Tag Archive: travel


Panama to Providencia

Panama to Providencia

As we enter Colon, dozens of giant ships are anchored everywhere awaiting transit through the Panama Canal.   Black smoke rises all around Colon as people protest the government and a planned sale of prime commercial land called “the Free Zone”.  The violent protests between the Panamanian people and police resulted in several deaths, commercial businesses closing, looting, citywide street closures and general mayhem.

 

the escort into port

We are safe in the marina at shelter bay, but nothing can be accomplished while here.  I need water filters, fuel filters, maps and groceries.  The taxi drivers will not venture into Colon.  If they don’t feel safe then I sure don’t want to be there.  In the week that we are in the marina, tensions escalate most days as discussions volley back and forth from the government and the people.  During a lull in the Molotov cocktail throwing, I am able to get a taxi for $50US to take me to the grocery store.  After two months without a large grocery store to fill our cupboards we are really low on food.  The locals have the same idea to stock up with food and join in the melee inside the store.  All the bread and chicken is sold out.  People cram the aisles pushing carts into each other and me.  A frustrating three hours waiting in different lines for cheese, meat and then the long checkout lanes and finally I am able to push my two cartfuls of foodstuffs outside.

The marina provides shelter from the nearby crazy city with a nice pool, a surrounding jungle and other boaters to talk with.  This has been our only experience with living in a marina and the fun associated with it.  Everyone is constantly working on his or her boats and are willing to talk and hang out.  It’s kind of like a working party.  I couldn’t work much except to change out a shive (pulley) for the main halyard at the top of the mast, which saves a whole lot of work hoisting it up.  Everything else I needed parts to accomplish and that wasn’t going to happen anytime soon.

Walking into the jungle gives us all a fun diversion from the boat.  Howler Monkeys swing

Friends in the trees

from tree branches just over our heads screaming as they go.  All of a sudden, several of them start throwing poo at us, which sends all four of us into a panic.  “Run!” I scream.  Luckily, the kids heed my advice and run like the wind.  From a safe distance we howl with laughter as I relay to the kids what they were throwing.  “Then what were they pouring on us?” Chase asks in his innocent four-year-old way.  “Well, that monkey must not have had any poo, he was trying to pee on us.”  “What?!!?!”  The laughter continues as we walk away.  No direct hits today.

We are out of propane after our stay in the Kuna Yala.  The propane stores in Colon have all been closed or impossible to get to.  We could wait for things to settle down, but that could be weeks.  Cold sandwiches taste good too; it will have to change our menu a little.  We have places to go.  If we aren’t going to be able to enjoy anything in Panama, we might as well go.  Pulling out of the marina winding through the docks, our friends on Spruce jump out of their boat saying they have three small one-pound propane bottles.  “Do we want them?”  You bet!  I need to maneuver close to the dock as Andy tosses each one to Lindsey.  She was a Golden Glove recipient in her Division 1 softball days during college, so she fields them all with ease.  It is one of those fantastic moments in boating where everyone is there to help each other.  I am choked up with sentiment and our luck.  I need coffee in the mornings.

Leaving Colon behind our wake feels good.  Black smoke rises all around in even more fires than when we entered a week ago.  One of my great sorrows about travel on a boat is that we can rarely make inland forays to the countries.  Leaving Rivers2Seas at anchor all night or for days at a time without us doesn’t feel safe for the boat or our belongings.  We had hoped to travel to Panama City and maybe do some rafting while here as our boat was safely snuggled into the marina.  So if we weren’t going to be able to enjoy our stay, I’m glad to be on the sea again.

Sailing for fifty-two hours brings us to Providencia, Colombia, which is a hundred miles off

Providencia – providence

the eastern coast of Nicaragua.  It’s a strange location that would become more dramatic to us in the coming days.  We had to motor most of the way, but seas were calm making for a pleasant passage.

Providencia is a clean, artistic, and small island.  At only four miles by one mile it is small and the inhabitants are proud of the fact that there is less than one person per square kilometer.   It’s nearby sister island of San Andreas boasts the densest population of any Caribbean island.  This is definitely the place we want to be.

Going for one of our strolls to view the area, we cover several miles along the Eastern coast walking over painted causeways, tranquil beaches, loud jungles and the bustle of a small town at work.

Most people use motorcycles instead of cars and carry anything that a truck would.  Seeing a desk go by between two guys on one bike or a family of four or five or dragging fifteen rods of rebar twenty feet long behind or an entire welding setup is simply entertaining.   Riding the taxi to fill our two propane bottles, I rest each on a knee speeding to the store.  I certainly had no helmet and carrying two bombs is less than appealing, but it cost less than it would have in Panama and there are no riots in the streets or tear gas or bullets flying by or Molotov Cocktails…it’s pleasant.

The people are what make this island spectacular.  All are friendly and welcoming.  Many islanders in the Eastern Caribbean are jaded by tourists and see us only a walking dollar.  Here people are truly welcoming.  At one restaurant the proprietors sit and talk with us the entire meal, only leaving to stir the food or flip the fish.  Walking down the street with two jugs of diesel and talking with a local man I express how much I like his island and the people.  Clearly this man does not have much money, yet, as we part he slips a lime into my shirt pocket.

The kids have been waiting for Halloween and asking repeatedly if the locals celebrate the

our cowgirl and Ninja Turtle

holiday.  They do, but in a different style.  All the kids pack into the town gymnasium in a screaming melee of giggles.  Welcomed with open arms as we strut in with a cowgirl and a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle, we grab some open seats in the bleachers.  All sorts of shows are put on with the culmination of a funny and talented clown that had the entire place in hysterics.   The speakers are turned up so loudly and the result so static ridden that I can’t understand the Spanish.  When a bunch of girls go up to the stage for what I think is a costume contest, I urge Ella up there.  The contest turns out to be a dance contest and I can honestly say that I am so glad Ella is voted off.  Kids in the audience choose which kids would get to stay on through several votes, whittling down the number of kids on stage.  Whoever dances in the most lewd, seductive and provocative way gets the most cheers.  All these six year olds need is a pole and they could be on any strip club.  There are others in the crowd who appear equally offended by the crazy behavior, but it’s their island.  When the boys get up there the gyrations get hotter and bigger.  There is even one boy and girl acting out a man and woman having sex.  It’s crazy.

The kids get treats and cakes and ice creams from the adults, but no trick or treating.  I had hoped for that as a good way to meet locals.  We are all a little sad.  But, Halloween came in a sort of Charlie Brown style.

Hiking to a rock outcrop named Morgan’s head gives us a nice hike through jungle with lizards darting every which way.  Frogs announce our arrival around each bend with miraculous views when the trees part.  A snack of saltines with peanut butter gives us a little rest for the hike back home.

 

great walkways

Some rumors about eminent war with Nicaragua explain why there are three navy battleships in the outer anchorage.  It’s rather unsettleing.  After civil unrest in Panama and now nations at war, it seems as the world has gone mad.  Nicaraguans feel that San Andreas and Providencia and the neighboring coral banks should be theirs because they lie within 200 miles of their coast.  Nicaraguans feel that the wealth from fishing and oil reserves this large area could provide is worth going to war over.  Colombians feel the same way in their desire to protect their islands and fishing grounds that they have held since 1822.  There will be a decree stating what the international court of justice decides in less than a week.  The Colombians meanwhile are strengthening their position, thus the three navy battleships nearby.  I don’t want to be anywhere near this place when the decree comes out.  War is never pretty and my ship wouldn’t survive much of an attack.

Pulling up anchor at midnight we start the 380-mile trek to Roatan, Honduras.  We wanted a weather window for Isla Mujeres, Mexico but that wasn’t happening and we would rather wait in an area that isn’t at war within itself or with other nations.

Chase and Ella are both seasick in the seas but we have a great fast sail up the Nicaraguan coast and the fabled Mosquito Coast quickly disappears.  The two kids compare puke bowls and whose is bigger in a way that only kids can do.  The bowls fill as fast as we can dump them.

A hundred miles out from Providencia, a Colombian navy frigate angles his boat pointing at Rivers2Seas as he questions us over the VHF radio.  They are obviously making a statement that these are still their waters.  I think it’s weird when he asks if there are any women on board.  I think it’s outrageous when he asks if we have weapons on board.  The Honduran coast has a few of its’ own pirates and a bad reputation among sailors.  Now, I have told everyone within earshot that I have a young wife on board and no weapons to defend ourselves.  It’s not reassuring.

Thirty hours into the sail and we turn to the West which brings some better seas.  I

seven colors of green

understand better the desire for these fishing grounds as our freezer bulges with two five pound Skipjack tunas and a fifteen pound Blackfin tuna.  These are good waters.  I hope along with the locals of Providencia that whatever happens, oil will not be drilled for here.  The prospect of black gold changes everything, but the locals seem to have the right mindset.

We spend our time reading, napping and telling stories to the kids.  The kids play innumerable imaginary games as we bounce down the seas.  My favorite is when Ella sets up a desk and starts selling raft trips.  I’ll take a hundred people please!  Going to bed, the kids ask for another “Daddy story.”  I give them one of my newest titled, “Don’t chum the waters,” which sends them into hysterics.  They keep interjecting their own thoughts and views; the laughter is loud and boisterous.  Lindsey calls me out to check the sails, so I do some adjustments and by the time I return Chase is fast asleep and Ella is telling me to turn off my light.   A minute and a half ago we were all rolling in giggles.  Even on the little crew passages are tiring.

Our timing for the passage proves perfect as we motor into French Caye, Roatan, Honduras just before dark, 65 hours after leaving Providencia.  If we made it in the dark we would have had to drift offshore all night until we could see the entrances and reefs.  Another good passage is behind us.  I can barely stay awake and fall asleep before the kids at 7 P.M.  Lindsey does that last haul with the kids and crawls into bed minutes later.

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It’s 12:15 A.M.  My arms are wrapped around the boom holding on tight like I’m wrestling an alligator.  I’m scared, but loving it too.  Wind tries to rip me off with the help of the bouncing seas.  Cold rain pelts my bare back stinging as it hits.  It’s so cold and hard and big it feels like hail.  I’m screaming to Lindsey at the top of my lungs, who is only nine feet away but can’t hear me well, to tighten the mainsheet.  It takes about ten seconds and then I’m really swinging back and forth on the boom.

12 hours earlier - enjoying the large following seas

12 hours earlier – enjoying the large following seas

A minute and a half earlier, I was sound asleep in my room snuggled up to Lindsey.  Damian calls down to get me; the wind is acting strange he says.  When I look at the helm, the wind has clocked around and is now directly behind us.  An accidental jibe, where the boom gets wind from the other side and slams to the opposite side of the boat, is now a distinct possibility.  I turn Rivers2Seas 20 degrees to port.  I yell to Damian to pull in the jib while I loosen it.  As we manage that, Lindsey is on scene donning her PFD.

Engines are started and Lindsey turns the boat around so that we can go into the wind to drop the mainsail.  With the large following seas it’s a bit tricky to time when to turn and miss a wave hitting us broadside.  The complete darkness makes it almost impossible.  I have my harness buckled to my PFD and am making my way to the mast, clipping and unclipping my two straps to the jacklines surrounding the boat.  The key is to always have one clipped in.  With the jib pulled out to the side, I must clip and unclip eight times before I’m to the mast.  By the time I get there, Lindsey has us into the wind, which is now up to 36.2 knots.  Lindsey is focused on the boat displays and steering.  Damian is trying to focus on me; he can’t see me.  All he can see is my headlamp dimly through the rain.  Luckily, he doesn’t see it go overboard.

buying some fruits in Curacao

buying some fruits in Curacao

Quickly pulling the main halyard off the brake and lowering it quickly, the mainsail plummets.  There is no nice flaking of the sail tonight.  Get it down, fast is all I can think.  Once down I try to get it into the sailbag but can’t because the sailties holding the reef in essentially get rid of the sailbag.  I try to pull the sail in doing a crappy flake job when the boom slides quickly towards me.  The sail is being pulled up by the wind.  I jump aboard and hold on.  That’s when I started yelling to Lindsey to pull in the mainsheet, which would steady the boom.

She couldn’t see me or see what I was doing.  She’s nine feet away and the rain is so thick we can scarcely see each other.  Wind is truly howling around us. Alarms about the wind speed are going off and she is trying to maintain direction.  Normally, we loosen the mainsheet just before dousing the main to help it slide down with the wind.  She had no idea that I had already taken it down – certainly an all-time speed record on my part.  So when she told Damian to loosen the mainsheet, that’s what we normally would have done.  This wasn’t normal.  That’s why I’m flying around on the boom being rocked crazily back and forth.  My screams to “tighten, TIGHTEN!!!” were finally understood and the boom stabilized.  I wrapped a line around the sail, called it good and made my way back to the cockpit.

Curacao waterfront

Curacao waterfront

We turned the boat around again to go with the seas and wind under motor.    Radar showed that this wasn’t that big of a storm only about six miles across, so it should be over soon.  It’s wasn’t.  Rivers2Seas was screaming along at 9-10 knots with the engines on 2000rpm (about 2/3 power).  Even without sails a sailboat can move in high winds.  We were following the storm and staying with it.  Turning the boat around to go into the waves and let the storm get in front of us didn’t work either.  No matter what we did the storm stayed directly above us.  We resumed coarse again and watched the lightning show.

sometimes you sleep anywhere

sometimes you sleep anywhere

Most of the lightning is off in the distance, but some is within a mile.  Lindsey and the kids head down into the hulls for safety.  She was worried about the situation and decided to put the kids’ wetsuits on.  I suppose there were some good wave crashes and we caught some big surfs on the waves.  We even recorded a 12.5 knot surf down one of the big ones.  So I suppose her being worried and proactive was a good thing.  A good friend of ours Eric has a saying, “if you’re not scared now, you’re not paying attention.”  I am paying attention.  The kids wanted to read the Little Mermaid, which starts out with a boat being hit by lightning and blown to smithereens.  Somehow they liked it.

Putting the handheld GPS and VHF radio in the oven is the last precautionary measure I can do.  The theory is that the oven can act like a Faraday cage when lightning strikes and protect the instruments inside.  Every other electrical object with a computer chip will be destroyed.  I hope we don’t test the theory.

I have been wearing only shorts and the cold rain has me shivering uncontrollably.  Rain blasts at my eyes that now have clear sunglasses on to protect them.  But my skin must be blue.  Luckily, every once in a while a wave splashes over the rail and douses me with the 86-degree seawater; it feels like a hot tub.  I head to our cabin for warm clothes and finally get to wear my Denver Broncos wool cap.  How far south have we gone?

Sunset on the water

Watching dolphins

relaxation on the passage

The storm stays with us for two hours slowly deteriorating.  Damian has gone to bed.  Lindsey and the kids are “sleeping” in our cabin.  Neither liked the lightning.  Chase didn’t like the stuffy cabin and was throwing up in a bowl.  So, nobody was all that comfortable.  My shift ends at 5AM, I wake Damian, then collapse onto the sofa.

Worm

It’s one of the many times we are thankful to have Damian here.  Passages are difficult.  Sailing with kids is difficult.  Doing both together can tax a couple.  Having him here has taken off some of the load.  The kids love “Worm” too.  Chase especially likes throwing him overboard.  They tell him innumerable stories of life with great enthusiasm.  He has also become chief dishwasher, which has helped too.  Pitching in with everything and enthusiastically – he’s a great team member aboard Rivers2Seas.  We should have him back when it’s vacation time in easy islands.  One of these days I wouldn’t mind having a mechanic onboard.  My brain and knuckles could use a rest.

Somehow, the starter on the port engine has now failed.  Frustrating!  Tests and curses have confirmed that it’s bad.  My book on how to fix everything from Niger Calder saves the day when he says that I can “push start” the engine using the propeller.  Put it in neutral, turn the key, then slam the throttle forward.  Rev, reeevv.  The engine hums to life.  I have always been impressed with Lindsey for push starting a school bus for me once.  Now, I can boast about push starting a boat.  “You have to kick real hard…maybe wear some fins to push the 15 tons.”

We make it into Santa Marta Colombia with a fast passage of 2 nights and 3 days.  The kids never asked once “are we there yet” during either of our latest passages that totaled over 130 hours of sailing time.  We have our little sailors.  I’m proud of them.