Monday, March 31, 2008

Isla de Providencia

Dinghy dock (left) and downtown

Rains says that “providencia” means heaven. But Rains was wrong about the position of the sea buoy here, so the translation may not be correct either. Whatever it means exactly, this friendly, clean, crime-free island is one of our favorite places so far.

We called “Bush Agency” on Channel 16 when we were in VHF range about 45 minutes from the sea buoy, as instructed by Rains. This was correct, and we were promptly answered by someone speaking very fast and accented English. After a couple of repetitions, we got the message that we should meet at the dinghy dock at 5:00 p.m. We were surprised since it was Sunday, and we figured that we would spend the night anchored under our quarantine flag, but that gave us just enough time to get the dinghy in the water and take quick showers before heading to shore. As “Mr. Bush” told us when we met, the Columbian government was very clear when he got his agency that customer service was to be a priority, and he takes his responsibility very seriously. He had the woman from immigration open her office above the dinghy dock for us, and the port captain met us at Mr. Bush’s office. Our paperwork was finished by 5:30, and we stopped at the ATM and then had dinner across the street before heading back to the boat.

Mr. Bush says there are no pickpockets here and we don’t have to worry about crime. Indeed, we not only didn’t lock the dinghy at the dock, we forgot and left the key in it until we sat down in the café to have a beer. When I went to retrieve it, I noticed that the other dinghy there wasn’t locked either. We did lock the dinghy to the boat last night (no sense asking for trouble), but we left it in the water.

There are 10 boats in the anchorage, counting us, and as soon as we dropped anchor, our Canadian neighbor from Noa, Jean Pierre, stopped by to point out the dinghy dock and tell us that there was free wireless there. He was on his way to shore to check his e-mail. I don’t think we’ve ever been as warmly welcomed anywhere. In our experience the appearance of a dinghy at our boat right after we anchor usually means that we’re in the wrong place or have done something else wrong. This was a very pleasant surprise.

It seems to rain here every day for a few minutes at a time. I rigged the hatch umbrellas for the salon and companionway, and only need to remember to close the hatch in the v-berth during a shower or when we leave the boat. The trade winds keep the air moving through the boat when the hatches are open, and it’s pretty comfortable.

We were going to stay here three days, but already we’re planning on five. The weather looks good for a passage then, and that would put us at Grand Cayman on Monday instead of Saturday. We don’t expect that we’ll get the same customer service there. Meanwhile, there’s snorkeling here, and we can rent mopeds to explore the island.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Hooray! We're sailing

We left Shelter Bay at around 2:30 p.m. on March 28th (I don't know when this will be sent). At 30 days, this was the longest we've been in one place since we left Olympia on May 1, 2007. We're currently headed northwest toward Isla Providencia under sail, and the auto-pilot is working for the first time since Nicaragua. We're pretty happy about that. The Caribbean is bumpier than we had expected considering how little wind there is (only about 10 knots). We're sailing close-hauled, but fairly close to our course. We expect the wind to shift to more easterly as we get further north, and that should correct our slight cross-track error and move us to a reach.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Getting ready to leave on Friday

Wow, I’m really remiss. I didn’t realize it had been so long since I’d posted. The 007 movie wrapped at this location on Saturday. It’s quiet here without them. We’re slowly getting things ready to take off. John has the auto-pilot and bilge pump working again. We topped off the fuel tanks today, and I’ve sent one propane tank to be refilled. It should be back tomorrow. I did our taxes yesterday. Turbo Tax Online with e-filing made that pretty easy, and we’re glad to have it out of the way for another year. It’s too hot here to tackle many projects in one day, so it’s good that we aren’t leaving until Friday. We still have a few things left to do.

The above is a photo of us at the Gatun Locks (the ones on this side of the canal) in our Berkeley Marine Center t-shirts.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Back in the water again

Filming finally stopped late yesterday afternoon while there was still enough light to get a few boats back into the water. We were one of them. We’re delighted to be afloat again with all systems operating. We celebrated by having showers on board.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Ready to get back in the water

Pequeño Paraiso was very nice, and we would recommend it to anyone looking for a non-commercial base to explore Panamá. After more than two weeks there, I felt like part of Anita and Richard’s family. For a few days, Märzen and I were the only guests. John had to spend some nights at the boat because the traffic between the marina and the B&B was putting too big a dent in his work days. There is quite a bit to see in Panama City, and John and I spent a couple of days over the weekend playing tourist.

Last week we saw the people from Kokopelli from San Francisco here at Shelter Bay. We first met them in Mexico. I thought that was exciting because, since we’re going the “wrong” way, few of our former cruising friends are expected here. Then later the same day, John recognized a woman, Judy, from the wilderness first aid course we took in Connecticut a couple of years ago. We soon found out that Judy’s boat is BeBe (we had forgotten) and that I had corresponded with her husband, Bill, when we were investigating Shelter Bay as a place to haul out.

We’re also finally starting to see SSCA burgees. Bill and Judy on BeBe are commodores, as are another couple we met, Mike and Judy on Por Fin. As I sit here in the restaurant looking out at the docks, I see another associate’s burgee that wasn’t here when we arrived. I’ll have to go introduce myself later.

The big excitement at Shelter Bay is that they’re filming parts of Quantum of Solace, the new James Bond movie, on location here. A bunch of boats are being paid to anchor outside the marina for two weeks while they run speed boats in between them. Today they’re using the haul-out as a location, so that may affect whether we get back in the water today. We’re ready, but the filming could be in our way. I just hope we don’t lose our slip due to the delay.

There’s a back-up in transiting the canal because the canal pilots are staging a work slow-down. You may recall that we only waited a week for our transit. Now they’re estimating four-week waits. Boats and ships are congregating on both sides awaiting their turns. We heard that a 7% rate increase also went into effect March 1st, so we’re really glad we did things the way we did and got through early.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

We've come a long way

When we get to Fort Lauderdale, we need to replace our Seven Seas Cruising Association (SSCA) burgee. The one we’re flying is pretty tattered. Right now, we’re associates in SSCA, but since we’re getting a new burgee anyway, I’m working on our application to be commodores. I’m not sure how much it matters, but it’s a different burgee. There are mileage requirements for commodore status, so I’ve just taken the time to estimate ours. It isn’t something we normally track.

Here are the statistics: Since we sailed under the Golden Gate Bridge on May 1, 2006, we’ve traveled more than 7,000 nautical miles. Our farthest point north and west was Juneau, Alaska, at 58.336° N 134.492° W. Our farthest point south was latitude 07° 10.952' N on the way to Panama City, which is the farthest east we’ve been so far at 079.555° W. (The differences in the latitude/longitude formats is the result of different methods of recording the information. You can do the math.) Our longest non-stop passage was more than 550 nm down the Washington-Oregon-California coast from Westport, Washington, to San Francisco in August. We’ve landed in seven countries on two continents and two oceans, but we haven’t crossed an ocean yet.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Everyone comes to Panama

This is the most international place we’ve ever been. At Shelter Bay we’ve met cruisers from the UK, Germany, The Netherlands, Australia, and, of course, Canada and the US. I’ve noticed people speaking French too, but we haven’t talked. In the last couple of days I’ve spoken Dutch, German, Spanish, and English. It was a delight to speak Dutch and German. After stumbling around in Spanish, I almost felt fluent in my two old foreign languages. Amazingly, yesterday afternoon the local workers were bringing English-speaking people to me to help them communicate. Really, my Spanish isn’t that good, but we have a copy of the Spanish for Cruisers book, and it really comes in handy.

Work on the boat is proceeding nicely. Cross your fingers: we may finish up earlier than anticipated. The skeg wasn’t in as bad a shape as we had feared, and John has been successful in lining up parts, materials, and labor. If we do finish early, we can move back aboard the boat, return the rental car, and save a little money while we await a weather window to head north.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Land-based adventures in Panamá

The last couple of days have been really busy. Saturday I took a taxi to meet our agent at a car rental place. Enrique got us his rate on the car and then gave me detailed instructions, including a drawing, on how to get to Shelter Bay to pick up John. That took all morning.

Driving in Panamá is challenging: there are neither accurate maps nor street signs. People use landmarks to give directions, and the landmarks often don’t have obvious signs either. We could get really lost here, but so far, that hasn’t happened. Enrique’s instructions were excellent, and I made it to Shelter Bay with only one wrong turn that was quickly discovered and corrected.

John had a tougher time of it. The haul-out went really well and the bottom looked good. But then John couldn’t get the rudder off. (The rudder has to be off in order to get to the skeg to repair it.) He was having a late lunch at the marina restaurant when I arrived and joined him. Victor, the boatyard lead, was scheduled to come at 4:00 and help John with the rudder. We were surprised and pleased when we went back to the boat at 3:30 to find the rudder off. I was relieved that we would be able to make the drive back to the B&B while it was still light.

Yesterday we had three errands to accomplish: take John’s driver’s license to the car rental place so that he can drive the car, get more minutes for my cell phone, and find an optician to order new glasses for John. Thanks to a link from the Pequeño Paraiso website to Panama Zone street maps online, I was able to find enough landmarks to figure out how to get where we needed to go, but it’s a good thing that I learned to deal with ambiguity back in my working days. (I think that means that I’m good at guessing; I’m not sure. It was stated as a requirement for my last job.)

After we accomplished our missions, we took time to go to the movies. They’re relatively inexpensive here ($3 before 3:00 pm). You just need to be sure that the movie has subtitles rather than being dubbed. The theater made that easy by posting a description of the movies including the original titles (it’s sometimes hard to guess from the Spanish titles.) We saw Charlie Wilson’s War with Tom Hanks. If you haven’t seen it yet, we recommend it.

This morning I gave John the drawings to get to Shelter Bay and had him look at the maps. He’s got an advantage because I pointed out landmarks to him as I drove him here. I would have gone with him, but my friend Yadira is coming to Panama City today, and I’m going to meet up with her. I’m looking forward to renewing our friendship; it’s been 14 years already.