Monday, April 28, 2008

Chicken Entero

We had a visit today from the 'Tienda Eide' launcha. They come out every couple of weeks to deliver a standing order from Runner (a boat hanging out here). And they bring some extra stuff for others, and make the rounds of the anchorage.

We had called them yesterday on the VHF and asked them to bring us some stuff. About half of what we asked for they said "No Hay" (we don't have it). Dave was bummed that they had no potato chips. We are completely out, including the stale chicken-flavored ones that neither of us wanted to eat.

One of the things we thought we'd ordered was chicken leg quarters. Later we realized that Dave was out of chicken breasts for lunch meat. So when they came by, we asked for 'pollo piernas y pechugas' (chicken thighs and breasts). They said 'no, solo entero' (only whole). So, well, yep, I guess we'll take it whole, if that's all you've got.

Well, 'whole' was correct...this chicken still had it's feet and head! When we bought whole chickens in Trinidad, they came with the head and feet cut off, stuck in the body cavity (which was, fortunately, empty). But this whole chicken still had his head AND his feet! Oh my god! I hope I don't have to gut it, too!!

Fortunately, they had gutted it at least (that's a health issue, I imagine).

Hmmm, wonder if any of my cruising books talk about how to cut up a whole chicken?

I set to work with a knife and was able to make some 'pechugas sin huesos' (boneless chicken breast) for Dave. And the leg quarters didn't look too bad--they went into a ziplock and into the freezer for a future meal. The rest of the pieces parts, neck, feet, wings, spine, etc, went into another bag for 'chicken stew'. I did throw the head and a lot of skin and fat overboard. So, my friends, next time you swoop into Publix for 5 minutes and buy a nice shrink-wrapped package of boneless chicken breast, think of us poor folks down here in the San Blas.

We'll let you know how the 'chicken feet stew' turns out.

We were also delighted to also find a couple of boxes of white wine in the launcha. We thought that $3 liter for boxed Chilean table wine is still a pretty good buy. No wonder some boats in our anchorage have become semi-perminent residents here.

Watermaker Project, Installment #57

We finally said goodbye to our friends on Caliente last week. They left to head north for the Rio Dulce.

So now, no more excuses, and starting to get low on water. Dave's first priority was to get the long-awaited water maker running.

We picked a good anchorage with few distractions, and anchored away from the crowd. But within cell phone coverage, in case he needed to call someone for parts or information. (In the 'back of the Swimming Pool' in East Holandes).

Dave told me he had 'only another 2 hours' to get the water maker running. 2 days later, we finally cranked it up. Dave spent nearly half a day, just re-reading his notes and making a checklist for commissioning the thing... to make sure we didn't make a mistake that would break something (like we did in Providencia).

When we finally fired it up, we were very glad to find that it was working just as expected. It started producing fresh water within about 5 minutes, and amazingly had no significant leaks (you wouldn't believe the number of hoses, valves, and connections that all have the potential to leak).

We had to let it run for an hour to get the preservative out of the membranes. In the last half of the hour, I started catching it in a bucket to do laundry with. But, at a flow rate of 35 gallons per hour, I ran out of buckets pretty fast.

The next day, we ran it for another hour to really make water. It is really good water and we are really pleased. Way better than the rusty crap we got from Guanaja, the cistern water we got from Bocas, and the river water we got from Portobelo.

Now we are just fine-tuning things. Dave is not quite sure what flow rate we can push it to without overtaxing the membranes (we have a few questions out via email to our water maker gurus). I am making a 'user's guide' on the computer, with startup and shutdown checklists, and pictures showing where the valves are. Once you understand the system, it's not that difficult. And Dave has all the valves labeled pretty clearly. But my memory isn't that great, and if Dave became incapacitated, I'd
need something to remind me what to do.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Nargana, San Blas, Panama

April 17, 2008 - Posn 09-26.63N 78-34.97 W
(Sorry, I'm a little behind in the log...)

We went to Nargana to check out the internet there. And our friends on Caliente wanted to show their guest, Sam, what it looked like.

Nargana and Corazon de Jesus are two small islands close together, connected by a bridge, just outside the Rio Diablo. It is a Kuna village that boasts an airstrip (on a 3rd island), at least one restaurant, a bakery, a small store, and a bank. About half of the houses in town are concrete block construction, the other half are more traditional thatch huts.

We had heard that the school there had internet and would let visiting yachts use it, for a $5 donation. We were amazed to find that it is a large air conditioned room in ground floor of the 2-story concrete block school. There is a satellite dish on the roof, and a server with wifi and about 20 computers in the room. When we first got there, all of the computers were occupied by middle-school children in blue and white uniforms. It looked like 'homework time' in the computer room, as there was
no active instruction going on. Quite a few of the kids had headphones on and looked like they were downloading MP3's, etc.

The connection was very slow, and it took nearly an hour to download all my mail. While we were waiting, Dave struck up a conversation with the guy in charge of the room. He is a well-dressed Kuna, and is associated with 'sea turtle preservation'. He and the turtle-huggers got a grant from the Ford Foundation to build the computer room. He said there are two others on other islands in Kuna Yala.

The main purpose of the internet trip...I found out why the IRS rejected my e-Filed tax return... my name according to Social Security didn't match the name I filed with. I never got around to changing my name officially with the Social Security Administration. TurboTax's advice was to print and file on paper. I had daughter Nicki file an extension instead, and we will handle it in June when we make a brief trip to the States.

We had a nice lunch at Nali's Cafe, where there is a decent dock to dock the dinghies. This is a typical Kuna structure... made of bamboo and sticks, with a thatched roof and basically open-air walls. (Though the kitchen was part of a concrete house). We had a nice lunch of fish, coconut rice, and salad for about $5.

We were met on the dock by Frederico, who has been the guy to 'get anything' for the cruisers in Nargana for years (I have a note about him in our Island Time log from 1995). He speaks Spanish and passable English, and he will hustle water in jugs, and take trash. He has a brother that runs the store, Tiende Eide. I think another brother, Paco, is the guy to talk to in Nargana about diesel.

The only disappointment was for Sam, who was looking forward to getting cash from the bank. (He has spent all his ready cash on molas). The bank has no ATM, and is only open in the mornings. When he went back in in the morning, they would not do a cash advance on a Visa Card. If you have the time to wait, you can get money wired to the bank, but apparently that's the only way.

We were kind of amazed to find that we had no cell phone coverage in Nargana, with either Movistar or Cable and Wireless. They do have phone booths there, but apparently no cell phone tower.

In the afternoon, we took our two dinghies up the Rio Diablo, a fresh water river. We motored up as far as we could go, and then got out and dragged the dinghies up further in shallowing river bed. When we got up as far as we could go, there was a nice pool of clear fresh water, and a very small area of semi-rapids. Sam got water buckets to do his laundry, and we filled up our shower bag for a fresh water shower later. We had fun playing in the cool water.

Late in the day after the river trip, we moved out to anchor in clean water just south of Green Island. The book did not show an anchorage there, but we had noted a large area of sand in calm water, on our way past the area the day before. We found a nice 8-10' spot big enough for 2 boats, approachable in bad light. 09-23.83N 78-37.50W

Saturday, April 19, 2008

East Holandes, San Blas, Panama

Our Position: 09-15.10N 078-40.74W

We finally secured a Cable and Wireless cell phone sim card from another cruiser, but then discovered that there is no signal for C&W in Coco Banderas. We heard a cruiser in the Holandes (10 miles away) talking about making a cell phone call, so decided to head there to make a few calls, and to be there for the Monday night Potluck on 'BBQ Island'. (Note: Holandes is pronounced Hollandaise, like the sauce).

The East Holandes has become the 'Georgetown' of the San Blas. Boats congregate there and hang out for months at a time. There are weekly potlucks and yoga on the beach. Someone is always doing something of a social nature. There is sometimes a VHF net (but not now). We already listen to 3 different SSB nets in the morning, and the 8107 'Panama Connection Net' at 0830 every morning has become sort of an extended range VHF net for the San Blas.

There were 17 dinghies on the beach at the Monday night potluck, and Dave counted 25 boats in the anchorage (that we could see).

The main anchorage area in the East Holandes has been dubbed 'The Swimming Pool' by the cruisers. There is a group of about 15 rather tightly packed boats there. The attraction is the reasonable anchoring depth (10-15') and being in the lee of BBQ Island--one of the few islands that doesn't have a permanent Kuna village.

Downwind of the Swimming Pool, in deeper water, we anchored with a group of 5 or 6 boats. Off to our right, behind another island but still within the Holandes reef system, was another group of about 5 boats. And around the corner to our left, out of sight (and not counted in Dave's count of 25 boats), were another 5 or 6 boats in the area dubbed 'The Hot Tub'. And we saw 4-5 boats anchored in the West Holandes the last time we went by there.

ALL of these anchorages have ideal anchoring conditions... good protection, good sand bottom, clear clean water, beautiful coconut-studded white beaches, and nice snorkeling/diving reefs nearby. I can see why some people have been hanging out in the San Blas for 4 years (or more).

Geek stuff (Ham Radio): Radio propagation around here has been driving me crazy. The SSB 'short skip' propagation (ability to talk to boats nearby) is terrible. So we can still talk to people in Honduras and Florida, but can't seem to hear anyone in Panama, further away than about 30 miles. Normally our radio setup is better than most boats. There are other boats that do seem to be hearing others that we can't. So not sure if we have a radio problem that's fixable, or whether it has to do with
having a backstay antenna that is somewhat vertically polarized and somewhat directional.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Mileage Update

Miles Traveled So Far in 2008: 1,209
Miles Traveled since leaving home May 25, 2007: 2,445

Total Nights: May 25 - April 13 323
Nights Spent On Passage: 9
Nights Spent on Anchor: 118
Nights Spent in a Marina: 196
(6 mos in Rio Dulce!)

Sunday, April 13, 2008

West Coco Banderas, San Blas, Panama

Anchorage: 09-31.13N 78-38.89W

We left the East Lemons yesterday and moved about 12 miles east to West Coco Banderas. We wanted to meet up with Larry and Susan on s/v Moira, whom we'd been corresponding with for awhile, but had never met.

The angle between the Lemons and the Banderas was a little too close to sail, so we motored NE into the light wind for an hour to get a better angle. This also brought us close along the Holandes, which we hugged for a few miles, to sightsee.

We were finally able to fall off and had a nice sail for about 2 hours. We were trailing a fishing line, and caught 2 small fish, a tunny and a mackerel, before we finally caught a nice 18" Spanish Mackerel (near the 30' spot that's on a direct line from Holandes to W Coco Banderas).

The West Coco Banderas are a string of 3 small islands that each look like the palm studded island on the Windows background (set your background to Azul). I wish I could post a picture of just how gorgeous it is. There are reef patches everywhere (this is a 'good light entry only' anchorage). We hopped in for a snorkel yesterday afternoon and saw all kinds of interesting things.

Best of all, there are no Kuna indians living in this island group. Though the Kuna are very nice, they do tend to try to make their living off selling stuff to the yachties. In our 3 days at East Lemons, we were visited by 4 boats selling molas, 1 old guy selling mangoes and yuca, someone trying to buy a cell phone recharge card, a guy selling very small fish, and a guy offering to work for $10/day doing boat maintenance (polishing, bottom scrubbing, etc). At least one of the mola boats, when
we declined to buy any molas, essentially begged for 'regalos' (gifts), including T-shirts, rice, onions, and candy.

While we are sympathetic with their meagre existence, we just can't support them all...

The thing we would really like to buy from them... conch, lobster, and crabs... are 'out of season' until June 1. I saw a nice fat conch myself while I was snorkeling yesterday, but left it there to grow and prosper.

Dave and I have both been in this area before, Dave in 2001, and me in 1996. But neither of us remember too many details of the anchorages. We have Dave's old guidebook, with lots of handwritten notes, and my old logbook.

Things have changed a lot since I was here. Back then, the only guidebook was a 20 page set of typewritten notes and hand-drawn sketch charts that the cruisers in Cartagena passed around. Now there are 2 good guidebooks that cover all of Panama, and have lots of detail on the San Blas.

The most populated anchorages in 1996 had 4-5 boats in them, and we spent several weeks with only us and our 2 buddy boats. Now it is not uncommon for 20 boats to be hanging out in the popular anchorages. A bunch of people have spent 2-3 years (or more) just hang out in this area year round, much the same way boats hang out in Florida and the Bahamas (but with no cold fronts OR hurricanes). Occasionally they make a side-trip to Cartagena or Colon, to reset immigration and reprovision.

It would be easy for us to hang out here for a couple of years, too. But, we have to keep reminding ourselves... "The world beckons."

More Boat Maintenance in Paradise

We stayed a couple of days in the East Lemons anchorage, helping our friends on Caliente with their engine problem.

Our cell phones no longer get a signal out here (Movistar service), so the Iridium satellite phone was invaluable in calling Panama City and Miami for parts & information.

The problem Dave and John were working on was associated with alternators and the drive shaft. Apparently John had added a big alternator some time back, but not properly mounted it, and moved some as the engine was running. The movement caused wear on the splines of the pulley that drove the alternator but also drove the water pump that cooled the engine. He dismounted the alternator (he has a generator he can use for battery charging), but needed to examine the situation closely before he continued.
Losing his engine cooling halfway to Honduras wouldn't be a good thing at all. Dave was also worried that he might damage the crankshaft, which would be a major deal to repair.

The big obstacle was that the nut holding the whole assembly together was huge, and nobody in this end of the San Blas had a socket of the right size (1 11/16). And the nut was recessed, so several clever suggestions by Dave and others to get the nut off were useless.

John finally called Arturo, the guy who runs Marine Warehouse in Panama City, and asked him to go find a socket and send it to us out here via one of the puddle-jumper airlines that fly into Porvenir. Amazingly, the socket arrived 2 days later. John still doesn't know exactly what Arturo charged him for the service, but it was invaluable.

We loaded up both crews on Soggy Paws and took a day trip over to Porvenir (about 5 miles from the East Lemons) to pick up the socket from the airport. We needed to check in there anyway to pay our Kuna Yala cruising fee. And besides the parts, Caliente was out of rum, and we were also looking for a Cable and Wireless cell phone sim card. We found a nice Kuna-run restaurant on what used to be Smithsonian Island (2 islands west of the one with the airport) for lunch.

Within an hour after returning to his boat, John had the nut off and he and Dave took a good look at the situation. They decided that the situation wasn't too bad, and that removing the big alternator, adding a big washer as a shim, and properly torquing down the nut, would make things good enough for John to make it to Honduras/Guatemala without too much trouble. We motored for about 3 hours yesterday and John says the engine seems fine now.

Also while we were sitting there waiting for John to resolve his engine problems, Dave saw another boat in the anchorage with a Tohatsu 18HP (same basic model as our 15). He went over and talked to the guy and asked to take a look under the cover at the throttle linkage. He also got a Parts Manual on CD, to complement our service manual.

The guy also said he'd had a similar problem with his motor while it was still under warranty. After a lot of diagnosing, the cause turned out to be the wires running from the throttle to the rest of the ignition system. When the throttle was twisted, sometimes, two wires touched together, causing intermittent problems. He's going to check this out soon.

Dave still hasn't had a chance to try out the new pulsar coil for the outboard that John picked up for us in Panama City. But when he took resistance readings on the new coil, it reads the same as the old one. So he isn't hopeful that it will solve the problem.

We are still (theortically) only an hour away from firing up the watermaker for the first time. That's probably job one on OUR list, once Caliente leaves and we get a few days to sit and catch up on our own maintenance issues.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Finally in the San Blas

We motor sailed east from Isla Grande to the San Blas yesterday. We left at 0700 to take advantage of the early morning calm, but even at 2pm we only had about 5-10 knots from the NE.

Leaving Isla Grande, we went out the eastern channel, which looks like a fairly wide, clear channel in the guidebook. But the combination of a very large swell, going out into the sun rising in the east, and a breaking rock somewhat mid-channel, made the passage out a little scary. Nothing bad happened, but it could have been really bad if we developed engine trouble in mid-passage.

We originally planned to stop in Chichime, the first, most convenient, stop in the San Blas. But we could see there were 10 or more masts there, and it's only about and 8 boat anchorage.

So we altered course for the 'East Lemons' (09-33.856N 78-51.51W). Again this anchorage is very crowded, but somehow both us and Caliente found a clear spot to drop anchor. It seems that there are a bunch of boats either waiting for Canal transits, or getting ready to head north toward Honduras, and they're all hanging out in the western San Blas while they wait.

It is a very pretty spot, with several sand and palm islets ringing around in front of us, and a couple of reefs. There are Kuna indians living in grass huts on the islands. And, yes, we have already bought our first mola. There were at least 3 dugout canoes making the rounds in the anchorage in the late afternoon. We managed to duck 2 of them, but the last was a very polite group of ladies, who waited patiently a little ways away from us until we finished our showers on the back deck. I bought
two nice molas, one that I liked and one that Dave liked, for $25. I'm sure we'll be buying a few more before we leave the San Blas.

Today is a rest and regroup day. I got an email notification that my eFiled tax return was rejected by the IRS. And now we are well beyond internet access. So I have to email my daughter Nicki to file an extension for me, and we'll deal with the issue when we next get internet access. Dave is over on Caliente helping with an engine/alternator problem. Maybe this afternoon we'll go snorkeling somewhere.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Portobelo, Panama & Isla Grande

We spent 2 days in Portobelo looking at forts and cannons (and trying to get our taxes submitted via Turbo Tax).

Portobelo was 'discovered' by Christopher Columbus on his 4th voyage while running before a storm. It eventually became a major transshipment point for the Spanish gold and silver from Peru and other places in South America. It was sacked a few times, first by Francis Drake, then several times by Henry Morgan, and finally by Edward Vernon. After about 30 years of trying to protect their loot from everyone else, Spain decided to move the gold around Cape Horn rather than overland via Panama. Portobelo
then reverted to a sleepy little fishing town, until the building of the Panama Canal. During construction of the Canal, the U.S. engineers 'mined' one of the old Spanish forts for the building materials for the Colon breakwater. (For more details one should look for the book, The Portobelo Chronicles by Pat McGeehee).

But there are still forts and cannons all over the place. We spent an hour in the museum in the old Customs House, and we hiked on 2 successive days up to two different fortifications on high hills surrounding the harbor.

We spent last night at Isla Grande, 10 miles east of Portobelo. We had a really nice dinner, starting with some amazing Daiquari's and Ceviche at a tiny French restaurant, and then some excellent 'comida tipica' (typical Panamanian meals) at another local restaurant. We finished our extravagant meal with desserts back at the French restaurant. We expect it to be the last restaurant we will see for awhile.

We are now motorsailing east in zero wind along the coast toward the San Blas. We expect to drop the hook somewhere in the western San Blas tonight.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

The Saga of the Sputtering Tohatsu - Part 2

March 27, 2008

Originally this was in the 'Bocas del Toro' entry, but it turned into such a tale... This is Part 2 because Part 1 was the 5 or 6 days Dave spent working on this same problem while we were in the Rio.

While we were at Bocas Marina, Dave asked around and found cruiser who was reputed to be a good outboard mechanic. Dave has already spent about 20 hours working on the problem (runs fine at idle, runs fine on a plane, but just knocks, coughs and chokes when trying to accelerate). We didn't want to pay someone to re-do everything he's already done. We needed someone who really understood outboards, and would listen to Dave, provide guidance, and let Dave do the work (both as a learning experience
for Dave, and to keep the costs down).

Dave did most of the work (with Sonny advising at critical points) and he spent the better part of two days (between rain squalls) working through the engine troubleshooting guide. (I had been fortunate to find a downloadable service manual for the exact model, finally, for only $15, and we had good enough internet here to download it (after 3 tries).

Sonny is a cruiser who lives on a small sailboat with his best friend (a cute Skipperkee). He is rumoured to have 4 degrees to his name. He works on the approach 'If I can't fix it, you don't pay'. This was perfect for our purposes, because we knew it was not going to be easy. He is also a guy who does not like to be stumped. After the first day, when they had run out of easy ideas, he called Dave on the radio several times late that night with questions and suggestions... obviously it was bugging
him that he couldn't figure out the problem. Finally they (think) they have tracked it down to a faulty ignition coil. Once we had the correct specs and some tips from the manual on how to check it, all signs pointed to a coil with not quite the right amount of resistance, which means the spark doesn't develop with enough voltage. Dave felt Sonny's input was helpful, and they'd probably located the source of the problem, so he paid Sonny $60.

Then it took some doing on my point on the computer to try to locate a coil and get it here. Tohatsu dealers are not exactly a dime a dozen around here (if you're going to cruise the Caribbean, buy a Yamaha!).

I spent several hours online and finally located a dealer with an online store in the States, with prices, who said they had it in stock (in the States). So we placed an order to be sent to Sam in California (a friend of Caliente's, who is flying here this weekend). Then we headed out cruising for a few days in the Bocas area.

We had placed a couple of requests in the comments section of the order... 'No Signature Required' on the delivery and 'Get it there by Friday' (5 working days from when the order was placed). Well, this totally UNHELPFUL place would not ship 'No Signature Required' even when we said we'd assume the risk. Since there's nobody home at Sam's house during the day, then it had to be there on Thursday instead of Friday (and we'd hope that Sam could figure out how to get it in his hands on Friday).

Now remember, internet on a boat not connected to a dock, in Panama... it ain't like having Roadrunner. We literally had to pick up the anchor and go to a wifi 'hotspot' and circle around for awhile, to get the internet connection to do the communications. Finally, after a couple of emails, on Monday morning, when we were expecting a confirmation that it had been shipped, the #$%@!&&^%!!! jerk at Online Outboards ( emailed us that he'd canceled the order because we were placing
unreasonable demands on him and they couldn't guarantee service. Talk about unhelpful!! We had just wasted 3 precious calendar days and a lot of time and were no closer to getting the part.

We spent more time online (circling in another wifi hotspot we found, seriously) trying to find a place in California that had the part (so that shipping was less of an issue), but really, the problem is that everyone wants to sell $2000 outboards, they don't want to bother with stocking and selling the $70 parts. And 2 stroke outboards are banned in California, so there isn't much demand for them there.

Finally, I got the bright idea to check to see if there was a dealer in Panama or Costa Rica. We located and called the Panama City dealer ( Wow, what a surprise. The guy spoke english, had the part, and offered to send it on a plane to us in Bocas (a common thing in Panama) for $50, which INCLUDED SHIPPING. But... we had to go to the airport and send $50 cash in an enveloped (marked 'Documents'). This is also a common thing in Panama. We did. Our part is supposedly at the
airport waiting for us this morning.

March 31, 2008

We did finally get the part in our hands, but didn't get a chance to install it and try it out until today. We were again totally bummed to find out that this ignition coil did NOT solve the problem. There is a definite different in resistance readings between the old and new coil, but the engine still has a significant acceleration problem.

John on Caliente is going to Panama City today, so we might have him try to pick up another part from Tohatsu Panama. Dave did some more reading last night in the troubleshooting section of the service manual, and found another part, the pulsar coil, that could lead to acceleration problems. It states that if the pulsar coil isn't working, the engine might run well at some speeds and not others. This resembles our problem. Maybe this is Part 3 of the Saga...

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Chagras River, Panama - Listening to the Jungle Awaken

After our overnight the night before, we had an early night last night.

I was wide awake by 5am, so I made some coffee, turned out our anchor light, and sat in the cockpit listening to the jungle wake up.

It was still pitch black when the howler monkeys started howling. We have heard howlers in Trinidad, Venezuela, and Guatemala, but here we are totally surrounded by numerous, very vocal, troupes of monkeys. I have never heard such a racket. For Nicki, lots more and closer than the howlers we heard at the sunrise at Temple IV in Tikal.

As it started getting light, the howlers quieted down and the birds started waking up. Unfortunately I am not (yet) a birder, so I can't really identify the many bird sounds I am hearing. But there is a wide variety of tropical bird sounds coming from the surrounding forest.

Right now the wind is calm and the river is glassy. I can see small fish feeding and the occasional larger fish swirling.

The sun is now up, and it looks like it is going to be gorgeous day.

Yesterday we saw quite a few birds, including the finchy-looking little grey and white birds that like to sit on our life lines. They seemed very curious about us. (With Dave saying "I hope they don't poop on the deck"). While we were tarpon fishing up the creek, we saw kingfishers and several fishhawks. And at sunset we heard and saw several flocks of noisy parrots flying overhead.

Since the departure of the U.S. Military's Jungle Warfare Center in 1999, the area has been a nature preserve, and there isn't any easy way for visitors to come here except by boat. We have only seen about 6 sailboats scattered up and down the river from us. (ie no hordes of tourists).

There are several dinghy excursions we can do from our anchorage, including Fort Lorenzo, an old Spanish fort at the mouth of the river, the Smithsonian Tree Research Center, and Gatun Dam and Locks. Most of our info is word of mouth by other cruisers, and sometimes the cruising guidebooks. For example, here is what our friends on Gilana said about hiking to the Smithsonian center:

"Go another 300-400 yards downstream on the same bank (outside of the bend) and you will find overhanging trees and a cliff with a small cave. Look out for crocodiles! There is a tire hanging as a fender from one of the rocks. Scale up that cliff and follow the markers, plastic cord and tape tied around trees. It goes to the Smithsonian forest research station."

The Gatun Dam is at the head of the Chagras River. The Dam formed Gatun Lake, which is at the apex of the Panama Canal transit.

We have a couple of days here waiting for Caliente, so we'll probably visit all of them. I can't post pictures from here, but our friends on Gilana did a nice job of posting theirs.

(If this link doesn't work, navigate there by going to and clicking the 2007 button, and Panama. The Chagras section is towards the end).

Side note: We have heard that the Canal pilots are on strike, and traffic through the Canal is slowed way down. Normally there is a week or two delay to get a sailboat through, but now boats are having to wait as much as 6 weeks for their turn. We are hoping the situation is resolved by the time we want to go thru in June!

The strike is also likely severely affecting commerce, as the freighters are also stacked up on either side of the Canal (we could see them anchored outside Colon in the 'overflow anchorage' just before we entered the river). When working at Globe Wireless, I was told that the cost of idling a freighter for a day is about $10,000. The strike is costing somebody some significant dollars (which eventually gets reflected in the cost of the goods you and I buy).

Rumor has it that the pilots make about $250K a year, and work 10 days on and 40 days off. And they think they're not getting paid enough. (But I don't know the details of the strike... no internet here in the jungle).

Anchored in the Chagras River, Panama

We crossed the river bar about an hour ago, following the instructions in the 10 year-old guidebook Dave has, and some 5 year old waypoints. As always, the anticipation was worse than the actual thing. We had good conditions and good light and it was easy. The shallowest water I saw was about 12 feet.

Once over the bar, the water deepened to about 30 feet from bank to bank. We just followed the river up about 5 miles and anchored on the 2nd left bend, as advised by our friends on s/v Gilana. Mike on Gilana hooked a Tarpon nearby, and Dave is hot to try hooking one too.

Gilana told us to 'watch for crocodiles'...apparently there are fresh water crocs milling about in the upper reaches of the river.

We had radio contact with Caliente on SSB this morning (who are in Colon, just over the hill from us), they arrived there yesterday and are doing some shopping and waiting for their guest to arrive.

We're not sure VHF will work between here and Colon (but haven't tried it yet). We have no internet but DO have tenuous cell phone service on our Panama Movistar GSM sim card.

We'll be here in the river until at least Friday.