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Around the Caribbean Clock



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The Sail home to the USA

As we ready Rivers2Seas for our passage from Isla Mujeres to Florida my feelings are all mixed up.  Moody.  I go from happy to the lead the “normal and easy” landlubbers life in Colorado to depressed that this is the last.  The last time to anchor, the last bridal set, the last foreign country, the last passage, the last time to say we are on an adventure.  At any moment the tide can turn and my mood swings.  I so badly want this voyage to continue and parts of me are glad to be done.

Our successes as a family have surpassed my hopes.  We are tight knit as they come.  We not only travel together well, but also do it with style.  We enjoy each other’s company.  After spending 15 months living on a boat 24 feet wide by 41 long all cramped up and on top of each other, stresses galore, even downright terrified at times to say we still enjoy each other’s company is a weighty one.

I wish I knew how we got along so well.  It would great advice for anyone to improve their family life.  Fact is, though, I haven’t a clue.  We started out liking each other and didn’t come out here to improve our relationships, although we did.  Respect for each other and our boat roles have been important.  Lindsey and I play vital roles in the management of our boat lives.  Without one, the other wouldn’t succeed and both of us are acutely aware of that fact.  While doing separate tasks we are also invariably intertwined to accomplish the goal.  Several guests have commented on how they could never interact that well with their spouses.  I’m a lucky man to have found such a mate to mesh my life with.

The kids are at the perfect age for this voyage, they still trust us without doubt, enjoying the hardships and victories like champs.  Younger and they would have been to dependant on us for survival and wouldn’t remember the adventure.  Older and they would miss everything about home and friends and wouldn’t want to participate.  I think that any boat kid from age four to eleven would love life at sea.   Those kids are fun for the parents to have around 24/7 too.  The teenagers I have met have solidified my feelings that there is no way to voyage with them for too long.

Today we are waiting for the winds to die down a bit and then head out for the 450-500 mile passage.  I’ve done all sorts of models on average speed and how long it should take.  A large storm is forecast four days from now so we have to beat that.  If we average six knots we will be in Fort Lauderdale in 3 days and 3 hours, 7 knots – 2 days and 16 hours, 8 knots – 2 days and 8 hours, 9 knots – 2 days and 2 hours.  The massive Gulf Stream is going our direction and we will actually zigzag a bit to follow the 1-2 knot favorable current.   There are so many factors at play that any of the scenarios could prove correct.  Obviously, the nine-knot average would make us all a bit happier.

I have downloaded the forecasts for wind patterns, wave heights, pressure variants and Gulf Stream locations.  I called Chris Parker yesterday to get his predictions.  Everything points to a good crossing.  The boat hatches are all fastened, dinghy tied up with eight separate tie points, fuel filled and jugs strapped down, route planned and plotted on the GPS, safety items charged and stowed, the salon has been converted to a giant bed, the kids given a dose of Dramamine, water filled, water speed meter freed, props sanded, hulls scraped, cushions stowed – USA here we come!

the Kuna Indians of Kuna Yala, Panama

I felt really different, here.  Well, all the people were very nice and I felt different because I have

I loved jumping into the waters here

never seen so many children.  They all wanted to follow us around.  I saw pretty clothes.  The Kuna women had scarves on their heads and Mola dresses on them.  We even bought a Mola from them, one for me and one for my mom.  They had gold noserings and bracelets covering their legs and arms.  They are dark skinned and not very tall.  They were like four inches taller than me.

The guy who was taking us around town, Martinez, showed us all around.  The houses were made out of bamboo and palm fronds.  The people didn’t have any cars, they only walked and the ground was only made out of dirt.  Instead of cars they take dugout canoes to go to work.  The pathways between the homes was like one huge place where you would get lost – a giant

Outhouses on the islands.

maze.  Some people tried to pick my brother up and he did not like it.  Some girls played with my hair, which made me feel weird.  Lots of them followed us, whenever there was a bunch of kids, then there was a whole troop of kids following.

Their bathrooms are made out of bamboo and hang over the water.  They poop right into the ocean.  We didn’t swim in those spots.

The Kuna Expressway is when they take their dugout canoes going every which way in the

Going on a hike with my dad in the jungle

morning.   We would sit on the boat and watch them.  The canoes were all very different and some even had dogs in them.  All were different colors, my favorite was a green and yellow one.  They were carrying food, gravel, coconuts and all sorts of stuff in them.

In Puerto Escoses there was one big huge mean crocodile.  Chomp!  Like he had really big teeth.  I felt a little bit scared.  Especially at night, I thought he was going to come on board eat me up.   We didn’t swim there anymore after that.

Ratones Cays has a lovely beach where you can swim and play and a cool coral reef.  Pretty, pretty, pretty, pretty!  The sand is pretty white and soft.  Hermit crabs are fun to play with there too.  A big jellyfish washed up on shore so that I could study it and not get stung.  I was swimming along with Ariel and her friend blue Flounder and I saw a Flounder fish that I thought was sand going side to side.  I studied it for a while and figured out that it was a fish just like in Finding Nemo with eyes on top of his head.

Picking up our friends Evan and Olivia Bartlett from the airstrip brings smiles that can

Sammy and I – my hero

only come from seeing someone that you have been friends with half your life.  Our stay in Nargana is punctuated by visits to Sammy and Mina’s home.  On one visit his son gets a neighbors foot long land turtle for Chase.  He is happy just to look, but when he gets to hold it, he’s ecstatic.  Another visit Leroy, his son, climbs a coconut tree so that we can have some fresh juice.  Chase finds a suitable tree a week later, but gets stuck six inches up; I don’t even try.  Leroy is a hunter and gives Chase and I wild boar teeth for a necklace.  The three-inch tooth is more imposing than the shark tooth necklace that chase has, but I’d rather go against the boar.  Taking another dinghy trip up the Devil River brings less wildlife than our last visit with more talking and less scouting but is equally fun.

All three fuel tanks have been topped off from some suspicious 55-gallon drums but filtered through an amazingly dirty towel (so all should be good?)and we are ready to head out to some more picturesque islands.  Cocos Banderos is our destination along the tranquil seas.  The islands are small, spectacular palm-filled, translucent turquoise water surrounded havens.  My best part of the day is when I realize there are seven islands I could swim to today.  I make it to three.

The Cocos Banderos

My father has helped us to concoct a story of buried treasure at the hands of Captain Hook.  Finding an old, although oddly smelling freshly burnt, treasure map in a bottle floating by, we decipher the islands and realize the treasure is on the island next to us.  Mounting a SUP and swimming expedition the six of us head out to find treasure.  Chase finds the old hut first, takes the right number of steps and when they find the “X” in the sand start digging like mad.  Ella finds a necklace of her Gram’s with jade and gold frogs.  Swooning and smiling she holds it to her chest like she is hugging Gram.  Chase finds a Snoopy doll, which sends him into beaming smiles and giggles.  “Snoopy’s back” is a constant refrain for several weeks.

Hanging out

Treasure found, we play a game of baseball on the island that’s the size of a baseball field’s

infield.  Home plate consists of two coconuts and the other bases are in foot deep water marked with starfish.  Giggles, splashes and cheers fill the air as we play.   Ella finds the smallest anchor ever weighing less than a pound and begs to keep it.  She knows that weight is such an issue, but really wants it.  It’s only a pound so we now have a 6th anchor aboard (2 for the dinghy, 1 plow that we use constantly and 2 danforth anchors).

With more exploring to do we take the dinghy to an island with two palms and a large sandy area.  Making life size sea turtle models fills the kids time while three adults snorkel the reefs surrounding our jewel in the sea.  The kids are learning more about sea turtles daily so when Chase points at the full moon in the sky and says that it’s time to lay eggs and starts making sand eggs, I am hardly surprised.

Moving on to the Holandes Islands brings us to an anchorage called the swimming pool because of the nine-foot depth and resulting green glow.  We jump ship immediately after anchoring, enjoying the cool waters of this giant pool.  The kids will swim anywhere, but they do prefer to swim in water where they can see the bottom – it’s understandable.  When the water is forty or fifty feet deep and the bottom can’t be seen it can send the mind into the what was that movement over there hysteria.

The kids jump from the deck into the turquoise waters below screaming in delight.  They have swordfights on deck, and then zoom down the slide as they chase after an imaginary Captain Hook.  Once in the water we catch starfish and silver dollars.  Mounting a SUP expedition, we head to a nearby reef for some snorkeling.  Using Ella’s new anchor we moor the boards diving into the warm water.  The shallow reef brings all the colors up brightly and we see a Spotted Eagle Ray and then an octopus – another successful expedition.

On the way over from Cocos Banderos I caught a Skipjack Tuna.  Lindsey shows Olivia how to

Sashimi appetizers

fillet it for sashimi and then we all enjoy a couple platefuls of the melt-in-your-mouth meat.  But, before the sashimi arrives they start throwing the scraps into the water.  A nice two-foot Snapper fish seems to be liking the dinner.  So do a couple of nurse sharks.  Armed with my Hawaiian sling I slide into the water.  The fish is squirrelly and doesn’t let me get too close.  Telling Olivia to “chum the water again”, she throws another handful of fish parts over the side.  I can get the fish closer but not close enough.  I grab my underwater camera to take some pictures of the sharks under Rivers2Seas.  One is four feet long and the other about six.  Swimming down the nine feet to the ocean floor is easy even though I have a camera in one hand and my Hawaiian sling in the other.  Feet away from the sharks, I start to video their circuitous path picking up the skipjack parts.  My first indication that something was wrong, although unheeded, is when I notice that the shark has spots all along it’s back.  Actually, I believe at the time I thought it was cool looking.

The shark does two loops looking at me from the same spot each time as I float on the surface.  On the third loop, it lunges straight at me fast.  My sling is six feet long and I’m holding it in the middle giving me a three-foot range.  As my foot pushes to keep me on the surface it comes close to the lunging shark.  I strike its nose hard with the sling twice.  The first strike feels like I have hit a piece of coral, hard and unmovable.  Except this time the hard unmovable coral is moving towards me pushing back my hand.  The second strike is softer and only hits the rubbery skin.  Lasting less than a second our battle is over and my opponent swims away.  Making a speed record back to the boat, I pull up the ladder as everyone wants to know what all the shrieking is about.  No grown man wants to hear that he was shrieking for sure.  But, sad to say it was true.  I’m just happy to be onboard.  A quick look into our aquatic oceans book reveals the Tiger Shark, juveniles having spots that grow together in adult years.  Looks like mine was a teenager.  Reading on it says that they are some of the most aggressive sharks in the waters.  Needless to say, but I doubt I shall utter the words, “chum the water again” while swimming with any shark.

The next day we resume our swimming regime, but the kids keep a weary eye out for sharks.  They have played a game since birth called Hey mister shark what time is it, asking if they want to play, they steadfastly refuse.  With the two SUP boards tied in a line of the back they run down them trying to stay on until the end.  Giggles galore.

During all the play the man on the boat behind us continually comes on deck to glare at us, shake his head then head below.  As we are heading out to do some more snorkeling from the SUP boards he asks to speak with the captain.  Having been standing on a SUP already it takes less than fifteen seconds to arrive, yet he has demanded twice more to speak to the captain, even though I said I would be right over.  When I arrive, he says, “You’re the captain?” with utter disdain.

“Yes, how are you today?”

Ella diving into the “Swimming Pool”

“Are you going to move?”

“No, we’re going snorkeling.”

“You must move.  You are too close.”

“We aren’t that close to you, the anchor is dug deep and we have lots of scope out in this nine foot deep water.”

“Well, since you’re the new kid on the block I’ll tell you.  The wind blows hard here and will drag a poorly anchored boat.”

“Yes, I know.”  We have already had some 60-knot storms come through and know of other boats dragging and hitting reefs.  That’s why I dive on the anchor each time and let out more scope than most boats.

“If you don’t move I’m going to ram my bowsprit up your ass of your boat.”  By the way he says boat I can tell he doesn’t like catamarans.  By the glares at the kids all day I can tell he doesn’t like kids.  By the glares and mutterings at our happiness I can tell he doesn’t like much.  Our conversation goes nowhere, but I don’t like the fluky way the boats here try to push opposite ways and I don’t want to hit another nearby catamaran.

“I’ll move.”

“You should read a book on how to anchor.”  He then throws some more obscenities at me, turns around and walks to hide in his cabin again.

The fight gets the best of me and I tell him “there’s no need to be an asshole.”  The singlehander with nobody else to talk to loses his marbles at this point and becomes raving mad.  Luckily, I can’t understand a word he is saying.  He is Swiss and has reverted back to that.   Unluckily, his antics make me laugh which sends him into hysterics.

I head back to Rivers2Seas and we decide to not just move, but to move to a different anchorage a half-mile away near a different island.  The kids don the name of Captain Grumpypants to the man who we would see a few times over the next two weeks.

There are several types of sailors out here: singlehander men (I’ve yet to meet a singlehander woman), couples, couple with kids, pairs of men (I’ve only seen one pair of women) and then large groups usually charterers only out for a week.  Most of the groups get along fine, except the singlehanders.  These men have ditched it all and shunned society.  Or they just don’t get along with anyone.  Or they just couldn’t find someone to go with and left before their dream never happened.  Some of the latter are the ones who crave companionship and can latch onto anyone who can speak.  The others degrade into this mental instability where they talk to themselves muttering constantly.  There is nobody to share any of the good or bad moments, nobody to talk about experiences or confusing situations that are constant in a travelers’ world.  The longer these guys are out here, the more unstable they seem to become.  I have travelled alone before and I don’t mean the going to a fancy hotel and eating at nice restaurants type of travel that can be fun.  Expedition travel is different with tough challenges hardships and glorious triumphs.  That type of travel for me is unpleasant and not nearly as rewarding when I’m alone.  While misery loves company, so does happiness.  I like the fact that for years to come Evan will see me and say, “Chum the waters.”  Life is more interesting with people in it.

Our new anchor from the days of pirates

Reanchoring by a nearby island, we drag through the sand then catch on something that holds us well.  I’m worried that we have hooked a piece of coral and as soon as the wind shifts we’ll no longer be hooked and drag to the next island.  Visibility isn’t great in the 35-foot deep water, but I can tell there isn’t a large coral head holding the anchor.  Diving down I can see the outline of something straight.  A couple more dives tells me that it’s an anchor covered in coral about three feet by five feet.  With some serious work over the next couple days, I winch up the 150-pound anchor attached to a 3-inch chain twenty feet long.  It’s seriously rusted, old as anything and undoubtedly cool.  Figuring it must be a pirates’ anchor from at least 200 years ago, I manage to hammer off the rust and coral before getting another crazy memento from our trip.  (Research now puts the date between 1785-1825.)  I’m doubly glad that I let Ella keep her one-pound anchor.

A local Kuna family comes by in their dugout and leaves later after we buy some Christmas

presents for family back home.  Having invited us to their home on another nearby island we show up the next day in our dinghy.  Cries of “Tortuga” greet us before landing.  Once again Chase is the hero in these parts with a name everyone

New friends

loves; Turtle in English, Tortuga in Spanish, Yauk for small turtle in Kuna, Morro for large turtle in Kuna.  We constantly hear cries of “Tortuga” from passing dugouts.  Today it is the beginning of a friendship with these locals.  We have some fun with them and when I bring out my camera the fun really starts.  Families are posing together and with Ella and hanging out in their canoes as a living room set.  A woman who a week later I discover is Sammy Morris’ niece introduces her 11-month-old son as “tortugito” – little turtle.  Chase is ecstatic – kinfolk.

Ah! The anchor. Evan and I had a great time paddling this dugout.

As we are leaving I tell Eric who speaks the best Spanish of the bunch that we should trade

paddles.  Immediately, he comes out with his best paddle and we are both happy for getting the better deal.  He tells me to try his paddle out with his dugout.  It’s fun.  Getting Evan, my

paddling buddy for years in with me, we make an erratic circle with laughter all around.  These boats are tippy and responsive.  Eric keeps telling me to look out for the rock below.  Not too worried, we continue on.  I’m more worried about the crab attached to the back that keeps grabbing my paddle.  When we stop Evan gets out and proceeds to dump us both in to the great hilarity of all present.  That’s when we find out about the anchor, a rock, that we have been dragging around.  Once again, the joke is on us.

As we are leaving, a fishing boat has entered the bay and it’s time for work.  Heading back to Rivers2Seas we tow their dugout behind us.  Later, I call them over and present them with fish hooks and Rivers2Seas hats.  In a great gesture later that night they return with five small lobsters as gifts.  It’s actually rare for the Kuna to trade or give gifts back so we are deeply grateful.  They teach us how to devein them by using the antennae which works wonderfully.  Later a large lobster dinner becomes our birthday celebration for Olivia.

We have had a great visit from our friends, but after nine days it’s time for them to go.  They are travelling in Panama for three weeks and obviously wanted to stay longer and we wanted them to stay too, but food, propane and diesel are all in short supply or impossible to get here.  Every day they spend here is a day earlier we would have to leave the San Blas Islands.   They find a ride to Carti on a 75-foot megayacht, which I bet takes only an hour.  It would have taken us 2-3 days there and the same back.

More storms and more lightning

The storms took a break while Evan and Olivia were here but come back for four days straight.  Several hours each morning are filled with lightning strikes to close to count the distance, tingly feelings in our hair and thunderous roaring that reverberates through the boat and our bones.  I get some cool video of a couple strikes but am a bit scared to get too much.    Another boat sees a strike forty yards from us that strikes a coconut tree.  Our Kuna friends had a strike hit six feet from their hut that he said almost made him go deaf.  I kept part of the tree that exploded from the impact.  We get dozens of strikes within a half-mile of Rivers2Seas.  It has been a bad season for storms and many sailors are reporting that 10% of boats have been hit resulting in $4,000-45,000US in damages.  One friend half-jokingly wanted to wrap herself in aluminum foil to protect her.  She settles for earplugs and closing the curtains to form a cave and hides under the covers.  If you’re not scared of the lightning out here, you’re not paying attention.

Once the storms subside there is enough light for us to travel again.  Our goal is the Eastern

Many reefs around here are marked nicely with wrecked boats. Not exactly comforting.

Lemons, but light is fading as we enter the large bay.  Our horrible charts and less than adequate books are not much help as we negotiate a 8 foot sand bar while skirting several reefs.  As with many of the reefs here a smashed up sailboat rests on one of the reefs from a sailor with not enough light, time or experience.  Our charts show a shoal that we can find and several rocks that we cant.  The water is deep inside the bay at 60 feet but most all of the boats are moored and won’t swing.  With a minimum of 240 feet of line out we will swing almost 500 feet in a circle.  Not knowing where the rocks are or the bottom composition we try to anchor once, drag and bring it up to head for a different anchorage.  The kids were ready to swim and are unhappy; so are we the light is fading fast.

The Chichime Islands are only a couple miles away so we skirt around a sailboat wreck 70 feet off port and head through a reef cut.  At Chichime two wrecked boats mark two separate reefs, but another six are unmarked.  The confusing guidebook points the wrong way.  Lindsey’s keen eye from high above sees the reef and points the way.  Inside we anchor with another 20 boats in soft sand.

Teaching local kids to SUP in Chichime

Grabbing a beer for Lindsey and I and lemonade for the kids I relate my stories of these three islands in my past.  My first sailing experience was to travel through the Panama Canal for five separate boats, then to work aboard Chantyman and sail to Portobello and then this anchorage with two other sailboats.  It was my introduction into paradise.  The smallest island with two palms on it became my campsite while there.  We didn’t stay long before heading out to Providencia and the USA.  I came back here a couple years later with Bobby and Chad when we bought the dugout canoe.  The island to our starboard is where machine gun toting policeman arrested us then dragged us on to into Nargana.

Ella practices getting high for reef spotting.

One set of three huts lined the shore of one island; the other was only used to get water out of a well in the middle.  The islands are all the same size; a football field, a half football field and a volleyball court size.  Now though, there are five settlements of huts, a bar on each of the larger islands, a backpacker hostel with cabanas, tents, showers, volleyball and dining area, 20 boats in the anchorage and a helicopter even landed on one island.  Paradise was found in my absense.   Disheartening for sure, but not unexpected.

All but a couple of the boats are the singlehander men that seem so strange.  The vibe is weird here, the Kuna come begging for goods and the scenery is marred – we stay two nights before getting out.  Long enough for someone to board us in the middle of the night and steal all the money out of my wallet lying in the entrance.  The $100 is not of significance, but the violation is without a doubt.  Other cruisers are adamant it was not the Kuna but one of the other cruisers.  We agree, but it is sad.

As one boatload of cruisers is talking to us from their dinghy (to ask if we had a dive compressor they could use, which we don’t) they were astounded that we had been in the San Blas for six weeks and they hadn’t seen us.

“We started in the Eastern San Blas and have been working this way slowly,” I said.

Just one of the beautiful islands surrounding us

“Oh, the Holandes.  I don’t like it there.  There are too many Americans.”

“No, the Eastern San Blas.”

“Huh?”  He’s confused.

“We started in Puerto Obaldia, then Puerto Escoses, Isla Pinos, Mamitupu, Ratones Cays, Isla Tigre then we hit the Western San Blas in Nargana.”  It’s defeating for all of them in the dinghy.  We have been travelling the uncharted waters of a very difficult area with kids.  He had tried to insult me with his crack about Americans in the Holandes, yet it proved we have done so much more than all of them.  It feels good.

Leaving the Chichime Islands behind we motor two miles away to Yansaldup Island.  It takes an hour and a half winding through tight channels between reefs.   A wide bay surrounded by reef has one other trimaran ¾ a mile away and us.  Our type of home.

A great beach for the kids

We rest doing boat chores for several hours and then SUP trips to nearby islands a couple miles away and redneck snorkeling (using the dinghy over reefs to check out the animals below) each day.   A week later it’s time for us to head over to Porvenir to check out of the San Blas Islands.

Porvenir is an island with only an airstrip on it and the customs house.  Nowadays it is twice as long as it used to be.  With my buddies after our dugout canoe trip we waited here in our hammocks for a boat to take us to Puerto Obaldia on the Colombia/Panama border.  Each time a plane would land, twice a day, the local Kunas would come out to watch.  I thought they were amazed with flight and all it’s possibilities.  Actually, they were just watching NASCAR – Kuna style.  So many planes have crashed on the short runway plunging into the sea that all want to see it happen.  Made me glad we were waiting for a boat and not a plane.

Wichi Walla is the island forty meters from Porvenir.  With one last effort to find a sail for our dugout canoe I ask a local, Ernesto, for help.  Soon this wiry man with passable English is bringing us home to home in our efforts.  The first sail is nice but lacks a jib.  The second home we must parade through fifteen kids watching a movie on a big screen TV.  It seems so oddly out of place with the sand floor, bamboo framed thatched hut.   Up above in the rafters are large bags full of clothes and other things; it appears that some Kuna are packrats and hoarders.  We continue the search and settle on one for $30 Balboas (actually they use US dollars and don’t even print their own money except for a handful of coins).  A crowd of ten men has watched the episode and thinks it is hilarious that an American would want one of their sails.  I have only two twenties and nobody has change, absolutely typical.  I buy the man’s well-used wooden ironwood paddle that he has used for dozens of years for the extra ten.  We both made a great deal.

Walking back through town that is very accustomed to tourists with a sail, mast, boom,

I’m going to miss sights like this

spinnaker pole and paddle, we are seen as suckers in the house.  We get accosted for more purchases with women and kids streaming out of their homes selling their goods.  Finally boarding the dinghy we have the sail set up, five paddles, a new bracelet for Lindsey, a mariachi gourd, a calabash bowl and a shiny jib.

It is with great sadness that the anchor is brought up at 6am.  The San Blas islands have treated us so well.  This is the place I most wanted to visit on our round the world voyage.  I love the Kuna people and their affinity for traveling in canoes either by sail or paddle.  The exquisite white sand islands surrounded by deep blue water and sparkling emerald water are what people view paradise as – and they are right.  This is paradise here.  We worked hard to get here over the last year and the last seven weeks has been everything I had hoped.

Sailing over tranquil seas riddled with tree trunks and coconuts brings us into Puerto Lindo.  The anchorage is a surprise with 75 boats in the protected bay.  Monkeys howl from shore and then are answered by the troop on the far shore.  Parrots squawk in that crazy call that cannot be mistaken.  A cacophony of other bird sounds rise deep within the jungle walls.

Lindsey has taken a lot of grief over the comment about the log looking like a crocodile.  Sitting on the trampoline listening to the jungle, she says, “Is that a camel?”  We all laugh at her before even looking.  Ella is adamant that camels only live in the desert.  Oddly, it is a camel.  I feel as though we took a wrong turn somewhere and now are living in the Madagascar movie.  A few days ago we saw the same four engine propellered plane as in the movie come low out of some dark clouds with one engine out, flames and smoke spilling out.  We guessed that a lightning strike took it out.  We couldn’t see if four penguins were the pilots, but it’s possible.

Puerto Lindo has some cool areas to explore by dinghy, but is filled with old cruisers ready to die and boats that already have.  Meeting a boat with two boys four and five keeps us there a couple extra days as they play and laugh together.

inside the fort, soldiers wait for the likes of Henry Morgan

Heading to Portobello just a few miles away, brings us into one of the most famous ports

keeping Spanish gold (mostly) away from pirates like Henry Morgan and Vernon.  The place had been ransacked and burned many times and the forts just kept getting better.  Making some hikes to four of the forts takes up most our day as we pretend that the cannons are aimed at captain hook and his cronies and our Ninja Turtle and Fairy Princess are there to help.

Hauling up the sails is refreshing as we haven’t been able to sail in the Kuna Yala.  The sail is cut short as we weave in and out of freighters waiting to cross the Panama Canal.  Literally there are over 50 all around, some moving, mostly anchored.  It’s intimidating.  Smoke billows over Colon filling the air with an acrid smell.  Later, we find out that people are rioting and protesting the sale of land burning cars and shooting policemen.  Our planned restocking will have to wait, it looks like we may be having spaghetti again tonight.

We are in the marina at Shelter Bay now waiting for weather to head north.  Having only spent 3 nights previously in a marina (except leaving it in Santa Marta to head to Colorado) it’s a weird world of cruisers coming together.  Normally we would be anchored out, but all but one person we meet insisted on the safety of the marina.  Many had stories of scary incidents.   Colon is one of the most dangerous cities around, so spending $500US on lodging seems like cheap insurance.   We have, however, told the kids it was just so they could swim in the pool, enjoy the library, have cheap juices in the bar and go on jungle hikes during the day – all for them.

Happy still!!!

Santa Marta, Colombia


     We arrived to the marina in Santa Marta, Colombia after a brutal 26-hours of travel.  Our bags were strapped to the smallest taxi ever and

There is one piece of twine holding all our bags for the 4-hour taxi ride

we had traveled four hours in this Romancing the Stone-esque car (the one that Danny Davito hid in when they were looking for the stone).  The kids poured themselves out of the taxi, having been woken up every hour or so as the taxi pulled into a random-open-all-night gas station to put a couple pesos worth of propane in his car.  Every time he filled up, we all had to pile out of the car.  It is now four-o’clock in the morning and we are beyond exhausted.  We get all of the bags out of the car and traipse down to our boat.  She looks beautiful, the kids run around yelling, happy to be back, exhaustion apparently forgotten in the light of old, familiar toys.  It is already hot, Brad tries out the air-conditioning, since we are still attached to the dock and can use electricity, it works, wonderful.  We all finally decide that old toys will be just as cool after a few hours of sleep.

Coffee at Juan Valdez on the main square

After a couple hours of sleep, we get up, unpack, and see our boat in the sunlight; it is nearly black with dirt.  Caked on, sooty, literally….black.  Too exhausted to even deal with that, I concentrate on the inside.  It seems less intimidating.  After a couple of hours of Pinesol, she’s smelling like a Colorado Pine tree Forest….perfect (the less charred part).  We decide to take a nap and I look for my book…..Where is my book?  Uh-oh.  I left it in the taxi from Cartagena….including the kids’ favorite snuggly toys, Brad’s snoopy from childhood that has now become Turtle’s favorite snuggly toy, my wallet, my favorite skirt that the wallet was in, and probably ten more things I am forgetting.  The full magnitude hits us and we start frantically calling the credit card company.  No new purchases but now what do we do for money?  We don’t know if we can stay past another 48 hours so we can’t have them

Fun in the city

send another one.  Brad has a different card but it keeps declining because: we “didn’t tell them we were traveling.”  After Brad explained that we had been traveling for a year and he told them that then, at which point the worker said he’s only been working for three months, great.  Can you make a memo please?  He said it should be working in 2 minutes.  Meanwhile

Ella performing in front of the machine gun toting guards. Glad she’s good because they won’t be throwing rotten tomatoes if she’s not.

we are standing in a packed grocery store with 785,000 pesos worth of food (meat, ice cream, other various really-painful-to-you-foods-if they-spoil) surrounding us and people wondering who the obvious foreigner-freaks are that are holding up the line.  They put us in the “other line” and Brad tries again with the card after the designated “2-minutes” (it has really been about 15) it declines again.  We return to the telephone salesman and ask to use the phone again.  This time Brad is

not so pleasant as he pleads our case.  A new customer service representative doesn’t know why it won’t work and explains that “99% of the credit card purchases in Santa Marta, Colombia are fraudulent” Great….Did I only have one card in my wallet or was the other one in there too and now we have $??,??? charged on our accounts….I start panicking.  Brad gets the ok to try the card again, it works.


We go home, put the food away and await our “agent” to see if we can stay in Colombia for longer than a few more hours.  I talk to the

our Cowgirl turning 7

home school program that was supposed to send Ella her curriculum in Colorado but there was a mix-up at the main warehouse and we didn’t get it, then they said they could send it to Colombia, but turns out they don’t think they can after all…..great.  Ella just got a continuance on her summer for another four months.  We wash the outside of the boat, put everything out and get ready to sail.  We hear from our agent (after Brad sat in Customs for four hours) that we can stay for another three months if we would like.  Good.  That out of the way we turn to properly provisioning the boat, slowly.  After we leave

Fresh fruits

Colombia, we will be in the beautiful San Blas Islands of Panama.  Brad has been talking about them since I met him so I am excited to see them.  The only downside is we have to have all of our food and drink on board; Breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, desserts and drinks for two plus months.  Provisioning is difficult as Chase and Ella sometimes eat a lot…..sometimes not so much, and what do you get that you will want to eat for snacks, dessert etc. two months from now??  The problem is daunting but we are now taking it slowly and buying a little bit each day.  Ella is tired of going to the store every day but it is a necessary evil.

We can also relax and enjoy being in Santa Marta again.  It is a bustling little metropolis; the marina has many more cruisers in it compared to when we left.  We have met a lot of other people stocking up before moving on to San Blas.  When we were here in May, we had met

Hazards of walking include open manhole covers leading to the sewers below

another cruiser family on a catamaran, Freda and Jean-Noel.  They had two girls slightly older than Ella and Turtle.  We had a great time with them in a short amount of time; I find that I miss them a lot.  We have met another French boat with two little girls, 1.5 and 4 years old.  The kids ran endlessly up and down the dock, until after dark, Chase was “tagged” into the dark water.  With Ella screaming: “Mommy, Daddy!  Chase went into the water!!! Chase went into the water!!!  Brad was over the side, completely clothed including sunglasses, and propped him back up onto the dock.  He was not happy and that was the end of freeze tag with an “I get to be the tagger next, mommy.”  Salt water was dripping off of him everywhere.  The kids played a couple more days until it was time for their boat to move on to Cartagena.

We have turned our efforts to exploring the city, finding markets and cold beers in little corner bars, museums and beaches.  The water is really polluted here so our little water babies have been land monkeys for the time being, they are definitely ready to return to the sea.  We talked with the Bartlett’s yesterday and made the final plans, as much as we could guess, for Evan and his wife, Olivia to meet us in Panama.  Looking forward to some good times with them and perhaps a new credit card)  Brad and Ella have just left to buy a paddle from a local fisherman, and Chase and I are “chillaxn” (Chase’s word, not mine) together finding new apps to fill the iPad for the long months ahead without internet.  We are looking forward to the quietness of the islands and the adventure of the next couple of months…. Enjoy the cold weather wherever you are…….it is HOT here!!

In June, I was lucky enough to float the Yampa River with some friends.  It was my first time doing this section and I had a blast.  As we set off I knew that the High Park Fire had begun and probably closed our business for the 5 days I was floating.  If you are going to be stressed out about business, this place was as good a place as any to relax and enjoy our world.    The reality has hit about the fire and we have daily challenges from mudslides, debris flows, black water, floods and more fun stuff.  Life goes on.




Enjoy the photos.


High Park fire - Josh Randall

The High Park Fire burns the Narrows canyon of the Cache La Poudre River. 300 foot flames race up the steep hillside. Check out the hundred foot tree in the flames. Photograph by Josh Randall

On June 9th a bolt of lightning started the High Park Fire near Fort Collins Colorado.  Within 24 hours the fire had grown to 10,000 acres.  The fire would rage on for three weeks covering 87,284 acres and briefly held the distinction for the most destructive wildfire in Colorado history.  257 homes were lost, but more four times that remain.  The fire spread over the Cache La Poudre canyon causing Mountain Whitewater Descents to be closed the entire duration.

We are now the proud owners of two federally designated disaster areas; one for the drought and one for the fires (two here – the Hewlitt Gulch fire in May and the High Park in June).  Not the distinctions we were looking for.  Most of the employees were out of work, but we did find some temporary work for some of them.

Helping with the cause
Josh Randall rows wildland firefighters across the Cache La Poudre River – Melissa Matsunaka, photographer

Several were able to help fight the fire by shuttling firefighters across the river.

I went rafting yesterday and the canyon is spectacular.  Pockets of cottonwood stands glow green against hills of blackened pines.  Homes surrounded by fire stand majestically erect

showing the work of those 2000 firefighters.  Hillsides of completely burnt trees sit next to untouched ones.  Patches of green stand in the patches of black.  Patches of black stand in the patches of green.  The way fire moves through a canyon can be seen at every bend in the river.  Mycanyon is still a beautiful, sparkling jewel of Colorado rivers.  Still the only “Wild and Scenic” river in Colorado.  Still the best!

Bryan Holman rowing past the ongoing destruction – photograph by Josh Randall

Cass Erickson guides her guests down the Cache La Poudre River

After the fire – rafting the Cache La Poudre River
photo by Micah O’Gan

We are gearing up to leave Colombia (we hope, as we haven’t officially checked in yet and it’s been 2 weeks of bureaucratic hell).  Here is our video from the Montserrat, Martinique, Dominica, Guadaloupe, St. Lucia, St. Vincent & the Grenadines, Bonaire, Curacau & Colombia.  Hope you enjoy.


Change of plans

Santa Marta, Colombia

Boats fill our lives and carry our dreams

We have made it to South America under sail of more that 3250 miles.  It seems so far and yet not so much too.  That distance is

like driving across the USA.  But, so much has happened.  20 Countries, countless officials, a million worries, 34 friends sailing with us, at least 60 friends joining us for a beer in our home – Rivers2Seas.  We have lived aboard for 10 months now.  Much of it seems like a dream, a great long dream with a couple scary parts thrown in to keep it real.  Adventure is out there.

We have already accomplished so much.  Cruising is difficult.  Hard.   It’s like travelling back in time where everything takes more

They love it all, even in the rain

time.  Washing dishes, clothes, cooking, getting cooking fuel, showering and taking a dump are all more difficult.  Grocery shopping is an all day affair, usually with a two-mile walk on either end with heavy sacks on the way home in blistering heat.  Most of the people out cruising are couples or single men.  They often express amazement that we are doing all this with two young kids (or foolishness for making it so hard on ourselves).  Having to do all this with them in tow, certainly increases the workload.  It’s hard enough to watch after yourself, but to do it while being focused on a youngster increases everything.  Lindsey has done more than the Lion’s share of managing the kids.  I get to do more of the fun stuff like reading books, playing pirate or conducting art class with them.

My jobs are the smelly, dirty jobs of engine maintenance and repair, sewer management, electrical engineering and power, water production, and on good days wind transference into propulsion.  So far, we have been able to keep costs down by being able to fix every issue onboard by ourselves.  In the Bahamas, John aboard Bikini helped many times in either turning wrenches or more often with advice.  Other than that is has been me with my library of fix-it manuals, product informational manuals and the internet teaching me how to find and fix the problems.  Finding the problems is usually the hard part.  But then, rusted on bolts and the wrong or no spares are difficult too.  One of my favorite fixes onboard is still the dinghy throttle where I had to manufacture a part and make a round peg fit and not slip in a square hole.  Accomplishment comes in many forms.

While this is difficult, the rewards are enormous.  Memories like sailing across the Mona Passage, catching lobster for dinner, reeling in a Mahi Mahi, numerous waterfalls, breaching humpback whales, swimming with turtles, SUPing around islands, meeting locals and hanging out with other cruisers especially Bikini has made all the hassles and difficulties worthwhile.  This adventure is difficult, but FUN.

landfall in South America

Sadly our journey is changing.  We chose to do this trip while continuing our rafting business back in Colorado.  Working from the boat has been a little bit of a struggle at times, but overall has worked beautifully.  Technology has made all this possible.  I can work on advertisements here and send them to people like nothing has changed.  I can send documents to insurers and government agencies with the same speed and accuracy as if I was in Fort Collins.  Email especially has kept me in constant contact with my business ventures.  Our costs have been kept low by always trying to do fix things ourselves instead of calling an expert.  It’s rare that we spend money on a mooring or a marina.  The anchor is usually free and often more secure than anything else.

What hasn’t gone well are the things we have no control over.  The weather last year with a 300% snowpack gave us a less than average rafting season.  This years’ 23% snowpack looks to be the worst season ever.  How I have wished for an average snowpack.  But, average is only the sums of lows and highs.  Our renters trashing our house with a puppy mill and $26,000 in damages depleted our budget instead of adding needed revenue.  That’s life.  Things change.  So must we.  We were already financially overextended and hoping for some good revenue from Mountain Whitewater Descents.  We don’t want to sell our rafting business or our land home, so that leaves Rivers2Seas.  Don’t want to sell her either.  With no money in the bank account something must give.  Our dream to sail around the world is the most prudent answer.

I’m glad that we didn’t know all the bad financial woes that would happen.  We never would have cast the dock lines.  We never would have purchased the boat in the first place.  Our accomplishment and fun and adventure and teachings would never have happened.  I’m glad we didn’t know.

We must look at reality of our financial situation and change our path.  Heading back to Colorado to salvage our rafting season while living in our pop-up camper on the property makes sense.  We will return to Rivers2Seas in early August and then make our way up the Eastern Caribbean and back to Florida.  Sadly, we will have to sell our home and move back to Colorado next year.  A two-year adventure with our kids is still something to be proud of certainly.

This is the second time I have tried to circumnavigate our earth.  I failed the first time when I ran out of will and resources after 2400 miles by canoe, 10,000 by bike and 2500 by sail.  My $3000 took me halfway.  A year of effort but the goal still unattained. This effort has been bigger and will last two years but only about 6000 miles by sail.  My progress at circumnavigation seems to be getting worse.  Failure sure.  But the only true failure is that of someone who never tries.  I try.  I pour my heart into it and what happens happens.  We have spent well over $3000 on this journey.  Yet, it is still worth it.  Our successes so far greatly outweigh any failure.


“What constitute the pleasures of the traveler are obstacles, fatigue or even danger. What charm can there be in a journey when one is always sure to arrive and find his horses ready, a downy bed, an excellent supper and all the comfort one enjoys at home? One of the great misfortunes of modern life is the absence of the unexpected, the lack of adventure. Everything is so well regulated, so well fitted into its place and ticketed, that chance is no longer possible; another century of improvements, and everybody will be able to foresee from the very day of his birth all that will happen to him up to the day of his death.”

Monsieur Theophile Gautier, 1840.