First, however, I must tell you the Internet is so iffy here it’s causing my blog updates to be later then I would wish. We had 3 days of rain and for 4 days the internet / phone was down. The Internet is only useable for about 2 hours in the am and then it’s as slow as slush making the older dial up modems seem blistering fast. Now; don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining; I’m glad we have what we do here, it’s just letting those few readers know I’ve not given up; only that sometimes the obstacles in my way are more then I wish to work to overcome.
Drivin da Boat
In the interim; we took a road trip. Road trips are defined as lots of driving to new places. We didn’t sail much. There just wasn’t enough wind and we drove the boat East and South to Ustupu, San Blas.
We tried to sail. And from years past we have decided there is a relationship between a lack of wind outside the boat and wind inside the boat. On the way down to Snug Harbor (where if you remember we fist made landfall) we were ghosting along and both W/ and I were frustrated. I made a silly comment (for the sake of the women out there I won’t say what it was) and W/ took great offense to it. We did however survive and we ended up maintaining our course even though there were several suggestions to turn around and go back to where we had come. We didn’t. We moved on and met up with our friends on Sapphire (A V-42 Center Cockpit) and Lions Paw ( a Whitby 42) who we actually met in Grenada. There W/ took time away from me to snorkel with the group while I ran the generator to make some water.
The following day we drove to San Ignacio de Tupile. We anchored, toured the town, checked out more Mola’s (shopping for Mola’s never seems to end) and snorkeled. The water was cloudy and the reefs were covered with a fine brown dust. We wondered about the dust and a week later were rewarded with the answer.
The next day we drove again to Ustupu, the administrative center of the San Blas and the largest settled community. Approx 3,500 people live on the island with another 6,500 residents living in Panama City. Sapphire had ordered some Molas two years ago and they were hoping they would be there and finished. They also were saying “Good-bye” to their Kuna friends (Sapphire has been cruising this Archepelago for 5 years) and introducing us to them. We met Tomas who was the big chief Silia years ago and whose grandfather had met with the President of the US when
Panama was gaining their independence and the Smithsonian was building a display celebrating the Kuna culture. Tomas had served as a cook in the US Navy during the Second World War and has traveled extensively. He has children in Canada, Panama, and the US. Now being close to 86 he’s slowing down; just a little, complaining that the young “are lazy” and don’t want to work any of the farms (finkas) they have on the mainland. It was a joy to meet him and we were invited to the communal (Congresso) meeting any evening but I’ve been to so many meetings in my life I decided to abstain (It is for men only and before any of the women get up in arms; remember – this is their country and their culture NOT OURS). This meeting too would have been in a foreign tongue and I always had enough difficulty staying awake in meetings when I could understand what was being said.
There were a couple of restaurants on the island and we ate at one that Tomas had started after his stint in the Navy and he’d taught the chef there how to cook. So we enjoyed Chicken Cordon Blue the first day with a couple of beers each and paid the roughly 7 bucks per person for lunch.
Steve and Marg from Lions Paw
The following day we chose to do a river trip and got kicked out of one of the rivers, evidently the Silia didn’t give us permission for that one (there are two villages on the island and we seem to have had permission for only the one river as we hadn’t approached the Silia and paid for the other. So back out the river we went and we tried the other one
which snakes up around the old airport and to a small natural damn that we couldn’t really pass. But the rivers are beautiful with the small finka’s lining the shore and the Ulu’s (their boats) pulled up on the shore. There they farm Banana’s, Avacados, Pineapples, Lemons, and Mangos. There may be other fruit they farm but that’s all we saw and all we were ever offered to purchase. At the mouth of each river were piles and piles of …. garbage.
What always amazes me is how people deal with garbage. Here we had arrived a couple of days ago and one of the locals had offered to collect and burn our garbage for a buck a bag. Ok, for that price I’ll let them burn it. Saves me the the trip and the time. As we were tooling up the first river we observed our garbage, principally
Burned, I think not!
our empty box that held the bottled beer (can’t buy bottle beer in Ustupu) lying up on the shore. Now they may actually burn the garbage at some time but they hadn’t burned ours and they hadn’t burned a lot of the others’ garbage. During the rainy season, as the rivers flood, I’m guessing I know where the garbage goes.
Sapphire was in a hurry and after some story filled evenings aboard each other’s boats we parted ways.
Water Front Property, San Blas
Sapphire wanted to get back towards the cruising center of the San Blas and we wanted to stay and see more of the island. Lion’s Paw chose to hang another day and we had dinner again at the restaurant and walked the island. There we visited the school on the other side of the island, met the
Girls School Restroom
Principal and the English teacher. Although it was Saturday parts of the school were open and the youth of the community were thoroughly enjoying themselves. The computer lab was open and if I had to guess I would say there was a continuing education program being offered by one of the Panamanian Universities there, there was a dance practice on-going with elementary children and there were two groups of kids playing soccer and volleyball in the fields. Truly a delight to see the facility being used and the children genuinely having fun. The laughter was not the sneering, snide, dirty kind that children in the “western” world seem so often to indulge in.
The following day we chose to head west back towards all the other cruisers. The wx looked calm but around the island we could see some breaking seas. Not to worry, they were there too when we came. However, when we came we were down wind and with the seas, now, although there was not really any wind the seas were rolling in from 3 directions giving us an obnoxious ride out of Ustupu for a couple of hours. We planned on a short afternoon “drive” to Mamitupu and were informed that this was a great village to visit. The river was pretty and the village was “traditional Kuna”. We anchored and watched the river discharge lightly chocolate colored water out into the bay. It was raining in the mountains and we could see the lush green of the near mountains while those in the distance were covered in a white silken veil by what appears to be a continuously falling rain. We had decided to visit the village tomorrow when it dried out. In the Kuna villages most all the paths and walkways are of a sandy dirt.
Tomorrow came with more rain and a shift in wind direction. The river is spewing more chocolate water and with it now comes all the trash that the villages leave at the river mouths. W/ commented that it was cool we could hear the sandy water brushing by the hull. I’m not thinking that is a good thing. I look at Lion’s Paw and they’ve now set to the wind while we’re still beam on and not moving. I grab the boat hook for a depth sounder, climb down the ladder on the starboard side and check the depth. Good! I can’t reach the bottom, it’s well over 6 feet here (our depth). I switch the ladder to the port side and check the depth, Oops! Maybe 3 feet. We’re laying up on the back side of a reef!
I start the engine and W/ turns on the windlass. The windlass pulls the bow off the reef and we slowly power away. We pick up the anchor and move it 50 meters farther away from the the reef and redeploy it. The following day when we went for a snorkel I checked and there are some minor paint scratches on the bottom but that is all.
Anchoring in these waters is quite interesting. The reefs literally pop up form 40′ to one or two feet below the surface. In Mamitupu, because of the chocolate water and the calm anchorage I could barely see some of the reefs by the water on the surface but the reef we rested against I didn’t know was there. In Coco Bandero we had a similar situation where when the wind shifted causing the stern of the boat to brush clean a nice patch of sand while the bow was in about 20′ of water. The depth sounder read 12′ and the stern was less then 6′. Fortunately there too we sustained no damage.
We left Mamitupu and went to what Steve (from Lions Paw) and I hoped would be a good dive spot. It’s an island out from land about 3 miles and there really is nothing else around, no rivers to powder coat the reef, few cruisers or other boats to scare the fish and only a couple of Kuna families living on the island. We made the rolly anchorage in the early afternoon and about 10 minutes before the anchor was down; W/ wasn’t happy. Now to be fair I’m not the happiest either when we’re rolling but I wanted to snorkel in some clear water and hopefully catch a decent fish. The water was clear but if I had to make an observation I would say that the outer reefs had been Cloroxed some time ago. Clorox was used as a way to drive the lobsters out of the reef and then the lobsters would easily be gathered up. The lobsters would then be consumed by the bottomless pit of “Red Lobster” and the reef left dead by Clorox. In most places the Cloroxing of the reef doesn’t happen anymore as people are realizing that the reef is integral to their survival. But it only takes one time and the damage is done. We didn’t get any fish, had some lousy and some great snorkeling and retired to the boat. We upped anchor, and made our way to Snug Harbor where we knew we would get a good night’s sleep and the following day head back to Nargana for some supplies and to check our emails.
That evening I ran the generator and we made some water. We had actually come close to running out of water. I had been putting off making more water as I didn’t want to make water where the river was flushing all the garbage and dirt, not that our water maker would have cared. The membrane in the watermaker will purify sewage for drinking but the pre filters will become clogged and I had just changed them and put new ones in. So in Snug Harbor we made 25 gallons and then went to flush out 5; which cleans the membrane. The flush didn’t work. Uh-Oh! Ok, tomorrow we stay in Snug and I figure out what needs to be done and get the unit flushed. Replacing a membrane in the San Blas wouldn’t even be attempted.
Dan at AquaMarine had mentioned that the boost valve and the flush valve needs to be below the waterline and horizontal. We’ll I hadn’t read that information anywhere in his instructions and since the flush valve was vertical and above the waterline and worked I followed the “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it” philosophy.
But now it’s broke. I removed the panel and checked the flush switch. The switch worked, good, now it’s on to the flush valve. Since I’ve got to replace the valve anyway I might as well move it and have it as per Aquamarine’s instructions. I pulled the valve out and began to re-plumb the hoses. This took most of the morning to pull and we had (W/ counted) 9 lockers open and their contents distributed about the boat. By a late lunch time I was putting things back together. I had a “spare” valve that I had pulled out of the boost pump line and I thought I could use it. I wired it up before I put the valve in place and it didn’t work. (Note: write on valve “doesn’t work” and add to list to replace). I checked the original and it sounds like when the switch is pushed the solenoid on the valve engages. I plumb this valve back in, we turn the water on and viola, we now have our fresh water flush again. I finish plumbing everything in and we run the watermaker again. Next I need to change the oil in the generator. At the end we flush the membrane and all’s well with the world. I’m so exhausted that W/ actually tells me to stop working. And as tired as I am I’m not even arguing with her. I’lll do that – change the oil – tomorrow.
The following day I changed the oil and we decide to hang in Snug Harbor and just enjoy the day. We don’t even go in the water but we read, play games and just watch the world turn.
Finally, on the third day since we had left Lion’s Paw at the rolly anchorage we motored (aka Drive) to Nargana. Since we have to motor we hug towards shore to enjoy the verdant mountain sides and the scenic villages along the way. In Nargana, we buy gasoline, some vegetables, stroll through town and leave. There is a generator that runs 24/7 near the anchorage and to us; now, the sound is pure NOISE.