07 – Central America 2

Happy Thanksgiving

I was ready to post our blog update on Monday and discovered the pactor modem attached to our single sideband radio wouldn’t initialize. We’re anchored in Panama now and Rob had a chance to try with his machine this morning after unsuccessful attempts to troubleshoot with my computer, and his worked fine! Don’t have any idea why mine suddenly stopped and doesn’t work while his does, but here we are. So this is the last update I was going to post on Monday:

“I was about to wake Rob this morning at 4:00 when I noticed a boat approaching astern. Our radar told me he was coming at about 11 knots directly towards us. By the time Rob took over they were close enough to make us nervous, so Rob started shining our spotlight on our sails to make sure they could see us. Then they turned their very bright spotlight directly on us. We’re a little nervous about this part of the coast but hoped that the good guys weren’t using boats properly equipped with running lights.

Sure enough they got close enough and hailed us on the radio and said they were Ecuadorean Coast Guard. Rob replied that he wasn’t familiar with an Ecuadorean Coast Guard (we know they have a Navy, though) and they started asking questions about who was onboard and where we came from and where we were going. Finally they wanted to know our zarpe number and the name of the Port Captain in Bahia de Caraquez that had signed the zarpe, and when we gave them that information they turned off the spotlight, said thanks very much and headed back towards shore.

Today we were buzzed by a US Coast Guard C130 who did a low pass and just had a look. Seems to be a very busy place, this Columbian coastline! We’re still on track for an early Wednesday morning arrival in Bahia Pinas. Likely we’ll have to shorten sail Tuesday night and slow down so we arrive during daylight.”

So now it’s Thanksgiving Day, and as planned we made it into Bahia Pinas yesterday morning. It was a beautiful downwind sail the whole way from Ecuador, where we set the main out on starboard and the jib on a pole on port and never had to touch anything again. Then, sadly, we approached the ITCZ and the wind died. Then the rain started. And it hasn’t stopped. We’re sitting under a low pressure system that hopefully will clear up soon and allow us to explore beautiful eastern Panama a bit.

For Thanksgiving we’re using our good cruiser skills and improvising with what we’ve got. No turkey – no problem have chicken. Can’t grill in the rain – ok we’ll pressure fry it. No stuffing – well we have potatoes for potato salad. Now it’s starting to sound more like the 4th of July than Thanksgiving. Except that very special can of pumpkin I have been saving in my food locker. Do I really know how to make a pie crust – well no not really. And we don’t have shortening, but Joy of Cooking saves the day with a recipe that uses cooking oil. Do I have evaporated milk for the pie – well no but hopefully we can mix up some milk, UHT cream and powdered milk and make something similar. I still have to follow a recipe to cook but am finally learning to improvise when necessary!

I hope this blog posting finds you all having a wonderful Thanksgiving with family and friends wherever you may be.

Teresa, Rob & Maya
Bahia Pinas, Panama

Bahia Pinas is here

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Rain Rain Go Away

It’s our fourth day in Panama and the rain continues to pour down. We’re in this lovely little bay with a nice trail to hike through the jungle, but no joy for us unless we want to get completely drenched. After a four day passage, being pinned down here for four days is getting a little old. There is a very high end fishing resort here (Tropic Star Lodge) and they’re having a fishing tournament this weekend with lots of big sportfishers in from Panama City, so there is some distraction. We’re puttering around doing some small chores inside, playing scrabble and watching movies.

We plan to leave tomorrow morning, rain or shine. I think our rain gear is almost dry from our passage north. We have friends in the Pearl Islands we can share the check-in process with in Panama City so we’re going to try and catch up with them and head into the city.

Teresa, Rob & Maya
Bahia Pinas, Panama

Bahia Pinas is here

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Heading North

Well we gave up on ever having a dry day in the Darien region. I really wanted to go for a hike that was described in the cruising guide, but then Rob reminded me it had been pouring rain for at least 4 days straight and did we really have hip waders to get through soaking wet jungle?

So if the timing works out we’ll come back to the river and meet up with Nakia and Sarana in a week or so and hope there’s some sun then. But for now we’re heading north to the Pearl Islands (Las Perlas). It’s really bouncy out, with a southwest swell on our beam and some westerly and even northwesterly swell mixed in occasionally. The wind doesn’t know what it wants to do, even though all the forecasts said we’d have a nice southerly pushing us along today. Primarily it’s been about 5 knots on our nose.

We’ve got a 5:00 ETA into an anchorage on the south side of the Perlas. Tomorrow we’ll scoot up to the top of the island chain and meet up with Hello World and travel to Panama City with them when the weather finally settles. Axel asked if we wanted to race, and of course I say yes. How we’re going to come up with a handicap high enough to beat a Sunbeam 53 is going to take some pretty good imagination, but heck I’ll give it my best shot.

For now we’re just bouncing along north in Panama….

Bahia Coco is here

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1200 Square Feet of Wet ‘Chute

We finally got a reprieve from the rain and had some nice wind on our way to Punta Coco. Amazingly, just the minute after we got the hook set it started raining again and rained all night. In the morning it had stopped again and we up-anchored for Isla Contadora. As we rounded Isla San Telmo onto the lee side of the Perlas Islands where there is no ocean swell, a nice light breeze turned just aft of our starboard beam, which made perfect conditions for the flying the spinnaker.

Having sat around in the rain for too many days in the immediate past, I was itching to do some nice spinnaker sailing. Rob’s thoughts (very valid thoughts I might add) were that if we put up the chute it’ll rain and then we’ll have 1200 square feet of wet sail inside along with everything else that’s still wet. I pondered that thought for about 3 minutes, then pulled the sail out of the aft cabin and rigged it up. Just as the sock that contains the sail rose to the top and the chute filled, the rain started (already knew that, didn’t you?).

Yup, he was right again. Fortunately I waited out the rain and the sun came out eventually and we had an awesome day sailing north in perfect conditions. Then as we rounded the north end of the Perlas and set a lay line for our anchorage the clouds started to threaten again. I knew I had about 10 minutes to decide whether there would be wet sail or dry sail in the boat, but it was just too good to put away and I opted for wet sail, hoping it would dry a second time.

That, of course, was not meant to be. After the rain started the wind completely died. So we socked the chute, motored into the anchorage, and put 1200 square feet of wet chute in the aft cabin.

Spinnaker sailing in the Pearl Islands

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Panama City

We were in Panama City for a little over a week at one of the rolliest anchorages we’ve ever been in, at the end of a causeway at the entrance to the Panama Canal. We could watch the ships anchor outside waiting for passage, then come and go all hours of the day and night. It was interesting to be there and fun to see, but boy were we tired of rolling around. The winter northerlies have started blowing, though, so we did’t want to move across to the other side of the causeway.

panamacanal

We had two primary purposes for coming to Panama City. First to get Maya “tutored” (Gary Larson fans will understand this), microchipped and vaccinated, and second to shop in stores that have products we haven’t seen since we left San Diego. Both objectives are complete, so now we’re at the Pearl Islands (Las Perlas), which are beautiful cruising grounds 40 miles south in the Bay of Panama with lots and lots of beautiful islands with white sandy beaches and lovely anchorages.

Yesterday on our way from Isla Bona to Isla Contadora we finally hooked a beautiful 25″ yellowfin tuna. We’ve not had the best of luck fishing (Maya spends more time in the fishing net than fish do) but finally got the tuna monkey off our back. After catching a couple of Mexican Bonitas I was a little unsure about how the yellowfin would taste, but we were delighted when it came off the grill last night. Maya came out while we were underway and Rob was cleaning it to get a little sample of fish straight off the hook.

yellowfin

We’re traveling in the company of friends from Germany we met in Ecuador and meeting other friends from Germany/Canada, Australia and the US in the Perlas for a Christmas potluck. The snorkeling, diving and kayaking should keep us plenty busy while we enjoy some truly beautiful cruising.

Today on Yohelah we’re enjoying a beautiful sunny day in the Perlas…….

Panama City anchorage is here

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Holidays In The Pearl Islands

We’ve been in the Pearl Islands for a little over two weeks now and have had a wonderful time. We are traveling in the company of Brit & Axel on Hello World and met up with Shared Dreams, Legacy and Warrior for a marvelous Christmas potluck. The Pearl Islands are a group of islands about 40 miles south of Panama City in the Bay of Panama, with about 30 different anchorages on several small islands around the large island of Isla del Rey. We’ve seen alot of the area in these two weeks, but could spend much more time here.

pearlislands

The Christmas turkey we brought down from Panama City was a huge success, thanks to Rob’s roasting. At the potluck that night we had enough food for another 5 boats and everyone enjoyed the feast. A little excitement was added to the evening when Rob dropped the very sharp carving knife on his big toe and did some serious projectile bleeding all over Hello World’s cabin sole. But they all came to the rescue and bandaged him up and the toe is nearly back to new now.

There have been many beautiful white sandy beaches to explore, lots of nice shells to collect, mostly clear 80 degree water for swimming every day, some kayaking, and even a little snorkeling and diving. We did a dive with Brit & Axel in a shallow area with 30′ of water and some pretty good surge. Being my first dive in quite a while, I didn’t relax and get comfortable until the dive was nearly over. But the good news is that we finally had a chance to fire up the compressor and succesfully refilled our air tanks in the cockpit of the boat.

For New Year’s Eve (called Silvester by the Germans) we shared an anchorage again with Hello World, Shared Dreams and Legacy. We kayaked in the morning, had a late potluck, and then we played a game of cards to keep us all awake until the midnight hour. We all managed to ring in the New Year and even tried a little dancing on the aft deck of Hello World. Now we’re heading back north tomorrow to get back to Panama City.

Sadly we need to get reprovisioned and start moving west. There is much to see in Western Panama before we head back up to Costa Rica to meet up with T2. And the reprovisioning stop in Panama City is a huge one, as this is the last place we’ll see the convenience foods and products we’re used to from home until we get to New Zealand in November. Supplies in French Polynesia are amazingly expensive, so I’m going to stowe as much stuff as I can into my little cupboards and freezer.

We’ve agreed to meet back up with Hello World for some diving on Cocos Island, which is about 200 miles west of Costa Rica in the Pacific. Cocos is a very well protected marine park where divers pay thousands of dollars for an opportunity to explore the clear warm waters. I thought it would be a great opportunity since we’re going in that general direction from Costa Rica to the Galapagos. What I failed to understand when planning the stop is that the waters are teeming with hammerhead sharks and that’s one of the big attractions for the divers. For some reason we’re still planning the dive, so stay tuned to see what those pictures look like (and if I’m even in the water while Rob’s taking them)!

And just for the record, we finally got the last piece of equipment that we bought in Seattle installed on the boat. Last week our wind generator was finally mounted and wired up and started pumping amps into the batteries. So my brother Dale can stop snickering now at all the boxes of “stuff” we had in the cabin when we left, and any future cruiser getting their boat ready to leave can believe you don’t have to have the boat ready before you go.

Today on Yohelah we’re tanned, relaxed, bug bitten and ready to start moving on……

The Pearl Islands are here

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More Of Panama City

One of the tiring things about living in a tiny boat is the fact that you can never just open a cupboard, reach in and get out what you want. You always have to move 6 things to find the one you’re looking for, then put them all back in exactly how they came out. That is now exaggerated to the max here on Yohelah after my trips to Costco, Mega Depot and two grocery stores, and the resulting loss of $1,000 from our bank account. How I stashed a thousand dollars worth of food I have no idea, but I do know that every locker and the freezer is brimming to the top. We even disconnected the starboard water tank and filled it up with canned goods (and a little beer and wine too). Hopefully we have enough food to get us through French Polynesia and into the Cook Islands where we can afford to reprovision again.

emberadrua

We also took a day off from projects and took a little tour with a bunch of other cruisers up the Rio Chagres. There were some indigineous families that moved from the Darien province in the 70’s into Panama City looking for a better life and opportunities. Finding the city no place to raise their children and missing the rivers of the Darien, they found the Chagres River about an hour outside of Panama City. They moved up the river and built a village. In the 80’s the Panama Canal Authority declared the area a national park, but allowed them to remain as long as they didn’t clear any more land or harvest food and fish commercially. Today there are 120 people living in the small community of Embera Drua and they’ve embraced tourism as an opportunity to make money so they can remain on the river and raise their children. We were motored up in canoes and toured the village, ate a delicious fish lunch and shopped for handmade baskets and goods. They then treated us to some music and dancing and sent us along our way home. All in all it was a lovely day and an interesting tour. The people were all very friendly and it was refreshing to see them managing to maintain the lifestyle they enjoyed in such a remote and beautiful area.

canaltransit

We also took a trip through the Panama Canal with our friends Chris & Heather on their boat Legacy. We first met them in Mazatlan in early 2007 and have seen them off and on several times since then. They’re headed up the Caribbean and to Florida next spring. We delayed our departure from Panama City because we wanted to make a trip through the canal as line handlers and it was nice to go on a boat that we knew. Fortunately and unfortunately it was all very routine and there was little excitement. Everyone knew what to do and the uplocking through three locks went smooth as can be. We were lucky to be side tied to a big charter power boat who has been through many many times and knew the drill completely. On our way out we were tied to the wall with a huge freighter right behind us. All in all it was completely uneventful and we made it through all the way to the marina on the other side before dark.

So now the to-do list is clear enough to launch out of here and head west and north. We’re very excited to be exploring more of the beautiful islands of Panama and get back into warm clear water for some diving. We don’t have as much time as we’d like but it seems we just never do. There are a ton of anchorages in Panama and a few in southern Costa Rica we’ll chose from as we scoot north. I’ll update the passage blog as we travel towards Costa Rica, where we’ll meet up with T2 in mid-February. Then my after T2 leaves my sister is coming down for some cruising in the waters of Northern Costa Rica.

Today on Yohelah we’re loaded up and ready to launch….

The Balboa Yacht Club is here

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On Our Way To Costa Rica

We finally made it out of Panama City and are headed towards Costa Rica. We had to make a stop in the Pearl Islands to meet up with Frank & Gisela from Shared Dreams to trade outboard props. Theirs had spun right after New Year’s and we took it to Panama City to get fixed and loaned them our spare. With a new prop in hand we arrived yesterday at Isla Espiritu Santo in the eastern side of the Perlas and enjoyed a lovely night with good friends.

Now we’re motoring south of the islands to cross the Bay of Panama into western Panama. The forecast is for winds to 20 knots for the next two days and we’re hoping as soon as we clear this large island we’ll have a nice beam reach for about 30 hours. Sadly we have to do an overnighter to get around Punta Mala (Bad Point), but luckily we should have wind and current in our favor. So other than being sleep deprived it should be a relatively easy passage. I say relatively because you should never trust that rounding something named Bad Point is going to be easy. But I think we’re doing it in the right direction and have my fingers crossed.

Our sail out of Panama City was a nice downwind run in fairly brisk wind. We need to have wind for this passage so we can save fuel for Western Panama. The weather charts show very little wind in that area so we’ll likely spend much time motoring back up to Costa Rica. Then when we get to the Gulf of Papagayo where we’ll meet T2, it’ll be howling wind on our nose for the last 20 miles into the anchorage.

We’re looking forward to some diving in Western Panama. There are some gorgeous islands and bays to explore and the water is reported to have 80′ visibility in recent weeks.

Espiritu Santo is here

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They Named It Right

Sadly, Punta Mala (Bad Point) was correctly named. The rounding was boisterous, which in sailor talk means it sucked. We had 25 knots on the beam, with 8′ seas 6 seconds apart. Which means they were steep and close together. And with them on the beam we were thrown around all night long and very little sleep happened. We had up a reefed mainsail and no headsail, which was unfortunate because a little headsail would have stabilized us a bit. But it was gusting really good all night and with just the reefed main and current we were making over 6 knots. We don’t like to go fast at night, so it was better to get sloshed about a bit.

It took us all day yesterday to get into an anchorage for the night. The wind kept blowing from the north and in mid afternoon just after a 20 knot wind gust it stopped instantly. Just the wierdest thing. Then it turned and started blowing from the south about 12 knots. We tacked the sails and kept going. The anchorage was one of the prettiest places we’ve been in a long time, with rolling hills and pastureland mixed with tropical jungle. Wish we could have stayed for a while, but it was pretty exposed and bouncy and we’ve got some miles to make.

Today we’re sailing west towards a bay called Bahia Honda where we’ll hang out for a couple of days. Maybe we’ll get the kayaks out. On our way into the Perlas we finally caught a Sierra, which Maya couldn’t get enough of. It’s a lovely firm white fish and is excellent just alone on the grill. So we’ve got our hand lines trailing and are hoping for another treat for the kitten and us.

As we were crossing the Bay of Panama I was happy that we had spent the $200 and bought an AIS (automated information system) unit. All of the commercial ships and some pleasure craft have senders that transmit information about the vessel. Hooking it up to our radar and adding a data feed from our GPS gives us a visual on our plotter that shows each ship. We can read who it is, how fast they’re going in which direction, and what our closest point of approach is. If we need to we have the ship’s name handy and call hail them on the VHF. It was really nice late at night rounding Punta Mala while we were getting pounded to see all the ships and know they weren’t going to smack into us in the dark!

Punta Mala is here

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3 Lobsters for $3

Beautiful sunset in Bahia HondaThat was the asking price from the man in the cayuca who stopped by late afternoon yesterday. Rob, Yohelah’s offical hunter-gatherer, heartily agreed and proceeded to clean and prepare them for the grill. They made a yummy dinner and capped off a very nice stay in Bahia Honda.

An old guy named Domingo was at Yohelah’s side before we even got the hook set on Tuesday afternoon. It had been a long sail across and we weren’t really ready for company yet. But Domingo charmed us as he does most of the cruisers passing through Bahia Honda and promised to return in the morning with some fresh fruits for sale. Behind him in another cayuca was his son Kennedy and daughter. He had a lovely pineapple for trade and wanted to know if his wife Olivia could return in the morning to trade fruit for t-shirts.

Our tour guide DomingoAs promised they both returned the next day and we tremendously enjoyed meeting them and doing business with them. Domingo returned the next afternoon to give us a “tour” of the river. He guided us up the Samonetta River several miles to an inland village where we learned that the land was all government owned and the people could just build homes whereever they wished. There were about 300 people living in the village and they seemed quite content and welcomed our visit.

When we returned to the boat it was getting late and we didn’t have time to go to Kennedy and Olivia’s house as we had intended so we sent Domingo home with some cupcakes for both families. Sure enough, an hour later Kennedy & Olivia showed up in their cayuca to say goodbye and bring us some avocados from their tree. If we all lived in another time and place we would have been good friends with them, we’re sure of that.

Bahia Honda is here

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