to evade the spray that was generated each time we hit a wave. I even let the lure out in hope of replenishing my fish stocks. Reaching the southwestern tip of Guanaja I glanced back and could not see Avel Mad. At that time the seas flattened somewhat and the going was good. I called Ben to let him know and he then told me that they had decided to divert to the protected western side of the island and continue tomorrow. The pounding of the boat was too much, he said. Oh well, a nice couple, maybe I’ll see them again on the way to Panama.
Meanwhile , approaching the island, the water became shallower and it was time to stop fishing. I did it a bit late, when the depth was already 8 meters or so and as I was reeling in a fish was caught, a nice snapper! A welcome change from the Tuna I was catching all the time.
One can enter Guanaja from the southwest, from behind the sandbar and it was surprisingly easy locating the reefs and finding a safe passage to town. “Town” is actually on a rather small island off the coast of the main island. Many houses are built on stilts, right on the water and the main employment is obvious – fishing. Getting to the Texaco dock was easy, the wind abating at the right moment in the shadow of the houses on shore.

Guanaja

Guanaja

Guanaja

The filling station people allowed me to stay on their dock while going to the Port Captain to check out of the country. I was a bit apprehensive because I neglected to extend my “Zarpe”, sailing permit, that expired on May 25th, but the two officials did not mind it at all, were very friendly and completed the procedure quickly and efficiently. The moment I said “Adios” and went out, they closed shop and went for their lunch break. I used my last 10 Lempiras (55 cents) to check the weather and my e-mail. Outlook for the next 48 hours: wind SE15, waves 3-4 feet. I could live with that on the way to Cayos Vivorillos, 156 miles away, my next stop. I now had to decide on a place to anchor for the night. Shall I go to El bight, just east of town, which looked very protected and had a few yachts at anchor, or proceed two miles more to “Graham’s Place” formerly known as Josh Cay, where promise of Internet Wi Fi beckoned?  I opted for protection and a good thing it was because as evening came it was gusting up to 25 knots. Hopefully the forecast will materialise and let me sail on! On the way to El Bight I passed this fantastic house on the rock in the bay. Whose house is it? Who’s the architect? The town, originally called Bonaca, is in the background.

Location

Location

June 3rd – Went to town to buy some water and check the weather again. Decided to stay another day and leave tomorrow. I dragged myself out of my laziness and took the boat to Josh Cay – Grahams Place. Not only is it a beautiful place, they also have WiFi that I can get here in the anchorage. I’ll probably go ashore later to look at it up close.

Josh Cay

Josh Cay

In the afternoon I spotted a monohull coming in. Ben and Carine? Yes, they passed by , waiving and anchored about 50 meters to the north. Later in the evening they came over. Ben, who is 29, is a Breton and used to be a skipper for a French charter company in the Caribbean. He bought “Avel Mad”, a 44 foot there, sailed her to Brittany and back here. They are rushing to Panama, want to cross the canal and proceed via the Galapagos to the Maraquesas, where they hope to spend 4 month, including the Typhoon season. They would like to stay two years in the Pacific and then goon to Australia, Bali, the Indian Ocean islands and then via the Red Sea to the Med. Together we looked at the weather information that I downloaded. On paper it looked good, but Ben made the correct observation that even if the wind will be 15-20 and no more, the seas will still be high, remnant of the conditions of the day before. He thought he was going to wait at least a day or two before departing to the Vivorillos.
I, on the other hand, was restless to go and accepted the fact that I  may encounter some bad seas on the way. I promised Ben that if I don’t come running back with my tail between my legs, I’ll phone him by Iridium to tell him about the conditions en route. While we were talking the wind was blowing at 25 knots, it didn’t look so good for a departure tomorrow.

June 4th – I didn’t sleep very well, listening to the noise the wind made and trying to assess it’s velocity. This leg was going to be a first for me as a single-hander, a 156 miles trip against the prevailing wind, that will probably take close to 30 hours. How will I fare during the long night with no or little sleep? This is a thing I’ve never did up to now, the maximum being the Virgin Gorda to St. Martins – 85 miles that took 13 hours. I resolved to apply the sleep strategy the single-handed competitors use, that is – cycles of sleep for 20 minutes at a time followed by going on deck for the time needed to check the boat, the navigation and traffic. I even bought a kitchen timer for the purpose. We’ll see how it works for me. I got up very early,saw that the wind was less than 15 and the sea outside the reef looked flat. It always does when watched from afar or in a photograph. In the beginning the wind was 10 – 15 knots, the waves – just as Ben predicted – were there but not too bad. I was motor-sailing with full main and the going was good. By 1200 o’clock the wind grew stronger, 20 and later up to 25 knots. At forty miles out of Guanaja I spotted a log floating  ahead and then another and another. At first i thought they were some wood cargo washed of the deck of a ship but the shape of most of them, for they started appearing in quantities, indicated that they were probably flotsam from a big river. The one below measured, in my estimation, about 7 meters and could easily damage a hull or a propeller.

Log

Log

I tacked to get away from the area, which meant I was going 90 degrees to my intended course and losing time. The floating logs persisted for some 6 – 7 miles and I was pretty worried about something like that happening at night! With night approaching I changed course to get closer to shore, thinking that I might find lighter wind with better angle. This hope  became a reality and I could shut the engines down and use sail power only. Then came the rains. They were not your regular type of rain, they were like Monsoon rains in India. Not only did they reduce visibility to minimum (I really can’t give numbers, the night was dark and I simply saw nothing in any direction) the big storm clouds cluttered the Radar screen making it very difficult to see any target. I was trying to go out and look around from time to time but it was utterly useless. I was at loss as to the right way to proceed. Should I reduce speed? Stop altogether? It occurred to me that for a fast ship it will make no difference and so went on at normal speed. The rain was so heavy that in minutes my clothes were soaked and I had to wear the “oilskins”, those yellow plastic pants and jacket that will not let the water in and also my sailing boots, both of which were not in use for ages.During the night I tried the sleep strategy a few times but found out I was not feeling tired and could do without sleep.

June 5th –  As “Two Oceans” sped east conditions got better, in particular the sea became calmer and we no longer had this pitching movement with the occasional falling with a crash from one wave to another coming close behind. Come morning I let the fishing lure out and caught a nice Spanish Mackerel. Being greedy I sent it once again and some hot shot fish cut my line and disappeared with the (very new) lure.
At 8 miles to target it appeared on the horizon. It took me 30 hours to get there, including, of course, all the log evading action on the way. Cayos Vivorillos are four groups of reef islands, the one I was going to is called Vivorillos Grande and it comprises of two islands – Boga’s Cay on which a certain Mr. Boga tried unsuccessfully to build a home and another palm covered islet to its north.

Landscape

Landscape

I dropped anchor near the former, but then saw fishermen’s equipment on the beach and went to look at the other island. Trying to get close in the shoaling waters I hit a rock slightly and promptly went back to where I came from. A quick Iridium call home to let Gili know I arrived safely and then lunch and sleep. I took the dinghy ashore for a look-see and decided to come again tomorrow. The place merits a thorough exploration and picture taking. A huge Frigate birds colony, an inland lake, hurricane felled trees and Boga house make it an interesting, magical island. Oh, I hope you understand that I am the only human soul in all those islands! Nobody lives here, the fishing equipment looks old and unusable and no other yacht is here today.

June 6th – Dear reader – Let me say at the beginning that I fell in love with the Vivorillos and as people in that condition I am liable to talk (write, display pictures) too much about the subject of my emotions. Sorry! You can always switch to the news on T.V!
At 0730 I landed on Boga’s Cay, camera in hand. Yesterday I tried to circumnavigate the island counter clock wise so today I went the other way. The first thing that caught my eye seemed to be a large piece of some plastic material, keeping company to the tremendous junk dispersed all over the beach. A second, closer look revealed that it was a dried nurse shark. Look at the teeth columns!

Dried shark

Dried shark

Afew more step and I saw a figure I thought to be a dried Puffer. Second look – it was a bit of wood!

Puffer?

Puffer?

Walking along the shore I could imagine how the island came into being. A reef was uncovered by lowered sea level or by underwater earth quake that push it up. The east coast of the island is full of coral rocks.

Coral rocks

Coral rocks

Erosion of coral make sand, fertilised by birds droppings, seeds arriving by sea currents grow up to be trees and shrubs and you have a magical island! In the middle of it I saw a lake surrounded by all sort of trees, mainly mangroves. I edged forward in order to get a good photo angle, testing the ground with a bamboo stick I carried with me and a good thing i did, because at a certain point it sank without warning about 1.5 meters. Images of old Tarzan movies with people sinking slowly into the mire, to be saved by the hero if they were good guys or disappear forever if they were bad…I ended up on a tree limb to get the following picture.

Lake

Lake

While the eastern shore looked like accumulating more body in the shape of rocks and sand, the western one was losing turf. Some big trees have fallen into the sea, their roots – wide but not deep – unable to hold them standing.

Fallen tree

Fallen tree

And the birds everywhere, hundreds of Frigate birds gliding effortlessly on their big span, curved wings, reaching unbelievable high altitude for a purpose one is at loss to understand.

Frigate birds

Frigate birds

Not a good picture, but it does give an idea of the numbers. Pelicans are dive bombing the shoals for fish and many other types are busy at getting food, nesting and what ever birds do all day long. I should mention the mosquitoes, who were not impressed by the insect repellent I sprayed on myself. Between land and sea the crabs are scurrying back and forth, terrified by the big hulk getting close to them. Only the telephoto lens can catch them warming up on a slab of broken concrete dock.

Crabs

Crabs

Last is the old Boga house, the story behind which is a mystery. Two stories high and not a small structure, with a big concrete basin whose purpose is unclear. Perhaps to keep lobsters or fish in?

boga's house

boga's house

I spent almost two hours on this small island, marvelling at the rich forms of life making it their home and of the way nature operates. I planned to visit the other, northern island in the afternoon and almost gave up because the wind got stronger – 22 knots – and I didn’t like the idea of riding the dinghy against the it and the waves it made. At 3 p.m the lure of the place (it had a clump of Coconut palms it it’s center) prevailed and I went there, putting my camera in a watertight container and getting very wet myself. This island doesn’t even have a name and does not appear on the charts I have in it’s present shape but as a part of a continuous reef. Now it has all those trees and bushes, some man made structures, one of whom has the sign of the cross on it, A church?

Church?

Church?

The main attraction of the island are the birds, here they mostly Petrels, nesting on the ground inside low bushes, taking to the air the moment they sense a strange creature, perhaps a predator, getting close.

Nesting

Nesting

I even found a nest with an egg in it.

Egg

Egg

Frankly, I caused a lot of commotion and decided to leave, but then a big cloud drenched the island with rain that had me hiding in one of the corrugated iron covered huts. This island belongs to the birds, I shouldn’t have come there, I should have left it to the local inhabitants (below).

The locals

The locals

At 1700 I spotted a mast approaching from the distance. Is it “Avel Mad”? Yes, Ben and Carine motored in after a difficult trip.

Avelmad

Avelmad

We discussed plans for tomorrow. When I found out they were going to Cayo Media Luna, I decided to join. This small island is a part of a reef belonging to Nicaragua, it is about 60 miles from Vivorillos – a mere day trip, cutting the distance to my next point considerably. Some people told me I could go there – no problem. Ken, in Roatan spoke of fishermen robbing yachties. I did not want to be there alone, but if young Ben is there and we are two yachts it is worth it. Anyway, the guide book tell about a murder of a yachtsman in Vivorillos a few years ago and everybody comes here.

June 7th – Out of the anchorage at 0600, I set course to a point mid-way to Media Luna in order to pass a shallow, dangerous reef to its’ south. It gave me a desired track of 142 degrees, which meant I could sail and need not use the engines. Ben, who went out right behind me, opted to pass it to the north in order to get a better angle to the final destination, fearing there will be big waves. He explained later that his Sun Odyssey 44 has a flat section ahead of the keel and he cannot simply cross a wave head on but has to turn a lot to the side to avoid banging the boat falling down it. I made use of the “wind” feature of the auto-pilot, having it follow 40 degrees to the wind. This took me past the bad reef mentioned before right towards Cayo Media Luna, Half moon – due to the crescent shape of the island. Ten miles to destination the seas flattened and we had a fast ride. Looking ahead something did not feel right. The island was 3 miles to the southeast of the GPS way-point, the chart presetation and the plotter display. That was strange! I already learned that in cases like that check yourself first. I re-checked the coordinates I put in the plotter and they were correct! There was only one solution and as much as it seems incredulous – the island disappeared! It is no longer there! The one i saw 3 miles away is another one in the group, Such things can happen and are caused by severe hurricanes.

Media Luna

Media Luna

Can you see the anchor symbol on the left? Doesn’t look like it at all in reality. Anyway there was ample protection behind the reef so we anchored. Cayo Middle Of Nowhere is the right name for it. Tomorrow I’ll embark on a 130 miles leg to Providencia island, a second “overnighter” for me.

June 8th – 130 miles could take 20-24 hours or more, depending on the weather, so i didn’t go out very early wanting to get to Providencia in daylight. Providencia and its’ big sister – Isla San Andres plus a few Cays and reefs are situated opposite the coast of Nicaragua but belong to Columbia in South America. Most of the population was brought way back in history from Jamaica so English is spoken everywhere. I’m told that San Andres is the Hawaii of Columbia with high rise hotels, which is why I decided to give it a miss, not to mention the fact that every island requires entry procedure costing close to a 100 U.S. To the south of San Andres there is Cayo Albuquerque that is an outpost of the Columbian Navy, and there one can stay amid the reefs with no need for any formalities. But back to my trip:Ben and Carine sailed out to Cayo Albuqueque so that when their sails disappeared over the horizon I was left alone and actually had this funny feeling of being alone in this vast ocean, no other vessel or other proof of human existance visible. The wind cooperated, allowing me to sail without having to use the engines. It was the regular sequence of reefing, unfurling the sails when the wind abated and then back again. When night came I decided to have a proper meal, cooked and ate while the autopilot took care of the boat. I employed the sleep tactic I mentioned already, that of nodding off for 20 minutes at a time, and it worked very well. I don’t think I’d want to do a few overnighters in a row, but one or two are really no problem. 23 hours and 30 minutes after raising anchor in Media Luna I dropped it in Santa Catalina harbour on the northwestern side of Providencia. The island was once a place of refuge for the notorious pirate Captain Morgan, so locals are using his name in connection with terrain features. There is Morgan Head, which I could not recognize and a cleft in a hill they call Morgan’s Ass. One needs a bit of imagination stretching, but there it is.

morgan's Ass

morgan's Ass

The town itself reminded me of Livingston in Guatemala, that is to say very basic. Supply ship gets here Wednesday, Thursday and Friday so on Monday, today, there is NADA in the shops. The place is supposed to have good diving and I hope to do some tomorrow. What I needed urgently was water. Talking to a French guy on an Oceanis 411 nearby, he said that there is a man, Roberto, in the shop right at the dock who can fill water for me.  Roberto, middle aged gentleman with white hair and deep tanned face, said there was no problem. We moved a fishing boat that took the space he wanted me to tie to so that his hose will reach my boat, I came in and “parked” and then we saw that the hose was too short after all. A Canadian motor-yacht owner, who was passing the time there, offered to bring his pipe and after connecting the two I had water. I met a young Irish couple, Julie and Slater, from a boat just ahead of mine and invited them for a drink.

Slater

Slater

Julie

Julie

They bought their heavy displacement 31 foot steel boat in San Francisco in 2005, planning to reach Ireland in the summer of 2006. Now, two years later, they are here, rushing very slowly and relaxed to Rio Dulce for the hurricane season.

June 10 – I was told I could find a dive shop in Agua Dulce bay. This bay has a few hotels, dive shops and it has a beautiful sandy beach, palm trees and green hills in the background. I went diving with a couple, John and Lyn, who were staying in one of the hotels. First dive, a wall dive, was nice, nothing spectacular, not even the Christ statue the dive guide took us to see. The second dive to a depth of only 10-13 meters was much nicer. When people start diving they get excited by the big things, big barracuda, big grouper or a shark. With experience you find the beauty of the small creatures. Here, right at the beginning of the dive, I saw a spidery crab, quite rare, I think, then a tiny drum-fish with its’ unproportionally elongated fins, later I had an opportunity to “talk” with a group of lobsters, who touched my palm with their long feelers with no fear (on both sides…) The only down side was the mask and fins I got at the shop. They were way too small and hurt my feet and face. Back in town I made the decision to stay another day, contacted a local mechanic to look at the starboard engine kill switch solenoid which is not working, do laundry and just relax! As is my habit in every anchorage I check to see if there is any Internet WiFi in the air. My screen shows a station called Providencia Alcalde, that is the local municipality, but I am unable to surf. It turns out that some official decided to put this WiFi to the benefit of the public as well for the Alcalde employees, but too many users made it so slow that now they closed it altogether. I did not have Internet for about a week!

June 11th – Barnaby came to the boat accompanied by Chris, a Belgian who is also anchored in the bay. Barnaby fixed whatever Danny, the mechanic in Utila, did wrong and also alerted me to the fact that the port engine alternator belt needed to be replaced. While he was working, Chris and I had a yachtsmen talk and when he heard that I came from Media Luna he raised his eyebrows high. “Didn’t you hear what happened there just six weeks ago? A catamaran that went there was found drifting with nobody aboard and sign of theft ans struggle. Barnaby’s grandfather was murdered there with some other Columbian fishermen”. Oh well! I’m past that place and in one piece!
Barnaby finished working. “How much is it?” “I don’t know, my father will tell you the price”. We arranged to meet at 4 pm near Mr. Bush’s,the ships agent, place. Come 4 pm, no one comes. I wait and wait, have the girl at Bush’s call his home – NADA.
Going back to the dock, I find Barnaby sitting there with Chris, whiling the time away. The man is 31 years old, has three kid at home and here he sits neglecting his paternal duties. “Where were you, man?” “Sorry, my father went out and did not tell me how much”. I told him I’ll be on my boat and am leaving tomorrow early in the morning, Decided that if they will not show up I’ll give Chris whatever I’ll see fit.
On my left there was another catamaran, a Lagoon 37, maybe the last good looking boat that they built. I went over to palaver with them and invited them to come over at 5pm.

Lagoon 37

Lagoon 37

They were Mary-Allen and Randy, originally from Texas. Just before 5 pm, she came over to tell me that together with four other sailing couples they are going to a Pizzeria for dinner and to invite me to come along.
Barnaby showed up suddenly, wanted just a wee bit more than I thought was right which is probably the normal thing. We all took the Collectivo, the local bus, that goes clockwise around the island. If the bus station is at the clock’s 12 position, the Pizza place is at 10, and we had to go all the way around, which was very interesting. During dinner I learned some more about my neighbours. They started sailing six years ago, with a son who was then 16 years old who finished high school while cruising. An older daughter stayed in the U.S. At 18 the boy went to a diving school and did all the possible certifications, including instructor. While working for a pleasure diving company, he did a coast guard captain training and now, at 22 he is a captain of a live-aboard diving vessel. They fell in love with Panama and bought an eight acre plot in a place in the mountains, 5000 feet high. They since sold 6 acres and have a small house on the remaining two, hiding among coffee trees. In season the Indians workers pick the beans and they sell them to a coffee merchant. It turns out that many Americans are lured by Panama, buying property there, getting a resident status for 1100$ with tax exemption for 20 years. Talking with other people present I found out that I was lucky with my trip to Vivorillos, the French couple that sat next to me sailed from Trujillo, about the same distance, and it took 48(!) hours. Randy and Mary-Ellen also had a lot of trouble with engine failure due to water in the fuel, the auto pilot quit and some bilge pumps stopped working so when they got to the Vivorillos they did not even go ashore but stayed on board to correct all the malfunctions. All of them are sailing to Panama but are taking their time doing it. When we got back to the dock, we saw a local kid sitting there with a laptop. “You have Internet connection?” “Yes” he says “they opened it up now”. Wow! I rushed to the boat, took my computer and went ashore – nothing! No connection.

June 12th – Rechecking the distances I found out that the leg Providencia – Albuquerque is actually 80 miles. This meant at least 13 hours trip and that in order to get there with good light for reef navigating by eye, I will have to go at 0300 at the latest. I did not feel I deserved that punishment and promptly change my previous plan and added San Andres, 55 miles away, to the itinerary. From there to Cayo Albuquerque is a mere 26 miles which I’ll do the next day.The town of San Andres is situated, unusually for these parts, on the eastern shore of the island, open to the onslaught of the easterly wind and seas if not for the barrier reef protecting it. With the wind from the east at 15-18 knots and my course just a bit west of south (196), Two Oceans was showing what she does best. In 8 hours we covered the distance and entered Bahia San Andres, where the colours and transparency of the water were simply fantastic.

San Andres

San Andres

Another surprise was the cellular phone coming back to life and I was sure I’ll be able to find Internet, publish the site, see e-mail and weather. But first – the bureaucracy. As I was maneuvering to anchor, a voice calls on the VHF. It is the agent, who Mr. Bush told me about and whose name I could not remember. We meet at Nene’s marina, a shallow affair accommodating a few motor boats with the main business coming from the local bar. The noise is deafening, I find all the necessary officials are there but they will do nothing without the agent. When finally Mr. Renee Cardonas appears thing get moving but I’ll only get my papers back tomorrow at 8 am. Now to search for an Internet cafe, not a simple task because not in all of them you can use your own computer. 15 minutes walking, todays workout, and I have found a place. Internet! The new addiction…

San Andres town

San Andres town

June 13th – The immigration officer took his time getting to the marina and instead of coming at 8 am as promised he showed up at 0930 all smiles and good will. Now that I had all the documents I could go to Panama. The spring board for that leg will be Cayo Albuquerque, 25 miles away, that I reached in less than four hours. This is actually an atoll, reefs circling a lagoon in which two little islands are located, supposedly manned by Columbian navy personnel. For some reason I did not feel confident about the two electronic charts I had of the place, so I entered with great caution. Normally when you see an island in a lagoon you are drawn to anchor near it, but here it meant another 1.5 miles of motoring over coral with uncertain depth, a thing I did not care to try early in the morning when I want to leave for Boca Del Toro, Panama. Instead, I found a sandy patch  behind the reef and anchored securely in water 4 meters deep. I will have a shorter and easier departure tomorrow. On the way to the Cayo, a plane passed above at low altitude, it had a radar dome on it’s back and if my aviation memory is still good, it was a Neptune P-3 of the American Navy. I hoped this will not be a repetition of the Cuban adventure with the U.S Coast Guard! After some time another one flew over, this time with no dome. Maybe they are combating drug trafficking in the area.

June 14th – Although it looked that the anchorage I chose was well protected, the boat was rocked all night by little waves, giving me a feeling of sleeping under way. At 0630 I left, noticing a sailing yacht just arriving from the north. I said:”Good morning” on the VHF and received a reply in Spanish that I could not decipher. The wind was quite strong,18-20 knots and as the forecast promised – from north – north east. As I was going south it was almost from behind, not the best point of sail because the mainsail blocks the wind to the jib. This, I thought, is the time for sailing wing and wing, main to starboard and jib to port. This method requires that the wind is held straight from behind or either of the sails might move to the other side, unless… Unless you hold the jib in place with a spinnaker pole, then the jib will stay put even if the wind comes 45 degrees from the “wrong” direction. I tried it in Belize, when Yoshi was on board and now I was going to do it by myself. Working on deck secured by my safety harness the mission was accomplished successfully and Two Oceans started surfing down the waves at good speed. After letting me enjoy this for two hours, Old Man Sea decided that I had enough fun, the wind velocity fell to 10-13 knots which still gave us a little over 5 knots SOG. This is the time to go fishing! Lure into the water and it did not take long for a strike. It seemed to be a huge fish, the rod bent alarmingly and even though I tightened the friction nut, the fish was pulling the line out. I could not stop it, let alone bring the fish in! I was determined to take it and so, in order to reduce the load on the line, I furled the jib. The boat speed went down a bit but not enough, I was still unable to move the reel handle. My last card was to lower the mainsail and after I did a fight started that took 45 minutes. My arms,especially the left, holding the rod, ached terribly and was swelling. Slowly, a turn or two at a time I brought the fish closer. As minutes ticked I felt I did not care whether I bring it on board, I only wanted to see what kind and what size it was. As it came closer, a bluish form under the surface, it seemed to tire and I was able to work the reel quicker. Then the form broke surface for a second to show a snout I recognised.

shark!

shark!

A shark! It wasn’t a big one but the fight it gave was something I never experienced before. Of course I decided to let it go and looking at the mouth full of those sharp teeth I rejected the idea that passed through my mind to try and extract the lure. And so Mr. Jaws swam away, adorned by a red and white ornament that will probably cause him a lot of discomfort.
I was so exhausted, I found it very difficult pulling the mainsail back up and unfurling the jib and once it was done I treated  myself to 20 minutes rest in bed. No more fishing for now. At 1700 a big ship passed in front, I suppose I shall see a lot of them as we get closer to Panama and the canal. After that I put the lure back in and 30 minutes later I had a nice Wahoo, 105 cm long, compensation for all the trouble the shark gave.

Wahoo

Wahoo

Night fell and so did the wind so I started one of the engines and we proceeded at a little over 5 knots. There is a three quarters moon shining, the sky is clear of clouds and the scene is pure magic. As thing look now,we will reach Bocas around midday.

June 15th – The night passed uneventfully, I saw some ships at distance, few big clouds emitted lightning, but were far away to cause any concern. I took quite a few 20 minutes naps, mainly to pass the time since I was not really tired. With the rising sun came wind, this time from the west. Far behind I spotted a water-spout, a small tornado, coming down of a black cloud and violently disturbing the sea surface. Luckily it dissipated and did not reach our position.

Waterspout

Waterspout

Bocas del Toro entrance was reached at 1130, 170 nautical miles in 29 hours – nice!
As I entered the bay I called the port captain on VHF hoping to get an explanation regarding the entry procedure. A guy, who turned out to be the port pilot, came on the radio, said he’ll call the officials for me but could not find any of them. Oh! It’s a Sunday! I’ll find them tomorrow. I motored to a spot south of town, near the Bocas marina, anchored, had lunch and went into bed for a well deserved rest.  A loud knock on the hull penetrated my slumber. Jumping outside, I saw a boatload of people in a water-taxi. One of them introduced the group, he was Raphael, the port captain and with him all the functionaries – immigration, customs, health, a few others I did not catch the title of, the boat driver and Raphael’s son whose name was “Well”. They all did their job pleasantly smiling and then one of them presented me with a piece of paper that explained how much I had to pay.

My bill

My bill

Ouch! The local money is U.S dollars… I didn’t expect that and actually was short of cash having had to pay with green bills for fuel in Guanaja. Raphael sent his son with me to the ATM but the two instruments in town were not functioning. We agreed on “Manana” and I went back to Two Oceans.

June 16 – Just relaxing in Bocas del Toro.

June 17 – The same, until I took out to air the mattresses from the starboard forward cabin in preparation for the arrival of my daughter. Right in front of this cabin there is a triangular, single bunk, that we only use as storage space and when I took the mattress out of there I saw an inspection hatch that I did not remember ever seeing or opening to inspect. What better time than now? Peered inside – and saw water, a lot of water! I pumped the water out using a portable manual pump that I have, it took about 300 strokes and then some more work with a sponge. I know that there was a small leak from the hatch that I tried to seal with silicone but I did not think it could accumulate to such an quantity. I’ll have to follow it closely. Just when you think everything is going so smoothly…

June 18th – Went into the Bocas marina to fill water and wash the boat. Filled fuel at 4.95$ a gallon – expensive! The marina itself is not – 22.60 a day for a 38 foot cat is O.K. Of course I checked the forward compartment on the port side and happily no water there.
Just had a call from Yael, my daughter. They are on the aeroplane in Miami, unable to take off due to a storm… It doesn’t seem that they will be here today…

June 19th –  At 0730 the regional aeroplane landed with Yael and Nir aboard. We spent half the day rearranging their flight schedule for the way back  that did not give them enough time on the boat and then more shopping. At 1330 we motored 2 miles to Isla Basimentos, anchored and went ashore. Isla Basimentos has a village of 1500 people, many children, is not your super clean sort of place with gutters running along the main road spilling the contents into the bay. We took a path leading to a beach on the ocean side, a walk of about 30 minutes (the guide book said 10 but no way!) met some young tourists on the way, some of them with surfboards. The beach is called Wizard and it’s a long, nice Caribbean beach,  with white sand and coconut trees. Back on the boat the young ones were happy to cool off in the water.

Yael and Nir

Yael and Nir

June 20th – An easy day with two destinations: first – Cayos Zapatillos, two  uninhabited islands, part of the Bastimentos marine park, second, the anchorage for the night – Bahia Azul or Bluefield bay, named after a Dutch pirate who had a base there in the 18th century.
Cayo Zapatillos #1 was the ultimate Caribbean island. White sandy beach encircles a thick jungle with a big variety of trees.

Zapatillos cay

Zapatillos cay

Walking around the island took about 45 minutes of pure pleasure. Back on the boat, as we were having lunch, a motor boat approached – the park rangers. It turned out that there is a fee for entry to the park: 10 dollars per person. A bit excessive in a country that has hostels that cost 8$ a night! On to Bluefield bay, past wooded rocks jutting out of the sea, we sailed to anchor behind Punta Alegre, near a four simple homes built on stilts, with generator supplying electricity for just a few hours each day.
                                                               

Bluefield rock

Bluefield rock

                                                              

Punta Alegre homes

Punta Alegre homes

In the bay men and children were paddling Cayucas, small boats made out of hollowed trees, some fishing, some coming to look at Two Oceans, a modern craft invading their traditional world.

Visitors

Visitors

In the evening rain came and with it some wind. I was not completely happy with the way the anchor held at 11 meters depth on what seemed like soft mud bottom, so I added a second anchor and went to sleep fully relaxed.

June 21st – At around five a.m the rain started to come down heavily, the clouds bringing wind that went up to 17 knots. Anchors were holding O.K, but how will the day progress? At 0845 the cloud cover lifted a bit and I decided to leave. Tobobe creek, 8 miles from our anchorage as the pelican flies, is actually 16 miles away. We had to go around the headland, turn east, come to two islets, Big and Small Plantain, there we lowered sails and motored south and then west between two groups of reefs, with the sea breaking over them to reach Tobobe. This is a small Indian village, the people make their living out of fishing and agriculture.

Tobobe village

Tobobe village

We had a lot of visitors come to look at Two Oceans and it’s strange occupants, some idling by for hours, some offering bananas and a plantain sweet that cost 20 cents a piece. We went ashore and were surrounded by the local kids who took a lot of interest in our inflatable dinghy, so different from the boats they are used to.

Local chicos

Local chicos

The houses in the village were very simple, thatched or corrugated iron roofs, with a toilet and shower in a separate structure situated above a draining ditch. All very basic, and apart of the sewage system – quite clean.

Shower

Shower

Passing by the local school we asked for the path to the hilltop. A teacher sent one of the boys to show us the way. Santilio Gonezales, a 10 or 12 years old kid, led us barefoot, through a muddy, slippery trail.

Santilo

Santilo

On the way back we passed a whole family with their load of bananas paddling home, we waved, they waved back and just like everybody we met were smiling and seemingly happy. Such a contrast to our modern life!

A family

A family

June 22nd – Most of the boats here are Cayucas, propelled by a single oar or sometimes a sail.

Cayuca sail

Cayuca sail

Just before we left the anchorage two boys passed by with their own version of a sail.

The palm sail

The palm sail

Out of Tobobe we motored, for there was no real wind, towards an island called Escudo de Veraguas, 16 miles away. This is a 2.5 miles long island, on which one or two families are supposed to reside and where divers from the mainland come to hunt lobsters free diving to depths of over 20 meters. We hoped to buy some but when we got to the island we saw no signs of human life although we did see huts on shore. We were anchored in front of a sandy beach, jungle flora behind it, to the east we saw tree covered rocks and caves in rocks on shore.

Rock near Veraguas

Rock near Veraguas

We circled the area in the dinghy and just before beaching we went back to Two Oceans to get a bottle of water and Nir’s camera. Going to shore the sea looked calm, we slowed to shut down and tilt the outboard, Yael and Nir jumped off the boat to pull her out of the water – and then three breakers surprised us, filling the boat with sea water. Both cameras were in the backpack on the dinghy’s floor, when we took them out – they were dripping wet. I was really pissed off with myself, after all I had the same experience in Trinidad! Did I not make a decision to take the camera in a waterproof bag each time we beach the dinghy? I must find a better solution fort this. A housing? A water tight camera? I can’t go on losing cameras like this! So friends –  there will only be cellphone photos for the duration of this part of the trip. Sorry!

June 23rd – During the night swell came into the anchorage and made sleep difficult. On one of the times I woke up I resolved to depart as early as 0500, but at close to four a wave hit the boat and made such noise that both Yael and me got up to investigate. The moon, although only half full gave very good illumination, so I decided to go immediately. Up the anchor and we started motoring out, as there was no real wind. In addition, the wind instrument acted strangely showing zero apparent wind. When I looked up the mast at the wind sensor I could see by the navigation light that it was not rotating at all. This meant another trip up the mast for me but only when we reach a calm anchorage.  The 48.5 miles to Rio Eureo took just over 8 hours. Just after anchoring in this seemingly deserted place, a big motor boat appeared from behind the point to the east of us. I could see 6 or 7 men there. The boat passed us to the west, slowed down, was met by another one who came from the beach and after some time headed towards us. Frankly, I was a bit apprehensive. As they got closer I saw that they were three, clad in army uniforms and carrying guns. It took a few minutes to understand that they were legit military men and not para-military. They asked us a few questions, wanted to see identification, but as I brought out my papers they thought better of it and left the scene. Some unpleasant minutes there… The excellent Eric Bauhaus sailing guide for Panama says it is the calmest along the coast, that, of course is a relative description. We do bounce quite a bit here and black rain clouds are all around, with thunder and lightning. Later, after we went to bed, the sea calmed down and everybody had a good night rest.

June 24th – We liked the idea of getting up early when you have a longish leg ahead and implemented it again, going out at a little past four a.m. The coast now curved to the north east as we made our way to Chagres river, 50 miles away and only six miles short of the entrance to the Panama Canal. Rio Chagres run inside a virgin rain forest and you can go in it 6 miles up to the dam that created Lake Gatun, the lake giving water for the operation of the canal.

Rio Chagres jungle

Rio Chagres jungle

Some people are not aware that it is not a simple canal connecting the Atlantic to the Pacific ocean but that ships are being lifted and lowered in locks to pass elevated terrain. Another trivia question:”When you cross the canal from the Atlantic to the Pacific are you going east or west?” (Answer: You actually end up east of your Atlantic position due to curve of the land).
Anyway, we reached the Rio just before 12 o’clock and motored all of the six miles to the dam enjoying the view and the jungle noises – howler monkeys and bird we ould not see..
                                                                                                                   

Gatun Dam

Gatun Dam

We saw four yachts on the river, one of them a Wharram Pahi 42 catamaran.

Pahi 42

Pahi 42

We went back to anchor at a point where there should be a trail in the jungle but rain forbade any trek. Maybe tomorrow! We ended going for an exploration trip with the dinghy and then a bit on foot. Your regular, beautiful rain forest…

June 25th – We were down to minimum water and needed a place to fill up. I suddenly remembered Shelter Bay marina just inside the entrance to the Panama Canal which is only a slight detour from our planned route to Portobello, our destination for today and the last stop before San Blas archipelago.
It was funny, after spending a long time in the wild to see a city, Colon, with skyscrapers, so many ships – in short – Civilization…
Another bonus is that there is Wi Fi Internet in here so I can publish the site. I don’t think I’ll have Internet in the San Blas!  After having filled water we motored out of the breakwater protecting the canal entrance. There was good wind so I raised the mainsail to the first reef position and with full jib we were running at 7.5 to 9 knots. Portobello is a nice bay in the regular conditions i.e easterly winds. It is, however, open to the west and now we had a westerly wind blowing! From afar I saw a large number of boats anchored on the southern part of the bay, near town, so I also headed that way. Portobello is one of the wettest areas in Panama and to prove it black rain clouds were intercepting our track so that just as we entered the bay it started raining cats and dogs. I did put on my oilskin jacket but got soaked completely from the pant down.

In my oilskins

In my oilskins

Although the visibility went down considerably I was able to find a place between the anchored boats. When the rain stopped we found a grocery store and stocked the boat for the coming week. The town goes back to Christopher Columbus days and there are some ruins of  an ancient fort from that period. The “modern” houses did not look any better, it’s not a well to do town!

Portobelo house

Portobelo house

In Panama, as in other Central American countries, they buy used U.S school buses and use them for regular transportation, but not before decorating them to the local taste. Here is one example.

Local bus

Local bus

Back on the boat, the rolling motion caused by the waves entering the bay was too much so we moved to the northern, better protected, side.

June 26th – The “kids” were still asleep when I started up at 0500 for the 40 odd miles to San Blas. Out of the bay, I motored past small rocky islets covered with trees. I asked myself how did those trees get there? Especially the palm trees that I saw on top of the small island at an altitude of at least 150 feet. I know that they travel distances on the ocean waves but do they also climb hills? The only possible explanation I could think of is that the islets were separated from the mainland at some time and already had the trees on them. Panama is a country of fantastic landscapes, the rivers, islands and forests are incredibly beautiful. I find myself watching the scenery go by and thinking how lucky I am to be able to see all this.
I waited for Nir to come out because I wanted to let him catch a fish. Just before he did I let out a lure, the new red and white Rapala that I bought in Bocas. When he emerged from their cabin, I briefed him on the operation of the Pen rod and reel and went into my cabin to rest a bit. Less than five minutes have passed and i heard a commotion in the cockpit. Went to investigate and Nir is wrestling with something he caught. This something acted funny – most of the time it was so easy to pull it in, that I thought that there was no fish at all and then it put up a fierce resistance for a few seconds. When it was brought closer to the stern I was surprised to see a small shark! I just lost a Rapala to a shark  less than two weeks ago and they cost about 20$ a piece. I was determined not to lose this one too. Nir pulled the creature onto the steps on the stern, I held the wire leader (a length of wire connected to the lure – stronger than the nylon line that is used on the reel) and using pliers tried to take the hook out of the sharks mouth. The stupid fish did not cooperate. Last time I caught a shark I released it, not that I dislike shark steaks, on the contrary, so now I thought :”what privilege does it have over a tuna or a wahoo?”  and also:”what chance will it have with a 5 inch lure and a foot of wire dangling from it’s mouth?” Yael said later that I shouted at it:”do you want to live?” before cruelly putting it out of it’s misery with hammer blows to the head. On deck we measured it – 1 meter from snout to tail end and it gave out 11 nice steaks for the freezer.

shark 1

shark - Before

Nir with catch

Nir with catch

Shark - After

Shark - After

At1330 we entered the anchorage of Isla Porvenir, the island that has the airstrip and the check in offices for the San Blas area.

Isla Porvenir

Isla Porvenir

San Blas is a part of Panama where the Kuna Indians have a sort of autonomy. It is a large area with over 300 hundred small low islands, many of them uninhabited, protected from the ocean waves by a barrier reef. This is not the lace to describe in detail the special Kuna culture, I suggest that those interested look it up on the web. Before we could even lower the dinghy, we had visitors. Fishermen tried to sell Yael three giant Crabs for 10 bucks, we took one for 3. Two canoes with women came to sell us Molas, the traditional cloth weaved by them. We told them:” later, not today” and went to do the entry procedure.

Crabs

Crabs

Molas

Molas

First, the port captain representing the Panamanian authorities. I took out all the papers I got in Bocas but the man was looking for the Zarpe, the sailing permit for the specific leg. I couldn’t find it anywhere! Searched the boat – NADA! We tried calling the port captain in Bocas but they said they had no record of giving out a Zarpe to Two Oceans. The guy said:”300$ penalty”, showing me a document to confirm it. I was flabbergasted, where the hell is the Zarpe? The guy was quick to tell me that if I did not need a receipt the “fine” will only be 30$. Thus the business was concluded and I hope there will be no problem when I come to get a Zarpe out of here! Next was the office of the Kuna affairs, a nice tattooed man calling himself Felix and speaking good English took the payment for a month stay in the region (giving a receipt) and we were free to go.

Felix

Felix

Back on the boat I was searching my mind on the matter of the lost Zarpe and suddenly it hit me – I was supposed to go to the port captain in Bocas BEFORE going to San Blas and get this Zarpe! In the excitement of the kids coming on board I simply forgot all about it! Mea Culpa! Looking at the guide book I chose to go to Lemmon Cays, 2.5 miles away and not to Chichime where a lot of yachts were at anchor. I took Yael and Nir to an adjacent island full of coconut palms, white beach – the works!

Magic Island

Magic Island

June 27th – This is the way you cruise the San Blas – you get up in the morning, look at the guide and chose an island that is not too far away. All of them are described as “beautiful, excellent snorkeling, protected anchorage etc. Since Yael and Nir have to leave on the 30th we made a plan to do a circuit from Lemmon Cays to Holandes Cays, stay one night near the easternmost island of those only 13 miles away, another night on the west of the group and the last day in Chichime Cays which are very close to Porvenir. The scene in the picture above repeated itself time and again as we passed the many islands on our way, culminating in what is popularly called BBQ island, where we anchored in the company of nine other yacht. On this island the words “Global Warming” become frighteningly clear when you walk along the beach and see fallen palms lost in the battle between land and sea.

Global warming

Global warming

We went on to two other islands, one of them was inhabited and we could observe the standard of living of the Kuna. Simple huts, no furniture save for a few hammocks. One wonders where they get their drinking water and how do they deal with waste and garbage control, what food, apart of what they take from the sea is available to them – certainly they are people of different era somehow maintaining their traditional way of life in a crazy, modern world. One of their ways to cope is to levy a tax on visitors. An elder who met us on the beach said we needed to pay 5$ , the problem was we had no money on us. We asked him to come over to Two Oceans and he did. We paid and also gave him a package of Israeli coffee. He then asked if we could spare a book or a magazine. When we told him we only had English books to give he said this was good since the women of the island learn the language reading them.

Island Elder

Island Elder

Nir asked me to write that we had a few dolphin visits, how could I have been so blase about this! There was even one near the boat this morning…
Nir was bit by the fishing bug ever since he saw me catch a wahoo in St. Lucia. He caught a big snapper over there and was hooked for life. This evening he cast again and in short order had two nice snappers in the bucket. He even consented to be lectured on the way to clean the fish, then graciously let me try for number three. I hooked one but it ran off before I could bring it aboard. Never mind, those two will make a nice meal for the three of us.

June 28th – Today we got a glimpse of the San Blas in the dry season – the clouds dispersed and the sun came out highlighting the beautiful colours of the sea and islands. We motored to a small island nearby and trying to anchor close I ran aground on soft sand. Working the engines released us and we re-anchored in a deeper spot and went ashore. I could have started using superlatives again, these places are unbelievable!

Another magic island

Another magic island

Also incredible is the garbage left on the island by some people who had a picnic there, apparently yachties, disgusting!

Garbage

Garbage

From this little island we took a trip with the dinghy in the direction I saw a local boat fishing. I had in my imagination lobsters for dinner, either caught or bought. The water were so translucent you could see each and every fish and coral clearly as we slowly advanced.

Clear water

Clear water

A dark shadow passed on our right – a nurse shark. Going back to Two Oceans a big turtle took a dive right in front of the dinghy to escape this strange predator. We left to go to our night anchorage at the western part of the group, passing on our way a reef that looked inviting. I approached it with care and anchored in 6.5 meters to let Yael and Nir snorkel a bit. When they came back I  asked:”On the Red Sea scale, was it a 4?” “It was nice” said Yael “But it does not reach the Red Sea scale at all”. In all the places I snorkeled and dived in the world I have still to find something that will compare to Ras Muhamed, Ras Um Sid and the other fantastic underwater views of the Red Sea. Reaching the Miriadiadup anchorage we found it dirty with seaweed and human refuse, plastic bottles and the like. Yael insisted that we find a cleaner place so we went on to the westernmost islands and anchored deep, 11 meters, in the company of a 60 foot catamaran and an English steel yacht with all the traditional long range trimmings including a bubble hatch for storm sailing.
Not long after we dropped the anchor, a Cayuca with a couple approached. The man asked if we could charge his cellular phone. They have them but there is no regular electricity on the island so they are helped by the cruisers. He asked if we wanted lobsters which we of course did, and brought a few. We chose three, did not bargain and agreed to pay 12$ adding a bottle of water and a coke for his lady to the deal. By the way, they are taking also baby lobsters, which is a pity.
Going out of my cabin after a short nap I was surprised to see Nir shaving his head, first with an electric shaver and then with a regular blade. The young generation is balding very early and the high-tech look (also popular in the advertising industry in which Nir works) is the bald, shaved head.

Nir's new look

Nir's new look

June 29th – After the morning rain went away we visited the island we were anchored near. Even with the cellphone camera it looks great.

One more

One more

Out of there we continued west to Chichime Cays.I was tempted to tow the dinghy behind Two Oceans instead of my principle of putting her on the aft deck for anything over one mile trip. Going into Chichime we had to go around the reef, where the ocean swell got higher coming into the shallows. Climbing one of these waves the dinghy fell back, the rope tightened with a snap and the towing bracket broke out leaving the dinghy floating untethered to her mother-ship. I turned back, Nir caught her with the gaff, we tied her securely and continued slowly into the bay. Right in the entrance there is this small islet, postcard quality picture. Once inside, the regular commercial activity by the locals started immediately and when they realised that we did not want anything, they asked that we charge two cellphones.

entering Chichime

entering Chichime

Having reached the last station before their departure for home, Yael and Nir had yet  to decide how to get to Panama City. They chose to take a flight from Porvenir and since the take off is at 0700 a.m we need to spend the night there. Now we needed to find the owners of the cellphones… Somehow we found two volunteers and could leave. A mile before Porvenir we sighted fins ahead – four dolphins came to say goodbye. In the evening we celebrated by having a dinner of steamed snapper (that Nir Caught) in Ginger and Soy sauce with a bottle of wine, better than any restaurant! Later, when Yael was at the stern to wash the dishes (we are saving sweet water) she called out for a flashlight thinking she saw some sea creature in the water. The light revealed a spotted eagle ray “flying” majestically close to the boat.

June 30th – The Porvenir airport has a very narrow runway with high palm trees close to it, the airplanes landing a coming to park on the grass near what you can call the terminal building. By 0730 Yael and Nir were airborne and I was by myself once again. I arrange the Zarpe for the next leg plus an extension to the cruising permit that will allow me to sail in Panama up to December 16th and then motored a few miles to the west of Porvenir, found an uninhabited islet and anchored.
Tomorrow I’ll start going west again, stopping at two interesting places on the way to Panamarina, where I’ll leave Two Oceans until September.

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