Friday, June 28, 2013

On to Panama

We enjoyed Aruba's reminders of civilized life with the swim up bar, Starbucks and the Haggen Daaz shop just steps away from Moonshadow's mooring at the Renaissance Marina.  While there we took a jeep tour of the island and enjoyed an evening with Karen and Dave Higgens.  Karen is the sister of Kate Braun of Interlude, a Deerfoot 74 we met on the US East Coast.  We learned that Karen and Dave were evacuating their South Lake Tahoe home at the same time we were evacuating with friends Jeff and Annie Cook from their cabin on Fallen Leaf Lake during the big fire of 2007.  Small world.  

But we realized it was time to finally press on from the ABC Islands and sail for Panama, so we had one last dinner at the beautiful Barefoot Restaurant.  

The food was great, the service was excellent, and they even arranged a fabulous sunset just for us!

To clear out of the country the next morning we had to repeat the dreaded trip to the customs dock in a lousy commercial area 3 miles from the marina.  As with our arrival and clearing in process, there was just barely enough room for Moonshadow between the rusting Venezuelan "fruit boats" on the wharf.

We cannot understand why the customs officials insist that yachts wishing to clear in or out of Aruba must physically tie to this wharf for the process, especially since they never inspect the boat or even glance out the window to see if there's a yacht there.  They also require yachts to depart from this wharf immediately after clearing out.

So far, every other country has been OK with yachts departing up to 24 hours after clearing out, and no where have we been required to tie to a specific dock (let alone a raunchy and dangerous - to the yacht's cosmetics - wharf like this).  In Curacao, we left Moonshadow in an anchorage five miles and a half an hour bus ride away from the customs office.  Not allowed in Aruba!

We do understand how this policy has resulted in fewer and fewer yachts making a call here.  Too bad.

But the sail to Panama was spectacular.  We sailed for two days with the jib poled out "wing and wing", while Moonshadow sailed ever faster westward.  

Our second day we logged a record (for us) 24 hour passage of 221 miles, for an average of 9.2 knots.  During this day of surfing down wind, we observed several hits of new top speeds in the teens including a new (for Moonshadow we think) speed record of 17.9 knots!  Wow, we love this boat!

But, alas, the last day was dead calm and we had to motor the rest of the way dodging squalls finally arriving in Porvenir, Panama.

After sailing 628 miles from Aruba to the San Blas Islands in three days and one hour, we were greeted by an archipelago of stunningly beautiful islands studded with palm trees and white sandy beaches.

We were also greeted by the Kuna Indians who have preserved their culture and customs despite an onslaught of western "civilization".  

It is common to see these cheerful people out in their canoes, dug out of solid mahogany logs, with their children including very small infants.

Sometimes they come near to offer their goods for sale, including the hand stitched "molas", or fish or lobster.  Other times, in an contrasted juxtaposition of modern and ancient technology, they offer their cell phones to us to be charged because although they possess this one modern convenience, a cell phone, they have no means to charge it in their island huts. 

The Kuna are seafaring islanders and seem quite happy to retain the traditions of fishing from their canoes in open water with rather primitive means.  Sometimes we will see a dozen kids out with their fathers swimming around their cast nets to frighten the fish into their trap.

We think they must know what could happen to their charming world if they were to relax the strict prohibitions in place against development and commercialization of their pristine islands.

Had we arrived two hundred years earlier, it's hard to imagine how these scenes would have appeared any different.

Either that, or they've been saving it all just for us!

Panama is the end of the line of thousands of miles of strong trade winds and westerly currents that extend all the way from Africa.  Unfortunately, these means the San Blas Islands are visited by more than cruisers.  The windward side of every island reveals thousands of objects, mostly plastic, that have arrived from hundreds or thousands of miles to windward.  
But trash isn't the only thing you'll see along the windward reefs of the San Blas Islands.  

 There are numerous reminders that you get one chance to do your navigation right.

All that's left of this boat is the keel

Meanwhile, an enterprising fellow runs the "Veggie Boat".

We loved this concept where the market comes to us.
And the selection of beautiful fruit and vegetables was great.

With unlimited visibility and water temperatures in the mid to high eighties, we find lots of reasons to be in it.

Deb inspecting a wreck.
The captain put her in shallow water to save the cargo of RUM.
He's a national hero.

We always love to meet cruisers with children.  It is just amazing to see what kids think up for fun when the electronic games are not around.

This was race day for starfish and hermit crabs!

Right after an afternoon of cleaning Moonshadow's bottom, we noticed we had company hanging around the keel.  

Barracuda don't swim around like the other fish. They lurk, remaining motionless for long periods.

This guy was at least four feet long and kept our rapt attention until a second barracuda appeared.  Together they finally glided out of sight.

A face only a mother could ever love

After all the excitement and to reward our hard work, we figured we should check out the Elefante Bar in the Western Lemmon Cays. 

Ashore, many of the islands are beautifully maintained by the Kuna Indians.

As Deb walked among these palms, she found a penny.  :)

On one island we met Ricky, a pet monkey.  Ricky has a job.  For his owner, three year old Ricky earns a dollar posing for pictures.

These islands are host for all kinds of insects including mosquitoes and the greater nuisance, NO-SEE-EMs.

These tiny monsters have a bite that hurts and leaves behind itchy bumps that last a week.  Poor Deb had so many bites she looked like she had chicken pox.

(click to enlarge)

One day, we noticed what looked like a Sundeer 56, a cousin to Moonshadow from the design board of Steven Dashew, in a nearby anchorage.  This looked like it could be Tamarisk, owned by brothers Jason and Piers Windebank, who we'd learned from our friend Aidan Barrett back in San Diego might be in the area.  We sent them an email and later that day found ourselves sharing the cove with new friends.

Anytime two Dashew boats share an anchorage, it's picture time.  Photo by Jason.

Bocce Ball.  Game Faces.  Beer.

From the San Blas Islands we sailed for Bocas del Toro with a stop in the historic harbor of Portobello.


Guarded with impressive forts and canons on three sides, this was the point of departure for forty fleets of galleons bound for Spain with gold and silver.

Captains and pirates who've dropped anchor here include familiar names like Columbus, Drake, Balboa, Morgan, and Rogers.

With all of the gold and silver long gone, today most of the cargo is human and comes and goes from Portobello in one of these brightly painted busses.

For us Portobello also offered WiFi in a relaxing hostel/restaurant/bar high above the harbor and the town church.

That night we fell asleep to a chorus of howler monkeys hollering from way up in the trees above Portobello looking forward to seeing Bocas del Toro and dreaming of beautiful San Blas sunsets.