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October 2015

San Blas Moments

We struggle when we talk about the San Blas. It is an exquisitely beautiful area and we are indeed fortunate to have been able to visit these islands. We did not realize that relatively few boats spend time here in the summer. Grenada is a huge hurricane season draw for cruising sailors, but fewer than 30 boats spend a lot of time in the San Blas from June through November. It’s hot,  with a challenging number of severe lightening storms.

This area is incredibly beautiful.The photo below was taken from the stern of our boat. I could and did swim from La Luna around this first reef and snorkeled, viewing eagle rays, the ever tasty ocean trigger fish, and the more beautiful queen trigger fish. Before they set sail to travel East, Keith and Jaime led an expedition to the reef you can see breaking in the background. There are caves, huge coral, sharks,and millions of fish.It was the most breathtaking snorkeling I’ve experienced.

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This is how we shop for groceries. Dos Hermanos or another “veggie” boat will visit the anchorages nearest Carti. Many cruisers spend most of their time in one of two island groups just so they can be served by the veggie boats whose visits are infrequent during the summer season. In addition to fruits and veggies we can purchase wine, beer, whole chickens, and a small array of rotating items. Note, everything that is sold by the pound is weighed in the same scale. Can you say chicken blood on the broccoli? Yep. Cleaning is vital.

 

 

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Here’s a storm building from the east and a bit north. The ones we really have to watch out for come from the south, with no warning. Folks have clocked 30-50 to even 70 knot gusts during those “chokosanas”. (Spelling mine and probably wrong.) We’ve been fortunate to be around only for the 30 knot gusts, but it’s important to anchor where you have 360 degrees of swing.

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This is not safe anchoring and was taken from amidships on La Luna as a storm brewed up from the southwest. We were not happy. This is a local charter boat and (forgive me) they anchor worse than the normal French cruiser. This guy was doubly bad as the boat hails from Guadeloupe. (It’s not prejudiced if it’s true. If EW and I get invited to a Halloween party next year, we will wear stripped tees, white capris and manpris, and carry dingy anchors. When folks ask what we are supposed to be we will drop our anchor on their toes and say, “Bonne nuit! We are French cruisers!”)

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This is S/V Runner, at home on anchor in The Swimming Pool. Reg and Debbie also provided EW with excellent medicine for shingles, and had us over for a wonderful dinner once EW was social (defined as getting dressed). They’ve lived in the San Blas as retired residents for 20 years, and willingly share their knowledge. Deb is an avid snorkeler, obtaining small fish for her three on-board tanks, and catching smaller fish for food. As you can imagine, with the Panama Canal close by, VHF Channel 16 is pretty busy with important stuff. Years ago, the authorities asked the cruisers to pick a channel for hailing and emergencies and they picked 72, which we generally keep on all the time. During our first month in the San Blas in addition to the normal boat-to-boat calls, I would often hear a vibrant voice saying, “Ten Minutes!” and nothing else.

It bugged me. I just wanted to know what those people were doing in ten minutes. While we were in The Pool I asked Deb if I could join her one day when she snorkeled. She agreed and told me that we’d go around 10:30 and she would give me some warning. At 10:25 I heard that vibrant voice say “Ten Minutes!” and was delighted to learn I was now part of the club. No initiation was necessary.

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During the summer, a large number of power boats transit the canal from the Pacific side, leaving their boats at various marinas in the Western Caribbean and bringing friends and family out to the San Blas for the weekend. They fish, party on the beach, and party on the boats. They pretty much ignore us, and refuse to stick to the Channel 72 protocol, using it to have lengthy conversations. We sincerely hope they have a wonderful weekend, each and every time, and can’t wait for them to leave on Sunday night. We did not laugh when this boat ran aground setting his anchor close to Barbeque Beach.  We don’t wish that on anyone, but we also knew he was on sand and grass and certainly more embarrassed than damaged. He did not go on the radio to ask for help getting off.

 

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The power boats anchor near us only for a few hours, then head out about a 1/2 mile to another spot for the night. Early Sunday morning, we motored slowly through the fleet on our way to Linton.IMG_2148-001

 

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Bonus! S/V Joanna is on the dock in Linton! Nico and Maria came out for a visit, dog cookie, and glass of wine (respectively) the other night.

We hope to see Cathy later this week.


A Silly Little Millimeter Longer

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People are wonderful. People are funny. Cruisers are wonderful in funny ways. We like to think —because we are doing something so incredibly special and rare—that the cruisers we meet are also special and rare. Well, we are, and they are, but only because people are special and rare. This is a tale of people.

When we finally got back to the Guna Yala  in September (remember, those in the know spell it “Guna” but pronounce it “Kuna”) we anchored in the area known as “The Swimming Pool” to be near Jaime and IMG_2123Keith. They have since sailed east, but we remained, surrounded by pretty islands, great snorkeling, and new friends. Tate and Dani on S/V Sundowner are two of those friends. For similarities we can list: the cruising life, being social, love of food, love of music and card games, love of spousal unit, and a sense of humor. That’s it. We are far apart in age (20+ to 30+ years), education, and careers (they are scary smart, and I suspect Tate has a nearly photographic memory); and our Popular Culture meshes in strange ways.

As wonderful and funny cruisers, we are all willing to assist others, though EW and I are still far behind on the debits and credits list with S/V Sundowner. They loaned us their dongle so I could get online, Tate has given us many fillets from fish he has harvested, and Dani provided Tea Tree Oil that has been instrumental in helping heal EW’s shingles.

Also, Dani’s mom worked as a canvas maker for boats for a number of years, and helped Dani re-do all of the cushions and canvas on Sundowner. While EW was recuperating I began the interior cushion project, and Dani offered to help. I am not a fool and accepted with alacrity. We knew going into the project that the so-called professional’s patterning had been shoddy and that some of the cushions were not shaped correctly. I was determined to create new patterns and check them against the imperfect cushions. It’s a slow process, requiring patience, which is not one of my strengths. Enter Dani.

I had patterned the chart table seat, and the settee along the port side. (My “bible” for the project is Julie Gifford’s Canvas for Cruisers, the Complete Guide. I love this book and highly recommend it.) I made each pattern in the shape and size of the ideal finished cushion, and marked 1/2 inch around it for the cut line, just as Julie said to do. She also said that the edge pieces should be 1/2 inch wider than the depth of the cushion, and that the edge side with the zipper should be cut 1 1/2 inches wider than the cushion’s depth. Here we ran into….challenges.

The cushions were manufactured in Europe and are 8 and 10 centimeters in depth, not 3 and 4 inches. The wise cushion maker cuts the fabric the same size as the raw foam, with a 1/2 inch seam allowance on each side, creating a cushion exactly to fit the space and, packed into the fabric for a nice tight seat or back. While I have been uncharacteristically precise on this project, I was more characteristically  unconcerned about cutting the side panels and planned on “pretending” the foam was 3 and 4 inches, adding my half inch for the seam allowance to that.

Dani has an economics degree. Dani’s most recent position was as Budget Manager for the engineering firm that managed the construction on New Orleans's newest hospital. Can you say “Big Project”? Can you say “Detail Oriented?” Can you say “Number Cruncher?”

No kidding we had a 45 minute conversation about the silly little millimeters between 10 centimeters and 4 inches. We used conversion charts, one standard tape measure, and one metric tape measure. Dani computed and talked it through, “My mom said there’s always shrinkage in sewing, so if we go too small that could be a problem.” And later, “You know, if there’s too much fabric, the foam won’t compress to the right shape.”

It’s a puzzlement. (She probably has no idea where that quote’s from.)

IMG_2091In my new, patient, detail-oriented (“If I’m going to make the dang cushions myself, I am going to do it right”) persona I hung in there, assisted Dani in taking new measurements and cheerfully discussed the issues and millimeters involved. I was with her every step of the way. She was providing great insight and has become a friend; she’s helping me and I am grateful. I. Exuded. Patience. I was with her right up until she told me I’d have to cut the fabric at the 16th’s or 32nds. It just seemed to me that marking 3 and 9/16 is much more challenging that marking things 3 1/2. The lines on the tape are bigger at the 1/2 points. Furthermore, as the discussion continued, Dani showed me that she had computed we were talking about  0.07 and 0.055 inches in difference. This is not a chasm. This is a toothpick, admittedly the really good round toothpicks made in Maine, but still, we are talking the width of a toothpick, people.

We ended up agreeing that (1) I would cut the fabric for just a few cushions to start, and (2) I’d cut them on the half inch, and (3) if they were too loose I’d take that silly millimeter off, re-stitch that cushion and cut all others on the 16th of an inch.

Later that IMG_2113evening as all four of us got together in the cockpit, it came as no surprise to either of our spousal units that Dani is very numbers and detail oriented and that I am not. We are OK with that. Further discussions, ranging over a few days, reminded us that we are of different generations. My guess is that they won’t recognized the “Silly Millimeter Longer” phrase, either. We were surprised that they knew “Coneheads”. Tate reeled off at least six Conehead phrases, including “parental units”, “spousal units”, and “charred consumables”. We were stunned. Clearly they are too young to have stayed up for Saturday Night Live.  “The Coneheads were big in the 90’s,” said Tate. “No,” we wise older folk replied, “the Coneheads were definitely from the 70’s.

After some back and forth we learned that they had watched the Coneheadsmovie which came out in 1993, and they are too young to have seen the original sketches which aired from ‘77-‘79. 

The photo above is a perfectly “charred consumable” harvested and cooked by Tate. A couple of weeks prior Tate had made up a batch of Louisiana Red Beans and Rice, his version of Chicken Soup, for the ailing EW. I’m sure that helped his shingles heal more quickly. (See what I mean about the debits and credits? We cannot keep up with these people.)

Dani came over three times to help me pattern the cushions. On her last visit, we got brave and actually cut the foam to the correct size. She also, bless her darling heart, contacted her mom about sewing a curve into the back of the dinette cushions and her mom sent an email with detailed instructions.

We will sail back to Florida for a while, and Dani and Tate will go through the canal next spring to continue their circumnavigation. Like many other cruisers we’ve been privileged to meet, they are special and rare and wonderful and funny and we will miss them and look forward to seeing them again somewhere along the way.

Postscript. I almost forgot. When Dani worked with her mom, she used a software created for making flow charts in order to help her lay out the fabric. OK. First of all, the have a program just for making flow charts? Evidently they have more than one. While anchored in the San Blas, Dani found a free one on-line, downloaded it to a thumb drive and taught me to use it. It’s fun, and beats the heck out of using graph paper. Every cushion has a unique color so I can make sure that I have four pieces—top, bottom, and two side panels—for each cushion. I’m not going to finish this project until we get back to Florida, but I know I have at least 4 extra yards of fabric. Thanks to Dani and DIA Portable. (I have no idea how to make a flow chart, but I rock at creating colors.)

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On Our Fifth Anniversary of Cruising We Have Really Big News

Five years ago on October 18, we left Maine, heading for the Cape Cod Canal. As I write this, we are anchored in the San Blas on the 17th of October. The Digicel system here has been generally horrid and our personal Digicel situation has been worse. We have had to rely on the kindness of now friends/former strangers in order to borrow a dongle. We put my phone's SIM card in the dongle and raised it up the mast and got WIFI down below. (When Digicel worked.) Unfortunately, my SIM card needs to be renewed and I can't get my password to work. Since they insist on texting me and I can't receive a text here...well there you go. I am going to get this off via SSB today.

Tomorrow we are going to sail (motor?) back to Linton Bay where we plan to stay for 7-10 days. We hope/plan/have scheduled helping Alice and Steve on Ocean Star go through the Canal. Unfortunately, I didn't contact them 6 days ago when I was last able to get on line, and haven't been able to reach out since. This frustrates me. When we were at anchor in the Berry Islands in the Bahamas nearly five years ago I wrote about how uncomfortable I was with being disconnected. At least there we did not pay to have two SIM cards with expectations of actually making contact with anyone. Digicel is not my favorite company.

Yes, I do have posts written. With stories and photos. They will be published. I promise.

So that's my explanation/apology/gripe about connectivity. Let's move on to the big news.

Instead of leaving here in November and slowly making our way north via Belize, Mexico, and a number of islands between here and Florida...(drum roll, please)…
We will take La Luna back to the US. We plan to sail to Fernandina Beach and hope to stay there for a while. Those who know us, know that EW often tells a story in which someone said he should have "adopted" me instead of marrying me. That's a huge exaggeration, but I am younger than he and not yet ready for retirement. Before we left we estimated I'd have to go back to work in a real job at about 5 years. The time has come. Best case scenario is that I get a great job (that does not require hose and heels), while EW works on the boat and finds a two day gig on the water.

When he's not filling the cruising kitty, he'll be working on the boat. La Luna is 30 years old and-while she clearly loves this life and definitely has more ocean crossings to enjoy-she needs some TLC. Before we purchased her in 2002, she hadn't done much sailing; and while we lived and worked aboard we only took her out on weekends in the summer and for at least one 10 day sailing vacation. Heck, she got more nautical miles under her keel in 2014 than she did in 5 years of cruising during Maine summers. It's only fair that we take the time and money to provide for her needs.

We had decided to head back to the states in June, after a leisurely cruise, but that just isn't practical. For one thing, most of these countries charge hundreds of dollars for entry fees, and that's $1000 to $2000 that can go to La Luna. In addition, most of the areas we'd like to visit are well north of here, and we can simply sail back down as far as we want once I'm ready to retire. For another thing, I felt it would be better to get back and look for a job sooner rather than later, and EW agrees.

So, for the short term, we will go to Linton, meet up with Alice and Steve (fingers crossed), provision up, and sail back to the San Blas all before November. We hope that the light hurricane season comes to an early end, that the northerly winds hold off in November, and that we have a good weather window for the 1600 mile sail to our destination. If so, we'll be in the US before Thanksgiving.

Finally, NO! We are not selling her nor are we done cruising. In fact, since we'll be living aboard, we will still be "At Sea" and this blog will continue. After all, we aren't the first cruisers to take a working hiatus and we won't be the last. It's all part of the adventure.

Chugging Along

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I know I’m loud. Sometimes I don’t know how I am loud, but I am willing to learn and I can be quiet if I need to.

Before we knew EW had shingles he thought it was a 1) New bunch of bug bites, or 2) Sting from a jelly fish so we went snorkeling in the “caves” with Keith, Jaime, and Tate and Dani. This is a section of reef between the flats and the Caribbean Sea with caves, an underwater tunnel, and passages between huge mounds of coral.

I was meandering toward Keith when he gave me the “come here” motion and I meandered faster to see what he wanted to show me. It turned out that they had startled a largish nurse shark on the other side of the coral, and it had headed around to my direction so Keith wanted me to move out of the path of the shark.. No problem. When I meandered faster, I “chugged”, and the shark turned tail. “Chugged” is Keith’s term. Turns out I’m a loud snorkeler. When I kick to move forward, my flippers always clear the water and I make a heck of a lot of noise that I can’t hear because my ears are underwater. The fish (and that shark) can hear me coming from a mile away. That which may be good when one wants a shark to turn, is not good when one wants to get up close and personal with a tang, parrotfish, or turtle.

I can learn, however, and used my new knowledge to keep my feet still and let my arms do all the work—underwater, in long slow motions. Later in the week, when Keith invited me to snorkel a new-to-me reef while he hunted two lionfish, I promised “No chugging.”

Later, I told Jaime that this was not the first time “chug” had been used to describe me.

In addition to being loud, I tend to walk fast. In high school I remember some boys standing off to the side of the hall and saying, “Here comes the train! Chugga. Chugga, Chugga, Whoo Hoo!”

So basically, after blankety-blank number of years, not much has changed.

Well, except now I’m chugging in warm ocean water, and stopping to view the fish, anemones, rays, and turtles.

Whoo hoo!

To keep things honest, we’ve seen everything except a turtle, although they live and frolic in the Guna Yala, they are shy.  They probably heard me chugging.

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Our Six Weeks In Linton Bay Marina

IMG_1768It’s been so long since I’ve posted regularly that I think we need a date line. I know I do.

June 22. We arrived in Guna Yala, and spent 10 days with Keith and Jaime on Kookabura. (You can read about our trip to Panama in the September edition of All at Sea, Caribbean and read about our week with Jaime and Keith in the October edition. My articles show up on line around the 20th of each month.)

July 1. Kookaburra left for Linton to leave the boat and fly back to New England. We stayed to enjoy the Guna Yala, and work on the boat.

July 24. Left Guna Yala for Linton Bay Marina, where we stayed on the dock for almost three weeks. Working on the boat.

August 6. Moved to the anchorage to finish up boat projects and prepare to leave.

September 20. After one abortive attempt to leave Linton Bay area, finally made it back to Guna Yala on a windless, clear, Sunday. The days blurred together. As EW says, “The projects were all-consuming.”

When we met up with Keith and Jaime on Kookaburra in June we had great hopes of spending time together, sailing, snorkeling, fishing, eating, drinking and playing Euchre before we both headed off in different directions. We did all of those things in Guna Yala and many of them while in Linton. Unfortunately, while in Guna Yala, a lot of their time was spent much like the golfer whose buddy died on the course: hitting the ball and dragging Harry. In their case, lifting anchor and waiting for La Luna.

Just as we arrived to greet them outside of Porvenir in June, our engine overheated. During that first wonderful week of sailing together we had to go very slowly when we motored. Once we anchored,  EW would try yet another fix but when we set off the engine would overheat again. This continued when they went back to the states and while we stayed in Guna Yala working on the boat, and enjoying the region.  The Monday Morning Quarterback in me  now says we should have followed them to Linton in July and worked on the boat during their visit home.

Here is what EW has done since we arrived in Panama (none of which was on the To-Do list):

First, while we were in Guna Yala he:

  • Replaced our fresh water pump with Kook’s salt water pump so we could access our water
  • Replaced the impeller and doing any number of other projects to fix the over-heating issue. None of which worked.

IMG_1816Later, when Keith and Jaime returned we sailed to Linton Bay Marina to meet them, and stayed on the dock for nearly three weeks. Thankfully the marina is under construction, so no amenities, but they only charged $10.00 a night. In July, no amenities meant no ramp to the docks and we could only fill our water tanks after the work crews had left for the day. It was rather surreal to see cruisers going up and down the docks with flashlights moving the hose from one boat to another. (We used to do the same thing during the day in very cold weather as we wintered on the dock in Maine, using one hose to fill everyone’s water tank).

While on the dock in Linton EW:IMG_1934

  • Returned Kook’s water pump  and replaced it with our new one—in a different location, requiring much angst and running new hose. (This should result in a pump that doesn’t need repair every couple of years.)
  • Cleaned and serviced the starboard jib sheet winch and the mainsheet winch.
  • Tore apart the engine, removed the heat exchanger and cleaned it. This was a massive project. So massive that things start to blur in my mind. Somewhere along the way the starting alternator died and he worked on both issues.
  • He found a great Alternator Guy in Colon, but that sentence does not begin to address the alternator issues, the fact that we had other electrical issues that kept frying the diode in the new starting alternator, and the fact that there is no such thing as a quick trip to Colon from Linton Bay Marina. (Of course with electrical issues, we weren’t moving the boat closer to Colon, either.)
  • Ultimately, the large alternator for the house bank died, too, and Isaac our Alternator Guy repaired it. All told, EW made 6 trips to Colon just to see Isaac the Alternator Guy.

In the meantime, Keith and Jaime hung with us on the dock, where the women beat the men at Euchre a few nights. (The men beat the women on a few other nights.) After a while, they decided to visit the Chargres river, a trip EW and I will make later in the year. They returned and anchored near the marina, by which time we had a starting alternator and were pumping big water, so we left the dock and anchored out as well.

But things weren’t all fixed, so finally, Kookaburra left to head back to Guna Yala, where we planned to join them in a few days. We hauled anchor on schedule, discovered the large house bank alternator wasn’t charging the batteries and reset the anchor back in Linton Bay within three hours of leaving.

(There’s really no way to make this funny.)

Now Issac is a great guy and he really likes us, but his English is only a bit better than our Spanish. We asked the Marina Manager, Adam, to translate for us. Adam and Issac went above and beyond, as Adam came out to the boat and Issac spent time on the phone with him and EW walking them through various tests, proving that the alternator was fine, and that it must be a wiring issue.

A thorough examination of the wires proved him right, and scared us to death. The good news is the boat didn’t burn down. Wires were melted in at least three locations. EW turned white, and spent weeks rewiring the engine, alternators, starter—all that jazz.

This of course, required trips to Colon for parts. Remember, there is no such thing as a quick trip to Colon. There will be a post about that. It may be funny.

I kept  trying to get back into writing mode, and to work on the few projects while EW had all access ports to the engine opened, and tools, boat bits, and wires scattered throughout the main salon, pilot berth, cockpit, and (occasionally) the galley. He appropriated  one end of the dining table to use as an electrician's workbench. The aft stateroom and head were untouched; in the forward cabin and head  various parts and boat things were stashed to make room for EW to work. There was not a lot of space left for me.

Heck, I’d have left us for Guna Yala..

We missed celebrating Jaime and Keith’s 30th wedding anniversary, and I was determined to get back to Guna Yala before they head East. EW completed the wiring job, but things still weren’t working correctly. He emailed and called the maker of our external controller.. We tried to find a marine electrician we could pay to come down to the end of the line, to no avail. We sought the wisdom of other cruisers. This was an incredibly stressful few weeks. Part of me kept trying to support and encourage EW who was struggling to work way outside his comfort zone. Part of me kept trying to keep positive: “This too, shall pass. This will be funny someday.” Part of me lost it some days.

It didn’t help that while Digicel is the best cell phone/data option in Guna Yala, it is not the best in Puerto Lindo. Like Florida, Panama is prone to lots of rain and pretty amazing thunderstorms. Evidently Claro’s towers can withstand this, but Digicel’s cannot. We often had two days of no coverage at all, followed by a day or two with only enough for a phone call, but no Facebook, emails, or ability to search the net for assistance.

Now that we’ve been back in Guna Yala for a few days, what can I say about the moral or lesson or atmosphere aboard La Luna?

  • The moral is a reminder that this cruising life is like every other life choice—you have to accept and the good with the bad. It helps if you can accept it with some humor. It helps even more if you have the skills to fix it. The best help of all is if there are two of you working in tandem, boosting each other’s morale, laughing with each other, and hugging at night (if it isn’t too hot to hug).
  • The lesson is that cruising plans are cast in sand. While we continued to miss Keith and Jaime and while I fret over time lost with them, and while this wasn’t  the ideal place to deal with these issues, it was a safe place and most things were available to us—even though they may require all day in Colon with a two hour bus ride on both ends.
  • The atmosphere aboard La Luna was mostly good. We didn’t getting enough exercise, but we gradually got things done, ate well, watched movies to relax, and worked together. We met wonderful people, cruisers, locals, and folks at the new marina, and since Jim and Christine on S/V Ullr were still around EW had someone to play music with a couple of days a week.

All is not lost. All isn’t anywhere near lost.


Panama: Where East is West and Nothing is Near and There's No Such Thing as a Quick Trip to Colon

Panama Directions I have an excellent sense of direction, except on islands—and sometimes in Panama. When the full moon rose one night in Linton Bay I was nonplussed for a moment, thinking it was rising from the west. On the Caribbean side, Panama has a snaking, curving coast, so the mountains on the mainland are south of us. On the chart, we are anchored west of Isla Grande under that big messy red dot. Our cruising ground in the Guna Yala are inside the messy red circle.

This anchorage/marina is the shortest distance from the Guna Yala where one may take a bus or taxi to Colon or Panama City. That doesn’t mean it’s easy. It means it’s possible. A bit closer to Colon is the town of Portabelo, where one can anchor and go ashore and catch the bus. There are pluses and minuses for anchoring in Portabelo: On the plus side, it’s on the regular bus route and more buses go between Colon, Sabinitas, and Portobelo than go to the end of the line. We anchored at Linton Bay Marina, which is close to the end of the bus line and offers fewer buses. Also on the plus side for Portabelo, there area a couple of hardware stores, a few small groceries, an excellent Panamanian bakery, a good fruit and vegetable vendor, and Captain Jack’s, the cruisers’ hangout. On the minus side, we have been told not to leave our dinghy ashore overnight, and Portobelo, surrounded by mountains, makes its own weather. It may rain nearly every day in Panama during the rainy season, but it always rains in Portobelo. Also, bad thunderstorms occur more frequently there than they do where we opted to anchor. I will put up with quite a bit of inconvenience to avoid severe lightning.

This cruising life is a trade off.

IMG_2023The big trade off is that end of the bus line thing. Affectionately known as “chicken buses” these old, retired, US school buses are often pimped out with graphics and giant versions of those bicycle handle bar streamers we all used to have in my youth. In addition, they have generally taken out the last two seats to allow for large backpacks, bicycles, and groceries, and they have installed pipes along the ceiling so folks standing have something to hold. To say folks are squeezed in would be an understatement. “How tightly are passengers squeezed together?” you might ask. On his last run back from Colon, EW was squished into the window by a rather large woman on the aisle, who was being pressed herself by someone standing in the aisle. At the end of the trip,  EW’s elbow had been rubbed raw on the window molding. Trips to Colon will take about two hours and are never comfortable—though that’s our only injury thus far.

Still, for weeks, one or the other of us would plan a “quick trip” to Colon. One in which we’d scoot in to pick up something that had been ordered or repaired, with the intention of getting on—if not the next bus back, the one after that. It never happens. And—since the buses to “Laguaria”—the end of the line don’t run during the afternoon, if one misses the last mid-day bus, one waits until 3:30 to begin the trek. If one is burdened with groceries, a case of beer, or two alternators, it is best to go to the dingy bus station so that said heavy things can be easily loaded into the back of the bus, and so that you are sure to get a seat.

We usually try to catch the 6:10 bus at the marina going toward the end of the line so that we have seats when the school kids get on at that end. On my “quick trip” I opted to leave at 7:10, and shared a seat with a cruiser from Columbia, who speaks some English. As we entered the last stop before turning back towards Colon, the bus was waved over by the police, who boarded and walked down the aisles. I’m not sure what they expected to achieve, but gathered that two German tourists had been robbed and the police were trying to find the culprits. We sat on the hot bus for 45 minutes, after which the driver returned and we resumed our regularly scheduled program.

It took me well over two hours to get to Colon that day, but my task was quick and easy and I opted to catch the return bus near the Quarto Altos Mall. Every seat was taken except for one full, two-person seat which had two small bags of items sitting all alone. One woman conveyed that I could take it, but I understood she had been holding the seat for someone. I left the groceries in the seat until a gentleman sat next to me and I had to take them up. This kind of ticked me off. This is the only time I’ve been on the bus without having to hold groceries or boat parts or an alternator and there I was, holding someone else’s stuff.

People got on. People got off.  The man next to me got off and someone else got on. In the meantime, I’d use my phone to translate, “These are not my things,” which brought smiles to three ladies in my area, but no relief. Finally, one young woman with a small boy in her arms indicated I should do…something. At first I thought those were her packages, but no, the three ladies had been watching for a moment to get me into another seat, and she wanted me to move next to her quickly “rapidamente” before the school kids got on at the next stop. The bags  belonged to the first lady, who was saving a seat for her two school-age sons. Evidently this is Panama’s version of picking up the kids from school.

In addition, the three ladies had paid attention to me when I mentioned my destination as Puerto Lindo, and my young seat mate conveyed that this bus did not go through to the end, but stopped in Portobelo and turned around. “No problemo.” I said, followed by “Gracias.” I hopped off in Portobelo, helping my seat mate with her own packages, while she carried her baby down the cramped isles. There, I waited for a bus to the end of the line. I had left for my quick trip at 7:00 AM. I arrived in Colon after 9:30 and completed my one mission there in just 20 minutes. Still, I didn’t get back to the marina until 4:00 PM

Proving once again, that there is no such thing as a quick trip to Colon.