Archive for the 'Panamá' Category

Parting Shot (Red Booty)

Saturday, December 22nd, 2007

red booty the view from below. Isla Parida, Panama

In route to Isla Parida, Western Pacific Panama, Christmas 2006

A parting shot for the cruising blog and a christmas present to all of you who arrive by searching for “booty.” Sailing into a warm tropic rain, the easiest way to preserve your clean dry cloths is to simply remove them. Cheyenne said I could only post this photo if I didn’t say whose butt it was…

As I mentioned before we created a new website for the sailing stories that will preserve the original look and feel of this site and include only the blog of cruising the TimeMachine. People who are only interested in our sailing trip can read about it without having to wade through the interstitial stuff waiting for us to get a new boat. As usual we have embarked on a new adventure before we really had a chance to digest the last one.

I’ve manipulated the sitemaps and meta data so that hopefully the search engines will send people to first when they are looking for sailing stories. If you’ve read this far on the searunner sailing site and want to know what we’re doing now please join us on the complete unedited TimeMachine blog.

We’re taking bets on how many people will be utterly confused and think we’re ending the blog. WE’RE NOT. Read on for more: Pregnancy! Child Birth! Pictures of cows! Babies! Deadly mushrooms! then hopefully Sailing with Children!

El Arranque

Thursday, May 24th, 2007

Cousing tito playing pool at El Pavo Real, Panama City

Going out with Panamanians is an experience not for the faint of heart or delicate of taste. Unlike, as a widely flung example, Catalonians, who go out to bars for talking and smoking and can nurse one small glass of beer for two or three hours, Panamanians take their beer drinking seriously and become increasingly agitated the nearer they come to the lower half of the bottle. Every so often, we would meet up with Cousin Tito for a drink or to grab some lunch and inevitably the innocent afternoon would evolve into an all-night Balboa marathon involving at the least four different bars, meeting up with a variety of friends requiring a mind-boggling amount of cell phone coordination, pool, confusion, a multitude of beers, walking back and forth, and finally, ‘el arranque,’ or last drink.

Then another arranque. Or maybe Tito knows of a different place where we can go for el arranque. Around this time someone remembers that that we forgot to eat dinner and it is already 11pm. El arranque will have to wait because now we are all suddenly ravenous.

The prime hangouts when we are around seem to be Istmo, Panama City’s only brew pub—quite possibly Central America’s only brew pub (excluding D&D in Honduras). The thing that kills me about this place is that while it is a great place to hang out—comfortably decorated and pub-like with hard stools surrounding little tables or chest-height counters to lean on all over the place, a pool table, stylish copper and stainless casks in which the beer is kept, a nice outdoor patio, and a location on a less busy street; the homemade beer is weird. It’s hard to describe because the atmosphere of it all has your mind expecting something wonderful and microbrew-ish and when you finally take a sip, inevitably you make a face and say to yourself, “weird.” We’re used to it by now and rejoice in the fact that there is a beer available in the country that is not clear lager but that first sip is a real brain-jolter. I really don’t know what they got wrong and we have tried all their flavors by now; yet in every single one there is *something* that is just not right. But no matter. Happy hour has half off pitchers so Istmo is where we usually meet.

After Istmo, sometimes we go to El Pavo Real, which is a bar I find reminiscent of a downtown San Francisco local’s hangout. We like it; they have food, they have pool tables, they have “Guinness” on tap, the bar tender is friends with Tito and crew so we get a hero’s welcome every time we pass through the door, and they have bizarre happy-hour specials (like three-for-one on certain drinks on certain days).

Yesterday we met Tito for lunch, then picked up Aldo, an old friend of Tito’s who, bizarrely, is a lawyer, and his two daughters (around ages 9 and 12) and it seemed they were all thinking of heading off to the coast for the weekend but somehow we ended up back at the boat. Tito dropped Aldo, the girls, and me off at the dinghy dock and went with Joshua to pick up some ice and age-appropriate drinks for the kids. The girls were a little apprehensive about the dinghy, “are there sharks here?” was the first question. I told them that sharks were notoriously afraid of small children so they had nothing to fear. They were totally skeptical but mellowed out as soon as we started out for the boat. “Left! Right! RIGHT!” they shouted if I veered off our course by any more than half a degree. Aldo sat in the stern being uncomfortable that he was not doing the rowing but I had learned my lesson after once relinquishing the oars to Tito’s friend Terry, who not only nearly overturned the dinghy in the process of switching places but had us spun around backwards and headed for Costa Rica as he flailed with the oars.

kids on the boat

Once they were deposited aboard Time Machine, I rowed over for Joshua and Tito. By the time we got back, the girls were climbing all over the boat, checking out all nooks and peeking in deck hatches. Within minutes they had familiarized themselves with the more obvious passageways of the boat and were repeatedly going in and out of the hatch to the head, which they had walled off with various curtains to create a fort where they amused themselves by pumping the rinsewater into the toilet. Once this grew tiresome, they branched out to the small hatch in the cabin top over the settee, which they could climb through dropping down into the aft cabin, thus opening a whole new world of possibilities. Shortly thereafter, the younger one discovered the air horn and nearly deafened us all when she figured out how to make it go off; we traded out the air horn for the conch shell, and banished them to the forecabin.


[Tito was still suffering from last night’s arranque.]

After a little while, cell phones were going off all over the boat; a friend of Aldo’s had arrived on the Causeway in addition to friends of Tito’s who we had run into earlier downtown. Joshua rowed over to the seawall to fetch Aldo’s friend, who is somehow connected with the family who runs the quasi-marina outside of which we are anchored and incidentally a client of Aldo’s; he came aboard, introduced himself as “Speedy” and asked us suspiciously what his lawyer was doing on our boat. Aldo responded by heartily downing his current beer and snagging a fresh one. Tito volunteered to row over to pick up his friends and without thinking too much about it, I got him situated in the dinghy and shoved him off in the right direction, forgetting that Tito is a less than accomplished rower (that’s putting it mildly). The wind was stiff and had Tito en route to Colombia in no time while he flailed to get the oars under control; finally he got some rhythm going and began to make headway on the seawall, everyone in the boat whistling and jeering cheering him on. Finally he made it to the wall and thus began the epic journey back to the sailboat laden with passengers and six packs. Halfway, there was a mutiny aboard the little bote and Tito’s friend seized control of the oars, rowing the remaining distance back. Success! Now we had enough guests aboard to really rage. I don’t know if we’ve had this many people on the boat before but lucky for us, Panamanians can swiftly drink their own weight in beer so any overloading was kept at a manageable level. The kids were now chasing themselves around the perimeter of the boat using the catwalks alongside, dropping into the head hatch whenever they reached the bow, whereupon Joshua would blow the horn down in the cabin at them and they would both scream and pop back up out the hatch for another lap.

The sun went down in a display of pink splendor and camera phones were brandished to record the event. More beer was drunk and you would think I would know all the vocabulary to explain in Spanish how our porta-head works by now but I’m lame and always end up pantomiming and saying “así” a lot. More talk, more beer—it was all a little hazy. Someone accidentally tipped over the cockpit table, sending empty cans and tomato juice flying. “Disastre en el cockpit!” we cried. Paper towels were dispatched and the mess swiftly managed. It was getting late, Aldo was getting drunk, and the kids’ athleticisms were winding down as the orange soda wore off. “La arranque!” someone called out.

Two arranques later, it was time to get Aldo and the girls home. Multiple dinghy trips had everyone safely deposited on the seawall (minus Aldo’s cell phone which is likely lying on the bottom of the harbor) and vague plans were tossed about to meet up for the REAL arranque at one of the Causeway bars later.

We never did meet back up with them and it was just as well since we were ahead of ourselves by two arranques and needed to take the rest of the night off for a change.

Upwind Beat to Providencia

Saturday, March 17th, 2007

We ran dark the first night out of Portobelo, not because we were worried about piracy (the area through which we were traveling was not a problem spot) but because our ten-year old batteries are pretty much crap. We maintained a night-long neurotic head swivel and the moment we spotted a ship’s running lights on the horizon, we snapped on our own nav light. Once the ship passed the light went right back off. We hoped we wouldn’t run into any other sailors with dying batteries.

The passage started out fairly rough, with stacked up wind waves interspersed with large weird blobby waves that piled up from the surrounding wavelets. These were steep and pointy and when we went over them, my stomach fell and the spice jars rattled around. It never ceases to amaze me that the boat just stays on top of that stuff, but I guess it is common knowledge that boats float and I really ought be used to it by now. By late afternoon, the winds calmed to a pleasant 12 knots and the seas miraculously followed and were mild enough to allow Joshua to cook something. We saw zillions of flying fish, tiny little blue guys that would erupt out of the waves in a swarm, gliding in all directions before the boat. I also saw my first Portuguese Man-O-War, a creature that looks more like a child’s toy than a dangerous stinging jellyfish. It resembles a clear plastic inflated empanada with a fluted purple-pink sail. We saw maybe seven or eight individuals on the trip to Providencia.

Centerboard Trunk

[Looking down the centerboard trunk at the water below the boat; the Caribbean is an amazing blue-violet color.]

We saw very few ships for our route, which passed directly in front of Colon and the Caribbean Panama Canal. Early the second morning, before the sun rose, I spotted a ship on my watch and flipped on the running lights. I took a bearing to see what direction it was running towards us: 70 degrees. A few minutes later I took another bearing and it hadn’t moved perceptibly. I became more neurotic and took bearings every 30 seconds—always the same. What this suggests is that the ship is on a collision course and would eventually come bashing into our boat unless something changes. Once the ship lights were clearly visible and it was still at 70 degrees, I woke Joshua up to check things out. We kept up on our course while trying to decide what to do: attempt to hail the ship, change our own course and hope the ship continues on its course, wait to see if the ship changes course on its own. We were just getting ready to tack when I noticed that the ship abruptly began to turn (I didn’t know they could turn so fast). It passed behind us, Joshua went back to bed, and I turned the nav lights back off.

It was Joshua’s birthday and when I woke from a nap, he had hauled aboard a large wahoo! It was again sort of rough and so he quickly hacked off a chunk to make some wahoo fried rice for breakfast. Wahoo is a very tasty fish it turns out and we had heard that they are supposed to be prime sport fish because they put up a fight, a sort of creepy concept. (Ours didn’t fight much since it took us a while to even notice that we had caught him.)

Towards the evening that day, we saw a ship again heading for us on a collision course (son-of-a-bitch!). It was a large white thing and Joshua thought it might be Coast Guard (possibly had a orange stripe on the side). I thought we might tack and pass behind it when it abruptly changed course and increased speed so that it was running directly for us, bow bashing into the large waves. I was reminded of the only other time I had any experience with US Coast Guard. We were kayaking around off the beach in Marina Del Rey and this large (well, 30 feet maybe, which is large enough to a kayaker) power boat charged us. We started waving our kayak paddles and I was trying to unfasten my life jacket in preparation to flip the kayak and dive deep to go under the propellers when the boat ran us down but at the last moment, it came about in a circle and just rocked us with a monster wake. As we looked after it we saw it was the Coast Guard, evidently just playing around; I was pretty upset. Joshua began to hail the white ship on the radio as I stood steering and freaking out in the cockpit. There was no answer and Joshua tried a second time. They seemed to be getting really close and were moving very fast. Finally they responded and identified themselves as the US Coast Guard. When the ship was very close to us, they abruptly turned, went behind us, and began to follow our boat. They asked for our boat registration numbers, our names, dates of birth, SSNs, home ports, destination, and where we were coming from. They told us to maintain course and speed. We did and waited. Finally they said that they were going to board us and conduct a “Code 41” check but were just waiting for the ‘OK’ from their boss. At this point, the sun was setting and it was growing dark. We said ‘okay’ and asked what 41 meant; they said it was a routine safety check to see if we had all required safety equipment aboard, check expiry dates of our flares, and to be sure we were operating safely out here in the Caribbean.

Threatened by the United States Coast Guard USCG

I wanted to reef because the wind was strong and gusty and the sea always feels worse when you can’t see it coming but we figured we should just maintain course and speed like the USCG told us and not do anything odd. The ship loomed over us and there were a number of people standing around on deck next to a very large cannon. I started taking bearings on the cannon to be sure they didn’t aim it at us.

The whole thing took around four hours. By the time they finally departed, we were exhausted, hungry, our watch schedule was all messed up, and we were worried that we would now not make it into Providencia before nightfall the following evening. After radioing at us repeatedly to “maintain speed and course,” they managed to deploy a large black inflatable, called “Sharkbite,” populated by large black-clad Americans sporting sidearms and bulletproof vests. It took them about thirty minutes to figure out how to board a pitching 32-foot sailboat in the dark, in heaving 8′ seas, underway at 6 knots, which is to say, we finally had to heave-to to get them aboard. Three came aboard, not gracefully, and did a preliminary inspection (checked to see how much water was in our bilge) “just to be sure that your boat is safe for our fourth crew-member uh Officer uh Parker and us to be aboard.” Uh Officer uh Parker miraculously turned out to be human and she was introduced as the ship’s artist charged with the task of sketching the interior of our little boat. The story was that they had never seen a trimaran before and the Coast Guard didn’t know anything about trimarans and it was so lucky that they spotted us out here and wouldn’t this be a great learning experience for everyone. A bizarre story, at best, but it wasn’t like we had a choice in the matter. It took them all of five minutes to do the Code 41 safety inspection, where they wrote down the expiry dates on our flares and noted how many life jackets we had aboard. Then they took three hours to go over our boat with a fine-toothed comb all the while reveling in the fantastic opportunity it was to be aboard a 70’s era trimaran; “space accountability” they put it when radioing back to the big ship. Sometime during the measurements, Officer Parker emerged from below and puked onto our ama. Then Officer Murphy went forward with the camera and blinded us all with the intense flash until she ran out of batteries making sure she got pictures of every single thing in our boat—she even took photos of the books on our bookshelves. She had to take pictures of the aft cabin by flashlight after that. Then they did some “ion” testing, which means they rubbed some special pieces of paper all over all the surfaces of the boat to be sent via dinghy back to the big white mothership, another death-defying maneuver during which Officer Murphy nearly fell overboard in the moments when she wasn’t in danger of having her arm amputated by the inflatable squeaking up against our hull. Murphy safely back in the overcrowded cockpit, they all stayed aboard making small talk while we waited to find out if we had any unsafe or expired narcotics aboard. There was much radio chatter during all this, most of which was in code, “Sharkbite’s got the IS and will RV with the OHS.” “COPY!” “How’s the RS?” “RS negative!” “COPY!” Etc. It all ended very abruptly when we got the call over the radio: “Officer Terry, you are One Hundred percent done with your safety check.” The de-barking procedure went fairly smoothly, that is to say it was at least in keeping with a level of safety I’ve come to expect from our Coast Guard friends: this time it was Officer Terry who nearly went overboard as one of the guys in the inflatable winced with obvious strain trying to steady the inflatable against our boat while we rocked about in the large waves.

“We don’t normally do this but…” Officer Terry handed us a plastic bag with a couple of Coast Guard T-shirts and everyone smiled and wished Joshua a happy birthday, then they bashed off into the night.

It was 9:30 pm and we ate some crackers before I went to bed. Joshua said that they continued to follow us for a couple hours before disappearing over the horizon. By the time I came on watch, the nav lights were back off and the night was pleasant.

We approached the island in the afternoon the following day and kept a few-mile distance as we skirted the surrounding reefs (our Providencia chart boasts a survey date of 1835). The island is mountainous with dry grasses and sparse trees here, green jungly foliage there, and palm trees along the water’s edge. The beaches are white and the waters calm around the island since they are mediated by the barrier reef. The Caribbean has a tidal change of around one foot only.

Isla Providencia, Colombia

Once we were anchored, we radioed ashore to Mr. Bush, the man in charge of getting visiting vessels checked into Colombia; he and his crew turned out to be the friendliest and most expedient port/immigration authorities we have ever encountered. Afterwards, we sat in the cockpit gazing off at the lights onshore and the stars overhead. We made an elaborate cooked dinner featuring wahoo. We sipped wine and took out the Coast Guard T-shirts for a better look.

T-Shirt. USCG Thetis. Key West Florida

Not exactly my style but I sure as hell will be wearing mine the next time we get boarded for a routine safety check.


Tuesday, March 13th, 2007

Doniris. Portobelo, Panama

Portobelo, Panamá

Exit Panama

Tuesday, March 13th, 2007

We’ve been waiting on a weather window for a north passage to Isla Providencia and it seems to have presented itself. We checked out of the country yesterday, which is an odd thing really, to be smack in the middle of a country yet legally, not there. There must be a word to describe this situation but I don’t know it; I would imagine that such a term might involve modifiers like “in-situ” or prefixes like “non.” Checking out was pretty easy but it was clear that the immigration lady was looking for something wrong with our paperwork to hassle us over. Unfortunately Nina, from BIKA, was not as lucky as us and immigration latched onto something vaguely anomalous in her passport; she got “charged” a nudge-wink-mordida to have it “overlooked.”

We will hopefully leave in the morning and BIKA might be leaving in the same direction as well. With any luck, we will also meet up with Velella again, who we haven’t seen since Huatulco, Mexico. The trip is 280 miles approximately and so it should take us around three or four days. If we are lucky, the wind will stay under 20 knots and come around more to the east so we won’t have to beat to weather the entire way.

And maybe we will catch a lovely tuna and it won’t be too rough to clean/eat it.

Cheyenne Weil, Joshua Coxwell