Monday, August 30, 2010

One Crocodile. Two Crocodiles.

Or in Panama: uno crocodillo, dos crocodillos. We've moved from the Western Holandes to the East Lemons with a quick stop in the West Lemons. Now we are settled in Esnasdup. We had to do a few circles before we entered this island as there were big rain storms around us and visibility was difficult. We didn't want to end up on the reef like "Surprise." We haven't had any big rain for weeks and finally when we needed to enter a tight anchorage, there it was.

This was one of our favorite spots during our last visit to Kuna Yala. Back "in season" it was quite busy with at least six boats here. Now we are anchored all by ourselves. There are two islands, a cut and a double reef that protects it all from the north east, and west. We are sitting in the cut but well away from the islands to avoid any of those nasty bugs. It is flat calm here and after the last few nights in the East Lemons where we had a roll - this is very pleasant. We had a very rainy day on our arrival - and collected lots of water. Barbara did laundry under way and of course, that caused the rain - the clothes wouldn't dry for days!! We did manage to collect buckets and buckets of rain water which was great as there was a lot of laundry piled up waiting for some good rain. It's supposed to be rainy season - but we've had very little - it seemed it was always about a half mile away! So the collecting was good.

We woke up to a sunny, flat day. That's when the crocs were spotted. One was quite large. We wondered why there weren't more boats here! One boat on the morning net said they didn't stay here for fear of losing their boat cat! We'll have to do croc watch while showering!

We've had lots of Kuna visitors here - a lot of the Kunas fish this reef so they all stop by the boat to sell you fish, lobsters or crab; get a glass of water or just say hello. Some ask for your aluminum cans which they sell to the Colombian trading boats. - that's the island way of recycling (and for us getting rid of them!)
We bought five lobsters for $9 from one ulu - they always look bigger when they're in the ulus.

We're still fighting electrical issues on the boat - fix one thing - another goes bad. Also, our computer died yesterday - luckily we have a back-up. It just went dead while Michael was typing some e-mails. Now we have something else on the list to get while back in the states. More boat units (that's what we call dollars - $100 dollars is a boat unit).

We're sitting in paradise. Who can or should complain?

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Friday, August 27, 2010

Surprise. . . . Grounded on the Reef!

Really, grounded on the reef. But not us, the sailing vessel "Surprise." About 2030 last night, we heard a call on the VHF radio that a flare had been sighted on the reef between The Eastern Lemmon Cays and The Western Holandes. Also the boat that saw the flare could see the lights of a boat. So a call was put out for anyone who had a dinghy big enough to go out and try to lend assistance. Our engine is too small, but Michael offered to go along with Philippe from Renegade. It was dark - though a full moon night it was quite cloudy and windy with lightning in the distance. A perfect setting for a movie-style rescue.

Wolfgang (who we had just seen aboard Astarte for sundowners) from Genesis also went along. The three of them sped off to see if they could be of any help. Turns out that "Surprise," about a 28 footer, was stuck hard on the reef. He somehow thought he could make landfall in the San Blas Islands of Panama with out any charts!!! In the dark!!! When they arrived, the owner was in the water trying to push his sailboat off the corals. It was stuck hard, with a coral head lodged between the rudder and keel, and the water was shallow enough to stand up in. The noise was very disquieting - this grinding of a boat on coral as it bounced up and down against hard rock. The rescue was made all the more "interesting" because of the several languages involved. "Surprise" was Brazilian but also speaks Spanish, Philippe speaks fluent Spanish and English, Wolfgang is German, with English and some Spanish, and Michael only has English and a tiny bit of Spanish. By the time the "Renegade" dinghy got tied to "Surprise" and ready to try and pull it off the coral, a Kuna Indian from the nearby island and a Swiss couple from Saluna had also arrived to help.

The only(!!!) anchor aboard "Surprise" was set off the stern and the rode attached to a sheet winch to try to kedge it off the reef. That didn't work even with the help of a 15 hp outboard on the dinghy. The next try was to tip the boat by using a halyard and line and try to drift it off the reef at an angle. They attached an extra line to the main halyard and used the dinghy to tip the boat over to the side by pulling on the line that goes to the top of the mast. That worked. The "Surprise" anchor was left in place (having been released from the sailboat) as Surprise was pulled into deeper water. It turned out that the anchor was stuck in the coral, but no one had a float to tie off the rode. So "Saluna", stayed with the anchor holding on to the rode. At this point Wolfgang was aboard"Surprise with the young Brazilian and Philippe and Michael went back with a Kuna Indian to try and retrieve the anchor. The Kuna dove the anchor three times but could not free it from the coral. It was left with a life jacket attached to the line for retrieval the next morning.

By this time the unfortunate Kuna noticed that his Ulu (canoe) had floated out of site. They had no idea where it had gotten to, but hopefully it will be recovered today.

Because "Surprise" only had one anchor (now buried in the coral reef), he needed to borrow one. Philippe offered his spare anchor and Michael offered his third anchor rode. So as "Surprise" was slowly motoring back to the Eastern Lemmons, Philippe and Michael sped back to the anchorage to set the borrowed anchor and rode. "Surprise" was put to bed at anchor and all was calm and back to normal by about 2300. All in all, a very successful outcome. Everyone returned safely and the owner of "Surprise" was very grateful.

As of this morning, the Kuna Indians recovered "Surprise's" stuck anchor. He returned the borrowed anchor and rode and immediately decided to go to Por Venir to check in. He still has no charts, and after watching him get the anchors up, not a lot of experience. And the big news:. . . . . . .this was not the first time he has had "issues". He had already lost a boat, a 40 footer in Cabo San Lucas Mexico.

As our good friend Gene always said: "God looks out for fools and sailors." We really hope the Kuna gets his ulu back.

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Sunday, August 22, 2010

Sight it. Kill It. Clean It. Cook It. Eat It.

And IT was a mighty nice large black grouper - and it was very tasty. Michael scored a nice hit with a newly rubbered sling as he hunted over the reefs of the Western Holandes between Acuakargana and Waisaiadup. The grouper was large and we dined magnificently on it fresh off the grill and have several more meals in the freezer. It's been a fish dry spell for awhile - other than doing his share to rid Kuna Yala of lionfish - so it was a nice treat. And luckily it came back to the boat and didn't attract the cadre of barracuda and sharks.

We did move west from the Eastern Holandes to the Western Holandes. We were the only boat for awhile and then a backpacker boat showed up. Today there are three boats here with another large ominous looking old black sailboat that just came in with someone sitting high up in the rigging. A boatload of Kunas came aboard yesterday - a man, woman (in full Kuna garb) and two children. We looked at lots and lots of molas - but didn't buy. The quality was below the asking price - so we passed. Of course they did the obligatory asking for things - onions (don't have any); magazines (don't have any); eyeglasses (didn't want to dig them out); and candy/sweets - shared some cookies and candy.

Barbara has swimmer's ear so can't snorkel right now (bummer) - hoping it doesn't turn into an infection. Michael's been out hunting several times a day. It's nice not to spend any money and to catch your dinner. We paid the $5 Kuna fee for the Holandes - so we're good for the rest of the month. We'll stay settled here for at least another day and perhaps move on to another spot. It is pretty here and not crowded, and as long as there are no southerlies - the anchorage is calm. We had a bit of a squall yesterday and it was rocking and rolling in here for about two hours. But then it settled nicely and all was calm.

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Wednesday, August 18, 2010

In the ITCZ

There's the end zone. The war zone. The red zone. The demilitarized zone. And then, there's the intertropical convergence zone. When you're out here, you have to become a bit of a weatherman. We've had the pleasure of knowing many meteorologists in our lives, and have been able to learn a bit from them - so that was helpful. But now, we download all that weather mumbo-jumbo from NOAA, NWS and The National Hurricane Center and have to make heads or tails of it. There is this ITCZ - and where the edge of that "zone" is, greatly impacts the weather. Right now - we're in (well almost in) right on the edge of the zone. It is just a bit north of us and that means more "convection" (not the oven). More thunder storms, some potentially big ones, can form close to the zone.

The last few nights we've had lots of thunder and lightning - luckily it's not right on top of us - but it does provide a sense of being in a cheap motel with a large blinking sign right outside your window. The big flashes at night are very bright and startling. The bad news (good news) is - we've had very little rain - so we've not been able to fill the tanks with rain water or get a lot of laundry done. We've had to run the big engine to make power to make water.

This is our first summer here in San Blas and we weren't sure what the weather would be like. It's been quite nice with the occasional rain shower and distant lightning. A few squalls have come through with some heavier wind. We've had pleasant days though - not even that hot. The bugs haven't been an issue either.

Of course, now that I've written this entry - it will be wind, squalls, non-stop rain and bugs o'plenty.

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Friday, August 13, 2010


We've enjoyed being settled in the East Holandes for the week. We're getting lots of boat projects done and also lots of snorkeling. We've been in the water everyday here which is great and we've explored lots of different reefs that surround these islands. Each area we've gone to is a bit different. Some have great coral formations; others have good walls - deep on one side more shallow on the other. There has been an abundance of fish and critters of the deep. We're always in search of something new.

We have seen more sharks here than we've seen elsewhere. Most seem to be the mild mannered nurse sharks (no Matt R - they don't wear little caps). Though many of these have even been very active and not just lying on the bottom as they are best observed! Barbara did spot a good six-foot long reef shark that was very active That sent her back to the dinghy quickly - though Michael continued his search for dinner with a spear (duh!?) There have been some very large barracudas as well as tarpon. It's always a bit unnerving to see anything very large - but it's also quite cool.

There are a lot of lionfish around - so they have definitely taken hold here in San Blas.

We have enjoyed a lobster dinner - thanks to the great hunter Hawk. It was mighty tasty and we like those zero dollar days WITH free food.

Juliano's veggie boat came by the other day and it was pretty nicely loaded. We got a mighty tasty watermelon, some oranges, a cabbage, peppers, cukes, some carrots and a green tomato (my tomato plants are not producing - and don't look like they will). All that cost $10 - which is high for Panama prices but there are no other options here. The veggie boat is a small launch loaded with fruits, veggies, eggs and sometimes beer and wine (boxes). You hope to get them to come to you early in an anchorage, so you get best selection. There really is no negotiation on prices but you are so desperate for fresh stuff - you almost don't care.

Time for some watermelon!

Happy birthday mom.

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Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Negotiations and Trades

When we're not cleaning, cooking, repairing, snorkeling, maintaining, writing or dinghy-ing about, we are most likely reading. It is one of the real pleasures of cruising. You start with a good collection of books on board and after they are read, they are traded to other boaters. You urge your guests on board to bring some new books that they'll leave behind - refreshing the cruising community's supply of new material. Last night, during a dinghy raft-up / drift, sunset viewing, adult beverage event in the "swimming pool", there were big negotiations on book trades. We were the "fresh meat" having come from Honduras and Providencia. We also had some different books.

The most common genre out here is the murder/mystery/investigation/thriller best sellers by folks like Grisham, Baldacci, Ludlum, Cornwell, Woods, etc. You have to try to remember if you already read it at these trades. We stamp all the books we read with an "Astarte" stamp in the front - that way we can take a quick look if we actually read that "particular" book (not necessary that book because obviously several of the same book float around the community). Then there are the ones that you pick up in a trade that you wouldn't have bought in a bookstore but end up being favored reads. We both loved "Blue Latitudes" by Horowitz - the retracing of a Cook exploration; Bob in the Baltic - a funny travel read by a British comedian and others. We've recently read TC Boyle's "The Women" about Andrew Lloyd Wright's ladies and "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night" (think that's the title - traded it last night - it was a hot item!). We also both loved the Stieg Larsson (sp?) series "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" and "The Girl Who Played with Fire." (Barbara almost jumped a woman for the second book at a potluck when she brought it to trade!)

We also have enjoyed some of our favorite "crazy" authors Tim Dorsey, Tom Robbins, Carl Haisson and Elmore Leonard and discovered some new ones like Christopher Moore and Brian Callison. There are also the genres of biographies, histories, and classics in the mix. We've enjoyed lots of these as well. We avoid the romance novels - not our thing.

We have a collection of books on board and we also have the Amazon e-reader Kindle. The nice thing about the e-reader is it carries so many books - the bad thing is you pick them and you lose out on those trade opportunities. Another good thing is that whenever we're nears internet, Michael goes to the Gutenberg project and downloads lots of "free" books - classics and out of copyright material. The free part is good and it also means getting some great books that we've never read. Many have been great gets.

The Patrick O'Brian series of old sailing adventures (Master and Commander is the best known) is one Michael also enjoys and he's making it through the series. Whenever we have a guest or go back to the states, we buy a few more from the series. He'll be done with the entire series soon. Barbara will tackle them at some point.

We've discovered new authors and learned many new things as we explore the books gotten, traded or bought. If anyone has good book recommendations, we'd love to hear about them. We'll only be able to afford and/or carry so many back when we get to the states for a visit. And, there isn't a book store on every corner in Kuna Yala! But, we can always be on the lookout for them at an upcoming book trade.

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Sunday, August 8, 2010

Everyone in the "Pool"

We unburied the anchor from Portobello and moved back to Kuna Yala (aka San Blas). We spent a considerable amount of time here this past year (October-January) and had guests in this little paradise (Kathryn & Mark, Richard & Rene). WE chose to do an overnight trip from Portobello here so we would arrive at daybreak giving us all day to get through the corals and settled. It was 65 mile run and we left at sundown. We were just ahead of some big storms and pretty much stayed ahead of them for the entire trip - we sort of felt chased by them. It was a good passage, though we motored more than we had hoped. There were lots of ships to watch out for as they headed to and from the canal. We did have a nice little current pushing us.

At sunrise, we were in Kuna Yala and heading for the Holandes. We went to the Eastern Holandes to a favorite spot known as the "swimming pool." This name comes from the crystal clear water and sandy white bottom which makes it feel like you are in a swimming pool. We anchored in about ten feet of clear water. This is "off" season - many of the "commuter cruisers" put their boats in a marina and head back to their home country for several months. We thought the place would be relatively empty - but surprise! Eleven boats were anchored here and facing an odd direction so we had to find a spot for Astarte.

We spent most of Friday resting up from the overnight haul and getting the boat back in order. We said hellos to a few of the "regulars" at the pool and learned about the recent changes in the area. It seems the island (known as potluck island because of the weekly Monday night potluck that is (was) held here, is now "owned" by a different Kuna and he charges people $5 to go on the island. This is an island where yoga was held and Reggie from the boat "Runner" maintained the island by raking it daily and burning the branches and refuse. No more. It seems the Kuna are trying to cash in (even more) on the cruisers. Victor, another Kuna, did canoe by later in the day to collect the $5 Kuna anchoring fee - good for one month here.

So we are back in Kuna Yala - handing over cash to Kunas but we are back in an incredibly beautiful part of the world. We snorkeled yesterday afternoon (after Michael repaired his Hawaiian sling), but had no joy in hunting. He was about to take a shot at a nice snapper until a shark approached. It was pretty large and very active, so Michael opted for sanity (a strange occurrence for Hawk when it comes to fish hunting). We had a nice snorkel and are happy to be settled for a few days in the "pool."

Happy 19th to Christopher and Nathaniel.

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Thursday, August 5, 2010

"Green" Colombia

Colombia may be one of the "greener" countries. One of their finalists for President was the green candidate and they now mandate that all of the diesel sold in the country is bio-diesel. Unfortunately, they are not being very clear about the diesel fuel you purchase in any Colombian territory. When we were in Providencia, a Colombian island, we were out of fuel and had to buy some diesel. Another boater had told us that the only diesel to be had was bio-diesel. We have an old diesel engine - a 1987 Perkins 4-108. So we weren't quite sure how it would handle this fuel. Michael did lots of searching - first to the fuel station to find out what kind of bio-diesel (no signs to even indicate it was bio-diesel). He was told it was B-10, meaning it was 10% bio-diesel. And it was made with palm oil. After lots of internet café time (and money) and phone calls via Skype to Dusty, our St. Pete FL mechanic, Michael put some oil in the fuel and we put in about 45 gallons. We kept our fingers crossed. On the way to Panama, we tried our best to sail as much as possible, but with the light winds and not wanting to risk being out in the Caribbean for ten days, we did motor some of the time.

An oil change was due and Michael being anal about getting them done on time did one the other day. He did find lots of "gunk" of a different sort in his filters. This is something we understand to be part of the bio-diesel problem. It seems it has more of a detergent quality that can clean out lines, tanks and hoses and release stuff into the fuel. The bio-diesel can also break down some types of rubber hoses and rings. So it was good to change the oil and filters.

The good news about bio-diesel is the "why" behind Colombia's effort. It seems that in order to replace the farming of coca for cocaine production, the country is encouraging these farmers to grow the palms for palm oil. Because the country mandates the use of bio-diesel, there is a market for the palm oil. (Yes, we know that there are arguments that they are replacing food crops with palm oil).

We know Colombia has many, many old diesels running in the country, so we're hoping enough research has gone into what the new bio-diesel will do to these older engines. Just for all our boater friends out there reading this blog, be aware that the only diesel in Colombia is bio-diesel.

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Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Chicken Busses

When we arrive in various places, we usually get around with local transportation. In Grenada there were the named mini vans packed with 18 plus people (remember that Frank?); in Cartagena the cabs are cheap; in Providencia, the National Police escort you…and here in Panama we've taken the local busses. These are old school busses that have been wildly painted on the outside - airbrushed art of everything from nature scenes to villains; religious icons and pop stars. Inside they are also adorned with sayings, feathers, lights, colorful vinyl and weird items like fuzzy dice and animal tails. They are also cheap and crowded. They'll pack in as many people as possible and then some - and people here don't tend to move in and go to the back of the bus - they crowd up near the driver. The cost is $1.30 per person from Portobello to Colon - a ride that takes about one and a half hours. People just yell "Parada" when they want to get off and the bus stops. People load on with bags and babies and bounty of all sorts.

There are also folks who get on the bus - usually at the bus terminal and sell things. Now, you'd expect things like snacks or the newspaper - and those are some of the options. But you can also buy from these vendors: roach traps, garbage bags, matches, electric tape, wash clothes, super glue, pirate DVDs of music or movies, lollipops, shoe polish, varnish, hair clips, and entry to heaven (prayer cards). Some people come on and ask for money for orphans and the church as well. The good news, because everything is in Spanish, our vocabulary increases when they sell these items coming up and down the aisles telling folks what they have "en espanol." Oh, and people do actually buy this stuff!

It sure gives you some local color.

We have provisioned up a bit and got some diesel. Michael's done an oil change and cleaned the boat bottom. We've enjoyed happy hour and a potluck. And now we're looking for a weather window to Kuna Yala over the next few days.

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