Leg 9, 2001: Antigua, Nevis, San Blas Islands; Panama
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
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
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 (Amazon.com). To check out images and stories
from our last year's adventures, look at Amanda's World and Leg
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)
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.
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.
Barbara ecstatic about seeing land
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
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
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
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
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.