Preparing to Leave Bocas del Toro

Bocas Marina
Bocas del Toro, Panama

We left Independence at 1:00 pm on October 3, arrived at the hotel at the Rome airport and were checked in by 2:00. Because the Hilton provided complimentary shuttle bus service into Rome proper, we opted to hop on and do a quick (hah!) walking tour past the highlights. We’re sure glad we did – the bus let us off in the old district a 10-minute walk from the Coliseum, and in just under five hours we managed the Forum, the Vittorio Emmanuel Palace, Mussolini’s Palace, the Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon, and pasta at a local sidewalk café. Next time we’ll have to come in a few days early, or leave a few days later, to take advantage of seeing the insides of all of these wonders!

After flying from Rome to Madrid, to Guatemala City, to Panama City, and overnighting at our favorite little Hotel Milan in the City, we took the early morning puddle jumper on October 5 to get back to Bocas and Emma Jo. We were delighted to be met at the airport by Brian, our boat-sitter, cat-uncle, and chef extraordinaire. He helped us catch the marina lancha, and joined us for coffee and a de-brief. We sincerely don’t know how we could manage to spend so much time away from Emma Jo without him. It’s great not only to leave the boat with someone who knows enough to call in help when systems fail, but who also enjoys and spoils the cats rotten. The girls were upset to see him leave!

We spent the first few days going through every locker and cupboard below to sort out our things, determining which could be laundered or aired and which could be given away. Our rule has become “if it’s not used within two years, it’s not useful.” The ladies at Bocas Marina had first crack at the bags – then they were given to a local charity.

I took the bus to David for a couple of days to get the requisite annual medical checkups due a woman of my age…and given the current political climate in the US, was grateful to be in Panama. All labs, plus a visit to the Gynecologist, Radiologist for mammogram and ultrasound, General Practitioner for checkup, then ultrasound for thyroid and consultation with the Radiologist and an Endocrinologist – all done in less than 6 hours, all results in, prescriptions written and filled, grand total: $300. I can only imagine what it would have cost back home, and the $300 wouldn’t even have covered my deductible! I also got the chance to ride out to Caldera and look at the progress on our house – foundations are almost ready to pour, corner columns are up, and the lot is leveled. If all goes well, we should be able to have Christmas there next year! A clean bill of health and a pleasant bus ride back found Ole up to his armpits in the forward cabin.

This boat was built in 1986, and the wall coverings of choice for a semi-luxury cruiser like this was textured vinyl – after 23 years, the last five of which have been in the tropics with the portholes open and occasional sea-spray, the vinyl had begun to peel away at the seams, allowing for the growth (and smell) of mildew to permeate the forward living spaces. We did a lot of research about alternatives – and found online what we hope will be a great solution: textured, paintable fiberglass. The product goes up like dry-hung wallpaper, and can be painted 10-12 times before it loses its texture. It’s mold and mildew-resistant, and the primer and adhesive contain mildew-killing agents. It comes in one-meter-wide rolls of 50 meters length, so we ordered an entire roll, planning to do all of the vinyl surfaces over time.

Ole had stripped and masked the forward cabin, and I got back in time to help him prime the surface and hang the product. It’s a small space, relatively – but it’s a boat. Given the complex curves of the hullside, our relative inexperience at wallpaper hanging, and limited selection of tools, it took just about a day and a half to get it up. We let it dry for a day and a half, then ventured into the hardware store in Bocas and found, to our amazement, custom color mixing of Glidden acrylic latex and rollers and edging tools to make the paint go up in less than four hours. We picked a color from memory that we hoped would go with the yellow, beige and cream swirl pattern of the overhead vinyl – and got an almost perfect color match. The shelf and trim were put back up (again, damn those complex curves) along with all of the hardware – and it looks like a new boat! (Smells much better, too.) The next space to tackle will be the master head – small space, small pieces to hang, but more fussy cutouts for the portholes, shelving and shower. We’ll tackle the master stateroom last, as it’s not in very bad shape. If you’d like more information, drop us an email at Pedersens at emmajo dot net and we’ll forward our contacts to you.

Another great surprise on our return was the addition of a canvas and upholstery business right at the marina. We were able to take our pilothouse cushions and the ten yards of fabric we had purchased last year over to the seamstress and have all of the cushions redone within a week for less than $200. What a country.

While I painted the forward cabin, Ole kept busy installing new starting batteries for the engines, and fixing the motor on our pilothouse CruiseAir conditioning unit. What a project – Ole’s motto being “somebody had to put this together; therefore somebody HAS to be able to take it apart!” Like the boat, the a/c unit is at least 23 years old. To get at the motor, he had to go through the fan, grinding out an opening in two opposing fan blades to be able to get the allyn wrench down to the motor housing. That project done, he installed a third water pump such that for a few hours, we actually had three fully functional air conditioning units!

With all projects done, we figured we’d have a couple of days of local cruising and anchoring overnight to test all systems and make sure we were good to go for our 140-mile passage to Colon and Shelter Bay for haul out later this month. But Friday, October 16 was a rainy one so we opted to shorten the shakedown and spend a last Friday night at the Calypso Cantina to listen to music and say goodbye to our friends and acquaintances at the Marina. Bless Dyllan and Darian – they persuaded Patrick and his friend, Kevin, Andy the Drummer, and a local bassist to let me sit in for a few – gave my last official performance of gin-fueled blues singing to thunderous applause (these people are easily amused).

Saturday morning, October 17, we cruised over to Starfish Beach and found everything in order – including the fact we had the place to ourselves for the first time ever. The weather was overcast, and with the breeze, almost cool! We sat up on the sundeck for dinner, and enjoyed the quiet time out.




Uncle Brian Says Goodbye to Barclay and Maggie

Sunday we cruised about two hours down to Isla Solarte to pay our last visit to Brian, thanking him again for his help, and touring the great digs he’s secured for himself while he’s between cooking jobs. He’s refinishing some wood on a 38-ft sailboat owned by the owner of an honest-to-goodness villa on top of a hill, with a sweeping view of sunrises and sunsets, walking path, private marina, and covered veranda. And bless his heart; he’s got a little apartment in the villa complete with a six-burner gas stove for cooking. It was so great to see that he’s taking care of himself well – and was so delighted to share his good fortune with us.

We had planned to leave Monday morning, October 19, but although the weather forecast was for calm wind and seas, there was an ugly looking cell of thundershowers right over Bocas del Toro. We postponed our departure until Tuesday morning, October 20. We have had a wonderful time here in Bocas del Toro, meeting some wonderful and eccentric people, feeling very safe and secure, and enjoying some fine cruising. We will miss this place.

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