Passage notes: Isla Parida to Santa Catalina, Panama

Log book

  • Port of departure: Isla Parida, Panama
  • Departure date sand time: Saturday, March 29 at 9:30pm
  • Port of arrival: Santa Catalina, Panama
  • Arrival date and time: Sunday, March 30 at 12:00am
  • Total travel time: 1 day and 3.5 hours (27.5 hours)
  • Miles traveled: 78 nm
  • Average speed: 2.8 knots
  • Engine hours: 1220.0 begin - 1223.0 end - 3 hours
  • Fuel consumption: 31.4 begin - 30.2 end - 1.2 gallons used
  • Fuel economy: 65 mpg
  • Tides and currents: High at 9pm on Saturday - High at 9:45pm on Sunday - Tidal rip by Honda - Can't tell if there was a current helping or working against us between Isla Canal de Afuera and Santa Catalina.
  • Weather: The forecast predicted W winds (6-8 knots) on Saturday night, switching to a NE wind (4-8 knots) early on Sunday persisting through the morning on Sunday, changing to a S/SW wind (4-7 knots) on Sunday afternoon.

A full day at Isla Parida followed by a night full of sailing. On our last trip to Isla Gamez we met a super friendly family from Isla Parida who brought us some fresh fruit as un regalo, a gift: bananas, oranges and the most delicious mangos I have ever tasted. In exchange we offered them some milk, one of my sweaters (for those "cold" Panama nights), and some fresh baked chocolate cake. Rosa, the matriarch, asked if we had any spare sunglasses onboard. Unfortunately we didn't at the time, but I told her we'd pick some up in the city. Seriously can't imagine a life on the water without sunglasses.

So anyway, fast forward, our friends Dave and Leiann on SV Chrysalis are selling their boat and whatever they can't fit in their backpacks, they're leaving behind. They gave us a couple bags of clothes and kitchen gadgets to bring out to the islands. After a walk on the island, we invited the family on the boat for snacks and to show them the stuff from Chrysalis. They have lots of other family members on Parida and told us that whatever they couldn't use, they'd find a good home for. Ebedelio was particularly excited about the rain gear because he goes out fishing during the rainy season and I don't know what he currently uses, but Dave and Leiann had some nice foulies (foul weather gear). He was absolutely stoked. I imagine it will make fishing during rainy season a lot more comfortable.

After their visit we fixed dinner and they went out fishing, as they do every night. According to Ebedelio, they've never not caught something (sorry for that double negative there). They swung by our boat on the way back to shore and asked us if we wanted some fish. We explained that without a refrigerator it's hard to keep fish fresh.

"Are you leaving tonight?" Ebedelio inquired.

"If the wind comes before 11pm, yes. If not, then we'll leave tomorrow."

"Well, we'll keep a fish fresh for you and if you're still here in the morning, we'll bring it over to." He reasoned.

"We'll bring it to you all cleaned up." Rosa chimed in.

"Sounds like a plan!" This family seriously can't get any nicer.

No fish for us though, because at 9:00pm the wind arrived and we were on our way by 9:30pm. The wind was blowing about 10-13 knots from the NE. I managed the tiller for the first hour and a half while we sailed E to clear several reefs and Islas Bolanos. Once we were out in the wide open water we turned to the SE, putting the wind on our side for a more comfortable ride. I roused Jeff and he took over for the next 7 hours. I love that he loves night sailing so much.

When I woke up we still had the vestiges of a NE wind, though it was gradually dying as the sky lightened. By 8:00am we were dead in the water. When I tuned into the Pan Pacific Net I found myself trying to piece together a story of SV Evenstar, which was taking on water off of Punta Mala. They had salvaged one battery to run their radio. All was well on board (considering the crappy circumstances) and the captain had already been in contact with the US and Panamanian Coast Guard. Very rarely is there emergency or priority traffic on the Net. I didn't need any more reasons to fear Punta Mala.

During my shift the wind vacillated between a light SE breeze and dead calm. Dead calm is hard for me to deal with...especially in this heat. I strung up the shade cloth we inherited from SV Chrysalis and did my best to try to keep cool. Lethargy set in at around 10:00am and I spent the duration of my shift like Tack, sprawled out in a semi-vegetative state.

Jeff was up by 2:00pm. During his 7 hours of sleep we only gained about 16 miles and our indoor temperature increased by 12 degrees. The rest of the afternoon was peppered with light SE winds, resulting in slow progress. Outside of Bahia Honda we experienced a tidal rip similar to the one we had experienced there before. The wind died in the middle of the rip and Jeff turned on the motor.

Eventually an E wind picked up between 10-13 knots - blowing in exactly the direction we wanted to go, naturally. We killed the motor and put the sails back up. The seas were all over the place, confused and choppy. Jeff and I were both just bundles of positive energy. Ha.

About 7 miles from our destination, after making minimal forward progress against the headwind under sail, we turned the motor back on and finished our sloppy ride to Santa Catalina. With no moon we had a difficult time scoping the anchorage, and apparently nobody here believes in masthead lights so we didn't see the other sailboats until we were basically on top of them. We anchored outside of the pack and I set to work making some comfort food - grilled cheese and tomato soup dinner at 12:30am. Livin' the life.

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Passage notes: Boca Chica to Isla Parida, Panama

Log book

  • Port of departure: Boca Chica, Panama
  • Departure date and time: Friday, March 28 at 11:45am
  • Port of arrival: Isla Parida, Panama
  • Arrival date and time: Friday, March 28 at 4:45pm
  • Total travel time: 5 hours
  • Miles traveled: 13.5 nm
  • Average speed: 2.7 knots
  • Engine hours: 1219.1 begin - 1222.0 end - 0.9 hours
  • Fuel consumption: 31.8 begin - 31.4 end - 0.4 gallons used
  • Fuel economy: 34 mpg
  • Tides and currents: High tide at 2pm - we left early and were fighting a counter current for the first couple of hours.
  • Navigation notes: Roca Buey can sneak up on you if you're not careful! It's covered at high tide.
  • Weather: The forecast predicted 8-10 knots of N wind in the morning, 2-4 knots of W wind in the afternoon and 4-6 knots from the N in the evening.

Low-key, easy and slow sail. We originally planned to leave on Thursday at high tide, but at some point in the late morning the wind started swooping down from the NE like angry, invisible birds. We clocked wind speeds of up 50 knots, but there were likely a couple gusts that topped 50. It was crazy windy and we didn't really feel like a crazy windy day of sailing. So we spent most of the day hanging out inside, remarking on how crazy the wind was and then every once in awhile popping our heads out just to gauge the actual craziness. Other cruisers out at the islands told us that they were experiencing light wind conditions leading us to believe that this wind was highly localized.

On Friday, when we saw the barometer start to drop and the wind start to pick up, we figured we needed to leave quick before things got gusty again. Hence our decision to shove off before high tide.

The wind was gusting to 25 knots until we turned the corner out of the anchorage, where it proceeded to die, then start blowing from the SW. Weather is strange. Sometimes it doesn't make any sense.

As soon as we cleared Isla Saino, we raised the main and genoa and set out for a relatively leisurely upwind sail in a very light SW breeze. Jeff manned the tiller and sails while I worked on a little project to reorg our bathroom (i.e., the "head"). We took a shoe holder and cut it down into more manageable pockets that we're hanging around the bathroom full of goodies. You probably don't care much about this...but we're pretty stoked. I'll write more about it later.

We pulled into the anchorage on the NW side of the island and parked right out front of our friends' lovely house on the beach. We arrived just in time for a sundowner with cranberry juice and the delicious tequila that SV Brio brought down from Mexico. So far, so good.

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Passage notes: Isla Gamez to Boca Chica, Panama

Passage notes: Isla Gamez to Boca Chica, Panama

Following a late night with Brio we had a late, lazy morning - coffee, computer games, morning radio net, dish washing, a visit from some local friends who brought fresh mangos from their heavily laden tree (yum), chill time on the beach, a visit with our neighbor from SV Best Day Ever. At about noon we were wading in the water on the beach, keeping cool as best as we can, inspecting strange floating creatures in the water when our friend Carlos from Isla Parida dropped by in his kayak. After a short exchange we offered to give him a ride over to Boca Chica - he just had to deposit his kayak back on Parida and pick up some things for a weekend in David with his wife and son.

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Passage notes: field trip to Islas Bolaños, Panama!

Passage notes: field trip to Islas Bolaños, Panama!

Good news! The prop is INSTALLED (one blade becomes two)! But before we declared victory, we needed to take the new prop out for a spin (get it?) We were originally planning to just head back into Boca Chica, but upon discovering that our friends on SV Brio were only 20-25 miles away, inbound for Gamez, we decided to stick around for one more night. In the meantime we had an afternoon wide open and a gleaming new prop just begging for some action, so we decided to take a little day trip over to Islas Bolaños, a mere 4 miles east. The engine got warmed up while Jeff hauled anchor. Once we were hot and free, I kicked the engine into gear and we moved forward, which is always a good sign.

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Beach clean-up at Isla Gamez

Beach clean-up at Isla Gamez

When Jeff and I rolled into Boca Chica we turned the corner at Carlos' marina and were immediately drawn to another little boat with faded red topsides, an almost comical skull and crossbones painted on its hull and a url marching from for to aft: www.coastalfootprint.org. There is no shortage of abandoned boats out here, but very few of them have a means to probe their past. To sate our curiosity about this vessel we pulled up the website as soon as we had internet. That's some effective advertising right there.

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Passage notes: Boca Chica to Isla Gamez, Panama

Passage notes: Boca Chica to Isla Gamez, Panama

We stayed up a bit too late on Saturday night hanging out at the Seagull Cove tiki bar, followed by late night libations and musings with our friends on SV Margarita (Jeff apparently remembers a more responsible version where we went to bed early). Despite our relatively slow start, we were eager to make our way to the clear(er) and clean(er) waters at nearby Isla Gamez. We've come to refer to the anchorage in Boca Chica as the toilet bowl since we're sitting in an eddy that tends to collect and circulate some unpleasantries. It's not THAT dirty, but we much prefer the water out at the islands. Gamez is ideal spot for getting ourselves and our boat clean as well as installing the new propeller (which arrived SO quickly!). In the event that we drop something during the installation process, it's much easier to recover it in the shallow, translucent waters at Gamez versus the murky whirlpool in Boca Chica.

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Babies on boats

Babies on boats

While we're on the topic of babies...

Within the past year and a half of cruising I've started reading other blogs, gravitating towards those that chronicle the journey of other young couples on boats. Jeff was more tapped into the "cruising blog" world in the lead up to our departure. It's a relatively new fixation for me. In this same timespan many of the cruising couples in our age range have either had children or recently announced a pregnancy. 

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To all you sweet suckers out there . . .

We love you very much.

April Fools’ Day (sometimes called All Fools’ Day) is an informal holiday celebrated every year on April 1. Popular since medieval times, the day is not a national holiday in any country, but it is widely recognized throughout European cultures and celebrated as a day when people play practical jokes and hoaxes on each other, called April fools.[1] Hoax stories are also often found in the press and media on this day.
— http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/April_Fools%27_Day

It was a rude, rude trick and Harmony made me do it.

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Three becomes four

Three becomes four

As it is told, first came a plant. It is never discussed what kind of plant, but no doubt it was something resilient and low-maintenance. When the plant lived, fish came next. Fish are a bit trickier to keep alive -- there are hidden signs you have to find -- but they, too, failed to die. A leap forward was made, and a dog was brought into the house. The dog bonded to them, made its needs known, and was satisfied. They had passed the test and could now fulfill the apex of the caregiving pyramid. My sister was the result. A few years later they refined their process, and there I was. At least that's how the story goes.

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Two becomes three

Two becomes three
Let's continue this little numbers game and turn the focus now to the question of time. We had a plan initially: spend from the savings pot for two years of comfortable minimalism and sail an unspecified loop through the great unknown. The thing about the unknown though is once you know it, your perspective changes.Read More

In the misty mountains: Boquete, Panama

February 2014: month in review

Jeff, Jesse and Colin at Santa Catalina

February was full of beautiful places and friendly faces, but it was not without its challenges. The lowest point was discovering that we were short one prop blade, leaving us engine-less. Rather than snorkeling, hiking and relaxing (all of the things I was doing) during the first two weeks of February, Jeff spent much of his spare time trying to figure out a makeshift solution to the prop situation. He fashioned three spare props out of materials at hand, but each creation had a small shortcoming. I have no doubt, however, that if we had more fiberglass and epoxy on this boat, solution #4 would have been a resounding success.

We didn't let the lack of a prop slow us down one bit (well, figuratively speaking...we actually slowed down a lot since we had to wait for wind). Cruising around with our friends Colin and Jesse on SV Vagabundo and Ron on SV Mar de Luz was an absolute highlight. When Jeff did manage to tear himself away from working on the prop, fixing our outboard and helping our friend Colin troubleshoot a few engine troubles (he's always working on something), we enjoyed sailing, playing in the surf, hiking up dry river beds and on meandering footpaths, meeting new cruisers, rounding up people to play games on the beach, drinking at the local cantinas, telling stories around bonfires, hosting and attending dinner "parties" (party being an overstatement...they were more like mellow gatherings). At the end of February we said goodbye to friends and headed back to Boca Chica to procure and secure a new prop.

Here's the quick recap!

257.1 ... number of miles traveled

... mpg, fuel economy

3 ... nights at sea

25 ... nights at anchor

0 ... nights on an anchor

0 ... nights at a marina

2 ... number of blades on our folding prop

1 ... number of blades we lost on our folding prop

3 ... replacement props that Jeff attempted to fashion out of PVC, fiberglass and epoxy

$300 ... cost of a new two blade fixed prop (in US dollars)

$80 ... shipping costs to send the new blade from Ft. Lauderdale, FL to David, Panama (in US dollars)

$60 ... amount paid to customs for our package from Florida, which also included a cutlass bearing and some extra tabs to keep the prop on our shaft

14/14 ... the specs (diameter/pitch) of our old folding prop

15/10 ... the specs (diameter/pitch) of our new folding prop, which is much closer to what it should be

7 ... ports in Western Panama visited with our buddy boat SV Vagabundo

9 ... ports entered/exited under sail alone, including up and down the San Pedro River

7.6 ... knots, fastest speed clocked, coming down the river out of Puerto Mutis

-0.2 ... knots, slowest speed clocked when we were becalmed off of Isla Coiba and drifting backwards

38 ... highest windspeed encountered during our romp in the islands

22 ... hours that we were totally becalmed on our way back to Boca Chica

10 ... games of Kubb played on the beach (with our local friends on Isla Parida and new friends from Sweden and England/Wales who we met on our friend Geoff's charter boat - Pajaro Loco!)

1 ... crocodiles seen from a restaurant in Puerto Mutis

15 ... vultures that held their ground when threatened by the crocodile (the leader of the pack raised up it's wings as if to say "come on, bring it.")

2 ... the number of times we dragged anchor at Puerto Mutis

1 ... the number of times our buddy boat dragged anchor at Puerto Mutis

$12.50 ... cost of clearing out of Puerto Mutis (national zarpe)

$10 ... cost for 5 loads of laundry in Santiago (cheapest laundry we've encountered to date)

12:00pm ... time in the afternoon that the water in Puerto Mutis is turned off during dry season

17 ... max number of visitors in a day who came by in dugout canoes or pangas in Bahia Honda to say hello, ask a favor or trade some goodies

6 ... beers bought for Jeff and I by a friendly local guy at Bar Bahia Honda in Santiago while we were waiting for our friend Colin to swing by

3 ... fish caught and consumed (bonito, sierra, barracuda)

$3 ... cost of a warm beer on the "mothership" at Isla Cebaco 

4 ... glasses of cold, good wine we were offered by a very friendly group of sports fishermen staying on the mothership at Isla Cebaco (so generous! so grateful!)

5 ... sunrises captured on camera

20 ... sunsets captured on camera

20-22 ... meters above the high tide line vagabonds like us are allowed by Panamanian law (thank goodness the beaches are public!)

60-66 … feet above high tide line for those of you that don’t think in meters : ) - you’re welcome

$600 … the apparent cost per night of the yurts on Islas Secas before it was closed for renovation - who knows how expensive it will be after the renovations

$12 ... cost per night per person to sleep in a tent on the beach at the surf camp in Santa Catalina (cheaper...but still too expensive)

480 ... rivers in Panama

1518 ... islands near the shores of Panama

Lost in translation

Landfall in Panama!

One of my favorite things about traveling is learning and practicing another language. Though there are definitely some days when my brain gets tired and I wish I could just stick a babel fish in my ear.

Learning a new language is all about small victories. For me I think my initial break through moment in Spanish occurred when I was chatting with several guys at Marina Palmira in Topolobampo about our recurring dreams and then we took turns trying to interpret each other's dreams. Not only was I able to understand their dreams and weigh in on the meaning, but I recounted my very strange and very vivid childhood dream. I didn't know I had the vocabulary to describe it until I opened my mouth and the words just started pouring out.

In this recurring dream a monster would emerge from the toilet, chase me all through town up to the top of a building with a glass roof where I would then break through the glass and fall into a pool several floors below. On the bottom of the pool were gold coins which momentarily distracted me from the toilet monster peering at me from above. By the time I looked up, the toilet monster had plummeted from the roof and wedged itself in the pool, blocking my exit, trapping me in darkness. That was usually my cue to wake up. I wasn't expecting these guys to take such an interest in this obscure dream, but they listened with rapt attention and then, without hesitation, told me (unequivocally) that if you dream about anything emerging from the toilet it means you've got good things coming your way (namely money...though I'm still waiting on that part to come to fruition). Small victories.

Despite the fact that, between us, Jeff and I have over 8 years of Spanish lessons, we still encounter our fair share of flub ups. Our accents are much better than our grammar or vocabulary, leading most locals to think our Spanish is much better than it actually is. At a little soda (eatery) in Quepos, Costa Rica that specializes in Chinese food (comida china) the server asked us if we were from Spain. We both laughed and asked if he was serious (en serio?). Turns out he was totally serious, he thought our Spanish was passable as...well...Spanish Spanish. Our little gaffes help keep us humble.

In La Paz, I thought I was asking to see the menu (la carta), instead I asked for something a bit more valuable.

Por favor, puedo tener su cartera?

Can I please have your wallet?

At least I was polite!

In response to the question, "how are you doing?" from a friendly guy in Topolobampo, Mexico I thought I said that I was very tired (muy cansada), but instead I was explaining how very unavailable I am.

Estoy muy casada. Y ud?

I am very married. And you?

At least I was speaking the truth. He didn't offer a verbal response to my question...just a cocked eyebrow.

I meant to ask the fruit vender in Tapachula if the oranges she was selling were good for juicing (bueno para hacer jugo).

Las naranjas, son buenas para comer o jugar?

The oranges, are they good for eating or playing with?

She paused, looked at me like I was a crazy person and responded - "you eat them." Check. 

A gentleman in the mountains of Chiapas asked what we thought of his homeland. I meant to remark on how very green or verdant it is (muy verde).

Las montanas son lindas y es muy verdura aqui.

The mountains are beautiful and it's very vegetable here.

In response to a comment about how strong my arms look from a friendly group of Mexican tourists in Manzanillo who invited us over for a beer, I thought I was explaining that I have the ropes (cuerdas or sogas) on the boat to thank for my toned arms.

Paso mucho tiempo tirando en ropas.

I spend a lot of time pulling on clothes.

A little rascal in Bahia Honda took one of our lures without asking, I decided they needed a bit of a talking to. I had come to think, for one odd reason or another, that the word barba meant hook or lure.

Alguien toca nuestra barba* sin permiso y no esta bien. Si lo toca, retornarlo por favor.

Someone took our beard without permission and that's not okay. If you took our beard, please return it.

*According to my dictionary barba also signifies a player who takes old men’s parts??? I’m not even gonna ask.

I thought i was offering some fresh baked chocolate cake (pronounced cah-kay) to a local family that paid us a visit near Isla Parida, but they weren't interested in what I actually offered.

Si les gustaria, tengo caca de chocolate que yo acabo de hacer.

If you would like, I have poop chocolate that I just made.

Ummmm...I would pass on that one as well.

When interacting with local policemen in Panama to recover a camera that had gone missing, Jeff thought he was informing them that we were just going to over to the bench to sit down (sentar).

Vamos alla para sentir.

We're going over there to feel.

And feel we did. They also *amazingly* recovered our camera and told us assertively "you have a friend in the police in Panama." Glad we understood that one.

Care to share any of your linguistic slip ups? I can always use a good laugh.

Isla Coiba National Park: by sea

One becomes two

One becomes two

After the third failed attempt at fabrication of a new propeller from available materials, I relented on my self-sufficiency fantasies. We opted instead to pull the rip cord and deploy a strategy called Phone the Land of Internet Searchable Plenty.

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The long way home

So, what's your plan? This is our most frequently asked question these days, from strangers, other cruisers, friends, siblings and parents (of course). I don't know that we've ever really had a plan aside from cruise until the money runs out - or - until we stop having a good time - or - until we start getting antsy to resume careers and start a family - or - until we just can't bear to be away from home any longer (oh, and don't sink the boat, that's always been part of the plan). Each one of those has gnawed at us for various reasons and durations at different times during this trip. There have been numerous occasions where we turn to each other and say, "screw it, let's just sell the boat" or "let's put her on the next ship home." These exchanges usually come on the heels of mechanical or emotional setbacks (the two being very much interconnected).

At one point we did look into the cost of shipping Serenity home. To put her on a barge from anywhere in Central America or Mexico and ship her up to Vancouver BC, would cost us $13,000. To sail her up to Northern Mexico and put her on a truck it would run anywhere from $9,000 to $11,000. When you think about those figures in terms of time, that's half a year or more of relative freedom (freedom being a funny word, because we are forever tied to the needs of our boat and the constraints of weather). We manage to live on about $1,300 to $1,500 per month...and $13,000 translates to 8-10 more months of cruising. It's hard, if not impossible, to part with that kind of money. Maybe if our boat was worth a lot more...but she ain't.

We also entertained selling Serenity, either down here in Panama or up in Mexico. It still appears to be a buyer's market, however. Boats are cheap right now and Serenity is more valuable to us as a home (for both monetary and sentimental reasons). Selling our boat in a foreign country may also result in all sorts of logistical complications (at least that's what we tell ourselves). Plus, we both have an overriding desire to bring Serenity back to the Pacific Northwest where she was lovingly crafted. Back to her native waters. So that settles that, we're not shipping her and we're not selling her...we've decided to take the long way home. This leaves us with a number of potential options that we discuss and debate constantly (almost daily). Remember what I said about life being like a choose your own adventure? I'll get to those options in a moment, first I must tell you a little about the weather. We need to find a path that threads through different geographies during the safest cruising seasons.

Rainy season in Central America begins in May (sometimes kicking off as early as April in Panama), bringing thunderheads, gusty squalls and lightning storms to the coast. Some people cruise throughout Central America during rainy season, some people just stay put and grow roots, some people put their boat on a dock or on a mooring and go home to wait it out. Our last experience during rainy season left an indelible mark...but we weren't scarred deeply enough to totally rule out cruising during rainy season (we'll chalk it up to brazen youth...or sheer stupidity...which may be one and the same thing).

Hurricane season officially begins on May 15 in Southern Mexico, meaning that if we decide to head North we should be past Acapulco by mid-May. We're not interested in lurking around in hurricane alley while the hot seas are stewing.

The best time to make our way up to Oregon along the US Pacific Coast is between July and September, though the wind and the waves would likely be against us for most of the passage. The common strategy is to wait for calm weather and motor. Not our idea of a good time now that we've become more accustomed to sailing.

That being said...here are the options currently on the table:

#1...Panama-Mexico-US Pacific Coast-Home in 2014. As soon as Serenity is ready (i.e. all immediate large problems fixed...namely the prop), head north either by way of the Central American coast or head 100 miles out and turn right on something similar to the Clipperton route. We would need to leave Western Panama by April 15 at the very very latest and watch the weather closely. This option would have us heading up the outside of Baja in early June, hanging out in California until July and heading back to Oregon in August. It would be a lot of travel and we would likely spend the majority of the time motoring (especially given the weather and time constraints), unless we got supremely lucky.

#2...Panama-Mexico for Summer and Winter-US Pacific Coast or Hawaii-Home by 2015. Similar to Option 1, we would leave Panama no later than April 15 and make our way up the Sea of Cortez to hide out for hurricane season. This would allow us a full year in Mexico but we would have less time in Central America. From Mexico we would decide whether to head home via the US Pacific coast or via Hawaii in 2015.

#3...Panama/Nicaragua for Summer-Mexico for Winter-US Pacific Coast or Hawaii-Home by 2015. Rather than holing up in Mexico for hurricane season, we would find a "home base" for rainy season in Central America (Panama, Nicaragua?) from which to do some exploring and maybe some volunteering? This option would also give us another cruising season in Mexico and we would head home via the coast or Hawaii in 2015.

#4...Panama-South Pacific for Summer-Hawaii for Winter-Home by 2015. Head to the South Pacific as soon as our boat is ready for a 4,000+ mile passage (ha!), hang out in the South Pacific islands from May to October then make the passage to Hawaii before hurricane season starts in the South Pacific (November). Hang out in Hawaii until the following July and head home.

#5...Figure it out as we go. Find work that's either seasonal or let's us work remotely and get our boat back home in shorter hops when we have the time and the money. We could return home for visits as money allows.

Now we just need to (ultimately) choose between time and money (adventure and security). If we want more time out here, we're going to come home with less money and with less of a buffer for figuring out family and careers and all that stuff. It will make our re-entry much more...interesting. But, we are here, it took us a long time to get here, and we feel like we would benefit from having more time to sink into this life (metaphorically speaking). So...stay tuned for Indecision 2014!

Isla Coiba National Park: by land

Passage notes: Isla Cebaco to Boca Chica, Panama

Log book

  • Port of departure: Isla Cebaco, Panama
  • Departure date and time: Friday, February 21, 2014 11:00am
  • Port of arrival: Boca Chica, Panama
  • Arrival date and time: Monday, February 24, 2014 1:00pm
  • Total travel time: 50 hours
  • Miles traveled: 79.5 nm
  • Engine hours: 1216.9 begin - 1216.9 end - 0.0 hours
  • Fuel consumption: 32.6 begin - 32.6 end - 0.0 gallons used
  • Fuel economy: ∞ mpg
  • Average speed: 1.59 mph
  • Tides and currents: We left on an outgoing tide from Isla Cebaco. Any effects from currents weren’t discernible on this passage, with the exception of our entrance into Boca Chica. High tide on Monday was at 10:45 am, which we missed it by about an hour or so. We were fighting a weak ebb as we entered Boca Chica.
  • Weather: Light and variable!

So long buddy boat! After nearly a month of tripping around with our friend Colin (and his crew mate Jesse) aboard SV Vagabundo it was time to part ways. He was headed for Panama City for his big city fix (and to get his Carnaval on) and we were headed back to Boca Chica to try to settle this prop issue once and for all. Boca Chica is a known quantity for us - it's calm, it's safe, it's relatively easy to navigate, it's cheap. We aren't ready for big city living yet.

I'm not going to bore you with details because, to be honest, this was one heck of a boring passage. It took us 50 hours (over 2 DAYS!) to go nearly 80 miles. Yeah, that's less than 2 miles per hour. People laugh when we tell them they could walk faster than we sail...but it's true. If you started walking on the same day we started sailing in 2012, you'd probably be to Patagonia already.

Here's the quick recap. We sailed off the anchor out of Isla Cebaco with about 5-7 knots out of the NE. The wind was light and blew from the SW (stern quarter) most of the day once we got out of the bay. It died that night and we were becalmed for over 12 hours (in that 12 hour period we moved forward 2.5 miles and backwards 0.5 miles) - fortunately the seas were calm and the conditions were actually quite comfortable. The wind picked up again the next morning at around 11am, blowing from the SW again at 8-10 knots. We made the most progress during the afternoon, getting up to 4 knots at times. In reality we should have been flying our Spinnaker but...we didn't. Becalmed again after sunset, we made very little progress at night.

Day 3 we had wind from the W/SW again, this time 10-13 knots, meaning we were moving along at a nice clip (finally!) High tide was at 10:45 and we were hoping to ride the tide into Boca Chica, which was looking unlikely given the miles we still had to cover and our current speed. Plan B was to anchor behind Punta Bejuco and wait until the next day...not our preferred plan. I curled up in the V-Berth to catch up on sleep (instead I got what was akin to 3 hours of fever dreams, it was so hot in our cabin) and woke up in a zombie-like state to the sound of chain on deck. Were we at anchor?

I popped out of the hatch and there's my man, full sails up, wing on wing, ear buds pouring music into his head, tapping his feet, bopping around on deck, getting the anchor ready should we need it, going downwind against the current into Boca Chica and I couldn't help but smile at it all.

"What time is it?"

"Noon. We missed high tide, but with the wind at our back we're still making 3 knots, so I figured we should try for it. Worst case scenario we drop anchor and wait."

"Sweet deal."

Jeff plugged in some Builders and the Butchers and cranked it up. He deftly sailed past any potential hazards, wove through the boats at anchor in the bay and yelled for me to drop our anchor in almost exactly the same spot we'd anchored before. Happy to be back!

Passage notes: Puerto Mutis to Isla Cebaco, Panama

Log book

  • Port of departure: Puerto Mutis, Panama
  • Departure date and time: Tuesday, February 18, 2014 7:30am
  • Port of arrival: Isla Cebaco, Panama
  • Arrival date and time: Tuesday, February 18, 2014 11:30pm
  • Total travel time: 16 hours
  • Miles traveled: 41.9 nm
  • Engine hours: 1216.8 begin - 1216.9 end - 0.1 hours
  • Fuel consumption: 32.6 begin - 32.6 end - 0.0 gallons used
  • Fuel economy: ∞ mpg
  • Average speed: 2.69 mph
  • Tides and currents: High tide was at 6:30am, though the current didn’t really start ebbing until about 7:30am. The current pushed us out of the Gulf of Montijo until around 12:30pm, then worked against us for most of the afternoon. We entered the bay at Isla Cebaco on an outgoing tide.
  • Weather: Light and variable!

Our plan was to ride the tide out of Puerto Mutis and hopefully catch some wind along the way to hasten our exit. Slack tide was at 6:30am but the current didn't really start ebbing until around 7:30am. Over the previous few days in Mutis we had drug anchor twice (our friend Colin on SV Vagabundo drug once), prompting us to throw out a stern anchor to keep us steady when the North wind and incoming current inevitably did their battle royale. We took advantage of the slack tide by letting out most of the rode on our stern anchor (Danforth), pulling up our main anchor (Bruce), then swinging around and tightening up the scope on the Danforth. The sails were full and limp, waiting for the slightest breeze. With coffee in hand, we waited.

When the tide flipped and started pulling us towards the Gulf of Montijo, we freed ourselves from the mud and started drifting. The current gave us a little bit of control (enough to keep our nose more or less pointed in the right direction), but without wind we were really at the mercy of the river. Barely one mile out of Mutis, we found ourselves swirling around in a bit of an eddy so Jeff hopped in the dinghy, fired her up and started nudging us back towards the center of the channel. Then the wind arrived. Just a couple confused puffs at first, enough to keep us guessing where it was coming from and if it would indeed be enough to sail by. Within half an our our main sail and genoa were full with a building NE wind at our back. We were cruising.

After clearing most of the shoal areas and potential hazards, I took first shift so Jeff could attempt to snooze (after pulling a nearly all-nighter repairing our outboard motor - again...this man needs to write a book about his Herculean struggles with that thing). Our original destination was Isla Gobernadora, about a 26 mile day, which for us could mean anything from 5-12 hours of sailing, but with wind at our back and the current carrying us along, we were making swift progress. In fact, at times we were going 7.6 knots - I don't know that I've ever seen Serenity go 7.6 knots. In the absence of big seas, the doctor was holding his own, though I did do a minor amount of hand holding in a few big gusts.

SV Vagabundo had departed around the same time, but made it to Isla Gobernadora about an hour ahead of us. When I emerged from a deep slumber, we were nearing the potential anchorage. The wind had not abated and the anchorage did not look at all protected from the NE. Plus we'd had an unpleasant experience at this same anchorage a couple months prior. We're making great progress, we both thought, let's just keep going to Cebaco...with this wind we'll be there in no time. Ha. Within just a few minutes Vagabundo seemed a speck on the horizon. That's when I noticed one of our fishing lines was MIA - "Where did our black fishing line go?" I inquired.

"It's on the stern railing, right in front of you." How did I not notice.

"Oh. Why isn't it in the water?"

"Because we caught a fish." Jeff said matter of factly.

"We did?!?"

"Yup."

"What kind?"

"I don't know, you're basically standing on it though."

My toes were literally inches from the sharp incisors of a Barracuda. How I failed to notice this beautiful, if not a tiny bit scary looking, fish for nearly 20 minutes continues to baffle me. A new lure acquired in Santiago had done its job beautifully.

As we edged towards the Western side of Cebaco the NE wind completely died, leaving me to wonder if the decision to go on to Cebaco was indeed the right one. Too late now. Eventually a very slight, 5 knot wind from the SW met up with us and kept us moving forward at a little under 2 knots. Our new destination which had only been less than 2 hours away (8 nautical miles and we were going 4.5 knots), was now over 4 hours away. Ooph.

On the West side of Isla Cebaco, just South of Punta Zurron, there are several tempting beaches. We figured we'd just stick our nose in to see if there was a good spot to anchor, thereby shaving 5 miles off of our trip. Unfortunately the little bay was littered with uncharted reefs and the water was a bit deep for our liking. This little side-trip cost us nearly 45 minutes and the sun was not far from setting. We rounded the rocks at the SW corner of the island and now, only 3 miles from our destination, the wind completely died and we were sloshing around in some sloppy seas. At this point we probably would have just put the motor on and finished it up before nightfall...but that's not really an option these days.

"Guess I should put dinner on."

Jeff has a theory that if we don't have wind, all I need to do is start cooking and eventually the wind gods will get a whiff, turn the winds back on and thwart my attempts to cook anything other than pop tarts. I was nearly finished with a pot of gourmet mac 'n' cheese (just add broccoli, cabbage, onion, mustard and hot sauce!) when Jeff called me up on deck. "The wind is coming, we need to get the sails ready."

Within moments we were heading into sustained 20-25 knots of wind with gusts from 30-35. From 0-30 in half an hour and of course it was coming from exactly where we wanted to be. We raised the working jib and after a particularly gusty blow, we reefed the working jib. When we raised the reefed main the wind had us heeled over 25 degrees and waves were crashing into us. Okay then. Don't try to do the math on this one, it will make your head hurt and then it will make you feel bad for us, but it took us the next 3.5 hours to go 3.5 miles (actually with all the tacking it turned into nearly 7 miles, but still). I don't know how that's possible...but it is.... and it was painful. Once we got closer to the leeward side of Cebaco the wind steadied enough to, comfortably, let us shake out the reef in our working jib and that's when we really started scooting.

At about 11:30, just as the moon was rising above the hills of Cebaco, casting light on the anchorage, we let our Danforth spill overboard in 32 feet of water, catching quickly and easily. Cold mac 'n' cheese anyone? At least we had Barracuda to look forward to for breakfast!

February 2014: cruising budget

I would like to point out that even with over $450 worth of purchases to address our propeller situation, we're still under budget this month. Cause for celebration! That's what happens when you spend the majority of your time out at the islands: you don't give yourself many opportunities to spend money. The biggest expense, aside from the repair, was shopping in Santiago. It's easy to go overboard there because everything is so accessible and the supermarkets have lots of tempting goodies (dry cured salami and sharp white cheddar cheese anyone?)

  • Transportation - At Santa Catalina we decided to accompany our friends to Sona. That was before we knew a) how long the bus ride would last (over 1.5 hours) and b) what the total cost would be, ~$20 for two people roundtrip. By the time we finally arrived we only had one hour in town before the last bus returned to Santa Catalina for the evening. Adventure!

  • Sailboat Maintenance - After contacting every boat person we've ever met and perusing every possible online source of props we decided on a new prop from Frank and Jimmie's prop shop in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. They offered us a great deal - a new two blade prop (15'' diameter, 10'' pitch, 1'' bore hole) for $300, metal "tabs" to help secure the prop for $10 and a new cutlass bearing for around $50. The shipping to David via DHL is setting us back about $90.

  • Shopping - We splurged and picked up some new lures for our hand lines and poles. We already snagged a Barracuda with our $60 investment (think of how much fish we could BUY with $60).