Sunday, December 26, 2010

Happy Boxing Day

We hope Santa found everyone' s house and that he delivered! Hope the weather cooperated for your travels over the rivers and through the woods.

We managed to travel as far as an island (after a dinghy Santa run with cupcakes), for a wonderful potluck with other boaters and Kuna. It was a tasty afternoon and the weather cooperated long enough for the potluck. It had been a sunny, rainy, breezy day.

Michael cleaned half the hull (which was still carrying dirt and grime from Cartagena) and Barbara did baking and cooking and cleaning. The cell phone towers weren't cooperating too well – but we did manage a few calls before the towers gave up the signal.

Hope everyone can relax before the next big event – New Year's!

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Friday, December 24, 2010


Merry Christmas to you! We wish you all a very happy holiday enjoyed with family and friends. Eat lots of Christmas cookies, raise a glass (or two or three) of champagne or your nog of choice, and get kisses under the mistletoe. It's a time to celebrate and know we are thinking of you all and wishing you the merriest of holidays.

Our Christmas celebrating began last night with a dinghy raft up. More than a dozen dinghies rafted together and shared wonderful snacks and cocktails as the sun set in the Eastern Holandes islands. In the middle of a raft up, a boat that was coming in ran hard aground on one of the reefs, so many of the dinghies left the raft up and went to the rescue. Way too many chiefs giving orders. The Kunas also joined in and it was quite a sight and the raft up had a front row seat. The boat was finally freed and the Spanish couple form aboard came by the raft up with a bottle of rum after they were safely anchored.

Today (Christmas Eve Day), there will be yoga on the island at 11 – a treat for Barbara's back. Michael will be working on yet more projects. He got the wind generator re-mounted yesterday – all went well and today he'll tackle the head sail furler and greasing the outboard lift. Barbara will be baking some Christmas cookies and cooking for a feast aboard "Ivory Moon" (our Australian friends that we reconnected with here.) It should be quite a table of treats and we're looking forward to the evening's company and festivities.

Tomorrow, there will be a potluck in the afternoon on the island and perhaps a fun gift exchange. We're helping to organize that festivity. Barbara got permission from the Kunas on the island to do it there.

The sun is shining and the temperature has been in the 70s thanks to a cool north breeze.. We're hoping that the squalls stay away through the holidays.
We hope if its not warm where you are – you have a warm place to enjoy – perhaps a crackling fire. Remember to leave out a s snack for Santa and his reindeer!

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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Panama Holidays

What a lovely gift we got yesterday. We had the most lovely sail from St. Ignacio de Tupile (or Tannaquetupu) to Nargana. The winds were blowing out of the northwest about 10-15 and we were close hauled most of the way but it was the first day we had the motor off almost the entire time. Because this leg is in pretty open water – protected by reefs and islands now and then, the seas were a bit confused and sometimes steep – but Astarte loved sailing.

Let's go back a few days. We arrived in Pinos and stayed two nights resting up from the passage and Michael did some projects (oil change and water filter change). Barbara did some baking, laundry and organizing. We never got hit up for a Kuna fee (nor did we go on the island). The days were rainy and grey but we were in a pretty spot and enjoyed watching the Kunas glide past and fish. On Monday morning bright and early, we pulled anchor and headed up the chain. Our original plan was to spend more time in this part of Kuna Yala and explore a bit, but we decided that we wanted to Christmas with friends. So we ended up moving on more quickly. The first day took us between islands and Kuna villages with interesting names and stories. After about 35 miles, we dropped the anchor near the village of St. Ignacio de Tupile (Tannaquetupu in Kuna) – but everyone calls it Tupile now. It's a crowded little community and we watched a non-stop ulu (their canoes) traffic jam. They usually get water via a pipeline (as in small pipe) from the Mono River on the mainland out to their island. Unfortunately, the massive amounts of rain they've had in this area has broken the pipe so the Kunas must row up the river and fill buckets and row back to their vllage. So the stream of people – men, women, children, in all sizes of ulus and "launchas" row back and forth. The ulus are quite low in the water as they row back loaded with big buckets, barrels or jugs of water. They bail and row, bail and row, bail and row across to the village.

We did get hit up for the Kuna fee but managed to negotiate down from $10 to $5 because we would only be staying one night. Another Kuna came by offering to bring by lobsters or crab the next morning and tried to sell us molas as well. We are back in Kuna Yala!!!

On Tuesday morning, again, bright and early, we pulled anchor and headed towards Nargana (also called Yandup and Akuanusatupu – two islands attached with a bridge) near the Rio Diablo. We've been here many times and its one of the few places to get fuel, phone cards and some provisions. The sail over was really enjoyable – a quiet, motor free day (saving fossil fuel and boat $$). We went past many pretty islands and reef areas.

We got into Nargana a bit before 1500 and instantly started on getting into town. The dinghy had to be inflated and hoisted, the outboard Yoshi put back to work, Michael put the diesel on deck into the tank and we headed to town. We were able to get some diesel (cheaper than Colombia). Frederico, a Kuna we've met and visited with several times while here in Nargana, met us at Pacos (the fuel dock) and proceeded to walk us all over town and help us shop. Thanks to his escort, we discovered a new bakery (you would never find it unless you knew where it was, with freshly made bread. In Nargana there are several little panaderias (bakeries) where you can get bread so it was surprising to see yet another one. These bakeries are huts with a stove. This bread was different than the traditional kuna breadstick style bread – it was actual long narrow loaves – more like french baguette but not crusty. Then we went to a few tiendas for some fresh food. The phone card place was closed. Frederico came back to the boat with us and took our garbage which he burns (we pay for that service).

This morning we need to get propane, a bit more supplies, and phone cards so we can call home for Christmas if the cell phone towers are in service (sometime they are and sometimes they're not). But we need some recharge cards to be able to even try. Then hopefully we'll be done before noon to make it to the "swimming pool" in the Eastern Holandes Islands where we'll connect with some friends and celebrate Christmas.

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Sunday, December 19, 2010

Return to Kuna Yala

On Thursday, we were preparing to depart the Bay of Cholon for the Bernardos and then on to San Blas (Kuna Yala), Panama. The weather window looked okay – not a lot of wind from the right direction but light north westerlies and the seas were flattening as the days passed. We figured we needed three days if we overnighted in the Bernados, twenty plus miles away – then another overnight at sea.

While flipping the dinghy over on the foredeck, Barbara twisted her back and could barely move. So we stayed put in Cholon another day. On Friday, her back was a bit better and we decided to at least try to make it to the Bernardos and see how the conditions were and how the back coped. It was pretty flat and we had the sails up so we decided to pass on the Bernardos and keep going to Panama. We sailed, we motored when we got under two knots, and we sailed. We fished with our new lures made under the direction of Nigel, fishing champion and star of fishing films in South Africa. No luck fishing and the wind was always just a bit too light or too much on the nose for really good sailing to make time. But we kept moving in the right direction. Seas were about six feet and at times and got confused with wind chop as well.

At 0600 on Saturday morning, Barbara's on watch putting out the fishing line and there is this strange noise. Michael below hears it as well. We look back and there is the wind generator, on the brand new arch hanging sideways swinging with every wave that hits the boat. The blades, still turning are hitting the arch. This is a serious problem. But, the good news, with the new arch, Michael harnessed up and was able to climb up and secure himself and get the wind generator down. It seems the anti vibration rig, an aluminum post that the generator sat on, slipped down the mount and the generator was hanging on its own wire, a hose clamp and the small piece of rubber hose that helps dampen the vibration. Michael secured it to the arch and we'd deal with it at anchor. Disaster averted – the arch paid for itself and Michael proved his skill at climbing and holding on in six foot seas and 15 knot winds.

About 50 miles off our destination (Isla Pinos or in Kuna, Tupak which means whale)., some squalls came .and dumped some rain and heavier winds and seas. We needed to get into the anchorage before dark because of all the reefs around – and it was gonna be close. If we couldn't make it to Tupak before dark, we'd have to keep going up the chain and get someplace else at daybreak the following day. But the squalls gave us a good push and we increased our speed just enough to get to the island as sun was setting. We dropped the hook at 1805, in 10 feet of water and it was calm..

We are the only boat here and we awoke to lots of Kunas working in their ulus (canoes) around the anchorage. Some collecting coconuts from the shore, others fishing. They still amaze us as we watch them paddle these heavy dugout canoes with such strength and grace. Its a cloudy day and we'll sit here and organize the boat, perhaps get the wind generator remounted (if the rain settles) and then move on tomorrow.

Another passage made and through an area that often boasts of big mean seas. So we're happy to be back in Kuna land and safely settled behind whale island.

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Monday, December 13, 2010

Expedition to Baru

One of the enjoyable parts of cruising is exploring new places. We haven't been to too many little towns in Colombia this time because of all the work projects we had going on Astarte. But today, thanks to Kate and DJ from the sailboat "Hello World," we made our way to the little village of Baru. It was about a 5 mile dinghy ride through open bays and mangrove cuts. Getting there was half the adventure. Some of the mangrove cuts were small alleys through the trees that would be difficult to find if you didn't know. We started at 0715 in order to get there in time for the limited amount of seafood arepas that are made daily by a woman in the town. They are 2000 pesos each (a bit over a dollar).

The town is definitely not a tourist town. Definitely. In fact, other than a few cruisers anchored in Cholon, there are probably very few folks who stop by here. It is a typical small Colombian fishing town. Several tiendas, lots of houses, dirt roads, dogs, chickens and roosters and donkey carts. We tied up behind the house that sells gasoline and fish. We roamed through the town heading first to order our arepas (and some for the entire anchorage!). Then stopped by a few tiendas (which were decorated for Christmas) and looked around a bit. The church was closed and there is a technical school in the town. But most people look like they are fishermen with lots of boats behind the homes on the water.

We went back to get the warm arepas, and then got some shrimp and gasoline. The shrimp is fresh frozen without heads at a pretty reasonable price. They were 16,000 pesos (a bit over $8) for one kilo (2.2 pounds). We'll have them for dinner tonight and see how they are.

The trip back was a bit wet as the wind picked up and the waves were a little choppy. But we made it back and checked off another village in Colombia – a visit to Baru.

Michael did more sewing and Barbara did cleaning and we did a lot of visiting with David and Damon on Braudair who gifted us with some spare knot meters and depth sounders.

Tomorrow the weather looks good enough to head to the Bernardos and then on to Panama hopefully the following day. The seas are a bit high but will continue to settle over the next few days. We want to sail so we'll go sooner rather than wait until they are too flat which may mean no more wind.

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Saturday, December 11, 2010

Bay of Cholon

For the last few years, we've heard people anchored in the Bay of Cholon. We looked for it on the charts and couldn't even find it. But here we are, anchored in this lovely bay that is the playground for Colombians. The water is not quite as clear as we remember in the Rosarios or San Blas, but it sure beats Cartagena's harbor. It's nice to be back to the salt water shower routine.

We've barely got off the boat, except to get in the water and head to a "happy hour(s)." The "happy hour" takes place on an old shrimp boat turned cruise boat turned party boat that anchored in Cholon owned by Robert. He has built a house on the hill known as the "Crow's Nest" with an incredible view on all sides. We'll perhaps climb up there today or tomorrow and get some photos. He's a really nice and interesting guy and on Wednesday night we had a great time. He also put out hundreds of books for people to take (not trade). So, against our better judgment and room restrictions, we took a bag full. We know we can get rid of them in San Blas where there is always a great need for a fresh supply of reading material.

Projects are being checked off the list daily. Michael got out the sewing machine and has re-done the rain catchment gutters with vinyl. Since he's completed them, no rain! So we're certain he's designed rain "deflectors" not "catchers." We looked for terry cloth fabric in Cartagena to make boat cushion covers for the cockpit (the vinyl covers get sticky and we wanted to protect the vinyl longer), but we didn't have luck finding anything. So we made use of two big towels Barbara's sister Carol had given us and Michael made some temporary covers that work great. Next on the sewing agenda is re-doing the aft sun shade to fit the new arch.

We're both pretty much over our colds, so the stay here has been good for that as well. Several large Colombian power boats come in and they party and enjoy the bay but aren't too bad about keeping their distance from the anchored sailboats. They have, unfortunately, caused the price of local lobster, shrimp and fish to skyrocket here. It sounds like the holiday goers just plop down big dollars for a fish or lobsters, so when the local fisherman come by the sailboats, they expect the same $100 bucks for a fish! Ouch! We haven't purchased anything yet.

The shore noises are quite Interesting. There is a very loud donkey or two on shore that make the funniest noises. It's right out of a cartoon – loud, discordant and it just makes you giggle. He seems particularly loud when Michael is on deck doing projects. Hmm!

Unfortunately the weather continues to be bad for our crossing. There is this big trough sitting over the area creating very large seas (12-15 feet) and wind from all the wrong directions. We'll wait – it can't last forever. This is a nice spot to get the last of the barnacle feet off the bottom and continue to work the list of projects down. The San Blas area is wet- it's been raining there non stop with big squalls for weeks. In fact, in Portobello, there were several land slides that killed at least four people. The roads between Portobello and Colon are closed a lot and there is flooding in areas. We heard from some cruisers that even the Canal got shut down due to strong currents from the overflowing rivers and that it was chest deep water in the streets of Colon. So we'll enjoy the sometimes sunny, nice breeze, weather here and wait for the perfect window to cross. We have guests Margaret and Lloyd coming in January so we have plenty of time to get there.

Just cut open a watermelon we bought at the Bazurto in Cartagena! Yum.

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Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Adios Cartagena

We have cleared out of Colombia and have our zarpe in hand and are making our way towards Panama. We heard the barnacles screaming as we moved out of the Cartagena Bay. We had to get the prop and bottom scraped so we could move and got underway on Tuesday (a day later than planned due to a late zarpe – exit clearance). We did last minute provisioning of some bread and fresh stuff on Monday as we waited for final paperwork and then got an early start on Tuesday. We went through the Boca Grande cut to leave. This is a very small opening – an underwater wall protects the bay from pirates and a small hole was blasted in it to let small boats through. It gets as shallow as 11 feet and is only about 100 feet wide so it is a bit tricky to sneak through. You want to be sure the markers are there or you have good GPS numbers. We actually had our headsail up and managed to sail for most of the day.

We are now in the Bay of Chilon, a lovely harbour protected on almost all sides and surrounded by green hills. Lots of bird noises and music have replaced the noises of boats, city and ship loading. It is lovely. We have never been here, but many boats call this harbour home for months and months. The water is clearer and it is pretty. There are about 15 sailboats in here and one large fishing boat turned pleasure boat turned "bar." That would be the "Manatee" where on Wednesday nights, tonight, there is a "happy hour."

We have been approached by several small boats (kayaks, ulus and a man paddling a surfboard) trying to sell us fish, shrimp, lobsters or fresh limes. We're pretty stocked up and the prices seem quite hefty here – so we'll pass. We do like supporting the locals when we can and when we anchor in their water – but we won't pay outrageous prices. We'll talk to some of the other boats around to see what the going rates are on things.

It was a very quiet and peaceful night here. The anchorage was flat, the breeze blew for much of the night keeping it bug free and comfortable. We awoke to lots of bird noises and some music from a nearby boat. But it wasn't loud or obnoxious – it was a nice way to start a beautiful morning.

Now we wait for a weather window (which we thought was today – but isn't), In fact, it looks like we may have to sit here through the weekend. We need at least a two day (preferably three day) window for the passage and we want to sail. The trades should start to blow soon which would be perfect direction – but due to lows in the area the seas are very big and the winds are from the west (the direction we want to head). Plus there is a current – so we don't want to fight both wind and current and high seas to cross. We'll wait – this seems to be a lovely little spot.

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Friday, December 3, 2010

A couple of new photos

See Photos 1 for a few pics of the arch installation.

Still in Cartagena, it is still raining and we still have some food to find. The outdoor market will be a mess in the rain. We are fueled up, and cheesed up and just need some fresh vegies and a zarpe to legally leave the harbour.

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Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Colombia Observations

This is our third visit to Colombia and we do like this country. Here are a few things we find interesting, unusual and curious.

What you Can't Find:

One of the joys of cruising is finding new and interesting items to eat, use for cleaning or cooking. But there are also things you just want because they work and you're familiar with them. One item I can't find is Crisco. I use it to make pie crusts, English muffins and bread and just can't find it anywhere here in Colombia!

Luckily they have lots of wonderful fresh vegetables here but when you need to re-supply your canned goods for a trip to San Blas, don't count on variety here! You can get canned peas, corn or mixed veggies and that's it.

Snacks are different and favorites like peanuts are expensive. Corn chips are impossible to find. Though corn flour is abundant here – easier to find than wheat flour -but you can't find corn chips. All these great fresh and inexpensive avocados for guacamole don't have chips to dip.

Wine and alcohol are relatively expensive here – probably due to high taxes placed on them. The beer prices here are much higher than Panama – but thanks to new rules in Kuna Yala, we'll have to stock up here.

Hydrogen peroxide is another thing that seems to be in short supply. And, thanks to the illegal drug trade, you can't buy ammonia in Colombia. And some stateside over the counter drugs are available only in pharmacies – like eye drops. You don't need prescriptions, but they are more expensive in some cases.

Street Food:
It's wonderful to be in a country where you can get fresh fruit by the piece or cupful. Just about everywhere, there are carts selling wonderful fresh fruit like mangoes, papayas, bananas and watermelon. You can buy these all whole or beautifully sliced in plastic cups. Zapotes, a personal favorite of Dr. Sorkin, our eye doc, are just getting into season and you see them being sold on the street as well. We bought one, but our carpenter told us it wasn't quite ripe yet, so we'll try it later. You can also get fresh avocados, tomatoes or other veggies from carts. Coconuts are plentiful (probably the ones the boats buy from the Kuna Indians in Panama) and the top gets sliced off so you get a drink of fresh coco juice. Plus there are lots of juice vendors selling freshly squeezed limeade, orange juice or a fruit punch made up of watermelon, papaya and other fruits. They sell these juices out of giant aquariums filled with ice and they keep adding freshly squeezed juice to the mix. They are tasty and cost about 50 cents for a large cup.

So you have all these fresh healthy things – and then you also have all the "fried dough" items. There are a large variety of shapes, sizes and fillings of fried dough treats readily available all day. They are long ones and round ones and empanada shaped ones. Some are just corn dough others are filled with eggs, butter or a variety of meats or veggies. They usually cost less than a dollar and are popular items.

Then you have the shaved ice vendors and ice cream sellers. The shaved ices are personal favorites. They pour sweetened milk on the top and it is particularly wonderful.


These people like to party and it seems every week there is some type of holiday or excuse to celebrate. Last weekend there was a wedding in a nearby fort (one of the giant pirate ships was docked alongside and tents were set up in the fort area.) They partied until 4:30 in the morning with loud music and dancing. The other night it looked like a 15th birthday celebration was taking place in one of the high rises. Even birthday parties become big events.

There are these open air buses that go around the city that are filled with party riders. As they drive by they all are singing, yelling, and simply enjoying themselves (we think that the rum served on these buses may have something to do with the festive nature of the riders).
There are also the pirate boats that are not only for tourists, but locals also use them for night parties. They ply the bay with live bands or DJs most nights and lots of party-goers.

Fireworks are also a common occurrence here. Last Sunday there were a few displays – so Colombians are a country of party-goers.


The country has some wonderful craftspeople and hard workers. Labor is still relatively inexpensive here. Some friends hired a worker to clean the hull and polish stainless and he charged 60,000 pesos a day (about $30). Our arch and carpentry project pwere expertly done at a reasonable price.


One of the things that we loved back in 2001 while here was the daily "comida corriente" (literally common meal, but it's the lunch special). For a few dollars you get a complete meal including a hearty soup, rice, meat or fish, salad and veggie or beans. The price has gone up a bit since 2001 (what hasn't?) but it's still a deal. We always look for places near colleges – because students always know the best prices for the most food!

Water rules:

Water taxis abound here along with a lot of other boating and fishing. And these boats love to go very fast through the anchorage. The bigger the wake the better. They also run at night without any lights. But the water taxis do require life jackets on all the riders! The anchorage is patrolled by the Coast Guard as well – and they are quite friendly.


The netters are fun to watch. Usually there are two (sometimes three) people in open cayucas (large carved canoes) with an outboard motor. They are very speedy as they let out their net, which is similar to a gill net – a long rather narrow net with weights on the bottom and floats on the top. They drop it in a large circle – often surrounding several sailboats in the anchorage. Then, they sneak the boat into the circle and drive around it quite fast with one of the fisherman slapping a large pole into the water. This makes big splashes and he also hits it on the side of the boat to make noise. This action is intended to scare the fish into the net. Then, they wait about five minutes and start to pull in the net going in a circle as one guy pulls in the weighted side and the other pulls in the float side. They seem to average about a dozen fish with each net placement. They are ambitious and once they are pulled in, they move to another location and repeat.

Floating Islands:
Its rainy season and when it rains it is in heavy downpours. This obviously stirs up not only the garbage, fuel and dirt from the streets that then run into the bay – but also the rivers and islands. Large "islands" of vegetation come floating by regularly. These are made up of grass and plants that have broken free from somewhere and start to float picking up additional bits and pieces along the way. Some of these islands are easily 10 to 15 feet long, often catching on anchor chain.


Besides being a great town to walk around – there are many ways to get around Cartagena.

There are water taxis for water routes. There are lots of small yellow cabs (many run on compressed natural gas) that are reasonably priced. You better know Spanish though! The motos (motorcycle cabs) are also everywhere. The drivers all have to wear these numbered safety vests and provide a helmet to the rider. They are less expensive than the cabs and you do take your life in your hands watching them drive about. You can also hop in the back of a bicycle rickshaw. It can handle two people and are sort of covered to protect from rain (when they seem busiest!). City buses are available as well and seem to weave in and out of traffic. The doors and windows are wide open and they always seem pretty packed. Horse drawn carriages are also seen – though these seem to be more of a tourist draw rather than a mode of transport.

In order to cut down on traffic congestion and pollution, the city does limit who can drive on what days. The license plate number indicates what day you can drive. Its an odd / even thing. Odd can drive on odd dated days and even on even dated days. Not certain if this is just for rush hour or for all day.

The country is a wonderful place and people seem genuinely friendly and helpful. You can always tell the folks who are studying English, as they love to practice on you.

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