Mahina Expeditions offers offshore sail-training expeditions, offshore cruising seminars and boat purchase consultation.

Mahina Expeditions offers offshore sail-training expeditions, offshore cruising seminars and boat purchase consultation.

Leg 9, 2001: Antigua, Nevis, San Blas Islands; Panama

Update #1
December 9, 2001 0100 16.10N, 82.46W, Log: 52,375 Baro: 1011
Broadreaching at 6.2 knots in 16 kts, gusts to 35 in occasional squalls

Leg 9 Crew

Well, we completed all of our last leg repair jobs except re-riveting the windshield opening window, and the new watermaker membrane is working great. Crew arrived on time, and after orientation we went for refreshing swim in Jolly Harbour's gorgeous pool followed by a fun dinner at the Italian restaurant at the head of the dock. We cleared out with customs Friday afternoon so we wouldn't have to wait for them Saturday morning, and by 0730 we were underway for Montserrat, 22 miles SW.

In 1995 6,000 of Montserrat's 12,000 people were evacuated after Plymouth, the main town was threatened and then covered by ash and mud by an erupting volcano. We anchored for a few hours off the NW corner of the island, swam in to the beach briefly, sponged MT's bottom off, had lunch and a nap, then set sail. As we passed the sad remains of once-vibrant town of Plymouth, a plume of ash and sulphurous smoke was belching from the volcano and our decks were dusted with a coating of abrasive ash.

The ash covered the town of Plymouth in the afternoon light

Our Leg 9 crew is settling in nicely to their first night at sea. Surprisingly no one has been seasick on Leg 8 or 9 (having them insert the Compazine suppositories the night before we sail might help) and they're doing well steering downwind. We have a reefed main and jib to make steering in the squalls easier for them.

We're excited at returning to the San Blas Islands of Panama, now 1,100 miles away, as they were a huge treat for us last year with the colorful and irrepressible Kuna Indians. Since then Amanda has poured over, The Art of Being Kuna, an amazing book published by UCLA ( To check out images and stories from our last year's adventures, look at Amanda's World and Leg 4-2000.

December 12, 2001 1500 14.04N, 72.37W, Log: 52,934 Baro:1009
Broadreaching at 8 knots in 20 kts, gusts to 25, No Squalls

The easterly tradewinds that were elusive on the last leg have totally taken over the Caribbean weather picture. At midnight we were just 69 miles from Aruba and gybed NW to avoid the coast of Columbia. The seas are running 8'-10', too high stop for our afternoon swim, so we have to make do with late afternoon showers on the aft deck to cool off. Cabin temperature is 86F, and getting warmer daily. Drinking 4-5 liters of water per day is essential to staying cool and healthy in the intense heat. Please take note, Leg 10 and Leg 1 crew! Increase your water intake to a minimum of 2-3 liters daily BEFORE departing for Panama. Also, running shirts and shorts have proven increasingly popular on tropical legs u cool and quick drying!

We've gone two days with hardly touching the sheets, and early this morning we passed halfway and posted a watch schedule change, so everyone gets different watch buddies. For our halfway party desert tonight I'm making vanilla pudding graham cracker tarts topped with shaved macadamia nuts. With only 432 miles to the San Blas, we already have the brakes on (a reef in both the main and jib) so as not to arrive before dawn on Saturday.

Here's the scoop on our Leg 9 crew:

Barbara Robertson, 48 is an anesthesiologist originally from Scotland who lived many years in Canada and now practices medicine in Saudi Arabia. She is just as excited about taking delivery of their new Hallberg-Rassy 39 at the boatyard in Sweden as her husband, Brian Anderson (Leg 8) is. Their daughters, Sarah, 20 and Emily, 18 are off on their own and planning on joining their parents in some exotic tropical locations. Barbara's mum and dad in Montreal are eagerly looking forward to reading these updates!

Karen Giroux, 50 was an NCAA Div. 1 sailing champion at MIT, who sails an F-31 trimaran on Long Island Sound when not starting new biotech companies. Her last company developed a breakthrough drug for treating asthma. Karen is also joining us next year for our Tahiti-Rarotonga leg.

Ken Woods, 55 is a semi-retired founder of an investment counseling firm who recently established a two-year university program training financial analysts. Ken and his wife Anne live in Vancouver, Canada and their three boys are all off to college now.

Mark Mitchell, 47 is a retired builder-contractor who now lives on Lake Tahoe with his wife Chriss whom we enjoyed sharing Leg 5 this year with, and their 10 year old daughter Alex. Alex loves training and showing horses, but that may change (part of the year, anyway) when the Mitchell's take delivery of a new Amel Super Maramu 53 next year.

Tracy and Mike Day, 49 & 50 also live in the Lake Tahoe area, and have raised their boys, now 23 & 25 on 12 acres. Mike is a contractor, specializing in custom homes and small condo projects and Tracy, a former ski racer and coach, is teaching director for The Community Bible Study in Carson Valley, Nevada and does the accounting for Mike's business. Mike and Tracy met ski racing when they were 14 & 15 years old and will be celebrating their 29th wedding anniversary (way to go!) in Panama. They dream of cruising warm waters and have been eyeing a Contest 41 and an HR 38.

December 25, 2001 1600 9.20N, 79.54W Log: 53,455 Baro: 1008
Berthed at Panama Canal Yacht Club, Temp. 84F, Humidity: 77% (lowest we've seen)

Merry Christmas!
The second half of Leg 9 saw winds rarely less than 25 kts, gusting above 40 kts, impressive seas up to 18' that were close together, and a 1 to 1.5kts of current with us. It was gratifying to watch our crew steadily improve in their helming abilities. In the last three expeditions we have instituted a new one-spoke steering policy which quickly pays off. Most people tend to oversteer, particularly downwind, so we encourage expedition members to grab the top spoke of the wheel with both hands vertically, and do all of their steering with a maximum of + turn in either directions. This results in a much straighter course, higher speeds and makes it a lot easier for the off-watch sleeping below.

We averaged over 175 miles per day and on Friday had to put the brakes on so as to arrive in the San Blas Islands at dawn. As soon as the radar displayed land our crew were hanging in the rigging, scanning for palm trees as we closed on the tiny and low San Blas Islands.

Barbara ecstatic about seeing land
Because of the high winds and lee shore, there was a lot of salt in the air, obscuring visibility. We first saw the tops of palms on the West Holandaise Cays and shortly after the wrecked hull of the HR 42 that we hiked out to 18 months earlier high and dry on the reef.

The wrecked hull of the HR 42

Amanda hoists the Panamanian courtesy flag

With careful navigating using US chart 26063 and Nancy & Tom Zydler's superb Panama Guide we found our way into an idyllic anchorage off Calubir Islet. In minutes we had the awning up and everyone in the water with masks and snorkels. We'd anchored in sand just downwind of an impressive coral garden, complete with fan and brain coral, and a myriad of exotic tropical fish. Tracy captured the palm trees and white sand beaches of this spectacular anchorage in watercolors and three Kuna girls visited in a leaky dugout canoe to show us their molas and invite us ashore.

Tracy takes time out from expedition studies to be creative

A San Blas mesmerizing motu

Magic Mola Madness

After Amanda taught rig inspection and splicing we anchored closer to their three-family village and wandered around the island, which only took ten minutes.

Crew touch down ashore in paradise

Sunday we sailed and motored 15 miles, dodging coral banks and islets to anchor temporarily off Mormake Tupu islet, where we had visited and brought school supplies last year. No sooner had the anchor touched the bottom than an armada of dugout canoes surrounded us. Many of the canoes were paddled by husbands, brothers or cousins, while brightly dressed Kuna women held up equally colorful molas (appliqued fabric and blouses) indicating they would like to come aboard. Venancio, whom we knew from last visit, relayed our request that we would like to see all the molas in their village, instead of onboard. Mike agreed to stand anchor watch and the rest of us hastily grabbed knapsacks and cameras and headed ashore, chased by the fleet of canoes.

Arriving at Vanancio's family home and dock

First order of business was to visit the sila, or chief and present him with a gift of rice and ask permission to anchor in the nearby mangrove bay for the night. We paid him the $5 anchoring fee and gave him some magazines as a gift. He was very happy to hear that we would look at everyone's molas. For the next hour, we wandered the narrow dirt paths winding between thatched huts where molas had been hung on lines or pinned to the exterior.

Smiling Kuna sisters pose for a photo

The kids were home for Christmas holidays and everyone was in a happy and festive mood. This crew delighted in the Kuna art and Barbara and Tracy both got wini's (ankle wrappings of colored beads), similar to what Amanda has worn the past year. The openness, laughter and sense of humor of the Kuna people is unforgettable. It was hard to pull our crew away from this intense and fascinating village, but darkness was descending and we still had a couple of very tricky miles to find our way through rain squalls and coral heads into the anchorage at Gaigar for the night.

Venancio points out the detailed stitching of an interesting mola

Monday morning Mike, Karen and I took the dinghy back to Mormake Tupu to deliver school supplies. The schoolteacher was surprised and grateful and said that the supplies would be very helpful. The only things we missed were pens and construction paper. For any of our readers planning to visit this delightful (or any San Blas) village, here's the list: blank exercise books, pencils, erasers, pens, coloring books and any type of educational posters in any language.

Karen chats to the schoolteacher about the supplies we donated and the Kuna education system

Our next stop by dinghy was the larger of Rio Sidra, where we hoped to see the best master mola maker, a Kuna transvestite who goes by Liza Harris. Liza's family told us she was at Isla Carti and planned to return that afternoon. I left a note telling Liza that we would be anchored near Chichime Cay inviting her to bring molas and come for a visit. No sooner had we threaded our way past Chichime than Liza, who had been staying with friends and visiting yachts in the area came zooming up in her big canoe, waving and smiling. She hadn't yet received our message, but she always travels with a great selection of molas. Once she showed us the anchorage off Isla Yansaladur (page 66 in Panama Guide) she came aboard. Liza hadn't brought her best molas but would be happy to return with them in the morning.

Not long after Liza left, Amelia, with whom Amanda had struck a strong friendship last year paddled up with her daughter, granddaughter and uncle. Her sparkling eyes and joyful spirit charmed our crew and she left with few molas. It was wonderful to see her again!

Amanda, Amelia and her family -- happily reacquainted

At 7 the next morning before our departure to Portobelo, Liza returned with some superb molas and Amelia came back just to sit and visit. Our 55 mile passage up the coast had us dodging intense thunder and lightning squalls, huge trees and logs and tons of trash washed down from the mainland rivers while battling up to 1.5 contrary current. We arrived with 40 minutes of daylight to spare and anchored off the old Spanish forts. We enjoyed two quiet nights there, completing our teaching, exploring the fort and village.

Tina McBride, our Panama Canal transit agent, had suggested we arrive in Colon no later than 0900, and preferably at 0800, so we were up at 0400 and underway in the dark for the 22-mile passage. As we neared Colon and the Canal entrance, traffic of every description passed and I thought back on how well the last two crews had done, staying right on track to the end of the expedition.

Barbara studies the entrance chart for Colon while...

...Mike keeps a wary eye on the shipping as we enter the breakwater

Sometimes we get people with short attention spans that tend to drift off towards the end of the expedition, repeatedly staring at their airline tickets, sleeping a lot, forgetting simple things like staying hydrated and not slamming doors. These last two crews have been completely focussed and we really appreciate their energy. It was exciting to hear Mike and Tracy say that the minute they land in San Francisco, they will be making an offer on a used HR 38. They wisely decided to wait on submitting an offer until completing an ocean passage. It was also great to see Barbara constantly learning and practicing, getting ready for when she and Brian pick up their new HR 39 in Sweden 18 months form now, and hear of Mark's plans for his new Amel with Chriss and Alex next summer. Even Ken, who has never owned a boat, was discussing cruising destinations in British Columbia and thinking about purchasing a boat.

We were surprised and delighted to find a slip at the Panama Canal Yacht Club, and I quickly paid $207 for eight days moorage, not wanting the club manager to change his mind. Anchoring out in "the flats" a fair and wet dinghy ride away where a ship recently ran over an anchored cruising boat was not attractive at all. The club was surprisingly empty, and no one knows what has happened to all the cruisers. There have been hardly any yachts transiting in the five days we've been here and there are plenty of empty slips. The club is as funky as ever, but the town of Colon has cruise ships docking for the first time in many years and lots of new police on bicycles. It is still a very wild place where visitors are not safe walking about, but are encouraged to go everywhere by taxi.

On Saturday we took a cab 1.5 hours into Balboa to visit Greg and Cindy Robertson on Angel, an HR 42 (Cindy sailed on one of our Fiji legs) and were amazed at the new Flamenco Marina where we joined them for lunch. They had just returned from the Las Perlas Islands on Panama's Pacific coast and told of us some great anchorages to check out with Leg 10 crew.

Now it's Wednesday and Amanda and I have a couple days to finish up projects before greeting our Leg 10 Canal transit crew on Friday. We've spent a quiet Christmas at the club and due to the long lingering rainy season we have burrowed ourselves below like mole in a hole trying to stay ahead of the green mold that sprouts all surfaces. Today is the first sunny day since we arrived so we have scrubbed the carpets and have all cushions out in the sun.

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