Even though we thought we might be leaving today and we are not, boat life still goes on. There is always something that needs attention on a boat. When you live in a house, there may actually be spaces or even whole rooms that you do not purposefully use everyday. It is much different on a boat. With 6 people on board EXIT ONLY, she is heavily loaded and we use all of the space every single day.
It is the same with clothing, galley gear, tools, replacement parts, and other things we want to have on board...since there is limited space for everything, what we do have gets used much more often than it would in a house.
We have been surprised how much dirt and grit seems to fall from the sky on to the boats in the marina. We wondered how this can be happening. I think we may have some idea after looking at the photos Dito took of the marina with his drone.
In the overview of the marina, the photo shows the marina buildings and the docks... with the rainforest jungle at the bottom of the photo...the main marina buildings and the pool...the marshy areas around the edge of the water in the marina...the row of old Army barracks from the U.S. Army base days...the landing strip near the barracks that is used occasionally by helicopters from AeroNaval (the Panamanian Border Control force that does drug interdiction and border security) and all the way out to the ocean where huge ships are anchored as they wait for their turn to go through the Canal to Balboa or they have arrived on this end after having transited the Canal.
EXIT ONLY is visible in all three photos. In the overview of the marina, Exit Only is in a slip in the middle on the right side of the second dock from the right side of the photo (the red kayak shows up). The docks to the right side of the photo are for boats with 5-foot draft (keel depth) or less. The docks to the left side of the photo are for boats with deeper drafts than 5-feet. Shelter Bay Marina truly does give us good shelter from any direction the wind comes from.
Dito has been chasing a goal...to edit some more video and get another episode posted. This time he is focusing on the Abacos Islands in the Bahamas. He has been staying up late and editing, because he gets going and does not want to “interrupt his creative flow”. I also suspect he stays up late because it is much quieter then without all of us talking and moving around in the boat. Five other people can be quite a distraction, no matter how quiet they think they are being. I should say Dito does all his editing while he is listening to music with ear buds. He started uploading the video at 2130/9:30 p.m., then went to bed. He got up at 0330/3:30 a.m. to check on it. It had finished downloading. He did this at night so he could use the marina internet during the “low usage” time.
Everyone is always asking us how Z and J are adjusting to life on a boat. This video addresses that question. It is funny, because whether we are at a dock, at anchor, or on passage, the girls find all kinds of things to do. When they think they have run out of ideas about what to do, Sarah does a terrific job of coming up with something to engage them. Believe me, we all wondered how the kids would do, if they would seasick, etc. So far, so good.
All of us are trying in different ways to share with family and friends how life aboard EXIT ONLY is going. I like the videos Dito makes, because they show a lot of the “real life” daily activities the crew is engaged in. I am sure y’all can tell we are doing “live” videos and no one is reading from a script!
I have been saying for weeks now that I was going to try out a couple of homemade yoghurt recipes friends shared with me. We have been able to buy yoghurt everywhere we have been, so there was no pressure to try to make it...so, I did not. This week I decided was “yoghurt week” for me. I am thinking ahead to a couple of longer passages we are going to be making and I want to be ready to go with a yoghurt recipe that works for us. It is better to experiment before you really need the yoghurt!
I did yoghurt experiment #1 and we never found out how it would have turned out, because I forgot to tell Dave there was a thermos full of “soon-to-be-yoghurt” in the thermal bag on the floor of the cabin. I will just say that batch never had a chance. Yoghurt experiment #2 used the same ingredients as #1. It partially set, but was not what I expected or wanted. I scrutinized my ingredients again and realized the powdered milk I had used was purchased in the States. It has been awhile since we left the States, so I decided to use new powdered milk purchased here in Panama for yoghurt experiment #3 yesterday. When I opened #3 this morning, I was pleased. It looked good and tasted good!
The photo shows the container and the thermos I am using to make yoghurt. I bought these supplies in New Zealand on our last trip many years ago. At that time, 2 companies, Easiyo and Hansells were selling packets of yoghurt mix along with the container and thermos. Making yoghurt was sort of like making instant pudding. Amazon does carry Easiyo packets now, but they are extremely expensive there compared to what they cost in New Zealand. I did buy a few packets to have for back up, but I am determined to make yoghurt without the packet, too.
I made up the yoghurt mix from scratch, then put it in the covered container that fits inside the thermos. I put 2 inches of boiling water into the thermos, put the container into the hot water, and put the lid on the thermos. I carefully placed the thermos in a thermal bag and folded the top over to keep the heat in. I made the yoghurt at 0800/8:00 a.m. and let it set in the bag until 2000/8:00 p.m. I removed the container from the thermos and put it in the frig overnight.
I have mentioned how we have started acting like we are going to leave this marina and head out for an overnight sail to Bocas del Toro. Friday, Saturday, and Sunday we focused on doing what we wanted done before we left. We have been watching the weather and thought Tuesday or Wednesday this week had real possibilities to head to Bocas (that is what the locals call Bocas del Toro).
After breakfast, Dave and Dito went up to the bow and were working on bringing the 70 lb. anchor up and setting it in its holder to get ready for leaving. It immediately became clear there was a problem. Those of you who have been “traveling along with me” via this blog know that we had furler problems while sailing to Panama and while we have been in Panama we replaced the whole furler system with a new one.
Well...in a few words...there is not enough room to bring the anchor up and put it in its holder. Short link plates were used at the bottom of the furler and long link plates should have been used instead. The shank (straight part) of the anchor normally stays in its holder on deck and is held tight to the bow whenever it is not in use. When the new furler was installed, the anchor was moved off the holder and left hanging on chain off the bow to a level just above the water. This made it easier to install the furler. No one remembers why, but the anchor was left hanging instead of bringing it up into the holder immediately after the installation. We wish we would have realized there was a problem days and days ago (and fixed it then), but instead, we found out today.
Dave and Dito brought the anchor up, took it off the chain, and left it on deck until they figured out what to do next. After quite a lot of research, an order for the long link plates was sent to a company in Florida. So, now we are waiting for those parts to arrive and be installed.
The photo of Dave and Zoe sort of fits this situation...Are we disappointed? Yes. Are we thinking we should have raised the anchor up after the installation? Yes. Could we have done better? Definitely. Can we believe this happened? No...then, yes. For now, it is what it is and we will wait for parts...Yes.
First thing this morning we were out on deck looking at the caulking to see how it looks several hours after it was put in the grooves around the windows yesterday. The information on the tube says it takes 24 hours to be fully set. It did rain during the night, so we were wondering if the rain had any effect on the caulk. I am happy to report the caulk looked really good in the morning and just as good in the afternoon. Hopefully, that is the solution for stopping that leak.
My other two photos are of some fun things I saw as I was out and about at the marina. There is a large monohull (one hull, not a catamaran with two hulls) sailboat here at the dock. The boat is 124 feet long with a 27 foot beam and has a mast with four spreaders (the “arms” that stick out from the mast) that is about 190 feet high. The other day the paid crew on that boat took down one of the sails from the forestay and wanted to move this huge sail to the sail loft at the marina for short term storage. The crew asked some of the marina workers to help carry the sail. It took 9 people to pick up that sail and move it.
My other fun photo is of Dito pushing Z and J in a dock cart. These dock carts are owned by the marina. They are kept in Ann easily accessible area near the pool for anyone who is in a boat slip at the marina to use. We mostly use them to carry heavy groceries from the shuttle bus out to EXIT ONLY, but people use them to carry all kinds of heavy things...as you can see!
We made a plan last evening to get up and go to Colon on the morning bus today to finish our provisioning so we can really be ready to go if we get the “weather window” we are looking for. That is exactly what we did. Five of us (Dito stayed at the boat) were there with eight other people waiting to board the shuttle bus at 0750/7:50 a.m. for an 0800/8:00 a.m. departure. The only problem was...the shuttle bus had not arrived at the marina yet! Someone from the marina office told us there was a logistical problem with the bus this morning and we would not be able to go to Colon until 0930/9:30 a.m. or 1000//10:00 a.m.
The same group of people returned to the waiting area around 0930/9:30 a.m., but there was still no shuttle bus. One of the cruisers had rented a van yesterday and was just heading into Colon to return the van. He told all of us what he was planning to do and said he would fill his van with people who were there waiting and take them to Colon, then they could catch the shuttle in town for the return trip. He called the shuttle driver and found out he was on his way to the marina, but was caught in a line at the ferry waiting to cross the Canal. Everyone, but the crew from EXIT ONLY fit into the van and off they went.
About 20 minutes later, the shuttle arrived. After a short break, the driver started the shuttle bus engine and headed to Colon with the five of us. We had to take the ferry across the Canal on the way. I took a photo from the bus on the ferry of the big new bridge that is suppose to open 2 August with the other vehicle ferry crossing our path as it returned from the other side.
We arrived in Colon at 1130/11:30 a.m. and the driver told us the pick up time would be 1330/1:30 p.m. By then we were hungry and decided it would be better to eat first, then go grocery shopping. Guess what! We walked over to Pizza Hut and had pizza for the second time this week! No one minded!
The ladies walked to the grocery store while Dave went looking for a store that would have rubber tips for chair legs. He ended up going to hardware stores, department stores, and variety stores. He did not find exactly what he was looking for, but he did find something he thinks will work on the two deck chairs we have in the cockpit.
Everyone was on the bus with their purchases by 1330/1:30 p.m. and we were on our way back to the marina. We crossed Agua Clara locks, then continued on the road to Gatun locks. There was a ship just coming out of Gatun locks, so the traffic light was red! We sat at a stoplight waiting for this huge ship to leave the lock! Dave got a very good video of this happening. Then, the light turned green and we drove across Gatun locks. We looked over and there was a ship preparing to come in to the lock as soon as the traffic cleared out. The Panama Canal is one busy place...24/7!
Back at EXIT ONLY the foredeck had dried off after the morning rains and Dave and Dito decided to work on fixing the leak in the area of one of the windows (non-opening) over the girls’ cabin. The piece in the deck is part decoration and part support over 4 separate windows (all non-opening). They cleaned out the old caulk and filled the groove with silicone sealant. The information on the tube of silicone says it will form a skin on top after 10 minutes and be thoroughly dry in 24 hours. We are all wondering if they tested their product right next to a rain forest in rainy season. Well, that is exactly what is happening here today...a test! We are hoping the product is as good as they say it is!
We had a conversation yesterday about the status of EXIT ONLY. We are down to a couple of repair jobs around windows (they do not open) that are leaking a little. The big jobs are done. We decide we are going to start watching the wind and weather and looking for a “weather window” for leaving. It may take a few days since this is rainy season, but we will get ready and be ready when the “window” appears.
The first thing we did today that puts us closer to leaving is get the laundry done. Since it rained off and on most of the day, we decided to take our bedding and personal laundry to the washers and dryers at the marina. The lady there organizes how things are done in there in a very efficient way. Our job is to be there when the laundry needs to be moved from the washer to the dryer, then from the dryer to the folding table. Otherwise, we stay out of her way!
We took the laundry over there and Dito stayed there so Sarah and I could do school with Z and J. After we were done with school, I went over just in time to help him with the folding. It was so nice to have everything washed and dried even though it was raining!
Z and J like to go to the laundry because there are 4 cats that hang around there. The laundry lady has taken them in one by one. She feeds them and takes care of them. They are waiting for her when the bus carrying the workers to work arrives in the morning. They hang out at the laundry most of the day. They tolerate those of us who like to pet them, but the main person they are devoted to is the lady who feeds them. A lot of us at the docks have been known to buy some cat food when we are shopping, then drop it off at the laundry.
The next thing we can do to be ready to go is get our provisions in order. That is on the To Do List for tomorrow. We do not need to have a lot of extra food on hand, because we are only going to be doing an overnight sail and we will be going to Bocas del Toro (up near the Panama—Costa Rica border) instead of the San Blas/Guna Yala Islands first. Supplies will be available in Bocas.
Leaving Pizza Hut and Colon behind, We
we headed back toward Shelter Bay Marina where the boat is located. When we came to Agua Clara locks, we turned off to go to the Visitor’s Center that is dedicated to the new expansion of the Panama Canal. Construction began in 2007 and the expansion opened in 2016. The new Panamax ships are 1,200 feet long, 160.7 feet wide, and 49.9 feet deep. The single-piece gates on these locks open by sliding to the side. The original gates have two parts and open like barn doors. The view over Lake Gatun is spectacular. The movie at the theater tells about the new gates and how they are making it possible for larger ships to transit the Canal.
Leaving the Visitor’s Center, we drove a few miles to the T-intersection where we normally turn right to go to the marina. This time we turned left instead and drove...very slowly...on a paved road with many large potholes for the next 7 miles.
At the end of the road, we saw Fuerte San Lorenzo/Fort San Lorenzo overlooking the Caribbean Sea in the distance and the Chagres River across the harbor. A drizzling rain was falling, but that was not enough to stop our exploration of the ruins. No one else was there (it was raining!), so we had the whole site to ourselves. This, too, is a World Heritage Site and a Parque Nacional/National Park.
The Spanish were concerned about protecting the Chagres River because it was an integral part of the trade route the Inca gold and silver followed from the Pacific side of the isthmus to the Atlantic side during the wet season. In 1595 Fuerte San Lorenzo/Fort San Lorenzo was built on top of a steep cliff overlooking the mouth of the Chagres River. The Spanish considered Fuerte San Lorenzo, Portobelo, and Panama City (on the Pacific side) the 3 most important keys to their trade empire based on their control of the Americas (Central America and South America).
Once built, this fort was under constant attack...Sir Francis Drake, Sir Henry Morgan, British Admiral Vernon, and miscellaneous pirates attacked and held the fort for short periods of time. They, too, realized this fort was the key to accessing the riches moving across the isthmus.
San Lorenzo was abandoned by the Spanish only when Panama declared independence from Spain in 1821. The fort became a prison, a post office, and later, a campsite for prospectors taking a “short cut” from the Atlantic side across the isthmus then boarding a ship heading for California and the Gold Rush.
We were able to see everything at the sight and take photos and drone shots. The low clouds hanging over the tops of the trees in the rainforest on both side of the Chagres River in the distance were amazing. It started raining harder and we knew it was time to get in the car and return 7 miles to the marina.
As protection for the Panama Canal Zone, in 1911 the U.S. military built Fort Sherman 7 miles further along the coast (today, Shelter Bay Marina is where Fort Sherman was located). In 1963 the rainforest area around Fort Sherman became an important jungle training area for the U.S. Army’s School of the Americas. In 1968 the school became the Jungle Operations Training Center. This center was used for training by Army Special Forces.
In 1999 the Torrijos-Carter Treaty of 1977 went into effect...the control of the Panama Canal, all Canal Zone property, and all U.S. military bases were turned over to Panama.
As we left the Church of San Felipe it was starting to sprinkle. We thought we still had a chance to see the ruins of the Fuerte Santiago/Fort Santiago before it started raining hard.
This fort is the first obvious ruin we saw as we approached Portobelo from the west. The ruins of the fortification, Fort San Santiago, stood on the hill overlooking the harbor as they have for hundreds of years. It was built after 1739. Some walls are 3 meters thick and made entirely of cut coral blocks. The Spaniards called the coral blocks, “reef rock”. Coral was readily available, easily shaped, as tough as granite, and was easy to carry because it is as light as pumice.
The rain held off long enough for us to have a good look around, for Dito to fly his drone over the fort, and for us to hurry back to the car when the little raindrops got much bigger.
As we headed the car back towards Colon, it started pouring...it was almost a white out from the pounding rain. Everyone did slow down and many were using emergency flashers as we wended our way on the curvy road up and down through the mountains before we were down on the coast following the curve of the ocean.
Back in Colon it was almost 1400/2:00 p.m. and we were all very hungry. We had purchased food, drinks, ice, and an inexpensive cool box to hold the ice earlier at the grocery store. We were thinking how nice it would be to have a picnic at some scenic place along the way. The deluge of rain made that impossible. We decided to get pizza at Pizza Hut in Colon. Pizza is one of our favorite foods. Everyone likes it, so this idea was met with unanimous enthusiasm. The pizza reenergized us and gave us time to dry out a tad!
We all got up and got ready to catch the shuttle bus by 07:30/7:30 a.m.this morning. Sarah, Z, J, and I got off at the grocery store. Dave and Dito stayed on the shuttle bus and the driver dropped them off at the Hertz rental office. We picked up some groceries while we were waiting for them to come back and pick us up.
When they returned to the grocery store, we got in the car and headed immediately for Portobello, about 30 miles away. The sky was overcast, but we were thinking positive thoughts about getting to see some of the sights (it is a pretty small place today) in this historic town before it started to rain.
There were some very interesting things to see in Portobelo, so I am going to tell about our visit there in more than one blog entry. Today, Portobelo is a small rural fishing village, but for awhile after 1597 it was the greatest Spanish port in Central America. Christopher Columbus had visited that bay on his fourth New World voyage. He named the area “Puerto Bello” (Beautiful Port), and today the town is spelled “Portobelo”. The location of the town on the coast made it a good place to bring the Inca gold and silver that had been brought first to Panama City by ship from South America, then carried across the isthmus on the backs of mules walking on a road paved with stones in dry season or on ships using the Chagres River, then transferring the loads to the mules in wet season.
Once the gold and silver arrived in Portobelo, it was stored in the Real Aduana de Portobelo or The Royal Customs House of Portobelo. Over 200 soldiers were assigned to the building to protect the treasure. Gold and silver was stored there until Spanish ships were ready to load it up and sail away to Spain. Today, the Customs House seemed to be under renovation again. There are so many historic ruins in and around Portobelo that the whole town has been designated a World Heritage Site.
Our first stop in town was the church on the plaza...Iglesia de San Felipe/Church of San Felipe. This church was the last building put up in the town by the Spanish in 1814. It is famous in Panama for being the home of El Cristo Negro/the Black Christ. There are several stories about how the 1.5 meter wooden statue of the Black Christ came to Portobelo. One story says a ship was caught in a rough storm, so they threw heavy things overboard to keep the ship from sinking. A short while later, one heavy box was found floating by a local fisherman. He and his friends opened the box and found the statue. Within days several sick people in the community were healed. The word soon spread about people being healed and to this day the church is believed to be a haven for those seeking healing.
The statue is kept in the church and people come to seek a blessing and healing. Once every year, on 21 October, the statue is carried through the streets of the town. The people honor and thank the spirit of the statue for the miracles that have occurred by wearing purple robes and crowns of thorns as they dance around the statue.
Another nice sunny day with a breeze blowing. We have been able to get some more of the smaller jobs done on the boat. The list really is getting shorter and shorter and we really are talking about moving on to do some exploring on this side of the Canal.
Dave and Dito pulled out the battens from storage today and decided to put them in the mainsail. In the photo, you can see Dave and Dito holding on to a very long round rod made of fiberglass. We have a 500 square foot mainsail. There are six evenly spaced horizontal pockets sewn into the sail from the top of the sail to the boom at the bottom of the sail. These rods help shape the sail into an air foil so it catches the wind and functions properly. Obviously, you can sail without having the battens in the pockets, because we have been doing that. However, the sail is made to have battens in it so the sail can be most effective.
For a few weeks now, I have been trying to figure out how we can have shade on our foredeck (front of the boat) when we are at anchor or in a slip at a marina. I have been looking at other catamarans to see how they are providing shade on the foredeck. I had talked to Dave about it and we decided the fabric would have to be nylon. Nylon would be light and take up very little storage space when not in use. I was talking to Dito about it today and he went to his cabin and brought out a shade made to be tied over his hammock. We tied the middle of the shade from the forestay back to the mast. Then we tied the left side of the shade to port lifelines at the bow and even with the mast, repeating this on the starboard (right) side. Sitting on the trampoline with the breeze moving under the boat as well as over the boat was a very cool spot!
Sarah took the girls to the pool this afternoon. Dito joined them later. The high humidity makes for a sticky hot environment, so everyone really enjoyed cooling off in the pool. Z and J have both become strong swimmers. One of their marina friends added to the fun by bringing an inflatable dolphin to play with in the water today.
The sunshine lasted almost all day today and the breeze is blowing through the boat and keeping us comfortable. That breeze really made a difference when we turned on the oven to make cake and later, bread. The heat was noticeable.
This week I made a cake recipe that mixes the cake batter and a tin of pie filling. I made a lemon cake and added blueberry pie filling, then put lemon glaze on the hot cake. One photo shows the food-to-share table when it was about half full. Sarah, Z, and J made their delicious bulla bread again, because everyone loved it last time. The EXIT ONLY crew ate only a little bread and let the others have more. We knew there was a secret stash back on the boat...they made 4 loaves and only took 2 loaves to the BBQ! Guess what I am having for breakfast tomorrow!
A friend from South America via Belgium whom I met here in the marina had shared a recipe with me last week for using tiny sweet green or red peppers from the grocery store. She sautés them in a tiny bit of olive oil with garlic until the skin takes on a bit of dark color. Next, you remove them from the heat and let them cool. Then add the tiniest bit of soy sauce and toss lightly. Just before serving, add a little more soy and toss again. I followed this recipe and took the peppers to the BBQ. That plate was clean when we left, too.
The group was small tonight, but the food and fellowship were excellent. We were talking to the people who I talked with on the bus yesterday at the table. It came up in the conversation that they went to Chagos for a 3 months stay 3 different times. There is a military post there in the middle of the Indian Ocean, and the military makes it abundantly clear they are not going to provide any support for cruisers who may come to the area.
I said I had read somewhere that some people had even taken a chicken with them for fresh eggs. They said, “That was us|” Someone had written about them in a sailing magazine back when they were there. The lady said she carefully numbered the eggs everyday so they could keep track of how old each egg was and they ate the oldest eggs first. She said if it was your birthday (there were 2 kids on board, too), you got to have a fresh egg from that day!
The other photo is of EXIT ONLY. I took the photo tonight as I walked back down the dock toward the boat in the dark. The lamps along the dock automatically come on when it is dark and go off when the sun rises in the morning.
Dave and Dito decided to change the oil...in everything...today! At least that is what it sounded like to me. They changed the oil in the gearbox of each diesel engine and in the generator for the water maker, Then, they changed the diesel fuel filters in both engines. They poured the diesel fuel we had stored in jerry jugs carried on deck into the fuel tanks for each engine, port and starboard.
I have put in 2 photos taken today while riding on the shuttle bus to Colon. One is of a brahma bull being carried in a truck on the ferry across the Canal. The other photo is of a very large ship in the Agua Clara Locks. These are also called the “Panama Canal Extension” or the “Third Set of Locks Project”. These locks were built especially to accommodate the New Panamax ships that are too large to go through the original locks. The new locks are 1-1/2 times the size of the old locks. They opened to the larger ships in June 2016.
Sarah, Z, J, and I went to Colon to get some more provisioning done in preparation for leaving. As we rode along on the way to town, it was quite natural to chat with the folks sitting around me on the bus. I started talking to the couple behind me. They had arrived at the marina yesterday from San Blas/Guna Yala. I was asking them lots of questions about cruising there and getting some good information. They were asking me questions about shopping in Colon and I was trying to give them good information about that.
They left the States and transited the Canal back in 1990. I told them we transited in 1995. We talked about how different cruising is today since internet and cell phones have become an integral part of our lives. We all somewhat hesitantly admitted we really like having good internet wherever we can get it, too! These folks got jobs in the 90’s in New Zealand and ended up working and raising their family there. I told them about our extended stay on our boat in New Zealand in an area not far from where they were living. We were in their town many times.
In Colon, we helped these folks find the grocery store and pointed out a couple other shops, then did our grocery shopping. Back on the bus for the return trip to the marina, we continued our earlier conversation. Eventually, we got around to talking about the tsunami of 2005. I asked them where they were for the tsunami. They said they were in Thailand. “We were, too,” I said. They said they were in Phuket. “We were, too,” I said. We were in Naiharn Bay they said. “We were, too,” I said. Turns out, right before moving to Naiharn Bay, both of our boats had been at Koh Phi Phi Don, a Thai island famous for diving and crowded to the max for the Christmas holiday when the tsunami hit.
Around 200 cruising boat crews had heard the invitation to Christmas Eve dinner on the cruisers’ VHF net. They all gathered in Naiharn Bay for a traditional Christmas dinner served by an American and his Thai wife at their open air beach restaurant. They served around 400 people dinner for $10 per plate. Everyone enjoyed the food and the evening. Two days later, the tsunami had struck and the restaurant, along with everything else located on the beach, was gone. It really is a small world after all.
It was another unbelievably beautiful sunny day today. We were not missing the dreary storm clouds that have been hanging around and threatening us with rain day in and day out.
Dave, Dito, Sarah, Z, and J all went to Colon on the afternoon shuttle bus. I stayed on the boat to work on my blog, because I was planning to go on the bus tomorrow morning. The afternoon is a quick trip to town, so when you go, you have to be focused on a short list and use your time well. Sarah and the girls said their goal was to get ingredients to make cupcakes to take to Movie night. Dave and Dito said their goal was to find jerry cans with the kind of caps they like for storing the diesel and gasoline on deck.
They had about 1 hour to do errands in town before it was time to start back to the marina. The ladies found the groceries they were looking for. The guys did not find the kind of jerry jugs they were looking for. They will keep looking. We keep thinking they will probably find them in Panama City when we eventually get there.
It may be Movie Night for some of the crew, but Dave and I headed for a quiet dinner at the air conditioned marina restaurant. The photo of me in the mirror is taken by one of the entrances to the restaurant. Old wood from onsite old buildings was repurposed and repainted using my favorite color (turquoise) to make the frame. The star-shaped light covers are overhead inside the restaurant. Are they stars or starfish? Maybe both. We mostly do not miss air conditioning, but sometimes it is nice to sit in “the cool” and drink ice water! We have tried several different items on the menu, but the coconut shrimp is the best! I think of Friday as Coconut Shrimp Night!
Today was sunny! The sun beamed down from a blue sky filled with puffy white Trade-wind clouds all day! After so many days with rain, everyone noticed and commented on how glad we were to see the sun!
After lunch, Sarah took the kids to the pool and Dave and Dito continued to work on their computers trying to use internet to the max. We know we are not going to have reliable, strong internet in the San Blas/Guna Yala Islands. I will keep writing my blog, but I have no idea when I will be able to send it to Sarah. She has no idea when she will be able to post on the web site.
I have been having a problem moving my photos from my Google Fi phone to my Mini IPad (Apple) for some time now. Transference is obviously affected by the strength and speed of the internet I am connected to, but basically, it is not easy to make the two systems interact. The obvious solution to the dilemma is to take photos with my old IPhone so I can easily move photos to the IPad. I have not been happy with that idea because this would mean carrying my old phone for photos only and my new phone for general use. I do not want to carry both of them all of the time.
The transfer from Google to IPhone can be done, but it is very time consuming the way I was doing it. The process has a lot of steps and I had to write them down so I could keep it all straight. Dave sat down with me today and showed me a different, faster way to move the photos. The process is not intuitive to me, so, again, I have to carefully write down the process step by step. I worked on this “new” way to move between the 2 systems all afternoon and it seems to be a great improvement. I was able to move the photos fairly quickly today, so this makes me very happy!
P.S. I am adding 2 more of what I call the “President of Panama’s flowers”...the flowers on the hibiscus bushes the marina planted for the arrival of the new President of Panama when he came here to go to Fort San Lorenzo (a World Heritage Site).
Yesterday was a fun change of pace, but this morning we had to get real about putting everything away. Of course we started with putting some donuts (carried carefully all the way from Panama City) away in our tummies. We had left all our purchases under the table in the salon last night. We were replacing things we have used and adding some extra to get ready to leave sometime next week.
Sarah and the girls went to the mini-mart at the marina and ordered 2 baguettes this morning. We cannot get enough of these delicious French sticks of bread. She paid for the bread and the lady in the shop took two flash frozen bread sticks out of the freezer by the small oven in the shop. The bread bakes for 10 minutes and “Voila”! Z and J stayed to wait for the bread to bake, then brought it to the boat. Baguette sandwiches for lunch!
We are planning to head for the San Blas/Guna Yala Island’s to the east of Colon about 80 miles. Those cruisers who have already been there have told us that shopping for groceries is limited and most of the fruits and vegetables they bought while there were purchased from locals who come buy in small boats offering to sell whatever is ripe and ready for sale from their gardens on the mainland. The most common advice is: go well prepared, and take plenty of “small” money, meaning one dollar U.S. dollar bills or Panamanian $1 Balboas (coins). The “balboa” is the official currency of Panama and was named to honor Vasco Nunez de Balboa, a Spanish conquistador famous for crossing the Isthmus of Panama in 1513. He was the first European to reach the Pacific Ocean from the New World. It seems no matter what you buy and how much money you give them, they never have change. Hmmm...
Our original plan was to head out along the coast and go about 30 miles to Portobello. It is a small village now, but yes, it is the famous Portobello where all the Inca silver and gold was brought to be loaded onto Spanish ships. We planned to anchor off the village for one night, as many people do, then head out at first light the second day for San Blas. Another anchoring option is 10 miles farther along at Linton Bay or you can take a slip at Linton Bay Marina. Between these two popular stopovers is a small village named Nombre de Dios. The anchorage is not as good as the other two, but will do for overnight in good weather.
A lot of people here at this marina are planning on going to San Blas/Guna Yala just like we are, so when news of several boats being boarded in these areas came out on a cruisers’ forum and on a Facebook page about cruising in Panama today, everyone was paying very close attention. Just in the past couple of weeks there have been at least 3 incidents of boats at anchor in one of the places I mentioned above being boarded by 6-8 armed men. They have threatened the people on board with guns and stolen everything of value on the boat. No one has been injured so far, but significant damage has been done to the boats. We are rethinking stopping for the night. Instead, if we still decided to go that way, we will leave in the afternoon and sail several miles off shore through the night...make it an overnight sail.
We have some decisions to make. In the next few days we will be finishing up some smaller jobs, getting our provisions topped up, and thinking about what we are going to choose as a sailing destination.
We had quite an interesting day. One of the cruisers at the marina rented a van that holds 9 people with the last seat folded down to hold all the goodies we all bought at our various stops. Dito, Sarah, Z, J, and I went along from EXIT ONLY. Sarah’s telephone stopped working weeks ago in the Bahamas. Import duties are really high in the Bahamas, so she waited to have her replacement phone sent to Panama City. A German cruiser went along to pick up special bottom paint for steel hulls that is made in Belgium and is sold in Panama City. We stopped on our way from Colon over to the other side at a small town named Sabanitas. We picked up 2 cruisers who used to be at Shelter Bay, but now their boat is in a marina along the coast on the way to the San Blas/Guna Yala islands. They had to pick up some boat parts in town.
When we arrived at the big city, the first thing we did was go to the mailbox/package business that had Sarah’s phone. Once that was done, we headed to the address the guy had for picking up the bottom paint. Long story short, we could not find the address (roads, houses, and businesses are often not marked with address numbers). We all decided we would find a place to eat lunch, then try calling the paint people again. We went to a strip mall that had a Chinese restaurant and a Subway. Z, J, and I opted for Subway.
I am proud to say I ordered the girls a sandwich with one half that had ham, tomato, and pickle and the other half had ham, cheese, and pickle...in Spanish! I am really enjoying trying to communicate in Spanish and it is working. Many people do not speak English. I am not sure how correct my Spanish grammar is, but I can honestly say I have gotten everything I have tried to get! I am learning a lot of new words along the way. I ordered myself a veggie sandwich and found out there was no lettuce and no tomato. Hmmmm. Anyway, we took our sandwiches back to join the rest of our group at the Chinese restaurant. I bought drinks there for the girls and myself and we sat down and ate.
After lunch the calls were made to the paint people again and finally they answered. They said their house was next to a small neighborhood bakery/panadería. While we were waiting for the guy to get his paint, we went into the small bakery. There, at a round table, 2 women were making lace by hand using thread on many spindles. The lace will be sold to someone to use for decoration on their traditional Panamanian dress (una pollera) worn for folk dancing. I am always surprised at the interesting things we come across in the most unexpected places.
Once the cans of paint were in the van, we headed for Price Smart. You can see that the store looks a lot like Costco. It works the same way, too. You have to join for $32/year to get through the door...except in Panama it is sort of culturally the thing to do to go shopping with many members of the family. So, our driver has a card to get in and we all walked in behind him! We were very disappointed to find out the frozen yogurt (just like Costco!) machine was not working. We had all been talking about eating ice cream at Price Smart all day.
Next, we stopped at a store called Discovery Center. If they do not have it, you probably do not need it. This store has a huge variety of items for sale and the shelves go from the floor to the ceiling. What an amazing place. The word that comes to mind is “overwhelming”, but in a good way!
On the way to our road that will take us back to Colon, we made one more stop at Riba Smith grocery store. This was a beautiful grocery store (reminded me of Trader Joe’s) with so many items from the States that are not found in the local grocery stores. It was fun to see it, but the day was long and we still had to go over an hour to get back to the marina. It was about 1930/7:30 p.m. when we climbed into the car to head for Colon. As we were almost at the end of the city, our driver asked if anyone wanted something to eat. It was now or never. Last chance. The kids were hungry, so everyone said they could eat something.
We pulled into the drive through line at McDonalds. Most of us could not remember the last time we ate at a McDonalds in any country. In Spanish, the driver ordered the sandwiches 7 people asked for and 2 kids meals with 6 nuggets each. Only 3 meals were combos, plus 2 McFlurrys. OK. We all sent our money forward and the driver ended up paying $5.50/per person. At the pick-up window, the food just kept coming in the window...7 sandwiches, but not exactly what we ordered, plus 10 and 9 piece nuggets. Nine drinks of several flavors appeared along with 9 servings of French fries and the 2 Mc Flurry’s! What a hoot! We were laughing so hard, we could hardly eat! We teased our driver...we said we thought he spoke good Spanish, but now we are wondering how good it really is!
We are trying to get a lot of the routine things done today, because we know we are going to Panama City tomorrow and will be gone most of the day. We are looking forward to that. The last time we went to Panama City was our first trip over there and we did not know what to expect. We did not know about the stores we would be going to and we did not know what shops other people riding in the car would want to go to. We had no specific destination requests...we just wanted to go!
This trip, we now know about 2 of the stores we will be going to. We have some specific things for the boat that we would like to find and we think those stores will have what we are looking for. We are also going to a couple of places that are new to us, so it will be fun to see what they have.
We did hear some interesting history about this area that has been turned into Shelter Bay Marina. This property used to be Ft. Sherman, a military base. Someone was telling us that the building that houses the restaurant, small hotel, Cruiser’ lounge and the marina offices is an original Panama Canal Company building from the late 1800’s. In front of the building where we catch the shuttle bus to Colon, there are railroad tracks in the ground running out toward the ocean. It turns out these are part of the original railroad tracks that were used to move all the rocks that were removed during the building of the Panama Canal. The rocks were loaded into open railroad cars at the construction sites and brought to this area on rails that ran to the edge of the ocean. The rocks were unloaded onto waiting ships that took the rocks out into deep water and dumped them. The building they are using at the marina as a sail loft these days, used to be the Ft. Sherman base theater when the military was here.
Everywhere you look, there are reminders of the history of the long struggle that it took to make the Canal a reality. France began working to build the canal in 1881. They stopped their effort almost 20 years later due to the worker mortality rate from yellow fever and malaria. The United States took over the project in 1904 and the Canal opened in August 1914. The United States controlled the Canal until 1977. At that time, The Torrijos/Carter Treaty provided for the handover of the Canal to the Panamanians in 1999. The Canal is now overseen by the government controlled Panama Canal Authority. Some of the management has been subcontracted to a Chinese company, but the contract is written in such a way that the workers who are hired to work at the Canal are from Panama.
Dave did his internship at Gorgas Hospital in the Panama Canal Zone in 1974-75. I taught first grade at Diablo Heights Elementary School. Both of us worked for the Panama Canal Company. We lived in a wooden building on stilts that had been built in World War II. There were 4 apartments in the building. Four vehicles parked under the apartments on the ground floor. Two apartments were on the first floor, right side and left side. Two apartments were on the second floor, right and left. We lived on the top floor to the right. There was a large tree that grew up past our kitchen window. A sloth lived in that tree right outside our window! After EXIT ONLY transited the Canal in 1995 and we were anchored inn Balboa on the Pacific side, we rented a car one day and drove around looking at “our old neighborhood”. The building we lived in was still there and people were living in it. When we go through the Canal and spend time over there this time, we will go see if the building is still there now...24 years since we last transited and 44 years since we lived there!
Dave and Dito continued from where they left off yesterday working on adjusting the valves of the second Diesel engine. Yes, it started raining right in the middle of the procedure, so Dave had to lower the lid of the engine room. If you look in the photo, you will see that the lid is slightly raised. Do not worry...Dito had a fan blowing on him down there and he was wearing a headlamp light. That being said, I know I would not like being down in there with the lid shut! Fortunately, it quit raining fairly quickly.
We really do look forward to the Cruisers’ carry-in supper on Sunday evenings. Everyone brings their main food to grill on the charcoal fire plus a side dish to share. It seems like every week, the effort put into the dishes to share on the food table increases. We have had some very delicious international foods from every food group.
I have been making cakes as my contribution. The first time I made a cake I kept it pretty basic with a rich chocolate cake and a vanilla icing (with sprinkles, of course, for Z and J). The cake went over well, so I thought I would up my game with a Mississippi Mud Cake the second week. There was one 12-year-old boy who actually gave me a hug because he liked that cake so much! He asked if he could give me q hug for making that cake, then he was asking me, “Whaat kind of cake are you going to make next week?”...7 days away!
I told the boy I would make another cake, but I did not know what kind. Then, I asked him what he liked in a cake and he said fruit. I told him I would make some kind of fruit in a cake and that it would be inspired by him. I started looking online for ideas and decided to go with a Hummingbird Cake. It is a basic light color cake with crushed pineapple plus the juice in the batter. Tradition seems to use a cream cheese frosting, then put it in the frig until you serve it. Since my frig is so small, I made a vanilla icing and added shredded coconut to it, then spread it on the hot cake...straight out of the oven. Of course I did put sprinkles in the icing for Z and J! Everyone really liked the cake. The empty pan was all we carried back to the boat!
I also brought 2 very large platanos/plantains tonight. One of the cruisers here is from Mexico. He and his wife brought platanos to put on the grill last week and I loved eating them. He told me how to make them, but I wanted to actually do it this week while he was there and could answer any questions I might have. I just laid the 2 platanos on the grill and stood there talking to folks while they began to cook. Sarah turned them so both sides cooked. Eventually the skin of the platano actually split and some juice came oozing out. That meant they were ready to eat. I had brought a cutting board to use for a serving tray. I put aluminum foil on the “tray” and carefully cut, then pulled away the peel. I cut the platano fruit in 3/4” slices. Next, I poured La Lechera (a commercial name for sweetened condensed milk) over the platano. Then, I sprinkled canela/cinnamon over the La Lechera and serve. It is delicioso!
We have had so much rain this week, both day and night, with little reprieve, seeing the sunshine this morning was a pleasant surprise. We went for it! Dave and I did some laundry and proceeded to hang it out on the lifelines. The longer the things hung there, the cloudier the sky became. Finally, we decided to take Dave”s heaviest clothes...the ones that would take forever to dry on a day like this...over to the laundry and have them put the clothes in a dryer. Turned out to be a very good move.
Dave and Dito working on adjusting the valves of the first of the two Diesel engines this morning. Dito was down in the actual engine room while Dave was finding the correct tools and information he needed and passing it along. Dave was also working at the cockpit table on cleaning the valve covers with miniature tools to get them as clean as possible.
After lunch the rain clouds built up and finally unloaded on the marina. By then, most of the clothes hanging on the boat were dry and had been taken down. This “rainy season thing” is happening almost daily now.
I am adding photos of a hibiscus flower on one of the bushes over by the laundry. The plants are small, but the flowers are already lovely. There are white, red, salmon, yellow, and pink flowers all in a long row along the edge of the road coming into the marina. These plants look nice and will grow into a larger beautiful hedge. This recent addition to the property happened because the new President of Panama came here to the marina area on a military helicopter the first weekend in July. As part of his Inauguration Day, he flew here to the helicopter pad, then transferred to the marina bus for a short drive to Ft. San Lorenzo. A military ceremony was held there at the ruins of the fort honoring its place in the history of Panama. The fort was built by the Spanish at the coast near the mouth of the Chagres River 1587-1750.
The Chagres River was important in the early 1500’s following Spain’s conquest of Peru. The rainy season route of the Camino Real de Cruces was mostly moving the stolen silver from the Pacific to the Atlantic by boat on the river. The dry season Camino Real de Cruces was used by mule trains carrying the silver to Nombre de Dios on the coast where Spanish ships were waiting to load the silver and take it to Spain. Later, the point of departure for Spain was moved to Portobello. We plan to visit San Lorenzo, a World Heritage Site, before we leave this area.
We did school this morning, then did a quick shake of the rugs and a quick sweep with the hand-held vacuum. We had lunch on the boat. I decided to go into Colon on the afternoon bus. I told Z and J that I would take then with me. Remember the ice cream story I wrote about on Wednesday, 2 days ago? Well, they remember the ice cream too! They were ready to go!
The thing about riding the afternoon bus into town is the shopping time can be very short. The big new suspension bridge is supposed to open 02 August, but the local joke is...will that be 2019 or 2020? Anyway, until the bridge is open, the afternoon bus has to cross the canal on a car ferry. How much time the ferry takes depends on how long the line is to board the ferry. My photo shows how long the line was today. We had to wait for one ferry to make two round trips before we were able to board the ferry.
What this all means is we left the marina at 1245/12:45 a.m. and arrived at the bus drop off place near the grocery store at 1400/2:00 p.m. Since the pick up time to return to the marina is 1445/2:45 p.m., we did not have much time in town. My main goal was to pick up a mail packet at the mail service kiosk inside the grocery store. Uh, oh! A sign on the door said “Regreso a las 2:30”. Are you kidding me? They were not going to reopen until 1430/2:30 p.m.
I told the kids we had 30 minutes to pick up a few groceries...plus our individual ice creams..., check out, and head back to the kiosk. We managed to be at the kiosk by 1435/2:35 p.m. There was a man standing in line. Using my best Spanish, I asked him if we could go in front of him and I told the woman behind the desk I was in a big hurry because our bus was going to leave very soon. Fortunately, the man let us go ahead of him and the lady went into high gear. We got our mail packet, paid the money, signed the receipt and had 5 minutes left to walk to the pick up place. We made it by 1444/2:44 p.m.! It is not the end of the world if you do miss the bus. They tell me you can take a taxi to the marina for $25-$35 depending on the number of people and the amount of goods you are hauling in the taxi. Bless their hearts...Z and J hurried right along with me and we made it to the coaster bus on time!
There are a lot of people in this marina who have sailed to a lot of places, then seen and done a lot of things. Everyone who got here has stories to tell. Some of these folks have made videos with sailing themes, environmental themes, etc. Every so often there will be “video night” up in the Cruiser’s lounge. Last night, the crew of EXIT ONLY shared the video Dito made about our trip from Oman to Egypt...The Red Sea Chronicles. It was fun for us to see it again...it had been awhile since we watched it. The people who came to watch seemed to enjoy it.
Our “media team” (Z and J and their consultant, Sarah) made posters with photos, lead ins, and basic information about when the video would be showing. They got xerox copies made in the marina office. Next, they put the posters up at key places around the marina like by the MiniMart door, near the restaurant door, and of course near the restrooms.
Who would have thought that this week would be the week when the marina management ordered the preparation of the Cruiser’s lounge to receive new furniture. They took out the old furniture except for 4 tables and a few chairs at the tables last weekend so housekeeping could clean the area. All week the large area has remained empty. No new furniture yet. The “logistics team” (also Z and J and Sarah) had to ask the restaurant manager for help. He made sure some chairs were put in there for this evening. It was a fun evening.
Thinking about unexpected things that happen (like no furniture in the lounge), made me think about one of the most unexpected things we discovered at Shelter Bay Marina. Who would think you would go into the mini mart here at the marina and find delicious, freshly baked French baguettes? In Panama!? We could not believe it the first time we walked into the small shop and smelled freshly baking bread.
I will admit we have taken full advantage of having baguettes available. One of our favorite lunches is sandwiches made with the baguettes. We use the usual cheese, ham, and veggies or egg salad, or chicken salad, or pimento cheese, whatever else we come up with using the food on the boat. Today, Sarah made Mediterranean-inspired sandwiches with hummus, feta, olives, and veggies. They were so pretty, I took a photo! They tasted as good as they looked, too!
The four us us were up early, ate breakfast, and were on our way to board the coaster bus to Colón at 0735/7:35 a.m. today. There was a small group of people there planning to go to town, too. The bus driver looked at all of us and asked if we had read the note written on the side of the sign-up sheet that said the morning bus pick up time would be 1440/2:40 p.m. today instead of the usual 1100/11:00 a.m. Today was bus maintenance day. We all looked at each other and everyone opted out except 8 of us. Dave and I decided we would go and make a day of it.
We texted Dito and Sarah and told them what the four of us were going to do today. They texted back and said they were waiting at the mooring for the Canal pilot to arrive. Once the pilot arrived, LUNA MARE motored for 5 hours across Gatun Lake, heading for Pedro Miguel lock. It took about 1+1/2 hours to go down in the two chambers of the lock. Next, they passed through the Galliard Cut and headed for Miraflores lock, about 45 minutes of motoring away. Miraflores lock is made of 2 chambers that lower the boats down to the level of the Pacific Ocean at Balboa/Panama City, Panama. The boat was again in the middle of the chambers by itself, but this time they were in front of a big ship. It is impressive to look up from the deck of a sailboat at the bow or stern of a huge ship!
Back at Shelter Bay Marina, Dave, Z, J, and I were boarding the shuttle bus to go to Colon! About an hour later we were at Cuatro Altos where the El Rey grocery store is located. This trip we stayed on the bus for 5 more minutes and got off at the second drop-off spot... Millennium Mall. We went to Novey, a hardware store, then found a bank with an ATM (and an armed guard standing close by who helped us figure out how to find English directions for using the machine), then stopped by a bakery for a morning pick-me-up before finding a taxi to take us on a 5 minute ride to the Zona Libre...The Duty Free Zone.
Dave and Dito had gone to the Free Zone but I had not been there. I was expecting something upscale with high prices on top brands. What I saw all around me did not match what I had imagined. There were mostly small shops everywhere you looked on street after street after street. We walked and walked and one street looked like the next one. Most of the exteriors of the shops were not fancy at all. They were very plain and only gave a small clue as to what we could find inside. Many of the larger stores had someone looking like a receptionist sitting behind a rather large desk with closed doors behind it or a staircase to one side that gave no clue as to what could be found upstairs. I found this very mysterious. The smaller stores had their merchandise set up toward the sides and back of their space, so we had to walk in to see what they had in there. The stores were very neat and tidy inside. The products were well organized on racks or shelves.
We all went in to a shop that only sold sunglasses that were very inexpensive. No brand names were in sight, but lots of different colors of frames with reflecting lenses made quite a colorful display. We went into several shops when we saw something that caught our eye. Dave bought some charging cords for our phones, computers, etc. We bought some gel pens and pads of paper for the kids to write and draw on. I do not need more clothes on the boat, but I thought...What would I buy for myself if I could find it here? The only thing I could think of was a very lightweight pair of outdoor pants...the kind that you can wash, hang out, and they are dry 30 minutes later. Guess what!?! We went into a sports clothing store and I found 2 pair of Columbia women’s lightweight pants. Those pants were calling my name! OK, not my first color choice, but it will do. One pair was my size and I bought it!
It was getting near lunch time, so we flagged down a taxi and went for an 8 minute ride back to the Cuatros Altos area. We have never been in town at lunch time before, so we thought we would try the Pizza Hut located near the grocery store. Another reason we went there was we knew the restrooms would be clean and nice. It was a good choice. There was a very reasonably priced special available and the pizza tasted good. I will just say there was no pizza left. There was also a very nice play area for the kids at the restaurant and Z and J had it all to themselves.
From lunch we headed to the grocery store to pick up a few items. The last thing we buy before checking out is ice cream. We have found the cheapest ice cream in town is the small individual size in the frozen section at the grocery store. We got 4 small cartons of ice cream. Z and J each chose their own and they were quite happy about that. I bought 6 inexpensive small metal spoons from the cooking aisle of the store so we will never be without our spoons when an opportunity to eat ice cream occurs! I had been carrying plastic spoons but they did not hold up.
We found a place in the strip mall where we could purchase drinks, sit down, and eat our ice cream, too. While we were doing this, Dave had his tablet turned on to the live webcam set up at Gatun and Miraflores locks. We were watching LUNA MARE moving through in the pouring rain. It was raining so hard part of the time that the camera was almost showing a “white out” through drops of rain on the camera lens. You keep your appointment to transit the Canal...rain or shine...or face paying high fines.
It sure felt good to be sitting down. Even the girls were happy to sit for awhile. After the ice cream was finished, they got out the new notepads and pens we bought this morning and enjoyed drawing and writing. Eventually, it was time to go out to the place where the shuttle picks us up. Once you are back on the bus, all you have to do is sit back and relax for the next 45-60 minutes. Over the Canal and through the rainforest jungle...and there we were back at the marina.
Today was the day LUNA MARE with Paul and Marian (from Germany) aboard was scheduled to begin its transit of the Panama Canal. There are things you have to do before you transit the Canal like fill out extensive paperwork about your boat and crew, have your boat officially measured by someone from the Panama Canal Company, pay your fees for the transit, and make an appointment for a certain day and time to make the transit.
The Panama Canal Company will give you a list of things they require of small boats transmitting the Canal. Each boat, no matter what size it is, will have an official Panama Canal Pilot on board for the transit. At the day and time you have an appointment for the transit, a pilot boat will bring the pilot to your boat which will be anchored near the entrance to the Canal. Every small boat must have its own captain at the helm plus 4 line handlers (2 on port and starboard at the bow and two at port and starboard on the stern). Since Luna Mare only has two crew on board full time, they needed 3 more people to handle lines. Paul asked Dito and Sarah plus a South African guy here at the marina if they would handle lines for Luna Mare. Most small boat transits are broken up into 2 parts that occur over 2 days. That means you have to feed the line handlers possibly lunch, then supper the first day, have a place for them to sleep overnight, then feed them breakfast and lunch the second day.
The boat has to be kitted out with 4 lines at least 125 feet long that will be attached to 4 winches (2... port and starboard bow and 2... port and starboard stern). These are the lines the 4 line handlers will be “handling”. The boat also must have a set number of fenders (these are air-filled tubes that protect the side of your boat (your boat may be tied to the wall or the lock, tied to another sailboat while in the lock, or tied to a tugboat in the lock). These ropes and fenders can be rented for the transit. Most people choose to rent this gear, because if you are in the lock tied to the wall or a tugboat, the sides of both can be grungy and can make the fenders very dirty. We do not want to have to haul dirty fenders on board, then have to clean them up, etc. It is better this happens to someone else’s fenders and ropes instead of yours.
Luna Mare received a phone call this morning telling them to be waiting near the entrance of the Canal (not far outside the entrance to Shelter Bay Marina where we are located) by 1330/1:30 p.m. this afternoon. The pilot boat would bring their pilot to board their boat there. Dito and Sarah got on board LUNA MARE in the marina, then the boat headed out to the rendezvous area about a half hour before the appointed time.
LUNA MARE had been told they would be making a 2-day transit. That meant today they would be going in and out of Gatun locks. One the boats were positioned in the first chamber of the lock, the gates closed and water flowed into the first of three chambers of the lock. Each chamber is higher than the last and is designed to take the boats up to the level of Gatun Lake. When they went into this lock, LUNA MARE was not tied to anything, so they were alone in the center of the chamber behind a huge cargo ship. Once they exited the third chamber of the lock, almost immediately the pilot directed Paul to go to an area of large moorings and tie up to one. That was where LUNA MARE would spend the night.
While all of this was happening, we were on EXIT ONLY watching pancanal.com live webcam. The webcam shows live pictures that are taken every 10 seconds. We could actually see LUNA MARE moving through the three chambers of Gatun lock. The orange hull of the boat made it easy to see in the pictures..Unfortunately, the pictures were not detailed enough to see the people working on deck!
The crew was just waking up and eating some breakfast when a neighbor on the dock stopped by to tell us the local crocodile was laying with its mouth open by the edge of the water on the thick green grass. It was surrounded by 8 rather large vultures who were keeping a respectful distance. Earlier, the crocodile had been seen pushing a capybara (a huge rodent that looks like a huge guinea pig) body in the water. The crocodile had obviously gone hunting in the near-by jungle. We all went out on the dock and sure enough, we could easily see the crocodile over there on the grass. Next, we walked over to the next dock and got a closer look.
Later, Dito went to get a marina cart and we all headed for the sail loft. I had never been in there, so I wanted to see it. The couple who do sail repair are from Great Britain. They live aboard their sailboat in the marina. They told us that this is supposed to be their “off season”, but it seems like almost every boat that arrives here needs some repair done to at least one of their sails. They are capable of doing all kinds of canvas work, too, but said they do not have time to do anything but repair sails.
The sail loft building is very old, but large enough for very large sails to be unfolded or unrolled. The open doors, and windows, and high ceilings allow any ocean breeze that is out there to flow through aided by a multitude of large fans. It was quite pleasant in there. One photo shows Dito, Sarah, Z, and J talking to a man who is running a specialized sewing machine that uses multiple tough threads to sew the several layers of fabric that make up a sail. In the other photo, the dock cart is holding our repaired sail in the blue bag with the white stripe. You can see part of the rows of sails on the floor that people have left there to be repaired. It certainly does look like it has to be a full time job to get all that work done!
Later in the day, “the word” made its way down the dock that the crocodile was on the move again. This time the crocodile was swimming from the far end of the next dock over toward the far end of our dock while actually pushing the bloated body of a capybara. The consensus is the crocodile had 2 capybara stashed in two different places as of last night. It ate one and is now trying to keep the other one from the vultures. I am going to leave the story there, because I really do not know. I do know I find it fascinating to be in a place that is so close to the rainforest jungle that having these animals around is just part of the local marina experience!
It was so good to get up this morning and see our new furler system stranding tall on the forestay. We are so happy to have that new system and grateful that all of the pieces we needed were in the packages we received. Being able to do a good job depends on having the right parts and tools to do that job!
Because it is Sunday, the sail loft is not open, so we cannot pick up our sail from them until tomorrow. Dave and Dito decided to look at solving the problem of the escape hatch. In order to see the problem from both side...literally, the top in the salon and the bottom under the boat...Dito was going to lay in the dinghy and go under the boat. It turned out that that dinghy was too bit to fit easily the boat. Dito inflated his paddle board and laid on his back on it. Using his hands, he could move himself under the boat and under the hatch. They had been working for maybe 30 minutes when the people on the next dock over started yelling that the crocodile was in the water over their way, and possibly moving our way. They could see into the culvert near their dock and spotted a dead capybara where the crocodile had “stored” it. Thank goodness the crocodile did not come near our boat.
It was time to think about what to make for the marina BBQ this evening. I had success with the cake I made last week, so I thought about making another kind of cake for tonight. I also wanted to make some bar cookies to share with the three guys who live on our dock and came out to help maneuver the 50’+ roller furler and rigging that had to be moved from the dock to the bow of EXIT ONLY. We sure appreciated their help. Sarah was planning to make a Scandinavian bread to take to the BBQ, so I wanted to finish my baking so she could get into the galley.
While I was gathering things together for baking, I was also checking out our supplies in the pantry and seeing what needed to be refilled. Yesterday we bought white sugar, brown sugar, icing sugar, and flour. All of these things needed to be put away. To make each of these items easier to access when we are sailing, we take the time to pre-measure 1 cup quantities of each of these items into labeled sandwich bags and store them in plastic containers in the pantry...one for sugar, one for flour, one for brown sugar, etc. For example, if we need 2 cups of flour for baking, we grab 2 bags from the flour container. Bagging these ingredients takes very little time. The result of the effort is we do not have to be trying to measure from a big container of flour, etc., when we are making bread or cookies while we are sailing. Baking can be done more quickly and with less mess.
To end on a sweet note, I put in a photo of grilled platanos/plantains...the delicious dish that I talked about last Sunday. Platanos are cooking bananas...they are not eaten raw. With the peel left on, the platanos were laid on the grill and turned periodically until finally the skin burst open. The man opened the slit the length of the fruit, and cut the cooked platanos in 3/4” to 1” slices on a plate. He poured La Lechera (commercial name) sweetened condensed milk over the platanos, then sprinkled cinnamon over everything. Absolutely delicious!
Today is Dave’s birthday and he celebrated this morning by working with Dito and Steve, the rigger, on our new furler system on the forestay. A “rigger” works on rigging and anything associated with rigging. “Rigging” includes all of the metal wires that hold up the mast.
Sarah, Z, J, and I celebrated this morning by riding the morning coaster bus into Colón. Alright, I will admit we went into town so we would be out of the way of the work that was going on. By the time Dave gets all of the tools that he needs out of the storage areas and spreads them out, ready to use, the salon and cockpit are full of tools. Going grocery shopping seemed like a really good idea for everyone’s sake. Our trip into town included riding the vehicle ferry across the Canal. Our coaster was right at the front of the line, so we got a nice photo of it on the ferry. There is Sarah, Z, J, and a friend from the marina by the front of the coaster.
I have mentioned before that “going to get groceries” has taken on a new meaning now that we are docked at Shelter Bay Marina. We are very grateful for their free shuttle bus that brings marina workers to work from Colón and takes people on boats at the marina back into Colón to buy groceries and other things they are looking for.
Today, the first thing we did after entering the grocery store was head to the deli back in the far right corner of the store. There are many pastries and foods available in individual servings plus individual servings of savory foods, fruit drinks, and, of course, coffee. The people in line around me seemed to be ordering their coffee with sugar and tinned evaporated milk in it. You choose what you want, then get in line to pay for it. Once you have paid, there are three tall tables near-by where you can stand and eat what you have purchased. We ate a snack hanging out there with the locals!
Back at the marina, lots of things were happening. First, EXIT ONLY had been moved out of her slip at the dock and put on the “T” at the end of the dock. They did this so they could have better access to the foredeck from the dock and, also, they could lay out and assemble the pieces of the new furler system (about 50 feet long) right there on the dock. The guys worked a long hard day, but by mid afternoon the new furler was in place and everything had fit together like it was supposed to. That is always a good thing! All that is left to do is go to the sail loft at the marina, pick up our sail, then, put it on the track and roll it up. They will save that job for another day.
Z and J are fascinated with finding coconuts on the marina grounds. They want to open them and drink the water (from younger green coconuts) or milk (from older brown coconuts) from them. The problem is that most of the work going into opening a coconut borders on the edge of “this could be dangerous” territory.
The South African lady who is our boat neighbor on the dock had 2-3 coconuts with her when the kids saw her a few days ago. They were talking to her about the coconuts, then came onto EXIT ONLY asking if one of the adults aboard would help them open a coconut. Zoe asked Chris, our South African boat neighbor, how to open a coconut. Chris offered to show Z and J how she opens a coconut. I tagged along to take photos.
First we went over to the area where there is a work table with a vice attached to it. This is the cruiser’s work area where they can bring their own tools and do a project that is too big to do on their boat. Chris picked up a flat piece of metal and placed the corner of the metal so it was sticking up from the vice, then tightened down. She showed us the 3 indentions on the hull of the coconut separating 3 fatter areas. She stuck one of the “fatter” areas on the metal corner and pulled hard to get the outer husk to tear off the smaller coconut inside. When the first area came loose, she turned the husk and repeated the hard pull on the second “fatter” area, then repeated the same movement on the third “fatter” area. It took a few pulls, but the outer husk was eventually loosened from the nut itself.
We came back to the dock between our boat and their boat and waited while Chris got her tools for opening the coconut. She had a machete and used the thicker side/back of the blade to tap around the middle of the hard brown coconut. After a few good taps, the nut broke into two pieces. The white meat on the inside of the brown shell was beautiful! I took the two open halves to the table in our cockpit and went after the white coconut meat with a small sharp paring knife. I got a few small pieces to break away from the shell. Dave took over and finished the job.
Now we had small pieces of white coconut meat with a thin brown piece of the hull on them. Using the paring knife, I was able to trim the brown areas off the white coconut meat. Then I made thin slices out of the pieces. After finishing that job, I rinsed the white coconut meat and drained the water. I placed the dish of coconut on the table. Sarah made vegetable curry for lunch today, so we ate some of the freshly acquired coconut on top of our curry. Perfect!
When Chris offered us some fresh coconut a couple of days ago, she had added the tiniest bit of soy sauce to the coconut and stirred it together. That was also a very unique flavor. Nice!We had never tasted anything like that before. It is very interesting to me to talk to these sailing ladies who have creatively produced meals in a wide variety of places using ingredients they may or may not have been familiar with. Chris said when they cruised in the Chagos Archipelago for six months one time, there were no stores where they could purchase food, so they provisioned their boats before hand and used what they had when they got there. All cruisers have done the same to some extent, but I have never done it for 6 months!
We woke up in the middle of the night last night and a steady cool wind was blowing from the north here in the marina. We are tied to the dock so our cockpit is to the north, which means the two cabins in the bow (toward the south) are not getting as much benefit from the northern breezes.
Being in a marina, your boat is stationary and may or may not get good ventilation as the breezes move through the boat. Being anchored out, the boat moves constantly and sets with the bow to the predominant wind direction. The forward cabins are always cooler than the aft cabins at anchor. It was very enjoyable today to have a sunny day with 18-20 knots of wind keeping us cooler all day and keeping the humidity down a little. All in all, we really appreciated the weather today.
We did school this morning and at the end Sarah showed Z and J a video about the history behind the Fourth of July and why it is celebrated in the States. We will not have any fireworks here tonight, but Sarah did have glow-in-the-dark bracelets for the girls and they were very happy to put those on after it got dark. Of course today was not a holiday in Panama, but they did acknowledge the U.S.A. Holiday by offering some typical foods in the restaurant that people in the States often have as they grill or have picnics on this holiday. There are actually only a few people from the States here in the marina. There are people from many European countries...Sweden, Norway, Gibraltar, France, Belgium, Germany, Italy, plus New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, Canada...all of them here to go through the Panama Canal.
We were eating our lunch on the boat, when a Fed Ex delivery man was suddenly standing on the dock by the stern of the boat. He had two packages for EXIT ONLY! Our new furler had arrived from South Florida! Dave and Dito could hardly wait to open the rectangle box to see if everything they had asked for was in there. A quick look through all the bits and pieces made them very happy. They think they have everything they need to put up the new furler system. They did not open the long round box, because they already know the aluminum extrusions (aluminum tubes that go over the headstay and allow the sail to slide up and down...it is the actual roller the sail rolls around when we furl the sail) are inside that box. I think the plan is to put the new furler system on the boat Saturday morning. Good things are happening!
I know, I know...all I seem to be talking about is rain and all I seem to be taking photos of is the gloomy low clouds hanging around us like black out curtains. We actually did get a peek at the sun in the morning, but only a quick peek.
Dave and Dito were working on their computers up in the Cruiser’s Lounge today. I think they like to go there because it is usually relatively quiet, plus there is air conditioning. They come down from their upstairs hideaway for lunch and supper! Dave is updating many of his web sites while he has reliable WiFi. He is working off his own hot spot called MoviStar. The rest of us have individual accounts with the marina for our WiFi and we pay for it by the week. The marina WiFi is reliable, but every time we stop using it for any time at all, we have to keep signing back in.
There are some really interesting photos hanging on the wall in the Cruiser’s Lounge of the building of the Panama Canal. The actual Canal is 80 km./50 mi. from one end to the other. The French had an agreement with Colombia (Panama was part of their territory at the time) they beggan digging in 1880. The French stopped working on the canal in 1889 because malaria, yellow fever, and other tropical diseases had killed over 20,000 workers. In 1901 the United States was talking to Colombia about an agreement to build the Canal. Colombia wanted more and more concessions, so in 1902 the United States started dealing directly with the Panama region of Colombia. As a result of those negotiations, Panama declared its independence from Colombia in 1903 with the assurance from the United States that they would recognize Panamanian sovereignty immediately. The United States was granted a 10 mile wide area called “The Canal Zone” to use for administering and overseeing the construction of the Canal. This area also included housing for workers. The project was finished in 1914.
We were really spoiled in the Bahamas with the WiFi system there that gave us a hotspot anywhere near a Batelco tower (which were located almost everywhere in the islands). Almost everyone in the Bahamas has good mobile phone service available these days. In Panama, different areas of the country use different systems. MoviStar works here, but when we move to another area, we will have to pay to access another system.
We began the day with a clear sky and almost no wind. We are well aware it is rainy season, but hope springs eternal that maybe today it will not rain so much.
After doing some short school, we decided to hand wash some laundry, because we only had a fairly small amount of dirty clothes. Sarah did their laundry first, so I waited until she finished washing, rinsing, and hanging up the laundry on our foldable rack and the lifelines. I went out into the cockpit to do our laundry and guess what!?! Sarah had done everybody’s laundry and it was all washed, rinsed, and hanging up! I was very grateful for that! We put the foldable rack at the back of the cockpit, so those items have not been affected by the frequent threats of rain and sprinkles. I took a photo of our dilemma...Will it rain or not rain on the laundry...that is the question! It is now several hours later and I can say that it sprinkled several times, but did not break out into a downpour. Most of the clothes actually did get mostly dry. We have a few things hanging inside the boat now to dry the last little bit.
I took the photo of just me on the boat, because that is something that hardly every happens! It is very quiet on the boat when it does happen. Dito, Sarah, Z, and J took the afternoon coaster bus into Colón. Dave is at the Cruiser’s Lounge working on his websites and enjoying the air conditioning.
Back at the boat, I took advantage of being “home alone” to organize some odds and ends of papers I had been putting in one plastic bag. Several of the papers had important addresses or phone numbers on them, some had recipes someone had shared with me, some had cruising information like what islands someone liked the best in Guna Yala/San Blas, etc. I do have a proper booklet where I keep those miscellaneous bits of advice I know I will be using somewhere down the way. Being by myself meant I could spread all my scraps of paper out on the whole table and organize them. Now...they need to be put in that book!
I also tied up some loose ends in our boat log book. This is the official record of our passages or moving the boat from one place to another. When the boat is moving, we write in the log book every hour reporting latitude, longitude, wind direction and speed, the boat’s course and speed, and a short comment about if we are using sails, engine (we run one at a time usually), or both. On our circumnavigation we did the same thing, of course, but I waited until a log book was full before I made an index of exactly what places were included in that particular log book (we ended up with 14 or 15 log books from our circumnavigation). This time I am making an index page as we go and I am including our nautical mileage as well as a running total of how many nautical miles we have gone since leaving Ft. Pierce, Florida. Now I am caught up to date in the log book.
We have been having a problem with the smaller of the two burners on our propane stove. Both burners on the stove worked immediately when Dave and Dito did the refit in Florida, but it was difficult to raise or lower the heat. The stove worked well enough that we did not worry about it. In Matthew Town, Great Inagua Island, Bahamas, we started having trouble lighting the smaller of the two burners. On passage from there to Colón that burner stopped working, so we were cooking in one pot on one burner during the whole trip.
This morning Dito spent quite awhile using some very small tools to clean some rust off of the burner parts. Later Dave took a look at the burner and brought out more miniature tools to open up all the holes that may have been closed by rust. Whatever they did, we now have two functioning burners that are burning really well and it is easy to adjust the flame. As I am typing this blog entry, Dito is cleaning the burner in the oven, too. I am happy that we did not have to order stove parts from Trinidad or St. Martin (that is where the nearest parts store is located for this brand of stove), happy that we can adjust the flames, and happy that have crossed the stove off the “To Do” list!
I have not been counting the number of blogs I have written to watch the number get bigger. In fact, I am the only one who pays any attention to the numbers, because I am the one who uses the numbers to keep track of the days, dates, and which photos go with which blog entry.
All of that to say the blog entries added up one day at a time. That is how most things happen, isn’t it? In the very beginning when we were still working on the refit of the boat, I could not see into the future at all. I could not imagine that the refit would really be finished and we would really make this trip happen. Day by day, the refit was finished and the dream became a reality.
With a plan in place for our “great escape”, health issues became more important than the winds and the waves. Our focus had to change for awhile. Once again, day by day we did what we had to do, but kept the goal of sailing away in our hearts and minds. Finally, THE DAY arrived and on 9 April 2019, we pulled in the dock lines and fenders, stowed them, and have never looked back.
We had a “shake down” cruise to and through the Bahamas that really did shake us up at times. We had a lot of sailing experience, but it had been awhile. We needed to regain our courage and remind the crew of those routine things we do on a boat to keep it moving. Slowly, but surely...day by day...the familiarity of the boat, the sea, the wind, and the waves reminded us we had been out there before and we knew what to do.
I have tried to bring anyone who reads this blog along with us. Everyday I am always looking for things that I think would interest others. I try to explain what we are doing and let everyone in on just how much work goes in to keeping this boat moving. I try to share how we feel about the boat...we believe that if we take care of the boat, the boat will take care of us. Thus, we are willing to do whatever we can to make the boat the best it can be. I have tried to add a bit of “nautical jargon” here and there, because those are the actual words we use when we are talking about the boat. I have tried to let y’all in on what our cruising lifestyle is like.
Writing this blog, day by day, has made me pay much closer attention to what is happening moment by moment each day on board EXIT ONLY. I try to share about the boat, the crew, and the lifestyle. I am especially appreciative of friends who have no idea about boats and sailing, but they have shown an interest in learning about it because we are out here. It is nice to know y’all are “with us”! It means a lot to me! Thank you!
PS...What happened on EXIT ONLY today? Sarah and the girls made bread. It is called Boula and is a family recipe Sarah is passing along to her girls. This was the perfect thing to do on this rainy day. The warmth from the oven felt good in the boat and the smell of baking bread was terrific! The taste was amazing! Sarah helped Z braid her loaf and helped J sprinkle cinnamon on her dough and roll it up. Yummy!