Passage to Bocas del Toro

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Our sail to Bocas del Toro is our slowest passage yet. What should have taken 23 hours took us a little over 30 averaging 4.7 knots (we hope for 5.5). We fought a current along with head winds so we had to listen to the drone of the motor the entire time. Sure we could have put the sails up and tacked back and forth but with storms in the area and choppy conditions we wanted to get the heck off the sea as soon as possible. Finally our home for the summer came in to view. Bocas del Toro is an archipelago of islands with many shoals and mangroves scattered around but with the marinas waypoints we had no problems.

Our home for a few months.

Our home for a few months.

Rain has been the name of the game since we arrived. What we refer to as Jersey weather. In between storms we walk the trails, head to the beach, or go out in the dinghy. Our 4th of July BBQ with the other boats actually happened on July 5th due to rain, but a party is a party no matter what day it is when you are retired and in the tropics. We have a few beach bars and restaurants within walking distance.

Nacho Mamas is our beach bar.  Cold beer and good tacos.

Nacho Mamas is our beach bar. Cold beer and good tacos.

Siesta time

Siesta time

Bocas is a surfer town for sure.

Bocas is a surfer town for sure.

The real action along with groceries is in Bocas Town a 15 minute panga ride away. Not ideal for getting out for happy hour and dinner but we did manage to have lunch at the Hungry Monkey, which is a surfing school with a four table restaurant serving great tacos and cold beers. Always amazed at how these little places turn out The Best Food. We also have a craft brewery a little out of town, which makes a very good stout and amber ale. Hoping to get back there when their IPA is ready to tap. They don’t bottle and their growlers will not fit in our tiny refrigerator. Oh wait, I just had a thought. What if we remove all the food!?

A very nice amber ale at Bocas Brewery

A very nice amber ale at Bocas Brewery

We have been caught in town in a downpour and frequently get drenched in the panga when we have a cowboy at the helm when the seas are up. How many gringo’s can we get wet today! Yesterday on our walk, Gary almost stepped on a green vine snake. This thing was a lime green color and I thought it was a piece of a tree branch. So much for snakes scurrying out of your way. Who told us that!? This type of snake is not venomous for humans but could cause a severe allergic reaction. Good to know! Wanted to share in case you are dreaming of sailing off to the tropics. Not for everyone and you pretty much have to keep your sense of humor. But one plus to the frequent downpours is we don’t have to wash the boat. A real plus for me because that is one of my least favorite jobs.

Bocas Town

Bocas Town

Bocas Town

Bocas Town

Fair winds,
Cindy

48 Hours in Panama City

It was a crazy two weeks with all our guests here.  The day before our transit we hired our friendly taxi driver, Roosevelt, to take us all to the canal so we could see it from a much different perspective.  They have a museum and observation platform.

This is the gate between the first and second lock.  It shows the difference in water depth.

This is the gate between the first and second lock. It shows the difference in water depth.

Cindy, Austin, Nicki, and Gary

Cindy, Austin, Nicki, and Gary

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After transiting, Austin and Nicki spent a few days with us on the Atlantic side.  We hit up the beach first thing and on the advice of our marina office we found a taxi that would take us to Fort Lorenzo six miles away.  That same person said we would be able to catch a taxi back.  NOT!  It was pretty remote but we lucked out and a tour van offered us a ride back.

Fort San Lorenzo

Fort San Lorenzo

We next took the ferry across the canal and boarded the historic Panama Canal Railroad to take us back over to Panama City for a few days.  It was a beautiful ride through the rain forest and over parts of Gatun Lake.

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This was the dining car.  Free snacks were provided.

This was the dining car. Free snacks were provided.

We spent a few nights in the city before Austin and Nicki had to leave.

The Fish Market was a food truck.  The best food we had in Panama City by far!

The Fish Market was a food truck. The best food we had in Panama City by far!

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Panama City lights

Panama City lights

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Panama City skyline

Panama City skyline

We hired Roosevelt to take Gary and I back to the boat since it was Sunday, the train was not running and our other option was figuring out the bus.  The ferry also was not running so instead of being in the locks or looking down from the observation platform we were now to experience them from another perspective.  Riding in a car over the top of the gates.  We had no idea cars pass on top of the first gates on the new locks and the last gates on the Gatun Locks in order to cross from one side to the other.  I think we’ve seen enough of the locks now!

Fair winds

Cindy

 

Transiting the Panama Canal

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Sereno II is now in Caribbean waters! Thirty five hours after leaving the La Playita Marina on the Pacific side we arrived at Shelter Bay Marina on the Atlantic side. It sounds like a long time and for the crew it felt even longer. But what an experience we had. Sereno went through all six locks ‘center chamber’ which meant that we had a line handler positioned at the four corners of the boat each working a line attached to the lock wall.

The three locks the first day, where we were raised to lake level, took the longest to transit at two hours but we had the best canal advisor on board and an easy time. The advisor made sure our team on the boat and the canal team on the wall worked together to secure Sereno behind a ship and two tug boats.

A Canal Advisor is on the boat with you from start to finish.  Our first advisor, Roy, is catching the monkey fist that gets attached to our lines which are then hauled up to the canal line handlers on the lock wall.

A Canal Advisor is on the boat with you from start to finish. Our first advisor, Roy, is catching the monkey fist that gets attached to our lines which are then hauled up to the canal line handlers on the lock wall. Off the bow you can see the ship and one tug in position. The second tug is moving into position.

The gates are closing.

The gates are closing.

Sereno is secured inside the lock with two tug boats and a ship in front of us.  Austin and Richard will bring in the blue lines on the bow as the water level rises.  Nicki and Anita are on the stern.  Gary is at the helm and I am helping out the gals on the stern.

Sereno is secured inside the lock with two tug boats and a ship in front of us. Austin and Richard will bring in the blue lines on the bow as the water level rises. Nicki and Anita are on the stern lines. Gary is at the helm and I am helping out the gals on the stern.

We cleared the first three locks under clear skies but as we headed through the beautiful Culebria Cut and across Gatun Lake to our overnight anchorage, a storm came and drenched us. But it is rainy season so this was not a big surprise.

As we exited the third lock we passed under the Centennial Bridge.  The blue boat and tugs were our lock mates.

As we exited the third lock we passed under the Centennial Bridge. The blue boat and tugs were our lock mates.

Even under cloudy skies the Culebra Cut was beautiful.

Even under cloudy skies the Culebra Cut was beautiful.

Just before dark we reached our anchorage between the Gatun Locks and the entrance to the new locks, which are scheduled to open June 26. Boats taking two days are currently dropping anchor close to shore because the practice ship for the new canal that they are renting for 21 days at $1.5 million is using the mooring ball.

Practice ship entering the new locks escorted by four tug boats.

Practice ship entering the new locks escorted by four tug boats.

Our canal advisor for the Gatun Locks was scheduled to arrive around 9:30 am. At daybreak a sailboat was not able to retrieve their anchor and ended up cutting their chain leaving the anchor behind to make their canal appointment. Fearing the same fate for our anchor, we started to raise it at 9:00 am. Luckily we had no problems but as often happens our schedule got changed and our advisor did not show up until a little past 2:00 pm. So before we even got to the locks it was a long day slowly drifting around for 5 hours. But the weather was great until it was time to enter the locks. We motored over with rain and reached the outer gate with winds gusting over 20 knots. That’s when things started to get a little interesting.

This canal advisor had little experience with sailboats. Two things to note. We do not have bow thrusters on Sereno and when you are down locking (lowering from the lake to sea level) the ship is behind you. On his instruction we motored to the port wall to tie up until the gates opened but the wind gusts threatened to smash us into the concrete wall. With six of us holding her off, Gary was able to get us off the wall where we headed to the other side and found a rusted metal pipe to tie off to. With her secured and the ship inching closer behind us as well as a tug boat, we shook off the drama and once the gates opened we motored in.

Waiting on the wall to enter second set of locks.

Waiting on the wall to enter second set of locks.

We got through the first two locks but noticed that the pilot of the ship seemed to be a bit impatient. As we entered the third lock, the ship was coming up behind us before we were secured creating a 6 knot current. Gary had Sereno in neutral but we were moving right along. The canal line handlers on the starboard wall were not keeping up as I’m sure jogging is not in their job description. Without the line secured to the bollards to stop us and with the threat of running into the tug boat in front of us or worse yet the gates, Gary had to throw it in reverse to slow us down. With the port side secured and Austin holding the boat on his own via the bow port line to keep us from going any further forward, Sereno started to turn sideways threatening to smash our stern into the concrete wall. Let me say a sideways sailboat in a lock is not a good thing. Gary hit the throttle hard to bring us around and the canal line handler finally secured the starboard stern line to the bollard. Four of us then pulled on that line trying to bring the stern over to center but she wouldn’t budge until the ship stopped moving. All this drama earned us a ‘good catch’ from the tug boat driver, who went out of his way to not create a wake on our bow as he exited each lock. The canal pilot on the ship probably had a good laugh and the ships crew got some good videos.

This is the ship behind us.  The two mules on the lock wall are guiding him into place behind us.

This is the ship behind us. The two mules on the lock wall are guiding him into place behind us.

Yes the ship was that close!

Yes the ship was that close!

After one hour and ten minutes the final gates open!

After one hour and ten minutes the final gates open!

I must say we had THE BEST line handlers on board Sereno. Austin, Nicki, Richard and Anita saved Sereno from harm and no one was injured. We can’t thank you all enough for flying to Panama to help us. It was really special to have family and friends on board. Most didn’t know they had a Panama Canal transit on their bucket list but they can now cross it off!

Nicki!

Nicki!

Richard and Anita selfie with Nicki stealing the shot!

Richard and Anita selfie with Nicki stealing the shot!

Austin!

Austin!

I was the floater helping where needed.

I was the floater helping where needed.

Fair winds,
Cindy

Panama City, Panama

We are scheduled to transit in two more days. Austin and Nicki are arriving today from San Diego. Them along with friends Richard and Anita, who arrived from northern California earlier in the week, will be our line handling team! We are excited and hope to capture some great pictures.

Here are some of the sights we saw around town this week.

The streets of Old Town, Panama City, Panama

The streets of Old Town, Panama City, Panama

The streets in Old Town are lined in brick.

The streets in Old Town are lined in brick.

The French influence in Old Town is from when the French were working on the canal before America took it over.  Reminds me of New Orleans.

The French influence in Old Town is from when the French were working on the canal before America took it over. Reminds us of New Orleans.

Sunset at La Playita Marina

Sunset at La Playita Marina

Another sunset with storm clouds.

Another sunset with storm clouds.

Fair winds,
Cindy

Passage to Panama City – Our Final Leg on the West Coast

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We set out from San Diego on November 19, 2015 with the thought that we would go to Panama. On May 26th after 189 days and 3,256 nautical miles we pulled in at La Playita Marina in Panama City. Oh ya, we made it!

This last leg was part luck and part frustration. The lucky part was with the weather and not getting tangled in a long line. The frustration was having to pass by many pretty anchorages to stay lucky with the weather.

While in Costa Rica the weather was really unsettled with thunder storms occurring daily. When a break in the storms appeared, we quickly checked out of the country and set off right at dinner time enjoying the fresh breeze after being in the hot marina for a few weeks. We crossed into Panama at midnight and had a lightening show with no rain the entire night. The next morning we encountered the first of many long lines put out by the Panamanian fishermen. Apparently fishermen in Panama do not expect boats to be sailing out on the ocean since they don’t hang around to warn off unsuspecting sailors. There was little to no wind so with the engine running luck was on our side several times as we spotted some of these lines within seconds of running them over.

With storms in the area, we decided to stop and anchor our second night at Isla Cebaco. It had been a long time since we were able to enjoy eating outside watching the sunset with a cool breeze.

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We had thunder but the storm passed our anchorage allowing us to keep the hatches open all night. We were up early the next morning for the final overnight leg to Panama City. We knew Punta Mala is reported to be the single most congested point in North America and the Pacific due to shipping traffic going to and from the canal. It also experiences extreme currents that would be going against us and our arrival there would be around midnight. So to fuel us up, Gary spent an hour in the galley cooking up a delicious paella. Right as we sat down in the cockpit to eat, the skies opened up. Ugh!

Paella one of our all time favorite one pot meals

Paella one of our all time favorite one pot meals

As we were nearing Punta Mala, we were at the southern most point Sereno II will be in the Pacific Ocean at approximately 07 08’.876”N latitude 080 43.410”W longitude.

Overlooking another quick downpour of rain, getting the jib sheets tangled, choppy seas, and a drop in boat speed from 6.8 knots down to 3.7, rounding Punta Mala was not bad. Only one ship passed us and he was twenty miles away. From that point we didn’t see any ship traffic in the shipping lanes leading to the canal for another 10 hours. We envisioned something like the I5 freeway in LA at midnight! Had me thinking we screwed up on our navigation and we were in the wrong bay. So while sailing through Panama Bay was a bit more laid back then we imagined, the skies were clear and it was a beautiful day. That is until we were ten miles out from the canal zone. Thats when the clouds rolled in and we got rained on long enough to get us and the boat wet. It was a bummer because we missed out on a great view of the Bridge of the America’s and the downtown skyline.

Upon entering the canal region you must contact Port Control to seek permission to enter. After we were granted permission to head to our marina, we set a course in the general direction we needed to go still an hour away. Thirty minutes later Port Control hailed us to make sure we knew we were heading on the wrong side of the causeway. We still hadn’t made our final course adjustment but we quickly did so. Felt a little creepy having someone watching our every move.

The yellow arrow is pointing to Sereno II and the red line indicates our course.  The triangles are ships at anchor waiting to transit or in a few cases were under way.  The pink areas represent rain.  The red X closest to us is the beginning of the channel to the canal.  The red X further away is the marina we were headed to.   Okay boring no longer!

The yellow arrow is pointing to Sereno II and the red line indicates our course. The triangles are ships at anchor waiting to transit or in a few cases were under way. The pink areas represent rain. The red X closest to us is the beginning of the channel to the canal. The red X further away is the marina we were headed to. Okay boring no longer!

Before we left Golfito the boats from the Clipper Around the World race came in to fuel up on the Seattle to Panama leg. There are twelve boats total and we saw six. The crew were varied in age many with British and Aussie accents. We had hoped to see them out on the water but I’m sure they set a course for speed while we were setting a course to stay out of a storm brewing offshore.

Yacht from Clipper Around the World Race

Yacht from Clipper Around the World Race

Fair winds,
Cindy

Quepos and Passage to Golfito

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Marina Pez Vela was a nice change from our last two stops. We had five restaurants on site, the town of Quepos was within walking distance and we had easy bus transportation out to Manuel Antonio National Park, our main reason for stopping here.

Sunset over Marina Pez Vela.  That is Sereno II at the bottom of the picture, middle boat.

Sunset over Marina Pez Vela. That is Sereno II at the bottom of the picture, middle boat.

With its groomed trails and monkey sightings Manuel Antonio National Park is popular and can be crowded on some of the trails. It was fun to watch the monkeys but I really wish we had spotted a Toucan bird.

This is a Howler monkey we caught site of.  They make an indescribable noise.

This is a Howler monkey we caught sight of. They make an indescribable noise.


This is a White-headed Capuchin.  Look carefully at the one walking and you will see the hands and feet of her baby.

This is a White-headed Capuchin. Look carefully at the one walking and you will see the hands and feet of her baby.


Here is another shot of the same two.  Look carefully at the one on the left and you will see the babies ear and outline of the head.

Here is another shot of the same two. Look carefully at the one on the left and you will see the babies ear and outline of the head.

Glad we did the park but we both had more fun on our rain forest hike at Arenal when we didn’t see another sole.

We would have loved to stay longer in the area but this marina is pricey so in a light rain with bathing suits on we set off early in the morning on a short nine hour hop over to Drakes Bay hoping the predictions for a calm anchorage would hold true. The anchorages along Costa Rica can be rolly. Drakes Bay is very exposed to the sea but we lucked out and had dinner out in the cockpit along with a fairly calm night. It’s nice when the predictions are accurate. We did have rain move through overnight requiring is to close all the hatches. When at anchor we are on battery power so no air conditioning just a couple fans. It was a bit warm but we got more sleep then we would have on an overnight passage.

We raised anchor just as the sun was rising and headed out 67 nm for Golfito our last stop in Costa Rica. It was a calm day and we stayed dry until ten minutes before we pulled into our slip. Mother Nature decided to remind us who is boss and greeted us with a downpour as we pulled in to tie up. Luckily the harbor master and two of his staff were there to help us.

I’m finishing up this post enjoying a cocktail and air conditioning while it rains cats and dogs out there. Hoping it slows down a bit because neither of us feels like cooking! Happy hour and dinner awaits just a stones throw away.

Fair winds,
Cindy

Passage to Quepos, Costa Rica

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We must be crazy!   I’ve said this to myself several times over the past two years.  Gary and I are fair weather conservative cruisers.  If the weather and sea conditions aren’t good we ain’t going.   We have no desire to scare ourselves silly.  We are now in the single digit latitudes which means we are pretty close to the equater and it is stinking hot and humid (yah for air conditioning) with a lot of lightening and thunder thrown in during what is now the rainy season.    We have a healthy respect for lightening having grown up in New Jersey and spent a fair amount of time in Florida.  We’ve kept moving south to get out of the hurricane box which puts us in one of the top places for lightening.  For those wishing they could trade places with us, consider this.   You are on a 28 hour passage in a 41 foot sailboat 10 miles off the coast of Costa Rica.  What is predicted to be a calm day turns ugly with confused seas and constant lightening from early afternoon until 4:00 am the next day.  With only one hour of sleep your eyes are glued to the radar so you can weave around rain cells hoping to stay dry and avoid a lightening strike to the 65 foot lightening rod (aka mast) attached to your boat.  If that happens all your electronics will be fried.  While the cockpit is fully covered, it is canvas.  So you and everything in the cockpit is soaking wet.  The rain I can handle.  The lightening is flat out scary.

Crazy?   Most definitely!   But the next day when we are out exploring our new ‘home’ for awhile the scary passage is filed under lessons learned.

Most of our posts are about the good, cocktails and beautiful destinations.  A lot of work goes into making the good happen, which is affectionately referred to by cruisers as ‘fixing your boat in exotic locations’.  So I thought I would share a little about the bad because after all, this is our day-to-day life we are not on vacation.  Now the ugly would be sharing how the hose that flushes the waste tank was clogged last week but I think I’ll spare you those details 🙂 .

Fair winds,
Cindy

Arenal Volcano, Costa Rica

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Wow what a beautiful country! We are currently in a marina on the northern part of the country which tends to be more drier. So we headed out looking for those lush rain forests we’ve seen and heard about and the area around Arenal Volcano did not disappoint. We stayed at Lomas del Volcán, a hotel with individual cabins right at the base of the volcano.

This was our cabin with a view of Arenal Volcano from our back porch.

This was our cabin with a view of Arenal Volcano from our back porch.

At 5,480 feet, Arenal is a traditional cone shaped volcano and was quite impressive especially from our hotel. It was last active from 1968 until December 2010.

Arenal is a classic cone shaped volcano.  I've read it usually is covered in clouds but it was clear for most of our stay.  This was taken from our hotel.

I’ve read Arenal usually is covered in clouds but it was clear for most of our stay. This was taken from our hotel.

On the advice from the front desk, we hit a trail right from our hotel that took us part way up an extinct volcano next to Arenal. In minutes we were in the thick of the rain forest. It was beautiful. I admit I would have enjoyed it more wearing army boots and carrying a big stick as I’m very afraid of snakes, but we had a good time. Definitely was a challenging hike.

The start of the trail.  I'm thinking I don't have enough foot gear on.

The start of the trail. I’m thinking I don’t have enough foot gear on.

The plants were everything we wanted to grow in our yard in Northern California.  We were just lacking the rain!

The plants were everything we wanted to grow in our yard in Northern California. We were just lacking the rain!

Rain forest near Arenal Volcano

Rain forest near Arenal Volcano

Looking for snakes and poison frogs before I step.  Next time I'm wearing army boots and carrying a big stick lol

Rain forest new Arenal Volcano

The view from our back porch.

The view from our back porch.

From our back porch.  It was interesting to watch how the clouds worked themselves around the top of the volcano.

From our back porch. It was interesting to watch how the clouds worked themselves around the top of the volcano.

Hungry when we arrived in town our first stop was a Caribbean roadside stand.

Hungry when we arrived in town our first stop was a Caribbean roadside stand.

We have been in Costa Rica for almost two weeks and our first impressions:

1- CLEAN! The roads are not littered with garbage from the children and adults alike who throw garbage out of the buses in El Salvador and Guatemala. They also have recycle bins rarely found in the parts of Central America we have traveled.

2- No armed guards lurking in every store and corner leaving the impression that a gun battle will break out any second.

3- Public transportation is more civilized. Public buses are newer, adult sized buses. No school buses handed down from the USA filled to overflowing and I really mean overflowing.

Of course some of this comes at a price. There is an import tax on all goods coming into the country so food is more expensive here as are the marinas. But Tico’s are proud of their country and it is really nice to see that they treat it respectfully.

Fair winds,
Cindy

Passage to Costa Rica

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We chose to do another two night passage to get past the Papagayo winds. Like the Tehuantepec, the Papagayo winds originate in the Caribbean and intensify when they funnel through the mountain ranges of Central America. Passing over Lake Nicaragua and into the bay winds can top 40 knots and we wanted no part of that. We also heard the winds can pick up unexpectedly. Picking a long calm window, we scheduled our bar crossing for April 15th at 9:30 am. As with entering Bahia del Sol, we had to leave on a high slack tide with a pilot escort to get safely over the bar. Our exit was much less dramatic than our entry and we motored out through a few large rollers. Other than hitting some confused seas for four hours, the passage was uneventful. Was sorry to pass Nicaragua by, but we plan to sail up the east coast of Central America so will catch it then.

We arrived in Bahia Culebra 268 nm away in 46 hours. Checking in to the country on the northern end is a bit of a hassle. You either anchor off Coco Beach, dinghy in through the surf hoping not to get tossed out, run around town to the various offices including a taxi ride out to the airport for immigration or for $350.00 work with an agent who brings immigration and the port captain to your boat at Marina Papagayo. I’m all for saving money but it was pretty much a no brainer for us to hire the agent. Since the agent needs 48 hours notice and you can’t get off your boat at the marina until you are checked in (we are so not in Mexico anymore), we opted to anchor out the two nights before our appointment enjoying the warm clean waters off the boat. We were in a little bay 2 nm across from the marina, but for some reason we didn’t have cell service. We are so happy we invested in the Iridium Go satellite connection. Not only does it provide us weather during passages but I was able to secure the services of the agent, email him all the information needed to complete our paperwork, and I let the marina know we would be arriving two days behind schedule. And using the free minutes our plan provides, I had a phone conversation with our sister-in-law, Bonnie to get an update on Gary’s Mom. Being in contact with family is important and this is a great backup when we have no cell service.

Marina Papagayo is probably the best kept facility we have been in yet. We have a nice pool, small restaurant, laundry, gym, TV room with more channels then we care to watch and a pool table. The only downside is we are not close to town for grocery shopping. We have a few boat chores to do, Gary needs to get over a cold he somehow caught and we plan on renting a car and seeing this country. We have wanted to visit since the 80’s and we are finally here.

The slips are mostly empty here at Marina Papagayo.  Whenever we met cruisers going north they always commented on how expensive Costa Rica is.  Perhaps that is why it is at least 80% empty?

The slips are mostly empty here at Marina Papagayo. Whenever we met cruisers going north they always commented on how expensive Costa Rica is. Perhaps that is why it is at least 80% empty?


Fair winds,
Cindy