Leg 4-2000 : Panama Canal; San Blas; Tortola, BVI
Leg 4 joining us at Pedro Miguel Boat Club , inside the canal.
Leaving Pedro Miguel Boat
Club and going through the rest of the Canal
Peter Steering us thru Galliard Cut while our pilot enjoys a book
Narrow shortcut in Gatun Lake, Panama Canal.
The final lock chambers
at Gatun. Heading north through the canal.
June 9, 2000 1430
18.07S, 70.22W Log: 36,266 Baro:
1016 Cabin Temp: 86F
Closehauled at 8.12 kts closehauled in 14kts SE winds,(NO JOKE!)
5 miles off Hispaniola Is.
Adventures to the Max!
We're now passing Santo Domingo, Dominican
Republic, and hope to be anchored in a few hours. It seems weeks
ago we left Panama's San Blas Islands, heading 1000 miles upwind
against the trades to Tortola, British Virgin Islands. Originally
we planned on hugging the Columbian and Venezuelan coast, possibly
as far east as the ABC islands before sailing north. We were soon
dissuaded from this tactic by several people and David Jones'
"Concise Guide to Caribbean Weather" book. Everyone
said the passage along the coast would provide extremely strong
headwinds accelerated by the 18,000' high Pico Cristobal Colon,
the northernmost mountain of the Andes near the Columbia-Venezuela
Tom and Maureen on Tilly Whim, new friends
we met in Panama from St. Croix, suggested going along the coast
to Cartagena, Columbia, then sailing north close-hauled. They
recommended it's best to gain easting to windward along the south
coast of Haiti and Dominican Republic where the trades and currents
are not as strong, possibly in the 15 knot instead of 20-30 knot
That's exactly what we've done, it's
working. But aghhh, it's been a bash to windward in up to 39 knots
with crossed, confused seas, sailing 1063 miles to cover 703 miles.
Our crew who signed up for heavy weather are not disappointed!
I've found little information about facilities
for yachts in the Dominican Republic. The Reeds Almanac says that
Santo Domingo, the capital is a commercial harbor and recommends
that yachts visit Club Nautico in the port of Boca Chica, 18 mi
W of Santo Domingo. Today we talked with a woman on the SSB radio
who had visited there last year and said that the people in the
small fishing harbor were friendly but that we probably wouldn't
see any yachts.
So that brings you up to date, except
for our excellent adventures in Portobelo and the San Blas Islands!
Anchored off the Spanish Fort in Portobelo.
The 43 mile passage to Portobelo was
easy and we ghosted under sail into the bay surrounded by lush
green hills. We anchored in the lee of Fuerte San Fernando, built
by the Spanish in 1650. Amazingly, the fort was cleared and visible
with extensive fortifications and buildings spreading up the steep
hillside. On two other slopes of the bay were other forts to protect
the Spanish riches.
Minutes after our anchor hit the bottom
we had the RIB in the water and hit the beach, exploring the huge
fort in the golden light of late afternoon. The next day we dinghied
to town and explored the 1630 restored counting house. Here all
the gold and silver treasure from Columbia, Peru and Mexico was
recorded before being shipped aboard galleons headed to Spain.
Many times pirates including Sir Frances Drake attacked the ships
and the shoreside settlements, often leveling the forts with canon
Our next stop was Nombre de Dios, a settlement
that the Spaniards first started in 1519 but later abandoned in
favor of Portobelo. It rained, the bay was muddy and we were glad
to be underway the next morning for the San Blas. We used US chart
26066 from Colon to Portobelo, Nombre and toward the San Blas.
The San Blas have always fascinated me as a cruising destination.
Ever since I was a little girl visiting fellow cruising boats
who had Kuna Indian molas aboard I've been saving my pennies and
looking forward to the chance to purchase my own.
Maureen and Tom from Tilly Whim had just
spent several weeks cruising the San Blas Islands and asked us
to take photos, care packages and school supplies to their Kuna
friends. They marked our charts with anchorages that seemed difficult
to thread into but reassured us that with good sunlight overhead
we wouldn't have a problem.
We found that the latest US charts 26063
and 26065 fairly accurate but were lacking in close-up details.
For anchoring details and excellent background on Panama "The
Panama Guide" by Nancy & Tom Zydler is accurate and comprehensive,
detailing several critical reefs not shown on the latest US charts.
Our first anchorage was one of the trickier
entrances we've attempted, past Chichime Cays and then off tiny
Yansaladur Islet. Between the chart, Panama Guide and numerous
trips to stand on the mast pulpits, we sorted our way into a gorgeous
tropical anchorage with 360 degree protection and tiny, white
sand beach, coconut-clad islets on three sides.
We barely had the dinghy launched and
sun awning up before we spotted a canoe, its sail brilliant white
against the turquoise lagoon, headed our way. This was just the
beginning of what unfolded to be the Kuna Experience.
Kuna Indian's selling molas.
The Kuna's are fiercely independent and
maintain their traditions and governing of their coastal and island
region. About 40,000 Kuna live only 40 of the 400 small keys,
the other islands have a small grass hut with a caretaker for
the coconuts that the Kuna trade with Columbian trading schooners.
About 10,000 Kuna live on the coast maintaining their village
agricultural gardens and airstrips for lobster to Panama.
The arriving dugout canoe held three
tiny women in Kuna dress, yellow and red head scarf, wrapped skirt
and bright blouse with hand stitched molas either side. Their
faces were painted with a black line down the middle and a gold
ring through their nose. Strings of beads wrap their arms and legs
to make them slim. These women had sailed several miles to try
selling us molas, layers of fabric that are cut and stitched into
basic designs. Prices range from $5 to $30 depending on the detailing
and there is no room for bargaining until you purchase a few.
Molas and money went flying until we
realized this was only the first canoe and several others dotted
the horizon, all under sail toward Mahina Tiare, bearing more
The following morning was rainy and not
good for coral piloting so we concentrated on teaching our cruising
skills and went ashore to the tiny island we were anchored off.
As soon as we landed, a small Kuna man
introduced himself Thomas. I gave him a bag of rice (as we learned
from Tom & Maureen was the proper protocol) and asked if we
could walk around the island. He answered in English, "No
problem, come back and we'll talk". After exploring the island,
we returned to his little thatch hut where his wife had pinned
some attractive molas to the doorway. Thomas explained that he
and his wife and a young couple were here for one month to collect,
harvest and guard the coconuts. The island was spotless, not a
single fallen palm frond was to be seen.
Hiking though Kuna cornfields.
Out of the blue, Thomas said, "I've
been to New York!" Turned out that he had just retired as
the head of all Kuna Yala (the Kuna nation) and had made several
trips to the US and Canada to meetings of indigenous peoples,
as representatives of the Kuna. We weren't totally sure of this
guy, but when we later went into the meeting houses and store
in the villages, his photo was on every calendar and posters and
the silas (village chiefs) told us that he was a very important
After enjoying a day of relative solitude
we headed for the island of Maquina to visit Tom and Maureen friends.
The Restrepo family made us welcome and first took us to the congresso
where we presented a 2lb packet of rice and formally asked permission
through an interpreter to use the anchorage and visit the village.
The kindly old sila was swinging in a hammock (as was traditional)
and each of our crew shook hands and thanked him on the way out
of the congesso. I was the last to shake his hand and gave him
some National Geographic magazines and he firmly held my hand,
saying "Thank you, thank you", which appeared to be
the extent of his English. The situation had the same feelings
I have experienced in Fiji when presenting the village chief with
a bundle of kava roots and asking for permission to visit. This
is the essence of cruising for us. We later returned with boxes
of school supplies purchased at Costco in Panama, for which the
teachers in the one-roomed school were very grateful.
Kuna canoes in Sidra Village.
We strolled the densely populated island
with grass huts and families living inches apart, the women proudly
displaying their molas. Ildefonso, Tom & Maureen's friend
had visited the boat earlier and had told the village to be ready
for eight visitors who might be interested in molas. Ildefonso
explained that the rainy season had started and all but a handful
of cruising boats had left. We never saw a single non-Kuna person
ashore in any of the villages.
Idelfonzo offered to show us up the river,
first by dinghy, then by hiking and we went off in search of monkeys,
squirrels, exotic birds and crocodiles. We weren't disappointed
and enjoyed viewing the corn, rice and lime groves planted amongst
Ildefonso's Village and family home, San Blas.
Distributing school supplies to teachers in Ildefonso's village.
Amanda was molad out but found the beads
a cheaper option and came away wrapped like a technicoloured mummy.
Adelia and her granddaughter hitch a ride on M.T. III. - Adelia
displays her mola's for sale on the aft deck
Our last touch of paradise was the East
Holandaise Cays, an idyllic group of islands, but the sad sight
of an HR 42 from Gotenborg that was lost on the reef due to an
error in navigation occupied our thoughts.
HR 42 on the coral. Hollandaise
Cays, San Blas. - Amanda wading out to wrecked HR 42
But, now back to the present! We have
only 14 miles to an anchorage where we'll wait for daylight to
check out Boca Chica harbor. The lights in Santo Domingo are winking
on in the distance - Amanda just made an outrageous Mediterranean
lentil dinner, great tunes are playing and we're still zooming
along at nearly 8 knots in light air and smooth water. Life is
June 15, 2000 1445
18.12N 64.39W Log: 36,675 8 to
8.4 kts, closehauled in 14-19
Tradewinds Sailing, Tortola Ahead!
Pusser's Landing. Soper's Hole Wharf, British Virgin Islands.
This is the sailing we dream of during
our winter months off! Mahina Tiare in her element - closehauled
with the wind 40 degrees off the bow, we've touched 8.4 knots
and held 8 knots for hours, charging into impressive seas with
spray flying in all directions.
Peter spent hours in the bow pulpit,
spray flying right over him, grinning and whooping while Ed was
standing on the boom, now Wayne is stretched across the aft deck.
The sky is glorious blue with puffy tradewind clouds, the sea
a brilliant turquoise and the rugged emerald outline of Tortola
is on the bow, 8 miles ahead. This is the best sailing we've had
in months! Any boat can slide along off the wind but to get 8.4
knots to windward into the trades takes attention to sail trim,
good helmsmanship and a great design. We've that winning combination
Our stop at Dominican Republic was our
shortest ever! After anchoring in the lee of the airport we showered
on deck and planned on our first full night of sleep in over a
week. Ed, Peter and I were standing on deck, still wet, when a
particularly sharp roll sent Ed sliding! He and Peter said, "We
should just keep sailing, instead of rolling all night!"
I thought the rest of the crew must surely be looking forward
to a night's sleep, but they all agreed to an early departure
for Puerto Rico.
By 0200 we had enough of the rolls so
departed for Ponce (pon-SAY), Puerto Rico and motorsailed into
15-20kts for 31 hours, tacking into easterly trades, arriving
1100 hrs. We read that Ponce Yacht and Fishing Club had a great
reputation for friendliness, which we heartily confirm!
Although they didn't have any available
slips, they allowed us to tie to the new fuel dock and gave us
temporary club membership. The moorage was $1 per foot per night,
fuel at $1.50 per gallon was a deal, and the town was a shocker!
Ponce, Puerto Rico.
Ponce was founded in 1692 by the Spanish
and by the impressive fountains, civic buildings, museums, art
galleries and parks this town has been cared for. Every visitor
to the town museum had a bi-lingual guide who proudly told the
city's history. The yacht club was having a summer camp for 150
of the members children - what a good-looking, well-behaved bunch
of kids! Across the water from the club was a huge new boardwalk
and public park with live music and lots of little restaurants
open on the weekend, plus a white sand beach.
Of interest to yachties was the new Wal-Mart
and Sam's Club only 3 minutes from the club by taxi, plus every
type of marine service imaginable, close to the harbor. Several
of us decided that we would like to come back for a more extensive
Tuesday morning dawned with 25 knot winds
and rough seas as another tropical wave weather system passed
by. By late afternoon the wind started dropping so we set out
on our last windward leg, 110 miles to St. Croix.
We hugged the south coast of Puerto Rico
so close that at times we were in 30' of water, staying out of
the rougher water offshore. We arrived off Christiansted by 1330
yesterday and were delighted to find dock space at St. Croix Marina
which features a Travelift, dry storage, well-stocked marine store
and small restaurant.
Christiansted, St. Croix,
U.S. Virgin Islands.
The Danish influence in Christiansted
was everywhere with many forts and historic buildings now part
of the US National Park System. Ed and Peter rented a jeep and
explored the far corners of this arid and mountainous island while
the rest of us ventured into town and found some neat cafes for
We'd planned another night in St. Croix
but this morning when Amanda and I were running we made it up
to a hill with a great view to the north, the direction of Tortola.
The trades were kicking up - we could
see a couple of sloops charging along, headed north and it seemed
to good a day to waste dockside, so without any protest we put
What a day! Great winds, super sailing
and now a spectacular anchorage; Little Harbor on Peter Island,
4.5 miles from Road Harbor. In 18-22 knots we tacked up Flanagan
Passage into the bay and as soon as the anchor was down we all
hit the water! Fan coral, brilliant parrot fish and white sand
beaches - what more could we ask for?
Now in the morning we need to clear into
the BVI's then put our heads down and power through Marine Weather,
winch rebuilding and the last few topics on the teaching schedule.
Hopefully we'll fit in some more gorgeous anchorages!
Roadtown, Tortola, British
Hey, what about our expedition members?
Mike "Mr. Chicken" Hudson, 53 from Arkansas and Florida recently sold
his chicken business to Tyson. Now he is in the process of
trading his Island Packet 29 for a brand new IP 420 on which he
plans on sailing to the Virgin Islands soon.
34, whiz kid mathematics professor from Germany, teaching at U
of W and NYU, totally in love with sailing and getting married
this summer in France to a beautiful woman.
62, ex-Navy submarine commander from Pennsylvania who owns property
on St. Thomas and is our local knowledge expert for these waters.
Ed "Mr. Rigger" Kish, 45 from Ojai, CA whose business handles overhead
rigging for just about every event imaginable, all over the world.
This guy has it rigged so his wife Sandy meets him in Tortola
a couple days after the expedition and they take off on a week
Moorings charter. Ed's considering trading up from his Crealock
37 to a HR 39.
54 and David Bowman are from "Winterpeg" Manitoba
(so they call it). They are considering
career changes from MD and choir member to cruising sailors.
We had a fast and fun downwind sail from Little Harbor on Peter
Island to Great Harbor on Jost Van Dyke, about 12 miles.
MTIII at anchor, Peter
There we were able to clear customs (totally casual) and enjoy
a wild night at Fozy's, a beachfront restaurant-bar famous for
it's eccentric West Indian owner, Foxy who plays the guitar and
makes up songs about everyone who walks in off the beach.
The Contented Calypsonian.
Jost Van Dyke
Foxy at Foxy's Restaurant
There were 250 for his Friday night barbecue,
with every seat in the house taken and plates piled high with
mahi-mahi, ribs, steaks, lots of great salads and some great local
The following morning we headed north
to Soper's Hole where we dropped Wayne off at the ferry dock,
headed to St. Thomas to check out his land. None of us were ready
for Road Town yet, so we had another lovely afternoon, evening
and morning at Little Harbor again with lots of time for snorkeling
On Sunday we had lots of wind and an
exciting sail to Road Town, Tortola, capital of the BVI's. I had
expected a much larger town and harbor, but was astounded by the
number of charter boats in the Moorings largest base in the world.
Village Cay Marina (www.villagecay.com) in Road Town was impressive with 110v &
220v power and water ($.12 per gallon) to each of 106 slips, plus
pool, dockside restaurant & bar, laundry, showers and 21 room
hotel, all in the most convenient place in town with two supermarkets
across the street. There were many empty slips and the cost was
$.95 per foot per night.
Monday morning Peter and Ed helped me
in a major effort of cleaning and waxing the entire hull from
the dinghy. That afternoon Amanda and I got the first of five
coats of varnish on and from Wednesday until Sunday morning, we
enjoyed the quiet beauty of Little Harbor anchorage again. This
is the type of anchorage we really enjoy between expeditions;
sheltered, but with nice breezes for ventilation, great snorkeling
in crystal-clear water, and the ability to see the lights of the
town and island in the distance.
Ahh, the cruising life.
Sail on to Leg 5, 2000