Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Watch This Space

We're counting down the days to our Panama Canal transit. We're meant to pick up our Transit Advisor some time after 1400 Panama time this Saturday, the 25th, on the Atlantic side, and are scheduled to enter the blessed Pacific on the 26th.

If you're family, or just bored, you can follow our progress through the Canal at (We're the Galactic that is the US-flagged sailing vessel.) And there are web cams of the locks here. I just checked and it looks like only the Gatun locks camera is working. We should be going through that one on Saturday. (Take a screen grab, Mom!)

Just one hiccup at this point. The yachtie couple who were lined out to be 2 of the 3 extra line handlers that we need (Alisa is the 4th) did not have an up-to-date yellow fever certificate and so could not make the flight back to Panama from their visit home to Brazil. We've found one confirmed replacement, but are scrambling to lock in the last one. (So to speak.)

Elias birding in the jungle

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The End

I took a photo tour of the wrecks of Portobelo yesterday.

This sleepy anchorage took a heavy hit from Hurricane Otto last November.

Until Otto, Panama was considered completely safe from hurricanes.

Otto came ashore on the border of Coast Rica and Nicaragua, and it is the first hurricane to make landfall in Costa Rica since reliable records began, I believe around 1851.

It formed later in the season than any other major hurricane during the satellite era.

Given that Panama was considered to be well outside the hurricane zone, boats here would have been completely unprepared to ride out a really big blow. In Portobelo, eighteen or so yachts (I hear different numbers) ended up on the beach.

As you can see, quite a few were not salvaged.

A very informal survey of the wrecks suggests that metal boats are much more likely to still be in one piece, even if they have not been refloated. The glass boats are open to the tide, or resting on the bottom.

So, this was the end for a number of dreams, the sudden culmination of all the resources and effort that people expended to go to sea in their own boats. No sailor can look on these scenes with equanimity.

As you can see from the dinghy by the boat that is aground on an even keel, people appear to still be living on at least a couple of these boats.

The boat with the sails up, right in front of town, really caught our eye. Doveilyn, or Dorcilyn, I can't quite read the script on the hull. She appears to be a really nice little boat, and when we were first in Portobelo someone was still at work, apparently trying to refloat her.

But when we returned to Portobelo after being away for more than a month, she was abandoned with the sails up, in the same place where we had last seen her.

Finally, I think this is a really informative example of how a changing climate can catch people out. There is an incremental trend - Otto only came ashore 50 or 55 km farther south than the previous most southerly hurricane to make landfall in the Caribbean. But a very sudden, very abrupt event is embedded in that trend. If you're sitting in a crowded anchorage on the day that the definition of hurricane-safe areas changes, you get a lifetime of climate change impacts at once.

And I should close by noting that in addition to these wrecks and property damage ashore, 23 people died in Panama, Costa Rica and Nicaragua during the storm...

Monday, February 20, 2017

The Kuna and the Snail

Yet another moment to remember when we're back in Alaska
The San Blas are an autonomous island group, nominally a part of Panama, that are the home of the Kuna Indians.

Isla Tiadup, San Blas
The San Blas are one of the marquee destinations in the world "cruising" scene. We have met very experienced yachties who compare the place favorably to the South Pacific, we know people who have spent months and months there on their boats, over multiple seasons.

El Caracol
We arrived in the San Blas  after our rollicking sail from Cuba. And the first thing we did was to reconnect with our friends on El Caracol, a Portuguese family whom the other Galactics had gotten to know in Curaçao last year while I was away in the US for my science work.
Galactic and El Caracol in the background, and the ships' people taking the waters
My immediate impression of the San Blas themselves was a little...blah. The anchorages were packed with yachts, many of them in the charter business, carrying cargoes of backpackers from island to island. Not so tranquilo.

Jorge and the Galactic dudes, post-spearfishing mission
Los Caracoles, though, proved to be a ton of fun. (El Caracol is "the snail" in English, of course. They have a blog, with out-of-this-world photography, at

Here and below - Kuna garb

The progress of global cultural homogenization, written in the dress of three generations of Kuna
So we naturally fell into hanging out with El Caracol, and didn't engage with the San Blas, or the Kuna, much at all.

We bought a few of requisite molas, the traditional appliqué that adorns pillows in many a yacht we have been aboard.

The second anchorage that we visited with El Caracol was an informal Kuna resort of sorts, with accomodation provided for the backpackers who were sunning themselves on the beach.

People took selfies, and uploaded them to Facebook.

El Caracol was off to Colon to be measured for the Canal. They had heard rumors that in either February or March, they forgot which, the number of yachts seeking to transit would make it impossible to book the canal without an agent.

(There is a pronounced negativity trap in the western Caribbbean. More about that in a future post.)

Our minds were already on the blessed Pacific, our home ocean, and at this point, as much our home as any place on shore. More so.

After only five days, we decided to leave the San Blas and go look into our own arrangements for the Canal.

The San Blas clearly has enough admirers already, and we were happy enough not to add ourselves to the list.