Working Hard

Now that Adagio is out of the water, we have started our projects. The big project of raising the waterline and repainting the bottom won’t be completed until just before we go back into the water in January. When you apply the antifouling paint to the bottom, you have to go back into the water pretty quickly, so the final paint won’t go on until after the holidays.

It’s been 2 years since we’ve painted the bottom. It really doesn’t look that bad, but if we didn’t do it now, we probably would only get another 6 months or so out of it anyway. But, as I’ve mentioned many, many times, our waterline is a mess. In the stern, we are probably 6 inches of topside below the actual waterline. So, the new bottom paint has to go much higher.

We considered repainting the top sides too, but it is just cost prohibitive. We just repainted the top sides 2 years ago, and we should have gotten 10 years out of that paint. But, there are places above the waterline where it is starting to bubble. It’s just cosmetic, but annoying. We used good Awlgrip paint and had a professional do it, so we don’t know what went wrong. We’ll have to deal with it eventually.

Inside the boat, we’ve pulled everything out of every cabinet, hanging locker and drawer. Even the fridge and freezer got emptied and cleaned. We are cleaning every surface, throwing things away and reorganizing. I’m a bit surprised at our clutter after 2 years, but it is time to start purging! I think we’ve now resolved to do a “spring cleaning” every year on the boat.

This is why we’re not living on the boat in the yard…

Today, all of floor boards of the cabin sole also came out to be revarnished. I think they have the original 1979 varnish on them. They were looking a bit shabby with some damage in some places. We are really looking forward to a fresh looking floor to walk on.

Mike is also in the process of replumbing our holding tank and replacing the macerator pump to make our holding tank system work better (fun job…) The good news is that all our thru holes seem to be in good shape. Mike is just doing some clean up and fixed the one that was leaking.

Next, we have all of the outside teak to clean and seal and all of the stainless to polish. We also have some sewing projects to repair some canvas and create new canvas covers. Whew!

We’re still hoping to complete everything in a month (other than the bottom paint) to do some land travel before the holidays. I would love suggestions for travel in Ecuador, Colombia and Peru. I’m trying to do some research into feasible (and inexpensive) trips from here. Any id as would be really helpful!



Settling in…

We arrived in Puerto Lucia, Ecuador after our crazy eight day passage. It looks like the strangely strong winds we experienced may have been effects from tropical storm Nate which unfortunately damaged Pacific Costa Rica and Nicaragua.

To enter Ecuador by boat, you are required to hire an agent who completes the required paperwork and coordinates with immigration, the port captain, customs, etc. They require an advance 24 hour notice of your arrival to get all of the officials to meet you and check you into the country. This is especially challenging for sailboats whose speed depends on the wind, and was certainly a challenge for us.

We were looking at possibly a late Saturday afternoon arrival. Our agent said that the officials were only available until 5:00 pm, and it wasn’t clear to us that they would greet us on Sunday. Thankfully we had the satellite email to communicate with the agent. I really don’t know how boats coordinate arrival that don’t have a way to communicate at sea. It was going to be close whether we would make it in time to be checked in on Saturday, so our agent arranged for the officials to meet us at 9:00 a.m. on Sunday.

We did make the Saturday afternoon arrival and were required to tie up to a mooring buoy outside of the marina until we were officially checked in on Sunday morning. The marina gave us a ride to shore to make arrangements for our boat in the marina. Even though we weren’t officially checked into the country, they let us wander around the marina grounds, which included a hotel with a restaurant.

Mike was really craving a cheeseburger, and soon we were enjoying a meal and a beer overlooking our boat. What we were not expecting upon arrival was how cool it is here. We’re basically on the equator and we are wearing jeans and jackets. It feels a lot like Southern California.

A little while longer we were greeted by our friend Dan on the boat Kini Popo, who has his boat hauled out here at Puerto Lucia and were introduced to Arnaud who runs a charter sailing business out of the marina and also helps coordinate work in the boat yard. We were getting the lay of the land and making plans for our next couple of months here.

The next day we had nine people on the boat, including our agent, the immigration officer, the health inspector, the port captain, and various customs agents. Lots of paperwork later and beers passed all around, we were official in Ecuador! Next was moving the boat off the mooring and into the marina. The marina is a med-moor style tie up, except you don’t use your anchor.

We had to back into the marina entrance. (Adagio does not back well in a straight line!) Then we had to reverse so that the stern of the boat was up against a dock with multiple lines from the stern to the dock. On the bow we have two lines tied to mooring balls out in the middle of the marina. You can see how this took many hands to accomplish. There were several guys on the dock as well as two guys in a skiff in the water to tie the bow lines to the mooring balls. This was a first for us!

Our plan here is to haul the boat out to do new bottom paint, raise the water line, do some work on some thru-holes, and a whole list of other projects. We’ve been on the boat full time for almost two years and some wear is starting to show. As we’ve just now had to dig into our hanging locker to find jeans and sweatshirts, we discovered how much mold and mildew may be hiding in places we didn’t know about. So, everything is coming off the boat to do a thorough cleaning. Thankfully the air here is dry and we are out of the tropical heat and humidity.

Considering the work that we were planning, it did not make logistical sense to stay on the boat in the yard, so we started looking for a place to rent. Our friend Dan was also interested in doing this, and we scored when Arnaud found us a two bedroom condo across the street from the beach and walking distance to the marina for only $600/month. We jumped on it and immediately started hauling everything we could off the boat and piling it into our temporary home.

So, now the work begins. We have to arrange for the haul out, order the paint, and work as fast as we can. We want some time to travel around Ecuador, Colombia and Peru. But, in order to do that we need to get all our boat chores done. The goal is to get the boat ready for the next season. After the New Year we will be in full on prep mode for our South Pacific crossing!


Passage to Ecuador – Part 4

34 miles to go…

We’re almost there! I know we must sound nuts after my last couple of posts. We do the best we can to plan given all of the weather information we can acquire, but the ocean can still be a formidable opponent that does not bend to the will of men in sailboats!

I woke up yesterday morning just before dawn to the sound of our engine starting. My watch started at 6am, so it must have been around 5:30. After finally rousing myself from what must have been a dead sleep, I came out in the cockpit to find the ocean transformed. Gone were the towering swells, and the wind had stopped howling. Had Mike not started the engine, we would probably have been bobbing around in the calm for quite some time.

We had purposely reserved enough fuel so that we had almost 2 full days we could motor if need be. If we could maintain a speed between 5-6 kts, we could make it into port Saturday afternoon before sunset.

As morning turned into afternoon we realized we were finally approaching the equator. Crossing the equator in a boat is a rite of passage among sailors. You go from pollywog to shellback. I’d say we are earned our shellback status on this passage.

Many of our friends who have made the equator crossing have done elaborate rituals, dressed in costumes, made up a song or dance, and given their tribute to Neptune. After the last week at sea, I can’t say that we really had the energy to be that creative. But, we did want to take note of this special and unique experience. You only cross the equator for the first time once in your life. So, we wrapped some bandanas around our heads, pulled out the favorite rum, gave a tribute to Neptune and celebrated our new shellback status.

We motor sailed through the night taking advantage of what light winds there were the get some lift and improve our speed. As we began to get closer to the coast, we’ve had to watch out for local fishing traffic. This morning a panga approached us as I was on watch. They wanted something to drink and cigarettes. We gave them juice, but they were a little disappointed that we don’t smoke. They had probably been on the water all night. Four hardy and rough looking guys in a little panga. These guys seriously work had to make out a living fishing.

We’re excited to arrive at our new destination, and I will be very happy to get the boat cleaned up. Every set of sheets and towels and most of our clothes need to be washed. Anything that got salt on it needs to be washed. And then, we are going to start making arrangements to pull the boat out of the water to do the serious work. Another chapter will have begun in our adventure…


Passage to Ecuador – Part 3

227 miles to go…

The last two days have been really rough. We expected an increase in wind on Wednesday, but the forecasts looked like we would be south of the strongest winds and wouldn’t see over 20-25 kts. Weatherman total fail.

Starting Tuesday afternoon the winds started blowing 40 kts out of nowhere. The already big seas built to at least 20 feet with short periods creating some really steep waves. Those are not conditions a sailboat ever wants to see. And, it lasted for 36 hrs!

We shortened sail as much as we could with a triple reef in the main and just a tiny bit of the jib out. That was enough to keep the boat balanced and stable, let the Hydrovane steer, and keep us from being tossed around in the waves like a toy. We were moving southeast at 2 kts, which was the only direction we could sail. We hunkered down in the cabin to wait it out, not knowing how long it would last.

Thank God we had the Hydrovane, because hand steering through those waves would have been exhausting. Most of the time we would go up and over the swell, but occasionally we would get broad sided by a wave, or bury the nose in a wave, or rise up over a wave and slam down in the trough on the other side. One time I was in the cockpit and saw a wall of water coming out of the corner of my eye that just pooped the cockpit drenching me and leaving a pool in the cockpit that took several minutes to drain. We also discovered that our hatch over the salon table, which doesn’t usually leak, is not waterproof when it is buried by a wave. We ended up with water raining down in the salon.

We’re exhausted and every muscle in our bodies is sore. It takes considerable effort just to stand and not get tossed around. We’ve both fallen a couple of times. This is one of those times that we don’t go out without the life vests and harnesses on. But, through it all we are still maintaining good spirits and trying not to let frustration take hold. I think we’re doing everything we can given the circumstances.

Finally at 6 am this morning the wind started to back off to a more manageable 15-20 kts. The seas are still a mess but not quite as big. We were finally able to tack to head more westerly, as we were getting pushed east toward the Colombia and Ecuador border. We still need to make it around the point at Esmeraldas.

We’re still hoping for a Saturday arrival, but it really depends on what happens with the weather. We are both looking forward to a long shower and cold drink. At least we will have a story to tell about this one…


Passage to Ecuador – Part 2

309 miles to go…

My fingers are pruned and I have wet curls stuck to my forehead. Not a good look. It has been raining for over 48 hours and no amount of foul weather gear or raincoats can keep us dry. Everything in the boat is wet.

But, we are making some slow progress. We’ve been running the engine sparingly and sailing when we can. We’ve had to tack quite a bit to get us to our destination, rather than sail a straight line, which is adding some miles. Still slogging through the big swells which is also keeping the pace down. I’d say we’re averaging around 4 or 4.5 kts. That’s not going to win any races but we’ll get there eventually.

We’re a bit tired of being wet though, so I’m really hoping the rain lets up by tomorrow. We’re trying to have a sense of humor about it and have commented that we are not going to soon forget this trip!

Despite the rain, the wind has generally been in the 15-20 kts range. We had a few hours yesterday with hardly any wind, and then had some squalls bring us some brief 30+ kts to add to the excitement and keep us on our toes.

Yesterday afternoon I was on watch and motor-sailing in about 5 kts of wind with some light rain. We use the electric autopilot when we motor, but it tends to over correct when we hit big swells making it very noisy and annoying. So, I was hand steering the boat when suddenly the wind went from 5 to over 30 kts. And, the rain started coming down in buckets pelting me in the face. I even put my sunglasses on at one point to try and keep the rain out of my eyes. There wasn’t much we could do sailwise. We only had the double reefed main up and were basically dead into the wind. Mike was sleeping, so I just plowed through it for a few hours.

Of course the wind and rain backed off right before Mike got up. He popped up in the companionway to ask me how it was going. I must have looked like a drowned rat because he offered to heat up dinner for me. I peeled my soggy clothes off and shivering finally realized how cold I was. Despite the fact that my foul weather pants and jacket are supposed to be waterproof, I was soaked through to my underwear. Mike had heated up a bowl of hot chili for me which tasted awesome and warmed me up immensely.

As I was standing at the sink washing my chili bowl, I realized how tired my legs were. I felt like I had been doing squats for the last 4 hours, which I basically had while standing at the helm trying to stand upright and steer us through that mess. I crashed for the next 4 hours which was the first solid block of sleep I’d had in 3 days.

There have been some funny moments the last couple of days. One night, just as I was about to crawl into bed leaving Mike on watch in the rain, I heard him yelp. I jumped up to see what happened and found him holding a flying fish which had flown up onto the boat and wacked Mike in the arm. Stowaway.

We’re keeping an eye on the weather, but we are more than half way there. We will just have to deal with whatever Mother Nature decides to throw our way. I might sleep for a week when we get there though…

Will keep you posted.

Passage to Ecuador – Part 1

547 miles to go…

I’m laying in my bunk writing this as I have wedged myself in diagonally to keep from falling out of bed with each swell we go over. We have had an eventful last 24 hours.

We left Panama City Friday morning to head directly West to Vista Mar to fill up on fuel and water. We decided to spend Friday night at the dock as we poured over the various weather forecasts we had downloaded. The predictions were that the next few days were going to be a bit rough with winds in the 20’s and large seas. But, the conditions were going to get worse near the Panamanian coast later in the week with winds over 35 kts! So, we had a choice to make. Either we left now and tried to get as far south as possible as quickly as possible to avoid the coming weather, or we wait out the winds and seas in Panama for at least another week. After much discussion, we decided to go. If it got too rough, we could always turn around and run back. It is a lot easier to handle the wind and seas if they are from behind, which is what would happen if we had to turn around.

We left Vista Mar Saturday morning to head south toward Punta Mala. The wind was almost directly on the nose with confused seas. Because we knew we had to get south and outside Punta Mala, we decided to motor-sail for 12 hours and just bash through the seas. We finally cut the engine south of Punta Mala. We had roughly 20 kts of wind as projected. The wind was not an issue, but the big swells kept slowing us down as the bow of the boat continuously buried in the waves. Unfortunately, that meant a great deal of seawater was getting into the anchor locker and down into the bilge. Our dutiful bilge pump kept kicking on to pump it out.

Adagio has handled the wind and seas beautifully. We have a double reef in the main, the staysail is out and just a piece of the jib. With the boat balanced properly, the Hydrovane is steering easily, and we are making a lot of southward progress. Although the boat sails just fine, it is definitely a bumpy ride! Just getting up and down the companionway stairs is a challenge. And, if you need to use the toilet, you better hang on! So, needless to say, neither of us have had too much sleep. I’ve been eating a lot of ginger to keep from being too queasy.

This morning has been much of the same with the occasional squall coming through. At least the rain and clouds are keeping things pretty cool on the boat. We did have some other excitement today. Mike had one trolling line out in his continued quest to catch a yellowfin tuna. The line screamed out and we knew we had a big fish. Mike saw the fish jump and thought it was a marlin. We worried for a moment that we were going to get spooled. But, Mike worked hard to get the fish up to the boat. It wasn’t a marlin, but we’re not sure what it was. It looked like a sailfish but with a short bill, not a long one like a marlin. It was brownish in color but had purple vertical stripes on it.  We let the fish go, and I told Mike he was done fishing for the day. It is way to rough to be dealing with a fish.

What the heck is this fish???

The new forecast today looks a bit better than what we saw on Friday. It looks like if we get through the next 24 hrs of rough conditions, we should be far enough south that things will start to smooth out. Let’s hope so!

Will keep you posted.

Preparing for Ecuador

We’re back in Panama City, but our time in Panama is coming to a close. Our next port will be Puerto Lucia, Ecuador! The passage will be approximately 725 nautical miles (as the crow files), but all will depend on the wind and our actual course. Our guess right now is that the passage will take us 7-10 days, which will definitely be our longest non-stop passage so far.

The passage from Panama to Ecuador is not exactly an easy one. The prevailing winds pretty much the entire year are from the south-southwest. That is the exact direction we need to go. You can’t sail directly into the wind, and we do not carry enough fuel to motor the entire way to Ecuador! So, we need a plan.

We’ve been studying the pilot charts and reading up on Jimmy Cornell’s advice for taking this route. The pilot charts tell us the historical winds and currents for this time of year. On average, we should bet on SSW winds about 15 kts. At least the predicted calms are virtually zero, and there are no real weather patterns, just random squalls. Of course, as another boat recently said to us, “with climate change, can you really rely on that historical data?” Hmpf!

Here’s an example of a pilot chart from one of Jimmy Cornell’s books…

Right now our plan is going to be to depart Panama City and head over to Taboga Island, which is less than 10 miles away. We want to fill our water tanks before we depart (which is easier to do at anchor than underway). The anchorage here in Panama City is pretty dirty. Yesterday there was a ton of fuel that someone dumped just floating in the anchorage (pretty horrible). That kind of thing with ruin the membrane on our water maker. So, we’re going to head out to the island to fill up on water first.

From Taboga, we are going to head west toward Vista Mar to fill up on fuel. It is really the last place we can fuel up on our way out of Panama. We only carry 70 gallons of diesel (which won’t get us even half way to Ecuador), so we are going to have to use the motor judiciously on our passage. From Vista Mar we will head south to Punta Mala. When we rounded Punta Mala on our way into Panama, we had an adverse current. So, we are hoping this time we’ll get a favorable one.

After rounding Punta Mala, we plan to head west toward Isla Coiba. We want to head as far west as we can to get a better attack angle when we turn southeast toward Ecuador. After we make the turn, it will be all about following the wind. If the wind angle isn’t favorable, we’ll just have to tack back and forth and try and make as much southward progress as possible. It will definitely add some length to our trip.

In addition to planning our route, we have some other tasks to accomplish here. We will have to check out of Panama with the officials and get our zarpe. We also have to send our agent in Ecuador lots of documentation. Ecuador requires you to have an agent to enter the country by boat. And, it is not cheap! We’ve also been told by our agent that since we visited Panama, we have to have a certificate of yellow fever vaccination (which we don’t have). So, while in Panama City, we have got to find a way to get that vaccine.

This morning we already accomplished another important task which was to inspect and adjust our standing rigging. We made some adjustments back in January in La Cruz (Mexico), but we have come a lot of miles since then. We noticed that the forestay looked a little loose, so we dropped the jib and worked on getting it in better condition. We also took a look at our halyard to make sure there wasn’t any chaffing. It’s always good to have more confidence that the rig is going to hold up on a long passage.

Also on my “to do” list is to make sure we’ve got plenty of food aboard. Since we don’t know the exact length of the passage, we’re making a couple of provision runs to make sure we’re stocked up. We also don’t want to just eat cereal and sandwiches for 10 days, so we are making lots of meal preparations. We don’t know if we are going to have calm or rough sea conditions, and we want easy to prepare meals.

If it’s possible, we like to at least have a hot dinner. The best way to do that in most sea conditions is to make one-pot meals that have been cooked ahead of time and stored in the fridge or frozen so that they can be easily heated up underway. I have a pressure cooker with a locking lid and a gimbled stove, so we can make sure that a pot of something does not get dumped all over the interior of the boat while trying to make dinner!

So, I’m working on making batches of chili, pasta, chicken curry and taco meat that are all cooked ahead of time and can be easily frozen and reheated for several meals each. Everything will be in individual zip-lock bags. It is a lot of work (and cooking) to make a week’s worth of dinners!

There are a few other menial tasks we need to do aboard before we depart, but mostly we are just working on getting our heads around being at sea for so long. We’re excited about it. It will be a great challenge for us, and it moves us to another continent! South America, here we come!

I’ll do my best to update the blog, Facebook and Farkwar via the sat phone as soon as we depart and along the way, so those of you who want to can follow our progress all the way to Ecuador.



Whale? Or Shark?

After leaving Isla Pedro Gonzalez, we decided to head south around the tip of Isla Del Rey and make our way back up north. We stopped at Punta Cocos, Isla Canas and Isla Espiritu Santo for a night each. We found a really great snorkeling spot on the seaward side of Isla Espiritu Santo around some small islands. The visibility was marginal, but once you dove down twenty feet or so toward the bottom there was a lot of sea life. We saw huge schools of jacks, sierra mackerel, lots of snappers and all kinds of reef fish.

Here is our view coming into the channel next to Isla Canas…

As we headed around a shallower point at the end of one of the small islands with lots of rocks surrounding it, we saw our first lobster! We had seen the local fishermen with lobsters and knew they were around the Perlas, but after looking under what seems like hundreds of rocks and in cracks and crevasses around the islands, we hadn’t seen one. This little guy was too small, but we kept looking. Eventually we discovered about 5 or 6, but unfortunately none that we could keep.

We’ve tried to keep a very sustainable policy aboard Adagio when it comes to fishing. As much as we like fish and seafood our policy is generally: (1) We don’t take more fish than we can eat; (2) We don’t take large game fish (like marlin) that are not sustainable or fish that we know are overfished; and (3) We try not to take anything that is small or juvenile (the exception here would be if it is damaged from fishing gear and not going to survive.) When it comes to lobsters, we do not take the females (you can see the eggs) or small ones. So, no lobsters for us on this occasion.

We would have stayed longer at Espiritu Santo, but in the last three stops we have gotten eaten alive by mosquitos and no-see-ums. Despite having screens on our hatches and portlights, there are clearly some gaps or holes where these buggers found their way in. We woke up each morning with itchy bites all over. Ugh.

We headed out of Isla Espiritu Santo after breakfast. We still had some fish in the freezer, but Mike really wanted to see if we could catch a yellowfin tuna, so we put the trolling lines out. No yellowfin tuna, but the fishing that morning was crazy. We caught 5 sierra, 2 dorado (mahi mahi) and 2 jack crevalle. It was all catch and release, so those fish lived to see another day.

Just as Mike was about to put the lines back out after letting one of those fish go, he said to me, “I just saw a fin.” My response was, “What kind of fin? Shark?” Just as I was saying those words, I looked off to port and saw a couple of large fins coming out of the water. We both thought it must be a shark, but we pondered aloud what kind of shark was in these waters that was that big. None that we knew of.

As we started to get closer to the fins and were both peering over lifelines, we identified our culprit at the same time as we both shouted “whale shark!” Neither of us had any idea that whale sharks were even in Panama.

Despite their name, whale sharks are not related to whales. They are sharks and are the biggest sharks in the ocean. Our guides tell us that whale sharks can grow up to 60 feet long. That is one hell of a shark! These sharks were about 20-25 feet long, which is still a really big shark. Whale sharks are very docile and not dangerous. We’ve seen them one other time, in the Sea of Cortez last summer when we were able to jump in and swim with them. They are filter feeders with huge, wide mouths that open to filter all of the plankton and other small creatures in the water.
Not only were we shocked to see a whale shark in Panama, we were shocked to see the large number of them. Last year we encountered just 2-3 inside a small bay where we were anchored. This time, we were on a passage between islands and came across a school of at least 50 of them. Our books say that they are usually solitary, but this was a huge school of whale sharks.

They also were either curious about the boat or simply not bothered that we were there, because each one seemed to come right up to the hull or cross right in front of our bow. Some swam right next to us for several minutes. As soon as we came across that first whale shark, we reeled in the fishing lines and put the boat in neutral. There was a favorable current and we simply drifted through the school of whale sharks marveling at them for almost an hour. An incredible experience that made our day.

I really couldn’t get enough of these guys. Here are some photos of the experience. I’ll work on getting video up a little later when I have better wifi access…

Whether it is our sightings of the majestic humpbacks, the docile whale sharks, or all of the colorful reef fish, the experience of being closer to nature gives us the feeling of responsibility toward these creatures. One thing I’ve noticed here in Panama is all of the trash, particularly plastic in the ocean and washed up on the beaches on these beautiful islands. I can’t say that it is all Panama’s fault. If you look at the geography and the prevailing currents into the Gulf of Panama, you can see how this area could end up as a repository for all kinds of things floating in the ocean.

We recently watched a couple of documentaries that another boat gave us about the environment and climate change that were educating but really just reinforced what we already knew – that each of us is responsible for our contributions on this planet. When you see beautiful creatures such as the whale sharks and then see the plastic bottles they have to swim through, you feel sad that humanity is not doing its part. So, my plea to anyone reading this is to take the small, simple steps in your everyday lives to protect our oceans and our planets. And, I encourage everyone to get out there and enjoy nature and its many wonderful creatures. It will change your life!



Fish and Bananas

We ended up staying at Isla Contadora a lot longer than we originally anticipated. We left Panama City with a decent amount of provisions and a couple hundred dollars in cash thinking that we would go out to the Perlas Islands for a week or so and then return to Panama City (only a day sail away) to replenish. But, we liked Isla Contadora so much that we ended up staying for over three weeks!

The little island has some beautiful homes that are weekend/vacation houses for the wealthy in Panama City, but during the week the island is pretty sleepy. Some of the workers take pangas over from Isla Saboga next door to work in the few shops on the island. On the weekends, sportfishers and power yachts come in from the city, and private planes land at the small airstrip on the island to bring in the weekend crowds (which is really not that crowded.)

The anchorage on the north side of Isla Contadora is in a bay surrounded by Islas Saboga, Pacheca, Bartolome and several other small islands making it a pretty protected anchorage. As all of the islands are pretty close together, it gave us lots of places to go exploring in the dinghy. The island was also pretty convenient with a couple of stores that had basic provisions such as rice, butter, eggs and the occasional fruits and veggies brought in about once a week. There was also a gas pump at one of the stores where we could replenish the gas for our dinghy and the generator we use to run the watermaker.

The provisions at the stores were quite a bit more expensive than in Panama City, but that makes sense considering that they have to ferry them in. Gas was $6/gallon, more than twice what we paid in the city. As there are no banks or credit card machines on the island, we burned through our cash pretty quickly.

Even though we ran out of cash, we just weren’t ready to head back to the city yet and still had more islands to explore in the Perlas. We have lots of dried and canned goods on the boat as well as some frozen meat in the freezer. So, we figured we could make do for a while before we have to leave the islands and head back to Panama City to load up the boat for the trip to Ecuador.

One reason we thought we could keep going without heading back to provision was all of the fresh fish that we have been catching. Trolling through the islands we have picked up several really good size sierra (my favorite). And, Mike has gotten really good at spearfishing. He’s been able to pick up lots of really good size snappers, which always make a nice meal.

Mike has been teasing me that I need to try out his speargun and get a fish. But, I just don’t think I have the hunter instinct in me. I LOVE to eat fish, and I don’t mind cooking it at all, but I get a bit squeamish when it comes to killing the fish. Especially the snappers. They have these big eyes that just stare at you when you pull them out of the water. I can’t help but look at them and wonder what they are thinking. Mike usually gives them a “sorry, buddy” and then dispatches them quickly by putting a knife in the top of their head. I usually have to look away. I feel a bit sorry for the fish…until it ends up on my plate.

With no cash left, we weren’t going to be able to buy any fresh fruits and veggies (if we could even find them) to go with our fish. But, another boat told us that they found wild bananas on a little island called Isla Bartolome. Mike really wanted to go find the bananas. So, we took off in the dinghy with a machete and went in search of bananas.

After hacking through quite a bit of vegetation, nearly circling the island, and being careful not to disturb the brown boobies who were sitting on nests on the ground all over the island, Mike finally found some wild banana trees. It’s a good thing he is tall, because he had to jump up with the machete to hack off the bunch of bananas. He was pretty excited about our lovely little bunch.

The bananas were tiny and green. We hung them up in the cockpit wondering and hoping that they would ripen. After a few days the bananas slowly started to turn yellow and we tentatively took a bite. These tiny bananas were so sweet and just perfect! As the bunch started to ripen more, we ended up eating bananas all day long. They were so good that we actually went back and got another bunch.

We’re still in the islands now. We moved down farther south to Isla Pedro Gonzales. We were going to go down to the next island called Isla San Jose. But, we heard from another boat anchored here that the military was doing something down on that island for the next month and they were actually escorted away from the island. So, we think our plan is going to head down around the tip of Isla Del Rey, the biggest island in the Perlas, sometime in the next couple of days. We may not have any cash to continue our island adventure, but we know that we will at least have fish and bananas to eat!



Humpback Whales!

We finally left Panama City for the Las Perlas Islands, which are a group of islands in the Gulf of Panama. If you look at a map, Panama City is in the middle of the arch shape that makes up the country of Panama, and the Las Perlas Islands are directly south. They are a group of islands fairly close together. Some are inhabited with small villages or vacation homes for wealthy Panamanians, but others are uninhabited and wild. We were excited to get away from the city and hopefully get some time in the water. So far, we have not been disappointed.

Right away our day started out great as we hooked two sierra while trolling out toward the islands. We took this as a good sign that there were going to be more fish in our future in the islands.

Our first stop was Isla Pacheca, a small island that is privately owned. As we were approaching the island, we spotted blows from a pod of whales not too far in the distance. A quick look through the binoculars confirmed our suspicions that we had found humpback whales! The humpbacks have a very distinctive white pattern on their tales (or flukes). So, if you are lucky enough to spot one, you will recognize the humpbacks.

We dropped anchor in about 30 feet of water, recognizing that it was close to high tide. The tides in Panama can be 10-15 feet or more, so you really have to watch your depth and the tide charts when anchoring, or you could end up with your boat on the sand at low tide! We were delighted when we looked over the side of the boat and could see our anchor chain on the bottom. I’ll take 30 feet of visibility any day. After getting everything situated on the boat before the sun started to fade, we could still see and hear the whales off in the distance. Awesome.

We stayed at Pacheca for two nights, but after some squalls came through during the night making it a quite uncomfortable anchorage, we decided to move over to Isla Contadora just a couple of miles away. Contadora is one of the few islands that is inhabited, and although small even has a runway for small planes to land.

There were a couple other sailboats anchored at Contadora, and later that afternoon we were greeted by Tassio and Isabelle from the sailboat Yoyo. Tassio had been out spearfishing and brought us a huge piece of Amberjack. THAT is a great way to make new friends!

The next morning we got a call on the radio from Yoyo just as we were finishing breakfast that two humpback whales were right by our boat. We quickly ran outside with the video camera to catch a mama and her calf slowly drifting by us with the current. The baby was having some fun rolling around and slapping his fins on the water. Tassio and Isabelle rowed over and jumped in with their masks and snorkels to try and get a better look, but the whales soon decided to move on.

Later that day we invited our new friends on Yoyo to join us in some snorkeling and free diving. As we were crossing the bay to one of the other islands, we came across the mama and calf whales again. We got about as close as you would want to get to them, as the adults can be 40-50 feet in length. Our little 10 foot dinghy would be no match for the whales.

We got a few more free diving trips in the next few days and Mike tried his hand at spearfishing. Although he didn’t spear anything, we had a great time checking out the large schools of fish. We also saw some dolphins, a turtle and a huge ray.

But, all was not lost on the fishing front as our new best friend and expert spearfisherman Tassio kept us fed in fish for days! He speared a red snapper, white sea bass (corvina) and sierra, not to mention the amberjack. We were very grateful for all the fish!

We’re now looking forward to moving on to some of the other islands here in the Perlas, and hopefully will have some more fun with the diving and fishing. It’s nice to be back in the water.