Our Mission: To boldly go until we are no more!

Monday, December 31, 2012

Canal Interlude

We are scheduled to transit the Gatun Locks (up to lake Gatun from the Atlantic) on January 4 around 1000 to 1300 PST. Then we spend the night anchored on Lake Gatun and go down the Miraflores locks to the Pacific on January 5 around 0500 to 0800 PST time. According to our agent yachts are no longer allowed to transit in one day unless they are 125 ft or larger. We are renting 12 plastic wrapped tires for $3 ea to supplement the 10 fenders we have aboard and our four required line handlers were easily found here in the marina from among the many cruisers coming and going.

Many of the Canal webcams are out due to lightning strikes but here are some links:


Feliz Navidad prospero ano y felicidad.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Shelter Bay Marina

Touring Portobello with its historic Customs House/Museum, forts and batteries was worthwhile. We hiked up to the three levels of the San Fernando Fort Battery ruins above where Interlude was anchored for a spectacular view of the Bay. There is a morning VHF radio net on channel 72 at 0900 local where the cruisers swap info and gear. We meet a couple and their two year old (born in Kuna Yala) on a budget cruiser where the woman recently had her bursting appendix out via the Panama public heath system. She went in to get her appendix incision stitches removed while we were there and they discovered a secondary infection. We wish her well. There are private hospitals.

We are now in Shelter Bay Marina, Panama (9d22.13'N, 79d57.04'W, 16 ft) the only safe place to prepare for transiting the Canal from The Atlantic to the Pacific. The Panama Canal Yacht Club no longer exists and there is no place to land a dinghy if you are in Anchrage 'F' (the 'Flats').

The marina is very compact and fully booked even with the new 'E' dock. There are some really nice big yachts here as well as the ususal mix of cruisers and quite a few hauled out for storage or repair. Fueling is hit or miss. We attempted to fuel on the way in but the fuel boat (Panama Star) was just leaving. Propane and gasoline tanks are left in the marina office for filling within three days. Fedex sent to the marina is the best way to receive packages ie:

Yate en transito INTERLUDE
Shelter Bay Marina
30 Butner Street, FORT SHERMAN,
Phone: +507-433-3581

We plan to spend the Holidays here at the marina where Chris the American executive chef running the restautant has a few parties planned. With over 130 yachts in the marina we have already run into some people we know including a guy we meet in Antigua December 2010 whose boat was wrecked at Palmerston Atoll and is now heading back into the Pacific on his replacement boat with new crew.

We are sure to make new friends as well and are hoping to meet and sign on the required four line handlers before our Canal transit on or about January 4th. Our agent says it is no longer possible to transit in one day and we will have to spend the night on Gatun Lake.

We wish everyone a happy Mayan New Year tomorrow.

Monday, December 17, 2012

In port at Portobello

Yesterday afternoon we arrived at Portobello Panama (9d33.51'N, 79d40.11'W, 50 ft) after a scenic 60 mile motorsail along the coast from the San Blas Islands. Of note were four unique to us fish farms with huge pyramidal nets up in the air near 9d42' N, 79d18'W. Another one was at the entrance to the Isla Linton anchorage. The coast is covered in lush jungle with hardly any civilization.

Portobello Bay is large and there are over 40 yachts here. We are anchored in a small indentation on the north side of the bay just off the San Fernando Fort Battery. Built in 1760 it has two levels with fourteen cannons on the lower and six on the upper.

Today we will will explore the town with the main fortifications, treasury and church with the famous Black Christ of Portobello (wooden Jesus statue with miraculous powers).

Sunday, December 16, 2012

So Long San Blas

Today, after three weeks in Panama's San Blas Islands, we begin heading for Shelter Bay Marina at the Atlantic Panama Canal entrance. We plan a stop tonight, Monday and Tuesday at historic Portobelo where in the 16th century the Spanish had a trading center and treasury to collect the gold plundered from the Americas. The fort was also much attacked by Drake, Morgan, etc. and Drake is said to have been buried at sea near Isla Drake just off the coast there.

San Blas or Kuna Yala as the indigenous people call their 'country', has been a worthwhile experience and to some a cruisers paradise. We found the many tiny islands picturesque with white sandy beaches, palm trees and surrounded by clear water when the mainland rivers are not spewing mud and debris when it rains. The coral and fish we saw in the limited snorkeling we did was OK but larger fish were rare possibly due to over fishing by Kunas and/or cruisers. There reportedly is no cigutera (neurotoxin algae) and barracuda are eaten. Biting insects can be a problem in calm weather and near mangroves. The Native American Kunas we meet were simple people living by choice on certain crowded islands near the mainland in thatch huts and getting around by sailing dugout canoes.

We made a special effort by water taxi (typical fiberglass panga style) to visit the village of Carti near the entry port of Porvenir. On one of the islands of Carti we found the Museum of Kuna Culture, Art and History and although the building and displays were quite rustic, Kuna religion, medicine, 1925 war of autonomy, handicrafts, natural history, etc. were all succinctly explained in English and Spanish ($5). The Mormon church has a prominent presence here with the best school and buildings.

The biggest industries we saw were selling handicrafts (molas) to tourists (cruise ships and yachts) and seafood (lobster, crab and octopus). They supposedly harvest coconuts for export and maybe that is why we were never able to buy any drinking nuts (taking coconuts yourself is strictly forbidden). Some Kunas are quite entrepreneurial selling mainland fruit and vegetables to your boat at anchor but the service is not regular. Our attempt at a river boat ride and hike to a waterfall at Rio Sidra was unsuccessful due to cancellation by the operator (Lisa the infamous Kuna transvestite). Mostly we encountered canoes selling molas and seafood and the occasional begging. Almost all asked us for Coca Cola (what a product) but we gave them water and used clothing.

Most of the yachts we saw here were certainly real cruisers (as opposed to charter yachts or short time mega yachts with owners flying in) although some do leave their boats at anchor or on a mooring for peroids of time in the Lemon Cays to go to Panama City or fly out. This is easily done from the West Lemons (9d32.76N, 78d53.80'W, 55 ft) by water taxi ($15 pp one way) to Carti where a 4x4 will tranport you ($?) in two hours on a muddy precipitous road to Panama City. People have also done one day shopping trips his way. Many however having in their eyes found paradise will never leave Kuna Yala. With an occasional yearly trip to Columbia to reset any permits and visas some have been here in hurricane free Panama for years and even set up restaurants, marinas, charter yachts (crewed), etc.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

San Blas

Checking into the morning radio nets (SW Carib. Net 1315 UTC 6209 USB & Panama Connection Net 1330 UTC 8107 USB, VHF 72 is cruiser hailing and standby) gave us some idea of where to start exploring. Names of boats, people and places were noted as well as what was available there.

After a day we headed for Salardup (many of the island names end in dup - it must mean island in Kuna). Here (9d30.37'N, 78d47.63W, 30 ft) we were to meet 'Lisa' who was to be our guide for a 'river tour' up the Rio Sidra. Lisa is the infamous Kuna transvestite depicted in the Eric Bauhaus Panama cruising guide. She lived down to her her reputation and did not follow thru with her promise of a guided boat tour/hike which we heard from others often happens. We did buy a very intricate mola (native needlepoint handicraft) not from Lisa but from an elderly woman in a canoe traditionally dressed with leg beads and nose ring. Molas can take a few months to complete and cost $30 to $60. Here we meet some cruisers and shared some music, food and drink. One yacht was headed for Cartegena, Columbia for an IOL (lens) transplant for the captain (half price there, not for glaucoma, just corrective). The other was a young pregnant couple who worked as mega yacht skipper and stew and now trying to balance a cruising lifestyle on their own yacht with a home in Hungary.

Our next anchorage was off the uninhabited islet of Myriadup (9d29.69'N, 78d45.30'W, 40 ft) where we launched our Hobie inflatable tandem Mirage Drive kayak. Here we pedaled around the island and then attempted an open fire cookout in the rain (ala 'Man vs. Nature') with the young couple. Kurt set up a computer program for them allowing use of their Iridium satphone for email (there is little to no cell phone connectivity here).

We moved on to the popular 'Swimming Pool' anchorage between BBQ island and Banedup in the Eastern Hollandes (9d35.36'N, 78d40.56'W, 50 ft). Here the water is the clearest in the San Blas being farthest from the mainland and all the rain runoff. Snorkling was good south of Tiadup and we saw a ray and some barracuda in the pass between BBQ and Banedup. There is a couple that have been coming to (looked like staying at) the Swiming Pool for fifteen years. They would have a potluck BBQ on BBQ island every Monday night, cleared the tiny island of all debris, set up tables and other amenities. Recently whichever Kuna village has jurisdiction has taken over control and now charges a $2 landing fee. Needless to say the cruisers are not happy and many now boycott BBQ island.

Having seen the clearest water we now moved to the reputedly most beautiful anchorage: Eastern Coco Banderas (9d30.72'N, 78d37.06W, 30 ft). Here we found a spot amongst the seven other yachts anchored in amongst the four islets and went for another kayak to meet more cruisers. Kurt was even given a new sun/swim shirt to model as a promotional for www.nozone.com We also meet our second expat Austrian in one day. It seem not only Americans get stuck here for years. They all start off with plans of circumnavigating and find this area too beautiful to leave. If only they had made it to the South Pacific...