Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Pacific, Here We Come !!

We're going through the canal. On Friday. A last minute change of plans has us heading through the Panama Canal this coming Friday. We're very excited.

Oh, we're not going on Astarte though. We're going as crew for Jack on Anthem. He needs some line-handlers and we've wanted to do a canal passage. We decided we're here, there's a opportunity, and we shouldn't pass it up. So we've arranged with Panamarina to stay a few extra days and head back into Colon, meet Jack at Shelter Bay and go through the canal with him on Friday. We don't have an exact time, but there is a website you can go to: and watch boats pass through the canal (go to English/multimedia and hit either the Gatun or Miraflores locks to watch the boats go through. If possible, we'll send a note with a more accurate time if we have an internet connection.

Look for us. Michael will have his big straw hat on and Barbara will be wearing a red t-shirt. The boat has green canvas covers and is a Cabo Rico 38. So look for us!

We'll return to the boat probably on Sunday and then be ready to take off. We'll do our check-out on Thursday when we get to Colon before we head to Jack's boat. This will be a fun adventure and we're sincerely excited about this opportunity.

Thanks Jack for needing line-handlers.

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Wearing The Tread Off Our Sneakers

Panamarina, where we are currently tied, is in the middle of a national park. We've taken advantage of the pretty surrounding countryside to get in some nice hikes and walks. Some by choice. Others to catch an early bus. On Sunday, we took a long hike over hills and dales, and ended up near the water on the other side of a major hill. It was a beautiful butterfly walk. Lots and lots of varieties of different colorful butterflies were evident. We also saw some beautiful sights where the land is cleared for what looks like future home sites (yes, it seems you can build homes in the national park).

On the way back - we turned a corner only to see a herd of cows, bulls and calves coming at us on the road. The first few were large horned and not exactly friendly looking. There were a few cowboys on horseback with the herd and we headed up the bank on the side of the road and watched them pass. They were probably as afraid of us! It was quite a sight. You never know what you'll run into on a Sunday walk in the woods.

On Tuesday morning, we went into Colon to officially clear out. This meant a good few mile walk to the road to the bus stop. We wanted to catch the 7:30 bus, so we left the boat at 6:20 to make it on time. It was a good way to start the morning. The bus came, and we actually got seats for the entire ride and it was relatively speaking, comfortable. The seats actually had a bit of padding on them and the bus wasn't that crowded until the last half hour or so. As we went met the agent to clear out, he asked for our passports. This after telling us he had everything he needed and we didn't need to bring anything. So we wouldn't be clearing out on Tuesday. We did meet some old friends while doing some last minute shopping. We saw Jack of "Whoosh" from St. Petersburg. He and his wife Patricia will be heading through the canal and made a quick run from Florida to Panama. We also saw Jack from Anthem, Waldy from Talagoa and others. It's amazing who you see at the big grocery store.

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Saturday, February 20, 2010

Projects and Bats

Lots and lots of boat projects getting done on Astarte. We managed to get propane (actually butane) - though it was a challenge. We walked into the little town Cacique near by with our two tanks - one empty and one getting mighty close to empty. Michael brought his transfer hose/fitting to fill them from the TropicGas canisters that they sell. We got a tank and went to the park to fill them. It's a gravity feed but we have to go from their Panama fitting to our American tank fitting. Michael made a hose and got a fitting while we're in the states. We tried it - it didn't work. So we put a deposit on the tank and walked with the big full 20 pound tank and the two empty/almost empty tanks back to the boat. We got here and Michael had been had by "OSHA." For "our protection," the fitting had a one-way valve inside - so the propane could come out - but not go in through this fitting. Of course, we needed it to go in. But, with a few tools Michael disabled the safety feature and it worked. We filled both tanks and then Michael walked back the big tank to Cacique, got the deposit back and we now have two full tanks. Whew!

We also did a provisioning run into Colon. We tried to catch the 0900 bus - but no joy. It was full and they wouldn't squish in any more to let us on. Jack, from Anthem, was also with us. We waited another 90 minutes for the next bus. We did some shopping, walking and looking for stuff and then loaded up with many groceries we had pre-arranged to have Jose pick us up. It was a $35 cab ride back to Panamarina - but split with Jack it wasn't bad. We also had Jose stop at an auto parts store because both Jack and Michael needed oil and filters. That done, we were on our way. There was no way we could get on a bus with all the crap we had.

Back to the boat, we had to find homes for all the stuff we got and by the next day, everything was de-labelled, re-packed out of cardboard boxes, ziplocked and stored. We bought lots of meat to freeze and that got pattied, packaged and frozen. We probably have one more smaller run for some more fresh veggies, eggs, butter (can never have too much butter) and bread.

Everyday, we've tackled a big project. Lots of cleaning, re-organizing stuff and storing. Michael continues to look for ways to optimize electricity and is slowly getting through the whole system.

Barbara's been baking bread - did a "Gibson" loaf and a raisin bread and today made English muffins. We have been splurging on dining at the Panamarina restaurant a bit. It is relatively inexpensive and very tasty. It's also quite warm and a bit buggy on board - so going to shore in the "smoked out" area can be a bit better.

We woke up this morning to find that we had a night visitor aboard. It seems a bat came below decks and into the cabin to dine on a tasty banana. It was well consumed. Glad we didn't see it - just the remnants. Fruit bats are common here and that's what seemed to find its way aboard. Normally we keep the bananas on deck. Maybe that's a good idea!

Today, more projects - perhaps tackling the wind generator.

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Friday, February 19, 2010

New Photos

FINALLY!! We posted a bunch of new pictures on the web page - not yet captioned because this internet connection is very slow (making it expensive).

But enjoy - make up your own captions.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Exotic Birthdays

It's great turning older in wonderful places. Barbara celebrated her birthday in Panama making it a memorable year. Last year's was spent in the Bahamas and this year we've made it to Central America.

Life is good and we are happy - can't wish for more.

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Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Happy Valentines' Day from Panama

We are back aboard Astarte in Panama after our whirlwind trip to the states. We wish you all lots of love for Valentines' Day. The trip to the states was a busy one - three coasts in less than two weeks, eight legs of air travel and many appointments. Unfortunately, we both got sick during the visit which cut into visiting time. We guess all those new germs got to us - we hadn't been sick all year! It was great seeing our moms, sister, nephews and friends. Everyone looked terrific.

Our trip back was good, though the hotel failed to be there to pick us up as arranged when we arrived so we had to call. That made for a bit longer night. The good news was that our batteries had arrived the same day we did - so we scrambled to figure out a way to pick them up on Friday morning and take them with us to Panamarina. One small problem - it is carnival time and there wasn't a single rental car to be had in Panama City. So we made some calls to cab drivers and Sylvie at Panamarina came through with Jose. He came to Panama City and picked up us and our luggage and six new batteries. It was an interesting drive. We probably should have been an SUV or pickup, we bottomed out several times with all the weight from the new batteries. We did drive some of the way on the "old road". It was cool, because we paralleled the canal and saw some of the locks on the Pacific side, before getting onto the new freeway.

It seemed to be old home week. While waiting for our ride at the Marine Warehouse office we saw two cruising friends. Theo and Marion from Marionete(formerly Double Dutch) and Taffy from The Road. It is always great to see familiar faces.

Michael has the new batteries installed and things are looking good so far. We still have not re-provisioned, but with carnival - town is closed down for several days. That's forced us to eat out a bit - at the good French restaurant at Panamarina and last night for Valentines, we went to another French restaurant, Caballo Loco. They came and picked us up at the marina. It was a great outdoor place in the woods - very pretty and with excellent food. For Panama it was a tad expensive - but by stateside prices, it was inexpensive.

Carnival is kicking into gear and it's quite fun - especially the costumes. People dress up and stop cars in the streets and ask for money. They dance around the car and it's quite festive. Last night as we were heading to the restaurant, there were some wild costumes.

Today, more organizing on the boat and we'll attempt to walk into a little town in search if propane. Though, we're not optimistic with carnival happening.

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Sunday, February 7, 2010

One Year Anniversary

Yesterday, February 6th marked one year since we left St. Petersburg and went cruising on Astarte. It's been a memorable year. Here are some of the highlights.

We've visited: 17 countries, more than 40 islands and at least 60 different anchorages. It's hard to believe it's been a year and then there are days it feels likes it's been much longer. We've finally settled into the cruising life but this time it feels like it took a bit longer. Learning a new boat is taking longer than we anticipated and "knowing" your boat is critical to cruising enjoyment. We still feel like we learn something new about Astarte every week. We've been at anchor the whole time except for, a marina in Nassau, Bahamas, a few nights in the Turks and Caicos with an outboard problem and now the boat is sitting in a marina while we are in the states.

There have been so many interesting people we've met along the way. The cruising community is truly an international community. We've sincerely enjoyed traveling with and getting to know Friedl and Angelika from "Tumshi" and wish them great luck as they head to the Galapagos and continue their adventure through the South Pacific. Many of our friends are now heading through the canal continuing their ocean journeys. We wish fair winds and good seas to all of them (Anthem, Vagabond, Calypso, Inspiration Lady, Bristol Rose and others). We are certainly a bit jealous.

We've decided that the boat isn't quite ready to make that Pacific crossing - we need to get a lot done before such a passage and are not certain with the funds for that commitment. For now, we'll stay in the Caribbean and after a bit more time in Panama, the plan is to head up the western Caribbean to Providencia (off Nicaragua) and the Bay Islands of Honduras. Perhaps we'll make it as far as Belize. Then as the hurricane season heats up, we'll work our way back to Panama and the San Blas. From there - who knows. Our cruising plans are written in sand at low tide!

The year has been a healthy one for us - physically and mentally. Though there have certainly been highs and lows, the good times clearly outnumber the bad. A few mechanical issues have cropped up - and those problems tended to be part of the "lows." The outboard issues early on in the cruise were a problem. Now, we are battling some power issues and will be putting in new batteries when we return to Panama. Small things like propane tank issues, stuck thru-hulls, fuel shut-off problem, radar mount weld break, centerboard hydraulics, broken shackle, bad North Star navigation instruments and the hassle of getting the company to make good, dinghy leak and a broken forward head have kept Michael busy "fixing the boat in exotic locations."

Guests have kept us entertained through the year - Dave and Lorna suffered through the broken outboard and us, still getting into the cruising life while in the Turks and Caicos; Frank came to Grenada and broke out of his Ohio bubble on an anniversary gift from his lovely wife Lisa; Kathryn and Mark landed in the San Blas on a strip of land no longer than a driveway and then proceeded to get soaked snorkeling and by the incessant rain; and, Richard and Rene experienced the beautiful Kuna Yala weather and overland adventure to the remote islands.

Everyday things like shopping for groceries; doing laundry and "hunting" for fish continue to be fun and adventurous. We've broken out of many "Velcro harbors" to continue the trip - though at times, we thought, "we could just stay here!."

Our Spanish language skills continue to improve - though we are far from fluent. Our Kuna language skills won't get us more than a fish or a crab! But it's fun trying and people have been patient and generous with our butchering their language.

It's been a wonderful year and we both feel very lucky to be living our dream with each other.

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Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Land Ho, Happy Groundhog's Day

By Friday, we had off-loaded the refrigerator and freezer, gifting other cruisers and the marina kitchen with butter, cream, cheese, horseradish, jams and jellies. Then we shut off the power (except the bilge pumps and propane sniffer) and locked up Astarte to head to the states. Mino from the marina picked us up by dinghy to get to shore and then we had planned to catch a bus to Colon and then Panama City. But it was our lucky day, and Jim from Nirvana was heading into Colon in his rental car and gave us a lift. Jack, from SV Anthem was also heading back to St. Pete, so the three of us piled in with Jim and made it to Colon. With all our "stuff" this was a much more comfortable way to go, so we were grateful to Jim. Then we timed it perfectly and got on a really nice bus to Panama City which almost left immediately. This is a bus that had air-conditioning, a movie (in Spanish), and very comfy seats. The hour and a half ride was quite pleasant - for $2.50 per person! In Panama City, we took a cab to the hotel and then headed to the old city for lunch and a walk.

On Saturday morning we had to be up to catch the 5 am bus to the airport to start our air adventure. We had eight air legs ahead of us over the next 14 days. From PC we went to Atlanta, cleared customs which was quite easy. Then we walked the length of Atlanta airport to the "better food concessions" and had lunch. We had 5 hours to kill before our flight to Portland.

We arrived early and had gotten through one-fourth of our legs without issue. Hope it continues as smoothly as we have an ambitious plan to see the moms and take care of doctors, accountants, brokers and our house. Plus we are excited about seeing friends and relatives.

Getting on those planes did remind us that we are glad we don't do that every week anymore!

We had a great visit in Portland with friends Tom and Jan, Sandy, Norma, Chris and Steve. Now, we're in Eugene with Michael's mom and her husband enjoying time together.

Next stop - Boston (via Minneapolis/St. Paul). Hope there's no snow.

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