Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Goodbye Caribbean - Hello Pacific

22:00, 18 January 2014, Alongside Shelter Bay Marina

My hard drive on the computer has crashed!! And, it would be the one I had been recording the blogs on. The technician gave it its last rites today and took the computer away to install a new drive and operating system. The last 3 weeks have been quite eventful but you will benefit from the usual drivel I write for a more condensed version of what has been going on.

We are back at Shelter Bay, the location we were so eager to leave in early December and vowed not to return to. We arrived this afternoon after a pleasant sail from Portobello. Well, things have changed. We have made a momentous decision….. Fran had been complaining about the conditions we were enduring on this side of the Canal for some weeks. The wind has been blowing much harder, there are lots of clouds an even some occasional rain and the 8-12 ft waves can be daunting. We are not in the best time of year to have a nice relaxing ride north and I must admit that by the time it is supposed to be better we would have had a rather direct trip to Rio Dulce and not have achieved our aim of visiting Cuba, Mexico and Belize. So 2 weeks ago we decided to give up our Caribbean adventure and return to our comfort zone in Western Mexico. We are now faced with a 2400 mile trip to accomplish in the next 2 months. With decent winds we should even be able to make some stops along the way and enjoy some of our old haunts. We have been here for 2 days and already we have a facilitator handling our case. We hope to be able to transit the canal by mid next week, get some supplies on the other side and head north. Ken and Carol (Nauti Moments) have already shown an interest in joining us for a part of the trip. Bill and Janet (Optical Illusion) and their grand-daughter Ashlyn have been sailing with us for the past few weeks and have volunteered to be our canal crew for the crossing while they wait to ship their boat home. 

So, last blog left us on our way to the East Hollandes. We had an uneventful crossing to the “swimming pool” but found that the offshore swells were a lot more substantial than the last time we were here. The sound of the waves crashing on the outer reef was bad enough but the deciding factor was the 2 kt current sweeping through the anchorage, making swimming from the boat a risky proposition. This is where Optical Illusion finally joined us after their drawn out stay in Shelter Bay. The following day we moved to another anchorage close by where there was no current, however, the heavy seas on the outer reefs was churning up the bottom, reducing the visibility in most of the prime snorkeling spots.

Surf on outer reef
After a few days there we sailed to the island village of Nargana for water, groceries and to get laundry done. We anchored off the SW side of the island, adjacent to Frederico’s dock where a large sign stating “Lavomatico” is clearly visible. It appears that Frederico’s wife has the only automatic washing machine on the island and she makes a decent living washing clothes at $5 a load for the cruisers. Frederico is somewhat of a facilitator and escorted us around the village so that we could get all the things we needed. The fruit and veg boat was delivering the following day but there were enough “quality” leftovers from the last delivery to suit our needs. The baker had some fresh kuna bread (like a hot dog bun with pointy ends) so we were happy.

We left the next morning after lugging 15 jugs of water from Frederico’s dock to the boat and filling our tank. Our next destination was the Coco Banderas, another place we had stopped at last year and again, it was a rolly anchorage, forcing us to re-anchor in the lee of one of the islands close to the channel, but again, it was poor snorkling and we only stayed one day.

Back we went to the East Lemmons for a few days of snorkeling and bocce. We had been toying with the idea of taking a tour up to a Kuna village with a guide from The Robeson island group for some time. Several other boats had recently sailed there and were reporting back that it was a great anchorage and that the tour was really good. We followed their recommendation and arrived there on Jan 11th. There were 5 other boats in the anchorage, 3 that we knew. Almost immediately we were besieged by children in Uluus (dugout canoes). Some large, some small but all operated expertly by children as young at 7-8 years old. Most were curious but a few had items for sale: molas, crabs, lobster and bananas and much cheaper than what we had experienced to date. The crabs were quite different from what we are used to but they were the sweetest we had ever tasted, even better than Dungeness crabs and the bananas were a mini-variety, very sweet. We saw a much higher percentage of children with albinism here, a sad reflection on the gene pool.
 Family with Albinism child

Trinkets for sale
The tour to the native village was a long arduous hike along an old banana plantation road that had serviced an American enterprise that had folded in 1940. We also walked along a long runway that had been built for airplanes that required a much longer take off and landing distance than the aircraft of today.

 We arrived at the village after a 90 minute hike from the boat landing. The village of 500 is situated on high land close to a river that is used for bathing, washing and drinking water. We were amazed at how their systems could adapt to the quality of the water but everyone we saw was healthy and happy. The village was clean and the people welcomed us with their wares for sale; molas and other trinkets. There were no domestic animals anywhere, not even chickens so we were perplexed as to what the people survive on. Our guide told us that most families tend a small garden plot with banana trees as their main crop. The fruit is sold or bartered in the Robeson Islands for the staples they use for everyday living, mainly rice and fish. Some improvements were noted. Most houses had solar panels and batteries, “gifts” from some political candidate to obtain votes we were told. WE were introduced to the local chief who promptly took $3 from each of us for the visit to his village. We were happy to pay the fee as it benefits the village. We got back to the boat in the mid-afternoon and nursed our blistered feet.
Kuna village people
 Village sugarcane pree for making the local hootch
Kuna kids by the river

 Kuna galley. No stoves here....
The following morning we weighed anchor. Sailed to Porvenir and obtained our Zarpe (travel document) to Shelter Bay. We spent the night back where we had started at the West Lemmon anchorage. The following morning we were on our way with Optical Illusion. WE stopped for the night at Portobello and resumed our trip the following morning. On or way we passed Warren Peace heading in the opposite direction. Steve and Linda had finally overcome all of their issues and were beginning their Caribbean adventure.

 The old Kuna flag. They had it way before Hitler chose it.

22:30, Tuesday, January 21, 2014 Shelter Bay

 We are ready to leave the Caribbean for the Pacific. Our facilitator (agent wannabe) Roger has done us proud. We scheduled to pass through the first locks tomorrow afternoon, spend the night in Gatun Lake and continue on the following day. WE have our tire fenders and our canal lines and our crossing crew, the Jacksons, who will have Optical Illusion buttoned down tomorrow. They will crew for us and depart from Panama City in a few days. Their shipping date has been move to March so they have arranged for a friend to deliver the boat to the transport vessel for them.
Farewell Kuna Yala, it was a slice!


  1. “My hard drive on the computer has crashed!” – Did this happen during your vacation? If so, it’s really bad news. It’s a good thing that you know a technician that could fix it. I just hope you have a backup of all your files. Also, it’s great that you had a wonderful sailing experience. Somehow i took your mind away from thinking too much of your computer problem.

    Ruby @ WilliamsDataManagement.com

    1. No, not all was backed up. The drive is totalled and ity was only a few months old. Hope to be able to retrieve some of the files but doubtful. Just curious, who are you and how did you find my blog?