Today we visited the Interpretive Centre here in town and were pretty impressed.  We learned the evolution of the islands including how the unique animals arrived here, and how they adapted to survive.  In the history section, we were surprised to discover how many times people had attempted to settle here.  It’s a harsh climate, though, with very little in the way of fresh water so there were many failures.  For a time, it was also a penal colony.  There was also a section about the people and their efforts to keep these islands naturally pristine and self-sustainable.

The Interpretive Centre is set amidst wild yet well-tended grounds and we hiked up to a few lookout points and continued on past the beaches on the way back to town.  A good day’s exercise!

Tomorrow we are headed to Santa Cruz, the main island in the archipelago.  This is the spot we were originally meant to land until we heard how terrible the anchorage is.  It’ll be interesting to check it out.

18 April  2013…   Leaving The Galapagos (sniff!)  

As it turns out, Santa Cruz was no great shakes.  It’s a tourist town so it has a lot more shops and a better selection of restaurants but that’s about it.  The anchorage looked calm, but we bumped into some of our friends there who soon put that theory to rest.  They were headed onward in short order –even those on the catamaran deemed it too rolly! 

We enjoyed visiting the Darwin Research Centre but honestly, we liked the Interpretive Centre here in San Cristobal just as much, if not more so. 

The final nail in Santa Cruz’s coffin was that there are virtually no sea lions!  Although the one we did see was highly entertaining (you’ll have to wait for the photos for that one!).

Did I mention that it’s also a long, crappy, expensive ride to get there?

Despite it all, we’re still glad we visited Santa Cruz.  We did see a land iguana, which was new for us.  It taught us how vastly different each of these islands are from one another in terms of both topography and wildlife.  For example, there’s a good reason why we haven’t seen any penguins (on my wish list).  They’re best seen on Isla Isabella.  And to be fair, you can’t see everything on a day trip, no matter how small the island.

The trip did vindicate our decision to land in San Cristobal.  We were told that Santa Cruz was the place to be for amenities and activities but we opted instead for what we were told is the more comfortable anchorage.   While it can still get pretty rolly, we’ve been very happy here at San Cristobal.  It is safe, the people extremely friendly and they’re proud of the fact that their island is quiet and natural –right down to their lagoon water (Santa Cruz operates off a desalinator).  And while I’m sure we wouldn’t have known what we were missing, I can’t imagine a trip to The Galapagos without our beloved sea lions!  Every day they have given us many smiles and chuckles and have been a big part of our visit here.  We agreed today that we will miss them when we leave!   This stop will mostly certainly be a highlight of our tour.

Our time here draws to a close as we prepare to leave Saturday and we’ve been doing well at plugging away at our tasks.  For the last week and a half we’ve been hauling our water 25-30 gallons at a time and wouldn’t you know that the first rain we’ve seen in almost 3 weeks comes along the DAY we top off the tanks?!  Figures.  Diesel is taken care of, laundry done and food mostly prepped.  Maybe if I’m a really good little 1st Mate and get the spinnaker repaired promptly tomorrow I can convince the Captain that there’s time for one more try at snorkeling with the sea lions at the cove before we leave (for today’s efforts were a bust)!   Sshhhhh…. He hasn’t proofread this yet!

This website is as up to date as I can manage right now (we have bad restaurant food to thank for that, as we were both stuck at home for a full day!).  I still owe photos for Las Perlas Islands and of course here.  As you can imagine, I have a ton to sift through!   In the meantime, I’ll still be chatting with you; you just won’t hear about it for another few weeks!  Next stop: Nuku Hiva, The Marquesas Islands, French Polynesia.  At 3000 miles, this will be our biggest jump of the trip: 3-4 weeks depending on wind.

Ciao for now!

Photos: The Galapagos I  &  The Galapagos II

Speaking of awesome people, I would like to thank all of you who have been following along, and for all your support through emails and on Facebook.  We don’t always have the luxury of internet on the boat and are often in a café or bar racing against the computer battery, the dinner rush or whatever.  As a result, I may not always comment on your FB posts but we do read them and appreciate them very much!  The website is a big job and it’s great to know that people find it interesting enough to follow along.  We’ve been between 150-200 hits per week for a few weeks, now.  So thanks to all of you for making it a worthwhile endeavour!

It has been fun getting back in the groove of writing again.  From the sad state of the website over the last few years, you can see that’s it’s not something I’ve been doing a lot of!  I’ve had to bend my brain a bit as I’ve forgotten some stuff.  For example, I had to look up how to use proper punctuation with brackets, duh!  Yes, I’m a geek.  But I still have fun writing things like I say them, so I will start sentences with “but” sometimes.  Brackets will abound (because they come in handy).  Hyphens, too –they’re just as handy as brackets!   Incomplete sentences.  I’m still gonna spell things kinda funny ‘cuz it’s how I would say it.  And I will start sentences with “and” ‘because sometimes I still have only just a little more to say.

Spellcheck be damned!  It’s been screaming at me anyways for my Canadianisms.

Photos:  The Canal Zone

21 March 2013…   Las Perlas Islands

The Archipelago of Las Perlas lies about 35 miles SE of Panama City.  We were planning on spending only a few days here but the wind to The Galapagos is nil right now.  Needless to say, wind is free while fuel is expensive and limited, so we’ll wait it out!  Anyway, it’s no big tragedy -we’re just happy to be out of the city and every couple of days we’re met with another beautiful island and beaches to explore.

Our first stop was Isla Contadora, the most developed of the group of islands.  This is the playground for rich Panamanians on the weekends, and it shows.  Walking around the island, the homes are very pretty with their manicured lawns and flowered archways.  Obviously, a lot of money rolls through here.

Next was the uninhabited Isla Chapera, whose claim to fame is that a season of Survivor was filmed here.  As we hiked across the island, you could tell that trails were cleared for camera crews or whatever else needed to be trucked through there for filming.  We chuckled, but it isn’t all urbanized!   We were passing through an area of the trail that was only about a foot wide, and Travis was clearing the way of sticks and branches that were in our path at about waist level, only to discover that one of them wasn’t a stick.  I saw him jump back and yell, “Snake!”  He was harmless, or he just couldn’t be bothered (maybe he was a union actor) and went casually along his way.  Travis is convinced he was smirking at him as he slithered away.  “No one likes a sneaky serpent who takes advantage of hapless hikers,” he says!

We had a fire on the beach that evening with friends, and then we were off to our next piece of paradise: Isla Espiritu Santo.  I think this one is my favourite.  So far, anyway.  We were one of only three boats in the anchorage and you could hear the wildlife on the island.  It smells jungly and fantastic and while the phosphorescent plankton is great everywhere throughout these islands so far, I think it was the best here. 

There's not much on most of these islands.  Villages are few and far between and the two we encountered were much too far away from the anchorage for us to dinghy to with our little 2hp eggbeater outboard!   So we just putter around the islands and yesterday’s hike produced the perfect bamboo stick Travis has been looking for.  Everyone wants a fortune for their whisker poles down here, so he decided to make his own.  He plans to rig this stick so that it will hold the forward sail/spinnaker out in light winds, preventing it from flogging.  He's up top hacking away at it right now, machete and all.  It’s very primal.

Today we are anchored off another beautiful island, Isla Canas, and we have it all to ourselves.  It looks ripe for throwing the kayak in the water.  Tomorrow we’re heading out to Rio Cacique on the big island of Del Rey.  We have at least another few days to play around here, as we’re not expecting wind until at least mid-next week.

P.s.  Our autopilot doesn’t like vegetables.  Pulling into the first of the islands, it was going haywire and not making any sense.  Again.  Just when we thought we had the problem solved.  Racking our brains, trying to figure out what is different from the last time we used it with no problems, all we came up with is that we had put canned food in the locker next to it.  On a whim, we removed them all and took the boat out for a spin and it seems to be working fine.  In fact, a can of mixed veggies beside our magnetic compass at the helm makes it go just as crazy!  Amazing, since the can shouldn’t be magnetic.  But at the end of the day, we think we have the autopilot fixed (again) and Travis is even happier that he has yet another excuse to turn down his vegetables.  “See?  I told you they’re bad for you!”

26 March 2013…   Breaking Waves: 2 - Joanne: 0

Here’s what the guidebook says about Rio Cacique:

“Rio Cacique is a good anchorage and is nearly always smooth.  Take the dinghy up Rio Cacique, a scenic river full of wildlife.  Turn off the motor and glide through tall, partially submerged mangroves and rainforest in total silence.  Great bird watching.”

Sounds blissful, right?  What it should conclude with is, “Except when Travis and Joanne are here.”

The anchorage was a washing machine -beat the crap out of us all night.  In terms of our river cruise, we couldn't even get in the mouth of it.  Far too treacherous with violent waves breaking across the entrance.  We beached the dinghy a little further along and walked a stretch of the river, getting eaten by sandflies (those were the only birds we saw).  The trip back to CJ was an adventure all its own, as we had to time our departure with the waves breaking on the beach.  “Ok, NOW!” and we push the dinghy out, try to get the outboard down and started before the next wave comes crashing in.  Unfortunately, we couldn’t get the outboard going fast enough and the next wave rolled up swiftly under the dinghy.  I, on the bow, went flying straight up into the air.  I distinctly remember being exactly upside down, airborne, before being dropped head-first into the water.  I emerged unscathed, holding my sunglasses to my face but now the problem was that I was laughing too hard to get back into the dinghy as the waves continued to hit us one after another after another!  In fact, I giggled for most of the rest of the evening.

All this was reminiscent of our visit to Escudo the Veraguas on the Caribbean side where were trying the same maneuver, only with the kayak.  Obviously the outboard wasn’t the hindrance that time but our timing must have been off as I caught a big wave square in the face –and hard!  I’m still laughing about that one, too.

Anyway, after a crappy night’s sleep, we pulled anchor as soon as we could in the morning, hoping to head into Esmerelda Village, but beaching the dinghy there would have been just as sporty as the last attempt –something we weren’t willing to try with the supplies we were hoping to get there.  Continuing on to Punta Cocos, it wasn’t much better so we rounded the corner to arrive in Concholon Bay, a completely protected anchorage.  However, waves were crashing across the entrance there, too, so on to Isla San Jose we went, only to find yet another rolly anchorage -the guidebook says that “usually hardly a swell enters” here (quelle surprise!).  Basically, we motored around all day looking for a calm place to lay our weary heads for the night!  Our search concluded at Isla Pedro Gonzales where the calm bay was a most welcome sight.

So it was an interesting couple of days, not nearly as blissful as the days that preceded them.  When we called our friend in Key West for a weather update, we told him of our adventures and I could hear Travis on the phone asking for clarification, “Who cares about our problems?”  The answer was “nobody”.  And while he was being funny, there’s no doubt in my mind that he meant it!  Nobody cares about our problems as we float about on an ocean of clear warm water while they suffer cold front after cold front, he said.  It wasn’t the right time to tell him how icy the water actually is.  And we won’t bring up what my folks in Canada are enduring right now.  And I suppose I won’t go into details about how I hurt myself with scotch bonnet peppers this week, either.  Nobody cares.

We’re now at Isla Bayoneta and it looks like the weather is finally changing for transit to The Galapagos.  Six other cruising boats are departing today and we're gearing up to head out tomorrow.  There’s food to prepare, garbage to burn and things to stow.  I have to sew up our courtesy flag, too, but nothing too stressful.

On a more serious “problem” note, this departure window is a relief as we’re starting to get concerned about water.  With no water maker, we rely on our rain catchment system and we haven’t had any serious rainfall since Honduras.   The next couple of days would have seen me up top doing a rain dance!  We know that we have enough to get us to where we’re going, but floating around here for another week would have had us in dire straits.

Photos:  Las Perlas Islands, Panama

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30 March 2013…   Halfway There!

We’ve put about 425 miles under the keel.  The first day was super windy as we were leaving ahead of a cold front.  That and the current had CJ doing an impressive 10 knots at times!  She has never seen 10 knots –the closest is the 9 she did once, going down the side of a wave in a storm.  We made about 160 miles that first day!  Aaaaaannnd that was about it.  The wind went away.  Now there's scarcely enough to fly the spinnaker, and it can't make up its mind which direction it wants to come from.  In all the up and down of the spinnaker, we snapped our new whisker pole, too.  Boo.  Failed experiment.  And so, we are burning our precious fuel.  We're hearing hopeful news that the breeze could pick up in the next day or so, fingers crossed. 

On the plus side, I’m happy to be downstairs sitting at the computer instead of in the fetal position upstairs!  The first few days were less than fun, but I wasn’t feeling well to begin with so I was at a disadvantage.  Also, leaving ahead of the cold front had the seas confused which doesn’t help.  But today I feel great!

Last night I was on watch and who should come to visit but a pod of dolphins.  No disrespect to our good porpoise friends on the Caribbean side, but the Pacific dolphins are cool in their own right.  Travis thinks they’re Spinner dolphins: they’re smaller, they seem to travel in bigger pods and Wow!  Do they like to jump!  Their acrobatics have them completely out of the water -a lot!  Last night was particularly amazing because I could chart their movements by the phosphorescent plankton as they disturbed it.  It was like underwater fireworks.  Pretty amazing, and it warranted waking Travis up to see it.  It would have been even more mind-blowing if not for the brightness of the moon –we would have seen more of the glitter.  But still, you know, not too shabby ;)  It was a nice way to spend a Friday night!

02 April 2013…   Let’s Just Face It Already:  We Shoulda Bought a Trawler!

It’s been a hard slog, but we’re almost there.  We’ve had to deviate far off our rhumb line on a couple of occasions to make any headway.  The wind still isn’t cooperating and we continue to burn the fuel we were hoping not to touch.  If we had known we were motoring all the way there, we would have left a week sooner!  Ah, the adventure.

We haven’t seen a soul since Day 2, so watch has been pretty easy.  We did have a hitchhiker last night, though; we think he was a juvenile blue-footed boobie.  He landed on our bowrail in the early evening and stayed with us until morning.  We thought it was pretty cool until Travis discovered that he had crapped all over the place – the rail, the anchor, even UP the sail!  It was projectile!!  “I didn’t know a bird could have that much poo in it!” Travis exclaimed.  Those looking for favours should be more courteous!  Travis has instituted the new “Captains Law” that the only boobies allowed onboard are mine.

We're presently only a couple hundred miles from the equator and we have our offerings to Neptune at the ready!  Crossing the equator makes me a Shellback –sailors would add a turtle tattoo to their resume.  Some sort of ceremony is traditional.  I’ve heard of everything from wearing costumes to rolling around naked and soapy on deck.  I’ve seen a photo of one guy dressed up tin foil.   Man, a tin foil banana hammock has GOT to be scratchy!  The one thing everyone agrees on is that you must make an offering of liquid libation to Neptune.  Travis is already a Shellback, but he has his rum at the ready, anyway –it can’t hurt to be nice to the God of the Sea!  As for me, my champagne is chilling in the fridge.  It IS a special occasion!

6 April 2013…   Hello Galapagos!

We made landfall after 7 ¼ days at sea and set anchor in a rolly, rolly harbour.  And this is supposed to be the NICE anchorage (“unless Travis & Joanne are here”)!  After a weeklong voyage, it would be pretty annoying except for –oh yeah!- we’re in the Galapagos!  Anyway, we have to put up with it because we’re stuck in this anchorage for the duration.  Information was very difficult to obtain before arriving.  That and the fact that the rules just changed a few months ago means that we’re not able to visit any of the other islands with our boat without special permission, something that takes 2 weeks to get.  Therefore, all of our activities will be based here in San Cristobal, which is not the end of the world because… yep, you guessed it: we’re in the Galapagos!

Our third day here we took a tour of the island, hiking the rim of a volcano lake and visiting the marine iguanas and the giant tortoises.  It was a good tour, but the best thing going so far is the free nightly show aboard Calico Jack.  The sea lions love, love, love our underwater lights!  Within minutes of turning them on, up to four of them will be swarming in the beams of light and rubbing their cute bellies on the underside of our hull.  The stupid humans on board lean over the transom until their heads are blue, trying to catch the perfect photo/video.  Travis wonders if there will be any bottom paint left after our three weeks here; at the very least, there will be no need to scrub the transom area!

The sea lions are an endless source of entertainment on land, too.  They hang out on the park benches like bums.  While they’re messy and probably considered pests by the locals, we never tire of them.  They’re such characters, and they confirm what we’ve always thought: our dog is part sea lion!  One has to be careful, though.  We’re advised not to leave our dinghy in the water as we’re likely to have a boatload of poo in the morning!  The catamarans are constantly battling them, too, as they climb the stairs on their transoms and will make themselves right at home in their cockpits if they’re not adequately barricaded off.  We saw our neighour spend the better part of one morning scrubbing out his cockpit!  And so, our dinghy stays onboard and everyone commutes with the $1 water taxis.  We might leave the kayak in the water one night, though, just for the photo op.  It rinses out easily!

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11 April 2013…   Swimmin' with the BIG Fish!

We got wet this week on a two tank dive to Kicker Rock, called Leon Dormido in Spanish (the Sleeping Lion).  It’s a massive rock that we passed on the way in, about 2 miles offshore and very imposing with its sheer face dropping straight into the water.  It has a split with a current, so part of it was a drift dive.  

While the visibility wasn’t excellent (maybe 30ft), the locals were impressive!  We’ve never seen so many turtles in one place!  Also at home were white tip sharks, black tip sharks, Galapagos sharks and we were even lucky enough to spot a hammerhead.  I got buzzed by a sea lion that was so fast that I almost didn’t see him; Travis says he was as big as I am!   Of course, many smaller critters were at home, too, including an eel, a couple of interesting species of starfish, the colourful nudibranch, a variety of damsel and angel fish, sardines that roam in schools so big they blocked out the sunlight, and the frog fish that looked more like a lump of coral than a fish. 

Despite all this fun, my favourite part of the whole trip was our very first top at Isla Lobos –Sea Lion Island.  This was meant as a check-out dive to verify that our weight was correct and that we had some basic skills that would ensure that we would arrive back alive.  After all that biz was taken care of, we joined the snorkelers and went in search of sea lions.  We were told that the babies are about 4-5 months old right now, and very playful.  We swam for quite a ways and were starting to wonder where everyone was when our guide came swimming by in the company of two youngsters.  As clumsy as they are on land, they’re as graceful as ballerinas in the water as they swirled and twirled around me.  Travis was only a couple of metres away but they seemed to take a shine to just me.  Could be they were just hamming it up for the camera as they buzzed me and then returned head-on, on a collision course so near that it made me squeal through my snorkel!  I felt pretty special that day.  On my deathbed, I can see it making my top 10 even though the whole experience lasted less than a couple of minutes!
01 March 2013…   Transit Preamble Ramble

We’re nearing our transit date and doing our best to be organized.  Our friend Chris flies into Panama City from Key West tomorrow and we’re going to pick him up at the airport.  It’ll be like Christmas here on Calico Jack as he’s lugging in a number of things that we need.  Poor guy.  We’ll have to treat him extra well while he’s here!

Nic will also be joining us.  He’s the Cayman friend who has his boat in Bocas and he’s bussing over on Monday.  Our 5th is someone we’ve met here in Portobelo and it will be his second transit as he builds up sea time towards his captain’s license.  We’ll have a great crew on board and we’re super happy about that.

Other preparations will involve strapping things down, tying things up and moving things around!  Fuel cans will live inside so there’s adequate deck space and the cockpit cushions will cover our solar panels so they’re protected from projectiles while underway (more on that later!). 

The biggest task for me will be cooking for 6 for a couple of days: the 5 of us (easy), plus the Almighty Pilot with his MEAT and thick slice of tomato!  I’m trying to plan for one-pot types of meals that won’t have me stuck below for half the transit.

The transit itself has me a wee bit nervous and I’m not exactly sure why.  I’m not worried about damage to the boat because she’s in capable hands.  In fact, I’m the weak link, so I guess I’m nervous about ME screwing something up!  I think the bigger issue is that it’s finally dawning on me what a huge undertaking this trip is.  Much like how I don’t get excited about a trip until I’m actually on the plane, I think this is a case of us having been immersed in work for so long, moving towards this goal, and the enormity of it is only just sinking in.  Especially when confronted by something as finite as the canal crossing -there’s no turning back now!  Not that turning back was ever a consideration, I guess it’s just more real now as we cross the isthmus and begin our travels into new territory.  Well, new territory for me and CJ anyway!

On the cusp of this transit, we’re supposed to be all dialed in.  Any kinks in the boat systems should be ironed out while we can still access parts easily; all odds and ends should be organized and properly stowed; all our routines should be in place.  So how are we doing with all that?

Well, there’s always going to be something that needs repairing but we’ve made some good headway: 

-Autopilot working again.

-Ice machine issue resolved.  We bought a 3000W inverter from another cruiser at the marina.  Sure, you have to wonder much more to dump into a $160 ice maker that probably won’t last the trip, but we’re kind of committed at this point!  Anyway, the inverter powers the blender/food processor, too.

-And I’m pleased to announce that after 6 years, we’ve finally located the weird, intermittent airlock in our fuel system so it no longer stalls out at random intervals, often when it’s the most inconvenient.  That’s a big deal! 

-The spillover fan for the fridge is down, but hopefully Chris will have a new one with him tomorrow.

Unfortunately, our radar is on the blink again.  We did our last trip without one, but seeing as how we actually DO have one this time, it would be nice if it worked!

Still, the boat is in good shape, and ready to go.  Probably the biggest concern is that the First Mate should have her sea legs firmly set beneath her at this point, and she doesn’t.  My miracle drug isn’t working which is my own fault, I suppose, for bragging it up so much!  I also don’t sleep much while underway, which leaves me exhausted.  Granted, we’ve done some pretty snotty crossings and I was battling a stomach bug for a while, but if these excuses aren’t actual good reasons for my constant state of nausea, the Pacific holds some looonnnnnngggg stretches of water for me to be wallowing across!  Go Go Gadget Sealegs!  And here’s hoping the Pacific is as peaceful as she’s supposed to be!

Photos: Panama: The Caribbean Side

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8 March 2013…   Hello Pacific!!

Tires & fenders… check

Lines… check

Horn… check

Adequate food and drink… check

Deck space cleared… check

Solar panels covered… check

Wind generator blades removed… check

All crew on board… check

Window panel installed so crew up top won’t get wet in the night! (yes, it’s taken ‘til now!)... check

And we’re off!

Honestly, I think for most of us the preparations required more effort than the actual transit did!  There were three boats rafted together: one large catamaran in the middle, CJ off its starboard side and another catamaran off its port.  Usually this nest of boats would be anchored onshore via 2 lines each side, tied off to the bow and stern of the outermost boats.  However, since CJ was so much smaller than the catamaran in the center, the bow line went straight to them and only a stern line to CJ.  As such, only one line handler was required by us, plus the captain.  The rest of us were on vacation, which is why you’ll be privy to a bundle of photos later!

We went through the Gatun Locks on the first day; there are three.  They herded us in and threw the lines to us from shore with the aid of monkey’s fists –these are the projectiles I referred to earlier.  The end of a rope is woven into a ball, which gives it weight and makes it easier to throw.  They can pack a wallop as it is, but theirs have extra weight woven inside and can do quite a bit of damage should they hit antennas, solar panels, wind generator blades, etc.  Thus the need for precautionary measures.  Then they closed the doors behind us and the water began to bubble up from below, filling the chamber.  I was surprised at how quickly it filled up.  The lock is 1000ft long, and we were raised 30ft in only about 10 minutes!  Once full, they opened the doors to the chamber and we waddled ahead to the next one, and repeat. 

Each lock raised us 30ft for a total of 90ft.  Once at Gatun Lake, our three boats were untied from one another and we tied up to a buoy for the night.  There’s room for 2 boats per buoy and we’ve heard of some pretty fantastic parties that result!  The two catamarans had kids onboard and the lights were off quite early over at their buoy.  We were alone on ours and tried to make our own party, but, admittedly, we weren’t very far behind the kids, ha ha!  We were exhausted, but would have rallied had there been occasion to!

Our pilot the next morning caught us off guard by arriving earlier than expected!  Still, we had our britches on already and we were underway by 6:30.  The locks required even less effort on our part this time because when we went to cleat off the stern line from shore, the pressure cracked the fiberglass around the cleat.  Travis was certain it was only a cosmetic crack but there were no chances taken with the load it needed to handle.  Both lines on our side went to the large catamaran in the center and we just sat around like deck fluff!   It was 3 x 30ft down the other side at the Pedro Miguel and Miraflores Locks and then we were spit out into the Pacific.

All in all, it was an uneventful transit and I have to say the pilots were fantastic –very nice, and very professional.  Before we left, I was already wound up by Admeasure about what to feed and water these guys with.  That was further fueled by a horror story from a fellow cruiser about their pilot who came aboard late and, before even introducing himself, asked what was on the menu.  Then demanded to eat immediately before departing!  My friend referred to him as The Chicken Man because he refused to eat chicken (she also referred to him by another name because he was a jerk the whole trip!). As for us, we were risking a $250 dinner charge because that’s exactly what I had planned -chicken!  I could have pulled something else out had it been necessary but in the end, the guys the first night weren’t even on board long enough to have dinner with us.  Our pilot the second day was equally nice and while he had dietary restrictions, we worked out something that he enjoyed and didn’t make me a slave to the galley. 

Travis, to my surprise, actually brought up the topic of The Chicken Man to our second pilot and lo and behold, THEY call him The Chicken Man, too!  This guy had quite a reputation!  Thankfully, he has moved on to tugboats, now, undoubtedly terrorizing their galley staff.

12 March 2013…   Taking On the Big Blue

Dean, our 5th guy, had to take off right away to go through the canal for a 3rd time!  Nic & Chris stayed onboard for another few days, which was great!  We ran around to marine stores, electronics stores and the supermarket.  The boys were good enough to help with hauling fuel and water which took a load off me! 

On Saturday, we attended a Puddle Jump party sponsored by a sailing magazine and the Tahiti tourism board.  It was a get-together for all those doing the Pacific crossing.  We were expecting a lot more from it, but we gleaned a few bits of information that were useful.  We said goodbye to Nic that evening; he has his own boat projects to get back to!  Thanks for all your help, Nic!

Nic dodged a bullet, for he left with all his hair.  The boys had been talking for days about how a swim in the Pacific was in order, but damn, it’s cold!!  Then, for some reason, taking this dip became the predicate to them shaving their heads!  I’m not so sure that Nic was ever into it, but Chris was determined and he intended to recruit Travis for the project!  He finally succeeded (there may have been some rum involved): two bald boys stripped down and jumped bare-assed into the icy waters.  It was a rite of passage.

Yesterday was our main grocery run.  We had the dinghy loaded to max capacity with our haul, plus the three of us!  Once on board, Calico Jack looked about the same: at max capacity.  When evening came, it was an effort to find our bed and everything was piled into the main cabin.  This morning we had to clear off the counter to defrost the freezer, then move everything off the floor to get to the bilge to stow things, then move everything off the bench seat to stow things, then move everything on top of the table so I could bleach the storage hammock, then move everything off the table to the freezer top so I could use the table, then move everything else to the stove so I could get to the sink to do the dishes…  You get the idea.  Then we got the laundry returned and we’re back to digging out the bed again.  And repeat.

The forward head is stuffed again, and we’ll be eating and drinking our way to the back of it for some time to come!  Thankfully, we have two of them…

Luckily for Chris, he missed all the shuffling.  We put him in a cab to the airport late last night.  I was sad to see them go, but it was great having both him and Nic aboard; we had some good visiting and chillin’ time and a lot of laughs.  Extra perk: Chris fixed our radar!  Thanks, dude!

We’ll spend the next couple of days loading the boat to capacity, stuffing canned goods into unlikely nooks and crannies.  This is our big provision for the South Pacific crossing as everything is SUPER expensive along the way.  Calico Jack will be wallowing again as we head out of here.  Friday we’ll leave Panama City and head toward the Las Perlas Islands to the south for a few days, then it will be the 10-day crossing to the Galapagos.  For the record, I’m now ready to go.  Maybe that’s easy for me to say at the moment because I haven’t been in a seasick situation for a couple of weeks now, but I’ll take it!  We also have a few additional meds under our belt so we’ll just take it as it comes.

We don’t anticipate having an internet connection until we arrive in the Galapagos so we’ll be quiet on the blogs for awhile.  I will, however, still be writing them and will post them as soon as possible.  The same goes for photos –I just won’t have the time to get through them all before we leave here.

You can still keep track of us, though, via the Spot messenger link on our homepage.  If it’s not too rough, we’ll check our satellite mail, too, so you can get ahold of us there.

Cheers for now!

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16 March 2013…   Many Thanks!

First of all, did anyone actually see us on the canal webcam?  It would have been difficult since we weren’t in the lock that was closest to the camera and, once we were in, the wall was too high.  You would have had to have caught us as we were entering, or maybe once the water was at its maximum in in the lock.  Anyway, just curious.

We know for sure of one person who saw us!  Travis got an email yesterday from a woman in Louisiana who was on the observation deck at the Miraflores Locks that day.  She took our name off the transom and went to the trouble of finding us online to send us a couple of pictures!  How cool is that!  At a time when people are so busy, or just can’t be bothered, a total stranger made our day!
We all slept like logs that night and in the morning we pulled anchor again, destination:  Zapatilla Cayes.  There are two, and the first one looked to be barraged with tourist boats so we opted for the second.  Both islands are uninhabited save one ranger’s station.  The beaches are perfection and we strolled around the island before heading back to the boat to float around on pool noodles for the afternoon.  It was a beautiful evening and after dinner, we marveled at the sea of stars.  We also kicked on the underwater lights to see who was swimming around below, but it was quiet.

Leigh & Andy left a couple of days ago, and it was great to have them!  Thanks for coming to brave the waters, guys!

Nic & Sloane are still here.  Imagine our surprise to find out that two friends from Cayman store their boat here in Bocas, and that they were set to arrive while we are here!  It’s been a few years since we’ve seen them, so it’s been great catching up.  In fact, Nic is considering being one of our line handlers through the Canal so that’s easy.  Well, it’s a long bus ride, but I think he needs stuff from the city anyway.  Boat stuff.

As for those people who are here and we were actually expecting to see, they’ve been hard to track down!  While Rick’s boat is right here in the marina, he’s been off-island.  Stacey is gone, too, and Byron is MIA.  When we finally tracked down Rick, he was our line to Byron and we were finally able to all get together.  He took us out to the house he’s been working on for Stacey.  Of course, we weren’t surprised to see how beautiful it is since he had a hand in renovating/building her guesthouse as well.  You might remember it from our last trip.  It’s a little piece of paradise that we probably would have chosen to have our wedding at if it weren’t for the legalities of our getting married outside the country.

Anyway, we’re all set to shove off from here.  It’s Carnival here right now and Tuesday is a holiday so we need to get to the Port Captain’s office tomorrow to check out.  That should give us time to make a couple of stops before we get to Colon to start making preparations for the Canal transit.

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14 February 2013…   Me and my Big Mouth!

I said that I was happy to be relaxing in one place for a while.  Well, Bocas got its hooks into us again.   When we were here in 2007, we were stuck for 6 weeks with the headache of replacing our dying transmission:

-See if we can get it fixed locally.   No.

-See if we can get it fixed in Panama City.  No

-Can we buy a new one in Panama City?   No.

-Had new one shipped in from Florida.  Marina employee decided  it would be a good idea to put all shipments into one box to carry, so he unpacked it at the airport.  And dropped it.  Of course, we had no idea until we had the motor jacked up and were ready to install it.

-Despite our wishes to just cut our losses and go, marina manager (who is in denial as to what REALLY happened) is certain she can extract insurance payment from Panamanian postal service.  You can guess how that worked out.

-We slapped JB Weld on the cracked transmission and booked out of here and it held until we got back home.  End of saga.


While our troubles aren’t nearly as serious this time, you have to wonder why everything is always such a hassle in Bocas.  We went into the Port Captain’s office on Monday to clear out and start heading towards Colon.  The Port Captain was there, sitting at his desk, but told us that because it was a holiday, it would cost us an extra $40 overtime to pay $13.70 to clear out.  When we explained that we were told that Tuesday was the holiday, he corrected us by saying that Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and half of Wednesday were holidays.  Keep in mind that he’s sitting at his desk on a Monday as he’s telling us this.  It’s not like he was being called in from his home: all he had to do was take our money and type up the paperwork, but no...

Now I know that $40 might not sound like a lot of money, but we really felt the need to dig our heels in here.  In Panama, you’re required to check in and clear out of each port separately and Bocas charges $94 for the privilege while Colon is only $35 and San Blas is under $10 -and you check in during business hours, there’s no such thing as overtime.  Yeh.  So not wishing to line their pockets any further (be honest and just call it a bribe!), we confirmed that we could come into the office any time after noon on Wednesday to clear out and we resigned ourselves to rearranging our schedule to stay in Bocas another couple of days.  Not a huge sacrifice, since we were still enjoying our time with friends.

Wednesday rolled around, and I hit the grocery store while Travis went to clear us out.  He arrived at 3:05 at which point he was informed that they closed at 3:00, and he would have to pay an extra $40 overtime to pay $13.70 to clear out.  Now, I wasn’t there, folks.  Travis insists that he didn’t yell at the guy but suffice it to say that his Captain’s Voice is enough to make most people shrivel.  He insisted that we’d be back on Thursday.  God only knows what the consequences would have been if things had gone awry a third time.

So here we sit on a Thursday evening, cleared out to leave tomorrow, but we have one more problem to deal with.  Today I went to the ATM to withdraw money.  It buzzed and whirred like it does just before it spits out the cash.  Then it told me that it didn’t have enough money for that transaction, “please try another amount”.  So I tried twice more, then shrugged and left –we weren’t strapped, so no big deal. 

I don’t have much faith in technology, so Paranoid Girl decides to check the account online, just to make sure.  And there was a withdrawal for $500 that didn’t happen.  Now what??!!  We’ll have to sneak into town tomorrow, hoping the Port Captain doesn’t see us, and go to a financial institution to try to convince them that we didn’t get this money.  All with no paperwork, and in a language we fumble around in.  This oughta be interesting!

18 February 2013…  All’s Well that Ends.

It’s a sticky situation going into a bank to ask to be refunded money in a language that you don’t speak very well. 

Usually I get into the swing of speaking Spanish within a couple of weeks but honestly, we haven’t had the opportunity to practice at all.  Utila was to be our first real Spanish immersion experience, or so I thought.  We stammered through our requirements with the Immigration/Customs lady.  The Port Captain spoke a little English but not a lot and so I thought, “Yay!  Here’s my chance to practice!”  But that was about the end of it.  I don’t remember so much English being spoken the last time we were in Honduras.  We’d walk past someone on the street and say “hola” and it was met with a casual “hey”, or “what up?”  We even heard pretty proficient use of the F-bomb a few times! 

From Utila, there wasn’t much room for practice save a few sentences here and there.  The Spanish-speaking places we visited were either touristy or we weren’t there long enough for it to make a difference.

So it was a good exercise to dig into the recesses of my brain for the vocabulary I needed to describe the buzzing and whirring the ATM machine made before it didn’t spit out our money.  I pulled out the dictionary to brush up on some key vocabulary and off we went.  Fingers crossed.

The ladies at the bank were great!  They listened patiently as I explained what had happened and they told us that they would need our passports and a copy of our bank statement and we should see a refund to our account in 15 days.  That was the easy part.  It was another trip back out to the boat and an hour waiting for an internet café to open but we finally rounded up everything we needed and got it to the bank, tip-toed past the Port Captain’s office, packed up the dinghy and Calico Jack pulled out just before noon.  We’ll call this a happy ending when the refund shows up!

Given our late departure, we weren’t able to make it as far as we wanted the first day.  In fact, our dealings with the Port Captain’s office pretty much set the whole week off kilter because we now had a weather system to race against. 

We anchored up the first night in Bluefield, which was and interesting experience.  It’s a beautiful harbour but we learned the neither the GPS nor the guidebooks have it right.  Our first attempt at anchoring would have put us in pristine coral –not something you want to drop a destructive anchor into.  As we moved further along, we almost ran aground as the bottom came up very unexpectedly where we were supposed to have 40ft of water – it’s a good thing we had our eyes open!  Our second attempt at a designated anchorage had the bottom come up rather quickly as well, so we backed off and deployed Fang, only to have him completely fall off the underwater wall.  That’s when we said “screw it” and just pumped out a bunch more line to anchor in the 60ft.  Poor Travis was going to break a sweat hauling that up in the morning!

So there we were in this beautiful bay all by ourselves and two young kids paddle up.  They asked for pencils and books and we were forthcoming with both.  Then they just sat there and stared at us, not even answering questions when asked.  It got a bit creepy, so I went back to making dinner and Travis soon found and excuse to join me down below. Then they positioned themselves so they could stare in the windows!  They lost interest after a while and paddled off.  After dinner, we went up top to a thin fog that was hanging over the completely dead-quiet bay.  “Holy crap, are we in Children of the Corn or something?”  It was a very, very weird evening.

The next morning we made the short trip to Escudo de Veraguas, a small uninhabited island that was purported to be quite stunning.  What a paradise!  The shore is lined with small private beaches and off the east side are the Booby Cayes where the namesake birds are apparently very commonly seen.  We didn’t see any, but I’m not sure we would have noticed because we were busy looking down the whole time!  We had dropped the kayak in to paddle ashore and as we went in between the tiny islands our breath was taken away by the scenery below.  Beautifully colourful and untouched.

It’s a shame we weren’t able to spend more time there, as it would have been great for snorkeling.  However, the anchorage was rolly due to deteriorating weather and I was still battling a stomach bug that was making the situation no better.  We decided to move on and do an overnight run to the Rio Chagres, one of our favourite stops on the last trip.  But the deteriorating conditions were against us here, too, and we ended up making the run straight into Colon.  Even more disappointing is that it looks like we’ve missed the weather window to go to San Blas, too.  Damn you, Bocas!  In hindsight, paying the $40 would have been the better option.  It’s 20/20.

So here we are in Colon, in an expensive marina and 30 minutes from anything.  Not that Colon is anyplace you want to be anyway –Travis calls it the Armpit of the Caribbean.  We’re here strictly to get measured for the Canal transit and then we’re gone.  We went into town today to begin the proceedings; the guys will be out to measure the boat in two days and then we get our transit date.  Once that’s sorted, we’re hoping the weather will be good enough that we can make it at least to Portobelo.

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25 February 2013…   Ketchup Sandwiches

A lot of people pay an agent to take care of arranging their canal transit.  I’m sure it has its advantages but we decided to save the $400 and do it ourselves and it went pretty smoothly.  They came out to measure the boat and fill out all the paperwork, the whole process taking only about 45 minutes.  Oddly enough, about 10 minutes of that was spent discussing what we would be feeding the pilot!  “If you are having sandwiches, make sure it has MEAT and some lettuce and tomato” (indicating a very thick slice of tomato).  “Pasta should have some MEAT…”  He quite went on about how “embarrassing” it would be if what we offered the pilot wasn’t sufficient because if that were the case, he would call out for a boxed lunch to be brought out -at a charge of $250 to us.  That’s a $10 lunch with a $240 delivery charge!  He went on about it ad nauseam, to the point where I was starting to get annoyed.  Travis and I rubbed our bellies and assured him that he needn’t worry, we eat well aboard Calico Jack!  Yeesh.  Maybe they’ve been fed too many ketchup sandwiches!

Anyway, the paperwork was finished quickly enough that we had time to run into town that very day, pay all the fees and get our appointment for March 5th.  With all that in order, we started making arrangements for line handlers and were out of Colon very quickly.

It was a 5-hour run to Portobelo where we will spend the week until we need to return for the transit.  As we expected, the weather is pretty nasty for us to head around the corner to San Blas, which is disappointing.  We were very much looking forward to returning there, as our visit was cut short the last time.  Oh well, there’s always next time, I guess!

The harbour here at Portobelo has become a lot more popular since the Panama Canal Yacht Club in Colon closed.  With no other affordable options, many boats are biding their time here awaiting their canal transit.  Others have been here for years, just never moving on.  You would think that with such a long-term community and about 60 boats in the anchorage there would be more to do, but there isn’t (while it’s an historic town, we hiked all the forts last time).  There's no internet in the anchorage and not a lot to do in the village.  The grocery stores are hit and miss (you should have seen the happiest girl in the world a few days ago when I happened across some lovely tomatoes!) but it’s all part of the adventure.  We did find one little place in town that we like to go for happy hour and some online time and, at the end of the day, it is a pretty anchorage to wake up to every morning.

Don’t think we’re bored, though, because there’s a lot to do and we’ll make good use of our time here.  I’ve read twice recently that “cruising is a lifestyle choice, not a vacation” and I would have to agree.  That’s right: it’s not all swinging in hammocks and reading books while sipping a cocktail with an umbrella in it!  Well, I suppose that happens from time to time, but not as often as you might think.  There is a fair amount of work involved, too.  Every day there is something that needs doing or fixing or organizing.  Given that we're on a scary-tight budget, we're not eating out much so cooking has become almost a fulltime job, too.  Not that I don't like it; this week's experiments have included a multitude of variations on plantain.  And those lovely tomatoes absolutely MADE my Chicken Pelau!

So we’re still keeping busy and the days go by quickly.  I brought a ton of projects to do on this trip and I’m now wondering how many I’m going to get to!  Once all this business of the canal is over with, though, I’m thinking that the Pacific side will be more relaxed.  We’ll see about that!

Fang has since had many more occasions to show us how reliable he is -so we should be good, right?  I guess not.  While I have every faith and confidence in Fang (and Travis!), the muddy bottom needs two windy nights to prove itself to me.  That’s what it took in Utila where the winds far exceeded what we’ve experienced here.

I’ve decided to make good use of the time, though, as it seems optimum for blogging and sifting through photos.  It might explain a lot when I tell you that some of these blogs are fueled by latenight dementia.

Meanwhile, Travis is snoring away.  B@$!^&d.

27 January 2013…   No Full Moon Over Henry Morgan’s Butt Crack

The weather let up for our last day in Guanaja and it would have been the perfect time to leave except it was Sunday –no immigration, customs or port captain’s office would be open.  It was unfortunate, since the timing for our next run was crucial:  that snotty stretch of water that would take us around the tip of Nicaragua.  The winds at this time of year are generally not favourable and would have us bucking the waves and just generally beating the crap out of ourselves for 48 hours.  Still, there was nothing we could do about it, so we enjoyed the Sunday at Sandy Bay and hung out at Manati and with Hansito, which was great. 

The following day, we went into town early to check the weather, leaving us in good time to hit the immigration office when it opened, then the port captain’s.  However, we were met with a surprise.  Immigration told us that the port captain wasn’t issuing clearance papers for small vessels because of the weather.   What?!?  We had just checked the weather and confirmed that we had the two-day window we needed!  Surely there had to be a misunderstanding and we headed straight for the port captain’s office to see if we could straighten it out (the eyes of the immigration officers clearly said, “yeah, good luck with that, cheeky monkeys!”).

Once out of Immigration I asked Travis, “Can they really do that?”  He said he’s heard of it, but has never seen it implemented unless the port was actually shut down for a hurricane.

We arrived at the Port Captain’s office with smiles on our faces (sugar, not vinegar!) thinking that the worst they could say was no, and taking silent oaths not to argue with the authorities!   A lot of toe-tapping later and we discovered that they actually weren’t able to pull up the weather forecast but they were going to let us go anyway.  Then back to Immigration, then back to the Port Captain, then to the store, then to CJ to prepare to leave and we were departing Guanaja at almost noon.  Not optimum!!  Our window was small and every hour counted.

Photos:  The Bay Islands of Honduras

The first day was actually quite nice –until it wasn’t.  Travis and I are now 1:1 on puking over the rail! -and our northeast wind turned east sooner than we were hoping so we had to turn south sooner than wanted, cutting closer to Nicaragua. We felt it safe, though, as there were a lot of big fishing boats in the area.  We were also happy and feeling fortunate that we seem to have worked out our autopilot issues as hand steering through this would have been misery. 

We arrived in Providencia four days later a little beat up, but grateful for being in safe harbour as the wind forecast for the next couple of days had it cranking.  We spent the first day wringing out the boat and re-appropriating things that took it upon themselves to find new homes during our washing-machine run.  Including our battery bank!  As we arrived, we noticed that we weren’t turning to port very well.  Travis tore apart the aft lazarette to discover that the one of the batteries had broken free of its fastenings and shifted enough that the steering ram was gouging right into its side!  Needless to say, this could have been quite the disaster had the battery been punctured but fortunately, the walls on it are very thick.  It’s a good thing because the gouge in its side was about a quarter inch deep!

Providencia is another picturesque island.  Mountainous and green, it is far away from its homeland as it’s situated only 150 miles from Nicaragua but actually belongs to Colombia.  Entering the bay, there is a big rock to port that looks like a head.  They say it’s Henry Morgan’s, the legendary pirate.  And as you look ahead to the island’s landscape, there’s a crevasse in the mountain which they say is Henry’s butt.  Six years ago, the full moon was shining on this crevasse when Travis proposed to me.  Oh, the romance!  So, the island has a bit of nostalgia for us, and we were even looking forward to a full moon.  Alas, it’s the wrong time of year for it to light up Henry’s rear-end, but it was lovely just the same.

Our visit this time was brief, just like it was the last, but we got to see a lot more of the island because we rented a scooter for the afternoon.  At 2x4 miles, we ran over hill and dale more than once and really got to enjoy the island.  There’s a beach on the south end I’ll be dying to get back to next time! 

However, we must be rushing along as we’re running ahead of weather again –we’ll be riding a 35ft surfboard again tomorrow!  We’re also trying to coordinate meeting up with friends flying into Bocas in a few days.

All of this is good news for CJ.  I swear, she has no desire to visit her previous haunt of San Andres, Providencia’s sister island just a day’s sail to the south.  You see, she sat there neglected for 7 years before being brought back up to Florida, where Travis found her.  The last time we were in Providencia, the transmission was failing and so we skipped San Andres.  Honestly, I think she was just pitching a fit because it just holds too many bad memories for her.  And she’s off the hook again this time, it seems!

Photos:  Providencia

Video:  Traditional Music Performance 

10 February 2013…   Bocas del Toro

Somehow, meeting up with guests actually worked out!  We arrived in Bocas in the early morning, got checked in, and met Leigh & Andy at the airport around dinnertime.  Maybe we should have 10 days’ worth of wild adventures to blog about, but they were happy to just chill out which was awesome!  It’s been so nice not to be in a rush to get to the next destination.  We swam and kayaked and ate and read books and chatted and had happy hours.  Very nice.

We did get ambitious and pulled anchor to make our way to some of the other islands in the area.  It’s only an hour to Isla Bastimentos so we putted over there to check it out.  We wandered through the little town and then took a footpath which was to lead to Wizard’s Beach on the other side of the island, only a 10-minute walk.  A few minutes into the trek, the path started to get a little muddy.  In fact, a local stopped us and warned, “No flip flops.”  This should have been an indicator.  Before we knew it, we were mid-calf in mud and it wasn’t looking to improve but, “It can’t be that much further, right?”  Almost an hour later, we passed two tourists who assured us we were almost there.  The girl had on a cute little white skirt and white Crocs and we wished them luck!

Finally we emerged on the other side, anxious for a place to sit and have some lunch.  But, nothing.  A beautiful stretch of pristine beach, hammered by waves.  Stunning, but not exactly what we were hoping for.  Since we were only expecting a 10-minute stroll, we didn’t even have a bottle of water with us.
15 January 2013…   Well THAT sucked!!

We got up early this morning to depart Utila, bound for Roatan.  The forecast was for light winds, but that’s not what we woke up to.  We had no internet connection to do a last-minute check on the weather so we decided to stick our noses out to see.  The first couple of hours were pretty good sailing and then things turned ugly.  The winds picked up to about 25 knots and the seas had 5-7 foot waves that were close together so we were treated to the washing-machine effect.  We beat the crap out of ourselves.  I saw my breakfast twice today.

Inside the boat, things were thrown all over the place.  The generator that we thought was strapped in place wasn’t, and took out the support on the table as it went airborne.  All the charts fell out of the locker above the bed, which also wasn’t secured, and were sitting pretty to get soaked in salt water.  That means the bed is wet, too.  What a mess. hasn’t been very accurate more than 12 hours out in this area, and I’m mad at them!

We are presently sitting in Coxen Hole, Roatan, with the wind still cranking.  While Coxen Hole doesn’t seem to be quite the hole I remember from last time, it’s still not a great place to be stuck in (funny coincidence that Spot Messenger refuses to register here, although I’ve hit it twice!  It doesn’t want to be here, either). 

There’s a small break in the wind tomorrow morning and we’ll head a little further up the coast.  A few hours under our belt will mean a shorter run to Guanaja on Thursday.

18 January 2013…   Guanaja

We opted to sit in Coxen Hole for 2 nights and do the entire run to Guanaja in one jump.  The conditions were excellent, a nice reward for the beating we took a couple of days prior.  We fished the whole way there, dragging Sean Alexander’s “best-thing-ever fishing lure, guaranteed-to-catch-fish cedar plug”.  Sorry Sean, maybe Keys fish go after it, but Honduran fish want nothing to do with it!  We dragged it for 8 hours with no nibbles.  Good thing we had some frozen chicken in the freezer!

Guanaja is a beautiful mountainous island with a crowded rock off to the side which serves as the main town.  Why everyone would choose to live on the same pebble when there’s a whole lush island to inhabit is something that remains a mystery to us.  The development that’s taken place on the nearby shore in the last 6 years would indicate that the pebble is finally tipping.

With local knowledge under our belts this time, we bypassed the “capital city” and made way for Sandy Bay to drop anchor.  The last time we arrived here, we had stationed ourselves by the capital island then decided that maybe all those cruising boats off to the east must know something that we didn’t!  Which they did.  It’s a lovely anchorage and the popular (only!) gathering spot, Manati, was a blast.  We have a lot of stories about our time here in Sandy Bay and have been looking forward to getting back. 

The proprietor of Manati, Hansito (little Hans), is still here but he's leased out his restaurant over the last number of years, opting instead for fishing.  He remembered us instantly, which was kind of a surprise and both the TowBoat US flag and the Cayman Islands license plate we left here last time are still fixtures in the bar. 

The other usual suspects are still here, too.  Unfortunately we won’t be seeing Brian on this trip –he’s in Roatan getting his boat fixed.  Brian is the author from Lafleche, Saskatchewan that we met last time.  Gar is still floating in the anchorage after 10 years and Long-Haired Hans has set up his own little bar just down the beach from Manati.  I guess that might seem weird elsewhere, but everyone seems to coexist well, here.

There’s another Hans.  Utila Hans, in case you were wondering!

We won’t be enjoying all the same things we did last time, like hiking, since the weather won’t be conducive to much in the way of outdoor activities.  The wind and rain screamed through the anchorage last night and we have at least one more day of that to enjoy.  Not that our outdoor activities here worked out so well for us the last time!  There’s a reason why Gar remembers us, too…  Go to “Caribbean2007 ->Key West to Panama -> 27 May 2007   …Wardrobe Malfunction” for details!

19 January 2013…   As we’ve said before: Noah built an Ark

We’re glad to be in safe port right now, as planned.  It’s been storming for 2 full days now, blowing up to 35 knots.  We haven’t left the boat at all, opting to stay on board with books, movies and sifting through photos instead.  The wind generators are giving us plenty of juice to power movies and computers all day!  Of course, now we have no internet to post anything.  You’re going to get it all at once at some point!

The rains have been torrential too, and we’re still battling a few leaks (all boats leak!).  Luckily, it’s been mostly raining outside the boat!  Straight down, can’t-see-100 -yards-around-you rain, perfect for the rain catchment system!  Bummer that we actually bought water earlier in the week!  However, we only paid about 15 cents/gallon (in the Bahamas, it was $1/gallon!)  It was still nice, though, as we treated ourselves to extra-long showers because we CAN and we’re glad to have all the salt washed off the boat.  All available tanks and receptacles are full –free of charge!

Travis and I take turns doing most things on the boat, however, we do have our roles for certain things.  For example, Travis is the one who takes care of the engine and other mechanical needs of the boat.

MY job, it would seem, is to sit up at night and worry unnecessarily about the anchor dragging.  It must be an awfully important job, since I do it a lot and there’s no reasoning me out of it even when Travis has checked that the anchor is set nicely in firm mud.  And there’s extra fretting it if we’re swinging a lot or if we don’t have that far to drag to the nearest beach, reef, boat or whatever –that just goes without saying!

What’s even more ridiculous about this whole situation is that we have the mother of all anchors that has proven itself time and time again.  I guess now is a good time to introduce Fang.  In fact, I already have but it’s in the Bahamas blog that hasn’t been posted yet.  Here it is:
There was also a sailing vessel “in port” that transports backpackers from Caye Caulker to Placencia.  They pitch their tents ashore while the captain grills up their lobster dinner on the dock, which is fun.  And of course, there’s no lack of entertainment value at the bar when young world travelers encounter too much cheap foreign booze…

Tobacco Caye was only an overnighter to break up the trip and there’s not a lot to do here, but it’s a beautiful stop not to be missed.  Ok, don’t advertise you man, er, I mean, island.

The next day, we set sail for Placencia, still sailing inside the reefline.  We had already decided earlier in the trip that if we ever got tired of seeing dolphins we’d need to get our heads examined.  OH!!  Forgot to mention earlier that we saw a whale off the coast of Cuba!!  Wayyyyy too far in the distance to brag about, really.  It was mostly blowhole action, but we did see it crest a few times and he gave us a good tailwave to confirm his identity. 

Anyway, back to unexamined heads:  the dolphins came to play!  This happens semi-frequently but there were SOOO many of them!  I counted at least eight and they were having a blast with the show they were giving me as I teetered over the bow.  We were running downwind with some rollers and I watched them as they crested four at a time in the waves off the bow of the boat.  Off to the sides where Travis could see, they were jumping higher.  Stellar.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t a Kodak moment: wrong lighting, and wrong camera.  The point & shoot that I would be willing to risk while riding the bucking bronco on the bow is on the blink.  I guess it was a show just for us!

Speaking of bucking bronco, we were wondering how our young tequila friend at the bar the night before was doing as we followed their boat into Placencia yesterday…

We’re looking forward to a fun New Year’s Eve here and possibly reconnecting with an old cruising friend!

2 January 2013…   It’s a Small World in Placencia

We cruised into Placencia and dropped hook in familiar territory.  This was another pleasurable stop on our last cruise but a bit of a dark cloud hung over it for us this time, as we’d heard stories of attacks on cruising boats.  As it turns out, it was an isolated incident that occurred 6 months ago, and not even in Placencia but in the Pelican Cayes, just to the north.  It’s unfortunate that times are changing:  that quiet little anchorage that seems so blissful because you have it all to yourself can leave you a sitting duck these days.  We avoid those anchorages, preferring safety in numbers.

And so Placencia is the same pleasant town it was for us 6 years ago.  We were happy to discover that they still have “tourist dogs” here, the ones that follow us around.  We had 2 cuties adopt us the first day –and, it being a small town, we know who they belong to! 

Of course, there have been some changes.  With a growing expat crowd here, the development has been rapid.  The main street has been paved since our last visit –I’ll call it the “new” main street.  The old main street is still the sidewalk that meanders along the beach, a remnant of the early days when fishing villages really had no need for any other street.  Parts of the sidewalk have been repaired from the effects of an earthquake that hit here almost four years ago.  It took out the fuel dock, too, and some of the buildings on the east end of the peninsula have a distinctive lean to them!  Locals gave us accounts of the sand looking liquefied –weird.

On our first evening in town, we headed to a beachside restaurant for happy hour and some Wifi.  We’d been looking forward to reconnecting with a cruising friend, Kim, and needed to drop a line to let her know that we’d arrived.  Of course, it came as no surprise when the staff at the restaurant knew her –it is a small town, after all- and we learned that she and her husband are newlyweds of only a couple of months, how nice!  She was looking forward to introducing him to us.

Kim & Dan live 7 miles out of town, but came in the early evening of New Year’s Eve to join us for happy hour.   It’s cool how you can go so long without seeing someone but it’s still so natural getting caught up.  While it was our first time meeting Dan, he was stationed in Key West while in the Navy so we had a lot to talk about and it took only about 10 minutes to learn that we actually know his son, Jeremy!  Ha!!  I never get tired of small world stories!

The next day, Kim & Dan came to pick us up and treat us to a tour of the area.  They took us up the coast and we saw how much development is going on here, particularly the private homes and condos lining the shore to the north.  We stopped for lunch and then they took us to their home.  Wow!  It’s the Swiss Family Robinson’s vacation home, and Dan has built most of it himself!  As well, he has a passion for landscaping and the house is situated on a thoughtfully laid out lot with a pond in the back.  It’s a fantastic spot!

Another lady we were making a point to see again was Brenda.  In true small town fashion, we saw her in that very same restaurant on the first night.  Travis remembered her almost instantly –there’s no mistaking that character!   She operates a popular food stand right off the main dock.  Her setup was modest, comprising of a grill, a picnic table and an umbrella.  The umbrella was for the grill; a nearby tree served the picnic table. 

Now, Brenda is upscale!  In her same space, she now has a colourful little building that houses her kitchen.  The picnic table has expanded and features its very own tarp for protection.  The meal was incredible again: Creole style jerk chicken and pork, conch ceviche, rice & beans and a coconut macaroon for dessert.  Brenda’s company made the experience that much tastier!  In the photos, I will post her old setup along with her new upgrades for comparison.

New Year’s Eve was kind of a bust for us, but that’s ok.  We went out to a venue with a live band but the reggae was screaming loud and the drinks too strong to the point of not even tasting good.  I guess we’re just getting old!  We were at home in bed well before midnight.  Lame.

We were hoping to hang out here for a few more days and meet up with Kim & Dan again but our weather window has snuck up on us.  Placencia has been brief, but fun –thanks for the hospitality!  We’ve already been to the market to pick up our favourite Belizean hot sauce and fruit squash.  Tomorrow we will go to the nearby town of Big Creek to do our check out.  Via the Hokey Pokey Water Taxi, no less.  They have “In God We Trust” painted inside the bow… Not sure if that instills confidence…

Photos: Belize

Next stop:  Utila, Honduras.

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10 January 2013…   Why, oh Why, can’t things just Work?!?!

It’s a long list. 

The satellite phone isn’t talking to the computer so our sat email isn’t working.  My website builder has me locked out.  The inverter isn’t big enough to power the ice maker.  Two cameras are on the blink.  The autopilot is acting weird all of a sudden.  Ditto for the radar.

Let’s hope our outboard holds out because we left the oars back in Key West!

And oh, yeah:  we can’t get money out of any of our accounts.  Three of them at two different banks.

Today is Generator Day, where we plug in the boat so we can power the vacuum, the blender and all the battery chargers at once.  Add the aforementioned ice machine to that list.  …And Travis is currently in the cockpit trying to fix the generator.  Ha ha!  If he gets that thing going, the blender might be seeing more than just hummus today!

13 January 2013…   Unwinding in Utila

The trip so far had felt a bit rushed as we plotted our transits for the next available weather window.  We have left most places wishing we had an extra day or two.  The window to get from Placencia to Utila was small, but with only an 18-hour run ahead of us, we made a break for it.  The weather went from good to crappy, to good, then crappy again but we’re glad for having done it.  The wind has been cranking here in Utila, but it’s a place we don’t mind being stuck for a while! 

I know I keep saying “we’ve been looking forward to this stop”, but keep in mind that this first part of the trip is revisiting all our favourites from our Caribbean trip 6 years ago.  Utila easily ranks in the top three, and we dragged ourselves out of here kicking and screaming last time after only 5 days.  We even looked at property here!  We loved, loved, loved Utila.

And that still holds true.  This is my third visit and Travis’ second, enough that any fairy dust should be well shaken off (we’ve seen our fair share of starry-eyed tourists who’ve moved to Key West only to discover that they hate it).  We are not put off by the development like we often have been elsewhere, and we feel like we’ve mixed it up with enough expat/locals to get a feel for both the awesomeness and   the frustrations of living on this small island.  We’ve lived on a couple, ourselves!  (Note to Key Westers:  if North Roosevelt Blvd were being rebuilt here, it would not take a pathetic 3 years.  In commenting to a local about the speed with which a hotel is being built here, he says there is typically no dawdling –someone else is right behind them, ready and willing to do it.  What a concept!)

Anyway, we’ve enjoyed a nice, relaxing visit.  Someone asked in an email recently if we’ve gotten into cruising mode yet.  I wasn’t sure exactly what that meant.  Is it when you’re happy to be reading a book all day and not feel guilty about it later?  Or that a whole afternoon on the computer isn’t a sacrifice to something else?  Maybe at some point, a daytime nap isn’t something that I’ll kick myself in the pants for later because it was a waste of time!  I’m getting there…

Our time in Utila has been spent catching up on things on the boat –still, but what’s the rush, right?  We’ve also been exploring the island by both water and on foot, including some pretty muddy walks.  (Travis, how nice of you to blaze the way through that gigantic mud puddle, then attempt to make an easier transit for me.  Too bad neither of us predicted that the perfect, flat stepping stone you chose to toss in the path would funnel ALL the mud straight at me!)   We kayaked via North Channel through the mangroves to the other side of the island to find our own personal beach.  And of course, we found a couple of favourite hangouts, like we always do. 
23 December 2012…   San Pedro, Belize

We arrived in Ambergris Caye in less than four and a half days, so we made pretty good time.  We were happy that we left when we did because a few more hours would have made a big difference (sorry, Sean A., who tried to talk us into leaving later!).  As it was, it was only a slightly sloppy run and we crossed the reefline into San Pedro in the late afternoon with adequate sunlight.   A cold front rolled in late that night, and it started blowing hard early the next morning.

Clearing in was a shocker.  The last time we were here just 5 years ago, it cost less than $25.  This time it was almost $200!  I guess they’re catching up to Mexico –and paying for that fancy new building they’re in.  Still, Belize is a stop we always enjoy. 

The first time we visited San Pedro in 2006, it still had the charm of the sand streets and low key attitude.  In one short year, the streets were paved –we were kind of sad, although I’m sure the locals aren’t missing the calf-high mud after a rainfall!  Now, 5 years later, the paved streets are bustling with more golf carts than they can handle, some of them having been turned into one-way thoroughfares.  It’s worth a chuckle, considering nobody here owns a vehicle of any significant size.  Still, I suppose it’s no fun getting your golf cart stuck in the mud, either.  We had the shoes sucked off our feet back in the day!

The expat community seems to be growing at a tremendous rate and, coming from Key West, it’s funny to see how tourists are greeted here by the diehard expat/locals.  It’s a tough crowd –we had to confirm to ourselves that first night that we had indeed showered!  After the second and third encounters, however, we are like old friends.  Well, kind of.  The Belizean locals are happy to see us.  It’s the beginning of the tourist season and they’re not worn out yet.

Otherwise, we’ve been enjoying just unwinding and getting the boat in order.  While we are in better shape leaving for this trip than the last, we still have a fair amount of things to find homes for.  As we do so, our living space increases!  Plus, we left so loaded with supplies that we are using our forward head as a food locker, so we are technically eating our way through the bathroom to reach the toilet.

San Pedro is decorated up nicely for Christmas, enough to be worthy of a Twinkle Tour stroll, as Mom and I call it (of course, in Canada, you do it from the comfort of your warm vehicle).  We went out for a nice dinner to celebrate the season.  Still, we’re headed a little further south to Caye Caulker for the actual holiday.  We love that rock!

27 December 2012...   Christmas in Caye Caulker and the Noggin Incident

We buzzed down to tiny Caye Caulker on Christmas Eve, only a couple of hours away.  This little caye never disappoints.  While there has been visible development since our last trip, it hasn’t taken away from the charm of this little island.  It was split in two by Hurricane Hattie in 1961, and all the development remains on the southern half of the island, below the “Split”.  The streets are still sand and, unlike its sister island of Amergris Caye, Caye Caulker actually restricts the number of golf carts licensed on the island; most of the traffic is pedestrian or bicycles which greatly contributes to the laid back feel of this place.  Locals and expats alike are friendly and open and it’s so nice to just wander around and soak up the relaxed atmosphere.  You really get the feeling that these people love life!

One of the fun things we did was to take in a movie at an outdoor theatre.  The screen is set up in the palm trees and the chairs in the sand, maybe two dozen seats.  There’s no contingency plan for rain that we could see, but fortunately we didn’t have to find out.  We saw “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” which was excellent, if you get a chance to watch it. 

Thursday was Jam Night at the local sports bar and a huge crowd turned out for it.  The dose of classic rock was a welcome change as the legs of our barstools wedged themselves further and further into the sand  -finally, a barstool my height!  Perrrfection!   One of the main guys had been playing in a band that we saw in San Pedro and I wondered how much crossover there is between the islands.  It’s only 20 minutes between them by the high speed water taxi.  In fact, he had to race out to catch said boat -must have had another gig in the “big city”!

Christmas on the boat was a lazy day.  We cooked and ate all day, and I gave Travis a long overdue haircut.  Unfortunately, we learned the hazards of trying to cut hair on a windy day, and on the now-cramped aft deck.  One could say that this is a case of “Don’t advertise your man”.  You know: make him unattractive to other women.  But this haircut is so bad, not even I can look at him!  He says he hasn’t had such a bad haircut since his friend Billy took scissors to his head in Grade 10.  Of course, we’ll have to wait until a calm day to go at it again.  It’s a good thing he wears a hat, and he’s required to do so until I can fix it -yes, it is mostly fixable.  Anyway, everything grows back eventually! 

And no, there will be absolutely no photographic evidence of this incident!

That’s all I have to say about that.

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30 December 2012…   Tobacco Caye via Porto Stuck and Our Own Personal Seaworld Show

It was an all-day run from Caye Caulker to arrive in Tobacco Caye.  In between the two was some pretty skinny water, particularly in a pass aptly named Porto Stuck.  Aerial photos show that the bottom is littered with prop scars from vessels running aground.  We didn’t stick, but we did bump sandy bottom a number of times as we were making our way through the area with maps that looked nothing like what we were seeing!  The GPS wasn’t much more help.  Again, this was timed for good sunlight and visibility so I was the requisite figurehead keeping watch on the bow.  Our stalwart captain steered us capably through the sketchy spot with ease and we arrived at Tobacco Caye just before sunset.
S/V Calico Jack
Key West to The Galapagos
21 December 2012...   Going Away

Travis probably wouldn’t agree with me, but going away this time is a little bittersweet.  Leaving for the Caribbean trip, we knew we’d be back within the year.  This time, we’re giving up a lot, and for a long time.  From small things like selling the motorcycle, to big things like leaving behind a lifestyle we love with good friends and jobs we like.  Remember that we’re not leaving Key West because we don’t like it!  We just want to see some more of the world while we can.

Of course, it was another going-away bash to remember.  We always joke that it’s a bit insulting that our biggest party turnouts are the ones where we’re being kicked off the island!  And it was more than just the one party.  There were the friends that showed up the night before departure to celebrate with us and help out with last minute stuff-in-a-panic.  And then the diehard crew that was there when we finally cut the lines on Sunday morning.
Some of these friends are planning to join us on the trip somewhere so we’re excited to see them sooner.  However, we say a sad goodbye-for-now to our special little shipmate, Miss Sadie Brown Dog.  Leave it to us to adopt a dog who gets seasick!  She’s getting better, but there are also the strict quarantine laws through the South Pacific and Australia to consider.   While it’s heartbreaking to leave her, it would be cruel to drag her along.  She’s staying with our neighbours while we’re gone and it’s a comfort to know that she’ll be happy and loved among friends and familiar surroundings.
Thanks to each and every one of you who came out, and to those of you who called, texted or otherwise sent your good wishes!  We appreciate your love and support and hope you follow along with us on our journey.
Photos never do this island justice, but it doesn’t keep me from trying.  When I first saw it 5 years ago, I almost couldn’t believe my eyes!  It was a postcard or calendar photo -and still is.  A perfect tuft of palm trees, it’s situated on the very edge of the reef and the soundtrack of the waves crashing at night is sublime.  It’s only a tiny speck, so small that when it showed up on Facebook with the Spot Messenger, someone commented wryly, “Nice place to anchor!”  Ha!  It looks like the middle of nowhere.  And that’s just fine because I would selfishly prefer that it remain a secret.  The small resort looks to have a few more cabins but that’s about it. 

2012: A Sea Odyssey
Our first evening in town, we were doing a walkabout and Travis sees the sign and asks, “Do you want to go to Rehab?”  “Um, yeah!  I think it’s a bar!”   ("Checking into Rehab" got quite the response on Facebook!)   Also come to find out that the owner is from Saskatchewan.  I could see a familiar look on Lee’s face as I said, "Canada, oh yeah? WhereWhere in Saskatchewan?  Where north of Regina?"  The look was a polite and patient, "Why bother with these questions, lady?  There's no way in hell you know where my little piss-ant hometown is."  I know this look well, as I've worn it many times.  But he was surprised to discover that I do actually know his town -I even drove through it last summer!

We’ll be leaving in a couple of days and it’s like saying goodbye to an old friend, again.  Thanks, Utila, and all you wonderful people on it!  Keep in touch.  We’re already thinking about our next trip back!
Tipsy at Rehab
It’s rush rush again as we make our way further east.  An important weather window may be presenting itself next week, allowing us to make for the tip of Nicaragua and head south in relative comfort.  I’ll be glad when that crossing is out of the way.

Some of you know that we’ve refitted our anchoring system since the last big trip.  The anchors that Travis had previous had good experience with just weren’t enough for the increased tonnage of Calico Jack.  We dragged anchor on two occasions during our Caribbean trip, one at our very first stop where we came within 10 yards of having a beachfront condo in Mexico.  It ruined me for the rest of the voyage.  Every time the wind generator started whirring I was up in the cockpit with the GPS on.  It made for many a sleepless night.

A couple of years ago, we got a great deal on a new anchor, a Rocna.  It is a single spade design –so it looks like a big tooth!- with a roll bar on the top that is supposed to reset itself within one metre should it come dislodged.  It comes with a label that reads “this anchor might set faster than you’re used to” and warns of risk to digits, limbs and life.  We’ve had occasion to test it out twice at Boca Grande where it held us and two other boats overnight in a ripping current through a full tidal change –meaning, it got pulled on from every direction.  Impressive!

On this trip, the big tooth continues to marvel.  On every occasion, we’ve had to drive forward and use the engine to break it out, it’s set so firmly, and it drags up a good scoop of the bottom with it.”
We weren’t prepared to tackle the slippery mud path back to town and the fact that we passed those two clean tourists would indicate that there had to be another way.  We passed yet another guy on the beach and while he was more decked out in hiking gear, his boots were clean as well so we optimistically pressed on. 

Long story short, our leisurely stroll turned into 5 hours of full-out back country hiking.  We got rained on.  The mud got even deeper –Leigh had to dig out her shoe once.  We took a few wrong turns.  And I’m sad to admit that on one occasion when I sank into knee-deep mud, I noticed too late that the mud was a different colour.  Horses took this trail, too.  Ugh!  My shoes were promptly introduced to Mr. Bleach Bottle as soon as we got back!

When we finally reached Red Frog Beach and sat down at the bar for a well-deserved round of drinks, Leigh announced that this was about to be the best beer she’d ever had, even if it arrived piss-warm (which, fortunately, it didn’t!).  When we inquired with the bartender about an easier way back to town, she was shocked when we told her the route we’d taken there.  “You’re my heroes,” she announced.  And while there was a civilized road back, we opted instead to spring for the water taxi.  The ride was long enough to indicate that it would have been quite a walk back, so we were glad for the ride.   At the end of it all, we agreed that it was a good adventure and we did in fact spot the rare red frog for which the beach is named, which is something that not every tourist gets to see.  We also agreed that those clean tourists we passed must have been air lifted in!!  Ok, maybe we took a wrong turn…

As a final note for today, I’d like to inform you all that my Grandma kicks ass!  My Mom’s Mom turned 95 yesterday, and she’s a truly amazing lady.  Here’s a picture of her with her birthday carrot cake!
Thanks, Molly R., what a fantastic surprise!
The sea lions continue to entertain at home, too.  There is a resident one named Jaws, as he does a pretty good imitation!  Apparently, he has some damage to his fin but that doesn’t stop him from cruising around the harbour on his side, one flipper in the air. 

We still turn on the lights every night we can spare the power and I’m forever working on the ultimate photo/video.  They’re fast little guys, though –at least in the water!  Onshore, they’re like bums, lining the park benches and walkways.
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