On our way home

We are in Fort Lauderdale.  Margaux just got on a plane with Star to Lunenburg. Hanna and I, and of course Luc, are going to be the crew to sail the last leg to Lunenburg. There was not much good to report of Fort Lauderdale, except that the swimming pool at the marina was nice. For the rest the place typified all we dislike of big cities. There were no other cruisers in the marina, but plenty of enormous motor yachts, all very ugly and sterile with none of the owners on board, only crew to keep the dirt off. The marina had no interest in people like us and the place was run down, but still expensive. When we wanted to empty our holding tank we were told that the pump out did not work, but that we could call pump out service on the VHF and they would come with a small boat to do it. As we are good citizen we did this and ended up with a bill of $60 for the service. Yeah right, $60 to pump out the 30-gallon holding tank. Well, good-bye Fort Lauderdale, we will never return.

Left to Right: Hanna on watch. Luc on watch. Piet on watch?

After this we were eager to leave and the next morning we headed out for either West Palm Beach or farther north if we felt like it.  It was just the two of us and we didn’t know how we would cope with the night watches along the coast. There was also a heat wave and wild thunder storms appeared every evening. We had developed a healthy respect for those storms after encountering a water spout in the Florida Keys. We thought that this crappy weather was a Florida affair and wanted to get out of the state as soon as we could. We were about to find out in more ways than one that this assumption was not correct.

Nevertheless, we made good progress and decided later in the afternoon to continue onwards to Charleston in South Carolina. In fact we progressed so well that after two days we decided to go straight to Cape Fear and enter the Intracoastal Water Way there. The marina in South Harbor Village Marina was a great contrast with Fort Lauderdale. The people were super friendly and welcomed us in such a way that we decided to stay a few extra days. It proved to be a great start of a wonderful trip through the ICW all the way to Norfolk in Virginia. Everywhere we met nice people, the scenery was beautiful, and in all we were impressed by the kindness of the American people and this didn’t stop at the end of the ICW.

In Norfolk we got the sad news that my father back in Holland had died. He was 88. During the last few years I had visited him as often as I could and each time I left we had said our good byes knowing it might be the last time we saw each other. I thought hard about what to do. Should I go back for the funeral or stay with Hanna and the boat? In the end I choose the latter. My sisters in Holland had everything under control and I kept the image of our last goodbye as my lasting memory. Looking back I think that it was the best decision, but maybe not well understood by some people. Oh well, it is what it is.

At Norfolk we faced the decision to travel the Chesapeake Bay or to proceed more directly along the coast. We decided to take the more direct route; it was time to go home. We had only spent one winter in Lunenburg and were now eager to experience the summer. Also Anouk was preparing for her special art show at the Lunenburg Gallery and we wanted to be there to help her get ready. As luck would have it we went to Willoughby Bay and got a slip in Rebel Marina. It was one of those fortunate decisions that made our whole trip so special. The people were nice and interesting, we felt very much at home and it was hard to leave. This was the US at its best and like when we were in the Pacific Yacht Club in Marina Del Rey; we experienced friendliness that we will never forget.  While we were at the Rebel Marina we were hit twice by some major thunderstorms. The last one hit 72 miles an hour winds. We were becoming a bit concerned for the trip along the coast. There was no real alternative and all we could do was hope that the intensity of the storms would become less as we progressed up north. Our hopes proofed to be in vain. We left Willoughby Bay and headed for Cape May. Our stay there was a bit of a contrast with our stay in Rebel Marina and we left after a day rest for a four-day trip directly to Lunenburg. Each day thunderstorms appeared at the horizon but we managed to avoid them. After two days with only two days left we felt excited to be so close to the end of our journey. I should have known better than to celebrate our progress. That evening we heard of a large thunderstorm creating some havoc in New Jersey. I checked the radar and told Hanna it was passing south of us and subsequently went to bed, it was Hanna’s watch. Not much later Hanna woke me up telling me thunderclouds were gathering directly over us. I looked at the radar and saw that the storm was almost all around us but that there was an opening through which we could escape. It was a very fast moving storm and after an hour the skies seemed clear and the radar didn’t show any new storms in a 24-mile range, so I went to bed again. Ten minutes later Hanna woke me up again. More clouds were forming around us and they didn’t look good. I couldn’t believe it, it came from nowhere and it looked ominous. There was no escaping this one. Maybe it’s only rain“, I said hopefully. A second later there was a thunder strike, about a mile away. “Don’t touch any metal“, I said to Hanna. Then the strike hit, a flash with instant cracking thunder. Luc crawled away giving us a strange look. We were hit; all electronics were out, no radar, depth sounder, GPS and chart plotter. Port sidelights were out. But the worst was the loss of the autopilot. The only electronic devise working was the VHF. We were stunned. It was pitch dark and I couldn’t keep a straight course. There was some commercial shipping a few miles of and I called on the VHF if any ship had seen us being hit and if they could give us a position. There was no reply. We were lucky to have a spare GPS stowed in a locker and it was not affected by the strike. Suddenly we heard the US Coast Guard calling Candlewin on the VHF. They had heard our call for a position and asked if we needed assistance. How nice it was to have them in contact with us! They told us that we should be heading towards Martha`s Vineyard if we needed repairs and that they would guide us into a safe mooring. All night they called us for an update of our position each hour and in the early morning hours we saw the Coast guard cutter that would assist us to a safe mooring.  Thank you US Coast Guard!

Once on the mooring buoy we kind of collapsed. We had not slept the whole night, hand steering the boat trying to stay on course was exhausting. Tired, we were so tired. And to top it off we had to buy new equipment, all the expensive stuff, all the equipment we had installed less than a year ago: wasted! We were not insured for this type of damage. We kept telling each other how lucky we were to be alive and not be hurt by the lightening strike. Although, we both claimed to have a bit of a strange buzz in our head and noticed that Luc was not feeling his usual self either. I couldn’t stay focused for a long time, but needed to organize our repairs. We now wanted more than ever to be home in Lunenburg as soon as possible.

Years ago I had read a book about the building of a large wooden schooner by a company called Gannon & Benjamin. The story and people in it had intrigued me and now we discovered that we were moored in the same bay as this boat yard. I didn’t think that they, Gannon & Benjamin, would be interested in doing an electronic job on our boat, but couldn’t resist walking into the boat shop to take a look. Wow, what a place! It looked like something out of a movie. The setting, equipment, the people, the smell of tar and wood, it all was fascinating, with all the romance of building wooden boats. To make a long story short, they were glad to do the job and when I came back to the boat, Brad and Matt were already busy inspecting the mast. We looked around us and suddenly we felt part of the scene in our wooden boat. What was more, we felt proud to be among these people with their beautiful boats. It was just what the doctor ordered, we started to relax and enjoy ourselves in Martha’s Vineyard.

Gannon & Benjamin workshop Vineyard Haven

It took two weeks to do the re-fit and on August 21st we departed on a direct course to Lunenburg. For hours we pounded directly into the waves, getting a bit of a beating, but by evening things quieted down and so it stayed all the way for the next two nights. Actually we had one of the more relaxing sails of our entire cruise.  It was so nice to enter the harbour of beautiful Lunenburg. We were home after having sailed 8000 miles in 11 months. All I want to do is sit on our patio with a drink and let it sink in. What a trip!

~Piet

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Isla Mujeres and Nova Scotia

It’s hard to tell in the photo, but the two S’s have fallen off the sign just in case you were wondering about the weird spelling.

Mexico

In the last post I left off in Providencia. Amazing as the island was, we couldn’t stay for long and set sail again after four days. After deciding not to go to Cuba we headed north up to Mexico. It was a much more comfortable trip to Isla Mujeres, but not without its challenges. For one thing, it was one of the longest passages we’d done: four nights. We also arrived in the middle of the night. Isla Mujeres is a small island located just off the coast of Cancun and in the dark all the lights made navigation very difficult. After trying in vain to figure out which red light was which, we decided to make a 180 degree turn and sail back over our own path for one hour and then turn around again so as to approach the coast in day light. Even then what was on the map, what was showing on the Chart plotter, and what we saw with our own eyes didn’t match up. In the end we made it safely to the marina by ignoring the electronics (except for the depth sounder) and simply visually navigating our way into the bay by following in the path of other boats.

Being back in Mexico was a very strange feeling. On the one hand it felt strange to go back to a country when we had been visiting new ones for so long. On the other hand it was nice to be back on familiar ground. For Anouk and I this was our last port of the trip and we scrabbled around trying to make the most of our remaining time. Souvenir shopping, trips to the beautiful beaches, tanning by the pool, drinking many cervesas, and eating Mexican food filled our last few days. The best part was our final day when Anouk, Margaux and I got up early and joined a boat of other tourists to swim with whale sharks!

I’m afraid I don’t have any pictures to share you since Margaux left the underwater camera we bought for the excursion on the boat. I’ll post them later. But if you’re curious about what these animals look like check out the pictures on this website. The first one with the scuba diver is about the same size and the shark we saw: Whale sharks.  We were all nervous at first because we had been cautioned that it was the beginning of the season and finding a whale shark to swim with wasn’t guaranteed. To make matters worse the weather wasn’t the greatest. It started to rain as we headed out and there were more dark clouds on the horizon. After an hour of scanning the waves I was beginning to think we’d be going home disappointed. And then suddenly the guides shouted that they found one! Two other boats were also hovering close by. I’m always concerned when animals are part of tourist attractions but there were lots of rules and I think everything was done very respectfully.

Everyone went out in pairs with a guide. Each couple’s turn lasted an exhilarating 10 minutes and then the next pair would go. We all got two turns to swim with the shark and it was amazing! From the boat all you could really see was it’s huge tail, but once we were in the water we were able to see the entire animal. It swam quite fast so we had to be ready to jump in and swim as fast as we could to keep up with it. I’m not sure how big the whale shark was but I judged it to be around 30 feet. Even just the tail was easily about 6 feet tall!

Swim fast! Swimming with the whale shark.

After everyone on the boat had had their two turns we motored out to a reef where we were able to snorkel amongst some really beautiful coral and fish and even spotted a nurse shark hanging out under one coral head. Before we went home they served us amazing fresh ceviche that the two tour guides had made while we’d all been snorkeling.  All in all it was the perfect day and the best way to spend me and Anouk’s last day on the trip.

Nova Scotia

The day after our whale shark adventure Anouk and I said a tearful goodbye to the rest of our family and boarded a plane for Halifax. We arrived a little after midnight in the fog and rain. Coming into the house was both wonderful and strange. It was great to be home, but it was also weird to be in such a large empty space with so few people in it! We adjusted quickly though and I’ve had a great time these past few weeks enjoying all that Lunenburg and the neighboring towns have to offer. We traded snorkeling and beaches for bike rides and farmer’s markets.

Margaux joined us a little over a week ago. She had stayed aboard to help my parents sail to Florida. We also hoped that she might be able to get a flight from the States that she could bring the cat and the dog on. Unfortunately we were just a bit late and in the summer months the airlines in Florida don’t allow dogs to fly because of the heat. Star the cat was able to come home with her though, and has been having a good time exploring the house.

Florida

Before she came home, Margaux had a few more crazy adventures in the Florida Keys. After a three night trip she and my parents arrived in the Florida Keys. The weather in the area was not good and there were lots of thunder and lightening storms circling on the horizon and passing over them. Although the Caribbean was beautiful it came with a new kind of weather hazard: water cyclones, also known as water spouts.  On our way to and from Providencia we saw a couple on the horizon but they were always short lived and never too close. But in Florida my parents and Margaux got to see one up close. Really close. They had been visiting with their friends from Maggie May, another boat we’d met in Mexico, when the sky began to get very dark. Susan and Andy went back to their boat and my parents and Margaux began to zip up the canvas rain cover over the cockpit. They heard the Miami coast guard on the radio warning the area to watch out for extreme weather conditions. Just as they closed up the hatches it began to pour very, very hard, got foggy and very, very windy. So windy the boat heeled over.

The wind was so strong the anchor started to drag and Candlewin began to drift towards the shore and several other boats. Margaux and Piet braved the wind and rain and went up front to haul up the anchor while my mom steered the boat. It took quite a while to get the anchor up as the boat was being pushed away from it and they had several close calls with other boats. They managed to anchor again and just as they finished the wind and rain let up too. They heard later from another boat that a water spout had passed directly over the boat!

This picture needs a little explanation. In Key Largo where the water spout hit, just before the weather turned these boats collected. First the biggest one, sporting a Miami Dolphin’s flag, dropped anchor and proceeded to blast music from their vastly superior sound system for everyone’s enjoyment. Then two smaller boats, also with Miami Dolphin’s flags, sped in and rafted up to the bigger boat. Four more boats came in and joined the group. Then a lone boat came in and anchored a little ways away. They were not sporting a Miami Dolphin’s flag. But in the ever friendly American way it wasn’t long before they were waved over and invited to raft up as well. In the end twelve power boats were tied together, having a big party. Everyone was climbing onto each others’ boats and having a good time. That is until the water spout moved in and alllll their anchors dragged. All twelve power boats started to drift like one big daisy chain of Dolphin fans. The party was over and everyone went home.

The weather wasn’t always bad and Margaux says it was very beautiful in Key West. They visited Ernest Hemingway’s house and several of the old pubs he used to frequent.  After a few days it was time to move on to Fort Lauderdale. This was not the most beautiful port but we had found Margaux a cheap back to Lunenburg from there.

Getting beauty tips in Key West.

And now I’m preparing for the last leg of my journey. Tomorrow I fly home to Victoria! Our parents are currently in North Carolina. They have had plenty of their own adventures and in the next little while I will get them to fill you all in on their trip up the east coast.

Till next time!

~Faye.

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Providencia

Wow, a month has past since I last updated, oops! A lot has happened in that time, and rather than spending a lot of time on one big post I thought it might be best to update in stages. That way I actually post something rather than spending another week messing around with typos and grammar. So, over the course of the next few posts I will tell you about Providencia, Isla Mujeres, give updates on my parents and Margaux’s trip and the final leg of my trip: Nova Scotia. Yes, Anouk and I are back in Canada. It’s both sad and wonderful to be back. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

As I said last time, we left the San Blas on April 30th and after two nights sail arrived in Providencia, a small Colombian island off the coast of Nicaragua. The trip was not very comfortable. The waves were big and choppy and the angle at which they hit the boat meant Candlewin made a perpetual washing machine motion. My mom, Margaux and I felt nauseous the whole time and we were all constantly being tossed about the boat. After almost three full days of this we’d really had it. Once we were settled in the harbor we had a long and difficult discussion and with heavy hearts decided that we would have to miss out on Cuba. The trip there would be just as difficult as the one we’d just endured except longer and we’d have very little time there before Anouk and I would need to fly out. I think we’re all still sad about Cuba, but we can’t go everywhere!

Fortunately Providencia was beautiful! It was a our first really Caribbean port. The colors and the people are exactly as I had imagined: bright, cheerful and friendly. We only stayed in Providencia for four days but we enjoyed each day there.

As I mentioned in the previous post we rented a mule to drive around the island and see the sights (also it helped us transport fuel and water back to the boat). It was so much fun to drive, especially after not having driven for almost 5 months!

The residents of Providencia are very protective of their natural environment. The day we arrived most of the town was involved in a large protest against possible change from Colombian hands to Nicaraguan control. In part the locals protest the acquisition because of Nicaragua’s interest in offshore oil deposits which Columbia has, at least temporarily, said they will not explore due to environmental concerns voiced by the island residents.

I, for one, am happy that the locals have taken an active role in protecting such a beautiful place. After driving around for a while we went for lunch at an amazing seafood restaurant. The place had been recommended to us by other cruisers and although it was difficult to find at first, it was well worth the extra effort. It was located right on the beach in a colorful open air building. I know it’s cliche to photograph your food, but it looked so good I couldn’t help myself. We ordered two sea food platters which included two fish, lobster, conch and land crab. I think the conch was my favorite but it was all very, very good.

I’m off to Mahone Bay to shop for tea now, but next time I’ll post about Isla Mujeres and swimming with a whale shark!

Till then!

~Faye.

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Paradise at Last!

A quick note before I get to the post: Unfortunately I was only able to type out the post before the internet connection on my own computer quit. I was able to go to an internet cafe, but this means I can´t load any of the pictures! 😦 We´re headed to Isla Mujeres tomorrow. It will take us four days to get there, but apparently we should be able to get good internet access in the marina. I will update the post with photos then. Since I had it all typed out I thought I´d post the written part. Till next time!

Update: Now with photos!

We left Shelter Bay Marina (located near Colon) after nearly a month in the early afternoon on April 21st and arrived in Puerto Bello in the later afternoon. We only stayed two nights, just as a stop over enroute to the San Blas. My sisters and I went ashore to walk around the ruins of an old Spanish fort and to see an interesting church. The fort is partially made of crushed coral blocks and was a really cool sight. The town itself looks interesting but very poor, rundown and full of garbage and roaming dogs. We sent our parents ashore to look around, but not long after they got there it started to pour!

On Sunday we left really early in the morning so as to arrive by daylight in Chichimae.  Picture the perfect tropical island and you have the image of the San Blas in your mind. Chichimae is a horseshoe shaped cove on the map, but from the water you see two islands surrounded on almost all sides by reefs. Entering the busy anchorage was difficult as there is only a narrow passage between the sandbars and reefs. As a grim warning a small boat lies beached and abandoned on a tiny patch of palm dotted sand near the entrance.

Friends told us the water was crystal clear and you could see your anchor resting on the ground, but the bay at Chichimae was very deep and even with snorkelling gear we couldn’t see the bottom. We spent 6 days in Chichimae. Almost as soon as we got in the storm clouds rolled in behinds us. We hoped it was simply the raining season starting, but the wind and rain didn’t go away. All our spirits were pretty low after having finally attained our long sought after destination, only to have the weather turn on us as soon as we arrived! Everyday it continued to blow and rain, the boat got smaller and more humid as we all sat cramped into the small dry space in amongst the wet towels and blankets that refused to dry.

But after all the bad luck we’ve had on this trip I have to give us credit for persevering and once again making the best of what we had. I spent a lot of time during those four days looking out at the pretty islands and watching our fellow boaters. It’s very common here to have sailboats set up as cruises for backpackers. I’m not sure how it all works but some seem to go on short day trips, usually on large Catamarans packed with people. Others take up to six additional people on board and make longer trips amongst the islands and then out to Providencia. I’m sure they have fun, but I do not admire them. With the exception of the day-trippers, the boats are small and rough looking. It was while looking at them that I realized how incredibly lucky we really are to be here. You can only visit the San Blas by boat, and here we are on our own boat, in the sometimes annoying, but always more private and familiar company of family. So I took a deep breath and another look at my situation and decided it was pretty darn good.

We jumped in the water the morning after we arrived during a dry period and had a nice swim. Anouk and I swam to two of the nearest sandbars to snorkel (the reefs were too far out to swim to). Afterwards we all had a nice wash with seawater and a refreshing rinse in our new inflatable dingy that had been turned into a bathtub with all the rain (the first night it rained so heavily two large buckets we had on deck collected 10 litres of water…each!)

In between zipping closed and zipping open the canvas rain canopy we have over the cockpit, swimming, rinsing off (a bigger job than you’d expect) hanging up and taking down the wet laundry, we also greeted several visitors. My mom, sisters and I had long been awaiting visits from the Kuna who live on the San Blas islands. They are a very beautiful, friendly and kind group of people with an amazing sense of color that they translate into their clothes, jewellery and handicrafts, perhaps most famously into the gorgeous molas (a type of reverse appliqué). Our first set of visitors, who came by before we barely had our anchor down, was a canoe full of teenagers looking for spaghetti. On the advise of a few other cruisers we had stocked up on extra rice, flour and coffee; items we were told were in high demand. In hindsight I now realize that, of course, being close to the mainland, the basics are not such an issue. Like us however, the first things they probably run out of and the first things they probably long for are the luxury items. Indeed, almost every visiting canoe asked for chocolate, candy or cookies for the kids.

After satisfying the pasta hungry teenagers we were visited by several boats of mola makers. And we were good customers! The molas are so beautiful and so carefully made it was hard to choose just one. Fortunately they are very inexpensive and we were able to by several each.

As well as molas the Kuna also sell beaded bracelets like the ones they wear themselves on their arms and legs.  My sister and I each got one for our ankles and they got ones for their wrists (I bought more molas). The women we bought the ankle bracelets from came on board to show us all our options and to wrap them on our legs. It was a really wonderful visit as we chatted back and froth with the help of one of the women’s husband, who was fluent in English. They are such kind, happy people and there was such a good warm feeling of genuine welcome and mutual respect, the smile never once left my face. It was a very welcome change from other places where the locals are so angry and jaded after decades or centuries of occupation, poverty and exploitation at the hands of foreigners.

On Wednesday April 26th the weather improved and we made a run for our second and last San Blas destination. The East Holandiase Cays are a group of islands that together make a large protected bay, again encircled by reefs. Here, finally, we found the crystal clear waters we’d heard of. Again we had a difficult entrance, and this time we weren’t so lucky. My dad had carefully plotted a series of six coordinates given in a cruising guide to lead us safely into the anchorage. Although we followed the directions exactly, seconds after I looked on the side and exclaimed in awe how well you could see the bottom, BOOM! We ran around.

Swear words rang out, the throttle was thrown in reverse and after a few tense seconds running back and forth to rock the boat, the over-sized engine did it’s job and pulled us off the sandbar. After that all eyes were over the side trying to judge the depth ahead of us. We only ran aground one more time before we found a spot to drop the anchor. Fortunately both times we hit sandbars so our bottom was unscathed. This anchorage seemed to have a weather buffer. The wind blew but the rain clouds stayed a safe distance away.

On our third day we made a visit to the Chief. He’d invited us to come see his hut when he came by our boat the day before to collect his fee. I judged his age to be in the 60’s, but the years had taken their toll and we’re told he’s almost blind. He asked for a cup of coffee because he was cold from his paddle to our boat. After filling out some paperwork and chatting for a bit he invited us to visit him on island the next day. He came to meet us as we approached the island and led us back along a tidy path to his huts. He explained that he only lived here part of the year and that this was where they came to fish. In front of his hut 2 women (his friends) were clearly expecting us. Laid our before them were several molas and they also had bracelets and necklaces on display. I was allowed to make pictures and invited to look in one of the huts, clearly the kitchen. We’d taken a pack of coffee as a gift for the chief and when we gave it to him he thanked us and gave it to one of the women. She clutched it to her chest very happily. We also left happy, owners of several more molas, necklaces and bracelets.

Sadly we had to leave after a few more days more swimming bliss. On our last day we found a little oasis we could drift around for ages watching the beautiful fish darting around an amazing array of coral. I also nearly got myself a sharksucker! I had just popped my head out of the water to adjust my mask when I felt something touch my leg. I brushed it away quickly and then looked down and say a very funny looking fish. I suspected it was a cleaning fish because it looked upside down, but it wasn’t until I was on the boat that I found it in my fish book. Apparently they wait around for a big fish to clean and sometimes “firmly, but harmlessly attach themselves to swimmers.”

It was sad to leave the little island paradise of the San Blas, but it was time to move on. And now we’re in Providencia, Colombia! (an island actually located quite close to Nicaragua).  We rented a golf cart like thing and toured the island today so next time I´ll post pictures of that as well.

Till then!

~Faye.

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Panama and the Canal

Well, we made it through the canal safe and sound! Three and a half weeks ago…I’ve been remiss, I’m sorry. But I’m going to do my best to make it up to all of you with a big post today.

As I said in the last post we were scheduled to go through at 5pm on Saturday March 24th. That morning we had a little scare when Dave from Bijou, the other boat who was scheduled to join us, came on the radio at 8:10am and announced that he’d just heard from our mutual agent that both our boats had been rescheduled for 8:30am. Neither boat was prepared to go yet but we scrambled around for a while fearing that if we missed that morning’s transit time we might have to wait several more days for a new time. Fortunately in the end we were rescheduled for our original time and we all breathed a sigh of relief.

Freighters waiting outside Panama City

There may be other ways of going through the canal, but the way we did it was like this: First, we hired an agent. This is a person who organizes all the details, the scheduling, the paperwork, the person who gives you the extra long lines you need to tie up in the locks and the 12 tires to hang on either side of your boat to protect it. They also make arrangements for an adviser. The adviser comes with you through the canal and helps you by advising you on how to navigate the locks and the lake, and how to tie up. They also do all the radio work with the various control towers. Several hours before you’re scheduled canal passage you need to contact the signal station, a large control tower overlooking the harbour. They then advise you when to head out to the canal entrance and where to wait for your adviser to be delivered.

The many kinds of freighters outside Panama

We were anchored at La Playeta, just at the entrance to the canal. This anchorage doesn’t have much to recommend itself. The associated marina really isn’t interested in having the cruisers around and almost begrudgingly provides dingy dock access for a significant weekly fee. Although at first it was exciting and interesting to see the large tankers and freight ships coming and going, the wake from all the various boats going by day and night made us all a little loopy after a while. The anchorage is located right at the drop off point for advisers so at 3:15 we headed out, a bundle of nerves and anticipation.

Bijou waiting for their adviser to be delivered. Notice the tires tied along side to protect the hull in the canal.

The advisers are delivered to your boat by a large tug boat-like vessel. Their boat is big, loud and fast; designed to shuttle people to and from the large freighters. Unfortunately for the advisers who guide sailboats this means they have a hazardous jump to make down to our decks, all while in motion! Our adviser, Franklin, made a well-calculated leap aboard and then we were off!

Our adviser, Franklin, jumps aboard.

It took approximately an hour to motor to the first set of locks. Franklin arranged for us to be tied to a tug, our preferred mode of transit. Sailboats go through tied to a tug boat, another sailboat, or center chamber. We were all nervous about going center chamber because this requires all the line handlers (my mom, my sisters and I) to constantly haul in or let out the lines. Each boat is required to have 4 line handlers and a captain. Lucky for us we’re five people. Other boaters help each other by going through on each others boats, or you can hire line handlers. There are plenty of cruisers eager to go through on another boat to gain experience before taking their own boat through.

Going trough the first set of locks, the Mira Flores locks, Candlewin was tied up to a tug boat and Bijou was tied up to us. Also joining us in the lock was a very large white freight ship.

Not all the ships that come to Panama go through the Canal. Many off load their cargo just before the locks where it's loaded on a train, taken to the other side, and loaded on ships waiting on the other side.

Top Left: entering the locks. Top Right: tying up to the tug boat. Bottom Left: "Quick, the lock doors are closing get a picture!" Bottom Right: Following the ship out. Notice the change in the water height along the wall.

I was very relieved to be tied to a tub because once we were secured to them and Bijou to us, we could relax a little. We still needed to watch the lines just in case, but I had lots of time to take pictures and really watch the mechanics of it all. It was amazingly fast! We watched the lock doors close behind us and almost immediately the water was rising all around us in big swells. My dad had a more challenging time of it. He needed to steer the boat very carefully into the lock and then while the water came up he also needed to maneuver so that our boat and Bijou stayed straight. There are three locks and after the first and second lock we had to untie from the tug but not from Bijou s the two boats had to coordinate their steering into the next lock. To make things even more challenging Bijou’s reverse gear didn’t work!

Parts of the locks. The center picture shows a bridge that swings out to allow cars to pass over the locks.

In the last lock the tugboat switched sides and Bijou was tied to them instead. Unfortunately the tugboat let their stern line go quite loose so all three boats lay diagonally across the lock.

To add an extra challenge for the captains’ the 2 sailboats had to stay tied up to each other as they motored approximately 20 minutes between the second and final lock.

Sunset at the last of the Mira Flores locks. The little train to the right is used to pull the cables of the big freight ships along the locks.

The sun set as we went through the last of the Mira Flores locks. Then we untied from Bijou and motored across the lake in the dark. I hear the lake is very pretty and full of lots of little islands. All we saw were the lights. Lots and lots of lights. The route from the Mira Flores to the Gatun locks is lit almost like an airplane runway with buoys, guiding the many boats past each other in the dark. I steered for a while and was very grateful for the frequent buoys. It took us several hours to make the crossing. We had hurried across the lake to make our next lock time, but when we arrived we had to circle around for 45 minutes waiting for the Paxi, the big freight ship that would share the locks with us. It wasn’t a big deal to wait, but by this point we were pretty tired as we’d been up all day and it was nearing 1am.

In the Gatun locks we went down. We were tied up near the front and at the start of each lock it was fun to stand on tiptoe and look over the top of the lock doors down to the next section. We were once again tied up to a tug boat, Bijou however went center chamber. It was an impressive sight to look back at them and see their comparatively small sailboat in front of the giant tanker looming behind them! Essentially the process was the same in this set of locks as it had been in the first, only in reverse. Everything looked eerie and strange bathed in the orange lights of the canal.

From Left to Right: Entering the locks, Bijou dwarfed by the Paxi, Looking over the lock to the Caribbean Sea!

 

The friendly workers on the tug boat we were tied up to in the Gatun locks. They go through the locks several times a day!

At around 2:40 we finally passed through the last lock and into the Caribbean sea. About a little over an hour later we were safely moored at the dock in Shelter Bay Marina and we all climbed into our beds exhausted but relieved to have made it safely through.

….But that was more than three weeks ago now and we’ve been very busy since then too! For the first week here we rested a little and enjoyed the perks of being tied up to a dock again for the first time since Puerto Madero. I cannot begin to explain the simple joy of being able to just step off the boat. No more hoisting the dingy off the cabin top and lowering it into the water. No more fussing about who’s going ashore and when. You just go, whenever you want without worrying that your leaving means others are stuck on board.

About a week after we arrived we finally, finally hauled the boat out. We were a little anxious that the haul out might be either delayed or rushed because a few days before the rainy season decided to show up early. If you’ve ever been in a tropical climate during the rainy season you’ll know this is a serious issue if your plans involve painting and varnishing. Like many of you, I live on the west coast of Canada, where it rains a lot, but it’s nothing like this. When it rains here it pours. It rains so hard you can literally take a shower outside. Fortunately it never rains for that long, but before and afterwards the air is heavy with moisture.

From top left to bottom right: Candlewin is hauled out, Diving for the 'pigtail' (an electrical cable adapter) that was accidentally kicked into the harbor, waiting for the rain to stop, my parents put the final dabs of bottom paint on Candlewin before she goes into the water, walking the plank.

We’ve been lucky though. We’ve had a string of days that were dry and we managed to get most of our work done. As always things take longer than you expect and we ended up staying out of the water longer than planned. This was in part due to the Easter long weekend though. I feel bad for my parents who want to get the work done quickly and worry each day the boat is out of the water, but I must admit I’ve also enjoyed this time. We wisely decided to stay in the hotel here while the boat is on the dry and it has been a fantastic break to be ashore. Right now I’m sitting on a big plush leather couch in a spacious, quiet, empty, air-conditioned room. We’ve all earned these luxuries though because each day we’ve been working hard on the boat. The whole family put in long hours each day sanding painting, and fixing, but we quit around four in the afternoon because it’s too hot and humid. After painting the last coat of bottom paint Anouk and I looked like we’d slaughtered something we were so covered with red paint splatters.

I accidentally pulled the only halyard out of the mizzen mast. Fortunately there were some very tanned Norwegian climbers who came to our rescue 🙂

Now we’ve been back in the water for about a week. There are still a few more things to do but we’re aiming to leave for the San Blas tomorrow. I’ll be sad to leave the marina and everything and everyone that’s made it so nice to be here, but I’m also really looking forward to finally breaking in my snorkeling gear for something other than boat work!

~Faye

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The Panama Canal Tomorrow!

Hi everyone,

A short post today to let you know that we’ve got our date and time for our passage through the Canal. I have to admit I’m a bit disappointed, we have a night passage. I had hoped to see our surroundings becuase people say it’s pretty in some places along the way, but I’ll just try to convince myself that all the lights will be interesting too. (I’m not quite there yet). Oh well. 

On a more positive note, if you’re interested you can watch us go through the canal. You’ll have to convert the time for your time zone, We’re scheduled to start at 5pm Panama time on Saturday March 24th. The agent says we’ll be done by 1am, but I think that’s a little fast. In any case if you’re online during those hours you can check the webcams of the various locks at this website: http://www.pancanal.com/eng/photo/camera-java.html

You’ll see there are tabs at the top of the video for a few of the locks. There aren’t webcams for all the locks unfortunately. We’ll be going through the Miraflores lock first and exiting through the Gatun lock. The Centennial bridge is a bit before the Gatun lock.

And for those of you who haven’t seen the boat before this is what you’ll be looking for:

Image

Look for the grey hull, two yellow masts and a yellow dingy and yellow kayak stored on deck.

I’ll try to take pictures along the way of course, but my camera isn’t the greatest in the dark. Fingers crossed the canal lights will be enough!

I’ll post again from the Atlantic side.

~Faye.

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Whale, Gales, and Torn Sails.

We left El Salvador on March 3rd with three other boats. When we came into the river the marina sent out a panga with a man to help guide us through the surf. On our way out the four boats dutifully motored out in line behind the panga only to find there was no surf to bother us that day!

Each of the four boats were headed to different destinations. Marc on Jeannine and Bill and Martha on Cat D’O were headed to ports in Panama; Sven and Christine on Gehen Ost to the Galapagos; and we were planning a 3 night trip to Costa Rica.

Our first night was fine and the next day was gorgeous. Turtles were constantly floating by, many with a bird catching a ride on their backs. I won’t blame you if you don’t believe this next bit, I could hardly believe my eyes either: for 5 minutes we simultaneously had turtles floating by, whales cruising on the horizon and rays somersaulting on every side! Yes, the rays somersaulted. They jump out of the water do two to three turns and belly flop back in. It’s crazy!

We paid the price for this magic moment a few hours later. The Papagayo winds got a hold of us just as it started to get dark. I went down to sleep while my mom and Margaux took the first watch. I never got to sleep that night as the terrible rolling increased. The wind was gusting up to 40 knots and we heeled over till water was gushing over the gunnel. At some point the mizzen sail tore again and is now beyond repair. I was too seasick to move so the rest of my family filled me in on the details later. Margaux and my mom came down drenched after their watch. Then Anouk and Piet stayed in the cockpit for hours as waves crashed in at random intervals. They told me it was like having someone throw buckets of cold water at them over and over again. I lay in my bunk feeling terrible I couldn’t do anything to help because I was too busy clutching my barf bucket.

The wind died down the next morning and we made it to an anchorage outside the Papagayo’s range.  We spent a few days harbor hopping to rest up a bit. We were finally able to swim off the boat in some of the bays where we anchored. Even Luc joined us. He has to wear his life jacket not because he needs the floatation, but because we need to tie him on a line otherwise he would swim ashore, or worse, out to sea.

We arrived in Golfito, where we are now, last Monday. We spent the better part of 2 days cleaning the salt off the outside of the boat and cleaning all the cans of food that were stored in the bilge. We also had to check and dry out several lockers of clothing that got damp.

Now we’re headed for Panama! We’ll make one stop at an island where we can swim and then go to Panama City. We have an appointment with a boatyard to get hauled out on March 30th. The yard is on the eastern of the canal so we’ll be going through the canal before.

I’m sorry, I have more pictures, but I left my camera on the boat today and we’re in a rush to get out of here before noon when the tide turns against us. I’ll put them in later.

Till next time!

~Faye.

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Travels in El Salvador and Guatemala

It’s hard to believe it’s been over two weeks since my sisters and I returned from our trip to Guatemala! We packed a lot into eleven days and were completely exhausted afterwards, but it was worth it. If you ever have the chance to go, do it!

Just a note before I get to the stories: I’ve made collages of many of the photos so I can cram a lot in and they upload more quickly this way. If you find they’re too small you can click on them and they should enlarge.

We started off from Barillas in the morning on Friday Feb.17th. From there we took four buses and in the afternoon we arrived Juyua (pronounced like why-you-a) on the boarder in El Salvador. Juyua was a great little town with a market and food festival every weekend. We ate very well there and also visited a restaurant that specialized in papusas, a popular local food (click on the link for more info).

At 7:30am on Sunday a guide took us on a short hike to neighboring waterfalls. There are seven in total, two of which you can swim in. It was cold so early in the morning but very refreshing after the hike!

We spent the rest of the day on buses. Lots of hot buses. Before we left we did a lot of research on where to go and how to get there. In Guatemala and El Salvador a common and inexpensive mode of transport are the Chicken buses. You’ll get mixed reviews on these. Some say it’s the way to go if you want to experience the real Guatemala; others say they’re death traps and should be avoided. I tend to err on the side of caution and since I’d also read that they were hot, uncomfortable, bumpy and packed, we planned to use the other types of transit. However you can’t really avoid them unless you want to spend big bucks on coach lines and miss out on some of the smaller towns (like Juyua).

I’m not entirely sure where the name “chicken bus” came from but I suspect it’s based on two things. First:

Yes, that is a chicken in her purse.

And two, the way they drive. Each bus has a driver and one or two assistants. The assistants’ job is to draw passengers and help the driver maneuver in and out of traffic. There is an almost constant cacophony of assistants shouting out their destinations on the buses and on the streets: “Guato! Guato! Guato!” they shouted on one of ours, letting people know they were headed for Guatemala city. The drivers drive very fast and are constantly passing others by going into the on-coming lane. The first few rows of seats are not for the faint of heart. When passing a series of other vehicles, if they can’t pass them all, the assistants signal with shouts and arm gestures that the other vehicles need to slow down so the bus can squeeze back into the right hand lane. We were a shuttle van one time and we got into a traffic jam because of a big 18 wheeler that was turning across two lanes. Two chicken buses behind us got impatient and darted around us. The assistant of one buses put his hand out and pressed against the windows as if he could physically push us out of their way!

Margaux is laughing in the picture on the right because the assistant on this bus climbed out the door and up onto the roof as we went speeding down the street.

After Juyua we went to Antigua. Antigua is a very interesting colonial city where people from all over the world meet amongst the ruins of old churches. An impressive volcano looms over the city reminding you that the country side isn’t far away. We wandered the streets for hours shopping and looking at the old architecture. I was torn between watching my step on the narrow, busy sidewalks or the cobble stone streets and looking at all the buildings around us.

After 3 nights we went on a side trip to Lake Atitlan. There are two volcanoes inside the lake and a number of towns all around the edge. We took a boat tour to 3 of the towns. I can’t say it was a particularly exciting trip, but the slower place was a nice change. In San Pedro, the first town we visited, we found a great little shop with woven goods. Two women worked there, on of whom was 87 years old and still practiced the traditional way of weaving. We found some very beautiful and unique things. I bought a small wallet and a traditional Guatemalan belt and Margaux bought a cute skirt.

One of the really nice things about Guatemala is that the women still wear their beautiful traditional clothing.

After Lake Atitlan we went to Chichi to visit the Chichicastenango market. It’s a big, famous market that takes place twice a week in front of an old church. Tourism has invaded it, but from what we saw they’ve adapted well. There are also frequently religious ceremonies. While browsing a jewelry stall this procession passed us. I have no idea what it was all about but they came and went by quietly.

I took this picture soon after we got to the market.

I love it because although I was trying to photograph the flower vendors on the steps of the church, the woman in the foreground perfectly depicts what much of our time in Guatemala was like: merchants thrusting their wares in our face. And they never have just one thing to offer. If you don’t want the scarf they offer first, then they’ll show you the necklaces draped over their arms. No necklace? How about a bracelet? I have 3 different types! There was a cartoon in a local events booklet in Antigua that depicted a couple, the man wearing a t-shirt that read No Gracias! “It’s very practical” the caption read. After a few days I wished I could buy one of those t-shirts!

After Chichi we returned to Antigua for two nights before taking a night bus to Tikal. the night buses seem to be the way everyone travels from Antigua to Flores (the town outside Tikal). Mostly, I’m sure, because of the long distance. By this point in the trip we were running out of time so we did something I will never do again: We got on the night bus at 5:30pm and arrived blearly-eyed and disoriented at 5:45am the next morning. From there we took a quick shuttle to our hostle. But the hostel didn’t open until 6:30am. So we sat on the steps for 30 minutes. Then at 7am another shuttle picked us up and drove us the remaining hour to Tikal. The first thing we did there? Eat breakfast. How we had the strength and energy to trek around all day on very little sleep and toast is still a mystery, but we made the most of it!

The ruins were amazing. I would highly recommend going if you can. The grounds are a massive wildlife reserve so when you arrive you can’t see any of the temples, which in hindsight is hard to believe given their size. The trees and plants are pure jungle.

You have to walk quite far to get to the first ruin and I was beginning to have doubts about our ability to make it to all the ruins, when suddenly in the middle of the brush I saw the edge of the first building. We were so excited I took tons of pictures of the first structure.

Amazingly you’re allowed to climb all over the ruins. The ones you are restricted from are those that are crumbling and dangerous to climb. I enthusiastically ran up to the top of one moderate (but still tall) temple.

That little dot near the top is me.

Looking down I remembered what I read in my guidebook about how the steps to one temple had been closed because two people had fallen to their death. I made my decent more cautiously.

You can hire a tour guide which is a good option since there is no information on any of the ruins other than a sign indicating the name. The guides are not cheap however and we really just wanted to go at our own pace. So we purchased a book with background info and that served us well enough. It was a very thin basic book and given the vastness of the park and the extensive history I wished I had bought a more detailed book at home.

We enjoyed the natural environment too. Aside from the impressive plant life and sky scraper trees, there are Coati, spider monkeys, howler monkeys, and lots of birds. One of the grounds keepers was showing off a tarantula he’d found near the trash and at the top of temple IV another guide had a leaf bug.

We went back to Flores on the last bus from Tikal and after a nice dinner we collapsed in bed. Not for long though because we were up early to catch a 6:30am bus to San Salvador. I’m leaving out many of the logistical challenges we faced but the final one was this bus. First, we were promised a quality tour bus equipped with a toilet. This was not the case. The bus itself was ok but it was run down and a bit uncomfortable. The challenge of the lack of a toilet was compounded by the fact that we’d been promised to arrive in San Salvador at 3:30pm. In reality we made a 12 hour journey with ONE bathroom break. But we made it to San Salvador and with the help of a friendly taxi driver we got to the other bus terminal in time to catch the last bus to Usulutan. Thankfully due to the late hour (everyone was going home) the otherwise 2 hour trip was shortened to 1.5 hours. Once in Usulutan we gratefully climbed into a cab for the final 1 hour drive to Barillas. Our beds on the boat never felt so good!!

Next time I’ll update you on our trip from El Salvador to Costa Rica. In the meantime here are a few more pictures from Tikal.

~Faye.

 

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Costa Rica

Hi everyone,

I have a lot of catching up to do, but for now a short update will have to suffice. Margaux, Anouk and I had a good if exhausting trip to Guatemala and made it safely back to El Salvador. We decided to head for Panama and haul out there but on our way from Barillas (our last port in El Salvador) we had to travel through the Papagayo’s, another area of volatile winds. We hit a really bad patch just before night fall and had a rough trip. We pulled into Carrillo, a small harbour at least a day and half’s travel north of our intended destination. Tomorrow we head to Gulfito.

Not sure where I’ll update next, but I promise to do a better job of describing our trip to Antigua, Lake Atitlan and Tikal. I took lots of photos too 🙂

Hope you’re all doing well.

~Faye.

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El Salvador

Hi everyone. Once again I’m a bit behind on posting my posts, but I have a good excuse: I’ve been waiting because I wanted to get pictures of monkeys and crocodiles. But alas it’s proving harder to do than I would like. We just came back from seeing a group of spider monkey’s that live nearby. It was amazing! They’re so funny! Here are just a few of the pictures I took (the one in the cage is there because he doesn’t get along with the others and has already lost one thumb. He’s very sweet though and likes to hold hands):

I will keep trying to get a picture of a crocodile, but in the meantime here’s a general update.

We arrived in Barillas, last Friday. We’re on a river on a mooring buoy floating between the mangrove forests on either side and at least one volcano towering in the background. Barillas is located on many acres of land (sorry I forget how many exactly, but it’s a lot). On the river’s edge there is a pool area with palapas and a small restaurant. I’m sitting at one of the palapas with great internet access. It’s very peaceful.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Our trip across the Tehuantepecs was eventful. Overall the weather was good for the area. It was quite choppy with moderate swell, but the swell were only a few seconds apart making things very uncomfortable on Thursday evening (Feb. 2) when we left.

The next morning when I came up for watch again we had gone closer to the coastline because the wind had picked up. We were told that sailing “one foot on the beach”  or approximately 1 mile from shore is the best way in this area to deal with increased winds. Being so close to land put us in a show 30 feet of water (we draw about 6 feet) but it also meant we were in a bit of a wind shadow from the Sierra Madre del Sur mountains.

Puerto Modero might be a nice marina one day, but for now it’s just some docks. There is no electricity to plug into, no water on the docks to fill the tanks with or wash with, and no facilities on land. There will be one day, but not today. After sailing for two nights and having been sea sick, the lack of a shower or even just a hose on the dock was a heavy blow. Washing with a wash cloth and less than a liter of water just doesn’t do the job when you’ve been sweating in 30 plus degree weather, sitting in a salty cockpit and living in the same clothes for three days. Yes, it’s at least 30 degrees inside the boat everyday. Outside it’s up to 40 in the shade right now.

We stayed in Modero three days, making sail repairs and regrouping.

We went into Tepetula, a nearby town with some other cruisers on Superbowl Sunday (now I can say I’ve watched some football. I still don’t understand it though). One night Andy and Susan hosted a very nice party aboard their power boat Maggie May (I’m so jealous! real beds, showers and…a bathtub! To think I was longing for a garden hose on the dock).

On Wednesday February 8th we left for Barillas. Our trip here was not pleasant. We didn’t have the type of equipment failure that we did on the previous passage, but the waves did not stop. We “hobby-horsed” the entire two and a half days here. My mom, Margaux and I were very sea sick. We did our watches together, taking turns clutching the arm rests of the captain’s chair, for thirty minute stints before hanging over the side or trying to sleep a little on one of the cockpit benches. Anouk and Piet took the brunt of the watches when we felt well enough to venture to our real beds downstairs. There were times that I could not leave the cockpit. At one point I thought I was going to make it to bed and stopped to grab a coke for my mom. I made it as far as the two steps from the companion way ladder to the fridge before I had to rush back outside.

As I said, Barillas is on a river. To enter the river to radio ahead and then send someone out in a panga to guide you in through the surf and up the river. I wish I could tell you more about this, but I spent much of this time lying in a bunk trying to stay still, telling myself we were almost there.  I did poke my head out at one point when we were first going through the surf because I could feel the boat rushing through the waves. Anouk also took pictures that I’ll post later. The entrance to this port is much easier and safer than Bahia del Sol where you literally need to surf your boat on three waves to go over a sand bar. Still I was glad my dad was steering because the rush of water around us and the way we sometimes turned broadside to the waves was a little scary at times.

Once we were safely moored in the river, the operations manger, Heriberto, and several officials came aboard to do our paper work. They took us down river to see a crocodile (very cool, sorry I wasn’t with it enough at the time and didn’t have my camera) and then brought us to shore. After a little more paper work we had our first hot water showers in more than 5 weeks! Bliss. Then we drifted in the pool, and had dinner in the restaurant.

Since then we’ve spent each day by the pool. It hasn’t all been relaxing time though. Oh no, I’ve spent many hard hours behind the computer doing research. Tomorrow Anouk, Margaux and I set off for Guatemala! We will stop at a few place in El Salvador and then cross back in the Guatemala for 7-10 days. Our itinerary is flexible so I’ll wait till we come back to tell you where we all went.

I wanted to thank everyone who has commented on my posts so far. I’m sorry I didn’t answers each of you. Until now the internet connections have been pretty temperamental Please forgive me also for all the typos and spelling mistakes in the last post, that’s what happens when I just hit publish without proof reading. 🙂

Till next time!

~Faye.

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