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Thursday, April 23, 2009

Back in Panama City

Last Sunday we had a nice upwind sail (mostly) from Isla Contadora to La Playita where we again have front row seats to see ships entering and exiting the Canal. Yesterday was cruise ship day as we saw the Celebrity Infinity going to the Caribbean and the Serenade of the Seas entering our Pacific waters. The tourists may not be happy with the weather since it's been cloudy and humid with a big rain shower yesterday and even some lightning in the distance last night. Which is a bit odd to us because it was nice and clear in the Perlas while we were there.

We've been knocking off our chore list: Monday was a trip to PriceSmart, Tuesday was Mega Depot, and yesterday was Machetazo, the Wal-Mart of Panama. We take a bus to each store, fill up our shopping cart to overflowing, and take a taxi back to the anchorage. There we carry all the boxes and bags down to the dinghy dock, load it all into the dinghy (amazingly it fits!), slowly cruise out to Nakia trying to keep everything dry, heft it all on deck, open up the boat, and carry it all below where the real fun begins. We unpack the items and break them out of their packaging. This includes taking things like cake mix out of the box, cutting out the directions, and putting it all in a ziploc bag for storage. The idea is twofold: to get rid of as much garbage as possible, while eliminating all possible hiding places for critters we don't want ending up in our food (or eating our food). So we label all our canned goods and remove the paper labels from them. We also number them (e.g., 1-10) to keep track of how many are left. This doesn't always work if we're not careful to eat #10 before #9, but it gives us some idea. The goal of all this provisioning is to have enough to get us to Hawaii without having to buy anything else other than fresh produce and bread along the way. Unfortunately the immediate result is a rapidly disappearing boot stripe at our water line which will get even worse when we take on fuel and water. But we got to the dingy dock after yesterday's shopping to find a friend's (much bigger) sail boat tied up to the dock to take on CASES of wine, rum, Coke, vodka, and gallons of bottled water. Now we know who to visit when our measly supply runs out!

Linda and John

Friday, April 17, 2009

Las Perlas this and that

We've done some moving around since our last blog(pictures from the Las Perlas islands can be found here). Before we left Espiritu Santo John took a look at why the engine hasn't wanted to start on its battery, and now a new engine battery is on the Panama City list. He also completed the rain catcher/awning by adding hoses that will run water into jugs. John also made pockets out of the same fabric to attach to the sides of the dodger which will collect and pour water into jugs. After all this he's thinking about buying a watermaker in Hawaii, but we'll see how these work first. Now all we need is some rain (a major drawback to rain catchers).

He's much happier with a small cockpit cover which turned out well. We already had one the width of the dodger that unrolls and ties to the backstay, covering us overhead. He had just enough Sunbrella left from an old sail cover that he used to make a cover half that width and with a panel tied down to the stern rail. It's reversible so we can put this one up on either tack when we're sailing (the larger one has to be rolled up for anything but dead downwind sailing). This will be especially nice for reading in the cockpit during our long passages.

For a change of scenery (and cell phone coverage) we moved to Isla Chapera on the 9th and had a nice visit from a few dolphins riding our bow wave along the way (the babies are always such cute little squirts). That afternoon a Panamanian Navy boat came into the channel to resupply what must be an outpost of theirs on the nearby point. We watched as two men on shore paddled out to their moored launch in a small yellow rubber boat. They then appeared to have a heck of a time getting the launch started, with plumes of blue-black smoke periodically pouring into the sky above them. There was much yelling back and forth to some men remaining on shore while the mother ship (a small former U.S. Coast Guard cutter) stood on station in the channel. One of the boat men finally went over the side into the water, the problem was soon solved, and the lancha roared off to get down to the business of transferring people and diesel drums.

The next morning we're sitting in the cockpit enjoying our sunrise coffee when we observed six men walk down to the sandy beach. This time one of them paddled the little raft out and brought the lancha in to the beach where the other men had rolled two 50 gallon blue plastic drums down to the water. It took three men knee high in the water to hoist each drum up to the mid-ship thwart of the beached lancha, and they weren't in any particular hurry to get the job done. One man began siphoning the fuel from a drum up on the thwart into the lancha's tank and the driver fired up the engine to back off the beach. Unfortunately the combination of a falling tide and the added weight amidships had the boat stuck hard aground. We watched through binoculars as the men on the beach pushed on the bow and the driver gunned the engine, but all they managed to do was stir up a lot of sand. This went on for quite awhile before they finally shifted the fuel and got the lancha off the beach.

The morning's entertainment over, we left in our dinghy to try to find the orange tree on Mogo Mogo that Shared Dreams had told us about. Although we walked in and out of the woods above the beach, scaring iguanas of various sizes from their sunning spots, we couldn't find anything resembling a citrus tree. By the time we returned to the dinghy (which we'd left anchored out in knee deep water) it was high and dry and we had to put the wheels down and walk it out through shallow water to float it again.

Shortly after returning to Nakia we heard the lancha coming out to pay us a visit. I was in my bathing suit so I modestly let John go out to see what they wanted. The gist of it was: "Prohibido" and "narco traffico" and we were being asked to leave because it wasn't a safe place for boats to stay overnight. Really. Even though the anchorage is featured in a prominent cruising guide, all kinds of boats visit the beaches during the day, and there's a Navy post in full sight of us. But they suggested we move to Isla Contadora, four miles away, for the night. So we ate lunch and, after three Norwegian sailboats who had rafted up overnight left, we pulled the anchor, rolled out the jib, and started sailing.

As we sailed up to the mooring field off Contadora I counted 25 boats (mostly Panamanian powerboats) taking advantage of the Good Friday of Semana Santa (Holy Week) to enjoy a long holiday weekend. We tacked through the fleet and headed east to the nude beach anchorage where we anchored under sail since we had it all to ourselves! The next day John tackled the difficult job of removing and cleaning out the exhaust elbow. The parts were terribly frozen together, he actually broke a wrench, and then had to borrow a huge crescent wrench from S/V Imagine which had joined us in the anchorage that morning. While he continued to scrape knuckles and almost break a pinky finger I took Thomas and Pam into "town" for a few provisions, and they invited us for drinks that evening when we returned their wrench. They're completing a 14 year circumnavigation and had lots to share with us about the South Pacific.

We waved goodbye to Imagine as they headed north on Easter Sunday, and we left that afternoon to find a flatter anchorage after two very rolly nights. We motored to Isla Casaya to test the engine cooling with a clean exhaust elbow (much better). We broke two rules for going through reefs - we had afternoon sun in our eyes and a falling tide - but John picked his way slowly through the dangers and I stood on the bow in case anything obvious was visible. Casaya wasn't all that interesting ashore, but the mangroves surrounding it were a haven for the scores of cormorants and dozens of pelicans and white egrets which fished there. We took a long dinghy ride to the "pink beach" outside of Bayoneta on Monday, and decided to return to Contadora for internet (we're still working the life raft issue) on Tuesday.

After retracing our steps through the reefs we put up the main and jib and had a great sail in 8-10 knots of NW breeze. Along the way we were startled by a swallow which swooped past Nakia and caught a big bug in the air. It must not have like its catch because it dropped the bug, which flew away to buzz another day. The breeze was so perfect, and the mooring field so deserted, that we dropped the main and sailed in on the jib. John judged the distance perfectly, rolling up the jib just in time for me to catch the mooring pendant with the boat hook. "Woo hoo!" is what I wrote in our log book as it was our first time picking up a mooring under sail.

Linda and John

Monday, April 06, 2009

Contadora to Espiritu Santo

We continue to play the waiting game, hoping our life raft will be serviced and returned to us "any day now." We delivered it to the local shipper on March 16. Having heard no news of its whereabouts by the 27th John played the squeaky wheel and phoned up for a status report. Turns out Aries Global Logistics sent it out without a bill of lading as if the Winslow office was supposed to intuitively know when it arrived in Miami. So the raft could have sat there for days waiting for someone to pick it up, if John hadn't started doing people's jobs for them. When will we ever learn not to assume that people will do what we pay them to do? We expect to hear something from Winslow this week, or John will be emailing them for news.

In the meantime we are enjoying our third visit to the Perlas islands. After an extensive hike through the woods at Otoque and another happy hour on Nakia we said goodbye to our friends on Sarana and motored 37 nm to Isla Contadora on March 25. Friends, Buzz and Maureen, had us over for a delicious chicken curry on Encore that evening to catch up with each other after parting ways last year in Ecuador. The next evening we hosted Encore and new friends, Guido and Patrizia of Damischa Ridda, for drinks on Nakia. Both boats left us for the delights of Panama City the following weekend.

Days have been spent on the usual boat chores and a few special projects. John fixed an AC electrical outlet that had literally burned out. Then he spent some time with string and a tape measure on the foredeck measuring out the pieces needed for an awning/rain catcher, and drew it all out on a diagram. From a previous visit to Contadora we knew of an abandoned building just above the "nude beach" anchorage which had plenty of tiled floor space on which to spread out a large project. Armed with wet rags, fabric, scissors, tape measure, and more string we cleaned a patch of tile with our rags and an old broom we found in the building, and laid out the fabric to be measured and cut. It was sweaty work but it couldn't have been in a more beautiful setting. While we were working I saw two white-tailed deer bound up the gravel road and green parrots squawked in flight outside.

The building appears to be an abandoned club or restaurant open to the elements through uninstalled door and window ways. Located on a short rise it overlooks the white sand beach and turquoise water of the shallow cove we anchored in when we first visited the island in December. Though there was one restaurant open on the beach and booming loud music for the holiday "crowd," even then it had a somewhat deserted feel to it. Now everything is unfinished or being torn down except for one condo property at the far end of the beach. The large abandoned ferry boat has been joined by a smaller high speed ferry beached high up on the sand. It's quite sad to see such a lovely spot going unappreciated but the entire island is ringed by elegant homes with no signs of life in them, waiting for the occasional weekend visit from their wealthy owners.

The next few days John sewed while I cleaned, and we started reading again in the hot afternoons. Shared Dreams gave us several seasons of the "X Files" TV show and we've been glued to that in the evenings. It's been very interesting to watch the show's style evolve from the dry, straight forward sci-fi delivery of the first few years to a gradual tongue-in-cheek, let's not take ourselves so seriously attitude later on. And we arrived at the first Mulder/Scully kiss last night - finally! These are exciting times indeed.

Last week we were invaded by antipodean boats (at least that's what one man called them). A group of Aussies and New Zealanders stopped at Contadora enroute from the Canal to the Galapagos and Marquesas. Most of them are in the home stretch of their circumnavigations and have known each other since such exotic locales as Turkey, Tunisia and Morocco. They invited us to join them for "sundowners" on the beach and we experienced the novel sensation of being the only Yanks in a group of cruisers. John and I were speaking Down Under for days, although we had one or two minor miscommunications (John thought a woman was talking about "shacks" around Contadora when what she had actually said was "sharks"). It was great fun sharing information with them, and they were a lovely group of people to meet.

We tried sailing to Espiritu Santo on Friday but the wind wouldn't cooperate so we made an unscheduled stop at Isla La Mina instead. The ongoing construction of new vacation homes on nearby Isla Viveros makes this an uninteresting stop and we completed the trip here on Saturday. We immediately set out to the nearby stream to do some laundry, and after John's net Sunday morning we went back to do another load. This time we also filled our jerry jugs so we can use the water for showers and more laundry on the boat.

In the last week and a half we've watched water temps jump from 70-72 degrees F to 78-82. We've also seen rays jumping, lots of fish and bird activity, and tons of something like moon jellies in the water (which remains an uninviting murky green in most places). John has been cleaning the bottom a bit at a time, and keeping the water line free of grass and gooseneck barnacles requires constant attention. The warmer water means we're back to running fans at night to keep cool since the cabin temperature doesn't drop below the high 70's now. We're keeping our fingers crossed that we can get up to the Western islands of Panama before the rainy season officially begins.

Linda and John