Saturday, April 29, 2017

San Blas Islands

We have heard of the San Blas Islands for years.  They are part of Panama but have retained their independence and are governed by the Kuna Indians. They are a group of islands that are little more than sand, palm trees and mangroves. Each small island belongs to a family and often they live on them.  The houses are traditional made of coconut fronds for the roof, there is no infrastructure on many of the islands but we have seen solar panel on the top of the grass huts. I thought the islands would be isolated and idyllic but it was not so at the first couple we visited. 
The islands have been discovered by tourists, I do not know why I thought they would not have been. At the first place we stopped, long skinny fibreglass boats powered by big motors with covers for shade from the sun on them commuted back and forth to the main village where there is an air strip.  They would offload people and luggage, usually big backpacks on to the island.  There were huts for rent on the island and also space for tents.  There were about 20 boats in a very small anchorage, many of which contained upwards of 10 people, all young with various shades of tan.

The next place we stopped to check out a good snorkelling spot was even busier, more boats, people strolling the beach or lying under the palm trees, bars set up under thatched palm roofs.  The coral was beautiful on an old wreck really close to the beach but the anchorage was tricky and there was a big current running past the boat, so we picked up anchor and headed further away from the village and the air strip.  

We found what we were looking for in the Holandes Cays. It is a calm quiet spot with a few boats anchored a ways away . There was great snorkelling with lots of fish just a short  swim from the boat.  A young family of Kuna lived ashore and we would see them out fishing and the kids playing in the sand. The weather has been very hot, so it is great to just be able to jump off and cool down when ever we want to. We have been away from a grocery store for week now and fresh supplies are greatly diminished. I am trying to eat up all our stores so we won't have much to get rid of when we leave for Canada. There is a net in the morning and apparently there is a vegetable guy that comes around in a boat, I willl keep my eyes peeled for him. So far no other boat has come and approached us which I find a little strange, usually out in the middle of nowhere people on boats usually at least acknowledge each other, I guess when I feel the need to talk to another human being besides Barry, I will have to make the effort. 

Friday, April 14, 2017

Transiting the Panama Canal

Yesterday we acted as line handlers on a Beneteau 35 as they went through the Panama Canal. It was an awesome experience it gave us the feel of what it would be like to take our own boat through . Having a intimate look at the process will greatly reduce our stress once it is our turn .  
In the first set of locks we came in behind a tanker and in the second set we were in front of a tanker. 

The trip takes a day and a half, from the east end you proceed through three locks, then you tie up to a big bouy and stay overnight. The next morning you motor through Gatun Lake , we reached the Pacific locks about 1500 hours . There are three locks there and then you are in the Pacific Ocean. 

The locks are huge, a big car tanker came in behind us in the second set of locks.  In order to expedite the process they hooked up three sailboats together.  We all rafted up together, on each boat there are six people, four line handlers, the captain who pilots the boat and the advisor who tells the captain where to go and instructs the line handlers. With three boats tied up together there were 18 people in close proximity to each other. We were on the port side of the floatilla so our boat was responsible for the lines to the left hand part of the canal. That meant that only two line handlers were needed , the other side of the boat was tied up t another, so I did not have a job and just got to observe and soak in the experience. I even managed to keep my bossy nature in check and not issue directions or even instructions to anyone, except Barry a few times!!
We started out late in the afternoon, so it was dark when we went through the first set of locks. 
We tied up to this large bouy overnight after the first series of locks. 
The hand liners on the sides of the dock throw a thin line with a big knot on the end to the boat, two lines from each side of the lock.  The boat line handlers tie the boat lines on to the thin lines and when you get to the position you are required to be in the lock the hand liners on the dock haul in the boat lines.
 The hand liners on the dock walk along the locks with the lines being careful the lines do not catch on the sides of the locks.  The first three locks you go up so the hand liners have to run up the stairs on the sides so they do not get the lines fouled.  For the tankers they have mules , cars which run on tracks which actually haul the tankers along the locks.  It was quite heart stopping to see the huge tanker bearing down on our small floatilla, knowing that it was supposed to stop but not entirely sure that it would. 
It is not a video, I just took a picture of the video footage Barry took. 
It was impressive when we went through the last lock. 
 I had a hard time believing that we were actually back in the Pacific Ocean after 9 years.  Even though it was not on our own boat I felt a real sense of accomplishment at getting there by water. I can imagine the feelings will be multiplied when we go through on May 5/6 on Cat's-Paw IV. 
The Bridge of the Americas and the Pacific Ocean in the background. 

Monday, April 10, 2017


Erick, the fellow between us , is our Columbian son. He stayed with us for a school year in 1994 in Yellowknife. He arrived in Canada with very little English and have no never seen snow before.  He told us he was so happy tand see his first snow fall, but was more than happy the see the end of it 9 months later!! Twenty years later and he is a dentist in his forties with a family, how times change.  He was good enough to take time out of his busy schedule and fly from Bogata to Cartagena to visit with us for the weekend. 
We went down to the local beach and rented a cabana for the day, it was too hot to sit on the beach without any shade. Barry and I felt like real tourists sitting in the shade drinking beer. 
We had a decent sail to Panama, just 48 hours, we had to motor the first 6 hours out of Columbia to get away from the wind shadow and then we had a very nice beam reach until we turned the corner into the entrance to the Panama Canal.  We are in Shelter Bay Marina which is just inside the breakwater which protects the Canal entrance.  We hired an agent to smooth our way through the Canal.  He came through with flying colours, within 24 hours our boat was measured, we paid our fees later that day and we were assigned our canal crossing date.   We were originally told it would be on April 28 but it has since been changed to May 5. We were much happier with the earlier date but we will have no problem making our flight on May 24 with the May 5 date. 
We had to go into Colon to clear Immigration, the marina operates a free bus into Colon twice a day, otherwise it is a $25 taxi ride.  The picture above is a typical street in Colon, now we know why we ere told it is not safe to walk around in the city. 
Our old friends from forty years ago Terry and Gerry Skopyk have a boat they keep here in Shelter Bay. They are here at the moment and they had been out touring the country so they had a car and we went to see San Lorenzo, the site of an old Fort.  It was so good to see them again and we had a great time renewing acquaintances over dinner aboard their boat last night.  Today we are gong to line handle on another boat today so we will go through the Canal with it.  We have to go aboard shortly and will sleep aboard and be back here tomorrow evening. 

Saturday, April 01, 2017


Walking around the old town in Cartagena is a joy. It is an explosion of colour and of old world charm. It is a World Unesco Cultural Heritage site so it is protected from change. Everywhere we noticed old buildings being restored.  It reminded us of Cuba, but the area is better preserved and cleaner than we noticed in Cuba. 
This is the main entrance into the old city, Cartagena was an area where African slaves were brought to Columbia so the descendants of the city have a lot of African blood in them and it is noticeable in their culture, the colours, the paintings and the dancing. 
We have been enjoying the sculptures and the wall art that we have come across in our wandering. 

The first day we took a tour to some of the historic sites in the area.  They were mostly the walled forts that were built in the 16th century to protect Cartagena from the sea and from the land.  The walls on the fortifications we enormous.
This is the Fort that protected the land and we were able to climb to the top and see the views and hear graphic tales about where all the attackers were killed.  The guides' English was sufficient but his vocabulary was not the best so the fact that they were all kill ed featured in his description several times. 
This was a bottleneck through the wallls and was designed so the soldiers at the top could see down whereas the attackers below could not see up so of course all the attackers were "kill ed".
Our second day wandering around in old town we came upon some Universities. This is the inner courtyard of the University of Cartagena, we think they were having an open house because we were able to wander around the campus and there were displays about the courses offered. 
This building was once a church but now houses a theatre. It was one of the many examples of outstanding architecture in the regions. 
We rested up in a KGB bar that had all sorts of memorabilia from Russia on display.  We spent some time watching the latest May Day parade in Red Square with Putin supervising. Barry was fascinated with the fancy planes that were flown over , I marvelled at the precision of the marching of the soldiers. 
The traffic is horrendous in the old town, the narrow winding streets result in gridlock at any given time.  The common practise of courteous driving has not come to Columbia and they squeeze into what ever lane they wish and bully their way through the traffic.  
When we saw this truck stall on a busy bridge Barry joked that this is what was needed to make your way through the gridlock!! Both the men in the vechicle turned away as I was taking a picture, we were surprised not to be yelled at!! 
The Columbians have four submarines and this one was in full view as it went by Barry as I was off trying to change some money we had left over from Curaçao. We had mistakenly thought that we could use the Curaçao money in Aruba but that was not so, it will be interesting to see where in the world we might be able to change it, they would not do it here.