Saturday, October 31, 2009

Pirates, Storms and Sharks

When meeting new people and sharing our lifestyle of sailing we often get questions about Pirates, Storms and Sharks. All sensational topics that get lots of media attention. Truth be told Pirate attacks are still very uncommon and our sailing lifestyle remains one of the safest of all recreational sports. Granted there are piracy hotspots in the world which seem to become more dangerous all the time. Areas such as Somalia are scary and to be given a wide berth. By avoiding these areas we can avoid the associated risk.

Isolated piracy events do pop up in unexpected places from time to time, but these are more similar to a home burglary or car jacking than out and out organized piracy. 'Pirate Attacks' certainly make good attention grabbing news headlines, but attention they garner is largely disproportionate to the 'real' risk. Everyone whom uses an automobile on a daily basis has chosen a more risky lifestyle than those of us whom float around on the ocean in the absence of road rage!

This being said I was sitting in the hot tub after a game of volleyball yesterday and heard a chilling first hand account from a Chilean sailor whom had been legitimately attacked by pirates just three days earlier. Sailing off the coast of Nicaragua on a Beneteau first 47.7 with four persons aboard the boat was approached around 7AM by a high speed launch. The occupants of the launch had on some military style clothing and banished shotguns and pistols. The launch signaled for the boat to stop (this could have been just a routine inspection by local authorities as often the uniforms are incomplete or non-existent). Then the pirates started pointing guns and boarded the yacht. They tied up most of the crew and then proceed to take everything they wished including money, cameras, vhf radios, outboard engine, etc. The crew of the sailboat was wise to cooperate and thus no violence ensued. About $10,000 in cash and goods was lost, but everyone was unharmed and the boat reached port safely. I've encouraging the sailor to report the incident to international authorities so that other boaters can avoid the area in the future. Look for the report on soon.

Short term plans

For the next few days we'll remain in Shelter Bay Marina here in Panama. Repairs to the port side engine are progressing, but with many surprises... mostly unpleasant. While waiting for parts to arrive we've been working on our beach volley ball game, organized a swap meet, organized two Texas Hold'em poker tournaments, lounged at the pool daily, and taken numerous walks in the jungle. we've managed to squeeze in a few boat projects.

Once the engine is running we plan a quick trip to Cartagena, Colombia (about 220nm to the East). We don't need the engine for the trip, but we do need the engine for docking and in the event emergency maneuvering is required. Once in Cartagena we will be taking in the sights and keeping a close eye on the weather. Then off to Stuart, Florida (about 1200nm to the North).

We need to get back to Florida to attend to the marketing and sale of our old boat Pacifica. We've had a few very close deals that may have benefited from our proximity. We'll get Pacifica looking great and back in the water where perspective clients can really appreciate how well the boat is set up. We also have a pretty long list of tasks for our new boat LightSpeed that will be quicker and less expensive to complete in Florida.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Traveling Panama

Currently, in the Panama Canal area on the Caribbean side near the city of Colon. We are docked at Shelter Bay Marina for a week or two while we wait for some engine parts we ordered from the USA. One of our engines is out of service and the boat doesn't maneuver very predictably with only one engine nor move very quickly if the wind drops. Since much of our travel is amongst dangerous coral reefs and rocks and the weather highly changeable we really need both engines working. Squalls are frequent and intense with winds from 20-40 knots from any direction.

While we wait a week or two for the parts to arrive we've decided to travel around Panama in "Backpacker mode" and see the sights. Tourism in Panama is not developed and thus making for adventure travel.

So far we've crossed the istumusn of Panama three times between Colon and Panama City. Twice via local bus and once via the Panama Railway. It's only about 50 miles (80km) from the Caribbean to the Pacific or about 2 hours and pretty cool to see the two oceans in the same day.

Near our marina we can go for a short walk into the jungle, as we do each evening, and see several different kinds of monkeys, furry ground mammals of uncertain variety, many tropicla birds and an amazing array colorful flowers. After our evening walk we play four of five games of volleyball and then take a soak in the hot tub. Marina life is a nice treat.

Like I mentioned we are taking a week to explore non-coastal Panama via land. The first stop after leaving the Marina was the dentist. Kathy had a veneer repaired in a first rate English speaking, super modern dental office for a mere $35. Next we caught the Panama Canal train for a scenic and historical trip across the isthmus to Panama City. Tourism is not so well developed as in neighboring Costa Rica which keeps thing interesting as the guide books for Panama are pretty thin on details. Life is good.

Friday, October 02, 2009


The San Blas (or more appropriately, the Kuna Yala) truly is a very special place.

The water is really warm here with temperatures in the upper eighties to low nineties. Almost too warm, but not quite. The local Kuna fishermen do a good job of gathering the lobster so we've only caught a few ourselves. Prices are very reasonable for fresh lobster (two 1-1/2lb lobsters for $5USD) delivered live to your boat. Seems too good to be true until you have been solicited by Kuna fishermen to buy lobster AGAIN for the fifth time in one afternoon.

The Kuna men fish. The Kuna women sew 'Molas'. The sewing is spectacular, intricate beyond reason, 100% by hand and with tiny stitching that becomes almost invisible. The designs of the molas can be artistic interpretations of nature, geometric designs or a pictorial of a family or Kuna story. Google 'San Blas Mola' for a visual. The molas, although only sixteen inches square can take many months to complete. We've been eager to purchase some molas as we plan to use a few as wall hangings and a few for decorative pillows. They are true works of art and if we owned a home we'd line a hallway with framed molas from the few remaining 'Mola Masters' of the San Blas.

You buy direct from the artist and the Kuna women mola makers paddle out in genuine dug out canoes to show you the wares. The sale of molas is a major component of GDP for Kuna Yala. Where mola sales rank vs coconut exports and lobster exports I'm not exactly sure, but the women are many times the major bread winners of the household.

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Thursday, October 01, 2009

San Blas Islands.. Molas, Lobster and Lightning.

Sorry for the lack of new posts on the blog. I managed to really mess up the computer we use for email via Sailmail. Oops! Thus, the time I usually reserve for writing was spent trying to "fix" the software on my computer. I've now switched to a back up computer so hopefully the posts will be more frequent.
Lightning here in the San Blas is fierce and very frequent. We are often in the Inter-continental convergence zone (ITCZ)where the weather is never settled. Some days it seems the sky never ceases to flash and bang non-stop day and night. During these frightening storms the wind may blast to 40 knots from any direction or it may just pour rain or both. Electrical storms and computers don't mix so this is my other excuse for not updating the site more frequently.

Lots to write about to catch up on the last few weeks. First off the engine repairs from a few weeks ago were mis-directed and I've subsequently now identified the 'real' problem.... a faulty fuel injector pump. So our Port side engine is out of service. This is a major bummer as it really limits where and when we move the boat. Running on one engine is pretty tricky. Imagine a one legged duck... swimming in circles. That's us trying to maneuver our 23'-4" wide boat with one engine. Until she gets up a few knots of speed she would prefer to go in a circle. With the numerous dangerous reefs and tight anchorages we have to be really careful as a error could be very costly at best. Needless to say this engine problem has put a big kink in our plans and we've spent a lot of time staying put waiting for perfect weather to move around.

The upside of not moving so much is we've made lots of new friends by staying in one place much longer than normal. In the East Lemons anchorage we started to form a routine that included swimming, beach volleyball, Yoga (where Kathy was the instructor) and lots of socializing.

We finally changed anchorages yesterday. Good thing as one of the boats we were sharing an anchorage with was struck by lightning this morning and they lost all the electronics. No injuries other than financial. If you stay here for a while they say its not a matter of IF you get hit by lighting in the San Blas, but only a matter of when.

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