Welcome to the Maunie of Ardwall blog

This is the blog of Maunie of Ardwall charting our adventures as we sail around the world. The boat is now on the east coast of Australia while we spend a summer back in Britain.

Tuesday, 30 April 2013

To Galapagos - Day 7 and Dianne wakes Graham to show her a booby

Pwarrh, what a Booby!
 
Our position as at 18.00 UTC on Tuesday 30th May:
 
00 degrees 28 minutes north, 87 degrees 22 minutes west.  155 miles to go!
 
The wind has been pretty consistent for the past 36 hours so we have been hard on the wind (beating as close to it as possible) and getting used to the consistent heeling of the boat. It makes life pretty tiring as every movement involves some climbing and hanging on but we're pleased to be making pretty fair progress towards our goal, we just need the wind to back round to the SE for a bit.
 
We are now both sleeping like the dead in our off watches but Di woke Graham up at 07.00 this morning to say we had a visitor – a large Booby had its feet firmly grasping the pulpit rail up at the bow as it preened its feathers, seemingly oblivious to the spray flying over it. It stayed for about half an hour then flapped off in search of fish.
 
Our routine has settled down now so there are some regular event, aside from meals, to break up what might otherwise be slight monotony. The morning radio net is now good fun as people get to know each other and share stories and experiences. Salsa (a Swedish Halberg Rassy 45) crossed the Equator at 02.00 local time last night so the kids (aged about 5 and 8) got up to face King Neptune (skipper Steffan) who had draped green-dyed spaghetti over his shoulders like seaweed. The crew were forced to eat some of the seaweed as punishment for their crimes (unspecified) and can now count themselves as amongst the elite band of 'liners'. Other boats reported sightings of whales and sharks (including a shark which breached completely out of the water ahead of them).
 
Another routine has been to park Maunie for supper. We've discovered that whilst Maunie and Stormvogel are amazingly well-match for speed downwind, in these upwind condition we leave them behind; Peter has apparently written about his frustrations about this in his blog! Anyway, we decided that the comfort of having another boat with us (and the twice-daily chats on VHF radio) means that we don't want to get separated so we do a manoeuvre known as 'heaving to'. We basically tack the boat through the wind but leave the foresail sheeted on the wrong side so she stops in the water, the mainsail and yankee balancing each other, whilst Stormvogel catches up. This gives us a welcome opportunity to have Maunie upright and remarkably steady whilst we eat our supper.
 
All being well tonight will be our last at sea and we're really looking forward to anchoring in San Cristobal.

Monday, 29 April 2013

To Galapagos - Day 6 and Maunie gets a passenger

Our position as at 22.00 UTC on Monday 29th April;
 
01 degrees 18 minutes north, 85 degrees 49 minutes west
 
At last we seem to have got away from the adverse current which was making our progress painfully slow and, for the past 24 hours, have been beating to windward and pretty much making our target course to the islands which are now 255 miles away. It's quite tough sailing after all that nice downwind stuff across the Atlantic but at least the boat doesn't roll as much; we just get used to living at a constant 20 degrees angle. WE're less tha 80 miles from the Equator but approaching it at quite an oblique angle so probably won't celebrate our line-crossing until tomorrow night.
 
We had some unexpected excitement as darkness fell last night when there was a sudden fluttering in the cockpit and a small sea bird, some kind of Tern, landed on the seats and skittered about trying to get a grip. It was clearly exhausted and allowed Graham to pick it up and place it on a coil of rope in a sheltered corner whilst it rested; we tried giving it fresh water and some rice but it just settled down and watched us, unfazed by our torch. We were worried that one of us would  accidentally sit on it during the night watch or that it'd just go and die on us so were relieved when it flew off a couple of hours later.
 
The bird wasn't the only unexpected stranger in this pretty empty stretch of ocean. The German yacht Voyager (only about 40 miles from us now) reported in the daily radio net that an open 18ft fishing boat with one outboard engine and two occupants suddenly came alongside them yesterday afternoon. There was a bit of a language problem but Voyager believed that they were trying to sell them fish! What an open boat like that was doing 300 miles from the nearest land is anyone's guess but we assume that there was a mother-ship somewhere in the vicinity; there was general relief that their intentions appeared to be friendly after all the stories of piracy elsewhere in the world (there are no reported problems of that nature here).
 
So, without tempting fate, we are beginning to think about our Galapagos landfall. There are three available ports of entry on the biggest islands and we are heading for Puerto Baquerizo Moreno on Isla San Cristobal, the most easterly of the islands. We're starting to think about likely arrival times as we don't want to get there in darkness. We should have a better idea of an ETA tomorrow and are looking forward to anchoring and returning the boat to the fully upright position once again.

Sunday, 28 April 2013

Towards Galapagos - Day 5

Position as at 21.00 UTC on Sunday 28th April:
 
2 degrees 18 minutes north, 84 degrees 3 minutes west
 
We are happy to report that a southerly breeze finally kicked in at about 18.00 last night and we have been sailing ever since, close-hauled and trying to keep on the direct line to Galapagos. The normal advice is that we should have been aiming to cross the Equator at about 84 minutes west but we're still about 140 miles north of it and not making very fast progress southwards. Ah well, at least we are moving without the aid of diesel and the frustrating adverse current seems to have disappeared; looking at the weather files it seems pretty clear that we've left the Doldrums behind us, thank goodness. Dianne's sister Sue wrote to say that there's a YouTube video that's gone viral of a woman sailing a yacht in the Doldrums and she's completely lost the plot, singing and dancing around the cockpit in frustration.
 
Last night's watch was enlivened by a large ship on a collision course, coming straight at us. We were about to call her when she altered course to pass a mile ahead of us so we hailed her on the VHF to acknowledge this. A friendly French voice came back over the radio: "To answer our curiosity, where are you heading for?" – they obviously don't see many yachts around here and he seemed impressed with our destination!
 
All's well aboard. We've settled into the routine of reading, cooking, eating and sleeping in between the sailing tasks but we're both feeling pretty tired so the chance for a cat-nap is grabbed when it presents itself. We have just over 380 miles to go, so hope to arrive on the 1st May (Wednesday) if the wind holds up but Thursday is probably more realistic. Stormvogel is still in sight, about 2 miles behind, though Peter's more than a tad frustrated that he can't catch us.
 
 

Towards Galapagos - Day 4 and the laptop goes in the oven

Position at 23.00 UTC on Saturday 27th April:
 
2 degrees 57 minutes north, 82 degrees 32 minutes west
 
Well, as you'll see from our position we are edging our way ever closer to the Equator and are experiencing the full wonders of the ITCZ or Doldrums; more of this later.
 
We've had emails from several people who have tried the website to plot our position on Google Earth. Our recent crewmember Richard said he had us firmly in Sri Lanka (you'll understand why we didn't let him near the navigation table on the Atlantic crossing) until he realised that any longitudes west of Greenwich have to be entered as a negative number.
 
So we had an interesting and challenging night as we experienced the confused weather patterns of the ITCZ (Inter Tropical Convergence Zone) which hovers around the Equator. This zone is where the north-west trade winds in the northern hemisphere do battle with the south-east trade winds of the southern hemisphere with the result that there's a big patch of little wind and lots of thunderstorms. Last night we started the engine at 7.00pm as the wind died and, during Graham's first 8.00pm to midnight watch, we were confronted by huge black clouds ahead. On the radar the rainfall from them looked like an island about a mile wide and 10 miles long (roughly parallel to our course but getting ever closer) and at it head there were huge flashes of lightning that looked like a giant sea battle.
 
Our course meant we'd cross the storm right where the lightning was most active so the laptop and other electronic devices were put in the oven to protect them in case of a strike (it acts as a Faraday Cage, so the charge runs around the outside of the oven and not into it, goes the theory) and Graham decided to do a 90 degree turn to the north and cut through the tail of the storm. The result was about a mile of very heavy rain but we popped out the other side unscathed, much relieved, and resumed our south westerly course.
 
Today has been frustrating in as much as the wind remained light and we are fighting a 1 knot current against us so have made very slow progress. However all the other boats on the SSB radio net this morning reported similarly difficult conditions and, at least, the wind has returned this evening as we are currently beating into a Force 3, so making about 5 knots, in a roughly west to south south west direction. Maunie is taking the conditions in her stride and Winnie the Windpilot is enjoying the novelty of steering the boat to windward rather than her normal downwind role.
 
We've completed 430 miles of the 900 mile passage so will celebrate half-way in the morning with extra helpings of porridge. After that the next milestone will be crossing the Equator!!
 
 

Friday, 26 April 2013

To Galapagos - Day 3

Position at 17.00 UTC: 4 degrees 06 minutes north, 80 degrees 55 minutes west
 
Sorry – I gave the incorrect web address if you want to turn these positions into a dot on a map. The correct address is:
 
All's well aboard Maunie and we are delighted to be making good progress under sail again. The wind died last night at around 8.00pm so we motored at our most economical engine speed (about 5.5 knots of boat speed) through the night and both slept well in our off-watches. This morning the wind returned – a nice Force 3-4 – so we hoisted the Parasailor once again and are currently doing a steady 5.5 – 6 knots towards our next waypoint off Malpello Rock, a lonely Columbian outpost.
 
The morning's radio chat revealed that the boats that are 120 miles ahead of us have no wind and are still motoring so, whilst we expect our breeze to die later, we're keeping fingers crossed that it'll hold out as the sailing is just pretty perfect at the moment.
 
We're eating well, as always. Just before we left Panama City we bought lots of steak and chicken and vacuum-packed it before putting it into the fridge. Last night was an excellent chicken curry and tonight we'll use the minced beef for a chilli so that we can reserve the brilliant fillet steak for  later in the week. Lunches are still healthy salads but the lettuce looks as though we only a day or so more to enjoy it before we have to swap to pasta salads. On passage we are a dry ship (apart from lots of water to rehydrate) but have to admit to a cheeky chilled beer each with the curry last night and it was very good!
 
Graham has been playing with his new toy – a GoPro waterproof video camera – so expect some videos on the blog when we find wifi in Galapagos. We are aiming for Isla San Cristobal where the town of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno is said to have good facilities and will be a good base to explore and see the wildlife. The formalities and rules are extremely tricky (Galapagos is a province of Ecuador and is run by the military) so we'll have to employ a local agent to get us through the red tape. Anyway, that's days ahead – meantime we have to keep Maunie sailing without, we hope, too much reliance on the engine.
 
 

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Panama to Galapagos, Day 2

Position at 19.00 UTC: 005 degrees, 44 minutes north, 080 degrees, 14 minutes west
 
As promised, the wind returned yesterday evening so, after about 4 hours' motoring, we hoisted the Yeo Valley Parasailor spinnaker again and had some brilliant downwind sailing. Our experience of crossing the Atlantic was that, even with a crew of 4, getting the sail down if the wind increases above 23 knots is challenging so we watched the windspeed indicator closely. Sure enough, it built to 22 knots so we took the Parasailor down just as it was getting dark (though a full moon provided good illumination) – it was certainly challenging with just the two of us but was accomplished safely.  Back to white sails, with the yankee poled out, we were still making around 7.5 knots, with an additional knot of helpful current pushing us SSW. As the night progressed the waves built a bit so it was another of those tricky-to-sleep first nights at sea.
 
Today the wind is dropping as predicted so we're just trying to pick a good line through the calm bits. Stormvogel is, as ever, less than a mile away and there are three other boats we know about a day ahead of us. The twice-daily chats on the SSB radio are a nice diversion from the on board routines and yesterday we refilled our freshwater tanks with the on-board watermaker so a cool shower in the cockpit was very refreshing before lunch. The simple things mean a lot!

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Leaving Las Perlas

Position at 21.50 UTC: 008 degrees, 02 minutes north, 079 degrees, 16 minutes west
 
We left the picturesque islands at 10.00 today – with hindsight we should probably have made the break yesterday afternoon as the northerly wind arrived earlier than expected but we weren't ready (stowing away the dinghy and engine and making ready for sea takes time). Anyway we started well enough with a nice 5-hour spinnaker reach in flat water with hundreds of dolphins and even a Leatherback Turtle for company.
 
This passage is a tricky one because we have to cross the equator and pass through the area of doldrums – no wind and stifling heat. That's what we have just now, so we are motoring at our most economical speed, waiting for wind that's forecast to return to us this evening. It looks as though the wind will play hide and seek with us for the net few days so we just have to make the best of it; luckily there are a few boats a day ahead of us so we chat twice a day on the long-range SSB radio to see what kind of weather lies ahead.
 
Apart from overheating a bit, we're both well and are taking a relaxed attitude to what could be a rather frustrating 8 day passage to Galapagos. We'll update the blog with a quick progress report each day and put in our lat / long position. One of Graham's colleagues, Nigel, told us of a website where you can write them in and it'll pin-point our position on Google Earth. Unfortunately Graham has lost the email in a fit of inbox spring-cleaning – he thinks it's www.imap.com but if it isn't, hopefully Nigel will email us with the right one and we'll post it on the next blog.
 
Thanks to all who sent news of home over the past couple of days, it was good to hear from you.
 
 

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Off into the Pacific, slowly, and a call for news

After a frenetic couple of days in Panama City, we are very relieved to depart the anchorage at La Playita (made uncomfortably and sometimes dangerously rolly by the antic of the heavy supply vessels that charge through the anchored yachts, leaving them pitching and tossing in their wakes).
 
Thanks to some very good information on the morning VHF radio net and a detailed document put together by long-term cruisers on the web, we were able to avoid the worst 'innocents abroad' mistakes whilst we navigated our way around the city for provisions and other last-minute items. The yellow taxis, for example, are unmetered and require a good dose of price-haggling before climbing in but we discovered the delights of the 'One Dollar Taxis'; with these, on certain main routes into the city, you hold up one finger to hail a cab and if the driver returns the one-finger salute (index finger!) then you climb aboard (alongside any current occupants) and pay just a dollar each. Thanks, also, to the advice on the radio net, we avoided the Icom dealer (poor customer service, apparently) for our malfunctioning radio and took it instead to a repair shop called Codesa who found the fault and repaired it for $50; their novel final heat-soak test was to blast a hair dryer at the radio to ensure that all the solder joints and circuits were sound.
 
Even pre-armed with some knowledge, Panama City is a tricky place to get around and we experienced the first of the rainy season downpours whilst we were in the centre, sheltering in a shop selling the widest range of fabric imaginable (we'd gone in for some net curtain material for additional mosquito screens) for nearly an hour whilst the street outside turned into a raging torrent of water. We had a bit of a sense of humour failure after leaving our last supermarket for 4,000 miles (this really concentrates the mind when writing shopping lists!) to find it nigh impossible to flag a taxi at 5.30pm on a Friday; we stood there for nearly an hour.
 
So, as we said, it was great to escape the City, leaving the mass of moored ships awaiting their Canal transits, to motor south-west some 30 miles to Isla Contadora in Las Perlas islands. The archipelago has dozens of islands and, unlike the Caribbean side, a large tidal range (around 4 metres between low and high water, rather than the 40cm we've become used to). The absence of swell is quite a contrast to the Caribbean, too, and the water is absolutely flat calm here; unfortunately there is also no wind at the moment and none forecast for the next few days so we think we'll spend some time exploring the islands and hope to get a breeze later in the week to head to Galapagos.
 
It now feels as though we are very much heading into the wide blue yonder, away from all the delights (?) of shops, internet and traffic. Our next leg, to the Galapagos Islands, is about 950 miles so, depending on when the wind makes an appearance, will take us about 10 days. We'll spend a week or so there before heading further west with the next islands, the Marquesas, a further 3,000 miles away. We'll be in Tahiti by late June, our next proper shopping opportunity, so Maunie feels very heavy at the moment, laden as she is with full tanks of fuel and water and lockers stuffed with tins of food to supplement anything fresh that we can buy at the islands.
 
Psychologically, it feels slightly odd to be turning our back on 'civilisation' (even if it's as chaotic as Panama City) and to be heading off into MAMBA (miles and miles of bugger-all). Thanks to the sat-phone we'll keep updating the blog regularly but we do now feel a slight sense of isolation here. So, please, do send us an email of news from your world, plus any questions and suggestions for the blog; having spent a lot of time at work managing the deluge of emails we do now find ourselves looking forward to news so a few recent news updates from home and from friends and relatives around the world have been great to read. We can't read comments posted on the blog whilst we're outside wifi range so our email is maunie (at) mailasail (dot) com – written like this to avoid the spam bots, so you'll need to turn it into the normal format. We look forward to hearing from you.
 
 
 

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Exploring Panama City


We spent yesterday in the city, beginning with a slightly hair-raising taxi ride through some distinctly-dodgy areas of the city. Panama City is a very polarised place - there are some huge, modern sky-scrapers at one side and some distinctly ghetto areas where the living conditions look distinctly tough. We eventually found an electric repair shop to have a look at our VHF radio which has become slightly selective as to when it will receive and transmit; we hope they'll be able to find the fault.

We then visited the huge Allbrook shopping mall, our last big retail outlet for some months (thankfully, says Graham) before returning to the anchorage to meet the crews of Stormvogel and Gallinago who arrived through the Canal during the afternoon.

We have a couple of days of final provisioning ahead of us here before we set off for the Las Perlas islands, a day's sail from here. There we'll wait and watch the wind forecasts with interest for a window to cross to the Galapagos islands; at the moment there's not a lot of breeze.

Meanwhile, here are a few photos from our Canal Transit - you can also read the great blog of one of our line-handlers, Bri, to hear her view of the journey.

 A well-fendered Maunie

 Rob and Bri at work in Gatun Locks



 Ongoing dredging work

 Paul and Canal Advisor Astro


 Salsa and Windhond behind us

 A morning visitor in La Playita anchorage


Maunie, alongside a catamaran, in Miraflores lock



Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Maunie is now in the Pacific Ocean!

We completed our Canal transit this afternoon so are now in a slightly rolly anchorage called Playita – in the Pacific Ocean! The canal passage went fine, thanks to our great line handlers Brie, Rob and Paul and two very good Canal Advisors (one of whom, Elvir, was on board the French yacht last week), though it was a little more challenging at times, due to the weather and some different skill levels on neighbouring boats. Anyway we are exhausted but delighted to be here. We hope that you managed to see us on the Miraflores locks webcam but, if not, Graham's dad has saved some photos which we'll post on the blog soon .
 
Tomorrow we'll go ashore and head into Panama City for some retail therapy and to recce the fresh food market. At the moment the wind is pretty light this side so we'll be watching the forecast carefully for a window of opportunity to head south-west for Galapagos. We're committed to crossing the huge ocean now!
 
 

Sunday, 14 April 2013

A short video of our practice run through the Canal


This video starts in the tranquil Gatun Lake and finishes in the Pacific

Our practice run through the Panama Canal

On Thursday and Friday we went through the canal as line-handlers on the French yacht Gadjo Dilo and really enjoyed the experience. It was pretty much as we'd expected though we were still taken aback by the scale of the locks and surprised by the tranquil beauty of the Gatun Lake. 

There were just three yachts transiting, ourselves (40ft), a 46ft catamaran and a tiny, 19ft yacht with two, patently potty, Frenchmen who intend to circumnavigate the globe in it. Of course, for the Canal they had to have the full complement on 4 line handlers plus skipper and Canal Advisor so the boat looked pretty overloaded!




This was certainly one of the smallest boats to transit the canal and, by contrast, we met one of the biggest at the end of the passage. 



This is known as a Panamax and is built to fit exactly into the locks with just a foot or so to spare at each side - the new locks being built (to open in 2015, they hope) will allow even bigger ships to make the passage.

Here are a few more photos of the trip:







Finally, there are live webcams on the Gatun and Miraflores locks which you can access via this link: http://www.pancanal.com/eng/photo/camera-java.html Click on the Hi-res version and there's a button under the picture that adds a perma-link to the camera so it updates the picture very minute or so.

We will go through the Gatun lock at about 16.00 local time on Monday 15th (so about 22.00 BST) and the Miraflores lock at about 12.00 on Tuesday (18.00 local time), all +/- half an hour or so.

After Graham completed a mammoth, 3-trolley, $440 pre-Pacific shop in a Colon supermarket yesterday, today we'll finish showing all the tins and get the boat ready for the off. Unfortunately one of our line handlers has just told us he can't come (he's been offered a crew position on another yacht) so we'll have to chase round for someone else today which is a pain. 


Wednesday, 10 April 2013

A new date for the Canal and some details

We are going gently mad in the heat here at Shelter Bay Marina, not helped by the ludicrous bureaucracy. In spite of clearing into Panamanian waters in Porvenir, we have to clear in with the Port Captain here (and clear out again before we cross to Balboa, still in Panama, through the Canal). The Port Captain's office is a little hut, outside which an unhappy queue of yachtsman sit in the hot sun, clutching their files of boat papers, waiting impatiently for the glacial process within. Graham has had 3 days of this fun - on the first, Friday, after only 40 minutes' wait he was told that the Port Captain had run out of forms so could not proceed. He returned on Monday and after 2 hours' wait it was decided that the Port Captain would not be coming at all. Yesterday was, finally, successful after another 2 hours in the hot sun. Stupid bloody process!

Anyway the good news is that Erick the Agent (a sort of Fixer who knows the quirks of the system) demonstrated his worth and told us he'd managed to get an earlier slot for our transit. He managed a 3-day improvement so we now go on Monday 16th and the pressure is on to find two more volunteers to come with us as line handlers (we have one, an English chap called Paul who's sailing single-handed at the moment).

The process of going through the Canal, from a yachtsman's perspective is really well explained here

So, on with the boat jobs. Yesterday we managed to give the hull a good clean and polish so Maunie is gleaming and today Dianne has been reorganising and cleaning the aft cabin as a stowage area so that all we can have the forward cabin empty for two of our line handlers (the third will sleep in the pilothouse). Graham has given Winnie the Windpilot a service, ready for action in the Pacific, and is about to tackle changing engine fuel filters. Tomorrow we're off in a French yacht as line handlers and will be back Friday afternoon. Saturday will be all about shopping for food provisions - can't wait!

Monday, 8 April 2013

Preparing for the Canal

We have been assigned a date for our Canal transit - the 18th April. There's quite a backlog after the Easter holiday and so the delay is longer than we'd hoped for. Still, there's lots to do on the boat - we're working through a list of maintenance jobs - and we're organising our shopping lists for food for the Pacific crossing.

The Panama Canal transit takes 2 days for yachts - we'll leave the marina on the afternoon of the 18th, our Canal Advisor will come aboard and guide us through the Gatun locks and into the Gatun Lake where he'll leave us for the night. The following morning the Advisor guides us through the canal, down the Miraflores locks and into the Pacific. We'll be rafted alongside a couple of other yachts for the locks, with long lines from the outer boats of the raft to the line handlers on the lock walls so we have to have 4 dedicated line-handlers aboard. Yachts help each other out with this so we are going through the canal on the 11th as line-handlers on a French yacht (it'll be good experience for us) and we'll hope to find people to do the same for us on our transit.

Meanwhile we're going to take the bus to Panama City to see the sights as a break between the boat jobs so we'll post some photos soon.

Saturday, 6 April 2013

In the queue for the Panama Canal



After the unspoiled delights of the San Blas islands it was quite a culture shock to sail towards Colon and see dozens of large ships anchored, waiting for their Canal transits. We threaded our way between them and arrived at Shelter Bay Marina on Thursday afternoon to start our own period of waiting.




The marina is in an old US Army base and is surrounded by jungle (we can hear the monkeys at night). The marina itself is pretty good, with a restaurant, mini-market and even a gym but around it are the decaying remains of the old base and it's a long taxi ride into Colon for shopping. We met our Agent, Erick, yesterday and he thinks it'll be about 9 days before we get our slot to get through the canal (it takes 2 days to complete the transit) so we have plenty of time to meet people and get the boat prepared. It's really hot and humid so Maunie has all her sun awnings rigged, together with a 'windscoop' which is like a little spinnaker set over the forward hatch to encourage airflow into the cabin.

Thursday, 4 April 2013

Mainland Panama

Since we arrived in the Caribbean back in December, the wind has been a constant feature. The trade winds have blown consistently and briskly so we have become accustomed to the whistle in the rigging and the movement of the boat so it came as quite a novelty to have calm descend on us yesterday.
 
We left the San Blas islands at 8.30 and had a very pleasant reach westwards (Gallinago and Maunie flew their cruising chute spinnakers) until the breeze dropped away and we had to start engines. Our slow sailing speed meant that our original destination, a bay near the town of Portobello, would have been reached in darkness so we diverted to an amazing spot called Green Turtle Bay where, 15 years ago, a Panamanian business man started excavating a space for a marina in a mangrove-filled headland. This project moved very slowly but the first boats were admitted last year and the place is still very much work-in-progress (no toilets or showers yet), managed by an affable German yachtsman called Yogi. It's a pretty special place, though the number of very tame Swallows flying around the boats indicates the even bigger number of biting insects, so mesh screens were quickly fitted to all open hatches. We ate well at newly-built beach bar / restaurant last night.
 
Today we plan to head on about 30 miles to Shelter Bay near Colon, ready for the Panama Canal.
 
 

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Fw: Our last full day in San Blas and Gallinago arrives

We've moved to a new anchorage in East Lemon Cays. It's positively crowded with yachts (about 15 from lots of different nationalities) and there's even a small bar on a nearby island where a couple of the local fishermen had enjoyed a beer or two too many last night. Otherwise, it's still pretty idyllic with a reef about three quarters of a mile to windward protecting us from the ocean swell and a smaller island providing an ideal spot for a bbq.
 
We are delighted that Matt and Charlotte on Gallinago have caught up with us after finally resolving their gearbox problems in Grenada. They had  a very fast, 7 day non-stop passage here and so we met up yesterday afternoon. Luckily their arrival also coincided with that of a grocery boat (another open motor boat, rather less well stocked than the last) so we managed to buy some beers, vegetable and a chicken which neatly solved the bbq menu plan for the evening. We'd introduced ourselves to the sole occupants of the island (Fernando and his wife) so were surprised that Snr Fernando arrived as we were eating on the beach with another yachty who acted as interpreter and explained that Fernando was upset that we were using his island without permission. Eventually, after much embarrassment, Fernando realised that we were actually the people who had come to see him and that the objects of his displeasure were a bunch of other yachties, who had by now left the island, who had built a huge bonfire of fallen palm leaves at the southern tip of the island without seeking any permission. He left, all smiles and apologies but the incident made us realise how little, thoughtless acts by visitors must have a big impact on these charming people. Certainly we were shocked to find four or five black bin bags of yacht rubbish leant against trees as though the bin men would magically come to collect them in the morning. Unbelievable.
 
This morning we have been visited by Venancio, Master Molas Maker, who brought a huge tub of beautifully hand-stitched Kuna embroideries and proudly showed us his work in a magazine.  Unlike most that we've been offered so far, he doesn't use a sewing machine and the stitching is almost invisible (Graham's mum, a mean embroiderer herself, would be impressed) so we succumbed to his patient salesmanship and bought four to be stashed away for cushions when we return home.
 
Anyway today will be our last day in the islands as we are heading west to Colon (specifically Shelter Bay Marina just inside the breakwater at the site of the old US Army base of Fort Sherman). We'll break the passage into a 50 mile and a 25 mile leg, stopping at a natural harbour called Portobello so that we can arrive at Shelter Bay in daylight – the approaches will be very busy with ships using the Canal. Our brief period of relaxation will be replaced with more boat jobs, lots of paperwork and officialdom and re-stocking the boat for the long Pacific legs ahead of us.