What?! Is it the end of November already?
I know. I know what you were thinking… Elan and Ashley finally found the edge of the earth and sailed off it because I haven’t heard much from them in months. I could make excuses; we were out of town… computer problems… marina power issues… rioting in Panama… all true, but you don’t care and I should have blogged anyways. Well here it is, one MASSIVE post for your reading enjoyment.
Somehow, the last three months have flown by and we are finally wrapping things up in Panama.
We had a whirlwind trip to the US, all over Washington State, zigzagging over the mountain passes 7 times and crashing at least 10 different houses and two hotels. What started as a trip home for a few weddings, ended up being a great excuse to spend time with family and friends again while we wait out hurricane season. I can’t remember the last time we spent 2 weeks at a time with both of our parents.
We savored all the things we missed while cruising: long hot showers, good coffee, great food, and mini-marts with better grocery selections that anything we’ve seen down south in months. I have to say that the first time we hopped in a car and got on the freeway, it took me a while to get over that fact that we were going 70 miles an hour… 70 miles an hour! After going only 5 or 6 miles an hour for months on the boat, that feels pretty impressive!
We spent a week in Bellingham visiting with friends, celebrating Dave and Ariel’s wedding, boating and swimming on Lake Whatcom. If we had any doubt before, Bellingham sure felt like “home” this time. I wouldn’t be surprised if we ended up back there again someday. The mountains, the lake, the islands… life was pretty great there.
We spent 2 weeks with my family in Prosser. We had a mini family reunion, and wrastled with our nieces and nephews enough to hold them over ’til our next visit. I relished the feeling of goosebumps the few times I had them and sheepishly dug my Ugg boots out of storage and wore them in August when I didn’t need them… Funny how you miss those comfort things when you don’t have them.
We also spent a weekend on “Legacy”, my parent’s Nordic Tug, exploring Spencer Spit and Buck Bay in the San Juan Islands.
Next, we spent 2 weeks in beautiful Tonasket with Elan’s folks. We worked on fun projects, volunteered at the Outreach school, and canoed on Palmer Lake. We also spent a great weekend in Winthrop for Sheena and Trevor’s river-side wedding. After feasting on our mom’s home cooking, the three of us (Apollo included) have gained several pounds each.
Our trip ended with a few days in Seattle, catching up with family and friends.
We took as much advantage as we could while in the “land of stuff” (aka the good ol’ USA) to buy all of the boat parts we needed. We packed two suitcases full of metal, each tipping the scales at 52 pounds, chock full. A prop shaft, prop, two kinds of shaft couplers, deck fittings, bimini fittings, water maker, bilge pumps… You name it, we drug it through 3 airports, and it all arrived in one piece. We also decided to take Apollo as a carry-on this time, but that ordeal deserves it’s own post another time.
As much as we weren’t ready to say another indefinite goodbye to our family and friends, we really were ready to get back to the boat and find our cruising groove again. We landed in Panama City and made our way to Solent, moored at the Balboa “Yacht Club”. We are stoked to be back with our good cruising buddies after all this time. After hearing that we had strangers stay on our boat during our two-day Canal transit, they decided to wait for us to be their crew through the Panama Canal. We made it successfully through the canal in one day, and Lee was the calmest Captain ever, negotiating Solent through the locks, squeezing by tug boats and tying off to a party barge (complete with tourist paparazzi) like it was no big thing.
After the canal, we spent a few days in Shelter Bay, enjoying the luxurious life Solent. Although part of the space was taken up by a pair of snow skis, a fifty pound bag of dog food, and all of the dry goods we bought in Panama City, Solent’s guest bed was still bigger than ours on Silver Lining.
While in Shelter Bay, we rented bicycles and rode a hilly 12 mile route to the ruins of Fuerte San Lorenzo from the 1700’s. Apparently 12 miles was too much for little Apollo to run in the heat, so Élan strapped him into a backpack and gave him a free ride halfway in both directions. We had a good chuckle over the fact that the local history of the fort mentions the ‘slaver and pirate Francis Drake’. Guess your historic title depends on which side you belong to, huh?
We also explored Fort Sherman, within walking distance from the marina. It was a US military base until 1999 when the US gave it to Panama as part of the canal turnover. These days it’s a creepy area with grand sweeping streets, but little else. Everything has been stripped to its foundations and abandoned: the battery, armory, church, even the street lights have been taken. We met up with some curious monkeys along the way but couldn’t lure them down from the trees, despite Serena’s best monkey-call.
Finally we headed back to Turtle Caye Marina where our Silver Lining has been patiently waiting for us. We were relieved to find her in one piece, afloat. Although it was a little musty and moldy inside, it was better than we expected, however we still spent several days cleaning and dousing everything in vinegar. We did mass amounts of laundry that we couldn’t do in San Blas and didn’t have time to deal with before leaving the boat. My biggest bucket is the ice chest, so I have been foot-stomping laundry everyday in that. 🙂 I somehow threw out my back our first day here (convenient, I know) so I was hobbling along slowly.
We had planned to head back to San Blas with Solent, but decided to stay in the marina a little longer to work on projects while they head out alone. The other day, we were having a soda at the palapa bar in the marina when one of our boat ‘neighbors’ came flying up on her bicycle to tell us at our smoke alarms were going off, and that smoke was coming out of the hatches. With our hearts in our throats we ran back to discover that there had been a huge electrical surge in the marina, and our battery charger melted down as a result. The marina has thankfully accepted responsibility, (they were working on the power, and hadn’t warned anyone to unplug- just one of many problems here- Lee and Serena saw a transformer burst into flames the night before) so they say they’ll buy us a new one…. That was a month ago…We’ll see (they paid us in the end)! We are just grateful that is happened while we were near the boat and not a week earlier. Thank goodness Apollo was ok, because he was locked in the boat when it happened. Things could have been much worse. We discovered that our computer monitor also fried during the power surge. The marina will not be helping us out on that one because we did not discover it until a week or so later….
So, while we were stuck waiting to sort things out with the marina, we decided to replace our transmission. The new transmission coupler we put in right before going home was already feeling loose, so we took the opportunity to swap the whole transmission here in a safe place, rather than wait for it to fail us in some in-opportune moment down the line. Yay, that meant more engine yoga for me! Believe it or not, we had a spare transmission and all of the misc. parts on board. We feared that we may have to cross this bridge in the middle of nowhere (low and behold, we are) so we have been collecting all of the necessary parts whenever we could. The transplant went smoothly, despite the fact that it got up to 99 degrees inside the boat while we worked. The new transmission spins the opposite direction as the old one, so we swapped the prop for a reverse pitched one we happened to have on board. It was too small, and wouldn’t push our boat fast enough, so we swapped back to the original prop and have decided to run the tranny in reverse to go forward. Seriously. Apparently this is ok, as long as you add a transmission cooler- which we didn’t have, so Elan made one out of plumbing fittings and JBWeld… we’ll see how it does!
We also completed several other projects that have been on our to-do list since, uh, before we left Bellingham. 🙂 We rigged the reefing system on our mainsail (to make it safer and easier to use during bad weather), I sewed a sunbrella panel to go between the dodger and bimini (gives us shade and rain protection), and also modified the zip-in side panels for the dodger (we bought it used, so we have never used them because they didn’t fit our boat), Elan removed the second teak toe-rail and fiberglassed over the cap (for a more modern look and less maintenance), he installed a sweet water filter (thanks Reed!) inside our refrigerator so our drinking water comes out ice cold- (I cannot describe how happy this makes me) and lots of other projects too!
We have met some great people here in the marina, from all over the world: Germany, Trinidad, Peru, Canada, Switzerland. I know I’ve said it before, but the cruising community is just Awesome. We’ve been sharing dinners, drinks, spare parts, materials, tools, and helping with each other’s projects. I think Élan went up Voyageur’s mast four times last week- what a guy!
The other night we celebrated a friends birthday, complete with the local conga drummers and dancers. Élan and I both got dragged out to dance in front of everyone to the Afro-Caribbean style beats. I’ll spare you those photos. I don’t have to tell you that nether of us can quite shake it like the locals.
Our marina, out in the middle of no where, has a beautiful beach with perfect swell for body surfing. There are tons of fish in the marina (a croc too, though we’ve yet to see it) and the grass is always sparkling with fireflies at night. I get a kick out of the howler monkies’ hooting and hollering every time it rains heavily… I feel your pain guys!
We’ve had several run-ins with creepy crawly infestations both inside and out of the boat, but again, I’ll spare you the gritty details. A guy with a pickup truck comes by the marina about once a week to sell us fruits and veggies. Sometimes he’s got great variety of fresh local food and sometimes we are lucky to get a few green bananas, but we take what we can get!
As for the next step, we are still planning to head north to Jamaica or Grand Cayman during the first good weather window we see. The offshore weather forecast isn’t looking so hot at the moment, but its only supposed to get worse the closer to December we get. There is a saying about how all sailors write their plans in the sand at low tide… In other words, we make loose plans and don’t get bummed when things change… ten times. So, we’ll see where we end up!
Happy Thanksgiving! Please eat some turkey for us!
A, E & A – signing off until our next Internet connection, wherever that may be!