Friday, December 30, 2011

PACIFIC

We made it! Three locks up. Through Gatun Lake. Three locks down. We are now safely anchored in the Pacific Ocean with the huge Panama City skyline as our backdrop (actually as our front facing scenery with the sun rising behind it).
We had a great crew – special thanks to Markus of "Namani" (and to Nana and Nicholas for lending him to us), and Sue and Lenny from Windancer (who trekked from Portobello to make the transit). They will always be part of the Astarte "crew" for their help through the Canal. Everyone got along great – and were helpful and put up with "cozy" accommodations. We enjoyed sharing this magnificent experience with them.
MacNell (not quite sure of the spelling) was our going up (three Gatun Locks) Advisor and Ricardo was our "Canal Advisor" for the transit across Gatun Lake and through the three down locks at Pedro Miguel and Miraflores. We were lucky as they were great. We were particularly thrilled to have Ricardo – because as fate would have it – he was also the Advisor on "Anthem" the boat we line-handled for in February 2010. Amazing. That was incredible as was he. He is so calm and interesting and filled with information about the canal, Panama and the various boats, tugs, dredges etc. we went past. Plus, he's just really a great guy and was fun to have as part of our crew.
A a great big thanks to all who tried to watch us going through the locks on the internet. Sorry that you wasted so much time staring at the internet – and that the Gatun Locks internet wasn't working properly. Plus, as you'll read, our scheduled time wasn't exactly "on time." Thanks for all the nice notes and congratulations as well – we appreciate knowing we have lots of support and love to keep us afloat.
So let's go back to the departure and fill you in on one of the great adventures of our life – bringing our own boat through the canal.
Erick Galvez was our agent from Centenario Consultant Agency and we can HIGHLY recommend him to anyone choosing an agent. He was efficient, always did what he said he would and on time. His line and tire fenders were in great shape and delivered (and picked-up) on time and as promised.
On Tuesday, December 27 we cleared out of Colon for Balboa with the Port Captain. Erick delivered the lines and tires on time and they got tied on. Barbara did the provisioning run for feeding the crew and advisors. And we cleaned Astarte top to bottom inside for guests.
On Wednesday, a little last minute cleaning and our "crew" arrived. Lenny and Sue came over from Portobello and Markus from a few slips away. The snafu started when the fuel barge pulled out – we were planning on topping off diesel. Thanks to Des and Carol from "Island Fling" for selling us some gasoline; and Markus and Nana from Namani for letting us buy some diesel from them to top the tanks. We would have made it – but its nice to have every possible thing covered "just in case." We loaded the fuel and got lines organized, a crew photo and then pulled away from the dock to head to "the flats" to anchor and await our time and advisor. We jogged through massive ships and dropped the hook and waited. We got notice that our advisor would arrive at 1830 (6:30 pm). So we decided to have our big meal mid day and enjoyed a lovely dinner together...unfortunately no wine.
At about 1840 the advisor arrived. It looked like we would be going through with one big sports fishing motor boat and a catamaran. The cat was being delivered from South Africa to Tahiti for the Moorings Charter company by a delivery crew of Richard, Savannah and Josh. Great folks we had met the night before. We pulled up anchor in the dark and headed towards the locks – a giant boat trailing us (very frightening to have a 600 foot boat behind you). They would ultimately be in front of us in the lock. The sport fishing boat had navigation light that didn't work and wouldn't be able to transit unless they got them fixed and to the locks in time to make the tie-up. We were relieved as we preferred the option of tying to the catamaran rather than the sport fisher as the hull shape is a better match.
We then waited. And waited. And waited. There seemed to be a problem in the lock with the boat that was passing through. We had rafted up with the catamaran– tightly tied with lots and lots of fenders between the boats. So finally – about 2100 (9pm) we started through. The catamaran captain Richard and Michael were coordinating speed and direction with the help of Carlos the advisor on the cat. Because we were rafted – we only needed two line handlers on Astarte – but we teamed up, Barbara and Lenny did the foredeck and Sue and Markus handled the stern.
We got into the lock staring up at the giant container ship "Merchant" from Nassau. A big black hull was not very far in front of us. The "mules", which are motorized engines on rails, handle their lines on shore with deck hands aboard. We have human beings on shore who walk along with our lines. But first, they toss a monkey fist aboard the boat which you have to grab and then tie with a bowline to your big line and feed it back to them. These guys (male and female) toss like they want to knock you off your feet. They line drive it aboard. The lines (fore and aft) are caught by the able Astarte crew, competent knots tied, and the lines are pulled up by the canal linesmen. They then put our line, which has a big loop on one end, over a large bollard. The lock gates get closed and the water starts to come in – quite quickly. We have to pull in the lines to compensate for the incoming water to keep the rafted sailboats centered. The same routine is happening on the starboard side of the catamaran.
It's hard work pulling in. We manage to get it done for the first lock, but the most frightening part is actually when the huge boat in front of us – starts. They put their engine in forward and the canal water becomes a class 5 rapid. Wow – it is really churned up sending the two rafted sailboats dancing. We are still attached to the canal walls with the four lines – but you can really see the pressure on those lines. You pray they hold as will your cleats. Whew...the first lock done. Two to go. But now, the boats, still attached, motor through to the next lock as the canal line-handlers carry our lines into the next lock. Two more times the routine continues – lines released, pulled back aboard, lines re-fed and retied. Pulling them in. Letting them out. Nervously watching the huge frieghter ahead churn up the water.
After the last lock, our two rafted boats stayed together (unusual) for the trip to the mooring where we will spend the night. The advisor wants us to stay rafted up on the mooring but we don"t think that's a good idea so we unraft. The lake is rolly enough with boat traffic and wind that we would listen to squeeks and squaks from tires, fenders and lines all night if we were rafted up. The party would have been fun – but sleeping more difficult. So they tied to one mooring and we tied to the other and it was around 2330 when that was completed. A few cocktails and beers were consumed. The advisor wanted a hot meal – but we told it would take too long and he would be picked up shortly. So we made sandwiches and lots of snacks.
We called it a day around 0100 (1 am) - it was a mighty long day for everyone – but the hardest locks were now behind us and it went very smoothly.
Day two: Thursday, December 29, 2011.
0530 the Astarte crew get up to coffee and breakfast and the advisor arrives around 0645. We head out just about immediately after introductions, warming the engine and untying from the bollard. The catamaran has left a few minutes earlier. It is a beautiful day and Ricardo is a pleasant addition to our crew.
We head through Gatun lake which is quite pretty. Sue has the binoculars in search of wildlife and everyone is amiably chatting and sightseeing. Barbara is whipping up brownies and pasta salad and snacking is non-stop. Ricardo is very informative about how our next locks will go – we find out two ferries that do this passage daily will be in the lock ahead of us then the rafted sailboats. Down is easier than up as you simply let out line versus bringing it in. The wind is blowing pretty good though – so we have windage on our side- pulling us away from the wall (that's good) but we need to keep the catamaran off the wall on the other side putting more pressure on our lines, cleat and crew.
We get into the first lock – a different view as we're sitting so high in the lock this time. Monkey fists are caught by both Markus and Lenny(one handed, by the way). Good work. And the process continues. But in between these locks, we have to motor rafted together – so monkey fist catching and bowline tying has to actually be done three separate times. The crew of Astarte for the passage has a 100% catch record with no windows broken, no solar panels lost or wind generator blades ruined. (Of course hatches and solar panels are covered with cushions, blankets, towels, line etc.)
After we are through the last locks, we are in the Pacific.
We unraft with our partners on the catamaran and make our way to an anchorage in what is called Las Brisas. It is around a few islands. The skyline of Panama City is bold, the sun is shining. By around 1530 (3:30 pm) we are anchored. Markus decides he will try to make the trip back to Shelter Bay right away so we get the dinghy unrolled and put back together. Tires and lines will also be picked up by Erick's son at 1630 (4:30pm). So we get Astarte ready and un-adorned with canal passage gear.
The fun news was that as we came into the anchorage we started to see lots of boats we know. People we hadn't seen for months or even years came out to say hello. Our friends Blake and Sunny from Slow-Mocean were on deck and we hadn't seen them since Puerto Rico. Feel Free with Liz and Tom we last saw in the San Blas. And we anchored near Yvon and Carmella of Taima. Voyager is anchored up there – haven't seen them yet. And so it feels welcoming. The wind was hooting out of the north and its a bit rolly.
A few celebratory Astarte rum punches and we would head in for dinner. Showers, cleaning up, dry clothes and we make our way to shore. The tide (which today was a 16 foot tide – that's normal) – was in.
We head in and unfortunately its not the easiest dinghy arrangement. You tie up then have to use a small plastic rowboat (very wet and tippy) to pull yourself across to the dock. With the wind and waves and tides, it can be a very wet trip to get to the other end. Barbara was soaked by the time we made it to dinner. We headed out for a bite – the crew all quite tired – but we enjoy a pizza together and head back.
Exhausted – we call it a night after putting the dinghy and outboard up (everything has to be locked).
Day Three: Friday, December 30:
Everyone had a great, much needed, night sleep. We get up to a nice breakfast and Michael takes Lenny and Sue ashore and then cleared in with the Port Captain. Its a holiday weekend, but all went well. Then we'll organize Astarte putting things back in the V-berth and forward head – after a repair – unfortunately it broke on Day one....bummer with guests aboard). But we'll probably take a few days to relax and appreciate that we made it to the Pacific.
Again, thank you so much to everyone for getting screen grabs from the lock cameras of us going through. We can't wait to see them. We took lots of photos and once they get sorted we'll post them as well.
We made it. Woohoo!!!!

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Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Ready for the Canal Passage

The crew of Lenny & Sue from Windancer and Marcus from Namani are aboard. The tires are tied to the boat. The long lines are on deck. The fuel tanks have been filled and the boat is provisioned for two days and six people.
The passage was originally scheduled for 3:45 pm (ET) but it's been moved later – now we may transit under the lights. We get our "advisor at 1830 (6:30 pm eastern time). We are heading to the flats shortly to anchor and wait.  Web site is:  http://www.pancanal.com/eng/photo/camera-java.html?cam=GatunHi
There is a catamaran with a South African crew aboard will be transiting at the same time and they are fun people so we think we will be side-tied with them.
Otherwise, we're as ready as ever to go.
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Sunday, December 25, 2011

Caroling by the Howler Monkeys

We awoke on Christmas morning to the sweet (or scary) sounds of the howler monkeys bellowing – we were sure it was their very special version of "White Christmas" in 8 part harmony. This was followed by a very distinct "Silent Night" but obviously in Spanish.
The sun is out on this Christmas morning - after a day of on and off rain. Cookies have been coming out of the Astarte galley over the last few days – and this is quite a feat as the oven is quite small and you can only make about 9 cookies at a time (and I only have one custom made cookie sheet that fits!) But four varieties of cookies emerged.
On Christmas eve, we had a lovely steak dinner and actually splurged and opened a bottle of nice red wine. We kept the Christmas lights on extra long and listened to Mike Mullin's Christmas CDs he's made over the past years (compilations of music from "rockin'" to "chillin'" to Guitar) It was lovely even with the rain.
This morning, we'll do the traditional cookie delivery to our surrounding boat neighbors. We ride around in the dinghy (If Yoshi the outboard has the Christmas spirit) and hand out wrapped cookies. No singing allowed – we'll leave that to the nearby monkeys.
Then we'll make a few side dishes to bring up to Capt. Jack's Canopy Bar and celebrate Christmas with lots of other boaters and local folks. Capt. Jack is making a few legs of lamb, a ham, mashed potatoes and everyone else will bring various side-dishes and desserts. There will be a "Chinese" gift exchange – this is a fun event where you get to pick a gift from the pile or one from someone else who already opened one.
Tomorrow, we'll leave for Shelter Bay again to prep for our trip through the Canal on Wednesday. We have two line handlers already and hope we get another one today at Capt. Jack's. The one who had committed to us – bagged us. But we have Lenny and Sue from the boat Windancer. They should be a blast. They have been cruising for many years and never been through the Canal. They are a lot of fun and really nice and competent and we are grateful they'll be with us.
The next few days will be busy so may not be able to do an entry. We should be going through the Gatun locks on December 28th, probably late afternoon EDT – so tune in to the Panama Canal website
( http://www.pancanal.com/eng/photo/camera-java.html?cam=Gatun )
and look for us. We are a white single-mast sailboat with blue canvas. On the front stay (that's the line that runs from the top of the mast to the pointy end at the very front of the boat) – look for blue canvas on that stay that has two white stripes on it (this is our chafe protection on our sail – but it is quite distinctive). We also have a dinghy on the foredeck as well as we'll have blue cushions covering our solar panels over the bimini top. This is to protect them from the lead centered monkey fist and line that gets tossed down to you from the canal workers. Many a solar panel, hatch or window has been broken by these balls of line. So watch for us – if we get a more definitive time for Wednesday we'll do a quick post on the site with that info.
Merry Christmas to all and we hope you got everything you wanted from Santa. We did – we have each other and we're pursuing our dream.
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Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Merry Christmas To All From SV Astarte

In the tropics it’s hard to believe it’s time for Santa to make his run. No snow. No chestnuts roasting. No egg nog (though plenty of rum). But there are Christmas lights twinkling aboard Astarte (enjoyed for about an hour each day – the allotted energy allowance). And we have CDs of Christmas music. And of course, there will be some holiday sweets from the galley.

Christmas is always a tough time to be away from family and friends…but we have each other aboard and have made many friends since we’ve started cruising. This is our third Christmas aboard Astarte and it’s funny that with all the miles under our keel, all three holidays have been spent in the country of Panama.

Because we keep our log page up to date (www.sailastarte.com) most of you know what we’ve been up to all year. 2011 had us visiting only two countries – Panama and Honduras, but many ports and islands in those countries. Michael did visit a few extra counties to earn a few cruising dollars in China and Korea. Barbara had a few articles published as well, and earned some beer money selling her writing.

We visited the States for Barbara’s mom’s 90th Birthday where it was great to see the entire Sobocinski clan. We also saw lots of family and friends in Salem and then went on to Michael’s brother and sister-in-law’s in Nashville. And finally a last stop – though not together- in St. Pete Florida where we stayed at the very nice “Richard and Rene Resort and Party Center”. Thanks to those who came and visited with us while we were in the States as well. Sandy made the trip from Oregon to Salem, Michael’s mom came to Nashville and Tim came from Philly to Salem. Thanks – it meant a lot to us. We conned Barbara’s sister Carol into helping us with our paperwork this year – thank you for that. We may be out here cruising around – but we are supported by lots and lots of family, friends and even strangers. We are sincerely grateful.

Astarte took a few “land trips” this year as well. She was hauled out for work in Honduras where she got a new bottom job and then unfortunately, had to be hauled again in Panama for a new shaft. Thanks Richard for your help giving us much needed advice and getting us the shaft material.

Here’s a quick, rhythmic re-cap of our year on Astarte. We wish you all a very merry Christmas.


January we enjoyed two sets of boat guests
Lloyd and Margaret, Dave and Lorna none were pests
We snorkeled, sailed, drank and ate
Explored the San Blas which is top rate
When we have great company life aboard is best

February we enjoyed on Panama’s coast
The San Blas, Linton and Portobello the most
We celebrated Valetines and a birthday
Drinking champagne aboard our boat Astarte
It’s been two years aboard so we drank a toast

In March it was time to start heading North
So we checked the winds, the waves and so forth
To Honduras we sailed for six solid days
The Colombian Navy stopped us on our way
And at La Ceiba Shipyard we hauled for ten days

April brought our frequent boat guests Kathryn and Mark
To Roatan, Guanaja and the West End Marine Park
They spent water time as they wished
But they had no luck when they fished
It was a fun for us all even when Mark saw his big shark.

May kept us enjoying our time in the Bay Isles
And we were graced by Jim’s visit, he came many miles
We saw sharks, lionfish and even some snakes
We showered in waterfalls, but caught no fish steaks
Eating, drinking and snorkeling, lots of laughs and big smiles

June meant it was time to head South once more
Hurricanes start forming and heading to shore
But first some time with Walt and Honoree
Good friends with whom we like to play
Then we sailed off to Bocas and boat projects galore

July was busy putting Astarte to bed in her slip
Thanks to Anna and Ian for the place for our ship
Then off to the states by boat, bus and plane
And Mike’s off to China he must be insane
Barbara spends time with family and friends on this trip

August is a big birthday month for Gen our sweet mother
After her 90th to Nashville we go to see Mike’s brother
Trish, his mom, comes for a fun few days
Then Mike and Barb go their separate ways
Thanks so much to Carol, Richard, Rene and others

In September, Mike’s back from work in Korea and trip to St. Pete
Barbara’s been in Bocas where cleaning the boat’s quite a feat
Tommy arrives with a giant sailbag in hand
It’s great to have him aboard and not on land
When Mike and Tom are together hold on to your seat.

October has us working on projects in the rain and wet
We housesit for a few days for someone we had met
At Rana Azul we celebrate Octoberfest
Then we head to a new place on our quest
To Bluefields we land a lovely place for our anchor to set

November comes and off to Portobello we go
Another haul out we need so we won’t need a tow
We give thanks at Captain Jack’s
With a feast and lots of snacks
But our outboard is starting to make us have to row

December has us in Colon and Shelter Bay
It’s nickname, for a good reason, is Shelter Pay
The new shaft is made
The new chain is laid
And we get everything ready for Panama Canal Day

This twenty-eleven has been a great year
We’re thankful for family and friends so dear
The Caribbean has been a lot of fun
The Pacific now calls so we head west with the sun
Now is that Santa and his reindeer we hear?
Peace and love in 2012…

Barbara and Michael
S/V Astarte

Friday, December 16, 2011

Committed

No, not a mental institution (though there are days!) We are now committed to going through the Panama Canal and into the Pacific aboard Astarte. We have been “Admeasured” by the Canal Authority and have paid hundreds of our favorite US dollars to our excellent agent, Erick. And we have a date. Mark your calendars for Wednesday, December 28, 2011. You can watch us go through the locks on the Canal's website.
http://www.pancanal.com/eng/photo/camera-java.html?cam=Gatun

The Admeasuring took place on a rainy Tuesday. Ingrid was our Canal Authority official who came aboard to do the paperwork and measuring.

Yup. They take out a big tape measure and actually measure the boat bow to stern. Then its lots of questions and paperwork. Questions include how fast the boat will go, how much fuel you carry, do you have a clean, working toilet, will you have bottled water for the adviser etc. She was aboard about an hour and then we signed away a bunch of papers including the fact that anything that happens while in the locks is our fault!

With that completed, we called our agent Erick Galvez and picked a date. We thought it would be fun to be on the Pacific side for the New Year. Now we have to find three additional people to join us as line-handlers. You need four line-handlers and the captain aboard to go through the locks. Any volunteers? You have to be here by December 27 and it takes two days. We'll be in Panama City (Port of Balboa) by the afternoon of December 29).

After we paid Erick, we fueled up (ouch) and then left Shelter Bay Marina. We always love what we call “zero dollar days.” That's a day where we don't spend any money (sure we eat food that we bought earlier – but we don't actually spend any dollars.) Tuesday was anything BUT a zero dollar day. Between paying for the marina fees and the Panama Canal passage fees – we burnt through a couple of thousand bucks!

We have to head back to the marina on the 26th to get our tires for fenders and our four 250 ft. lines (the agent provides these) and some groceries for the Canal crossing. Now we are trying to find other cruisers to line handle for us and get the boat ready.

New photos have also been put on now that we have a better internet connection – pics of some of the yard work and new chain.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Monday Relaunch

New shaft made and replaced. New cutlass bearing installed. Through-hull repaired. Boat waxed. New chain on board and old chain gone. Ready for launching...and we did get put back in the water on Monday afternoon.

It is always a scary moment when your boat is taken off the stands and put on a truck and moved. Then it is taken off the truck and put in the harness to lift into the water. But all went well and no water came in where it shouldn't. The shaft seemed to make an immediate difference with less vibration.

We are now in a slip at Shelter Bay and were hoping to get the local mechanic (actually a Canadian who lives on a boat here) to make sure the engine is aligned but last night we found out he is too busy. Bummer. Michael (who's managed to do everything else) will have to pull out the feeler gauges and Nigel Calders' "Boatowners's Mechanical and Electrical Manual" and get it done himself.

Today, we hope to get "ad measured" for our Panama Canal passage. That is where a Canal authority comes down with a tape measure and actually measures the length of your boat and charges you according to how many "containers" it can hold. Or something like that. Then we have to pick the date to go through.

It has been unbelievably rainy the last several days – monsoon rains. Its hard to keep the boat dry with wet clothes hanging everywhere. We have enjoyed the $1 Happy Hour beers at the bar (who's bartender is a 14-year old Canadian named Dylan). Connected with our old friends from "Voyager" Lynn and Byron who will be going through the canal this week. Re-met some folks we met in Roatan Desmond and Carol from South Africa and have enjoyed their company over a few drinks and dinners. Carol made us all a "Milk Tart" the other night – a traditional South African dessert – mighty tasty. So though we were exhausted each night with many hours of hard work, we have enjoyed some social time here as well.

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Friday, December 9, 2011

Happy Mother's Day

No it's not May – it's December 8th and that means a holiday in Panama. It's Dias de la Madre – Mother's Day. So Happy Mother's Day to our moms and all the Mother's reading this.

It been work, work, work aboard Astarte. We feel like we've been going non-stop for weeks. Sorry for the lack of log entries. On Sunday, we left Portobello harbor where we did get a lot of projects done (or at least attempted). Heading into Colon and the Panama Canal area is exciting. There are about a hundred ships in the area almost all the time. Some coming from the Pacific and heading into the Caribbean and others preparing to go through the canal and sitting at anchor or motoring around awaiting their turn. You feel very small in a 42 foot sailboat amidst the 600 foot container ships, tankers and car carriers. Plus you have the chemical ships, military vessels and various other seagoing freight ships, barges and tugs. It is exciting to maneuver through them As you enter the Port of Cristobal you have to call Port Control and ask for permission to enter. After getting through the breakwater, we took a hard right to Shelter Bay Marina which was our destination.

We stayed one night in the marina and did all our paperwork for hauling out for our shaft replacement. We luckily got hauled relatively early on Monday morning. It is always quite scary watching the travel lift balance your boat out of the water. Here it then gets put on a truck and driven into the yard and stands are placed around it.

They do squeeze the boats in this yard. They backed us in between two boats which was quite thrilling. There is very little room on one side of us. We had hoped to get some scaffolding so we could wax the hull – but it won't fit on one side.

Once settled, Michael worked on getting the old shaft out – which wasn't as difficult as we thought it might be. Also, lots of calls to Marine Warehouse to make sure our chain and new shaft material would get here as scheduled. We were assured it would be here around 4 pm. So with the haul-out done,shaft out, we called the machine shop to confirm that we would be in at 7 am the next morning with old shaft and new material. With the Thursday holiday we were hoping it would get done by Friday so we could minimize our time (read: expense) in the yard. Well, 4 pm came no shaft or chain. 6 PM came, no shaft no chain and no response as to when and where it was. At 8 pm we canceled our cab for the 6:30 am pick-up. Still no idea where it was though a cryptic text message said something about car problems.

Finally the next day (Tuesday) around 10 am, we hear it will be here around 4 pm. We call the machine shop and hope they can still squeeze us in on Wednesday. Around 3 pm, the delivery comes. The new shaft material and 200 feet of new anchor chain. Whooppeee! We make arrangements for a 6:30 am pick-up so we're at the machine shop when it opens Meanwhile, Michael has also taken apart and repaired a broken through-hull. He also has replaced a water pump on the fresh water system which continues to be a problem. Perhaps the pump he repaired is the problem so he replaces it with a new pump. We've been taking fresh water out of the engine room every day.

Wednesday arrives – we get up with the sun and get all the bits together to go to the machine shop. We're ready and waiting for the cab by 6:15 am. 6:30 no cab. 6:45 no cab. Call Teddy who we arranged the transportation through. He tells us his brother (the driver) is stuck at the locks. 7 am no cab – we know he's not at the locks because now we've seen a half-dozen cars come through. 7:15 no car. Lots of calls – lots of frustration. By about 7:30 the car comes and gets Michael and the two long pieces of metal in the car and they head to the shop.

Meanwhile, Barbara is heading into town as well to get some groceries on the 8 am bus.

Michael manages to get the shop to work on the shaft immediately even though we are a day late. The shop thinks they can actually get it done in a day. Amazing (especially in Panama where nothing moves quickly). But then again, that's what they say – what will reality be?

Believe it or not – the new shaft was done by that afternoon and Michael went in to get it and even got a ride back with the new and old shaft.

Thursday (today), a holiday for everyone but the good crew of Astarte. Luckily we didn't have to get going at sun-up. By noon, the new shaft is installed as well as the feathering prop. The prop probably took longer than the shaft! It all looks great. Thanks again to Barbara's brother Richard for his help in getting us the shaft material.

Next project – getting the old chain off the boat, the rusty chain locker cleaned out and the new chain measured, marked and put on board. It will make a huge difference anchoring and keeping the boat tidier – and fewer rust stains on the boat. (Thanks Tom).

Plus, the fresh water system problem wasn't the pump – it's elsewhere – so that project is still not done. And, before we get back in the water we'll grease up the centerboard pin and all the through-hulls.

Perhaps we'll make it back in the water on Saturday!

It feels like an early Christmas aboard Astarte with all this new stuff.

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Sunday, November 27, 2011

Dear Santa,

It's hard to believe it's getting into the Christmas season. In the tropics, the weather is sunny and warm with cool tropical breezes (and sometimes stronger trade winds). It's hard to imagine the rush of Christmas shoppers on the day after Thanksgiving.

We hope everyone had a wonderful turkey day with family and friends. We got to speak to ours via phone which was nice and did indeed enjoy the fellowship of boaters, backpackers and local Panamanians at Captain Jack's Canopy Bar. It was a really magnificent and eclectic feast enjoyed by folks of all nationalities. Michael had a young Belgium backpacker asking him for relationship advice, we enjoyed the company of some Brits that now call this area home with dirt dwellings, and of course, the many boaters we've met along the way. It was a great afternoon with live music from the Amigos of Brazil as well as Capt. Jack and others taking up instruments or singing.

Now that Thanksgiving is over, it's back to boat projects. Michael completed two major sewing projects – covering the new water jugs and the "lifesling." The "Lifesling" holder had just about disintegrated so he built a new cover to add a few more years of life to it. That way it doesn't have to be added to the "dear Santa" list.

Our list for Santa is unfortunately growing. We now may also need a new outboard. Michael got Yoshi started again (another unanticipated boat project that took all day) but we think there is still a serious problem with a main bearing. It is probably not worth the cost of a major repair – so we will price outboards while in Panama City. Ouch.

So far our Dear Santa letter reads something like this:

Dear Santa,

Hope all is well with you in the North Pole and that you and the elves are taking a little siesta every afternoon. We know how busy you are at this time of year. We hate to burden you with our wish list – but what the heck, 'tis the season and we've been a good boy and girl.

Top of the list is a new Yamaha 8 hp, 2-stroke outboard. We'd like this particular model because we already have one and can strip it for spare parts and we have some spares already stocked away.

Next are some new water pumps – it seems the water department aboard Astarte has gone on strike and things are breaking down. We need a new foot pump for the galley as well as a new pressure water pump for the system. Oh and while we're on water – there are issues with the hot water heater that hopefully we can repair, but if you have a spare in your bag, we'd just as willingly replace it as repair it!

The aft toilet is pretty old (original with the '87 boat) and though Michael replaced another o-ring this morning, the pump casing is cracked – and let's face it – we use this piece of equipment a lot.

Some new foam for the outdoor cushions would sure make our bottoms feel better for the big Pacific Ocean crossing. You should know about long trips though you seem to manage thousands and thousands of miles in one day. Our passage from Galapagos to Marquesas will take probably a month – that's a lot of sitting time on watches.

Fishing gear is always welcome because it seems we feed it to the fish instead of getting the fish to feed us. Plus, we hear its good trading or gift stock in the Pacific Islands (and we want to be nice to the islanders.)

Any food goodies will be gratefully accepted. Though can you make sure they are tinned? Otherwise they probably won't last. Canned meat other than chicken would be a treat as its a little hard to find and a bit pricey. We do have to provision for quite a long time. Though people eat everywhere, there are some items that are very expensive in the Pacific or difficult to find.

And finally, can you deliver a delayed gift? Steady wind and relatively calm seas for the long passages would be most welcome.

We know we've asked for a lot – but we would be most grateful if you could help with any of it. We've tried hard to be good to each other all year and help others whenever possible. Thanks in advance and if you can't get our way – we'll understand – but please be kind to those that really need some kindness this year.

Cheers,
Michael and Barbara and the good ship "S/V Astarte"

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Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!!!

It is Thanksgiving Day in the States and though not a holiday in Panama we will be celebrating.

First, we want to thank our family and friends for being so supportive of our cruising dreams. We think of you daily and miss you. We are also thankful for all our loyal readers of this blog as well as those who take the time to stay in touch with us. We certainly appreciate the latest news from you as well as juicy gossip.

We left the last pirate hangout in Bluefields and made our way on Monday morning towards the next pirate hotspot – Portobello. The 140 mile trip took about 28 hours and wasn't the best passage. It started great with a good breeze to sail along with a current in our favor. We were making good time and the engine was off (yippee – saving fossil fuel $$ and making for a comfortable ride). Then the wind (which was forecast to stay coming from the west/northwest switched and ended up right on the nose for the last half of the trip. We first thought it was some local squalls causing the dramatic wind shift around 2200 (that's 10 pm), but it just lasted and lasted all the way into Portobello. The seas had a good 6 foot swell which wasn't bad, but when you added the wind chop from the opposite direction it was sloppy. But we made it into Portobello harbor around 1130 on Tuesday morning and found a spot. It's quite crowded in here as this is becoming quite the cruiser hangout. Just like in the olden days – this was a favorite pirate spot and the town of Portobello with its many forts was often looted, pillaged and plundered. So cruisers fit right in.

Our original plan was to head down to a group of islands Veraguas and then to the Chagras River. But all the rain that Panama has been getting over the last few weeks changed our plans. The Chagras is an outlet for the dam that holds the water into the Gatun Lake (for the Panama Canal). And when there is a lot of rain as there has been, they simply open the dam with absolutely no warning and let some water out. Now this massive amount of water running out of the river can create quite a current along with debris from trees and jungle. Many a sailboat has ended up thrown on shore, a reef or sandbar unable to cope with the sudden water surge. We decided it wasn't prudent to sit in the river and wait for this experience. Hopefully, we'll still make it to the River because the wildlife is supposedly magnificent. But we'll wait until after our haul-out in Colon for the new shaft.

So we opted for Portobello and here we sit. It's only about 20 miles from Colon so we'll have an easy run (weather permitting) into the marina for the haulout in early December. We also have phone and internet here so we can make our final arrangements for the work we need done.

Today, we'll get to enjoy a turkey dinner thanks to "Capt. Jacks" Jungle Bar. Jack is captain of the sailboat "Fantasy" (the boat built for that old TV show, Fantasy Island), and also owner of a hostel. Its the local cruiser hangout as well. He is hosting a potluck there today for Thanksgiving and our guess is that it will be packed based on the number of boats here. We are hoping to start to meet some folks who will also be going through the Canal and into the Pacific this season. We'll be bringing a green bean casserole "Patsy beans" and a chocolate cake "Astarte Decadence."

We wish all our family, friends and unknown readers a wonderful day. Be thankful for what you have. We certainly are!

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Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Pirate Hangout

Whoohoo. We moved out of Bocas del Toro yesterday (Tuesday) and are anchored in Laguna de Bluefield or Bahia Azul. It is not named for the beautiful blue water but rather because it was a favorite hangout of the 17th century Dutch pirate, Blauvelt. We can see why, it looks like a great place to hide out and then attack!

Yesterday was a sunny day and we were grateful for the good light. We took an adventurous trip to leave Bocas via the Sumwood Channel. Channel is a bit of a misnomer – as getting into and out of the channel almost ran us aground several times. But we didn't hit and this was the first time that the guide book we were using wasn't quite as accurate as it has been in the past. We then ran a route through the Laguna de Chiriqui which has scattered reefs throughout. There is also a large aquaculture farm with many structures and markers. After that we headed into the Bluefields area. This is actually a large peninsula from the mainland. At the western end, it splits in the middle into two sides giving a bay with good protection.

We anchored on the southwestern corner in a place called Playa Raya. We chose this side, though it was probably more open to the swell, because it was away from the town. We don't think there are pirates here, unless you count the officials whom we understand like to charge boats a fee to anchor, to walk the island and to get to the Caribbean side. This side is beautiful with a palm studded beach, a few Ngobe Indian houses and lots of great bird, frog and bug sounds from the thick trees that surround the water. Several cayucas (open hand carved canoes) were out fishing, setting nets or just coming back to their homes yesterday. It is very peaceful and we are happy to be anchored here.

Our plan is to stay a few days, though if it gets too rolly we may wander to the other side. Today is swimming day though. This is the clearest water we've seen for awhile and it seems to be jelly fish free. Bocas was loaded with jellies of several varieties and even taking our salt water showers was challenging. We know we are near a reef because last night we had another spectacular display of the glow worms (Bermuda Fire Worms) doing their mating ritual. These bright neon green worms come to the surface after dark, swirl around and other critters dart into them and then there is an explosion of neon green. It was so dark here and they were so close to the boat it was amazing to watch. One of the best displays we've ever seen. The worm dance lasted several seconds and you could really see their mating partners dash into the dance. They are supposed to do this a few days after a full moon – so these guys seemed late – but there were hundreds of them.

Today is a sunny day – perfect for a little laundry then a good snorkel.

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Monday, November 14, 2011

After Hours Party

We're moving a bit slow today thanks to the incredible hospitality of Josef and Maria of Rana Azul and some fellow boaters. We went to Rana Azul for their Sunday afternoon dinner and to say our goodbyes to many of the folks we met here over the last few months. The "land" people tend to head there on Sundays and we thought it would be a good place to see everyone at once. Plus the food is always great and you never fail to have a good time. When our friend Tom came, he told us that the best time he had with us was the afternoon at Rana Azul.

So we upped our anchor from the one side of the lagoon and headed across the bay. We did stop in the middle to try to get the twists out of our anchor chain. We have new anchor chain (thanks again Tom) sitting and waiting for us in Panama City – and our current chain is all rusty and gets bad twists in it as we are dropping it or hauling it up. So we attempted to get some of the twists out of it, making a rusty mess of our foredeck and ourselves.

We re-anchored near Rana Azul. We headed in around noon and it was a small but friendly crowd and we enjoyed our feasts. Then we just hung around with our friends from Baros, Linda and Hans as well as a Dutch couple Yvonne and Andrew from the sailboat Windhond. Josef and Maria and their staff were also relaxing and we toasted someone's nineteenth birthday (the first extra round of beers). The famous house lemoncello was also brought out and shots of it were passed around (several times). The music was great and the dancing started along with the "singing" - which really was Josef's commentary on various songs with back-ups by Linda (and even Barbara who always wanted to be a back-up singer though she can't sing worth a darn). The evening proceeded with Slim and Gail from Miss Gail joining in the festivities and buying a round. The evening wore on with various discussions into the political arena, the music world and of course everyone's various personal experiences. Most of the group were Europeans – Josef and Maria are Austrians, Hans is Dutch, Linda Belgian, Yvonne and Andrew also Dutch and the others Americans. We always are a bit embarrassed that folks must speak English because we are around – and the amazing part is – they all can.

The evening wore on with singing, dancing, toasting and lots of laughing and fun. It was a great sendoff for us from Bocas and will be a night we treasure and remember.

Thanks to all our partying pals for making it a great night and to Josef and Maria for their generous hospitality. We're moving a tad slow this morning – and it is a rainy, grey day so we may or may not move on.

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Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Fixing Your Boat in Exotic Locations

That is often the definition of "cruising." There is the daily, weekly, monthly and annual boat maintenance projects like checking the oil, changing filters, working the thru-hulls, looking for chafe on lines and sails, waterproofing the bimini, greasing bits and pieces, de-greasing bits and pieces, and any number of projects to keep you busy. Then there are the unexpected problems. Things break or stop working. Many times it is at an inconvenient time and place. It is never a welcome event.

Yesterday (Monday) was a boat project day. Michael was going to re-install the new pump for the water maker. We have been lucky with enough rain collection to not need it since we returned to the boat in August/September. But we are at anchor in Bocas and decided it was as good a time as any to get it done before we headed south towards Colon. The weather didn't look good for the next few days for an early departure, so we decided this would be a good day to get that done.

It went in with a few moans, groans, swear words and boat bites...but, not a big issue. We'll hope that's still the case when we actually try to run it. Then Michael went to use the foot water pump in the galley (this is not at all connected to the other water project) Oh no, it's leaking and not working. Another project for the day. He takes it apart and its broken so he decides to attempt a repair with epoxy. Now you have to understand, every project on a boat requires you to find tools, bits and pieces, cleaners, rags, glues etc. Nothing is never easy as it usually requires unloading huge areas to find one small bit. And often times it's not where you thought it was so that means unloading another area. Then the epoxy is old and doesn't work so you need to find another batch. Every project takes much, much longer than it should. But it gets done – or at least epoxied and we'll see if it holds.

Lunch time. A break and Michael asks for a glass of water. Nothing comes out of the faucet. Nothing. It seems that today, the water department has gone on strike! Another issue because this has absolutely nothing to do with the newly installed water maker pump nor the galley water foot pump. A whole new problem. Perhaps we are out of water – though the gauge tells us we still have two lights. Hmmmmm.

Now this problem is actually a more serious concern. There is a lot of water in the bilge – fresh water. We proceed to empty bilge lockers (remember storage is everywhere about a boat!) The wine locker (bottles stored in socks) is soaked – so we empty all the bottles out of their socks so we can dry everything. We track the problem to the pressure water pump which seems to run non-stop or until it overheats and shuts itself down. This causes an incredible amount of pressure to build which now has caused the water heater pressure relief valve to open and flow into the bilge. Michael tries everything to seal this valve – but unfortunately the pressure is so high – everything he uses to plug a water hose won't work. The pressure is so great it actually pushes water through a wood plug's grain, He finally installs a valve that seems to hold as long as we don't run the pump very long.

Of course all these emergency repairs mean we're late for an invite aboard Sapphire. Bummer. We get things back together enough to make a quick dinghy run over for a drink and sympathy and as always, advice from other boaters.

Michael sleeps on the problem. It rains most of the night so thinking about water and water issues isn't a problem. Plus, luckily we get lots of rain collected in case we can't use the pump for awhile. In the morning, Michael asks on the morning radio net if anyone has a spare re-build kit for the bad water pump. Luckily, a friend on a nearby boat has exactly what we need. He does take apart the broken pump in the hopes of seeing something obvious that can be fixed – perhaps a bit of grit has jammed into a diaphragm to hold the pressure switch open. He does find a problem but it is a spring that is very corroded and beyond repair. He has used the rebuild kit from Tom on "Liberty" and re-installs the pressure water pump. After much testing it seems to work – the hot water heater still has an issue, but at least we have running water again.

One success and then on to re-installing the glued together foot pump for the galley. Installation completed – now the test – will the epoxy hold? Nope! It breaks again in the same place and water gets everywhere. Luckily fresh water. So back to uninstalling and trying another type of glue. The offending part of the pump is now clamped and setting up, this time with super glue not epoxy .… will it hold tomorrow? Stay tuned.

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Friday, November 4, 2011

Independence Days

There are lots of holidays in Panama. And most have to do with Independence. Many are in November. There is Independence Day, Independence from Spain, Independence from Colombia, and Colon Independence. There is also Flag Day (today) and in honor of today we will hoist a new Panamanian flag. If you have an old, faded or torn flag you can be fined $50. So we bought a new one as our old one has a few wind-torn areas.

There are eight holidays this month (including Day of the Dead, all the Independce Days, Flag Day and then various days celebrating specific cities including Bocas del Toro) and the rules change with the various days. Some are considered BIG holidays and others are smaller one. That means various shops are or are not open, the government offices charge overtime (an issue for us when trying to clear in and out of areas), and on some days you can't buy alcohol. The noise level also changes depending on the various holidays – some have parades in town, lots of boat traffic and partiers. Other days are more normal. We have heard the local Bocas drum lines practicing nightly – probably getting ready for some parade or other.

Yesterday (Thursday), we decided to test our new Hong Kong sail that Tom brought us from the states. It is a large asymmetrical drifter – a very large, light air, downwind headsail. We bought this sail anticipating our Pacific crossing with light winds coming from our stern. This sail comes in a large "sock" so it looks like 50 foot blue sausage when hung before being deployed. The winds yesterday were light and the perfect conditions to test her out. So we motored to Bahia Almirante where we would have some room to maneuver (without reefs) and put her to the test. And we failed. Michael got it rigged okay and it actually deployed pretty well (though the sock didn't seem to want to go all the way up). But when it came time to "snuff" it – which means pulling the sock back down over the open sail, it would only go about half way and then jam. We tried several times and then when Michael was totally worn out we headed back to Bocas.

We took the large blue sausage ashore and borrowed a lage piece of grass to unfold and repack the sail in its sock thinking that some of the lines probably got twisted inside. It looks like there was a fair amount of twists – so we repacked and will hopefully test again over the next few days. This big sail will take some pratice but we hope it will serve us well. The time we had it up yesterday, with the wind blowing only about five knots, we were going about 4.3 knots. So it does work well and pulls our boat nicely.

We're back in the BocasTown area after our bat cave adventure on Bastiamentos. By the way, the scary looking bugs we saw in the cave (photos on the photo album) are a Tailless Whip Scorpion and a large cricket. The scorpion was one large and very scary looking insect...especially in a subterranian environment!

Our boat documentation papers and a few small items arrived yesterday with Doug from "Yellow Shoes" so we'll collect those today and invite the courrier and his wife to dinner aboard as our thank you. Otherwise, it a bit of provisioning and then getting ready to head south next week.

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Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Real Halloween Adventure: The Bat Cave

We may be a day late, but today we had a great adventure. This morning we took our dinghy 2.2 miles, then up a river at the tip of Isla Bastiamentos and ended up at Juan's property. It is a lovely piece of land. The path to get on the property is lined with pineapple plants and bananas and plantains are growing nearby. Lots of cocao trees are also fruiting, Chickens, dogs and kids are around the small house and there we met our tour guide, Juan. His compatriot young Aldoberto came along as well (he was the monkey spotter.) Juan speaks no English, so included in the tour was the daily Spanish lesson. We think we understood most of what he was telling us.

Before we got to the cave we hiked along a rather muddy path and saw several sloths, very cool orange poison dart frogs, various different plants, and Aldoberto did manage to spot a white-faced monkey in the trees. We had to stop talking and approached quietly so we could all get to see the rather large monkey.

Then, the giant cave was at the end of the trail. It actually was a bit scary looking into this large dark hole. We had been warned to wear clothes that you could get wet and muddy. The cave is quite long with several different chambers – some very large and others so narrow, you walked through holding on to both sides of the rocks. The water was also at different levels from ankle deep to chin high (for short Barbara). The end chamber is a very deep pool fed by a lovely small waterfall and is deep enough for young Aldoberto to dive into doing various flips and sommersaults as he jumped off the rocks. So we waded through the adventure.



There were large stalactites growing down from the ceiling of the cave dripping with cold water. The temperature in the cave was actually chilly and the water was cold. This is a great adventure for a hot day.

It's called a bat cave for a reason. There are lots and lots of bats that call this hole in the rocks “home sweet home.” You could look up and see them snoozing in the nooks and crannies. There were many, many bats though that were wide awake and seemed to take great pleasure in swooping down and coming very close. Perhas they were attracted by the lights. They got so close to you, you could almost feel their wings hit you and you certainly could hear the whooshing sound as they flew. They were fruit bats and some of these very critters may have feasted on Astarte bananas!

We followed Juan as he led us through the various chambers of the cave – giving us warnings where there were rock ledges and deep water holes. We were wearhing headlamps as was Juan, though young Aldoberto seemed content to roam around in the dark. It was pitch black in the back chambers where no light came in through the opening.

Michael took lots of photos, but unfortunately, our new underwater camera got very foggy because of the cold water and humdity. So most of the pictures look like they are haunted with ghosts.

In the last chamber, there is a small waterfall that feeds into the cave and is very soothing sounding amongst the flurry of bat activity. The pool in this chamber is deep enough that Barbara couldn't touch the bottom. You can get a good soak and swim in here, which we both did.

It was a very fun adventure that we were glad we did. We had planned to do it a week ago, but we got rained out. There were points in the cave where you could see high water lines (or leaves stuck in the rocks). It would not be a good place to be in a sudden downpour. But today, was a sunny, beautiful day – the perfect day for bat man and his sidekick to head to the cave.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Oomp-Pa-Pah

It's October..and that means Octoberfest – Panama Style. Actually Austrian style with a Panamanian flair. This past Sunday (Oct. 23) was the annual Octoberfest celebration at Rana Azul in Tierra Oscura. The restaurant is owned by Josef and Maria, two Austrians.
They also own a Moody sailboat similar to ours – though their boat is for sale. They hired a band from Panama City, had a dance floor set up, lots of extra tables and chairs, extra restrooms (the men's room behind a blue tarp facing a small stream!), and a dessert and “shots” cabana and extra help. They roasted two lambs and a pig and also offered their clay oven pizzas.
Beers were 5 bottles for $5 (can't beat that!), The place was packed with local ex-pats, boaters and local Panamanians. The band (which we enjoyed a preview of the night before while sitting at anchor outside the restaurant) was quite good.


We feasted on heaping platters of food and drank a few celebratory beers (it was Octoberfest afterall). Lots of folks we've met over the past several months were here and so it was a really fun afternoon. Josef and Maria also celebrated their 35th wedding anniversary. It was celebrations all around.
The weather, which had been quite bad the previous several days turned out perfect (although a tad warm). It was sunny but because Rana Azul is a giant covered, but open-walled restaurant, it was pleasant.

We made the trek to Tierra Oscura after a few days near Bastiamentos where we enjoyed the company of some friends in the rainy weather. We had planned to go to the bat cave (that's why we went to Bastiamentos) but got rained out. It poured and poured and the cave gets filled with water (we understand you already have to walk in chest high water). Drowning in bat guana wasn't the group's idea of entertainment so the bat cave adventure was postponed to a later date.

On Monday following the Sunday Octoberfest, we took a group to the Jackson finca for a hike and tour. Having been there a few times we were the scout leaders and had a great walk. We managed to collect some bananas, limes, oranges and even a “biddybot.” . We saw a sloth (a first for us at this place),
hummingbirds and lots and lots of blue frogs and green and black spotted frogs. We trekked for a couple of hours and enjoyed getting some exercise and more social time (along with fruit “shopping”).
Tuesday morning (today), we headed back to Bocas Town. Someone is selling off some parts and bits having cancelled their Pacific plans. We plan on looking at the water jugs, spotlight, and perhaps even some of the tinned food for sale. We also promised some friends some waypoints for places in Providencia, the Cayos Cajones and Honduras so we'll get together with them while here. And as usual, we need to get some food supplies and fuel. So we'll take advantage of the few days here while we wait for our boat documentation papers to arrive on November 3rd. (Thanks Carol for sending them and thanks to Doug for bring them).
It's raining again – we are in the rainy season afterall. The good news is we're collecting plenty so there is no pressure for Michael to re-install the water maker yet.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

No Dogs. No Cats. No Chickens.

We left the land life and are back on the water. We survived our "house, animal and plant sitting" experience and left everything alive and well fed and watered. We did manage to get some big boat projects completed while on land – taking advantage of the space and the available water (and washing machine.) We did some major "fall" cleaning of curtains, cushion covers and beach towels. We also took our canvas bimini off and washed it and water-proofed it so now it doesn't rain IN the cockpit (whooppee). We got our rain gear all cleaned up as well.

So with the cleaning projects and the entertainment responsibilities of "Cyndie's Casa" we survived. And we're glad to be back on Astarte.

We left Tierra Oscura on Friday morning to get back to Bocas Town. Bocas Marina was celebrating its tenth anniversary and hosted a large marine flea market on Saturday morning. We had stuff to get rid of and perhaps things to buy. We managed to sell the suitcase that came back with us from the states and some books and charts. Unfortunately a few items came back aboard with us including our folding bicycle. We've carried it with us since Feb. 2009 and never used it. So we decided it was taking up way too much room and needs to go. But it seems no other boater wanted it either...so it came back with us. Getting rid of the suitcase (which we bought at Goodwill) was good. A local bought it.

The festivities of the anniversary celebration continued all day with a seminar from the "Floating Doctors" on CPR and first aid at sea; live music, booths with local crafts including organic locally made chocolate from one of the Indian villages on the mainland. Of course we needed some of that!

Lots of boating friends were around so it was a fun day ending with a few beers before making it back to the boat just before a big storm hit. The storm meant that the fireworks were cancelled – bummer (but mabe tonight!)

This afternoon Is Sunday dominoes at the Calypso Cantina and Barbara has to go and defend her title.

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Wednesday, October 12, 2011

NEW Residence

Well, as they say in the cruising circles – we swallowed the anchor and are now dirt dwellers. Here's our new digs. Its complete with one dog, one cat and four chickens. It's located on an island in Tierra Oscura and has three bedrooms, two baths and a stove with SIX burners (mine on the boat has two!) Michael is re-learning how to use a remote.
Okay, okay – we're not permanent residents – simply pitched in to house (and animal) sit for four days at Cyndie's house. Juanita was house sitting and because she had to leave the country for three days to renew her immigration with a quick trip to Costa Rica, and her backup didn't show, we got recruited.
Its weird being in a house again – and it comes with lots of responsibilities. The animals make you feel like you're on an episode of “Green Acres.” We were left with three chickens and now we have four (one that was thought to be lost has reappeared – better than losing animals on your watch!) But they haven't pitched in on the egg front yet.

The house is a lovely home where we've had the pleasure of dining and swimming in the past. Cyndie is in Europe and has been hospitilized there and so we thought we should do our share to help out. Cyndie is one of the area's most gracious hostesses. So with house sitting also comes all the social mandates. Wednesday, you host the ladies for mah johg. Thursday is the grill night for twelve! Luckily, Captain Ron brings the meat and does the grilling and everyone brings a dish to contribute to the dinner. But it means cleaning and prepping the house and cleaning up afterwards. Whew.

Then we'll take off on Friday morning (after feeding all the critters) and head back to Bocas town for a big nautical flea market where we will try to foist some of our old stuff off on others. Trying to lighten the load.

So it's been a busy few weeks here and this house sitting has added to the “fun.” Michael has been ordering supplies (new chain is ordered Tom, and thanks to Richard *(Barbara's brother) we have the material for a new shaft ordered). When we have a firm shipping date for those things, we'll make our way to Colon for a haul out and the shaft replacement.

Meanwhile, we'll be having our drinks on the deck – only this one doesn't rock.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Photos !

First, look to the right of this page and see: "New Photo Page".  Click on it and it should take you to the new photo album (we hope).We have finally added some new photos. 

We are also in the process of changing from our old photo page to the google photo page.  It is easier and quicker to upload.  So, maybe, just maybe, we may get new pics on the page more often.

The Bocas Experience

We've been hanging out in Bocas del Torro now for a few months. We traveled to the states and safely kept the boat moored here and now we're getting back into organizing Astarte and ourselves for the next leg of the adventure. Meanwhile, we're enjoying the archipelago. Yesterday (Thursday) we moved into Porras Lagoon (also known as Dolphin Bay). It wasn't a long journey from Palos Lagoon (aka the DarkLands or Tierra Oscura or Laguna Palos). We're now anchored in a lovely bay near with the mainland of Panama on one side and an open bay dotted with little magrove islands on the otherside.

We came here because the little town of Buena Esperanza had a "diaz de campesino" or farm day. Unfortunately, we missed the main event (it happened earlier than our hostess thought). The kids put on a little pageant and they crowned a king and queen (elementary school kids). The king is selected by popular vote, the queen gets crowned because she collects the most firewood. Hmmm...what's wrong with that? But there were little booths with some local crafts and food as well. It was an interesting little local Indian community.

We also had the pleasure of getting invited to Camrykaland owned by Mary and Carl. It is a lovely home in the hills owned by sailboat cruisers (their boat Camryka sits in the bay here). We had a lovely potluck up at their home last night and it was really wonderful. Two howler monkeys were in trees very close to the porch where we were sitting outside, so you could really see them – and they were very active. There was also a sloth (two toed we think) in a nearby a tree and he was also active (for a sloth that is!). Their home is very pretty and the company was wonderful – nine of us from boats and nearby properties. We'll head up the hill again today to take advantage of some fresh wild lemons that are in full bloom and take another look at all the beautiful plants and flowers.

We helped another cruiser move her boat from Red Frog marina to Tierra Oscura where she's housesitting (her husband is working in the states). It was a lovely day to move and we got to take it through what's known as "the gap" between Solarte and Bastiamentos islands. That's a very narrow cut between the islands and a shortcut.

Swimming is a bit difficult lately as there are lots and lots of jellyfish in the water. Some are the harmeless moon jellies, but unfortuantely others are the ones with the toxic tentacles. So we haven't done much swimming. We did another hike on the Jackson Finca with some friends from "Adancara" and really enjoyed that – learning more about some of the local flora.

Barbara also enjoyed another afternoon of mah jong and we had another Sunday afternoon at Rana Azuls. So the social life in Bocas continues while we are doing research on getting a new shaft made and a haul-out planned. Michael is also reading a lot of Pacific cruising guides and getting excited about the next adventure.

We'll continue to explore the Bocas area and then move on to get the new shaft made and installed and then the next leg of the adventure will begin.

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Sunday, September 18, 2011

Empty Berth

Tom has left the good ship Astarte and should be arriving back in Portland, OR today (Sunday). We enjoyed our time with him and now have to get back to work getting Astarte back in shape.

Bocas Town was packed this weekend because of their annual Sea Fair. We decided that after dropping Tom at the airport and seeing him off, a quick pick-up of a few items, and a dinghy trip back to the boat, we would head out of town and back to Terra Oscura. Last night, we had a big thunder shower with good rain collection but lots of scary lightning. The repaired watermaker still needs to be reinstalled so collecting rain is a priority – especially because we have lots and lots of laundry to get done.

Sunday's in Terra Oscura usually means a trip to Rana Azul (Blue Frog). It is a great little restaurant that serves a Sunday dinner or brick oven pizza. We'll probably take advantage of it after some morning cleaning and organizing. We get the "laundry room/wet locker" back (also known as: forward head). And we get the garage back (V-berth). And in the end that means the salon area, aft cabin and aft head also get cleared out. That will be today's project then the reward of dinner out and if the rain holds off, a swim.

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Thursday, September 15, 2011

Nobody said there would be an essay!

I'm pretty sure the travel brochure never mentioned anything about a compulsory essay (blog entry) for a visiting guest to Astarte... But here goes...My name is Tom Babich and I am from Portland, Oregon. I have known Barbara and Mike for half my life. We were all are in the TV business in Portland. But more importantly we have sailed together for many years on each of our various boats. I have had five boats, Mike wins having had seven. We have stood up for each other at our weddings... and I have always considered him a "brother from another mother".... thus the sibling rivalry. Barbara always knows when MH and I are together the mental age level of any conversation falls to that of eight year old boys.
Following their adventures via email and Skype I thought I had better come see my friends in Bocas del Toro before the head into the Big Salt Chuck (That's a Pacific Northwest term for the Pacific). So here I am in Bocas del Toro, a Temperate Zone Boy (TZB),sweating away and feeding the local bug population with fresh blood. I made it here traveling through Costa Rica with "mi esposa en la bolsa*" Actually, a new cruising spinnaker Mike had made in Hong Kong and shipped to me that I carried in the largest duffel bag known to man. The joke works better when you know I had just gotten divorced... (insert comment here). (*translation: "my wife in the bag")
Anyway, I make it to Bocas with the whole family to meet with Barb to help her get Astarte back into shape after two months of being closed up. While we were provisioning for the week in Bocas "the bringer of rain" appeared once again. Back story... Being from Oregon whenever I visited M&B in Florida it always seemed to rain. Including the "Super Squall '93" event in the Dry Tortugas. After weeks of dry weather in Bocas I show up and the town is hit by "Super Squall 2011"... tons of wind and rain lasting over an hour, streets flowing with rivers, roof tiles falling, small children flying through the air, me and a new non English speaking friend pressed against a building in the only cover we could find. Welcome to Panama.
After a wet ride to the boat Barb and I set about getting Astarte in shape and me back on a boat... long story. Boat bites... those smacks, cracks and shin barkers that we all get when in the locale of any sailing vessel, usually followed by the #@%$$ that your dad taught you. Mr Mikey showed up Sept 9 glad to be back from being on the road. As the days followed I was fortunate enough to meet some very nice, warm and friendly Bocas folks. A great pig roast at Red Frog Beach, or wonderful pizzas at Rana Azul (dancing the swing with Janice and BS-ing with Bill, meeting the owner,Joseph), a death march photo op for frogs in the Finca, swimming at delightful Cindy's in the "dark lands". Now I see why people live here... maybe me someday... if I ever get used to the heat (TZB).I have done the Kuna Yalas (1998) and will always put them Number One but this is a close second.
To me this area is like Barkley Sound but with heat and not many beaches and no salmon.
One thing that is fun for me was watching M&B work together on Astarte. Like I said I have had a few boats and few partners... these two have it together.
Sometime the "Battling Bickersons" but never for very long... I think that's the key to living in such a small space for any length of time. They are each an individual and a part of a team. As any visitor will soon find out the treasure that come from the Galley are amazing. Barb has known me for so long that she knows I will eat a can of cold beans and call it supper.... but not on her boat. I have not eaten so well in many years... truly amazing.
As this week wanes on I am due to fly out this Saturday back to CR and then the next day to PDX. I will miss my good friends and their good ship Astarte but I will know the crew and boat will do just fine in the Big Salt Chuck. For me I will also miss the comfort of the V -berth (I'm 6'3 and 220 lbs, I am the V-berth) and feeding the local bug population. But more importantly, I am taking away with me much more than just photos, memories and an adventure. For the past 14 months I have been re-discovering myself... looking for Tommy 2.0. These past two weeks being here with my true best friends, being back on a boat again, all this has been good. Thanks Barb and Mike, Astarte, Mario and Caspar (the pet geckos).

Boats

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Family, Friends, Work and 200 lbs of Stuff

Time to step back and catch everyone up on what the last two months were like for the crew of Astarte. After arriving in Bocas del Torro, Panama, we spent some time exploring, but most of it was spent getting Astarte settled for two months of sitting empty.

In mid-July, we left her at a dock (thanks Anna and Ian) and headed to Panama City for the flight back to the states. Stops at the US Embassy for more passport pages for Michael, a bit of shopping and then aboard the big silver bird. We arrived in Boston and the first stop of the adventure to Salem, MA and Barbara's mother's home. After a few day's of errands in Salem, Michael took off for Shanghai, China and work. He worked the World Swimming event there for two weeks – earning some much needed boat units. (translation: we call every $100 dollars a boat unit). He enjoyed seeing some of Shanghai and connecting with his workworld again. The crew he worked with was great.

While Michael was working in China, Barbara's first article in "Cruising World" magazine (August 2011 issue) came out so it was exciting to go to a magazine rack and pick it up!

Michael returned to Boston/Salem and helped get ready for Barbara's mom's 90th Birthday. Spending time with family was wonderful and it was nice to have a little longer than the past visits to really have some fun. We had the pleasure of seeing friends from all over. We are so grateful that Sandy made the trip from Oregon to visit. It was a blast. Tim came from Philly for a Saturday with his brother and Barbara was so happy to see them. And in Salem, we reconnected with good friends Nina and Kenny, Ted, and Barbara got to see Dorothy along with Joe and Paula. It was great to see everyone. The Birthday Event was great as the entire family was together and mom looked beautiful and turned 90 healthy and happy.

From Salem, Barbara and Michael travelled to Nashville to see Michael's brother and sister-in-law. His mother, Trish flew in for a family reunion as well and we had fun enjoying Derek and Margie's hospitality and the "pool." It was a really wonderful visit with time to connect. We even got to see Derek and his band "The Yardboys" perform at the Wilson County Fair. From Nashville Michael flew to Korea for more work – this time the track and field events in Daegu, South Korea. He worked much harder here and again, though it was that four letter word w-o-r-k, he did enjoy the experience and the folks on the job. More boat units will also come in quite handy.

Barbara flew on to St. Petersburg and had a whirlwind of things to do Our friends Richard and Rene were more than gracious hosts and threw a wonderful get-together for Barbara so she could see lots of friends. Aside from the enjoyable time with friends there were tons of things to get done. She came back to Panama with two big bags filled with boat parts and stuff (104 lbs of freight in two bags) and a 35 lb backpack a computer case! That was an adventure. She got back to the boat ater several planes, taxis and water taxis. Astarte was still afloat, but in much need of tender loving care.

Michae meanwhile was still in Korea working. He finished in early September and then went to St. Petersburg for a repeat of what Barbara had done – and Richard and Rene were kind enough to also repeat the process with him. He had a much shorter time there and really had to scramble to get everything done. He loaded his two bags with another 100 plus pounds of stuff and returned to Panama. Unfortunately, his bag of "freight" didn't arrive with him on the small plane to Bocas so we needed to make a return trip for that big bad bag.

Before Michael got back to the boat, our good friend Tom from Portland came to Panama for a visit. He was kind enough to schlepp our new cruising spinnaker here with him and a very large duffle. That's a good friend! Barbara got to enjoy his company for a bit and he helped get the boat off the dock and out at anchor to get a better breeze and fewer bugs. But...as is required on Astarte...you can read about Tom's visit from Tom. He's still with us a few more days.

So that's the catch up on the Astarte blog. We are back on the boat now and need to store or install that 200 plus pounds of stuff and get the boat organized again. We'll be in this area while we accomplish those tasks and start getting the boat ready for the next big adventure.

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Sunday, September 11, 2011

Long Absence

We are back! Barbara and Michael are finally back on Astarte and after much cleaning and fixing stuff(mostly Barbara), things are getting back to normal. We were back in the states for visits and some work(Michael). We will fill in more details as we get back into the routine.

Our very, very good friend Tom is visiting and having a great time, in spite the heat and humidity for a "temperate zone boy"! We have had some "communication" issues and apologize for not keeping up to date after we returned. As soon as the repaired SSB gets installed, we should be fully back up to speed.

We hope to head off to Terra Oscura today and have a meal at Rana Azul and then take a walk in the next few days at the finca we visited before we left Astarte.

All is good and it is great to be back aboard.

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Friday, July 15, 2011

Day Two,Three and Four Off the Water

So far so good! Hope we're not jinxing it! We've done the water taxi from the dock; the really fast water taxi to Almirante; the really LONG bus ride to Panama City (10 plus hours!); a day in Panama City to get more pages in Michael's passport; and now we're out of Panama and on our way to Boston – leg one completed. We're cleared into the US and now we wait for the next flight.

The water taxi from Bocas Town to Almirante was a very efficient operation and the driver went full tilt the entire way – it took about 20 minutes. Then we waited for the "Express" bus to PC from Almirante. The good news – it was a Mercedes Benz bus with comfy seats, two movies and working air conditioning. The bad news – it was more than ten hours with quite a few stops along the way. It was a nice day so we did see quite a bit of the countryside. Heading up into the hills and rain forest was really beautiful. Then we went over to the Pacific side and got on the back roads and it wasn't quite as scenic – but it was still a pleasant trip. Our guy Roger was at the bus stop to meet us and get us through the awful PC traffic to our hotel.

The next morning we started early and had to fight major traffic to get to the US Embassy. We were luckily first in line for "American Citizen Services" and after about an hour, Michael now has a much thicker passport (and a lighter wallet!)

We then spent the rest of the day doing some much needed shopping at a big "Metro Mall." It was good to stretch our legs after the all day sitting adventure on the bus.

Thursday, day four, we got to Tocumen International Airport in Panama City and got on our morning flight to Atlanta. We had a long time between connections in Atlanta to get to Boston. Customs and immigration went quickly. We had plenty of time to our next gate. Luckily we missed the plane collision in Boston – and made it in a bit late.

All is good...now, we'll probably take time to enjoy our family and friends (with some work and projects as well). So you also get a break from the SV Astarte log page.

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Monday, July 11, 2011

Boats, Taxis, Buses, Planes and Trains

We're on the move. After big time cleaning up and the stressful closing up of Astarte, we have left her at summer camp (thanks Anna and Ian) and we are heading back to the states. Barbara's mom turns 90 and we must be there to celebrate that momentous occasion in August. We'll also see Michael's mom with a visit to Nashville (she'll be coming there from Oregon) and then a stop in St. Petersburg before heading back to Panama (loaded down with boat parts). Michael will also be adding some much needed funds to the cruising kitty and logging some additional airplane miles with some great and interesting work.

We started this adventure – because all these trips are just that, adventures – with a water taxi from Solarte to Bocas Town. Then a cab to the Hotel Angela where we'll spend the night. Then an early wake-up call to make the first water taxi from Bocas Town to Almirante. From there, a cab to the bus stop and a LONG bus trip down the isthmus of Panama to Panama City. They say it takes between 8 and 12 hours depending on traffic, strikes, marches, road closures etc. The bus leaves at 0800 and they are supposed to be comfortable and air conditioned. We'll see. We do have seats (that was an adventure in itself figuring out how to book seats in advance). It should be beautiful for the first portion of the trip at least as we head into the mountains near David and Boquete. This is where there are coffee plantations, pineapple and banana farms and lots of beautiful rain forest and landscape. We're looking forward to that. Once we get on the Pacific Highway, it probably won't be as scenic, but it will be nice to see some of the interior of Panama – we've certainly done much of the Caribbean Coast areas.

In Panama City, we'll head to the US Embassy as Michael needs more pages in his passport (he's down to his last page). Hopefully we can get that done in a half day. We get on an airplane bright and early Thursday morning for an all-day air travel adventure to Boston (long layover in Atlanta).

So we'll be stateside for a bit – and this log may take a hiatus for a short time (unless we feel inspired).

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Friday, July 8, 2011

Morning Trivia

We've talked about the morning radio nets a few times. Here in the Bocas archipelago the morning net has the typical information – weather, emergencies, buying and selling of boat bits as well as the local community announcements (mostly restaurant specials and music with the occasional movie, garden club event or fire dance). But here, there is also a morning trivia game. The crew of Astarte have recently been pretty good at coming up with the answers. The questions are quite interesting as well as some fun facts that are shared as well. The last few days have been filled with pirate trivia – today's included one about a pirate leader trying to settle his men down and did that, by importing a bunch of French women to marry them off. There was also an interesting fact about the year 2011. July has five Fridays, five Saturdays and five Sundays (this happens once in something like 800 years); there is the 1/1/11, 11/11/11 and if you add your age and the last two digits of your birth year, it will add up to 111.

We are about to tie up to the dock tomorrow and get the last minute preps to the boat done before we head off. That means getting the water maker pickled, all thru-hulls closed, the freezer and refrigerator emptied and cleaned, everything off the decks and stored, all the last minute cleaning, and wash done, and, all the garbage packed up and hauled off. Then on Monday we leave for Bocas Town and on Tuesday we leave for Almirante and then Panama City. We're giving ourselves a few days in Panama City as a safety and we need to go to the US Embassy as Michael needs more pages in his passport. Hopefully we can get that done there quickly- though we know it will be an adventure – it always is!

So we are in the finally preps – its hot and sticky – but we're checking things off the list to get ready.

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Sunday, June 26, 2011

Rainy Season

The rains seem to have started in earnest. Most days now, we're getting at least some showers and Friday evening the skies opened and to the accompaniment of thunder and lightning, it really poured. Michael braved the bright flashes and put four big jugs of rain water into the tanks. It seems we are getting some rain each day and trying to get laundry washed and then dried before the next rain.

After a social marathon in Tierra Oscura, which included Barbara's mahjong lesson from Cindy and a group of ladies, we headed back to Hospital Bight and the anchorage right off Red Frog Marina. We needed better internet coverage for upcoming travel plans. Because of all the rain, we've been pretty lazy though we are starting to organize for getting the boat ready to put at the dock and head back to the states for a visit. It's a ton of work to make sure everything is cleaned, closed and secured – especially with the squalls that come through. But having checked out Little Star Island, we're comfortable with where we'll leave her.

Menus aboard are interesting now as we're trying to clean out the refrigerator and eat up the last of the perishables aboard. Don't want to leave anything for unwanted critters to find. It's amazing what creative combos we can put together.

Today is Sunday and that means a dominoes game with the folks on Voyager!

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Thursday, June 23, 2011

New Photos

We moved back to Hospital Bight and finally have some slow but consistent internet. So Michael spent some time tonight and posted pictures of the "Hot, Hot, Hot" fashion show, our visit to Rana Azul and the frogs from our nature walk in the finca.
They are on the Photos 2 page this time.

Still dealing with no captioning ability, so write your own.

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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Nature Hike

We seem to have settled into the Dark Land/Tierra Oscura anchorage. The folks living here are very welcoming and friendly and we've enjoyed their company and all the information they are providing on the area.

On Monday, we had the pleasurable company of Cindy and her dogs, Arena and Buddy for an incredible hike. She took us to a "finca" (farm)that is owned by a family (now for sale). This finca has many, many groomed trails through the woods. There are wonderful wood built structures around the property. The gentleman who owned the property passed away and he seemed like an incredible guy. He built the various structures so that the local Indians could do woodworking, furniture making and have a place to stay. The woodworking building was filled with magnificent bamboo and local wood furniture – chairs, cabinets, lounge chairs, tables, stools – plus some wine holders and ornamental pieces. It was incredible work.

The property also was filled with interesting trees and plants. There were many fruiting pineapples, banana and plantain trees, noni fruit, breadfruit, almonds, oranges, limes and some strange looking things. As usual, and with Cindy's assurance, we picked some of these strange things to taste. One is locally called a "bittybye" (sp??). It sort of looks like an artichoke with longer, though soft spines all over it. When cut open there is this soft, custard-like white pulp with large black seeds. You scoop it out with a spoon and eat around the seeds. It was quite delicious. We also picked up a ripe pineapple which was less acidic than many and very white inside – and very sweet. It was like going to a great fruit market and we came back with a backpack filled with oranges, limes, passion fruit, pineapple, and this weird bittybye. The oranges were very sweet. Cindy also snagged a breadfruit (not our favorite).

The walk also was filled with interesting critters. There were the teal green frogs with black spots – Dendrobates Auratus (another in the poison dart frog family) and some very small dark blue (almost black) frogs (Dendrobates Claudiae). Butterflies were also numerous thanks to all the beautiful flowering trees. There were the very large morpheus (bright blue on the inside of the wing, black on the outside – but very large) and some interesting yellow with black designs that when they landed they curled like a leaf; a beautiful white with very delicate and intricate black designs and many, many more.

At the end of one of the trails is a stone labyrinth that we walked – it was really lovely. It was a tribute to the owner.

We climbed up this great tower that was built with a thatched roof and quite high. We took a really good walk, enjoying the dogs exploring all the sounds and smells. We loved all the weird bug and bird sounds and found the adventure really worthwhile.
Our hostess, Cindy lives in a house she and her husband built here in the lagoon. We went there for dinner on Tuesday night and it is a wonderful and beautiful home. Her husband was a great wood-worker and many of the touches in the house are quite unique and beautiful. She's a great lady and we've really enjoyed spending time with her.

On Monday night, we invited "Captain Ron" to Astarte for dinner. He is also a fixture in this area and our friends Anna and Ian connected us with him. He is quite a character and very helpful and informative as well. We've really enjoyed being anchored in this area and getting to know the folks. It is quite a social group and they are kind enough to include boaters regularly in their festivities.

It's been warm when there's no breeze but luckily the breeze seems to come when you really need one. We continue to empty the fridge and cupboards as we get the boat ready for our trip back to the states. We'll do the serious cleaning at the very end (why do it more than once!)

Happy Summer!

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