October is Party Month in Bocas

Bocas Marina
Bocas del Toro, Panama

The second half of October was uneventful (save a couple of spectacular parties to be described later). We waited for parts. Ole has been down in the engine room dismantling the engine, cleaning up, and getting it ready for the hopefully soon arrival of a new manifold and adapter kit. I’ve been working on making new window covers for the outside of the pilot house, trying to protect the interior wood while providing much-needed shade. Thankfully there are just enough common sense fasteners to handle the just enough Sunbrella I have left.

Now to the parties: [Read more…]

Exploring Almirante Bay

On October 1, we cheerfully left the dock, picked up 100 gallons of fuel, and headed out with four other boats from the marina for a week to ten days’ worth of relaxation. In the group were Pamela Jean, a 50-foot Formosa cutter from Texas with Bill and Pam aboard; Mariah, a 63-foot Choy Lee sloop with Evelyn and Dave from Key West; Serenity, with Steve (who’s the staff captain on NCL’s Norwegian Jade); all following Guavi, with Ariel and Michelle from Puerto Rico out to some of the islands and anchorages in Bahia Almirante.

Cayo de Agua (Water Cay)

Our first stop was Cayo de Agua (Water Cay), where one of our marina-mates has property he’s hoping to turn into an eco-resort. The weather was fantastic – the sea flat as a table – which was a good thing, because Cayo de Agua is right up against the Caribbean. We anchored on the south side of the cay, off Daniel’s dock, where we were greeted wildly by his three mixed-blood hound dogs who have the run of the place when Daniel isn’t there. [Read more…]

Oh, Yeah! It’s Easter Week. (I Forgot). That Complicates Things…

San Jose, Costa Rica

Only today did I realize that this was Easter week – a heck of a time to be travelling anywhere in Central America. I left Panama on a Tuesday, thinking I could return Thursday and that would be three days. When I came to my senses, I realized that “72 hours” meant I needed to stay until Friday. That’s when it got more interesting. All of Central America shuts completely down on Good Friday. No buses. No planes. No taxis. No restaurants or movie theaters or nothin’! So I negotiated with the hotel to put me up for another 2 nights (during EASTER WEEK!) and they were wonderful about it. I chose to spend today, Thursday, visiting the Santo Thomas mall in downtown San Jose (MALL!), getting a haircut and some necessary computer components. Most of the downtown museums appeared to be closed in preparation for closing tomorrow. On the upside, the food at the restaurant at the hotel is superb – reasonably priced, beautifully presented and briskly served.

The “Renewing the Panama Visa” Challenge, Complicated by a Senior Moment

Somewhere in Costa Rica

Given that Panama grants 90-day visas to visitors, I had to leave the country for three days this week, to re-enter Panama for another 90 days. Today was an exercise in middle-agedness. Catching the 7:30 a.m. water taxi, I alighted from the 45-minute run at Changuinola only to discover I had left my wallet in Emma Jo’s pilothouse. Having planned to take the 10:00 a.m. international bus to Costa Rica, it became apparent that I would miss that bus. The dispatcher at the water taxi office in Changuinola suggested I call to have my wallet sent on the next boat from Bocas. So I called the marina, explained my dilemma, and was assured that it would be taken care of. [Read more…]

…In Which Ole is Press-Ganged into the Colombian Navy…

Albuquerque Cays, Columbia

Wow.

We are sitting at anchor in the most amazing place. The Albuquerque Cays are two tiny (less than 600 ft wide) coconut-fringed islets surrounded by a circular reef about 110 miles off the central Nicaraguan coast, and about 30 miles south of San Andres. We are at anchor between and a little to the west of the two cays, in about 25 feet of the clearest water I’ve ever seen.

The northern cay has an outpost of the Colombian Navy – 9 sailors – who man a communication station here. We were asked to come ashore and register with them, so as our dinghy pulled up, all nine guys, in uniforms consisting of khaki shorts and dog tags, came out to meet us and escort us to their commandant. They speak no English, but were gracious, charming, and hospitable, posing for a photo for us, then escorting us on a tour of the base. At the end of the tour, one of the young men asked me to go back with him to the camp, where he offered me my pick of small, beautiful shells. Apparently, the guys are stationed here for 30 days at a time, ferried here with a month’s worth of provisions and DVDs. The site of a pleasure boat, and the chance to talk to tourists, breaks up the monotony for them.  [Read more…]

Exploring Providencia

At Anchor, Providencia, Colombia

“Nelson’s Butt” Providencia, Colombia

We are tucked in at anchor in a very pretty spot: Santa Isabel Harbor on the island of Providencia, a protectorate of Colombia. Only 18 kilometers around, with a population of about 4,000, it’s pretty much untouched by tourism and one of the friendliest places we’ve been.

We left Vivorillos at about 9:30 on Tuesday morning, heading south and east taking a short cut across the Main Cape Channel, between Half Moon Cay and Alagarda Reef before turning a bit more south toward Providencia. What a nice ride! The wind was between 5-10 all day and through the night, letting us experience sea swells instead of wind chop coming slightly off our stern for the last half of the ride. Even the cats were amazed, since our last day in Vivorillos saw a wind shift that had us rolling back and forth pretty violently for about 18 hours and experiencing next to no rest. Getting underway was a relief! Our longest passage to date of 188 miles, we tried to stand 3-hour watches and get as much rest as we could. [Read more…]

Anchoring Adventures-“Poor Holding in Sand over Coral”

Tobacco Range, Belize

So there we were …

On Monday morning over the Northwest Caribbean Radio Net, we heard our friends from s/v Litbe check in. We met them last March during the great rescue-the-other-trawler-off-the-reef incident at Spruce Cay, and they also opted to spend hurricane season on the Rio Dulce, departing in October.

They told us they were on their way out to the atolls – Lighthouse and Glovers Reefs – and we thought it might be a good idea to have some company for the trip. We agreed to meet up at the south side of a teeny tiny little place called Rendezvous Cay, where we would meet the folks from Sea Biscuit and Come Monday. The day was stern and grey, with northerly winds from 15-20 knots that we had to head into. The fur princess was unhappy again, but only for a few short hours. [Read more…]

Tijax Farewells

Hacienda Tijax
Rio Dulce, Guatemala

Well, we’ve completed most of the items on our “before we leave the dock” list, including a major jaunt into Puerto Barrios for some serious grocery shopping. But the weather doesn’t seem to want us to go quite yet. There’s a long front extending from the mid-Atlantic coast of the US all the way through the Bahamas and down through the Gulf of Honduras, making for 20-25 knots of wind and 6 to 9-foot seas. Sorry – been there, done that – getting t-shirts made. We’re using the time to knock off a few more items from the list and socialize a little bit as we watch everyone making ready to leave.

Friday night, we hosted another barbecue out by the pool. It was pouring rain, but damn if cruisers are anything, they’re intrepid. With enough kerosene on the grill, steaks and shrimps were plentiful, and cruiser-brought treats were sufficient to satisfy all of us.

We had barely enough time to recover for the barbecue lunch hosted by Eugenio up at his farmhouse the next afternoon. Nestor, his Israeli security consultant, did all of the cooking – from perfectly grilled steaks to homemade hummus, tahini and flan. Several of Eugene’s staff were on hand as well, and it was wonderful to be able to thank them for such a wonderful stay.

After about a 5-hour lunch up at the finca, we were not at all hungry for dinner. So we joined Sid and Tuve of Blue Moon, Ken and Patti of Novena, and camped out on Alianna’s back deck with Sim and Rosie for more beer. We had only been there about a half an hour when we heard a frantic call to turn on the radio: there had been a collision between two lanchas under the bridge and someone was thrown into the water, reported missing.

Recently the editor of the Rio Dulce Chisme Vindicator, the online “newspaper” for gringos in the area, compared this area to the Wild West of the 1880s. That’s about the level of emergency service here. Coast guard? EMTs? Rescue divers? Fuggedaboudit. Lights on the river? Dream on. A local missionary who lives aboard a trawler and is fluent in English and Spanish was contacted by the Navy station a few miles up the lake, to see if he could coordinate a volunteer search. Sim and Ken, armed with as many flashlights as they could collect, along with our gas tank joined the searchers. There may have been 10-20 dinghies on the water, along with the navy lancha, who searched in the dark for about 90 minutes. The current under the bridge usually boils a bit, and creates whirlpools under certain conditions. And at 20 miles up from the ocean, there is not much tidal influence. The navy overestimated the flow, and the search was concentrated about a quarter to a half mile downriver from the bridge.

Needless to say, they did not find the man that night, and after about an hour, they knew if he hadn’t swum to shore and walked to a local bar for a drink, it was now a recovery rather than rescue mission.

We heard this morning that he had been found under the bridge. And that his fiancée, also in the lancha with him, had been thrown out of the boat as well, suffering propeller damage enough to kill her.

As a developing nation, Guatemala does have laws. Like running lights, speed limits and licences for lanchas. But they don’t have the manpower or resources for enforcement. The driver of the lancha responsible for the accident leapt into the water, swam ashore, and ran away. The locals probably know who he is, but he’ll never be caught, much less prosecuted.

I’ve been out in the dinghy at night, and have experienced narrow misses. The lancha drivers have this “more is better” attitude to engine size and speed. They think it’s cool that the bigger the engine, the higher up their bow goes. They operate solo, with nobody on the lookout up forward. When we’re out at night, we madly wave a flashlight around, hoping that the lancheros will at least notice us.

The river community is all abuzz about this incident, coupled with recent dinghy thefts. All it does is remind us that while we are relaxed and comfortable here, we can’t afford to be careless or complacent.

Rosie, Tuve, Patty, Me, Ans

We went out for a last shout with Ken and Patti of Novena, Sim and Rosie of Alianna, and Gerald and Ans of Spirit, to partake of the Sundog Happy Hour and dinner at Rosita’s. What wonderful luck we’ve had this year, with these fine folks as neighbors. We can only hope that our future is full of kindness and community like we’ve had here.

At the end of the day, it looks like we may head out of here on Thursday, November 8, sail downriver to “Texan Bay,” at the upstream edge of the gorge, and wait a day or two for the weather to calm down.

A Boat in Distress…and What to Do About It

Placencia
Belize

So after another wonderful day, we heard on the radio that there was a norther coming on Saturday morning, with expected winds from the northwest at 10-15.  As we sat Friday night over the rum and oj, we remarked to ourselves that heck, 10-15 was nothing, we were on the south side of the cay, and we could handle it.  We snorkeled the anchorage, and found we were set in sand on top of a hill in about 30 feet of water. The anchor chain lay across the top of the hill and gently circled down to the bottom at 50 feet before tracking back up to the boat.  We thought we’d be fine, as we had out 175 feet of chain.

About two miles away, in an area the chart calls Bread and Butter Cays (but the cruising guide calls Stewart Cay), we spotted another trawler, tried to hail them on the radio, but they must have been otherwise occupied.

At 11:00 p.m. on Friday night, Jan was up on the computer and Ole had just gone to bed, when, out of nowhere, the wind started blowing 25 with gusts to 30, out of the northwest.  So much for weather forecasting.

Ole shot out of bed, looked at the plotter, and found we had slipped anchor and our adrenaline kicked in.  [Read more…]

Wow. NOW we’re talking.

Southwater Cay
Belize

Emma Jo at Southwater Cay

Glee is now raging in full force.

The 10-mile cruise from Garbutt Cay yesterday took us southeastward toward the barrier reef, from 30-foot depth to something in between 8 and 10 feet, cruising in water so disarmingly clear we could just about count the hermit crabs on the bottom as we motored along. On the way, we passed by Tobacco Cay, which seemed attractive to quite a few cruisers, including the Texans from yesterday.

We anchored within 100 yards of the north end of Southwater Cay, after aiming at a mooring ball closer in and determining there was only about 4.5 feet of water under it. The area has grassy patches, so we found a clear patch of sand to drop the anchor and back down about 50 feet of chain. The water is so clear that we could physically see the anchor dug into the edge of the sand patch. [Read more…]