See life

See life

The water was finally warm enough to snorkel when we reached the tip of the Baja Peninsula. Jeff was excited, I was uncertain. Waves swept into the small cove, lifting Serenity and the two other boats at anchor as they passed beneath us and crashed onto the shore. Our neighbor on SV Splendid Isolation had reeled in several fish for dinner and a report from our other neighbors on SV Sweet Dreams confirmed that there were fish to be seen in and among the rocks that lined the cove.

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I wasn't born with fins on my feet

I wasn't born with fins on my feet

If you told my ten year old self that I would love snorkeling as an adult, I'm not sure she would have believed you. I've always loved water and swimming, but when taking a dip in a Pacific Northwestern river or a Midwestern lake I painted an underwater picture absolutely devoid of life.  The second I started thinking about the critters beneath me, a low grade panic would roll in and settle somewhere in my gut. For me, looking underwater was akin to turning on the lights in a dark room only to discover the walls are crawling with strange, foreign creatures, some of whom might bite you if given half the chance. Blissful ignorance was the greatest weapon against my fear. I'll take it pitch black, thank you very much.

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June 2014: month in review

June 2014: month in review

The highlight of June was our quick trip out to Isla Gamez to romp around and see our friends at Isla Parida as well as a body surfing, beer drinking, shell collecting session over at Playa Grande. The lowlight of June was going to Costa Rica (to renew my visa and to put Jeff on a plane) and getting our stuff stolen while we swam (rookie mistake!). Jeff wrapped up June with a quick trip back home to see family and play on a very different coastline with threateningly cold water. I held down the fort in Boca Chica cleaning every nook and cranny on our boat and making some less than pleasant discoveries in the bug department (I'll spare you the details). 

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Passage notes: Puerto Mutis to Boca Chica, Panama (via Isla Leones, Isla Uva, Islas Secas and Isla Gamez)

Passage notes: Puerto Mutis to Boca Chica, Panama (via Isla Leones, Isla Uva, Islas Secas and Isla Gamez)

On the 10th of May we picked up our final stowaway for the season, our friend Michael. As a professor of Classics at a new university in a new city, his school year had been full and fast-paced and he was ready to kick of summer break with some very intense relaxation. When asked what kind of trip he wanted, he responded with a set of very easy-going requests: 1) not too much travel, 2) a slow, easygoing pace, 3) lots of reading, 4) preferably in hammocks on the beach, 5) lots of swimming, 6) no internet, 7) games, 8) cold beer. Keeping the beer cold was our biggest challenge. 

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The pantry challenge

The pantry challenge

It's nice to consistently have a pantry full of stuff because it provides the reassurance that you won't starve to death on the ocean. Over time, however, things get buried and you come to discover that you have eight cans of corn...and four jars of mayonnaise...and enough rice to feed a small village. In addition to a surplus of provisions, there are so many good intentions stashed away in those cupboards.

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Stories from a stowaway: Michael

Stories from a stowaway: Michael

I expect that the majority of visitors to this blog come looking for a glimpse into a dream – a dream that two intrepid souls are living out daily on a sailboat as they cruise between Portland and Panama. Because these two souls belong to two of my dearest friends in the world (and because they are fantastically generous people) I had the opportunity to get an even closer look at their dream during a glorious two week stay aboard the Serenity.

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Season's end and a new beginning

Season's end and a new beginning

From the point we reached Panama City, the long season begun in October of last year had caught up with us. Every frozen bolt, frayed line, and failed outboard start caused an eruption of, "Get me off this boat!" Wind and waves that before had been merely inconvenient were now an active waste of our lives. During that long, horrible, uphill last leg from the Perlas to the city, Tack tucked himself so deeply and miserably into my lap [he is not a lap cat] that I could not stand to move a muscle and take away his last sanctuary. Our canary in the coal mine had croaked.

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Living in a small space: organizing the "head" (aka the bathroom)

Living in a small space: organizing the "head" (aka the bathroom)

Living in a small space necessitates strategic optimization of every available horizontal and vertical surface. On a boat you must also take into account that your home moves and anything not properly secured will become animated. What was a great idea at anchor may prove to be a disastrous idea at sea. Even if your boat is blessed with ample storage, there is always a need for creative solutions to maintain comfort and livability. Since sailboats aren't square, you must literally think outside the box and design systems that fit the (more likely than not) awkwardly shaped spaces. Every time we visit other boats we catalogue ideas that we can export and adapt to our boat.

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Oh h#!! h#!! nos

Oh h#!! h#!! nos

The arrival of rainy season is accompanied by the proliferation of bugs...especially the biting variety. We're up the Rio San Pedro right now, enjoying the calm outside of Puerto Mutis, awaiting the arrival of our friend Michael. I could stay here a lot longer if it wasn't for the bugs.

My alarm clock this morning was dozens of pin prick bites on any area of my bare body that did not happen to be covered by the sheets. Jejenes, no-see-ums or biting midges, as we know them in the US, are flocking to the boat from the nearby mangroves. Nearly invisible clouds of invaders ready to devour us. And devour is not an understatement. We are on the menu this morning and we are apparently very delicious.

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May 2014: month in review

May 2014: month in review

May was all about getting back into a groove. The Gulf of Panama had definitely thrown us off of our game, but we were determined to get back to Western Panama, to the waters we know we love. Things started looking up pretty much as soon as we exited the Gulf. Was this all in our heads? Maybe. Either way, we were eager to make our way back to what has become our home away from home - Boca Chica and the Gulf of Chiriqui. 

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Passage notes: Isla Bayoneta to Puerto Mutis, Panama

Passage notes: Isla Bayoneta to Puerto Mutis, Panama

Now that's more like it. The Gulf of Panama was reluctant to swallow us a month ago, but she disgorged us with hectic glee on this passage. We were worried that the N winds had sputtered to a halt and had been permanently replaced by light and variable winds. You can imagine our delight when we woke up to 10-15 knots of wind from the NE. With wind and current at our back, we flew past Isla Pedro Gonzalez, our speed cresting our max hull speed on several occasions. The wind was lively until the early afternoon when the tide switched. The wind mellowed to around 5 knots and we managed to barely move forward (1-2 knots) with the spinnaker.

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So I married MacGyver

So I married MacGyver

"Give me enough PVC, hose clamps and bolts and I can fix anything."

- Jeff Burright, in the Pacific Ocean off of the coast of Mexico, circa 2013

These are the words that will grace Jeff's epitaph. Though he may likely choose to include a couple other raw materials like fiberglass, epoxy and 5200. I laughed when he first made this statement, but in the time that has passed since its utterance I've come to regard it as truth. 

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May 2014: cruising budget

May 2014: cruising budget

Our cruising budget for May 2014. Not too shabby! Just a few annotations.

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Magic soap and a well of hope

Magic soap and a well of hope

I happened upon the aisle of magical elixirs at the grocery store. I'm fairly certain I've walked past them before, seen the neon colors from the corner of my eye, but I'm usually a woman on a mission at the grocery store and my mission usually does not include the discreet acquisition of magical elixirs. 

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Islas Las Perlas puzzles

Islas Las Perlas puzzles

Well, we didn't crack the code of the Perlas Islands...and I don't think we'll be sticking around long enough to really figure this place out. Between the Humboldt current that whooshes around in the Gulf of Panama, the (up to) 17 foot tidal shifts, the strong tidal currents (sometimes exceeding 2.5 knots), the narrow passages and countless submerged (and poorly charted) rocks and reefs, this is a challenging place to cruise. You have to live and die by the tides and currents out here and if the current is nudging you in the opposite direction of your intended destination...it's better to just kick back and let the current and wind dictate where you wind up.

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Cruising with the pack

Cruising with the pack

The pack has come and gone. They flocked from the Caribbean, from Mexico, from Central America. They dabbled along the coastline then migrated to their chosen hurricane holes. Very few cruisers are left in Panama, most crossed to Ecuador or to the South Pacific or transited the canal to the Caribbean while a few chose to scurry up to El Salvador or Mexico. We didn't realize before we started cruising that sailors follow seasonal cycles much like seabirds, whales, schools of fish. The rhythm, however, isn't solely dictated by nature, it's also influenced by bureaucracy, by culture, by comfort.

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Passage notes: Isla Chapera to Isla Bayoneta, Panama

Passage notes: Isla Chapera to Isla Bayoneta, Panama

I woke up with my head screwed on backwards. I attempted to run the HAM radio net and was upset by the fact that I heard nothing but fuzz when a day prior I had heard everyone with crystal clarity. Fifteen minutes into the dysfunctional net, Jeff casually informed me that it would be difficult to talk to anyone without an antennae, which was still coiled neatly on the transom. Niiiice

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Passage notes: Panama City to Isla Chapera, Panama

Passage notes: Panama City to Isla Chapera, Panama

1530 -- Raised anchor and motored out of Las Brisas anchorage past all the freighters at anchor - outgoing current helping us

1600 -- Raised sails in SW wind (8-10 knots), up to 4.4 knots - J's shift

1700 -- Wind dying out, little lumpy

1830 -- No wind, still lumpy - time to motor - 3.5 knots, which is slower than expected - cloudy, it's been a long time since we've seen a proper sunset

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Stories from a stowaway: Stephanie

Stories from a stowaway: Stephanie

When planning a trip to visit friends on a boat, flexibility is key.

There's just one catch... I don't speak Spanish. I mean I do, but definitely not enough to, like, actually function. So if my Spanish speaking skills were more than just por favor and gracias, that flexibility factor would've been a piece of cake. But since they most definitely are not, and I am a very white, blonde gringa, that sticks out like... well like a white girl in a sea of very tan people, Jeff and Harmony said they would do everything they could to meet me in Panama City. They figured a 3 week travel timeline with about a week buffer built in was plenty generous, but had any of us known the trip to eastern Panama would include mending a busted sail and trudging through many days and nights of very frustrating seas, I'm sure our plans would have been a quite a bit different... But somehow, probably out of spite and pure determination (and we really didn't have a way of communicating any last minute change of plans) they made it, and Harmony managed to meet me at the airport, along with friend and fellow cruiser, Colin.*

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Serenity in the city

Serenity in the city

I really enjoyed Panama City. It’s a remarkable place with no shortage of things to do, sights to see, things to eat and drink while you ponder all the contradictions. Serenity…well she wasn’t such a big fan of the city. The Gulf of Panama is lovely to look at and the anchored ships are a marvel, but it’s another thing to live in that dirty water, surrounded by rusting giants that belch black smoke and spill waste that leaves a an odiferous slick. 

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