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So Very Dark, Yet So Much To Sea

Published on April 15, 2013 by in Misc.

The night is dark, so dark. The sea has laid down and the surface is smooth and soft but the water is thick and rich. Each bob of the bow sends off a wake of light, the phosphoressence of nightlife. The passing jellyfish float by like a lantern without a plug free to roam about. The approaching dolphins as ghosts in the night, sillohuetted by the life they pass through as they glide so effortlessly through the sea. Their very movement turns on the light. A train of light just now stretched out a few hundred yards and passed.

Eyes upward, the sky is black with the stars so bright.More stars fill the sky than one rarely if ever sees. Layers upon layers upon layers of stars that one could fall through if you stared long enough. A band of clouds paint a wispy streak across the sky in a perfect curve but never move except as we rotate away and they fade away into the dawn. This rich milky mass is clouds of billions of stars in our galaxy, the one in which we live – the Milky Way.

The impressions of tonight are reserved only for those who are adventurous enough to leave their solid shore behind and venture out far away from the light of man into the complete darkness of the earth at night. I sail across the dark into the dark toward the faint curve of the horizon falling into the dark but starry sky, yet I am at peace. blind to worry. I trust that Mother Earth won’t let me fall off her beautiful sphere, like a baby from her mother’s breast.

 
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Good Olde Mexico can be found if you’re looking in the right places

Published on April 10, 2013 by in The Pacific

Chiapis Marina is quite the facility although the wifi sucks. From my perspective as a cruiser, the only thing I’m starving for when out sailing for days or at anchor each day in a new place is a connection to the internet; and for me that means wifi that I can pick up with my fancy antenna in the comfort of my boat. Not really interested in lugging my oversize laptop up to a stoop somewhere and actually trying to balance this HP Pavillion on my lap while I’m trying to two-finger type and see the screen at the same time. So when the marina advertises wifi but doesn’t deliver I feel betrayed and I’d much rather be at anchor where the air is better, the water clean enough to swim in and make water and beautiful non-sanitized nature is all around and its FREE.

That word FREE has attracted cruisers for years and years. Here we are with boats worth hundreds of thousands and some in the millions (but that is a class not to be discussed here) and yet we’re always concerned with how much things cost. I believe the reason is one of two things or both: One is most cruisers either sold everything to get their boat and finance a hopeful longtime on their journey with no significant outside income coming in; or, it’s just in there blood, making ends meet, being thrifty and frugal with spending money regardless of how easy or hard they earned each dollar. So the conversation most often shared among cruisers is where the best place to eat is, the best place to shop, the price of fuel, dockage fees, etc. and part of the definition of best always includes value not just quality. Some people call cruisers cheap.

Well one father and son cruiser duo took us to their favorite newly found taco place in Puerto Modero where tacos are 7 pesos each. This is a street vendor but they have a cute set of picnic tables to sit and watch them hand make fresh tortillas over their wood fire. They don’t sell beer but OXXO next door does for 10 pesos. So after four of us ate our fill, father David said I’ll pay and got a big smile on his face because the bill was 130 or so pesos which is about $11. David is 69 and has been coming to Mexico for decades and says this is the way old Mexico was and I remember too. There is no better aid to digestion than a fair price for a simple meal.

Well we finally pushed off from Chiapis after waiting for a big Pecker to blow through the feared Golfo Tehuantepec and sailed across what resembled more a lake than the mean and nasty Gulf waiting to blow so hard it can push you a hundred miles out to sea. Thank God and good timing for that.

On the other end is Huatulco, a Bahia of several anchorages and marinas. We chose what most other cruisers said Chahue Marina which hides behind their narrow slot of an entrance and since we showed up at dawn was a bit elusive as the light was not the best. We were the first of about four boats that left Chiapis two days before at the same time but we had a great reception here with folks helping take our lines as we docked. The boat across the way Misty Michael and its captain Chris was such a breath of fresh air. He drove us to get our propane tanks filled (a task that has been eluding us for two months), giving us a guided tour of Hautulco as we stopped to buy produce too. I marveled and remarked over and over again at how clean and tidy this little city is compared to all the basura you see everywhere else. I’ve decided that in all our travels Huatulco gets the INNcredible’s Tidy Town award.

And we had fun going back into town to walk the streets and shop a bit more, finding a juice bar that made to order fresh fruit and vegetable juices anyway you like them. So I ordered a couple carrot/apple and beet juices and guess what Andrew really liked it too. Served in big Margarita bowls those two fresh juices cost 50 pesos about $4.20.

Does everything have to be cheap for my seal of approval? First, it has to be good and then if its inexpensive, its a winner.

You probably think I’m cheap. Well Euclid wrote about many mathematical truths and the one that says if two things each are equal to a third thing then they are equal to each other. So if we already established above that cruisers are cheap too, it goes to prove that I am a cruiser too. So don’t think of me as cheap, think of me as a cruiser.

 

 
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El Salvador Cruisers’ Rally – Bahia del Sol

Published on April 5, 2013 by in The Pacific

After getting the hell out of Nicaragua which we entered with a wonderful welcome and left under mandate of Navy decree, we sailed and sailed to A more friendly land of El Salvador and more particularly Bahia del Sol. Little did we know there is a cruiser rally going on to El Salvador and we arrived right in the middle of it. But to get in and out of this highly recommended port of call, one had to find their way through the shifting sands and breaking surf. The recommended entry is to arrive at high tide, radio in approaching the entrance and wait for a pilot boat to come out and escort you through the ever changing shoals that make this entrance so potentially dangerous.

After two days and nights of sailing we arrive at near high tide and radio in. No response. Radio in several times and get a response from another boat relaying the message to the marina that we’re requesting a pilot boat to escort us in. The message gets relayed back and forth and we’re told to hold tight for several hours until they get a pilot boat. it was broad daylight, we’re tired and the tide is perfect incoming and nearing high. Waves are breaking all over the mouth of this estuary and the entrance recommended on the chart plotter is totally out of date to the current shifting shoals of sand. So i motor slowly around the outside of the breaking waves observing the shoals looking for the best way in. A local boat is coming out. I watch and continue to jockey the INNcredible into position to see the route from all angles. Another boat this time coming in proceeds as I observe from just outside.I decide to make a run broadside within the breaking waves to a midpoint then turn left for the whitewater ride straight in. The depth is already only 14 feet, 12, 11, 10, 9, 8.5, 9, 8, 7.5, 8, 7.0, 7.5 waves breaking but luckily not too big, turn in the middle. The water ahead ripples like a rivers rapid and looks downhill and the INNcredible Sea Lodge gets picked up by the incoming rush of tide – 6.8, 7 knots. We’re flying. And we make it no problem. Motored into the left up the estuary to a wonderful welcome dockside by Rally leaders Bill and Jane. Word spread through the cruiser group that the cowboys just arrived coming through on their own in the biggest boat of all.

Bahia del Sol  is what every cruiser hopes for in a marina with the most friendly group of sailors yet.

Being Semana Santos (holy week) the estuary was hopping with families vacationing all about. On Holy Saturday we took a dinghy excursion 5 miles up the estuary to a backwater town of the most authentic kind. Through the maze of backwater one arrives at the site of a giant palapa bustling with people coming and going and enjoying the river front eateries all under this one big roof. Everything local and fresh from types of clams, shrimp, fish and yard birds. Vendors come round to sell you locally grown and roasted cashews, pepitas (pumpkin seeds) and a roped collection of mud crabs. We bought it all and ate some great fish dinners too. But the walk through the long road into town was an eye opener to their reality that is only appreciated in person. Not being able to hide my Santa Claus appearance I came prepared and handed out loolipops to all the children along the way (probably 50 or more). Always on the lookout for the central market, walking through a funeral procession, we find this dungeon of a dark concrete chasm with vendors all lined up with everything including wood fires roasting hand made thick tortillas. We bought all that was good. Loaded with stuff we rode a three wheeled Asian-like open air covered cart back to the water’s edge. Back in the dinghy to motor our way back through the maze of mangrove-lined waterways to the boat before dark.

It was time to go out with the tide Easter evening back through the shifting sands and surf and head for Mexico, bypassing Guatemala because the fees and red tape to visit are not worth the little time we would have. Chiapis Mejico is our next stop 230 miles ahead

 
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Sleeping Giants and Smokin’ Pistols

Published on March 30, 2013 by in The Pacific

In the moonlight, and more as dawn approached, the silhouette of El Salvador came into focus. Mountains, but not just any mountains, come right down to the sea. With the wind on my beam and a starboard tack, I had an unobstructed view all to myself, not a soul was awake aboard the INNcredible Sea Lodge but the captain, meself, on watch since 0400.

There was smoke in the air, trails of it, and upon closer inspection a wee bit of it was coming from some mountain tops (most of it from the ground is burning sugar cane fields). These geologic pistols were smokin’ as if they just fired a round not long ago. Not long ago may be a few lifetimes to us humans but in the vastness of geologic time it’s so recent that the pistol’s chamber still has shells in it, the striker is cocked and the trigger could go off at any time. At any time as it did, like I said just a few lifetimes ago and fired a round that buried whole towns and made new mountains – volcanoes. Fascinating and we’ve seen these Hot Spots before in the Windward Islands of the Caribbean and now all along the Pacific Coast of Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua and now El Salvador; but no more dramatic than here sailing the coast of El Salvador.

Geologists say our earth’s crust is made of plates, moving plates. And in the middle of our oceans new material is being added to these plates pushing them outward toward the continental plates which stand their ground but buckle and fold sending the oceanic plates down. The seduction of the oceanic plates eventually go so deep that it melts and builds up pressure far below the earth’s surface. And just like me, and maybe you too,every once in a whilewhen we least expect it , we blow our tops.

But in the case of these sleeping giants, it’s not all hot air and sound effects. It’s not always cataclysmic either. When it is, the might and fury can make its mark in a BIG way.

So as I enjoy a peaceful sail in this 88 degree water absorbing the dramatic landscape of El Salvador, I can only imagine the real drama that created this now peaceful landscape. As much as I’d like to see one go off, I may not be here afterwards to blog about the experience, so I’ll pass (as if I have anything to say about its timing any how).

 
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Costa Rica – the Formalities of In and Out

Published on March 25, 2013 by in The Pacific

Costa Rica is beautiful and its west coast has too very distinct parts: the lower half gets 260+ inches of rainfall annually and supports the healthiest forests I have seen coastside; where the upper half has six long months of drought each year and I am passing through in its fifth dry month and if I didn’t know better I’d think the hillside forests were dead. But Pedro, the taxi driver, assures me that in Mayo the trees become alive and the hills are rich and green. Where it actually changed I didn’t notice a line but the change came quick and dramatic with even cactus growing among the sleeping deciduous forest. I see the coastline as we slowly sail by but I have taken no time to venture into its famous cloud-forest interior. Time even on a long INNcredible journey is  a factor to which I make haste. I’ve lived my life on an eight day per week schedule farming and making wine and running Fitzpatrick Winery & Lodge with my family so I see possibilities sailing that most sailors never even contemplate. But here it is 10 months into the INNcredible journey and we are right on schedule. Would I like to slow it down? You bet.

The water is our landscape almost always on three sides and its not desolate. Yesterday the sea showed us how alive it is with surface entertainment almost non-stop. Those flying flip-flopping rays started the early morning with circus like flying_ray_blogperformances, the occasional giant turtle floated by, dolphins came in groups rushing over to the moving Sea Lodge checking us out fore – aft – amidship and under before moving on. But that moment that a Giant Manta Ray (12+ feet) flew out of the water to make its flip then crashing flop was luckily seen by all of us (but no one had camera ready although mine was in hand). A pod of dolphins so large i first thought I’d seen an Orca powered by. And the sea was boiling with feeding frenzies happening all over – little fish being chased and eaten by larger fish who were then attracting even larger fish interested in those medium fish and so on.

Our fishing  kept pulling in those bonita who seem to love anything with squiggly frills hanging off. But shortly after sunrise I was on my watch and let out a line to start fishing for the day and BANG. Before i could even finish letting the line out and set the drag, line was spinning out so fast I was sure the spool would soon empty before I could slow the outward action. I struggled with this while al aboard were still sleeping but started to make unexpected progress. When I felt I had a grip I hopped up to the bridgedeck to slow the engine down a bit. Then surprisingly I found myself reeling in this big one faster than I expected. When i first saw the fish at the surface but still way out there I knew I would need help to gaff it on board. So what do you do when you can’t leave your pole as your fighting the biggest fish-to-date? You yell like hell for your first mate to rise and shine and get that gaff ready. By the time Andrew showed he was still in his sleepy daze and stared out to see the fish. I yelled, Its right here, gaff it! I already had the fish at our stern trying not to loose it. Andrew got it on board and what a specimen it was – maybe 20 pounds and of a new kind. We looked it up to find it was a Jack Crevale, a fighter anglers enjoy but seldom eat. Here on the INNcredible we eat what we catch or we stop fishing because I don’t feel good about killing life just for my entertainment. So I performed the surgery on this fellow and look forward to savoring its dark red meat. This Jack feeds on sardines, anchovies and shrimp so its no wonder this fish will taste ‘fishy’ (for those Jersey shore folks like bluefish supposedly).

Now let me tell you about Friday afternoon’s Mission Impossible. Arriving in Costa Rica’s last Port of Entry (for us port of Exit) at about 1330 on a Friday, I knew it would be most likely impossible to get clearance and that all important ‘Zarpe’ so we could sail on to our next country. But the alternative was we would have to hang around until Monday morning to start the process. So I pressed on anyhow determined to do the impossible. In Playas Coco (yes, you got it – Coco Beach in English) there are no docks, no pier just beach with waves breaking and a tide that goes in and out to a depth of 12 feet. So that was the first obstacle, gathering all the important boat papers plus all the passports, ID, money and a VHF radio and cell phone and prepare to make a beach landing and not get anything wet besides myself. Then to the Posrt Captain’s office in hopes they are open. Inside the friendly gal laid out in Espanol all i would have to do and in what order ending up back at her office before 1600. It was now 1400. Next i found Pedro, the taxi driver, and told him the mission I had to accomplish. Pedro said $40 and lets go. 28 hard miles away into the interior is where Costa Rica thought was a good location for their Aduana (Customs Office) on the side of the road in Liberia. Inside the tiny office nobody was there but one old gal (I guess I shouldn’t say that because she’s probably younger than I) who was very helpful and although the phone kept ringing and she kept answering it, she got the paperwork done and I was back in the cab with Pedro racing down the country highway back to Playas del Coco. Road construction in town had the main entrance all chewed up and traffic at its knees.  I had to stop first at the National Bank to deposit $30 in the Port captain account and bring the receipt. Upon entering the bank (Friday afternoon) it was packed with locals in line for service. I was doomed already pushing the 1500 hour. I saw a well dressed young man so i asked if he worked there. He did. And in my best Espanol I told him my mission and asked for his help. He agreed and escorted me to a special window and put one of the tellers on my needs. pateintly I sat as she did all that formal shit that she needed to do and about 20 minutes later I was outside and climbing back over the road construction to the other side of the road where pedro was waiting. Off to the immigration Office which again was on the other side where only climbing back over the windrow of road base four feet high was the way into the Immigration Office. Nice thing about the obstacle course was no other customers were inside. The Immigration lady started chatting in Espanol as I was getting out all my paperwork that I was proud was all ready and in order. She perused each page and then started rattling off – and my Spanish mind just went blank. Just like you forget someone’s name and yet you know them – it happens and i was left claiming no comprende and asking for mercy and a fool’s pardon. She looked at me with caring eyes seeing I was sinking in my chair almost giving in to defeat. But she perked up and started going about her business and continued trying to communicate with me and suddenly there was a breakthrough and i was back on her page again. But she needed copies of some papers for which I only had the originals and she wanted to see the other two passport holders for which I carried their passports. nI told her the waves at the beach were too dangerous for my passengers to safely get in so just I, the captain, made the attempt. She bought that story but still wanted those copies. She had a copy machine right behind her but I didn’t want to remind her because I learned from other clearing that they want us sailors to jump and jump high through all their hoops. I put my hands to cover my downturned head showing quietly my depression. She perked up again and made those copies and carried on with handing me papers to fill out and tried to wrap it up. We were almost there when she realized that it was 1600 and the Port Captain would be closing. She took the initiative to call over there and ask if someone could wait for me. They agreed and said for me to knock when I arrive at the locked door. 15 minutes later I got to the Port Captain’s office with Pedro’s help. This is the place where all this running around and collection of paperwork is checked and double-checked so that all important ‘Zarpe’ can be written so we can officially leave Costa Rica and carry on to the next country. I didn’t even have to knock, the door opened upon my arrival. Sweet young senorita put all the papers together for her files and printed up the ‘International Zarpe’. My glee was rising, my inner self was about to collapse from the whole ordeal. I gave here many thanks and $10 bucks which she appreciated. Outside I congratulated Pedro for Mission Impossible accomplished and paid him his $40 plus a $10 tip. Walking out to the shoreline I radioed the boys on board the INNcredible to lower the dinghy and come on in so we could celebrate.

Now, Saturday, the very next day we are back out sailing and just about to arrive at our next inncredible anchorage way out at the point and archipelago called Islas Murcielagos, a stunning collection of structures rising out of the sea. Had I not accomplished Mission impossible my crew and I would have been doomed to wallow away two days sweating under and hiding from the intense sun drinking cold beer and staggering back to the dinghy in the dark to find our bunks on board. I like the alternative of adventure much better.

 
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Happy Saint Patrick’s Day from Costa Rica

Published on March 17, 2013 by in Paradise

March 17th is so very special for us Fitzpatricks as well as all other fellow Irish clans. For us, twas my Da’s birthday. But for all of us a time to reflect a bit on that Irish blood that courses through our veins. Ah, today I won’t be anywhere near a bottle of Fitzpatrick wine or that keg of Guinness behind the tasting room bar but I caught a fish, I did, on my 0400 watch in the wee hours of dawn, a bonita which gave me an honorable struggle and  swallowed the hook so deep I had to do an autopsy.

The water a wee bit warm at 90 degrees, a few poisonous yellow-bellied sea snakes, a croc if you linger near the shore, dolphins playing round the INNcredible while we make way to Costa Rica’s first port of entry – Golfito.

But yesterday – the Islas Secas ( the northern extent of the Galapagos hot spot chain) is idyllic and only one other boat amidst  the whole chain of islands except for the folks who pay $1000 per night to stay in these fancy white tents perched on the hill. Seeking to find this underwater wall where Mantas swim circles around you we set out in the dinghy with our new neighbor, Laud ( a drop-out Med student from UNM) and motored around to the outside of the island and two of us dove with tanks in search. The 89 degree surface water quickly drops 20 degrees below 35 feet and at 65 feet we were sliding along a sloping sandy bottom searching for a drop off wall. Not to be found we swam toward the volcanic steep sides of the island and rode the powerful surge along its bouldered-reef. Tons of fish, giant snappers (Pargo), Groupers, Puffers, etc. At times the surge sucked us backwards then shot us forward like a circus act out of a cannon. This was an athletic dive and could be very dangerous to anyone unfamiliar with the power of waves.

Topping the dive off with a walk along the edge of the jungle collecting coconuts, we got some much needed maintenance done on the INNcredible. Laud had the special vacuum oil changer so we change the oil and filters in all three of our diesels on board. And don’t get alarmed we collected every drop in sealed containers to be properly disposed of at the next port.

St. Patrick’s Day catches me reflecting about all sorts of life’s memories and wanting to make more with old friends and new. So as Herb Oscar Anderson (radio voice from NYC in the 1950s/60s) used to sing coming on the air each morning, “Hello again, Here’s my Best to you, Are your skies all gray, I hope they’re blue”.

All the best to all my Irish family and Irish friends and wanna-bes, Happy St. Patrick’s Day,

Captain Fitzwine

 
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Sitting on top of the world in Lake Gatun

Published on March 16, 2013 by in Paradise

canal_blog_spaceClosing Doors Behind Lead to What Waits Behind the Doors Ahead

Sitting on top of the world in Lake Gatun, the world’s largest man-made lake when it was built almost 100 years ago, we’re through the first set of three locks and it’s dark. A long day, after a long week of anticipation, our first step in transiting the Panama Canal was one of delayed precision. Finally after waiting anchored in the “Flats” (the area where all boats and small ships arrive and wait to receive their official pilots or advisors), Cristobal Canal Authority delivered our advisor and one by one dispatched our group of three sailboats to follow a 100 foot wide tanker through the first set of 3 locks. We all motored, actually drifted in neutral with the strong winds pushing us at almost 3 knots speed. As we approached the locks we used our engines hard in reverse to slow down the winds movement.

Once at the entrance the INNcredible Sea Lodge, being the largest of the three sailboats, took the middle position and the other monohulls rafted up on either side. The Canal rules state that each boat has to have four line handlers besides the Captain so I hired three professionals plus First Mate Andrew, but the other two boats had their motley crews of geriatric nomads handle their lines. Once rafted up the outer two boats were responsible for tying off to the canal walls and managing the lines as we rose. Their line-handling skills on the boat to my starboard were scary and near disastrous at times, almost all the time.

With the INNcredible Sea Lodge in the middle, I was in charge of moving the mass of boats forward and kept to the middle of the locks, together we were over 50 feet wide. With the powerful winds at our back reversing our engines in unison was very important. And to steer this mass of rafted-together fiberglass, especially when hit by the swirling eddies of the ship in front of us, I had to yell orders port and starboard to their respective skippers to power engines forward, reverse and neutral as needed to keep us moving straight and at times rapidly counteracting those eddies. Once in far enough that the lock’s doors could begin to close, the line handlers had to pull in their lines fore and aft to control the sideways movement. This is where all hell broke loose with the starboard boat’s line handlers either oblivious to the importance of their job or plainly inept at the task. I feel for the portside boat that more often than not came precariously close to smashing into the Canal walls. The INNcredible Sea Lodge was in the middle and wouldn’t get bruised by either wall but somehow despite the close calls those geriatric nomad line handlers pulled through, literally.

Being in the middle but more importantly being three times as wide and tall as the other two boats, we had the view to beat all of the entire spectacle. As the first locks doors began to close so did the feeling of closure to both the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea, waters that we had spent the last 8 months, almost 6,000 miles and an INNcredible journey from France to Panama. The doors closed and my emotions were more sad then excited at that time. Once filled we rose to the top and the view back to the Caribbean as dusk settled in gave us another last look.

But new doors were opening in front of us as we motored in mass into the next lock. Doors closed and up we rose. It takes only nine minutes once everyone is in place for the water to rush in and raise all 28 feet. That’s powerful and amazing. By now dark had settled in and the overview back was lit up and spectacular. One more lock to move into and up for a total of 85 feet. Doesn’t sound like much height but believe me the overview back felt many times as high. As the final doors opened we entered a new world, albeit in black, with the surreal feeling that we were floating on top of the world. After an exciting long day we moored at 2030. I prepared a meal of onions, peppers, garlic, chunks of fresh pumpkin like squash pressure cooked in coconut milk, ginger, spices and some hot sauce and served over rice. Remember I had to feed five hungry men. All they could eat and we still had enough to mix with eggs for breakfast to start our longest day.

The next morning started before the sun and we were motor sailing our 28 mile way through Lake Gatun by 0700. Maintaining a steady 7 knots we were the first to arrive (1100) at the next set of locks – this time to start our descent. These locks seemed older but maybe I now had more time to focus on the details. I marveled at the giant steel doors hand riveted over 100 years ago looking a bit medieval but durable and amazingly functional. The way down consisted of the aforementioned Pedro Miguel Locks followed only a half mile ahead by the most famous Miraflores Locks. Five or so years prior Diana, Bruce and Sandra and I (like thousands do each year) visited the Miraflores Locks’ museum complete with three stories of observation decks and witnessed, albeit as bystanders, a massive cruise ship and container ship pass through. Did I think then I would be captaining such an INNcredible Sea Lodge through someday? Let’s just say I hoped I would be.

The observation decks were full of spectators and we were now right behind two party Canal Tour boats full of hundreds of tourists listening through loud speakers to the guide telling the story of the Canal. I recognized it all but we were preoccupied each time by the need to motor carefully into place into and out of each lock. Once in and tied off I could relax and walk about onboard taking pictures and observing all that was happening. When those final doors opened at the bottom of the three locks and the Pacific Ocean laid ahead the excitement of the next challenge, 4,000 miles along the Pacific coastline of Central America started filling in as fast as the waters filled each lock.

I sit now moored facing the Bridge of the Americas (all lit with colorful buses and cars streaming against the night sky) crossing high above the Pacific entrance to the Great Panama Canal, truly one of the modern wonders of the world.

 
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Sharks Guaranteed – Coiba, Panama

Published on March 15, 2013 by in Paradise

Leaving Ensenada Naranja on a run for Isla Coiba, Panama’s closest likeness to the Galapagos, we saw snakes, yellow-bellied poisonous sea snakes en masse floating as we passed by miles out in the ocean. Not big but deadly. Moments later dolphins teasing us with their speed and agility water-dancing all around the boat. Rays flying, flipping, flopping. Then what looked like a small log floating by complete with sea bird riding turns out with head up to be a giant loggerhead turtle. All the day the frequency increased as if there were 1 or more turtles per acre as we sliced threw miles of ocean in our approach to this marine reserve and group of islands known as Parque Coiba. Coiba was part of the Galapagos Hot Spot 70 million years ago which broke up and drifted apart to where it is 30 million years ago with more volcanic action still defining its landscape.

Its isolation from other landmasses hosted its own evolution. I chose to explore its underwater world. We dove two spots: one called Frijoles and the other Church with Dive Coiba’s divemaster. Their slogan is “Sharks Guaranteed”. Within minutes after our decent they delivered and white tip sharks seemed to be lurking around and under every wall and canyon. I’ve captured close encounters galore on my GoPro. The pendulum swang from 6-8 foot roaming sharks to 3-inch long sea horses and all the neighborhood watery characters in between. One bizzaro character was an impressionist and its turns out a mime as well. Among the rocks, growths of different colors both coated and sprouting from the many volcanic boulders but occasionally there was an impostor.The divemaster was so excitied to point out this thing. I came in for close inspection and stared hoping to see what he saw. Under the water it’s like charades because you can’t talk, you can only give hand signals and mimic the action, look or movement of the creature. I was trying hard to see. Then finally this stony textured reddish colored mass attached to the rock became an impressionistic masterpiece of a fish. Eyes, mouth and ultimately overall shape began to come into view like seeing an image in a cloud. The creature was so good at what it does that it didn’t flinch even when I became eye to eye, finding out afterwards back on board they are poisonous. To test myself I swam away and came back around to see it again but its impression eluded me just as one loses view of an image in a cloud. But i knew it was still there but where?

More sharks, more sharks, moray eels, spotted eels, thousands of tropical fish comingling and passing through in schools, whole universities in fact. Then I saw another, this time on my own no one else around, the perfect underwater mime, covered nose to tail in bumpy craggy orange textured stone, appearing to be growing out from a rock not blinking, not budging but I dare not touch it. But i did photograph it and when i get to a wifi I’ll post it – the perfect impostor, the street mime of the ocean, if only I could drop a coin in his cup and see him or her move.

 
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Big Storm hits Panama’s east coast

Published on March 7, 2013 by in Paradise

Near Hurricane storm brewed up in the Caribbean and sent its fury headed toward Panama.

After months of peaceful weather sailing through the Windward Islands, across the top of South America and along the east coast of Panama, the first real sustained storm hit last Saturday night and just broke today (Wednesday). Our timing purely by scheduling and coincidence had the INNcredible Sea Lodge make its last sail to the breakwater at the entrance of the Panama Canal this past Saturday afternoon. That day the winds were light, the seas relaxed and our entry into Shelter Bay marina was in calm winds and flat water.

What a great name for this marina – Shelter Bay. And by Saturday night we needed all the shelter it could deliver. The swells began breaking over the breakwater and the winds howled endlessly. Torrents of rain came now and again. The storm continued for three days. And we thanked our lucky stars many times each day that we made it here when we did.Sunday night the electric company lost all its power and all the lights all around went off, except ours – boat batteries. Other than that I don’t like marinas. All the conveniences seduce me into the comforts of life as we all expect. All well and good but I prefer to be at anchor with hardly a soul around, clean water for swimming right off the boat, gorgeous scenery and sailing near every day discovering new places. All that’s coming but now we’ll be in the Pacific. Do you know this great ocean got its name because of how calm and peaceful it is – we’ll see.

Making a transit through the Panama Canal in a small boat is no simple matter. We have a local agent Enrique Plummer who is handling the details for a handsome fee. And there are so many fees direct and indirect from line rentals, 3 linehandlers (not counting Andrew) and an advisor on board, official boat measurer, Port Captain fee, Ag inspection fee, etc, etc. that are adding up to about $2500. Then add in the time docked at the marina while waiting for our first possible slot in the Canal Authority’s schedule and we may be well over $3000. But think of the alternative. Sailing south along the east coast of South America past Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina to that sacred revered tip, Cape Horn and the Straits of Magellan (do you know that even Magellan didn’t live to go through the straits) may have taken several months. We would have been halfway down by now  in Rio. But that would mean by the time we got to the Cape the early stages of winter may have set in. We probably would have to wait until the following spring for that elusive weather window to get around the infamous tip of South America . Once around (if we made it around) we’d still have a formidable trek up the west coast of Chile, Peru, Ecuador (thousands of miles). Sounds like an exciting trip down and around but it would probably be about this same time but in 2014 that I would be passing Panama City on the other end of the Canal starting my journey north to California. So I decided to pay the big bucks and go through the Panama Canal.

I’ll definitely share the Canal experience with you as it happens this weekend.

 
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Columbus was here in 1502

Published on March 2, 2013 by in Paradise

This deep long bay (Bahia)  gave refuge from the sea for Columbus on his fourth journey to the new world in 1502. He found this bay perfect and called it Puerto Bello. A hundred years later Puerto Bello became the major port for the shipping of gold and silver from the Spanish colonies of South and Central America back to Spain. Fortifications were built but it wasn’t long before pirates saw Puerto Bello as a plum just waiting to be picked. Captain Morgan sailed in with 450 men and the Spanish garrison of only a hundred surrendered without a fight. Morgan wasn’t the only scoundrel to raid what is now called Portobello.

There are remnants of the fortifications with rusty cannons and those classic cylindrical towers so typical of Spanish coastal forts to walk about and admire. The Customs House is well restored and houses a museum. The town’s church has fame of its own and has become a mecca of sorts for many. Inside behind glass is the beloved statue of the Black Christ.

The town has all the elements of order and  good design but the current day residents show no sense of pride as their garbage is everywhere except in their two garbage cans around the town square. The lovely smell of burning garbage including plastics perfumes the air. Four small super mercados have good prices like $4 per six-pack of Panama beer, $1.75 for large pineapples and a bag of about 15  bananas for $1.25.

Overall, an interesting place whose surrounding landscape is beautiful and probably looks the same as before and certainly worth sailing into and anchoring for the night 511 years after Christopher Columbus.

 
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