Sunday, August 31, 2008

Stung by a Scorpionfish!

We went snorkeling for the 3rd time at 'The Grottoes' in the East Holandes of San Blas. While we were fooling around in the cave area, I was treading water, talking with Dave, and accidentally put my hand down on a Scorpionfish.

At first I thought the feeling in the palm of my hand was just from a sharp rock, but as the pain lingered, I started looking around for something else. It took a couple of minutes of looking around before I finally discovered this well-camoflaged Scorpionfish sitting on the top of the rocks where I'd just been hanging out waiting for Dave.

Do you see it? (if not, see next picture down)

When I first spied the fish, the dorsal fin was up, and that's probably what I touched. I could clearly see two puncture wounds on the palm of my hand, one under the 2nd finger and one under the 3rd finger.

Fortunately, Mike on s/v Infini was snorkeling with us, and he is a doctor. Though I was disinclined to leave everyone and go back to the boat (Dave and I were the leaders of the expedition out to the Grottoes). Mike told Dave to get me back ASAP and administer Benadryl and watch for signs of heart problems or shock. It still only felt like a bee sting, so when Dave left the decision to me, I almost told Dave I was fine.

But we finally decided to head back right away. Good thing! By the time we got to the boat (about a 15 minute dinghy ride away) I was in severe pain, and my hand was starting to swell. Dave anxiously watched for signs of more serious problems. We were both glad that we'd spent the extra money on DAN Emergency Evacuation insurance, in case things got really serious.

I first took 2 Advil, then 2 Benadryl, as per Mike's advice. Then we started some hot water to soak my hand in. THEN we got out our various medical books and started looking for treatment issues. The pain was excruciating and I was having trouble thinking rationally. I was glad Dave was there.

All the books we had confirmed Mike's advice, that the best treatment was to clean the wound, remove any visible spines, soak in hot water to 60-90 minutes, watch for signs of shock. See DAN's advice.

Mike also recommended a preventative course of antibiotics (Cipro), since we're out in the boonies away from medical attention. We are well stocked with Cipro, so I started taking those twice a day.

My hand continued swelling but within about an hour, the hot water soaks and the Advil had diminished the pain significantly. My hand was so swollen I couldn't make a fist.

Above, my swollen hand on the left side. It looks a funny color because it's been soaking in hot water for an hour.

By the next morning the swelling was mostly gone. The wounds still looked clean. The pain was mostly gone. (But even now, 5 days later, the hand is still painful around the joints and the tendons of the two fingers).

I consider myself lucky and will be more careful in the future where my hand goes down. We have saved the DAN web page about stings to our Medical folder on our computer, and also ordered a copy of the book Dangerous Marine Creatures - A Field Guide for Medical Treatment.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Tropical Storm Fay: Dodged Another One

We have been anxiously listening to the scarce reports (down here in Panama) on what Tropical Storm Fay was doing in Florida. It sat almost exactly on top of our house for 24 hours. It's always scary when "The Weather Channel" guys are standing in your back yard in their foul weather gear!

We heard that it dropped about 25 inches of rain, but the reports from friends indicate it wasn't too bad. Below are some email reports from our friends on how it was in the Satellite Beach area.
Everything's just fine here. There was some street flooding in the areas that flood; South Patrick down by DeSoto, Desoto itself, and some other minor interior roads. The river's up to the top of the lowest seawalls in my area, which is about 3' below the highest I've seen it, so you don't have anything to worry about. Highest winds we saw were only about 50 MPH, so that wasn't a problem either.
Reports are that Patrick AFB received 22 inches of rain, S Patrick Dr was flooded and closed. The river only came up to a foot below our dock, so I think everything is OK at your place. I tried calling Karen Miller but she was not home, will try again this evening. Here in Palm Bay our street was flooded about 30 inches deep and we could not get in or out, but no water in the condo. The kids all lived on islands but no water in their houses. The Lake Wash area was hit badly with Harlock, Aurora, John Rodes, Lake Wash all closed.
We are still here and our feet are DRY! not like a lot of Melbourne/Satellite Bch area. I haven't been over by the condos, so don't have a first hand report. But the water never got to the top of our sea wall and I'm sure yours is the same. The wind was not as bad as predicted. We only saw 40-50 mph and no trees were down, just branches and stuff.

The phone service and cable have been interrupted off and on, but now working. No power loss in this area, only momentary glitches.

It has been raining off and on since Tues, so the mold and cabin fever are settling in.

Today (Fri) looks like start of the clean up and un-tying of boats and stuff. We'll write more if we find the condos had a problem but don't expect that they did.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Playing in the San Blas

We've been so busy having fun that I haven't done a blog post in about a week.

We motored all the way to the San Blas, and have had to motor around wherever we go. The wind has been pretty much 'variable at 5 knots or less' the whole time.

We have mostly been hanging out in "The Swimming Pool"... the nice shallow sandy bay enclosed on all sides with reef and palm-studded sandy islands. We have been doing a major snorkeling trip every day, both sightseeing and hunting. Dave has speared a few snapper but the pickings are pretty slim around here these days.

We have yet to be offered any more crabs. But fortunately the freezer is well-stocked with other good stuff.

We have been hanging out with our friends Mike and Sue on Infini ( Their son Ty is visiting them--taking a break from graduate studies in The Netherlands. We also met another boat out here with kids... White Magic, a Catana 47 catamaran. This is a nice Canadian family who have just bought the boat. They are still exploring the systems on their boat and planning their final escape. This time they only had 2 weeks to spend, and so just left yesterday to go back to Shelter Bay to leave the boat and go back to Canada. But their 3 girls helped round out a nice group of young kids to hang out together in Paradise.

s/v Blue Sky has been bringing a volleyball net ashore every day and inviting the cruisers for a late afternoon volleyball game. It's a nice way to get off the boat, socialize some, and get some exercise. We have broken out our 2 inflatable kayaks, and between the dinghy, swimming ashore, and the kayaks, everyone can come and go easily.

We had a couple of days of really nice sunny weather, with almost no wind. It's great for snorkeling outside the reef, but a little hot in the afternoons! But yesterday a tropical wave approaching from the east, and the ITCZ approaching from the south, converged on us, and we have had overcast and drizzle for 2 days. At this point we are cheering when we see a big black cloud. We could use the water, as we haven't recommissioned the water maker after laying it up while in Cartagena. But so far the heavy downpours have eluded us. Every big black cloud that approaches seems to part and go around us, and we just get a light drizzle.

Everyone in Cartagena whom we told that we were going to the San Blas kept asking us... "What about the lightning?". Apparently this time of year in this area has a reputation for lots of lightning. But these thunderstorms are nothing compared to the central Florida boomers we'd get every day in the summertime. There is very little wind (comparatively) and yes, there's lightning, but so far in "The Pool" there have been no reports of lighting problems. I think it's riskier to equipment to be at the dock in Club Nautico (in Cartagena) with the power surges there.

To all our Melbourne, Florida friends... we have no internet and no TV, so only have sketchy information about Tropical Storm Fay hanging out in Melbourne for 36 hours. Hope everyone's house, boats, and families are OK after all that wind and rain.

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Saturday, August 16, 2008

Isla Linton, Headed East

We had an uneventful trip from the Chagras to Isla Linton. Wind again too light to sail, so we motored all the way (35 miles).

Today we are headed 45 more miles east, to the beginning of the San Blas. We'll probably anchor in Chichime tonight.

There's thunder rumbling in the distance, and we've had one light rain already this morning. But I think it will burn off as the day goes on.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Nicki Aboard, In the Chagras River

Daughter Nicki and her boyfriend Phil arrived on schedule midday on Weds. They made their own way from the airport in Panama City to the Panama Canal Yacht Club (taxi-bus-taxi).

They flew on Copa ( direct from Orlando, arriving at 9:30 in the morning. That makes the logistics much easier than Spirit's arrival at 1am!

As soon as they were aboard and fed, we fueled up (a staggering $4.80/gallon) and headed for the Chagras River. It's amazing that only 10 miles from the nasty smelly city is this tropical rainforest paradise. Yesterday we took them to see Fort Lorenzo (at the entrance) and 'The Pools'.

Dave also managed a little fishing... still looking for the elusive tarpon that Mike on Gilana promised. We did see a few tarpon 'rolls', but only hooked a big jack. It was fun watching Dave fight this strong fish on his little pole with 12 pound test line... until the fish finally got tired of the fight and broke the line.

The Howler Monkeys are very active where we are anchored. Parrots and lots of birds. Dave and I saw 2 toucans yesterday while we were out fishing.

Today we head 35 miles east to Isla Linton, and the next day we hope to be in the San Blas.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Panama Canal Yacht Club

Wow we are actually here... in the Panama Canal. One of the 'crossroads of the world' for cruisers.

We managed to get dockage at the Panama Canal Yacht Club. The anchorage area, called "The Flats" isn't very safe. And it's exposed to the wakes of the ships and the tugs and pilot boats roaring around in the channel.

This time of year it is really dead here. All the people with plans to cross the Pacific this year are long gone. Since it is hurricane season up off the Pacific Coast of Central America, all the Californians are hunkered down somewhere for hurricane season (at least all the sane ones). There are still a few boats from the Eastern Caribbean dashing west, but not many. The Caribbean hurricane season is starting to come into full swing.

So, the Panama Canal Yacht Club seems pretty sleepy.

It's not a nice place. It is old and unkept. The water around us smells like old septic tanks. It is surrounded by major shipping docks... cranes, large ships, and stacks of containers. The people running the Canal Zone have been trying to shut the yacht club down for years... it occupies valuable waterfront space that could become another container terminal. So everyone knows it is living on borrowed time.

Outside the gates of the yacht club, we understand it's a war zone. Countless people have told us, "Whatever you do, don't walk anywhere. Even if it's only a couple of blocks, take a taxi." Too many cruisers have been accosted and mugged in the area just outside the gates (stabbed, shot, robbed, etc). I don't think this is unique to Panama...Just about any shipping docks in any major city in the world is the same... they just usually don't have a yacht club full of gringos in the middle of it.

We will only be here for 2 days... long enough to make a big grocery run and pick up Nicki and Phil. Then we're off to give them 2 weeks of adventure. We'll return in early September to actually make the canal transit.

We think we now know enough about the process of transiting the Canal to try to set a tentative date. We've got two friends who plan to fly down and make the trip with us in mid-September.


AIS stands for Automatic Identification System.

It is a relatively new thing on big ships, where a little black box transmits ship information on a VHF frequency. The information includes the following:

- Ship Name and Radio Callsign and MMSI
- Current Location
- Ship Type (Cargo, etc)
- Ship Dimension info (L,W,D,Dr)
- Current Speed and Direction
- Destination
- Status (anchored, underway)

This gets broadcast every few minutes and anyone with a receiver and a little software can pick it up and plot the other ships that are near you. It is mandatory for ships over a given size, and will eventually mandatory for most ships. It is currently not required (and maybe not desired) for yachts. A full-function unit costs a lot of money (over $1000). But you can buy a receiver only for a couple of hundred dollars.

We bought ours from Smart Radio when we were back in the States in June. Dave just now got it hooked up and working last night.

I had fun today playing with the programs that receive the data and plot on a chart or on a 'radar display' (see pic above). I've been playing with Ship Plotter (trialware) and Sea Clear (free).

It is a fantastic tool... significantly better than Radar for seeing other ships while at sea. With our mast-top VHF antenna, we can even 'see' ships on the other side of the Panama Canal, abourt 40 miles away (over land!).

I'll do a full detailed report in our Electronics section on the website soon.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Isla Linton, Panama

We had a nice visit in Isla Linton with Mike and Sue and son Ty from Infini.

We last saw them in February in Honduras. They are headed out for the San Blas, and we hope to hook up with them again when we get there.

Mike and Sue had been in Linton before, so they showed us around. We first went to visit with Roger and Bennie, ex-pats who have a really nice place on the bay there. They are a rescue center for sloths, and have several sloths as pets. We got to hold and play with them. They are really cute (but weird) creatures.

We also visited Panamarina, a marina in the next bay over that is all moorings. We've been hearing people for months say they were leaving their boat in Panamarina, but hadn't ever stopped in for a look. To get there from Linton, you take a long dinghy ride through the mangrove tunnels. While we were on the dinghy ride, it started raining, and it never quit raining the whole day.

We also tried to go see the spider monkeys on the island. They are reported to be very agressive if you don't give them enough food. So we took several bananas and crackers. But the monkeys were smarter than we were... they had enough sense to stay in out of the rain. We never saw them. But we did get a great shot of the Florida State Research Center sign on the falling down building (just like their football team).

Finally, we went ashore for dinner at Han's little restaurant. Still raining, but we had a nice meal and drinks.

We kept telling Ty that it doesn't always rain like this.

Both of us got up early this morning... Infini and Hiatus heading east, Soggy Paws headed west.

Sunday, August 10, 2008


Yahoo! Daughter Nicki graduated from college yesterday with a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering, Magna Cum Laude (with High Honors).

Nicki, we are so proud of you!

Big Crabs in Chichime Last Night

Chichime Anchorage Position: 09-35.25N 78-52.84W

Yesterday afteroon as planned, we left the Holandes and moved around to Chichime, which is one of the western-most anchorages in the San Blas.

We had skipped this place on the way to the San Blas in March, because the anchorage had so many boats in it. It is a good anchorage, with nearly 360 degree protection, and the usual 'first stop' for boats arriving from the west. It has a deep lagoon between two picturesque islands, and surrounded by reef. We were surprised to only see one other boat there when we arrived.

The guidebook says that there is 'no permanent settlement' here, so we were also a little surprised to see all the Kuna here. There are at least 6 or so huts scattered across the two islands. It's probably cooler and less buggy out here during the summer months. And of course it is lobster season.

We had barely gotten the anchor secured when we were visited by an orderly procession of Kuna ulu's (dugout canoes). One of the ulu's was selling crabs for $3 apiece. Now these aren't small blue crabs... they are giant coral crabs, with a 'wingspan' (claw to claw outstretched) of about 18". Just one crab makes 1-2 meals for 2 people. We bought two of them. We took some great pics of trying to get the live crabs into the pot of boiling water.

Dave Wrestling the Crab Into the Pot

Another boat offered fresh lobster. Dave bought 3 'slipper lobster' for $5. He declined the smaller 'langosta' (basically, lobster shorts). I told him later that we should have bought them all, and 'liberated' the small ones, if they're still alive.

One of the boats asked us to charge his cell phone overnight, which we were glad to do.

We gave the lobster boat, who had 2 kids in it, 2 4-packs of Oreo cookies. Of course within 10 minutes we had 3 more boatloads of kids asking for cookies. Dave told them we were out, but we'd bring them more when we came back in a week.

Kuna girl delighted with our Oreos

The last boat was an old man asking for cooking oil. We gave him a cupful in a container.

We were also visited by Venancio, one of the more famous 'Male Mola Makers'. We already have about 4 exquisite molas by Venancio, but told him we'd bring the kids back to buy one from him.

The weather here has been really unsettled... overcast and stormy looking. We had quite a bit of thunder, some lightning, and threatening clouds last night. But it finally came thru during dinner and just rained a little. There doesn't seem to be much wind in these thunderstorms... not like the 45 knot gusts we get in Florida.

We feasted on crab for dinner, and cooked up the rest and put them in the freezer.

We got going early this morning enroute for Linton, a 45 mile trip. We plan to meet our friends on Infini there for a day. We last saw them in Honduras.

Of course since we are moving west, the wind has been out of the west for 2 days. There is a low above us causing a counter-clockwise circulation in the wind patterns. But even if the wind was in a good direction, it's so light that we couldn't sail anyway. So we are again motoring.

We've been dragging a fishing line everywhere we go, and have had some luck. On our trip from Colombia, Dave caught a nice tuna. We had 'seared tuna' for dinner that night. Today we have already caught 3 fish, but threw them all back, two bonito, and one big barracuda.

On Monday we head for Colon, where we think/hope we have a slip at the Panama Canal Yacht Club for a few days. They don't take reservations, but it's a slow time of year, and Infini told them we were coming. Colon is not a very nice city, and the Yacht Club is the only safe place to hang out in a boat. We need to provision and collect Nicki and Phil when they arrive on the 13th. Then we'll head out for the San Blas again.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Mileage Update

Miles Traveled So Far in 2008: 1,829
Miles Traveled since leaving home May 25, 2007: 3,065

Total Nights: May 25 - Aug 7 439
Nights Spent On Passage: 11
Nights Spent on Anchor: 162
Nights Spent in a Marina: 266
- 'Traveling Inland': 62
- In the U.S.: 50

Back in the San Blas

We just put the anchor down in the East Holandes, after an uneventful 30 hour trip.

We managed to sail for just 2 hours. The wind was mostly in our favor us, but too light for the wave conditions. It has been blowing pretty hard NE of here, and the swells are pretty big. So the sails flop too much as the boat rolls, with big seas and light winds.

We plan to be in Linton by Saturday or Sunday, and in Colon by Monday. Daughter Nicki flies in to Panama City on Weds.

Leaving Baru for the San Blas

Motorsailing west, Current Position: 10-04.9 76-03.8

We had a nice 2 days in the 'Shalom Bay' anchorage of Baru (see waypoints below), anchored with friends on Valentina, Que Linda, and Morgan. Plus our new friends Robert and Carmen, from 'Crow's Nest' (a house they are building ashore).

Lunch in the Water

We took the dinghy trip to the town of Baru, which looked like a very poor version of a Bahamas town (poor, low-lying, mostly dark faces).

We had a nice visit up at 'Crow's Nest' on the hill with Robert and Carmen. Robert had just gotten a brand new computer with a new cellular internet card. He didn't even know how to turn it on. I helped him get it set up and hooked up to the internet. (Hail Crow's Nest on Ch 67)

Helping Robert With His New Computer

The Killer View from Crow's Nest

We also had a fun lunch eating in the water at the beach at the entrance to the bay. The locals have picnic areas set up in the water. You sit on plastic chairs and eat (with the water up to your waist). It was loads of fun.

We could easily have stayed a week, but need to get going for Panama.

Baru Entry Waypoints

CBARUa 10-07.90 N 75-43.61 W South Approach 'a'
CBARUb 10-08.39 N 75-43.36 W South Approach 'b'
CBARUc 10-10.29 N 75-41.71 W South Approach 'c'
CBARU1 10-10.78 N 75-40.48 W Beginning of Markers
CBARU2 10-10.54 N 75-40.39 W
CBARU3 10-10.32 N 75-40.36 W
CBARU4 10-10.09 N 75-40.30 W
CBARU5 10-10.01 N 75-40.25 W
CBARU6 10-09.74 N 75-40.15 W
CBARU7 10-09.82 N 75-39.46 W Anchorage

Monday, August 4, 2008

Baru, Colombia

Location: Baru LATITUDE: 10-09.83N LONGITUDE: 075-39.46W

We escaped from Cartagena yesterday about 8:30 am.

Since it was Sunday, we had to pay the Club Nautico diver ($10) extra to make a special trip in to get us untied from the bottom. (At Club Nautico they have a strange med-moor arrangement where you tie your outer end to some chains on the bottom).

Jaime, the Club Nautico Diver

Leaving Cartagena

We got diesel fuel at the Club de Pesca fuel dock for $3.65/gal and then headed out of Boca Grande towards the South. We decided to anchor in Baru rather than the Rosarios (both about 15 miles S of Cartagena), because we knew several friends were anchored there, and we'd never been there.

It was pretty bizarre coming into the bay (following waypoints from Que Linda). There is a big sandbar and all the rich Colombians are partying on the sandbar. Just like Marker 21. Except you can get a full meal sitting in the water.

The Sandbar at Baru

Our friends Sonny and Kay on Valentina have been haning out in the Baru anchorage on and off for a month. Plus Que Linda and Morgan are here too. It is a completely protected lagoon, about 20'-25' deep. They are here mainly just getting away from the 'Big City' and the dirty water of Cartagena.

Sonny and Kay Welcome Us to Shalom Bay

We spent OUR afternoon scrubbing bottom. Considering that Cartagena is the worst port Dave or I have ever been in for bottom growth, it wasn't too bad. We paid Jaime at the marina $20 about every 2 weeks to keep the barnacles off our bottom. He was mostly successful. I kept meaning to take a picture of the unattended boat next to us at the marina... it had 3 layers of really big barnacles growing.. about 2 inches off the hull. Dave had had Jaime 'bag' our prop when we first got there, so the prop wasn't too bad.

We were going to boogy off today for Panama, but our friends told us there may be a potluck here tonight at Robert & Carmen's house on the hill. We don't have to be in Panama until about the 10th, to get ready for Nicki's visit, and we could use another day to get ourselves organized for sea.

I'd like to get Dave to install our new AIS system, so we can play with it while we're underway. (AIS stands for Automatic Identification System, and ships broadcast a short message on a VHF frequency identifying them and saying their speed and direction... you feed this into your Navigation software and you can visualize the ships on your chart, and see if you and they are on a collision course).