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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