We usually do Pancake Sunday, but today we decided to do Pancake Tuesday. The theme of the day was letters...Z for Zoe, J for Joss, and B for Bear. After breakfast, we did school.
Dave and Dito were working on solving the problem of how to reconnect the cable that sheared off the starboard (right side) engine. This cable goes across the aft section of the boat from the engine controls located on the aft port side (back, left) of the boat. This cable puts the engine in forward or reverse gear.
Dave came up with the idea to take a stainless steel bracket made for holding covers on storage lockers and reinventing it to hold the cable back in place on the starboard engine. Cutting some of the metal off with a Dremel tool...bending it to fit the space it goes in...and making attachment points...the piece fit and the engine is going into gear again. Quite a lot of creative thinking went into that solution.
When we get back to the world of internet, Dave will be ordering 2 replacement pieces. One is for the side that broke. The second one is just in case the port engine has the same problem. The one that broke was original from 1993.
Now that the repair has been made on the engine, we will think again about going to Nargana Island to buy diesel fuel. We were able to get a message to Paco, the man who sells diesel in Nargana, and tell him we had an engine problem that had to be fixed before we could come to buy diesel. Dave is going to try to contact Paco tomorrow, Wednesday, and tell him we will come to Nargana on Thursday.
It was already hot earlier than usual this morning. As soon as school was over, everyone went swimming. Soon, the morning swim turned into cleaning the bottom of the boat. Everybody but me was down there scraping the hull! It was just a few weeks ago that the hulls had been scraped down. The crew said the job went fairly quickly today because the bottom was not seriously covered with a lot of growth again.
After lunch, there was a snorkel trip out by the reef. After everyone returned to the boat, there was still more swimming between the hulls and under the keels. The kids like to jump off the bows (front of the two hulls) and swim under the boat back to the scoops (back ends of the two hulls) . There is a boarding ladder that folds down into the water on the starboard scoop.
They discovered we had a visitor underneath the boat and it was clinging to the starboard hull. A remora about three feet long was just hanging out under the boat. J actually swam down and touched the remora. Dito got the encounter on video. We could all see the remora looking at her, holding still while she touched him, then slowly, but surely, gliding away.
By sundown, the wind finally came up and cooled everything and everybody off. It was blowing 18-20 knots. We were grateful for the wind, because it was keeping the no-see-ums from coming out and biting us.
After dark, we were surprised to see a fire flaming up on one of the uninhabited islands across the bay from us. I got on the VHF radio and asked if that fire was a problem, especially in the high winds. One of the locals in the area said this was a “scheduled” fire. The photo shows how the island looked the next day...there is no underbrush.
We left the anchorage first thing this morning to go to Nargana to buy diesel fuel. We wanted to leave early before the wind came up and we would end up heading right into it. In general, the wind in the mornings is much calmer than the wind in the afternoons.
It took us about two hours to motor sail over to Nargana. We were there by 0900/9:00 a.m.. We called Paco and he sent a boat carrying diesel in jugs to tie up to EXIIT ONLY. The guy took our empty jerry jugs into his cayuco. He used a siphon to move the fuel from his jugs to our jugs. It took about 20 minutes to fill each of our 7 jugs. Our full jugs were lifted back onto our deck and tied down. Dave and Dito took our dinghy to Paco’s office on the island and paid for the fuel. A done deal.
When Dave and Dito came back to the boat, Sarah, Z, J, and I got in the dinghy. Dave took us into a dock and let us off. He went back out to EXIT ONLY because we did not want to leave the boat unattended. The holding is not particularly good, because it is full of silt coming from two large rivers that run into the ocean close to the anchorage.
The rest of us had already given the two small islands that are connected by a walking bridge a good once over from the boat. We could see the general layout from where we were anchored. We had asked the guy with the fuel where we could get ice cream and he told us where to go. We read in the cruising guide that Nargana Island and Corazon de Jesus Island were considered “westernized” Cuna islands. Most of the people on the islands have adopted western dress, have satellite TV, and are considered “progressive” by the Cuna who choose to follow a more traditional lifestyle.
We found one tienda (small store...make that very small), then there was a second tienda with a tad more inventory. We bought something at both shops, but we were really looking for the one we had been told had ice cream. It was located across the bridge by the basketball court. We found it! They did, indeed, have ice cream made in Panama City.
We bought ice cream, eggs, bananas, bread, butter (they only had 4 sticks left), and cold drinks.We stood outside a window and the fresh produce was behind us , outside. We could see the canned goods on shelves and the cold food in the refrigerator through the open window. I gave the lady my two empty egg cartons and she put 24 eggs in them. We spoke Spanish and I pointed to foods I was asking about.
There was a sign above the window where I was shopping. They listed the prices for chicken wings, chicken necks, chicken feet, whole chickens, pork chops, and pork head. I did not buy any of those things.
The PanAmerican Highway goes from Panama City on the Pacific side to Colon on the Atlantic side and heads south to the spot-in-the-road called Carti. The road ends there at the Darien Gap. (The road from Colombia comes north into the Darien, but also stops. The two ends do not meet.). The goods going past Carti are put in large supply boats and carried to island customers by sea. The products we bought had made quite a trip already. They came by truck to Carti, then by large supply boats from there to Nargana. Small supply boats carry food to the out islands.
We have stayed in this anchorage here in the Holandes almost the whole time we have been in Guna Yala. It is certainly one of the most protected anchorages, so that has made it a safe place for the boat.
Our “neighborhood” changes almost daily. The weekends bring out the power boats and the charter boats for a night or two. Some sport fishing boats come in from outside the reef toward evening, spend the night, then go out fishing again early the next morning. Cruising boats come and go, spending a night at one end of the lagoon and maybe another night at the other end of the lagoon. Many of them are snorkeling or diving and spear fishing on the reef. There is one boat here that calls this lagoon “home”... obviously, they found a piece of Paradise! They told us they have lived on their boat here for 12 years. They run a local upper sideband cruising net in the mornings. That is a great place to ask questions of get information about the local area.
We think it is beautiful here, too, plus I have already mentioned how protected the anchorage is. Having said all that, we decided to move to a cay in the West Holandes Cays (we are in the East Holandes Cays). We pulled up the anchor and went less than two hours to Miriadiadup Cay. The anchorage there is good from several directions, but the reef is closer to us than we really like.
There obviously had to be a snorkel trip over to the near-by reef. There were several kinds of live coral, 2 nurses sharks, a moray eel, and some lion fish were mentioned at the top of the “snorkel report”.
A little later, two men from the small island came in an “ulu” (small dugout canoe) to show us their molas, bracelets, and headbands. We ended up buying a few things, because they did not ask us to pay to anchor here. We feel like money for a mola is a fair trade for spending time in their “front yard”.
No matter how good the weather is when you are anchoring, you always have to be thinking about “what if” and the worst case scenario. We decided we would stay and three other boats made the same decision. Well....you have already guessed what happened...about sundown we could see storm clouds gathering, hear thunder, and see lightning coming our way.
We closed up the boat, moved everything inside that we wanted to keep dry, and the rain came pounding down. Our anchor did hold well and the storm did not last too long, so we eventually went to bed and slept through the night.
We decided to do school today, because we did not do school last Thursday when we went to Nargana for diesel and groceries. Today was also the fifth day since we made water, so it was time to make water again.
After lunch, we did some laundry with the extra water we made, then, there was a snorkeling trip. Our anchor was holding well, so we had decided to spend another night at this anchorage.
In the distance we could see the regular vertical development in the clouds and the sky was dark, We could see it was raining “way over there”, but it looked like the clouds were moving past us instead of toward us.
Dito was flying his drone getting photos of the scenic anchorage and the dramatic storm in the background when the wind started to pick up and he tried to bring the drone back to the boat. The drone was actually at the boat, ready for Dave to catch it on the foredeck, when a gust of wind caught it. The drone hit the rigging and went into the ocean by the scoop at the back of the boat.
We were anchored in 38-40-feet of water. There was still light, but the dark clouds were coming closer. Dito put on his mask and dove down. He came up 2 times and said he could not see the drone.. He went down a third time and spotted the drone. He was not sure if he could free dive down that far. On the fourth dive, he made it down to the drone and brought it back up.
Miraculously, nothing was broken on the drone. All of the rotors were intact. They immediately rinsed the drone in fresh water (we had plenty from making water this morning)). Next, they hooked up our small electric fan to the water maker generator and blew air on the drone to thoroughly dry it out. Then we gathered all of the rice we had on board. We had more than enough for them to set the drone on a bed of rice in an extra large ziplock bag. No one is thinking this drone will work again, but we decided we would regret not trying to dry it out.
The storm in the distance came closer to our anchorage, but we only got a sprinkle of rain out of it. The worst of the storm passed us by. We were all happy about that and anticipated a quiet night and a good sleep...but, it was not to be!
About 0030/12:30 a.m., we all woke up as the wind started rising, the water was choppy, and the boat was pulling on the anchor. The motion of the boat told us something out of the ordinary was happening. Dave and I got up. Dito already had the radar turned on. We were in our cockpit watching the crews in the cockpits of the other two boats in the anchorage looking around, too.
The radar showed us a large storm with yellow areas around brilliant orange and red splotches. The orange and red colors mean serious storm activity. The storm measured nine miles long and two miles wide.
Everything went well...the anchor held, the other two boats did not drag, the rain pounded us, and nothing bad happened. The storm...all nine miles of it...finally passed over us and by 0245/2:45 a.m. we could go back to our bunks.
Things were quiet after we went to our bunks in the wee hours of this morning. Everyone slept in just a tad trying to make up for the adrenaline rush we all felt during the “nine mile storm”.
The sun came up and the winds were light as we went outside to greet the day. We could not believe what we saw. Exactly 180 degrees from the direction the “nine mile storm” came from last night, were gathering storm clouds. Come on! They were not as threatening as last night, but they still could pack a punch if they came our way. So far, so good. We decided to watch and see what happened.
Since we did not do school today, I had time to cook some things that take a little more time to prepare. Z and J love pancakes, and Sundays have sort of evolved into “Pancake Day” on EXIT ONLY. At first I was making the usual round ones, then I another time I made “Z” and “J” pancakes. Today, it was “star” pancake day.
It was my turn to make lunch, so I made pizzas. Of course, we will buy pizza when we can, but if that is not an option, Sarah or I will make it. We all love pizza, but there are differing opinions about the toppings. I made four pizzas...pepperoni...onion and olive... mushroom... and ham with pineapple. It is quite a production making the dough, making the sauce, and assembling the toppings, then, baking them! No school means there is plenty of time to do all of that!
After lunch, we decided to move back to our original anchorage about an hour away from here. The morning storm we watched brought a few sprinkles, but passed on by us without a threat. Still, we did not want another night of worrying about how close our boat is to the reef. Back in the lagoon, we have good protection from all directions and that sounds really good about now.
We took the anchor up and headed back under sail to good old Ogoppiriadup Cay. It truly is the best all-around anchorage we have found!
There were no big thunderstorms last night and that should have been really good news. Usually, we would be grateful for being able to sleep through the night instead of having to do “storm watch” in the middle of the night.
Last night there was hardly any wind blowing, so we missed the cool breeze flowing through the boat. No wind also means the no-see-ums that live on the small islands can easily fly across the water to our boat seeking people to bite. We have not been bothered by mosquitos, but the no-see-ums are really a problem when the air is still. These little biting bugs are so small, it is hard to see them. Their bite is more like a sting...it burns.
In order to keep from getting bitten, we use bug spray with dubious results, we use pareaus as a light cover at night, we wear a light long sleeve shirt to protect our arms, etc. We also hope the wind starts blowing again soon! All this complaining to tell you we did not sleep well last night because the no-see-ums were partying.
When we arrived in Guna Yala from Cartagena a few weeks ago, we had to pay to sign back into Panama, plus we had to pay a separate fee to the Comarca of Guna Yala (Guna Yala Region) for being in their waters. The Guna Yala fee was $20 for the boat plus $20 for each adult on board. Kids were free. That $100 paid for the boat and crew to be in Guna Yala waters for one month. When we arrived in the Holandes Cays and put down our anchor in the lagoon, a Cuna man who represented the Guna Yala Congress (local government) paddled out to our boat and charged us $10 for anchoring in this lagoon. That fee is also good for one month.
We are reaching the end of our month within the next few days. We are thinking we will not stay another month in Guna Yala. We have enjoyed it, but we still want to go to Bocas del Toro, too. Shelter Bay Marina is 70 miles from where we are now, so we can be there by doing an overnight sail.
We are thinking about stopping at Shelter Bay Marina for a short time, so we can take care of business. We have been out of touch on the internet and there is some business we need to take care of online. There are some specific boat items we would like to replace. Our upper sideband radio microphone is not working well. We also need to replace some repair items that have been used up. Our provisions are getting low in some categories. There may be a necessary appointment with a doctor or dentist (nothing serious!). We are starting to look at weather forecasts (grib files) and deciding when we should start moving toward Colon, Panama.
We had a wind blowing almost all night last night keeping the no-see-ums away. There were no thunderstorms at night. We actually slept through the night.
I did wake up at 0530/5:30 a.m.. this morning, but since I had actually slept through the night, I felt rested. The first thing I saw when I looked out the port window in the cabin was the start of an incredibly beautiful sunrise. It was so pretty, and I was so grateful to feel rested, I got out of bed, grabbed my phone and went straight out to the foredeck to take photos, photos, and more photos as the sunrise spread across the sky.
After I finished taking sunrise photos, I got my Kindle and sat out on the trampoline, enjoying reading in the quiet of the morning. The wind was light and the surface of the water was almost flat. It was so quiet I could hear sounds I would not usually hear, I heard and saw a dolphin coming up for air several times as it swam across the lagoon, heard the song of a bird from one of the small cays, watched a large sea turtle come up for air, then dive down with a quiet splash, and I heard bird wings moving as they flew between the cays around the lagoon.
After school and eating “drone rice” *** (I will explain in a minute) for lunch, Dito and Dave decided it was time to see how much damage the drone suffered when it crashed last Saturday, three days ago. There is very little visible physical damage to the drone, but Dito has gone over it and changed a few pieces. He worked online with the program that runs the drone.
With great trepidation and not a lot of expectation, Dito turned on the drone...and it came on! The connecting process started and finished. Success! The camera came on! Oh, my goodness! Now, for a test run. They took the drone up on the foredeck and sent it up to do a circle around the boat, then directed it to return and land. It did! Dito was so happy! None of us really thought this drone was going to fly again, but they did everything they could think of to do “just in case”. The drone was in 40 feet of salt water for around seven minutes and today it flew again. Wow!
***Dito and Dave put the drone in a large ziplock bag containing rice to help absorb some of the moisture from the wet drone. We donated all the rice we had left on the boat to this cause. We decided we could still eat the rice after the drone was dried out. That is why I mentioned “drone rice”**.
This day started off like any other day out here in the Holandes Cays. We woke up, had breakfast, cleaned up the dishes, and did school for 2 hours or so. At lunch we were talking about pulling down a grib file/weather forecast and trying to predict which of the next three days would be the best one to pull up the anchor and head back to Shelter Bay Marina, 84 miles away. We had paid for a cruising visa good for one month in Guna Yala.. We only have a few days left, so we need to decide if we are going to pay for another month and stay longer or if we are going to head out. We still want to spend some time at Bocas del Toro, too, before we transit the canal. What to do...
I was doing dishes in the galley after lunch and waiting for the bread dough I had made earlier, to rise in the pans before I put it in the oven. Dito was able to pull a grib file down on the high frequency radio. He and Dave looked it over and said the best chance we had for favorable winds in the next three days was NOW...today! One hour later the anchor was up and we were motorsailing while the bread baked in the oven.
This time of year, the winds are generally from the south in the morning and the west in the afternoon. Since we were heading west, that could mean heading straight into the wind. Today the winds were so light and the sea was so flat, we could easily head west. We chose well...the winds were light and the seas flat the whole 84 miles! Amazing! We were really grateful for a “no drama” passage.
Dave and Dito took turns on watch through the night. I woke up and took watch with Dave for awhile, then he went to the bunk about 0300/3:00 a.m., leaving me on watch. The lights of Colon were shining on the clouds in the distance and I began to see more and more ships showing up on the chart as we drew closer. Colon is one of the busiest ports in the world, because the Atlantic end of the Panama Canal is located there.
There are ships everywhere...moving into the Canal, coming out of the Canal, waiting for their turn to enter the Canal. The instruments show which ships are anchored and which ships are moving. When the chart was showing 69 ships and our own boat is moving, it gets harder to watch everyone at the same time. The closer we got to Colon, the more ships there were spread out in front of us. I decided it was time to get some help, so I woke Dito up as the sun began to rise.
At 0645/6:45 a.m., (Thursday, 10 October) we arrived behind the breakwater that is the Atlantic entrance and exit of the Panama Canal. We put down our anchor near the entrance to Shelter Bay Marina and waited for the office to open at 0800/8:00. We called in on VHF radio and the dock master said we could go right back into slip E21 where we were before. It was good to be back!
We all decided to go into Colon on the afternoon bus. The time in town is shorter than the morning run. We used up a lot of our provisions in the last month, so we were out of most fresh items and wanted to have some fresh fruits and vegetables on hand. We had just enough time to get groceries and get a Dairy Queen Blizzard! It had been a few weeks since the last one, so the ice cream tasted especially good!
These are photos of coming into Shelter Bay Marina yesterday. The entrance is literally by the Panama Canal. Those four white boats are ones that were confiscated in drug busts. There is the marina building and some of the docks we passed as we went to E Dock.
Everyone was ready for an early night last night, so we had a good night’s sleep securely tied to the dock with no need for standing watches! We woke up rested and ready to get some things done that needed to be done.
As soon as the laundry opened, we were there with all the bedding off the bunks and the rest of the laundry. Dave and Dito had some boat business in Colon, so they went in on the morning bus. The rest of us stayed on the boat and did school. Between laundry, school, and preparing lunch, the morning flew by.
The afternoon was busy, too, as we put all of the bunks back together, took the rugs outside to be in the sunshine, ran the sweeper in the boat, etc. A general clean-up is always good after being out-island for awhile.
Sarah took Z and J to the pool after the boat work was done. The girls have really improved their swimming skills. They were in the water swimming and snorkeling almost daily while we were in Guna Yala. They are as comfortable under the water as they are on top of the water. They have been working on holding their breath longer and longer. They have learned to use fins effectively, but neither one of them likes to use a snorkel yet. They are doing very well without it!
A second quiet night without storm drills made for a good night’s sleep. We woke up rested and ready to go to town this morning. The Saturday bus leaves at 0800/8:00 a.m. and Sarah, Z, J, and I were on it. The grocery store opens early in the morning, but most of the other shops in the Cuatro Altos shopping area do not open until 0930/9:30 a.m.
We did not mind stores being closed, because one of our favorites was open...the Panaderia de Colombiana bakery. In Cartagena, I was introduced to arequipe (also called “dulce de leche” in Mexico), a kind of caramel spread that is put in all kinds of foods and pastries in Colombia. Because this bakery had “Colombia” in their name, I was hoping they had pastries with arequipe inside them. The lady behind the counter laughed when I told her this, but shook her head and said they did not make any pastries with arequipe inside. I was able to choose something else from their display that was very good!
After enjoying our breakfast treat, we headed to Abernathy’s to find out what time they would open. Surprise! They were already open! This shop has “outdoor stuff” for fishing, camping, snorkeling, etc. Sarah was looking for a diving mask for herself and fins for J. Both Z and J are growing fast. This means new clothes in bigger sizes, but also bigger sports equipment. I was looking for a snorkel. We alll found what we were looking for. In other stores, we could not believe all the Christmas stuff was out! Coming from almost no shopping in Guna Yala to Christmas in October was a bit of a shock!
Then it was time to head to the grocery store. Today I focused on snack foods, black beans, retried beans, and a few more fresh fruits and vegetables. We cook a lot of Mexican food on the boat, so running low on those foods means I replace them quickly when I find them. I also bought a few more bags of Honey Nut Cheerios. These are one of the breakfast favorites, plus several people in the crew like to eat them dry for snacks. The bags of cereal in Panama tend to be smaller than we are used to seeing. When I say I bought 16 bags of cereal, that is not nearly as much as it sounds like. Each bag is maybe 6 servings of cereal for breakfast.
“Snacks” can mean a lot of things to different people in our crew. It is hard to know what you will want to snack on a few weeks from now. Some of the crew leans toward sweet snacks, while others prefer savory or salty snacks... Crackers? Peanut butter crackers? Ritz? Goldfish? Cheez Its? Cookies (Oreos? Marias? Wafers?)? Mixed nuts? Peanuts? Almonds? Potato chips? Potato sticks? Pretzels? Dried fruit? Fresh fruit? Fresh vegetable sticks? I am thinking about this, because the two things I wished I had bought more of before were cereal and snack foods. We ate a lot more of both than I thought we would.
There was just enough time to order two pizzas to go from Domino Pizza near the shuttle bus stop. We took the pizzas back to the boat for lunch.
We have been seeing people we met at Shelter Bay the last time we were here. It was fun to return to a place we were familiar with! We knew the shuttle bus schedule, what they sell at the Mini Mart at the marina, the kids wanted to go to the pool, etc. We settled back into the same slip we left a few weeks ago and settled back into marina life for a short time.
We already knew we were going to stay here as long as it takes to do some business on internet, to do some specific shopping for “boat stuff”, and to restock after being out Island in Guna Yala. We are hoping our goals can be accomplished in a short time, so we can go spend some time at Bocas del Toro Archipelago, offshore from the Panama/Costa Rica border.
Of course none of the things on our To Do List can be done on Sunday, so our focus today is getting ready for the Sunday BBQ Night. We always enjoyed the event when we were here before, so we are looking forward to this evening. I baked a cherry chip cake with cherry pie filling, then made icing using maraschino cherry juice and chopped cherries.
Z and J love BBQ night! Really? Is that what you are thinking? I will explain...they always eat a good meal, but they do not always have the sweets and the appetizers that people bring to share. Tonight, one of the older kids brought large marshmallows to roast over the coals in the grill. Sometimes, graham crackers and Hershey bars show up to make somemores. That is why the girls like BBQ Night! OK, I will admit that is why we all love BBQ Night!
This afternoon we could hear the sound of roaring engines on the old runway that was used when this property was a U.S. Military Base. Now, the Panamanian AeroNaval (Air and Sea) are in charge of the old runway and barracks that overlook the Atlantic end of the Panama Canal.
The loud noise told us today was bus racing day! Yes, buses! The same painted buses that will be running routes in and around Colon tomorrow, were out here racing on the runway today! Dave, Dito, Z, and J walked over to see the fun for themselves. There were police there managing the hundreds of people in the crowd gathered to watch the race. The spectators are betting on the competing buses. In Spanish, these buses are referred to as “Los Diablos Rojos”. That means “Red Devils” in English. A local told us the name refers to the large number of accidents they are involved in and the injuries they cause.
We did school this morning and it went fine, but slower than usual, because Z and J were not feeling 100%. They were sniffling, had a low grade fever, and felt tired all day long. It was evident they had picked up the local malady that is spreading like wildfire. The girls spent a lot of time today reading on their Kindles. When we left to go sailing, J could not read, but Z was already reading books on her parents’ Kindle. Now, both of the girls have their own Kindle and use them often. Sarah works hard to keep downloading new library books for each of them when we have reliable WiFi. Everyone in the crew loves to read, so we now have five Kindles on board!
When we arrived at the marina just days ago, we immediately saw that some of our friends were not feeling well. Everyone was telling us how they had a “very bad cold” or “the flu” or “la gripe” (depending on who we were talking to). Not good. None of us have been sick since we left Florida last April. Now, we cannot say that anymore.
After lunch, I rode the shuttle bus into Colon to go to the grocery store. Today, especially since I was by myself, I focused on buying groceries that did not weigh much and, usually, are more fragile. Things like eggs, wheat bread, potato chips, fresh fruits, fresh vegetables, bars of cheese, butter, ziplock bags, Goldfish crackers, etc.
I still could not carry everything myself, so when one of the bag boys stepped up to load everything onto his large carrier, I was happy to accept his help to get it all to the bus stop. This young man had helped me do the same thing a few days ago. I think he was watching to see if I would need help today. The private bus stop is a short way beyond the regular parking area at the store. Some of the bag boys have told me they did not want to walk that far. I gave him a fair tip for his help last time and did the same today.
Feeling like I had finished a big job, I just wanted to sit down when I got back to the boat, and put everything away “later”. Thankfully, one of the benefits of a big crew is everyone helps out. Dave and Dito were there to hep move the groceries to the boat. Sarah was there to help remove all of the cardboard and put the groceries in their proper places, Z and J helped out whenever we asked them to do something. Somehow, all those groceries disappeared from sight.
We got an early start on doing school this morning, because I was going to leave at 0930/9:30 a.m. to go to Panama City. Both Z and J woke up coughing and sniffling again this morning. The rest of us are hoping against hope we can stay well. Fortunately, both of the girls are good students, so the day’s lesson got done even though they were not feeling well.
At the appointed time, five of us met at the appointed place and off we went to Panama City. This is my fourth day trip to the big city. The other trips I have gone on ended up being four or five stops. Today, we did eight stops. The stops depend on where the people in the car need to go for specific items. The guy who rents the van is very knowledgeable about what to get where in Panama, so you talk to him about what you are looking for and he takes you there. When I sign up for one of these day trips, I know we will be back when we are done.
Today, we went to two marine stores, a mall (for a specific store), a specialty food store that sells hams from around the world, a bank, and “the regulars...Price Smart (like Costco), Discovery Center, and Reba Smith Grocery It was a long day, but it was fun to get to do something different and spend time in those big stores.
Back at the boat, Dito and Dave helped me get all the bags full of things I had bought onto the boat. I made a decision...we will put the groceries away tomorrow!
One of the things Dave wanted to do while we are here in the marina is get an appointment with a dermatologist. He asked a local person to recommend someone and was given two names and phone numbers to call for an appointment. Both of the doctors live in Panama City and come to a hospital in Colon to see patients on Wednesdays beginning at 1500/3:00 p.m.
Dave called the first name and was told he could get an appointment for two weeks later. Dave said we were only staying a few days, so, no thank you, He called the other number and they told him to come in next Wednesday (today) at 1500/3:00 p.m.
Dave went on the 1245/12:45 p.m. shuttle and got off at the bus stop. He hung out for awhile, then finally hailed a taxi and went to the hospital. He found the clinic by 1400/2:00 p.m. He could not believe his eyes. Every seat in the waiting area was full! He signed the sign in sheet at the end of a long list of names. Eventually, he discovered that every patient there had been given a 1500/3:00 p.m. appointment. You are seen in the order you sign in. Some of those patients had probably come to sign in shortly after noon.
Dave finally got seen around 1730/5:30 p.m. By the time his appointment ended, it was dark outside. He went out in front of the hospital and it was hard to hail a taxi. Everyone was done for the day and on their way home. Finally, a taxi driver stopped. He said he would carry Dave to the marina, but Dave would have to let him pick up his wife from work first. Off they went to the store where his wife worked. They sat and waited ten minutes for her to come out. Then the driver told his wife he was going to take Dave to the marina before they could go home.
I was so happy to have What’s App on my phone today. Dave and I could text or call each other and we could be assured that he was OK. Before Dave left for town today, I asked him if he wanted me to come along. He said not to bother. I will admit, I am glad he said that! I am glad that I did not have to go sit there all that time!
I did not have specific photos for today and I am starting to have the sore throat and chest cough myself. I was not up to going out and taking photos today. I looked through some of my photos and found three photos of cayucos (canoe style boats made out of a single tree trunk) that show how some cayucos have a second life after they are retired from the sea.
We have most of our food replaced, doctor’s appointments are done, boat parts have been bought...what else needs to be done?
We did do school this morning. Z and J are feeling a tad better, but still do not their usual amount of energy. I was dragging, too, but we made it through.
Dito pulled down a grib file today. It is still looking like the constant westerly winds are going to take a short break on Saturday and the southerly winds are going to come in. That would be a good time to ride those south winds!
Now, we are all focused on “what needs to be done?” OK...laundry, and the “heavy stuff” from the store. Unfortunately, Dave and I are both not feeling well today. The sniffles, sore throat, headache and low fever have caught up with both of us. We both feel it coming on yesterday, but today it is here.
I have to say that not much else happened for me today. Dave and I both actually laid down in the afternoon and took a nap. That is way out of the ordinary for me. My hope is that by resting some today, I can push through tomorrow to finish getting ready to leave for Bocas.
Again, I was not out taking photos today, so I chose to share photos today that show one of the small tiendas (shops) where we buy fresh fruit and vegetables. These fruits and vegetables have not been refrigerated and usually will last longer on the boat. We do not refrigerate all fruits and vegetables on the boat. The frig is just not big enough to do that, especially feeding six people.
We have been talking all week about leaving. We have looked at weather forecasts and they all seemed to indicate the end of the week was going to be a good time to leave.
When Dave and Dito bought diesel fuel at the marina fuel dock, the man gave them a bottle of diesel right out of the hose to show them that the fuel was clean and not contaminated by dirt or water. This is the first time anyone has ever done that for us, but we thought it was really a good idea.
Sarah, Z, J, and I went into town on the shuttle bus to top off our fresh fruits and vegetables. We also decided to carry as much long life milk as we have room for, because it is heavy and being at the dock makes it easier to load onto the boat. At anchor, we have to carry heavy groceries to the dinghy, load them in, try to keep them dry while we go out to the boat, then lift them out of the dinghy onto the boat to be stored in their place.
Our plan is to speak to the people in the marina office as soon as they open at 0800/8:00 a.m. tomorrow morning and tell them we are going to leave. We have to close out our account and return the electrical adapter we borrowed from them before we can actually drop the dock lines and leave.
We left Shelter Bay Marina at 0815 Saturday morning. The winds were very light from the South and the seas were very flat. The blue water and the blue sky were monochrome. We were motor sailing (alternating, using one engine at a time) and putting up the sails when we could use them to get a small lift.
These same sailing conditions continued all through the 134 mile trip except for two hours of thunderstorms in the early evening. When the first storm caught up with us, we slowed down to let it go over us, then veer off to the side away from us. Maybe those birds on on the floating log had been blown out to sea by one of the storms. There was another storm ahead of us, so we had to deviate our course 50 degrees to miss that storm. We are so grateful that our radar shows where storms around us are located and uses color-coding to show the intensity of the storms.
We arrived at the anchorage just off Bocas Town at noon on Sunday. We had communicated with a couple we met when we were all at Shelter Bay Marina. They have been in Bocas for awhile now and we had promised to contact them via What’s App when we arrived.
As we threaded our way through severest small islands, we saw a few boats anchored here and a few boats anchored there. When we came into the anchorage off Bocas Town, we saw about two dozen boats anchored out. We found a spot in the anchorage and put our anchor down. Along the way, we speculated where we thought our friends might be located.
Once the anchor dug in and the engines were turned off, we could really look around. There was our friends’ boat...the next one over from us!
We had a good night’s sleep last night and everyone woke up feeling rested and a little more recovered from their colds/flu. We did school first, but kept the pace moving as we were all looking forward to going into town and checking it out.
The local morning net comes on at 0745 on VHF. We tuned in and listened to the controller go through the daily agenda. We called in when they asked for “new arrivals”. At the end of the net they asked if anyone had any other questions. A man came on and asked if anyone had a recommendation for an ophthalmologist in Panama City, because he thought he needed to make an appointment. Nothing heard on the radio. Dave spoke up and said he did not have instruments on board, but he is a retina specialist and would be glad to see if he could help define the problem.
So, we while we were doing school in the salon and Dave was having a medical discussion in the cockpit! It turned out that the man’s problem can be taken care of using medication and he will not need to go to Panama City. In the afternoon, another man came by to ask Dave some questions about his eyes. Dave was able to use his minipad to show the man what was going on with his vision. He explained the problem, then told him what his options were for treatment.
After we finished school, we got ready to go into town. One of our friends on the boat by us went into town with us to give us some tips about where to safely tie our dinghy, where to drop off trash, ideas about where to shop and where to eat. The other member of their crew was not feeling well today, so he stayed on their boat.
Bocas Town has a population of around 5,000 people we are told. The tourist facilities in the group of islands making up the archipelago have made Bocas del Toro the number one tourist destination in Panama. All of the larger islands have small villages, hostels, hotels, or resorts, and restaurants located on them. Bocas Town is located on Isla Colon.
They tell us that Christopher Columbus stopped here on his fourth trip to the new world. Pirates are rumored to have used the islands as a hiding place in the 17th century. In the 18th century wealthy men build huge banana plantations on the islands and the mainland. Around 1900, The United Fruit Company took over the plantations and established one huge company to export bananas. This company brought major changes to the area when they built roads, bridges, and canals. The laid out towns and cities where their employees could live. Today, this company is called Chiquita Brands. International. They grow and export 750,000 tons of bananas annually.
Here we are hanging out in Bocas del Toro. We have been hearing people talk about this area since Ft. Pierce, Florida. We finally made it!!
Our walk through town yesterday gave us a good overview of the main commercial area. This is low season (high season will start in December), so the town was not crowded. A lot of European tourists, as well as those from North America come here. Many of the restaurants do not open until 1700/5:00 p.m. and stay open to the late hours, because most of the tourists are doing day tours out snorkeling, going to the beach, diving, etc. during the day.
We decided to have taco Tuesday on the boat today. We blackened the rest of the tuna we caught the other day. We made pineapple salsa to put on the fish.
Going into Bocas Town means finding a safe place to leave our dinghy while we are in town. Our friend told us about one dock close to where we are anchored where we can pay $2 per day to leave our dinghy where people will watch it. We can also take our large garbage bag to their bin for $2. After lunch, we wanted a second chance to look again at some shops we saw yesterday and to check out a few more places we noticed, but did not go inside yesterday.
The largest grocery store is named Toto. Half of the first floor commercial area is groceries. Many of the groceries come from Price Smart. The other half of the first floor commercial area is a hardware store. The second floor is school supplies and uniforms, everything you would need for sewing, shoes, and clothing for the whole family. The third floor is housewares. We also found a good selection of sauces and spices at a store inside a restaurant called Super Gourmet.
There are so many grocery stores here, varying in size from a minimart to Toto. All of the basics are here and a lot of other things that are nice to have. There is a German bakery making fresh loaves of bread daily. Ice cream is sold everywhere!
We did our research and found out most of the restaurants open at 1700/5:00 p.m. and they are closed one or two days each week. This morning we looked up Pizza Alberto online. We found out they are closed every Thursday and open in the early evening the other days of the week.
We did school this morning, then it was snack time for Z and J. One of their favorite treats is Gummy Bears. Well here in Bocas Town we have discovered Gummy Worms, Gummy Sharks, and Gummy Tarantulas! We make a snack mix of whatever snack crackers and pretzels we can find, then add some fresh fruit, and a sweet tree...like a Gummy Tarantula on top of the apple!
We/had lunch on the boat, and had a rather lazy early afternoon. We had decided to go into town shortly before 1700/5:00 p.m., so we could order our pizza-to-go and bring it back to the boat to eat it before it got dark.
The plan was going well...we went into the dinghy dock, walked to the pizza place, and there was the sign telling us they are closed on Wednesday! That is not what the website said! Since we were already in town and the restaurants were opening, we started looking for another place that made pizza.
We ended up going to Barco Hundido (sunken boat). We ordered pizza and ate it right at the water’s edge. Since we were already in town, we also stopped by Toto for ice cream.
now, it was not late, but it was dark. We had come prepared. We had two flashlights to use in the dinghy to show other people we were moving in our dinghy between the dinghy dock and EXIT ONLY. We had two flashlights, one shining on the bow and one shining on the yellow dinghy engine at the aft of the dinghy. This makes the dinghy show up remarkably well as it moves through the water in the dark. There are a lot of boats anchored out in the bay and also a lot of water taxis carrying tourists here and there, day and night. EXIT ONLY had the masthead light on (boats at anchor are required by local law to put this light on from sundown to sunrise). Dave has also mounted blue solar lights at each corner of the boat. These lights come on automatically at sundown and make it easy for us find exactly where EXIT ONLY is located in the dark. We hope these lights make it easy for other boats to see us and stay away from us, too!
We did some quick errands in Bocas Town this morning, before we hauled our anchor up and started heading toward Red Frog Marina and Resort area on Isla Bastimentos. Once everyone was back on the boat and the dinghy was secured, we were on our way.
We woke up to a nice sunny day today, so Dave and I did our laundry early so we could hang things up on the lifelines and get them dry. It was also day five of our water cycle, so time to make water, While Dave and Dito got the water maker set up and the rest of us were having school, the boat was moving away from Bocas Town and into cleaner water away from the islands. Once we reached an area where there seemed to be less particulates visible in the water, Dave cut off the engine and we just drifted along toward our destination while making water and finishing school.
Once those two jobs, water and school, Dave turned on the engine again (almost no wind was blowing), and we headed into the anchoring area near Red Frog Marina. Once the anchor was set, we ate lunch.
After lunch, we all got in the dinghy and headed for the dock off of Red Frog Resort (next to the marina). We immediately found ourselves walking on a ;boardwalk through the mangrove trees. It was like we stepped into another world. At the far end of the boardwalk, we came to a large open air reception area, then a very well-stocked minimart.
It was getting late in the afternoon, so we decided to go back to the boat. We will do more exploring tomorrow.
We are anchored with 3 other boats just outside Red Frog Marina. The area is large enough that we are not really close to each other.
We enjoyed walking around Bocas Town and learning about somewhere new and different. It was fun to have a meal or two out at different restaurants in town. Getting topped up on fresh fruit and vegetables and eating ice cream was fun, too. Being in a populated area helped us find out more about the area we are in and have contact with some of the locals. We also like the reliable WiFi we have when we are near towns.
On the other hand, we really do enjoy being away from the population centers and experiencing being “out island”. When it is time to run the water maker, we try to find the cleanest water around. Clean water is found away from the towns and away from areas where rivers carry silt into the ocean. We have a complex filter system built into the water maker, and the cleaner water is easier to run through the system. We also like to swim off the boat as well as go snorkeling away from the boat. Being anchored in clean water makes those activities possible.
Red Frog Resort is located by Red Frog Marina. The resort has multiple-styles of accommodations for sale. The property has its own beach, restaurants, sports club, etc. Right now, the first stages of building are complete and they are in an expansion phase.
We decided to go in and look around. Dito, Sarah, J, and Z wanted to go find the beach and check it out. The day was sunny with a breeze, so the beach report was favorable. They all enjoyed body surfing today. Bocas del Toro is one of the locations where the U.S. surfing team trains for the Olympics.
We woke up to a beautiful pink and yellow sunrise today. It was so quiet we could stand on deck and hear the birds wings moving as they flew over us.
After breakfast, we hauled up the anchor and headed back to Bocas Town. We all had things we wanted to do using WiFi, so we needed to go there. Since we were in town, we decided to go to the grocery store and pick up some fresh bakery bread and a few other items.
We were only in town a few hours, but we did everything on our list, so we went back to the boat and got ready to head out. We did not want to stay in Bocas Town tonight.
We headed a short way up the side of Isla Colon to a place called Playa de las Estrellas (Starfish Beach). This is a public beach that is very popular with tourists. The water taxis that carry people on tours of the area, bring tourists by the boatloads here from Bocas Town for a day at the beach.
Most of the islands in this archipelago are covered with rainforest and have mangroves down to the edge of the island. This island is surrounded by crystal clear water, so it is relatively easy to see the large red starfish that populate the area. The vendors on the beach have cleared the mangroves to make a real beach at the edge of the island.
We anchored a short distance away from the beach, so we cannot see exactly what it is like on shore. We will take the dinghy in tomorrow morning and explore. It was getting late in the afternoon when we arrived today, so we decided to swim off the boat.
We knew when we got up this morning that there would be lots of people coming to this beach today, especially since it was the weekend. Tour boats bring people here everyday. It is a popular destination!
We decided to go in to the beach early try to miss the crowds. This turned out to be a good plan. We were the first people on the beach besides the people who live there. These people are run restaurants, souvenir stands, jet ski rentals, etc. The tourists did not star arriving in tour boats until around 0900/9:00 a.m., so we had the beach to ourselves for a little while.
Even when tourists started arriving, they just sort of spread themselves out among the chairs located at the edge of the water or in some of the pilapas that provide shade. One group had rented one of the pilapas to have a birthday party. There was music playing in the background from several sources along the beach. Many of the people who came to the beach were local Panamanians as well as the tourists from North America and Europe.
There are signs posted all along the beach about “just looking, butnot touching” the starfish. The beach was clean. There was no litter and the sandy area had been raked. The restaurants only serve lunch...mostly seafood. In the morning, cold drinks and coffee were available.
We enjoyed swimming, walking the length of the beach, taking photos, etc. We went back out to the boat for lunch. In the afternoon, we hauled up our anchor and moved to Saigon Bay, which is located across the runway of the airport from Bocas Town. We went there because two friends that we met at Shelter Bay were there. This couple is crew on a boat that is heading up the eastern side of the States and on into Canada up to Halifax. They are from Mexico. They would let me practice my Spanish when I spoke to them and they would practice English when they spoke to me. We knew this would be the last time we would have a chance to see them in Panama. The owners and crew were off the boat for the day, but we made arrangements to see our friends tomorrow morning.
After breakfast, we went to see our friends. After a short visit, we said goodbye to them. They will be heading north from here, while we are going through the Canal to the Pacific sometime in the next few weeks.
We hauled the anchor up and moved around the headland and to the other side of the landing strip to Bocas Town. We anchored and made a quick run into town. Within an hour, we were back on EXIT ONLY and on our way out of town.
We decided to go back to the area near Red Frog Resort. While we were visiting with our friends earlier in the day, they showed us some photos they took when they were walking around the resort grounds and the beach. They had photos of beautiful tropical flowers and sloths. I really wanted to take some photos of those things, too.. Dito and Sarah said they wanted to explore the beach area there again, so it seemed like a good idea to go spend a little more time there.
The distances we have been traveling between anchorages are not big. It has taken us one or two hours to motor sail from one place to another. That is why it is so easy to come and go.
After school and lunch, we all got in the dinghy and headed for the resort dock. The boardwalk from the dock to the open-air reception area leads through the mangroves. There are bilingual signs telling about how important the mangroves are to the island environment.
Just past the reception area, there is a well-stocked Mini Mart. We did not need groceries, but we bought some cold drinks on our way in and on our way out, we bought ice cream.
Following the paved road that cut through the rainforest, we saw many varieties of trees, bushes, and flowers in the thick jungle. We were looking up in the trees all of the time, because we had been told we would see sloths up there. We saw several! The residents and workers at the resort move around by walking, biking, or driving golf carts.
We finally arrived at the beach. Today was overcast and there was no breeze blowing, so the beach was not quite as inviting as it was yesterday. When the wind is down, the mimis/no-see-ums come out, so we got a few bites. We did not stay long at the beach today!
However, we did go back and sit in the open air reception area and eat our ice cream from the Mini Mart. Then we headed back to the dinghy and back to the boat where we all went swimming and cooled off.
Once we were back aboard EXIT ONLY, we decided to move around one of the larger headlands and see what was “around the corner” in an area called “the Cut”. On the chart, we could see several small cays between two of the larger islands. One of the areas between two of the smaller cays was large enough and deep enough for boats to pass through. We stayed on this same side, but anchored in the area approaching “the Cut”.
We were anchored just “around the corner” from Red Frog Resort and Marina,,, so, we assumed this anchorage would be quiet like it was over there. Instead, we soon realized this was more like a busy byway running through a choke point. Of course! “The Cut” is a very useful shortcut, therefore, a very popular way to go between the islands out here.
Looking all around our boat, we could see parts of houses peeking out of the rainforest and near-by boathouses at the water’s edge. This area was built up more than we realized. My phone did not have WiFi, but a couple of the others had an intermittent connection. We looked up this area on Google Earth maps and discovered many of the structures were large eco-resorts.
When we did a little more research, we discovered that a high percentage of the homes, businesses, and resorts located outside of Bocas Town are using solar power, catching and treating rainwater, etc. Eco tourism is booming in this area.
It was water making day today, so we were in a good place to make that happen. After that job was done, it was time to do some laundry, hang it out to dry, then go swimming off the boat.
One more important thing got done today...Z and J decided what they were going to dress up as tomorrow for Halloween. They are thinking they would like to wear their costumes while they do school tomorrow.
We woke up early to a pretty sunrise and a very quiet morning. It was quiet until it was time for the water taxis to take the tourists out to the many day-trip destinations.. That is when you can almost see the path through “the Cut” carved in the water.
We knew we were going to move the boat again today, so we decided to do the exploring in the dinghy before we started school. The rainforest on these islands is very dramatic with the different levels of trees over and under each other. The tallest trees in the canopy stand up and spread over everything.
Once we took the anchor up and headed for Bocas Town again, we got down to the business of getting school done while the boat was moving. Z had been dressed as Hermione from “Harry Potter” and J dressed as Elsa from “Frozen”. All those extra clothes made it pretty hot while they were doing their school work, so they ended up dressed like two boat kids in the Tropics...
Once we were anchored in Bocas Town, we went into town. The kids did not do any trick or treating, but I bought them 4 kinds of “gummies” and their folks got them some ice cream. Halloween is not really done here. They know about it, but their tradition is to celebrate Dia de los Muertos on 2 November.