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- jake on Red Frog Beach
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The trip to Miami and back to Bocas del Toro literally entailed “Planes, trains, and Automobiles”, in fact add to that list boats which we had to take to the mainland from Bocas! Needless to say we were glad to be back on the boat to relax for a few days. I replaced the exhaust mixing elbow on the engine, which I got in Miami, as well as a drain hose which was old and in questionable condition. As of November 10, we have now been on this trip for an entire year. We left thinking that we might have enough money for an entire year, but honestly not knowing how long what we had would last us. I believe it is now safe to say that when we left we didn’t know our stern from our rudder (nautical version of the classic “ass from elbow”).
We are now at the point in our budget where we have just about enough to get us home. The problem is that before now we could not safely sail home because of the threat of hurricane season and now with winter approaching there are numerous cold fronts which come down from the northeast and bring very strong winds which have crippled boats trying to leave here this time of year. If Shannon was not pregnant, I might be tempted to try my luck and rush to get the boat home, but after the storm we went through getting here and knowing the physical and emotional toll it puts on us, I have decided to leave the boat down here and either come get her in the spring or if I can not get sufficient time off work have someone sail her back for me.
November 16th is known as Bocas del Toro day. We knew that this was a local holiday and that there were signs up around town for bands that were going to being playing. We went into town and to our surprise there were thousands of people in the streets. It turns out that Bocas del Toro day is the celebration of the day that they separated from Colon and became their own province in 1903. Shortly after we got there the big parade started. There were bands from all over the country here to celebrate and band after band of uniformed men, women, and children marched down the main street while everyone watched from the sidewalk.
It seemed that most “marching bands” were about 80% drummers. In addition to the different types of drums there was the occasional horn section or xylophone section and all bands were led by majorettes. We met the Gorhams as well as the Leafs and spent the day walking around enjoying our street beers. I of course drank Shannon’s beers for her. We stayed till dark with the Gorhams and Conor and I sampled some of the local street food. We said bye to the Gorhams for the last time as they were leaving for home the next day and we were leaving two days later. It was an unexpected party day which seemed to be the perfect way to end our year with the Gorhams. The remaining crews of the Tortilla Flotilla officially disbanded, hopefully not forever.
We spent the next few days getting the boat ready for us to leave her. After all the Salty Dog has done for us the past year and the emotional bond we have (and will always have) with her, it is hard to just leave her down here and possibly not sail her back ourselves. We are leaving her in a safe place with a friend who will look after her, but that is small consolation when we will be over 1000 miles away. In few short days we will be ending one big adventure and in 6 months beginning another …
On behalf of the crew of the Salty Dog I would like to thank all those who helped us physically, mentally, and financially. Pre-trip friends, friends we’ve made on the trip, and all loyal readers of our blog. Specifically:
- Thank you Arlo, Patty, and Charlie Bess for being such great neighbors and a seemingly endless source of boat improvement knowledge.
- Thank you to Frank Traynor for helping us through the first and hardest month. You’re welcome Frank for the experience that launched your boating career =).
- Thank you to Bryan and Angie Romo of the Stray Cat for all the help (especially through our battery issues) as well as the constant laughs and positive attitude. You have been missed by the whole Flotilla since Honduras. ~By the way, YOU hit US!
- Thank you to the Gorhams of the Gualby for the inspiration to embark on such a trip, for the captain to captain talks to help me understand my engines, for always having a spare whatever we needed (making us feel both lucky and unprepared), and finally for always being up for a good time. We miss you guys already.
-The biggest thank you definitely goes out to both of our parents without whom this trip would not be possible. Thank you for raising us to be so awesome, and for all your pre-trip last minute help, and all the “Base camp” assistance along the way. Hopefully with this grandkid we can call it even!
My Mom turned 60 on October 13th, and my dad planned an elaborate surprise party for her with all of us kids. Without her finding out, he flew all of us home. My brother Art, his wife Agnieszka, and their son Ben came in from Washington DC. My little brother Frankie (Frankie Propane to you loyal followers of the blog) flew in from New York. Even my beautiful little sister, Daisy, made it from North Carolina. The plan was for all of us to fly in the night before and meet the next evening at the party location. He arranged for the party to be at a woman’s house who gave Indian food cooking lessons. We arrived the day before the party and stayed at my Uncle Byron and Aunt Tina’s house where we proceeded to catch up on all the on-demand shows we missed and raided both their fridge and pantry (thanks again guys!). The day of the party we met at the house with all the siblings, uncles, aunts, and even Agnieszka’s parents.
My dad pretended to be taking my mom out to a fancy dinner and said he just had to stop for a minute at a client’s house to drop off some papers. When they arrived at the house (I never asked how he convinced her to get out of the car) everyone was there to surprise them and my nephew handed her birthday balloons. Shannon and I were hiding in one of the back rooms and once she composed herself from the surprise my dad said, “Shannon and Ted are online waiting to Skype with you from Panama”, as this was our main means of communication so far. We called her on Skype from the back room pretending to be in Panama, and when she noticed we weren’t on the boat we told her that we were “at a party”. We asked my sister to hand her a birthday card which we had “sent from Panama”. She opened the card which we inscribed with the message, “Happy 60th Birthday Mom. Sorry we don’t have the money to buy you something this year, so we had to make you a present” and enclosed the picture of the sonogram of our little baby.
Shannon is 13 weeks pregnant (8 weeks at the time of this story), and this is how the whole family found out. My mom began to cry and no one else knew why as we had not told anyone else either. As they were all just seeing the sonogram, we had my nephew Ben come back to the room we were in (all part of my Dad’s plan). He sat on my lap where my mom could see him on Skype. We thought she would take a second of confusion to figure it out, but she immediately knew what this meant and we went to meet and hug her. After hugging everyone and getting all the pats on the back, we had a champagne toast and sat down for our Indian food lesson. The woman whose house we were in tried her best, but it was hard to get us all to pay attention with all the excitement of the night, but she understood and continued to cook whether or not we were looking. The food turned out amazing, and we all had a night to remember.
We purposefully didn’t tell any of our friends that we were going to be home, first of all because we wanted to spend the whole time with family and second of all because we knew that more than likely we would be coming home for good very soon. We had a really great time with the family and it actually made us miss Miami (did I really just type that?!).
We were far from being tired of Bocas but were looking to check out some new scenery, so we thought we would take our boat over to nearby Red Frog Beach. Red Frog Beach is located at the end of Isla Bastimentos, the same island where we celebrated Conor’s birthday the month before. Red Frog Marina is on the south side of the island while the actual beach is on the north side, but the whole property itself is referred to as Red Frog Beach. We motor about 45 minutes and drop our anchor outside the Marina. The first thing I noticed, besides the fact that this anchorage was way calmer and quieter than Bocas, was that the WiFi signal on my computer was extremely strong. I know this seems like a geeky thing to get excited about, but we could now stream music, Skype with friends and family , and even watch Hulu…creature comforts which I take advantage of when I can. Nights at Red Frog are much quieter than the party atmosphere of Bocas, and there is minimal boat traffic to wake us out at night. One downside we noticed pretty quickly, albeit small, is that their are tons of Moon Jellyfish in the water around the anchorage. I still jump in occasionally to bathe, but I have to be really cognizant of what is in the water around me, a task not so easy for the nighttime swims.
During the day we walk to the actual Red Frog Beach, which is beautiful. The beach itself is a tourist destination for people staying in Bocas, and there is even a truck which shuttles visitors back and forth from the water taxi dock to the beach. While it is a beautiful beach and there is a nice little bar/grill as well as a little surf shack set up for the guests, it is usually moderately populated (50 or so people). We realized pretty quickly that if you walk less than a half mile from where the shuttle drops everyone off there is another beach named Playa Tortuga, which is almost always deserted. We have never seen more than maybe 4 other people besides us on this 2 mile plus stretch of beach. The west end of the beach has a great big rock that provides shade in the water, so we can swim on at hot day and not have to be in the sunlight unless we want to, an awesome plus if you can picture it. We walk from the dinghy dock to Playa Tortuga every day with Gimpy and love swimming in what might as well be our own private beach.
Besides the beautiful beaches, we also enjoy just walking around the Red Frog Beach property. Their are some villas which they are building that are all at different stages of construction. While I don’t really think the design of the homes really fit into the surroundings, the views are spectacular. There is one spot that has a small trail through the woods with a zipline course at the end. There is nothing quite like hiking through a jungle. Once you get past the heat, the sights are amazing. Shannon and I walked the trail and found a bunch of the red frogs which the property is named after. It turns out that the red frogs are actually a species of poison dart frog which get their color and toxins from eating ants. We were really excited and proud of ourselves when we found the first one but soon realized that they were all over the place in the shaded jungle area.
Another great thing about Red Frog Beach is that we have access to a public shower which actually has hot water! Yes, you heard me right. How spoiled are we? We can enjoy not only freshwater showers, but hot freshwater showers every day if we want to.
Day to day life is as relaxed as most people probably assume living on a boat in Panama is. While most of this year has been fun, exciting and amazing there have been points where it has been anything but relaxed. We are making the most of what we already know is the last few months of our trip. We spend some days doing boat projects, which consists of me trying to finish a 1/2 day project in a mere 3 days. Some days are for grocery shopping where we compare prices at the 5 or so markets so that we can save 20 cents per item for a total of 5 bucks. Sure this takes 2 extra hours, but time we have, extra money we don’t. Some days we will paddle our canoe or ride our bikes to a local beach and just walk around. We visited a cave here called La Gruta. The ceiling is absolutely filled with bats. We also went to this great gypsy-themed party at a wine bar, thrown by our friends Dylan and Darrion’s company. There was a band there, a girl and 2 guys, who called themselves Con Leche. They are great and ended their show with a cover of the Gogol Bordello song “Purple” that had the whole place dancing.
Every day here is different than the next, but the one constant is our daily trip with Gimpy to Bocas del Poopo. Bocas del Poopo (or BDP) is the name we have given to the sandbar located a few hundred feet from our boat. We paddle Admiral Gimpy to this sandbar every day for her to run around and take care of her Gimpy business. More often than not, we meet Meghan there with Penny and Bubby. Penny and Bubby seem to enjoy BDP much more than Gimpy, as they go absolutely nuts when they get there. She can take them off of their leashes and since it is an island they can run free, swim, fetch and be their crazy best. Gimpy usually takes care of business and will follow us around walking in the shallow water, but is plenty happy to just sit and wait as we play fetch with the big dogs. It is the perfect “self flushing” dog park for a couple of cruisers with dogs.
One day as we were paddling back to our boat we noticed a young couple paddling towards shore from another sailboat. We hardly ever see young cruisers so we were instantly attracted. We introduced ourselves and made plans to meet for beers. We soon went to the Rip Tide with them and had a laughter-filled night of telling stories and just enjoying great conversation. It turns out they were from Freemantle, Australia, and had been cruising for over a year and a half. They started in Canada where they bought their boat. Their names are Adam and Hannah, and we have since spent a lot of time with them and they have become really good friends of ours. One day we were just hanging out on the boat and it began to rain quite hard. We were feeling kind of restless and decided to take advantage of the rain and wash the boat (free fresh water!). Of course working in the rain is not something that one does completely sober, so we decided to catch a quick buzz first. We soon realized that we were completely out of alcohol and while we had enough will power to clean the boat in the rain, paddling to shore and buying alcohol seemed like too much work. We then realized that we had a bottle of Glenlivet aboard, which we had gotten from our good friends as a going away present and were saving for a special occasion.
We couldn’t think of a more special occasion than a rainy afternoon when we were out of alcohol. We went up to the cockpit and I noticed that Adam was up on the deck of his boat. I yelled to him through the pouring rain and invited the two of them over for some scotch. They swam over and the four of us enjoyed a bottle of scotch in the pouring rain. None of us, except for Shannon, were really scotch drinkers before this, but we all agreed that it was delicious. We had ice on board but no one even wanted it since the rain was so cold. Needless to sa,y the boat didn’t get cleaned but we all had a great day polishing off the bottle and enjoying the shower.
In mid-September we were visited by Conor and Meghan’s friend Ryan from Key West. We had met Ryan a couple times when we visited the Gorhams in Key West, and he was currently living on their old house boat, the Longboard. Ryan was on a surf trip to Costa Rica and came to Bocas to hang out with Meghan for a little bit. We all had a really good time, and he and I really hit it off, watching football at the Rip Tide and spearfishing the local reefs. One night we were invited by Dylan and Darrion to an overnight party at a nearby lsland named Loma Partido. We motorsailed about two hours away with Ryan on the Salty Dog and Adam and Hannah (we just call them “the leafs” as their boat name is “Leaf”) following us. Loma Partido turned out to be a beautiful tropical eco-lodge run by a very interesting and friendly woman name Mishelle. Ryan and I were all excited about spearfishing in a new location since Bocas del Toro is really overfished, but we soon realized that Loma Partido was no better, at least the spots where we checked.
The sun was going down so we gave up on the spearfishing and dinghyed in to join the party. There was live music from a few local bands, including Con Leche, and delicious authentic South African Curry made by Darrion. There were about 20 boats anchored offshore, and we met lots of good people. I was able to satiate my inner pyromaniac by helping with the bonfire, and they even had some late night fireworks to boot. We drank beers and explored the property and Ryan and I even got to do some jamming onstage at one point. It was probably a little too late in the night to be jamming if you know what I mean, but we all had a great time. We woke up the next morning and cured our (at least my) killer hangover with an amazing surf session back at Wizards beach.
We had done a bit of research and decided that the best way to get a new digital camera (I donated the other one to Poseidon in Honduras) was to take a 4-hour bus ride to David. We figured if we were going to make the bus trip we might as well take a trip to Boquete. We had heard a lot about how beautiful Boquete was and were dying to check it out.
I’m all about public transportation, but this was the toughest public transportation experience of Ted’s, and by proximity of bus seating and our relationship status, my, life. We knew that our knees would be smooshed into the seat in front us. We’ve been in airplanes and realize our ginormousness. We did not know that the bus would stop every 1000 feet (a slight exaggeration but felt like it at the time), and that a bus of this particular size (about 30 feet long) could fit approximately 50 people and their luggage onto it. I don’t want you to envision a clown car, because there was nothing funny about this.
At one point on the bus ride home I had to sit sideways on the floor in between two large men as Ted kneeled on the floor with his armpits in some poor man’s face. Okay, I said there was nothing funny about this, but Ted and I were giggling the entire time we were on the floor at the absurdity of the situation. At another point, I got to sit shot gun- with three other people, and I was the only one facing the rest of the bus. I was in a makeshift seat and the stick shift was pressed against my back. It was a little awkward because the people in the row behind me were so close, and facing me, that if I would have extended my arm I would have touched a face (not an exaggeration). Okay, enough about the bus. It was inexpensive and an experience. Also, the countryside was absolutely beautiful. I counted three waterfalls on the way, and the bus climbed so high that my ears popped.
In David we were able to buy a new camera and caught a 45-minute bus to Boquete. As soon as we stepped off the bus the cold, fresh air made us both smile. We checked out a couple of hostels and then decided on staying at Hostel Mamallena. It was a great hostel. We dropped our stuff off in our room, walked around town, and picked up some 33 cent Panamas (local beer). We were pretty tired from our travels so we called it a night after eating at a Panamanian restaurant.
The next morning we overdosed on the hostel’s free pancakes and tea and headed out to hike the Quetzal Trail. We were told that a good portion of the trail was closed due to heavy rains, but that you could still hike an hour or two of the trail. The trail was amazingly beautiful. We had to remind ourselves to look up while hiking to try and spot a quetzal which is a rare and colorful bird. Parts of the trail were really muddy, so this was hard to do. Unfortunately, we didn’t see a quetzal. We heard that if you got a guide your chances of spotting a quetzal were far greater, but no guides would go to the trial because it was closed. Lucky for us, closed just meant muddy. No parts of the trail were actually blocked off or anything like that. There were no vendors or things of that sort and the only other people we saw were a couple of girls from our hostel and two older, locals who lived and worked on the trail.
After several hours of hiking and a shortage of signs telling us how far the end of the trail was, we started to get concerned about how far we were from the end of the trail. After much debate, we decided that we should turn around. We were losing sunlight and didn’t know if there was a town at the end. A town would mean we could find a way back to our hostel. No town meant a long hike back in the cold rain or in a mosquito-infested rainforest. The upside of our decision to turn back was that we got to hike the quetzal trail twice, once nice and dry and once in the rain. The downside of our decision was that as soon as we got back to the hostel we looked at a map and figured we were about 10 minutes away from the end of the trail and that there was a good-sized town at the end. Oh well. The trail was beautiful and a must do if you are ever in Boquete.
The next day it was raining, so we decided to skip a day of hiking and checked out some thrift stores and went on a coffee tour. There are several tours to chose from, but we picked a tour of Cafe Ruiz. We don’t usually do organized tours and Ted and I aren’t big coffee drinkers, but the process really intrigued us and Boquete is famous for its coffee. Our VIP tour (we were the only two willing to brave the rain) lasted about 4 hours and took us through the whole coffee process- a tour of the farm, processing plant, and distribution warehouse. Our guide was extremely knowledgable and fun. He had worked in the Boquete coffee industry since he was 10 years old. I’m so glad we took the tour. It was awesome, and I actually learned a ton.
That night we went out to a restaurant on the river, the name of which I can’t remember for the life of me, that had some of the best live music we have heard on this trip. The guitarist told us that he sometimes plays with another band in Bocas and that we should check them out. I’m writing this way after our trip to Boquete and we have seen his band play a bunch and we love them. The food at the restaurant was great. We talked to the owner for a bit, and he told us that all of the food on his menu is local. He even sold a mango beer brewed by a young guy we had met at our hostel the night before.
The next day we took the bus to Hostel Lost and Found. It is located in the rainforest and you have to hike to get to it. The view from the hostel is breathtaking and the weather was perfect. By perfect I mean that Ted could sit and eat breakfast without breaking a sweat. This doesn’t happen in Bocas. The air was so fresh and cool that I wanted to put it in a jar and take it to Bocas. We spent two days meeting new people and hiking around the property.
I loved Boquete and wasn’t ready to leave the perfect weather, but my thoughts were with the Salty Dog. Leaving the boat just feels…wrong. It is not at all like leaving a house when you go on vacation. I was so happy to see the Salty Dog floating and anchored where we left her when we got back. Thanks Con and Meg for watching Gimp and our boat while we were away!
We woke up and we popped our heads out of the hatches and could not believe how absolutely beautiful the landscape around us was. We had entered Bocas at night so we had no idea what the place we were going to spend the next who knows how many months at looked like. We were surrounded by water and slate gray-colored mountains. Being from Florida, we get very excited about mountains. We could also see that there were lots of restaurants, bars, and shops all along the water. We loved the area right away.
After making the boat and ourselves somewhat presentable, we hailed the port captain and began the check-in process. The officials came aboard, but didn’t even leave the cockpit. It was an easy, but pricey (around $350) check-in process. As soon as we were official, the marathon of celebration began. I think we went to every bar in Bocas that day and introduced ourselves to every bartender and local patron-as though we were somehow more interesting than the 20 backpackers and surfers they had met earlier in the day. The day’s festivities culminated with us and a bunch of new friends jumping into the illuminated water at a bar with a shipwreck under it.
That night we met two backpackers, Jake and Sarah, and did the whole, “you’re awesome, no, you’re awesome, we should totally hang out, go sailing, blah, blah, blah” Fortunately, it wasn’t just bar talk and they ended up staying on the Gualby for a couple of days. We took the boats to Hospital Bite to snorkel and spearfish and to Wizard’s Beach to surf. They are two amazing, fun-loving people. We are so glad we got a chance to swap travel stories and get to know them. I hope they caught the cruising bug and are saving to buy a boat right now so that we can meet up with them again some day.
After we recovered, we did some boat projects. I cranked Ted up the mast a couple of times to repair our wifi antenna and to take down the torn and twisted jib. We ended up taking our sail to Erica and Lobo, who live on the sailboat Terra Vana with their 10-year old son. They were able to repair our jib in about a week. It looks as good as new, well as good as it did before. We also spent some time catching up on sleep and scoping out the local grocery stores. We stocked up on beer, rum, and fresh, ridiculously cheap produce. A whole, huge pineapple is $1.25.
Soon enough, another opportunity to celebrate presented itself-Conor’s birthday. We took a water taxi to the island of Bastimentos and walked up a hill to a thai restaurant that required reservations because the restaurant only has two tables. The tables are located on a large, wood deck that has an amazing jungle view. The food and the company were great. We spent the rest of the night hanging out in Bocas. Up until this point in our trip only one person, Conor, has not fallen off of a boat. The morning after Conor’s birthday we were told, by Conor, that a rogue wave came by just as we had all gotten home from the bar, and that he was fortunate enough to only be thrown off of his boat and into the water.
Being without a camera has turned me into a dirty thief. I stole all of these pics from Sarah and Meg (thanks!)…
I took Admiral Gimpy in to do her business at a small island in the San Andres anchorage. We paddled back and Shannon had the boat all ready to go. We weighed anchor at 10:15 am on July 27th with Bocas Del Toro on the brain. When we left the harbor we were getting some pretty decent wind, approximately 15-18 knots from the east. If our jib was whole we would have been able to use this wind for a nice sail, but unfortunately we could still only use the small corner of useable sail and therefore had to keep the motor on. The sun was shining and there were not many clouds so we considered ourselves lucky and motored on. We had checked the weather and were not expecting very much wind, so both the Gualby and us were expecting to need our motors the entire way. By sundown, about 8 hours later, the Gualby had only had the motor on for a couple of hours and were still about 2 miles ahead of us. We were both jealous of them and happy for them while we listened to our motor all night.
Late that night we picked up some storms on the radar, and we could see lighting east of us but headed our way. We knew that no matter how much we checked the weather we might run into a storm so we continued on with only positive thoughts to protect us. The storms soon caught up to us, and while the wind increased slightly it was far from frightening. The unnerving element which the storms brought was a ton of lightning. This was the first time since we left that we have seen more than maybe a few lighting strikes all night and even then it was from far away. This night we were getting them every few minutes and closer than I could believe. They were all around us, and if it weren’t for the fact that they are so scary I would have been able to appreciate how beautiful and amazing they were to watch.
I have been reading sailing books, magazines, websites , etc. for the past three years and the different recommendations for dealing with a lightning storm are as numerous as the sources you check. Some people claim that having all your electronics and metal objects, including the engine, grounded to the metal seacocks (connected through the hull directly to the water) is the best thing that can be done. Other sources state that you should drag a set of jumper cables from your metal rigging into the water in order to create a clear path for the energy to transfer. Other sites claim the safest thing is to put rubber, such as a wetsuit, under your feet to keep from being electrocuted. Still other sites claim that the best thing to do is to hope for the best and hope that your insurance will cover a lightning strike because everything is going to get fried. While watching the spectacular display get closer and closer, I decided to take all of our portable electronics (handheld GPS, laptop, handheld VHF, etc) and put them in the oven which would theoretically shield them from being fried in the event of a direct hit.
Soon the lightning went from “it couldn’t get much closer” to “holy crap its gotten closer”, and I was getting a little nervous. It is one thing to be the tallest guy on the rugby field when a lightning storm is coming on the horizon in terms being a target. It is a completely other thing to be one of two metal rods 60 foot higher than any other object for miles and miles around. You could literally feel the electricity in the air. The one good thing that I can say is at least there was nothing I could do. That is to say, as the Captain, there was nothing I could really do but hope for the best. We were out there with the lightning, and it was going to hit us or it wasn’t going to it us, no matter what I did. We wrote down some GPS waypoints just in case our main GPS got fried and some course headings in case our handheld GPS got fried. I decided that we should put the autopilot on and hide down below in our aft. cabin, which was the spot on the boat which was farthest from and most protected from the mast. We laid in the bed listening to the strikes and again our positive thinking and luck kept us safe. A few hours later the lightning had passed and we were less than 24 hours away from our ultimate goal of Bocas Del Toro, Panama.
The next day was beautifully uneventful as we continued to motor almost due south. At about 10 am we were joined by a pod of dolphins for quite a while. We added this event to the “list of times we wished we had a camera” and just enjoyed it for the moment it was. No matter how superstitious or non-superstitious you are, when you are joined by a pod of dolphins you take it as a good omen. When you can’t see land and your 38 foot boat feels like it might as well be 38 inches, it truly makes you feel less alone when you are escorted by these beautiful animals.
The rest of the day we ate well from the fully stocked fridge that Shannon made happen before we left San Andres. Because we were getting plenty of juice into our batteries from the alternator we also played music the whole time in an effort to drown out the engine’s hum (a constant hum that we would have killed to hear a couple weeks earlier). We saw Panama on the horizon about an hour before sunset. We enjoyed a delicious homemade pizza together while we watched another beautiful sunset on the bow (thanks again autopilot). We pulled up to the entrance to Bocas Del Toro at about 11 pm. I headed to what my charts said was the first red channel marker. As we got closer I noticed that it was not in exactly the same place that the chart indicated. There were many lights, some stationary from land, some on the water taxis and fishing boats which were going back and forth in the area.
I could not find the channel markers from the charts, so I had Shannon up on the bow with the spotlight looking in the event that perhaps the markers were there but somehow not lit. We searched around and could not find them at all and in the moonless darkness I could not tell how far I was from shore or what was in the water. I put my radar on to see how it jibed with the GPS (some areas are more accurate than others), and it seemed that the GPS was very accurate with what the radar was finding. I decided to proceed slowly into the harbor with Shannon on the bow looking for obstructions. This is only the second time we have entered a harbor at night, as it is very nerve-wracking and not really a good idea. Conor had suggested dropping anchor outside and entering at first light, but because of all we had been through I chose to enter slowly with the help of the radar, the charts, and a spotlight. We slowly made it to an anchorage and found some other sailboats. We dropped our anchor near a group of other cruising boats and made sure it held. We both cracked a beer and celebrated our arrival at our goal 10 months in the making, Bocas Del Toro, Panama.
The sail to San Andres was blissfully uneventful. It was the first time that we left to go sailing with the seas predicted to be 8 feet and the wind projected to be around 20 knots. The period between the waves was suppose to be long enough that we felt comfortable leaving in these conditions. Three weeks ago we probably would have waited for smaller seas and less wind, but we were feeling pretty salty now. We pulled, well Ted pulled, the anchor as the sun was rising. The wind was strong as soon as we headed out. Even with our torn jib we were able to sail at about 5 knots for 8 hours by only flying the small usable corner. The wind eventually died down and we motorsailed for the remaining 2-3 hours. It was a beautiful day.
We knew we had to go through a reef pass to enter San Andres. As we were approaching San Andres we pulled out the binocs and stared curiously at a large ship that seemed to be entering the anchorage, but not where the reef pass was indicated on our chart. As we sailed closer to the ship we quickly noticed that the ship was not moving at all. It had crashed into the reef. It was at this point that we decided to stop sailing toward the ship and found the well-marked entrance to the anchorage. As soon as we were done dropping and setting the anchor, we saw Conor and Meg get onto a pontoon boat and head our way. Mishelle and Esmeralda (from the General’s crew) had seen us sailing in and invited us on a sunset cruise around San Andres. They treated us to cheese and crackers and rum drinks. They even gave us cool metal mugs to keep. Insulated mugs complete with spill-proof lids are much appreciated when you live on a boat. It was a great welcome to San Andres. We went out that night and celebrated being at our last port of call before our passage to Panama. Other than a lack of hearing “oye” and “bro”, I could have sworn we were in downtown Miami.
San Andres is surrounded by amazingly blue, clear water and a lot of reef. We swam around the boat, but we didn’t do much exploring. We had Panama on the brain and spent our time checking in, again, getting a health certificate for Gimp, watching the weather, and getting ready for our trip to Panama. We bought tons of diesel, because we knew we would have to motorsail the entire way due to our mini jib and lack of wind.