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July 2015

And For Our Next Trick ...

So this is what we woke up to. It comes as no surprise as this is exactly how it looked when we went to bed. Today we have to figure out how to plumb the new water pump in its new location.
A frequent phrase in La Luna is, "You can't push a rope." Evidently the same cannot be said for water. For 13 years the fresh water pump on La Luna has remained in the place the former owner had installed it. The pumps have burned out more often than they should and the new pump specifies that it should be placed no greater than 6 feet from the feed tank.
Ours was 20 so the pump had to pull water a long way from the tank before pushing it to the faucets. Burn out. EW decided to install the new pump close to the tank and that of course opens up a whole new can of worms. Time to install new pump in old location: 30 minutes. Projected time to install new pump in new location: 6 hours. Actual time: 8 hours and counting.
We don't yet know how to correct the problem. We d know it will require new hose and fittings and they are in under the V-berth. More mess. Today I get to join the fun.
Oh joy.
Just another day in paradise.

Two Days on the Docks

We are in a slip at Linton Marina---or what will be Linton Marina someday. Right now they have three piers with slips, a trailer office, and lots of construction. Crews work here 6 days a week and are currently constructing a travel lift and a launch ramp, as well as getting power to one of the docks. This weekend they will host a fishing tournament and evidently those boats need power. The sailboats on the other two docks rely on wind, solar, and generators. Power boaters are weenies.
Non weenies were the focus of our first full day on the dock when the marina hosted a triathlon. Competitors swam around the docks, carried their bikes up to the road for the second heat, and collapsed after running across the finish line. I dragged EW out of bed at 0600 so we didn't miss anything. He was not pleased but he rallied.
I rewarded him with Friday Pizza Night on Sunday, so he's OK. Or he was. We followed yesterday's busy day with a somewhat unplanned provisioning trip. Keith and Jaime offered to show us the two nearest towns for shopping and Keith wanted to get an early start so we caught the 0730 bus. I had thought that the towns were just a short way from here and had decided that we would check out the stores, get what we needed for a few days and I would go in later in the week to provision for six weeks.
The larger town is 57 kilometers from the marina. Traveling on a local bus got us there after 0900. I had my master list with me and we got her done. Between the two boats, we spent well over $700.00, earning us a free lift back in the store's van. We arrived home starving, ate left-over pizza, and stored everything---finishing after 1800 (6PM).
We were as hot, sweaty, and tired as the triathletes. But not in as good shape and yet we didn't collapse. We did cool down on deck with gin and tonics. Tomorrow we'll start the boat projects early in the we can go to lunch at a French restaurant.
This cruising life is tough. No doubt about it.

East Meets West and Has a Ball

IMG_1276If either John or Lela played an instrument, EW would be absolutely ecstatic. As it is, he is merely very happy, having fun, and eating well. We are still anchored in Sabudupored, where the snorkeling is fine, the thunderstorms mild and not right overhead, and the neighbors are both strong and good-looking. It doesn’t hurt that Lela is a fantastic cook and a generous soul.

We met them in the Lemon Cays where they invited us and Jim and Christine from Ullr on board their cat, Yachtsman’s Dream, for grilled hamburgers on the Fourth of July. John and Lela are from Richmond, Washington (that’s the western USA) while we are from Maine (and kind of Florida—both eastern USA). Hence, the East Meets West. John is retired from the navy and Lela is a retired nurse. They have two sons and one grandson, and sail a catamaran. Other than that, we are just alike.

Not really, but we all enjoy each other, we all have have a well-developed sense of humor, and we all help each other out. Furthermore, we all like to eat, two of us like to cook and two willingly clean up after the cooks. See, we are twin couples from different mothers. What we are – are cruisers. The longer we cruise, the more people  we meet, and the more places we visit, the better I understand what makes a successful cruising couple. * Some of those qualities are:

  • The desire—if not to be different—then certainly not to be bored. Those who cruise want to do something relatively few have done or are doing. While there may be more cruisers sailing the seven seas than ever before, this is still a lifestyle not for the average sailing couple.
  • The ability to work together in every freaking area of their lives. There are few secrets on a cruising boat. Essentially you know where the other is at every moment of the day. Literally. One can rarely use the head without the other knowing. We plan everything together, from a shopping trip to the next cruising destination. We may not share all tasks, but we are prepared to help each other with any task, and are often called upon. Furthermore, there are few tasks that do not impact the other person.
  • Flexibility. We don’t always get to where we planned to go when we planned to arrive. The veggie boat doesn’t show up for four days. It rains buckets when we were supposed to go on a shopping trip in Grenada. The dinghy motor (or any one of a million other things) breaks down. Successful cruisers deal with it. We may bitch and complain and use “OH NO Mr. Bill!” words (remember duck rhymes with…) but we fairly quickly learn to adjust course, change plans, fix nearly everything, and move on to whatever awaits.
  • Being your partner’s best friend. We are often alone on board for a few days at a time (longer during passages) and it would be absolutely impossible if we didn’t enjoy each other’s company. Every successful cruising couple clearly make compromises for each other’s needs, and clearly enjoy most of the time they spend alone together.
  • The ability to make new friends and accept others as they are. I certainly left some great friends behind when we started cruising, and I’m thankful that we are all still great friends even though we are far apart and living vastly different lives. Still, cruisers discover that there is plenty of room in their lives for new great friends, and we form strong bonds with other sailors. EW and I have a long list of cruising couples (and singles) with whom we have formed firm friendships—the kind that will keep us in touch forever. After all, one of the reasons we came here was to see Jaime and Keith from S/v Kookaburra. They’re due back in a few days and we are anxious to see them again.

We hope we get to introduce them to John and Lela – who also embody all of those qualities (as do Jim and Christine from Ullr and Becky and Denny from Kokomo. Meeting people like this is one of the reasons I love cruising.

So, back to the original point of this post. Both La Luna  and Yachtsman’s Dream left the East Lemon Cays and headed east. We went to the Green Island group for better cell phone connection, and they went to islands a bit farther north to check out the snorkeling. (Snorkeling is to Lela what writing is to me and music is to EW.)  A few days later they hailed us on the VHF to see whether there was room for another boat here in the anchorage. Oh yeah. We were alone here, and there was plenty of room. Since then, we’ve snorkeled together, Lela had kayaked while I have paddled on Keith’s board, John and I did a trash burn on the beach, we took a dinghy ride to “town”, and we have both hosted the other boat for dinner on numerous occasions.

The burn happened just after they arrived. I had told EW that he had to deal with the trash and he and John set up a time for a beach burn, and then it rained a bit. After the rain, both EW and I realized that he couldn’t go to the beach due to the sand fleas (remember, they come out after a rain) since Lela is afflicted the same way, John and I did the burn. Lela was cooking Thai food that night and had invited us over. (Yeah, life is tough when you cruise with great cooks.) John and I have a bit to learn about running a trash burn, but we got ‘er done. EW had felt guilty for deserting the expedition and hoped I hadn’t been uncomfortable going ashore with a man who was relatively unknown to us. “No problem!” I said. “We got along like a house afire.” “Did you really just say that?” asked EW. And I told him about our adventure including (icky alert. the following anecdote may not be suitable for landlubbers):

“John realized that we both were burning our used toilet paper and we talked heads for a bit.” (NOTE: Cruisers talk about heads just like new parents talk about their baby’s poop. It happens.) “We had a bit of trouble getting the fire going,” I continued, “but we worked it out. Seems fire is a bad thing on Navy subs so that’s not John’s best skill. He said that ‘ The Hunt for Red October’ is the best submarine movie. We had a good time. He even laughed a  couple of my jokes.”  EW asked about the jokes. “Well,” I said, “He told me Lela was spending the time cleaning the boat for company. I said, ‘You mean us?’ and he said ‘Yes.’ I told him we were no longer company. We’ve already eaten aboard your boat once, you’ve been on our boat, and we are burning used toilet paper together. I think once you burn toilet paper together you can no longer be considered company.”

EW rolled his eyes. “You really said that?” “Sure. He was a bit startled but he laughed.”

IMG_5995Since then, we’ve had more dinners together, shared recipes, books, movies, and lots of stories. Lela has provided her itch relief treatment to fellow bug sufferer EW, and EW helped them fix their outboard. I led that expedition to Nargana for provisions as I’m the only one of the four who had been there.

So that’s what it’s like when Eastern cruisers meet Western cruisers. State- or even country-of-origin doesn’t matter. Once you’ve broken bread together, shared stories and laughter, helped each other a bit, and burned your personal waste together… you are friends for life.

And that’s what makes a successful cruising couple.

*My apologies to those solo sailors, both men and women, who started out as part of a couple, or were brave enough to follow their dream alone. I cannot conceive of doing that. You all amaze me. I’m part of a cruising couple, which presents its own rewards and challenges.


P.S. Since this post was written and before it was published, we were joined by Ocean Star and Ullr. We went on a group snorkel and Yachtsman's Dream (as the only Cat) hosted all of us for tapas and sun-downers. Music provided by EW and Jim on Ullr. Oh yeah. Life is definitely good.








Two Guna ladies, one in traditional dress, the other, who lives in Panama city, dressed in a more modern style.





To go with the Thai dinner, I made coconut cookies (and banana bread for EW) both from the cookbook I own thanks to the recommendation of another cruising friend for life, Diana from One White Tree.



Lela choosing tomatoes at the larger of the stores on Nargana. Cruisers call this store “Wal-Mart”.

Postlet on a Sunny Day

Finally! A sunny day. This morning started cloudy and we ran the generator again. Now the breeze and sun are keeping the batteries up.
We are in siesta mode. EW is napping and I'm waiting until 2 before taking a paddle on my borrowed SUP. Not complaining but the sun us hot; I will wear long sleeves and apply zinc oxide to my face.
This morning I completed all assigned tasks and sent an article off to All at Sea Caribbean AND I did two bucket loads of laundry. I have, of course, washed everything from our wet salty passage, now I'm trying to get caught up with the weekly stuff.
Still only La Luna and one other boat here in Sabudupored --- which I pronounced perfectly on the net this morning. See, I can learn new things.
I promise to have EW take a photo of me on the SUP. One day.

Postlet: A Cloudy Day in Sabudupored

Good Monday morning from La Luna at anchor off Sabudupored. I will not say "Sabudupored Island" as the "dup" means "island" and that would be redundant. So we are at Sabudupored, which I keep repeating in an attempt to remember it for tomorrow's Panama Cruisers' Net. Continuing to say "Sabu-whatever" is embarrassing.
It's been cloudy in Sabudupored, though we got in an excellent snorkel and swim yesterday with our neighbors John and Lela from Yachtsman's Dream. This is a lovely, quiet anchorage in the Green Island Group, where the best WiFi can be found. We will be here at least until I email a few articles that have July deadlines.
We had thunder storms last night and have heard rumblings this morning, which means I must keep the oven available for the electronics. Protocol on La Luna requires that all portable devices live in the oven during storms. No baking banana bread until the all clear.
So, I can write on the laptop until/unless the storm develops---or I can clean. Which would you chose?
Writing it is!
Here's a photo of the storms in the mountains yesterday. Those were not our storms. Our storms came from the north. We were the middle in a lightening sandwich.
Oh joy.
No issues. No worries. All is just fine on this cloudy day in Sabudupored. (Dang! Still had to cheat to write that.)
PS. This is a test of the new short post or "Postlet" (like Piglet but not as cute) System using the BluPhone. Please let me know via FaceBook whether or not the photo was visible on the blog. Thank you.

Panama Spam

IMG_1165I haven’t done a “Spam” post in a while. It’s a great way to provide a bunch of tidbits about our current location. “Spam” posts were started in The Bahamas when I took a photo of three shelves of different varieties of Spam in the local grocery store. The world doesn’t need that much Spam, and it may not need another one of my mashed together bits of into, but that’s what you get.

San Blas or Guna Yala? The Spanish named these islands the San Blas, more recently, the people who own these islands, the Guna, have let it be known that they prefer the region be known as Guna Yala. If you read about this region in the past, you know them as Kuna. There is no “K” in their alphabet, so they prefer “Guna”. Some cruisers still pronounce it Kuna. The sound is in the language, not the letter. You confused? In the future I will use the term Guna Yala more often than San Blas.

The Topography. These are not the tall volcanic islands of the Eastern Caribbean (or of the Azores). These islands have more in common with photographs I’ve seen of the Pacific, and are small sand islands with coconut palms. They are surrounded by a whole lot of reefs, so navigating is tricky, but the anchorages are lovely, the swimming and snorkeling is great, and we are sailing every few days. It does not suck.

Boat Life. We have friends here as Jaime and Keith from S/V Kookaburra are enjoying their second year in the region. Our week with them was chock full of sailing, anchoring in new spots, learning to navigate some of the reefs and to respect all of them,, meeting fellow cruisers, and playing music. (Jaime found at least three other boaters who play and jam. EW is happy. They’ve gone back to the States for a few weeks and—while we miss them, we are doing boat projects, still cleaning up from the trip, and getting use to sailing in an area much more remote than we’ve ever experienced. Good thing EW and I like each other.

IMG_1131Groceries. Not many. In 150 square miles of the most visited islands, there is one island known for having a number of stores that stock for cruisers. (Actually two islands joined by a foot-bridge.) (And I use the term “stock for cruisers” loosely. Very loosely) Since this is not the busy season and there are fewer than 50 cruising boats in the region, the shops are not stocking many items. A few of the Guna with power boats do still bring veggies, fruits, and groceries to those anchored away from Nargana, the island with stores. We did learn this week that there is a store on the only island that has fresh water available and I had much better luck getting provisions there. Between the two, we rely on the veggie boats, and the Guna who catch and sell fish, lobster, and crab. The crab is delicious.’

Laundry. Remember my old post from back in the day when I was discovering washing laundry in a bucket using ammonia? That was fine as a novelty, but over the past 5 years,  I’ve generally hit the laundry every other week. Here, there is no laundry facility and I will be washing in the bucket through November. We arrived after 12 interesting days with a huge pile of salt water laden clothes, and it took over a week to get them all washed and dried. Now I’m catching up on regular laundry, and have learned new things about bucket laundry.

  1. I should have bought more clothespins and another bucket.
  2. Ammonia doesn’t work on food stains. Some loads you just have to treat and use soap, and rinse. Deal with it.
  3. Two bucket loads fill up the two  clotheslines on the foredeck.
  4. We need to wear less. I found three sport shorts in St. Thomas and will seek more everyday outfits than can be worn on the boat and in the water and washed out after our afternoon dip. (Full disclosure: In our current anchorage, clothing for the afternoon dip is optional. We are find we like that.)

The People. The Kuna are interesting. They are a closed society in that marriage outside of the society is forbidden. They are an autonomous society in that, while they are residents of Panama, the chiefs set the rules for this region, and work to ensure that the people don’t lose their old ways. Still, each populated island has a Panamanian school which the children attend wearing uniforms much like those in the Eastern Caribbean. Also, many of the adult population in the towns no longer wear traditional dress. And practically everyone has a cell phone.

Many of them still make as sell molas, squares of fabric with designs created largely by cutting away layers of fabric cloth to reveal certain colors to create images or geometric designs. There are traditional molas and tourist molas. One of the master mola makers showed us a design he does of a Christmas tree; this is not a traditional mola. We’ve opted for two so far, made by two different master mola makers; one depicts a sea turtle and the other a ray.

IMG_1160Most people are friendly, helpful, and honest. and while every day folks stop by to see if we want to purchase molas, crab, lobster, or groceries, a simply “No Gracias” will send them on their way. At this anchorage, we had visitors of a different sort.  We had spent Wednesday going into one of the few settled islands to get water (That’s another long story, already written to send to a magazine.) We had come out to an anchorage near the island of Sabudupored, that Jaime and Keith just call “Workman” because it’s usually empty and they can get a lot of work done. The theory is that if there aren’t a lot of boats, there are fewer Guna stopping by to sell stuff. Not so much.

Wednesday had been a long (though great) day and we just wanted to settle back in the cockpit and enjoy a gin and tonic with fresh limes purchased on the dock. But just as I had pulled out the gin,  three drunk boaters came by in a nice newish fiberglass local boat. They wanted gas and beer and EW sold them some. One wanted photos with us and showed no interest in going; he owned the new boat and he was the happy, insistent, and friendly guy, out for a day on the water and indulging in too many beers. That guy. He lives everywhere. He said he was a “professional” electrician and worked at the power plant and he’s very proud to have a job like that, which obviously provides a good income. They drank the three beers and wanted more, but EW did manage to get them to go home. The whole encounter only lasted about 20 minutes and we were able to move on to our G and Ts. 

On Thursday, we worked at Workman. EW has a long list of repairs, and I am still cleaning, and need to write. He fixed the fridge fan and worked on the engine, while I defrosted the freezer, cleaned the fridge and wrote 4000 words. Not a bad day at all. Again, we were just thinking about stopping for the day, when I heard another power boat and a Guna man calling out “Hola!” I stayed below and when I heard EW say, “Pepsi” I thought this person wanted a Pepsi, but he was selling Pepsi.  EW bought a six pack, and gave the man a $20. (Note to self and spousal unit: We will get LOTS of small bills when we go to town later this month.) Instead of giving us change, the salesman/con artist asked whether he could sell us anything else, and offered onions, veggies, fruits – none of which he had on board. I said yes, we needed more veggies. (When in the Guna Yala, get fresh stuff whenever you can.) He let go of La Luna and began to drift away, repeated my list back to me and said he’s see us “manana”. As EW called him back for the change, but he waved it and said, “No problem! No Problem!” He was slick; as EW said, “He left before I could beat him up!” The whole thing happened so quickly that we could only laugh. So far, at 1500 on “manana” we have not seen him or our 13.00 dollars of change.  Lesson learned.

To be fair to us and the Guna, a few days ago we bought $10.00 worth of crabs and the fisherman took our $20 to another boat and got change and came back. That is the more usual experience here.

Gotta dash. Keith on Kook kindly left his large green stand up board for us to use and I need to exercise today. Time to get wet, followed by pizza night.

Lost in Guna Yala

I understand that those who follow me on Facebook, may have seen Gisele Young or some such automatic spell check when I posted about being in this part of Panama. We are in Guna Yala, the islands close to the shore of southeastern Panama. You may have heard of them as the San Blas, which is what the Spanish named these islands. The Guna Indians are an autonomous nation inside of Panama and have decreed that they want their region and people to be called by the correct name. Confusing the issue for we who cruise, most folks know of this tribe as Kuna Indians, because that is how one pronounces their name. But---just as in Maine when we add that extra "r" to Augusta when we pronounce it "Auguster"---the Guna Indians have no letter "k" in their written language, so they want it written with "G" -- but you say "K". (As for Maine, now you know where all those lost "rs" went. We know a woman who introduced herself as "Melisser". Cracked us up.

Now then, you haven't heard from us because we've been hella-busy, and because we are still learning how to work the phone/wifi situation. I am running the local morning cruising net on Wednesdays and said this morning that I hadn't any local weather because my signal had been slow, going on to say, "I feel that I 'm missing a step, such as clicking my heels three times and saying 'There's no place like Google. There's no place like Google.'" So, while I have been taking photos and would love to send out a post showing the area and our happy faces, and the happy faces on Kookaburra, you just get words today.

It's been just over a week since we arrived, to be greeted by the dulcet tones of Jaime as we spoke on the radio. They led us directly into Provenir to check in, and we followed them like a larger, slower duckling for the next week. There are a lot of reefs here in Guna Yala---and a number of lovely anchorages near tiny, low islands. These are not the hilly, volcanic islands of the Eastern Caribbean and the Azores, these are sand spits with coconut palms, nearly surrounded by reefs with breaking waves.

Jaime and Keith had a deadline, as they are flying back to Massachusetts this week for three weeks off the boat and a wedding, and they had a plan of anchorages they wanted us to learn. Of course, we all wanted to spend time together, have fun, play Euchre, drink a bit, break bread, sail, and play with at least one dog. Everything was accomplished. As a bonus, they made sure EW met two guys who play guitars and like to get together and jam. All is good.

So, let's see. How about a story?

I had been anxious to get into the water, and finally did a bit of swimming after we anchored on the third day. I'm not a really strong swimmer, but can stay afloat and moving for quite a long time with mask, snorkel, and fins on. Well, I thought I could. On the fourth day we moved to this lovely anchorage in Holandes Cays. According the oracle Panama cruising guide, we can't get into that anchorage, but Keith and Jaime knew otherwise. They are also sailing a catamaran and were able to go ahead, checking depth and confirming that we had "plenty water" -- or 11 feet (4.5 below the keel for La Luna). It's a lovely anchorage, and I wanted to go for an exercise snorkel swim. I generally put my mask and snorkel on while on the deck, and climb down the ladder with fins in hand, putting them on when I'm in the water. First mistake. Actually, the first mistake was noting in my mind that the swim ladder seemed to be more horizontal than vertical---and doing nothing different.

You know where this is going, right?

I very quickly realized that the current was moving faster than I could put my fins on. No problem, the dinghy was still astern, so I could hold onto that and put my fins on. Not easily, and nearly impossible while holding the second fin. So I put it in the dinghy. (Remember Deedle Deedle Dumplin', My Son John"? Yep, I ended up steaming away from La Luna with one fin on and one in the dinghy. I called to EW in that non panicky but means business voice and he popped up on deck to see his bride of almost 30 years traveling rapidly away from the mother ship.

"I'm OK!" I yelled and waved. "Just can't get home!" Of course the dinghy motor had been causing problems so it was on deck. Of course we had been towing the dinghy and the seat and oars were removed. Of course EW grabbed a rope and realized that I had already sped beyond the length of that rescue option. In the meantime, Kookaburra had anchored a bit closer to the tiny island, up current of our boat. Jaime was getting into the water to check their anchor and join me, when she saw me heading west at a rapid clip. She pointed to me and looked at Keith who said, "I'm on it." They stow their dinghy lifted aft of the deck with the motor on and he was already launching "Livingston" as Jaime was pointing out my situation.

Jaime, who is much more fit than I am, jumped into the water with both fins on (now there's an idea) and swam/floated to La Luna, checking our anchor along the way. In the meantime, Keith yelled over to EW, "Does she have her fins on?" EW (I am sure rolling his eyes) "One." "Well that's no good," said Keith. Jaime got to the stern of our boat and asked EW, "Does she have her fins on?" Same reply. Same reply to the reply.

At this point, I knew I would get rescued and thought I'd make it easy on Keith. I was never in any danger of heading out to sea; we had negotiated a whole lot of reefs to get into that anchorage, and I would have ended up on one or on "Bug Island", had there not been a Canadian catamaran anchored a ways behind us. As I swept parallel to their anchor line, I started swimming for their boat and just barely made it far enough south while moving west to grab their stern. There I sat, waving to the team, letting them know I was fine. Since the excitement was over, Jaime decided to swim to Kook. She got as far as our bow before deciding it wasn't worth it. Tough current. She floated back to La Luna's stern and waited for "Livingston".

The next night a boat anchored near where the Canadian cat had been. Two young men decided to swim to the island. One did quite well, but the other was going only a smidge faster than the current, and would lose ground when he rested. He was near La Luna, where we were playing Euchre, and we asked him how it was going. "It's slow," he said with a strong German accent, while he struggled not to lose ground. "Glad I have my fins on."

"You should try it with just one," I replied. While my three rescuers laughed, the swimmer looked puzzled and continued toward shore.

So, the first snorkeling lesson for the Guna Yala area: In strong currents, take the dinghy, up stream, tie a line from it around your waist and float back. Of course, you will have to get into the dinghy from the water at the end. There are three methods for that, see that blog post with videos written in St. Thomas for tips and another really good laugh at my expense.

I live to serve.