Saturday, July 31, 2010

In Port in Portobello

It is a beautiful port, though we've been almost too busy to enjoy it. This bay was discovered by Colombus (what hasn't been?. . . it seems) on his fourth trip in November 1502. Because of the good harbour and location, the Spanish used Portobello as a major shipping port to send all their ill-gotten gold and riches back to the motherland. That also made it a hot spot for pirates - where there's gold and jewels - there will be pirates (who particularly loved to attack the Spanish). Henry Morgan (of rum fame) along with 460 of his favorite pirates took Portobello and destroyed the city after failed negotiations.

There are many old forts that surround the bay - an obvious indication of the value the Spanish placed on this town. The fort of San Fernando is built on the north side and is on three layers. We hiked it the other day and only Michael made it to the top battery. It has at least forty cannons still there. We'll hopefully tackle the other forts time permitting.

Portobello is also known for the Black Christ. Each October 21st, there is a pilgrimage to the church of San Felipe de Portobello where a wooden statue of Jesus of Nazareth, known as the Black Christ, is located. People come from all over the world to this pilgrimage because of all the miracles associated with this statue. The streets to the town are all blocked as many come, traveling on their knees, from as far as Costa Rica as part of the pilgrimage. The statue is quite elaborate and can be seen in the church behind glass.

We have managed to stroll through the town - but it was mostly in search of things like immigration, the port captain, laundry, the bakery and the bus stop. We've been to Colon twice (not a nice city) to get the alternator repaired (they couldn't); to find wire and hose (none to be found) and to get some provisions (mostly successful). The bus trip in is $1.30 per person each way and it takes about an hour and 15 minutes. We negotiated a cab for the second trip (shared with a German couple aboard Odin) for the whole day to do the major provisioning run and many stops. We filled the cab to the brim and caused it to bottom out over several bumps.

We also did a fuel run (another cab to the nearest gas station about 30 minutes away). So we are now fueled up. We have gone to a local Hostel a few times for a Happy Hour (50 cent beers) and on Sunday there is a dominos/potluck/live music (cruiser band) that we'll hopefully enjoy.

It's been the summer weather pattern - rainy, windy, cloudy, sunny, hot. The howler monkeys howl. The frogs croak. The exotic birds make exotic sounds. And all is well.

A funny note(Lorna!!!) - the Hostel where we enjoy Happy Hours rents a monkey for $5 a day!

radio email processed by SailMail
for information see:

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

New Pictures, Page Fixed

There are some new pictures from our last couple of days in Providencia and some from our arrival and travels in Porto Bello.

Plus, the "Where Are We" page is back up and running and has the latest position reports. We never really found out what happened, but all seems to be working now.

radio email processed by SailMail
for information see:

Monday, July 26, 2010

"Where Are We" Page Problems

Sorry, folks! We are still having trouble with the locator page. We have limited access to internet and are trying to figure it all out. It seems that the host site that puts our position reports up is having a server problem. But we are not sure. As soon as we get it figured out we will post here and let you know. For right now, we are safely and securely anchored in Porto Bello Panama and will be here for at least a few more days to get some provisions, parts and an alternator repaired(we hope).

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Back in Panama

We are now out of the hurricane box - at least the "official" hurricane zone and back in Panama. After a 71 hour trip from Providencia, we entered the harbour at Porto Bello at daybreak. It was fun and challenging avoiding all the ship traffic during the last 15 hours of the trip as we neared the Panama Canal area. Lots of big ships heading to the Canal and from the Canal were on the horizon throughout the night. The AIS system (an identification system for all big ships that provides detailed info on each vessel) was very handy. We had to do a few avoidance moves - but all went smoothly. The most we saw at once was 9 ships on the 12 mile radar radius. As we got closer to the Panama coastline, the squalls also picked up. We got some rain - but nothing traumatic in terms of big winds. It was a pleasant trip and we sailed as much as we could - though we wished we sailed even more. Nice to have flat seas for the entire trip.

We are now anchored in Porto Bello. This is a historic town with several forts overlooking the harbour. It was a spot where pirates commonly raided as the Spanish used it as a port from which they stored and shipped much of their ill-gotten gold and jewels. Thus the pirate attacks. We've not been here before (other than a drive by on the local "chicken busses" to and from Linton) so it will be fun to explore. Saturday was a lazy day catching up on sleep and organizing the boat after passage. We then went with several other cruisers to a Happy Hour/Pizza Night/Movie night at a local bar/hostel. Happy hour beers were fifty cents (a buck otherwise) and the pizza was tasty (all of $6.50 for a 12 inch pepperoni pizza). There is a new bakery/pizza place in town run by a transplanted Italian. He and his wife just had a new baby - so everyone went to support him with a pizza purchase. It was nice not to have to cook after a three day passage. We had a good time and did manage not to fall asleep in our beer.

It's a rainy, cloudy grey Sunday here. We had hoped to get into town to look for a cab driver to hire for a trip to Colon and many errands. But we'll probably bus in tomorrow and see if we can find someone in Colon. Michael wants to find the alternator repair shop to get ours fixed. We also need some small hardware items and new pillows and sheets. Cell phone service is good here and we were pleased that the SIM card we bought last year still worked and we were able to talk to our moms. It's always nice to hear their voices.

We've reconnected with some folks we've met in the San Blas last year and we'll get together with them this evening for some games and dessert.

radio email processed by SailMail
for information see:

Friday, July 23, 2010

The Nature Cruise

We left Providencia on Wednesday morning about 0800 heading for Panama. Astarte is a sailboat and we decided we would try to save fossil fuel and sail as much as possible - even if it meant going quite slow. The weather window was at least three days long - so as long as it held, we'd be okay. The sun was shining, the seas were very flat and the wind was light - and unfortunately coming from the direction we were heading. So we tacked back and forth going about 4 knots - but making only about 1 knot towards the destination. That meant it would take us 250 hours to get there! Yikes. But we persisted, hoping the wind would back (as predicted) as we went along. If the sails weren't clanging and banging, we'd sail.

That lasted until the wind really died causing the sails to go slack and bang around. This isn't good for the sails or the sailors as the noise is annoying. We'd turn the motor on when this happened. What was funny is that over the next few days we would sail longer than we'd motor - but we'd motor further than we'd sail. A few hours of motoring took us further than sailing for three times as long. But it was really pleasant out - and we enjoyed sailing and being out on such beautiful days.

Plus, we saw some really cool things. About 10 miles south of Providencia, in the late afternoon (yes it took us most of the day to get about ten miles), we saw about eight whales basking in the sun on the surface. We could see them spouting water and just lazing there. We couldn't quite tell what type they were - they were larger than pilot whales (at least we think so). So if anyone knows what type of whales are around the western Caribbean at this time of year - let us know. We stopped the boat and just watched them for about a half hour seeing a whale tale and a head pop every so often. Then we moved on, now keeping a closer eye out for the large mammals so we wouldn't hit one.

Another interesting sight was all the large dark colored moths that were floating in the water. These were very large - about seven to nine inches long and dark colored. There was one every so often floating in the water and we wondered if they were exhausted from a migration or perhaps got blown offshore in some storm.

Then there were also a lot of man-of-war jellyfish. They are very interesting - though you certainly don't want a close encounter with one while swimming.

The best part of the nature cruise so far (other than the whales) was the mahi that was curious enough to grab at our "Mexican flag" lure and get caught! (Thanks for the lure, Tommy) It was a relatively small one, but he was caught at 0915 on Thursday morning and cooked that night for dinner. Talk about fresh!

It's been flat enough that cooking hasn't been an issue. Barbara tries to prepare a few meals prior to offshore passages. We had some lasagna, eggplant parmesan (M.R.'s recipe), and black beans and rice ready for our dining pleasure - things that are easy to heat up. But because it was so flat, we could easily cook up the fish. We do try for a nice hot dinner everyday on passage at sunset before we begin our watches. That is unless it's too rough and nobody feels like eating anything. But this passage has been quite pleasant - though the motor is running more than we wish.

It's Friday morning and we're under sail doing between 2 and 2.5 knots. We'll be out one more night and then we'll motor to get in. Destination is now Porto Bello.

radio email processed by SailMail
for information see:

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Flaming Bull, Hand Grenades and Adios Providencia

Sorry about all the bovine headlines lately - but it seems cows and bulls are dominating the islands activities! It's been a busy few days. Let's start with Monday, July 19. The Bicentennial Celebration of Colombia's Independence from Spain started with some festivities in the square. It started with a group of junior high aged kids playing the National Anthem (a few times). Then a younger person's band performed, followed by a choral group (sort of in the "We Are the World" tradition) that included just about every kid at the event. This was followed by more musical groups with a few special highlights - the young maracas player was really into it; a mandolin player was quite good and a violinist/fiddler young woman had more attitude than aptitude. Of course to enjoy the evening we had a few brews and vendor treats of the empanada variety (chicken and crab). We also tried something that translates to chicken cake. All were quite tasty. Then the military contingent carrying flags and rifles arrived followed by a group of them carrying torches. We weren't sure if a "Survivor-Providencia" was being filmed - but it turned out that the tribe wasn't going to throw someone off the island - but rather the torches were for a different purpose.

The Boca Loca was next. Now that doesn't really have an appropriate English translation (crazy mouth would be the literal translation) - but it's an event that involves a bull with its horns on aflame chasing people around the square. The bull is really a real bull's skeleton head (horns filled with some type of incendiary liquid); and a bamboo body skeleton covered with canvas. Several of the military contingents get under it and run it around the square, through the crowd chasing people to some traditional music. Nobody could really explain the relevance of any of it - but "it's fun." The kids loved being chased and it was quite a sight to watch.

On Tuesday, July 20 - the actual Independence Day (200th year) started with a parade. We were told it was to start at 0800 - but by now we've caught on that nothing starts when scheduled. So we decided to just wait until we saw activity. We finally saw the new red fire truck and decided things were happening. So we headed towards the coliseum for a view. There were horses leading the parade followed by the new red fire truck, dignitaries, then, the military - (which is where the hand grenades in the headline come in.) There were several groups of well armed men marching and chanting. Then came the special forces unit - many in gilley suits (that's wild camouflage outfits with shredded material - very camouflaged!), camouflage makeup, major weaponry including hand grenades in their shirt pockets, rifles, night vision goggles and many, many bullets in bandoliers across their chests and backs. It was quite a sight - pretty sure much of the gear provided by their friends in the USA). After the military and police groups, the theme of the parade became quite clear. Different schools or classrooms depicted an area of Colombia - with native dress, flags and dioramas as well as music from that area. The bands were fun to watch as were the teenaged women in spike gold heels and short dresses or skirts that had a hip pointer walk and a few choreographed moves. There were also groups of adults from different organizations marching.

This is an island of about 5000 people - so the parade was much like a small town parade - but you could tell they were all very proud of the event. We did enjoy it.

Following the parade, we did some last minute organizing on the boat and prepared to clear out of the country. We had a 1700 appointment with the agent Mr. Bush and waited for a ride to the immigration office. He warned us that the authorities might make a request that we take a man with us to Panama that they were deporting. We told him we would not do that and luckily we weren't asked. Imagine!

We cleared out and got picked up, yet again, by the local police. Yup, another ride in the Colombian National Police van - this time escorted by seven officers! A tour of the island was again provided - though the real reason was they had to pick up officers from various beach locations - end of shift we think. They are all very friendly and we were glad that we were in the van for transportation and no other reason. The cops love to blare the siren though - for any pretty girl, friend or relation or just whenever they want to pass someone.

After our clearing out adventure and parting with $100 to Mr. Bush for all the paperwork, we went aboard Ivory Moon for dinner. Because we were leaving, they treated us to a magnificent roast chicken dinner. Champagne, French wine and an incredible blackberry (mora) dessert made it for a festive evening. We will miss the moonies as they are still awaiting a boat part but we thought it was time to move on.

We are currently sailing - but going very, very slow as the wind is on our nose and we are tacking a few miles off the course line. We left at 0800 and have probably only made ten miles by 1500. At this speed it'll take us ten days to get to Panama! We're hoping for the predicted wind shift - but the seas are flat, the sun is shining and we're enjoying sailing. The cost of fuel is so high, we'll take going slow for awhile. We have 250 miles to get to Linton.

So after a month on Providencia, we are glad to be under way. But we do like that island.

radio email processed by SailMail
for information see:

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Web Page Housekeeping

We have posted some more pictures! Mostly of the Bicentennial Celebration, both the night before with lots of local musicians and then the Independence Day Parade.

Also we have heard from several loyal readers that the "Where Are We?" link is not working. You are correct. One is and one isn't. We will try and fix it if we get some fast internet, but for now use the first one, not the "more graphic" one. Last time we checked it is still working. Thanks.

radio email processed by SailMail
for information see:

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Cow Head in a Pickup

The local color is one of the pleasures of being in these exotic islands. Heading to shore the other day (because the Dona Olga II was in - that's the boat that brings in veggies, fruits, supplies and just about everything - including propane, fuel, even a new fire truck for the island - more on that later), there was a big crowd of locals around a little open stand. Of course we had to go over and see what was for sale - thinking it was lobster from a distance - but no, it was a beef sale. And to prove it was "fresh" there was the animal's head standing upright in the back of the pickup. They were chopping up the meat with a hatchet, machete and cleaver and people were waiting in line to purchase some fresh beef. Not for the faint of heart - but it's how you get fresh food here.

Another holiday is coming up - Independence Day. And the local Catholic School has a band that has been practicing everyday around noontime. It's a drum corps with bells, glockenspiels, and various other noisemakers. They are learning one song. So are we - as they endlessly practice it. Now we see them practicing marching as well. Can't wait for the big performance - we think it's the 20th of this month. (If we're still here).

The new red fire engine will most likely be in the parade as well. It came aboard a delivery boat to much pomp on shore. Since they got it - they drive it around the island non-stop - running the sirens and blowing the horn. It's like boys with a new toy. It's really quite fun to see how excited they are about it. The sad thing is they already put a dent in one of the fenders.

It's been raining almost daily - and we've managed to collect a lot of rainwater. That means laundry time. Unfortunately it takes days to get things dry as they almost dry and another shower comes and gets them damp again. At least everything is getting a good fresh water rinse.

Another boat has come in from Cartagena here - so new folks to meet. The Irish lad from "Escape 2" has provided us with some fish as well - he's been going out spearing with some locals and has more than he can use - and we are the grateful recipients (we saved their dinghy the other day from running away) - one of those bad cleat hitches. He gave us some Parrotfish fillets - our book says "seldom eaten" - but we do see a lot of the locals catching them and selling them so we'll try it. Plus a lovely snapper and Hog Fish - can't beat getting food (fresh fish to boot) handed to you.

The sun has come out for "Sunday" and we'll be glad to put a bit of power from the solar panels into the batteries. May actually have to start the engine today to recharge - something we haven't done for a long time.

radio email processed by SailMail
for information see:

Sunday, July 11, 2010

How Come "IT" Never Happens in Daylight?

Tropical waves are starting to come with more regularity. Which means more clouds, rain, lightning, and squalls. Tropical waves are the precursor to tropical depressions so we tend to keep and eye on their location and strength. On Friday afternoon after a particularly robust squall came through, the Moonies, (Jeff and Lelia from Ivory Moon), called us to say they thought we had moved. They were taking bearings off our bow and some bouys in the anchorage to make sure they weren't moving. Because they don't have a working engine at this point they are very vigilant. We looked out and agreed with them that is was most likely we did move, but we thought that we would be o.k. and didn't think too much more about it.

Until. . . . .around 10:00pm or so we had a great big squall with winds around 30 knots. Michael pulled our cockpit GPS out of the oven (more on that later), hooked it up and turned it on. He sat outside for an hour or so, watching the shore line and the plot on the GPS. At around 11:00pm he got Barbara out of bed and said "I am pretty sure we are dragging and need to re-anchor". Sure enough, we had dragged several hundred feet and were continuing to be slowly blown across the anchorage. Needless to say that is not a good thing.

So we got all ready, pulled out the big spotlight, Barbara put on her headlamp, we pulled the anchor up, and moved farther into the anchorage to re-set the anchor. It all went very smoothly. We were lucky. Often times it can be a real hassle and mess, but we did great. The anchor came up holding a big ball of mud and weed. We were pretty sure was just dragging across the bottom. We got it re-set and put out a whole bunch of rode. We were anchored in about 9 ft of water and had out 100 ft of chain.

It held overnight and the next morning when we had the sun nice and high so we could see the bottom better, we moved and looked for a good sand spot to drop the anchor. The night before we just dropped it, but weren't confident that it was in a good sandy spot on the bottom. After resetting the anchor, Michael went in the water to check on the anchor. It was very deeply set, in fact the chain went into the sand and our Delta anchor was buried out of sight. We are a lot more confident about holding now. We were glad we did reset. For the last two days we have had many squalls and the max wind speed on the gauge is 35 knots (42mph). We are holding well now and are looking forward to these last two waves pushing through. The next two are not supposed to be nearly as active. The forecasts are telling us that the next two waves are being suppressed by dry Saharan air and (yes, Gene) lots of dust!

One other note about the GPS in the oven: when there is lightning in the area we put our important electronics (the ones that are portable) into the oven. We are hoping that it will act like what is called a Faraday Cage, and will give some protection from a lightning strike if we get one.

We think today is World Cup Finals (go Holland (for all our Dutch friends)), and may go into town to watch the game. That's hoping the weather settles a bit.

radio email processed by SailMail
for information see:

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Holidays. And More Holidays.

The islands have it right! They have holidays at least every other week. Yesterday was another day of celebration for Providencia. Not exactly sure what the holiday was (when asked several people couldn't tell us), but it meant another festival. This one took place in Old Town on the beach. There was a cat boat race (two boats participated - they are amazing to watch with these giant sails, human ballast (usually big, older men) and lots of bailing), a kayak race (three boats) and a May pole dance with women then men. A local "traditional" band for the may pole including a mandolin, horse jaw and washtub bass. We think the holiday may have been St. Peter and Paul Day and we believe the event was hosted by a local church. There were empanadas and snacks but no beer. We came too late for the comida corriente (the lunch special). Kids were enjoying swimming and parents sat in the shade enjoying the music (accompanied by very large speakers). It was a nice event and when we "gringos" go, everyone is very polite to us. They bring us chairs and even invited us to participate in the May pole dance. It was a fun festival.

We're getting lots of boat projects and cleaning done as we wait for Ivory Moon to get their engine part. Plus, we'll wait for the right weather window to head further south - always watching weather to avoid any of those nasty hurricane surprises. We have recovered from our walk around the island and ready to take on another hike - perhaps we'll head up "Split Hill" (also called Morgan's Butt) in a few days. We've had some squalls come through overnight and collected some rain for laundry water.

radio email processed by SailMail
for information see:

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Beers of the Caribbean

There is nothing like a cold beer after a snorkel, hike, or arrival in port after a long passage. Or to share with friends and new acquaintances. One of the fun parts of travel is to experience the food, and yes beer, of the different places you set your anchor. And because beer IS food - we have enjoyed the various brews from the islands.

The Eastern Caribbean has quite a collection as we made our way down island (Piton, Hairoun, Carib, Corsair, Medalla). Colombia has several local beers - our favorite being Club Colombia though Aguila is the "Bud" of the country. Plus there's Poker and Costena. In Panama there is Balboa, Atlas and our preference aptly named "Panama". In Honduras there was Salva Vida (means Life Saver - a good name for a beer), Port Royal and one more.

We have a beer economy on board as well - pricing beer in the various locations and determining how much we can consume on our budget. They have been as cheap as 75 cents cold in a restaurant in Panama or as expensive as $4 in a higher end establishment in Cartagena. But they average about $1.50 in a bar or restaurant and about 50 - 60 cents per can by the case.

What's funny about this little island of Providencia is that it is actually difficult to find the Colombian beers. Old Milwaukee, Olympia, Miller High Life and Heineken seem to be the dominant brands here. In fact, it's cheaper to buy them than the Colombian brews.

So it looks like we can celebrate US Independence Day with a US beer (though it doesn't taste as good as the local brews). Happy Fourth of July to all - we are representing the states in this anchorage as the only US boat here now. Together with an Australian boat and an Irish boat - it could be a good time!

radio email processed by SailMail
for information see:

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Queens, Music, Hikes and Adventures

We've been doing it up big on Providencia.

On Saturday night, the final events of the island's big festival took place in the coliseum. We went by dinghy across the bay and pulled the dinghy up on a near-by beach. The Ivory Moonies (Lelia and Jeff) joined us for the adventure. We waited in line with all the local residents for our tickets (7000 pesos each). Inside, the coliseum was filling up. Bleachers along the out edge of the long building were filling up. We found four seats and climbed in - finding out we were sitting in the section designed for those supporting "Miss Peublo Viejo" (the teen representing Old Town). So we would now be obligated to root for Yuli! That wasn't hard, she seemed to be quite lovely and it was good to have a goal.

The event was supposed to start at 8:30 pm - but it actually began a bit after 10 pm. It was really fun to people watch though it was very hot in the building and the music was very loud. It seemed the entire island was on hand for the big finale. Many of the women in the crowd looked like they were competing for the prize - in fancy dresses, spiked heels, make-up, done-up hair and lots of jewelry. All ages were on hand. We stood out as "gringos" but were welcomed. "Old Milwaukee" was the available beer in the coliseum (too funny).

When the event finally started - there was a dance number that included the four contestants in sexy dresses. Then, the highlight for Michael, the bathing suit competition. The stage lights often didn't work, but the young women did their best to strut their stuff in front of the entire island. Each section of the bleachers loudly cheered for their particular entrant and our section did a mighty fine job of pushing for Yuli.

Then there was more dancing - some by young children in local costumes. There was one group of adults that did a "conch" dance that was very energetic and good. Following the dances which gave the contestants time for a costume change, they came out in their evening gowns. The fun part before this particular event was watching the "gown designers" get all excited about their costumes. Each girl was also asked a question (our Spanish couldn't quite follow -but we're sure it was about bringing peace and love to the world).

Then it was time for the three judges to do their work. This took forever. There were only four girls and three judges . . what could take so long? There were three events tonight! Geez. It was after midnight when Miss Sur Oeste (southwest) was crowned. The crowning was pretty anti-climatic and just a short bit - not even a queen's walk around the stage. She won a new motor scooter as the prize and represents Providencia in other pageants if she can afford to go.

After that the band "Dragon y Cabelleros" began to play. Most of the band came in while we were waiting for the judges' decision. They set up their instruments and did a sound check. After all the set up, the lead singer and accordionist were brought in with the safety of a police escort. The Hispanics do love their accordions. They sounded quite good, but it was very, very loud. We made it through a few songs and departed after 1 am. We walked back to our dinghy on the beach. A group of army men with rifles stopped us and we explained (in Spanish) that our dinghy was on the beach and they let us through. So it was nice to have our little rubber boat protected through the night.

We slept in on Sunday, having stayed out way to late. Later that morning/early afternoon, we took a hike on Santa Catalina and the Morgan's Head trail. It was good walk and a beautiful clear day. We collected some mangoes along the way and had a pleasant walk ending in a few beers at a local establishment (Olympia Beer).

Monday was a work day - Michael tackled the kitchen sinks. The drain hasn't been draining very well so he pulled it all apart. There were lots of bruised hands, bad language and contorted positions. The end result was the determination that the thru-hull is not open all the way and jammed. Another project for when we haul the boat.

Tuesday was a day at the internet for Michael and some provisioning for Barbara. We invited the "IMSIMs" and Moonies over for sundowners. Barbara made a quiche and some hummus, Michael put some new pictures on the web site (uncaptioned as the internet here is VERY slow).

Wednesday, was the death march. What started as a "walk" to Pueblo Viejo to check the last hardware store for some needed parts - ended up being a circumambulation of the island. Yup - we walked around the entire island. It took us more than five and a half hours and it was hilly. Last time here we went up to the highest point - and this time we went around it. We saw San Felipe, Aquadulce, SurOeste, Bottom House, McBean Lagoon, Santa Isabel, Rocky Point. It started with looking for a dive shop in the hope of finding new rubber for the Hawaiian sling spear - and that ended up being a walk around the island. We went past the Naval station on Dick Hill, the beaches in Southwest, saw the national park overlooking Crab Cay. We took a few of the side roads - but mostly just hiked around on the main island road that goes all the way around. We took a few breaks for some sodas and water but started at 9:30 am and were back after 4 pm with blisters, aching muscles and the satisfaction of having done it. It was a big end to June.

Today we rest.

radio email processed by SailMail
for information see: