Monohull? We Transit the Canal as Crew

Well, its been a long time since we maneuvered in a monohull, and we casually offered our expertise to a fellow cruiser during a grocery run one day to help him with a Panama Canal Transit from Colon to Panama City. Besides the fact that we would do anything to get out of the marina for a day, Transiting the Canal is like a rite of passage for most Sailors.

John is on a solo circumnavigation on a Hylas 54 named ¾ Time. Its named after a Jimmy Buffet song, if your not familiar.

We recruited our friends Steph and Stu, and off we went for our overnight adventure to the “other side”.

Steph and Stewart of Matador

It’s a two day episode, crossing the canal in a sailboat. They give you a distinct passage-time, which,… of course, is adhered to strictly… strictly in Caribbean time of course. We motored around “the Flats” area of the canal zone waiting for the Pilot. This is when we found out there was no Beer on board!
NO BEER !!!

Darrens a happy guy, on a boat… and this is when Stewart realized there was no beer.

Our Pilot finally arrive at about 5:30 pm, when his proposed boarding time to our vessel was 3pm. All boats must have a designated “pilot” aboard who is arranged by the Panama Canal Harbor Authority. We actually had two,.. one for the evening passage, and one for the second day.

Our First Pilot giving Instruction to the Skipper
Night in the Canal.

We made it thru the first set of locks in the dark, all by ourselves, as opposed to being tied to another vessel. The Gatun Locks ( on the Caribbean side of the Canal) consist of three locks taking you from the Ocean into Lake Gatun.Once you have entered into the lock, the gates shut and water starts to fill (or empty depending on your direction) taking you the the height of the next lock. In multiple stages, you move your boat higher and higher ( or lower and lower) until the final lock where you will be at the level of the lake ( or sea).

GPS image of Gatun side of Panama Canal
Gatun Locks

Once there you spend the night on a mooring where the first pilot gets off and the next one joins you the next morning. We finally got time to eat dinner… Fried chicken tonight!
Beer..??? Not so lucky.

Most people believe that when going from the Caribbean to the Pacific Oceans, you travel from East to West, but in actuality, it’s a North to South voyage with a slightly easterly direction as seen in the image below.

Panama_Canal_Map

Morning came and our Pilot arrival time was 0730 and he was promptly on time again… Caribbean time, that is, at 1030. And off we motored thru the jungle lake toward the Pacific, all the while searching for Crocs.

Detaching from the mooring in the morning.
Searching for Crocs

Lunch on board was fried Chicken,.. or pizza, and soda… or water. Nothing gourmet of course, as it is a “guy” boat having just John the owner on board and his friend who was to help him get to their first stop, Hawaii.
Did I mention beer..??? probably not…

Skipper John and his friend

We carried on, motoring thru the canal, at about 6 – 7 knots, passing the prison which hosts Manuel Noriega News Article on Noriega being released from Jail

The Prison which houses Manuel Noriega

Snacks onboard was fried chicken. Or Pizza.
Without Beer.

You might be noticing a pattern.

Reaching Pedro Miguel Locks was like a turning point. For one, you can SEE the Pacific Ocean, and you realize you are almost there. As well, there seems to be a lot more boat traffic.

Much traffic on the Canal
more freighter traffic

Freighter traffic

Thru the Pedro Miguel Locks and the Miraflores locks, we were assigned to hook up to a charter cruise passanger boat. We were so relieved, for one, we don’t have to worry about lines up to the canal walls, and second,… THEY HAD BEER!

We were the entertainment for the boat that had the beer! The were sure curious about us.

Stewart was happy again, and he promptly purchased some from the concession. Life WOULD go on.

With Beer in hand. Smiles all around.

We were followed thru the Miraflores locks by a car carrier who made us seem almost miniscule in comparison to their enormity. Watching them bear down on you into the small space of the locks is quite a sight.

Pedro Miguel Locks

Looking South towards the Pacific.

When the doors open at Miraflores locks for the final time, a cheer was given all around as the Pacific water surrounded us. We celebrated with our purchased beer!

Canal Locks Doors are massive sized

We motored over to the Balboa Yacht Club, where ¾ Time would stay for a few days before heading towards Mexico and Hawaii on their circumnavigation.

John Being Happy to be in the Pacific

Our Pilot got off just before we moored down at the club and we headed up to the Club for a Beer!

Canal Pilot

Our Taxi Rogelio was there waiting for us shortly after our arrival, and we finished our beer and headed off with him again, back to our “homes” at Shelter Bay, but not without a stop at the Tienda….. for…

you guessed it…. beer….

HOME???

Well Plan A and Plan B, turn into Plan X, Y and Z.
It been an emotional rollercoaster of a ride on FMD in Panama in the last few weeks. Read on and you will see why.

Its been nice having Colin back on board, and Colin and Darren are constantly doing things to get the boat ready. We left San Blas and headed back to mainland Panama to Linton Bay where we could find some parts, and provisions.

Hurricane Otto

Sitting in Linton Bay, we got word of a late season tropical storm brewing in the South-western Caribbean. It became a named storm two days later, and we made the decision to run over to Shelter Bay Marina a week earlier than planned, and tie up to the dock. Plan C.

Boats in Portobelo after Otto

It was a good decision. We felt the effects of Hurricane Otto when the TS was renamed and the center was just 79 miles north of us. Secondary lines were tied and everyone in the marina secured all extra gear on deck. Portobello, where Darren and I have spent some time in the last 5 months was hit hard.

Not many boats survived the hurricane

Being open to the west, it had much swell, wind, and storm surge. 19 boats dragged onto the mud flats, 4 boats sunk and the remainder of them had to re-anchor many times, some of them in winds up to 60 knots. Linton Bay, where we had just left a week before, was apparently shuffleboard of boats dragging anchor. Many boat in Linton are unattended, so it would have been a nightmare to be there. Good seamanship and prudence conquers again.
The rain was abundant and flooded the Fort

Being At Shelter Bay was a good decision indeed and we got to meet up with friends Stuart and Stephanie from Yacht Matador, among others. If you remember a few months back, Matador was struck with lightning and they are still here at the marina fixing their wiring and replacing equipment. It is a huge job.

Steph and Stu Entertaining the cruisers

The Shelter Bay staff is polite, the services are good, the beer is cheap, and the grounds are clean. A bus goes into town everyday to take the cruisers shopping, there are BBQ’s, potlucks, and movies nightly and many friendly people. It was a nice place to weather the storm, and be under cover from the torrential rains.

Activities like Aquafit keep everyone busy

Shelter Bay Marina is a lovely place situated on the across the Canal from the town of Colon on the Caribbean side of Panama. Historically, its been built on the grounds of the previous Fort Sherman, which was occupied by the US military in all its capacities, Navy, Army and Air Force.

Remains of Fort Sherman base

After US troops pulled out of Panama in 1999, the jungle again took over its natural habitat and reclaimed its land. There are many old buildings, barracks, and battery’s. A walk thru the jungle presents monkeys, sloths, birds off many kinds.

Jungle takes over everything

We spotted a small flock of Toucans during our walk one morning after the rain.

A flock of toucans Darren had been waiting to see these.

And a family of monkeys just hanging around.

Monkeys in the trees was a regular sight

Colin had made contact with some potential buyers of FMD and they were coming down for a sea trial.
After not getting much response from the new potential owners about them wanting crew ( Darren and I) to stay on for a bit, we decided it was time to go home. The renter had moved out of the house and it just seemed time. We did not really want to head back to Parksville in December, the day after the SNOW, but as much as we looked for reasons to stay, we reluctantly booked tickets home for a Friday in early December. I guess our journey is coming to an end. Plans F, G and H ….

Porvenir

The new potential owners arrived on Nov 26 and were coming down from Canada. Coincidently, the new owners were from…. Get this…. NANAIMO!- which is about 30 km’s from where we live. They spent 3 days onboard, we took them for a test sail, enjoyed company, got to know them, and after we thought it was a done deal, they announced on Monday morning that they would not like to take the boat, it was too big for them, and they left.
Of course Colin was devastated.
We were shocked.
They did not give any sort of clue that may have been the case. ….
We had tickets home. …we had cried…. We had called our Adventure over…. Gosh. We were all in a bit of shock. So Plan K,L?

Since Colin has no option of staying due to his continued medical treatment, Darren and I decided to stay onboard for the time, and see what happens in the next few months. Plan X. Just only a few days later, it was again time to say “see ya later” to Colin, a second time. This time was teary, but not nearly as bad as the last time when we took him to the airport in Colombia when he was so ill.
Colin packed up a ton of his belongings off FMD and said goodbye to his girl, as he left Panama. This is the end of his journey on FMD. We cried.

So here we sit in Shelter Bay Marina, waiting on some information on new potential buyers coming down to take a look at FMD. We have exhausted the alphabet.

San Blas DOES Have Fish!!! Geologist on Board and the Capt’n Returns

We were joined by our nephew Bill for a month. Bill just finished his degree in geophysics and geology and was ready for a bit of Adventure.

Bill heading up the mast, yet Again.
Bill heading up the mast, yet Again.

Well we put Bill to work… He’s a young lad… so up the mast he went.. on day 2 of his “holiday” Not once, .. not twice,,… but 5 times we sent him up for one job or another.

We were trying to fix the masthead light that was damaged during the storm the few weeks earlier. We didn’t have a spare anchorlight on board, so with a few parts from a fellow cruiser, Darren made one.!!! AND it worked!!!

Darren made a LED masthead light with an LED strip we got from friends on Desperado
Darren made a LED masthead light with an LED strip we got from friends on Desperado

Bill was really enjoying catching the fish we were bringing in since JOHN left the boat. A Wahoo and a Barracuda… then some Mackerel,… the Fishing Lures we had sent to Bill to bring down were awesome!

Wahoo on Board!!!
Wahoo on Board!!!
Barracuda
Barracuda
A Barracuda has extremely large teeth
A Barracuda has extremely large teeth

San Blas was turning out to be a fabulous place to just hang out, chill and catch fish, lobster and spend afternoons snorkeling.

Bills Lobster catch of the day
Bills Lobster catch of the day
Sunset over Nuinudup
Sunset over Nuinudup

We were beginning to tire of fish for breakfast lunch and dinner and conveniently The veggie man, Geraldo came by one day and we were lucky enough to trade him a Mackerel for all the veggies we wanted.

Veggies come to you in San Blas. A Floating market of sorts.
Veggies come to you in San Blas. A Floating market of sorts.

The veggie boat comes to us in San Blas. Usually twice a week, either Geraldo and Dos Hermanos ( two Brothers), comes by with lettuce, onions, Pineapples, eggplant,… you name it.. Even chicken. When they say WHOLE CHICKEN in Kuna Yala, they mean WHOLE. Entero. Head AND feet!

Pollo Entero- in San Blas, whole chicken means Whole chicken!!!
Pollo Entero- in San Blas, whole chicken means Whole chicken!!!

After being in San Blas for over 3 months, we decided to go to the Island of Carti, and see the famous village, one of the largest in Kuna Yala. Carti is a group of 4 islands, and is where many of the tour boats and charters pick up their guests. It was Independence day when we were there and we were entertained by a large parade thru the island.
(video coming separately)

We had a visit to the Kuna museum on the island of Sugdup in Carti. Our host at the museum told us many things that we hadn’t learned about the Kuna Indians and their traditions.

Kuna Museum in Sugdup had many interesting facts
Kuna Museum in Sugdup had many interesting facts

These little carvings are called Nutchu’s. every Guna family has one, and although these are “tourist” Nutchu’s which are made of Balsa and painted, we found them incredibly beautiful. They are meant to be protectors of people from bad spirits and spiritual sickness. A “real” Nutchu is made traditionally of Black walnut wood that comes from deep within the jungle of Kuna Yala.

Nutchu, and although these are Tourist Nutchu's and non traditional, they are very colorful and we had to get one to bring home.
Nutchu, and although these are Tourist Nutchu’s and non traditional, they are very colorful and we had to get one to bring home.

We found out that when the Kuna die, the man gets buried in his hammock and in his ULU, which is a dugout canoe which each man makes for himself.

a man building his new ULU- a dugout canoe, with hand tools
a man building his new ULU- a dugout canoe, with hand tools

In October, we got word from Colin that he was going to come back to FMD, for a few weeks to visit Panama, and help unload the boat.
Colin came back to the boat for his final time in Early November as he helped to prepare her for sale. It was a happy happy morning full of tears and laughter when he arrived back on the boat. To see him back at the helm again was a pleasant sight indeed.

Colin back at the helm
Colin back at the helm

We hoped Colin would enjoy Panama and San Blas as much as we have, and we took him on some highlights of the jungle, dingying up the river in Nargana, visiting the favorite islands, and enjoying the snorkeling and sunsets in this peaceful land.

a Kuna home on the island of Nalunege
a Kuna home on the island of Nalunege
Bamboo up the jungle river at Nargana
Bamboo up the jungle river at Nargana
Kuna children entertain themselves in a variety of ways
Kuna children entertain themselves in a variety of ways

Colin had made the difficult decision to sell FMD here in Panama a few months ago, and there was a lot of work to do to get her ready for some potential new owners.
So we started clearing and cleaning, polishing, and fixing small jobs, to the best of our ability between the torrential rain.

A nice anchorage at Dog Island
A nice anchorage at Dog Island
the start of a squall coming thru San Blas
the start of a squall coming thru San Blas

When it rains in Panama, it Rains! But we always, Or mostly always end up with a glorious sunset.

A delightful sunset in San Blas. We are always amazed at the beauty of the evening sky here.
A delightful sunset in San Blas. We are always amazed at the beauty of the evening sky here.

San Blas Part 2, Kuna Yala, Bad Cell Coverage and Fish!

The best part of San Blas is the beaches, the Kuna’s ( the local natives), the crystal clear water, the people we meet, snorkeling, lobsters, fishing, sailing, etc. Ok, so that’s most of it…. The NOT so good part is the lack of cell service and connection good enough to post on the blog!
Apologies to everyone who has been following us for our adventure, but the service is soooooo slow, that we couldn’t get a post complete.

One of our favourite islands in San Blas
One of our favourite islands in San Blas

So just to catch up:

Jim and Blieu were with us for almost 6 weeks. We enjoyed their company very much, but they had to get back to Missouri in August to continue their work. They own a company called Tan Through Swimsuit
I wear their suits everyday, I love how they dry quickly and allow the fabric to not leave tan lines. They make both mens and ladies stuff and I highly recommend taking a look. So it was an early morning departure from Portobello for Jim and Blieu. We look forward to sailing with them again as we enjoyed many lobster dinners, jungle walks, and donuts ( Blieu’s favorite part of the day) with the two of them and their wonderful sense of humor.

Dinner aboard FMD
Dinner aboard FMD

Darren and I stayed in Portobello for a few weeks while doing some repairs and maintenence, and trying to catch up on some chores and “real” work.
Portobello is a history rich town. Discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1502, during his fourth voyage. It was chosen as the Caribbean transshipment center because of its magnificent harbor and convenient location.
dsc00102

It became one of the most important sites for transferring South and Central American riches. From this port, tons of gold and silver flowed to the commercial capital of the Spanish empire, Seville. Ruins of the solid fortification can still be seen today.

Ruins of the Fortifcation at Portobelo

Looking over Portobelo Harbor from the fort

The wealth of Portobello was a strong temptation for pirates like Henry Morgan, and is known to be the resting place of Sir Francis Drake.

The ruins are strewn with old cannons
The ruins are strewn with old cannons
Some old fortifications
Some old fortifications

Many cruisers use Portobello as a place to anchor and reprovision. It’s simple to go to the closest town of Sabinitas on the bus, a $1.25- 1.5 hour journey. Portobellos wide open anchorage and close vicinity to Colon and its amenities make it a safe place to stay. Colon is one of the most dangerous cities in the Americas, and staying as far away form there as possible is desirable by many cruisers. The colorful busses with their chrome hubs and often pimped out stacks and other accessories, and their LOUD LOUD music make each bus unique.

Getting on the Chicken Bus
Getting on the Chicken Bus

There are often gatherings and functions on shore at a small cruiser friendly “hangout” called Casa Vela, run by Ray and Brigitta, former cruisers. One day we were treated to a fish smoking lesson by our friends Stuart and Stephanie, of Matador. Stuart makes fantastic smoked fish!

Matador Smoking Fish for the Cruisers
Matador Smoking Fish for the Cruisers

The Church of San Felipe is in Portobello as well. The Church is home to the Black Christ of Portobello, a wooden statue of of Jesus of Nazareth. The statue has become Holy and worshipped because of the miracles they attribute to it. Every October 21, the festival of the Black Christ of Portobello is celebrated with people walking from as far as Costa Rica to be part of the celebrations.

People walk on their knees from Costa Rica to worship in this church every October 21
People walk on their knees from Costa Rica to worship in this church every October 21
Black Christ of Portobello
Black Christ of Portobello

We had visitors in September from Canada and England. Kelly’s sister Rhonda joined us from Canada for 3 weeks, and Deb and John, who are Darren’s sister and husband from England joined us for two weeks.

John and Deb on board with Rhonda and our friends Stu and Steph of Matador
John and Deb on board with Rhonda and our friends Stu and Steph of Matador

None of them had spent much time aboard a boat before, let alone a sailing boat. So before they left their respective countries and as guests usually are, they were loaded up with lists of things to bring us. Spare parts, parts that had broken, goodies, and licorice!!!

They arrived to Portobello after being picked up by an arranged taxi driver and arrived in the late evening.

A view from the Fort
A view from the Fort

We spent a couple of nights in Portobelo and introduced Rhonda, John and Deb to the Panama jungle before making our departure towards San Blas.

Jungle Spider
Jungle Spider

A bit further up the coast is a delightful little place called Linton Bay and one of the best anchorages on the coast between San Blas and Colon. There is a small island, which used to be owned by a scientist who researched the behaviour of Spider Monkeys.
The one square mile island is now inhabited by only three Spider Monkeys who enjoy watching people visit when the creatures invade the abandoned house near the anchorage in the afternoon looking for attention.
Spider Monkeys at Isla Linton

There is a mangrove tunnel from Linton bay to another marina area called Panamarina. Dinghys can make it through the narrow covered channel, getting a glimpse at the monkeys and sloths on a good day. You have to look pretty carefully for the sloth, although they stay in the same tree for most of their life, only coming down once a month for bodily functions, they can be difficult to spot. We were lucky.
Sloth in the mangrove tunnel

We spent a few weeks over the last few months in both places while doing more repairs, and provisioning. These seem to be our major activities lately. Living on a cruising boat is not all fun and games, and many days were spend fixing, repairing, cleaning, and finding parts. The ocean environment is a harsh one and Mother Nature takes its toll on anything that is exposed to the salt air.

A worn out bearing from one of the electric winches.
A worn out bearing from one of the electric winches.

Up the mast again.

In Colon, we found an alternator repair shop
In Colon, we found an alternator repair shop

After Visiting these two places we made our adventure back to San Blas. We spent the weeks snorkeling, fishing, swimming, enjoying the beaches, visited with other cruisers we met and endured “Chocosanas”. San Blas has a wind phenomenon called something-de -pollo, which means the ass of the chicken. It is a quickly developing cold system that whips winds up quickly sometimes reaching 60 knots followed by torrential rain and lightening. They come quickly without warning from the southeast often juggling boats around like checkers.
Close quarters anchoring

It can make a peaceful anchorage into a shuffleboard in an instant, and we always hope we are on our boats when they happen. Luckily its usually in the middle of the night or early morning hours when they come through.

Rain squall coming with chocosana winds

At 6am peaceful morning, in Green Island Anchorage, one hit us and the 5 boats in our company, suddenly and fully. Our buddy boat, Matador was struck with a lightening bolt that damaged every bit of electrical equipment on their boat in the bat of an eye. The puff of black smoke that billowed from their masthead after the deafening CRACK of the bolt sent our senses scrambling. It’s a heart pumping, adrenaline rushing, and Steph and Stuart were shaking for days afterward.
Matador at anchor after the lightening

When lightening is that close, you really do feel it on your skin… the hairs stand up and tingle, and you can feel the energy in the air for minutes afterward. Every year dozens of boats in San Blas area have their entire electronic inventory wiped out by lightening strikes.
Its an amazing how the Kunas usually know when one of these blows is coming and we were awakened on the worst of them by the blowing of the a horn made from a conch shell, to warn of the impending storm coming. Rhonda decided that she wanted this horn, and went to buy it off the Kunas the next day. Unfortunately Canada Customs took it from her when she entered Canada.

Rhonda's conch she bought off the Kunas for $10, it also came with three fish and an Octopus!
Rhonda’s conch she bought off the Kunas for $10, it also came with three fish and an Octopus!

Any anchorage you go to, the local women will come to your boat and try and sell their wares, whether it be Molas, or bracelets. We have made friends with two of the most famous of them, Mola Lisa, and Venancio. We have had both of them on the boat for tea and visiting along with purchasing some of their famous Molas.

Visiting with Venancio onboard with Jim and Blieu
Visiting with Venancio onboard with Jim and Blieu
Sorting thru Lisas Molas with Stephanie
Sorting thru Lisas Molas with Stephanie

Well it finally came time for our visitors to leave, we sent Deb and John home to England, and Rhonda home to Canada. It was a sad parting as we never know when we will see Deb and John again, although I think they had a good enough time onboard that they will be back.

Deb and John's early morning departure from Green Island
Deb and John’s early morning departure from Green Island

Rhonda leaving from Chichime
Rhonda leaving from Chichime

For weeks with John aboard, we tried and tried to catch a fish. We trolled, and jigged, casted and speared,.. and came up dry most times. Pity we did not repeat our luck like the last time on our way back to Portobello ……Wham! Wham! Wham! Three in a row as we sailed thru a Tuna school! Holy!!
Tuna!!!

Hopefully this fishing keeps up for the next while as we spend more time in Panama and Kuna Yala.

Watch for our next post with Nephew Bill aboard, more fish, and Colin’s return!!!

San Blas, Portobelo, and Lobster

Well we have not had time to write a proper blog entry for you all, so we just thought I would attach a few pics for you in the interim, regarding San Blas, Lobster and our time in Portobelo

We have been very busy in the last few weeks…  we’ve had a few problems..  and had to deal with those…  more about that in a future post, but heres something for you to enjoy in the meantime.

Beauty of San Blas More beautiful beaches Darren Free Diving Beautiful Beaches Monkey In Nargana Sloth Darren up the mast

A New Chapter- FMD Leaves Colombia

In the last few weeks, since Colin went home to Australia, we have learned that his health will not improve enough for him to join FMD’s adventure back to Australia, and that this ship must get back there without him. That leaves us in a strange situation, as we joined Colin on FMD to be additional crew. Now we are here to take care of her, while getting her into the Pacific Ocean to continue her journey Westward.

After being in Colombia for over a month and a half, we decided to make our departure to Panama.
It would be a different adventure for us now, not having Colin onboard his boat, and with mixed emotions, we set out to take care of FMD as best we can. Darren and I are both pretty experienced on the water, but it’s a different feeling when you are not on YOUR OWN boat, but looking after someone else’s investment. As much as we feel she is a part of us, it’s big responsibility. Being on a different time zone than Colin, with him being in Australia, makes communication difficult at times as we also like to keep him informed and still get his feelings

A few weeks back, Jim and Blieu, from Missouri, asked if they could join Darren and I back onboard FMD so they could try out cruising for a longer term, to see if it works for them. So joining us in Cartagena, they immediately got work with us fixing the generator. The raw water intake manifold and exhaust manifold had seen their time in the salt water, and were in desperate need of repair.

So after getting the name of a machine shop from another cruiser, we headed out to get the parts made. Victor said he could do it and to return in a hour! We completely expected a next day turn around, but were amazed that in one hour, the new parts in fresh shiny stainless steel were built!

Besides a few other minor jobs, provisioning, and general maintenance for a passage, and accepting our Zarpe ( exit papers) from our Agent, David, we were set to go. Headed out on flat sea with calm winds we headed back to Cholon to clean the bottom and relax for a few days before setting out for Panama.
It was a bit different in Cholon this time, the beach bars were not full, the boats were not zipping in and around the bay, and the music was not loud and obnoxious all day long. It was peaceful and quiet, and a welcome treat after the exhaustion of Cartagena.

After Three days, we left looking for a weather window with some wind, yet not too much. It was a Friday when we left. I’ve NEVER left anywhere on a Friday before as there is an old superstition about leaving on a passage on a Friday, but the weather was right, on the forecast anyways. Actually, there was not enough wind to sail. We have 8 knots of wind for most of the 36 hour passage and it was from directly where we wanted to go. We managed to sail for 2 of the 36 hours with the parasail up.

ParaSail UP!

The morning treated us with a SailFish Catch… it would be fresh fish for dinner tonight!!

Sailfish!!!
Sailfish!!!

Arriving before dark, we made our way thru the reefs and took our first anchorage at the deserted Isla Mono in Eastern San Blas. It was a welcome feeling arriving in Panama, with its palm lined beaches, beautiful water and beautiful seascapes.

FMD at anchor in San Blas
FMD at anchor in San Blas

The every palm tree and its coconuts in San Blas are owned by the Gunas, or often spelled Kuna by North Americans and picking of them, even if they are laying on the beach is not allowed. Gunas make their money by the trading of coconuts, lobster and Molas.

Blieu checking out the coconut.
Blieu checking out the coconut.

San Blas or Guna Yala, as they Indiginous people prefer it to be called, is a different world in its own right. Guna people govern these low lying islands.
The Gunas shunned being filmed or photographed, although they would make worthwhile subjects, with their colorful molas, glass beads around arms and legs, black face paint and gold nose rings, earrings and breast plates, the women must be asked and often paid to have their picture taken.
Children and men are always happy to have their pictures taken, however.

Ignacio in Kuna Yala

The Gunas live in villages that are very well cared for, with many stick houses topped with palm leave roofs line the dirt “roads”. Every village has at least three Sailas, or chiefs, of which one is the superior. It is a Matriarchal society where the woman is held in high esteem, and many dress in very traditional dress, sitting in the doorways making Molas.
See Wikipedia on Mola Art

Guna home in San Ignacio
Guna home in San Ignacio

Men spend their day in their dugout canoe, paddling over to the mainland where they tend their trees, Coconut palms, banana, or pineapples, or they fish with traps. At about 2 in the afternoon they make their way back to the village and the remainder of the day is spent with the family.
Banana trees, which Jim stalked for weeks.

They were very happy to sell us lobsters one day. We had a bucketful of lobster and large shrimp ( langostas and lagostinos) which cost us $10 plus three beer. And made a fantastic dinner!

Lobster bucket

DinnerTime On FMD in San Blas
DinnerTime On FMD in San Blas

We needed to make our way to Portobelo to do our arrival and check into the country and so we headed westward, to return to these beautiful islands and lovely people in a week.

Getting out of Cartagena, Cholon, and some GOOD news!

After being in Cartegena for over 3 weeks, Darren and I decided to head south to an anchorage called Cholon Bay. It was a 18 mile journey in light winds and soft seas. We were still waiting on news of Colins prognosis, and we thought that being out of the city may be a bit less depressing for us.
Colombia Google earth

Cholon Anchorage

Making our way thru the reefs, which are lightly marked, we were welcomed to the bay by the beach bar and the masses of boats there. It was a Wednesday just before dark, and many boats were just on their way out, but a few boats remained with their music playing loudly.
Palapas at entrance to Beach Bar

We found an anchorage with two other boats and immediately jumped off and had a swim in the cleaner water. It was a welcome treat after the cess-pool of Cartegena.
Along the mangrove lines shores of Cholon Bay are many beautiful homes and a few hotels. We found wifi in one Hotel Sport Baru http://www.sportbaru.com

Before we went into Cartegena, the bottom of the boat was relatively clean, but after only 3 short weeks, it was COVERED in a mass of slime and barnacles. After two days of cleaning, we could again recognize the bottom, and figured we deserved a beer at the beach bar.

We stayed in Cholon Bay for 9 peaceful, tranquil nights, with flat water most of the time. We did have to endure the jet skis and SeaDoo’s, who always seem to think that circling around sailboats is a fun thing to do. They should ask the Sailors what they think about that though.

It was a peaceful easy place to do some boat work, seemingly one issue after another, first the rerouting of the bilge pump, then the generator impeller, then the air compressor, Between trying to get the boat clean,.. we were constantly making a mess trying to fix something that needed attention; Definition of cruising?: Fixing things in remote anchorages.

Generator fix

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We did get time to dingy around, visit with friends, and visit the beach and the beach bar. We did find a beautiful little boutique hotel on Playa Azul, that was just lovely! A small hotel for 20 people, a beautiful white sand beach, and NO ONE there! It was a lovely spot for a sit on the pool chaise and relax for a few minutes.
Poolside Beers

Blue Azul Beach Hotel

White Sand Beach

On the way back from the beach, we saw an inlet into the mangroves.. and decided to go for a dingy adventure up the half mile long passageway searching for wildlife, We did see birds and crabs, but no snakes or wild things.

Mud Crabs

Indiana Darren and his mangrove adventure

Mangrove Adventure

In the meantime, while being at anchor, we got some good news about Colin. While he has been in the hospital for the last week or more, due to his increased pain with the radiation treatments, he has had many tests and procedures. He is under the careful attention and care of Dr Liz Kenny, in Brisbane Hospital, who has confirmed some secondary cancers in Colin’s hip and spine. Under good care and treatment, they expect Colin to be around for a few more years to come! Rum Punches all around!
Colin's on the mend

After 9 days in the jungle, we had to head back to the city for provisioning, to get some parts and wait for our next set of crew to arrive.
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Sunset and Sea

Next post we will be headed to San Blas!

Waiting in Cartagena, Forts and Car Accidents

We wait on news on our loved Captain after a flight from HE** from Cartagena thru Bogata, Santiago, Aukland then Sidney and Brisbane ( after nearly 60 hours) he finally arrived. After leaving the Airport when we dropped Col off, in tears all around, Darren and I took some time to analyze our thoughts, walk around aimlessly, cry, laugh, and ponder our direction… all while looking at this beautiful city, Cartagena.

Castillo San Filipe

typical Street in Old Town

Darren and I did some work on the boat, including REDOING the anchor windlass- AGAIN. It has been an issue for us for the last few months, and after having it worked on by a machinist in both Provo, Turks, and then again in MoBay, Jamaica, between Colin and Daren, they figured out what to do, and we got it complete. In Sailboats, you must improvise, so we did, and it worked.

Since we dint get to the Fort when Col was with us, due to his illness, we ventured into the Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas, located just a 20 minue walk from the OLD Town, or city center. It is regarded as the greatest fortress ever built by the Spaniards in their colonies. The tunnels were all constructed in such a way as to make it possible to hear footsteps of an approaching enemy. To be honest, Darren and I were not really impressed with the Castillo,.. but maybe because we have seen such beautiful Forts in our cruise of the Caribbean.
Castillo San Filipe 2

Sentry Box at San Filipe
It was hot, and has no shade, it did not seem to have any gathering places, as in other fortresses, and it seemed to lack character. But you should make up your own mind when you visit here.

Vehicle Driving is crazy in Cartagena. We would NEVER rent a car here. Taking a taxi is bad enough, and for the many trips we had been in around the city, we were surprised that there were not more ben fenders and accidents,.. until now…

A motorcycle bumped in the the rear of the taxi and the Taxi man was M A D!!!! they stopped and argued with each other until the Motorcycle driver FINALLY paid up 25,000 Pesos, an equivalent of $12 Canadian.

Here are a few fun facts we have learned in our time here:
• Cartagena is one of the few cities in the world with a submarine emissary inaugurated in 2013
• Tourism is a mainstay of the economy and Cartagena is the commercial and touristic hub of the country, the city has many transportation facilities, one of which is SUPER CHEAP taxis.
• One would NOT want to drive here. 9 not ever our brother DALE) I like driving. A LOT. But I would be insane to do it here… no sireeeee
• Humidity averages around 90%, with rainy seasons typically in May–June and October–November. We can vouch for th humidity- we carry a sweat cloth (uuugggh)
• The beaches of Bocagrande, lying along the northern shore, are made of volcanic sand, which is slightly greyish in colour. This makes the water appear muddy, though it is not.
• Because im an “Eagles” Fan; Cartagena figured prominently in the “Smuggler’s Blues” (1985) episode of Miami Vice, featuring guest star Glenn Frey and his song “Smuggler’s Blues,
• For the Poets of you; The poem “Románc” (1983) by Sándor Kányádi talks about the beauty of Cartagena,
• And for the Gamers; The city is the scene of two levels in the video game, Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception.

Change of Plans in Cartagena

Cartagena has given us a few surprises; some wonderful, others not so much.

We have been here since June 1, now, just over 2 weeks. We absolutely LOVE the city. And will go into WHY in just a bit.

But in the interim, Colin’s health deteriorated rapidly one we arrived. After many trips for tests at the wonderful Bocas Grande Hospital, he made the very difficult decision to fly back to Australia on the earliest possible flight.   Cancer is a crap disease to get, and its taken its toll on our fearless, strong, energetic Captain.   We had a few suspicions, but some tests here in Colombia confirmed our fears.

So, in tears we write this post, after so many EPIC snorkels, sea battles, shroud popping, dolphin spotting, sunsets, beaches, laughter, frustrations, parasail sets, reefing-raining-windy sails in some glorious anchorages and islands.

Darren and I will continue to look after FMD in South and Central America until we get our Captain back in better condition than when he left.

Col, your adventure is not complete yet.

Wahoo!!!!
Wahoo!!!!
Always ready for a snorkel
Chilling in Grenada
Chilling in Grenada
Ready to Launch!!!

Cartagena, Columbia- As Interesting AS Can Be

At first glance, Cartagena is an architecturally beautiful city. The people seems friendly and the amenities are endless.

Entrance to El Centro

The city began with 200 people in 1533. During the remainder of the 16th century there was rapid growth. A major factor was the gold in the tombs of the Sinú Culture.  After those tombs were completely plundered, the inhabitants began to scatter to the countryside and to establish themselves as farmers, and the population of the city decreased.

A little later, the city had fewer than 2000 inhabitants and one church; the dramatically increasing fame and wealth of the prosperous city turned it into an attractive plunder site for pirates and corsairs–French and English privateers licensed by their king. Thirty years after its founding, the city was pillaged by the French nobleman Jean-François Roberval. The city set about strengthening its defences and surrounding itself with walled compounds and castles.

Jim, Blieu, Darren and I ventured into El Centro, the old town and checked out the food, the buildings and the shopping.

Calle in the Old Town

it was a 7000 peso cab ride from the marina to El Centro, ( an equivalent of about $3 CDN) for the 4 of us to jump into a Toyota Prius- type cab and adventure Northward.

Apparently, shoes is a favorite of Colombians as well. There are a TON of shoe stores.. everywhere. I wish I could still wear any shoe I desired… I would have been in heaven 4 years ago!

IMG_4937 Shoes Shoes, SHOES!!!!Lunch was just as amazing. At a whole $4 CDN we had a full lunch with a delicious soup, salad, piece of meat ( or fish) rice, and lemonade. We were stuffed.

PLATOS DEL DIA

And after, we couldn’t help but to stop and get a local indulgency.

A few days in the city and we had to head out as our water supply was low, and we couldn’t make water in the dirty harbor. We headed southwest to the Rosario islands. A quaint group of islands covered in private homes, these islands were a quiet retreat from the bustling city harbor for a few nights.DSC_0118

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We swam, made water, dinghied around, and checked it out. There are homes built on tiny atolls surrounding these islands, your own little piece of paradise. If you want a quiet holiday, this would definitely give you a piece of tranquility.

PRIVATE ISLAND PARADISES

PlazaBack to the city we returned, to get ready to fix some things, provision to head to San Blas and check out the city life for a few more days.

 

 

Jim and Blieu were to depart from Cartagena, it was a pleasure having them on board, and we will welcome them back anytime!The crew

 

 

 

 

Just a few more shots of this beautiful city before we leave you!

Church typical Street in Old Town