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Leg 8, 2017, Update 2

December 14, 2017, 0500 hrs, 10.51 N, 075.43 W, Log: 208,500 miles
Baro: 1010.1, Cabin Temp: 83 F, Cockpit: 83 F, Sea Water: 83.0 F
Broad reaching at 8 kts in 23 kt NE winds under single-reefed main and triple-reefed genoa


In 2015 upon reading two rave reviews of the new IGY Marina Santa Marta, Colombia ( in Yachting World magazine, I checked out their website and contacted them hoping to stop there on our Panama – BVI passage. Everything sounded perfect, except the fact that the marina said it would take at least three days to clear in and three days to clear out. A six-day stop would not have allowed enough time to complete our planned two-week expedition.

Two weeks ago, I received an email from Jon and Mia, previous boat purchase consultation clients from Norway and Mallorca whom we’d met in Sweden, mentioning they were presently at Marina Santa Marta. I asked Jon if he could speak with the marina manager to see if there was any possibility we could stop just for one night. Jon replied that Kelly Gonzales, ( the totally switched-on front desk manager, had suggested we could stop, but not clear customs. I clarified that with Kelly, and that’s exactly what we did.

Strange to be sailing along in sweltering sun viewing glacial peaks

With a contrary current of up to 1.8 knots, we had to push to arrive Tuesday night before dark. Our recent Admiralty paper chart and C-Map charts showed only an anchorage where the marina had recently been built, but the new Navionics electronic chart showed the breakwater labeled “Works in Progress”. The marina shares the bay with a compact and densely-packed small commercial harbor, owned by the same visionary man who built the marina.

It took several calls on VHF channel 72 before the very busy dock master replied, directing us to a slip not far from the entrance. He motioned for us to back in, something that would have been near impossible without a bow thruster, owing to the beam-on winds and impressive surge that had all the boats jerking and tugging on their dock lines.

Arrival view of Santa Marta’s malecon

Once Mahina Tiare was secure with six dock lines I ran up to the office, catching Kelly before she went home. It appeared she may be the only one in the office who spoke English, and she explained that Colombian law allows visiting vessels to stop for up to 72 hours without clearing customs if they only require fuel, water or provisions, something we’ve never heard in any other country. She copied our ship’s registration, my passport, our outbound Montserrat clearance and scanned each of our crew member’s index finger which allowed entry to the docks, showers, laundry and air-conditioned crew lounge.

Kelly also gave us maps of the city and recommended Donde Chucho, a nearby fish restaurant which proved very exceptional. We were seated in a courtyard off the historic city plaza and the food and fresh-squeezed fruit drinks were fabulous and ridiculously inexpensive. Lin found a nearby gelato place for desert and Brian and Tami were able navigators, leading us on a little walking tour.

One of the many bronze statues along the malecon

Exotic fruit gelato’s in lighted plaza

Santa Marta, the oldest city in Latin America, having a population of 650,000 (hard to believe) reminded us of a cross between a Mexican and Spanish port town. Tourism is new to the city and most visitors were Colombian, here to enjoy the beach.

We all visited Jon, Mia and six-year old son Teo aboard their Hallberg-Rassy 39 Itchy Foot, ( delighting their stories of the week they had just spent exploring the Amazon while based at a small eco-lodge. Rich along with Karen and Lin have been considering an HR 39 for extended cruising, so they were delighted to check out Itchy Foot and quiz Jon and Mia as to how the design and size has worked out in their first year of cruising since departing Mallorca. We also met cruisers from many countries and our crew were also invited aboard a Pacific Seacraft 37 that we had passed before arrival.

John, Jon, Mia and Teo aboard Itchy Foot

With fresh provisions it’s farewell to Santa Marta

Yesterday everyone took off exploring early, returning for engine room orientation at 1330 after which we set sail for Panama’s San Blas Islands. Just minutes after leaving the marina we found 18-25 kt NE trade winds which haven’t diminished at all. With 290 miles to cover and a very tricky landfall surrounded by coral reefs (where we ran aground once previously) and a 1-2 kt contrary current, we’ve been pushing a bit, with boat speeds periodically nudging 10 kts.

Finally, we’ve no more sargassum seaweed of other debris to worry about so we it’s time to deploy the towing generator

A direct course would have us turning at the river entrance to Barranquilla. The Rio Magdalena is famous for having small islands, complete with trees plus logs and mud, washing well out to sea. We would have had to leave around noon to have passed it in daylight, so instead we had our watch standers go forward every 15 minutes and check for debris with the spotlight. Fortunately, we saw none, and, at least from the weather in nearby Santa Marta, think that it must have been several days since the last tropical downpour.

Our crew have been very busy avoiding freighters and a cruise ship as we are now passing Cartagena, a bustling port and popular stop for cruisers.

December 21, 2017, 1700 hrs, 09.22 N, 079.57 W, Log: 208,833 miles
Baro: 1010.2, Cabin Temp: 85 F, Cockpit: 85 F, Sea Water: 83.7 F
Shelter Bay Marina, slip C-34 near Colon, Panama

Yachts anchored in the “Swimming Pool”

Our first full day after leaving Santa Marta we had 20-24 kt winds, so our crew had good practice reefing and unreefing as we reeled off the miles toward landfall in Panama’s San Blas Islands. By 1100 someone yelled, “Land HO!” and a little after noon we entered Swimming Pool Anchorage, near Calubir Island, East Hollades Cays, one of the most famous anchorages (and an excellent choice for landfall) in the San Blas.
(Lat. 09 35.148, Long. 078 40.928) We found eight yachts anchored, many flying the Italian flag.

Karen and Lin with Lisa’s and her delightful molas.

Within minutes of anchoring everyone dove in and we just after lunch a Kuna canoe pulled up – it was the unmistakable “Lisa Harris” (we don’t know her kuna name), the famous transvestite kuna mola seamstress whom we’ve visited with on each of our five previous visits to Kuna Yala. Lisa said times were tough and the competition for selling molas (reverse-appliqued fabric art) to yachties was fierce especially as several island’s traditional owners were charging her a commission for selling molas to yachts anchored off “their” islands.

What an amazing night we enjoyed – zillions of stars, the twinkling of a handful of anchor lights across the bay and no night watches! I think we all slept like babies.

At 0630 before the morning heated up Amanda led rig check aloft class then we set off on a brilliant broad reach for 12 miles to Mormake Tupu, (also known as Isla Maquina) the tiny island we’ve been brining school books and supplies plus reading glasses to since 2000. (Lat. 09 27.116, Long. 078 51.251)

Karen gives a wave from the masthead.

On passage to Mormake Tupu

By the time our anchor was down we saw our friend, Venancio Restrapu climbing in his powered canoe and heading our way with two five-gallon pails tightly packed with molas. Our crew purchased several stunning pieces and Venancio said we were welcome to visit ashore but many of the village members were at the next island celebrating a double hair-cutting (coming of age) ceremony.

Venancio displaying his molas

A sailing canoe returns home to Mormake Tupu

Once we landed, we visited with some of Venancio’s family members then went to the congress (village meeting hut) to pay our regards and give the required small bag of rice to the sayla, or village chief. We then toured the village, helping women figure out which reading glasses would best serve them for sewing along with admiring and buying molas that had been quickly pinned to doors and outside walls.

Venancio’s sisters (in matching Christmas Mola blouses) trying on glasses

Lin chats with the sayla

Kuna ladies trying out different strengths of glasses

Distributing reading glasses

Ken making friends

Crew join in on a volley ball game that became very interesting with two balls on the go

We had just enough daylight left to make it to nearby Gaigar anchorage, which is protected by mangroves. (Lat. 09 26.214, Long.078 51.995). Surprisingly a family from a distant island has built a tiny islet near the entrance of the bay, totally surrounded by water. We paid a visit ashore, bringing a bag of rice plus some apples and a book of stickers for the only child.

Sunday morning Amanda pulled our Sailrite sewing machine to teach sail repair before we headed upwind to an unnamed anchorage that we had previously labeled, “BREAD MAN” (Lat. 09 33.700, Long.078 51.696).

We’d never seen more than one other yacht at this semi-exposed anchorage, so you can imagine our surprise when we spotted 28 anchored yachts, most flying Italian flags. After anchoring, we spoke with the crew of an HR 48 who said the two or three boats in the anchorage with German or French flags were actually also Italians, doing some kind of tax dodge with their flag of registry.

After landing ashore and purchasing some tasty kuna bread we wove our way through the coral to a long-time favorite anchorage of ours off Yansadar Island in Cayos Chichime (Lat. 09 34.519, Long. 078 51.402).

Shortly after anchoring, a lovely kuna mother with three children paddled out to show her molas. We purchased molas and winis (small stung beads that the women wear on their arms and legs) and gave her rice, onions and apples. She wished us Feliz Navidad and invited us ashore to their tiny one-hut island which we enjoyed visiting just before sunset. Situated only a few hundred meters from the outer reef, the booming surf was impressive and seaward on the inner reef two kite surfers were zipping back and forth relishing the constant trade winds.

Here is our Leg 8 crew: Lin, Rich, Brian, Tami, Ken and Karen

Rich, 40 years old, and a physician from Utah
20 years ago, I sailed with my father up Sweden’s beautiful west coast on his old, but sturdy HR Monsun 31. I look back at this time as one of my most cherished and formative experiences of my life and I have had a passion for sailing ever since. Currently my wife and I love sailing together and have chartered in Croatia, California, the BVI and we recently returned to Sweden and sailed out of Gothenburg. We have a baby girl on the way and we hope to one day soon cruise the world as a family. We don’t have a middle name picked out, but after this amazing experience with John and Amanda I’m leaning toward the name Tiare!

Brian, 48 and a physician from Michigan
Growing up in Michigan, I was surrounded by boats and was fascinated by sailboats from an early age. I have dreams of sailing away to exotic locations and joined this expedition to see if my dreams are realistic and achievable as well as to gain the necessary skills. I previously spent five years as a flight surgeon in the USAF where I earned my pilot’s license and gained navigational skills.

Tami, 48 and an accountant
My husband Brian introduced me to sailing and we’ve chartered several times on the Great Lakes and were ready to expand our experience. This leg has given us a very broad experience base! (Tami is an amazing navigator and navigation teacher with an account’s attention to detail)

Ken, 47, and an orthopedic surgeon from Anchorage, Alaska
My cruising goals are to sail widely throughout the globe and I joined this expedition to advance my skills. I began sailing two years ago and have mostly chartered around the San Juan Islands of Washington.

Karen, 60 and a systems engineer
I grew up in Southern California water skiing, fishing and sailing small sailboats. During college in Navy ROTC I learned navigation and seamanship. After serving as a naval officer and raising our family fishing, skiing and tubing, my husband Linwood and I took ASA 104 in the Abacos and discovered we love sailing! We are delighted to be learning and exploring together!

Linwood, 61
Originally from coastal North Carolina, I’ve been an avid boater all my life, but had never sailed before Karen and I took lessons on our 35th anniversary in the Abacos and we were hooked! We’ve lived around water most of our lives and now live in the DC metro area. We enjoy fishing on the Chesapeake Bay aboard our 30’ Grady White, “Field Office”. (Lin spent several years undersea aboard nuclear subs earlier in his career and loves navigation!)

Not wanting to enter our next coastal anchorage of Portobelo in the dark we got an early start Monday morning to smartly cover the 60 miles. We enjoyed some very fast downwind sailing in the large breaking seas passing a Beneteau Clipper 400 that was being very impressively steered by a Hydrovane steering gear. Thanks to the strong winds and somewhat weaker contrary current, we arrived in Portobelo at 1500, three hours before sunset.

It’s always interesting to pass a boat at sea

The first impression was of a multitude of shipwrecked yachts upon every shore; some on the beach with sails still furled, some washed well ashore, and several with only their mast showing above water. Our landing spot was Casa Vela, (House of Sails) a beer and pizza joint owned by a couple of German cruisers whom we’d met on previous visits. They shared that although Panama has always been considered to lie well outside the hurricane belt, last year a passing hurricane had pummeled the bay from the west, the only direction not protected by land. 13 of the 16 boats moored or anchored in the bay either sunk or landed ashore and the waves crashing through the Casa.
We all wandered about town visiting the “Black Christ” statue in the cathedral, the numerous forts built to protect the vast amounts of silver and gold passing through the Spanish counting house (still being restored) by the likes of Henry Morgan and checked out the three quintessential Chinese stores.

Our anchorage at Portobelo

Tuesday morning after three of us enjoyed a shoreline run to ruins of another cannoned fortress we set sail for Colon; the Atlantic entrance to the Panama Canal. Although light at the beginning, the wind filled in providing a great final sail. The closer we got to the canal entrance, the more ships we could see, both on the move and anchored mostly waiting to be called to enter the crowded harbor.
When we were 1.3 miles from the breakwater entrance, a yacht called Cristobal Control, asking for permission to enter the channel. The port controller, who sounded as busy as an air traffic controller at a busy airport, replied asking if the vessel hailing him was Mahina Tiare, as he’d been following their AIS signal. The yacht replied that it wasn’t their name and after giving their details they were given permission to carefully enter between the ships.

I immediately called Cristobal Control, also asking permission to enter and proceed to Shelter Bay Marina and we were given discretion to enter when we felt it was safe. We then quickly gybed and slipped between a fast-moving outgoing ship, passing through the breakwater at an angle and safely ahead of a large incoming freighter.

Gybe completed

Incoming freighter through the Colon breakwater

Once inside the breakwater we sailed along parallel to the breakwater for a mile or so, dropping sail just before entering the narrow channel to the marina. Tami was nervous, but did an excellent job piloting us nearly to our berth.

John Halley, Shelter Bay Marina’s dock master/marina manager is Superman – working tirelessly to accommodate the many needs of the visiting yachts, from mega yachts to the smallest cruisers. He gave us clear directions to slip C-34, then was on the finger pontoon, waving us in and eagerly helping secure our lines, complete with additional volunteers.

After checking in with the marina Tina McBride (our canal agent) had Rudy (her local representative) and Rico (his driver) meet us on the dock to whisk me away to customs. Well, “whisk” might be a bit of a generous term. Shelter Bay is located across the canal on the sight of Fort Sherman, a former US special forces training facility, now used by the Panamanian defense force. In order to cross the canal, one must either take a free ferry run by the ACP (canal authority) or wait until there is a break in ship traffic and drive across the top of one of the lock gates. It took nearly an hour to get to Colon.

Rudy then worked for hours getting us checked in with customs. It was very comical, but in the end we were checked in and crew were signed off. Rudy explained that the next step would be to get our cruising permit issued (which he said could take as little as three hours or as long as 1-2 days) and then immigration visas for Amanda and I plus our two crew who were staying longer than 72 hours in Panama. As those two offices were then closed, we headed back to the marina.

Our generous crew treated us to an excellent dinner in the marina that night complete with delicious deserts and while they packed up and cleaned the boat Wednesday morning, Rudy took Amanda and I plus Tami and Brian to immigration to apply for our visas – but first – we had to go to a passport photo shop for visa photos!

It was 1520 by the time we returned to the marina with just enough time for Rico to take Karen and Lin to the airport, two hours away.

All of the sudden, Mahina Tiare was quiet and we could catch our breath.

Today the canal authority admeasurer arrived, inspecting our cleats and vessel seaworthiness before telling us he would love to build a boat and sail the Panamanian waters with his wife and son. He was very pleased to hear it had taken Amanda’s parents and her just two years to build Swanhaven their 50’ Bruce Roberts ketch and only one year to build their Swanhaven II their 39’ sloop.

The rest of today has been gobbled up with minor repairs and cleaning. Amanda had provisioned brilliantly in Antigua and Santa Marta and we’re now we are down to three carrots, four apples, a few onions and cabbage...somehow there’s always cabbage, it’s Amanda’s back up veg. I’d planned on dinner at the marina restaurant tonight but they were closed for their staff Christmas party and although there’s a mini mart in the marina it mainly sells drinks. So with Christmas around the corner we’re heading to Colon with Rico in the morning for our first grocery run. We’ll be here for Christmas and have seen posters encouraging all to join in for a Christmas Day potluck and carol singing.

Our Leg 9 crew join us here at Shelter Bay Marina Dec. 29th, and if there are enough canal advisors available on Dec. 30th & 31st, we hope to transit then.

Resources used on Leg 8, Antigua to Panama:


Cruising Guides: The Panama Cruising Guide by Eric Bauhaus is brilliant and some of the Italians we met said all of the charts from this book are now available on line.

Electronic Charts:
C-Map running on Rose Point Coastal Explorer
Navionics Silver running on both our lovely new Raymarine MFD’s (multi-function displays). We purchased the very latest Central & South America portfolio in Antigua and have been very impressed with the accuracy, and considerably more detail than on C-Map charts.

General Sailing Conditions: The passages from Antigua to Colombia and Panama are all generally broad reaching or running this time of year when the “Christmas Trade Winds” are just starting to crank. We experienced more moderate conditions this year compared to our two previous crossings in 2002 and 2008. A contrary current of .5 to 2 knots runs contrary to the course approaching Colombia and for most of the way to the San Blas, Portobelo and to Colon.

General Anchoring Conditions: All of these areas have mostly sand bottoms with some coral and grass.

Customs Clearance: has good information. If planning on spending some time in the San Blas before coming to Colon to check in, it is possible to gain clearance in Porvenir, San Blas Islands.

Leg 8, 2017, Update 1

December 10, 2017, 1500 hrs, 13.32 N, 068.55 W, Log: 208,044 miles
Baro: 1013.1, Cabin Temp: 88 F, Cockpit: 94 F, Sea Water: 82.6 F
Broad reaching at 6.9. kts in 12 kt ESE winds under full sail with genoa poled out


Our time at Jolly Harbour Marina, Antigua was a real treat. We enjoyed long runs on long white-sandy beaches every morning, swimming laps in the pool afternoons and I even found time for tennis lessons which Amanda joined in on just before our Leg 8 crew arrived.

Leg 8 Crew arrive aboard Mahina Tiare in Antigua ready for learning, awesome downwind sailing and adventures!

We made one half-day trip to English Harbour where we were able to purchase the latest Navionics chart portfolio for the Caribbean and Central America, and a couple of forays into St. Johns, Antigua’s capital for provisioning at the newish and GIANT Epicurean grocery store. Just across the street from our marina berth was an amazingly well-stocked Budget Marine store where we could find the few odds and ends we needed aboard.

While at The Signal Locker in English Harbour, I picked up a small guidebook on Antigua that included a chapter on Montserrat, the closest island to the south that was decimated by volcanic eruptions in the late ‘90’s. I learned that there are still about 3,000 people left on the island (9,000 left for the UK or other Caribbean islands) and I learned they encouraged visiting yachts to stop and even had plans to eventually build a marina.

The seed was planted! After our safety orientation, I asked how many would be interested in an overnight stop and a half-day tour and got a resounding YES for an answer. Researching on the island’s visitor site I made contact with a shipping agent who gave us a very reasonable quote of US$40 per person for a half-day mini-van tour.

By noon Wednesday, the day our crew joined us, we’d cleared out of Antigua customs, electronically filed our inbound SeaClear paperwork for Montserrat, paid our marina bill and set sail.

We had a fast 28-mile passage with plenty of reefing practice in squalls and anchored off the wharf and landing at Little Bay with just enough daylight to snorkel down to discover a flat sandy bottom, perfect for the anchor to set deeply in. Montserrat Port Authority told us over the radio that Customs and Immigration would be open at 8AM, and we promised to be ashore then to clear in.

Approaching Little Bay

A dusk view from swimming of MT at anchor with her swanky blue anchor light

At 0730 when we were just starting to launch the dinghy, a small, 150 passenger expedition cruise ship nosed into the bay, and we quickly and successfully completed the launching and getting the outboard on our RIB – a real challenge in the very rolly, open roadstead anchorage.

Not wanting to wait while the ship cleared in, Rich and I zipped into the surging bay where Rich held the dinghy off the heaving waters next to the wharf as I persevered through check-in. The problematic on-line SeaClear entry form I’d spent hours completing and printed off wasn’t acceptable, so I went through the process longhand with triplicate carbon papers. The good news was the officers allowed me to clear in and out at the same time, and Jemotte Roosevelt, the shipping agent who had arranged our tour was on hand to point out our taxi van. Once I stepped out of the customs office, I noticed the cruise ship had just raised anchor and was steaming off toward Antigua. Jemotte said the ship reported it was too rough to launch their tenders to run passengers ashore, much to the disappointment of the assembled 20 taxi van drivers.

Amanda, uncomfortable with leaving Mahina Tiare unattended in a tenuous anchorage volunteered to run us ashore and stay aboard on anchor watch.

Cecil Wade (email:, our very animated and friendly driver greeted us and took us on a four-hour whirlwind tour of the 1/3 of island that wasn’t covered by the recent ash, mud and lava flows. Cecil proudly related the Irish heritage of the island – how well before British plantation owners arrived, Irish settlers had established plantations, and how a large portion of the population had retained their Irish names. St Patrick’s Day rates a week-long celebration on Montserrat.

First stop was that impressive Montserrat Cultural Centre that Beatles manager Sir George Martin had funded by organizing a concert in London of all the artists who had recorded albums at his AIR Studio on Montserrat, including George Harrison, Sting, Elton John, all of whose hand prints, cast in bronze were on the foyer walls. The centre provides theatre seating for 700 with additional outdoor seating.

Our second stop was the hilltop Montserrat Volcano Observatory where we watched a 15-minute video on the history of the eruptions, much of it filmed from the vantage point of the observatory and a helicopter based at the there. We saw footage of the collapse of a lava dome quickly sending a massive plume 30,000’ in the air, and watched as 150 mph pyroclastic flows roared through the streets of the capital, Plymouth, completely covering entire neighborhoods, the airport and much of the waterfront.

Crew and Driver Cecil at the Montserrat Volcano Observatory

View of Souffriere Hills Volcano

The destroyed and deserted town of Plymouth, formally the capital of Monserrat

Olveston House on Penny Lane

We also visited a partially-covered luxury hotel, plus the unaffected lovely hotel/guest house on Penny Lane that George Martin had built for the recording artists to stay at while they were recording albums at his studio.

The Montserrat National Trust and Botanical Garden were interesting and we were able to listen in on a video of natural history of the island being shown to local school kids.

Cecil proudly pointed out three sites where local businessmen were excavating, sifting and exporting volcanic sand and gravel. Substantial machinery, excavators, dump trucks and gravel sifters were at work and three to four barges per week come to take the sand and gravel to Antigua and other Caribbean countries for making concrete.

Before long it was time to head back down the hill to Little Bay, where we saw MT was seriously rolling and pitching with a three-masted square-rigged schooner anchored astern. We got everyone safely back aboard and managed to get the outboard motor and dinghy aboard timing our lifting to the rolling, before raising anchor and sail and slowly sailing close along the coastline, passing Plymouth where we got a good view of the half-covered city.

MT at anchor with Sagitta from Island Windjammers

The wharf at Little Bay; the islands only landing and ferry dock

On attaching the main halyard Amanda noticed the top Antal slider had come adrift due to a missing nut on the pin and that the second slider had lost is liner. Unsure if there was a screw protruding from the track she took a trip aloft (in seriously rolly conditions) to check the track. No worries.

Not long before sunset we cleared the island and set sail for Santa Marta, Columbia, 800 miles distant. We’ve had only deep following winds, broad reaching or running, and this morning we hoisted the whisker pole which has resulted in less rolling.

Our first reef of the expedition accomplished by Rich, Lin (with orange reefing card) and Ken

Rich and Tami trading off at the helm

Amanda just suggested we place a laminated copy of our Liferaft Orientation in an abandon ship container

Yesterday was the first day it wasn’t too rough for showers, so we all enjoyed aft-deck showers and celebrated a solid run of 150 miles in the previous 24 hours. Once we had the pole up, Amanda taught liferaft and Lifesling us, rig check and spares and we inventoried our two abandon ship containers.

We’ve been waiting for the endless procession of Sargasso weed to lighten up so we can fish and deploy our towing generator, but the weed has only increased, which would make either impossible.

Leg 8 Itinerary

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