Wednesday, December 26, 2012

From Golfito to Panama City

By Nicole

Panama City! The Bridge of the Americas (spanning the Panama Canal) is to the left, and the city skyline is to the right.

Here were are, anchored near the glittery skyscrapers, giant cargo ships and noisy bustle of Panama City. It’s certainly a departure from the remote cruising grounds we found on our way down rom Costa Rica. Without a doubt, Western Panama is an amazing place to cruise—you can day-hop from one secluded anchorage to the next, getting your fill of tropical beaches, lush mountains and warm water. We spent three fantastic weeks poking our way to the big city, and if you were so inclined, you could easily spend twice that. Gorgeous.

While we settle in to city life for a bit, here are a few pictures to give you a little taste of the trip …

PB180034 Arriving in Panamanian waters! Up goes the courtesy flag.

DSC_4570Wish you were here.

PB230072 As you can see, Aaron had no trouble getting back into the swing of cruising after two months at the dock. He spent the better part of two days just chilling and napping between two palm trees.

DSC_4592That’s the anchor chain sitting on the sand in 25’ of turquoise water. Cool!

GOPR0838 Bella Star anchored off the sand spit on Isla Carvada.

PB260088My fun, new shorts (thanks, Andrea!).

PB260106A lone palm tree

PB270113The poor dodger and bimini are self-destructing in the sun. I do what I can to ease their suffering
with a few stitches (in between beach walks and snorkel outings, of course).

DSC_4611Hiking the trails at Ensenada Naranjo, mainland Panama … just watch out for cow pies!
The free-range cows roam the hills and take naps on the beach.

DSC_4615Dad, this one’s for you.

DSC_4625Looking down at Bella Star and Ensenada Naranjo—our last stop before rounding Punta Mala (the Bad Point) and entering Bahia de Panama.

GOPR0897 Back at sea level. The beach may look like mud, but its fine, sparkly, dark brown sand (very soft on your toes!)

PC020157Vancouver Island-style rocks (minus the starfish, mussels and seaweed—and 42 degree water)

PC020177 We wanted to collect water from the falls for a shower, but we couldn’t get close enough with the swell and rocks.

PC020193So we settled for a more accessible stream to fill the jugs for our showers.

PC030201Three things I love: the Sun Shower, free water and deserted anchorages!

PC020178Relaxing at sunset in Ensenada Naranjo after having the Panamanian military escort us in, watch
us anchor (hovering on their jet boat not 15’ away) and then board us. They just wanted to check
our paperwork and have a look around. They approved of our Christmas decorations.

Good morning, sunshine! On the way to Punta Mala.

PC040213 Goodnight, sunshine. Rounding Punta Mala.

GOPR0934The tiny, protected anchorage on Isla Bona was the just the ticket after sailing close-hauled in 20 knots of wind and bashing into steep seas all night. Phew. Rusted out remnants of an old manufacturing operation litter the beach …

DSC_4652We heard there were wild bananas on Isla Bona, but (drat!) someone beat us to them.

Nothing classes up an arm shot like a machete strapped to your back.

More on Panama City to come, including a visit to the Panama Canal and a reunion with s/v Knee Deep!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Happy holidays!

From here in Panama City to your corner of the world, we send you
warm wishes for a festive holiday season and an especially prosperous new year! Thanks for all your encouragement and support in 2012—we feel fortunate to be sharing our journey with you.

Love and fair winds,
Nicole & Aaron

DSC_4596_1Merry Christmas from our newest crew member, little Ganuk D. Gecko!

So, yeah, we now have two geckos (it’s a Christmas miracle!).
his one likes to perch on the spice rack and lick the lid to the vanilla bottle. Really.

PC050220 Here’s what our Christmas tree looks like when we’re sailing. Note the angle of the ornaments. :)
(Thanks to my guy-wire system, no ornaments were harmed in the heeling of this boat.)

It wouldn’t be Christmastime
without a plate of freshly baked sugar cookies (expertly decorated by Aaron), a steamy mug of double-spiced cider (that’s mulled apple cider with a good splash of Captain Morgan’s Spiced Rum), stockings hung on the diesel heater (with care) and our favorite Christmas tunes playing on the stereo.

Merry Christmas y Feliz Navidad from Bella Star!

Friday, December 21, 2012

First stop in Panama – Isla Gamez

By Aaron

We left Costa Rica in the company of SV Serendipity in the late afternoon, bound for Panama on a promising stiff breeze with sails up in all their glory.  Of course, that breeze died out after an hour and made us mostly motor for an overnight passage to Panama.  It had been two months since we’d been underway, so we were feeling a bit rusty but everything went fine and the lightning stayed at a respectful distance (for a change).  Our destination was Isla Parida, which has many anchorages to choose from.  Upon arrival we started to circle the island looking for the ideal spot.  We tried anchoring in one cove, but with nearly 20-foot tides here, you have to be fairly conservative.  The water was a little thin where we were at and just a quarter mile away we could see Isla Gamez.  Even from a distance you could tell it was one of those places you see in the sailing magazines.  So we popped over and dropped the hook with SV Serendipity.  SV Taking Flight showed up soon after, all three of us being out of Washington State. (Although we’d met them as far back as Mexico and spent a good deal of time with them in El Salvador.)  Serendipity and Taking Flight spent a few days there, but we had a really hard time leaving and ended up hanging out for 8 days, sitting around doing a whole lot a nothin’. 

The weather isn’t too bad for December

Bella Star, Taking Flight, and Serendipity living the good life.  Sorry about the coconut, it’s hard to take a picture around here without these damn things getting in the shot.

Island Gamez is a small uninhabited island, not very wide and maybe a quarter mile long.  The north side is lined with a white sand beach and the south side looks out to sea and the other islands in the group.  There’s not a building to be seen, just the way we like it.  When you run out of entertainment options, you break out the hammock.  It’s good for you!  I saw a sign outside a hammock store once that said an hour in a hammock adds a day to your life. 

Added several days to my life here.  Not a bad way to spend a Monday.

While I was dozing in the hammock, my thoughts drifted off to friends CB and Tawn on SV Palarran.  They are fellow Hans Christian owners from our marina back in Seattle.  In a few months, they’ll be making the incredibly irresponsible decision of quitting their jobs and heading off cruising themselves, first around Vancouver Island and then south till the sun hurts.  Over beers while we were back home visiting in October, CB brought up our post about us reaching a goal of landing on 100 islands.  Then, he has the gall to tell me that they intend to land on 101!  This mean-spirited act of spite will not stand.  Our achievement will not be diminished and sullied by these people.  Irritation mounted at these thoughts, to the point that I was roused from my hammock.  I found Nicole and let her know that island conquering was back on. 

Nicole raises her fists in the international this-island-has-been-conquered pose.  So Palarran, that’s 102 you need now.  Better get crackin’! 

The rules for island conquering are simple:

The island must be exposed at high tide.  Additionally it must have vegetation growing on it prior to the conquering (moss, mold, or mildew does not count, it needs to be at least grass or some form of leafy vegetation)

The island must still be an island at the lowest ever recorded tide

The island cannot be classified as its own continent (sorry Australia)

Captain and crew must stand on the island with both feet for any longer than 2 seconds (one person at a time can do this to accommodate islands that are too small for two people, or islands where it’s not possible to land the dinghy)

Anyway, other than that, the time we spent on Gamez was very relaxing.  One day we were visited by a guy in a panga named Carlos.  He lived on the island next door and at one point asked us if we wanted any fruit.  We said sure!  The next day he came by and gave us a bunch of fruit.

We offered him money, but he wouldn’t take it and was more interested to trade for it, so we asked what he wanted.  (Well, not we, Nicole handles all our conversations in Spanish.)  He asked if we had any milk.  We did, so we traded for a liter tetra pack of milk.  It seemed like a lot of fruit for fruit for $1 worth of milk, so we asked if there was anything else we could give him.  He asked if we had any chocolate, and we had some good stuff from Trader Joe’s so we hooked him up with that and the deal was done.

The next day he comes by and asks if we want any fish or lobster.  We said we’d be up for some fish.  So he went out to catch some for us, and brought back a nice red snapper.  Carlos asked if we wanted it filleted, and we were more than happy to have him do it for us.

Two meals worth of delicious fish.  What did he want in trade for this?  Again, no money.  Carlos wanted paper.  So we got lunch and dinner in exchange for a legal pad and a pen. 

On another evening we launched our mobile beach party assault vehicle and headed over to a beach that exposes at low tide.  The very exclusive party was only attended by Nicole and I, but that’s because we were the only people around to invite.

Nicole 86ed another bottle of Flor de Cana. 


We might have gotten lonely just the two of us, but we met a baby palm tree named Cocoloco and I helped him out onto the beach so we could all hang out.

I miss you Cocoloco.  Sorry I chucked you back into the jungle.

BTW, can somebody tell me what this is?  Is that a stinger on the back?  Sometimes I feel like I’d prefer to do our hikes in a NASA pressure suit. 

Well anyway, this was a great first stop in Panama.  But after 8 days the urge to explore began to overcome the urge to relax.  So we pulled anchor and headed out, ever onward. 


Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Pura Vida, Costa Rica

By Aaron

It’s hard to believe we spent nearly 6 months in Costa Rica.  We had a very enjoyable trip home for the month of October visiting family and friends, and even making some new friends.  Everyone showed us such incredible generosity and we are truly grateful.

Nicole, missing the stomach churning motion of an ocean passage, tried to recreate the effect at a pumpkin patch farm.

My dad had a couple bikes in the garage, so we took them out for a spin.  Nicole and I have been together over a decade and this is the very first time we’ve ridden bikes together.

For several weeks before our visit, every time we’d remember some food we missed we’d write it down on a legal pad.  We had a whole page, but we systematically worked through it and ate every single thing we’d been missing.  Thai food was at the top of my list – 5 star hot!  And Nicole didn’t waste any time putting down a few pumpkin spice lattes.

We got to see fall leaves, wear coats and socks for the first time in ages, and even saw a little snow up in the mountains. 

We sat right behind the pilots on the flight out of Golfito.  I was hoping they’d ask me if I wanted to drive for a bit but no luck.  We were a little nervous leaving Bella Star behind for a whole month but the boat was in good hands.

Fish Hook Marina was Bella Star’s home for about two months.  We needed to place the boat in bond with customs since our import permit had expired.  Mostly our fault since we didn’t put a hold on it while we made repairs for two months in Marina Papagayo.  Anyway, the bonding required that we keep the boat at an authorized bonding marina until we were ready to leave the country.  Fish Hook provided this service for us at no charge and drove us to customs to make the arrangements.  It was totally painless. 

This is Maikol on the left and his brother Andre.  They run Fish Hook marina with absolute professionalism and made us feel very welcome.  There were right there for us for everything we needed and always had a smile.  Maikol even drove us around to the various government offices when it was time for us to check out of the country.  Thanks guys!

We worked on quite a few boat projects while we were there.  I finished installing our replacement spreader lights and crossing annoying projects off the list.

After some time, Golfito became quite comfortable for us.  In a few weeks, you get to know some locals.  You get to know where the bank and grocery stores and post office is.  Before you know it, a place starts to feel like home if you stay too long.  So off we’ve gone to Panama!