Posted on June 16, 2017
At least three boats are in flames, and there may be damage to the pier. Milou is safe, although we scrambled off our mooring that was directly downwind of the fire. We’ll try to post updates tomorrow.
Update: three boats destroyed–two sport fishing boats and one sailboat. The sport fishing boat that caught on fire initially had a guy sleeping on it; he swam to safety, and was hospitalized for smoke inhalation. When the fire reached the mooring lines, the boat drifted into the other two boats, and then against the pier, near the gas dock.
All three boats were eventually towed, still aflame, towards shore, where they were still smoldering this morning. The pier has already been repaired. The only other injury we heard about were broken ribs from a spectator, who fell down some steps.
Posted on June 14, 2017
We’re picking up our advisor around 2:00 at the Flats, and then heading for the Gatun Locks!! We’ll be spending the night in Lake Gatun, then continuing onward tomorrow; we expect to be done with our transit early tomorrow afternoon.
There are live cameras streaming from the canal; try here if you want to try and follow along (although the cameras might not be working). Updates from Facebook at Deb Lease, as bandwidth allows.
Our line handlers are awesome; we’re all prepped up for food; tires/fenders are in place, lines aboard. SO excited to bring our boat to another ocean!
Posted on June 11, 2017
It’s been a whole year!! We moved on to our boat June 11, 2016; and here we are, one year later, hanging out in Panama. Our boat feels like home. We’ve lost our feeling of being imposters to the cruising life.
When experienced cruisers ask us if this life was what we thought it would be, I think they expect us to start in on tales of woe about clogged heads and engine trouble, dragged anchors and unexpected storms. We have some tales to tell, but really, this trip has been pretty much what we expected. The low moments are excruciating; but the highlights are astonishing. Throughout the year, as a family, we grow more competent, confident and flexible. It’s an accomplishment in itself to spend every day of your life learning new things; we can feel the neurons firing up and making new connections, even for objectives as mundane as finding a quart of milk in a new town. Whenever our kids head out to find a bathroom by using their Spanish, it feels like a victory.
In an attempt to organize a bunch of info, we’re reduced to a list:
Best free book score: American Gods, in Titusville
Best low-tech gear: TIE between the solar oven and the Windscoop, both of which really came into their own in Guna Yala. Honorable mention: deck of cards.
Smelliest part of boat life: you’d think it’d be the scrappy, infrequent showers, right? You would be so, so wrong. It’s a terrible toss-up between the odor of the holding tank vent being clogged—which shoots air from the holding tank in to the saloon—and the smell from the salt-water spigot in the galley when something has crawled up the hose and died. So gross.
Best boat upgrade: I was going to say the anchoring system, which has kept us safe and secure night after night; but then I remembered that stretch of time when the foot switches didn’t work, and how they’re corroding in general, and how we still haven’t installed the control switch at the helm. The anchoring system is still awesome and dear to my heart, but—hello, lithium batteries/solar combo, with backup super-alternator. We have never uttered the phrase, “Please charge that later; we are low on power.” We are charged to 100% capacity almost every single day. This is unheard of for most boats. Corollary: the refrigeration upgrade, which saves us boatloads of power in itself (even if things do occasionally end up frozen).
Favorite anchorage: Warderick Wells? Turnbull Island? Coco Bandero? Bahia Sangua de Tanamo? Impossible question. Stop it.
Biggest waste of money: wifi booster antenna.
Poorest tactical choice: the dinghy ride from our boat to Sapphire’s family rental near Georgetown. Why didn’t we take the shorter dinghy ride and take a cab? It was way too rough out there! Not to mention the terrible surf landing, iPad destruction, and minor concussion on my part. Lesson learned. Our passage from Club Island to Tobermory was no great shakes, either.
Most terrible week: look, there were a lot of intense weeks with extreme highs and lows (that first one comes to mind), but I think the worst was when we were pinned down on Long Island, Bahamas, waiting to head south. Really challenging shore access, no good way to get to our friends—just a few miles away!—crazy rolliness, very little sleep.
Worst seasickness victim: I know you’re expecting T, but actually Michu takes this prize. Passage from Fort Pierce, FL, to West End, Bahamas; changing an impeller upside-down in the engine room in rough seas. Possible negative influence from the Bonine, which he hasn’t tried since. It was ugly.
Best piece of clothing award: Swear to god, I don’t worry too much about what I look like out here, but you might want to hear this. I have a pair of Patagonia board shorts that I bought maybe 16 years ago that never fit. I didn’t get rid of them, because they are super-nice Patagonia board shorts, and maybe someday the stars would align and they would magically look good on me…and then I thought, they’ll fit F by the time we’re done with this trip, might as well bring them. Well. They fit. They are bomb-proof, quick-dry, and awesome-looking, and make me feel like I am 20 years old. In a very different category, I’m quite fond of my foul-weather bibs that let me drop the seat without getting totally undressed.
Best thing we brought that we were told we wouldn’t need: 300 feet of high-test chain. When we need it, we need it.
Things we brought that we have since realized were slightly idiotic: nice shoes (since sent home with my brother); PAWS Easter-egg dying kit (all the eggs in Panama are brown!); Bowditch’s Navigation Guide, coming soon to a free book shelf near you; the three-tiered copper hanging basket that would wing all over the place when we were underway
Best homeschooling success: math.We love the books the kids are using, and we’ve managed to be very consistent in studying.
Worst homeschooling failure: music. It was a big financial investment to bring instruments along with us, and man, does the cello take up space; but the kids aren’t playing enough to make it work, and Michu and I are terrible music teachers. Although F was rockin’ it last night with the open mic guys…
Ugliest boat-administered haircut: It’s fine, you guys. I like the asymmetrical look. I know it was windy when you were cutting it. Thanks for trying, honey.
Best home-cooked meal: those first lobsters in the Berry Islands of the Bahamas. Talk about knowing you’ve arrived…
Best restaurant meal: the all-you-can-eat sushi in Great Bridge, at the entrance to the ICW. Sounds like it would be terrible, but every thing was made to order and amazing.
Worst meal: I think the reheated, formerly frozen sesame noodles on the fourth day of our passage from Jamaica to Panama. No one even pretended to eat them. Food for the fishes.
Best Ice Cream: Peace Pies in Charleston. It was one of those things where there were lots of other options, and they were kind of expensive, and we almost went somewhere else…but it was AMAZING
Worst boat injury (since cruising): T’s foot, on the very first night on the boat. It was a brutal cut, and took forever to heal.
Best fantasy inventions to improve cruising life: bug zapper that kills all biting insects in a 20-mile radius. Cabinet that constantly delivers fresh, hot pizza whenever you open it, or ice cream, or chai tea. Toilet seat that doesn’t twist at the hinges and break when being jolted around (Brynn, we expect to see some progress on this one).
Best Public Library: Cleveland. Shakespeare First Folio–and amazing graphic novel section!
Best snorkeling: we all have different answers for this one. The Aquarium off Bell Island in the Bahamas may have had the most dense fish population; Thunderball Grotto was amazing to swim into; the best corals were off Sirichidup. Impossible question. Next.
Favorite marina: you’d think it’d be some place with amazing pools and pristine showers and a great restaurant. Our favorite marina had none of those things: the guys at Homer Smith in Beaufort, NC, were fantastic.
Worst Marina of All Time: Southwind Marine, in Milwaukee, where we started. Remember how they wrecked our brand-new bow roller? And how our neighbor witnessed the whole thing? They never compensated us. Jerks.
Best place we went that we were told we couldn’t go: You guys, we’ve been told we couldn’t go to so many places with this boat. The Bahamas, with our draft; Guna Yala with no watermaker; the Rio Chagres, again with the draft. They were all amazing. Do your own research, and don’t listen to the naysayers.
Posted on June 8, 2017
By the time we leave to transit the Canal, we will have spent a total of 28 days at Shelter Bay Marina over the course of two and a half months. That’s the most time we’ve ever hung out at a single marina, or a single place. We’ve split it up—a week here, a week there—but it’s still a heck of a long time.
That’s not to say we haven’t enjoyed it. We find the marina to be well-run; the staff is helpful and knowledgeable, and they’re set up for long-term cruisers who need a pit stop. We know the free shuttle to Colon intimately, down to the bridge-over-the-locks versus wait-for-the-ferry route options. We can find all the weird-but-important stuff at the El Ray grocery store (coconut milk), and know what we shouldn’t bother to look for (whole wheat flour). We’ve had a surfeit of clean laundry.
Our days at this marina have been pretty routine. We all seem to be sleeping in; maybe it’s the security of not worrying about the anchor, wind shifts or waves. Breakfast is relaxed and occasionally elaborate—we’ve got plenty of groceries and stove fuel, and there’s a small store at the end of the dock if we’re low on eggs. The kids and their designated adult head to the air-conditioned lounge around nine o’clock and take over a table near an electrical outlet. By noon, school is wrapping up; wifi and wanton screen time is creeping in. Lunch, reading, cleaning the boat, repair projects, and pool time fill the afternoon. Dinner tends to be eaten in the cockpit; being tied to a dock doesn’t give much chance for the breeze to blow the heat out of the boat, so it’s generally pretty sweltering down below by evening.
Because so many folks hang out here on a long-term basis (one boat full-time for four years, one for seven), there’s an organized calendar of activities on the wall just outside the bar. When we were here in April, there was something going on every night; despite the slower pace, as boats leave for the rainy season, there are still potlucks and open-mic nights and movies showing on a regular basis. We haven’t completely plunged into the social fray, but F is practicing up to join in with the musicians next Saturday, and we’ve met most of the regulars. Just like Georgetown, there’s morning yoga—this time led by a voice on an iPod—and Mexican train dominoes; there’s also an organized nature walk into the jungle, and daily water aerobics.
Many, many people come to this marina to haul out and fly back to the states for four to six months. This has resulted in four boats offloading groceries to us over the course of one week. We can’t decide if it’s because they read our blog and see how closely we track expenses, or if they just want to feed our kids; either way, we now have six separate packages of butter, three open jars of red pepper jelly, four ketchups currently in operation, and exotic luxuries such as powdered instant iced tea with lemon and cans of Coca Cola. What I really need is a dish that can use up pickles; we just don’t have room in the fridge for them all. I’m thinking potato salad with some of the bacon (two open packages) and lots of mustard (five open jars or packets).
We’ve also had the pleasure of finally meeting a boat whose blog we started following in our long-ago land life. Full Monty is on their way back to North Carolina after six years of sailing, primarily in the Pacific. At last, it was our turn to say—you know, I know all about you, we’ve followed your blog!
Finally, things are looking good for our transit. We’ve been in touch with a guy who rents lines and fenders, and it looks like we should have this covered for about $100. More importantly, we’re all set for line handlers! Our sign on the notice board outside of the office was spotted by an engineer on a small cruise ship at the marina, in for repairs. Les’ parents have retired to Panama, and are keen to go through the Canal; they’ve even managed to secure a third person for us. Not sure who’s more excited, them or us. Panama Canal, here we come!
Posted on June 4, 2017
Boilerplate disclaimer: this is not what it will cost you to go cruising.
People’s constant advice, discussing cruising finances, always seems to be: It’ll cost what you have. We did not find this helpful in our planning, however true it may be. What we’re trying to show is the cost to us, more or less, for one month to go cruising. We’re going for monthly expenses, because they’re easier for us to track; so you won’t see the boat insurance amortized, you’ll just see that expense when we pay it. It won’t be what you’ll spend, but it was the kind of information that helped us out when we were trying to wrap our heads around that magical number for our cruising kitty.
When we left Wisconsin, we estimated that we’d be paying around $2000 to go through the Canal. We don’t think it’s going to work out that way, in fact. We’ll write in detail about the nuts and bolts of our transit after we’re safely through, but for the moment, we plan to transit without an agent. That means we’re not spending between $350-$600 to have a local help us through the process. Consequently, we’re spending a bit more time paying fees, filling out forms, and making trips to Colon; for us, that’s meant more time at Shelter Bay Marina, and additional communications dollars to stay connected by phone and web. Still. We hope to spend much less than we originally anticipated; and unlike an agent, the marina has a pool. Where would you rather put your money?
The numbers for May:
Fuel: $68.15 diesel; $59.48 stove fuel; $14.50 propane for the grill
Bank Fees: $11.50
Canal Fees: $984
Grand Total: $2950.56
A few notes and rejoinders:
- We’re stocking up. That may not be super-apparent, but it will be next month, for sure. Costa Rica is supposed to be wildly expensive compared to Panama. We’re upping the groceries, little by little, and laying in a good supply of stove fuel.
- Despite all of our trips to Colon for groceries and fun meetings with the Canal Authority, we didn’t spend any money on transportation this month. Free marina shuttle for the win!
- The Canal fees listed above cover our measurement, our advisor, and services during transit. We still have to rent lines and fenders, and we may have some expenses pertaining to our line handlers. We’ve also paid a deposit of $891, not listed, which should be returned to our bank if everything goes smoothly. Here’s hoping.