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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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.