Cruising with Soggy Paws
Soggy Paws is a 44' CSY Sailboat. In 2007, we set sail on a 10 year around the world cruise.
Wednesday, December 31, 2008
The Demise of the Panama Canal Yacht Club
These events actually took place in Feb 2009, but I have also posted it under 2008 to keep it with the rest of our Panama information.

A few days ago we heard from our friends on s/v Infini, still in Panama, that the the Panama Canal Yacht Club had been shut down. This wasn't a huge surprise, as there were rumors of it's demise when we went through the Canal in September 2008.

However, we just got an email from them with the details of how it happened. And all we can say is ... only in Panama.

Here is an excerpt from an article in the online publication Panama Guide. It is attributed to "Fran", obviously rent-paying resident of the (former) Panama Canal Yacht Club.

"On Thursday afternoon (the day after we paid our dock rent for another month), after the club manager left the office the sleezeball lawyers for Panama Ports Corporation whose stacks of containers have for years surrounded and steadily encroached on the club's land arrived and told the meek, mild, timid elderly little lady still in the office that they had an "order signed by the government" and were there to "simply do an inventory" and she would have to follow them around while they did it."

"Unfortunately, as they planned, she certainly would not know any better - like to say "no way" - as the manager would have. So having done the inventory, with a witness, made it legal rather than a "break and enter", and at 0300 hours Friday morning, the gated entrance to the club was sealed off by two massive containers, and the fence into the club was breached for access."

"The demolition crew arrived with huge spot lights, wrecking balls, trucks and back hoes and started bashing down the buildings. Sealing off the club may or may not have been legal - wrecking the place we've been assured is an illegal - probably criminal act. By 0800 hours, the water main had been busted, and the power lines downed.

"Now Friday was "Colon Day" another of many official holidays making a long weekend so naturally, as the Ports lawyers had calculated, there was no recourse that the Club or its lawyer could take, as all government offices and judicial offices were way to get an injunction to stop .....very slick on the part of Panama ports."

"When we all started waking up and seeing this incredible destruction and walking around asking questions we were told that they were only taking down one old empty shed that the workers had been using - to send a message. But as the day went on the demolition never stopped. It was dismal with all our the friends we've made among he workers (the real people) who showed up for work as usual, sitting stunned in shock and tears."

"All the contents of the office, the bar, the restaurant, the storage rooms, freezers and the workers lockers were being carted away and locked in containers which were moved to unspecified and unknown locations "for safe keeping" - uh huh."

"Now this has begun again...there really won't be anything left standing by the end of today."

"Yesterday we were told that we had six weeks to empty our shed that contained virtually everything we keep on the boat....YEAH, right! I said.....I should believe them???!!!!!!....after all the lies so far???..(they didn't seem to appreciate that observation)....anyway we almost emptied everything in one day that we were planning on working on for a month at our usual pace."

"But I will be dammed if we are removing OUR lock from the storage shed...because these sheds hold personal (customers') stuff that was not part of the club operation inventory and they will need each boater to sign off before they can touch the sheds and their contents."

"Well...they can send us a telegram to the San Blas Islands...we will be leaving our lock on the shed when we leave...right now we are being very difficult and fighting to have our power and water turned back on on the dock."

There was more in the article, but the sheer audacity of the Panama Port Authority to come in in the middle of the night and forcefully demolish the Panama Canal Yacht Club... amazing... will be interesting to see how it develops... I guess the cruisers are still at the docks (at least temporarily), but there is no longer a Yacht Club facility!

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Tuesday, December 09, 2008
2008 Presentations
Sherry did a half hour presentation on the San Blas at the East Coast Sailing Association and Melbourne Yacht Club monthly meetings.

Dave did an extensive presentation on Cruising the Western Caribbean at the Seven Seas Cruising Association 2008 Gam.

Both presentations (and some useful cruising links) can now be found on our SSCA 2008 page.

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Sunday, September 14, 2008
Panama Canal - Locking in the Rain

Catching up a little...
One of the passengers on the small cruise ship Islamorada that we rafted up with for the last set of locks sent us some pictures of us in the rain. (Thanks, Maria!)

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Saturday, September 13, 2008
Panama Canal Transit - Our Crew
Just wanted to recognize and thank our crew... guest linehandlers Ron & Dorothy Sheridan, and Jim Yates, who flew down from Florida to help us out. And of course, Sherry, our 4th linehandler, and Captain Dave, who impressed our Advisors with his skill on the helm.

Ron Sheridan, owner/captain of the CSY 44 Pilothouse Ketch, Memory Rose, currently based in Guatemala

Dorothy Sheridan, Chef Extraordinaire and First Mate on Memory Rose

Jim Yates, owner/captain of the Roberts 56, Carisma AND the Lindenberg 28, Bad Penny, both currently based in Satellite Beach, Florida

Co-Captains Dave and Sherry McCampbell

The pictures on the Panama Canal and Las Perlas sections of the blog have been taken by one of the above people. We had 5 people and 7 cameras!!! Thanks crew for the help, the pics, and the memories!! See you in Tahiti!!

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Panama Canal Transit - Day 2 Recap
When we woke up the next morning, there were about 8 large ships out there on the lake, between us and the main channel. From what we understand, part of the route between Gatun Lake and the next set of locks is too narrow for large ships to pass each other. (I think the part that's the problem is Galliard Cut, but I'm not sure). So they have to sequence the ships so there's a group that comes thru in one direction, and then a slug that comes thru in the other direction. And the tail end of each group waits in Gatun Lake.

Our Advisor Finally Arrives

We were up and ready to get going by 6:30am, as instructed. But our advisor didn't get there til about 8am. We got underway immediately and took the 'Banana Cut' route. It is a small boat channel, and saves about a mile and a half. We had about 25 miles to go to the next lock (Pedro Miguel), and an appointment for 12:30. So we had the pedal to the metal the whole time, even cutting corners on the wide sweeping channels (at the direction of our advisor) to save time. It was a pretty trip but I didn't see much of it... I was too busy feeding people. Jim and Dorothy took lots of pics. I was making breakfast and lunch, mostly.

You Can Still See Trees from When Gatun Lake Was Flooded

A Car Carrier called a RoRo (Roll On, Roll Off)

Dredges Keeping the Channel Open

Ships Passing By in Channel

The USCG Training Ship Eagle

The down locks on the Pacific side are two sets of locks... Pedro Miguel and Miraflores, about a mile apart. I think there are 2 chambers in Pedro Miguel and 3 in Miraflores. As we started into the first chamber at Pedro Miguel, the dark storm clouds that had been gathering finally opened up. It absolutely poured on us for the entire time we were in the locks.

As we pulled out of the last chamber at Miraflores, the rain quit. Our advisor (who had said, when Dave asked him if those dark clouds were going to rain on us, "No.") said he had never been in the locks in such heavy rain. He was not dressed for it... he had a jacket but it was more a windbreaker than a heavy rain jacket. At one point, once we got secured, he gave his radio to us to keep it dry (they are special radios on special frequencies, not standard VHF).

Our Advisor, Happy to Be Through the Locks Safely

Once you exit at Miraflores, you are only a few miles from Balboa Yacht Club, passing under the famous Bridge of the Americas.

The Bridge of the Americas

Onward To The Pacific!!!

We had called ahead on the phone a couple of days before to get a mooring at Balboa Yacht Club. They don't take reservations, so we called the afternoon before and again the morning of. Fortunately this time of year it's low low season, so there was a mooring available. For $25 a nite, it's not bad... convenient. But not absolutely necessary.

Now that we've been in the Flamenco anchorage, that would be perfectly fine too. (The Flamenco anchorage, at least this time of year, is around on the other side of the causeway from BYC, pretty much right where Bauhaus shows it). In the Flamenco anchorage you pay $5.25 per day for dinghy dockage, for a floating dock with security. They supposedly have a $5/bag trash fee, but we've never been asked for it yet. Dave thinks the dinghy dock fee is reasonable, and apparently there's no way around it... we've asked several people and there seems to be no other place to leave your dinghy on this side of the causeway. But someone else told us that they don't enforce/check your receipt. So if you pay for a few days at a time, once a week or so, you can cut your costs by a third to a half. However, you know Dave, he insists on following the rules, so we are paying for every day.

Customs/Immigration issues... You have to get a zarpe for somewhere when you leave Colon. Your choice is to zarpe to Balboa, and then pay for another zarpe later to leave the country, or zarpe onward to whereever you are going next. For us, that was Costa Rica. For only $20, Tito in Colon got us our onward zarpe. Versus paying about $50 in Balboa on top of a $20 zarpe for Colon to Balboa. What we didn't realize when we made the decision was that, once you have your international zarpe, you have 48 hours to clear immigration and (theoretically) leave Balboa.

There is an immigration guy at Balboa Yacht Club, and our 48 hours was up at 5pm the day after we completed the transit. Dave asked him if we could stay overnight and leave in the morning, but he said we had to leave that day. With him right there, we couldn't really stay. So we left for Taboga that afternoon (only 7 miles away).

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Panama Canal Transit - Day 1 Recap
The transit wasn't very hard. We had good advisors on both legs (the evening lock up, and the next morning lock down). They both spoke good english, knew what they were doing, and knew enough about small boats to understand the situation. Dave is really good at driving Soggy Paws, so everyone was pretty calm.

Getting Ready to Leave Panama Canal Yacht Club

On the lock up, we were supposed to 'side tie' to another vessel. That's what Dave requested when we scheduled our lockage, and that's what the plan was when the Advisor got on board. He even pointed out the boat we were going to tie up to (the Islamorada, see pics in another post)

Our Advisor Comes Aboard Near The Flats

But as we were getting lined up for the first lock, he said the plan had changed. It was something about that it was not safe to have 3 small boats AND a big boat in the locks at the same time. And we were the last guy/smallest boat. So we got bumped to the other lock (there are 2 locks side by side) doing what's called 'center chamber', behind a big ship. (They always put the small boats behind on the up-locking and the small boats in front on the down-locking).

Waiting Our Turn To Go In

The reason you want to request 'side tie to a tug' is that you raft up to the tug (or larger vessel) and THEY handle the lines along the wall. We just tie up to them. It's much easier for the crew on your own vessel. (As long as the crew on the other vessel is competent.)

'Center chamber' meant that we had to work... They put us in the middle of the chamber, behind the big ship. We had our 4 long lines out bow and stern, and then we had to keep tightening the lines as the water rose.

As we approached the lock, we had our 125' lines ready with a loop in one end and flaked out on deck, with the bitter end secured to a cleat. The Canal line handlers up in the lock threw us a monkeys fist tied to small line, and we tied that around our loop, and they brought the loop up to them and dropped it on a bollard. Then we tended our lines as the water rose.

Jim Readies His Line

It was really hard work... the lines are so thick and stiff that we had to pull the slack in on the line with one hand and take it up around the cleat with the other, bending over the whole time. Because of the way the water comes in, it pushes the boat from one side or the other, so usually only the lines on one side or the other of the boat get any slack in them. The boat line handlers on the other side just keep their line secure.

In the first chamber, Ron and I were on the stern, and I did all the work. Ron gallantly offered to switch sides with me for the next chamber, and I gratefully switched sides with him. But the direction of the 'push' switched sides too, so I had to work again.

Dorothy, up on the starboard bow, had a little trouble getting her line secured at the first chamber, but we had Jim Yates on the bow with her, and the advisor was right there helping out a little also. By the second chamber, we were all 'old hands', and had no further problems.

Dorothy on the Starboard Bow

Locking up at night wasn't hard. We took the advisor onboard at 5pm and got to the approach area of Gatun Lock about 6pm. We had to wait for the other boats (a large ship and 2 other smaller boats). We got to the first chamber before dark, and then once in the locks, it's all lit up.

Entering Gatun Lock at Night

When we got thru the last chamber at Gatun Locks and went out onto the lake, it was pretty dark out there. Though our advisor knew about where it was, and it would show up on radar, a waypoint for the bouy would have been useful.

Gatun Lake Sailboat Bouy: 09-15.665N 079-54.138.

There are two huge moorings there, and at least 4 35-55' boats could raft up to the two, easily. The moorings are so big that you don't tie off to it from the bow, but actually side tie (raft) to it.

Jim on the Mooring in Gatun Lake

We finally got secured about 10pm, and the pilot boat showed up about 10 minutes later to take our advisor off. The Soggy Paws crew had a congratulatory drink and a snack, and went promptly to bed.

Our Advisor Leaves for the Night

We were the only boat we could see on the lake. The other two smaller vessels that we were supposed to have been locking through with... a large fishing vessel and an excursion boat (the Islamorada) had gone on. Unfortunately, it's not as exotic and remote as it sounds... The mooring was off some kind of maintenance facility that was also pretty lit up. But we did hear a very loud troupe of howler monkeys on shore. We looked for, but did not see, crocodiles.

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In the Pacific Ocean!!!

With 4 cameras aboard, we took about a billion pictures yesterday and today. I will post a few very soon.

But we are now on a mooring at Balboa Yacht Club in the Pacific Ocean. Yahoo!

No problems on the transit (other than getting very wet handling lines). We had good advisors (one last night and one today).

Thanks, Nicki... great job posting. Sorry about the raindrops on the camera... it poured rain the whole time we were in the Pedro Miguel & Miraflores locks. (and quit just as we pulled out of the locks).

Crew is celebrating. More tomorrow!

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Panama Canal - Miraflores Lock

Thanks to cousin Bryan for capturing this picture as we locked thru at Miraflores!

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Panama Canal: Tracking Post Day 2
10:00 AM EDT: ETA at Pedro Miguel lock is 1:30 PM EDT.

1:40 PM EDT: Entered Miraflores lock in a rainstorm!

Soggy Paws in the Miraflores Lock

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Friday, September 12, 2008
Panama Canal: Tracking Post
This post will be updated as I receive new messages.

8:45 PM EDT: Soggy Paws entered the first Gatun lock (east). They are behind a ship?

9:30 PM EDT: Entered the 2nd lock. Waving at the cameras!

10:50 PM EDT: Done for the night.

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Gatun locks: 8:15 PM EDT
This is Nicki posting for Sherry and Dave. I just received a text message from Sherry stating that their ETA for the Gatun locks is 7:50 PM EDT.

UPDATE: Current ETA at Gatun is 8:15 PM EDT, east locks.

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Pilot Time: 5pm (6pm EDT)
We are supposed to meet our pilot on The Flats at 5pm. There is still a chance the schedule might get changed, however. Our friend here who is a retired pilot told us that anything could happen. She strongly recommended that we call about 2pm and double-check the time.

But for now we are planning to have all our stuff done by 3pm. Dorothy is working on a last load of laundry for everyone. Ron and Jim are inspecting the lines we got yesterday from Tito. Dave is working on paperwork... getting our Zarpe and paying our bill at PCYC. I am cooking a big stew for the crew and our 'Advisor'.

Tito Delivering Our Lines

I'll do another post when we confirm the pickup time (about 2:30pm Local Time.. add 1 hour for EDT).

Nicki has promised to do another post when we start through the locks at Gatun, but we will probably be going through about 6pm local, 7pm EDT.

The Gatun Locks webcam

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Stocking Up
We are not sure when we are going to have as easy access to such a great variety of reasonably priced stuff. So we've been stocking up.

In the past week, we have bought 5 cases of rum in liter bottles and 3 cases of wine in liter boxes. And another $300 worth of groceries (that's on top of the $500 we bought 3 weeks ago).

And yesterday we did a final shopping, with friends Jim Yates and Dorothy Sheridan along. Everyone got a chance to see what a good Panamanian grocery store is like, and pick out their favorite brand of cereal, etc. (Meanwhile Dave and Ron were back at the boat swapping water maker pumps).

Stowing all that stuff has been fun, especially with Dave and Ron still with their heads in the engine room, and all the 'stuff' that normally lives in V-berth out in the salon.

On advice of some friends who have preceded us across the Pacific, we decanted 36 liters of rum into 2 5-gallon water containers. This makes a very space-efficient storage location, no glass, no cucaracha-laden cardboard boxes, only the weight of the rum itself. It also makes the rum less visible and therefore less likely to be taxed or confiscated by a Customs guy. The rest of the rum was 'socked' (each bottle put in 2 old socks for protection) and stored in nether lockers.

We bought our rum from a local guy who came out to the marina with a brochure, and he delivered it 4 hours later. (Umberto 6706-1015). We paid cash on delivery, $60/case for the good stuff and $45/per case for the mixing rum. Plus a $10 delivery fee. He has lots of other liquor in his brochures, and will sell individual bottles.

The boxed Clos brand wine (from Chile) we just bought at the grocery store for $2.09 per liter. That's a heckuva deal. There are better wines, but if you stop drinking 'the good stuff', the Clos is very drinkable, and the price is right. And this stuff is so much more convenient than wine in bottles. No bottle to break, less weight, much better storage form factor and much easier stowage. We put most of the wine under our bed. Dorothy did a great job of packing things around in there (while I was stowing stuff in the fridge).

Note the boxes of Triscuits... Jim Yates brought a case with him from the States. That is one of the few items we have been unable to find in Panama.

So we are well stocked, with plenty of food for the 5 of us for the next 10 days, and then enough staples to last Dave and I quite a long while.

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Wednesday, September 10, 2008
Sightseeing a Little
Yesterday we took a break from 'getting ready' to go to Panama City.

It was partially a sightseeing trip, partially to go 'collect' 2 of our line handlers (Ron and Dorothy Sheridan) and partially to get a few things in Panama City.

Though taking a bus is the cheapest way... The bus departs once an hour from the Colon bus terminal near the marina, and only costs $2.50 for a luxury A/C bus with movie.

We opted to take the train. The train makes a round trip from Panama City daily, leaving Panama City about 7am and returning from Colon at 5:15pm. We originally thought is was totally a 'tourist train', but found out that it has a practical purpose. It brings workers from Panama City to Colon, primarily staff of the Free Trade Zone. Apparently the employers lease cars on the train to bring their workers back and forth.

Only one car on the train is for the tourists, a nice observation car. It fills up quickly, so we were glad we got there early (about 4:45pm). It was a nice 1 hour ride to Panama City.

Gatun Lake from the Train

We stayed overnight in La Estancia, a small bed and breakfast situated in what used to be Officers Quarters on Ancon Hill. This is a nice setting, close to the city, but away from the city. At $70 it is a little higher than we usually choose to pay, but breakfast was included and it was really a nice place (hot water, very good beds, nicely kept). There were birds and monkeys in the trees.

Dave and I did some running around in Panama City early in the morning. When Ron and Dorothy arrived, we all headed out to Miraflores Lock to have lunch and see the museum. We also got to see a ship transiting the lock.

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Tuesday, September 09, 2008
Dirty Nasty Colon, Panama
Well, now I know why Dave really avoided Colon before.

The Panama Canal 'Yacht Club' is living on borrowed time. Everyone expects that eventually the port operations will force them out. So the yacht club facilities have been allowed to decline. The docks are OK but the building is old and dirty.

The facility has been totally surrounded by the industrial shipping operations.

The Front of PCYC, Container Terminal in the Background

We currently have a ship just across the canal that is unloading powdered cement. They drop a big scoop into the hold and bring it up and across into the back of an open semi truck. The wind has been blowing from the ship directly toward the yacht club. So EVERYTHING is coated with a layer of cement dust. I have never seen Soggy Paws so dirty. It is driving Dave crazy.

Dave Working on a Project in the Yard

Also, with the wind blowing from the docks, yesterday we got a large slug of diesel fuel down in our corner of the marina. It was a large spill... or someone flushing their bilges. No one seems to care here.

And did I mention the dump? The Colon dump is nearby. It's not too bad except when it catches fire. Then a stinky smoke hangs over all of downtown Colon and the marina. It was on fire last night.

And the crime? The Colon bus station is only about 2 blocks away, but its not safe to walk there. In the area along where you'd walk is lined with apartment building that in the States would be called slums. Everyone has anecdotes about cruisers getting mugged, robbed, and at least one guy was knifed 17 times. We take a taxi. At $1 it's reasonable (or $10/hour to take you around town).

All that said, the facility is convenient for transiting the Canal and for provisioning. It is only a $1 taxi ride to get to several huge grocery stores. And of course being able to order stuff from Panama City and the States via Marine Warehouse is very useful.

But I can't wait to get out of here!!

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Thursday, September 04, 2008
Official Panama Canal Transit Date: September 12

Well, we have it. An official date for our Panama Canal Transit. We will leave Colon the evening of September 12, and do our up-locking during the late hours of the 12th. We stay overnight on a mooring in Gatun Lake, and then lock down to Balboa on the 13th.

Yesterday our agent, Tito, took us down to the ACP (Authority Canal de Panama) office and we registered Soggy Paws with the ACP. After registering and scheduling the measurement, Tito got us in to the Canal Operations Room. This is where the guys that actually control the traffic at the Colon end of the canal operate. They have a control tower view of the port and the beginning of the Canal, and an electronic status board of where all the ships are (probably using AIS). We got to meet the head guy, Captain Federico Cockburn, whose official title is Senior Canal Port Captain. He gave us a tour of the control room.

Dave in the Canal Operations Room with Captain Federico

Then the measurer came to the docks to do the official measurement.

Dave thought Soggy Paws was a shade over 50 feet, from the tip of the bowsprit to the aft end of the dinghy davits/solar panel arch. We were anticipating getting hit with the 'over 50 feet' fee, which is $250 more than the 'under 50 feet' fee. We had contemplated disassembling the arch, but decided it was too much work (not just the structure but the wiring for the solar array, the radar, the anchor light, etc).

We were pleasantly surprised to find that we measured out at a few inches under 50 feet.

The measurer is also supposed to inspect and make sure that we had the required 4 125-foot lines, and appropriate fenders. However, all we had to do was wave Tito's receipt at him, and he checked the box that said 'inspected'. Tito will furnish the lines and fenders on the day of our transit, and be responsible for getting them back after the transit. He is well known at the ACP, and one of the reasons we chose to use him, rather than try to do it all ourselves 'on the cheap'.

After about an hour of paperwork and discussion with the measurer, we had our official ACP Number.

The next step was to go pay the fee at the bank. They made a credit card impression that INCLUDED the $891 damage deposit. They hold this credit open until you actually complete your transit, and then close out the transaction without the damage deposit (hopefully). This process is much easier now with credit cards than it used to be with cash transactions.

Here are the fees we paid for Panama:

Panama Canal Fees
- Transit for vessel < 50 feet $500
- TVI Inspection (Measurement) $54
- Security Charge $55
- Buffer (Damage Deposit) $891
- Tito's Service Fee $50
- Taxi (ACP visit, bank, etc) $20
- Line Rental (4 125-foot lines) $60
- Fender Rental (10 fenders) $30
- Agro/Health Inspection $17
- Linehandler Fees (if any) $110 per person

Customs Fees
- Cruising Permit for Panama $69
- Passport Stamps $10 per person $20
- International Zarpe (to leave) $20

We think we have 3 friends coming from the States to do line handling, and are looking for the required 4th line handler from the cruising community locally. Hopefully we won't have to PAY for a line handler, but we've already had offers from the local dock hands.

After 6pm on the day we completed the paperwork, we called the ACP scheduler for our transit date. Though I think we could have gotten through earlier, we asked for a date of Friday, September 12th, because we have friends flying in to help with the transit, and they don't arrive til the 11th.

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

The Panama Canal has webcams on the main locks. We will be passing through Gatun Lock, southbound, on the evening of Friday, Sep 12, and through Miraflores Lock, southbound, on the morning of Saturday, Sep 13.

Here's the link to the Panama Canal webcams page. Maybe you can see us transit. We won't get specific times until the day before, and as soon as we get them, we'll post what we know.

Background information on the canal is better found at the Panama Canal Wikipedia Link

A great history of the Panama Canal is The Path Between the Seas. You can order a used copy at for under $10, or probably find it at the library. Very fascinating, both the engineering side of the construction and the international politics at the time.

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Tuesday, September 02, 2008
Goodbye Nicki, Goodbye Infini, Goodbye San Blas
I have been having email-to-the-blog problems, so haven't been doing updates regularly. The previous 2 posts are old, I've just resent them.

We put Nicki and friend Phil on the plane from Porvenir last Wednesday. We had a great time and I think they did too. It was especially nice to have Mike and Sue's son Ty visiting on s/v Infini at the same time. The kids had some fun together without the old folks. It was a nice visit, but we were all ready for them to leave. They started talking about driving from the airport directly to a hamburger joint 2 days before they left! I'll get some pics posted soon.

We spent a few days lounging in the 'Swimming Pool' with Infini and about 10 other boats there. We took a couple of trips out to the Grottoes, showing others where they were. On the last visit, I accidentally put my hand down on a Scorpion Fish and got a really bad sting. Fortunately, Mike on Infini is a doctor and gave us some invaluable advice. (get her back to the boat immediately, take some Benadryl, and soak in hot water, start antibiotics). It hurt like heck for a few hours, but the hot
water soak (and a couple of Advil and a shot of rum) subdued the pain pretty quickly. My hand was very swollen for about 24 hours and then gradually returned to normal. It looks normal now, but still hurts a little. The 2 punctures on the palm just under the two middle fingers are looking OK. (Thanks Mike and Sue!)

Infini left the San Blas for Cartagena 2 days ago, and we left yesterday headed in the other direction... for Colon. We arrived this afternoon at the Panama Canal Yacht Club.

As we entered the breakwater at Colon, Dave said "Say goodbye to the Atlantic Ocean... we won't be seeing it again for a long time." Snif

We plan to go through the Canal to the Pacific about Sept 15. More details later when we have them.

It's a little scary contemplating the jump. Nobody else seems to be moving much this time of year, so we feel we are leaving all our friends behind. We know virtually nothing about the weather patterns or the radio schedules on the other side, and certainly will have a hard time getting used to the 10-15 foot tides. I'm sure we'll figure it all out, and find some new friends. But we do have a little anxiety over the change.

We'll be in internet contact til at least the 11th of Sep. (Anxiously watching a string of hurricanes zero in on our home in Florida).


Saturday, August 30, 2008
Stung by a Scorpionfish!
We went snorkeling for the 3rd time at 'The Grottoes' in the East Holandes of San Blas. While we were fooling around in the cave area, I was treading water, talking with Dave, and accidentally put my hand down on a Scorpionfish.

At first I thought the feeling in the palm of my hand was just from a sharp rock, but as the pain lingered, I started looking around for something else. It took a couple of minutes of looking around before I finally discovered this well-camoflaged Scorpionfish sitting on the top of the rocks where I'd just been hanging out waiting for Dave.

Do you see it? (if not, see next picture down)

When I first spied the fish, the dorsal fin was up, and that's probably what I touched. I could clearly see two puncture wounds on the palm of my hand, one under the 2nd finger and one under the 3rd finger.

Fortunately, Mike on s/v Infini was snorkeling with us, and he is a doctor. Though I was disinclined to leave everyone and go back to the boat (Dave and I were the leaders of the expedition out to the Grottoes). Mike told Dave to get me back ASAP and administer Benadryl and watch for signs of heart problems or shock. It still only felt like a bee sting, so when Dave left the decision to me, I almost told Dave I was fine.

But we finally decided to head back right away. Good thing! By the time we got to the boat (about a 15 minute dinghy ride away) I was in severe pain, and my hand was starting to swell. Dave anxiously watched for signs of more serious problems. We were both glad that we'd spent the extra money on DAN Emergency Evacuation insurance, in case things got really serious.

I first took 2 Advil, then 2 Benadryl, as per Mike's advice. Then we started some hot water to soak my hand in. THEN we got out our various medical books and started looking for treatment issues. The pain was excruciating and I was having trouble thinking rationally. I was glad Dave was there.

All the books we had confirmed Mike's advice, that the best treatment was to clean the wound, remove any visible spines, soak in hot water to 60-90 minutes, watch for signs of shock. See DAN's advice.

Mike also recommended a preventative course of antibiotics (Cipro), since we're out in the boonies away from medical attention. We are well stocked with Cipro, so I started taking those twice a day.

My hand continued swelling but within about an hour, the hot water soaks and the Advil had diminished the pain significantly. My hand was so swollen I couldn't make a fist.

Above, my swollen hand on the left side. It looks a funny color because it's been soaking in hot water for an hour.

By the next morning the swelling was mostly gone. The wounds still looked clean. The pain was mostly gone. (But even now, 5 days later, the hand is still painful around the joints and the tendons of the two fingers).

I consider myself lucky and will be more careful in the future where my hand goes down. We have saved the DAN web page about stings to our Medical folder on our computer, and also ordered a copy of the book Dangerous Marine Creatures - A Field Guide for Medical Treatment.

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Friday, August 22, 2008
Playing in the San Blas
We've been so busy having fun that I haven't done a blog post in about a week.

We motored all the way to the San Blas, and have had to motor around wherever we go. The wind has been pretty much 'variable at 5 knots or less' the whole time.

We have mostly been hanging out in "The Swimming Pool"... the nice shallow sandy bay enclosed on all sides with reef and palm-studded sandy islands. We have been doing a major snorkeling trip every day, both sightseeing and hunting. Dave has speared a few snapper but the pickings are pretty slim around here these days.

We have yet to be offered any more crabs. But fortunately the freezer is well-stocked with other good stuff.

We have been hanging out with our friends Mike and Sue on Infini ( Their son Ty is visiting them--taking a break from graduate studies in The Netherlands. We also met another boat out here with kids... White Magic, a Catana 47 catamaran. This is a nice Canadian family who have just bought the boat. They are still exploring the systems on their boat and planning their final escape. This time they only had 2 weeks to spend, and so just left yesterday to go back to Shelter Bay to leave the boat and go back to Canada. But their 3 girls helped round out a nice group of young kids to hang out together in Paradise.

s/v Blue Sky has been bringing a volleyball net ashore every day and inviting the cruisers for a late afternoon volleyball game. It's a nice way to get off the boat, socialize some, and get some exercise. We have broken out our 2 inflatable kayaks, and between the dinghy, swimming ashore, and the kayaks, everyone can come and go easily.

We had a couple of days of really nice sunny weather, with almost no wind. It's great for snorkeling outside the reef, but a little hot in the afternoons! But yesterday a tropical wave approaching from the east, and the ITCZ approaching from the south, converged on us, and we have had overcast and drizzle for 2 days. At this point we are cheering when we see a big black cloud. We could use the water, as we haven't recommissioned the water maker after laying it up while in Cartagena. But so far the heavy downpours have eluded us. Every big black cloud that approaches seems to part and go around us, and we just get a light drizzle.

Everyone in Cartagena whom we told that we were going to the San Blas kept asking us... "What about the lightning?". Apparently this time of year in this area has a reputation for lots of lightning. But these thunderstorms are nothing compared to the central Florida boomers we'd get every day in the summertime. There is very little wind (comparatively) and yes, there's lightning, but so far in "The Pool" there have been no reports of lighting problems. I think it's riskier to equipment to be at the dock in Club Nautico (in Cartagena) with the power surges there.

To all our Melbourne, Florida friends... we have no internet and no TV, so only have sketchy information about Tropical Storm Fay hanging out in Melbourne for 36 hours. Hope everyone's house, boats, and families are OK after all that wind and rain.

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Saturday, August 16, 2008
Isla Linton, Headed East
We had an uneventful trip from the Chagras to Isla Linton. Wind again too light to sail, so we motored all the way (35 miles).

Today we are headed 45 more miles east, to the beginning of the San Blas. We'll probably anchor in Chichime tonight.

There's thunder rumbling in the distance, and we've had one light rain already this morning. But I think it will burn off as the day goes on.


Friday, August 15, 2008
Nicki Aboard, In the Chagras River
Daughter Nicki and her boyfriend Phil arrived on schedule midday on Weds. They made their own way from the airport in Panama City to the Panama Canal Yacht Club (taxi-bus-taxi).

They flew on Copa ( direct from Orlando, arriving at 9:30 in the morning. That makes the logistics much easier than Spirit's arrival at 1am!

As soon as they were aboard and fed, we fueled up (a staggering $4.80/gallon) and headed for the Chagras River. It's amazing that only 10 miles from the nasty smelly city is this tropical rainforest paradise. Yesterday we took them to see Fort Lorenzo (at the entrance) and 'The Pools'.

Dave also managed a little fishing... still looking for the elusive tarpon that Mike on Gilana promised. We did see a few tarpon 'rolls', but only hooked a big jack. It was fun watching Dave fight this strong fish on his little pole with 12 pound test line... until the fish finally got tired of the fight and broke the line.

The Howler Monkeys are very active where we are anchored. Parrots and lots of birds. Dave and I saw 2 toucans yesterday while we were out fishing.

Today we head 35 miles east to Isla Linton, and the next day we hope to be in the San Blas.


Tuesday, August 12, 2008
Panama Canal Yacht Club

Wow we are actually here... in the Panama Canal. One of the 'crossroads of the world' for cruisers.

We managed to get dockage at the Panama Canal Yacht Club. The anchorage area, called "The Flats" isn't very safe. And it's exposed to the wakes of the ships and the tugs and pilot boats roaring around in the channel.

This time of year it is really dead here. All the people with plans to cross the Pacific this year are long gone. Since it is hurricane season up off the Pacific Coast of Central America, all the Californians are hunkered down somewhere for hurricane season (at least all the sane ones). There are still a few boats from the Eastern Caribbean dashing west, but not many. The Caribbean hurricane season is starting to come into full swing.

So, the Panama Canal Yacht Club seems pretty sleepy.

It's not a nice place. It is old and unkept. The water around us smells like old septic tanks. It is surrounded by major shipping docks... cranes, large ships, and stacks of containers. The people running the Canal Zone have been trying to shut the yacht club down for years... it occupies valuable waterfront space that could become another container terminal. So everyone knows it is living on borrowed time.

Outside the gates of the yacht club, we understand it's a war zone. Countless people have told us, "Whatever you do, don't walk anywhere. Even if it's only a couple of blocks, take a taxi." Too many cruisers have been accosted and mugged in the area just outside the gates (stabbed, shot, robbed, etc). I don't think this is unique to Panama...Just about any shipping docks in any major city in the world is the same... they just usually don't have a yacht club full of gringos in the middle of it.

We will only be here for 2 days... long enough to make a big grocery run and pick up Nicki and Phil. Then we're off to give them 2 weeks of adventure. We'll return in early September to actually make the canal transit.

We think we now know enough about the process of transiting the Canal to try to set a tentative date. We've got two friends who plan to fly down and make the trip with us in mid-September.



AIS stands for Automatic Identification System.

It is a relatively new thing on big ships, where a little black box transmits ship information on a VHF frequency. The information includes the following:

- Ship Name and Radio Callsign and MMSI
- Current Location
- Ship Type (Cargo, etc)
- Ship Dimension info (L,W,D,Dr)
- Current Speed and Direction
- Destination
- Status (anchored, underway)

This gets broadcast every few minutes and anyone with a receiver and a little software can pick it up and plot the other ships that are near you. It is mandatory for ships over a given size, and will eventually mandatory for most ships. It is currently not required (and maybe not desired) for yachts. A full-function unit costs a lot of money (over $1000). But you can buy a receiver only for a couple of hundred dollars.

We bought ours from Smart Radio when we were back in the States in June. Dave just now got it hooked up and working last night.

I had fun today playing with the programs that receive the data and plot on a chart or on a 'radar display' (see pic above). I've been playing with Ship Plotter (trialware) and Sea Clear (free).

It is a fantastic tool... significantly better than Radar for seeing other ships while at sea. With our mast-top VHF antenna, we can even 'see' ships on the other side of the Panama Canal, abourt 40 miles away (over land!).

I'll do a full detailed report in our Electronics section on the website soon.


Monday, August 11, 2008
Isla Linton, Panama
We had a nice visit in Isla Linton with Mike and Sue and son Ty from Infini.

We last saw them in February in Honduras. They are headed out for the San Blas, and we hope to hook up with them again when we get there.

Mike and Sue had been in Linton before, so they showed us around. We first went to visit with Roger and Bennie, ex-pats who have a really nice place on the bay there. They are a rescue center for sloths, and have several sloths as pets. We got to hold and play with them. They are really cute (but weird) creatures.

We also visited Panamarina, a marina in the next bay over that is all moorings. We've been hearing people for months say they were leaving their boat in Panamarina, but hadn't ever stopped in for a look. To get there from Linton, you take a long dinghy ride through the mangrove tunnels. While we were on the dinghy ride, it started raining, and it never quit raining the whole day.

We also tried to go see the spider monkeys on the island. They are reported to be very agressive if you don't give them enough food. So we took several bananas and crackers. But the monkeys were smarter than we were... they had enough sense to stay in out of the rain. We never saw them. But we did get a great shot of the Florida State Research Center sign on the falling down building (just like their football team).

Finally, we went ashore for dinner at Han's little restaurant. Still raining, but we had a nice meal and drinks.

We kept telling Ty that it doesn't always rain like this.

Both of us got up early this morning... Infini and Hiatus heading east, Soggy Paws headed west.


Saturday, August 09, 2008
Big Crabs in Chichime Last Night
Chichime Anchorage Position: 09-35.25N 78-52.84W

Yesterday afteroon as planned, we left the Holandes and moved around to Chichime, which is one of the western-most anchorages in the San Blas.

We had skipped this place on the way to the San Blas in March, because the anchorage had so many boats in it. It is a good anchorage, with nearly 360 degree protection, and the usual 'first stop' for boats arriving from the west. It has a deep lagoon between two picturesque islands, and surrounded by reef. We were surprised to only see one other boat there when we arrived.

The guidebook says that there is 'no permanent settlement' here, so we were also a little surprised to see all the Kuna here. There are at least 6 or so huts scattered across the two islands. It's probably cooler and less buggy out here during the summer months. And of course it is lobster season.

We had barely gotten the anchor secured when we were visited by an orderly procession of Kuna ulu's (dugout canoes). One of the ulu's was selling crabs for $3 apiece. Now these aren't small blue crabs... they are giant coral crabs, with a 'wingspan' (claw to claw outstretched) of about 18". Just one crab makes 1-2 meals for 2 people. We bought two of them. We took some great pics of trying to get the live crabs into the pot of boiling water.

Dave Wrestling the Crab Into the Pot

Another boat offered fresh lobster. Dave bought 3 'slipper lobster' for $5. He declined the smaller 'langosta' (basically, lobster shorts). I told him later that we should have bought them all, and 'liberated' the small ones, if they're still alive.

One of the boats asked us to charge his cell phone overnight, which we were glad to do.

We gave the lobster boat, who had 2 kids in it, 2 4-packs of Oreo cookies. Of course within 10 minutes we had 3 more boatloads of kids asking for cookies. Dave told them we were out, but we'd bring them more when we came back in a week.

Kuna girl delighted with our Oreos

The last boat was an old man asking for cooking oil. We gave him a cupful in a container.

We were also visited by Venancio, one of the more famous 'Male Mola Makers'. We already have about 4 exquisite molas by Venancio, but told him we'd bring the kids back to buy one from him.

The weather here has been really unsettled... overcast and stormy looking. We had quite a bit of thunder, some lightning, and threatening clouds last night. But it finally came thru during dinner and just rained a little. There doesn't seem to be much wind in these thunderstorms... not like the 45 knot gusts we get in Florida.

We feasted on crab for dinner, and cooked up the rest and put them in the freezer.

We got going early this morning enroute for Linton, a 45 mile trip. We plan to meet our friends on Infini there for a day. We last saw them in Honduras.

Of course since we are moving west, the wind has been out of the west for 2 days. There is a low above us causing a counter-clockwise circulation in the wind patterns. But even if the wind was in a good direction, it's so light that we couldn't sail anyway. So we are again motoring.

We've been dragging a fishing line everywhere we go, and have had some luck. On our trip from Colombia, Dave caught a nice tuna. We had 'seared tuna' for dinner that night. Today we have already caught 3 fish, but threw them all back, two bonito, and one big barracuda.

On Monday we head for Colon, where we think/hope we have a slip at the Panama Canal Yacht Club for a few days. They don't take reservations, but it's a slow time of year, and Infini told them we were coming. Colon is not a very nice city, and the Yacht Club is the only safe place to hang out in a boat. We need to provision and collect Nicki and Phil when they arrive on the 13th. Then we'll head out for the San Blas again.


Friday, August 08, 2008
Mileage Update
Miles Traveled So Far in 2008: 1,829
Miles Traveled since leaving home May 25, 2007: 3,065

Total Nights: May 25 - Aug 7 439
Nights Spent On Passage: 11
Nights Spent on Anchor: 162
Nights Spent in a Marina: 266
- 'Traveling Inland': 62
- In the U.S.: 50

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Thursday, August 07, 2008
Back in the San Blas
We just put the anchor down in the East Holandes, after an uneventful 30 hour trip.

We managed to sail for just 2 hours. The wind was mostly in our favor us, but too light for the wave conditions. It has been blowing pretty hard NE of here, and the swells are pretty big. So the sails flop too much as the boat rolls, with big seas and light winds.

We plan to be in Linton by Saturday or Sunday, and in Colon by Monday. Daughter Nicki flies in to Panama City on Weds.

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Leaving Baru for the San Blas
Motorsailing west, Current Position: 10-04.9 76-03.8

We had a nice 2 days in the 'Shalom Bay' anchorage of Baru (see waypoints below), anchored with friends on Valentina, Que Linda, and Morgan. Plus our new friends Robert and Carmen, from 'Crow's Nest' (a house they are building ashore).

Lunch in the Water

We took the dinghy trip to the town of Baru, which looked like a very poor version of a Bahamas town (poor, low-lying, mostly dark faces).

We had a nice visit up at 'Crow's Nest' on the hill with Robert and Carmen. Robert had just gotten a brand new computer with a new cellular internet card. He didn't even know how to turn it on. I helped him get it set up and hooked up to the internet. (Hail Crow's Nest on Ch 67)

Helping Robert With His New Computer

The Killer View from Crow's Nest

We also had a fun lunch eating in the water at the beach at the entrance to the bay. The locals have picnic areas set up in the water. You sit on plastic chairs and eat (with the water up to your waist). It was loads of fun.

We could easily have stayed a week, but need to get going for Panama.

Baru Entry Waypoints

CBARUa 10-07.90 N 75-43.61 W South Approach 'a'
CBARUb 10-08.39 N 75-43.36 W South Approach 'b'
CBARUc 10-10.29 N 75-41.71 W South Approach 'c'
CBARU1 10-10.78 N 75-40.48 W Beginning of Markers
CBARU2 10-10.54 N 75-40.39 W
CBARU3 10-10.32 N 75-40.36 W
CBARU4 10-10.09 N 75-40.30 W
CBARU5 10-10.01 N 75-40.25 W
CBARU6 10-09.74 N 75-40.15 W
CBARU7 10-09.82 N 75-39.46 W Anchorage

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Sunday, August 03, 2008
Lots and Lots of Pics Posted

OK, all you armchair travelers, I have spent most of the last 3 days uploading all our photos from January to now to our Picasa photo album, including all of the San Blas. We have taken at least a few photos in every place we stopped.

Enjoy! Our Photo Album

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Tuesday, May 20, 2008
Headed for Colombia Today
Location: Mulutupu, off the airport at 08-56.321N 77-43.938W

We just put our friend Jim on the plane this morning from Mulutupu. As he put it, it's the 'travel schedule from hell'. He won't arrive at his house in Satellite Beach until about noon tomorrow. He has a whole day to kill in Panama City, and flies out on the Spirit Air flight from Panama City at 1am, arriving in Ft. Lauderdale about 5am. But he's looking forward to having a few hours to spend today looking around the Panama Canal and some of the old parts of Panama City.

We are planning on leaving here, about noon today, for an overnight trip to the Rosarios Islands, about 25 miles off Cartagena. We'll spend 2 nights in the Rosarios, getting the boat ready for the 'big city' (things like pickling the watermaker, etc). Then we'll be back in internet-land. (yay).

We did get about 2 hrs of internet in Sapzurro, but a big thunderstorm the night we got there took out the town's electricity and internet connection. They got the electricity going pretty quickly, but the internet never came back before we left. :(

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Sunday, May 18, 2008
Bahia Carreto, Lower San Blas
Catching up... we were in Carreto on May 15.

Anchorage: 08-46.182N 77-33.430W

We left Puerto Escoses about noon and headed south. Our original destination was Puerto Perme, a tiny enclosed anchorage very near Obaldia, the port we needed to stop in the next day to check out of Panama. It was kind of a blustery day... overcast with winds and seas a little higher than the 0-5 kts we'd been used to.

As we read the guidebooks for Puerto Perme, it looked like a nice protected anchorage. But the books said it was a one-boat anchorage. If we got there and someone else was already there, we'd be kinda out of luck. So, as we passed Bahia Carreto, on the way to Perme, we took a close look.

The official anchorage per the Bauhaus guidebook is in the NW corner of the bay, near the Kuna village. But we had notes from friends about a nice anchorage in the SE corner of the bay. The winds seemed to be blowing straight in the bay, with big ocean rollers, so we weren't sure we'd find any good anchorage there. But looking thru the binocs, we could see 2 other boats in the SE anchorage, and they weren't rolling too badly. So we decided to check it out.

The two French flagged boats were tucked up behind a small reef and island near a nice long beach, far from the Kuna village. We sounded the area and made sure there was room for another boat. It looked pretty good, so we dropped the hook in about 10 feet, in pretty good sand.

We took the dinghy ashore on the beach and explored around. There were a couple of Kuna huts--the kind that are only part-time occupied. And we found a large area where they were 'farming' the coconuts, bananas, mangoes, and maybe the land crabs. At the southernmost point on the beach, we also found a fresh water 'stream'.

The beach here, while pretty, was totally covered in ocean flotsam--mostly plastics in all shapes and sizes. It looks like Bahia Carreto is uniquely sited to collect all the trash from the entire Caribbean (combination of winds and currents).

On our way ashore, we spoke briefly to one of the two French boats. They had been in to the village, a very long (2 mile) dinghy ride across the rough bay. Late in the day, they loaded up in a dinghy, and headed to the village--obviously for dinner. We were amazed that they'd make the trip across that windswept bay in a dinghy after dark, on the return trip. But they did eventually get back safely.


Saturday, May 17, 2008
Puerto Escoses, San Blas Islands, Panama
lAnchorage: 08-50.142N 77-38.26W May 13-14, 2008

After picking our friend Jim Yates up at the Mulutupu airstrip at 7:30am, we had a quick breakfast and headed further south.

Our original plan was to go nearly all the way to the Panama/Colombia border the first day, and then dawdle on the way back to fly Jim out of Mulutupu in a week. This is only a total of 60 miles round trip, so entirely doable in a week's 'cruise'. But we heard some other boats talking on the VHF--the first we'd heard in about a week--and decided to stop off and join them at Puerto Escoses.

Puerto Escoses is the site of the Scottish Settlement, originally called New Edinburgh. 5 ships and 2400 people landed to make a settlement in 1698. A year later, one ship with 300 people limped home, the settlement a failure, most of the settlers dead of malnutrition, yellow fever, malaria, and various other tropical diseases. The expedition organizers had sold shares in the 'company' they organized, and a great deal of common and wealthy Scots had invested in the project. Its failure made a
significant dent in Scottish finances for a long time.

Stopping there on this day turned out to be a really good idea. We met up with the other boats, Akka and Raven. Both had recently left Cartagena, headed for the San Blas. Akka had already made friends with "Mr. Green", a Kuna on the small island near the anchorage. Mr. Green is trying to learn English, and seeing their American flag flying, had come by to practice his English (and sell the gringos 'pulpa' (octopus)). Akka asked Mr. Green if he would guide us to the ruins, if we couldn't find
them ourselves.

We first went 'bushwacking' on our own, starting from the beach just in from the anchorage. There was a clear path leading off to where we believed Fort Saint Andrews to have once been. After we wandered around following several paths in the swampy area for an hour or two, finding nothing that looked like remains of civilization, we gave up.

The next day, Mr. Green came by with his buddy in a ulu, and we followed them to the ruins. The first place he took us was where the Scots had cut a canal into the rock, and the remains of the moat around the fort. The canal was impressive, about 10' wide and 25' long, cut into the rock. Since it was done in 1698, it was probably mostly cut by hand. The 'moat' was still discernable in the thick vegetation. But we saw nothing else that looked fort-like.

Next they took us to the spot where the Kit Kap expedition left a concrete marker in the early 1970's. There was some barely discernable writing on the marker that identified it.

Finally, they took us to a site where a Doctor Anderson did some archeological digging. Our guide told us that they found musket balls, cannon balls, small coins, pottery, etc. They said they had dug 3-4 exploratory holes. He only took us to one of the dig sites, as the others were in the muddy area.

At one point when we were walking, he indicated that we were passing the place where the dead were buried. But he didn't stop, and we never saw any physical evidence of it.

I did take my GPS so we could document where the stuff was we found.

Start of canal: 08-50.485N 77-38.251W
End of canal: 08-50.475N 77-38.238W
Small Beach: 08-50.351N 77-38.301W
Monument: 08-50.350N 77-38.357W
Cemetary Area: 08-50.351N 77-38.349W
Excavation: 08-50.408N 77-38.316W

After visiting the canal by dinghy, we dinghied to the 'small beach', left our dinghies there, and then literally bushwhacked to the Monument, thru the Cemetary Area, and to the Excavation. Mr. Green and his buddy both had machetes, and did quite a bit of whacking to make a trail for us. Otherwise we'd have never found it.

Mr. Green also told us that recently the British Ambassador to Panama had visited, and there were discussions about making the site into a park or monument.

Mr. Green's first name is Plaxadis, and he normally lives in the Kuna town of Mulutupu, or on the little island just south of the anchorage in Puerto Escoses. He is the son of a saila (chief) in Mulutupu. He said if anyone else wanted to be guided to the ruins, they should ask for him in Mulutupu or at the island. Apparently he spends 3 weeks on, 3 weeks off, alternating between Mulutupu and farming in Puerto Escoses.


Thursday, May 15, 2008
Isla Pinos, San Blas, Panama
Anchorage: 08-59.924N 077-45.661W

The Kuna Village at Isla Pinos

We anchored a little further out from where the guidebook showed the anchor. Dave was worried having no wind and bugs closer in. Though there was a nice little sand bottom spot where it looked the normal anchorage was, ours was pretty good, too, and we had nice wind.

While motoring around looking for an anchor spot, we found a reefy mound in about 7' of water. We ended up anchoring about 250' away from that spot, so when we jumped in to check the anchor, we also snorkeled over to look at the reef. After looking it over pretty good, Dave noticed that some of the rocks looked very much like 'ballast stones'. And the mound looked about right for the length and breadth of an old ballast pile. The 'wreck' looked pretty old, and there were no tell-tale pieces to help date it... we found no anchors, canon, engine, or anything, just a ship-sized pile of ballast stones. We speculate that it may have been stripped and scuttled there...the old wooden ships would eventually become too wormy and leaky, and would just be abandoned.

We spent all of the next day in the same spot. Our friend Jim Yates was arriving the next day via airplane, and we needed to do some cleaning and re-arranging to accommodate him. I did laundry, made bread, and sewed 'door drops' (privacy curtains between the forward and main cabin, and between the aft and main cabin). We had removed the heavy oak doors and left them in Satellite Beach, and I hadn't yet gotten around to doing that 'project'. (aha! another one off my list). Dave re-arranged the 'project tubs' in the V-berth, so Jim had some place to sleep.

We were visited by the saila (village chief)'s representative and given a receipt for the $8 fee. Dave said we'd be back in 2 months and asked if it would still cover us then. He said "si, si" (yes yes), but I'm not sure he really understood the question.

A Kuna in the Village Making a New Ulu

Because we'd already paid the fee at Pinos, we opted to stay a second night there, rather than moving on to Mulutupu, right by the airport. We heard the Mulutupu fee was $15, and didn't want to pay that too.

We had seen the French boat anchored near us gathering sea urchins and opening them. Sherry remembered having 'sea urchin roe' in high school (the Marine Biology teacher). So she gathered a few to try it out. Each sea urchin rendered about a half a teaspoon of stuff. It tasted fishy and salty. Yum!?

Sea Urchins

So the next morning we got up at 5:30am, and motored down to just off the airstrip in Mulutupu.

Jim arrived right on schedule at 7:30am, after flying in to the international airport at Panama City on Spirit Air at 1am the night before. I had jokingly told him if he ran into a vegetable stand between his arrival at 1am and his departure at 6am, to please buy us green veggies. Neither of us knew that the puddle-jumper airplane left out of a different airport, and the little airport was locked up at night. So Jim ended up hanging out in an all night "Super Rey" (the largest grocery store in Panama). He arrived with an armful of veggies...broccoli, lettuce, celery, and cucumbers. Damn! I should have also told him that I was dying for a steak, too. But whoda thunk that he'd be in the all-night grocery store!

We spent Jim's next to last night aboard at Pinos, and went in to the village to let Jim have a 'mola' experience. Jim took some great pictures of the village (above and below).

A Kuna Family Goes Visiting

The Typical Kuna Bathroom


Tuesday, May 13, 2008
Ustupu, San Blas Islands, Panama
Position: 09-07.74N 77-55.763

I think we are further south than I have ever been in my life. We are continuing another 30 miles south before we start heading back north.

The trip to Ustupu was another easy one... very little wind, just a large easy swell. Because it was only 5 miles, and part of that was protected by an outer reef, we opted not to put up the main and super-secure the dinghy, which of course we regretted later.

The town on Ustupu is on a small flat island and is just offshore. The anchorage is between the mainland and the island, in very protected water.

We anchored in 20' in very soft mud. We did our normal backing on the anchor, an 88-lb Delta, and it just kind of oozed along. We opted to leave it as is, and hope we didn't get any big winds during the night. The other option would be to retrieve the muddy anchor and switch out for a Danforth, which works better in the mud. A hot and muddy job. Since we haven't seen more than about 10 knots of wind in 2 months along the coast of Panama, it seemed a safe bet to just leave it as is.

There were 2 Colombian trading boats tied to the dock, so Dave went over and asked about buying diesel. They were more than happy to sell him 40 gallons for $3.75/gallon. (The going price when we left Bocas del Toro 2 months ago was $3.85). With an extra 40 gallons, we now have enough to motor everywhere we go (which it looks like we will have to do), and not sweat running dry before we make it to Cartagena.

We had a nice cool night, contrasted with the very hot night we'd spent the night before in Achutupu. We are not sure if the coolness was due to the small mountains just inland, or the big thunderstorms that threatened out at sea. But it was pleasant nonetheless.

At 5am thunder and lightning awakened us. Uh-oh, anchor not set well... thunderstorm... not good. But I quit worrying when the dim dawn light showed that the Utupuians were all setting out in their ulu's (dugout canoes) for the days work. If they had been expecting a 40-50kt thunderstorm, I'm sure they wouldn't be heading offshore fishing in a low leaky dugout. It did rain hard for a few minutes, but thankfully we got no wind.

In the morning, we went ashore to the town to try to buy some groceries. Ustupu is supposed to be the largest Kuna town, with about 8,000 people and an airstrip, so we were hopeful that we could find a largish store with some fresh goods. But it was weird. When we'd ask someone for a tienda to buy food, they didn't seem to understand us. It may be that here in this large town of Kunas, not many speak Spanish. We did get eventually directed to about 4 different very small stores, and 3 restaurants.
We were looking for bread (of any kind), fresh veggies (of any kind), potato chips, and eggs. We eventually were able to locate potato chips in small bags, at a restaurant. That was it.

If we had wanted to, we could have bought rice, canned sardines, powdered milk, and saltine crackers. But we have all of those. We probably could have bought fish and lobster. But we didn't need any of the former and won't buy any of the latter.

In addition, because we went ashore, we had to pay an $8 'anchoring fee'. We also opted to pay an optional $3 'water fee', so we could jug some water.

Yes, I know. We JUST commissioned the water maker. The last time we ran it, about 5 gallons into the run, the high pressure brine water suddenly dropped pressure. Worried about damaging something, Dave shut it down without trying to fully diagnose the problem... we had only planned a short run because we had to get moving while the light was good. The backflush (rinsing the RO membranes with fresh water to deter bacteria growth) took the 5 gallons we made, so our net was zero. The next 2 days
we anchored in places too close to town or a muddy river (so the sea water wasn't clean enough to run it). So our choice was to jug water while we had the opportunity, or HOPE the watermaker problem is a minor one that Dave can fix. Dave spent 3 hours doing 4 runs with out 20-gallons worth of jugs...

There is a largish-looking river on the mainland just in from the town. There was a lot of traffic in ulus back and forth from town to the river. We never got a chance to go explore the river.


Sunday, May 11, 2008
Achutupu, San Blas, Panama
We anchored yesterday off the Kuna town of Achutupu, only about 4 miles south of Islandia. It took us 3 tries to get anchored. The water is either 40 feet deep or 4 feet deep, and we had trouble finding a spot in between that the anchor would hold well. As we get farther south and east, the bottom is less sandy and more muddy (the islands are closer in shore and there are many rivers nearby). We finally found a sand and grass mound that was about 8 feet and got the anchor well set.

Soon after anchoring, 3 boat loads of small children paddled up in ulu's (heavy wooden dugout canoes with wooden paddles). They wanted to know if we wanted molas (No gracias, yo ya tengo muchas molas). I chatted with them for a few minutes in Spanish. My 'small talk' skills are not very good even in English, and it's much more difficult with the language barrier. I can hold long conversations in my head when no one is around, but when I'm sitting there trying to think of something to say, I can't
remember a single word of Spanish. But I did learn that their mother was in the town and their father worked in Panama City. We exchanged names, but most of their names are nearly unpronounceable and I have trouble remembering 'Jane' 5 minutes later.

The porthole for our galley is right at eye-level for a person in an ulu, so they all got a kick out of looking in the window, giggling, pointing, and talking to each other in Kuna.

Finally, they asked if I had any sweets. Fortunately we keep a small jar for just this kind of situation. I gave them each a sugar free chocolate candy, and told them not to tell the other kids in town.

We also had 2-3 ulus come by trying to sell us lobster. Dave is getting pretty irritated that none of them know (or care) that it is closed season. He's given up trying to explain in his broken Spanish the complicated concept of conservation and why it is important that they follow the rules laid down by the Kuna Congreso. But we won't buy any. Especially the small ones, and they are almost always small these days. A cruising friend of ours confessed to buying lobster if they were still alive,
and 'liberating' them.

We found the '4-star Kuna Resort' described in the cruising guide (The Dolphin Lodge) and made reservations for dinner. At dinnertime, there were 10 guests of the hotel, in addition to us. We met a nice young Portugese woman who is staying at the lodge for 3 months as an internship for her degree in tourism (the teacher musta really LOVED her to exile her to Achutupu for 3 months!). She is not getting paid, but gets free room and board. She is the only one at the resort who speaks English, so
she was playing hostess at dinner. The guests were a couple of Germans, an American couple who said they were 'birders', and 3 youngish women who were European.

We had a nice dinner (though expensive for Panama)... it was complete with dessert and coffee/tea for $15pp. They offered lobster, crab, or fresh water lobster. I had the fresh water lobster, which were very much like crayfish but a little bigger than the normal crayfish size.

After dinner we were treated to a little bit of Kuna native dance, with 4 men and 4 women. The women (as is normal) were dressed in traditional dress, with a light wraparound skirt, a sash, a mola blouse, and a scarf on the head. The men were in baggy western-style shorts and shirtless. It was interesting, but somewhat amateurish. And narrated by a Portugese girl who didn't understand the dance, in poor English. But we enjoyed the whole thing.

Returning to the boat, we ended up having a little night from hell... no-see-ums, no wind, and a slight roll. We had left the boat closed up when we went in for dinner--both because of possible rain and possible intruders. So it was hot inside to begin with. It was almost too hot to sleep, and too buggy to go sleep in the cockpit. Fortunately we have good fans over the bed, and after lighting up a mosquito coil and spraying the screens with bug spray, and rolling up in our sheets, we were able
to get to sleep.

We were amazed to find here not one, but two airstrips. The two small airstrips are only about a mile apart, and each equipped with a building and a wind sock. When we asked why they had two airports, they told us that one was for the village of Achutupu and the other for Mamitupu, the village just to the south of Achutupu. Apparently the chiefs do not want the inhabitants of the two small towns to mix...maybe years ago there was bad blood between the villages, though it's hard to imagine the
sweet and quiet Kuna ever making war on anyone.


Saturday, May 10, 2008
Islandia, San Blas Islands, Panama

Late yesterday, we moved to Islandia, about a mile away from Aligandi, out by the reef. 09-13.47N 078-00.60W

It is a nice anchorage, pretty protected, and away from the town. It is also the former home of WWI pilot Johnnie Golf, who once worked for Al Capone. He spent his last years here hiding out from the Feds. We swam ashore on the island and found a few bricks, a concrete pad, and a rusted-out large tank that probably held water or fuel.

We were looking forward to dinner at one of the two hotels out here, but neither one has any guests right now. One offered to feed us, but the menu was expensive for Panama, and Dave said the restaurant was mostly enclosed and hot and airless. We're going to move to Achutupu today, where there is supposedly a 'five star hotel', so Dave can take me out to dinner. (Dave's getting tired of doing dishes. :)

Islandia Lodge

Near the end of the day we dinghied over to a small lagoon, Golandrina, on the mainland to do some tarpon fishing and have happy hour. The Bauhaus guide says that there are "big tarpon fish" here. Dave was anxious to hook a tarpon. Well we can tell you that after an hour of fishing there are no tarpon here. Not even a ripple on the water and no strikes. Maybe it is the wrong time of year for tarpon in Panama. Sherry participated in fishing by reading her book.

Last night we had our first ITCZ storm. The Inter Tropical Convergence Zone, a windless band of thunderstorms that sits roughly along the equator, moves a little north about this time of year (along with the sun), and I think we are right underneath it right now. Last night we had lightning all over, but fortunately very little wind. We did about 2 360's during the night, but never with more than about 5 knots of wind.

We are remote enough now that we've only seen one other cruising boat in 3 days. Most boats go direct from the western San Blas to Cartagena. The boat we saw passed by yesterday out in the channel. We tried hailing them on VHF but never raised them. Couldn't see the name or flag.

We do have some other cruising contact on the SSB nets... We actually listen in on 3-4 nets every morning, from 8am to 9:30am, including the Central American Breakfast Club, a ham net on 7083; the SW Caribbean Net on 6209 (mainly Bocas cruisers); the Panama Connection Net on 8107 (mainly San Blas cruisers); and the NW Caribbean Net on 6209 (NW Caribbean and offshore islands). We also sometimes check in on Ben's Net, a ham net on 14261 in the late afternoon. This schedule keeps us pretty busy!

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Aligandi, San Blas Islands, Panama
We traveled another 15 miles south and east to the village of Aligandi. We are anchored in 15 feet, right off the 'town dock', on the west side of the island (right where the anchor in the guidebook is placed). 09-13.57N 078-01.75W

We tried to sail, but the wind is so light and the seas so large, that the sails were just flogging as we rolled. So we took in the genoa and sheeted the main in tight on the centerline, and motored on. We were able to sail for a couple of miles when our course took us behind a reef and the seas were flat.

Looking at the GRIB files for the next week, I don't think we'll be doing much sailing (light and variable wind, and not much behind-the-reef on the rest of the trip SE to the border).

We dinghied into the village late yesterday to look around and try to find some groceries. The building ashore that looks like a school, turns out to be the hospital, which at this time has no patients, according to our guide. We were met at the dock by Duke (pronounced doo-kay), the local outboard motor mechanic, who offered to show us around. We told him we were looking for meat, vegetables, and potato chips. For the meat, he took us to a local Kuna restaurant, where we bought two more 'chicken
entero' for $6.75 each. They assured us they were alive this morning. Then to three different 'tiendas'. All had all the basics... flour, rice, canned sardines, powdered milk, etc. But no veggies and no potato chips. We were able to buy some bananas and plantains and great home made Kuna bread.

There are a few concrete structures on the island, but most are the typical wood stake and thatched roof huts. Duke told us that the generator runs between 6pm and 10pm, and even then, we only saw one or two lights on the island, other than the hospital complex. The hospital also had a big water pipe coming in from the mainland, to a big black plastic water storage tank. I don't think that the town has any plumbing, even the restaurant was using a 5-gal bucket of water for its water supply (this
is typical).

About halfway through the tour of the village, we were joined by a couple of small girls. They were very friendly and smiled up at us saying "'Mericans". Before I knew it, two of them had slipped their small hands in mine, and they insisted on holding my hand as we walked thru the town. It was pretty cute. They were at the toothless age, about 5 years old or so. Dave went off with the guide to pick up the chickens we had bought, and the girls and I played the game of 'what do you call that in
English'. They laughed at my Spanish and I laughed at their attempts to pronounce the unfamiliar English words.

We also played the game of 'take my picture'. I ended up with 4 or 5 kids standing and smiling for me, in various groupings. They would have me take the picture and then rush up to view it in the viewfinder.

I was really sorry that I didn't have a couple of candies in my pocket.

We have been using the Bauhaus Panama Cruising Guide waypoints for our trip, and they have been very good. Our regular chart has no detail for the area we will be traveling east of here, until we get more north along the coast of Colombia. So the guidebooks are invaluable. For the Bauhaus Guide, the author actually used satellite photos to chart the areas where the conventional charts do not cover. We use the Sea Clear navigation program with scanned in Bauhaus charts to keep track of where we
are on the computer. It is amazingly accurate.

In the morning, we took the dinghy up the river inshore of Aligandi. Usually this is a nice way to get a fresh water bath, do laundry, and see some animal life. We went all the way up the river as far as we could drag or paddle the dinghy, and never found any completely fresh water. It is the end of dry season, so maybe a little rain will produce a fresher river. We were able to collect some mangoes, floating in the river. All the huge mango trees are in full fruit right now, and dropping ripe
fruit into the river.

While going upriver, there was a lot of traffic in dugout canoes, going to and from their 'farms' up the river. We also saw several grave sites (little houses shading a grave). One site had so many graves that it looked like a little village.


Thursday, May 08, 2008
Snug Harbor, Headed Slowly for Colombia
Anchorage: 09-19.617N 078-15.127W

We left the 'comfort zone' of the Western San Blas yesterday and mostly sailed the 27 miles east and south to Snug Harbor. There is a Kuna town within sight, but the anchorage is several miles away from the town. We are anchored right next to another really cute little sandy island studded with palm trees.

As we move further east, the mainland gets more mountainous and rugged. There no roads out here. The only habitation is on the islands just offshore. The Kuna live on the islands, but have 'farms' on the mainland up the numerous small rivers. A farm will be roughly an acre plot with mango and avocado trees, occasionally a breadfruit tree, some corn, bananas, and a variety of veggies, etc. Sometimes coconuts. It is shared by a family or two, and someone paddles up the river daily to tend the
plot, and harvest what's ripening.

Several of the larger villages out here have airstrips left over from WW2, when the US had a presence here protecting the Canal. There is a daily early morning airplane flight that leaves from Panama City at 6am, and stops where ever there's an airstrip that someone wants to get to. I just saw the Air Panama plane headed back toward Panama City (at 7:30am).

Other than the airstrips, Colombian trading boats stop by, bringing diesel and gas, and Colombian goods, and going back with lobster (during the open season) and molas.

It is getting kind of expensive to cruise the San Blas, because every island charges an 'anchoring fee'. It wasn't too bad when the fee was $2-$5, but we were just this morning charged $10 for the privilege of anchoring overnight here.

An old Kuna guy paddled up in his 'ulu'. He didn't seem to speak much Spanish (and certainly not English). But he had a typed piece of paper in Spanish, with a stamped seal and a signature that authorizes him to collect the $10 anchoring fee for visiting yachts. I think they collect a similar fee from people flying in, also. He handed me a hand-written receipt. Typically the fee is good for all the islands and anchorages in the area covered by the town (sometimes hard to figure out), for a month.
I might have been able to negotiate him down a little for only 'just passing thru', but we didn't seem to be communicating very well at all, and I'm not a good negotiator. (Dave is still asleep).

As we move further east and south, the outlying barrier reef drops away, and our passages are pretty much 'open ocean' conditions. But there are a few islands and reefy areas closer to the coast, and those we can pass behind, we do. But the water is not as clear in close to the coast... too many rivers dumping muddy water into the ocean. So it's a bit nerve-wracking to be navigating reefy areas in less than perfect conditions. Especially with very poor charts.

We have improved our e-Navigation here immeasurably by taking advantage of a shareware program called Sea Clear. This program was written by a cruiser who just didn't want to shell out the big bucks for a commercial program. And it allows you to scan in any paper chart or chartlet, add navigation reference points, and then navigate with it. Our friends on Gilana then took the most popular cruising guide, by Eric Bauhaus, and scanned in all the chartlets for San Blas. This is what we've been navigating
with, and it is 98% spot-on. Sea Clear also supports AIS input, and we plan to add AIS to Soggy Paws when we fly back to Florida for a brief visit in June.

We also got a more accurate version of the raster charts from another cruiser. What we were using were dated from a 1982 survey and had us sailing over islands and reefs all the time (on the electronic chart, not physically). What we got was a 2001 version that is much more accurate out in the Western San Blas, but still fairly inaccurate in the lesser-traveled Eastern San Blas.

I have been using a program called Franson GPSGate to 'pipe' the one physical GPS input into my computer into 3 different programs, so I can run them all at the same time, to compare their navigation accuracy, and/or to take advantage of different features of the programs. So we regularly run the Nobeltec Visual Navigation Suite program and Sea Clear at the same time. Sea Clear, because of the guidebook charts, is best for the close in work, and Nobeltec is easier to see the bigger picture and
do the longer range navigation. Though I was leery to add a program that might de-stabilize my rock-solid primary navigation computer, Franson GPSGate is rock-solid too, and I have had no problems with it.


Tuesday, May 06, 2008
East Holandes Snorkeling
We had about a week sitting at the East Holandes "Swimming Pool" anchorage, in which we worked on various projects in the morning and went snorkeling in the afternoon.

The highlight of the snorkeling we did was definitely the "Grottoes" or "Caves". Our friends on Gilana had told us about them, showed us pictures, and sketched a chart in our logbook on how to find them. But the chart was not specific enough for us to figure out where they were. We finally asked around the anchorage, and Deb on Runner said she couldn't describe to us specifically enough how to find them, but she volunteered to lead us out there the next day.

Deb knows the area really well. They are semi-permanent residents of the Swimming Pool, and while here, she sets up 2 or 3 aquariums on board. So she spends her days snorkeling around looking for interesting additions to her aquariums, and for food to feed her current population. Most of the things she catches end up going back into the water after a few days of study/amusement. I think she must release all of them before Runner heads to Cartagena for a few months in the winter.

Anyway, Deb led us in our dinghy out to the Grottoes. And we took our handheld GPS along to mark the position, so it could be shared with others, if Deb doesn't happen to be around.

The Grottoes are a series of deep pools and caves on the back side of the reef about a mile NW of the Swimming Pool anchorage. The caves are linked together and it's possible to swim from cave to cave underwater, with one passage almost 100 feet long. We did a cursory exploration, to locate them all. We plan to come back and maybe dive them when we re-visit the San Blas this summer. (Though word of mouth from other cruisers has told us that

The dinghy route to get there is listed below. The "shallows" are very shallow, and the passage out to the reef should therefore be done as close to high tide as possible. At high tide, it was possible to motor the dinghy carefully through the shallows. At a lower tide we would have had to get out and walk and drag the dinghy. You should also pick a day that is fairly calm, as the swim-thrus would be difficult in rough weather.

The other interesting place we went in the calm weather was out through the cut to a wreck of a freighter in shallow water. This was challenging even in fairly calm conditions, and would be untenable in rough conditions. It was an interesting snorkel.

Other days, we just picked some likely-looking coral heads inside the reef to explore, and 'counted coup' on the lobster and conch we found. It is 'closed season' on conch, lobster, crab, and octopus, so we can't take them, but it is fun to find them and say "Pow, you're dead". We are amazed at how few lobster we have found, and only one we found was 'legal' size (by US standards). The Kuna and the cruisers have nearly cleaned out all the edible reef creatures in the San Blas. (Though the cruisers
seem to take the 'closed season' much more seriously than the Kuna).

But there are lots of little fish and beautiful live corals and invertebrates, and we seem to never get tired of poking around in the clear water. Occasionally we stumble across something really interesting like a sleeping Nurse Shark, or a large Spotted Eagle Ray.

Grotto Waypoints
NW of Swimming Pool anchorage about a mile. Stunning caves with swim-thrus. Recommend near high tide and fairly calm conditions.

#1 09-35.44N 78-40.72W West of anchorage
#2 09-35.82N 78-40.79W Start of shallows
#3 09-35.95N 78-40.79W End of shallows
#4 09-36.02N 78-41.02W Beginning of Grottoes area
#5 09-36.04N 78-44.13W End of Grottoes area

Wreck in Cut N of Swimming Pool
#1 09-35.827N 78-40.283W Small dinghy cut to get outside reef
(anchor just inside)
#2 09-35.867N 78-40.286W Reef side of wreck


Sunday, April 27, 2008
Watermaker Project, Installment #57
We finally said goodbye to our friends on Caliente last week. They left to head north for the Rio Dulce.

So now, no more excuses, and starting to get low on water. Dave's first priority was to get the long-awaited water maker running.

We picked a good anchorage with few distractions, and anchored away from the crowd. But within cell phone coverage, in case he needed to call someone for parts or information. (In the 'back of the Swimming Pool' in East Holandes).

Dave told me he had 'only another 2 hours' to get the water maker running. 2 days later, we finally cranked it up. Dave spent nearly half a day, just re-reading his notes and making a checklist for commissioning the thing... to make sure we didn't make a mistake that would break something (like we did in Providencia).

When we finally fired it up, we were very glad to find that it was working just as expected. It started producing fresh water within about 5 minutes, and amazingly had no significant leaks (you wouldn't believe the number of hoses, valves, and connections that all have the potential to leak).

We had to let it run for an hour to get the preservative out of the membranes. In the last half of the hour, I started catching it in a bucket to do laundry with. But, at a flow rate of 35 gallons per hour, I ran out of buckets pretty fast.

The next day, we ran it for another hour to really make water. It is really good water and we are really pleased. Way better than the rusty crap we got from Guanaja, the cistern water we got from Bocas, and the river water we got from Portobelo.

Now we are just fine-tuning things. Dave is not quite sure what flow rate we can push it to without overtaxing the membranes (we have a few questions out via email to our water maker gurus). I am making a 'user's guide' on the computer, with startup and shutdown checklists, and pictures showing where the valves are. Once you understand the system, it's not that difficult. And Dave has all the valves labeled pretty clearly. But my memory isn't that great, and if Dave became incapacitated, I'd
need something to remind me what to do.

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Chicken Entero

We had a visit today from the 'Tienda Eide' launcha. They come out every couple of weeks to deliver a standing order from Runner (a boat hanging out here). And they bring some extra stuff for others, and make the rounds of the anchorage.

We had called them yesterday on the VHF and asked them to bring us some stuff. About half of what we asked for they said "No Hay" (we don't have it). Dave was bummed that they had no potato chips. We are completely out, including the stale chicken-flavored ones that neither of us wanted to eat.

One of the things we thought we'd ordered was chicken leg quarters. Later we realized that Dave was out of chicken breasts for lunch meat. So when they came by, we asked for 'pollo piernas y pechugas' (chicken thighs and breasts). They said 'no, solo entero' (only whole). So, well, yep, I guess we'll take it whole, if that's all you've got.

Well, 'whole' was correct...this chicken still had it's feet and head! When we bought whole chickens in Trinidad, they came with the head and feet cut off, stuck in the body cavity (which was, fortunately, empty). But this whole chicken still had his head AND his feet! Oh my god! I hope I don't have to gut it, too!!

Fortunately, they had gutted it at least (that's a health issue, I imagine).

Hmmm, wonder if any of my cruising books talk about how to cut up a whole chicken?

I set to work with a knife and was able to make some 'pechugas sin huesos' (boneless chicken breast) for Dave. And the leg quarters didn't look too bad--they went into a ziplock and into the freezer for a future meal. The rest of the pieces parts, neck, feet, wings, spine, etc, went into another bag for 'chicken stew'. I did throw the head and a lot of skin and fat overboard. So, my friends, next time you swoop into Publix for 5 minutes and buy a nice shrink-wrapped package of boneless chicken breast, think of us poor folks down here in the San Blas.

We'll let you know how the 'chicken feet stew' turns out.

We were also delighted to also find a couple of boxes of white wine in the launcha. We thought that $3 liter for boxed Chilean table wine is still a pretty good buy. No wonder some boats in our anchorage have become semi-perminent residents here.

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Nargana, San Blas, Panama
April 17, 2008 - Posn 09-26.63N 78-34.97 W
(Sorry, I'm a little behind in the log...)

We went to Nargana to check out the internet there. And our friends on Caliente wanted to show their guest, Sam, what it looked like.

Nargana and Corazon de Jesus are two small islands close together, connected by a bridge, just outside the Rio Diablo. It is a Kuna village that boasts an airstrip (on a 3rd island), at least one restaurant, a bakery, a small store, and a bank. About half of the houses in town are concrete block construction, the other half are more traditional thatch huts.

We had heard that the school there had internet and would let visiting yachts use it, for a $5 donation. We were amazed to find that it is a large air conditioned room in ground floor of the 2-story concrete block school. There is a satellite dish on the roof, and a server with wifi and about 20 computers in the room. When we first got there, all of the computers were occupied by middle-school children in blue and white uniforms. It looked like 'homework time' in the computer room, as there was
no active instruction going on. Quite a few of the kids had headphones on and looked like they were downloading MP3's, etc.

The connection was very slow, and it took nearly an hour to download all my mail. While we were waiting, Dave struck up a conversation with the guy in charge of the room. He is a well-dressed Kuna, and is associated with 'sea turtle preservation'. He and the turtle-huggers got a grant from the Ford Foundation to build the computer room. He said there are two others on other islands in Kuna Yala.

The main purpose of the internet trip...I found out why the IRS rejected my e-Filed tax return... my name according to Social Security didn't match the name I filed with. I never got around to changing my name officially with the Social Security Administration. TurboTax's advice was to print and file on paper. I had daughter Nicki file an extension instead, and we will handle it in June when we make a brief trip to the States.

We had a nice lunch at Nali's Cafe, where there is a decent dock to dock the dinghies. This is a typical Kuna structure... made of bamboo and sticks, with a thatched roof and basically open-air walls. (Though the kitchen was part of a concrete house). We had a nice lunch of fish, coconut rice, and salad for about $5.

We were met on the dock by Frederico, who has been the guy to 'get anything' for the cruisers in Nargana for years (I have a note about him in our Island Time log from 1995). He speaks Spanish and passable English, and he will hustle water in jugs, and take trash. He has a brother that runs the store, Tiende Eide. I think another brother, Paco, is the guy to talk to in Nargana about diesel.

The only disappointment was for Sam, who was looking forward to getting cash from the bank. (He has spent all his ready cash on molas). The bank has no ATM, and is only open in the mornings. When he went back in in the morning, they would not do a cash advance on a Visa Card. If you have the time to wait, you can get money wired to the bank, but apparently that's the only way.

We were kind of amazed to find that we had no cell phone coverage in Nargana, with either Movistar or Cable and Wireless. They do have phone booths there, but apparently no cell phone tower.

In the afternoon, we took our two dinghies up the Rio Diablo, a fresh water river. We motored up as far as we could go, and then got out and dragged the dinghies up further in shallowing river bed. When we got up as far as we could go, there was a nice pool of clear fresh water, and a very small area of semi-rapids. Sam got water buckets to do his laundry, and we filled up our shower bag for a fresh water shower later. We had fun playing in the cool water.

Late in the day after the river trip, we moved out to anchor in clean water just south of Green Island. The book did not show an anchorage there, but we had noted a large area of sand in calm water, on our way past the area the day before. We found a nice 8-10' spot big enough for 2 boats, approachable in bad light. 09-23.83N 78-37.50W


Friday, April 18, 2008
East Holandes, San Blas, Panama
Our Position: 09-15.10N 078-40.74W

We finally secured a Cable and Wireless cell phone sim card from another cruiser, but then discovered that there is no signal for C&W in Coco Banderas. We heard a cruiser in the Holandes (10 miles away) talking about making a cell phone call, so decided to head there to make a few calls, and to be there for the Monday night Potluck on 'BBQ Island'. (Note: Holandes is pronounced Hollandaise, like the sauce).

The East Holandes has become the 'Georgetown' of the San Blas. Boats congregate there and hang out for months at a time. There are weekly potlucks and yoga on the beach. Someone is always doing something of a social nature. There is sometimes a VHF net (but not now). We already listen to 3 different SSB nets in the morning, and the 8107 'Panama Connection Net' at 0830 every morning has become sort of an extended range VHF net for the San Blas.

There were 17 dinghies on the beach at the Monday night potluck, and Dave counted 25 boats in the anchorage (that we could see).

The main anchorage area in the East Holandes has been dubbed 'The Swimming Pool' by the cruisers. There is a group of about 15 rather tightly packed boats there. The attraction is the reasonable anchoring depth (10-15') and being in the lee of BBQ Island--one of the few islands that doesn't have a permanent Kuna village.

Downwind of the Swimming Pool, in deeper water, we anchored with a group of 5 or 6 boats. Off to our right, behind another island but still within the Holandes reef system, was another group of about 5 boats. And around the corner to our left, out of sight (and not counted in Dave's count of 25 boats), were another 5 or 6 boats in the area dubbed 'The Hot Tub'. And we saw 4-5 boats anchored in the West Holandes the last time we went by there.

ALL of these anchorages have ideal anchoring conditions... good protection, good sand bottom, clear clean water, beautiful coconut-studded white beaches, and nice snorkeling/diving reefs nearby. I can see why some people have been hanging out in the San Blas for 4 years (or more).

Geek stuff (Ham Radio): Radio propagation around here has been driving me crazy. The SSB 'short skip' propagation (ability to talk to boats nearby) is terrible. So we can still talk to people in Honduras and Florida, but can't seem to hear anyone in Panama, further away than about 30 miles. Normally our radio setup is better than most boats. There are other boats that do seem to be hearing others that we can't. So not sure if we have a radio problem that's fixable, or whether it has to do with
having a backstay antenna that is somewhat vertically polarized and somewhat directional.


Monday, April 14, 2008
Mileage Update
Miles Traveled So Far in 2008: 1,209
Miles Traveled since leaving home May 25, 2007: 2,445

Total Nights: May 25 - April 13 323
Nights Spent On Passage: 9
Nights Spent on Anchor: 118
Nights Spent in a Marina: 196
(6 mos in Rio Dulce!)


Sunday, April 13, 2008
West Coco Banderas, San Blas, Panama
Anchorage: 09-31.13N 78-38.89W

We left the East Lemons yesterday and moved about 12 miles east to West Coco Banderas. We wanted to meet up with Larry and Susan on s/v Moira, whom we'd been corresponding with for awhile, but had never met.

The angle between the Lemons and the Banderas was a little too close to sail, so we motored NE into the light wind for an hour to get a better angle. This also brought us close along the Holandes, which we hugged for a few miles, to sightsee.

We were finally able to fall off and had a nice sail for about 2 hours. We were trailing a fishing line, and caught 2 small fish, a tunny and a mackerel, before we finally caught a nice 18" Spanish Mackerel (near the 30' spot that's on a direct line from Holandes to W Coco Banderas).

The West Coco Banderas are a string of 3 small islands that each look like the palm studded island on the Windows background (set your background to Azul). I wish I could post a picture of just how gorgeous it is. There are reef patches everywhere (this is a 'good light entry only' anchorage). We hopped in for a snorkel yesterday afternoon and saw all kinds of interesting things.

Best of all, there are no Kuna indians living in this island group. Though the Kuna are very nice, they do tend to try to make their living off selling stuff to the yachties. In our 3 days at East Lemons, we were visited by 4 boats selling molas, 1 old guy selling mangoes and yuca, someone trying to buy a cell phone recharge card, a guy selling very small fish, and a guy offering to work for $10/day doing boat maintenance (polishing, bottom scrubbing, etc). At least one of the mola boats, when
we declined to buy any molas, essentially begged for 'regalos' (gifts), including T-shirts, rice, onions, and candy.

While we are sympathetic with their meagre existence, we just can't support them all...

The thing we would really like to buy from them... conch, lobster, and crabs... are 'out of season' until June 1. I saw a nice fat conch myself while I was snorkeling yesterday, but left it there to grow and prosper.

Dave and I have both been in this area before, Dave in 2001, and me in 1996. But neither of us remember too many details of the anchorages. We have Dave's old guidebook, with lots of handwritten notes, and my old logbook.

Things have changed a lot since I was here. Back then, the only guidebook was a 20 page set of typewritten notes and hand-drawn sketch charts that the cruisers in Cartagena passed around. Now there are 2 good guidebooks that cover all of Panama, and have lots of detail on the San Blas.

The most populated anchorages in 1996 had 4-5 boats in them, and we spent several weeks with only us and our 2 buddy boats. Now it is not uncommon for 20 boats to be hanging out in the popular anchorages. A bunch of people have spent 2-3 years (or more) just hang out in this area year round, much the same way boats hang out in Florida and the Bahamas (but with no cold fronts OR hurricanes). Occasionally they make a side-trip to Cartagena or Colon, to reset immigration and reprovision.

It would be easy for us to hang out here for a couple of years, too. But, we have to keep reminding ourselves... "The world beckons."


More Boat Maintenance in Paradise
We stayed a couple of days in the East Lemons anchorage, helping our friends on Caliente with their engine problem.

Our cell phones no longer get a signal out here (Movistar service), so the Iridium satellite phone was invaluable in calling Panama City and Miami for parts & information.

The problem Dave and John were working on was associated with alternators and the drive shaft. Apparently John had added a big alternator some time back, but not properly mounted it, and moved some as the engine was running. The movement caused wear on the splines of the pulley that drove the alternator but also drove the water pump that cooled the engine. He dismounted the alternator (he has a generator he can use for battery charging), but needed to examine the situation closely before he continued.
Losing his engine cooling halfway to Honduras wouldn't be a good thing at all. Dave was also worried that he might damage the crankshaft, which would be a major deal to repair.

The big obstacle was that the nut holding the whole assembly together was huge, and nobody in this end of the San Blas had a socket of the right size (1 11/16). And the nut was recessed, so several clever suggestions by Dave and others to get the nut off were useless.

John finally called Arturo, the guy who runs Marine Warehouse in Panama City, and asked him to go find a socket and send it to us out here via one of the puddle-jumper airlines that fly into Porvenir. Amazingly, the socket arrived 2 days later. John still doesn't know exactly what Arturo charged him for the service, but it was invaluable.

We loaded up both crews on Soggy Paws and took a day trip over to Porvenir (about 5 miles from the East Lemons) to pick up the socket from the airport. We needed to check in there anyway to pay our Kuna Yala cruising fee. And besides the parts, Caliente was out of rum, and we were also looking for a Cable and Wireless cell phone sim card. We found a nice Kuna-run restaurant on what used to be Smithsonian Island (2 islands west of the one with the airport) for lunch.

Within an hour after returning to his boat, John had the nut off and he and Dave took a good look at the situation. They decided that the situation wasn't too bad, and that removing the big alternator, adding a big washer as a shim, and properly torquing down the nut, would make things good enough for John to make it to Honduras/Guatemala without too much trouble. We motored for about 3 hours yesterday and John says the engine seems fine now.

Also while we were sitting there waiting for John to resolve his engine problems, Dave saw another boat in the anchorage with a Tohatsu 18HP (same basic model as our 15). He went over and talked to the guy and asked to take a look under the cover at the throttle linkage. He also got a Parts Manual on CD, to complement our service manual.

The guy also said he'd had a similar problem with his motor while it was still under warranty. After a lot of diagnosing, the cause turned out to be the wires running from the throttle to the rest of the ignition system. When the throttle was twisted, sometimes, two wires touched together, causing intermittent problems. He's going to check this out soon.

Dave still hasn't had a chance to try out the new pulsar coil for the outboard that John picked up for us in Panama City. But when he took resistance readings on the new coil, it reads the same as the old one. So he isn't hopeful that it will solve the problem.

We are still (theortically) only an hour away from firing up the watermaker for the first time. That's probably job one on OUR list, once Caliente leaves and we get a few days to sit and catch up on our own maintenance issues.

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Wednesday, April 09, 2008
Finally in the San Blas
We motor sailed east from Isla Grande to the San Blas yesterday. We left at 0700 to take advantage of the early morning calm, but even at 2pm we only had about 5-10 knots from the NE.

Leaving Isla Grande, we went out the eastern channel, which looks like a fairly wide, clear channel in the guidebook. But the combination of a very large swell, going out into the sun rising in the east, and a breaking rock somewhat mid-channel, made the passage out a little scary. Nothing bad happened, but it could have been really bad if we developed engine trouble in mid-passage.

We originally planned to stop in Chichime, the first, most convenient, stop in the San Blas. But we could see there were 10 or more masts there, and it's only about and 8 boat anchorage.

So we altered course for the 'East Lemons' (09-33.856N 78-51.51W). Again this anchorage is very crowded, but somehow both us and Caliente found a clear spot to drop anchor. It seems that there are a bunch of boats either waiting for Canal transits, or getting ready to head north toward Honduras, and they're all hanging out in the western San Blas while they wait.

It is a very pretty spot, with several sand and palm islets ringing around in front of us, and a couple of reefs. There are Kuna indians living in grass huts on the islands. And, yes, we have already bought our first mola. There were at least 3 dugout canoes making the rounds in the anchorage in the late afternoon. We managed to duck 2 of them, but the last was a very polite group of ladies, who waited patiently a little ways away from us until we finished our showers on the back deck. I bought
two nice molas, one that I liked and one that Dave liked, for $25. I'm sure we'll be buying a few more before we leave the San Blas.

Today is a rest and regroup day. I got an email notification that my eFiled tax return was rejected by the IRS. And now we are well beyond internet access. So I have to email my daughter Nicki to file an extension for me, and we'll deal with the issue when we next get internet access. Dave is over on Caliente helping with an engine/alternator problem. Maybe this afternoon we'll go snorkeling somewhere.


Tuesday, April 08, 2008
Portobelo, Panama & Isla Grande
We spent 2 days in Portobelo looking at forts and cannons (and trying to get our taxes submitted via Turbo Tax).

Portobelo was 'discovered' by Christopher Columbus on his 4th voyage while running before a storm. It eventually became a major transshipment point for the Spanish gold and silver from Peru and other places in South America. It was sacked a few times, first by Francis Drake, then several times by Henry Morgan, and finally by Edward Vernon. After about 30 years of trying to protect their loot from everyone else, Spain decided to move the gold around Cape Horn rather than overland via Panama. Portobelo
then reverted to a sleepy little fishing town, until the building of the Panama Canal. During construction of the Canal, the U.S. engineers 'mined' one of the old Spanish forts for the building materials for the Colon breakwater. (For more details one should look for the book, The Portobelo Chronicles by Pat McGeehee).

But there are still forts and cannons all over the place. We spent an hour in the museum in the old Customs House, and we hiked on 2 successive days up to two different fortifications on high hills surrounding the harbor.

We spent last night at Isla Grande, 10 miles east of Portobelo. We had a really nice dinner, starting with some amazing Daiquari's and Ceviche at a tiny French restaurant, and then some excellent 'comida tipica' (typical Panamanian meals) at another local restaurant. We finished our extravagant meal with desserts back at the French restaurant. We expect it to be the last restaurant we will see for awhile.

We are now motorsailing east in zero wind along the coast toward the San Blas. We expect to drop the hook somewhere in the western San Blas tonight.


Tuesday, April 01, 2008
The Saga of the Sputtering Tohatsu - Part 2
March 27, 2008

Originally this was in the 'Bocas del Toro' entry, but it turned into such a tale... This is Part 2 because Part 1 was the 5 or 6 days Dave spent working on this same problem while we were in the Rio.

While we were at Bocas Marina, Dave asked around and found cruiser who was reputed to be a good outboard mechanic. Dave has already spent about 20 hours working on the problem (runs fine at idle, runs fine on a plane, but just knocks, coughs and chokes when trying to accelerate). We didn't want to pay someone to re-do everything he's already done. We needed someone who really understood outboards, and would listen to Dave, provide guidance, and let Dave do the work (both as a learning experience
for Dave, and to keep the costs down).

Dave did most of the work (with Sonny advising at critical points) and he spent the better part of two days (between rain squalls) working through the engine troubleshooting guide. (I had been fortunate to find a downloadable service manual for the exact model, finally, for only $15, and we had good enough internet here to download it (after 3 tries).

Sonny is a cruiser who lives on a small sailboat with his best friend (a cute Skipperkee). He is rumoured to have 4 degrees to his name. He works on the approach 'If I can't fix it, you don't pay'. This was perfect for our purposes, because we knew it was not going to be easy. He is also a guy who does not like to be stumped. After the first day, when they had run out of easy ideas, he called Dave on the radio several times late that night with questions and suggestions... obviously it was bugging
him that he couldn't figure out the problem. Finally they (think) they have tracked it down to a faulty ignition coil. Once we had the correct specs and some tips from the manual on how to check it, all signs pointed to a coil with not quite the right amount of resistance, which means the spark doesn't develop with enough voltage. Dave felt Sonny's input was helpful, and they'd probably located the source of the problem, so he paid Sonny $60.

Then it took some doing on my point on the computer to try to locate a coil and get it here. Tohatsu dealers are not exactly a dime a dozen around here (if you're going to cruise the Caribbean, buy a Yamaha!).

I spent several hours online and finally located a dealer with an online store in the States, with prices, who said they had it in stock (in the States). So we placed an order to be sent to Sam in California (a friend of Caliente's, who is flying here this weekend). Then we headed out cruising for a few days in the Bocas area.

We had placed a couple of requests in the comments section of the order... 'No Signature Required' on the delivery and 'Get it there by Friday' (5 working days from when the order was placed). Well, this totally UNHELPFUL place would not ship 'No Signature Required' even when we said we'd assume the risk. Since there's nobody home at Sam's house during the day, then it had to be there on Thursday instead of Friday (and we'd hope that Sam could figure out how to get it in his hands on Friday).

Now remember, internet on a boat not connected to a dock, in Panama... it ain't like having Roadrunner. We literally had to pick up the anchor and go to a wifi 'hotspot' and circle around for awhile, to get the internet connection to do the communications. Finally, after a couple of emails, on Monday morning, when we were expecting a confirmation that it had been shipped, the #$%@!&&^%!!! jerk at Online Outboards ( emailed us that he'd canceled the order because we were placing
unreasonable demands on him and they couldn't guarantee service. Talk about unhelpful!! We had just wasted 3 precious calendar days and a lot of time and were no closer to getting the part.

We spent more time online (circling in another wifi hotspot we found, seriously) trying to find a place in California that had the part (so that shipping was less of an issue), but really, the problem is that everyone wants to sell $2000 outboards, they don't want to bother with stocking and selling the $70 parts. And 2 stroke outboards are banned in California, so there isn't much demand for them there.

Finally, I got the bright idea to check to see if there was a dealer in Panama or Costa Rica. We located and called the Panama City dealer ( Wow, what a surprise. The guy spoke english, had the part, and offered to send it on a plane to us in Bocas (a common thing in Panama) for $50, which INCLUDED SHIPPING. But... we had to go to the airport and send $50 cash in an enveloped (marked 'Documents'). This is also a common thing in Panama. We did. Our part is supposedly at the
airport waiting for us this morning.

March 31, 2008

We did finally get the part in our hands, but didn't get a chance to install it and try it out until today. We were again totally bummed to find out that this ignition coil did NOT solve the problem. There is a definite different in resistance readings between the old and new coil, but the engine still has a significant acceleration problem.

John on Caliente is going to Panama City today, so we might have him try to pick up another part from Tohatsu Panama. Dave did some more reading last night in the troubleshooting section of the service manual, and found another part, the pulsar coil, that could lead to acceleration problems. It states that if the pulsar coil isn't working, the engine might run well at some speeds and not others. This resembles our problem. Maybe this is Part 3 of the Saga...

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Chagras River, Panama - Listening to the Jungle Awaken
After our overnight the night before, we had an early night last night.

I was wide awake by 5am, so I made some coffee, turned out our anchor light, and sat in the cockpit listening to the jungle wake up.

It was still pitch black when the howler monkeys started howling. We have heard howlers in Trinidad, Venezuela, and Guatemala, but here we are totally surrounded by numerous, very vocal, troupes of monkeys. I have never heard such a racket. For Nicki, lots more and closer than the howlers we heard at the sunrise at Temple IV in Tikal.

As it started getting light, the howlers quieted down and the birds started waking up. Unfortunately I am not (yet) a birder, so I can't really identify the many bird sounds I am hearing. But there is a wide variety of tropical bird sounds coming from the surrounding forest.

Right now the wind is calm and the river is glassy. I can see small fish feeding and the occasional larger fish swirling.

The sun is now up, and it looks like it is going to be gorgeous day.

Yesterday we saw quite a few birds, including the finchy-looking little grey and white birds that like to sit on our life lines. They seemed very curious about us. (With Dave saying "I hope they don't poop on the deck"). While we were tarpon fishing up the creek, we saw kingfishers and several fishhawks. And at sunset we heard and saw several flocks of noisy parrots flying overhead.

Since the departure of the U.S. Military's Jungle Warfare Center in 1999, the area has been a nature preserve, and there isn't any easy way for visitors to come here except by boat. We have only seen about 6 sailboats scattered up and down the river from us. (ie no hordes of tourists).

There are several dinghy excursions we can do from our anchorage, including Fort Lorenzo, an old Spanish fort at the mouth of the river, the Smithsonian Tree Research Center, and Gatun Dam and Locks. Most of our info is word of mouth by other cruisers, and sometimes the cruising guidebooks. For example, here is what our friends on Gilana said about hiking to the Smithsonian center:

"Go another 300-400 yards downstream on the same bank (outside of the bend) and you will find overhanging trees and a cliff with a small cave. Look out for crocodiles! There is a tire hanging as a fender from one of the rocks. Scale up that cliff and follow the markers, plastic cord and tape tied around trees. It goes to the Smithsonian forest research station."

The Gatun Dam is at the head of the Chagras River. The Dam formed Gatun Lake, which is at the apex of the Panama Canal transit.

We have a couple of days here waiting for Caliente, so we'll probably visit all of them. I can't post pictures from here, but our friends on Gilana did a nice job of posting theirs.

(If this link doesn't work, navigate there by going to and clicking the 2007 button, and Panama. The Chagras section is towards the end).

Side note: We have heard that the Canal pilots are on strike, and traffic through the Canal is slowed way down. Normally there is a week or two delay to get a sailboat through, but now boats are having to wait as much as 6 weeks for their turn. We are hoping the situation is resolved by the time we want to go thru in June!

The strike is also likely severely affecting commerce, as the freighters are also stacked up on either side of the Canal (we could see them anchored outside Colon in the 'overflow anchorage' just before we entered the river). When working at Globe Wireless, I was told that the cost of idling a freighter for a day is about $10,000. The strike is costing somebody some significant dollars (which eventually gets reflected in the cost of the goods you and I buy).

Rumor has it that the pilots make about $250K a year, and work 10 days on and 40 days off. And they think they're not getting paid enough. (But I don't know the details of the strike... no internet here in the jungle).


Monday, March 31, 2008
Anchored in the Chagras River, Panama
We crossed the river bar about an hour ago, following the instructions in the 10 year-old guidebook Dave has, and some 5 year old waypoints. As always, the anticipation was worse than the actual thing. We had good conditions and good light and it was easy. The shallowest water I saw was about 12 feet.

Once over the bar, the water deepened to about 30 feet from bank to bank. We just followed the river up about 5 miles and anchored on the 2nd left bend, as advised by our friends on s/v Gilana. Mike on Gilana hooked a Tarpon nearby, and Dave is hot to try hooking one too.

Gilana told us to 'watch for crocodiles'...apparently there are fresh water crocs milling about in the upper reaches of the river.

We had radio contact with Caliente on SSB this morning (who are in Colon, just over the hill from us), they arrived there yesterday and are doing some shopping and waiting for their guest to arrive.

We're not sure VHF will work between here and Colon (but haven't tried it yet). We have no internet but DO have tenuous cell phone service on our Panama Movistar GSM sim card.

We'll be here in the river until at least Friday.

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Overnight from Escudo Veragas to Chagras River
We left Escudo at 8pm last night and have been motorsailing all night in very light NE winds.

ETA at the mouth of the Chagras River is about 9:30 this morning.

All is well aboard.

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Sunday, March 30, 2008
Escudo Veragas, Panama
We left from Bluefields this morning and motorsailed in light southerly winds to Escudo Veragas, a small island offshore.

Dave caught a very small tunny as we rounded the point leaving Laguna Bluefied, and let it go. As we approached Escudo, he hooked and landed a very nice 25-pound King Mackerel. It is 44 inches long. We are having fish sandwiches for lunch!

We scoped out the 2 anchorages recommended in the book, and though the current wind is a light NW, the best anchorage is on the west side of the island (open to the wind, but mostly protected from the large easterly swell). The SW anchorage suggested in the Zydler guide for westerly winds, seemed like it would be more protected, but there was a huge SE-ly swell breaking on the beach.

West Anchorage: 09-05.64N 81-34.42W
SW Anchorage: 09-05.26N 81-33.98W

Our raster chart seems pretty accurate, though there are no depth details when you get close in. Though the west anchorage spot plots just on the edge of the reef, the reef is actually about 150' north of us.

There is a nice beach ashore, with palm trees, and some fishermen's huts up the beach aways. We would like to go exploring in the dinghy, but without having someone to stay and watch the boat, we will probably just opt to swim ashore and explore a little close by.

Shortly after anchoring we were visited by Mauricio, one of two gentlemen that are 'caretakers' of the island. He solicited from us a small donation to help with the upkeep of the island. (Phone service, trash cleanup, etc). We gave him the carcass of our fish, for soup, and $10.

He said that now there were about 200 people living on the island, maintaining a 'coco' plantation. (we are not sure if this is cacao (chocolate) or coconut). He nvited us ashore to visit. Dave said we'd bring some small gifts for the children we can see playing on the beach.

We took a walk on the beach and found a nice fresh water stream along the south shore. Dave really enjoyed soaking in the cool fresh water.

We will leave after dinner for a short overnight to the entrance of the Chagras River.

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Buying a New AB Dinghy in Panama
Friday March 28

We have been waiting to get to Panama or Cartagena to buy a new AB dinghy.

Dave's old Alliance RIB is still holding air (most of the time) and looking pretty good, but it's 10 years old. We figure it would never make it around the world. Dinghy prices for Caribe's and AB's are $500-$1000 cheaper here than we were quoted at 'Boat Show Prices' last November in St. Pete. Though there is a Caribe dealer in Bocas, we really wanted an AB. The AB has a more upturned bow, and so tends to be a little drier than the Caribe. We did go look at the Caribe and get a price, but weren't
really serious about buying.

We heard via the cruiser grapevine that Marine Warehouse, based out of Ft. Lauderdale, had AB's, and could ship them to anywhere in Panama. (

At the Bocas Marina, a Marine Warehouse 'dealer' keeps an office (sometimes). Apparently the dealer, 'Daniel' (pronounced Danielle, he's French I think), also has a charter business, so he's sometimes there and sometimes not. Sometimes he has a girl in the office but she doesn't know anything other than when Daniel might be coming back.

Dave finally found the office open and inquired about getting a dinghy. Of course this is Dave, and when asked 'what model', we needed to go study whether we wanted the 10.6' standard (with bow locker), the 'Very Light' model, or the 'Alumina' model. (More hours on the internet locating the AB site, finding specs, comparisons in weight and features, etc).

Finally, we placed an order with delivery in a week, for an AB 10VL RIB, for $2650 USD plus $140 for delivery to Bocas.

However Daniel then went off on another charter and 'the girl' came running down the dock the next day telling us that there was some problem with the delivery on Thursday as Dave had arranged. After several phone calls and emails, to Arturo, the head guy for Marine Warehouse in Panama, we think we've gotten it straightened out.

The delivery issue was basically because the trucker who was bringing the dinghy from Panama City to Bocas, was taking off for the Easter weekend, and slightly changed his schedule. We think it will arrive today (Friday) on the truck. (but everyone who's been here awhile sort of rolls their eyes and tells us we'd be lucky if it's delivered on time).

Sunday March 30

Well, 'everyone' was right. The trucker stopped off to see his girlfriend or something, and didn't arrive until Saturday. Fortunately Daniel was still around. Dave optimistically went with Daniel to meet the ferry, to get our dinghy right away, so we could leave. We've already delayed our departure from Bocas for 2 days waiting on it to arrive. I was sure it would be mid-afternoon before Dave completed taking delivery (including making sure we had a Bill of Sale and Certificate of Origin, so
we can get it titled in Florida). But by 11am he was back at the Bocas Marina, pumping it up. Though it rode on top of the truck from Panama City, it seems in good shape.

We still haven't sold our old dinghy, so now we have 2!! The new one is on the foredeck and the old one on the davits.

We are advertising on the local nets, and with a paper ad when we find a convenient bulletin board, and I'm sure someone will be interested eventually.

Business would be brisker if there was more of a dinghy theft problem around here! (In Bocas, no one seemed to lock their dinghies, saying they hadn't ever heard of an incident).

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Plana Raya, Bluefields, Panama
Late Saturday, March 29 - 09-08.74N 81-56.30W

We entered using the Zydler cruising guide and our raster chart, and found exactly what was described for an anchorage in 25-30 feet in the lagoon at Playa Raya, about 25 miles east of Bocas del Toro, in Laguna de Bluefield.

We had a little trouble getting the anchor to hook up, between the deep water and the (probably) mud bottom. But it finally dug in after a little dragging.

Hardly any wind here now, the overcast is breaking up, and it seems like a nice wilderness anchorage (however, we do see signs of habitation... a wood fire at a thatched house at the head of the lagoon, and a wood frame house under construction on the north side of the lagoon). Wish we had more time to explore, it looks interesting. But... the rest of the world awaits!


Saturday, March 29, 2008
Headed toward Chagras River, Panama
We finally got the ignition coil for the outboard and the new AB dinghy we ordered. (And I do promise to finish off those log entries and send them soon).

Though we have not received either mail package we have been waiting on, we have decided we need to get going. (Our friends on Camryka will forward them on when they finally get here).

We are leaving Bocas del Toro this afternoon for the Chagras River, right next to the Panama Canal. We plan this afternoon to anchor at Bluefields at the east end of the Bocas area (about 25 miles from here), and then tomorrow go to Escudo de Varagas (09-05.29N, 81-34.09W) at least for the day. It is then a short overnight (90 miles) to the entrance of the Chagras River (09-19.32N, 80-00.39W).

Our friends on Caliente will split off from us and go into Colon, Panama, to pick up their guest, then we'll meet up a few days later in Portobelo, about 25 miles to the NE of Colon (09-33.26N, 79-41.03W).

We might have phone access in the Chagras, and probably when we get to Portobelo, but I don't think we'll have any internet until we get to Portobelo in about 5 days. (our new Panama cell number is posted on the Dave & Sherry page on the website).

For our sailing friends, we are on the 6209 SW Caribbean Net at 08:15 local time, and still trying to listen on the 8107 Panama Connection Net at 08:30 local time. The 6209 NW Caribbean Net at 9:00 local time is starting to get a little faint, so no guarantees you can catch us there.

For our ham friends, we are trying to remember to come up on Ben's net on 14.261 at 2100UTC, but we haven't made it there yet. Maybe once we get to the Chagras, we'll have a couple of days to catch our breaths!

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Friday, March 28, 2008
Bocas del Toro, Panama
Whew, it has been a busy 10 days since we got here. We are fine. Sorry to those who've been waiting with baited breath for the next installment of the Soggy Paws Travelogue.

The first couple of days in Bocas, we took advantage of the Bocas Marina to tie up, get some easy power and water, enjoy a few days of A/C in the heat, and get some chores done. We had the laundry done (wash, dry, fold) for $3 a load (this is a good deal, we were paying $7 in Guatemala).

We spent most of the first 2 days finalizing our entry into the country. Though all the officials visited the boat at the marina within a couple hours of our arrival, we had to go back to the Port Captain to get our Cruising Permit completed. And to the bank and out to the airport to get our 90-day tourist visa completed.

This is a new town, and so we spent one full day just walking the streets and checking out grocery stores, veggie stands, hardware stores, dive shops, and restaurants. Fortunately there is a good cruising community here with a nice VHF net (VHF 68). So when we needed specific information, there is someone who offered some good advice.

Dave took advantage of some time at the dock (where we didn't need the dinghy) to try again to track down the 15HP Tohatsu problem (see separate blog post on that one!). We also found a source for the broken high pressure guage we needed to complete the watermaker project (Hydromundo Panama). And we ordered a brand new AB RIB from Marine Warehouse, who has a satellite office in Panama, and a 'sometimes' office in the Bocas Marina. (More on the dinghy caper in another post).

We had been away from civilization long enough that we had quite a long grocery list, so we have made several trips to the local stores. There are about 3 fairly good sized stores here (all run by Chinese or Koreans), and then there's the 'Super Gourmet', which has a nice deli, a nice frozen foods area, and quite a few American and European specialty items that are hard to find otherwise. (for us, Wheat Germ, Sunflower Seeds, Taco Seasoning, Granola, etc). The Super Gourmet is a little pricey but there are times when you just gotta pay the price. We have looked through and bought stuff in every one of the grocery stores in the last week.

Our friends John and Sandy on Caliente have been waiting in Bocas for us to arrive for a few weeks. John was a Naval Academy classmate of Dave's, and has just completed a lap around the Eastern Caribbean in his Cal 346. So we spent some time in Bocas Marina's cruiser bar having drinks and eating good food and meeting the Bocas cruising crowd. Sherry even spent an afternoon playing Mexican Train Dominoes.

We (both Caliente and us) are anxious to get moving east to the San Blas. Caliente has a friend flying in on April 2 to Panama City, and then they will move a little bit east with us to position themselves for a trip north to Honduras and Guatemala. And WE need to get going because we have an ambitious schedule to see the San Blas, visit Cartagena, Colombia (and maybe do a 6 day hike to the Lost City), make a short trip home, go thru the Canal, cruise a little of Pacific Panama, and be in southern Costa Rica by late July. (whew, this cruising life is stressin' me out!)

But we are both sitting here in Bocas 'awaiting parts' and working on maintenance items. We both got to a lull in our work at the same time, and decided to do a mini cruise of the Bocas area. So we've been out to Starfish Beach, Pondsock Reef, Dolphin Bay, etc. We explored an old cemetery on Shepherd Island and a wreck on Pondsock Reef. And we took John and Sandy back to get 'The Chocolate Factory Tour' (at Green Acres). We re-visited our friends on Camryka, shared 'trying to get stuff in Panama' stories.

John on Caliente has been struggling with alternator problems, and he and Dave finally deduced that it was the diode tray and the internal regulator. The parts for this are not available in Bocas, and the part numbers on the alternator were obscured, so it would be hard to remotely order them. The advice from the local cruisers was to take the parts on the ferry to the mainland city of Changianola to find what we needed. So yesterday we went with John on the $6 boat ride. The trip to Changianola is via some canals and old river bits that the banana plantations used. The high speed outboard (with 20 people and light cargo aboard) snaked its way down the canal, and it felt like an old river in Florida (water hyacinths, palm trees, overhanging trees, etc).

Bill, you were right...It's not the rainy season here now, but we've watched it rain for 5 days out of the last 10 (and 100% overcast on another 3 days). It's hard getting stuff done when it's drizzling all the time. But at least our water tanks are full! I can't imagine what it's like here in the 'rainy season'!

We are hoping that the last of our parts come in today, and plan to leave for 'parts east' this afternoon. Our plan is to anchor somewhere on the east end of the Bocas area this afternoon, stop at Escudo Veragas tomorrow, and overnight into the Colon area.

Soggy Paws is going up the Chagras River for a few days, while Caliente goes into Colon to collect their guest. Then we'll head further east together in a few days.


Saturday, March 15, 2008
Arrival in Bocas del Toro, Panama
We arrived at the mouth at 11:30am local time in flat calm conditions. We motored the last few hours with glassy seas and a slight swell, and were greeted at the coast of Panama by a large school of dolphin.

We entered between the Zapatillos and Isla Bastiamentos, and navigated the Crawl Cay channel without any trouble. (We used a set of waypoints given to us by Camryka).

We have anchored next to Dave's friends on Camryka in Boca Torritos. We'll stay here tomorrow and then move on to Bocas town on Monday.

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South, south, and more south!
Our 0600 position was 09-49.7N and 81-57.1W

We passed through 10 degrees north a little while ago and are now within 600 miles of the equator (and about 30 miles from our destination of Bocas del Toro, Panama).

Still motorsailing, though we did get to do some pure sailing most of the day yesterday. The breeze died to about 8 knots in the afternoon and we opted to turn on the engine rather than slopping around out here for days.

We still have all the sails up, and they are giving a significant speed boost, even though the wind is only about 5 knots now.

It was a lovely quiet night, light winds, calm seas, and clear skies. We had half a moon for half the night (on my watch).

It was so quiet that I brought my computer out in the cockpit and worked on a program to export my waypoints and routes from Nobeltec's Visual Navigation Suite (our chart program) to an Excel format. This makes it much easier to share waypoints with other people who do not use Nobeltec as their navigation program.

Our ETA at the outer waypoint is now about 11am, so we should be in and anchored somewhere in Bocas del Toroa a few hours after that. We have decided to go see 'Camryka Land', in an inner bay in the Bocas del Toro area. Dave's friends on s/v Camryka have built a house there, so we'll hang out there with them tomorrow and go do the official check-in with the Panamanian officials on Monday.

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