Saturday, December 31, 2011

An XMAS Day Find

We went for our traditional Christmas day snorkel – last year it was a snorkel in Isla Isabela, Mexico. This year Kuna Yala. Chris found this good sized octopus hiding out in a coral rock formation hole in shallow water – hiding from the Kunas who were out harvesting the reef. You see a ton of colorful reef fish out here, but not too many large ones – as they are all dinner for the locals.
islaIsabelaIMG_6309 A flashback to the Blue Boobies on Isla Isabela.

It has been a great year for us and
We wish all of you a great New Year – remember, do not drink and then walk in the street, it is dangerous.
Paul and Chris

How To Get Out of the San Blas – guest blog

My brother John and sister-in-law Lisa came down for a windy, rainy visit to Kuna Yala land. They had a confirmed reservation on Air Panama out of Curazon de Jesus. It turns out that unless the ticket is prepaid, the reservation meant nothing. If it was paid, then there’d be a better than 66% chance that they would get on the plane. With some last minute VHF and phone calling, we set up them to be picked up by launcha and taken to Carti on the mainland. Here they would get a 4-wheel drive vehicle for the ride over the mountains on the road that is only open to Kunas. Their description:
We're back to the land of - well, shall we say other stuff than Kuna Yala.  We had a great time in Panama with you guys.  Thanks for all that you did to make us feel welcomed on Jeorgia.
The trip back was a bit of an experience.  The guy that took us to the landing seemed to know what he was doing - he only hit bottom once.  Also, the motor almost died - but a short rest and it was as good as it was.  The river entrance was a little hairy - lots of driftwood grounded on reefs.  Not where I'd like to go without local knowledge.  The landing was pretty basic - a muddy embankment with a hut and an outhouse.  More people than I thought would be there.  Most were backpacker types on the islands for a 2 night guided stay.  I think the dive group we saw at Dog Island were the same type.  There were lots of 4x4s coming and going.  The guy that drove us in got us in the right one.  The drive started on a mud road - fording a stream or two before we got to the paved road.  Then about 1.5 hrs of a very steep, up and down windy road to the highway.  Total time to Panama city from the landing about three hours.  We did hitch up with the folks on Trixie - their mail is safely under way.

John and Lisa

Thursday, December 29, 2011

A Little Tarnish on the San Blas – late night boat attack.

kunaIMG_8460 The other night while we were standing baby arrival watch the VHF radio was busy with info on an attack in the anchorage in Nargana. In the west anchorage there was a French single hander anchored. We were anchored next to him a few days earlier. A ulla (dugout canoe) with two locals onboard came up to the boat and asked to borrow a bailer. When the owner went below to get the bailer the two locals came onboard. They tied up the skipper and in the process drew blood. They stole a number of items including money and liquor. The skipper freed himself after the assailants left. He fired off a flair and made some VHF calls. The powerboat Seascape went over in their dinghy to assist. Eventually the Kuna police were contacted and they came out in their launcha. When they saw the amount of blood on the floor they kicked into high gear. The skipper was not seriously hurt or cut. They took him out to search for the assailants and to shore for care. The robbers apparently left the boat in a hurry and used a machete to cut the line they tied up with, leaving a portion on the boat. The next morning you can see the owner in the picture above getting ready to head to town to walk around the docks in Nargana with the line trying to match it any of the boats tied up.The Kunas are generally very friendly, mellow and trust worthy – they’d have to be to live as densely as they do on the small islands.  Most of their supplies comes in on small Columbian supply boats. Alcohol and coke don’t make for trustworthy in any population.

When you cruise around the San Blas islands one thing that stands out is the number of shipwrecks. Some are clearly old, but many are recent from this season. Here is a pretty double ender that went on the reef at the entrance to Proviner on XMAS eve. Seeing the boat up on the reef in the early morning when we entered Proviner was kind of sickening -  But by the grace of God go I.
provenir  The boat hit the reef named Sail Rock on the chart. The yellow is reef and the gray island.
kunaIMG_8408 A steel Columbian trader on the reef
On a lighter note, we had a great sail up from the San Blas back to Colon. It was blowing 16 to 22 kts all the way and we were hitting 8 to 10 kts boat speed. Pretty fun, but I felt sorry for the folks going down (east bound) to the San Blas, as it was right into the teeth of it – swells and wind. We talked with our friends on Lions Paw on the way back. They had ducked into an anchorage to get out of the beating and saw us sailing by.
We are back in Shelter Bay Marina in Colon now. Chris left today to head to Panama City and flight out in the morning. She’s going to her Mom’s 80th birthday party. Me, I’m going to do boat work. Haul next week and put some expensive bottom paint on Jeorgia. Also gotta straighten out some engine issues – Definition of Cruising: Fixing your boat in exotic ports.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

A Hobo Kind of XMAS

xmasIMG_8464 We had a great XMAS dinner on the good ship Hobo. Larry and Lena put together turkey and stuffing and stuff, along with the always present hospitality. They are hanging in the San Blas until about April, when they will continue on to Trinidad. This will complete their circumnavigation – begun on their sailboat. We were joined with the bread making queen, Becky and Denny from Kokomo.xmasIMG_8463 OK, look past the smiling faces for the details in this picture. #1 my styling Panama hat, #2 Jeorgia in the picture window anchored next to Hobo, #3 Becky from Kokomo’s smiling face behind the camera – tough to see, #4 The good dog Captain Morgan sitting in the wheel house trying to stay out of trouble with all the great smells on the table – really hiding.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Santa’s Sled Arrives

The sleigh showed up just before midnight at the Nargana clinic with new crew for Amuri Mina. The package was an 8 pound, 56 cm addition. Dad and grandparents are recovering. Mom and baby boy, Atreos Uagi Dawson Ihrke, are doing well. Congrats to Julie and Kevin, and fair winds to Atreos.
Paul and Chris

Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Night Watch Can Be Tougher Than the Dog Watch

amuriminaIMG_8413 Yep, we are pregnant. Julie, with her Mom.
amuriminaDSCN9081 You can’t say Chris (on right) doesn’t come prepared. Julie(center) and Kevin wanted to try a water birth, so Chris has her mask and snorkel ready.
amurimionaIMG_8446 Here’s the setup for the birthing room on the small island. Its night time and Julie’s Dad is standing watch.
amuriminaIMG_8458 After two days of labor, things were not progressing and this morning it was decided the best thing to do was to head to the small clinic in Nargana for a check up and to be nearer advanced medical care. Here’s Amuri Mina having a good early morning sail the 8 or so miles through the reefs to Nargana. We escorted them in on Jeorgia and Chris went with Julie and Kevin to the clinic where they admitted her. We left them in good hands and headed back up the coast, as we have to get Chris to the airport soon for a trip to California.  Last news, things were beginning to progress with the labor. Hopefully we’ll hear soon and everyone will get some sleep tonight.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Merry XMAS and Happy Holidays from Kuna Yala Land

Now that we have a little molasses slow Internet we wanted to wish our family and friends a happy holiday season. We are anchored next to the island above in Cocos Bandero Cays in the San Blas Islands, or Kuna Yala. Pretty darn remote place. We went into the main town here yesterday and bought 6 eggs and 6 Kuna breads for $2.10. The beer store was closed. The weather has been a bit on the windy side, making snorkeling a little tough. Complaining about the weather just doesn’t seem right, knowing what it must be like back in the Pacific Northwest. When the sun is out and the winds down, the underwater scenery is spectacular.
We are anchored next to the sailboat Amuri Mina. Julie, the German gal onboard is still real pregnant. I just dropped Chris off at their boat to do an exam. Looks like she may not be pregnant that much longer. We are just hoping that she will deliver before we have to leave. Hopefully all will go well – given the remoteness of the location.
We will be thinking of all of you over the holidays and when we take our daily snorkel in the 82 degree water.
Paul and Chris

Friday, December 16, 2011

Our Reputation Proceeds Us

OK, not really 'our' reputation --- Chris' reputation. As we got close to the Kuna Yala islands we had a number of boats on the radio nets telling us we were wanted. Turns out there is a boat, Amupi Mina, a smaller, steel hull schooner with Kevin and Julie onboard. Or as they like to refer to it, with Kevin, Julie and The Fetus onboard. Kevin is from Canada, Julie from East ,Germany and you,,,,, know where The Fetus is from. Julie is way fat in the prego kind of way. They plan to deliver the baby in the water, i.e. Caribbean, in the next week or two. They wanted to talk to Chris about some of the how-to's and see if she would be available if their Kuna mid-wife has to be in Panama City for the XMAS holidays. It was interesting watching Chris' 'bedside' manner. Open to whatever the mom-to-be wants, followed by an information session on what is the reality, what are the dangers and what she should be prepared for. I could see Julie's eyes opening up wide on some of the subjects and Kevin was busy taking notes and asking questions on his role - like how do you tie off the cord and deliver the placenta.
They're a nice couple and I'm sure the birth thing will be an experience that will be offer lots of story telling in the future. If the child is born on the boat, then it will be a citizen of the boat's registration. If it is born on Kuna land, then it will get Kuna and Panamanian citizenship -- at least that's the story we hear.
We wish them the best of luck and happy birthing.
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Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Kuna Yala

We made it down to the San Blas Islands, known to the locals as Kuna Yala. This place is really pretty amazing. It is a large group of very small islands surrounded by very large reefs. It is completely run by the traditional Kunas. Short, dark and friendly people. They speak Kuna along with a fair amount of decent Spanish. They live on a few of the islands in a very dense packing and are a selg-governing district of the Republic of Panama. The other islands are empty or have some small, palm thatched huts that get used temporarily. They generate some good cash from making molas and selling them to touristas and yachties. The molas are traditional embroidery patterns on approx. 18 inch rectangel material that is placed on the front and back of women's blouses. As I write this Chris and Lisa are looking through molas from Alejeadro. He just paddled up in his dug out canoe with two plastic trash cans with molas in them. If we keep this purchasing up, I'll have to send Chris back to work.
The other day we had Mola Lisa come on board for an hour and half of education and mola marketing. Lisa is a famous, transvestite mola maker. She would have stayed on the boat as long as we wanted to chit-chat.
John and Lisa, my brother and sister-in-law, are getting a good dash of 'this ain't Kansas anymore' vacation time.
Tomorrow we are off to dive a wreck on the reef if the sun is out.
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Friday, December 9, 2011

Jeorgia of the Jungle

JohnChagras 003
After spending $115 in Shelter bay Marina for showers for the crew and a shower for Jeorgia (two nights in a 40 ft slip, WiFi and tax), we said goodbye to our good friends on Tivoli. Torbin and Judy are off to Cuba and points east. Torbin wants to meet up in Malta in 2014.
Then we headed NW and entered the mouth of the Chagres River. This is the river that was dammed to form Lake Gatun for the canal. It took 6 years for the lake to fill once the dam was built. The river mouth is guarded by the 16th century Spanish Fort San Lorenzo. The river is about 30 feet deep and you can anchor pretty much anywhere just off the jungle.
The entrance was a bit raucous. You have to do an S turn to avoid the reef in the middle. We were scooting in trying to beat a big, black squall line over our backs that made the entrance bouncy and hard to see. Once past the fort, the river is calm, with a 2-3 knot current flowing out as they try to lower Lake Gatun. The lake will be 10 or 12 feet lower by March, after the rainy season.
The pic above is a toucan, al la Fruit-loops, hanging next to the river.
JohnChagras 001 Here’s Jeorgia, sitting in a blue circle on the river taken from the fort. I think you need to blow the pic up to see her.
chagrasIMG_9526 This guy landed on our dodger in the rain just after we put down the anchor.
chagrasIMG_9532 Evening in the jungle – amazingly without any mosquitoes. Plenty of noisy green parrots flying overhead and howler monkeys in the bush.
chagrasIMG_9550 Looking out to sea from the fort.
chagrasIMG_9542 Aimed and ready to fire!
We were the only folks walking around this fort – no care takers, except…
This pathetic cat family that suckered Chris into giving up a Granola Bar.
+chagrasIMG_9557Continuing the unidentified bird theme, this osprey like guy was cruising the fort.
chagrasIMG_9579  Chris and John hiking back to the dinghy from the fort. Chris is already missing the cats and wanting to go back to the boat and get some frozen meat.
Off to Portobello today to pick up Lisa, John’s wife, tomorrow. Then we’ll head east to the San Blas Islands.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Day 2 of the Canal Transit

JohnCanal 001 OK, I lied, this isn’t day 2. Here we are at the main vegetable market in Panama City at the Pineapple vendor grabbing supplies for the next month.
CanalIMG_9350  Advisor Roy with a car carrier_or ro/ro for roll on roll off_ going under the Bridge of the Americas.
CanalIMG_9390 The crew and lead photographers lining up for the first lock. The crew was Greg and Granite from Lion’s Paw (Granite is AKA Deb - the nickname derivation takes some story telling), my brother John and Chris and I.
CanalIMG_9401We side tied to this massive Canal tug, Pacora. It looks like the normal Z-Tech Canal tugs, but this one just came over on its own bottom from China. It is a blown up version of the standard Canal tug designed for the locks when they open in 2014. You can order one for yourself for $12 million. 
Mira Flores locks and our new American flag trying to fly for the crossing.
CanalIMG_9436 Heading under the Centennial Bridge during rush hour. You can just see another sailboat heading towards us on the left.
CanalIMG_9444  You can’t transit the Canal without a good pic of the old WWII German crane, The Titan, sitting in the work yard at Gamboa. They used it to move U-boats.
JohnCanal 003
Advisor Roy modeling his second outfit.
canalIMG_9455 Hanging below in Lake Gatun waiting for our next day advisor and the rain to stop.
CanalIMG_9451 The rain temporarily stopped and a rainbow hung over a bulk carrier that was anchored in the lake waiting for his down lock.
JohnCanal 004 Chris directing the bulk carrier behind us. We are side tied to a small tour boat, Discovery. They take people through the locks and do kayak tours in Lake Gatun.
canalIMG_9476 The passengers on Discovery took a bunch of pics of us going through the locks. They wanted to get our e-mail to send them to us. Here’s Greg passing boat cards to a crew on the Discovery, and trying to order chips and salsa.
JohnCanal 005 Headed down the last lock, looking out toward the Caribbean. That’s the top of a massive bulk carrier waiting for the step up in the other lane on the right.  We made it into Shelter Bay Marina after dark – tired after along day of waiting to make the final transit and ready for a shower. Thanks to our great advisors and intrepid crew, we had great a transit with minimum drama. What an experience!
Paul and Chris

Monday, December 5, 2011

Made it through the first 3 locks

CanalPicture 26-1 Thanks to everyone who sent the webcam pics. Here’s Jeorgia in the first lock at Mira Flores. We had good transit through the first 3 locks. Good adviser, good crew, good food, minimum drama. We spent the night in Lake Gatun, opening and closing all the ports as the tropical rain started and stopped. The Canal is having trouble fitting us in among the big ships to lock down to the Caribbean side. We are currently scheduled for around 17:00 to lock down.
You might catch us on the Webcam under the Gatun Locks tab.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Canal Live Camera

We’re scheduled to head through the Canal in the morning, Sunday Dec. 4. Here is a link to the live camera feeds. We are currently scheduled for the Mira Flores Locks at about 10:30am. I will try and put an update up here once I get one.
Mira Flores Locks Webcam
You will most likely see a large ship enter the lock, then perhaps a tug enter and then a small dot enter. We will be the small dot.
If you do see us come through, please try and save a picture and e-mail it to us:
To get a picture, bring up the image in a browser, then use the control-Print-Screen to capture the image. To save it, open an image processing app like Paint, create a new image and Paste the image in, and Save to a file.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

R&R in Isla Taboga

Above is the fine bottle of Port that Chris brought back to me from her Nigeria to Washington, DC flight during the stopover in Amsterdam. All I got to savor was the receipt as TSA in DC took the bottle from her carry-on bag. Apparently the unsealed duty free are meaningless. Oh well, it’s the thought that counts, kind of.
tabogaDSCN8844 We headed over to Isla Taboga to get in some quiet time R&R and to clean the boat bottom in the cleaner and clearer waters there. The fuzz on the prop in the picture is from 18-days of sitting. The stuff grows almost as fast as the mold and mildew does inside the cabin… errgghhh.
TabogaPicture 001  Taboga claims to have the second oldest Catholic Church in the Americas. The shrines start while you are still in the water. This one is to Our Lady of the High Tides, patroness of fishermen and swimmers.
TabogaPicture 017 Here’s me gazing over the bougainvillea and the water while Chris gazes at me through the lens.
Busy week this week. We are getting prepared to do our Canal transit on Sunday. Got tires. Lines come on Friday. Need fuel and more food shopping. I’ll post a link and the approximate time where you can see us go through the first locks with the live Canal web cameras. Should have the schedule on Saturday night.