All Bla’ed Out

We’ve left. We’re  outta here. We went to Porvenir and picked up our zarpe to Colon and left Panama some more money.  Twenty six bucks to move the boat from the San Blas Islands to Colon.  That’s only for the paper work.

Kuna Sunset, First Day of Summer

Kuna Sunset, First Day of Summer

We had used Gustino for about 3 days to clean up the outside of the boat.  We had him clean and polish the stainless (which he completed about 80 % of) and clean and wax the hull.  He had an appointment the third day which didn’t allow him to complete all the stainless. Oh well, someday we’ll get use to elastic time.  We paid him 20 bucks for the days work; provided him with all the materials needed, fed him lunch and at the end of the day provided a beer to wind down with.  It was a fair value. He works hard; but, no matter who we have work on our boat I’m damn glad when it’s over as then we have  Elysium all to ourselves again.

In the last few months it seems to me we’ve mostly been motoring. I’ve come to have a real aversion to coastal sailing in Panama.  I thought when we left Colombia heading W we could have some nice days sailing. After all, the Easterly Trades blow here. Don’t’ they?  Anyway it was not to be. We motored 90% of the way back.  In contrast; traveling E against the trades we only motored about 70% of the time.  Go figure.

Our final day in Kuna Yala we sailed to Porvenir. There we anchored in 40 feet of water and both W/ and I went ashore to secure our zarpe.  We arrived at approx 1:30 to discover that the Port Captain was still at lunch. Rather then stroll around;  we knew from experience that a short stroll might well miss the meeting we needed to clear out.  We waited and around 2 Ishmael (the Port Captain) arrived.  After clearing out we chose to eat our last Kuna meal at one of only a few restaurants in Kuna land.  W/’s chicken was tasty and I had Octopus which although it was heavily curried I found satisfactory.  We would rate the restaurant on Porvenir as a 2 star (out of five) and all the other restaurants in Kuna Land 1 star (out 5).  Of course 5 star would be the best.  It may be that all the restaurants only think of feeding the Kuna people even though they are in the “tourist” areas.  The restaurant on Porvenir was the only one where the food was to my liking and there was enough of it! Back to the boat where we had to choose whether to stay in the anchorage or move back to the Lemons.

We chose to stay. Oops!  While we were in the lee of Porvenir and the North side of the anchorage was all reef, we ended up all evening with an awkward roll, pitch to the boat. At the break of dawn the following day we were quite happy to raise the anchor and motor (again that bad word) out of the anchorage and head West.  Early afternoon we arrived in Linton to cars, restaurants and a really, really crowded anchorage.  I counted about 70 boats between the town (lee shore) anchorage and the anchorage between Isla Linton.  We squeezed into a spot out near the front (the wind was blowing yet again out of the West)  where we had a bit of a roll from; remember we’re in the Easterly trades here,  yeah right!

Squeezed in, tired, we break open a cold beer to celebrate our short wonderful passage (any passage is wonderful where nothing is broken), watch the Sunset and then on to  count sheep.

Go Slow
Sail Far
Stay Long

Lightning

Through the years we’ve been; shall I say, lucky.  Not sure luck it the right word, but maybe, just maybe we might also have the boat protected the smartest way possible from lightening, luck that Thor hasn’t found us or it’s simply that we’ve not pissed him off, yet!  But; we’ve not been hit by lightening, yet. Knock on Wood!

However; early this am we had one of those tropical rain lightening storms.  A few weeks ago while in the Suburbs of the Swimming Pool (Eastern Holandes Cays)we had one too. mvArgo (MV is Motor Vessel) counted 21 strikes inside of one minute.  Discussing the storm later the cruisers had commented  “There was enough lightening we might have been able to read by it”.  Almost, but not quite.  At least this time I never tried to read by the lightening. I’ve been known to try to read by moon light in the middle of the Caribbean but that too didn’t work. One boat then received a strike; mvDomino. Domino had the newest greatest lightening protection system designed by I believe Marine Lightning.

This am svPanda (sv is Sailing Vessel) took a strike. They’re anchored about 100 m away from us. He lost his VHF antennas a solar / wind charger controller and a few other things he expects to find.  Today he begins his move to Poroabella where he can effect repairs. So far this year in the San Blas there have been 6 boats struck. Nine boats if you count the Electromatic Pulse (EMP) from a close strike. Three boats had formed a triangle while anchored in Cocos Bandero  and a bolt landed smack dab in the middle causing damage to each of them. Not major damage,  but damage out here can still be significant! Repairs are days away.

The closest we’ve been was with svPanda; however, years ago we had a  VHF that acted funny for about 2 months when we had a close strike at Allans – Pensacola Cay in the Abacos. Funny, after the 2 months and for the rest of the radio’s life  it worked great. BTW that was a Standard Horizon radio circa 1980. That radio lasted 15 years for us. This time, we had a reset light come on on our Propane panel and I needed to reset the EMON (from Ample Power). No biggies. Knock on wood.

A couple of things I’ve done different then the majority of boats we know.  And of course discussing lighening with cruisers is like the major religions talking about God, few agree. One difference is I have the Ground Plate from  Moonraker in Austrailia and the second is that I’ve run rather LARGE tinned electrical cable from the mast step to the plate. Size 2/0.  That, is big cable. On our last boat Principia I had a union in the VHF that had the shield grounded and I loved that set up. For a short time I had duplicated it on Elysium however when we were in Annapolis and I added the AIS I found I had to remove it. A great many of the boats that have been hit by lightening have had the strike enter via the VHF. The antenna splitter  for the AIS just doesn’t like the shield being grounded! So my VHF  is my biggest worry. One boat that was recently struck had the very fancy Lightening System put in by  Marine Lightning.  That appears to not have worked. However I always try to learn from others errors. I’ve not enough time or money to suffer them all on my own.

The mvDomino (Domino is a power cat) has two electronically controlled diesels. Because of the strike both of the control boards on the diesels became worthless, thus the diesels.   Note to self:  Any needed  repower stay with the old style diesels that once you get them started they’ll run till they’re out of fuel!  The strike too came in through their VHF antenna. The other thing I’m glad about;  and this hasn’t been planned but still exists, is that we anchor 99% of the time with all chain. The chain runs over the bow rollers in a SS bow pulpit with all the lifelines attached at the forestay. So in a poor way the entire rig is grounded then via my anchor setup.  I don’t subscribe to the idea that everything in a boat should be bonded. I don’t have ground straps running to all our seacocks nor do I have ground straps running from each chain plate. On our last boat all the metal fittings stood alone and since we had been in some horrendous storms with Principia, as I said, I’ll try to keep it the same. What’s the saying; “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it”!  If it appeared to work then I hope it will work now.

Sorry that I have no pictures of the lightening storms in the San Blas.  I don’t  think my camera will take those very well and anyway I’m too busy trying to count the seconds between flash and boom.  Sad thing is that here I can’t finish counting from one flash to one boom before the next flash lights the sky.

Sail Slow
Sail Far
Stay Long

Hit by a Chocasana

We’ve been anchored in the Green Island group for about a week now. Some good rains in the am and then generally a warm to hot day with a mild evening. Some evenings actually moved into the  nicely cool range.  Yesterday pm it was cool for a bit and I heard the wind shift.  I recognized we would most likely be getting more early wet sunshine so I reached up to close the hatch, turned on a fan,. Still thinking I better check further I got up for two minutes and stuck my head out of the companionway to see what the Mother Nature was going to give us. There was some lightening; not a lot, but some, to the E of us so I crawled back into my berth hoping for a couple more hours of sweet sleep.

Neptune knew better. About 30 minutes later the winds began to pick up. Pick up isn’t the best description. The winds went from the speed of a bicyclist cruising down the street to a car cruising down the interstate in just a few seconds.  I got out of my berth as quickly as possible making sure I didn’t knock myself out on the way forward to again stick my head out the companionway. By the time my eyes were open and head exposed we were healed over as if we were sailing and the awning was acting like  a mainsail. Yeah, we leave it up 24/7.

Our awning has been tested; mostly accidentally, to about 40 knots of wind on the beam and for the most part she holds up fine. In Grenada we had broken an

Awnings after the Repair in Grenada

Awnings after the Repair in Grenada

awning pole; maybe two I don’t remember, and I had endeavored to flatten out the peak of it some and strengthen the poles.  That has worked for close to two years. Here the awning was scooping wind like a kite and the poles were under a great deal of tension.

The aft pole snapped in two. That was the weakest and the shortest. The middle pole started to bend and then the forward.  By the time the boat had  had begun to sit to the new wind direction the aft two poles had snapped into two pieces each and the forward pole simply had good solid kink in the middle. W/ was now up and she grabbed me some lines so we could secure the middle aft pole and keep it from doing a great deal of damage swinging about in the wind. That pole secured I put the furthest aft poles on the awning outside the boat. With the four pieces flailing around and with the sharp broken Aluminum ends I wasn’t wanting to be struck by one nor have one pole end dig into anything on the deck.  With those poles secured I tied the kinked forward pole off a bit so hopefully it wouldn’t part. Luckily it didn’t.

With the poles secure we waited. The Chocasanas are brief periods of high wind and rain lasting usually less than an hour.  svMoonsong in Coco Bandaros; about 2 miles N of us, reported on the VHF sustained wind of  50 kts for 30 minutes.  Finally the winds did calm and I was able to evaluate what and how things would be repaired.First however; breakfast and the SSB nets, then work.

I know the poles can break. We use the Forespar Awning poles and I’ve broken enough over the years that I repair them by splicing more together making a stronger middle section.  I’ve never had one break out near the ends.  For the most part this method works but I still need more of the larger outer pieces of Aluminum to keep the center splices strong. When we get back closer to civilization I’ll order a couple more spare poles.

All morning I worked on replacing parts and by noon the awning is reset flatter and back in place.  If I have an opportunity to go through this again I’ll temporarily tie off the pole down so it will not kink up. Kinking up is where I break the poles. We’ll see how that strategy goes.  Hiatus has been spending a good part of the Summer season in the San Blas for the last 12 years and had only seen two of these. They now have added a third to their sittings. If luck is with us; we won’t have another Chocasana while here.

Sail Slow
Sail Far
Stay Long

Movin’ On

We’ve spent so much time here, the friends, the anchorages, they all make the San Blas home. It’s time to skeedaddle. Panama has a limit on how long one can stay in the country and we’ve reached it.  Six months and they want us out. Of course there is a Marianaras visa which matches the Cruising Permit however extending our visa to match our Cruising Permit would only add one more month to our time here.

IB and Becca on Passport had indicated they would head some E with us; but, with Emily (aka Legs) needing to leave in 3 weeks and Passport needing to head W in 4 or so they elected to hang in the Western San Blas.  We indicated that any Kuna would take Legs off their hands but neither Emily or the crew of Passport thought that was a practical solution. 🙂  Galivant and Liberty too had indicated they might share in the eastward adventure but they too seem reluctant to leave the serenity of the western San Blas.  We hoped that Hobo might follow a similar route as they’re planning on heading to Cartegena; however, as is usual in sailing circles, we were willing to go it alone.

We upped anchor and headed N around the Green Island group planning on staying as much inside the reefs as possible. A month or so ago we headed outside the reefs on our trip to Tigre and the seas were much larger then we wished and the ride slightly uncomfortable so we elected to stay inside the reef as much as possible heading down to Snug Harbor where we first made landfall when we had arrived in the San Blas, Panama almost one year ago.

We put the sails up and said “Good-bye” over the VHF to those in the anchorage. Before we were out of sight, Lions Paw announced over the VHF that Elysium actually has a mainsail.   The distance between anchorages in the Western San Blas is so close that we’ve not felt any need to put up more then the Yankee (our headsail). Trips are usually less then 5 miles apart and for the better part of 3 months there the mainsail stayed in it’s home, covered on top of the boom.

The sail to Snug was one of the nicest we’ve had here. A 25 mile trip with about 1/2 of the way inside the reefs. Once we passed Tigre and we were outside the reefs. the seas were still half of what they had been on our last trip in this direction.

At Snug we planed to spend a couple of days filling our water tanks, reading and

Snug Harbor, San Blas, Panama

Snug Harbor, San Blas, Panama

enjoying the beauty of a place not often visited. Hobo (a Katy Krogan 42) came in a bit later, they did decide to head East same as us.

Building an Ulu

Building an Ulu

The following day we put the engine on the big dinghy and the five of us  (W/, I, Larry, Lena, and Black Dog Morgan) and two dinghies went to see Playon Chico (the Kuna community near Snug Harbor).  There Morgan was an instant hit. Most of the dogs; actually all the dogs we’ve seen in Kuna Yala are about the size of a large cat, so Morgan who is a rescue dog and a good part Border Collie was big enough that some of the Kuna kids wanted to ride him.  Of course Morgan being generally calm and good natured found this to be a bit inconvenient and did his best to quietly resist. He would however let the Kuna kids take his leash and walk with them. Larry; the alpha male, kept a good eye on things but there wasn’t all that much needing to watch for.

We crossed the foot bridge connecting the mainland to the island village and crossed from one end of the island to the other.  While we understand that a good part of the Ulu’s are now shaped with a chain saw there were a couple boats here being built that had an adz put to them for the finishing detail. We didn’t get to see an adz used. Damn; one tool I don’t have and don’t know how to use. 🙂  We visited a couple of Tiendas and picked up some supplies.

After a thorough tour of the village with Morgan leading 20 children down the paths between the thatched homes we began our trek across the foot bridge to the mainland where we had left our dinghies. I hung back to snap a few more pics and W/ carried on with our purchases; one bag of Kuna Bread, one bag of Cinnamon rolls and one bag of eggs.  There are no cartons for eggs in Kuna Yala; once purchased they go in a very light plastic bag; eggs are purchased individually, one or a hundred – what ever you want and what ever they have.  Somewhere midway across the bridge W/ decided to rearrange the goodies and there upon dropped the only bag that had something breakable in it. I came upon her stalled and close to tears (not that close) and she holding the bag out to me showing me the broken eggs, the whites and yokes oozing out the bottom and dripping on my feet; people are getting a little pushy attempting to get around us and I’m urging W/ to keep moving.  She’s not happy with the eggs, not happy with me not having more sympathy, and I’m not happy having the travelers push and shove with raw egg on my feet. Eventually she gets the idea I’m not mad, I think it’s mildly funny and it would be good to move; we cross the rest of the bridge and tell Hobo of our brief adventure.  Back at the boat we discover that one egg survived; it cost $2.50.

Walkin' da Runway

Walkin' da Runway

The following day the four and a half of us (Morgan is the half)  took another trip in. We figured to hike a bit. We had observed some interesting areas in the hills that maybe had a small Eco Lodge and we knew that; I should say we hoped that the  Airport didn’t have a scheduled flight in the afternoon because the runway would be a good part of our trail.  As we arrived the child that had lead Morgan around the day before magically appeared wanting to lead Morgan again and off we went. We found one what looked like an active trail and followed it up into the hills only to discover that it leads to a burial site.  As the Kuna consider these sites sacred we chose to abort our trip there and try another trail.  Although we didn’t get off the beaten path again we did discover a chicken farm by the side of the airport, we saw there was a room at the end that seemed like it was part of the airport for people to bring their computers and and do some….work?  Larry asked if there was internet there and they said no.  Who knows? We again walked across the foot bridge to town and what a difference.  It was jumping!

An Interisland Freighter

An Interisland Freighter

An inter-island freighter had arrived and we saw the same frenzied look on the Kuna as you do people shopping at a new Walmart. Next to the town dock there was a volleyball court where we watched some inter island competition.  The rules have to be slightly different because I saw 4 hits / side (in the US I think there are only 3) and I also saw that a couple of saves were made with feet and legs – I thought a  serious no- no.  However as the Kuna either hold the record for the the world’s shortest

Volley Ball, Playon Chico

Volley Ball, Playon Chico

population; or come damn close,  these guys could jump. One team had mostly bare feet playing on a cement court and the other team were mostly were covered with tennis shoe.  We marveled at the activity around the town center for a bit; watched most of a game and then worked our way across the foot bridge and back to the boats.

We were planning on leaving in the am and although we had been to this anchorage 4 times now we ‘d never been in our out on the E side; that’s how we had planned on leaving the following day traveling East to Ustupu.

Go Slow
Sail Far
Stay Long

Bait

We’ve been hangin’ with Passport a bit. Cruised on down to Isla Tigre to see the Re-Enactment of the Kuna Revolution, then up to Green Island for the last few days of Lobster season and some good ol’ fashion lobstering and snorkeling. Those avid readers will remember that W/ went into Panama City with Becca and Ann (Galivant) for a couple of girls days. and while there they picked up Becca’s old (she really doesn’t want me to say how old but never fear I will hint) college room mate; Emily,  and in my name recognition world I call her “Legs”… She’s just about W/s height, maybe plus an inch or two.

Thus, Lobster season for us passed without a bang.  IB and I were mostly skunked. We had spent the last 2 or was it 3 days in the water a minimum of 14  hours  🙂  each, as long as there was light and  we were routinely shut out. Oh; we saw a lobster; one, that would have been a good catch for a small 100 gallon aquarium; but, those last few days we never saw a lobster large enough to get a decent chunk of meat out of.

So there we were the day after Lobster season, waxing away in our self pity when the girls; W/ and Legs,  decided to go snorkeling,

One half of the Bait Team

One half of the Bait Team

and in the early afternoon no less.  Every good fisherman innately knows that the big fish are NOT out dining when the Sun is high enough in the sky to spread its rays into every nook and cranny there is under

The other Half of the Bait

The other Half of the Bait

water.  But as neither IB nor I had much to do we acquiesced and said we’d go.  I of course would still carry my spear gun as if I would have left it on Elysium I’m sure I would have ended  up with dinner swimming  right up to my face,  stick it’s tongue out at me and bubble in the water. “Ha, Ha”! So I carried my gun. Today was a day the bio rythms  of luck  came together.

That morning I had just completed adding a new rubber on my spear gun. It’s a great gun; a Riffe, that I ended up having purchased two years ago in the Virgin Islands. We were in the VI’s and I wanted a good 3′ gun for spear fishing. The Bahamas spoiled me and I figured that  a 3 foot  gun  would give me a good 1-2 meter range and that would be enough to feed our boat.  We waited and waited for it to arrive at the dive shop and finally we just had to leave Charlotte Amalie so we went to the dive shop for a refund; we had to put a deposit on the gun as the shop owner  didn’t want the gun ordered and not bought and we had made it clear that we would be leaving in 2 weeks. “No Problem” he said, his supplier always shipped promptly and thus we would have it in time.  He didn’t want to lose a sale and I did want the gun so he let me have a 4′ gun for the same price I was paying for the 3′ gun.  Sweet!  I walked out of the dive shop smiling and W/ walked about 4 steps in front of me not wanting to be seen by the dork  (me) carrying a 4′ spear gun as we strolled down the water front of Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas.  Back in the boat we stowed the gun and took off.

Just a week ago,  and a couple of days before the end of Lobster Season I had accidentally dropped my 5′ lobster spear in about 80′ of water. IB volunteered to go grab his Scuba tank and we’d find find my spear as long as I keep the dinghy anchored in the same spot. I did stay anchored with the dinghy; we didn’t find the spear. We left a bit disheartened.

That’s how I had ended up lobstering with a 4′ Riffe spear gun. The first time I went out looking for the world record  bug (Lobster) one of the rubbers on the gun had broken. The gun has two and will actually handle 3.  Oh well.  For Lobsters one band would be enough. But at the end of Lobster season I needed my double bands back and that’s how I ended up putting a new band on the gun the morning after Lobster Season.

Legs is just about identical to W/  same size, same build and similar snorkeling attitude.  Surface snorkeling is good, looking around

IB Snorkeling Coordinator

IB Snorkeling Coordinator

is good, Sharks; Barracuda and BIG fish BAD! She is however a couple of years younger. They both believe; maybe with their petite size,  they’re the bait.   The 4 of us were on a fun snorkel  trip, I with my trusty spear gun, the girls with wide eyes and shallow dives (I noticed W/ needs a little weight added for improved free diving) and Legs was learning to surface dive,  IB  was assisting all of us while Becca elected to hang on Passport.

We were floating along a reef with a nice 20-30 foot ledge. I was looking for Cero Mackerel (we had seen a maybe 50 swim this ledge  the last day of Lobster Season and now I don’t see a one.)  Floating is the right word for this dive. We were out just after  high noon. the Sun illuminating us as stage actors, the water a little cloudy, the current basically nil and small fish abundantly hanging out in large schools.  We had floated about 1/2 way down the reef with the girls on look out for anything imaginably threatening (W/ will spot 10 sharks to my 1),  and Legs was constantly looking at her behind making sure there wasn’t anything attacking from that direction when she got IB’s attention and said she saw a BIG fish swimming slowly below and behind her. I was in front of the snorkeling party-  patrolling, with W/ then IB and finally Legs bringing up the rear.  IB told Legs it was a  Butter Fly and she said “NO!, the fish behind the fan thingie with the big tail”.  It was then that IB stuck his head out of the water and hollered at me, “Dave a big Grouper is down here!”.  I immediately turned around and there was a nice size grouper slowly cruising away from the reef towards deeper water.

As quickly and calmly as I could I dove down and scooted belly tight to the bottom towards the Grouper.  I think the fish was concerned with the 3 snorkelers on the surface as for the moment it paid me no attention. I approached the fish with the gun extended and knew I needed a good shot. There is always only one shot snorkeling with a spear gun and with a fish this size I wanted a good clean one as I  fear this size fish could easily drag me along to the bottom trying to escape with the spear stuck in him tied to the gun and me holding on! I crept up slowly towards him and he still seemed oblivious of me. I’m now within striking distance but to be more accurate and to make sure the spear penetrates I get as close as I can. He begins to turn and I fear swim for the depths. My air supply is getting short, my adrenaline is rising,  and about 8′ away from him I pull the trigger. While those above said they could  hear the spear launch, the Grouper appeared to have missed the sound and it looks like I struck him about where I was aiming and have  a good clean kill. As I  swim closer I see that the spear has indeed penetrated him  just above the spine, slightly behind the head and he slowly rolls over; I hope, dead.  I grab the spear and swim slowly towards the surface hauling the BIG fish behind me.  The girls estimate 7 lbs (obviously all those years of guys lying to them about size and length has had it’s effect), IB estimated 30 lbs and I thought in the 20 lb range. I offered to take the grouper to the dinghy and then come back and join them on a continuation of our snorkel trip.

I grab the fish through his eye sockets and begin my swim back to our inflatable dinghy.  There was a  Remora hanging on the Grouper and he still wants to hang by him. I don’t care. I’m full of adrenaline and conscious that moving a dead fish in the water can still offer dangers. The Grouper barely stirs, he’s either dead from a great shot on my part or died of a heart attack when he realized there was something bigger than him out here and indeed this time he was the hunted.

At the dinghy I try to hoist him aboard. Out of the water he is heavier. Damn fish must be more then 20 lbs.  I try to launch him up and over the side of the dinghy and fail. In  trying to get him in the boat I’m required to be extremely careful and not puncture a hole in on to the dinghy tubes with the pointy end of the spear protruding from the catch, after all since an inflatable can be blown up it can also be flatten. I don’t want to remove the spear till he’s in the boat, just in case he’s faking death and only taking a nap. I move around to the stern and using the stern as a lever I get part of the spear on it and lever the Fish up over the transom and into the boat. I’m exhausted. Fortunately IB and the twin bait (W/ and Legs) decided that they too should come back!  The Ramora is looking for another partner and decides to attach to Legs first; for all of 3 seconds, before she flies out of the water and into the dinghy, second W/ who’s not fond of her new relationship  with the Remora and she too exits rather quickly; this time not requesting any help to get in the dinghy having enough motivation to do it entirely on her own, followed a few minutes later by IB who had fun teasing the Remora while it attempts  to seek a relationship with him.  All aboard the dinghies we now we marvel at how big this fish  we all participated in catching is. With W/ and Legs the bait, IB being the go between and I the shooter. We may have discovered a new and better way to spear fish. 🙂

We have to  brag. We dinghy over to Infinity ( Frank and Gretchen – Frank being the best spear fisherman of the gringos in the San Blas; easily diving past 50′ and then shooting a fish), Audrey Paige (Dennis and Alaine) and finally to Passport where Becca decides

Becca keeping the Fort Secure

Becca keeping the Fort Secure

we must celebrate with a bottle of wine.  We crack open – for us,  not the fish. The decision is made to clean the fish on Elysium as our cockpit is large enough, we thought the dinghy wouldn’t be stable enough swinging a sharp filet knife,  and the beach not clean enough. At Audrey Paige we measured the catch.  Dennis has a formula for calculating the weight. The fish was 43″ long with a 30″ girth and his formula resulted in 48.3 lbs.  How many fish like  that will I ever have a chance at shooting again?

Becca was running errands in and out of our boat as she was the only one dry, W/was  directing and trying her best to keep the area clean. Legs did her best to keep Gus, the Grouper (yeah, the girls had to name the fish) from sliding around and keep it upright while I wielded the filet knife, and once the filets were off IB then removed the skin. Amazing; to do this with 4 people took about 2 hours.

Goliath Grouper with Bait and Shooter

Gus the Grouper with Bait and Shooter

We washed and then divied up the horde of meat, giving about 1/3 of it away.  The rest was to be consumed this evening and then frozen on Passport and Elysium. Right now I’m exhausted and going to take a shower while attempting to clean up the scales and fish slim hanging about in the cockpit.  What a day, hanging out in Kuna Yala, snorkeling and chatting with friends, blue water,  gorgeous beaches, spear fishing, cleaning fish, eating fish, and living to lie about it another day. Ain’t nothing better!

Go Slow
Sail Far
Stay Long

Do you want a Revolution?

On the 24rh of last month we scooted down to Isla Tigre. Scooted isn’t the best word. We had decided to sail outside the reefs and then cut in and head south to Tigre.  We left the Holandes Cays with mild seas and enough wind to reef the mainsail heading slightly south of east.  As we left I thought “rather mild conditions” so I radio’ed back to Passport and let them know.  Passport was our shadow on this trip and they too wanted to visit Tigre and see the Kuna Yala Festival of their revolution.

So with sails set we settled in for a nice 3 hour ride. Once outside of the protection of the Holandes Cays the seas began to build.  We tow our two dinghies most everywhere in the San Blas and they were having a ball sliding down the waves behind us.  The now 10-12 footer waves would slide underneath Elysium trailing a  slick of foam as we slipped over and down the backsides; the dinghy’s would run off first to port as the wave approached  and as it shot by they would then bang together and run off to starboard.  We watched them making sure neither one broke loose.  Each dinghy has two separate tow lines attached so even if one line parts we have a safety line on. However, neither line can prevent the dinghies from becoming twisted up, prevent them from turning  turtle, or simply filling with water.  We’ve never had one on this cruise turn turtle but we’ve had the hard dinghy fill with water and we’ve had the two dinghies twist up their tow lines. Now I keep both dinghies equal distant from the boat on a short leash and that seems to have helped keep them where they belong.

While we waited for our turn south and anticipated an improved motion to the boat Passport was keeping pace behind us. They started out later and as we’re hauling two dinghies we expected them to pass us but IB chose to keep the reef in his mainsail and so they mirrored most of our moves.

Turning south didn’t seem to help much. Here we had to watch closer for reefs. With these seas they show up like a moon on a clear night as the waves crash and break over them.  We watched the charts, kept an eye on the GPS and stayed ever alert for the breaking seas. No matter what charts and GPS’s show, it is land that we must always avoid. If the chart shows plenty of water and the seas are breaking we listen to Neptune and avoid those specific areas.

We made it around the reefs and after an hour more we’re anchored behind Isla Tigre with 3 other boats including Hobo. Hobo we met in Colon and they’re completing their circumnavigation on a  powerboat having decided 90% of the way around they were not going to do any more oceans. 🙂  Once they reach Cartagena they’ve completed their circle. Larry (on Hobo) stopped by to tell us of some of the activities the following day.

The anchorage was rolly, and seems to always have been when we’ve visited. This is actually the first time we’ll have been ashore although it’s the third time we’ve been here. Always in the past it’s been a transit stop.

Passport (IB, Becca, and Emily – aka Legs) and us went ashore for a pre festivities scouting trip.  We walked the entire length of the island from the school on the East end to the community commercial  restaurant  next to the not used airport on the west end. There we discovered that most huts have a solar panel, there is a large group of pigs next to one of the churches on the north end, and we found the congressional building and square where the festivities will take place tomorrow.

Eight am we were up and ready. A little late as the festivities we had been told were to have started by 7:30 am  but we hoped that was South American time where nothing starts at the said hour. The generator was run, refrigeration and freezer was at the optimum temp, battery for the camera was charged and we were ready. We left the dinghy at the commercial dock and wandered the 100 m to the Congresso (large bldg where they met and discuss political, economic, and social needs of the island). There a Kuna invited us to enter and we began the task of figuring out what was said without an understanding of either Kuna, or Spanish. Our Kuna guide attempted to translate what was happening into Spanish but once W/ let him know our Spanish was only slightly better then our understanding of Kuna he was satisfied to let us watch.  The speeches seemed to be focusing on their conversations of seeking independence from their Panamainin overlords in the first part of the 20th century.  That completed we all went out to the square and the show started.

Kuna Dance

Kuna Dance

This part of the festivities was comprised of about 20 skits depicting the events that lead up to the Kuna revolution and was interspersed with their song and dance. The instruments were small Bamboo flutes tied together with cord, Gords filled with seeds, and their bare feet slapping the ground set the beat just as a percussion instrument would.  The males played the flutes and the women shook the gourds.  I don’t know if this is standard in all of Kuna Yala or if this is only they way this dance troupe performs.

About 20 of the Sila’s (local community governors) were at the event and sat in the seats (they had chairs for them) lined up

Gringos in the Sun

Gringos in the Sun

on the N side of the square, the locals and guests smartly hung out on the East side (in the shade) and us gringos lined up on the West side (in the

Silas of Kuna Yala

Silas of Kuna Yala

Sun).  The seating arrangement reminded me of the ol’ Florida line of how you tell a Cracker (Floridian) from a Yankee (anyone not from Florida)? The Yankees in the Sun!

The skits began with various events surrounding the Panamanian overlords making demands on the Kuna that were contrary to their cultural life. They disrupted their celebrations of coming of age of their youth, they disrupted their Finkas (farms) and their ability to harvest. They disrupted their clothing custom. They didn’t just do this by

Follow the rules or else!

Follow the rules or else!

administrative fiat but by fiat and then beating the daylights out of the Kuna and finally dragging them off to incarcerate them.  All the skits had this same theme. They had foam bats taped up to look like pieces of wood and when they smacked the Kuna there was a pistol like pop, they had a method of then seeding the victim with blood so there was evidence of  physical bodily harm. After one or two skits they would have their dance and music while

Panama's attempt at cultural cleansing

Panama's attempt at cultural cleansing

they prepared for the next one. There appeared to be no limits on who could participate although we were later told that all participation was voluntary.  In some of the skits there were small children (under I’m estimating 5 years old) and when their father was getting beaten or their mother was having their beads cut off her legs and she was physically resisting, the child was in tears. We were told the skits had been rehearsed up to a month prior this day. But  the screams, wails, and tears of a few of the children seemed quite real. Their mom and or their dad was suffering great harm.

After the morning events; I dare not really call them festivities, we returned for the afternoon conclusion where the Kuna rose up and threw off the Panamanian overlords. The Kuna chose to have a party which was forbidden by the Panamanians. This they hoped would lure the officials out into the open. Here

Bait at the Dance

Bait at the Dance

Legs  (Emily) was invited to dance with a Kuna (she accepted – she’s single) and they danced to the the Beatles (yes the Beatles Group from England) music and lured 4 Panamanian officials to the party. There, a dozen Kuna hid about the perimeter and when the Panamanians came to arrest the dancers they were jumped, beaten, and killed or kicked out of the territory.

Last came the political speeches and by then I had had too much of not comprehending what was being said. I chose this time to stroll around the island. I found the bakery and took some more pictures.  Becca (from Passport) followed and finally we were able to signal W/, IB, and Legs to leave the political speeches and we strolled  back to the restaurant, had some refreshments and W/ and I  a bite to eat.

At the restaurant  we met the Sila’s son (who actually worked in Bocas Del Torro, Panama) and he spoke enough English that we could ask him questions about the events and their significance.  He learned English by watching movies and his English was MUCH better then our Spanish!  He told us pieces of the story that we may have missed. He told us while 99% of the people of the island seemed to be at the celebration a many of them had a family member that had been directly  involved in the oppression or the revolution. They could actually remember their father or mother, aunt or uncle talking about it, being beaten, or being arrested.

While we too celebrate our revolution on the 4th of July, no American understands the causes and results as intimately as the Kuna know the story of their own revolution and independence.

Go Slow
Sail Far
Stay Long

Merry Isthmus from the Republic of Panama

Years ago (don’t remind me how many) I was in a religious studies class in college.  Dr. Weeks; whom I admired, told us of a man who had prayed so much to God to ease his burdens. God finally rewrote his rule so he could help the poor man out. He brought him to heaven where upon the individual saw that he was carrying a sack. His sack of burdens.  God escorted him to an enormous room  and there were piles upon piles of sacks just like the one he was carrying, the burdens of each of the individuals on the earth. There God asked him to pick one bag of burdens out and leave his in it’s place. The individual sat down and thought for  some time and eventually walked away with his own sack.

We’re all born with different burdens, some of our burdens are simply of birth, poor parents, sick parents, only one parent, parents of a country that doesn’t enjoy the safety and security of ours. Some of our burdens are inherited, extra teeth, skin diseases, missing limbs, chemical imbalances, etc. Some burdens we gather as we wander through life, relationships gone bust, abuse by those we’ve loved, accidents caused by those we’ve never known.  All are burdens and yet we all have to bear them, we share them, we write about them, and we cry over them.

So Santa, what I wish to ask of you this season is not to bring us anything more  but to take from us something that weighs upon each of us. Take a burden  from each of us; no, don’t help us to carry it, simply take it from us –  lighten our spirit, add joy to everyones season because our load is less.

Happy Holidays

Finally

We’ve moved, not far but we’ve moved across the reef. There is a reef dividing Isla Linton and the Isthmus and a small passage with deep enough water through it for us to get to the other side without having to go out and around the island.  We moved and within that is the good and bad.

We’re planning on the following am to leave for the San Blas Islands, Kuna Yala and it will be nice to have navigated passed the reef in good light. What we didn’t expect that our cell phone connection there would be so poor we can’t get the internet to get the local radar and wx info.  We easily get the off shore information with the Pactor Modem and the Icom 802 SSB radio but the local stuff is what we really need. I did look at it before we moved and all looked good but that is 24 hours out and here in the rainy season local wx is good for about 6 hours.

The next am looks good. That is there is no rain, same wind, and the Sun is out. We leave before any of the am SSB and Ham nets and are passed Isla Grande before 8 am. Not soon after the nets we get a call from Reggie on Runner and he tells us that there was a good squall in Kuna Yala with winds to 45 kits and move E. We’re committed and we’re prepared. So far we’ve had 4-6′ swells and a light wind chop. We fully expected that to  change.  Less then an hour later we’re motoring into head winds of 20-30 and we’ve slowed down to 3.5 -4.5 kits with the engine ticking along at I’m guessing 1500.  Remember we’re out a tac as the last attempt to fix went bust! We watch our course, watch the wind hoping to be able to pull out the headsail but all is like spitting into the wind. No luck on missing the mess. We’re all of a couple of km offshore and we’re still heading E.  The wind is slowly abating but not as fast as either of us would like and by 12 we’re putting along at 5-6 kits.  By 2 we’re inside the Esconoba Shoals and they’re breaking up the swell quite a bit. The wind chop is back to the 2 foot range and we’re making good time. We expect to be in the West Lemmons before dark. Traveling around in Kuna Yala after dark is much so much like Roulette. Yeah, sometimes you might win, many times you might survive but there is always the possibility of going belly up. We planned on making it in before dark and we will.

Now anchored in the West Lemmons we settle in for a calm evening and a trip to the Hollandaisse Cays in the am. There we’ll see Passsport (IB and Becca) again who we’ve not seen for 6 months, We’ll be near new friends (Hans and Susan on NautiBear) we met in ShelterBay and we’ll eventually run into Mike and Gloria on Respite who we tried to catch leaving ShelterBay a day behind them only to have the Battery and solve our WaterMaker issue.

Safely anchored in about 20 m of water with 60 meters of chain out we’re feeling rather secure for the evening. Another boat is coming in the same pass we did and from my vantage point they’re a little close to the S reef. I see the boat jerk like it was struck in the face and then see it jerk again. It begins a rapid turn; the WRONG way, into the reef. There I see it come to a complete stop like it hit a wall and it did; but the wall wasn’t at the bow of the boat but at the bottom. As the slight swell heading out of the N feels the bottom and creates a surf the boat is being pushed up farther into the shallow water. We don’t have any dinghy in the water so I make a call to the boats in the anchorage telling them there is a boat on the reef in the W. Lemmons on the W side and they could use some serious help now.  It doesn’t seem like anyone of the 50 boats in here is responding so  put out the call again and see a couple of the larger dinghy’s with larger engines begin to move towards the now fully grounded boat.  They arrive and discuss the issue and nothing seems to be happening fast. Fast is what’s needed as the swell is putting her farther and farther up on the reef.

The dinghy’s tried to pull her off from the stern, no good. One runs back into the anchorage and gets more line and then they try to haul her down by attaching the tow line to the mast and pulling her over and dragging her off. But it’s getting late and they get her hauled over and try to pull astern. By this time the engine on the sailboat isn’t working and they’re trying to pull a 10 ton boat with a couple of small dinghies. Some Kuna’s show up in a Panga with a 40 hp engine and they try too.  Dark now and they give up. The owners of the boat depart; staying I don’t know where, close up and leave it for the night. I’m not sure what they hope to attempt by doing that, maybe just saving their lives.  The boat is left on the reef stern to the seas and there appears to be no anchor out.

The following am I ask Yogi (his name) who is a permeant resident here if the boat has water inside and he says yes. Doesn’t look like it’a coming off the reef anytime soon.  I don’t really know if water ingress came from the seas breaking over the stern working their way in the companion way or if the boat is now holed. But it’s not going anywhere soon. We feel like we’ve just watched the slow death of a person. It was torturuous watching the boat grind on the reef and the feeble attempts by those willing to help try to save her.  She’s not gone down but she has gone out.

It’s tough wondering how that could happen, a small misjudgment, exhaustion on the part of the owner or bad luck.  The reef slowly shoals there where as most of the reef in this area comes up from 4-15 meters of water all the way to the surface and they’re easily visible.  Dark blue water good, breaking water, light brown water bad.  Stay away from breaking water and light brown water and you’re basically good. Stay away from moving at night and your good.  We hope to stay good.

Go Slow
Sail Far
Stay Long

Road Trip

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

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

Silia Thomas

Silia Tomas

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

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

River Trip

River Trip

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!

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

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

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.

Stand Tall

Stand Tall

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.

Go Slow
Sail Far
Stay Long

2 Panama

Black Fin Tuna

Black Fin Tuna

Veteran cruisers will tell you that an overnight passage is just as tiring as say a 3 day passage.  You spend a day getting ready, you leave and your sleep schedule is out of whack, your feel for a moving boat is out of whack, and your eating style is disrupted. Then you arrive, same anxiety with one’s landfall in a day as one landfall 3 or more days down the line, you find a place to anchor and you spend a day resting and getting the boat back to a comfortable livable condition. You clean up and put things away. Wash the boat if you can, wash the jacklines, the foul weather gear, the safety harnesses. Fold and cover the sails, coil and store the sheets. We wipe down the cabin floor as no matter how we try, salt from the feet seems to work it’s way to the cabin sole.

So we made it to Snug Harbor where we dropped the hook in 40′ of water. A long way down.

On the way across we started out motoring the first day as the winds were light out of the NE. About 5 hours outside of San Bernardo’s, Colombia we felt we had enough breeze to put up some sails. We shut down the engine and heaven descended upon us. The quiet, the movement for all intents and purposes of a boat mimicking life. The sails are doing their job and pulling approximately 40,000 lbs across a 150 nm stretch of water. We were sailing about 4 kits but we didn’t care. The water was relatively flat like a lake and we were going towards our destination at a comfortable speed with an easy motion.

I put out two fishing lines. It was time to feed the Mahi-Mahi.  For the last 1,000 nm’s they’ve been attacking and taking my plastic lures.  I was hoping on this trip to catch one at the theft and haul their rainbow colored bodies aboard to feed the ships crew for a few days.

As the day wore on and we continued to pull away from the South American Continent the breeze slowly increased to a pleasant 10-15 kits. So too did the boat and we were now in the Indianapolis speed zone of 5-6 knots, the speed of a good runner. Once we reached the 5 kt range we heard a zing of the line on our reel.  I race as fast as I can on a moving boat to grab the rod in hopes of landing this one. The Mahi makes a couple leaps out of the water trying to shake the hook free and then peels off more line, and I’m excited. W/’s been cranking in the other line; although two fish landed would be great we have enough difficulty landing one fish at a time.  She’s a large one!  I let the line run out and then just about the time W/ has the other lure cranked in my line goes slack. DAMN!  There goes Dinner, Lunch, Dinner, Lunch, Dinner, etc. She would have fed us for a few days.

So after a few of my selected choice words issued towards the kingdom of fish I put the one line back out and crawled below to grab another lure. I’ve now given the fish about half a dozen of the plastic lures to feed on.  I wonder if I have heavy enough line (80 lb test) and I’m wondering if I should replace it a little more often. RIght now the line has been on the reels for about 3 years. But this is not the place to do that so I file that info in my dusty cranium and dig out another lure. Rig it and release it. We’re cruising along now about 6 kits and the lures are doing their wonderful dance to the surface and then they dive a foot or so beneath it trailing a stream of bubbles a couple of meters long. We both go back to our tasks, reading, day dreaming, and just watching in awe the deep royal blue of open water. We’re settled in for the afternoon.

Zing!  Zing!  One reel runs out quickly and then stops, 2 seconds the other line takes off.  Another fish. Again the same dance, I race and try to make sure we don’t loose this one. The line is peeling out faster then ever and I’m afraid it will get to the end and then snap. Slowly I increase the drag on the line as the Mahi endeavors to steal more and more of it.  Feeling like I’ve been at this 1/2 an hour but knowing that it’s been most likely 5 minutes, I have him stabilized with about 10 wraps of line left on the reel. Since W/ now has the other line  pulled in she’s at the helm.  As we’re traveling too fast and the fish is fighting for his life (Yeah, it looked like a Bull Mahi – Mahi to me when it jumped) she points the boat into the wind a bit to slow it down while I begin to reel the beast in. We spend close to twenty minutes more, luffing the boat, falling off, luffing, falling off and all the while I’m inching the line in and bringing the succulent dinner to the boat.  He makes a couple of more runs and peels out some line but I’m slowly winning!  Or so I think.

As we finally get him closer to the boat I can see his figure down in the water and W/ has the gaff ready. She luffs the boat up a bit more so I can reel some more line in and he takes off across the stern dragging the line to the other side of the boat. I carefully hand the pole across the back of the boat to myself not wanting to get the line tangled in the windvane or rubbing  across the backstay.

He’s now swimming beside the boat about 40 feet away and I have W/ turn the boat to bring him more astern, he obviously hears me and shoots off towards the bow and under the boat. I feel the line drag across the bottom of the boat and fear the worse. Another fight lost with a fish, another lure gone and one tired puppy; me. But; he’s still there and pops up by the stern and I still feel him on the line. Hurray!  I begin to keep the line taught and he makes another mighty stab towards freedom.

The line goes slack, I scream, and we begin to sail towards Panama again.  What have I to show for all this effort; 5 blisters on two hands and a long story to tell.

I’m so tired the rest of the day we don’t trail any more lures. With the blisters on my hands I don’t think I could actually reel the fish in and with as much as Mahi’s  fight and no fighting chair I don’t want to risk losing the pole, and I don’t want to risk losing W/ over the side.

We have a delightful sail till about midnight when the breeze starts to abate and by 3 am we’re again using the Iron Genny (engine) and motoring towards Panama.

As the sun rises we begin to search for land. We’re scanning the waters edge intently when I see fish leaping out of the water. Yesterdays loss is becoming a distant memory and with a new day comes new visions of capture. More fish jump (Black fin Tuna) and so I trail just one line. Less then an hour later we hear a zing of the reel and I go to crank in what ever we have.  I don’t know what this one is, I suspect it was another Mahi- as it peels out line quite fast and then boom it too was gone.  I may be stupid but I don’t like giving up. I dig out another lure (I’m going to need to get some more) and sent it back into the deep blue. We spot Land and yell the required mantra “Land – Ho”, we’re motoring, we’re fishing – maybe best to say we’re feeding the fish plastic lures. and we’re hopeful. Hopeful that we’ll soon be cleaning a nice catch and then look forward to rest.

Zing!  Again we go through the land a fish dance. Since we’re motoring it is easier for W/ to slow down, motor forward, and turn the boat. We don’t need to be concerned about the sails and gybing or luffing and popping as the wind fills them in.  I slowly make progress and we bring the fish to the boat. W/ has the gaff ready but as I see it’s a Black Fin Tuna and only a few pounds so he’s close enough to the boat I swing him aboard.  W/’s ready with the Rum (we kill the fish with kindness – He dies in a drunken bliss) and we pour it directly onto his gills. I filet him and toss the carcass back to Neptune for further consumption. Nothing goes to waste in the ocean.

By noonish we’ve made landfall and are motoring towards Snug Harbor hoping that the name fits. We find a calm place to anchor, drop the hook, take care of some projects on the boat and immediately begin our R n R.  We’ll clear in when we get to Porviner in a couple of days. For now the stars are calling and the cow is ready to jump over the moon.

Go Slow
Sail Far
Stay Long