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Monday, April 21, 2014

April 21, 2014-Wind Howling all Night in Las Perlas

Boats Near Punto Chame, South of Panama City

The French single-hander came over in his dingy.

"This is a good place" he said, "much better than last night on the flats by Point Chame, where it blew the dogs off the chains all night; I could hardly sleep."

That was four hours ago. I wondered what the old man thought now; it was howling in the little bay where we'd set the hook for the night, and I could see the his anchor light bobbing ahead of us.

Even closer in he was still getting it.

At eight PM the flag's cracking and slapping in the wind got too annoying, we took it down. Thirty minutes later we struck the awning too.

Now, however, we were secured for heavy weather. You know it's rough when you have to do that in a harbor. But we've been here before: in some lonely anchorage where the wind howls all night. If you want to sleep you need to take everything down and clean up the boat. Clear the decks and tie everything . The wind driven chop still gives you some movement, of course, and you can hear the wind in the rig, but you don't have to worry about some bit of canvas getting loose and shredding itself to death.

Yesterday we got out of Panama City and ended up here. It could be a frying pan and fire sort of story, but all in all, it's better here. At least it's nature which is slamming us, not the wakes of roaring shore boats speeding through the anchorage, and we also know that we'll wake up in the morning to a clean smell and a clean boat, not the soot and dust covered decks from the filthy city air which blew down on us every night anchored at La Playita.

But we enjoyed Panama City, rough and dirty anchorage or not. The city was interesting and stunningly beautiful, and as we got to know it we found a lot to like. We began to feel at home in the different districts, on the freeways and the busy streets, we got to know the bus routes and how to deal with taxi drivers and we felt comfortable in the neighborhoods and we found where to shop, where to go for a haircut, a special boat part or a cold beer. In short, as we explored Panama we started to make it our own. It must have been time to leave. So we did.

We don't know in what city we'll live next; that's what we're off now to find out. For the next couple of months we'll cruise along the Central American coast and see what we find. Mexico is in our future, but we don't know how soon. We're not sure how much Internet we'll have so you may not hear from us as often as when we have been in a city like Panama, but don't worry, we'll be back.

Fred & Judy, SV Wings, Las Perlas Islands

PS, We rented a car and took a short trip before checking out of Panama, to El Valle de Anton, up in the mountains where it is cooler and scenic. You can check out the photos here.

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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

April 16, 2014-Do you know where your dingy is tonight?

wingssail images-fredrick roswold
Dingy Up

We hang the dingy up at night on the port side of Wings right outside of the head. When the dingy is hanging there I can see the top of the motor out the bathroom window and it gives me a good feeling; I know my dingy is safe and sound, tucked away peacefully, right where it should be.

Some other cruisers have had their dingys stolen this year and you have to take care. A real no-no is to leave the dingy floating in the water tied by a rope to your yacht. This is an invitation. Someone comes silently paddling by in the middle of the night and one quick slice with a machete and you wake up in the morning without a dingy.

Costa Rica seems to be bad for dingy theft. One cruising couple we met told us that they had their dingy ON DECK and locked in Costa Rica and it was still stolen while they slept. OK, I have my doubts about that one. They sleep in the forepeak and the dingy would have been stowed right over their heads. Probably even the hatch was open. They would have to have been sound sleepers and the thieves really silent to get away with that without waking up the couple.

We are headed to Costa Rica. We just bought new locks. Our dingy will be hanging where it belongs and locked with strong locks to the boat. But still, when I get up in the morning and stumble to the head, the first thing I will do is glance out the window to see if the top of my Mercury motor is right where it belongs.

Merc in view

Fred & Judy, SV Wings, Panama

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Saturday, April 05, 2014

April 5, 2014-Tsunami Warning

Panama City

Tsunami Warning

The call came in on the radio at 8:30pm: “An 8.2 earthquake occurred off the coast of Chile and there is a tsunami warning for Chile, Peru, Ecuador, and PANAMA! It could arrive here in three hours!”

Whoa! What was that?

Whenever there is talk of a tsunami cruisers tend to listen up. Here was someone talking about a possible tsunami in Panama. We increased the volume on the radio but the information was third-hand and no details were provided. A quick internet search got us to the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center and sure enough, the earthquake was confirmed and the tsunami warning was real. By now the chatter on the radio had increased to a fever pitch as more and more boats got wind of the warning and came up on the local channel to find out was happening. Others simply started preparing to get underway because no-one wants to get caught close to shore in a tsunami. Around the harbor deck lights were on and crews were on deck securing their vessels to go to sea.

A lot of scenarios go through your head. We especially recalled what happened to cruisers in SE Asia in 2004, when several boats were lost and even entire marinas were wiped out, and how many thousands of lives were lost when the waves came ashore without any warning on Sumatra and Thailand. Could we be faced with one of those? At least this time we have some advance notification.

A closer look at the predictions on the web site showed far less severe waves coming our way than what hit Sumatra in 2004. In fact, while it predicted 6’ tsunami for Chile, it only warned of 1.7’ waves for Peru, halfway between ourselves and the earthquake epicenter. Maybe by the time it reached Panama it would be insignificant. We decided to prepare the boat but not to get underway until we had an update at 10:30. Even then we’d have over an hour to get away from shore if the timings were correct.

Then Balboa Signal, the official Panama Control center for the Pacific side, came on the radio and told cruisers that “Leaving the harbor was not recommended.”

A confusing choice of words but we decided that they lost a bit in translation. What we decided they meant was, “We don’t think you have to leave the harbor now.” Still, the fact that Panamanian officialdom was tracking this thing made it more real. We continued securing Wings as if for heavy weather.

But at 9:30 the word came that the warning for Panama was called off. Everyone in the harbor must have given a sigh of relief. Deck lights went off, people went below. We poured a glass of wine.

Whew, that was an exciting evening.

Medical Tourism

Panama is supposed to have good medical facilities and reasonable prices for medical treatment. We are delaying our departure to have some long-delayed check-ups. Now, a few doctor’s visits and trips to the major medical centers later, we are finding that the reports seem to be true. The clinics and hospitals are excellent and the prices are reasonable. Not everyone speaks English, but we are finding we can get by. One thing interesting we did find however, was that, the costs for some services are not a lot higher in the US than they are here. For example, while researching costs for this story, I found that the MRI we obtained here for $522 could be had in many places in the US for similar prices. Well, that is good news for the future. I guess, but we are not in the US now, so we are happy to find advanced medical care at prices we can afford here in Panama. It’s the first place where we have felt that way since Southeast Asia.

What is Next?

We’ve been gearing up to depart Panama. We done some shopping for spares and supplies, we’ve researched weather resources and cruiser’s radio nets, and today we went to the fuel dock and filled our tanks. Gasoline was $4.32 per gallon and Diesel was $3.87. We’ve used 80 gallons of diesel since a year ago when we filled up in Antigua. We also filled our water tanks at $.10 per gallon and at that price we would have washed the boat but the marina would not permit it. Apparently they wanted us to move on so other boats could come in for fuel, but we didn’t see anyone waiting. Well, never mind, rainy season is coming.

We have some plans for some things we want to do in Panama City next week, but probably before the 20th of March we’ll be sailing on our slow cruise to the North; destination: Mexico. We’ve been researching stops and it looks like Central America has a lot of nice anchorages and towns between here and Mexico. Our first stops however will be in Panama; the Las Perlas Islands look really nice so we’ll go there next.

That's it for now.

Fred & Judy, SV Wings, Panama

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