04-27-2018 – Crossing the Pacific

We’ve been underway for about two weeks now, and have begun settling into a new rhythm of life. We’ve set a watch cycle, where each of us does a 3-hour watch during the day and another at night. The schedule is the same from one day to the next, but we’re changing it around every 10 days to give us each the opportunity to experience all of the time periods, from sunset to midnight to sunrise. They each have a different character, and it’s fun to have a little variety. We did our first “shift shift” almost a week ago. It took a couple of days to settle in to the new pattern, but now it’s familiar. We all have our own personal rhythms, so when one person is waking up in the morning, another is going to sleep, and someone else is ready for a bite to eat. Sometimes that makes it difficult to do things together, like the family style meals we like to share. But we’ve managed to find a nice balance between doing things all together and doing things alone or in pairs.
We’ve been sailing almost continuously, but generally not very fast and often not in the exact direction that we want. πŸ™‚ Most boats going from Panama City to the Marquesas first go to the Galapagos, pass to the south of them and then jump on the tradewinds all the way across. But we were having trouble getting south, and there was disagreement about whether the “usual” route was the best one for us. Eventually we decided to pass the Galapagos to the north, and try to turn south at some later point. At that point we began moving again, primarily west, which was encouraging. We’re still trying to get south and still moving mostly west. Stay tuned…
We’ve had two fishing lines in the water most of the time (during the day), but have very little to show for it. Yesterday we finally got a hit. The first strike jumped off the line almost immediately, but then a second strike happened on the other line. Baban reeled it in and dropped it in the net that Dan was holding. It was a beautiful 2′ dorado, a little on the small side but enough to feed the four of us that night. What a delicious meal! As we hear from other boats, it’s sounding like the fishing is more successful as people get close to the islands. One person described getting 5 fish in one day!
One of the commonly reported problems on blue-water passages like this one is wear and tear from all the constant movement. Soft surfaces like sails and ropes are particularly at risk of chafing through. Overall we’re doing pretty well, but we did have one line break a few days ago. Murphy’s Law would have predicted this to happen in the wee hours on a choppy, moonless night. Oddly, for us it occurred mid-morning on a fairly calm day. The line was a halyard, which holds our jib sail up tight. This sail is a roller-furled sail, though, and is mostly supported along its forward edge by an aluminum channel. This meant that although the sail was not useful it didn’t fall into the water or on deck, potentially sustaining further damage. We were lucky! Later that same day we found a really calm moment when we were able to raise Kathy up the mast with the other end of the rope, so she could reconnect it to the sail. Even a calm moment out here is far rollier than she’s used to in an anchorage. She used an additional strap to keep her from swinging away from the mast as she went up. It was a good learning process and a confidence booster, in case there’s a “next time”. We’ve been steadily sailing ever since.
Over the two weeks we’ve been underway, we’ve spotted lots of different animals. They’re not happening all at once, so it doesn’t feel like all that much, but most days there’s an interesting sighting or two. Close to Panama we had several whale sightings; we’re not sure which species, but “fin whale” comes to mind. We’ve seen a couple of turtles and quite a few dolphins. There was one day when we watched a large pod of spinner dolphins move on by. These guys are smaller than the more common bottlenose dolphins and less interested in interacting with boats. But their claim to fame is that they jump, frequently and apparently joyfully. Imagine a whole school of dolphins happily leaping along the way wherever their pod is taking them. They don’t synchronize their moves, and they don’t always land gracefully. But they do it a lot! It’s quite a sight. πŸ™‚ A few times we’ve sighted a group of “jumping somethings”. They seem to come in a few different varieties, some darker than ot hers, some bigger than others. All of them are somewhat reclusive, avoiding close encounters with sailboats. We mostly see them in the distance, but we’re hoping to study them more carefully in the coming weeks.
Baban has a mind thirsty for knowledge. He has been learning a lot on this journey, and one area that has absorbed a lot of his time and energy is maritime ropework, known as marlinspike seamanship. Every day he asks Dave for a “knot of the day”, and every day the two of them spend a couple of hours working with rope, sometimes tying beautiful decorative knots, sometimes splicing eyes into the ends of old lines, sometimes finishing a raw securely with whipping twine. Dave is always enthusiastic about sharing his knowledge, and this is one area that he has a deep trove. Another topic that makes him shine is the night sky. He loves to talk about his “celestial friends”, which range from the moon (the full moon is especially meaningful to Dave) to individual stars to the wandering planets. One cloudy night he spotted a star through a break in the clouds and confidently identified it as Castor, in the constellation of Gemini. He used the direction from the boat, the height of the moon, the brightness of the star, and his knowledge of what other stars were nearby to draw his conclusion. Although no one else onboard had remotely enough knowledge to support or refute his observation, his confidence felt almost like magic!
A friend on another sailboat shared with us an email he was receiving daily where another boater was collecting location information from all the boats currently crossing from the Galapagos to the Marquesas. He used an Excel spreadsheet to create a beautiful chart that graphically showed everyone’s progress, and distributed it daily. We joined the list of boats that he was tracking – but he was only displaying boats that had passed the Galapagos, and we hadn’t yet gotten that far. Shortly after we joined up, he announced that he was arriving in the Marquesas and would be discontinuing the regular distribution. He was looking for a replacement, and Kathy ended up volunteering (it might have been one of those situations where everyone else steps back from the line). She has spent the past three days getting set up. It turned out to be a more complicated technical situation than expected, because of the limitations of our email app. (It’s trying to compress the image for distrib ution, but it’s being too aggressive and the result is an unreadable fuzzy mess.) In the meantime, she has been sending the information out in a simple text email, while she tries to figure out a prettier solution. She’s spending much of the time she’s on watch collecting the data from emails and creating the distribution email, but also sending personal email communications to many of the boats, trying to get to know the people in our new “community”. It’s fun, but time-consuming!
So there are a few things happening on board Lungta as we sail across the Pacific. We’ll send another update in a week or two. In the meantime, stay safe and happy – and we’ll do the same!
Sent from Iridium Mail & Web.

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04-15-2018 – Crossing the Pacific

We have finally made it out of Panama! We made some new friends, and had a few setbacks, but we finally made it out of the gravitational pull of the to-do list and the city of services, society and stuff!
We met a family on a boat named Shawnigan. Coincidentally, our friend Jonnie had already met this family (or at least the mom!) in her yoga class in Mexico months previously. She suggested to both of us that we might enjoy meeting up. This family came over to dinner on Lungta one night, and Dave enchanted the 4-year-old with stories and a few magic tricks (well, truthfully, he captivated all of us with his magic!) The boy called Dave “Santa” and gravitated his way whenever we encountered them again over the next few weeks. Shawnigan left well before us, but we’re hoping to catch up with them again either as we pass the Galapagos or after we all reach French Polynesia.
Another boat we hope to meet again is called Tribasa Cross. Gary is sailing on his own, but his wife meets him when he’s in port. He was searching for crew for the crossing, and we compared notes about our experiences. He appeared at our door with a membrane from his watermaker which he was replacing with a different size – he arrived just as we had removed ours because it wasn’t working. What serendipity! We exchanged a few practical gifts like that in the 3 or 4 weeks we were both in the anchorage. Kathy sewed a pair of small awnings for him; he gave us a couple of spare fuel pumps for our generator. Dan advised him on an air leak in the fuel system for his generator, and he gave us some pointers about configuring our Iridium satellite device. Just days before he departed Panama City, he found a crew mate that seemed to be a good match. We waved them goodbye, but are staying in touch along the way to the South Pacific.
The biggest setback we had to our departure was when our windlass motor stopped working. We were about to bring Laura up the main mast for another day of painting, but when we stepped on the pedal nothing happened! Being able to deploy and raise our anchor is a critical function which we cannot live without. The motor is a relic from U.S. Navy vessels during WWII. It was designed to be used in a cargo crane, although we don’t know if it was actually deployed that way. There’s no information about this 80lb behemoth online, and we gingerly approached a local electric motor shop for help. As far as we know, the motor had never been removed from its mounting spot in the ceiling of the forward stateroom. It was a bear to remove, with mounting bolts that were nearly impossible to access and a few that were stuck so firmly that the heads tore off before the shaft of the bolt was willing to turn. As always, though, we managed to get the job done, and we sent it off to the shop for diagnosis and repair (they actually came to us, and picked it up at the the dock where we tie off our dinghy when we come ashore). While the motor was in the shop we turned our efforts to removing the broken bolts so we’d be ready to reinstall the motor when it came back. The shop took only a couple of days to work on the motor; it turns out that there was nothing especially wrong, just years of corrosion, dust and wear. It’s back in place and working as well as ever. What serendipity that it didn’t go out one week later after we had left for more remote places!
We found a new crew mate, a multi-cultural 28-year-old named Baban. His parents are Iranian Kurds who were freedom fighters in the 80’s. Eventually they found asylum in Denmark where they settled when he was 5. He is now a Danish citizen, but still feels ties to his family’s roots. He has a real gift for languages and speaks 5 languages fluently. He’s extremely bright and full of energy and curiosity. He came aboard the day before we left on our last trip to the Perlas, a shake-down cruise of sorts also intended to give our new crew some experience underway before there was no turning back. Laura returned the same day from a side-trip to the Caribbean side of Panama, where she made a new friend and joined her on another sailboat for several days. We had a short but sweet trip back to the Perlas, and it was delightful to see Dave shine as he schooled our two young crew mates in short courses on useful knots, weather, sail management, navigation, the night sky, and more!
The day after we got back to Panama City, Laura spent some time in town, making some important phone calls and doing some important soul searching. She came back with some exciting but also disappointing news – she had decided to leave Lungta and join the boat that she had met the week before. She had made some decisions about starting a graduate program later this year, and her schedule was no longer as flexible as before. This other boat, named Isis, had a tighter itinerary than ours and seemed to be a better fit. We all joked about her having been recruited by Isis. πŸ™‚ So, we were 4 again. We spent a bit of energy looking for a replacement, but there was so little time until our departure that it felt unrealistic to find and orient someone new.
Our final setback happened when we made plans to leave on April 1st, with the steps of checking out at Immigration on Friday, final provisioning on Saturday, to leave on Sunday morning. Friday morning arrived and we learned that all government offices were closed for Good Friday, one of the nation’s biggest holidays – oops! So we waited until Monday when the offices were open. Our provisioning actually consisted of three stops: PriceSmart (a Central American version of CostCo), a wholesale farmer’s produce market, and a standard grocery store. All three of these trips turned out to be much bigger events than we’d done before; we wanted to prepare for a month on the seas and another month of island hopping before reprovisioning, and also include a hefty buffer for spoilage and a safety margin. We were surprised that our PriceSmart bill totaled more than $1000 (we’d expected half that)! The trip to the produce market was especially fun. We hired one of the local guys with a stu rdy hand-truck to follow along with us and collect all of our purchases. As it turned out, Alfredo also helped us find the stalls with the best prices and quality. We got a 30lb bag of mangos, 10 pineapples, half a dozen papayas, some melons, a bunch of small sweet bananas and a box of the usual ones; we got a 50lb bag of winter squash, 20lb of carrots, 6 cabbages, 10 bunches of spinach, and some onions, broccoli, and tomatos. Alfredo was great, and he even helped us flag down a taxi to get back home.
We left Panama City on April 5th, spent two nights near Isla Contadora where we were able to access internet for our last-minute on-line needs. Among other things, Baban helped Kathy set up a tool to allow her to post blog entries – like this one! – via email. We did the final coat of paint on the last bits of both masts, cleaned the waterline of the boat one last time, and topped off our water tanks. Then, at 8am on Sunday the 8th, we pulled up our anchor and sailed out of the anchorage, beginning our journey across the Pacific. Although there was little fanfare, all of our hearts were singing as we began this most romantic of all sailing passages to the islands of the South Pacific.
I’ll keep this posting shorter than past ones, and try to post more frequently to keep you up to date on our progress. Remember that you can check on our location at the tracking page forecast.predictwind.com/tracking/display/Lungta
Sent from Iridium Mail & Web.

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03-05-2018 – Panama City, Panama

It’s been a while since our last posting, and rest assured we are still safe and sound – and still in Panama City! We’re excited at our impending crossing of the Pacific, and have been busy preparing. Here are a few of the biggest items on our list that we’ve been working on:

– Painting: we’ve painted the pilothouse, all of the burgundy trim including the rubrails, and are now working on the masts.

Laura Sands the Main Mast

– Navigation: we’ve updated our navigation PC, and switched to a new navigation program, OpenCPN. We’ve tracked down lots of charts which work with this new program, including some which are derived from GoogleEarth satellite images. (We hope these will be useful to identify coral heads when navigating the Polynesian atolls.) We’ve installed a new radar, wind instrument, and AIS (uses VHF radio frequencies to communicate with nearby ships to identify *and avoid* potential collisions). The data from all of these is combined and displayed on one screen using our new navigation program. We’ve also installed a new satellite communication device which will allow us to get weather data and forecasts daily, which can also be displayed on that same screen. This satellite device (called an Iridium GO) will note our position hourly and will update our position and track at: http://forecast.predictwind.com/tracking/display/Lungta (note that the capital ‘L’ is very important!) We’ll be able to send and receive text messages and even some email.

– Visas: we’ve applied with the French embassy in Panama City for long-stay visas to French Polynesia. If we didn’t do this, we would be limited to a three-month stay, but once these applications are approved and inserted into our passports we should be able to stay up to a year. The more we hear and learn about French Polynesia, the more we want to extend our travel time in the South Pacific. As so often seems to be the case, our anticipated trajectory seems to be lengthening and slowing down. It now looks likely that we’ll spend more than just one season crossing the Pacific. We don’t yet know where we’ll spend the cyclone season this year, but it will probably not be as far west as New Zealand. And after French Polynesia, there are a number of other island nations that are worth a potential visit as we hop our way the rest of the way across the Pacific – Fiji, Tonga, Samoa, Vanuatu, etc.

– Crew: we’ve found two wonderful crew mates, and life is good. Dave joined us in October (along with Keith and a few of his friends), allowing us to leave Lungta in his capable hands while we visited our families in the States. Dave had a long career on the water as a pilot boat captain and various roles on training schooners. Laura arrived two weeks ago from Copenhagen, fresh out of medical school and with a surprising amount of international travel already under her belt. Both are vibrant, engaged, thoughtful people who are delightful to be around and we expect will continue to be so for the upcoming 4-6 weeks at sea. We don’t “need” any more but we have one more bed that could be filled, either with an individual or a couple. We’ve received messages from many interested people over the last several months, and we’re so touched at the outpouring of interest. We’ve had deeper conversations with dozens of them to find just the right mix. It’s getting close to time to close that door, but we haven’t stopped yet.

Because we have an infinitely long to-do list, we have to balance that work with time off for fun. But don’t worry – we’ve also had a few adventures in this same time frame.

Our friend Suzanne came for a visit, her third (so far). We spent a few days out at the Perlas islands again. On the way we put out a fishing line with a brand new lure on it. We had purchased a fancy reel from another boater, who had included this lure with a sweet request to let her know what we caught with the set. As we were nearing our first night’s destination, a fast-moving ferry catamaran overtook us but changed directions near the last moment. This caused him to cut across our fishing lines that were trailing behind, and indeed he snagged our new lure and it was eventually lost. We didn’t land that fish, but it was a BIG one! πŸ™‚ Our first afternoon in our private anchorage, two young men in a panga drove up on the beach and poked around the bushes and trees for a while. We kept trying to figure out what they were doing: taking a pit stop, preparing to camp overnight, taking the dog for a walk? They didn’t stay long, though, and then they came immediately to Lungta – with newly harvested coconuts for sale! Yum! Suzanne swam ashore another day, “just because”, and had an uninhabited tropical island completely to herself for a while. We enjoyed fishing from the dinghy just before sunset one evening, and had the freshest fish ever for dinner!

Suzannes Underway PhotoΒ Β Dave Fillets a PorgyΒ Β Suzanne's Group Selfie

We left the Perlas so that Dave could catch a plane to visit a friend in Mexico, so we had Suzanne to ourselves during her last few days with us. Kathy and Suz spent the next two days seeing some of the sights, so that Suzanne would go home having seen some of the “real”Panama. We went for a nice hike in the Parque Natural Metropolitano, a nice stretch of forest not far from the city which has views overlooking the Canal and also the anchorage where we managed to spot Lungta. Along the trail we saw numerous leaf-cutting ant trails, a blue morpho butterfly. a large spiky spider spinning a sticky web, and a papaya-sized (and -shaped!) rodent locally called a Γ±eke. At the very end of the day we encountered a park ranger who pointed out a sloth to us. What a delightful find! We went from there to an artisan’s market that had a nice variety of local crafts, mixed in with a good sampling of tourist shlock. πŸ™‚ Suz bought a nice mask (for her collection of animal masks) of a Γ±eke! We also wandered a bit through a local fair, never figuring out what the occasion was that was being celebrated, but enjoying the children playing in bubbles and the regional dancing that was featured. The next day we made a quick run to the local wholesale produce market, before she needed to head to the airport. The colors and smells of the various fruits and vegetables were a sensory pleasure, and it was delightful to come home again with our arms full. It was a real treat for Kathy to reconnect again with this “lifetime friend”! We talked about our shared history, our dreams, our current trajectories; it was a nice heart connection.

The View from Cerro CedroΒ Β Local WildlifeΒ Β See the Sloth?

In early February we learned that the Carnaval holiday was Panama’s biggest celebration. For nearly a week we saw great nightly fireworks displays and heard that there was even more going on at the fiesta in town – floats, dancing, music, food. So we decided to go on Tuesday,the last day, with our 15-year-old friend Jack from the boat “next door”. We didn’t really know what to expect, but we definitely found something different. For starters, we met up with another boating couple on the bus who ended up going in with us. At the entrance we didn’t know that we would need to show our passports, and we newly didn’t get in! But ourfriends talked the guards into allowing us to pass, arguing that we were clearly no threat to anyone. πŸ™‚ We first passed dozens of food stands, most of which had essentially the same things. They all had loud music blaring from a huge speaker behind the stand, and all of them had different music. There was a parade with half a dozen floats, most with a feather-clad queen swaying their hips and waving from way up high. One of them had a platform that would go up and down. There was also a marching band playing from the back of a large flat-bed truck, another truck carrying a few gymnasts with costumes that evoked the Chinese poi dogs barking playfully, and a pair of stiltwalkers with huge papier-mache heads and hands controlled by puppet-sticks. Perhaps the best part of the parade, though, were the two groups of locals who were celebrating a cultural connection: one African, with compelling drum-beats and matching batik garments, and the other Polynesian, with a loosely choreographed grass-skirt dance featuring dancers from 4 to 75. The fireworks were good, but surprisingly short-lived. The weirdest thing about this whole event is that most of the people did not really seem to be celebratory or even particularly enjoying themselves; mostly it seemed they were just glad to have a national holiday so they could get a day off of work. πŸ™‚

Daytime Fireworks

We got an opportunity that Kathy had been hoping for for quite a while: to transit the Panama Canal as line-handlers for another cruiser. We met the owners at a pizza night for the cruising sailors. They had spent ten years cruising in the Pacific and were now taking “the shortcut” back to Europe. They invited us to join them, the following week. Dan wasn’t too excited, so opted to stay home on Lungta and continue working on some of our projects. But Kathy, Dave & Laura all were up for the adventure! A few days later we packed an overnight bag and joined them on their boat. They had a 5:15 appointment in the morning to pick up the Advisor near buoy #2. Although we went to bed fairly early, I don’t think anyone slept really well; we were all excited about the next day’s plans. The next day was a full day, not exactly crazy busy, but with things to do frequently throughout the day. When we called in the morning to confirm the time and place to meet the Advisor, we were instead told buoy #6 at 6:15 – so we had time for breakfast! Receiving the Advisor(s) was smooth – there were two, because one was in training and other was her mentor. We had a beautiful glimpse of the sun as it came up over the island that Lungta is anchored near (we were now on the other side of the causeway). There are 6 locks, 3 going up to the lake and 3 coming down afterwards. We were side-tied to another sailboat of a similar size, and there were also 3 big tugboats and a beautiful Mexican tall ship in the lock with us. There were men up on the yardarms of the Mexican boat, some of them more than 75 feet above the water level. Dan & Kathy had toured this same ship, Cuauhtemoc, when we passed through Acapulco with Wayne and Keith on our way south.

As we entered the first lock, a couple of men standing up on top of the walls of the locks tossed down a monkey’s fist on a fairly light line. Some of the line-handlers would catch the line and tie its end to a loop already tied in the end of our long lines, and the men above pulled the lines in and dropped the loops over a big bollard (kind of like a cleat on the wall). Once the lines on all four corners were secured, the other line-handlers would tighten them up to keep our boats centered. The gates of the lock would close and the water would be pumped in (or later, out). Each lock had about 30 feet of depth change, was about 1000 feet long, and was about 60 feet wide – that’s a *lot* of water! As the water level changed we would have to adjust the length of our lines to keep them tight – but not *too* tight. It took about 10 minutes for the water level to change from top to bottom. Then all the boats would disconnect in order to move on. The men at the top of the walls would hold onto our loops (well actually, their own lines which were tied to our loops) and walk them down the wall to the next lock. They weren’t pulling the boats, just keeping pace. After we went through 3 locks, we came into Lake Gatun and spent the next hour or so trying to cross as quickly as possible, in the hopes that we’d be able to do the next 3 locks in the same day. Otherwise we’d have to spend the night in the lake and wait for an Advisor the next morning. At first we lagged further and further behind our traveling companions, but as the wind picked up we gained on them. Our hosts were thrilled that it was an indication that their new propeller was outperforming the others’. At any rate, we made it just in time, before the Canal authorities decided to make us wait until morning. Hooray! So we pushed on through the next 3 locks, this time accompanied by a huge cargo ship named Tomorrow which just barely fit inside the walls of the Canal. There can’t have been more than a foot or two on each side. It was pretty intimidating to see this huge ship pulling in behind us! Kathy got a kick out of the name and kept saying “Tomorrow is closer than you think”. πŸ™‚ We transited the Canal efficiently and successfully in one day. We motored around the corner into the harbor of the city of Colon, and looked for a place where we could drop the anchor for a couple of hours while our hosts lowered their dinghy in the water and took us ashore. Unfortunately the wind had picked up a good bit from an unusual direction and we just couldn’t find a safe place to accomplish this. We finally motored across the harbor to the Shelter Bay Marina and pulled into a slip there. It was surprisingly challenging to find a taxi back to the main part of the city, but we eventually found one. We ended up having him drive us all the way back to our own dinghy dock – and somewhere along the way he proposed to Laura! πŸ™‚

A few days later we ended up crossing the isthmus once again! We had just about given up on finding a place that could inspect and service our liferaft, when Kathy saw a commercial boat offloading theirs onto the dinghy dock and pushing it up the ramp. She hopped out of our own dinghy and asked the guy at the top where they were taking the liferaft. We contacted that company and a few days later they came to pick our own up. We asked if we could watch the process, and they agreed. So the next morning Kathy, Dan & Dave hopped on a bus back to Colon. We got a taxi to take us to the address that we’d been given, but it turned out to be more complicated than we’d expected. The servicing company was located inside the Duty Free Zone, which is surrounded by barbed-wire-topped walls and has guarded, limited entry. The taxi driver told us that we needed to pay the guard $20 – but not in front of the cameras! After a bit of a standoff, we called our contact at the servicing company, and he drove their company van around to meet us. Our guard settled for $5 and we were on our way. We got a kick out of seeing them unpack our liferaft. We’d bought it from a second-hand shop in California, and had never seen the inside. We were very pleased at what we saw. Although our life raft is quite old (manufactured in 1989), it is quite solid and in good shape. They checked that it would inflate, and checked all of the seams; they replaced the flares and first aid kit; they hydro-tested the CO2 cylinder and repacked everything up carefully again. The liferaft comes back to us along with the peace of mind that comes from knowing that you have a safety net.

Inflated Liferaft

We’re busy, but we’re definitely feeling like we’re nearing the end of our gotta-do list! Hope life is full of promise and joy for each of you as well – and if it isn’t, then figure out what you need to do to make that so!

Rock Stars

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12-12-2017 – Panama City to Hackensack, NJ

Uh-oh, time is moving faster and faster, and the blog is coming slower and slower. πŸ™‚ We have done a lot of traveling in the past two months! We took a short trip back to the Perlas, returned to PC to meet a few people, went back to the Perlas for another short trip and then left the country entirely to visit family and friends. It’s been a busy period, and here’s some of how it played out.

After finishing up our errands in PC and finalizing plans for our upcoming travels, we went out to the Perlas for a short visit before things got busy. We visited a new place that we’d read good things about. It’s a lovely little nook in a channel between the biggest island in the group, Isla del Rey, and a small island off its northwestern shore called Isla Espiritu Santo. Although it’s a channel and the current moves through here, turning with the tide, it’s kinda tucked in so it feels protected from most directions. It was a lovely place to hang out for a few days while we explored and – you got it πŸ™‚ – worked on some boat projects. We loved watching the wildlife here, especially birds. Our first night in the Espiritu Santo channel, we heard a sound that was very similar to a barking dog, and Dan remarked that he was surprised to hear that there was a house nearby. The next day on a dinghy excursion we saw a bird that might have been a night heron standing on the beach – barking! It was the funniest thing! (Hmmm, maybe you had to be there. πŸ™‚ ) It confirmed our original understanding that we were nowhere near people. We also enjoyed seeing lots of small parrots flying overhead, squawking their gossip of the day to one another. We also spent one night on the north side of Isla del Rey, near the town of San Miguel, to try to get some internet access and to scope the place out for future use. On our way back to PC to meet up with our new crew person Dave, we saw lots of whales. One in particular was slapping his big fin on the water’s surface over and over again – regularly enough that we were actually able to get some decent photos and the following video!

Whale Slapping FinΒ Β Peeling TreeΒ Β Dan through Rock Window

We met Dave online just a few weeks before our departure for our (annual) visit back to the States. We had a very nice voice conversation and invited him to visit us. Since he was immediately available, he chose to come down before we left and stay on the boat while we were gone (rather than wait until we got back for us to meet). He is recently retired from a career as a ship’s captain, he has a happy outlook on life and an enthusiastic attitude. We met him at the airport and enjoyed getting to know him for almost a week before our next friend arrived. It worked out well to allow Dave to settle in a bit and learn his way around before bringing another person into the mix! Keith spent some time on Lungta a few years ago, so he already knew his way around. He was just returning from a 5-week trip in Patagonia, and came to us direct from Chile. It was very nice to have Keith return, both because we like him and because he is already familiar with many of Lungta’s systems. Since we had two crew now, both very competent people but with different backgrounds and skills, we were comfortable with the idea that they could relocate Lungta safely among a few of the islands – but for that to be feasible they would need to get familiar with some additional systems! The day after Keith arrived, we headed back out to the islands to familiarize them both with what’s involved in moving the boat. Because really, who wants to spend time in a crowded municipal anchorage when you can be in an anchorage near a tropical island with only a few other boats? We had a nice sail down to the Perlas, and moved 3 or 4 times during the week so that they each had an opportunity to raise the sails, manage the anchor, man the helm, etc. By the time we left, they felt like they had been drinking through a fire-hose, but had enough knowledge to safely look after Lungta while we were gone. But we still suggested that they stick to places where internet was readily available, in case they needed to contact us for additional information or advice (where should we look for a hammock? how do we repair the XXX?).

Dave & Lungta

One day a local boat zipped up to us. We thought perhaps they were going to offer us some fish, but they looked somewhat distressed. They had something in the bottom of their boat, which turned out to be a turtle that had gotten tangled in a net. They had rescued it, pulled it into their boat, but were unable to untangle the net from around its flippers. They were clearly hoping that we could help. We offered them a knife and a pair of shears, and they carefully worked at cutting the strands from around each of the poor turtle’s limbs. It struggled at first, but eventually slowed down. We worried that it might be dying, but then figured out it was relaxing as it realized that they were helping it. The fibers had cut fairly deeply around the tops of each flipper, and we all winced in empathetic pain. When they lifted it over the boat’s gunnel and dropped it in the water, it slowly swam away, while we all breathed a big sigh of relief! We thanked this gentle couple, and they thanked us, and we all went back to whatever we had been doing before this emotional interlude.

Saving a Turtle

Since we were leaving the boat in the Perlas islands, 30 miles from Panama City, we needed a way to get back to the city before our flight. We booked a trip on a ferry that goes between these two places daily. Coincidentally, as Keith was planning his visit to Lungta, a friend of his from Germany was also able to visit him for a week. He arranged it so that he flew into Panama City the day before we left, and we crossed paths and got to meet Michiel for an evening’s meal of pizza delivered to our hotel. Michiel is a thoughtful guest who brought us a few sweet treats from Germany which we enjoyed as we progressed through our various travels in the States. He spent a week on Lungta with Dave and Keith, enjoying a tropical break from the onsetting winter in northern Europe, and contributing to the daily work and adventure. He and Keith had a nice explore of a tiny Isla Bartolome and returned with some big bunches of bananas, which the group enjoyed for several days!

Sunset in the PerlasΒ Β Birds on a LogΒ Β Kathy at Isla Mogo Mogo

Meanwhile we (Dan & Kathy) flew to Houston, TX for a week’s visit with Kathy’s mom. Oddly, both of us got sick within the 36 hours of our arrival and were low-key house-guests. We had something very like the flu, including fever for 4 days and respiratory congestion for an extended time. πŸ™ Apparently our immune systems are no longer as effective at fending off the diseases that circulate in cities since we generally live far away from the madding crowds. At any rate, we had a nice visit with Marilyn. We were extremely surprised when there was a knock at the door one morning and it turned out to be a surprise visit from Kathy’s sister Jean, who lives in Denver! She “popped” down expressly to surprise us, and we were all delighted to spend a couple of days together! After she left, we took a half-day’s driving trip to San Antonio to meet up with Kathy’s other sister Margie. She and her husband Frank were just coming to the end of the long and sometimes painful process of building a custom home on a lake north of town. They were excited to show us the nearly finished structure, with its high ceilings and echoing chambers. They took possession of the house just before the Thanksgiving weekend, and camped out on the floor with their three college-age kids. Rounding out the visit with a warm phone call with Kathy’s brother Andy, it was a full visit.

We moved on to New Jersey for a month-long stay with Dan’s mom. As usual, part of that time was spent at the family’s Thanksgiving gathering in upstate New York. This year there was a lot of 2-year-old energy (3 of them), with more added in from a 4-year-old and a 6-year-old. We also had some new attendees in the form of Dan’s half-sister from Boston and her mother from Atlanta. Along with us, Dan’s sister Eve from Washington state, his son Jesse from California and the family from Chicago it’s quite a far-flung group! There were more people than ever before and more space had to be cleared for additional tables. Dan’s aunt Nancy gave a beautiful tribute to her older sister Helene, Dan’s mom. We had just the right amount of food – by the time we left there was only a tiny amount of leftovers for Nancy to finish up. It was wonderful to catch up with all of the stories from the many family members!

We spent a day visiting our friend Jonnie, who spent almost 2 months aboard Lungta earlier this year as we left El Salvador. Although she lives in Oregon, she was also spending a month with her mother in Long Island. She introduced us to quite a bit of her family, and her brother took us out on his runabout for a ride around the Sound. It was a beautiful day and we actually ventured out onto the open ocean for a bit – which Jonnie told us was an unusual thing, and indicated that he really liked us! πŸ™‚ After a delicious dinner at a nearby Indian restaurant, we ended the day at a yoga studio, where Kathy and Jonnie stretched and sweated to the choreographed moves of Jonnie’s favorite instructor (while Dan enjoyed some internet surfing time in the lobby – what a sweetheart!). It was a late night drive back to New Jersey, with lots of heartfelt conversation still ringing in our ears.

The next day Kathy took a flight to LAX, to spend (almost) a week visiting her best friend from college. Beth has recently been diagnosed with breast cancer and begun chemo. Kathy originally had plans to visit before Thanksgiving, but changed those plans when the ill-timed flu came into the picture. Fortunately there was time after Thanksgiving to form a new itinerary. The visit was really good, with lots of conversation running the gamut from deep life issues to reminiscing to silly, picking up where they left off the last time they were together 5 years ago. They went to a day spa for massages, made some minor improvements to her home (setting up for accomodating later treatments), and spent time playing with her two small dogs. Beth is facing a big challenge, but has an impressively strong and upbeat perspective on her life and her future. After her visit to Beth, Kathy hopped to Denver for a short visit with her sister Jean. The first day, Jean arranged for a wonderful day’s outing which included a reflexology session and then a tasty lunch with her friend Tracey, who just happened to be the therapist. πŸ™‚ The remainder of the visit was packed with deep conversation about personal growth, family dynamics, hopes & dreams, and lots of love. Both of these visits were heart-warming and uplifting, and Kathy came back with her tanks full (of love!) Dan met a friend in Manhattan one day for lunch and spent an afternoon with his sister Beth, but spent most of his time with his mother in New Jersey, doing projects around her apartment to make life more comfortable, arranging for her car to be fixed up in preparation for returning it to the lease company, and wrapping up the purchase of parts and goodies that we always come home with after trips like this. This was the first time Dan & Kathy have spent more than a week apart in many years, and it was delightful to be reunited!

Meanwhile, back on Lungta, it’s been good to have both Keith and Dave on board. The two of them have been kept fairly busy attending to both the general maintenance and the unexpected repairs. The biggest issues came up after a very near strike from lightning. As usual (it’s weird that we’re coming to view this as a common occurrence!) several unrelated items stopped working; this time the list included the anchor light (again!), galley overhead lights, depth sounder and refrigerator. Unfortunately only one of them was repairable: the voltage regulators in the galley lights did their job, sacrificing themselves to protect the LED’s, but were easily replaced the next day. We installed our last bulb in the anchor light just before the guys joined us, and now we need a new one. We’ll also be coming home with a new display for the depth sounder (we’re hoping the problem isn’t the sensor itself!) and a new compressor valve for the fridge (which appears to also have a leak somewhere in the circuit for the refrigerant that we will need to track down when we get back in another couple of weeks).

The day after the lightning strike, Keith’s daughter Ashley and her friend Allissa arrived. They had been doing volunteer work in the hurricane-ravaged Virgin Islands, and had a difficult time arranging their travel – but they finally made it! Unfortunately they only overlapped with Keith by a week; he had already made his return travel plans back home to Massachusetts. It’s interesting to see the beginnings of how much more complicated planning is going to be when we introduce more people into our crew, not just the crew themselves but also their guests. Life is changing…

Lungta Boatsitting Crew

We haven’t yet met these two women, but Keith was a powerful reference. Allissa and Ashley have reportedly also made a great impression on Dave. We are looking forward to meeting them on our return, and there’s just a possibility that one or both of them might choose to spend some time with us next year as we cross the Pacific. There was an accident one afternoon: the two of them were hanging out in a hammock that they had set up on deck when one of the lines they used broke. Both hit the deck painfully, one on the tailbone and the other on an elbow that had previously been injured. We’ve had very few injuries living alone, but introducing new people into a new environment, and doing new things differently, makes it more likely that accidents will happen. It is a good reminder about being extra aware when there are changes like that! Both of these young women have reportedly been energetically participating in the work and play on Lungta, and we’ve heard a few reports of some delicious-sounding meals prepared by one or both of them. We’re glad that they have extended their stay a few days beyond our return, so that we get to know them. We’re hoping that they’ll be spending more time on Lungta!

So these are some of the broad-brush events of the last 8 weeks. Details have been lost in the depths of memory and the complexities of having many lives intersect. It’s been a busy trip, and we”re glad to be heading home to Lungta soon!

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10-07-2017 – Panama City, Panama

How quickly time can pass by when you aren’t paying attention. πŸ™‚ We’ve been in Panama City for more than a month – so it’s time for me to update those of you “out there” who are interested in the happenings of our Lungta Life.

Panama City is the largest city in the country, and (as often seems to be the case in smaller countries) more than half of the population lives here. It’s situated on the Pacific end of the Panama Canal, which opens up near a small group of tiny islands (Flamingo, Parrot, and um, Naos) that have been connected together by a causeway. This causeway basically forms a 3-mile-long peninsula which is covered with tourist places (restaurants, souvenir shops, bicycle rental) and maritime businesses (marinas, chandleries, and a naval substation). The marinas mostly cater to a fleet of sport-fishing boats and are mostly full (and universally expensive!). There are also a couple of anchorages nestled alongside this peninsula. One is right along the path followed by boats entering and exiting the Panama Canal, so it’s pretty turbulent with all the comings and goings. The other is on the other side of the causeway, still within sight of that entrance but far enough away to miss out on much of the noise, wakes from boats, and general hustle and bustle. This is where we’ve chosen to hang out for the better part of this last month. We have a spectacular view of the city to the north of us, which sparkles with lights (and a couple of brilliant and gi-normous LCD screens). There’s a nice public dock nearby which is open to cruisers and our dinghies for no charge. It’s run by the navy who keep an eye on it 24/7.

Las Brisas AnchorageΒ Β Cruise Ship Going By

PC (as we’ve started to call Panama City) is a very cosmopolitan city with a huge and well-run public transportation network. They have a card-key system that works on all of the buses and the one subway line. You just touch the card to a panel as you board and it deducts your $.25 fare and shows you your balance. It’s easy and efficient. (It is a little challenging figuring out how to get a card before you board your first bus!) It’s been nice to see quite a few people just click someone else in who’s having trouble finding their card or whose balance is low; because the fares are so cheap it’s not a big deal. We had a card given to us by a boat we met a few months ago in Costa Rica, which really made it easy to get jump-started! There’s a bus that runs down the causeway about every 20 minutes, and a bus stop just at the end of the driveway at the top of the dock’s ramp. Easy-cheesey! This bus takes us directly to one of the city’s major hubs, and (at least so far) we’ve always been able to get wherever we want with another bus that comes to that hub. The hub is at the Albrook Mall, one of the largest malls either of us have ever been in. It includes three food courts, a grocery store, an office store and 2 hardware stores – often we don’t even need to go any further. We’ve branched out a bit further a few times, for a fresh produce market, Pricesmart, a dentist, and a specialty plumbing shop. We haven’t done any sight-seeing yet, but the bus into town passes the port’s facilities where containers are stored and loaded onto ships transiting the Canal, the neighborhood where Panama’s president lives, and a couple of interesting monuments.

PC in the SunshineΒ Β PC in the CloudsΒ  PC at Dusk

Shortly after we arrived here, our two shipments that we had arranged for in Puerto Mutis arrived. First, our new dinghy – hooray! It’s a little bit smaller – and a lot lighter – than our old one. It rides a little differently, but we’re getting used to it and are thrilled at having a dinghy again that holds in the air and holds out the water! Kathy has already made up a new set of chaps to protect it from the sun, in the hopes that this one may last us a decade or two. Woo-hoo!

New Dinghy & Chaps

Our second shipment was an assortment of mostly Amazon purchases that we had sent to a Florida warehouse where they were bundled onto a pallet and put on a ship to arrive in PC a week later. It’s worked so well that we’re already planning a second shipment. Whenever we make a big purchase, it’s almost always associated with a boat project, and this time was certainly no exception. One of the projects that we were able to complete after this shipment was the installation of a saltwater faucet in our galley, alongside the normal fresh water one. Now we’re washing our dishes in saltwater with only a rinse in fresh – should save us a significant amount of energy in desalinating water. It’s still a novelty to us, and we have been known to elbow each other out of the way to do the dishes. πŸ™‚ We also installed our new wind gauge. Our previous one was damaged by lightning in Costa Rica after only a few short weeks. Hopefully this one will serve us a good bit longer! We also got some repair parts for our power system and are now able to manage our battery charger much better. Another project that is queued up now is to replace our lifelines. The current set is steel cables which are beginning to show signs of serious rust. We’re replacing them with a synthetic fiber that is even stronger and will never rust. Installation will require some effort because they support 4 of our solar panels, but we should have it done by the end of the year. Our watermaker is still being restored to its full functionality after losing its electronics in the “near sinking” last year. With the contents of this shipment, we were able to make one more improvement to that system that makes it easier to control the watermaker manually, and without having to pull up the floorboards and move a hose from one place to another. It’s cool to see all of these upgrades to our home, and also to realize that the scale of our improvements is changing from “critical” to simple “replacement” or “improvement to existing”. Even though our watermaker is functional and getting better, we are still frequently making use of our water catchment systems on both the back awning and the boom in front of the pilothouse.

Mother Nature's Faucet

We hung out in this anchorage for about three weeks before the time was right to go visit the Perlas Islands. We’ve heard about these islands for many years and were looking forward to finally seeing them for ourselves. They are an archipelago (isn’t that a fun word! but still not as cool as isthmus πŸ™‚ ) about 30 miles south of Panama City. A full day’s sail to the closest island, and then a couple hundred islands to choose from. Most of the islands are tiny and uninhabited, a couple dozen have villages, and a few have been developed for tourism. There is a daily ferry that goes to 2 or 3 of the islands. We chose not to visit those on our first excursion. We only had 10 days (because of a dentist appointment, if you can believe that!), so we only scratched the surface. We did visit 3 islands, though! Surprisingly we only found coconuts on one of them. πŸ™‚ And we came back with a dozen – yum! One afternoon a panga approached us with a hold full of seafood to sell. When we asked how much a fish would cost, he said we could have everything for $80! We didn’t need quite that much, so we settled on 4 lobsters and two snappers for 6 gallons of gasoline. We all came away happy from that deal! Another afternoon we strolled on a white sand beach where the sand was as fine as powdered sugar. We swam in clear turquoise water (while we cleaned our hull, but hey, it started out clear!). We generally relaxed and enjoyed a few days out in nature. There are lots of whales in the area. We saw quite a few spouts and one time we saw a whale breaching up out of the water several times in a row. Wow! We caught a tuna on the way back – it was silvery with beautiful mottled blue stripes. We couldn’t definitively identify which type from our book, but it might have been a bigeye (it’s eyes were really large!). We steaked it and will enjoy it for four meals.

Isla La MinaΒ Β Isla Pedro Gonzales

A week or two earlier we had met a Kiwi family on a boat in PC that was bound across the Pacific. We had a couple of nice conversations with them and helped them do a last-minute repair on their engine, and then they were gone. Unfortunately this isn’t really the best time of year to cross, and they were unable to make much progress with the winds that they encountered. They changed their plans and returned to Panama. We ran into them again in the Perlas, as they were decompressing from a frustrating week at sea. Coincidentally, they had already reconnected with another boat that they had befriended previously. We spent one very pleasant evening hanging out on deck with all of these folks, while their kids played and watched movies down below. Now we’re back in the anchorage in PC and it seems a little less crowded with strangers. πŸ™‚

Back in PC, we’re attending to a little business before we head back out to the islands. Dentist appointment, check. Provisioning top-up, check. But before we can head back out, we have to find a weather window. Looks like Monday – no, Wednesday – no, Friday. Tropical Storm Nate put a crimp in our schedule, causing surprisingly strong winds here, sucking all the wind north into the Caribbean from this area. The weather here is quite variable, but generally moderate. We were surprised to have a day with winds in the 20 knot range, followed by a night in the 30’s and then a day with lots of gusts in the 40’s. Our anchor dragged early that first night, because we hadn’t put enough chain out, wanting to “fit” into a slightly tight place between other boats. Just as we started to pull it up in order to relocate back to where we started from, it began to rain. It didn’t just rain, it *poured*, for almost exactly the time it took for us to raise the anchor, motor 100 yards and drop it again. Kathy was drenched to the bone and shivering at the end of that period. πŸ™‚ Afterwards we spent a nervous night rocking uncomfortably. The next day we generally laid low while the wind played itself out, but there were a few incidents that caught our attention. There are lots of big “work boats” in this area, and quite a few of them anchor in the same area that we do. They all seem to have their stories. πŸ™‚ One of them is a former US Coast Guard vessel that is in the process of being dismantled. We hear sounds of metal work from that direction most of the day, and we’ve noticed that the pilothouse is no longer there. One day we watched three or four guys try to haul a sunken panga out of the water using a big arm, a crane on the back deck. They were unsuccessful. During the storm this boat was dragging its anchor (or mooring?) frequently, and a tugboat that is usually tied up to it was constantly tugging it back into place. It was like a rodeo. Finally they secured the vessel to a different mooring and it stayed in place the remainder of the time. In the afternoon of the second day we heard a call on the radio for help protecting a cruiser’s sailboat from another unoccupied sailboat that was dragging anchor downwind on a collision course. We hopped in our dinghy and helped push the offending boat away initially and then deploy a second anchor borrowed from another cruiser, to try to stop it from sliding backwards and also to pull it out sideways away from the “target” boat. All this in choppy seas, howling winds and stinging rain. πŸ™‚ Just another day in the life…

Stormy SkiesΒ Β Our Neighbor

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08-26-2017 – Panama City, Panama

We ended up spending more than a month in the gigantic Gulf of Montijo. It turns out to be an undiscovered piece of heaven. As we sailed inland, deeper into the gulf, the water became increasingly calm. We stopped when the depth got down to 14 feet at low tide. By then we had put three islands between us and the sea and we might have been on a protected inland lake. We were in the middle of an enormous, pristine inland bay. The nearest land was at least half a mile away and there was no human habitation for miles. It was as still and peaceful and quiet as anywhere we’ve ever been. It’s surrounded by mangroves, and (not surprisingly) we enjoyed a couple of dinghy trips poking into the mangrove mazes.

Mangroves of Montijo

This large body of water is roughly 10 miles at the mouth and 15 miles up to the “major” port city of Puerto Mutis. There’s a long island at its mouth, restricting flow in and out and making it subject to tidal currents. Similar to when we were in the estuary in El Salvador, we would turn 180Β° on our anchor every 6 hours. It’s fed by roughly a dozen rivers that drain the big Veraguas agricultural basin. The water varies from pea-soup green to latte brown from all the runoff. It is definitely not an inviting place for a swim! We are unable to use our watermaker here, because the filters would plug up in just a few minutes. Every few days we would talk about leaving soon, to top off our water tanks.

But we kept putting that departure off because we were able to capture enough rainwater to get by a little longer. We got much more frugal with our water usage, though! We didn’t do any laundry, we bathed on deck in the rain, and we used only a trickle to rinse the dishes. Dan became obsessed with watching the skies to try to predict the day’s likelihood for rain, and spiralled down into despair after a couple of dry days. πŸ™‚ We also did a few raindances, which seemed to be fairly successful. We are using the awning over our back deck, a piece of canvas roughly 7’ x 7′ secured fairly rigidly to the pilothouse and a roller arm, but loose on the sides. We pull one side out further than the other, causing the water to spill to one side, where we attach a funnel with paper binder clips and clothespins. The funnel goes into a 25′ hose that runs up the side of the boat and into the deck-fill. If the wind is more than about 10 knots, especially if it isn’t directly on our nose, the awning flaps frenetically and the clips pop off. We spend more time supporting it than one might guess. πŸ™‚ But we keep refining the design, and over time it’s gotten quite effective! We’re working on another one that could be deployed quickly over the boom in front of the pilothouse, and which might be as much as 3 times the size. We had fun in a hardware store one day trying to find a set of plumbing parts that would take water from a hole in the fabric to the hose that fits our deck-fill, starting with a kitchen sink drain. We’re close to deploying this system but can’t yet report back.

We anchored about 5 miles from Puerto Mutis, an international port of entry. There are probably neighborhoods that we didn’t discover, but the town seemed to consist of one road lined with a few bars, a couple of gas pumps and one tiny grocery shop run by a Chinese woman. There is a public dock where the local fishermen (and there are a *lot* of them!) load and unload their boats. Many of them are moored in a big cluster nearby. The area is generally quite shallow, with a shifting sandy bottom. We didn’t dare bring Lungta much closer, although we are now certain it would have been possible. Yemaya, a large live-aboard dive boat, is based out of Puerto Mutis and comes in roughly every two weeks to pick up passengers and re-provision. They *must* be a similar depth to Lungta. (We talked with the owner briefly one afternoon, but oddly he couldn’t tell us what the boat’s draft was.)

There’s a very regular bus that goes from this tiny town to the much more substantial city of Santiago, 18 miles inland (but it takes an hour!). It costs $1.30 each. We found nice grocery stores here, and a couple of reasonable hardware stores. There’s even a big-box store that carries computers, office equipment and home appliances, where we found a replacement laptop for Kathy’s computer that gave up the ghost 3 months earlier – she’s a happy camper! (Her kingdom was shuttered for want of a hard drive.) It’s not a very pretty town, or walkable, but it’s much more functional than we ever expected. We passed by a kiosk outside a stripmall one day with lots of corporate logos (Target, EBay, Ford) that caught our eye. It turned out to be a freight forwarder, like we used in El Salvador. We’re excited to be putting together another shipment of “stuff we can’t live without” coming from the States (mostly Amazon) in the next month or so. We went into town once or twice a week. After the first couple of times we learned that taking a taxi back would allow us to bring back awkward items from the hardware store (like 4 gallons of paint!) and lots of bags from the grocery store, for only about $15.

The weather patterns here seem more predictable than earlier in our travels. Although every day looks quite different from the day before, we learned to recognize which direction our rain would come from. Virtually every day had rain in the area, often quite threatening looking, but most of it skirted around our particular spot. Almost everyone else would have celebrated this fact. πŸ™‚ This is the rainy season in Panama, and there are terrible stories of intense storms with lots of lightning – and serious damage to boats and even boaters. We were initially nervous about going to Panama, but then met a number of people who hadn’t had any trouble. Now we’re thinking that the troubles are more localized, for example only during the rainy season or only in the Gulf of Panama (the region around Panama City and the Canal). We don’t know why, but we just haven’t had much serious weather here. But the sunsets, oh my!

Panama Sunset

While in this remote little patch of heaven, we accomplished a few major projects. (Don’t forget that cruising is really just boat-work in exotic places. πŸ™‚ ) Kathy spent many hours putting a new sun-guard strip on the mainsail. This is the last of the sails that was missing the burgundy touch. It’s our newest sail, only about three years old, and the sailmaker put a white strip of UV-resistant dacron on it, so it wasn’t in danger of falling apart. It was a big job for the Sailrite sewing machine, and she ended up finishing it by hand at each of the corners where there are just too many layers for the machine to handle. Dan spent much of this time painting the decks and refinishing the entire caprail. He also polished some bronze fittings that now just gleam! In addition, he did some caulking around windows and various fittings around the boat. This ongoing activity has finally reduced significantly the amount of rainwater that makes it into places in the boat other than our water tanks! Hooray!

Newly Covered Mainsail

New Deck Paint

One day Dan noticed that the surface underneath the floorboards in the office was wet, and the next day it was even wetter. We removed all of the stuff that is stored underneath the 5 boards – mostly spare materials (wire, hose, stainless steel, aluminum, rubber, gasketing, etc), and our backup propeller and starter motor. The room was a total shambles, as were the galley and forward head areas, which absorbed the overflow! Kathy sponged up the water, flooded the area again with SaltAway, sponged it up again, and painted the whole area. This all took a bit longer than it might sound because all this time the leak was still happening and we were trying to track down the source. It turned out to be a *tiny* crack in the cement bulkhead near the main door to this room. We think, but haven’t been able to fully confirm, that it is leaking rainwater from somewhere above. We’ve made it more difficult to confirm by drilling a hole through that cracked spot, to allow the water to drain the opposite direction, down into a bilge rather than onto the top surface of our steel water tanks. This volunteer project caused quite a bit of consternation when we thought that we might have a serious leak (the room is below sea level, and contains several thru-hulls and lots of hoses). We also ended up cleaning up the bilge, testing its pump and replacing a stuck valve that was preventing the pump from fully emptying the bilge. We are pleased at having the area clean and painted, the materials reorganized and stowed more neatly, and the sense that the water management in that area is quite improved.

Eventually, however, we decided that we had done enough work and it was time to move on. πŸ™‚ I almost forgot to mention that we have ordered a new dinghy from a distributor in Panama City. Our old one was quite old when we bought it from a fellow cruiser and the fabric has become leaky from too much sun exposure (before the set of chaps that we added a couple of years ago). We have to pump it up daily and have patched it a few times in the last month. We haven’t ever had a new dinghy before, and it’s exciting to think that soon we won’t be dealing with the consequences of someone else’s choices. πŸ™‚ It’s due to arrive in Panama City the last week of August, so we need to get that last couple of hundred miles soon. The time has come! We’re on our way…

We moved to a place along the north shore of Isla Cebaco, the island that caps the mouth of the gulf. We spent a couple of days running the watermaker, doing laundry, replacing a chock to support the dinghy on deck while we’re traveling on the ocean, and knocking out a number of small house projects. We intended to clean the boat’s bottom, but somehow didn’t manage to find a good time when the tidal current would allow it. One day a local fishing boat with 3 men stopped by to chat for a bit. We had a confusing conversation where we ended up thinking we’d been invited to come out to the house of one of the guys that afternoon at 4, after they got done fishing. We made some hummus to share and got ready to go. At 4:00 they were still fishing nearby. At 4:30 we hopped in the dinghy and zipped out to see what the plan was. There were six people happily fishing with hand lines, and they had quite a number of smallish fish – a successful outing. We talked about the types of fish they were catching and their techniques, but nothing was said about getting together later. In retrospect, we decided that they were probably inviting us to join them fishing rather than afterwards. Just before dark, the original 3 men stopped by again, while returning from tending their nets. They gave us a couple of corvina fish that they’d caught – very generous! We were so disappointed to have misunderstood what they were trying to communicate earlier! (But we have been enjoying the hummus!)

We moved on again, hoping that the next anchorage would be a better place to clean the hull, since it should have less current. Although the day began as usual with patchy cloud cover, the clouds got heavier as afternoon approached (not unusual). Unfortunately, a rain storm settled over the little bay that we intended to anchor in. With somewhat limited visibility, we were watching carefully for the rock hazards in the area. Dan pointed out an area where he thought he was seeing something uncharted breaking the surface. It turned out to be a small pod of whales, at least 4 of them coming up and spouting then descending for a couple of minutes. These were the first whales we’ve seen in quite a while! We’ve since seen several more pods. Here’s a photo that shows another obstacle we often have to watch out for: fishing nets. Fishermen who use small boats who use nets for fishing often mark the two ends of the net with floats that have flags sticking up for visibility. They don’t want a power boat with a sharp propeller to drive right over the nets! And the boater certainly doesn’t want the monofilament line tangled around his prop shaft! The flags are typically made of black plastic garbage bags. This is a good example of a pair of markers on a clear, calm day, when they are “most” visible. (Admittedly, sometimes at night they also include a small strobe light for visibility.)

Fishing Net FloatsWe arrived in the late afternoon, and dropped the anchor in a brief break in the rain. The bay looked mostly uninhabited, although there were two anchored pangas, one of which had some crew moving around, presumably getting ready for the night’s fishing. As they left, they made a big circle and came back to visit us. It turned out that they wereΒ the Panamanian Coast Guard, the Aeronaval. They were polite and friendly, asking us the routine questions of where we were from, where we were going, etc. Three of the five men came aboard to look at our paperwork, passports, and navigation equipment. They told us that they worked 15 day periods, and that they patrolled the northern half of the country, all the way from here to the boarder with Costa Rica. Five men in a 25 foot open boat! They left, and we had the bay to ourselves for a while. The rain persisted and got much heavier, and they ended up not being gone for long. It rained heavily all night, and we found that we rolled a lot because we were in the ocean swell. At 4:30am (after a short night of somewhat fitfull sleep), we were woken up by the sounds of voices in a very close panga trying to catch our attention. We threw on some clothes and went up on deck, to find that it was the same group of military men. They said that there was a problem with the anchor, and we were concerned that they were saying our anchor was dragging in the storm. However, they actually said that they had lost their own anchor, and needed some help! We rafted their boat up to our side and invited them onboard.

Two hours, six towels, 4 cups of coffee (and 1 hot chocolate), two apples, two packages of cookies, and a chess lesson later… another naval boat arrived and our team quickly departed. The two boats, along with a panga full of jerry jugs, tied up together for more than an hour and busily went about their business while drifting around the small bay. But it kept on raining and the group stuck around another night. A couple of hours later, the panga returned to Lungta and asked for a lighter to light a fire on shore to make some dinner. What would these guys do without us cruisers? πŸ™‚

It rained all that night and the next day. We took a down day and did nothing but hang around home reading and playing chess. The bay turned a very muddy color with all of the runoff, and we decided once again to defer cleaning the bottom until better conditions. The bay of Ensenada Naranjo is very pretty, and it’s a shame that we didn’t spend more time there, when the weather was more cooperative. There were a couple of pretty black sand beaches, lots of coconut palms bearing fruit, and howler monkeys making their usual noises. πŸ™‚ The bay is named after the orange trees that have gone native. It would have been fun to collect a few oranges for breakfast! But we’re enthusiastic to make it to Panama City, so we won’t be dawdling any more.

Ensenada Naranjo

We took off the next morning and went another 45 miles to Punta Guanico, a quiet little corner of the coast with a beautiful community of houses nestled in the hills. We saw lots of waterfalls on the cliffs along the way. Although the rains had cleared up, the winds had been sucked away. We ended up motoring most of the day and arrived late at night. Here we stayed long enough to make a first pass at cleaning the bottom. It was both better and worse than we had hoped. The sides were slightly coated in a dusty or slimy layer with only the occasional barnacle – all of which wiped off with a sponge! Wow – the first impression of our new bottom paint was exciting! Unfortunately, the entire bottom of the keel, where we have scraped off the new bottom paint on a reef, was completely covered with barnacles, growing in clumps on top of one another like condominiums! Although much of them came off in clusters, they needed to be scraped off with a tool. And many others needed some hard work to break them free of the surface. We worried that it would be difficult where the paint had been scraped from the surface, but this was far more coverage than expected. It seems that these barnacles are different than those we’ve encountered before, and that they might get in under the paint once they find an edge. This may turn out to be a significant problem that requires us to haul out again much sooner than we had planned. πŸ™

From there, we moved a short distance to Ensenada Benao. There was another threatening storm that we chose to wait out. But the next day we made the leap around the corner into the Gulf of Panama. Punta Mala (“Bad Point”) is known for strong winds and contrary currents. There’s lots of advice to choose a good weather window and give it a wide berth. But we got lucky; we had a beautiful day of sailing around the point. As we rounded into the gulf, a pod of dolphins greeted us. Shortly afterwards, Dan looked up and saw a whale in mid-breach. Wow! The water got smoother too. We’d been dealing with a swell from the south that was often directly on our beam, causing the boat to rock uncomfortably – and knock things around. Once we entered the gulf, Punta Mala generously blocked that swell, making travel that much more comfortable. Over the course of the day, we caught a good size tuna (it was delicious!), and we were visited by several more pods of dolphins and a few curious booby birds. While there seems to be a good bit of wildlife, a pleasant surprise, we were appalled to see as much plastic floating in the Gulf as we did. We spent 30 minutes together on the bowsprit just watching a stream of bottle caps, detergent bottles, shoes, labels, even toys go by. The largest item we identified was a full-size refrigerator, floating its way out to sea. Ugh! We sailed the better part of 36 hours before stopping for a break at Isla Otoque.

Dolphin Greetings

We spent a surprisingly restless night at Isla Otoque. The north winds made a racket and kicked up a choppy uncomfortable sea. We were anchored in a place that was a little steeper than ideal and the wind was headed on shore. This means that if our anchor did drag even a little bit, we could end up touching bottom – not something we wanted! So we set an anchor alarm and a depth alarm and kept an ear open all night through the noisy wind and waves. We got up when the depth alarm said we were getting close, but watched until the tide turned and things got deeper. This was a beautiful little island but we were very glad to leave it behind in the morning. πŸ™‚

We had a good day’s sail into Panama City. We had strong northerly winds to begin with, and traveled quickly for the first 4 hours. About the time we were approaching the Vessel Traffic lanes for the approach to the Panama Canal, the winds died back and we motored for a while. Pretty suddenly we went from having the whole horizon to ourselves – to being in a crowded area. There were a couple dozen ocean-going freighters and tankers anchored in between three or four small islands. There were a few pleasure boats, both sail and power, moving around in between them. We saw a ferry and a dredge and a huge workboat that appeared to do work on underwater cables. The radio traffic went from nonexistent to frequent (but professional). We are beginning to feel the culture shock! As we approached our anchorage, we passed a whale playing at the surface. We watched for a while and realized that it was two, but couldn’t figure out if it was a mother/child or coupling behavior. We both heard some whale song through the hull, so these were almost certainly humpbacks. It was an odd juxtaposition to find this natural wildlife display in what seemed to us to be an industrial area!

Whale PlaySo we’ve dropped our anchor, andΒ we’ll change gears again to get acquainted with a new place. We’re safe and happy; we’re having fun traveling; we’re excited to be getting a new dinghy; does life get any better?

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