December 2009

They say that bad things happen in threes. I wonder if “stupid things NOT to do while living on a boat” comes in threes as well. If that is the case then we are going to be fine. Over the last month we have done some really stupid things that actually surprised us!

Number 1. One evening while we were anchored in Ignacia de Tupile we tied a thick black line to the shroud so the kids could have something to play with in the water. Everyone said to themselves “We must remember to untie that before we up anchor tomorrow”. Did anyone remember to untie the line? You can guess the answer to that one. Fortunately the line was tied on the port side and we used the starboard engine, during the whole motor the lined dragged through the water, it was only at the very last moment to set the anchor when the line got caught in the prop. Fortunatley, no damage sustained.

Number 2. Because it has been so humid and the seas so calm, we decided to open the emergency hatches to get some air in the boat. Again we said to ourselves “We must remember to close that hatch before we up anchor tomorrow” Of course we forgot as it was out of our usual routine. I noticed it after we had been motoring for a while. Luckily, because of the calm seas, we did not have much water enter the boat and our SSB radio which is just under the hatch was unaffected.

Number 3. While on the hard at Shelter Bay Marina we were doing a lot of running around. Somebody, I won't mention names, put a pot of coffee on and left the boat. Two hours later he came back to a burning plastic smell. The whole percolator top had burned off. And there wasn’t much coffee left in the pot. A good reminder to never turn the stove on when you are busy running hither and tither.

December 1, 2009 - Lemon Cays, Kuna Yala

We dingyied over to snorkel the wreck at Dog Island. It was really great, lots of colourful fish.When got back to boat I took the kids to the beach. A backpacker boat came into the anchorage and they proceeded to come onto the beach and they ate a couple of coconuts!!! Then they left tthe uneaten coconuts and shells laying all over the place. We were just so stunned because all the guide books are absolutely adamant that nobody touch coconuts, even the ones laying on the ground because they are all owned by some Kuna. Coconuts are sacred, how could they not know this! Shame on the captain and crew of that boat to not share the local knowledge with their guests.

December 2, 2009 Lemon Cays to Rio Sidra – 8 nm

Along wtih Tyee III, we signed up for the river tour with Lisa, the master mola maker and guide to take her river tour.

Lisa picked us up at 0800 in her motorized ulu. It was quite a wet ride. We had a great rainforest hike, through a cemetery. We could not take pictures but when we got to Lisa’s plot, she told us we were allowed to take some pictures. Her assistant guide made everyone a cross out of wood and this was to keep the serpents away from us. We hiked through the rainforest, across a few streams and to the waterfall. We jumped off cliffs and swam in the cool pools however there was some very hungry fish in the pool (they weren’t piranhas though) Then back down via the river, we slid down waterfalls and swam back in the river, it was very cool, and the kids just loved it. We didn’t get back until 1400.

Rio Sidra

Rio Sidra

Tour with Lisa

December 4, 2009 – Rio Sidra to Chichimi –11.9nm

We had a beautiful sail but a not so beautiful time trying to anchor. Tried to anchor 5 times! There was no space and reefy but eventually found a spot like we always do.

Ryan has some cutlery dropped on his foot a few days ago and before we knew it the cut has become infected. We are just not used to this. Our medicine cabinet is stocked with antibiotics and I have a feeling that we are going to be using them quite a bit.

Chichimi was really beautiful. The beach was great. We had an end of school term party. We met Tyee III at the beach. We played some games, had a race with home-built rafts, then had some pasta and squares and decorated cupcakes.

December 7, 2009 – Chichimi to Isla Grande, Panama – 42.23 nm

We are leaving the San Blas! We will miss it. It was very rough seas on our way out, not used to this as it has been so calm for months. We caught a large tuna, had to slow the boat down to reel it in. Isla Grande looks like a cute little place. There is nobody around though. I believe it is one of those places where people decend on on the weekends. We are going through San Blas withdrawl.

December 8, 2009 – Isla Grande to Linton, Panama – 2.24nm

Linton is supposed to be the best protected anchorage in this area. There are a ton of boats anchored in Linton. We thought there must be something over there that we don’t know about as we are the only boat anchored in Isla Grande and we could see Linton from where we were anchored. However once we moved over to Linton, we realized that we were better off and better protected at Isla Grande.

We saw our friend from sv Sympatica Captain Lewis. He said he had to take the kids to see his friends who lived in the harbour and have sloths. They were orphaned and they have raised them from tiny little babies. They were so cute and genteel. We all held them (even me) and fed them leaves. Pippin was one year old. Lightening was old and not as comfortable with people. The third one was lost and we found it right in the middle of the Christmas tree after spending the better part of an hour searching for him!! The kids loved it and learned alot about sloths.


December 10, 2009 - Linton to Portobello, Panama - 10.4nm

It was very cool to sail into an anchorage with so much history.

Portobello was once the greatest Spanish port in Central America. Gold from Peru and treasures from the Orient entered Panama City and were carried overland by mule to the fortresses at Portobelo. Attacks on Portobelo continued unabated until the city was destroyed in 1739 by an attack led by Admiral Edward Vernon. Later much of the outermost fortress was dismantled to build the Panama Canal and many of the larger stones were used in the construction of the Gatun Locks. There are however still considerable parts of the town and fortresses left and today Portobelo is protected as a national park and as a Unesco World Heritage Site.

However, the Panamian government doesn’t seem to notice Portobelo. We were surprised to find the city so rundown and neglected. We thought the government would be putting some energy, money and time into this historic gem, but sadly it is not the case. We still really enjoyed Portobello.

Here are some sites we visited:

Fuerte San Jeronimo which was the largest fortress ever build to protect the bay. Facing the mouth of the bay are 18 cannon embrasures, some of which remain exactly where the Spanish troops left them when they returned home in 1821 – the year Panama declared its independence from Spain.

Castillo Santiago de Gloria (17th century)

Royal Customs House of Portobelo. This was originally built in 1630 to serve as the contaduria (counting house) for the king’s gold. It was in this building that the treasure brought across the isthmus was recorded and stored until it could be placed on galleons and sailed to Spain.

The Church of San Felipe de Portobello. The church is home to the Black Christ of Portobello, a wooden statue of the Jesus of Nazareth. The statue has become holy and worshipped because of the miracles attribute to it. Every October 21st the festival of the Black Christ of Portobello is celebrated. People come from all over Central America to Portobello.

We explored the fort on the other side of the bay. We had the whole place to ourselves. The kids had fun finding hiding places and secret passageways.

December 13, 2009 – Portobello to Shelter Bay Marina, Colon, Panama – 20.54nm

Our code zero that we got repaired in Cartagena ripped again after 15 seconds of it being up. Very frustrating!!!

We arrived and were put directly into the haul out slip ready to get our bottom repainted first thing tomorrow morning!

Shelter Bay Marina looks very nice. It is located on the old Fort Sherman Military Base. (The Americans left around 10 years ago and there are military bases all over the country). There is a swimming pool, a hot tub, a restaurant and bar where they have happy hour ($1.00 beers-Balboa) every night (Roberto is the best waiter). The bathrooms and showers deserve an honourable mention. But best of all, they have an air conditioned room where you can plug in your laptop and on the other side of the room in a large screen satellite TV where the kids can be entertained for hours while you catch up on your email!! There is a bus that leaves everyday at 8:00a.m. and 1:00 p.m. to take you into Colon to go shopping at the plaza Quatro de Altos. It is free in the morning and you pay $4.00 each way in the afternoon. The surrounding area is jungle, it is right on the edge of the Fort San Lorenzo. There are great hikes, bike rides out to the fort which is on the edge of the Rio Chagres.

Our excitement about having a swimming pool was very short lived as that very afternoon of our arrival Ryan fell backwards off the ledge and hit his head directly onto the concrete resulting in a concussion. Luckily for all of us, Dr. Dave was on the scene and took care of everything. Thank you Dr. Dave with all our hearts!

The yard is a different matter, they were excellent in getting our boat hauled and dry docked. The yard manager is a very nice cruiser who lives on his boat at the dock. However, they did not appear to have enough yard staff for the workload. We were on the hard for 10 days just to get the bottom repainted. We were starting to get worried, but Dave was adamant that we would be back in the water for Christmas and lo and behold December 23 we were splashed and at the dock.

A note to any future cruisers: We got several no-see-um bites from walking back and forth through the grass between the dry dock and the marina building. Several of these bites turned septic requiring anti-biotics. USE THE ROAD AND BUG SPRAY!

We received a Christmas box from Grandma, thank you, thank you! Everyone is overjoyed

December 20, 2009 - Shelter Bay Marina Christmas party

December 21, 2009 - Bike ride with Tyee III

December 24, 2009 – SBM to Chagres River—18.71nm

We decided to go to the Chagres River for Christmas. Tyee went as well and we met also up with Mariposa who was already there. We needed a break from the marina scene. It is hard to believe that just one year ago we were celebrating in St. Martin’s with sv Pickles, sv Ariel and sv Imagine. How did a whole year go by so quickly?

The Chagres River is very peaceful and beautiful. What a great way to spend Christmas. It was fun to take the dingy up the little tributaries looking for monkeys, birds and sloths. Each morning you can hear the howler monkeys in the trees. We spotted some toucans and various other birds. Tyee took us all surfing off the back of their dingy, we tried not to think of the crocodiles and bull sharks that live in the river!! We didn’t see any live crocs but we did see a deceased one by the dock by the locks.

One other boat was on the river during Christmas turned out to be a boat that we had met in Cartagena, sv Pelican. They were looking to be line handlers and we were looking for some, so we signed them up right then and there! Our other line handlers were a couple that we met at the marina who were working on their boat on the hard. They had a 2 year old daughter which the kids adored. Tyee had brought them to the Chagres with them for Christmas. We all had a terrific time on the Chagres River. It was very special Christmas.

Tyee III motoring down the river.

December 25, 2009- Merry Christmas everyone!!!

December 27, 2009 – Chargres River to SBM-18.49nm

Time to head back to Shelter Bay Marina and organize our canal transit! There are alot of ships anchored around here waiting to go through the canal. It is fun to play with the AIS radar to find out what the ships name is and where it is heading, it's length etc. Here is a pic of our chartplotter, all the triangles are ships, we are the ship with the yellow and blue arrows.


We are back in our same slip again, SBM is starting to feel like home! We have met alot of nice people during our stay here and we hope to see some again in the future.

We decided NOT to use an agent for the canal transit. Here is the procedure that we used, it sounds complicated but it really is not. The hardest part is walking around Colon with $1,500.00 cash in your pocket and not getting mugged in the process. The canal will not take credit cards, you must pay cash for your transit and the deposit will be refunded after the transit assuming nothing untoward happens. You can wait several weeks for them to mail you a cheque or you can pay an administrative fee of $20.00 and they will automatically deposit it into your account after your transit.

The steps we followed were:

1. Make 15 copies of ships papers, crew list, all passports and have two passport pictures for the adults Visa which you may or may not need and have 5 copies of your last Zarpe.

2. Take Shelter Bay 8:00 am bus into town and ask the bus driver (Anthony) to take you to the port captains office for your clearance (approx.$10.00).

3. Make 5 copies of Cristobal port Captain's form.

4. Take approx. $2.00 cab drive to Canal Authority area to sign up for Canal at no cost.

5. Call admeasure office to schedule a time for them to come out to measure the boat (they will not do this if you are on the hard).

6. Take the form the admeasure gives you back onto the bus at 8:00 am to the port captains office and directly across the street is Citi bank where you need to pay CASH for the transit fee and deposit.

7. Cross the street to the Port Captain's office and clear out ( Zarpe approx.$10.00).

8. Call Tito to get the lines for $60 (but double check them as he gave us the wrong ones the first time)

9. While at Shelter Bay start looking out by the garbage across from the pool to collect free tires if you want them (we wouldn't take tires next time). There are always some coming in or Tito sells them for $3.00 each.

10. Have a party going through the locks!!!!!!!

There is a Visa you need to have to clear out of Panama. We got it for $10 x 2 in Colon at immigration but you can also just pay the $20 at immigration on your way out in Panama City.

Between the time we were measured and went through the canal was two days! Not much of a wait. The date that was given to us was December 31st. New Years Eve in Gatun Lake! December 31, 2009 is also the 10th anniversary of when the US handed over the canal authority to Panama.

We are all set and ready to go.

Our crew met us at 11:00 a.m. and we stopped at the diesel boat for fuel. We motored over to the flats anchorage where we were to meet our advisor for the Gatun Locks. A large pilot boat comes precariously close to the boat and the advisor and his briefcase literally jumps ship. Our advisor was a very chatty gringo from Texas. The Gatun Locks are a set of 3 locks going up. A large freighter was in front of us (Thor Neptune -Bangkok), then a large tour boat “Discovery” was tied to the wall and they had us tie to the Discovery. It was awkward because there was only a bow and stern line, no breast lines. The Discovery was much larger than us and their metal rubrail was right at our lifelines. We had to move all the fenders as high as they would go and then constantly push off the Discovery while chatting with the curious American tourists! For each lock, the freighter would move first, then we would untie and reverse, the Discovery would move forward tie to the wall and we would tie up again. There was alot of turbulence and current in the lock because of this.

We arrived in Gatun Lake around 5:00 p.m. We decided to anchor instead of tying to the mooring buoy. Before we even had the anchor down, the pilot boat was back and picking up our advisor. We wished him a Happy New Year and he was gone. We had a great New Years Eve, everybody swam in the fresh water lake, we ate spagetti and drank red wine and then we partied until 2:00 a.m.!!! Happy New Year 2010!

Panama Canal Advisor jumping aboard

Tourists on The Discovery tied beside us going through the Panama Canal.

Happy New Year!