Friday, November 25, 2005

Current Location:  Isla Parida

8 dg. 07.768 N, 82 dg. 19.016 W

Total distance traveled so far:  4039

We spent about a week anchored off of the Land & Sea Marina in Golfito, Costa Rica.  This marina, run by Tim and Katy, offers visiting yachts a dinghy dock, showers, garbage disposal, a lounge with satellite TV and access to an honor bar (carbonated drinks about 1$ and non-carbonated drinks such as juices a little less).  All of this for $3 a day.  They will also do laundry for a fairly reasonable rate.  Part of the time there, we just spent hiding out from the rain, part was spent doing boat projects (refueling, cleaning the heat exchanger, etc.) and part was spent running (actually walking) around town and enjoying being on dry land.  There are numerous places where for about $2 you can get a meal called a casado which consists of a dinner-plate full off food.  It usually includes a small green salad, some beans, a large serving of rice, various mixed vegetables and whatever meat you ordered it with (chicken, fish, meat in gravy, etc.).  This has to be the best deal going and I thnk I had one for lunch every day we were in Golfito.

Monday morning, we went into town to do the paper work involved with checking out of Costa Rica.  His involves finding and going to the immigration office, the bank to pay some fees, the customs office and the port captain’s office.  Unfortunately, when we got to our first stop, the immigration office, she told us that the customs office was closed on Mondays.  She did do the immigration paperwork for us so we wouldn’t have to come back again, but it meant that we could not leave until the next day.  Oh well,  that just gave us a chance to enjoy another casado.  Tuesday morning, we hailed a cab and asked to be taken to the customs office.  For some reason, the place he dropped us off was the port captain’s.  The port captain was very helpful though and explained what we needed at the customs office and told us roughly where it was, so off we went.  It took us quite a while to walk there, then nobody seemed to know just what office we needed to go to.  Finally, a man took us out the door, around the building and into another unmarked office where he has a discussion with somebody behind the counter and they decided that we were at last in the right place.  The person we needed to see was in at the moment, but if we would sit and wait, she would eventually show up.  Sure enough, about 20 minutes later she arrived, stamped one of the papers we were given when we checked into the country and handed it back to us.  After a 40 minute walk back to the port captain and some more stamping of papers, we had the International Zarpe.  This important piece of paper is the one we need to show the officials of the next country we visit to show them that we legally left Costa Rica.  If we don’t have it, many countries will not allow you to enter.

After enjoying another casado, we were back at the boat and by 1:30pm, we had the anchor up and were motoring down the channel.  10 minutes later, it stated raining.  A light rain at first, but 45 minutes later, it was really pouring down.  We decided that rather that motor all night in the rain, we’d head over to the other side of Golfo Dulce (about an 90 minutes away) which should be fairly well protected from the SW swell coming in off the Pacific, drop the anchor and leave the next morning.  The next morning, it was still raining hard, but the swell wasn’t bad at all so we stayed yet another day there.  Finally, Thursday morning (Thanksgiving) dawned with a mostly sunny sky and we were underway by 6:00, headed for the border.  We spent that night anchored off the shores of Panama, specifically, about 4 miles north of Point Burica.  Once again, we weren’t n any kind of a harbor or protected anchorage, but the point was blocking almost all of the swells and we had a really comfortable night.  This morning, we again awoke to sunshine (something I could get used to) and were underway by about 7:00.  By 3:00pm, we again had the anchor down, this time in an absolutely beautiful anchorage just off a tiny little island (Isla Gamez) just a few hundred yards from a larger island (Isla Parida). 

By the way when we crossed into Panama, we also entered a new time zone.  We are now 3 hours ahead of California in the same time zone as the east coast.

Sunday, December 4, 2005

Current Location:  Isla Cavada in the Islas Secas, Panama

7 dg. 59.423’N, 82 dg. 01.800’W

Total distance traveled so far:  4061

As you can see from the above, we’ve made it into yet another new degree of latitude  we are down below 8 degrees.  That means we’ve now gone fully 30 degrees south around the globe from our starting point.   At the same time, we are almost 40 degrees further east.  When I think bout it in those terms, it makes me realize just how far we’ve come.

We’ve been having a great time here in the islands of northern Panama.  The snorkeling has been wonderful, due largely to the very good water clarity.  We’ve seen a variety of new kinds of fish a well as huge numbers of others that we’ve enjoyed for some time.  For the first time, we are even seeing some lobsters. These guys have become increasingly rare all up and down the Pacific coast due to over the fishing of these delicious creatures.  Another once common critter that for the same reason is now  quite rare is he conch.  This is the large sea snail that in just about every South Seas islands movie ever made some native is using one of their shells as a kind of trumpet.  In places, you can see large piles of their shells left from the commercial harvesting of them back in the 1900’s, but until the other day, we had yet to see even one of. They are reputed to be very tasty, so I was really temped to have the one I fond for supper, but my ecological conscience got the better of me and after bringing him to the boat to show Kathryn, I tossed him back into the sea near where I had found him.

We’ve had a couple of adventures since I last wrote in my journal. While Kathryn was napping, I went out in the dinghy to shore at Isla Balaños where we were anchored at the time.  The surf was a little high, but I sat outside the surf line watching the spacing of the swells and finally, when it looked like a lull in the aves was going to happen, mad my break for the shore.  I almost made it.  Just as a receding wave sucked the water out from underneath the dinghy, causing it to hit the bottom and I was leaping out to run forward and drag it ashore, a large one broke over the transom, filling the dinghy with water and knocking it sideways to the waves.  This has probably not occurred to most people, but a 12’ dinghy full of water is way to heavy to drag anywhere, let along uphill in the sand.  Meanwhile, wave after wave broke against and int the dinghy, washing everything out into the surf. 

-          A pair of rubber boots I was going to wear while exploring the jungle.

-          A pair of socks.

-          A gas can.

-          The gas tank for the outboard (though it was still attached by it’s hose.

-          Kathryn’s fins which happened to get left in the dinghy.

-          A plastic box with some tools in it as well as the key to the lock the outboard was locked to the transom with.

-          The four halves of the 2-part oars.

-          A small bailing bucket (actually the bottom of a 2-liter bottle with the neck cut off).

-          A larger 3-gallon bucket we use to hold any fish we catch.

-          Various other stuff.


All of this stuff wound up in the water and much of it was being pulled out to sea or down the beach with the current while I wrestled with the dinghy to get it out of the surf.  Every time a new wave would break, I would be hauling on the bow line, turning the dinghy so the bow was pointed up the beach and pulling as far forward as I could.  The wave would then recede, leaving the dinghy hard aground until the next wave came in.  I finally got it as far out of the surf as I was going to manage using this method, so I threw the anchor up the beach and started searching for stuff.  Fortunately, one of the first things I found was the large bucked, floating just under the surface about 15 yards from shore.  After recovering it, I quickly bailed most of the water out of the dinghy so that it was now light enough to drag it up on the beach, completely out of the water and I could stop worrying about it for awhile.  45 minutes later, I had finally found everything except some of the tools (the plastic box had come open and dumped it’s contents ino the surf).  Fortunately, the key had a float, so it was an easy find.  Also, the water was very clear except right where the waves were breaking and mixing sand into the water, so I could see the stuff suspended in the water (like my socks) or even on the bottom like a lot of the stiff was.

By this time, I was exhausted yet I still had to get myself and the dinghy back out through the surf somehow.  I managed this by pushing it as fast as I could from behind until the water got so deep, if it got any deeper, I wouldn’t be able to jump aboard.  Then, after hopping over the transom, I rowed for all I was worth until I was well clear of the surf zone.  Amazingly, the outboard then started on the first pull and appears none the worse for the experience, even though I saw several waves break completely over the top of it.

The other adventure occurred as we were just arriving here at Isla Cavada.  The spot we decided to anchor at is not the preferred anchorage.  There were two other boats at the preferred one, so we decided  drop the hook in a small bay just south of there for more privacy.  We had turned into the wind and I was up on deck dropping the main when suddenly, Kathryn has the thing at full throttle in reverse.  I look down and we are in water so shallow that the prop is kicking sand up into the water.  Kathryn said that we went suddenly from 30' to 11' (that was when she slammed it into reverse) and the last reading before the churning water caused the fish finder to loose the bottom was 6' (we hit the bottom about the time it reads 5').  The information we had on this bay was that it shoaled quickly.  It sure does.  She got the boat backing up, then put it back into forward in order to turn into deeper water.  It was about then that the prop sucked up the dinghy’s tow line and wrapped it so tightly, the stopped the engine.  We were back in 35’ of water, so I dropped the anchor then jumped over the side to unwrap the prop.  Fortunately, I was able to do so without having to resort to cutting it free.  I guess it’s a good thing the engine was just idling at the time or it would have been wrapped much tighter.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Current Location:  Isla Rancheria near Isla Coida, Panama

7 dg. 38.550’N, 81 dg. 41.807’W

Total distance traveled so far:  4098


Isla Cavada (Friday, Dec 2 – 4 days) Moved to the preferred anchorage after the first night.  It turned out that nobody was on the other two boats there (La Buena Vida & Elan).  We’ve no idea where they were, but the boats were just sitting at anchor with no one aboard. M/V Lazy Days came in for a day, then left.  We just hung out and enjoyed the snorkeling.

Isla Brincanco (Tuesday, Dec. 6 – 2 days).  We found the diving around this island to be great, with lots of sea life to enjoy.  On my first dive, I saw no less than 4 small spotted moray eels and one large eel that was dark brown with tan markings.  I got a long look, but not a good look at this one as he was hiding in some coral and all I could see was about a 1 foot length of his body.  It was about as big around as my forearm, not including the dorsal fin.  Kathryn discovered some small octopuses living in discarded conch shells.  We later went back and brought a couple of them aboard the dinghy and took pictures of them before returning them to the sea.  We also enjoyed some great clear, deep water snorkeling around a little islet separated from Brincanco by 100 yards.

Isla Uva (Thursday, Dec. 8 – 1 day)  We grazed the coral here as we were coming in to anchor.  Nothing serious just scraped off a little bottom paint.  After dropping the anchor, we were still too close to the coral for comfort, so after swimming around to survey the underwater situation, we moved the boat slightly to a spot where we had more room to swing without getting too close to anything.  The tides in this region can be about 9 feet between the high and low, more that we are used to and it can make picking an spot to anchor a little interesting.  The diving here was only so-so, but we did enjoy a very brief exploration of the jungle.  I’m afraid we couldn’t get very far though as it just got too thick. Next time, we’ll wear long pants so we can push past some of the vegetation easier.

Isla Rancheria (Friday, Dec 9 – ? days)  This is a beautiful anchorage.  On the point to our north, the vines are really prolific.  They have taken over and killed most of the tall trees, leaving these pillars of green erupting out of the hillside.  The water in the bay is pretty murky due to a small landslide that obviously occurred recently and has put a lot of red colored mud into the water.  While exploring in the dinghy looking for good places to snorkel, Kathryn saw a large fish in the water (several feet long and almost a foot in diameter) she thinks may have been a wahoo.

We really enjoyed absolutely fantastic diving off the SE point of Isla Rancheria.  The water was incredibly clear and the fish population was something to be amazed about.  The current was pretty strong at times, so when this happened, rather than anchor the dinghy, we just let it drift with the bow line in the water and we’d just let the current carry us and the dinghy along the shore and around the point to an area where the rocks plummeted from just beneath the surface to about 40’.  The fish in this area were awesome.

The fins I bought in Fresno have been causing sores on my feet making diving rather painful, so I have cut a few of the dives short and returned to the dinghy until Kathryn tired out or got cold.  During one of these, Kathryn was in some fairly shallow water in a cove and came upon a 4’ white tipped reef shark that started circling her.  Apparently, it just went around and around her several times before it lost interest.

During one of our dives at this point, while floating on the surface, I heard a loud horn.  Looking up, I see a 35’ power boat approaching with someone on the bow.  I wave and he waves back and motions for me to approach the boat.  When I do, he introduces himself as the ranger of the park, welcomes us (‘Bien Vienido a Parke Coida National’).  He then reminded me that we need to come by the ranger station and pay the fees, making sure that I know where it is.  I asked him if the following morning was OK (‘Esta bien en la mañana a la mañana?’)  and he assured me that it was.

Tuesday, December 12, 2005

Current Location:  Anchored off the ranger’s station on Isla Coida, Panama

7 dg. 37.764’N, 81 dg. 43.614’W

Total distance traveled so far:  4101

We dropped anchor off the ranger station first thing this morning and took the dinghy in to pay the fees ($10 each for the length of our stay).  The ranger was very friendly and informative, though it was a bit of a struggle for me to understand his Spanish.  He asked us if we enjoyed the snorkeling around Isla Rancheria and then made sure we know about Granito de Oro where the diving is spectacular.

Tuesday, December 12, 2005

Current Location:  Granito de Oro near Isla Coida, Panama

7 dg. 35.684’N, 81 dg. 42.822’W

Total distance traveled so far:  4103

After paying our fees, we moved the boat here and, grabbed our masks and fins and jumped into the water, swimming completely around this small island.  Most of what we saw was nothing special, but I found one place that was just unbelievable.  There is a small rock S of the island.  If you swim S, away from the rock and Granito de Oro, it suddenly goes from about 8’ deep to 30’ or more.  This spot has got to be the fish convention center of Panama.  School after school of various kinds of fish would come by, sometimes more than one at a time.  Various kinds of jacks, caravelles, barracudas, surgeon fish and many more.  And they showed little or no fear of us.  For the most part, they just ignored us and let us swim in amongst them.  In the 2 days we were anchored here, we dove this spot 3 times and it was just incredible. 

We saw several of the white tipped reef sharks, at least one of which was a good 6’ from tip to tail.  They tended to just rest on the bottom or under rocks.  It’s pretty amazing how a 5’ shark can completely disappear under a rock.  At one point, I was about 30’ down on the bottom, pulling myself slowly along around a rock to sneak up on an interesting fish when suddenly, I was face to face with one of these.  Startled, I jerked my hand that I had reached out to pull me forward with back and the quick motion startled the shark and he quickly swam away.  Kathryn was on the surface watching me coming one way around the rock and the shark coming the other way and said there was no way she could alert me, so she just watched and laughed.  Then 10 minutes later, the same darn shark did the exact same thing to me not far away and once again, the involuntary jerking of my hand scared him away.  I’m sure it was the same shark as he swam back to “his” rock. 

At one point, we also saw another shark off in the distance that I’m sort of glad came no closer.  We were floating on the surface at the time and there were two of the white tipped sharks about 35’ below us and a ways off to the side and we were just floating there watching them when this other guy swims by them.  It’s difficult to be sure from that distance, but he must have been at least 7’ or 8’ long and built much heavier than the slim, very streamlined white tipped sharks.  We are not sure what kind it was, but for the sake of excitement, we’ll say that it may have been a tiger shark.

 December 13, 2005

Current Location:  Isla Coiba, Panama

7 dg. 17.371’N, 81 dg. 47.041’W

Total distance traveled so far:  4116

After spending 2 days at Granito de Oro, we decided to try something different and moved to this spot.  It’s not an recognized anchorage or anything, just a sandy spot off the shore, but there was no swell, so it was really smooth.  There was a reef nearby, but the visibility wasn’t great, so I cut the dive short as my feet were really bothering me.  It’s really hard to get the sores to heal when you’re wearing the fins that are causing them everyday. At the top of the list of things to get when we get to Panama City is a better pair of fins.  There was lots of different kinds of coral and a huge number of large eels which was really cool, but not enough to make me stay in the water, so I returned to the boat while Kathryn continued snorkeling.  She really enjoyed it, finding lots of neat stuff, including quite a few of lobster. 

We took the dinghy in to shore the following day to poke around and explore.  We came across an abandoned police station (until just a few years ago, Isla Coiba was a penal colony, sort of a Panamanian Devil’s Island) that was full of bats, so we refrained from going inside.  We hit the mother-lode fruit-wise, though.  We brought a bunch of plantains, coconuts and really juicy grapefruit back to the boat.  We are learning about coconuts.  The ones they sell you to drink from all over are the green ones with really soft meat.  We found some brownish ones with much sweeter milk and somewhat firmer meat and some other greenish brown ones with no meat at all, almost tasteless milk and a kernel so soft that you slice into it without realizing it when you are just trying to remove the husk to get to the kernel.  We’ve also found some really dry ones on the ground that when (with some effort), you remove the kernel, it is hard and dry like those you might buy in Safeway.  The meat in these tastes really sweet, but is also really hard.

December 16, 2005

Current Location:  North end of  Isla Jicaron, Panama

7 dg. 17.371’N, 81 dg. 47.041’W

Total distance traveled so far:  4140

The water where we are anchored and all along the N end of the island (just S of Coiba), is quite murky.  I dove to check the anchor and we swam to shore, but other than that it’s just not clear enough to snorkel in.  We did enjoy exploring along the beach.  The vegetation on this island is about as lush and verdant as it gets.  In one area, the vines have really taken over and are smothering all of the trees.  While exploring in the dinghy, we found some clear water along the E side of the island.  We’ll take our masks, etc. tomorrow and check it out.

December 25, 2005

Current Location:  Panama City, Panama

8 dg. 54.595’N, 79 dg. 31.476’W

Total distance traveled so far:  4375

Well, we finally made it to the far side of the Panama Canal.  We are currently anchored a few hundred yards south of the traffic lane that all the big freighters use coming and going to the Panama City locks.  And come and go they do, every few minutes another one will go by.  We are a longish walk (about 4 miles) from the locks and will have to visit them before we leave.  We got here mid-day today and are actually anchored at the La Playita anchorage between Isla Flamenco and Isla Culebre.  There is a causeway connecting these islands to the city with a very nice walking/bike path.  We got here in time to join the other cruisers in the area for a potluck Christmas dinner held at the Balboa Yacht Club not too far from the locks and while we took a taxi there, we had a very nice walk back.

We never did find any decent snorkeling on Isla Jacaron.  This was a bit of a disappointment after all of the great diving we enjoyed at the other islands in the area.   We did enjoy a nice long walk exploring the beach we were anchored off of one day.  The following day, while Kathryn stayed on the boat, I took the dinghy around the corner of the island where the water had looked a little clearer, but after jumping in, found that it was not nearly as clear as we’ve come to expect.  In fact, the top few feet were pretty cloudy making it impossible to just float on the surface and watch for interesting stuff on the bottom.  I then swam over to the beach to look for any good coconuts, citrus trees, etc..  What I found instead was a little scary.  There was a set of tracks from a very large caiman or large crocodile that came straight up out of the ocean and into a small fresh water stream.  And I do mean LARGE.  His hind feet were about 9” long from the back of the heel to the tip of his claws and his stride was 39” long.  I’m really glad I never met up with him personally.  I gotta tell you though that I thought long and hard and searched the water long and hard before getting back into it (the only way to get back to the dinghy was to swim through the same water that those tracks led out of).

We left the following day and sailed overnight to Ensenada Benao (N7dg 25.540’, W80dg 11.365’) where we met David, a single hander aboard his Yankee 30, Ninaem (pronounced “Nina – Em”).   We expected the next leg of the journey to be a difficult one and were not disappointed.  From Ens. Benao, we rounded Punta Mala (“Bad Point”) and headed up into the Gulf of Panama.  We left at 4:00am to take advantage of the incoming tide and rounding the point was no problem.  In fact, it was a piece of cake.  After that though we were fighting our way against a strong current, directly up wind and against very short period wind waves (the wave length was often about 15’).  We first tried tacking out, away from the point, but were making very little headway up wind.  We then tried tacking back towards shore, to try to get out of the current but if anything; it was a even stronger over there.  We then tried motoring directing upwind.  We did this for hours, often with our speed over the ground only one knot or sometimes even less.  We had been staying close to David under the theory that the numerous freighters rounding the point would be more likely to notice (and thus less likely to hit) a pair of sail boats in close proximity than a single one.  Unfortunately, it became apparent that David was not going to have enough fuel to keep this up all the way, so about 4:00pm, we slowed down to let him catch up and passed him another 10 gallons of gasoline.  About that time, the wind and waves died down considerably and we actually started making some headway to the north.  3 hours later, after I had gone to bed and Kathryn had the helm they came back with a vengeance and we were once again crawling our way to windward.  When Kathryn and I switched places at midnight as we normally do David was about ¾ mile ahead of us and we stayed like that with me occasionally calling him on the radio to alert him of a closely approaching freighter.  As a single-hander, he had no one to trade the watch with so had to just doze in the cockpit.  Also, he had no radar, so I had a much better sense of what was happening around us than he did. 

About 3:00am, I told him I thought we should try falling off to the left (away from Panama, but towards land) far enough to let the wind fill our sails and, sailing as close to the wind as we could manage, put some distance between us and all those freighters.  When we did so we found that we were actually making better progress toward our goal than we were by motoring directly towards it.  The current had obviously slacked off a bit.  The motion of the boats in the waves was also a lot more comfortable.  We held this course until dawn, when we tacked back to the east, heading towards our next anticipated landfall, Isla Taboga, from which we could take a ferry into Panama City for reprovisioning and such.  About noon, it was apparent that we were not gong to make it by night and called him on the radio again to let him know that we were going to stop at another island, Isla Otoque and get some sleep.  We could then continue on to Taboga in the morning.  He agreed that this was the smart choice.

I’ve used the term “beautiful” to describe a lot of the places we’ve been, but where we stopped on Otoque truly deserves it.  A team of landscape architects from the Disney Studios could have designed it.   There were rocks of many different colors, black, gray and reddish tan.  Numerous different kinds of trees, some vine covered, some with their trunks and branches exposed to our view.  There was a small sand beach, a pebbly, rocky beach, and areas where the waves just crashed on the rocks.  There were two barrier islands and some rocks further protecting the anchorage from any incoming waves, so we had a very comfortable, non-rolly night’s sleep where we anchored (N8dg 35.727’, W70d 36.087’).  In fact, we enjoyed it so much (and were still so tired from the hard sail) that we stayed a 2nd night while David moved on to Taboga. 

We left Otoque early this morning, heading for Panama City expecting the same difficult conditions we experienced before, but instead had a very fast sail, going over 6 knots most of the time.  As a result, we got here early enough to relax for a while before joining the other cruisers at the potluck.

December 26, 2005

Current Location:  Panama City, Panama

8 dg. 54.595’N, 79 dg. 31.476’W

Total distance traveled so far:  4375

This is Monday, the day after Christmas and Kathryn and I walked 3 or 4 miles today looking for various things (supermarket, someplace we could phone the states, etc.), mostly to no avail.  This was partly because that since Christmas fell on Sunday, this is a legal holiday, but mostly because we spent much of the day wandering around semi-lost.  While doing so, we did bump into David from Mustang (see more about him below).  He and another cruiser were going to a duty free store right close to where we are anchored, so we shared a cab there.  Kathryn got some coffee and I bought some booze, but that was it.  We’ll try again tomorrow, but this time we’ll use the taxi system, as we definitely need to find the immigration office, etc., get checked into the country legally, find an international phone we can use and do some grocery shopping.

On Wednesday, we have agreed to be line handlers for a 45’ ketch going through the canal.  The tentative schedule is to go through the Panama City locks at 07:00am and the Gatun locks on the Caribbean side sometime around 3:00pm, if we can spot the web cameras, we’ll wave at them (google Panama Calan web-cam to find the web site you can see us on).  Afterwards, David, the owner of the ketch, Mustang will pay for a taxi to send us back over here to the Pacific side.

It’s 2 for 1 pizza night at a restaurant here at the anchorage, so in an hour or so, we’ll join a bunch of other cruisers and make a pilgrimage over there.

December 28, 2005

Current Location:  Panama City, Panama

8 dg. 54.595’N, 79 dg. 31.476’W

Total distance traveled so far:  4375

What a fun and interesting day we had today.  We went boating on two oceans and a lake all on the same boat.  We started the morning before dawn when Rick & Marsha from She Wolf picked us up in their dinghy and took us to the dinghy dock.  Then, after walking out to the main road, took a taxi over to Balboa Yacht Club and a launch out to Mustang, a 45’ ketch where the owner, David, was waiting for us.  His friend, Rob soon arrived, so all we needed before getting underway was the Panama Canal advisor.  He was a tad late, arriving on a pilot boat almost an hour and a half after the scheduled 6:30am time. David fired up the engine, the mooring was cast off and we headed out of the mooring field to meet the pilot boat and transfer Francisco, the advisor, aboard.  Then, just as we cleared the mooring field, and were coming alongside the pilot boat, David’s engine died!  Frantically, he dove down below, telling Rob to try to start it again when he shouted to do so and after a couple of minutes, it was once again humming along.  Francisco was quickly transferred aboard and we were on our way towards the locks.

We went up the 3 locks centered tied behind an interesting vessel that was an oil exploration platform.  It was the size of a medium sized freighter, but it had a drilling tower right in the middle of it.  Being center tied means that instead of being tied alongside another boat, we were in the center of the lock with 4 long lines (2 per side) going up to the top of the lock almost 40 feet above us.  As we motored into the lock, the walls towered above us and it was as though we were entering a long narrow canyon.  After all was secured, they closed the gates and the water came flooding in causing some pretty extreme turbulence and swirling of the water in the lock.  Our job as line handlers was to take in the lines as we rose and keep the boat centered in the lock.  It takes about 10 minutes for the water to fill the lock, raising us up some 38 feet higher than we had just been.  A few minutes later and the gates in front of us open, we slack the lines so the line handlers over on the walls of the lock can release them and we slowly motor forward into the next lock to repeat the process.  We did this twice, motored about a mile to the last lock then after the third, we were now over 100 feet above the Pacific Ocean behind us.  We then enjoyed a long, uneventful day motoring through the Galliard Cut and the often beautiful Gatun Lake.

Upon reaching the Gatun Locks on the Caribbean side of the country, we are this time tied up next to a tugboat going down through the lock with us and the drilling ship is behind us in the same lock (each lock is about 1,000 feet long).  This is far easier for the crew as once tied to the tug, there is nothing else for us to do than wait while the water level drops and the gate in front of us opens.  We then untie from the tug, motor over to the far side of the next lock while giving room for the tug to pass us and get their first, then sidle back up and resecure ourselves to the tug again. We were shortly back to sea level and now in the Caribbean.  

A short while later, we arrive at the anchorage on this side just at dusk, drop the hook, enjoy a celebratory beer or two, then David launches his dinghy and gives us a ride over to the dinghy dock at the Panama Yacht Club.


Chapter Two.

There happened to be a taxi sitting at the Yacht Club, so Marsha goes up to him and asks how much to take us to the Amador Causeway in Panama City (next to which our boats are anchored).  He tells us $40 and we all clamber in and are off on the last leg of the days round trip journey.  Shortly, I am silently hoping that the taxi makes it there in one piece.  Every time we hit a bump (that is to say, constantly), there is a scraping noise from under the car that seems to be getting worse and worse.  Then, without saying anything, the driver pulls off into an auto repair place, walks into the shop and begins talking with one of the guys in there.  Presently, he appears to be helping him fix a flat in a tire and we speculate that perhaps it is our driver’s tire that he had been unable to pay the bill for until he got this large fare. But no, it seems our guess was wrong because about 10 minutes later, he comes back out, jumps back into the car, turns it around and backs the rear tires up this rickety looking ramp thing (3 of us are still in the car – Rick had gotten out to stretch his legs).  He and the mechanic then dive under the car and Rick reports that they are using a coat hanger to wire the muffler into place.  A few minutes later, our driver jumps back in, drives off the ramp, turns around and after a couple of attempts, drives the front wheels up onto the ramp.  Eventually, they finish, he backs off the ramp, Rick climbs back in and we are off on our way again, this time without the scraping noise.

At some point, the driver asks us if we have a permission paper of some kind.  Just what kind, we couldn’t understand as he seems unable to slow his rapid fire Spanish down to a rate that we gringos can understand.  We offer that we all have passports with visas, is that what he is talking about?  No, this is a paper for permission to….. about then, his Spanish becomes incomprehensibly machinegun fast.   After a few minutes, he says something, the only thing I was able to catch was the first word, “Entonces,” (meaning “Then,” in Spanish) and the last word, “hermano” (Spanish for brother). He now seems satisfied and his attention returns to his driving.  As I sit here writing this, I still have no clue what it was he was asking about.

Sometime later, the scraping noise not only returns, but also gets worse than ever and rapidly becomes constant, not just when we hit a bump.

As we are getting close to Panama City (I’m not sure how far it is by road from Colon to Panama, but it’s got to be at least 40 miles), he flags down a Canal Authority pickup, pulls over with him and walks up to the driver’s window.  It turns out that he is asking for directions. The pickup driver tells him to just follow him and he leads us all the way through the city.  Along the way, the muffler scraping along the ground gets so bad that passing cars are honking at us and pointing down to it.  As we get close, the pickup we are following pulls over and points him in the direction to go.  By this time, we recognize where we are and are also directing him.

When we finally get to our destination, the driver gets angry and argues that $40 is not nearly enough for the trip. A fairly heated discussion ensued and we finally gave him a total of $70 based upon the fact that another driver had offered to bring us back for $75.

All in all, it was an interesting day.

January 5, 2006

Current Location:  Panama City, Panama

8 dg. 54.595’N, 79 dg. 31.476’W

Total distance traveled so far:  4375


It’s a good thing we managed to spend very little money in the last couple of months since we left El Salvador as we are spending it hand over fist here in Panama.  In addition to the normal reprovision/refuel expenses, we are doing the following:

Of course, this doesn’t include all the taxi’s we have to take ($2-$6 every time) because the city is just too big to walk anywhere, the occasional dinner out, or any of that.

Most of this is stuff that we’ve been putting off until we got somewhere that we could do it, but it still hurts to see all that money going out of my wallet.

On the other hand, we are enjoying it here in Panama.  We’ve been through the canal twice, acting for line handlers for other cruisers who were taking their boat through and I’ve promised another friend of ours that I’ll go through with him on Wed., the 18’th.  We’ve gone out for pizza a couple of times (Monday is 2 for 1 pizza night at a place near here).  We’ve even gone to a couple of movies.  It probably sounds kind of mundane to most of you, but we are sure enjoying it.

January 7, 2006

Current Location:  Panama City, Panama

8 dg. 54.595’N, 79 dg. 31.476’W

Total distance traveled so far:  4375

We are sure enjoying Panama, but we have definitely been in places that were easier to get around in.  Part of the problem is that where we are, it's just not very convenient to get anywhere.  Most places we've been, it's pretty easy to get to markets, etc. from where we anchor, but here, it’s a 2 mile walk or a taxi ride just to get to the nearest shops and miles further for most things.

We have been busy though.

Today, we finally bought the bottom paint (a looooong taxi ride - $20 round trip) so everything is ready for hauling the boat on Wed. and repainting the bottom.  This is a major project involving scheduling the haul out at the yard, finding where we can buy sandpaper, rollers, etc., then finding where we can get reasonably priced paint (the first place quoted us $189/gal, this place charged us $65/gal, well worth the long taxi ride) and finding a bilingual person with local contacts to hire the laborers who will do most of the actual sanding and painting (unfortunately, even after a year in Central America, our Spanish is still way too poor to find & manage laborers without an intermediary).  Yesterday, while Kathryn was at the eye doctor, I finally made it to a hardware store and got the other painting supplies we'll need (sandpaper, etc.).

The anchor chain I bought before leaving that I was so happy with the price of turned out to be a fool’s bargain.  After about a year of use, it rusted very badly.  As a result, one of the first things I did when we arrived was to order some quality chain, which arrived yesterday morning.  I'll install it when we haul out on Wednesday.

When we were in the US last summer, we bought a knot meter (speedometer) to replace our old one that died, but to install it requires drilling a new 2" hole in the bottom of the boat, so we'll finally get that done when we haul the boat too.

We also bought a wind meter last summer, but it failed after only a couple of weeks.  Now that we are somewhere that we can have things sent to us, my sister, Laurie will be sending it to us along with a new shift lever for our outboard that we managed to break.

We had a mechanic come out to the boat and go over our diesel engine this week.  He adjusted the valves (none of which were perfect and one of which was waaay out of adjustment) and serviced the injectors, one of which we had to replace.  The engine now starts instantly, almost before we push the start button.  We haven't been able to test it underway yet, but it should also produce more power and get better gas mileage than before.

One of our GPS's (electronic devices that monitor satellite transmissions and tell us exactly what out longitude and latitude are, what direction we are going and how fast we are going there) failed, so we have replaced it and at the same time, got one that we like better (it can even display a map of the area and show us where we are on it).

We got Kathtyrn's eyes examined and new glasses ordered.

We have been through the Canal twice on other people's boats.

We refueled the boat.  Since this is done by hauling diesel in jerry jugs then siphoning it through a filter, this is another major project that takes more than half a day to accomplish.  Then, after being out in the tropical sun all day, it takes the rest of the day for this old man to recuperate from it.

Refilled the water tanks.  Since we are into the dry season now, we aren't collecting any rainwater anymore.  Filling the tanks also requires running back and forth in the dinghy, this time hauling water in jerry jugs.

Partially reprovisioned the boat.  Since it had been over a month since we were last able to do any shopping, the larder was getting pretty low.

Purchased a new auto-pilot.  Previously, we had the wind vane that we could use whenever there was enough wind to sail.  When there wasn't enough wind, we used something called a tiller-pilot rigged in such a way that it tricked the wind vane into thinking that there was wind.  The big potential problem here was that if something catastrophic happened to the wind vane, we had no completely independent method to steer the boat except by hand (OK for an afternoon, but not non-stop for days on end).  There were also some conditions in which the tiller-pilot just didn't work all that well.  As we were coming down the coast, most of our sailing was in short hops, so if we wound up hand steering, it would have been no big deal.  However, we are about to enter into a phase of our voyaging where we will be going non-stop for much longer periods, and having the new auto-pilot to use when we are motoring will not only reduce the wear and tear on our wind vane (which is something like 20 years old), but give us a completely independent method to steer the boat.

Got new swim fins for me.  This sounds like a minor thing, but mine died last summer (the rubber got old, cracked and broke).  I bought some new ones when we were in the US, but they rubbed my feet so badly that I have had open sores on them ever since we left El Salvador, so getting better fitting ones was an important issue for me.

We've also gone to two movies, King Kong (in Spanish) and one in English whose title escapes me at the moment.


We've been here for two weeks now and it seems like this list should be longer since it seems as though we have been running non-stop from one thing to another, but that's all I can think of at the moment.  I guess a lot of the time has been spent just finding out where to get stuff and how to get around (normal for any new place we find ourselves).  There were also the Christmas and New Years holidays to deal with.

I hope all of you back there in the US enjoy a great new year.

January 13, 2006

Current Location:  Panama City, Panama

8 dg. 54.615’N, 79 dg. 31.563’W

Total distance traveled so far:  4381

The last 3 days have been both exhaustive and productive.  At about 1:00pm on Wednesday, we hauled the boat out of the water on the smaller of the two ways of Balboa Yacht Club in Panama City.  (for the many non-sailors out there, this is a set of railroad tracks that lead down into the water.  On them is a cradle-like device that is lowered down into the water by a very large winch which we drive the boat up on to and secure the boat to with a number of lines.  The winch then pulls the cradle and boat up out of the water.  Then today (Friday) at about 3:00pm, we lowered it back into the water and motored it back into the La Playita anchorage, very close to where we spent the last two weeks.  In the intervening two days, a lot happened.

We also accomplished numerous other smaller tasks while the boat was out of the water, but I am really too tired now to remember, much less relate, them.

We are back at the anchorage now and the boat is a real mess with tools, old parts and untold other things littering the table, nav station. cockpit, foredeck and just about every other area of the boat.  Yet we are so pooped, that we are just laying around doing nothing.  Perhaps tomorrow, we’ll have enough energy to start cleaning things up.

Oh Yeah, I almost forgot to mention a few things about hauling out.

·         With the boat on land and not sitting in the slightly cooler water, it was noticeably hotter in the boat than when we are anchored out.  It took awhile, but anchored out, we have finally adapted to the heat enough that at night, it is quite comfortable.  We even get cool enough to throw a sheet over us at some point during the night instead of just sleeping on top of them.

·         Mosquitoes!  On Land, mosquitoes viciously attacked us, especially during the evening.  This is something while that anchored out has not happened since an occasional bad night in El Salvador.

·         We were living on the slant for a few days with the front of the boat very noticeably higher than the back.  While at anchor, our beds rock slightly at night, but at least they average out to being level.

Are you feeling sorry for us now that you know a little more about what we have to put up with in order to  enjoy paradise while all of you are experiencing a cold and stormy winter  (sniff, sniff)   ;-}

January 20, 2006

Current Location:  Isla Otoque, Panama

8 dg. 35.744’N, 79 dg. 36.057’W

Total distance traveled so far:  4402

The boat’s ready to go and we are ready to get away from the city and back to some isolated anchorages, but we’ve applied for our visas to French Polynesia it will take about a week before we can pick up our passports with the new visas in them at the French embassy, so we left the city and are back out on our own for that week.  Today, we returned to Isla Otoque (pronounced “O – Toe’ – Kay”) which we visited just before arriving at Panama City.  On the way, we calibrated out new knot meter and autopilot.  The autopilot seem to have a glitch in it that prevents it from being used in conjunction with our wind meter to keep a constant angle to the wind, so when we return to Panama, I’ll call Raymarine and see if they can suggest anything other than sending it back (not really an option).  Tomorrow or the next day, we’ll move on to the Las Perlas Islands which are supposed to be really nice.  We’ve enjoyed Panama City and really enjoyed being able to socialize with some other cruisers again, but after over 3 weeks, we are sure ready to move on again.

Sorry this note is so short, but basically, all we’ve been doing is running around, which is incredibly time consuming without a car, and doing a few more boat projects.  We did take time out to go visit the Panama Canal Museum which was very interesting.

January 26, 2006

Current Location:  Isla Bayoneta, Perlas Islands, Panama

8 dg. 29.514’N, 79 dg. 02.862’W

Total distance traveled so far:  4448

Did you know that the bones of a needlefish are a bright, lime green in color?  Even their teeth are a dark green.  I caught a pretty good-sized one (about 4 ½’ long and as big in diameter as my forearm) the other day.  I was surprised that it was very easy to filet.  The most difficult thing about the task was finding a large enough flat spot on the boat in which to work.  I wound up lifting the teak grating up out of the bottom of the cockpit and using the floor of the cockpit as a workspace.  This worked so well, that I think that ‘s where I’m going to filet fish from now on.  Since the cockpit has large drains in each corner, all I had to do to clean it up was to throw a couple of buckets of seawater into it and briefly run a scrub brush over it.  Anyway, I filleted it starting at the tail by just slicing into it and running the filet knife along the backbone.  Imagine my surprise when I lifted the meat away and saw the color of the spine.  It wouldn’t surprise me to learn that it either glowed in the dark or fluoresced.  While cleaning it, it had a somewhat fishy odor, but once skinned and cooked, it was white, flaky and delicious.  Kathryn prepared it as the centerpiece of a curry dish, but next time, I think I’m going to just dip it in soy sauce and throw it on the BBQ. 

The needlefish was fun to catch too.  I was trolling in the dinghy with some pretty light tackle, so the drag was set really light.  There was no hard initial strike as with a dorado, but it fought a real battle, jumping it’s entire 4 ½’ snake-like body completely clear of the water several times.  It took me at least 10 or 15 minutes to bring it alongside the dinghy, and by then, it was so exhausted that I just reached underneath it and lifted it aboard.

We’ve been hanging out at the Perlas Islands, moving from one anchorage to another about every other day for several days now.  For those following along, we first stopped at Isla Contadora (N8-37.432’, W79-01.462’), then Isla Chapera (N8-37.543’, W79-02.868’ ) and now here.  The diving has not been spectacular, the best visibility we’ve seen is about 40’ and here at Bayoneta, it’s only about 10’, but there has been lots of interesting sea life to enjoy.  Another boat, Mahayana (whom we first met back in Las Cruz, Mex., saw again in Zihuatanejo, again in Bahia del Sur, El Salvador and then yet again in Panama City) has reported 80’-100’ visibility in the islands a little ways south of here, but that will have to wait for a bit.  We will be returning to Panama City to pick up our Fr. Polynesia visas on Monday, then coming back to the Perlas on our way to Ecuador and will visit the southern Perlas then.

There is a beach here at Bayoneta that you wouldn’t believe.  It is covered with hundreds and hundreds of thousands of 2 ½” scallop shells.  Almost all of them are purple and white in color, but every now and then there is an orange one.  These shells are in near perfect condition, so there must be a bunch of them living just offshore of the beach.  Would any of you out there care to do a bit of Internet research for us and let us know how to find them (what depth and how deep in the sand?).  I can think of nothing better than a big scallop feed for tomorrow night.

February 4, 2006

Current Location:  Isla Chapera, Perlas Islands, Panama

8 dg. 39.679’N, 79 dg. 03.005’W

Total distance traveled so far:  4518

We returned to the La Playita anchorage in Panama City last Monday for a few days and got quite a bit accomplished. We picked up our visa for Polynesia from the French embassy, topped off our fuel and water supplies, did some final provisioning as well as a few other things.

One of the major things we spent money on during our first stay in Panama was a new auto-pilot. We finally got to test it during our first trip to the Perlas and it turned out that it had a problem.  It was as though the compass in it was installed backwards.  When the boat turned to the right, the indicated course got smaller instead of larger and vice versa when you turned to the left.  I was able to get it to work in its basic function of keeping the boat held to a course, but there were some problems with this.  First, the course indicated on the display was meaningless, the buttons you push to alter course to the right or left were backwards and worst of all, it could not be made to work with the wind instrument to cause the boat to keep a constant angle to the wind.  Since one of the justifications we used to ourselves in making the purchase was that it would be a backup in case our wind vane steering failed (ours is 20+ years old and we have spoken with a couple of boats where a weld broke in theirs, rending it useless until they could get it repaired), this was a serious problem.  One of the things I did when we got back into Panama was to call the company and ask them what could be done about it. The first response was to send it back to them for repair/replacement.  Since the cost of this is about $80 each way and it would take a long time, I really did not want to do this.  After discussing it with an engineer, I was able to take the unit apart, correct the problem and it now works just like it’s supposed to.  Hallelujah!

Getting checked out of the country was kind of interesting.  Our first stop was at the port captain’s office.  It turned out that there were two pieces of paper that we should have gotten when we first got here that we didn’t have.  The first is something called a Cruising Permit.  We knew about this one, but since it cost $70, and when we asked about it, the lady at the immigration office said that if we weren’t going through the canal we didn’t need one, we never got it.  At the time, we suspected she was wrong, but we figured if we really did need it, we could get it when we wanted to leave.  When the lady in the port captain’s office asked us for it, we put on our best confused look and said “Huh?”  Since she spoke no English and our Spanish is very limited, the ensuing conversation was not terribly productive.  She finally turned to a co-worker, spoke in rapid fire Spanish for a minute or two and the result was that they let us get by without paying the $70 for the permit.

The next stop was across the hall at the actual Port Captain’s office.  This is where the other missing form (a check-in permit) was discovered.  This one we were completely clueless about as we had never heard of it.  The Port Captain spoke fair English and demanded to know why we didn’t have it.  When we explained that we had no idea the form even existed, he wrote up a notice in English stating the need for the form and how to get it (we corrected the grammar in the notice for him), drove us back to the anchorage where the agent that fills out the forms was, then drove us pack to his office to complete the check-out.  This was not really out of his way since he wanted to go to the anchorage to post the notice, but it was really nice of him to take us along instead of making us take a taxi to go get the form filled out.

Yesterday (Friday), having completed the check-out procedure, we said farewell to Panama City and headed back to the Perlas.  Along the way, I hooked 3 fish with my hand line.  I lost a brand new lure when the first was something big enough to cause the large swivel I use to break.  I wonder what it was. The 2nd was a nice 2 ½’ dorado, but he managed to throw the hook during one of his jumps.  The final one was a beautiful 4’ dorado (mahi-mahi) who I managed to land and we gorged ourselves, first with some breaded and fried mahi-mahi, then later for dinner, Kathryn baked some in a soy & ginger sauce.  Both ways were truly delicious.  The one time I really miss not having refrigeration is when we catch a big fish like that and have no way to preserve the meat.

We’ll spend a few more days out here in the islands (just how long really depends on whether we find some nice diving or not), then head out for Bahia de Caraques, Ecuador.  This will be about a 600 mile passage which should take us 5 – 7 days.  We hope to leave the boat almost immediately and do some inland traveling for about a month, then we will head for the Galapagos (another 5-7 day passage) followed by Polynesia (about a 3 week passage).

February 8, 2006

Current Location: Underway

8 dg. 18.277’N, 78 dg. 44.456’W

Total distance traveled so far:  4551

We spent the last few days anchored in a really quiet and protected anchorage on the NE side of Isla Del Rey (just N of Espiritu Santo) where we enjoyed being off by ourselves and had plenty of small islands and lonely, sandy beaches to explore (the nearest boat was anchored about ½ a mile south of us). Then, this morning at 7:40am, we raised the anchor and set sail.  We started off with a nice 10 kts of wind, but that dropped to about half that a couple of hours ago.  We are now sailing under a bright blue sky with just a few puffy white clouds to accent it over smooth seas being pulled along by our spinnaker.  That’s one of those huge, colorful, balloon-like sails.  Our new auto-pilot is behaving flawlessly and keeping things well enough in control that, even in these light winds and with the spinnaker up, it needs no tending by us poor humans.  We just have to wake up every now and then and check the horizon to make sure that there are no other boats or ships we have to watch out for. 

A few miles behind us is Pearl, a Baba 30’ sailboat with John and Karen aboard from Homer Alaska.  Leaving in a few hours from another of the Perlas Islands, will be Ralph & Karen aboard Noord who were anchored right next to us for awhile in the La Playita anchorage, Panama City. It will be interesting to see how close we stay to each other as we all make our way the 600+ miles to Bahia Caraques, Ecuador.  With good winds, we should make it in about 6 days.  With perfect wind, we could make it in 5.  I’ll be happy if we do it in 7 or 8 days.

After doing some inland traveling in Ecuador & Peru, we plan on returning to the boat and heading out to the Galapagos Islands, Darwin's playground.  We'll spend a few weeks or a month exploring there, then the next stop will be a long 3 week sail away, Polynesia.  It's during these long passages that we sometimes wish we had a 3rd person (or even a 4th) to join us.  While the boat sails itself in almost all conditions (especially with our new auto-pilot), we still need to maintain a 24 hour watch to make sure we don't bump into any big ships that happen by.  There are a lot of single handers and even some couples that just trust to the fact that it's a big ocean and the likelyhood of running into anything is so slim as to be ignored, but I prefer to keep an alert (OK, a semi-alert) watch.  A watch schedule with 3 or 4 people is ever so much easier than with 2.  Anyone out there care to take a couple of months off and visit The Galapagos & Polynesia with us?  If so, let us know.

February 11, 2006

Current Location: Underway (77 miles off the Columbian coast)

2 dg. 29.995’N, 79 dg. 55.993’W

Total distance traveled so far:  4927

Almost 400 miles in 3 days!  Man has it been a wild ride.  Our best days run, from noon on Thursday to noon Friday was over 145 nautical miles (that’s an average of over 6 kt), far and away a new record for us.  In fact, the highest speed our knot meter recorded was 9.1 kt that occurred sometime during Kathryn’s watch Thursday night.  We had near perfect wind for the first 2 ½ days, 15–20 kts from directly behind us.  The only thing that could have been better would have been if it had been about 20 degrees off to the side.  We did have some real confused and uncomfortable seas with the wind, up to about 9’ or 10’ and very steep so we were being really thrown around.  As a result, we are both a little sleep deprived, but I’m really excited about how many miles we’ve put behind us.  It really bodes well for the long trade wind passage to Polynesia.  Last night, the wind started diminishing until we finally started the engine about one o’clock this morning.  The seas also quieted way down and are now a very comfortable 5’ and very gentle, with a gentle sloping shape that just rolls right under us almost without us even noticing them.  About an hour ago an 8 or 9 kt breeze came up and we are once again sailing along.  Not as fast as we did the first couple of days, but fast enough.  I anticipate going over the river bar at Bahia de Caraques, Ecuador on the high tide at 4pm on Monday. 

Our first day out before the wind and seas came up, I caught a nice 2 ½’ Dorado.  While I was cleaning it, another, larger one took the lure.  Being busy with the first one, I just left him back there without pulling the line in and he finally threw the hook during one of his jumps.  Then, as we were sitting in the cockpit, eating the first one, another one, almost 4’ long took the lure.  It didn’t look like he was going to be able to throw it, so I pulled him in, along side the boat and released him.  Those are sure pretty fish!

While we were motoring this morning and I was up in the V-berth napping, I woke up when Kathryn throttled back and I heard voices.  Some fishermen in a panga had come alongside and were trying to trade us some fish for canned food.  One of the dorado they had was a real beauty, almost 5’ long.  Not knowing how long ago they had been caught, we just gave them a can of corned beef, a can of pork & beans and some refried beans and declined the offered fish.  Kathryn is preparing a squash curry and it’s about time to throw the line in the water now and see if I can catch anything to add to it for an afternoon or evening meal.

February 13, 2006

Current Location: Underway (15 miles off the Ecuadorean coast)

0 dg. 0.000’N, 80 dg. 30.393’W

Total distance traveled so far:  5082.98

Just a quick note to say that at 1:23am this morning, after journeying 5,082.98 nautical miles since we left Bodega Bay on October 1, 2004, we crossed the equator into the southern hemisphere about 15 miles off of Punta Ballena (Whale Point), Ecuador.

11:20am - S0 dg 35.853’, W 80 dg 27.149’

We just dropped anchor about 1/3 of a mile before the “waiting room” outside of the Rio Chone (Bahia de Caraques), Ecuador where we will wait until the pilot boat comes out and brings us in at high tide (4:53 pm) this afternoon.  We didn’t go all the way to the waiting room because as we approached it, the ocean swells began to build as they hit the shallow water and it would have been very uncomfortable being rocked by them.  We are very tired now, so will get some sleep until it’s time to go in.  It started raining just as we were coming in and dropping the sails, and between the slick deck and my fatigue, I slipped while securing the main and took a tumble all the way down until my butt was on the deck, my back against the life lines and my legs against the coachroof with my feet sticking straight up into the air.  I was stuck like a cork in a bottle and it took me a few minutes to extricate myself.  That’s the first time I’ve fallen like that so far this trip.  I guess that’s why we wear harnesses whenever we are underway and we go up on deck while the other is asleep down below.

February 13, 2006

Current Location: On a mooring in Bahia de Caraques, Ecuador

0 dg. 36.493’S, 80 dg. 25.337’W

Total distance traveled so far:  5,127 nm

February 25, 2006

Current Location: Cusco, Peru

0 dg. 36.493’S, 80 dg. 25.337’W

Total distance traveled so far:  5,127 nm As I write this, I am sitting in an internet cafe on Cuzco, Peru, the ancient capital of Peru.  It is a rather high city, more than 10,000 feet above sea level and the streets and alleys (defined as streets too narrow for vehicles) are quite steep, sometimes consisting primarily of stair steps.


Getting here was somethng of an ordeal.  We left Bahia de Caraquez, Ecuador on the bus at 7:00 Tuesday morning, expecting to arrive in Guayaquill in time to catch the 2:00pm bus to Lima.  Unfortunately, there apparently is no longer a 2:00 bus.  It is now an 11:00am bus.  So, we found a hotel, wandered around Guayaquill for the afternoon and were at the bus station in plenty of time to catch the bus in the morning.  It was then nonstop to Lima, Peru, a 2 hour wait and we were back aboard and off again, this time to Arequipa.  After another 2 hour layover, we were off again to Puno then finally here to Cuzco, arriving about 10:00pm Friday night.  In case you weren´t counting, thats about 59 hours of non-stop bus and bus terminal sitting since we left Guayaquill.  Man oh man were we every ready to lay down in a bed and get some real sleep!


Ths is a cool place.  I think I may retire here.  As I said earlier, it´s at a high altitude and combine that with the steep streets and it really leaves us huffing and puffing very quickly.  The views here are beautiful and the people incredibly friendly and helpful, almost to a fault.  Agusto, one of the hotel employees that nabbed us in the bus station last night and whose hotel we wound up in ($17/night for a nice double with a private bath and hot water) spent a few hours walking around town with us this morning, showing us around, helping us find stuff (such as a gadget to convert the 220V electrical power to the 110V that my CPAP machine uses) and even went into a museum with us to explain/comment on the exhibits. I think his real reason was to make sure that we didn´t sign up for any tours other than through the hotel so he could get his commision, but it was still very nice of him.


I´ll write a lot more later, but I thought I should get something out to everyone now.




March 3, 2006

Current Location: Mt. Chimborazo, Ecuador

Total distance traveled so far:  5,127 nm

The Peruvian Andes are incredible.  Back when I was in my late teens and twenties and was active in rock and mountain climbing, we used to talk about someday coming down here to climb some of the magnificent peaks of the Andes.  How I wish I had.  On our bus ride up from the coast, we drove through a pass that was over 15,000 feet above sea level and had snow on the ground (in the tropics!).  That's almost 1,000 feet higher than the highest mountain I've ever climbed.  The major peaks around here are almost a mile higher yet.

When, on the rare occasion that we clouds and terrain combine to let us see those glacier covered peaks,  I am filled with a tremendous sense of awe and reverence.  It's not hard at all for me to understand why the pre-columbian peoples of the area used to think of them as holy places.

It will be hard for a lot of you to understand, but when I look upon those peaks, I feel two primary emotions.  The first is an intense longing to be up there, struggling up those glaciers and rocks, gasping for breath as I slowly and painfully make my way towards the summit.  The other is a deep sense of regret that I had not found a way to come down here for just that purpose when I was still physically able to accomplish such tasks.  These of you who have done some mountaineering cannot imagine the depth of emotion that fills you when in the presence of these incredible peaks.

Despite the fact that Cusco (sometimes spelled Cuzco) has a half a million inhabitants, the air up here crystal clear.  Couple that with the mountainous terrain and the vistas are something to behold.  The air is a bit thin since our hotel is at about 11,000 feet above sea level, so we find that we have to take things slow and easy.  When climbing the steep and narrow streets up from the main plaza (about 200' in elevation below us), we arrive huffing and puffing.  More often than not, we find ourselves taking a 65 cent taxi in order to avoid the climb.

We've spent the last week playing tourist here around Cusco and also at Machu Picchu, an incredibly well preserved Incan site.  The Incas were a pretty incredible people.  Their technology was truly impressive.  Not just their  stonework, which is unbelievable, but they also had a metallurgy, making bronze tools as well as silver and gold ornaments.  Their textiles were also top notch.  The Incan presence is still very real here.  Not only were some of the streets still in use today originally laid out by them, but there are numerous buildings whose stone foundations were  laid down by the Incans. 

 Visiting the archeological sites here (as well as those we visited in Central America) is very different and much more rewarding than visiting analogous sites in the U.S..  Here, you are allowed to roam at will just about anywhere you want.  We literally walked into almost all of the couple of hundred Inca buildings at Machu Picchu, climbed virtually every ancient stairway and stood right at the edge of numerous walls, some of which dropped almost 100' straight down with no rail to keep us from falling over.  I am sure that the ruins suffer some wear and tear, though I saw no obvious grafitti despite the fact that hundreds of people visit the site unsupervised every day.  And I am equally sure that accidents occasionally happen, but the ability to explore that site and others the way we did made our stay here an incredibly rich experience.

 We leave this evening for another 2 day bus ride, back to Tumbes, Peru (near the Ecuadorean border), then we will continue our inland travels in the Ecuadorian Andes.

March 10, 2006

Current Location: Mt. Chimborazo, Ecuador

Total distance traveled so far:  5,127 nm

“Are you sure you want to do this?”  Our guide, Gallo, asked me as his eyes locked onto mine across the front seat of his 4-wheel drive.

“I have too.” I replied.

“Then here, take the walky-talky and keep me informed as to how things are going.”

After several days of rain, this morning had dawned with a few fluffy white clouds in a brilliant deep blue sky.  I knew this was going to be hard.  I had been sick for a few days earlier in the week and had only just gotten out of bed to travel further than the bathroom of our hotel room yesterday afternoon for the first time.  Our guide met us outside the hotel at 7:30 that morning and had driven us on a scenic trip past the end of the paved road, then as high as the 4-wheel drive trail would take us.  As we worked our way up this magnificent mountain, the tallest in the Ecuadorean Andes, its peak further away from the center of the Earth than even Mt. Everest, the vistas that opened before our eyes were like none I had ever seen before.  Every time we came around a bend, it just got better and better.

We were sitting at the end of the road with the glacier covered peak towering above us.  Just sitting here at this high altitude, breathing the thin air was thrilling.  I took the lead, setting a very slow yet steady pace for Kathryn and I, adjusting it so that, panting heavily, we were able to continue our ascent without constantly stopping to painfully gasp for breath.  At first, the footing was excellent, a mixture of dirt and rock.  But eventually, this gave way to crusty snow and ice covered rock making for more treacherous footing.  I slowed down even more, just slow and steady, carefully placing each foot in front of the other, transferring my weight onto it and repeating the motion.  As we slowly crept up the mountain, I was filed with an incredible feeling of exhilaration.  In my youth, I had climbed some of the highest mountains of the Sierras and Cascades, but they were nothing like this.  It was as though every time I turned around to enjoy the view, I was looking down from the top of the world.

As we continued upward, the clouds that had been a cheery white closed ranks and turned a dark and foreboding gray.  At the same time, the temperature started dropping rapidly.  When it started to snow on us, it seemed astonishing.  We were after all very near the equator.  Down where the boat was, the land was tropical and jungle-like.  Up here though, over 3 miles higher than the boat it was getting cold fast and we were without any serious cold weather gear.

“Gallo.  Gallo.  This is Dan, do you read me?”  I half shouted into the radio.

“Go ahead, Dan.  This is Gallo.”

“We are at about 16,300 feet and it’s snowing on us!  This is as high as we are going to make it.  We are turning around and heading back now.”

16,300 feet above sea level!  This was almost 2,000 feet higher than I had ever been on any of the mountains I had ever climbed in my life.  This had truly been a great day for me.  The fact that the peak of Chimborazo towered fully 4,000 feet higher yet did not diminish the feeling of accomplishment at all.  I had found a new personal high in every sense of the word.

March 25, 2006

Current Location: On a mooring in Bahia de Caraques, Ecuador

0 dg. 36.493’S, 80 dg. 25.337’W

Total distance traveled so far:  5,127 nm

Tomorrow at about 12:30, we will begin the next phase of our trip.  After dropping the moorings, the pilot will board a boat called Scotty and we along with yet another boat, Aventura, will follow them out the estuary and over the bar.  This next leg will mark a whole new kind of sailing for us.  In the past, we have done what is referred to as “coastal cruising”.  In other words, we have been cruising along a coast.  Sure, sometimes we took some rather large short cuts, sailing straight across big bays and gulfs, sometimes even getting a hundred or more miles from the nearest land.  Nevertheless, we were sailing along a coast.  This time, we will be heading straight out, due west, from here for about 600 miles.  Our next expected landfall will be on San Cristobal Island in the Galapagos!

While psychologically this is a big step, in reality, it is no more dangerous and indeed, probably a lot safer than the coastal sailing we’ve done until now.  Contrary to popular belief, the biggest danger in sailing is not huge storms or anything like that.  The real danger to sailboats is hitting something.  The land, rocks, ships, fishing boats, even hitting a sandy or muddy bottom can be dangerous if there are waves that can then wash the boat further up onto the beach.  But out in the middle of the ocean, there is just not that much to bump into.  Once we get away from the coast, there won’t even be many ships or fishing boats.  In fact, other than the first and last day of this leg, we are unlikely to even see any.  We’ll still maintain our watches, but it should be a real easy crossing.

After spending a few weeks visiting the exotic Galapagos (our permit runs from April 1st through May 1st), we will then take the really big step and continue west to fabled Polynesia.  Our first landfall there is expected to be Nuka Hiva in the Marquessas.  Once we get there, we really have no specific plans.  We’ll just play it by ear and enjoy ourselves.

Eat your hearts out!