We retired in 2008, left Virginia in September of that year and sailed our boat home to California.

After being 'stuck' in Mexico for quite some time...Kwanesum moved up to Ventura, CA.

She is now for sale. We are on to new adventures.

June 1, 2012

Hold the fort! We stopped in Ventura and seem to love it here!

Plans changed. Leaving the boat here to see if she'll sell. As the wind blows...so do the plans of Team Hasness.

We are in Ventura West Marina. Stay tuned for further news and pictures!

April 23, 2012

Upward we go!

So…while Randy has his head in the head, no not as a puking receptacle, but trying to clean the fricking calcium, that has built up over the last year or two, out of the hose that leads from the head to the holding tank, so we can again use the fricking thing (I know…TMI, but that’s the way it goes)…I am sitting outside in the cockpit bundled up, because, yes, Toto, we are no longer in the tropics!!...with a glass of wine, and I have been inspired to write of our last few days! <<  working on your boat in foreign, also read different, ports. Well, I figure somebody might as well enjoy the eau de head while imbibing in adult beverages and listening to adult language emanating from forward on the boat. Writing inspiration comes in many ways, shapes and forms.
We are on the last leg of our trip, our adventure, our life the last few years.
I think know, Randy would have liked a few more days away from the boat from his three week Baja bash escapade. He’s tired.  Really tired. The one week off he got he slept most of the time. Not a fun trip, that. I will catch you up on that ordeal in a few.
Randy got a good week at home when he returned from bringing the boat from Banderas Bay, Mexico to San Diego, CA, but way too short. He could have used some extra time but we needed to keep Kwanesum coming up. Her place at the Oakland Yacht Club is waiting and it doesn’t make sense to prolong the trip. 
Our dear friends Patty and Louie Spinazze offered to drive us down to San Diego. How nice is that?! They used the trip as a little vacation time, and we were thrilled not to have to bother with renting a car only one way, which is more expensive. Louie pulled up to our house the night before we left with a car he rented for the trip, and we started to load a few of our things we needed to take back to the boat. "Uhhhh, Louie…are you sure we can get all of our stuff in there?" Randy brought back a lot of bedding and blankets that needed to be washed for our return. Plus, I took a trip to the store to provision up, since we won’t have a vehicle down in San Diego, and I wanted to bring food from home that we can use on the trip. Fortunately Louie had the suitcase he and Patty needed already in the trunk.
Randy helped him load…and load….and load. Bless his heart, Louie kept saying, "Oh sure! We can fit that right here!" And by golly, we got most of it in! The only thing we sacrificed was a case of beer and a case of water. We can buy that down there. I suppose I could have left some other stuff at home, as far as food, but I hated buying more again in San Diego. It’s cheaper at WinCo where I purchased it. So…we packed it in. The next morning when Patty and Louie came to pick us up at O’Dark-Thirty, we only had to put in our two duffel bags and a backpack and our little cooler with stuff. OK! In the little bitty car, Ran and I sat in the back with our two duffel bags and our backpack between us. The little cooler made it in the trunk. Yay! I can’t see Randy, but I figure I can use the duffels, et al, as a pillow for on the way. Cool! Let’s go! And off we went.
We had a fine trip. Stopped at Harris Ranch for a great breakfast. Got to Cabrillo Isle Marina in good time. About 2:30pm. It’s beautiful on our arrival. Sunny and nice. Ran went up to the deli and bought some beer so we could have our traditional safe-arrival beer, even though it was a road trip. We toasted to Kwanesum and our friends. We ate sandwiches that Patty had so thoughtfully packed in her little cooler bag. Then Ran and I started to work while Patty and Louie found a place to stay. The plan was to gather later for dinner.
Poor Kwanesum. She looked a bit haggard. Not structurally, but her “dress”…the dodger and bimini…the canvas...looked a little weary.  It looked pretty bad when I left her in Mexico last year, but another year in the tropical sun really has worn the canvas out. The threads just disintegrate in the sun and the Sunbrella has faded horribly. Looks like the Clampetts coming to town. I’m not sure if it’s the color of the Sunbrella we chose (Toast) or it was a bad fabric to begin with or what…it just did not hold up well. Right from the beginning it started to fade horribly. Yet, we have friends who have other colors of canvas and it still looks fine! And their canvas is older! Not sure what happened, but good grief. The tropical sun is brutal on canvas and the threads, but I don’t understand why others’ canvas and threads are still fine. Hmmmm….

Randy has hand sewn some of it back together (actually looks kinda funky!) and there are a few places where we need to do more sewing. I love the shape of our bimini and I loved the color of the canvas originally. Just really disappointed that it didn’t last 5 years. So…she looks like she’s been there and done that. Rode hard and put away wet. She’s as intrepid as the day is long and I would not have any other boat. And she’ll get us the rest of the way in good stead. She just looks a little faded and worn. =)
Back to cleaning...I did my thing to get Kwanesum ship-shape for the rest of our journey: washed the ports, put on the fresh, clean bedding, cleaned the galley and reorganized. Swept and wiped down the sole of the boat and cleaned the head (which Randy is now un-cleaning.) She was fresh as a daisy and ready to go! Off we go to dinner with our friends. A fun dinner at Jimmy’s Famous American Tavern at the harbor. (BTW…why does wine cost so much in restaurants now!?)
The next day we did more cleaning and rearranging and then went to the Fish Market (which we have always loved) for dinner with Patty and Louie. It was down by the USS Midway that is now permanently docked there and where they have a wonderful area dedicated to all the servicemen. What a great dinner we had with great service and great company. We said goodbye to our bestest friends, Patty and Louie, and went to the boat to get a good night’s sleep as we were leaving early the next day.
Hard to leave sun-shiny San Diego but off we must go. We pulled in to top off the diesel. $5.00/gallon!! Ugh! We had great weather and seas. We knew it would be good from our weather sites and we were glad it held true. We are motor-sailing on this trip north because the wind and seas are mostly on our nose. Our destination was Avalon on Santa Catalina Island.  I have never been there but always remember the song:  “Twenty-six miles across the sea, Santa Catalina is a waiting for me, Santa Catalina…the island of romance…romance…romance, romance. Water all around us everywhere, tropical seas and the salty air, Santa Catalina, the island of romance”.
We had a good trip. Smooth seas. Boring as heck. =) We’ll take that. It’s a good time to snooze and read. We did a lot of both. Took us about 15 hours to get there. We got in at 10:00pm at night. We don’t usually like to go into ports unknown at night, but this was a simple entry. And the harbor guys are there to meet you whatever time you arrive and escort you to your mooring ball. That’s perfect. And just as they said, our guy was there to meet us and escort us, and we tied up (differently than we’ve tied before) to their very efficient mooring system. I pulled the boat up to the mooring ball where there was a tall pole that Randy grabbed. On the pole was the pennant which Randy attached to the bow cleat and then walked the rest of the line back to the stern cleat where he tied that end. This was a unique-to-us way of tying on to a mooring ball, but very efficient with lots of boats. They can really pack you in there this way. I guess during the summer they have over 700 boats moored there. Glad we didn’t arrive at that time! 
We were hungry so I made us some good ole Kraft Macaroni and Cheese (usually I like this when I’m hungry but it didn’t hit the spot for me) which is quick and easy and filling, and we had a drink and we were in the sack in no time. Yay! I love sleeping at anchor or on a mooring. (Except when the mooring ball clanks against the boat. But the way they tie you on in this configuration prevents that.) Kwanesum makes a nice noise that I can’t describe when she’s at anchor. Kind of a creaking noise. And the rocking of the boat is perfect.  And our bed on board…excellent. I am an excellent maker-of-good-sleeping-beds and our bed on Kwanesum is no exception, though you have to stand on your head to make it. I put feather beds and egg crate foam and good cushy mattress pads under us. Then add a great quilt and lots of pillows and blankets and it’s heaven. Ours is a queen bed so there’s plenty of room. I’ve often thought I should have a video of what it looks like to make it. I use my head a lot to balance the mattress off of when I’m making it. The mattress folds in half width wise so I can fold it and flip it around as I make it. It’s pretty comical. I use the straps you can find at BB&B to tighten the sheets, as the mattresses on boats are nearly always odd-shaped and I like my sheets to be tight. And I see no need in having someone make special sheets to fit the mattress. So we are tucked in for a good night’s sleep.

Next day… we just relax. Randy made some great boat pancakes and we enjoy our morning catching up on the news and email and friends on Facebook. We paid $10 each for 24 hours of internet. I figure we can afford $20 and you know how I like my internet and Randy loves to read the news, too, and we can both check the weather. Since Bob, our dinghy, is not doing well…I need to update you on Bob…we call a boat taxi to take us into shore. $5/person each way. Yuck. But…whatever. It’s a cute little town but touristy as you’d expect. We walked around and down to the Avalon Ballroom of infamous history. But we didn’t pay for the tour to go inside. We did go to their little gift shop and could have paid to go into the museum, but I was able to watch a little slide show program so that was enough. A fun place years ago, very popular with the stars. We stopped at a restaurant on our walk back and had some beer and appetizers. Perfect. It’s so nice to be in the United States. We really enjoyed visiting other countries, but I cannot stress how much we like being back in our own country with our own currency and people that speak our language and knowing whether you are being ripped off or not. Well…mostly knowing that, anyway. In another language…you never know. And believe me we felt that many times. It’s just really nice to be in the USof A. Hey! I can even call the kids with no problema!
Bright and early we are up and ready to go to our next port of call, Channel Islands Harbor near Oxnard. Our daughter and her husband lived in Oxnard for a few years so we are familiar with the area. And Randy has been there many times for work and on other boats. It’s foggy when we leave but the seas are smooth as silk. LOVE THAT! Again we motor-sail. We put the mainsail up to steady the boat and pick up any winds that might be there. But…we have negative wind.  Excellent!
Took us 12 hours to get to Channel Islands Harbor; just another long day of napping and reading and contemplating life. You do that a lot on these trips - lots of time to think. Not much ocean life, though we did see a couple of schools of dolphin, but they didn’t come play with us. They seemed on their way somewhere. No time to play with the boats. And we did have a birdie ride along with us for a while.
So we are now in a berth in the harbor. Another Charlie 13 slip! That must be our lucky number! We have had that number on slips quite often! We now have lots of water and electricity…but no internet.  Usually there’s some wifi signal you can get for a few pennies, but apparently not here. However, there’s a Starbucks up the road and they don’t charge for internet anymore. Yay! And it’s pretty good, fast internet and the facility is really nice…and big. Yes, people…I like my internet. I do my banking, my checking the news, my checking of the weather, my checking on my people , my uploading to my blog…through internet. I like good internet. It’s what I am…partially. =)
We can walk lots of places here, which I love. There’s a good shopping center close by and some restaurants and Laundromat, and hardware store, too, which came in very handy for my Captain whose head is in the head! Alas…we are back to Laundromats! Oh how I love and appreciate my washer and dryer at home. We are so appreciative of many things now that we are CLODs (Cruisers Living on Dirt).
We are now figuring out our staging to go around Pt Conception. It can be a tricky and uncomfortable area unless you do it right. Timing and weather are what we are watching. I will keep you posted on that as it happens!

April 11, 2012

The Pirates of Kwanesum have landed.

The Pirates are home! And awfully glad to be home. Quite a trip they had, but they did it.

Now it's just a matter of Capt Ran and I bringing Kwanesum the rest of the way. Stay tuned for that trip! Going to let the Captain rest for a week and then we're off.

April 8, 2012

Safely tucked in at Cabrillo Isle Marina

From pirate Harry quoth the following: Cleared INS @ San Diego and berthed Kwanesum at Cabrillo Isle Marina mid-afternoon. Celebratory drinks & dinner at the Fiddler completed the bash. Now we crash, put the boat to bed in the morning and head back to Alameda at what will seem like breakneck speed.

Arrr...pirates. Well done! Just make sure you slow down enough to toss Capt. Ran out when you whiz by Gustine! =)

USA! They made it!

Now they just have to check into the country. Arrr...me hardies/hearties...great job!

Almost There! Hooray U. S. of A.!

Looks like they'll be there today! GREAT weather for them so they had a good couple of days on the home stretch. Arrrr...mateys! We be waitin' for ye! =) =)

April 7, 2012

To San Diego, Capt. Ran!!

Hooray! They are off and running this morning with San Diego on their minds. Arrr.... Weather looks good for what should be a two day trip. Go Pirates!

April 5, 2012

Pirates anchored in San Quintin!

Good job, Pirates! They made it to San Quintin where they can rest a couple of days while some bigger weather comes through. Then off again on Saturday for the final leg of the trip. The weather looks good from Saturday on so I suspect they will go for the goal! Bravo Pirates! Arrrr....

April 4, 2012

Heading out to move up a little further.

Stay tuned for next SPOT location to be San Quintin. Hopefully! =)

Stopped to rest

The pirates are tired and need to stop to rest. After a slow go of only 2-3kts on the last leg, they pulled into Bahia San Carlos. They are 50 miles south of San Quintin which is where they wanted to be to wait out the next weather coming. They may try to make San Quintin in the morning after a night's rest. We shall see! Arrrrr.....

April 3, 2012

On the seas again!

Hooray! They be movin' on up, the pirates be... A short break in the weather and they headed out yesterday morning. They've made decent progress but it seems not as quickly as can be. But that's ok...just get up further before the next storm hits. Their destination is San Quintin which is about 170 miles north of Turtle Bay.

Upward and onward, pirates of Kwanesum! Arrrr....

April 1, 2012

While they wait...

Seems the report from fellow pirates is that the captain needs lots of sustenance while checking the weather...to be sure he doesn't become dehydrated. Makes the weather look better, too. Arrrr....

Monday they're going to poke their nose out in the afternoon and hopefully move on up! There's a brief weather window that should be doable.

Go pirates!!

March 27, 2012

Los tres amigos y piratas sin uno pirata/amigo. Stuck in Bahia Tortuga. But...good that they have company now.

Hanging out in Turtle Bay

Looks like they'll be staying awhile, the pirates. The chart on the left is what's coming! But by Tuesday looks like they can get going.

They've got a little company now. Boats are coming in and hunkering down. Some going south waiting for weather and oddly enough one boat going north! A family of 4. They will get together with that boat and travel on up. Seems like Tuesday is the earliest they'll be able to leave. So they have a week of sunning and funning at Bahia Tortuga. Thinking perhaps won't be much sunning with the weather beating down. But at least they are in a protected area.

Arrrr, pirates. Best not be plundering or pillaging the village while ye wait.

March 26, 2012

Anchored in Turtle Bay

Got there yesterday afternoon. Going to rest and fuel up. But...the weather doesn't look great for the rest of their journey. I think they're about 300+ miles away from San Diego. Not sure how they will proceed. Arrr...pirates. So close!

Stand by for further news as it happens. =)

March 25, 2012

Arrrr...the mighty pirates

They are almost to Turtle Bay. And they're tired. And they're getting cold at night. Time to stop for a couple of days.

Not sure of the weather I'm seeing. The picture is Wednesday and the winds look bigger. Not as pretty as it has been. I'm hoping they can time it right so they can rest and get going and not have to sit there longer than need be. We shall see!

Carry on me hearties! Arrrr.

March 22, 2012

So far so good!

Randy emailed me through the Pactor modem on the Single Side Band radio. As long as a ham operator picks up his request he can do that. Sometimes there's no one out there, or no one can read his signal, but I would think this close to Mexico he shouldn't have a problem sending emails. Another good technical piece of equipment that keeps us in touch. He said they were doing well and should be at the entrance to Mag bay sometime tomorrow afternoon. Sail on, mateys! Arrrr....y'are doin' good pirates!

Pirates are on their way...doin' the Baja Bash!

Left Cabo San Lucas this morning. Destination Turtle Bay. Expected arrival sometime this weekend. Fair winds mighty pirates!

Their weather these next few days looks pretty good. Hope it holds!

March 20, 2012

Pirates in Cabo!

They made it to Cabo! Arrived at 0130 this morning. Not a fun leg, this last one...they said. Seas were rough. Only made 80 miles in 24 hours. Not too good. Though it was always our rule not to go into anchorages or marinas we had never been in...at night...they went on in and had no problem. They were plenty tired, though.

Good news is...the marina only costs $60/night rather than the $95/night they quoted me! Yay! Bad news is one of the pirates had to head back early to Alameda. So he's flying back Wednesday.

So...the Pirates 3 will carry on! Report has it they caught a mahi mahi and the galley chairman extraordinaire made ceviche! Yum! Arrrrr!

Weather looks like a good departure for points further north on Thursday. So they will rest up, check out of the country tomorrow, and be ready to go at o'dark-thirty Thursday morn. Hooray! Hoping the seas and winds will be kinder on this leg of the trip. But don't count on it. The weather looks good but they need to try to beat the weather hanging up north. They can tuck into Turtle Bay for needed rest and weather conditions if need be.

They said it's chilly there! Nice in the day but low 60s at night. The east coast is getting the warmer weather I guess! =)

Avast ye hardies! Carry on!

March 18, 2012

The Pirates of Kwanesum!

Kwanesum is on the move again! Left Banderas Bay yesterday morning, destination Cabo San Lucas. Manned by a hardy crew of pirates...arrrrrr.

Pirates left to right: Brian Cooley, distinguished Commodore of our yacht club and sailor extraordinaire; Bob Martin, distinguished mechanic and power boater extraordinaire; Harry Reppert, distinguished traveler, sailor and onboard cook extraordinaire; and my very own...the very distinguished Captain Ran, sailor, traveler, best guy ever! A handsome, distinguished bunch they be!

Since it has almost been a year since I've written anything...(Sheesh! I've almost forgotten how to do all this stuff!) ...psssst > > > I do have one post that has been longggg in the pan and that I obviously haven't finished < < < . . . > > >this is a catch-up quick! I will...yes I will finish this blog completely at some point...filling in the gaps of our travels and how we got to this point. It seems once we traversed to the Pacific...my focus got fried! Just don't hold your breath as you might turn blue before it's done. I know, I know...just bear with me. =)

Anyhoo...Kwanesum has been at Marina Riviera Nayarit in La Cruz de Huanacaxtle, Mexico for over a year. We played there, then left her there, traveled home, bought a house, decided to put her up for sale, tried to sell her there, re-listed with a broker in Alameda, secured a berth at the Oakland Yacht Club and now....are bringing her up home. To complete this trip makes me feel really good. That was the goal all along. To bring her from Virginia to California and our yacht club. To fly the 21 country flags that we flew when visiting each country, while going under the Golden Gate Bridge. But, the plan got side tracked... as things have a tendency to do.

So...the pirates are on their way to Cabo. I decided not to take this trip. Let them have some male bonding. =) Arrrr.... They will refuel there and fill up with water and any provisions they need...then be on their way up Baja. No dilly dallying in Cabo, pirates! Arrrr. All weather permitting, of course. But so far, so good. :::knock on wood:::

The plan is for the crew to leave the boat in San Diego, come home for a brief bit, and then I will go back with Randy to bring her the rest of the way. At least having Kwanesum up in Alameda will let us keep an eye on her, and use her, until she is sold. We don't want to sell her, but we just don't need a boat that big now that we have a house!

Speaking of our house....it was built in 1931 and is located in small-town America - Gustine, CA in the San Joaquin Valley, in the heart of farming country. The house is known as the Davenport House as it was built by Mr. A.D. Davenport and has been owned by the family all these years. We feel very privileged to be the new owners! It's perfect. We love her and respect her and will keep her integrity. It is located in the smack of down town across from the city park.

Gustine is where I raised my 3 children too many years ago and it's wonderful to be back. And...Randy has even joined the Gustine Planning Commission! I love it, Randy loves it, and we have wonderful friends here. I am doing some substitute teaching at the local Catholic elementary school my kids attended. I am really enjoying that. You all must come visit us! We have lots of room.

I feel very awkward writing this post as I am usually on board the boat with my Captain and not keeping track from afar. But I can keep you all appraised of the progress. I updated the map (good grief...I forgot how to do that, too!!) so that it reflects the continuing journey.

I have so many wonderful pictures I need to go through and put in a book, and I want to put our blog story in a book, too. For posterity.

Ok, mateys! On with ya business and I'll be a keepin' ya posted on the pirates! ARRRRR.

May 14, 2011

Oh dear....

So...does the fact that I didn't write in my blog for all this time mean I'm a failure at blogging?

Or, a non-blogger?

Or, a blogger wannabe who just doesn't keep up?

Or, it's my journal and I've been lost in a cave for months with no writing instruments???

Not sure what happened to me. Captured by aliens and rendered blog impaired.

Doggoneit...I've let a lot of people down, including Randy and myself, and that doesn't feel good. Rats.

It is my goal and my duty to try to get back in the saddle and catch up on our adventures and declare this blog back in action! The trials and tribulations and fun of Randy and Ellen and their faithful boat Kwanesum are in my head and waiting to be put into word and picture. Now on with it Ellen!

November 17, 2010

Now in Marina Riviera Nayarit, La Cruz de Huanacaxtle, Mexico!

Kwanesum remains here. Dock 9, slip A8.

Love this little town!

July 30, 2010

To the Pacific, Capt. Ran!

I’m having one of those moments! One of those moments when I want to beam everyone I know right to where I am. We are in the most beautiful anchorage at Bahia Honda, Panama. A spot we stopped on our way to Costa Rica. Drinking martinis in the cockpit, overlooking tranquil waters and beautiful mountains. The beaches are brown but pristine. The mountains are jungle…thick jungle that ends at the brown beach with palm trees. You can imagine the velociraptors parting their way through the jungle to get to their prey. You can hear the howler monkeys which is eerie, but actual…and cool. It’s like a lake here…but it is a bay off of the Pacific Ocean. This is a much needed anchorage for us. We’re alone…no other boats. Only those that live on the island.

In extreme contrast, we just experienced one of the worst nights on our trip. After leaving Isla Taboga (I’ll catch you up on all the details later in this post chapter) and traveling overnight we ended up at an anchorage recommended as a good stop on our way north. We were looking forward to a good night’s sleep as you don’t really sleep all that well when traveling. It ended up being a dreadful anchorage of extreme rolling with a boisterous thunderstorm thrown in. We were up all night being vigilant of our position and trying to quiet everything that was banging in the galley. No sleep that night either!

But where we are right this minute… wipes all of that out, and with a martini in hand and my best friend with me in the cockpit…analyzing life and what we want to do in the future…life is perfect. And I wish you were all here with us.

To our adventures since we last left you….
We are movin’ now, folks! Watch out.

We’ve covered some territory in the past couple of months; checked some things off our Bucket List. We LIKE to keep moving. We like to get there, see stuff, then, keep moving. Or we like to get there…and do nothing for awhile. Or… we will get there, see stuff, do a little boat work, and do nothing for awhile...then keep moving. Many times we arrive after a long passage, which we’ve done a few times lately, and the down time is greatly appreciated. And the views while you’re having that glass of wine or martini or rum drink…are priceless.

Let’s see: Curacao to Cartagena…Cartagena to San Blas…San Blas to Colon…through the canal…the Pacific!... Las Brisas to Taboga…Taboga to right now, anchored at Bahia Honda.

CURACAO: We were waiting for weather in Curacao. All of us would rather have spent more time in Bonaire. By ‘all of us’ I mean Ran and I and the crew of Quic en grogne, with whom we were still traveling: Isabelle, Roel, Tessa and Yoan. We liked Bonaire better. (Tessa found some friends on another boat in Curacao, so she was quite happy.) It was a much simpler place in Bonaire and the water was crystal clear. You could snorkel right off the boat and see tons of fish. And you were able to dinghy in and walk right to where you wanted to be. In Curacao things were far away from the anchorage in Spaanse (Spanish) Waters. And it was a kind of rolly and always windy.

But we had fun, too. We bought yummy ice cream bars from the ladies on the ice cream boat. The same lady goes around and fills your water ranks if you hire her to do that, which we did. Very convenient. We met great people, which is such a plus in this life adventure. Blake and Sunny and their daughter whom we met in Bonaire were here. Nathalie and Art. Nathalie is French and an artist…Art is …Art, just a great guy. They were taking their boat, Fanta Sea back to Florida for awhile. Gatherings were enjoyed at Fishermans Marina, the dinghy dock, and at the little club off of our anchorage. We celebrated my birthday aboard Kwanesum with the crew of Quic en grogne. I made my favorite dinner, macaroni and cheese, and cupcakes for dessert, Tessa drew me a picture of Kwanesum and they brought a cake, too. Another day Quic en grogne invited us over for dinner and Roel made crepes. So yummy! Crepes made by a French person! Can’t beat that!

Ah, yes...in Curacao we were also boarded by the coast guard. Seems they targeted the US boats. We had no problem with them. We invited them on board and showed them all of our papers. But another US boat didn't have a good experience I guess. But they were very resistant to letting them on board for some reason. We did find a paper missing, however, when we went to check out...again walking hither and yon to all the spots we needed to visit to check out. We were worried that the coast guard may have inadvertently taken our paper with them. There are so many papers you must fill out and then keep and then show people when they ask for them...the 'paper shuffle'. It's a wonder more papers don't go missing. But Randy is very good at keeping all in order. That's why we were so surprised to find one was missing! We actually weren't sure what to do about the missing paper, except...the people in the office had a COPY of the same paper. Hellooo? Must you hassle us if you already have a copy? This checking in and out of countries is getting old. Anyhoo...got 'er done. Thank heaven.

But we were ready to go. Hoping the weather would cooperate. We were also determining what our next destination would be. The closest spot was Aruba. And then there was Cartagena, Colombia. And then Panama. We could go to Aruba and hang out there and then determine if it would be Cartagena or Panama next. We could go straight to Cartagena. We could go straight to Panama. After sitting awhile at Curacao we were anxious to get going further than Aruba. When the weather window opens we need to get going while the gettin’ is good. So the next question was… straight to Panama or to Cartagena first? Cartagena was a bit of a challenge to decide because of tales from other cruisers and because our insurance company would charge us extra to go there. The charge was only $100 so that was not a big factor. The scuttlebutt was that it was 'unsafe', 'dirty water', 'the marina was all torn apart', 'you have to use an agent to check in', 'it’s gorgeous', 'do NOT miss it'….we ignored the first part and concentrated on the latter. And when are we ever going to get to Colombia again?

“All those in favor of Cartagena say, Aye.” “AYE!!!” “All those opposed…”(silence). To Cartagena it is! The trip there will not be easy. They say it is the 5th hardest passage, apparently. (I found that out after the fact.) Not sure what the others are, but I have an inkling. We will wait for a good weather window and the wind and seas will be behind us. These are good things.

Well, it was definitely Mr Toad’s wild ride. We were wing and wing, with the wind and seas behind us, able to sail, but the winds were big and the seas were big and the Proactive Puking Management that I thought was no longer needed proved to be necessary. Thought I could do it, but I was wrong. I tried really hard, but the body was in charge. Oh well, back to the PPM. Whatever it takes. Rocking and rolling are here to stay for awhile.

The first 24 hours we made 170 nautical miles. Hello??!!! We were cookin’! We wore our life jackets the whole trip. Normally we wear them only at night and clip ourselves on when in the cockpit. But with this wild ride, we kept them on the whole trip. We obviously had a current with us and there were waves we were surfing down at times but our speed at one time was 10kts!! That’s HUGE! With a good current we can do 7.5 – 8kts sometimes, but not often. Usually we do 5 – 6.5kts, depending on the elements. It took us 3 complete days/nights to get to Cartagena. And it wasn’t much fun. Our preventer (which holds the boom out on the wing and wing sail configuration, and keeps it from jybing, aka slamming back) broke a couple of times… WHAM/BANG/UGLY! Always at night, of course, when things seem to get a little livelier…like the seas slamming us around and the wind slamming us around. KAPLOWEY!!! “Holy crap what was that??” I hollered, having been blasted out of a sort-of sleep down below. “The damn preventer broke. Grab the helm and hold the boat steady, El, while I try to secure the mainsail.” “Uhhh, roger Ran, I’m trying but she’s not cooperating very well. We seem to be going back the way we started. Man, I’m glad we’re not going THIS direction in these waves! Yeee Haww!”

It’s hard to see at night. =) At this point Randy is forward, always hooked on to the jack lines which hold you on board, wrestling away with the boom and the lines. I turned on the deck light so he could kind of see. “Screw this shit, El, start the engine. I’m pulling in the sails. We will deal with this in the morning when I can see.” Our beloved Yanmar engine which is soooo good to us, started right up. We motored the rest of the night pounding through the seas that were like a washing machine. Next morning, we discovered the boom vang had pulled out of the mast. The boom vang's job is to hold down the boom of the head sail. Lovely. Not crucial, fortunately, but not exactly the greatest thing you want to happen. Randy jury rigged it and we'll fix it later. This was one of a couple of times that we had drama in the night on this leg of the trip…and always at night. Must be the sea gods’ revenge. Are we having fun yet? =)

CARTAGENA: Arrived at Cartagena, early, early and had to wait around before we could call to get permission to go in. It was not a pretty site. I began to have doubts about our decision. The sky line was of tall buildings and there seemed to be smog! I guess I was expecting green hills with a quaint village tucked inside. And the water was green/brown. Ugh. We got permission to go in. Quic en grogne had a hard time being understood. Their boat name is not easy, particularly if you don’t speak the language well. Roel was tired and becoming frustrated. It had been a long journey. Isabelle speaks fluent Spanish and finally got on the radio but the harbor patrol still could not understand their boat name. We went ahead in. Their patrol boat came out and checked with Quic en grogne and all was well. Now into the anchorage. So glad to be here! Yay! We made it!

Not lovely. Lots of garbage in the brown water. Ahhh…this is what people were talking about. I really didn’t expect such a city, city! Tall apartment buildings and I assume some business buildings on the peninsula surrounding the bay. You could see bits of the old town peaking through on the mainland. OK…we’ll give this a try but right now…I’m not impressed. We decide not to check into the country until the following day as we all need to sleep and rest a bit. We leave our yellow quarantine flag up and hit the hay.

The guide books say you need an agent to check in to the country and they suggest 2 names: Manfred and David. Roel, Yoan, Randy and I dinghy in to Club Nautico, the so-called marina there. NOT what you’d expect… however, we were forewarned by Noonsite (a website, by and for cruisers) that it was a little ram shod. They were very nice at the marina. Apparently, as it was being built, the mayor of the city decided to put a halt to the progress as there was a question of ownership. So it is a partially built marina with lots of rebar and boards and whatever to hold it together and planks to walk on from the dinghy to the covered area and little building that acts as an office. One of the agents, Manfred, said to meet him at the grocery store down the street. That sounds a little odd. The other agent, David, happened to be in the office when we got there. I had read on Noonsite that he was the better agent. In hindsight I’m not sure that was true, but you gotta go by some reasoning so we decided to go with David. Long story short, it ended up being a ‘give me your passports, I’ll take care of it’ (which is always scary but necessary, I guess)…wait… ‘come with me here’….wait…wait…wait…finally done. Then to check out…same thing…David was never on time…wait…wait…but he’s got your passports so what can you do? Then pay him $50 for all of that…waiting. But it got done. Thank heaven.

We fell in love with Cartagena. Once we got off the boat and into the town, we loved their grocery store/coffee shop/internet café/ laundry that was just up the street. Quaint town. Nice people. Ran and I walked across the bridge into old town and just loved it! We were hungry and had our eyes out for a little cantina that held the promise of a great lunch. We were not disappointed. We peaked into doorways here and there and chose one that had a wonderful narrow courtyard with little tables. We thought we might eat inside, but their air conditioning had gone out so they recommended outside. It was perfect.

They were having a wonderful celebration while we were in Cartagena. Por la Ruta de los Galeones, El Caribe se Llenara de Velas: "On the route of the Galleons, the Caribbean is full of sails." We were able to watch the parade of ships from our boat as they came into the harbor and again the day they departed. Much pomp and circumstance and standing on the yardarms. A nice unexpected touch to our Cartagena visit. With that there were celebrations in old town, too. We felt very safe there. Never felt uneasy. And it was very charming. More than I could have ever imagined. We strolled around the old town a couple of times. We visited the fort and had a wonderful anniversary dinner at the quaintest of spots in old town. Enjoyed with Roel, Isabelle, Tessa and Yoan. It was so nice. We stayed in Cartagena 5 days. Memorable, memorable, memorable. You MUST see Cartagena.

Now…to the San Blas! Yay!

SAN BLAS ISLANDS: OK…this is one spot Ran and I had been waiting for. When we were still in Deltaville, fitting out our boat and preparing for our adventure, we came across a boat in the yard from San Francisco. The couple that owned her were working away repainting the bottom and polishing the boat to store while they went home for awhile. We always like to talk to folks that have ‘been there and done that’ to glean any bits of information that might help us on our trip. One of the questions we asked them was what their favorite spot was along the way. “The Swimming Pool in the San Blas Islands.” This was the spot they said was so gorgeous and clear and wonderful. And we were about to get there! Nice!!

This journey from Cartagena to the San Blas was excellent. Ellen kind of excellent. Well, almost. It would have been more excellent if we could have sailed, with smooth seas (I’m so picky!), but barring that happening, we motor-sailed on smooth seas. With a full moon. I’ll take it! It was an easy 207 mile trip that took us a day and a half. A nice way to come into this beautiful spot. We got to Porvenir, the Port of Entry for the Comarca of San Blas, about 0800 to check in. Comarca means it’s an independent country, not part of the Republic of Panama. The indigenous Kuna people have resisted outside government for 400 years. In fact, the Kunas call this area Kuna Yala. They do not like the name San Blas as it was given the name by the Spanish invaders. Porvenir is not a great place to stay so we just anchored there for the duration of our check-in process. And of course we were too early for the officials. So we wait….wandering around the island to check things out. There were a couple of restaurants and what I think was a hotel and a landing strip, of sorts.

The San Blas Islands are mostly small islands of coral and sand, some densely populated. The Kunas create and sell molas which are unique 3, 4 or 5 layer fabric panels decorated with reverse appliqué designs and embroidery. I loved them, but I’m not sure what to do with them. Actually we purchased one from Vernancio, a master mola maker. It’s gorgeous. You can see the wonderful hand sewing that is done. We’ve decided we will frame that one. It was expensive for this area but worth it. It will remind us of our trip to the San Blas and it goes well in the boat. =) The Kuna women make identical mola panels and use them for a blouse by adding a yoke and puffy sleeves out of whatever fabric, not always matching. Kinda funky. They also wear gold through their ears and nose and wrap beads around their arms and legs. And of course tattoos. It’s apparently a matriarchal society. The women are well respected. They control the money and the men move into the women’s family compound. In fact many men dress as women and act as women here. Transvestites. Some of them very prominent in their village.

Before we left Porvenir I had one of the older women put ‘wini’ beads on my arm. She methodically wrapped them and secured each wrap twisting the string around each row. Then carefully and securely tying it off. She was darling. But they don’t like you to take their picture. I would have loved to have gotten very close to her wonderful face for a picture.

From Porvenir we decided to go to the West Lemmons, which was close, to anchor for a couple of days. There are many, many islands to explore. But we weren’t going to take too much time so we needed to chose carefully those we did see. We found a nice little anchorage at the West Lemmons. Stayed there for 3 days. There were several other boats anchored here, some appeared to have been here for quite some time. VHF channel 72 was the voice of the cruisers net in this area. Always useful information available on the nets. Quic en grogne only stayed for 1 day and then were off to explore other islands. We decided to go our separate ways and meet up again in a couple of weeks. While at the Lemmons we had, of course, the vendors. The Kuna Indians selling their wares. In their dugout canoes called ulus they would have a pig in the front, a couple of children, an older grandmother, the son, perhaps, and a dog with pups. All in one canoe! They are so charming. They were selling molas. I did buy one, for $10. We had a sense of the price from the shop at Porvenir. Then Vernancio came along with his really wonderful molas. This is where I purchased one for $100. It’s wonderful. I actually wanted to buy 3 more to make pillows for the cockpit but we were concerned about using too much cash. Darn it!

Now our mission was to find the Swimming Pool we had been dreaming about. It’s in the East Holandes. We set out for there, found it and anchored in 9 feet of crystal clear fabulously azure water! OK…this is the spot!! There were about 17 boats spread around. Apparently during the busy season they get about 8 times that! Glad we weren’t there during that time. There were boats from S. Africa, France, Ireland, Spain, Germany and of course America. Plenty of room. So beautiful. And the weather was perfect. We immediately jumped in the water. We were in the water constantly.

As we set our anchor and have our safe-arrival beer, which has become a tradition, Randy decided to don his Speedo (just kidding!) and dive in and check out the anchor. It’s so clear you can see it really easily. As he was snorkeling about I heard our bilge go off and saw it spurting water out the back. Hmmmm….wonder why it wants to do that? “Uh, Ran! Why’s our bilge going off?” “What??!!!” he says as he’s climbing up the stern ladder. “Holy shit we’re sinking!!!” “Huh???” (Well I wouldn’t go that dramatic, but that’s what he said.) In a flurry of arms and legs and dripping all over the inside of the boat Randy starts pulling things apart…checking the through hulls…looking everywhere…finally rips off the mattress of the aft berth, flinging it into the main saloon area (which is not easy to do) and checks the water pump. I’m standing around watching him in awe and wondering what the heck I can do to help. “Aha! That’s it! We’re saved! A hose came off the water pump.” Randy, my hero, fixes it after another flurry of finding the right tools. “The good news is…we are no longer sinking. The bad news is…there goes all our fresh water.” “Huh???” “Well…not all of our fresh water, but we’re going to have to watch it until we get a good rain storm.” Phew…not all is lost. And we can bathe off the back of the boat. No problemo. And we did get a good rainstorm while we were there that filled us right back up with fresh water.

We spent the most wonderful, relaxing 2 weeks at the East Holandes. We snorkeled and snorkeled and cleaned the bottom of the boat. We met some wonderful people also on their sailboats. Exchanged books. Had an appetizer exchange on the beach. We had Kunas come out in their ulus to sell us vegetables, rum, beer, cookies, lobsters (which we BBQ’d), whatever we needed. We gave them some gasoline, which they always ask for, and treats por los niños, which they also always ask for, as well as dollars. The US dollar is the currency used here and in Panama. One enterprising young Kuna wanted to sell Randy a doll that was supposed to be useful like Viagra! “Ahhhh…no gracias. Don’t need no stinking Viagra doll.” Too funny! Quic en grogne joined us for the last couple of days at the anchorage and then we were off to Porvenir to check out of the San Blas. Then on to Panama and “le canal,” as Isabelle says.

To step back a minute….remember I said there was plenty of room at this anchorage. Well…it never fails…that some boat wants to anchor right next to you! This particular boat was anchored a nice bit away from us originally and for some unknown reason decided to move…right next to us. OK. We’ve gotten a little more relaxed about that but please…with all this room, why right next to us?? And this guy was weird. I figure he was about our age. His wife seemed ok, but this guy liked to be in the nude a lot. Lovely. And he had a duck decoy he put out behind the boat. Lovely. And he liked to wear his camouflage jacket (yes JACKET) and floppy hat…with nothing else. Lovely. And he decided to fly a kite one day off the back of the boat…in the nude. Lovely. “Uhhh…Randy…it might be getting close to time to leave this spot.” Do you think he was trying to get us to leave??? I don’t think that was his raison d’etre but….Lovely.

We arrived at Porvenir, anchored and went in to check out only to find …they were at lunch. We wait…. Decided to try lunch at the little restaurant while we were waiting. There was a French film crew there that Roel and Isabelle recognized from French TV. Apparently they were doing a documentary of the San Blas. That was kind of cool. They had the head Kuna honcho there on the island to film. The Kuna Indians are VERY small and this man was VERY small and unassuming.

At the restaurant, we were waited on by little Kuna young ladies with their piercings and tattoos and beaded arms and legs. And I don’t think they knew what to do. We ordered. We wait… We had beer that smelled of fish. They brought out one…lunch…at….a…time. Not sure why. You can imagine how long that took! Waiting…. And it ended up Randy never did get his lunch! By that time they had forgotten him, I think, and he told them to forget it. This made for a grumpy Randy, as you can imagine. Kind of a weird way to run a restaurant but we’ve learned not to expect much on some of these trips. But we at least thought we’d all get served our lunch! And we were very hungry. Poor Randy.

We finally get back to the immigration office on the little island, go through all the paper rigmarole, give them more money and we’re outta there. I tell ya…one thing we will NOT miss is checking into and out of countries. By checking into Panama at the San Blas we got our cruising permit until the end of July. That covers us for all of Panama. But as we got to Panama proper we found we needed to check with immigration again, but we paid the marina where we stayed to do that for us. Nice.

We motored over off the island of Porvenir to a nicer anchorage and spent the night amongst some heavily populated Kuna islands. We arose early in the morning to leave and watched the Kunas row to work in their ulus or sail in their cayucos. On we went to Isla Linton where we planned to stop for the night on our way to Colon. It was a nice anchorage tucked inside a little bay. Lots of sailboats here. Some of them we recognized from other anchorages. You start to remember boat names. There started to be a lot of debris in the water, mostly logs, on this leg of the trip. So we had to keep a good watch to avoid banging things up. Again we are up early and off…to Colon! The Panama Canal awaits. Holy cow. This is huge. We can’t believe we have come this far.

Traveling with Quic en grogne along the Atlantic side of Panama we start to see the big ships anchored, waiting to go through the canal. This is very exciting. We have heard so many stories and read so much about the Panama Canal and now here we are in person! It was…awesome. That’s the only word that described our feelings upon arrival.

THE PANAMA CANAL: Our destination on this side of the canal, Colon, was Shelter Bay Marina. It’s located quite far outside the city of Colon in a national park. The surrounding buildings and airstrip are part of Ft Sherman US military reserve. It is a very secure area. Colon itself is notoriously NOT secure. This is where we will stay while we make arrangements to go through the Panama Canal.

The stories and advice and cruising guide information about transiting the canal is overwhelming. It is a BIG, BIG deal. And you want it to go well. Our senses are on high alert to glean every bit of information from whatever source we run into about making a successful canal transit. While we were in Cartagena I made the attempt to contact via email several suggested agents to use to deal with the bureaucracy of going through the canal. An agent isn’t necessary, but all the people we knew that have gone through the canal used one. On the advice of s/v Ocean Pearl, whom we met in Grenada, we tried contacting Tina McBride as our agent. She had been recommended by others on Noonsite and in one of our cruising guides as well. She was delightful, answered right away, but said she was going to be on vacation during the time of our expected arrival. She immediately gave me 2 other names to try: Enrique and Stanley. I had read not good things about Stanley, but Enrique was used by Terri and Lyman our buddy boaters on s/v Sans Cles so I emailed him. I’m sure Stanley is also a good agent, as others have alluded to when we got through the canal. It’s just that once something is written about you that’s not good, it’s hard to overcome that. So Enrique it was. Our agent was decided and contacted before we left Cartagena.

On arrival at the marina, and after checking in with them, we notice on the bulletin board an ad for a sailboat needing line handlers. When you transit the canal you have to have line handlers on board to deal with the large lines used to tie you to the canal. They can’t be yourself because you will be at the helm. In my case I was choosing whether to be a line handler or at the helm. We decided I would do the helm so Randy immediately volunteered to go with the boat needing line handlers. Roel, too, decided to make the trip. This will give them a good indication of how the whole process works. It’s actually recommended that you go on another boat first. I decided not to go as we had just arrived and I had tons to do aboard to get us ship shape. As long as one of us got the experience that was ok.

The agent deals with all the bureaucracy/paperwork for the canal. The cost for the agent was $400. For me that provided a lot of reassurance. If you do it yourself, everything has to be in cash. That was another deterrent for me but didn’t seem to be a problem for others. I didn’t want to locate a bank and take out $850 cash which you have to give the canal as a buffer, plus the $800 cash or so you need for the transit fee. The buffer you are supposed to get back in 3 months or so, and I’m sure you do but I’m not sure where or when. Anyway…following the advice of our friends who had previously gone through the canal, we opted to pay for an agent. Hiring an agent saved us time, money and aggravation. This was a big decision for all of us to make. Agent...yes? or no? Quic en grogne opted not. Our trip, including the transit fees and agent, cost us about $1400.

Enrique was not the most on-time agent in the world, though we have found that to be the case with most people we have dealt with in the Latin countries, but he was thorough and all went well. He scheduled the ad measurer for a Sunday, which we thought was odd and that proved to be true. We waited all day for him and of course he did not come…because it was Sunday! We told Enrique Monday morning we would not be at the boat as we were scheduled to take the bus into Colon for provisions. “No problem.” The ad measurer came while we were gone…of course. He did come by later that evening to finish up the paperwork. He was extremely nice. The ad measurer…measures your boat. He also fills out all the paperwork for the transit including how fast your boat can go and where you want to be in the canal chamber during the transit. They want you to say you can go 8 knots. We cannot go 8 knots under power unless we have a current with us. A big current. In fact there aren’t too many boats our size that can go 8 knots under power so it’s kind of a moot question. He said, no problem. And it wasn’t…but it’s weird. But the canal will charge you more if you say you cannot go 8 knots, so 8 knots it is. As far as position in the canal, we were told to say center chamber, if possible. The other choices are along the wall and tug tied. Center chamber is the least likely to have any damage. Well THERE’S a good idea! Damage??? I’m starting to get a little nervous about all of this. The ad measurer said you do not always get what you request as the Lock Master makes the decision within minutes of your approach to the locks. Well…we’ll just hope for the best I guess. All of our paperwork, and there’s a lot, was held by Enrique for us.

Enrique said we’re scheduled to go through on Thursday. He gave us very specific instructions. I am getting more nervous by the minute. I have not been nervous about anything on this whole trip, but this canal business made be nervous. You read in the guide books all about the transit and they specify exactly what you do. They also let you know all the things that can happen. Great. I know we need to know this but it just kept my nerves a rollin’. The boat berthed next to us at Shelter Bay had not had a good experience. They had been tied to another boat in the chamber and they were tied too tightly together. A tug in the chamber reversed its engines which creates a lot of water turbulence and caused the boats both to move about erratically fighting against each other. The sailboat couldn’t release their line fast enough and one of their cleats tore off. Fortunately it didn’t hit anyone! That could have been very dangerous. It takes a lot to pull off a cleat! Oh good…nerves are getting worse. Randy wasn’t as worried because he had taken that trip through the canal as a line handler. I’m so glad he did that.

We got our heavy 125’, large diameter lines, 4 of them, from Enrique. That was another plus of having an agent. They get the lines for you and they will also get line handlers if you need them. But they cost $60/day. We hoped to avoid having to pay for line handlers, so Randy went scouting. John, who was on a boat down the dock from us, said he would go. What a great guy he was. He had gone with Randy and Roel on the sailboat that went through the canal earlier. Then we found Paul Cahill and Tamar Lowell, who are from our yacht club in Alameda! They had been traveling down the Pacific coast and through Central America and were moored at the Pacific side of the canal. Rick who had a boat at Shelter Bay was talking about the boat Xanadu and we immediately perked up our ears knowing that might be Paul and Tamar. Sure enough. So Randy called them to see if they wanted to be line handlers for us. And bless their hearts they said yes. Excellent. We have a good crew. That helps.

My job was to make sure we had all the provisions we needed and all the meals for the crew. And places set up for them to sleep. It’s a 2 day trip to go through the canal for our size boat. From the Atlantic side you go through the Gatun Locks first, then spend the night out on Gatun Lake. Then up early the next day and travel down the lake and through the Miraflores Locks to the Pacific. So…I needed to have lots of snacks, lunch, a good dinner and something for breakfast. OK…got it down. John and Randy said the guy on the boat they helped did not have good food. John said he would go only if I had good food. =) And you have to feed your advisor, too. I’ll get to that in a minute. Preparing the boat sleeping quarters and food provisions helped keep my nerves at bay.

I know this is lengthy, describing all of this, but bear with me. I want to let you know what we went through and I want to have it for posterity on here, too.

Tires….we had to have tires tied alongside our boat to defend it from damage. (Everything seems to be there to defend from damage! Arrghh! Worry, worry…) Some folks use the fenders they have, but we don’t have that many fenders and the tires are recommended as they’re tough. We’ve heard of fenders being torn up pretty good. (Worry…worry) We got 10 tires. You can usually get them off a boat that has finished their transit or you can find one of the guys on the dock to hunt them up for you for $1/tire. We used 10 tires…5 on each side. The tires are covered with garbage bags so they don’t mark up the boat. Now we need to cover our solar panels. It’s recommended that you do this, too, as the line men in the chambers will throw their lines at the boat. These lines have monkey-fists tied on the ends so that they can be easily thrown and grabbed. Now in my nervous mind I’m envisioning HUGE monkey fists that will really put dents in our boat! So I was adamant that Randy cover the solar panels. We put on our cushions on top of them and then covered that with our shade tarp. Then tied it all down. Looking more and more like the Clampetts every day! Randy assured me that the monkey-fists and lines weren’t as big as I imagined, not even as big as the lines from Enrique, but I still thought the worst.

OK…I think we’re ready to go. Paul and Tamar come over from Balboa Yacht Club on the Pacific side on Wednesday, late afternoon. That way they are all settled and ready to go the next day. That was fun. Getting to know them again and talking about all our travels here and there. They are great, great people. John was ready to go the next day. I’ve got my food prepared. Now we relax (NOT!) and wait. We are to call Enrique at exactly noon on Thursday to get our time to meet our advisor out on the Flats. We are also to call the Port Captain and let him know when we are out on the Flats ready to receive our advisor. There are heavy fines involved if you miss your time or if your engine fails you and you can’t make it through, etc, etc. (Worry…worry.)

The Flats is an area out near the mouth of the Gatun Locks. This is where a pilot boat will bring out our Transit Advisor. If you are under 65’ you will have an advisor. If you are over 65’ you need to have a Pilot. We left Shelter Bay with all our crew at 2pm to go out to the Flats and pick up our advisor. Jorge, our advisor, arrives, gets on the boat and starts telling us what to expect and inspects our lines to be sure they are laid out cleanly, and checks the cleats and chocs. The advisor gives helm instructions and coordinates all transit activities by radio. But he does not drive the boat. The pilots, however, do drive the larger boats. They are very professional. Jorge gets word that we are to wait for another sailboat that we will raft up with for our trip through the canal. The great news is that we will be in the center chamber and there will be no other ships in the chamber with us. This is really, really good news. Having the big ships in the chamber with you is worrisome (I don’t need more worry!) in that they create a lot of turbulence when they begin to move in or out of the chambers. You are very, very close to the ships in the chambers since they are so big. Hooray for us that we can avoid that experience. So far so good! So now we wait for NorthFork, the sailboat we will raft up with.

They are late. And we wait. Apparently they had to wait for some paperwork before they could depart Shelter Bay. Jorge radios the advisor on NorthFork and tells them we are prepared to have them raft up on our port side. “Uhhh…be advised that NorthFork needs to raft up to Kwanesum on her starboard side. NorthFork has their outboard engine on their starboard side so that will not work.” Uhhh…excuse me? We are waiting, waiting for them and now they want to call the shots? We prepared by taking our outboard off! (Ok…the nerves are making me cranky.) We move our extra fenders to the starboard side to prepare for their arrival. Finally they arrive and start rafting up to us. And start telling us what to do! Helloooo!!! ???(Ok Ellen…calm down.) The little gal on NorthFork, Dana, was really being pushy by ordering all of us around. She was concerned about the spring lines holding the boats together being too tight. And rightly so because of the incident I mentioned above. But our crew decided to vote her off the island. She was too bossy. Particularly after we had to wait and wait for them. We knew what to do and didn’t need her telling us and bossing us around. Her husband was delightful, just manning the helm and asking Randy if everything was ok. They were on their honeymoon! She later told us they had gone through as line handlers and had a horrible experience where the spring lines were too tight and the 2 advisors were arguing about what to do. So she had reason to be a little uptight about it all. But it didn’t fit right with the Kwanesum crew.

But it was a good trip. The Gatun Locks are the easiest of the locks to transit. Each chamber is 110 feet wide and 1000 feet long. (Interesting to note, the tidal range on the Atlantic side is 3 feet. On the Pacific side it averages 18 feet!) We pull into the first chamber rafted up with NorthFork. Since NorthFork is the bigger boat, they were the power and steerage for both of us. You just need to heed all the spring lines and try to keep the boats steady together so there will be no damage bumping together. We did really well with that. We were a good team. We’re in the center chamber and the canal line handlers throw the monkey-fists on board. Here’s an example of part of my worry, a quote from one of our cruising guides: “In spite of stories, they don’t deliberately knock out windows and spot lights, but it does happen. You could be knocked senseless by a monkey-fist if you don’t pay attention.” (Worry…worry.) Since we are rafted to another boat we only need to have line handlers on the port side. Therefore, Randy manned our helm and I took pictures and worried! Yay! Tamar also took pictures and Paul and John were our line handlers. Jorge made sure we were doing everything properly and Roy the advisor on NorthFork did the same on their side.

The monkey-fists are thrown. John grabs one on the bow and Paul grabs one for the stern line. They quickly tie one of our big canal lines with the loop end onto the monkey-fist and the canal line handlers pull the tied loop up to the chamber side. The canal line handlers then hook our loops to the bollards of the chamber. Bollards are basically giant cleats up on the canal side. Our line handlers then adjust the lines going through the crocs, then the cleats for better leverage and safety. Our boats need to stay centered in the chamber and parallel to the side walls. Everyone must adjust the lines to factor this and keep it that way. The advisors we had were excellent. They were nice, vigilant, helpful and non argumentative with each other. So far so good.

The canal gates are locked behind us and 52 million gallons of fresh water begins to rush in from below us. The fresh water mixing with the salt water causes a little extra turbulence, but it’s not bad. It’s doable. We begin to ascend. The line handlers are constantly hauling in the lines as they begin to slacken trying to keep everything coordinated. The advisors are vigilantly watching to be sure both boats are synchronized with their lines. It takes about 15 minutes to fill the lock. Here is where we were really lucky not to have a large ship in front of us. When it’s time to exit the lock, a big ship, which by the way are pulled by little trains (mules) along the canal, often have to apply power to get going out of the lock. That power creates huge turbulence that, if you are behind them, will set your boat straining to stay center and safe. I’m so glad we didn’t have that to deal with. (Less worry…yay!)

We go through two more locks with the canal line handlers walking us through, then tying off again onto the bollards. We now enter Gatun Lake, the man made freshwater lake 85’ above sea level. Here we will spend the night. Our advisor Jorge guides us to a large mooring that we will secure to for the night. NorthFork ties up to the mooring on the opposite side. Our advisors are picked up and we prepare to spend the night. I make spaghetti, salad, and French bread and with some red wine we are very content. It’s Tamar’s birthday! So we have cupcakes too. How many guys…do you know…that will take you through the Panama Canal for your birthday! (Inside joke from Paul.) Mark and Dana from NorthFork come over for a chat with the guys while Tamar and I sit below and relax and chat away. It’s a nice evening. But it’s rainy. It rained a lot of the day actually, but did not deter any of the crew. This is an exciting experience. My worries are starting to fade. We did really well. So far so good.
We are up early serenaded by howler monkeys to accept another advisor and it’s Roy! He was the advisor on NorthFork the day before and he’s great! Yay! NorthFork also gets their advisor and his name is Roy, too. So off we go with the 2 Roys to travel across the Lake and on to the next locks and the Pacific. We do not raft up with NorthFork until just prior to the locks so we go on our separate ways, but following. Gatun Lake is 20+ miles. It takes us 3+ hours. As we travel we pass several huge ships, particularly the car ships. They are so big! We feel like peewees next to them. I actually think we did this transit at a good time. I believe the canal traffic is down this time of year as compared to the high season. For that I am grateful. (Less worry…yay!) The weather isn’t bad today. It’s not raining.

We cross Gatun Lake and reach the Gaillard Cut, the narrowest part of the canal. According to my sources I’m referring to in telling you all about this, Eric Bauhaus and Pat Rains, the Gaillard Cut was carved through the Continental Divide. We travel this about 7 miles and prepare to raft up again with NorthFork for the final Lock transits. We enter the locks, again center chamber and prepare the lines with the canal line handlers. But we are waiting and we now see we will have another boat with us in the chamber. But it’s not big…it’s a canal tour boat. Cool! Just the right size. This first lock is called the Pedro Miguel Lock. There is apparently a geological weakness on the Pacific side so they have separated the down locks. The people on the tour boat are very curious and are taking our pictures. We must be quite a site as we are so small in these big chambers. We feel like celebrities. We wave, pose and smile for their pictures! (Worry is going away by the second now.)

Downward lockages are easier, not as much turbulence. You just need to remember to feed out your lines as the chamber sides get taller and taller! We now cross Miraflores Lake to the Miraflores Locks. There are two of them. This will take us down 54 feet. The last chamber of these locks is the highest due to that large tidal variation I mentioned before in the Pacific. Holy cow we are almost done! (Worry is almost completely gone!) The chamber gates open and there is the Pacific! High 5’s all around. Beer for everyone! I take a picture of the crew. I forget to have them take a picture of me. We were all too excited.
We separate from NorthFork and wait for the pilot boat to pick up Roy. While traveling with Roy we learned it is quite a privilege to work for the canal and particularly as an advisor or a pilot. It is a much wanted job there. He loves it. The pilots make more he said but their time is more in demand. Roy was anxious to get going because he was meeting his family for pizza and a trip to see the new Toy Story movie. So he declined my lunch and snacks and beer. He was so great and he and Jorge made our trip so relaxing and easy. How lucky we were to have these good circumstances for our transit.

We now pass under the Bridge of Americas…in the Pacific, Ran, we made it to the Pacific!...and take our crew to the Balboa Yacht Club where they will depart. As we pull up to the dock we pay the guys there $1/tire to take them off our hands. We say goodbye to our crew and head out around the Amador Causeway to Las Brisas where we will anchor for a few days. There are what seem like a zillion ships anchored all over out here. Waiting to go through the canal I guess, or be loaded or unloaded at the big ship dock just prior to the canal on the Pacific side. Quite a site. Paul and Tamar have their boat moored there at Balboa Yacht Club but it’s pretty expensive. Paul said it costs him $1/hour to stay there. But they are having engine problems and need to be there to get it fixed. We will go around to the free anchorage. We find a spot to anchor as the skies grow very dark. We can see the Panama City skyline and there are very dark clouds there with thunder in the background. Our first try at anchoring doesn’t work so we decide to go farther out and let the boat anchor itself and have plenty of room to swing. That worked perfectly. We have heard of a number of boats dragging anchor here at Las Brisas, its very soft mud, so we were prepared to anchor a couple of times until we felt secure. Time for a safe arrival beer! What an experience. Memorable, memorable, memorable. And my worries were for naught. Yay!

LAS BRISAS, PANAMA: Now, we are relaxing and regrouping. We stayed at Las Brisas anchorage for 3 weeks. We met up with Paul and Tamar at the Balboa Yacht Club at the Monday night book exchange there. Tuesday nights the book exchange was at the Las Brisas area. Pizza and book exchange. We enjoy this for the obvious reason of exchanging books but also for the camaraderie. Channel 74 on the VHF radio was the go-to net that brought cruising folks together and told of what was going on. Or if you had something to sell or needed anything or needed line handlers, that was the place to be. I liked that. The people are great. One of the major perks of cruising is the people. We met with Paul and Tamar frequently. We met Howard and Donna on Nintai. They were a hoot. Donna ran one of the nets on certain days, as did Paul. Cracks me up that Donna used to be a Private Investigator. I just love all these people we meet. She told us of a time her granddaughter or grandson had her go in to their school to talk about her occupation. And what they said was…’Grandma…tell them how old you are!’ She’s a hoot. We took cabs into town and went to Albrook Mall which was the first mall we had seen in quite some time. Bought some new prescription glasses for Ran. I bought some reading glasses that were $5/each. Love that! I had my hair colored and cut…sorely needed. The natural color…now very dark…had grown back completely and I hated it. Now I feel like a new woman…young and sassy. We relaxed at las Brisas and read. It was nice. Ran and I decided to treat ourselves to a dinner out and chose a restaurant close to the dinghy dock at las Brisas. It was a wonderful dinner that we shared. The dinner had a large plate with different meats on it and I ordered yuca frita (fried yucca) and patacones (fried plantains) (in Puerto Rico they were called tostones) to go along with the dinner. It was so wonderful. And only $23. For the two of us. But…since we decided to have chardonnay with our dinner, and ended up having 3 a piece throughout the evening…at $5/glass…our dinner ended up being quite a bit more. =) Oh well…it was so worth it and was such an enjoyable relaxing evening. Our waiter was perfect.

We said goodbye to Quic en grogne. So sad! After traveling with them for months...from Grenada to Panama they were traveling on to their home, New Caledonia. They must travel along way across the Pacific to get there and they will have some wonderful stops along the way. They had a successful transit through the canal, then prepared for their LONG voyage. They will have long spells at sea. They have a companion with them now who will help man the helm. Isabelle has a good routine for everyone: Tessa does her lessons everyday, Yoan...causes trouble (as Roel says) and Roel keeps everything shipshape. We will miss them very much. They have been a wonderful part of our lives.

Then it was time to move. We decided to start heading to Costa Rica where we will leave our boat while we travel home for a much needed break from the boat and visit with family and friends. We miss our family so much…specially those grandkids. Time to go home for awhile. Hurricane season is July through November. Panama and Costa Rica are not in the hurricane zone. We decided to leave our boat in Costa Rica as it is a little closer to our destination…home. We researched everything and decided on Land Sea Marina in Golfito, Costa Rica which is just past the border of Panama. While in Shelter Bay Marina I contacted them and made all the arrangements to leave our boat there and our flight arrangements for home. The big stickler for that is that we cannot leave our boat in Costa Rica for more than 90 days. After that, we would have to have the boat bonded, which is a dog and pony show and expense…and if bonded you can’t use the boat during that time. OK…can’t do that. So we need to be back to Costa Rica before our 90 days is up. That cut our trip short by a couple of weeks but we are on the home stretch and will be permanently back before we know it. It’s just that we would have liked to have visited more of Costa Rica while we are here. We’ll just have to come back.

We first checked into leaving our boat in El Salvador, which is closer to the border of Mexico but still out of the hurricane zone. But El Salvador has an even stricter rule. You cannot leave your boat past 60 days or they will charge you a value added tax of 10% the value of your boat based on what THEY think is the value of your boat. I DON’T THINK SO!!! Why these countries want to shoot themselves in the foot with these restrictions is beyond me. We are more than willing to stay awhile in their country and spend money. But these costly restrictions deter us from making that decision. As you can imagine, the marinas there are not happy.

So it’s off to Land Sea at Golfito, Costa Rica. Enrique checked us out of Panama and brought all of our papers to us and we say goodbye. Because we cannot get to Golfito much before August 1, we head out to Taboga, an island off of Panama. Randy had called Chuy (Chewie) who is in charge of the moorings over there and told him our plans to come over for a few days. There are only a few moorings so we wanted to be sure there was one available. There are many boaters that leave their boats with Chuy, as we are leaving ours at Land Sea, while they travel home. Therefore a lot of the moorings are already taken up. But he saved us one and we headed out. First to fuel up and fill up our water tanks at Flamenco Marina near Las Brisas. Then traveling through the parking lot of huge ships waiting to go through the canal. Quite a site to see. And, of course, it’s raining.

TABOGA: Taboga was a sweet island and Chuy and his girlfriend Susan were delightful and as helpful as can be. We stayed at Taboga for 8 days. The weather was holding us back. And the seas. We needed to have decent conditions to get around Punta Mala, one of the tips of Panama. The weather in Las Brisas wasn’t all that good either. But then…it’s the rainy season here. And that’s what we got. Lots of rain and thunderstorms. We hunker down when that happens and read our books and do Sudoku and play SkipBo. And if I can get online…that’s where I am. We toured the little island. So clean and nice. Had good meals and met interesting people. We had lunch with a family from Spain, the father is American, who are planning to move to Panama. They were delightful. Xanadu, Paul and Tamar, got their engine fixed and needed to pout hours on it so they motored over to Taboga for a few days and we had a good time with them. Rum cocktails in the cockpit in the evening. Exploring the town, including the graveyard, in the day time. (That is when we weren’t being rained in and rocking and rolling on the mooring.) They say that they’re running out of room in the graveyard, so often they dump the bodies behind the cemetery into the sea. We peaked back there and there is proof of that happening. The smell was telling, too.

While we were at Taboga there was a saints celebration. Not as much pomp and circumstance as we thought but lots of fireworks/firecrackers and a parade of boats. The church on the island is of course the center of all that happens. It is said that it is the second oldest church in the hemisphere. Taboga is also known for the hospital that was there during the building of the canal that housed the people that were overcome with tuberculosis or malaria or other such communicable diseases. Gauguin was said to have stayed there for a time.

Finally the weather cooperates. We say goodbye to Xanadu and to Chuy and we head to Naranjo which is around the corner of Punta Mala. We decided to overnight it all the way there. We want to make sure we position ourselves so that we can easily make it in to Golfito when the time comes. We got pointers and checked the cruising guides to see which spots where best for anchoring along the way. As we go, the weather wasn’t bad and the seas weren’t bad, just a little confused which makes it slightly uncomfortable but not bad at all. We spot our destination and maneuver ourselves into the anchorage. Nobody there but us, but we were expecting that. This isn’t the time of year most folks travel along here and they usually aren’t gong this direction.

Seems like a nice anchorage, with clean brown beaches. No one there. Signs of life living on the beach but we see no one. The water is slightly rocky but not bad. We had some pretty rocky nights at Taboga so we were glad to have it quiet and still here. I made us a great dinner of fried chicken and rice and salad and we enjoyed the evening. But not for long. The weather started becoming squally and the water started becoming rolly. Oh great. Then it started becoming MORE of everything. Oh great. Randy checked our chart plotter to see if we had moved and he thought we had! It looked as if we had moved a few feet and were getting closer to the shore. “We’d better reset the anchor El or just leave and slowly make our way to the next spot.” By now it’s REALLY getting rolly and the thunderstorm is very loud and boisterous. But I got to thinking. “Let me look at the chart plotter Ran. Ahhh…I marked our anchor spot with a little martini glass symbol this time. The spot you’re looking and measuring from with the anchor symbol is the original way point to anchor from the guide book. No wonder you thought we had moved. Sorrryyyyy!!!” We hadn’t moved at all. Phew!

But we were still VERY uncomfortable. Sleep was hard coming. Having traveled all night the night before we had taken big naps on arrival to this anchorage. It’s a good thing! Everything possible in the galley was banging around. Despite my attempts to secure it all. We had decided to sleep in the saloon area as it’s more comfortable when we’re rocking around, but you hear everything in the galley a lot more. Just as I would get one thing secure…another banging would start up. Secure that…then something is rolling back and forth. Not very loudly but just enough to drive you nuts. Arrrrgggghhh!!! Finally I got everything quiet. By now it’s about 3:00 in the morning. The storm settled down but the seas did not. Rock….roll…rock…roll….BIG rock….BIG roll….BIG rock…BIG roll…medium rock…medium roll…rock….roll…rock…roll. All …night…long….

OK…let’s blow this joint!! We were up and outta there so fast you couldn’t even see us. Faster than the speed of light. On to Bahia Honda. “At least it looks like Bahia Honda anchorage is back in a nice bay. Hopefully, it’s quiet back there.” I made much needed coffee (we had not had any the day before because it’s too hard to make coffee while traveling and the seas are big) and we actually had a nice day of travel. We are motor-sailing going this direction. We don’t want to but we have to. We are heading directly into the wind, if there’s any wind at all. But bless our engine, its working great.

Speaking of engines, we did have a bit of trouble on the way to Naranjo, now that I think about it. The alternator keeps coming loose for some reason. Randy tightened it before we left Taboga. As we were traveling to Naranjo, just prior to coming around Punta Mala and still in the shipping lanes, Ran and I were changing shifts at midnight. (Yep...everything happens at night...when it's dark.) He’s coming up…I’m going down to sleep. He checked the engine first and “Damn! The alternator’s loose again. Shut the engine off and let me tighten it, El.” “This is not a good time Randy! There is a ship coming up behind us. The AIS says it will be within a mile of us. And the rip tides are extreme right here. I don’t want to get any closer to the shore.” “Well I have to tighten it. I’ll try to be quick.” Randy starts throwing things around down below to get his tools and into the engine compartment. I shut off the engine and try to hold the boat steady as possible and not allow us to get further into the shipping lanes or closer to the shore. Not easy when there’s no wind to help along and there's a really strong current goin' on. Fortunately the sea gods were with us and we hung tight right where we were. Yay!! Alternator is all snug. Randy comes up for his watch. I go down below for my sleep time. It’s now about 2:00am.

Oops! “El, need to come up here. We just broke our alternator belt.” Oh great. Ran turns the engine off quickly. Up I go and Randy starts tearing things apart again down below. Fortunately the belt is a spare part we have…but it’s our last one. Apparently when the alternator gets loose enough it rubs on the belt. That’ll do it every time. This is easy and quickly fixed so we’re back on the road again. Randy tells me to go back down to sleep and he’ll take it until 6:00am. He’s all wound up. Then I’ll come up and take over. Roger that. And of course now I can’t sleep at all. But…at least I’m resting.

But I got off track…that was the night we left Taboga. We are now heading into Bahia Honda. It was a nice day of travel. The seas weren’t bad at all. And because we are traveling along the coast, there are green mountains all around. And we saw whales! Not sure what kind but Randy spotted them swimming quite far from us. And then again …we saw them breaching! That was exciting! Unfortunately (or fortunately) they were quite a ways away but we could definitely see them and I was able to get some pictures with my zoom lens. Quite spectacular to watch.

I am going to leave you here on our way to Bahia Honda, Panama. This post is quite long so stopping here is a good idea. I'll pick up on our trip to Golfito in the next post. Lots to tell you there!