Friday, December 31, 2010

In Shelter Bay

I am looking at an over 50 dollar per day burn rate for being tied up here! 25 dollars for a taxi into Colon... It feels odd to be in a proper Marina. I have forgotten just how convenient it is to be able to throw stuff off the boat and onto a dock. Needless to say the other boats here are pretty posh.

I managed to rent lines within the first hour of being here and am still hunting for tires.

The photo is D45 at Shelter bay and the other, hopefully, the last photo taken of me in Portobelo in awhile...

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Scheduled for Transit!

I now have a date to transit the canal. The scheduled slot will be on Sunday, January 2nd. The transit takes two days for Southbound yachts. It will begin in Colon on the Atlantic side on Sunday afternoon with a passage through the first set of locks to Lake Gatun. Once Lake Gatun is reached Sunday evening, the night will be spent there. Everyone stays and sleeps on the boat. The transit resumes on Monday, January 3rd early in the morning to arrive in Balboa on the Pacific side later that same day in the afternoon.

If you want to volunteer linehandle, you will have to be in Colon to meet up with the boat on Sunday, January 2nd in the morning or the night before. There will be quite a few of us onboard so it will be crowded and not the most comfortable with the sleeping arrangements but it is only for one night and it should be exciting nonetheless... I will provide all food and drinks and can reimburse your transportation costs if you are coming from Panama City.

Line handling is pretty easy. Basically you just have to follow simple instructions while the boat is in the locks...

Cell phone number in Panama 60837084


Colon has a pretty lousy reputation. Most travelers skip it entirely as they consider it unsafe and depressing...

Running around trying to get things arranged for the canal transit has given me the opportunity to spend some time there. Actually, I have spent plenty of time here in between San Blas trips and to escape Portobelo. Colon does have a trash problem and most buildings look like they need paint. Here are some standard street shots that weren´t chosen to discriminate one way or the other...

Friday, December 24, 2010

Funds deposited but ACP closed till Monday...

I just left the bank where I handed over $1500 in cash (the only accepted payment method)... I was told that the ACP office is closed today so I will be contacted Monday. Hopefully, on Monday, I can talk to a scheduler and get locked in for a date to transit. Right now it is the slow season so it should only be a 3 or 5 day wait.

Line handlers are still needed. Come volunteer to help get Pelican through the locks and see the canal from a boat actually transiting! Transportation to and from Panama City as well as food will be provided. Phone number in Panama 60837084

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Next step is to pay the bank...

Pelican passed the initial inspection to transit the Panama Canal. The inspector had to call his supervisor to find out whether or not a tiller as a steering device met regulation... He had never seen one before. Many questions were asked about the boat and its equipment. One questiion was whether or not there was drinking water aboard!

I will head to Colon tomorrow to pay the canal fee if the bank is open. $1500 with a bit over half being a deposit.

LINEHANDLERS are needed! If you are in Panama and can volunteer, call me at 60837084! Tentative date to cross is the week of December 27 to 31. More updates will be posted here on my blog.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Visited the Ad Measurement unit today...

Back in Portobelo, again!!! I am going to go crazy if I donot leave this part of the world...

The very first step in getting through the Panama canal is to get the boat measured and inspected. Today I visited the office in Colon where they set the appointments to have this done. I was told that the boat must be in the flats (anchorage) or in Shelter Bay Marina.

The plan is to move the boat tomorrow and be measured the day after. Hopefully I will pass inspection without a hitch... The canal is a challenge because unlike all other passages, this one I absolutely have to depend on other people to make it happen! That is a true challenge as proven this morning by just trying to find the ACP office. Actually everyone I asked (taxi drivers, security guards, guy washing a car on the street) were really helpful and seemed eager to be involved.

If you want to volunteer as a line handler ( a great way to see the Panama canal), contact me via email through my profile or call me at 60837084

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Indecision blues...

Plans are made to be changed...

I`m off to Panama again but this should be the last time as I am not doing a backpacker run. The decision to spend another season in the Caribbean is starting to feel less and less attractive. Of course I can still think of reasons to do it and who knows, I may still, but for today, I think I should stop dragging my feet and get through the canal. The canal is symbolic because I won´t have the luxury of changing my mind once I am on the Pacific side... I will be forced to head towards the U.S. as the boat is starting to be in need of another refit that I ain´t got the money for...

Sunday, December 5, 2010

One part polyurethane nightmare

Below are some pics of finally getting around to wet sanding the cream colored one part polyurethane paint that has been peeling off the topsides ever since I bought Pelican. I knew the day I first looked at the boat in Seattle back in the summer of 2006 what a nightmare it would eventually be. ¨ People won´t buy a boat unless it looks perfect so why not slap on a coat of pain just to get it off the showroom floor.¨ Never mind the mess it will create later...

Sunday, November 28, 2010


I wonder if those bold statements that used to come out so easily when young and full of youthful confidence are completely forgotten by our older selves or if somehow they perhaps linger in the back of our minds to haunt and taunt us when we realize we may not have lived up to them.

I remember making many... Statements that were directly oriented towards cruising, that involved a dislike of rallies and the moneyed nature of how cruising is portrayed in slick magazines like Cruising World. ¨One´s equipment shouldn´t be better than one´s skill level! ¨ ¨Purchased experiences do not count!¨

I guess the advantage of being a bit older is that I don´t feel so individually responsible anymore, instead I now just feel sad to see things generally tilted toward one side...

Below is a photo of Robin Lee Graham who set out to sail around the world in 1965 on a 24 foot boat at the age of sixteen.

I love the details in the pic... The non self tailing winch that is so small. The narrowness of the beam at the transom. What brand of safety harness is that?

Did you know that Wild Eyes (the boat used by 16 year old Abby Sunderland to attempt to set a record as the youngest circumnavigator in 2010) was worth about 400,000 dollars?

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Beginning of year five

I have been out sailing for over four years now.

I posted not so long ago that the most difficult part of going cruising is leaving. I am starting to realize that I may have been mistaken. I now think the hardest part of going cruising is stopping...

Clip is of eastern Coco Banderas, Kuna Yala, right behind the nice 12 meter spot south of the main Bauhaus anchorage.

Monday, November 15, 2010

In Cartagena, Colombia

Made it in today after a less than 48 hour passage. Fastest crossing yet...

I will not be sailing back to Panama via the San Blas unless plans change. Instead I am looking for crew for a direct sail to Utila, Honduras. If you are interested in crewing, contact me via email found through my profile.

I will be here in Cartagena for a few weeks...

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The nature of plans...

I am off for Cartagena via the San Blas today.

Seems the latest idea is to head towards the Bay Islands and Rio Dulce. Cuba is interesting and might still be in the works but who knows...

More later when I get to Colombia. I will resume normal blogging as this should be my last San Blas trip for awhile.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

In Portobelo, Panama

I am in Portobelo, Panama looking for something to do with the boat. Back to Cartagena, Colombia, over to the San Blas, go through the canal or maybe something a bit more adventurous like that big Communist island up north?

cell number in Panama 60837084

Saturday, October 16, 2010

In the San Blas Islands of Panama

Mobile number in Panama 60837084

I should be in the Robinson Cays (Sanidub, Narasgandub, Korkidub) in the San Blas for the next week or so... I am not sure about cell phone coverage but you can try. Best to send a text message so I still get your info if I miss your call.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

In Panama

If you are genuinely interested in commiting as crew on a shared expense basis, contact me. To crew one must commit to be aboard for a minimum of a couple weeks otherwise the time spent to familiarize onesself with the boat does not become worthwhile.

For the short term San Blas trips or the passage over to Cartagena or Sapzuro via the San Blas there is a modest charge. Compared to the many business boats doing the crossing or charters in the San Blas, you will find my price to be most affordable. There is a minimum of two people for the San Blas trips and three for the passage to Cartagena or Sapzuro.

I can be in Portobelo within a day to pick up persons interested in sailing. These sorts of details can be worked out via text messages.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Sailing to Panama around October 2nd to 6th

Cell phone # in Colombia 3145009108

If you are interested in sailing to Panama via the San Blas from Cartagena, contact me. You are welcome to come check out the boat at Club Nautico located in Manga Island, Cartagena. You can even Couchsurf by putting a request through the CS Site.

If you are genuinely interested in commiting as crew on a shared expense basis, use my email available through my profile to tell me about your travel plans and sail experience. I will be sailing to Panama and transiting the canal soon after. To crew one must commit to be aboard for a minimum of a couple weeks otherwise the time spent to familiarize onesself with the boat does not become worthwhile.

For the short term San Blas trips or the passage over to Cartagena via the San Blas there is a modest charge. Compared to the many business boats doing the crossing or charters in the San Blas, you will find my price to be most affordable.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Will head to Cartagena soon

Mobile number in Panama - 60837084

I am still doing San Blas trips out of Portobelo but will have to head to Cartagena soon to do a visa run. If interested in doing the trip to Colombia via the San Blas, contact me.

If you are genuinely interested in commiting as crew on a shared expense basis, contact me through my email available through my profile. You are also welcome to CouchSurf aboard Pelican by putting a request through the CS site.

Otherwise, there is a comparatively modest charge for the short term San Blas trips or the passage over to Cartagena via the San Blas.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Sailing the San Blas

A sailing trip in the San Blas Islands offers a far better value than doing the trip across to Colombia. You can save a lot of money by doing a trip with me and buying an airline ticket to Cartagena. I will take you to the exact same spots in the Western San Blas that all the boats crossing to Cartagena visit.

My trips are geared towards the traveler who is willing to help with the work in exchange for a lower priced trip. There are many other higher end full service oriented San Blas sailing trips and you can contact me for a recommendation.

Meals are not provided. You bring and cook your own food of choice. The boat, Pelican, has a full galley(two burner gas stove with oven) including a small refrigerator perfect for cooling drinks and vegetables but not ideal for bringing loads of raw meat... It is possible to buy live lobsters, conch and fish from the Kunas. I´ve got basics like salt, sugar, cooking oil, etc so you don´t have to go crazy with the provisioning. Drinking water is also on board, straight from the tap in Portobelo. I drink it and so do all the locals in town... If in doubt, you can buy bottled water.

Pelican can sleep three comfortably, four is possible and five starts to be crowded. There is a spacious V berth forward that sleeps two and there is a settee in the salon. I have also improvised a sleeping area in the cockpit that has the advantage of being outdoors. Another option is to sleep on one of the islands with a decent sized two person dome tent I have onboard. There is a small toilet but no shower. I have very basic dive masks and snorkels and only one set of fins... There is also a JBL medium length speargun and a Penn International 50 reel and rod for trolling. Plenty of assorted gear for hand line fishing. There is one eight foot hard rowing dinghy and another Avon inflatable eight foot dinghy with a small 3.5 hp two stroke outboard. There is also 220 volt or 110 volt electricity for charging laptops, cell phones, ipods, etc..

The trips I have done in the San Blas tend to be about three days long. First day is an overnight sail from Portobelo to Chichime. The second night is spent at Chichime and the following day we do a day trip to Dog Island (2$ per person Kuna charge) and then sail to Banedup in the afternoon. We spend the night in Banedup and the next day we sail to Carti. Transportation from Carti to Panama City is available for $27 or $28 dollars($2 or $3 for the launch and $25 for the jeep). It may also be possible to sail back to Portobelo with me. The Robeson islands are very close to Carti and additional days could be spent exploring this group. I am very open to other destinations and if there is a specific group you are interested in, contact me, so I can see if I have the relevant Nautical charts.

Transportation from Panama City to Portobelo is cheap and easy. Take the express bus from the Albrook Mall for Colon. The cost is $2.50. Get off at Sabanitas, which is a busy T junction. Infront of the Rey supermarket(this is where you buy your food for the trip), wait for one of the local buses going to Portobelo. Portobelo is clearly written on the windshield. The cost is $1.00.

It is best to call instead of emailing as internet is not so realiable in Portobelo. Cell phone in Panama (507) 60837084

The boat, Pelican, is based in Portobelo and if you want to couch surf for free while in Portobelo before heading out or just to come up and check things out, put in a request through the CS site.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Back in Portobello

Latest San Blas trip was great. Must have something to do with not having that tedious Cartagena passage. I will be either here in Portobello or in the Puerto Linton, Isla Grande area which is right next to Portobello. Will head back to the San Blas if I find folks interested in going....

Tuesday, August 17, 2010


I´ve been in the Western Carribean a bit now. Long enough to have met plenty of cruisers to get a feel for this particular breed. After the normal questions (how many years out, where you´ve been), I always ask if they are headed through the canal. I am surprised by how often the answer is an emphatic ¨no.¨ It is almost like a thorn in the side that the canal is there otherwise they would have a very valid excuse for remaining on this side. The feeling I get is that by the time Panama is reached most of the American and some of the European cruisers have done several seasons already and they have a ¨been there, done that¨ attitude toward cruising. Even some of the younger cruisers feel that the expense of the canal and the additional huge commitment of doing the Pacific just isn´t worth it. It is kind of a shame, but in retrospect, I feel really glad that I did the South Pacific first. In my case, if I hadn´t have had the few experience I did have there, I wouldn´t have had the stamina to do the other oceans. I still believe that the cruising one dreams of is still possible there, although off the ¨milkrun¨route. I´ve repeated it throughout the blog before and I will repeat it again that the South Pacific is the true cruising ground.

In other news, it is a bit too early for me to cross the canal so I might try doing some low budget sail trips within the San Blas. It is really easy to undercut everyone else as the prices asked are over the top... The ¨great recession¨ can´t be all that bad if flashpackers are shelling out nearly 100 a day to camp out on boats like Olivine, the 30 foot version of my boat that has seven people aboard when full!

Monday, August 2, 2010

Other cruisers that made the choice...

I first met the Craftons in Richards Bay, South Africa. I sort of knew that they didn´t fit the standard mold when it came to cruisers. I never saw them at any of the yachtie functions. Later, Tom confided in me that hanging out with other cruisers was not a high priority - why go cruising to hang out with people you can easily meet at the local yacht club? I have met a small minority of cruisers whom I would describe as people who see the cruising lifestyle as an alternative to the ¨system¨instead of how cruising is being defined more and more, as a reward for having done well within the ¨system.¨ It is interesting how the very same ¨system¨will co opt those who look for an alternative. The Craftons are now in the limelight with many news articles being written about them as well as interviews on CBS, ABC and other TV shows (Dianne Sawyer and Early show on CBS).

Monday, July 26, 2010

Bocas del Toro, Panama

I am in Bocas del Toro, anchored just north of the town. This place is a real gringo ¨paradise¨... I hung out with Ray Jason, a former contributor to Latitude 38, in Cartagena and he told me that in the past ten years, Bocas was his favorite cruising ground. I had to come check it out even though it took a gruelling five days from Portobelo which is a distance of 152 miles. I finally gave up and motored the last 30. There really is no wind in this area...

I will hang out here for a bit and most likely head back to the San Blas islands by way of Portobelo again. The San Blas deserve more than the several days I spent there...

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

San Blas bound

Leave tonight or in the morning. Pelican will have four in total aboard... Rob, Demis, Julia and myself. We will head for the western end of the San Blas which is where most of the other boats will be.

The business of shuttling backpackers across the ¨gap¨ and also spending a couple of days in the San Blas is quite something... Technically it is illegal to do. Adverts posted on the Club Nautico bulletin board are torn down regularly by the management. Internet forums for backpackers are filled with horror stories. I´ve met quite a few of the full time backpacker skippers and some are real pieces of work. How hard is it to buy the cheapest forty footer in Florida, cross the Caribbean once and start motor sailing back and forth cramming as many bodies as can fit aboard? The egos of some of the skippers are way out of proportion... It is easy to be the big fish if the pond is small enough and most of the backpackers are clueless when it comes to reading boats... I will recoup the exorbitant check in costs and get my fuel paid for so it is all good for me.

I should be in Portobelo or maybe in Carti for a bit. If not, I will head to Bocas del Toro and do another long break.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

A barely meets the required inspiration to post sort of post

I found these four boxes of Kraft macaroni and cheese when doing a very thorough search of one of the storage areas in the boat. They were hidden well away out of normal reach and had evidently been there quite a while because I did not recognize them as provisions I had ever brought on board. For a moment I was actually thrilled at the prospect of indulging in some crap processed American food. It was a pretty short lived thrill....

Saturday, June 12, 2010

The hardest part...

Now that I am close to my home port, people I meet that see "Seattle" on the transom or hear that I sailed from California assume that I sailed down the west coast and have just come through the canal. To correct them, I usually answer by saying "I have been traveling west." This same reply was once directed at me by Serge Testa when I shared an anchorage with him (then on his 40 footer) along the Baja coast when doing the bash on my first boat back in 97. We were having a conversation over VHF and after learning that he was returning to California, I had asked how far south he had been... It takes a second to process the reply but once the realization is made, the conversation usually shifts to topics like what route you took or if a non sailor, did you run into any storms, etc.. Sometimes non sailors ask what is the hardest part about circumnavigating. The hardest part is casting off the lines. I have always enjoyed giving this answer because it has nothing to do with sailing. It reminds me of the famous quote by Sterling Hayden which I have shared below;

"I've always wanted to sail to the south seas, but I can't afford it." What these men can't afford is not to go. They are enmeshed in the cancerous discipline of security. And in the worship of security we fling our lives beneath the wheels of routine - and before we know it our lives are gone.

What does a man need - really need? A few pounds of food each day, heat and shelter, six feet to lie down in - and some form of working activity that will yield a sense of accomplishment. That's all - in the material sense, and we know it. But we are brainwashed by our economic system until we end up in a tomb beneath a pyramid of time payments, mortgages, preposterous gadgetry, playthings that divert our attention for the sheer idiocy of the charade.

The years thunder by, The dreams of youth grow dim where they lie caked in dust on the shelves of patience. Before we know it, the tomb is sealed.

Where, then, lies the answer? In choice. Which shall it be: bankruptcy of purse or bankruptcy of life?"

Clip is from Richards Bay, South Africa. Watch an awful looking catamaran trying to dock in the harbor with a 30 knot crosswind missing my monitor windvane by inches and hitting SV Brillig's instead...

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Gulf Cruisers...

I think that the average person who knows next to nothing about cruising believes that the entry cost to this lifestyle must be exorbitant. One look around any marina or anchorage seems to confirm this. There are exceptions however. What about SY Bob pictured below? Bob is an old Pearson hull with a custom wood deck and cabin house. The owner, "Mister Dan", purchased the boat in Louisiana for $4800 U.S.. Mister Dan and his wife whom he met on his first sail to Cartagena 32 years ago are sailing to Providencia to build a house. "I've got over 3000 pounds of ceramic tiles on the boat already and figure I can just start throwing some of it overboard if I get into trouble." For $4800 you don't get a lot of cruising gear. Bob lacks gear that others would consider essential like a depth sounder and VHF radio. Mister Dan considers the lack of an autopilot to be a challenge. "I can't see very well now that I am old and with just a little light for the compass, I've often discovered in the morning that I've spent hours at night sailing in the totally wrong direction!" Bob's sail inventory consists of one hank on head sail, about 90 percent, and a main that Mister Dan figures came off of a 27 or 28 foot boat. "It only reaches about two thirds of the way up." Despite the lack of a complete sail inventory and the challenges in holding course, Mister Dan figures he averages about 50 miles a day in Bob. When I asked how his Colombian wife likes sailing, he explained that most in Colombia are looking for an easier life, not a harder one!

Monday, May 24, 2010

A note on speed...

My "later" edition (circa 1980) of Hiscock's Voyaging Under Sail has a photograph of a boat becalmed with the caption, "waiting for wind in the doldrums." The key word is "waiting." Today's cruiser doesn't wait for anything... If speed under way drops below 3 knots, they fire up the engine without any deliberation. When discussing passage times for familiar crossings, it can feel like a contest for the fastest. If you had a slow crossing, you feel compelled to offer that elaborate technical explanation of how the weather worked against you. A faster time would indicate that one is a competent sailor and knows how to get the most out of one's boat but this is often not the case. I don't know when being becalmed or moving at 2 kots became so dreadful... Diesel engines have become way more efficient but fuel has gotten a lot more expensive... And what does it matter if you are out on the ocean for an extra few days? Isn't that why you left to go cruising to begin with?

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

41 days is 41 Sunsets

When I crossed the Atlantic from Simonstown, South Africa to Itapissuma, Brazil, I took a brief 4 or 5 second shot of each day's sunset. Here they are in consecutive order. I like watching this clip myself often as it has a way of condensing the 41 day experience into about three minutes.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Cartagena, Colombia

I guess the grinding is supposed to stop now... I told myself that Cartagena would be a break place, meaning, stop and rest for at least one month. Stop the cycle - one month of no sailing! I have only been here a day but I haven't stopped. Some part of me is wired to head back out in a few days and do another passage. It is like a constant searching for the perfect destination when part of you knows very well that none exists... I usually tire of most places I visit fairly quickly. Some places I dislike immediately and don't even go ashore. Aruba was the lastest example. I just gaze through my binoculars scanning at the bad signs and say "No". When you are on passage, you are in motion and aren't really anywhere. Plus you have the opportunity to imagine how the next place might be better than the last! It is a comfortable situation and one I have gotten used to...

First impressions of Cartagena have been good. I do plenty of research regarding the logistics of sailing when considering a destination, but lately, I do very little when it comes to the travel side. I usually step out of the dinghy and ask the first person which way is town and start walking. For example, I had no clue that Cartagena has, at its center, a sizable "walled city" where all the buildings create a feeling of being somewhere in Spain a few hundred years ago. The buildings are all tastefully lit up at night and there is no vehicle traffic allowed so it was quite enjoyable to stroll around.

The area before Panama, off Columbia, is listed in Jimmy Cornell's "World Cruising Routes" as one of the top five worst passages around the world. I planned well ahead to transit this area in May, a benign month, and sat in Aruba (on my boat) until I got a favorable forecast from Chris Parker, a Carib weather expert on 12350mhz, 1230 UTC. The forecast called for 25 to 30 knots with an 8 foot sea which is better than normal. The video shows me entering the area which starts around Cabo Vela. In the vid, the waves are only six foot or so. By the time I got to 75 West at night, the gusts were gale force and the seas were starting to top out past ten feet. The worst didn't last that long. I had to hand steer for two hours because the windvane couldn't take it. The truth is, I didn't do that much better a job. I had a 180 degree round up that took about a second and a half! Pooped a bunch of times and had a plenty of what I call 45 degree knockdowns... Ten foot breaking waves aren't going to capsize Pelican so it was never really dangerous, but it was quite a ride.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Getting ready to head west soon.

Port of Spain feels like a working class immigrant neighborhood somewhere in the U.S.. There are a lot of low end American chain stores that you usually only see in those places like Payless shoes or Church's Fried chicken. Chaguaramas feels like a large gated community for retired white people. This particular retirement complex has a "nautical" theme where residents get to play with sailboats...

Paramaribo, Surinam is a "World Heirtage site." A lot of colonial Dutch architecture. Here are a few pics to get you started. I am sure one can find a virtual tour on the net somewhere. You won't see the dozens of young aggressive Rasta guys trying to hustle the few Dutch tourists on those virtual tours... I had a particularly aggressive one that I told to f**k off. He started to threaten me with a three foot machete! I was quite impressed with his ability to hide a three foot machete given he was wearing a tank top, surfer shorts and flip flops...

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Check out that growth!

The photo to the left is the same as the one posted when I arrived in Brazil. The second photo is just a few weeks later in French Guyana. All of that growth above the water line is from being heeled over by the NE trades while crossing the Amazon river delta area. I managed to scrape all of that growth off after the photo was taken to have it all come back after another six hundred mile passage from French Guyana to Trinidad! I have never seen growth like this anywhere else...

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Flashback post - Devil's Island

If it has been awhile since you have seen the movie or read the book, Papillon, this place will bring it right back. Most of the buildings are in a real state of decay, but not all, including the infamous solitary confinement building. Pretty eerie feeling walking amongst the ruins.