Return to Paradise (San Blas Islands 2.0)
11 Sunday Dec 2016
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 https://youtu.be/y2cy5wsPuxo] Like our videos? Help us create more! Please become a Patron. https://www.patreon.com/SundownerSailsAgain
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Episode 03 – Shifter and Solar controller
EPISODE 04 – Sundowner goes in the water
Episode 05 – We arrive back in the San Blas islands