Cruising Plan update Feb 2017

Our Panamanian sky today is overcast and gray and there is a 1 knot current outside in the water, it is a perfect day to catch you up on our Central American travels thus far. It’s been nearly 2 months since we’ve last updated the blog and I’m sure many of our readers are wondering what has happened to us. We have been quite busy here in San Blas but are still having the time of our lives.
 photo Dani mat.jpg
 photo chickcatamaran.jpg
 photo Tatedinghycocos.jpg
 photo Ep 10 Patron Photo - Sun Raysfb.jpg
 photo Sundownerjib.jpg

We arrived to the Swimming Pool anchorage 15 miles off the coast of Panama in the Holandes Cays last year on November 19th 2016. February 19th coming up will make 3 months that we’ve been AT ANCHOR in the San Blas Islands. Those of you who followed our 2015 sail from New Orleans down here to Panama will remember that Tate and I typically linger in places about 3 months before feeling like we’ve had our fill of the local culture, other boats and of course the water (freediving and spearfishing).
 photo Swimminpoolcalm.jpg
 photo Swimmingpcalm.jpg
 photo SundownerPrismSPedit.jpg
 photo SundownerSPwateryoutubebanner.jpg

Now that we are getting into February I imagine many of you are wondering when we will cross through the Canal and start our planned voyage across the Pacific Ocean and into French Polynesia and beyond. It is with a bittersweet taste that these words roll off my tongue.

We are not going to cross the Pacific this year.

I know I know, many of you will be disappointed in yet another year passing by without Tate and Dani at Sundowner’s helm across the Great Blue Pond, and I am also sad and conflicted about this decision but we sat down, gave it a good vetting and are content in our resolve.

In short the number one reason we are delaying crossing the Pacific is because we aren’t done with the Caribbean yet. In 2015 we sailed from New Orleans to Key West (2 weeks), Key West to Cuba (3 weeks), Cuba to Isla Mujeres, Mexico (3 months), Mexico to Providencia, Colombia (3 months), and from Colombia we sailed down here to the San Blas islands in Panama (4 months).

We’ve only visited 4 foreign ports and truly there is SO MUCH MORE TO SEE in the Caribbean. We are already here and so it is very easy to sail to other Ports of Call. The water here is warm, the tides minimal, the scenery breathtaking and the cultures diverse and intriguing.

This year out in San Blas we had the pleasure of meeting around 7 boats all of whom made the long and arduous journey down the West Coast of the USA, Mexico and Central America before passing through the Panama Canal and ending up here, in this coconut paradise. All of them arrived in a somewhat frenzied state after the nearly 6,000 nm passage it took to get here.

We’ve heard stories of 22 foot tides, forever rolly anchorages, and generally just the trouble they had sailing down the coast. In the background of life we heard a collective sigh and witnessed a rebirth and reinvigoration for cruising once they had spent some time here in these islands…Wait a minute, why are rushing to leave here again?

It’s true that we weren’t planning to sail up the West Coast but rather across the ocean, 4,000 miles from Panama to the Marqueses, the first French Polynesian island group we’d encounter.

4,000 miles you say? Yes if we skip the Galapogas (1,000 miles from Panama and very expensive to visit) it’s a 4,000 nm trek, or roughly 40 days for the Sundowner crew. 40 days at sea is no joke and it’s certainly not made any better by our French Polynesian Visa allowance of a mere 90 DAYS! (There is a way to get a 6 month Visa but you have to jump through many hoops including going to your local police station to get a criminal record report among other things. If anyone has done the long stay visa please let us know how it worked for you. )

This is another big reason for us delaying the crossing. It’s not appealing much at all to leave this tropical life to sail a hard 40 days only to enjoy 90 days before being forced to move further West where the next destination is yet another 1,000 miles. The few day passages of the Caribbean will be half a world away.

Not to be left out is the language aspect. I have studied throughout my life and now speak a little bit of Spanish which is getting exponentially better the longer we frequent these Latin American places. It’s exciting for me to actually conserve and get things done in another language and I consider it an important life/career skill to have so I’m taking every opportunity to learn from native speakers.

We have also met lots of fellow cruisers this year, many whose path’s may cross ours if we stay in the warm Caribbean. This is the best part about cruising. Other cruisers. To say we have been social this year is putting it lightly. In the past 2 months we’ve spent many days and nights on beaches and onboard with the crew of these boats (Among many others I can’t remember):

SV One World (Top sail Schooner 65′)
SV Heavens Door (Catamaran Voyage 50)
SV Aloha (Catamaran Privilege 39)
SV Morgan (Catamaran Lagoon 38)
SV Sirena (Tayana 55)
SV Chinook (Tayana 55)
SV Gris Gris (Contest 48)
SV Runner (Stedel 48)
SV Gaia (Liberty 458)
MV Sealife (Trawler Kadey Krogen 44)
SV Warren Peace (Tayana 37)
SV Prism (Hans Christian 33)
SV Cheers (Southern Cross 28)

The decision to postpone the Pacific crossing has not been made lightly. We’ve spent the better part of 2 months discussing it and weighing the pros and cons. One of the biggest cons, at least in relation to others is that we SAID we were going to cross this year (after having postponed the 2016 crossing).

It’s very hard to go against our repeatedly expressed desires but this is a skill often needed when making big life decision. We have make the RIGHT decision at the time, not one that is clouded by past statements, pride, peer pressure and the like. Not crossing this year is the right decision for us. At this moment with all the facts we have in place, it will never be as easy to be in the Caribbean as it is right now and so we are in no rush to leave despite our previous plans.

About 70 percent of all the cruisers we meet have a much faster timeline than we do. Often they’ve barely arrived somewhere before they are discussing where to go next. This type of travel disposition is stressful to me. I don’t want to travel any faster than we did in 2015. We get to know the local waters, the people and the culture in much greater depth than a cursory runover, camera in hand. We didn’t work this hard to take off from work to go faster than our natural pace, we do what feels right.

Luckily Tate and I share the same sense of slow meandering that was probably bred into us somewhere in the South. We go at our own pace, faster sometimes and very slow at others however it is always enjoyable as we float down this river of life.

Now this decision also saddens me. One of the things I enjoy most about cruising, besides making friends…and in some ways it is more important than even that…is passage making. I LOVE sailing long distances and arriving a little salt soaked, tired and hungry in a whole new place with a different culture and landscape. There is NOTHING else on earth like sailing your ship through the vast open tracks of the ocean and arriving after a week at sea to a little island 5 miles wide, decorated with palm trees and white sandy beaches.

You are all alone out there with Mother Nature and you have to adjust your sails, balance your boat and change course to match whatever she has in store for you. I’ve seen more stars than I’ve ever seen, watched dolphins, sharks and fish in the water below, fallen into a trance like state watching the waves, pondered an assortment of life’s difficulties and pleasures and I’ve smelled the scent of land (fruit and flowers) upon arriving to a small island in the middle of nowhere after a 7 day passage with just my husband, my ship and Mother Nature. Nothing has given me a deeper sense of accomplishment in the athletic realm, ever.

I have always looked forward to a LONG passage. The longest we’ve done so far is 7 days and my fondest memories are from that trip. It can be scary, tiring, boring and frustrating to live while on a 15 to 20 degree angle bashing through the waves, but to me it is worth it and more. I imagine there aren’t many greater feats than sailing yourself across a large body of water. Skill, timing and luck all play into how the journey ends up and crossing an ocean is a hell of an achievement to have under your belt. I bet the world suddenly feels smaller and more maneable. It’s after times like these that Tate and I may take on more difficult sailing expeditions…possibly even Cape Horn one day.

However just because we aren’t doing the Pacific this year doesn’t mean we won’t be doing it at all. There is always 2018.

So what are our newly revised plans? I say plans as light as possible because well you see how our “plans” have fared so far. We’ll stay in the San Blas area until mid-March before sailing 260 nm to the West to a city called “Bocas del Toro” where we’ll spend a few months exploring the water, jungle and neighboring Costa Rica.

After our fill there we’ll come back here to San Blas for a couple of months (during the rainy season when the fishing is top notch) before heading 210 miles to the East to Cartegena, Colombia, land of the old Forts! From Colombia we’ll sail up to Jamaica (our longest passage planned upcoming) and then who knows. We have some ports in mind…including the South Coast of Cuba which we skipped and have regretted ever since.

Well now that we have that off our chest, what exactly have we been up to these past 2 months?

We’ve had countless beach parties, including a particularly festive one on New Years Eve with about 30 other cruisers from all over the world, hung out on many different boats and islands for dinner, drinks and games, we’ve swum in the ocean and Tate gets us fresh fish often.
 photo nyeve.jpg
 photo TateBarracudabanner_1.jpg

This year we have ventured out more in San Blas and we’ve visited a few other island groups and on one occasion we raced Sailing Vessel Prism to a new anchorage.
 photo IMG_6302.jpg
 photo IMG_6306.jpg
 photo IMG_6307.jpg

 photo SundownerCocos.jpg
 photo Cocos.jpg
 photo Catamaranesnasdup.jpg

We’ve spoken with the Kuna and I bought another Mola. Each day we are open for a new adventures and we keep our calendars loose to accommodate them.
 photo Kunas on the water_1.jpg
 photo Kunasail.jpg

My mom came to visit for 10 days in early January followed by our Cabin owner friends in Montana who traded the blustering cold of their hometown for our balmy sailboat for 12 days. It was SOO incredible having guests onboard and showing them the life we lead. Upcoming our very best friend Michele is coming to visit!!! We are REALLY excited about this.
 photo danigorgidup.jpg
 photo MomGorgidup.jpg
 photo Gorgidup 2.jpg
 photo DanDonnell.jpg
 photo Danconch.jpg
 photo DanDonnellnet.jpg

On January 28th Tate and I celebrated 5 years of marriage! Hard to believe it’s been that long though on the other hand in boat years we’ve been married for 20. In the 8 years we’ve been together we bought Sundowner and refit her entirely, learned to sail by racing on Lake Pontchartrain, saved up money for a 5 year sabbatical, spent one year sailing to Panama in the Caribbean, the next year driving around the country in an RV, and this year we are back out in the tropics with many years of traveling still ahead.

Our last guest departed on the 26th so on the 28th we just kicked back and had a marathon of James Bond and Horatio Hornblower movies with popcorn and a tall glass of redwine for me and Tate broke out his previously cloistered Buffalo Trace Whiskey for the occasion. I baked an icingless cake and we (ok I) ate the whole thing.

We reminisced upon the past 5 years, good and bad, and made goals for the future for our life together. A life like mine wouldn’t be possible without my husband. He is always thinking outside of the box and is unafraid to make choices that others would find appalling. We’ve had one hell of a ride so far and I’m thrilled deeply to have the seat to the right of him for the adventures that await us.
 photo Mountains.jpg

I have a Cost Update post coming up to account for the last 6 months of 2016 and we continue to make videos which show in greater detail how we spend our time. Until the next post take care and keep dreaming<3.

Check out what we’ve been up to in our latest videos on You Tube.

Like our videos? Help us create more! Please become a Patron.

Patreon too involved? Use our one time tip jar instead!

Episode 07 Living at Anchor
We show you what’s in our cabinets, how we catch water and other activities while living aboard.

Episode 08 Christmas en San Blas
We travel to the beach for a party and enjoy a FULL Christmas dinner aboard a Tayana 55′.

Episode 09 Getting back in the groove
I go snokerling off the boat and Tate gives half a 15 pound Dog Snapper away and we have a beach party.

Episode 10 Come Freediving with Me
Tate discusses Spearfishing and Dani shows you the underwater world here in San Blas.

Return to Paradise (San Blas Islands 2.0)

Yesterday Tate went out again to the outer reef of the Holandes Cays (aka the Swimming Pool) only this time he went alone. While the waves on the Outside looked ok from the Inside in actuality they were not. Standing up in the dinghy once beyond the reef he couldn’t see over the top of the waves…6 foot waves are no place for our 10′ Porta-bote and new 5 hp Yahama outboard. Oh but wait, last time we were just in the midst of recommissioning Sundowner. We have some catching up to do.

It may have seemed easy for us to move back to Panama and onto our boat. But it was not. I don’t want to mislead anyone out there watching our videos or reading our blogs. It was Months of careful ordering of stuff, visiting with family and friends, the PACKING…oh my goodness the packing. I think in total we spent a solid 20 hours packing in the weeks before we left.

Then there was the leaving factor, AGAIN. We had to say goodbye to our Dads and moms, sisters and brother, nephews and good friends. It’s sad to leave everyone behind and we were happy to have the time we did while we were home.

I also dedicated most of my free time to making a video series (20 in total) for my Sister and Jason’s trip to Ireland. Something I offered and very much wanted to do (they have a major lack of time with two boys aged 5 and 7 plus jobs) and am very happy with the outcome. So you can see we were running on very little sleep and maybe a few food/drink hangovers, BUT we were going back to our beloved boat and back to these little San Blas islands that we love so much. So that made it worth it. We had the end goal in mind and that fueled our nonstop forward momentum.

In a way I felt robotic in my actions. I had to be that way really as the day after we arrived I awoke with a Terrible sore throat. That progressed into nasal congestion, then a cough, then a fever for a few days with the cough and general feeling unwell lasting much longer. In total I was sick for 11 days, about the time we were in the boatyard. But I couldn’t let the sickness keep me from doing what needed to be done. The room was $25 a night plus it costs money to stay in the boatyard/marina ($9/day) but more than this was everyday we stayed at Panamarina was one less day we could hang out in San Blas. We NEEDED time in San Blas before our next big undertaking…crossing the Pacific this spring.

In our evening/rain free time we worked on the first four episodes of our Sailing Series videos and some blogs.

I can’t emphasize enough how hot and humid Panama’s coast line is this time of year. November is the rainiest month and it did not disappoint. Everything seemed to always have a layer of water on it. My hair was often totally crazy and frizzy (gone are the low humidity days in Montana).

The boatyard people were super friendly and I got to practice my Spanish more. Thank goodness for the room because living in the boat with all of our stuff while trying to work would have not been fun, at. all. Everything was hot and wet and the boat had a layer of grime on all the walls, though thankfully our cushions, clothes and books fared well in the plastic.

I was worried when we left the boat originally that the plastic would actually make the mold worse. If the contents couldn’t breathe then maybe moisture would get trapped. Every now and then back in the RV I would get a pang of anxiety about it. Thankfully though our gamble worked.

Another very nice thing about Panamarina was the restaurant…omg the food!

Panamarina is about a 30 min drive from the nearest proper store/restaurant and so it’s quite isolated down it’s little gravel jungle road. The restaurant here is an oasis and we enjoyed it throughly. They serve Giant steaks with fries for $13. I’m talking GOOD steaks, like the 16 oz thick cut ribeyes you buy at Rouses back home. They cook them on the grill to just warm in the middle like we like them. Then there is the wine. A “glass” of wine at Panamarina is brimming the rim and for only $3 we like their definition.

The not so nice weather is made up for in the beautiful surroundings and also what lay just east about 40 miles (the San Blas islands). Also the Laundry. Oh thank heavens for the laundry! For about $50 I was able to wash and dry ALL of our clothes, bedding and pillows so that nothing had that smell of being stored inside a sailboat closed up for nearly a year in the worst conditions possible.

Our engine shifter finally rusted away and broke off, luckily in the boatyard. This was the best possible scenario as Tate bought a new Vetus shifter back in 2014 before our first departure in anticipation the old shifter would give up the ghost. He painstakingly removed the old shifter…it took about 5 hours of tinkering. Why is it on boats that the complicated jobs often go quickly but the very simple jobs, such as unscrewing the shifter from the cabin well take FOREVER?!. Anyways he got the old one off, we epoxied the open holes and he installed the new one. Success!

Then after a lot of troubleshooting Tate figured the solar panels weren’t charging because the solar charger had died. We installed it in February of 2012 so after nearly 5 years of working it also gave up the ghost.

Although we didn’t KNOW that’s what the trouble was and the cell service provider here, Claro, was down of course for these days so we didn’t have anyway to research anything. Luckily we had our Delorme Satellite messenger and arranged for Emilio to come get us and bring us to Panama City in search of a solar charger…something that is apparently hard to find here.

Emilio (owner of Professional Ship Suppliers) has an office in Colon, Panama which is near the Panama Canal on the Caribbean side, an hour drive from Panamarina.

We used his free internet and Tate did some research, I did vlogging/blogging stuff and Emilio located a solar charger for us. Trouble was it was in Panama City (another hour away) and the guy couldn’t get it till the next day.

After some serious begging the guy agreed to get it that night and meet us in Panama City. So we returned to Panama City and met him in the parking lot of a mall. Like a drug deal in the night we bought the Morning Star PWM controller (not as efficient as our MPPT) which was reasonably priced at $250, they wanted almost $800 for the MPPT controller in a brand we didn’t recognize. There was no return policy but we needed this thing, at least this is what we hoped we needed.

Emilio had picked us up at 10am that morning and more than 12 hours later he drove us back to Panamarina after 10pm at night. It was a reeeaaallly long day and it happened to be the day I was feeling the worst, which didn’t help my recovery.

Luckily however (during a monsoon) Tate changed the solar charger and the batteries started charging. Success!

This is what we needed to be able to move onto the boat and use our FANS. We also made a huge provisioning trip while in Panama City to a Costco-esk store called “Pricesmart” (among others) where we loaded up on canned meats, dried fruit, nuts, granola bars, boxed milk, paper towels, toilet paper, noodles, rice, beans and wine, beer and rum just to name a few. Everything we needed to go cruising for a few months.

Next up a new bottom job was in order so we paid a guy $30 to sand the bottom and then another $60 for a guy to put on two coats of bottom paint. We went with Jotun Seaforce 90 paint (black) that they had on sale in the marina for $150 a gallon. We used 3 gallons so roughly in total the bottom job only costs about $600, plus $250 for the haul out/in. That’s pretty cheap, I think we paid $1,800 for a cheap job back at Seabrook marina in New Orleans.

Not all boats can be hauled out of the water at Panamarina. They are limited by the size of their ramp, trailer and backhoe. Bigger boats can only stay on the moorings but another positive to being one of the little guys is that we can haul out here (it’s the cheapest boatyard around…Google “Shelter Bay” ).

We tried to get Sundowner in the water as quickly as possible because there is a better breeze in the mooring field than in the boatyard. So while we still had many projects left onboard, including CLEANING the boat, all of those could be done in the water and truthfully could be done anchored near little coconut islands which is what we are doing currently.

Tate changed the engine oil which was fresh from when we decommissioned the motor, and replaced the zinc which actually fell apart inside and took hours to make right (see above). We loaded everything onboard that we could and I stowed most items.

After a rain delay the evening before, bright and early the next morning we were put into the water. They lifted the boat up slightly onto the trailer using inflatable tubes that are foot and hand pumped up. This allows for the stands to be removed and the last little piece of the bottom to be painted.

Tate and I watched on from the side as the competent crew at Panamarina, consisting of the 5’4″ hardhat wearing French marina owner Jean-Paul and several Panamanian and Indian workers, lifted Sundowner and gently drove her to the water and let her down. You could hear the groaning of fiberglass and wood once she was totally free. “Ahh, now that’s better” she seemed to have said.

Tate went out on a dinghy with two workers and they started the engine (which fired RIGHT up) and we were put on four mooring balls right next to the dock. Panamarina has no docks only the boatyard and a mooring area so it’s a good thing we were so close to the boat because our outboard died.

Oh yes you may have remembered “Crappy” from our blogs last year. The little 3.5 hp Tohatsu motor that we bought way back in 2012 right before our first overnight trip to Orange Beach, Alabama.

I think we bought the little four stroke engine for $950 at a boat show in New Orleans. Throughout the years Crappy has given us lots of trouble. So much trouble to earn it’s nickname. Funny though it started to act better when we abused it with namecalling…The gas air vent leaked letting water into the fuel. Tate took the carburetor apart so many times I lost count.

It only made sense that a couple of days before we were heading out Crappy gave it’s final run. It ran like a top, giving us hope only to have the shifter break off completely. On top of that the impeller was shot. A little reasearch online showed a repair for this to be VERY involved, requiring an entire engine teardown and rebuild. We don’t know a shop like that and we were also on a time frame so we called on Emilio once again and he came the very next day with our brand new TWO STROKE 5 hp Yahama. No nickname yet.

*Tip: if you can wait till you are outside of the US and buy a two stroke outboard. They use a little more gas BUT they have WAY less trouble.

This was a blessing in disguise. Tate had always wanted a two stroke engine and now, $1,100 dollars later he has one. It also has it’s own separate gas tank which is oh. so. nice. It’s only slightly heavier than Crappy weighing around 50 lbs. I can lift it from Tate in the dinghy and put it on the aft rail where it lives. So far it runs flawlessly and I NEVER regret getting it. We need a good reliable outboard to take us to all the far reefs and places we tend to go diving in.

All that was left was to fuel up. The previous week we had sent one of our propane bottle out to be filled and ordered 40 gallons of diesel and 10 gallons of gas. They delivered the fuel to the dock in a hodgepodge of containers.

We needed help to get the jugs into the dinghy and then we needed to figure out how to get the fuel into our tanks without spilling diesel everywhere. This is where my Spanish came to good use.

I walked straight up to those Spanish only speakers and said “?Tiene una bomba de mano para el diesel?” (Do you have a hand pump for the diesel?) which they understood and promptly brought out this amazingly looking pump.

It worked like a dream and soon we were ready to go. Not of course without one last steak meal…It’s going to be a while until we have red meat again.

We were moved to the central mooring ball (only one ball so it is easy to leave in the morning, like a launch pad) and spent a couple of days further getting ready to set sail to San Blas. I always enjoy looking at the mountains with the steam and all the sounds of the tropical birds. I took it all in as we may never see Panamarina again.

In total, last year and this year, we’ve spent about a month and a half with Sundowner at Panamarina. We got to know the place and the workers. Many nights I spent bracing myself for the cold water showers only to be pleasantly cooled down by the lacking amenity. We spoke with owners Jean-Paul and Sylvie, the restaurant workers, Mino the yard guy, Thomas the manager, Stephanie the office lady, and many others. French is the main language spoken around here followed by Spanish so we were a minority in that way and I enjoyed it.

Always struggling to communicate so our conversations revolved around nice topics such as how something looks, how we were doing and what the weather was like. It was all very nice and I’m going to miss it. That’s how it goes with cruising. Like two ships passing on a very very long night.

Our morning had finally come and we transited Panamarina’s very narrow channel at dawn, following a beautiful double rainbow that marked the way out. That’s a pretty good start! Gosh it was beautiful.

Next we headed into the waves for the first time and Sundowner rolled about as we motored forward. Our complacency fostered by a year on land showed itself as items flew around the boat and the deck, not quite stowed enough. At least the eggs stayed put…that would have been a mess for sure.

Pretty soon though we were heading West and towards the islands. Our hearts sang along with our beachy island techno playlist on “Sound Pal”. I was on cloud 9 that day. We watched the mountain lined Panamanian coast in wonder and I went around to film different angles on our boat, inside and out. On the horizon grew bigger little palm tree islands…the islands we dreamed about back in the RV. The islands we hoped to have some time in again before leaving this area of the world. Just like our sailing trip in total, we made this dream happen as well. We are still electrified with happiness and pure bliss with our life, surroundings and people we meet.

The wind was on the nose the whole time so no sailing could be had, not that either of us wanted to do ANY work. Really we were DONE with work plus the nice long 10 hour motor let the engine run a while and give our new batteries a good charge. Right before sunset and just in time for sundowners we made it to the East Lemmons, an island group 15 miles west from the Holandes Cays which we now reside.

We’ve been in San Blas for nearly 3 weeks as I type this (12-7-16) and our days are spent back where we spent 4 months last year. Anchored 15 miles off Panama’s coast line in the further away islands in San Blas. It is this outer reef that Tate encountered 6 foots waves in the dinghy and almost died with our new motor and here that he has shot 10 nice fish or so.

Also here we hang out with other boats, have beach fires, dance on deck in the moonlight, cook bread, cookies and fish and have been without internet for 9 days. It is here that we are decompressing and recharging. Just us two on this little old sailboat floating in blue clear water. It feels great to be back and we are really excited for what the future holds.

**A note on the Vlogs and Blogs. I’m sure reader that you have noticed we continue to make Vlogs now that we are sailing. If you have read this far you are probably one of our loyal followers that have stayed with us through all the crazy RV stuff, where the blog was severely neglected. I apologize to our reader-only folks out there who got side lined by the Vlogs.

The RV trip was a way for us to practice making Vlogs and work out all the kinks before trying this kind of thing out here traveling. I’m thankful that we did because the first 10 Vlogs of the RV series were REALLY hard and I don’t think we would have stuck with it if we had had the added complication of being on the boat where things are much hotter, salty, rolly and internet is seriously intermittent/non existent.

I know there are lot of you out there who don’t watch our Vlogs and only read our blogs and enjoy our nice pictures of our travels. We want to keep the blog up for you when we can and we are dedicated to doing so throughout the trip as possible. Many of our followers are travelers themselves and lord knows they can’t watch videos, we can’t watch our own videos or anyone else’s for that matter.

We do however have a strong desire to create Vlogs as we enjoy watching them and there is a whole other audience out there who doesn’t read (I understand, I never read many blogs when I could either) and we enjoy watching our Vlogs to remind us of our travels. You can get into so much more detail with Blogs and it’s great if you have a good imagination but through our Vlogs we can show people what’s really going on out here and already I think our family and friends have a better understanding of our trip through the videos. So that primarly is the focus of making them.

I want them to be Tate and I’s love story around the world. I want to share up close the amazing things we are seeing and show you how it’s possible for you to achieve these things too. It’s not all about the money. To be honest we still haven’t broken even with the financial investment into the videos, not to mention the time it takes to make them and the time spent uploading (which is even more). So the Patreon thing helps.

One major drawback for me about the Vlogs is You Tube itself, or the comments rather. Most of the time we get great and wonderful comments encouraging us to keep making them and how much joy we bring into the lives of those watching from the other end. These comments alone make the videos worth it. One I remember in particular said “Your videos make my life better”. Wow what a compliment.

Of course however there are other, not so nice comments. In fact some of them are downright nasty. I’m not sure what it is about You Tube vs other Social Media sites but if you ever get bored and are longing for negativity browse through the comments on any given sailing channel. My Lord, what has gotten into people? I know I should just be strong and brush those people off but I don’t think I can help myself in telling off some now and then, maybe that’s what they need to snap them back into reality and stop them from being so mean spirited.

I’m ok with constructive criticism, it’s a necessary part of getting better, but the way some people have spoken to us and other goes WAY beyond that. I want to slap some of them upside the head and say, Hey man what the heck is the matter with you?

Anyways we are always looking for feedback on the Vlogs and Blogs so please reader if you have suggestions let us know. We LOVE our readership and we hope that our Blog continues to help people in the various stages of cruising, from refit to being out here.

A HUGE thank you to ALL of our Patrons that support our videos. The fact that you find our travel stories worth actually putting up money to see is the biggest compliment of all. We used the funds from the RV videos to buy a couple more cameras, underwater housings, mounts, lights, batteries, microphones, a new laptop and video editing software.

We are also now shooting in 1080p 60fps and hopefully we’ll be able to upload in that quality as the views out here are amazing and we want you to see it. It is because of you that we work hard to make the videos better each time and search for internet to share them as quickly as we can. Uploading videos has now gotten much more expensive and our gear is getting more wear now with the movement, salt water/air and lack of climate control.

When we get good internet again, hopefully soon, we’ll work on restructuring the Patron rewards as we are finding it impossible to upload special videos on any regular schedule. Maybe we’ll do the koozie/T-shirt thing for the higher level Patrons.

If you are having trouble understanding why anyone would pay for something like this, just think of your cable bill back home or those tips you give to performers, waiters and valets. It’s basically like a tip for a service, for something you find entertaining and enriching. You can also easily set a budget in Patreon so if you only want to tip us $2 or $5 a month you can do so. Everything we have and do out here has been paid for out of our own pockets through working and saving over many years so the funds we get from Patron and also Paypal help tremendously with the costs of sharing this lifestyle online.

It’s ok if some of you out there can’t support us monetarily. We totally understand but love to hear from you as well in comments both here and on You Tube and also emails. All of our content will always be free to enjoy and there is no pressure to pay anything, especially if you are saving for a trip of your own.

We have to apologize in advance for the gaps that will occur while we are out here. Internet access while we are traveling is really spotty and sometimes we don’t have it I imagine this trend will continue as we tend to frequent out of the way places and I hear the south Pacific doesn’t have good internet either. I tried for more than two days hoisting our little Mifi device up in the rigging in different spots trying to upload Episode 05 “Return to Paradise” to no avail. We’ll likely end up mailing home USB sticks home and having someone (looking at you mom<3) upload them for us marked Private. Then from our end with our worse internet we can do all the details and make them public. Who knows how it will all work out but we'll keep on trying to share our story and hopefully can inspire others out there. We about to enter our 3rd year cruising and we have many more to come! We have a bit of catching up to do. Check out Episodes 03, 04 and 05 that detail changing our engine shifter, installing the new solar controller, putting Sundowner back in the water and finally leaving Panamarina and heading to San Blas! [youtube] Like our videos? Help us create more! Please become a Patron.

Patreon too involved? Use our one time tip jar instead!

Episode 03 – Shifter and Solar controller

EPISODE 04 – Sundowner goes in the water

Episode 05 – We arrive back in the San Blas islands

Changing Batteries on a Sailboat

So the initial opening of the boat had finally come. It was a moment of intense concern. Would the bilge be overflowing? Would there be leaks? Would it be a garden of mold? All of our worries slowly evaporated as we climbed down into the fumes of formaldehyde and dusty but faint smell of mold and saw that Sundowner was essentially in the state that we left her.

There were no obvious sources of water intrusion. There wasn’t mold all over everything. The items we’d left in bags to protect them were still protected and looked good. Even the open containers of vinegar and bleach we’d left around the boat were still there, still not evaporated and still doing their thing. Relief flooded through us as we realized that no major disaster had taken place.

There were some of the usual small issues though. The side decks had sitting water for so long that our water based nonskid Kiwi Grip that we had painted on right before we left peeled up. In some places.

The batteries had finally died for the last time. I’d left the solar controller hooked up to keep them going but they hadn’t been watered in 10 months and they were old and weak when we left. So at some point they must have dipped under the 8 or 9 volts required to keep the solar charge controller running and at that precise moment, their death knell sounded. The boat was completely and totally dead.

To complicate matters, I’ve noticed quite a bit of corrosion in the junction boxes on the solar panels themselves. It doesn’t appear to be that bad but the junction boxes are clearly not weather tight as they were advertised. The solar problems were of serious concern because if they are dead we’re out of luck on power. We’ll get to that soon enough though.

Some of the other issues we immediately noticed… Wasps had taken up residence in various places. They built nests on curtains which seems to have left unremovable stains in places. They’d built nests on the fire extinguishers. They’d built nests under the boom. And to my amazement, there was a truly massive but extinct next hanging from one of the flag halyard blocks. That nest when it was function was probably the size of a 1 gallon jug. I was happy to see it was extinct because whatever built it was probably not of the small harmless mud building variety but instead of the “I’ll sting the hell out of you” sort. It is still up there. I expect it to fall down once we get under sail.

And finally, there was the old shifter.

I’d long deemed it suspect, what with its copious amounts of rust and troublesome throw. I had sat up many a night back in the refit days contemplating its replacement. But at the time with so much going on, I always had higher priorities. In the end, in a last minute decision, I ordered a new shifter but put it away as a “spare”. It was good that I did. I moved the shifter and felt an ominous “give”. It had broken. The gear selector part of the shifter had finally given up the ghost. Thank God something in my gut had told me to bring a spare with me. I guess a year sitting in the boatyard broke its crumbly little heart. However, the best place to break anything is a boat yard, so there was that.

First things come first. Power. Everything revolves around power. Without power we have no fans and with no fans we are miserable down here in the heat. And so day one in the boat yard was day one of changing the old batteries out.

When those old batteries went into the boat, there wasn’t a lot in the engine room and access was better. So it took a while just to get to the point that we could remove the old ones. I had to remove the “big” cockpit hatch, then pull the battery box out far enough to get clearance to lift them out of the boat.

This is easier said than done. The battery box weighs approximately 320lbs. It sits on a shelf in a corner and if moved incorrectly would fall onto the engine doing whatever damage it could.

To move it, I found one of the large wood blocks they put under boats on the hard and rigged a “temporary support” upon which I could drag the box out some.

I also had to remove the cockpit scupper drain on the starboard side and some other small things to make way for this behemoth. With the box in this new position it was possible to lift the batteries out. So out they came, one by one.

I removed all the old cables and our battery watering system and transferred it to the new batteries that Emilio had brought us from Pricesmart (The Panamanian equivalent of Sam’s Club). All of our house batteries are 6v golf cart batteries. There are 4 of them. 2 sets are wired in series to make two 12v batteries of about 220amp hours each. Then these two sets are wired in parallel to give a single bank @ 12v with 440amp hours of power.

The process of getting the box back into position was just as delicate as it was moving the old ones out. We used leverage and a tow strap to pull all back into place and reconnect the wires and fuses. Then we threw the switch and the boat lit up. Everything was energized and I was relieved to see it so.

After the onerous house bank, the starter battery was a piece of cake by comparison and we had it changed out in short order. It is a standard 12v battery like that you would find in a car and the port side had better access for removal and installation.

It was a nice to turn on a fan. I checked the battery monitor and it showed a couple of amps going in and so I knew at least one solar panel was working. I’ll leave it at that for now and go into more details next time.

I have to say that being back in Panama and the boat after so long away has given Dani and I a very different perspective on cruising life. There is a different feel. Back when we worked on the boat during the big refit, everything was by the book, had to go smoothly, needed to be perfect. Two project managers smashed together in a small boat shovelling away. Now, after this first day of work, there was a very mellow vibe. Less rush and less expectation and instead a steady pace mixed with expected competence and support. I think our RV trip chilled us out a lot. I also think that coming back to the boat we had so much stress and low expectation of the conditions that we were ready for the worst. Ready to deal with a lot worse than we found.

Other things are better too. Having a room to stay in while we work with a shower is nice.

The bugs aren’t as bad this year. It isn’t as hot as we remembered it. Dani and I are both strong personalities. When stuff goes wrong our inclination is to ask why. This can become accusatory. It can be stressful to have your wife or husband asking hard questions about why something is screwed up. It can escalate. We dealt with it in the past by designating project ownership and taking responsibility. This alleviated our problems. This time we didn’t. We just both started working and helping one another.

There were inevitable screw ups. “Why is it this way?” But instead of it getting toxic this time we turned to each other with support and smiles. A common saying aboard, “This sucks, but we’re going to the islands. We’re going to little tropical deserted islands.” I’m not sure why, but everything seems smoother now. Like our time away made us appreciate not only the boat life more, but each other more now that we are back. Life is good.

(Dani’s note: Tate forgot to mention that He did all this battery work on the day after we arrived, his Birthday. My handsome husband made 35 the day the boat got power again. We celebrated with a steak and old cruising friends that are still in San Blas.)

Check out our new video where we show the inside of the boat for the first time after almost a year and also document the battery change!

Like our videos? Help us create more! Please become a Patron.

Patreon too involved? Use our one time tip jar instead!

Return to Panamarina

It has been an interesting time for us lately. Travelling back to the boat has been quite an undertaking. There were many weeks of gathering equipment to bring back and lots of visiting with loved ones before the final day arrived to put most of our worldly belongings into bags and get on a plane that would bring us to Panama, customs, immigration, and a boat we’d left behind over 10 months before sitting in the wild Panamanian jungles.

I had visions of monkey poop piled up on the cockpit and Dani fretted about the mold and mildew situation inside of the boat. We’ve heard many horror stories in the past of people returning to their yachts to find a veritable garden of mold and mildew running amock inside. Without ventilation and in the tropical heat mixed with lots of rain, a boat can become an ideal green house for certain undesirable spores to take root and flourish.

Our hearts were full of both longing to return home to Sundowner but our heads were pounding with trepidation as we left the United States for what could be the last time for a very long time. Leaving was somewhat stressful, but not so bad. We had to go through the usual unsavoury business of proving to our airline that despite not having a return ticket to fly home, we wouldn’t be taking up residence in Panama. Some airlines get really fussy about this. So we had to parade all of our boat documents, receipts, and other paperwork proving we did in fact have a yacht there before a cranky airline attendant who had just been in a very serious argument with a German woman about a bag that was 2 lbs overweight. Great, the stickler. She actually had the gall to tell the German woman that the bag weight was important due to the safety of the bag handlers who were used to 50lbs all day and if something was 52lbs they might throw out their back. This is despite the fact that travellers regularly pay overweight fees and have bags heavier than 50lbs. Is she stupid? Does she think we’re stupid? Is this the airline’s word? I don’t know, but I can tell you that while you’re in the US airports, you’d better walk a straight line and dot all your i’s and cross all your t’s. Otherwise, brother, you’re in trouble.

So we prove we’re not heading to Panama permanently. Then come the bags.

We’d measure the weight of all of them except our bag with two sails in it. I dutifully hoist each one onto the scale and it just so happened that each one was heavier than the one before. 42lbs, 44lbs, 44lbs, 45lbs, 46.5lbs, 47lbs. Finally the sail bag. I gulped. It measured a fortuitous 49.5lbs. A half pound under the max weight. I can tell you that I was glad to be past “the stickler”. We made it through the TSA without being probed, prodded, or strip searched, though I feel that we were close because I managed to leave a BIC lighter in one of my bags. I somehow slipped through undetected, like a smooth criminal.

The flights were uneventful with the exception of a disturbing rust stain over the top of one of the jets we flew in.

Panama was what we expected. We went to Immigration and they asked why I hadn’t put an address on my customs declaration card. I said because we live on a boat in the islands. STAMP. Moved onto customs. Same question and answer then they made us put all of our bags through a huge conveyor belt machine which as far as I can tell does absolutely nothing. I surmise this only because we had every imaginable container, device, piece of hardware, and even pounds of pipe tobacco in there, all of which probably look suspicious. Also you can only bring 2k dollars worth of goods into Panama without being taxed and we had 7 x 50lb bags. However, all of these facts were blissfully overlooked and we passed out of the lines and into the humid and hot air of Panama.

Then we met our driver and provisioner, Emilio. He bought about 1000 dollars worth of parts and groceries for us before we arrived and transported us back to Panamarina where Sundowner slumbered.

This is no small feat. We had our 7 huge bags, he had 5 batteries of approx 80lbs each, and a lot of groceries and supplies. But somehow we packed it all into his Ford Explorer and safely made it to the marina. I estimate that the vehicle had no less than a half ton of gear in it. Once at Panamarina…

We knew we couldn’t sleep on the boat right away. The heat is too much and without batteries in operational condition, it would have been misery. There is also the not so minor issue of working where you’re living. A bad combination. So we rented a room for 25 dollars a night and “moved in”. It has made a world of difference in comfort despite the lavish expense. It is the FIRST time we’ve paid to stay somewhere in over a year. Yikes. I guess if you’re going to break a streak you’d better have a good reason to do so.

And finally, there was that moment where we saw Sundowner for the first time in months.

The first time we climbed aboard. And the first time we opened the main companionway hatch to discover what was waiting inside. But maybe we can go over that next time.

You can check out Emilio Lau for provisioning services here:
EMILIO LAU Professional Ship Suppliers
email: Emilio at
phone: +50766167531

Enjoy these beautiful sights from our 100km drive across the country of Panama from the Pacific to the Caribbean.

Also of course we have made our first new video in our sailing series. It took us 48 hours to finally upload and cost about $30 due to issues with cell providers way out here including a tree that fell across a critical line during our upload. Dani also (poor thing is sick too) had her final video edit deleted when she got online with the video editor open causing her to basically have to remake the video. But we have it out and we enjoy watching it, we hope you will enjoy it too. Hopefully future uploads will go smoother. Next post will be about boat work…in paradise.

Like our videos? Help us create more! Please become a Patron.

Patreon too involved? Use our one time tip jar instead!