Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Isla Grande, Panama

The next morning we weighed anchor for Colón, approximately 75 miles to our West.  As we were offshore, the wind and waves continued to build.  We were battered by the oncoming swells, some reaching as high as 15 feet and the wind gusted up to 40 knots at times.  The seas were somewhat confused and it was a rough ride to say the least.   We were only making 4.5 knots, and decided we'd had enough as we neared Isla Grande.  There were many squalls in the distance and the swells were not getting any better!    We pulled in to the sheltered anchorage between the mainland and Isla Grande in the early evening hours.  The wind was still howling, but the anchorage was rather calm.
Isla Grande is a beautiful and charming little place – the anchorage is between the island and the mainland, so from the boat we had both shorelines as our scenery.  There were many brightly painted hotels, restaurants, bars and private houses on both sides of the shore, all looking like tropical colored gems against the lush green background of the steep mountains that rose out of the ocean. This area is renowned as a vacation spot for well to do Panamanians.   We saw water taxi's cruising by at all hours of the day and night bringing people over from the mainland to Isla Grande and then back again.  We read in the guidebooks about a couple of great places on Isla Grande so we lowered the dink and headed in for some dinner. 
We beached the dinghy and took a walk through town.   We came across one of the local bars that was in the guide book and the author had raved about it.   The place was called "Pupi's" and was a local Rastafarian bar, a veritable shrine to Bob Marley and one heck of a bar.  They had drinks made from fresh squeezed juices and any kind of liquor you could imagine.   Pupi poured us some drinks, and we picked up a new term -  "Pupi style" or STIFF!   We had met a couple of cruisers at Pupi's and spent some time getting to know them.   Don had traveled around the world on his Cal 34 and Brian was a friend helping him out for a few weeks and getting a free working vacation. 
There were several open air restaurants right on the water - we looked around, chose one and ordered some, shrimp, langostino & Red Snapper.  We relaxed in the cool night air, ate and chatted with our newfound friends.   We got a lot of information about Bocas Del Toro and Portobelo from Don. 
The next day, Saturday, was very rainy and squally.  Mike & Capt Mark took the dinghy and headed west about 2 miles in the raging wind and swells to get a jerry can of diesel.   Sure enough there was a place to get fuel in the adjacent village, and Mike and Mark returned victorious from what proved to be a rather exciting dinghy trip.   They decided to wait until the next day to go back for another 6 gallons as the conditions were becoming even worse than earlier in the day.
Sunday things had died down a bit and by 8am we saw Don & Brian had already headed out to sea on Merinda the Cal 34.  Just a short while later they were back inside the anchorage and as they passed us they yelled over that their alternator belt had broken.   They also said the waves had calmed down a bit offshore.  After fixing the alternator belt, Don and Brian again headed East to San Blas and it wasn't long after, we pulled up Stray Cat's anchor and continued our journey West.

Eastern Lemmon Cays, San Blas Islands, Panama

Our first stop after leaving the Rio Diablo area was still in the San Blas at the Lemmon Cays.  We tried anchoring behind several islands, but had trouble finding good protection from the building wind and waves.   We re-checked the charts, chose a new spot that looked good, but had a rather tricky entrance.   After making double sure we knew where we were, we navigated through all of the surrounding reefs, and found the perfect spot in between Tiadup and Naguarchirdup.  
Our first visitor's in the Lemmons Cays arrived via cayuco and were a family of one grandmother and two young children.  The sky was about to open up as the grandmother motioned to come aboard, so Capt Mark carried the children on board and the Kuna Mujer proceeded to tell us that these were her grandchildren and their parents had died.   The children were poorly dressed.  One of the children, a boy, was about 1 year old and the other his sister was 8 or 9 years old.   They were in need of help - the young boy had been bitten by a dog in a few places, and the wounds were not healing well at all.  Of course the Mujer had items to sell including Molas, shells, Godseyes and jewelry.   Our hearts broke for these little ones as we bandaged them up, gave them drinks, cookies, pasta and sauce.  We bought items from the Mujer and Capt Mark gave her some money to take the child to the doctor.   We did all we could and the family set out in their cayuco to another remote island where they lived. 
Our next guests were in a huge cayuco that was running out of gas.  They had a load of freshly caught fish in their boat and they wanted to trade for fuel.   Capt Mark came up and checked out the situation, he gave the men a gallon of gas for 4 mackerel.  Mark and Mike helped them transfer a gallon of gas into their tank; they thanked us, gave us some fish and headed away.   Unfortunately, they did not give us the fish we wanted – the fish that they gave us was a type of mackerel that was very bloody.  We decided to toss it overboard since the fish book said they were not very tasty and rarely eaten. Nonetheless, we had a fantastic dinner of Lobster Tails & Yellowfin Tuna and hit the sack hoping that our attempts to help the Kuna that day were successful.

Dupsormulubipi, San Blas Islands, Panama

We need to head away from Nargana, so we could swim and make some water – those are things you don't do where the bathrooms are right over the water.  We found a great island in the Panama Guide Book for snorkeling and it was still close to Nargana, but far enough away that water would be clean.   Great! 
Dupsormulubipi, or just "Bipi" as we liked to call it, was about an hour northwest of Nargana.  We anchored in about 8ft of water only 10ft off of the island, and donned our snorkel gear and headed out to explore the reef.   Just off of the boat, we were enveloped by incredible schools of billions of baitfish.  The baitfish were a massive wall - all lined up and stacked in an almost barricade between the reef and us.   The closer we swam to the huge school, the more confused the fish would get and swarmed in unison all around us.   We were all praying that no larger fish would come through and feed on us as we were passing through it, but eventually we broke through the wall of fish, there was an incredible reef on the other side.   It was the most beautiful and healthy reef that we had ever seen.  Tremendous fan corals, elkhorn corals, brain corals and many different corals that we could not even identify.   Around the island was a wall of coral, in some places at least 70 ft deep.  There were many ledges and caves, perfect for hiding the massive amounts of reef fish that we got to see.   There were Queen Angelfish, large Yellow and Red tail Snappers, an amazing Goliath Grouper who must have weighed 20lbs, Spiny Lobster and much, much more!   This reef was so incredible we went back to Dupsormulubipi 3 different times.
Walter's time on Stray Cat was coming to an end, and we had made arrangements with Federico to have Walter fly out to Panama City on Tuesday morning at 6:30am.   Capt Mark took him to the airport at El Corazon in the dinghy around 6:15am.  Mike realized shortly after they left, that Walter had forgotten the very expensive charger for his video camera, and we had no way to get it to him.   Walter was leaving for Moscow the day he returned to NYC, and him leaving without that charger would be a major inconvenience, for him and for the crew of Stray Cat.   After about 20 minutes of trying Mike was able to flag down a cayuco and hitch a ride out to Corazon just before the plane took off, with Walter and his camera charger, Yeah!!  Walter was a lot of fun and very entertaining.  We got a Russian perspective on a lot of subjects and it was very interesting to watch a professional filmmaker at work.   It was great to be able to keep such a great record of our journey and we are looking forward to the film that he will produce about that leg of the trip.
After Walter's departure, we had one last night on Nargana and one last meal at Nali's.  After saying goodbye to all of our new found Kuna friends, we headed northeast, as we wanted to try another snorkel spot – one that was rated one of the best in the San Blas, Gannirguinnitdup.   Another bonus was that we were able to make water and do some laundry at the newest snorkel spot. 
We snorkeled around the island, which had quite a strong current and surge.  There was a huge reef around the island, but it was only a few inches deep.   We saw many rock ledges where lobsters and octopus like to hide out and there were plenty of Kunas fishing and diving all around us.  We were a little disappointed, as most of the coral looked dead and we found tons of sea biscuits and sea urchins also dead.   We did pass a couple of coral heads on the swim back to the boat, with gorgeous and curious fish.  Some of them would swim right between your legs checking you out.   After snorkeling we decided it was time to head West, beginning our journey toward Colón.

Isla Tigre, San Blas Islands, Panama

We were to depart at noon for Isla Tigre with Tomas & Federico.   Isla Tigre is an island that remains one of the most traditional Kuna villages in all of Kuna Yala.   We were interested in seeing one of the ceremonies performed by the people with music, dancing and a traditional feast.  We learned that this would not happen.   You just have to luck upon an upcoming festival and request to be a part of it, but they would not be putting on a show for us.  That said, we were still very excited to visit the village and see a Kuna village looking much as it must have centuries ago.
Federico & Tomas arrived by 11:30am and Federico was in rare form!  He had been drinking and partying all night and the first thing he requested was a beer.   We gave him 2 which he quickly downed before we realized the state he was in – Drunk!  Federico rode the bow of the cayuco and we all piled in for our "15 minute" ride to Isla Tigre.   It was a bit windy this day and our "15-minute" ride turned into a 45-minute bouncy and wet ride.  The best part of the ride was seeing all of the beautiful deserted islands along the way and watching Federico get splashed over and over as he tried to sleep one off on the bow while the rolling waves crashed over him.  
We arrived on Isla Tigre right about 1pm and tied up to a small pier.  Federico took us straight to the office where we were to check in and pay our $3 per person for visiting the village.   We paid in and then sat down at the restaurant to relax for a while and order some food before heading out into the village.  We had a few drinks, ordered some lunch and went to the village with our local Kuna guide, Leonard.   Leonard knew that Federico was drunk and decided it was best for him to enter the village with us to keep us from having any problems. The village was fenced in and separated from the area where the oficina/restaurant was – it was clear that the restaurant and cabana rental operation was private and separated from the village.    They had cabanas for rent for $10 a night, a beautiful sandy beach, and expedition style sea kayaks lined up ready to be rented.  Leonard told us all about the kayaking trips that were offered and showed us a magazine article where they were written up in an adventure guidebook.
We entered the village called "Digir Dupir" in Kuna Yala.  There were lots of bamboo huts as we had seen before and kids running everywhere.   The local men and boys were playing some very competitive sand volleyball - they were having tryouts for an upcoming tournament against teams from the other Kuna Yala islands.  They were really talented.  We checked out the livestock cages on the beach, checked out some of the local Molas and took pictures of the locals.  One thing that was unique about this village was that there were some rules that we had to be aware of while we were visiting.  Our guide, Leonard took us aside before heading into the village and told us that we must not take pictures of anyone unless we first ask their permission, and if we wanted to take a picture of a child, we must make sure that the parents approved first.   In most cases, he said, they would grant you permission, but would ask for one dollar in return.  He also said that we must visit with the Chief first, before we toured the village, and Leonard took us there first and introduced us all, one by one, to the Chief, who was very cordial.
The most special thing we came across inside of the village was a ceremony for a young girl.  She had just turned 12 years old and was now heading into womanhood.   Leonard explained that it was something like a puberty ceremony, and that part of the ritual was that the girl was to stay inside of a special area in the Cultural Center that was made especially for her by the local men.   The men had specially created bamboo and palm frond walls that enclosed the area she was to sit in as the celebration continued for about a week.  All of the locals, who on this island numbered in the hundreds, would gather each morning for coffee & chocolate to celebrate.  There were dances and ceremonies held throughout the week for the young girl, with the goal of making her feel very, very special.   During the celebration, the family of the young girl provides all the meals for everyone who attends, so we soon realized that it was a very expensive proposition for the family of the young girl.   Walter wanted to film this event so badly.  We asked Leonard if it was possible to take any pictures inside of the center and he said absolutely not, that it was a sacred ritual.   But, he did talk to the grandmother of the young girl who was footing the bill for feeding the entire tribe and she said that if we bought a Mola from her that we could film and take pictures.   Walter promptly bought a Mola, and let the tape roll.  The children inside the Center flocked to Walter and the video camera.   When he played back the footage for the young children they crowded him even more.  They loved being on camera and they were hamming it up!
As we were leaving we headed down the pier to the cayuco and passed some Kuna children who were fishing for an octopus that we could all see in the water.  They were making great sport of throwing a fishing line and hook towards it, trying to snag it with the hook, but they kept missing.    The octopus, which was probably 2 to 3 feet across, kept creeping along the bottom, away from the pier, but he was headed closer to shore.  The kids started screaming as they saw one of their parents come walking over.  The man saw what was happening, walked into the water and deftly grabbed the octopus by the head.   The octopus squirted ink everywhere and tried to get away, but the man had a good grip and pulled the octopus from the water.  The octopus tried to fight back by grabbing the man's arm with the tentacles, but it was no use – the Kuna ripped it's head apart with his bare hands.   He removed the tentacles from his arm, put the octopus back in the water and swished it around to clean it up – Dinner!  We had all seen octopus on the menu at all of the restaurants where we ate - in Spanish it was called "pulpo" - but it was pretty amazing to watch that Kuna make short work of what to us was a pretty intimidating creature.   That was the perfect end to a great day and we motored back to Nargana in the now calm seas. 

Trip up the Rio Diablo

We had a 9am appointment for our trip up the Rio Diablo with Federico, and we were all pretty excited about seeing some wildlife on the mainland. Capt Mark & Mike headed over to Nargana about 7:30am to go to the bank and get some lunch for our trip up the "devil's river". The bank was not open at 8am as advertised, and they could not find any lunchmeat so they were forced to have a nice breakfast at Nali's and wait for the bank to open. While there, they went ahead and ordered a few hamburgers to go for lunch. As they walked around town that morning after breakfast, Capt Mark and Mike served as human playgrounds for the little Kuna girls who insisted on being picked up and hugged, and once one would get them close to the ground, several more would jump on for the ride. Those children have no idea about the toys, video games and other entertainments that children in the developed world have access to, but we have never seen children have more fun that the little ones on Nargana. After getting change at the bank and stocking up with more "pan de Kuna"(Kuna bread) and then headed back to Stray Cat.
Federico and Tomas arrived shortly thereafter in a large cayuco with a 20hp motor on it – they were ready to go – we piled into the cayuco and headed toward the Rio Diablo.
At the mouth of the Rio Diablo were many fallen trees, submerged trunks and limbs - it was tricky to navigate to say the least. With Federico on the bow and Tomas at the tiller, we worked our way through the maze and luckily we only touched bottom a few times. The river was very pretty and lined with a dense wall of very green palm & banana trees. We saw many wading type birds including tri-color herons, great egrets and ibis! We even spotted the elusive toucan!! They were high in the trees and were difficult to spot, but we did see at least 3 or 4 of them and one toucan flew right by the cayuco! Mike was very quick with his telephoto lens and captured an incredible photo of the toucan in flight. Federico & Tomas took us about a mile up the river, pulled over at a bend in the river, and told us that it was time for a little side trip. We all exited the cayuco and Federico took us up into the jungle on a small path. It was an interesting little hike – we saw some very colorful birds up in the canopy and in several places on the trail, leaf cutter ants were scurrying back and forth along their well groomed highway.
When we got to the top of the hill, we found a clearing with odd structures scattered about and realized that it was the Kuna cemetery. We instantly knew that we were in a sacred place and we all became very quiet and listed intently to everything that Federico told us – we were experiencing a truly unique cultural moment. Federico showed us his family plots and told us how all Kuna are buried with their favorite personal belongings. The gravesites were littered with plates, cups and bowls and Federico told us that all of their clothing was buried underground with them as well. We explored for a while, took pictures and tried to take it all in before heading back down to the river.
On the return trip, we were running with the current and did not need the motor. We wound back down the river, seeing more birds, Jesus Christ lizards running on the water, and finally 2 monkeys. Mike spotted them in the trees and we were able to stop and watch them for just a few minutes and even get a few quick shots. They were very small - black with white heads. They were called TeTe monkeys or "mono" en espanol. After exiting out the mouth of the river, we took a few minutes to visit the local airport at Corazon de Jesus.
El Corazon de Jesus was the smallest airport we had ever seen and one that Walter had briefly stopped at on the way to Porvenir. There was a very small runway and a a small "concourse" ( a.k.a. a shed) and an outhouse that was built right over the water. We got a few pictures and headed over to Nali's for some lunch. We had many Atlas cervezas and Federico joined us. We had again. Lunch consisted of pollo, hamburger, conch or " cambombia" and octopus or "pulpo" – it was good and inexpensive. We headed back out to Stray Cat for a nap, and spent an evening resting up for our visit to the traditional village Isla Tigre the next day!!!!

Nargana and Corazon de Jesus

Nargana was only a short trip away from the Coco Banderos Cays, so we made the trip in the early afternoon while the light was still good for "eyeball navigation".  Nargana and its' sister island Corazon de Jesus, are said to be the most modern islands in Kuna Yala.   The people there have partly given up the traditional Kuna way of life and embraced a more modern way of life.  We needed provisions for the boat, and we were looking forward to dinner out, so we pulled in and anchored next to Nargana, very near the Rio Diablo.   We were also looking to take a few side trips in this area, so Nargana was going to be the place where we would look for a "fixer" – a local who could make some arrangements for us.
We had just gotten Stray Cat anchored when the "Kuna Navy" made its' appearance - 3 Cayucos, full steam ahead towards the boat.  As usual, there were lots of women and children with Molas and jewelry, but one cayuco was manned by none other than Federico.   Federico Morales was "the fixer" that we had been looking for!  He handed us his card that said "Tour Guides &Yacht Services".   In about half an hour of conversation and negotiation, Federico had taken our 6 bags of trash for us, set up a trip for us on the Rio Diablo for the following day and he was going to arrange a visit with a traditional Kuna Village on Isla Tigre.   Perfecto!! 
Our guidebook agreed with Federico on which restaurant was the best on the island, so we headed over to Nargana in the dinghy for dinner at Nali's, and Federico joined us there.   We ordered dinner and while it was being prepared, Federico gave us a tour of the village.  They had a school, a bank, a library, a volleyball/basketball court, stores, hotels and many homes or huts.   Most huts even had satellite television!  Children were running and showing off for us everywhere.  The boys walked on their hands and the girls smiled and giggled and they all wanted you to take their pictures, and then to see their pictures on the LCD screen.   Walter had the huge professional video camera, and was filming the whole scene – he caused quite a stir among the children as they reveled in the opportunity to be on TV.    All of the people we met and talked to were very nice, and you could tell that they had very big hearts.

We headed back to Stray Cat in the dinghy after a good dinner of langostinos, chicken (pollo), rice, potato salad and cole slaw - the motor sputtered a little but got us home – in the rain.  

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Coco Banderos Cays, San Blas Islands, Panama

We headed further East toward the Coco Banderos Cays, which are known for being the most beautiful islands in all of San Blas. There is a four-mile reef that extends around this island group and because it is far out away from the mainland and its rivers, these islands have some of the clearest waters. It was only a few miles from the Holandes Cays, but enroute we lost our GPS navigation system because the chart plotter overheated and blacked out. Mike grabbed the hand held GPS and started plotting points on a paper chart. He had a good time navigating the "old fashioned way", and that is how we made our way into the anchorage between Tiadup & Olosicuidup. Later, Capt. "McGyver" Mark fixed the chartplotter with a toothbrush.

We anchored in about 30ft of water, with 6 other boats in the anchorage. We could see from our anchorage a large freighter wrecked on the reef nearby and we found out that it was on it's way from Cartagena, Colombia to Colon, Panama and in a storm, the huge ship lost it's way and ran up on the reef. As soon as we set the anchor, the visitors started arriving - one cayuco after another with local people selling their wares.

The first person that arrived was Venancio Restrepo. He had 2 boys paddling him around and in the cayuco were 2 five gallon buckets full of Molas. He gave us his business card and it read Venancio Restrepo, Master Mola Maker, from Mormake tupu or Mola Maker Island Kuna Yala San Blas and even had his cell phone number. He was very advanced and could speak English rather well. We invited him aboard and he must have shown us 100 Molas. They were the prettiest we had seen, the detail was astounding and he told us that some of the Molas take up to 4 months to make. He had Molas from his whole family to sell. We bought a good many Molas and sent Venancio on his way.

A while later some Kuna men came with lobsters or "langustas" in their cayuco. Yovanni, Antonio and Juan sold us 11 lobsters for $25, tails cut and cleaned. They were a bit small, but the large lobster they had, probably weighing 6 lbs, they were selling it for $35! Capt Mark grilled the lobsters for dinner along with some Mahi Mahi we had caught earlier on the trip. It was succulent!!! Much better than any lobster in a restaurant! We had a few more vendors that day. A Kuna man came by selling bread, which we gladly bought, and he told us he could deliver beer, sodas, take our garbage for us and anything else we needed. We thanked him for the bread, but had already planned to go to the island of Nargana the next day. Nargana had a grocery store, restaurant, liquor store and more, so we opted to wait.

We snorkeled all over the anchorage and Capt Mark and Walter went out to the ship wreck to get some closeup shots. We snorkeled around many reefs and explored some of the uninhabited islands - it was great! In the anchorage, the water was very deep in some places over 50 feet deep and there were starfish everywhere.

The next morning we listened to the Cruiser's Net from Panama and were preparing for a snorkel when a young lady rowed over to our boat. She was a young French girl named Katherine who asked us if we would like to see some jewelry. We welcomed her aboard and she had a bag full of jewelry with a fantastic presentation. She and her husband/boyfriend had been living in the anchorage for 4 years. They had sailed a 27ft steel sloop from France via Africa. She was very interesting and well traveled. She gave us lots of good information on places to visit. She and her husband make jewelry from a local nut that they find in the jungle called the tagua nut. The jewelry is exquisite! She called the seed "vegetable ivory" and they had used it in so many creative ways to create some beautiful works of art - they could sand it, cut it and dye it to create the desired effect. All of the jewelry was gorgeous, but we held ourselves to just a few pieces.

Later that morning we all went snorkeling next to Olosicuidup. The coolest snorkel sight so far, with tons of reef fish, coral heads, sea urchins, Bahamian conch and sea biscuits. It was incredible!

Afterwards we weighed anchor for Nargana & Rio Diablo.

Eastern Holandes Cays, San Blas Islands, Panama

Leaving Whichub Huala, we headed East for about 20 miles to the Holandes Cays. There was absolutely no wind! Just our luck, and to make matters a little more difficult, it was probably the hottest it's been so far. 90 degrees in the shade, and we were all feeling it. We could see the mountains of Panama along the coastline and many shallow reefs along the route. After motoring for 15 miles or so, late Tuesday afternoon, we arrived at what's known as the "swimming pool anchorage" between the islands of Morodup (BBQ island) and Banedup. This anchorage has been reported as the clearest waters in all of San Blas with the best snorkeling, fishing, and reefs.

A local Kuna family came by in 2 Cayucos, paddling up to the boat to hang out and talk. The "mujer" or the lady Kuna, dressed in the traditional way, asked for coffee, salt & cigarettes. We gave it all to them with a couple of Pepsi's and very quickly, we had made some Kuna friends. There was a young man of 21, his wife 16, and their 2 year old, then the grandmother or abuela, who was 63 and two boys who were 10 & 11. They were all smiling and laughing and bailing their Cayucos, which were constantly taking on water. We were enjoying the opportunity to speak Spanish - the Kuna father was enjoying the opportunity to learn some English - and we were all enjoying the interaction of cultures, each of us fascinated by the other. Ahhhhh Paradise!

Morodup Island was very close to us - close enough that we could swim there from the boat. The island was uninhabited and one of the prettiest that we had ever seen, truly a paradise! The green grass seemed like that of a golf course with no under brush at all and towering coconut palms shaded the whole island nicely. The island looked like it had been manicured by the natives with the coconuts that had fallen gathered into piles and sand swept by palm fronds - they had really taken care of the island and there was not much trash at all here. The white sand beaches were reminiscent of the Bahamas with their pink coral flecks throughout the white sand. We explored the island from one side to the other, finding some small treasures - some beautiful shells, some unique Kuna artifacts and a partially broken, but beautifully carved Kuna paddle. That evening, we had a great dinner of chuletas (pork chops), did some filming with Walter, had a few drinks and headed off to bed so we could explore the next day.

The following day we snorkeled, swam and broke the dinghy again! Walter, Mike, Kate & Stuart went out for a swim while Capt Mark took care of business on Stray Cat. The dinghy motor died as we were headed out to the reef and it would not start again! We decided the best thing to do would be to go ahead and anchor the dink anyway, go for a swim to see what we could, and maybe by the time we had finished swimming, the motor would feel better. Fortuitously, there were reefs and coral heads all around, so we snorkeled for a while, tried and failed to start the motor again, and then swam the dinghy back to Stray Cat. It was another case of water in the gas. The guys all worked together to filter the bad gas and after Capt Mark took apart the carb, yet again - the problem was solved.

Later, Capt Mark dropped Mike Kate & Stuart off at Morodup, and he and Walter headed out in the dink for some shots of a wrecked sailboat up on the reef. As they were zooming over to the boat, the family from the day before flagged them down. The families were in their Cayucos and were asking for a tow back home. Capt Mark said sure, and invited the Kunas to climb into the dinghy - he towed the Cayucos behind and even let the young gentleman drive the dinghy, which more than made his day. They got a tour of the island where the family lived with about 3 huts on it. It was very primitive and Capt Mark and Walter enjoyed being let into the huts and experience the Kuna way of life.

Mike & Kate had spent the afternoon relaxing in their hammocks on Morodup. The island was a tropical paradise and swinging in a hammock between swaying palm trees is a great way to enjoy the day. Only the lingering threat of "death by coconut" had them packing up and heading back to Stray Cat.

In the afternoon, everyone grabbed snorkeling gear and headed over to "the wall". The entrance to the "Swimming Pool" anchorage has a narrow channel to traverse to get inside. The narrow channel consists of a wall of coral on either side, making a perfect place to snorkel and explore all of the little nooks and crannies. That is where we all spent some time snorkeling and had a great time! Some of the coral had died because of the shallowness and one could see that the occasional heavy storm had broken up the coral, especially the fan coral. But, there were plenty of fish and it looked like the perfect place to find lobster, but we did not see any. That night we filmed a bit more with Walter, had a great dinner & drinks and hit the sack. We did experience a few light showers overnight, but we have not had any bug or mosquito problems as of yet.

The next day we headed for the Coco Banderos Cays.

Whichub Huala, San Blas Islands, Panama

The guide books told us that Wichub Huala was the only place nearby with a store, and we needed some provisions. The island was just across from Porvenir, so we raised anchor, plotted a course through the shallows and coral heads, and slowly headed that way. As we got closer to the island we could see a local boat unloading some supplies on a long concrete dock and we decided that must be the "tienda" or market. We motored Stray Cat close to the dock before anchoring and the local school children, who must've been on a break from school, were out on the dock waving to us as we prepared to enter the island by dinghy.

The five of us loaded into the dinghy for a grocery trip, motored the short distance over to Whichub Huala, pulled in next to the dock and tied off the dinghy. The island was very primitive for the most part, with the majority of the houses and buildings begin bamboo huts. Most of the younger people were dressed as Americans would be and the older women or mothers were wearing the traditional dress, which consisted of a red and yellow bandana or scarf on the head, a floral print shirt on the top and a "Mola" sewn in to the middle with a long navy printed sarong and bracelets on the wrists and covering their legs, from the ankles to the knees. They were gorgeous. Molas, the local traditional craft, are hand made colorful appliqus sewn into many different layers of cloth, almost like an incredibly intricate needlepoint, that is layered with very colorful & unique designs and in most cases animals, flowers or geometric shapes.

We headed straight into the market and found a good supply of items - plantains, beers, sodas, canned veggies, pineapple, cereal, & even peanut M&M's! They also had some nice ballcaps for $2.50 ea. The young Kunas who were managing the store were very nice and helpful, and we were all impressed by their professionalism. After we had purchased our supplies, we headed out into the village for some bread and rum, two things that were not available at the store. The island was built in a very traditional way - bamboo huts were used for almost every home & also for the "congreso", the large gathering place for the nightly tribal meetings. There were only a few buildings that weren't made from bamboo and thatch, and those were the school and the clinic.

We made our way through the dirt streets or paths between the homes, and immediately noticed tables set up with women selling their wares. It was strange to see tables like at a craft show every 15 feet. They knew we were coming! We found out that occasionally Cruise Ships will pull into Porvenir, so that is why many locals had tables to set up for vending. At every table there were Molas, bracelets, jewelry, purses, pot holders, shells, and small flutes made from a local seed. We bought a few things on our way to the bakery. The "bakery" that we found was actually a person's home - a bamboo hut - and we were fairly certain that the bread was made over a fire, although we did not get to see it being made. We purchased what looked like bread sticks for 10 cents each - we now know that that is the only kind of bread you will find in Kuna Yala. Next, we weaved through the huts and craft tables and came to a small store where they did have one kind of rum, Ron Abuelo Anejo, which we tasted before buying, and it was good enough! That was our last purchase on Wichub Huala.

We also had some interesting conversations with a few locals about the "Cayucos" - they told us how men traveled to the mountains on an expedition to find a huge tree to make their boats. It would take many men a very long time to find the right tree and even longer to get it back down to the island from the mountains. The boats were incredible and beautifully - each crafted from a single gargantuan tree.

We bid farewell to the wonderful people and took all of our supplies and souvenirs out to Stray Cat. Our next stop would be the Eastern Holandes Cays.

Checking in to Panama

Leaving Miramar, we turned east and followed the Atlantic coast of Panama towards Punta San Blas and the outlying islands of Kuna Yala. We were heading for an island called Isla Porvenir, which is an official Panamanian Customs and Immigration check in location, but what makes it different is that it is run by the Kuna Indians, and as a result, it has a reputation for being a much friendlier and less bureaucratic place to check in - much better than Colon. We had hoped to get there Monday afternoon in time to take care of the check in with the officials before they retired for the day, but our estimated time of arrival was past five 'o clock local time.

As we approached, Mike got on the VHF radio and called Porvenir. The Customs & Immigration officials answered on the radio and said they could accommodate us, but with overtime charges of $20. No Problem Mon! We anchored next to Porvenir just past 5pm and Capt Mark hurried over in the dinghy to meet Eduardo. Capt Mark was headed towards the town dock in the dinghy when a man from an anchored sailboat flagged him down. Mark stopped over and the man introduced himself as Eduardo Lopez. They both made way to the town dock and after filling out a ton of paperwork, Capt Mark had the 4 of us and Stray Cat checked in for 3 months! Wahoo!! We celebrated that night with a few rums and a great dinner. It was wonderful to all be able to sleep through the night without having to stand watches and battle squalls and freighters. The sleep didn't last long however, as we had to make sure that we were awake to pick up Walter at 6:30am from the Porvenir airport.

We were all up early the next day, Tuesday the 16th, preparing for Walter's arrival. We were having our morning coffee in the cockpit, when we heard an airplane flying above us. We watched the pilot's deft maneuvering as he landed the twin engine, high wing, turbo prop at the Porvenir airport. Capt Mark sped over in the dinghy to greet Walter and he was back in about 15 minutes with no Walter. We decided that Walter had missed his flight when we heard the familiar sound of engines overhead. Another of the same kind of twin engine buzzed the anchorage and then landed. Another plane!

This time, we thought, Walter must be aboard, so Capt. Mark, Mike and Kate dinked over to collect our new crew member. Sure enough, we found him just as advertised, with his video camera, already filming the buildings and uniqueness of Porvenir. And so we added Walter - a Russian who has lived in Moscow and St. Petersburg, but now works in NY and LA. Walter is making a documentary film about the San Blas Islands, and Stray Cat and crew will be his transportation and production support team for the week or so that he is on board.

And so, with a new member on board, Stray Cat raised anchor and began the next chapter in the Panama Adventure.

Landfall in Panama!!

Stray Cat and crew made landfall in Panama on Monday morning at approximately10am. We pulled into a place called Miramar because one of our guide books told us that they had a fuel dock, and that was important to us. We spent six days making the passage from Jamaica to Panama, most of it waiting for the trade winds to fill in. We were forced to motor for a large percentage of the time, and we were quickly realizing that by the time we were close to Panama, we would be on fumes. We knew that there would be no diesel available in the San Blas Islands because they are so remote, so we were forced to change course to make landfall about 25 miles from our original destination. Our new destination was a small harbor town called Miramar, where we hoped to refuel before heading to San Blas.

We shot the approach into Miramar - a reef on the left and rocks on the right. We made it around the reef and began to make our way down the channel towards the few docks and buildings that we thought was our destination. It seems that we were a little left of the channel, however, because just after a local whistled at us and motioned us further to the right, we lost water and the boat came to a stop rather quickly - we were aground. So much for a graceful entrance, but Capt. Mark stayed calm and skillfully used Stray Cat's twin props to wiggle off the ground and back into deep water. Ok - let's try this again. We moved the boat very close to shore and made a few inquiries about where we could get diesel and gasoline - our first foray into our "Spanish to Survive" course, and shortly thereafter we found what we had come for.

What we found in Miramar was a very small warehouse near the water, with a dock that can only be described as "rickety", and a small store, or "tienda" run by a very cordial Chinese family. When we arrived all of the locals were on the dock loading down with supplies to take to the small villages of San Blas. We waited for a space at the "dock" for over an hour as they loaded all kinds of sodas, beers, flour, sugar, rice, bananas and fuel onto their small panga style local boats. It was finally our turn to move in, and thanks to some great maneuvering and crew work, we pulled off the tight squeeze and tied the bow up into the mangroves. After a few "preguntas" from the young Asian man working the dock, down the pier rolled the diesel - on a hand truck inside a 55 gallon drum. We positioned the boat on the dock to get close to the drum and used a hand cranked pump to fill the port tank, but had to move the boat off the dock and flip her around to get to the starboard tank. We bought every bit of diesel they had which amounted to about 75 gallons, which we figured would be enough to last us during our trip through the San Blas.

They also had groceries and supplies at the small tienda, so we spent some time and money provisioning for San Blas before we left. They had a limited supply, but a few key items were necessary since we were picking up a new passenger the next day and we were very low on food. The prices were reasonable, the people were friendly, and our first contact with Panamanian culture was pretty enjoyable. It was a Godsend to have been able to obtain fuel, meat, milk, cereal, soda, eggs etc.. Most of all, though, it was very nice to have the long, windless passage behind us.

Off to the San Blas Islands!

The Dinghy Push Project

With 120 miles to go, we realized that we could no longer make any plans that included hoping for the wind - there was none. We knew that we were low on fuel so we started doing some calculations to see just what our situations was, and the result was that making landfall on the diesel that we had was questionable at best.

So, the last resort option came out and after a few hours of discussion, we decided to pull the trigger. We stopped the boat, lowered the dinghy and moved it around to the starboard side of the boat and rigged a spring line from Stray Cat's aft cleat to a padeye on the front of the dinghy. We then rigged the dink's bowline to Stray Cat's bow cleat. When all was tight and looked right, we revved up the Yamaha 15hp, and off we went - at a blistering 2.5 knots. The dink was doing an admirable job pushing us along, and for as long as we could keep that Yamaha running, we could move along at 2 to 3 knots without running the diesels, thereby conserving fuel that we would need to make landfall and enter the harbor. We also had a nice current of 1 knot and managed to stay between 3 & 4 knots most of the time. We were carrying approximately 14 gallons of gasoline on board, but none of us were sure of how long that amount would last because none of us had much experience pushing a 22,000 pound boat with a 15 hp outboard motor.

We started with the "Dinghy Push Project" at about 9am on Sunday morning. At about 11am, a squall came up and we were able to get the genny out and pulling for about 2 hours, which helped the dink get us up to 5 or 6 knots. Finally, at around 5pm, the first 4 gallon fuel tank ran dry, and we switched to our second 4 gallon tank. Then right before dark at about 7pm, we switched to the larger 6 gallon tank so that we would have the least possible chance of having to make any adjustments to the dinghy during the night, when it would be infinitely more dangerous.

We "motored" through the dark for hours, and then at 5am, on Capt. Mark's watch, the Yamaha finally sputtered and died. Back to slow motoring on one diesel engine until sun-up, but by that time, we had come within 30 miles of Panama, and because of the heroic actions of our little 10 ft dinghy and 15hp Yamaha, we were now pretty confident that we had enough fuel to make landfall and get into port. The dink had pushed us for almost 24 hours and helped us make almost 60 miles. Not quite as good as having the trade winds on the beam, but it got the job done. The next morning we tried to get the dinghy going again, but the motor wouldn't start - it seems that during the night, the strengthening waves had splashed into the dinghy and some water had entered the fuel tank. Capt Mark proceeded to take apart the carburetor and clean it at least twice - all while underway, but alas, it didn't help as the gasoline was now contaminated.

Oh well, at least we made it to Panama.

Jamaica to Panama

The passage from Jamaica to Panama was supposed to be a beam reach through the trade wind belt. Pilot Charts are reference books that show what the recorded wind and wave information are for the last 100 years in most oceans and bodies of water. The Pilot Charts indicate that during the month of October on the passage from Jamaica to Panama that the wind blows out of the east at 15-20 knots about 90 percent of the time. Well, we seemed to find 100% of the 10% of the time that the wind did not blow. We were able to sail for several hours here and there, using squalls and localized micro-fronts to slingshot us 10 or 15 miles, but on the whole the trades never filled in.

On the second and third day, we did pick up some wind, but it was straight out of the south and right on the nose. We spent the better part of 24 hours tacking - first southeast and then southwest, but we found this to be futile as a substantial current was against us on the southeast tack. During those 24-30 hours we made only 15-20 miles of southing, and eventually realized that this tactic was not going to be successful.

At this point, we were forced to make plans based on the fact that if the wind never did cooperate, we were facing a serious issue, as we most likely didn't have enough fuel to motor the entire distance. As a result, we began using only one engine at a time, always keeping the RPMs in the 1500-2000 range in order to conserve fuel. At low RPMs, the engines become very fuel efficient, and even though we rarely moved at over 4 knots, we surmised that this was our best bet at making landfall any time soon.

And so it went for close to 300 miles. Sunrise became morning - morning became afternoon - afternoon became dinner - dinner became sundowners - sundowners became talking about the night watch schedule - a little sleep - a few hours on watch - a little more sleep - and sunrise came to start it all over again. All the while, we prognosticated, forecasted, made assumptions, made predictions, read weather books, studied the clouds, and even said a few prayers - all focused on the big question - "Where are the trades?"

Saturday, October 13, 2007

150 Miles to go

Update from Stray Cat - 160 miles north of Isla Porvenir and the San Blas archipeligo

We're still waiting for the trades to kick in. We've been working hard to get south, but the wind has been fickle and a east setting current makes a western tack too slow to bear.

Right now we're motoring slowly on one engine in order to conserve fuel, and we're hoping that a forecasted tropical wave will give us the wind that we need, and hopefully not more than we want. Can't remember ever wishing for a tropical wave, but in this case, we'll take it.

We've got a great crew - everyone chipping in and doing more than their share, and the days have been beautiful lately - sort of like a day at the pool - a really big pool.

Landed a Mahi the day before yesterday and had him sliced and in the freezer in under 5 minutes. We hooked what we think was a blue marlin that day as well - a huge hit on the line - the reel being furiously spooled - Stuart got the rod out and started the fight. Suddenly the line went slack and Kate and I saw something jump out of the corner of our eye - when we looked over, we saw a huge splash that must have been at least a 10 foot fish!!! We also hooked several more really big Mahis, but they are clever little suckers and they found a way to spit the hook before we could get them in the boat. We'll keep trying 'cause Mikey likey blackened Mahi !

Hope all is well in USA land - we'll be hangin' with the Kunas by Monday.



Thursday, October 11, 2007

Jamaica - Ya Mon !!

We arrived in Port Antonio, Jamaica on Friday, October 5th in the morning just after 8am. We had to check in with customs & immigration so we took a slip at the Erroll Flynn Marina. "Mix" was our line handler and he worked for the marina. One of the many great people we met in Port Antonio. We tied up and started filling out paperwork. What a job! The papers had to be filled out 3 different ways and for 5 people, it was a lot of red tape.

We were able to get off of the boat and walk around the marina only. Lots of us took advantage of the marina showers and a little shopping at "Things Jamaican". The first item we picked up was a lb. of coffee for $1300. We quickly put it down! Then a shirt for over $900! We knew something was awry, so we asked the store manager and she told us the exchange rate at the marina was 65J's(Jamaican Dollars) to $1 U.S. The exchange rate at the ATM in town was more like 70-1. We spent thousands of dollars everyday, but without all the guilt, and the ATM receipt gave your balance in J's - we all loved seeing our bank balances number in the hundreds of thousands of dollars!!

We were all starving and looking for some lunch after the first 2 customs agents came & went, although we were still waiting for the third. Ryan got a suggestion from one of the local guys to head over to "Kooyah" for some authentic Jamaican food. We headed out of the main gate of the marina. The property of the marina was enormous and encompassed a city park open to the public in the daytime, it was gorgeous. It was like a lush tropical paradise with every kind of flower and fruit you could imagine. We did not have to go far to get to Kooyah and it was on the rooftop, so we toasted Red Stripes for making it this far on our adventure and we ordered, fried Red Snapper, curried chicken & curried goat! We found goat to be one of the staple meats of the area. Everything was delicious! From the rooftop we could see the outdoor market and some really cool old buildings. We were ready to explore!

We went to the bank to get some more J's when a local guy named John picked us up. He was a guy who wanted to show us around town and help us get whatever we needed, sort of an informal local guide service. John took us all over town showing us all of the shops, buildings, landmarks, and telling us some of the local history. He took us through the market where they had all kinds of fresh fruit and vegetables along with Jamaican trinkets, wood carvings, leather shoes, Blue Mountain coffee, spices, local meats & fresh fish. It was awesome! There was so much to see and bargain for. We went back many times. In the butcher shop a man was showing us some goat testicles and telling us how good they were for us. Goat & pig heads were a plenty. Then a Jamaican lady came and grabbed Ryan and asked him if he was an Irishman. She was happy to see him and gave him some money to buy a drink. Ryan was confused and John told him the lady was wealthy and had English roots, that she had gotten excited at seeing a tall white man. Ryan promptly was gotten a Red Stripe in the market. John took us back to the marina after showing us all around. We tipped him for the service, but he always wanted more giving us the reason that Jamaican dollars "funny money" .

After chillin' on the boat for a while, Ryan was ready to bar hop on his last night in Jamaica as he was flying out the next morning. Ryan & Capt. Mark hit every bar or hole in the wall in town. Mike, Kate & Stuart went to Shadow's, an outdoor restaurant downtown, for dinner and had a wonderful fish platter of Mahi Mahi, steamed vegetables & rice. One plate would have been enough for 3 people! It was really good and we had a few rums too. The local rum in Jamaica is Appleton Estates, we got very familiar with it. As we were finishing up our drinks, John came in to the bar. He had told us earlier in the day that they had really good food. He proceeded to take us around the city again. The first bar we stopped in we saw Capt. Mark & Ryan. We all had a few drinks and then Kate, Mike & Stuart retired for the evening and left the night owls up. Ryan had to leave at 8am for a cab ride to Kingston Airport. We were all up at 8am as he was leaving, he had scheduled 2 cabs and neither one showed up. There was a little panic as "Hulk" found a cab for Ryan. Little did we know at the time - even though Jamaica is in the same time zone as we are, they do not adjust for Daylight Savings Time, so it was actually only 7am and at 8am both cabs did show up for Ryan, OOPS!

Saturday was a work day for the Stray Cat Crew. Capt. Mark & Mike worked on the generator wiring and fuel pump, they also mounted a pad eye in the deck for the SSB antennae, then they secured the dinghy with new line. There were a couple of local guys, Hulk & Donovan, buffing and polishing the hulls for a few days as it rained on and off the whole time we were in Jamaica. Stuart & Kate did 6 loads of laundry and went back and forth to the market 3 times to re-supply the ship's stores. This was the day we discovered the local bakery & meat pies Yum! The bakery was very inexpensive and had warm bread fresh from the oven. Meat pies were the only ground beef we came across in a cheese flavored Phyllo dough, very tasty! Rum thirty came early that day as everyone had worked hard. There was a little exploring of the marina pool and the internet access was really nice. We were able to use Skype to make a few international calls - it was really nice to be able to keep in touch for a few days. We called it an early night as we were all exhausted.

Sunday was another good work day cleaning up the interior and wrapping up all of the projects on deck. We had a salon day on the swim platform with haircuts all around for Mike, Kate & Stuart. We met little Sevaskia Brown, Hulk's daughter, who hung out on the boat & watched movies while he buffed & polished. Donovan was still buffing the boat and went to get some lunch in Boston. A local town well known for their jerk chicken & pork. It was the best jerked meat we had the whole time in Jamaica, but it was VERY expensive. Mike & Kate scouted around the immediate area finding a restaurant nearby and a gorgeous beach with some historic ruins on the marina property. The flora & fauna were incredibly beautiful. We retired early again on Sunday as it was raining once more.

Monday was spent preparing the boat for departure and stocking up on everything we could need for at least 5 days of sailing. We hit the local Supermarkets, liquor store and hardware store. The hardware store is where you would go to buy your baby chicks or eggs by the dozen. The babies were adorable! We did some more sight seeing with Capt. Mark and had lunch at a local chicken place called the Chicken Shack - there was one fast food restaurant that everyone would recognize - KFC, the locals called it the Fowl Coop.

In the early afternoon, Capt. Mark checked out of Jamaica with customs & immigration and took the guys to fuel up and Kate went to town for a few more fruits & veggies. Later a guy named Moses had been doing some fiberglass work on the boat and as he was leaving the marina he showed us all of the fruit trees on the grounds. There were bread fruit, ackee and coconuts all over the place. He was something of a bush doctor. He snapped twigs off of trees and told us to make tea with it - the plant was called sour sap, and he said it would calm your nerves. It was clear that Jamaicans live off of the land and do not even need to plant rows of fruit trees or crops, everything grows naturally and they harvest it when it is ready instead of trying to hurry along God's process. It was fascinating to hear all of the remedies and how to prepare the different fruits & leaves. Completely in tune with the earth and natural goodness.

Our last night in Jamaica we hung out in the cockpit and talked with Hulk. He had been found on the streets in Kingston at 18 months old. He was a very smart guy with a wordly knowledge and a big heart. He was one of our favorite people that we met. We finally decided to head out to dinner and opted for Chinese. It was the only place around still open. The funny part about this place was that we could not even tell that it was a restaurant and were hesitant to order, but we did anyway as our options were limited. We wound up eating some of the best Chinese food any of us had ever had! The shrimp & chicken in our meals were fresh & local - Imagine That! It was great, we all retired immediately after dinner.

Tuesday AM - Not feeling too good. Appleton Estates had us in a bit of a bad way, but we recovered. Stuart & Kate headed out to the bakery early for some more treats & meat pies. Capt Mark & Hulk cleaned the boat and Mike hooked up Mark's new email address on SSB to the Stray Cat website. There were 2 other Privilege Catamarans at the marina and Capt Steve did let us aboard "Amazing Grace" the 65 footer. It was enormous and laid out like a mega yacht! The interior was astounding, incredibly fancy with every bell and whistle you could think of. The last selling price was $1.5million U.S. Stuart said he was jumping ship and stowing away on the Privilege 65! Capt. Steve said that the owners did not like sailing, so they would call him and tell him which island to bring the boat to and get it all stocked up so that they could fly in to that location and meet him at the marina without having to be at sea. They do not like being at sea?! Why have a sailboat??

Stray Cat set sail just after noon, with Stuart on board. Jamaica was great and Port Antonio had some wonderful people! George the manager of the marina was very helpful & so was Mix, Moses, Steve & Hulk. They were all there to wish us well and see us off. We had a fantastic time and we would go back to Port Antonio anytime. We would recommend it to others without hesitation!

Go Jamaica Mon!!

Friday, October 5, 2007

Great Inagua to Jamaica

Wednesday, October 3rd

We arrived in Matthew Town not having much of an idea what was there. We had to motor more than expected during the previous passage and needed some fuel before heading on to Jamaica-Mon. We knew that Great Inagua was home to the world's largest flock of pink flamingos, and that much of the island is owned by Morton Salt Company - much of the island is covered by salt flats.

Mark had only anchored off of Matthew Town, but had never actually been on the island or used the docking facilities. The charts didn't clearly show what was there, and we had consigned ourselves to the fact that we would probably have to transport diesel back and forth to the boat using jerry jugs and the dinghy.

As we motored closer, we made a call on the VHF and were told that we could pull into the harbor and get diesel right at the dock, which was good news. The location of the harbor was not immediately obvious & there was no information on any of the cruising guides we had about Matthew Town. Mike spotted a navigational range that seemed to lead through a little slot in a seawall that couldn't have been more than 40 feet wide. Capt. Mark was going to have to expertly navigate the Stray Cat through, so he got out his shoe horn and we made it perfectly.

As soon as we made it throught the narrow cut, a nice fellow named Williams helped tie up the boat and took Capt. Mark to customs & immigration straight away. We told him that we needed diesel, so he put a call in to the fuel man. We also told him we were interested in seeing the flamingos if we had time - he said that it might be possible.

While waiting for Capt. Mark to return from the immigration office, we noticed a couple of guys on a Larson 32' powerboat - the only boat in the harbor and a boat that looked like it would be more at home on an inland lake. They came over and struck up a conversation. Come to find out these guys had been rescued by the Coast Guard 2 nights prior. They were enroute from Miami to Venezuela, delivering the boat for their boss. Did we mention that it was a 32 foot powerboat?? They had been anchored off of Little Inagua in huge seas after running out of fuel and setting off their EPIRB. The Coast Guard rescue helicoptor was there in 30 minutes, and had instructed them to abandon the boat and jump in the water. A rescue diver helped them into a lift basket and they were transported to Matthew Town. The next day, they hired a local man with a small dinghy to run them 40 miles in bumpy seas with some fuel and salvage their boat. When they returned to Matthew Town with their boat to fuel up, they were boarded and searched by the Coast Guard, DEA, Customs & Immigrations, the local police etc... They told us there were 40 agents waiting to search their vessel and it was torn apart. They had never bothered to clear customs anywhere in the Bahamas, and they had already stopped in the Bahamas 3 other times for fuel before being rescued. When we left these two, they were awaiting word on what their punishment was to be. They were expecting a $10,000 fine, 30 days in jail and/or confiscation of their vessel. They seemed to think the whole affair was rather comical and it was obvious that they were excited to tell us their story. They were in pretty good spirits to be facing all of that!

While checking in with Immigration, Capt. Mark got to hang out with some Coast Guard pilots who are based in Great Inagua and they checked the weather for him. We were relieved to find out that all of the tropical systems had dissipated and that the weather should be clear on the passage to Jamaica. Unfortunately though, the forecasted winds were not in our favor, so stopping to fill the fuel tanks turned out to be the correct decision.

After filling the fuel tanks and spending some time at the local internet "cafe", we set out for Jamaica.

As the sun set that evening, we approached the Southeast coast of Cuba and the entrance to the Windward Passage. Overnight, we came within 6 miles of the coast before bearing away to the southwest. The next morning, we could see the mountains of Cuba off to starboard, and that was our scenery for most of the day.

One last night offshore and we should be arriving in Port Antonio, Jamaica by 9am on Friday morning.

We will continue to try and solve our communications issues, but if you're reading this, then we've already come a long way.

More coming soon from Jamaica.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Update from Great Inagua, Bahamas

Hi all,

Sorry that the blog has not been updated - we are having a number of communications difficulties on board.

We are fine and have been sailing offshore from George Town for 3 days.

We left from George Town on Sept. 30 at about 3pm, headed Northeast around the northern tip of Long Island, then southeast along the northern coast, rounded the Acklins and headed south to Great Inagua where we arrived on Tuesday evening at approximately 10pm.

We will do our best to resolve our communications problems and keep everyone updated.


Mike and Kate

PS... We did get to see some flamingos in Great Inagua, but it was from a good distance...

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Preparing for the Adventure

On September 29th, we fly out of New Bern, NC on our way to George Town, which is on the island of Great Exuma in the Exumas chain of the Bahamas. It’s sure to be one of those travel days that never fades from your memory. We are scheduled to change planes four times – first in Charlotte, then to Ft. Lauderdale, where we transfer to a Bahamas Air flight bound for Nassau. After a six-hour layover in Nassau, we’ll jump the evening flight to George Town, arriving there at approximately 7:15pm. Were hoping to catch a taxi from the airport to a place called Coco-Plums Beach Club, which we visited on our last trip to these islands. They are the proud creators of a cheeseburger, which has been rated #1 on both mine and Kate’s lifetime list of “Best Cheeseburgers Ever”.

The past few weeks have been hectic to say the least. We have been doing a lot of asset liquidation with the ultimate goal of getting down to the bare necessities of life. Believe it or not, Tomorrow is even up for sale, but we won’t let her go cheaply. If she doesn’t sell while we’re gone, we’ll be more than happy to have her, but if someone wants her badly enough between now and then, we’ll be happy to make the exchange.

Hopefully after the #1 Cheeseburger in the World, we’ll grab a taxi into George Town and meet up with Capt. Mark and Stray Cat, a 45’ Privilege catamaran. Probably the next day, we’ll weigh anchor, and begin our journey south, ultimately heading for the San Blas Islands of Panama. The route will take us offshore for through the Windward Passage between Haiti and Cuba, and then on to Jamaica. We plan to pull into Kingston, Jamaica for a day or two to rest and take on provisions and fuel. When the weather allows, we’ll make the decision to continue south for the last offshore leg to the San Blas Islands, a distance that should take 2 or 3 days to cover.

The San Blas are renowned for their tropical beauty, palm tree studded islands, white sand and turquoise blue waters. They are also famous for the indigenous Kuna Indians, who still live according to their generations old traditions and legal codes. The country of Panama even recognizes the sovereignty of their nation and their laws. They are famous for paddling out to meet visiting yachts in their dugout canoes with the desire to trade fish, coconuts, and most famously, the colorful “molas” that are crafted by the Kuna women and children.

We plan to explore San Blas for several weeks before making our way to the Bocas del Toro province of Panama where we will be based for several weeks. Past that point, the schedule is relatively open, and as sure as anything CAN happen, we are sure that many things WILL happen.

We’ll do our best to update this blog and our website with reports and pictures so that you can all go on a “virtual adventure” without ever leaving your computer screen.

In return, we only ask for your thoughts and prayers for a successful and safe voyage.

All the best,

Mike and Kate.