Settling in San Blas

From the outside, the office looks like a nice looking bungalow. Inside it is unfinished. While the concrete frame is structurally sound, there is still a long way to go before the construction will be done. Electric cables have been run through the building, but things like light switches and plugs have not been put it. There is no ceiling yet. The back door was broken and so tattered that only a few beams of wood were left on it. It didn’t look like there was any lighting installed yet, but there was plenty of natural light.

The three officials were all housed in the same little building, which made finding them easy. All were dressed in casual western wear and are pleasant people. We asked the immigration officer where the airport was and he told us that the airport is “broken right now”. Needless to say, with no electricity, there were no computers and all paperwork was done by hand. The paperwork process was slow, particularly with the port authority officer who issued our cruising permit. The check in fees were $96.00, and there are some check out fees, so Panama is one of the more expensive countries we have visited in terms of administrative costs. It took a full hour for the three stops. We didn’t mind. We were happy to be on solid land. We’d say the port authority officer has a nice view from his office.

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Several sets of boaters arrived after us, and got in line behind us. We can’t imagine how long it will take the people in line to get through. The German guys were first in line behind us and we started talking to them. It turns out that they also came from Bonaire, leaving the same day we did. Then one of them put two and two together and said “you’re the pirates!” It turns out these were the guys we were running parallel with last night. They had the opposite reaction to us as we did to them. When they first saw us, they thought we were fishermen and disregarded us. But when they realized we had been running parallel for over several hours, they got more and more worried that we were pirates looking for a good spot to attack. They shut off their lights and changed coarse to get away from us. They said we were very nice pirates.

After we were done, we Continue reading Settling in San Blas

Welcome to the San Blas Islands, Panama

At around 0330, we approached the east end of the San Blas archipelago. We were heading for the Canal Caobo, a channel just south of the group of small islands known as Holandes Cays. Eric slowed down to 1400 RPM. He set the radar/chart plotter so that the charts overlaid on top of the radar. He studied it carefully to make sure the land masses matched the chart exactly. He made sure the depth we matched the chart. We were relieved everything lined up. We proceeded slowly into the channel, carefully watching the depth sounder to make sure the depths continued to match the charts. This is the first time we have ever done a night entry without navigational aids, such as channel markers. Flying blind and relying on your electronics is a little scary. By a few minutes before 0600, we were as deep as we dared to go in the dark. We had hoped the sun would be rising by then, but it was still pitch black.

It was relatively calm in the channel — for the most part, at least. We did get the occasional bigger wave. It was a million times better than Continue reading Welcome to the San Blas Islands, Panama

Passage from Bonaire to the San Blas Islands – Days 3 – 5

Day 3

At 0900 this morning the waves had climbed up to 6 feet. But then the wind died down to less than 10 knots apparent and the seas followed. By 1300 the seas had smoothed out quite a bit. It was still not flat calm by any means, but at least the seas were better. It was actually quite nice overall. With calmer seas, we could open the hatch downstairs for more ventilation, which helped tremendously in cooling it off and making it smell better. We tried to run the AC downstairs, figuring it would work in calmer seas, but it didn’t. That isn’t a good sign. We should have cleaned the strainer, it must be a bit clogged.

It was sunny and hot. In the mid-afternoon some clouds rolled in, which made being in the pilot house more bearable today than it was yesterday in terms of blinding sunshine. But even with the light cloud cover, by 1700 it was so bright in the pilot house from the setting sun that we could not physically stand to be in there. Eric saw a school of what looked like a 1,000 flying fish, the biggest school of them he has ever seen.

At about 1430 the wind started to Continue reading Passage from Bonaire to the San Blas Islands – Days 3 – 5

Passage to San Blas, Panama – Days 1 & 2

Yesterday, Christi woke up not feeling very good. Her tummy hurt and her digestive system was unhappy. Despite that, she had a busy morning. She continued cooking for the passage, and while food was in the oven, went in to scrape more barnacles off the metal and the hull. Eric scrubbed the bottom with a sponge for a little bit, taking off the softer things that grow, like the grass. We kind of dragged our feet with our usual get ready to go routine. We were especially happy in Bonaire and we are having a hard time leaving.

Eric went to start up the engine at 1600. It clicked but didn’t turn over. Hmmm. The battery must be low. Eric used the house batteries to start the engine and we pulled out a few minutes later (the starter and generator batteries are separate from “house” batteries that run the electricity for lights, plugs, appliances, etc). There were a lot of snorkelers in the water near our boat, so we had to be extra careful to make sure we didn’t run anyone over. Even though we moved well away from the snorkelers we could see, there is always a little fear that there is one more you can’t see that decided to swim right in your path. When we were out far enough from shore, we deployed the paravanes.

When we left, the winds were light, the seas were calm, it was sunny and visibility was excellent. By 1800 we could clearly see Curacao in the distance. Wow. These two islands really are Continue reading Passage to San Blas, Panama – Days 1 & 2

Diving Hilma Hooker

We plan to leave tomorrow for a 5 day passage. The grocery stores in Bonaire, like most places in the world, have a poor selection of frozen foods, so Christi needed to make some freezer meals. She spent the morning cooking. She already had made some freezer meals over the last few days, but this morning was a flat out effort to make a lot of stuff at once. We also made a trip into town to check out with the officials. The check out fee was $10.00.

In the afternoon, we went on one last dive with Mike from Arielle. We went to the wreck that the dive center had recommended yesterday, Hilma Hooker. The rumor that we heard is that the boat had to make an emergency stop in Bonaire because it was taking on water. The authorities found lots of marijuana on board, so the Bonairian authorities seized the vessel. It was in bad shape and needed to be constantly pumped to keep it afloat. The authorities decided the best thing to do with the boat was tow it to a sandy site and let it sink, making an artificial reef. The facts that we know are it was deliberately sunk in 1984 on a carefully chosen sandy spot located between two reefs. The boat lies on its side. The highest point of the ship is 60 feet under the water and the lowest point, the tip of the mast is in 99 feet of water.

The site is close to the salt mountains. We tied to the mooring and jumped in. The reef around the mooring area is pretty, but we didn’t bother to stop and look around. Because this is such a deep dive, the plan was to descend quickly to the lowest point of the wreck, then slowly work our way back up. We’d enjoy the reef here at the end of the dive.

We all agreed that as we proceeded west it looked like the water ahead was murky with poor visibility. Each of us was wondering when this wreck would appear. Then it suddenly dawned on us that the dark area ahead WAS the hull, and in looking more carefully, we could see the line of the hull. We were staring at the bottom of the boat. Mike and Eric stuck to the plan, staying close to the floor. Christi was having trouble equalizing and was swimming along above them. She did eventually make it down to the hull, but never got down to the lowest portions of it.

We swam around the aft end of the boat to get a look at the topside. It looks creepy and haunted in the darkish water, as most sunken ships tend to look. The hull is still pretty well intact.

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The guys swam down to the mast and crow’s nest to check them out, but Christi couldn’t get down that low. The guys ascended to Continue reading Diving Hilma Hooker