Archive for the ‘ Travels ’ Category

1 February

Left Bocas Marina around 1330 and headed for the San Blas islands, to cruise around for a couple of weeks before heading back to Colon and Shelter Bay Marina, where we’ll make final preparations to transit the Canal and head to the Galápagos.

Trip to Bocas was motoring and motor sailing, pretty bouncy and lumpy and wet, especially as we passed a few miles offshore from Colon. Ugly trip, pretty uncomfortable. Water was flying around, hatches leaked, impossible to sleep up in the forward cabin (where my bunk is) – too much pitching and slamming and getting tossed in the air. The boat motion was very solid and strong – this is a no-nonsense vessel.

Got to Porvenir in about 26 or 27 hours, just as expected. Checked in, then went to the nearby Lemon Cays to anchor for a couple of days.

4 February

Moved from the Lemon Cays over to Salardup, about 12 miles farther east. All well.

14 February

Moved from the San Blas islands to Portobelo, about an 8-hour trip – good sail, reaching in 15-20 knots of wind. Even with the old sails, we were running at 8 or 9 knots at times and 7 knots when the wind dropped off a little.

Didn’t do much in the San Blas – pretty much just hang out, do a little sailing in the dinghy, swim and snorkel a bit, work on the boat a little bit.

Sorry to say it, but in addition to the $200 cruising permit each boat is required to get and the $100-per-cruiser “mariner’s fee” the Panamanian government also extracts (I was exempt because I entered the country by airplane), the Kuna people now require papers, permits, and fees. Lots of fees.  I understand that the San Blas are the Kuna’s territory (technically, it’s Kuna Yala, an autonomous territory that is not part of Panama), still, it seems only fair that the “authorities” of a given area actually do something or provide some service in exchange for the fees they extract.

Some other cruiser can check me on the facts, but I believe that Panama has now become one of the more expensive cruising grounds in the world.

15 February

Today we moved from Portobelo to Shelter Bay Marina, just two or three hours farther down the coast, and were all tied up by mid afternoon. While in the marina we’ll deal with some final repairs and equipment upgrades and take care of final provisioning. We won’t stop in Balboa, at the other end of the Canal – the plan is to keep on going, zarpe in hand for the Marquesas but make an intermediate stop in the Galápagos islands.

21 February

Yow – didn’t realize it had been so long since I last posted. We’re in Shelter Bay Marina, near the city of Colón at the north entrance to the Panama Canal. We got here a week ago and have made good use of the time:

  • Got the new mainsail and the new mizzen installed, along with their lazy jacks and built-in sail covers. The covers had to be modified somewhat, which in turn required scaring up a heavy-duty sewing machine. That happened, and Meagan, one of the Silver Lynx crew, did a masterful job of making the needed mods.

    New mizzen cover evident. You can also barely see a bit of the new main sail (new lazy jacks and cover not installed).

  • Got the old battery banks removed and new batteries installed. Sounds simple enough, but lifting twelve cells, each of which weighs 42 kilos (93 lbs), out of a battery box below the cabin sole, moving each cell up to the cockpit, over the coaming, and down onto the dock gets old in a big hurry. Then the new batteries (which were slightly lighter than the old ones, a mere 35 kilos each) all have to get onto the boat and into their proper places, of course.

    We had to make up some new battery cables, but Matt bought a lot of new 3/0 cable and a bunch of lugs, and had a hydraulic crimper on board. And we were able to borrow a ratcheting cable cutter from the electrician over in the boatyard. Having the right tools and a couple of electricity-savvy installers (Matt and Ryan) made the installation of the new batteries (Trojan T-145s) go pretty quickly and straightforwardly.

    Pretty sexy stuff, those battery banks, eh? And you thought cruising was all glamorous and shit.

  • Got the emergency Honda 2000 genset running fine (carburetor very dirty).

  • Got some frozen bolts out of the little 2-horse outboard motor, so it’s ready to be put back into service.

  • Made two big provisioning runs into Colón, for assorted houseware stuff like Tupperware-style plastic storage bins. And for mass quantities of groceries. And beer and tequila and rum. Hey, man cannot live on bread alone.

Just got word that we’re scheduled to begin our transit in a week, on 28 Feb, which is exactly the date Matt wanted. Good. I’m ready to be back in the Pacific and moving on.

It’s a new year — 2014 now — and a long time since I last posted anything. I’ll add some items that go into a little more detail, but the short story is this:

After getting through the Panama Canal, I singlehanded up the Pacific coast, first past Panama, then Costa Rica, one day at a time, finding one of the many good anchorages along the way by sundown. In Nicaragua I stopped at Marina Puesta del Sol for a bit of R&R, then ventured on a little ways into the Golfo de Fonseca and after that to an anchorage off the beach outside of Bahía del Sol, El Salvador.

From there I ran overnight and beat it straight up to Puerto Chiapas, formerly known as Puerto Madero — didn’t want to stop in Guatemala — and spent a week or more in late January 2013 in the new Marina Chiapas waiting for the Golfo de Tehuantepec to calm down.

Eventually it did, and another boat and I crossed together, keeping one foot not quite on the beach but only a mile or so off it. Approaching Salina Cruz the wind blew 20-25 knots but from the south, which made for a sloppy, wet slog the rest of the way to the Huatulco area. Far better than being caught out in the gulf with the north wind blowing 40-50 and the seas running 15-20 feet, which had recently been the case. Hard to remind yourself of that at the time, though, when you’re exhausted from the two-day-two-night run and want only to find some flat water, get the hook down, and sleep.

The Huatulco –> Acapulco –> Zihuatanejo trip was uneventful, just uphill. Spent a couple of days resting up in Bahía Puerto Marquez, outside Acapulco, while jet skis and water skiers roared back and forth.

I lingered for three weeks or so in Zihua, one of my favorite places. My friend Louise signed on board there, and our trip up to the Sea of Cortez will make the second installment of this abbreviated saga.

Comments Off on Long time gone Boats and sailing, Personal, Travels

Set sail on Saturday 1 December, pulling out of Bocas Marina and heading due east. I thought it would be a 28-30 hour trip, but I made it to the big-ship anchorage outside the Colon breakwater in about 22 hours, thanks to having 5-10 knots of north wind on the beam, flat seas, and a strong favorable current – sometimes as much as 3 knots, almost the entire way. Was secured in a slip in Shelter Bay Marina by 0930 or so Sunday morning. Gotta say, though, that staying up all night is not everything it’s cracked up to be.

Bocas Marina: A very pleasant little marina, well run, pretty, convenient to Bocas Town. Recommended, for a short or a long stay.

Shelter Bay Marina: Improved substantially since I was here last in January 2010. The physical facilities have grown a bit (new dock, additional showers and bathrooms), but the most noticeable change has been in the service level. Not coincidentally, John Halley, the very well regarded former dockmaster at Club Naútico Cartagena, became manager here at Shelter Bay perhaps a year and a half ago. The shockingly customer-hostile employees from 2010, most notably in the marina office, are gone; the people working here now are friendly and helpful and service oriented.

Cruising: fixing your boat in exotic locations, in this case on the hard at Shelter Bay Marina, near Colon, Panama (north end of the Panama Canal)

The restaurant has improved immensely. In 2010 on a given night the menu included perhaps five completely ordinary items, such as hamburgers or tuna melts, two or three of which were typically not available, and the wait staff was extremely slow – if they could be bothered to stop by your table at all. Now, the restaurant offers a full menu (the few items I’ve tried have been quite good), and the wait staff, while at times overwhelmed and a little disorganized, for the most part works hard and appears to care. Both the marina and the restaurant are overpriced, though, clearly a function of location and lack of competition.

Anyway, my canal transit date is set for Monday 10 December, and I have the tires, lines, and line handlers all set up. We’ll leave here Monday afternoon, go through the Gatun locks in late afternoon or early evening and then take a mooring ball in Gatun Lake for the night. Early the next morning, like at 0600 or 0630, the adviser (like a pilot but not as exalted) shows up again and we beat it on down the line. Quite a bit of Gatun Lake and canal to go through, then the Pedro Miguel and finally the Miraflores locks, which will take us to the level of the Pacific ocean. We should get into Balboa around mid afternoon on Tuesday.

I’m hopeful of finding a mooring ball at the Balboa Yacht Club, where I’ve spent quite a lot of time in past years, for two or three nights while I do a final provisioning, some laundry, and take care of absolutely final preparations before heading for Mexico.

Happily, my zarpe (port clearance) from Colon shows my destination as Puerto Chiapas, Mexico, via Balboa, so I won’t have to do any more paperwork.

Arrangements having come together surprisingly quickly and easily, I have time to do some boat cleaning and minor maintenance without being in a cold sweat.

And I’m walking around with more spring in my step these days, being quite a lot lighter in the wallet after setting up the Canal transit and covering the various related expenses.

But it’s worth it. I am really looking forward to being back in the Pacific and getting back to Mexico.

Runnin’ with the big dawgs in Shelter Bay. Oh yeah. For a sense of scale, compare the size of the guys working on the boom to the size of the boom itself. This is not a trick photo or an optical illusion. I paced this sled off at about 150 feet.

Comments Off on First step on a journey of two thousand miles (literally) Boats and sailing, Travels

(Karlita y Rena: mil disculpas por no escribir en tanto tiempo, y por no escribir en español.)

In another of life’s strange ironies, I went from being a would-be volunteer for the Floating Doctors to a patient of the Floating Doctors.

Seems that an unpleasant bacterial infection accompanied an ugly fungal infection on my left foot, causing my lower leg to swell markedly and making me feel a little off my game. Dr. Ben figured it out and, concerned that the bacterial part could be staph, gave me a course of penicillin pills to follow up on the course of Cipro (antibiotic) I had already started. He also pointed me toward a triple-action ointment to apply to the gross parts on my skin. Two other doctors, Hannah Lee and Jordan, also helped out and were kind enough to check on me a few times to make sure the situation was under control.

Happily, the meds appear to have done the job – both infections have gone away, I’ve taken all the pills, and as of yesterday, can again enjoy cold beer and other adult beverages. Hats off and many, many thanks to Ben, Jordan, and Hannah Lee!

Successful on the medical level, but I’m sorry to say that in terms of participation, my involvement with the Floating Doctors has fizzled. I didn’t hear Word One for weeks about any plans, clinics, projects, or anything. Complete radio silence.

One little occurrence several weeks ago sent a pretty clear message. The short version of the story is that one day I was told the group was leaving at a certain time for a visit to the Asilo (the home for seniors in town). I showed up at the departure point on time, to find out that the group had already departed. By chance I was able to catch up with the group and visit the Asilo, but I subsequently heard nary a word about the departure – no explanation, question, or comment about anyone departing early, arriving late, or anything else.

Oookaaay. Message received. Clearly the group’s thinking does not include whatever I might be able to contribute. And the lack of any contact since then tells me that the Floating Doctors are just not interested in my participation.

I have no idea why this is. Perhaps I was weighed in the balance somehow and found lacking, and just not told that. Perhaps the generational gulf is too great to cross, although I don’t think I have a problem crossing it. Perhaps the fundamental chemistry just isn’t good, although I haven’t clashed at all with anyone. On the contrary, I find them interesting, energetic, and admirably committed people. Perhaps they have more than enough non-medically trained volunteers at present and simply don’t need any help.

I also can’t explain the total lack of communication, even something as simple as politely declining my help for now because of <insert favorite white lie here>.

True, I have not tried to track people down, learn what work was planned, find out how I could help or whether my help was needed at all. I told myself I’d keep being persistent, but after having been left behind without any explanation I simply lost the motivation. I guess I wasn’t up for feeling like a dog hanging around the back door of a restaurant, hunting for scraps.

From where I stand, it’s a pity and a personal disappointment. Within the Floating Doctors there’s no lack of talent and energy and commitment, no shortage of excellent project ideas. I’d have thought that the group would have more than enough to do and would be only too happy to offload some of the non-technical or administrative or operational work, thereby freeing up other resources for more technical work. I’d also have thought that a group that puts out a general call for volunteers on its Web site and at times gets them by the gaggle would be pretty good at communications and at maximizing the resources available to it at any given time.

Oh well. I moved up my departure date and am heading up to the States on Wednesday, to spend the summer there. It’ll be a tedious trip, about 30 or 32 hours on airplanes or cooling my heels in airports, but I’m looking forward to being back in Seattle. Kara’s doing fine; the latest ultrasound apparently confirmed that all was well with the baby growing inside her. And we (my sons, Kara, and I) are looking for a house in Seattle for everyone to live in and be a home base. We offered on a place the other day but the other offer was quite a bit higher, apparently, so no dice. No worries, we’ll find something great pretty soon.

And there’s other family and friends to spend lots of time with. We can sit around, those of us who drink can drink a little too much, and we can all laugh a lot and tell each other lies about how good we used to be.

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Has been quite some time since the last post. Much of the time I just haven’t had anything of interest to report. Between a fair amount of boatwork and work on other, unrelated things, the days have been pretty full. I spent a lot of time, several days all told, analyzing some financial information for my homeowners’ association and building some spreadsheet-based tools to help keep the numbers organized, do some planning, and update the plans yearly.

Have done some but not a great deal of work with the FDs. Have been to the Asilo (the local senior citizens’ center) a couple of times and am heading there again this afternoon. One time it was raining too much to take anyone out for a walk, so we just hung around inside and chatted; one of the doctors checked with a few people, heard some medical complaints, and commiserated gently with folks whose problems she could do nothing about.

From somewhere came three or four lightweight rubber balls, and a few little games of catch spontaneously broke out. Several of the residents seemed to do quite well – good eye-hand coordination, motor reflexes working well. And a couple of little girls, not sure if they were related to one of the residents or the daughters of one of the women working there, were bouncing around as well, which further contributed to the upbeat energy. It pleases me to think we, all the volunteers collectively who visited that day, broke up the monotony and added a bit of brightness for some of the residents.

Have helped at a couple of clinics, one right here in Bocas at what we call the Warehouse (where I built the shelves), and another in Cerro Diablo, a small Ngobe village about 45 minutes away by panga. The FDs’ panga is about 22 feet, I’d guess, and is pushed by a 40 hp Yamaha outboard, so it gets through the water in pretty good shape even when loaded with passengers and supplies.

Not being a medical professional, my role at the clinics was to help check patients in (note their basic medical problem, family info, and a bit of history), observe the doctor’s consultations a bit, and fetch and carry as needed. By the end of the day, after having helped 78 people, we had run out of ibuprofen, lice treatment, and another thing or two. Impossible to know how much of which medicines and other supplies to bring to a given clinic. The Peace Corps worker living in the village was terrific, a young woman who has been there for nine months and obviously had become a positive force in the fabric of life there.

The pattern seemed to be that of entire families – both parents, all the kids, and sometimes even a cousin or two – waiting their turn to see a doctor, everybody with something for the doctor to look at. I don’t have enough experience to generalize, but certainly in Cerro Diablo the most common complaints were of digestive parasites and upset, and skin problems, what looked to me like rashes and bug bites. I’m told those are typically the most common complaints in many communities.

And on another day I unpacked even more stuff waiting to be shelved in the Warehouse, stripped off bales of packaging, and grouped like things with like so the doctors and a nurse could see what was what and organize the supplies appropriately on the shelves. At this point the shelves are pretty full.

So this afternoon up to the Asilo; not sure what’s up for later in the week. Sometimes or even often there are enough people on hand to run a clinic so my help isn’t needed. The inflow of volunteer doctors seems to be picking up, though, so life might get busier.

In any case I’m heading back to the States at the end of May for the summer and will return to Panama in mid September (unless I change the return date). I hope I’ll have been able to somehow amplify my contribution to the FDs by then and will be able to pitch in for another couple of months toward the end of the year, before truckin’ on out of here.

Am thinking pretty seriously of heading back through the Canal in late December or early January (my cruising permit expires Jan 12, 2013, or thereabouts) and working my way back up the coast to Mexico. But I’m not hard over on that – if I’ve managed to build up significant momentum here, I’d be willing to spend another year in Bocas (I think). All is scratched lightly in sand, not carved in stone.

Comments Off on Playing catch in the Asilo Personal, Travels

It’s the peak of cruising season here on the Caribbean coast of Panama, but it’s still the off season for the Floating Doctors. Ben and Sky are still in the States, gathering support and dealing with administrative issues. Ben will be back at the end of the month, when a group of volunteers also arrives; Sky returns a couple of weeks later. The first clinic is scheduled for 1 March, I’m told. Noah and Steven are aboard Southern Wind, cleaning and fixing and organizing and generally getting ready for the coming onslaught.

One good step forward is that the pharmacy still needs to be made a secure space but is now serviceable – all the stuff that was lying helter-skelter on the floor is neatly organized, shelved, and labeled. Scroll down to the previous post to see a couple of “before” pix to contrast with the “after” pix here.

La farmácia 1. Still needs a wrap with wire fencing or something to secure it, and plywood on the top for more storage. But in service.

A correction: the Bocas Breeze article I pointed to in the previous post was written by Ben LaBrot, not by Sky.

So in the meantime I’ve been working on the boat: dealing with various small things but mostly, rebedding a window (twice, because I didn’t seal the leak the first time), and redoing all the brightwork. I had let it go gray, which is OK, but decided to refinish it all with Cetol Natural Teak.

Am looking forward to pitching in one way or another with the FDs and especially looking forward to the arrival of my first grandchild — a girl child, the ultrasounds indicate — this coming June (!!).

La farmácia 2, looking down toward the walk-in entrance (at the far end on the left; not visible here)

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Check out this writeup from the January 2012 issue of The Bocas Breeze, the local community newsletter: You’ll get a bit of a feel for how things have gone at the Asilo, but you’ll also, I think, get a sense of the passion and commitment that the FD bring to the work. Sky LeBrot, who wrote the article, is one of the FD’s core members. See what you think; feel free to leave a comment (click on the blue Comment bar at the end of this post).

Not quite finished in this photo, but close enough to give the general idea

Finished the shelving last Tuesday (see pic). Not pretty, but functional and strong. Then went down with a stomach bug or recurrence of the flu or something for a couple of days.

I’m told it’s gonna be slow in the Floating Doctor department for the next couple or three weeks. Two of the key people are or soon will be back in the US, banging the drum and tooting the horn, then the mobile clinic activity will recommence in March. In the meantime someone here is hoping to return early next week from Davíd with some wire fencing and other materials we need. If that happens, we can take the next step or two in building out the warehouse space.

In the meantime I’m in the process of rebedding the big main salon window on the starboard side.

This is just a portion of the supplies to be organized and shelved

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Comfortably ensconced on Cynosure these last couple of weeks in Bocas Marina, a pleasant, clean, functional place (a sharp contrast with Club Nautico Cartagena). With electricity and potable water available on the dock and with hot showers, clean bathrooms, and a little cantina/restaurant ashore, life is good, life is easy.

Have mostly been building free-standing shelving in a small (approx 30’ x 50’) warehouse space that also includes a separate office and full bathroom with shower. So far, one 15-foot run along a wall, a 6- or 7-foot run to make an “L”, and another 10-foot run parallel to the long 15-ft run, set far enough away to allow for a walkway. Nothing fancy – just frames and four levels of shelves with storage space below banged together out of 2x4s, plywood, and some odds and ends. Soon we will wrap chicken wire or something comparable around the sides and add some plywood to the top to create a secure area that will be the pharmacy and storage for the dressings, surgical and orthopedic supplies, and other such items.

The bigger picture calls for partitioning off a couple of spaces for exam rooms, setting up a little laboratory (there’s a lab-in-a-suitcase kit, apparently pretty comprehensive), and setting up a waiting area in the front by the metal, roll-up door, which means scaring up a bunch of plastic chairs. Not clear yet where the tables for the exam rooms will come from, but I’m confident that’ll work out. With those and a few other small appointments, the space will be ready to serve as a clinic, open to anyone who can drag him/herself or get him/herself carted up to the door.

People beat a path to the door with various wounds and illnesses even when I’m just working in there alone, sawing lumber or nailing things together or doing some other totally non-doctorlike thing. The other day a guy came in and asked if we could treat him for gonorrhea (yes, but I can’t – come back when a doctor or nurse is here), then shook my hand, deeply appreciative. I washed my hands about three times when he left. Yesterday a young woman came in with a swollen and discolored knee, reportedly hurt in a fall down some stairs, and another woman came in hoping to get some medication she was told she needed. Sorry, nothing I can do except smile sympathetically and explain that I’m not a doctor.

This past week a group of six or eight dentists was in Bocas and in a neighboring town. I stopped by the school that was being used for the dental clinic one day and was astonished to see the number of people waiting – I don’t have a number, but the dentists had to have seen hundreds of patients in their four days here.

Expeditions to nearby villages to run 5-day medical clinics will begin again in March, I’m told. Not sure what my role in that will be, if anything – maybe organizer/grunt/administrator, maybe teacher of such exotic subjects as Why It’s Important to Wash Your Hands, How to Wash Your Hands, How to Brush Your Teeth, Why It’s Better to Drink a Lot Less Coca-Cola. Or maybe I’ll just stay around the home base and keep working on the Floating Doctors boat, the local clinic, getting more shipments of stuff in and stored, etc. Whatever helps.

An ongoing activity is to go to the Asilo (senior citizens’ home, run by the order of St. Vincent de Paul) in town two or three times a week. Weather permitting we take both the ambulatory and the wheelchair-bound out for a little outing down to the town square and back, and a couple of our group do a bit of physical therapy with one or two stroke victims.

None of all this is glamorous, efforts sometimes get thwarted by one circumstance or another, and some things don’t work out optimally. But anything that gets done is an improvement on the way things were previously.

Comments Off on Settling in a little bit Personal, Travels

Pulled into to Bocas del Toro a few days ago after a slow and fairly tedious mostly motor sail over from Portobelo thanks to light conditions and a counter-current for much of the way. About an hour into the trip the mainsail gave out, tearing (again) from luff to leach. Fortunately the damage was below the second reef point so I could reef the sail and get some use out of it.

Probably not much point in repairing the sail – putting another patch atop the patches already there – it’s 25 years old and is the original sail for the boat. Time to get a few quotes, pick a loft, and have a new sail made. No rush, though, as I don’t expect to be going anywhere for a while.

The trip over from Cartagena generally went well. I left from Bahía Cholón, a lovely, tranquil bay three hours or so south of Cartagena, and after eight hours of getting out of the Rosario archipelago and away from the mainland I picked up strong tradewinds, 15-20 knots on the beam. Thanks to those and 2-meter seas on the starboard quarter, I had the fastest sailing I’ve ever done for the next 20 hours or so: at times more than 9 knots, many hours at more than 8 knots, and many more hours at more than 7 knots. That’s not fast for a big boat, but for a boat the size of Cynosure it’s very fast. I made 30 miles more than I had planned and ended up in a favorite anchorage in the East Holandes cays, in the San Blas islands of Panama.

And there I waited for the next week or so for wind and sea conditions to calm down a bit before making the next jump, from the San Blas over to Portobelo, which in the early days of Spanish occupation was the most important harbor in Panama. Conditions mellowed somewhat; I got to Portobelo with no problems, and after a day’s layover came on over to Bocas.

The big deal for me is that very soon I will start pitching in on whatever projects the Floating Doctors (see have going. This is something I’ve been looking forward to doing for quite a while, partly because being of service somehow is something that Margarita and I had planned to do, partly because I think that contributing somehow, however I can, will help fill the emptiness I still feel inside, and partly because I really like the approach the Floating Doctors take. They’re really focused on their mission, which is that of bringing medical care to people who typically don’t have access to it or to enough of it, and they’re all about making a difference – now. Not filing papers, waiting around for official approvals, playing politics, but being active, getting hands on, making things happen, taking care of people and solving problems without delay.

Sky LaBrot, one of the group’s leaders, said that projects at hand right now include building some shelves and secure storage for medical supplies in a small warehouse in town and spending time at the local senior citizens’ home. Sky and Dr. Ben, her brother, are in grant-writing and fundraising mode for the next few weeks both here and in the US, and come March the group will again make forays to outlying communities in the Bocas area, to address whatever medical and public-health issues it finds.

The 2012 project list includes other things as well; that will become clearer by and by. For now I’ll be helping out however I can, starting slowly no doubt, and ideally finding a groove that works best for everyone. Stay tuned.

Comments Off on In from Cartagena; onward with the Floating Doctors Personal, Travels

Item one: Jean-Pierre Bouhard’s former catamaran, unmistakeable for its yellow-painted rails and mast, anchored nearby yesterday. ow in other and presumably non-bloodstained hands, the boat is a grim reminder of the terrible Javier Martín saga that unfolded a year ago. Martín, a Spaniard with a shadowy and suspect past, killed two cruisers, including Bouhard, and was using Bouhard’s cat to ferry backpackers back and forth in the Panama-Cartagena run, with much chaos and uproar.

Ferrying backpackers is a cottage industry in this area. The one-way price runs around $450 and includes food and a few days of cruising in the San Blas en route between Portobelo and Cartagena. The alternative is to fly, which costs about $350 (and is the usual disagreeable hassle that flying has become). So for only a hundred bucks more the adventurous traveler gets a few days of cruising in an exotic corner of the world.

I’ve talked with a few travelers who said they had excellent experiences: clean and professionally operated boat, gourmet cuisine, etc. I’ve also talked with one or two who said their boats were filthy, the food was basic if not primitive, living conditions were extremely cramped and uncomfortable. I know of two instances when boats very nearly came to grief on reefs because of incompetent hands at the wheel. In one of those cases a backpacker was driving the boat because the captain was too drunk or stoned.

Javier Martín was reportedly usually wacked on one substance or another. Martín was apprehended (can’t remember where, Colombia or the Darién) with a lot of cash and some documents belonging to Don North, the first cruiser he murdered. Don Winner, writing for the English-language on-line newspaper Panama Reports (get URL; verify title) has documented the case extensively.

Item two: Two Frenchmen who arrived in Cartagena the day before I left Manzanillo reported having been boarded and attacked and robbed while anchored in the Rosarios.

Item three: A report on the radio this morning from a cruiser involved in assisting the victim indicate that a singlehanding Frenchman anchored at Narganá was boarded by two men in a canoe yesterday evening, attacked with a knife and a machete, bound, and robbed. The victim said he has many years of sailing experience in the area and had anchored at Narganá perhaps a dozen times previously. Fortunately he was not seriously injured in last night’s attack. The thieves stole his wallet and a cheap cell phone but overlooked an iPod and a computer. The Frenchman worked himself free of his bindings after the attackers had left and set off a flare; other cruisers responded immediately. Police are involved, and they and the victim are attempting to identify the attackers, one of whom was apparently also cut during the attack and robbery.

The Rosario assault, while probably a rare event, doesn’t surprise me all that much – Colombia, for all its many really friendly and good people, has a much more ragged and lawless edge than the country’s marketing would have you believe.

The Narganá assault is disturbing, not only by its very nature but also because Kuna Yala (the comarca of San Blas, the territory of the Kuna people) is a tranquil area with very little crime. The Kuna people in general are gentle, even retiring people. So what could have happened?

The attackers could have been atypical Kunas, corrupted by Western civilization and as prone to crime and violence as anyone else. Or they could have been Spanish-speaking outsiders from anywhere else. It’s well known that as pure and perfect as Kuna Yala, with its turquoise waters, white-sand beaches, and coconut palm trees appears to be (in fact, of course, it is neither pure nor perfect), it is one route the narco-traffickers use to move drugs northward from Colombia. Also, Colombian tramp steamers ply these waters continually, trading in food and gasoline in exchange for coconuts. Either case presents the possibility of outsiders, possibly very unsavory ones, being in the area.

Further, it’s a rule of thumb that as Christmas approaches, muggings and assaults and robberies increase. It seems paradoxical or at least ironic that people stoop to violent crime for last-minute Christmas income enhancement, but that’s what happens. Like it or not, we live in a materialist, mass-consumption society. And to most of the local folks, we cruisers, even those of us with the most modest resources, are rich beyond anything they can imagine.

Comments Off on The cruising life — the dark side Boats and sailing, Travels