Monday, August 24, 2015

Isla Fuerte

Our cruising guide wasn't too good for Isla Fuerte....okay, our cruising guide was actually nonexistent for Isla Fuerte. We had merely photographed a few pages from Juan David's guide. It had been an 80 mile sail from Sapzurro so we arrived in the late afternoon and had three sketchy ideas about where to anchor. We headed to the first spot and it seemed too far out and offered no protection from potential South winds. We motored to the second spot and didn't like it either, so we headed to the third spot and before we even got there decided against it, so we headed back to the second spot. It would have to do.

Suggested Anchorages

As we were picking our way back to it a panga came up to us and offered to show us into the "harbor". Hmm, harbor? What harbor? We agreed and suddenly our new friend Clider leaped aboard and took the helm!
Now we are not paranoid people and usually trust in the inherent goodness of strangers, but this was stretching it a bit even for us. But what else could we do? He obviously had local knowledge and wanted to help us find a safe anchorage. As he headed confidently towards shore we confirmed that we drew five feet and he said, "No problem". We continued across a shallow spot and into the "harbor", quite close to shore, where we anchored in ten feet of water. We gave him a 20,000 peso (about $7.00) tip and two sodas and he left happy, telling us that it would be much calmer anchored here.

Where We Anchored           

And it was. Until 3:00am when a huge wind came up creating a Cabo-San-Lucas-type fetch that had us running out to secure things on deck. It only blew for an hour but the seas remained lumpy for several hours. But we were fine, and the boat was safe, so we decided to wait another day and get some more sleep before departing for Isla Tintipan.

Looking back, we both decided that letting good old Clider drive our boat to that anchorage was probably a very good thing. It was close in with some protection, had a sand bottom, shallow water, and people on shore. Who knows what the conditions would have been like at the location the cruising guide suggested? In my mind this experience just confirms that sometimes it's good to put your faith in  the kindness of strangers.

Sunday, August 23, 2015


After an uneventful seven hour passage from Isla Pinos, we arrived at Sapzurro in the late afternoon. In the large well protected bay we found six other sailboats and anchored near them. After we anchored and turned off the engine we could hear loud music coming from the town. We could also see lots of activity on shore and several pangas moving about the harbor. It all seemed so different from our last two months; almost like we were in Mexico again.....

The next morning we dinghyed over to our closest neighboring boat and met Juan David. After sharing some local knowledge about shopping and telling us he was from Cartagena, he gave us a huge smile and said, "Welcome to Colombia!" Frankly, we thought we were still in Panama because the border is a little vague on our chart, but when Juan David gave us his hearty welcome we instantly understood why this town seemed so different from Panama.

After landing ashore and easily finding diesel fuel, groceries, and a SIM card - in a small village with no cars I might add - we were definitely impressed. And walking around the town seeing the tidy, brightly painted homes, families enjoying a day on the beach, and smiling friendly faces, I think we are going to like Colombia just fine.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Isla Pinos in Guna Yala

Our last port in Panama was Isla Pinos where we spent two nights. It is a very traditional village where no English is spoken and very little Spanish. However, we did manage to communicate with one man who came out to sell us a fish and collect the anchoring fee.

The next morning we went into the village to try to get some groceries, but very little was available. While our friend ran to get our six beers and six sodas, we sat in the shade of the building at the "X" and enjoyed the view above.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Snug Harbor

Under clear sunny skies we sailed from Green Island to Snug Harbor yesterday. We haven't seen ANY other cruising boats here. We also haven't seen any thunderstorms here.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

The Lightning Strike

We had been anchored near Nuinudup for two nights - about where the monohull is in the center of the photo below. We had enjoyed swimming, snorkeling, and chatting with the local Kunas; Justino and his sister Ermelinda who we had met on a previous trip. (We had given him a cell phone and he stopped by to tell us he had gotten it to work with a new SIM card.)

There were at least ten other boats anchored all around us. It was a calm night, but about 12:30 we awoke to rain and got up to close the hatches. The rain became a deluge and we put the dinghy (which was suspended at deck level) in the water because it was quickly filling with rainwater. Lightning could be heard in the distance and it got closer and closer. Most of it was cloud-to-cloud, but some hit the surface of the sea.

We stayed up watching, listening, and estimating the distance of the lightning from us. At about 2:00am I went back to bed and Malcolm was standing at the nav station when our boat got a direct hit. Malcolm immediately said, "We've been hit! There's smoke back here". Not only was there smoke, but some of the electronics had turned on by themselves.

We both started opening cupboards and floorboards to determine if there was a fire because the smell of burning electrical components was quite strong. After determining that there was no actual fire, we worked to evacuate the smoke and toxic fumes then tried to get some sleep.

We were up again at 5:30 (I don't think either of us actually slept) and proceeded to take inventory of the damage. We started at the top of the mast where Malcolm discovered that the VHF antenna was totally melted off and the mount was bent down at a 45 degree angle. He also found scorch marks on the coaxial cable. The tri-color light was cracked so he brought that down. The wind speed/point didn't work at all, so he brought that down too.
Next we inspected all the systems on the boat and discovered that the inverter was only putting out 30V instead of 120V. The old GPS was dead. Three expensive Caframo fans that hadn't been working right for some time now wouldn't work at all. We found the cause of all the smoke and smell. It was the shower sump sensor: it was black, bulging, and stinky. But the biggest bummer was that the autopilot didn't work.
We put new bulbs in the tricolor and it worked again. Malcolm removed the electronic switches from the Caframo fans and they worked again. We even went in the water and checked the hull; it needed cleaning anyway, and we usually scrub it about once a month. We couldn't see any damage and all the through-hulls worked properly. And the good news was that the main engine, generator, battery charger, water maker, refrigeration, pumps, small electronics, computer, chart plotter, depth sounder, and VHF radios still worked. And in the wonderful spirit of generosity that other cruisers display, a boat named Points Beyond gave us a handheld VHF and simply asked that we mail it back to them when we got ours repaired. So we intend to carry on to Cartegena, Columbia and make repairs there. We need to haul out for bottom paint and wait for the Caribbean cruising season anyway, so Cartegena, here we come.

So now we naturally wonder WHY US?
We are just an average cruising sailboat: 44' fiberglass monohull, aluminum mast with a 3' antenna at the top, chain rode, the usual number of electric gadgets aboard, nothing special. So why did the lightning hit us?

And why so little damage?
Could it be because our boat has huge copper straps wrapping around the inside of the hull bonding together all the through-hulls and ground wires? Could it be because the captain used eight million zip ties and all the wires are tightly bundled and secured?

I guess we will never know the answer to those questions, but you know what? I'm suddenly just a little gun shy when I hear a thunderstorm approaching!

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Your Naturalist Takes A Walk

While awaiting the backstay repair your naturalist (that's me, Laura) has been looking for interesting tropical flora and fauna to share with you. Along the road near Puerto Lindo I found all kinds of fascinating things: mushrooms, flowers, spiders, crabs, and lizards.
 1/4" WIDE
 1/4" to 1/2" WIDE


Saturday, August 8, 2015

Desperate Measures

Back when we were in Panama City I bought a SIM card from Digicel to go in my dongle so I could have Internet. Things haven't worked out too well since we came through the canal, and it didn't always work, so I thought maybe if I put it in the iPad it would work better. The problem was that it was only cut to fit in the phone or the dongle. There is a third, smaller size available, but we are out here in the sticks where those are not available.
So the other day I got out my X-acto knife and a ruler and cut it down to fit in the iPad. I think I did a pretty good job and it acted like it was going to work, but it didn't. I finally took it to a Digical store in Colon where "Digicel Man" fixed it. He said it hadn't been set up for data from the beginning so it was just using all my minutes the first day and then would stop working. Anyway, he reset the SIM card and everything now works like it should. He couldn't even tell that I had cut it down to fit the iPad. I'm thinking having it in the iPad is better anyway. And if I want to I can still stick it in the dongle so it's all good.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Laundry - The Chore That Keeps On Growing

Laundry aboard a cruising boat is a never-ending chore. In the tropics you sweat, sweat, sweat everyday; boat maintenance is grubby work; salt water seems to get on everything; and you can't let it pile up because it gets mildewed; so laundry must be done frequently.
Ask any woman cruiser and she will tell you the thing she misses most from "land life" is her washing machine. I know the dream of walking the laundry room any time, popping a load in the machine and having it come out clean 30 minutes later certainly haunts me!

When we were in Mexico lavanderias were common and easy to find, but here in Panama they are difficult if not impossible to find. So we find different ways to do laundry....

While underway we wash it in the sink and hang it on the lifelines.

In Kuna Yala we went up the Rio Diablo and washed it in the murky water, but at least it was fresh water! 

Recently I have discovered this little Laundromat at Panamarina, another marina about a 15 minute dinghy ride away. The wash costs $1.50, but there is no hot water and it takes 30 minutes just to fill the tub so a load takes at least 45 minutes. The dryer costs $1.75 and runs on propane, so if the propane tank runs out while you are drying, no heat. Plan to be there during their regular business hours which are 8:00 to 9:30, 12:00 to 1:30, and 5:00 to 7:30, closed Sundays and Mondays. That way if anything goes wrong, or you need quarters, someone can help you. Oh, and bring bug spray, because the noseeums are fierce there.
Here is the route to get there.
Go out of Linton Marina past the monkey island. Go across the bay and into the mangroves. Come out at Panamarina, go to their dinghy dock, carry your laundry 200 yards past the restaurant to the restroom/shower area, and there you are. I did three loads the other day while Malcolm was installing the new battery charger and it took me about 3 hours.
I have recently heard of another way to do laundry on a boat: you simply put water in a 5 gallon bucket, add 1/3 cup ammonia, add the laundry and agitate it with a toilet plunger, let it soak for a couple of hours, wring it out, and hang it outside. The sun and breeze remove the ammonia smell and the laundry comes out clean and fresh. Ammonia supposedly removes perspiration and sweat stains quite nicely. I will be trying this soon here on Thistle, because using Tide and rinsing, rinsing, rinsing uses a lot of fresh water and anything that uses less fresh water is a definite plus.