From Pedregal to Isla Canal de Fuera (92 nm)

Route from Pedregal to Isla Canal de FueraOn December 22nd we left Pedregal at 13:00 heading to the Coiba National Park, which consists of several islands, including Isla Coiba, which by the way is the largest island in the Pacific Central America.

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December 21st – Night on the river

We followed our way out down the river, where we had to spend a night to wait for the high tide to pass a few shallow areas. The day after we met the same (???) dolphins we spotted on our way in; it was again a great show! We arrived in Isla Parida just before sunset and we anchored there for the night.

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December 23rd – Isla Parida

The next morning, we intended to reach Islas Secas, but all of the sudden we got strong wind and high waves (despite forecasts) so we decided to find shelter in a beautiful bay in the south part of Isla Bolano.

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December 23rd – Isla Bolano

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December 23rd – Isla Bolano

With much milder winds the day after we reached Islas Secas, that are among our most favorite islands. We seem not to be the only one, though… in fact there is a luxurious resort, well hidden in the forest, where (we have been told) an accommodation is priced 2000$ a night.

For once, there was somebody else in the bay where we anchored. It was Kianga, a 50-foot catamaran with a couple of Swiss people on board who approached us by dinghy to wish us Merry Christmas. This is how we met Beat and Daniela who we learned where headed in two weeks to Costa Rica as well. We promised to keep in touch and we set sail toward the Islas Contreras.

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Kianga at Islas Secas

On December 26th we left the Islas Contreras in search of internet signal since we would have liked to communicate with friends and family, so we headed to Bahia Honda, a small fisherman village best looking from a distance than ashore and with no possibility to reach a network. Hopeless, we decided to forget about the world of internet and focus on nature. We went to anchor for the night at Isla Canal de Fuera, the northern entry to the Coiba National Park.

2018-12-25 14.04.55 DMC-FZ200 Washing in Isla Contreras

December 25th – Washing at Islas Contreras

 

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December 26th – Fisherman village in Bahia Honda

San Josè – Costa Rica and Boquete (by land)

On December 12th we left Zoe guarded by Beto who kindly took us ashore. The bus to San Jose’ was leaving from David (a few kilometers away from Pedregal) at noon, and it took nine hours to get to San Jose’. Even if it was quite a long ride, time went by pretty fast, as the bus was comfortable and we had a one hour stop at Paso Canoa, the village at the border, where we had to go through customs and immigration on both sides. We enjoyed the landscape along the coast, where we admired the extensive cultivations of palm trees for oil production. As soon as you cross the border from Panama to Costa Rica you immediately perceive a strong change in the landscape: lush and wild forest, mostly uninhabited, on the Panama side turns into cultivated land spotted by picturesque villages on the Costa Rica side.

In San Jose’ we had booked a very inexpensive room through Airbnb which turned to be nice and with a very kind host. We dropped the luggage and went to the restaurant where we had an appointment with Nello, the guy from the Italian embassy. He took us to an Italian restaurant where we had a great meal together. He talked about his experience in Costa Rica and shared that he was trying to buy a good-sized sailboat through an online auction for a few thousand dollars. We are anxious to know if he succeeded!

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December 13th – Enjoying Nello’s company at the Italian restaurant

The following day we went to the embassy to renew the passport and we continued taking advantage of Nello’s company at lunch and dinner. In the afternoon we went to the National Museum which contains interesting items of Costa Rica history since the pre-Colombian period. We skipped the Museum of Gold, a cannot miss place, as we visited it a previous trip to San Jose.

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December 13th – The National Museum’s garden

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December 13th – Pre-Colombian artifacts

We returned to Pedregal, but since the starter motor was not yet arrived, we decided to rent a car and to go to Boquete, where we spent a few days. This is an area about 1-hour drive north of David, at an altitude of approximately 1000 meters, at the foot of Vulcan Baru.

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December 15th – Boquete from a distance

Boquete is a vacation spot for Panamanians and a retirement location for Americans. The village is colorful and friendly, full of nice café and good restaurants. It is surrounded by a lush forest and well-marked trails that give you a chance to keep up with your body fitness. The general atmosphere is very friendly and the cool weather made these few days of wait a great break from the marine life.

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December 16th – Celebration at the church

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December 18th – A colorful house in Boquete

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December 18th – Coati in the suburbs of Boquete

December 19th – The dam serving the ENEL Fortuna Hydro Electric Power Plant

On December 20th we returned to David, picked up the new starter motor and visited the SOS Children Village – David, part of the SOS Children Village organization, that offers support to families in need. The village provides hospitality and education to children so to accompany them in a process of development to attain their self-sufficiency and to be active in the society. As we are supporters of this organization, we wished to see how it operates in different countries – we were very positively impressed.

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December 20th – Ana, an operator at the SOS Children Village

When we returned to the boat and mounted the starter motor, we faced exactly the same problem, as the engine would at times not start. This was a real bad surprise, as we could not think of any other source of the problem. As usual in these situations, we relied on the knowledge of Mirko (our friend, marine mechanic), who reassured us it was something around the electrical system and suggested a test we previously excluded with our logic. To make a long story short, we solved the problem by replacing a simple wire!!!

From Las Perlas to Pedregal (280 nm)

We left on December 4th at 4:00 pm from Isla San Jose heading to Isla Iguana, about 80 miles away on the opposite side of the Gulf of Panama, which sometimes can be difficult to cross due to its infamous gusty winds. The forecast was favorable with predicted winds of 10-15 kn. During the night the wind changed direction and speed, making the route to Isla Iguana challenging and with an arrival time at night; this is something we like to avoid when we do not know the place where we are landing. Therefore, we changed our plans to get to Ensenada Benao, an additional 10 miles away, where we ended up anchoring at about 7:00 am on December 5th.

Dec 4th - Leaving Isla San Jose'

December 4th – Leaving Isla San Jose’

Dec 4th - Mogote South of Isla San Jose'

December 4th – Mogote South of Isla San Jose’

Dec 4th - Other Mogote South of Isla San Jose'

December 4th – Other Mogote South of Isla San Jose’

Ensenado Benao is a large sandy bay where a few resorts have been built. We used this stop mainly to rest and repair the main sail that during the passage started ripping off in a couple of spots. We were aware that the main sail would have not lasted long, as its material is not appropriate for the hot weather in this side of the world. Differently from the genoa, we did not replace this sail before the departure from Rome, even if the sailmaker warned us about its light construction. So we took down the sail and used half of the 5 square meters of sticky patch we brought with us to temporarily fix the problem. We know that our next significant expense will be for a new main sail.

Dec 6th - Patches on the mainsail

December 6th – Patches on the mainsail

At this point we need to make a digression. A few days earlier we realized that Gemma’s passport was expiring at the end of February 2019. We needed to find a consulate where to renew the passport. First, we called the embassy in Panama, but we were not able to talk to anyone on the phone. We then tried with the Mexican embassy, where they told us we should get an appointment to bring the old passport, and then wait for about 10 days until they would have got clearance from the police in Rome to release the new passport. We also tried to call the embassy in Costa Rica, and we were lucky to speak with Nello, the employee in charge of the passport office. We immediately got in tune with him as he was very interested and curious about our sailing experience. He offered to request clearance from Italy upon an email with Gemma’s scanned documents, avoiding us to make two trips. Not only this, but also we agreed he would come sail with us during his Christmas vacations. We then set an appointment for December 14th at the Italian Embassy in San Jose’. Therefore, we decided to head to Pedregal, a small village on a river close to the city of David, where there are daily buses to San Jose’.

On December 6th we left Ensenada Benao with the wind on our back heading north west to Ensenado Naranjo, where despite our wish we arrived at night, as the wind dropped significantly and there was no sheltered anchorage before.

The day after we got to Isla Cebaco, an island with a few villages and an extensive banana plantation. Here we spent the whole afternoon searching internet for a new starter motor and the best way to get it delivered. We ended up ordering it from a Yanmar dealer in Miami who would have shipped it in a couple of days to MBE, a freight forwarder that in an additional few days would have delivered the spare part in David. In fact, soon after we crossed the Canal, every now and then the engine would not start, and as the time passed this was happening more and more frequently. So, after a thorough analysis and a phone consultation with our friend, Mirko, from our point of view the best mechanic of the world, we decided we could not wait but order a new starter motor. By the way, in a few days you’ll see that the passport and the starter motor stories will mix.

From Cebaco we made a stop in Isla Santa Catalina (Dec 8th) where we met the first sailboat since we left Panama! Even if we had no chance to interact with its occupants, we felt a bit less alone in the sea! In front of Isla Catalina there are long long beaches famous to surfers for the the high waves, though at the time we were there the sea was quite calm.

Dec 8th - Sailboat at the anchor at Isla Santa Catalina

December 8th – Sailboat at the anchor at Isla Santa Catalina

Time was becoming tight, so we kept going and got to Isla Secas by sunset. While anchoring, we noticed a lot of bubbling on the water, but at the moment we did not pay too much attention. Later, we were astonished and enchanted by a very peculiar phenomenon: hundreds of trumpet fishes, blue, approximately 70 cm long, were making a carousel of jumps all around the boat. They were running over the water for several meters in a sequence of 3-4 jumps,like if you were throwing a flat stone over a patch of calm water. This carousel continued all over the night, preventing us from falling asleep for quite a while. We promised ourselves to return here.

Dec 9th - Sunset at Islas Secas

December 9th – Sunset at Islas Secas

Dec 9th - Trumpet fish at Islas Secas

December 9th – Trumpet fish at Islas Secas

The next morning we left Isla Las Secas heading to Isla Bolanos, an intermediate stop to enter the river leading into Pedregal with the raising tide. After lunch, when it was time to leave, the engine would not start! For about a hour Sergio made several attempts until with apparent no reason the engine turned on! Such an experience convinced us not to turn off the engine till we were safely anchored at the marina in Pedregal. To get there, it is not that straightforward. In fact, you must sail up a river for about 20 miles, with sections that can be navigated only at high tide. This means that a boat like ours cannot make the entire course in one shot, but has to make a night stop waiting for the next high tide. So we did, anchoring in the middle of the river from 6pm until 4am with the engine running! Despite this inconvenience, the experience was really enjoyable; when entering the estuary, we were approached by a school of large dolphins that accompanied us for about an hour, amusing us with jumps and other acrobatics: some of them came so close to the boat that seemed to be looking at us with curiosity (please, forgive the anthropomorphism!!). Also navigating the calm waters of the river, admiring the unusual scenery and the hundreds of birds flying to their nests at sunset was unforgettable.

Dec 10th 4pm - Dophins at Boca Brava

December 10th – Dolphins at Boca Brava

Dec 10th 5pm - Sailing up the river

December 10th – Sailing up the river

Dec 10th 6pm - At the anchor for the night on the river

December 10th- At the anchor for the night on the river

When early in the morning we approached Pedregal we immediately realized that the term “port” was an overestimation; a few fishing boats were moored along dilapidated docks in shallow, muddy waters. Nobody was around apart from a guy who gestured and screamed something to us from a catamaran anchored close to the mangroves. That’s the way we met Beto! He jumped on a dinghy and rowed with energy toward our boat, while trying to communicate with us in a weird (to us) Spanish. When he got close to our boat he succeeded to explain us that the “jefe” (the master captain) of the port would have arrived at 8:00, and offered to call him on his mobile. We were a little anxious because, given the engine problem, we needed to moore and it did not seem so obvious that we would have had a place where to safely leave the boat. The master showed up at around 8:30 and kindly explained us that only one place was available, but that he would not recommend it. In fact, the dock was 3 meters long, good to moore a dinghy; plus we found out that this would have cost us an unreasonable and unjustified amount of money. The alternative was to moore attached to the catamaran and pay a much more reasonable amount of money to Beto who was already taking care for that boat, since the owner, a French guy, suddenly had to return home. We agreed with that solution and it was definitely for the best.

Dec 11th - Pedregal Marina

December 11th – Pedregal Marina

Dec 11th - Zoe moored next to the catamaran

December 11th – Zoe moored next to the catamaran

As soon as the sun started fading out, a cloud of no-see-’em invaded the boat. No-see’em are a 1mm kind of mosquito that byte instead of puncturing, causing hitches that last several days – you typically find them next to the mangroves. The only preventive measure is to “shower” with a very oily and sticky repellent. Therefore, we decided to anticipate our trip to San Jose to the following day, hoping to find the starter motor at the MBE office (the freight forwarder company which we used to ship it from Miami to Panama) on our way back from San Jose’.

Dec 12th - Birds at Pedregal Marina

December 12th – Birds resting on our boat

Islas Las Perlas (210 nm)

From Balboa (Panama) to Las Perlas – back and forth…

On November 14th at around 4:00pm we completed the passage of the Panama Canal and disembarked the pilot and the added crew. Since it was still early in the afternoon we decided not to anchor at Las Brisas, the large bay in front of Panama, bur rather continue to the Isla de Taboga, a few miles South of Panama, where we dropped anchor at sunset.

Taboga is a small, cute island used as a weekend spot by the Panamanians. Unfortunately you can see not too far all kind of cargos and oil tankers which take away a bit of the feeling of an uncontaminated place.

Nov 14th - Isla Taboga

November 14th – Isla de Taboga

Therefore, the day after we decided to head toward the Islas Las Perlas, that is an archipelago of nearly 250 small islands, most of which still uninhabited. The name originates in the Spanish colonial period for the great amount of pearls found around these islands. We motor sailed (no wind!) about 40 miles to reach Contadora, that is the most touristic island of the archipelago, featuring a small airstrip and many luxurious villas. The island of Contadora became famous when the Shah of Iran retreated there in exile. We anchored on the South side of the island; the next morning we had our first experience with the Pacific currents due to the tidal excursions. Gemma took a swim and immediately realized that though she was trying to swim back to the boat she was not making any progress forward. Fortunately Sergio was still on board and with the help of a line and a lifebuoy he could easily retrieve her back on board. It was a great lesson learned!

We landed on Contadora by dinghy to make some provisioning. The island is not huge, but long enough to appreciate the nice attitude of the local people who gave us a ride both ways into town and back by kind of golf carts.

The following day we explored the nearby Isla Bartolome’, a very scenic place where hundreds of birds (pelicans, fregata magnificentis, seagulls, cormorants – to name some)  entertain complex interactions within and between species. For example, we saw a group of fregatas nastily attacking and persecuting a poor seagull that had no choice than rapidly escape. This was the first time we tried the brand new wheels that we were recommended to add to our dinghy once in the Pacific. In fact, due to the high tides, the beach can become very long to transport the dinghy/engine that all together weight about 70 Kg. Unfortunately, this wonderful addition contrasted with the poor dinghy whose life was about to its end. In fact, although we stored it in a locker in Shelter Bay to prevent the sun to deteriorate it, the tropical heat still caused the PVC material of the dinghy to unstuck in several places.

Nov 20th - Isla Bartlomè

November 20th – Isla Bartolomè

Nov 20th - Pelicans at Isla Bartolome'

November 20th – Pelicans at Isla Bartolome’

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Dinghy on wheels

The following day we went to Isla Chapera where we felt quite unwelcome as soon as we tried to land with the dinghy and we were approached by some barking dogs and three armed soldiers who ordered us to leave immediately as that area was off-limits. Needless to say, we felt compelled to obey. We went to Isla Boyarena, a little gem which disappears with the high tide and becomes a huge dune of white sand at low tide.

Nov 23rd - Boyarena

November 23rd – Isla Boyarena

Here we had a disappointing accident. While we were raising the dinghy to try some extreme intervention to repair it, one of the two wheels felt in the water and in a matter of seconds it was out of our sight due to the strong tidal current. All efforts we made to rescue the wheel were useless. We knew it was floating somewhere, but after more than one hour of research on a semi-deflated dinghy, we decided it was time to take a turn. In a mixture of feelings between disappointed and sad, we came to the decision it was time for a new dinghy. We spent the following day at Isla Mina searching  internet and posting entries in forums to make an informed decision.  We found out that the only place where we could source a new dinghy was in Panama, so with the wind in our favor we quickly sailed back the 40+ miles that separated us from Panama City.

Nov 25th - Between Boyarena and Mina

November 25th – Between Boyarena and Isla Mina

Nov 25th - Tuna fish between Las Perlas and Panama

Nov 25th – Some catch

 

 

Nov 26th - Back to Panama

November 26th – Back to Panama

Nov 26th - From Las Perlas to Panama

November 26th – Boats transported by a huge cargo

Choices were limited, and basically the only dinghy available that would fit our needs was a Caribe dinghy with a fiberglass keel, 2.5 mt , 45 kg, manufactured in Venezuela. Believe it or not, the first hours with the new dinghy were a nightmare. In fact, one of the chambers was deflating after a few hours!!! We brought it back to the shop ready to ask for our money back… fortunately it was just a valve that was not properly lubricated!

Dec 1st - Back to Las Perlas with two dinghys

December 1st – Back to Las Perlas with two dinghys

With the new Caribe dinghy and some disappointing adventures behind our shoulders, we headed back to Las Perlas going through Isla Otoque, an island where the Smithsonian Society has established a research center for the study of the birds. From there, on November 30th we headed to Isla Pedro Gonzales, the third largest island of Las Perlas acrhipelago, where a luxurious marina and villas were recently built. We then sailed to the west side of Isla Bayoneta, that is famous for its long white sand beach full of small cowries (cipree).

December 1st - Isla Bayoneta

December 1st – Isla Bayoneta

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Sergio at Isla Bayoneta

We made the next stop at Isla Viveros, where we spent the night, before circumnavigating it to  get to the village of San Miguel at Isla del Rey. While the most populated of Isla del Rey, this is an extremely poor village, where we could barely find a few apples and eggs to buy. Even staying at the anchorage was not very pleasant, so we decided to leave and spend the night on the north east side of the island, were we found a beautiful and sheltered spot.

Dec 2nd -West side of Isla Rey

December 2nd – West side of Isla Rey

On December 3rd, we started heading south. We stopped at Ensenada, a tiny, colorful village, where people sustain themselves by fishing and harvesting fruit and vegetables on the hills of the island.

Dec 3rd - Ensenada

December 3rd – Ensenada (village at Isla del Rey)

In the afternoon we enjoyed passing by the island of San Telmo, getting for the night to an anchorage in a bay in front of Rio Cacique.

Dec 3rd - San Thelmo

December 3rd – Rock at Isla San Telmo

Here we encountered  three teenagers who approached us to sell fish freshly caught with their nets. Our plan for the day after was to navigate up the Cacique river that was advertised in our guide as a great place. Unfortunately, the next morning at 10:00. when in our mind the tide should have been at the perfect level for entering the estuary, we found no river! It was clearly too early and the estuary was still fully covered by the sand. Since we spent the night fighting the mosquitoes and the no-see-‘em, we decided it was time to start heading north west. After a short stop at Isla San Jose, at 4:00pm on December 4th we started the 80 miles crossing of the large Panama bay.

Dec 4th - Between Isla Rey and San Jose

December 4th – Between Isla Rey and San Jose

The Panama Canal

The 13th of November is the “d-day” for the passage! We woke up early in the morning to make the last minute preparation works as at 12:00pm three line handlers were booked to meet us in Shelter Bay where we were moored. At 1:00pm we all left the marina to get at 3:00pm to the meeting point (the Flats, just in front of the Canal entrance) with the “transit advisor”. In reality, at 4:15pm we saw the tug approaching us and two people boarded our boat: the “transit advisor” and a pilot trainee. So we ended up being 7 people on board: 3 young boys as line handlers, two “pilots”, and us.

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Transit advisors boarding Zoe

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“Global Rose” – Large Cargo paired with us for the Gatun Locks passage

We left immediately the “Flats” heading to the Gatun Locks. The transit advisor informed us that we were assigned to transit this first set of 3 locks behind Global Rose, a huge cargo. In fact, to optimize the use of water and time in the lock basins, the Canal authorities pair small boats together with a large ship. We were very excited and wondering what to expect from this unusual experience. The pilots were very friendly and open to reply all questions that we posed them. We entered the first lock at about 7:00pm, after a delicious spaghetti dinner cooked by Gemma for the whole crew. The Gatun locks consist of 3 basins connected by 4 huge lock doors; each of the 3 basins raises the boat by about 9 meters. As we entered the first basin, the door behind us was immediately closed and each of the line handlers, including  Gemma, received a pilot line to attach one of the four 40m lines that we boarded in Shelter Bay.

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Line managers keeping Zoe at the center of the basin

On the edges of the basin there were four line managers who secured the boat to keep it in the center of the basin and to prevent it to hit the walls. In fact all of the sudden, hundreds of cubic meters of water were flooded into the basin filling it in few minutes. The challenge for us was to keep the boat in the center despite the turbulence caused by the water coming in, plus the effect of the propeller of the cargo in front of us. The same thing happened two more times in order to reach the Gatun Lake that is 26 meters above sea level. We reached the Gatun Lake at about 9pm;  we were directed to a huge buoy where we moored for the night. The two pilots were collected by a tug, as we were going to get a different “transit advisor” for the second part of the passage.

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Large buoy we used to moor for the night

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New transit advisors boarding Zoe the second day

Around 9am in the morning a tug approached us disembarking two people: a new “transit advisor” and another pilot trainee. With this new company we navigated the Gatun Lake for about 20 nautical miles to get to the “Culebra Cut”, the large cut in the hills, 7.5 nautical miles long, that separate the artificial Gatun Lake from the Pacific. We were informed that this time our accompanying ship was a cargo named Maersk Nimes, and that we had to keep up with her speed (impossible!) to avoid being re-assigned to another way-behind ship. Fortunately Maersk Nemis had to stop at the entrance of the Culebra Cut to give way to a very large cargo coming from the opposite direction. We could therefore reach her and keep our schedule. After passing the Culebra Cut we found the Pedro Miguel Locks in front of us! This is a single lock station, lowering vessels by about 9 meters. As the final step we had to go through the Miraflores Locks, just a few hundred meters ahead, where vessels are lowered additional 17 meters through two locks for a total of 26 meters from the Gatun Lake to the exit of the Canal. In fact, the Pacific and the Atlantic oceans are at the same level (not taking into consideration the tidal effects on the Pacific side)!

 

 

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Going through the Pedro Miguel Locks

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Maersk Nimis, the large cargo we were paired with the second day

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Gemma holding the line – In the background the Maersk Nimis getting closer and closer

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The last door to the Pacific

 

At around 3:00pm on November 14th we were in the Pacific Ocean! From the Mediterranean Sea to the Atlantic Ocean in 2016 and now into the Pacific Ocean! All together it was an outstanding and exciting experience for us (and for Zoe as well) that was also very informative and made us appreciate such an incredible project and human achievement!

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Back in Panama

After 7 months of “normal” life in Rome, On October 30th we were back in Shelter Bay, Panama. We were extremely pleased at our arrival to find Zoe in excellent conditions, particularly the inside was dry and without any sign of mold: the dehumidifier had worked greatly!

Our arrival on the boat (2 of the 6 pieces of luggage)

The day of our arrival the boat was moved from the dry storage into the working area, ready for scraping and painting it with the new antifouling. In fact, we were anxious to get into the water, condition to set an appointment with the Canal authorities to prepare for the Canal passage.

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Zoe going back to her natural environment

We probably need to step back for a minute. When we left Panama in March we were considering three options for the continuation of of our trip: go East and then South to circumnavigate South America clockwise; make the Canal passage and then head South to circumnavigate South America counterclockwise; or, and this was our final choice, make the Canal passage and head North West to reach the Sea of Cortez (Baja California, Mexico). This trip will take us a minimum of two years, as in the next six months we will probably be able to only get to the South of Mexico. We plan to return to Rome toward the end of April.

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South America Clockwise

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South America Counterclockwise

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Panama to the Sea of Cortez, Mexico

The organization of the Canal passage was extremely fast and efficient, thanks to the services of a Panamanian agent who dealt for us with all the bureaucracy and sourced all what was required to make the passage. The first requirement is to get the boat measured by a Canal officer, who came on board and explained all steps and requirements to get through the Canal. In fact, the day of the passage a pilot comes on board to instruct the skipper on the maneuvers to make throughout the Canal. Also, you must have on board four people (on top of the skipper) to handle the ropes that keep the boat secure while in the closes. And, you need four 40+m lines and large fenders to protect the boat in case you are paired with one or more boats on the side. The typical configuration is to go through with 2 other sailboats or a tug on the side. We specifically requested not to have a tug on the side as we were told it can damage your sailboat. We ended up being without any other vessel on our side – but for sure with a big big cargo either in front or behind us – this cannot be avoided!

Ship Identification number

Our “name” during the Canal passage

Los Grullos

After our friends left we moved to Banedup in the Eastern Lemmon Cays. Together with Chichime, Banedup is one of the most crowded islands of the San Blas. In fact, it is a meeting place especially for the Italian cruisers who often organize parties on the beach. As you can imagine, this is not a very attractive place to be if you like quite and crystal clear waters.  The day after we sailed just a few miles to reach Los Grullos Cays, anchoring between Kuanidup and a small island nearby. We reached paradise!

Kuanidup – Los Grullos

We were here before, though we did not remember how beautiful these islets are, possibly because of different weather conditions. This time, with the sun shining all day long, the colors of the sea, coral reef and the beaches appear to be magic.

Pelican Island

We enjoyed great snorkeling around the smaller island under the controlling eyes of a crowd of resident pelicans.

The coral reef is extended and reach, and it is much less ruined than in the lesser Antilles. While underwater we found ourselves surrounded by hundreds of thousands of tiny silver fishes, forming a moving cloud more than 10 meters long. We sketched a little shark that was likely waiting us to leave to start its easy lunch.

We are not fishing when underwater, however we do buy fish from the Kuna people who approach us with their canoes. The last purchase was a new (for us) fish, which is quite different to clean (in fact the fisherman did it for us!) and it tastes like chicken!

Budu (chicken fish)

We stopped here for a week, an unusually long interval for us to be in a place without sailing. We read on the Bauhaus Guide that a sailor called his boat Kuani after seeing the beauty of this island!

Full Moon at Kuanidup

Full Moon at Kuanidup

Sunset over Pelican Island

10 days in the San Blas with Marie-Helene and Thierry

On the 17th of February Marie-Helene and Thierry, a couple of long time friends from France joined us after an adventurous journey. The transfer from Panama City to Carti lasted about 3 hours going through dirty roads, including passages through the jungle; in Carti, a lancia was waiting to take them to our boat. As a matter of fact, till the day before this transfer was in question as the Kuna Congress decided to forbid any transfer from the mainland to sailboats. Fortunately, the agency that they hired was able to find a “circumvention” to the problem and we were extremely happy to see them pop-up around noon.

Marie-Helene and Thierry spent 10 days with us on board. We had wonderful time with them sailing and visiting some of the most scenic islands of the San Blas archipelago. In order to get an overview of the route, click here to consult the interactive map. We had a constantly sunny and pleasantly windy weather that allowed us to enjoy every single moment and appreciate the wonderful colors of the sea – that the photos that follow can barely reproduce!

On February 26th they left the 28-30 degree temperature range of this region to return to snowy Paris – we were very sorry to see them leaving!

 

Gemma and Marie-Helene

Sergio and Thierry

Venanzio, a mola (one of the rectangles in the picture) maker in Salardup – 17 February 2018

Myriadup, Naguardup Cays – 18 February 2018

 

Myriadup, Naguardup Cays – 18 February 2018

 

Cambombia, Naguardup Cays – 18 February 2018

 

Waisaladup, Green Island – 19 February 2018

 

Nargana – 20 February 2018

 

Bridge between Nargana and Corazon de Jesus – 20 February 2018

The crew in Nargana – 20 February 2018

 

Coco Bandero – 20 February 2018

 

BBQ Island, Holandes Cays – 21 February 2018

 

BBQ Island, Holandes Cays – 21 February 2018

 

The Pools, Holandes Cays – 21 February 2018

 

Tiadup, Holandes Cays – 22 February 2018

 

Sand Islet / Kalugirdup, Holandes Cays – 23 February 2018

 

Sibadup, Holandes Cays – 23 February 2018

 

Miriadup, Holandes Cays – 23 February 2018

 

Uchutupu Dummat, Chichime – 24 February 2018

Uchutupu Dummat, Chichime – 24 February 2018

Provisioning in Chichime – 24 February 2018

 

Yansaladup, Eastern Lemmon Cays – 24 February 2018

 

Dog Island, Eastern Lemmon Cays – 25 February 2018

 

Tiadup, Lemmon Cays – 26 February 2018

 

Lunch together

“Mail in the bucket” (phone in a bucket brought to the top of the mast to get a better signal)

 

 

Cambombia and Nargana

On January 24th we headed toward the Naguargandup Cays, anchoring in front of Cambombia, the Eastern of the cays. This beautiful island is home to two very friendly Kuna families, who run a “restaurant” serving among other dishes, the “cambombia”, a shell very common and easy to source in this area.

Cambombia

At the restaurant we were not alone, since two groups of Italian with their clients joined our very long and only table. The dinner was accompanied by loud modern music which contrasted quite a bit with the very basic and natural environment. This somehow highlights the contrast between the simple life of the Kuna people who do not even use electric lights and the needs brought by the tourists.

Cambombia

We spent the following few days sailing between our favorites islands, all close by Cambombia. On January 31st we met Francesco and Maria (friends of Mirko – see earlier post) who joined us for dinner; we spent a pleasant evening, enjoying some social life that for us is quite scarce in this period!

Nargana and Corazon de Jesus

Nargana – Houses with bathrooms (on the left side of the photo)

One of the factors that influences our sailing route is the need to source provisions, especially fresh food such as vegetables and fruits. In this area there are sometimes Kuna people who bring by ulu (canoe) fish, lobsters, and sometimes even vegetables and fruit. However this happens on a “by chance” basis, so the alternative is to go to one of the few islands where you can find some basic shops. Nargana and Corazon de Jesus are two islands linked by a bridge where there are “several” shops selling “luxurious” items such as pasta, bread, and biscuits.

These islands also feature a laundry place where a lady washes clothes by hand using the river water brought by a basic but functional pipe system coming from the mainland. This water provisioning is quite unique in the area as fresh water typically is sourced from rain. This is why the Kuna huts are typically surrounded by plastic barrels.

Laundry at Nargana

In addition, Nargana is the only place where is kind of safe to leave the garbage (basura) that apparently is brought to the mainland. In all other islands the garbage is either burned (yes, including the plastic; it is considered the least of the damages to the environment by both Kuna and cruisers) or simply thrown into the sea. This is really a major problem for us and most sailors. We collect the garbage in different buckets depending on the material, as we are used to do at home, but here it is useless because there are no means (and a culture) to properly dispose the differentiated garbage.

Bridge between Nargana and Corazon de Jesus

Central park in Nargana

Back to Panama

On January 15th (actually the 16th at 3.00am) we got back to Panama, where we spent the following day making provisions for the next two months on board.

After a long bus ride to Panamarina, we finally got back on board of Zoe. We were quite anxious about the conditions of the boat since some of our friends had the unpleasant surprise of finding mold covering the whole interiors while leaving the boat unattended without a dehumidifier. Since we did the same even though only for one month, we were quite pleased to find out that everything was fine, even if on the edge. Some smell of mold was already slightly perceivable.

On January 18th we set sails toward the San Blas, even if we made a “technical” stop in Linton Bay to mount all the spares we purchased back in Italy, including some improvements for the desalinator, alarms for the bilge pump, and so on.

While at the anchor, we were patrolled by a small shark all day long. It look quite innocuous even if we did not test it first hand!

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Linton Bay – Small shark

After a few days we sailed to Nuinudup, one of the Eastern Lemmon Cays, where we already anchored back in November.

Since our arrival in Panama, the weather was still fairly unstable, despite the start of the dry season. Quite often we experienced showers and anyhow we never had a whole sunny day. Nevertheless, the trade winds (Alisei) set in blowing constantly from NNE at 15/20 knots. That allowed us to always sail between islands without ever using the motor.

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Los Grullos Cay

On January 23rd we started exploring new islands, beginning from Los Grullos, Gunboat Island, anchoring in the late afternoon in front of Isla Maquina, where we planned to attend the “Congreso”, or town hall, that is a gathering place for villagers most evenings. We were introduced to the Congreso by Venanzio, a transvestite, mola maker, who was the first Kuna person we met back in Chichime. He kindly instructed us about the proper dress code and accompanied us to the Congreso meeting. The “Saila” (the chief of the village) was already swinging in his hammock, the sign of power in the Congreso. He was accompanied by an “Argar”, an “interpreter” who applies the Saila’s wisdom to the current situation. In this case the Saila was giving a judgement for a case of aggression by two Kuna’s toward some tourists in the mainland. After one hour of long sacred songs, he emitted his sentence to send the aggressors in jail in Nargana.

Every village has a Congreso that is hosted in an oversized hut, with some hammocks in the center and wooden seats all around. Women sit most closely to the Saila. We noticed that many of the women, including Venanzio, were sewing molas with the support of a headlight while attending the session.

We realized that it is not rare to meet Kuna men who are transvestites. We were told that, due to the matrilinear character of the Kuna society, families without female descendants grow their last son as a female.

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Isla Maquina

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Child – Isla Maquina

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Mini Super – Isla Maquina

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School – Isla Maquina