Hi All, A note to say thank you for messages you posted on message board.  We appreciate the contact and keep them coming.

Prior to leaving Cartagena  the skipper was checking out with the office of Club Nautico, before opening the door happened to look in the window, one on the local workers was being attended to by two old woman one was rubbing him down with an egg while the other was holding a lighting candle and both were chanting.  An American joined me briefly at the window commenting, “Gad purification” My faith in science gripping the minds of the masses slipped a fraction. 

Walks along Pedro de Hederia, markets were scary because of their sheer size and density consisted of the poor selling to the destitute. We are overwhelmed by the desperation and the noise and realise that we are the only gringos about. Further down were lines of very small outlets selling services for cars, motor bikes, bicycles and just about everything imaginably, each outlet specialising in a specific part , one selling just engine belts, one just filters and on and on, we got loads of bits for the boat.  We had unfortunately hailed a taxi to take us there, showed the driver the address in Spanish and assumed he knew where he was going, bad mistake! He sped off in what we knew to be the wrong direction, he is saying “Centro” we are saying NO NO NO and pointing back the way we came.  He eventually hijacks a pedestrian who reads the address and tells him where it was, it then dawned on us that  he could not read at all. We finally arrive at destination he demands $50,000 Colombian  Pesos, major row develops we offer the correct direct fare $6,000 Col. Ps a crowd gathers, a multilingual peacemaker appears out of the spectators, $15,000 Col Pesos is finally agreed. Moral of storey all fares to be agreed prior to boarding, we will learn eventually.

One of our last walks around Cartagena takes us to the ‘Palace of the Inquisition’ a beautiful building with a sordid past, now a museum of torture instruments where those unfortunates not fully compliant with church teaching were broken on the rack, garrotted, guillotined, or their heads and limbs slowly crushed by devices that could only be dreamed up by the truly devout. The person responsible for this museum which is a worthy reminder of the past, obviously had a sense of irony as they were also running a Darwin exhibition. That lifted the spirits of the skipper no end!. That final evening in Plaza de San Pedro was an open air concert of massed choirs and a symphony orchestra playing Mozart’s requiem, the setting and the piece were truly fantastic. A very fitting fare well to Cartagena.

17th January 2010;  16.45 we exit over the sunken wall and head into a lumpy sea with a fresh wind from the NNE, during the night the wind steadily increases as does the sea, a rough hot ride with all ports shut resulting in sleeping difficulties at 30deg temps inside boat. On 19th  January we arrive at first light off the Kuna Yala, a vast archipelago on Panama’s Caribbean coast composed of over 340 unique islands, and home to the Kuna Indians who do not accept the Spanish invaders given name of San Blas. We had intended to motor in through reefs using our chart plotter and all our navigation gizmos as a number of yachts have come to grief here, however, the engine failed to start !!  We had let the batteries drop below the critical level and our separate starter battery was kaput.  Carefully, we sailed in through the reefs and picked a fairly easy anchorage which might enable us to anchor under sail, this we managed to do getting the hook down in the first shot, launched the dingy in record time and got a second anchor down.  When the sun and wind picked up during the day our batteries recharged and our engine came back.   Out of the blue sails ‘A Lady’ Stephen and Aileen Hyde’s Oyster56 with a party of Cork men on board. We swap all the crossing stories over a beer and catch up on some home gossip.

The islands themselves are picture post card, white sand, palm trees overhanging and are all only a meter or two over the water level, many of the islands have been lost already.  If the sea levels should rise it must be the end of the island living for the Kuna Indians. The Kunas are physically small rivalled in shortness only by the pygmies, but are well proportioned and look very healthy. The mainstay of their economy is coconuts. We go ashore to the small island of Miriadiadup  where three generations of one family  live in two huts made from renewable, fast growing materials, the floor is sand, the walls made from cane and the roofs from palm, the only furniture are the hammocks they sleep in and a few plastic chairs.  Kuna Yala is a matrilineal society, the women control the money, choose the husband, who moves into the women’s family holding.  The Kunas are forbidden from marrying non-Kunas upon  penalty of exclusion. The women make money  selling ‘molas’ which are appliqué pieces, complex pattern cutting and stitching which have to be examined minutely to fully comprehend the level work involved to produce one – they paddle  out in their ‘ulus’ (dugout canoes)  to visiting yachts to sell their molas , they don’t say much, are very pleasant, dressed in beautifully coloured clothes and are persistent – the  dollar usually changes hand.   The men go in their ‘ulus’ fishing in the mornings – stress they say does not exist !!

Every village in the larger islands has three Sailas (chiefs) these being the guardians of the Kuna knowledge.  The Sailas congregate every evening in the “congresso”  (the biggest hut in the village)  in the centre of which are 3 hammocks for the Sailas to lie and  listen to the complaints of the people seated on hard seating – the Sailas rarely speak directly or give direct orders but communicate with Argars who are powerful personalities interpreting the Sailas wisdom.

The Indians are indeed very unique in that they have not been Christianised and generally live with no, electricity, TVs, radios and almost nothing that they do not make themselves.  Their canoes are still ‘dugouts’, the only concession to the modern world that we could see was clothes and the Yamaha out board engine.

21st  January 2010;  So chilled out at this stage we don’t even hoist the sails and motor the few miles to the further stunningly beautiful islands of the Chichime Cays. Snorkelling, one could inspect the bedding of the anchor 36ft. below, this  inspection turned into something special as a large stingray slowly flapped by.  We explored the islands, took lots of photos and that evening went for a few beers in the local Kuna Indian run bar. One large table with benches around, an adjacent Fridge-freezer run by a single little Honda generator which also powered the single bulb over the gringos table. A bottle of beer cost 1US$ , no other drink available, Kay was finally on the beer. After a few more days of this paradise we pushed on.

23rd January ; We sail  west towards Panama, the wind, for the first time since the Spanish coast, allows us hoist full sail and with an easy swell provides one of the most pleasant sails we have had in quite a while.  We break the journey and duck in behind Isla Grande for the night, this a lovely spot with good holding, v. slight swell and its nearby anchorage at Isla Linton where the monkeys are the only permanent inhabitants and come to visit at night appearing v. friendly sitting on you and eating out of your hand and only becoming upset when they realise you are leaving and can then bite ! ! 

24th January;  Leaving the anchorage of Isla Grande we pass to the starboard of Isla Drake and the town of Portobello, from this port, tons of gold and silver, won from the backs of the broken and decimated Indians, flowed to the commercial capital of the Spanish empire, Seville. Between 1574 and 1702 forty-five fleets of galleons were sent forth, none of which carried less than thirty million pesos of riches.  Here, Henry Morgan and Francis Drake grabbed  the Spanish bootie.  Between them all and the associated havoc they brought the third world was bled to feed the 1st– Drake eventually died here of disease and was buried at sea off Isla Drake. We, unfortunately, had not the time to visit – this part of the world deserves much more time for discovery.

Arriving off the Cristobal Colon entrance in a sea and wind that had returned to  what we were used to’ boisterous’, we called  Port Control on VHF for permission and directions , we were being passed from one controller to another our VHF took that specific time after 12 years to blow the fuse. Not being possible to attend to such matters as large to very large ships were everywhere some on anchor and others passing tight  we pressed on regardless for Shelter Bay Marina.  The marina being full we anchored and awaited a dock becoming available.

Every morning a bus provided by the marina leaves for Colon city for shopping and check-in with customs and immigration. The check-in was an amazing paper chase going from one decrepit office to the next none of them marked, filling in mounds of paper. It would appear that procedures change every day and require to be approached with resolute stoicism.

3rd February 2010.  We have awarded Panama 1st prize for Red Tape on check-in and procedures to transit the Panama Canal . All forms and measuring done for canal transit,  we travel (by taxi) through the most dangerous city in the region with US$1,500 cash to lodge in a bank which does not give out cash  and hope that if we get through the canal without infringing any  of its rules we can get US$850 back. We are given date of 15 February for Pylades transit and handed a set of requirements: to engage ‘4 line handlers’ buy or hire 10 car tyres and 4 lines, each 125ft in length. Have on board a working toilet and a whistle or horn! The transit will be over 2 days, we will have an ‘advisor’ on board, he is to be fed and have fresh drinking water and shelter from sun and rain. 

The prom dresses online for party is very significant for the bride. The prom party atmosphere will not clearly be felt when the bride doesn’t wear any special dress for prom.

13th February; we haul-out at Shelter Bay for a cleaning, antifouling and anode changing and general look at the hull –  work flat out in the heat and Pylades looking good is returned to water 3 days later. Now we are up alongside a large motor yacht, crew gave value at US$25Mil, we observe an ongoing strange  behaviour of immaculately dressed crew both male and female constantly polishing and cleaning an absolutely spotless boat.  This phenomenon is repeated in every harbour a thousand times over, the other part of the non equation is that in the stifling heat this large motor yacht will run its generator all night to keep the air conditioning running, while those without air conditioners are choking on the diesel exhaust fumes. It leads at times to an exchange of opinions on rights!  We briefly met the owners of this mega yacht and ascertaining that we were from Ireland asked if we know Tony O’Reilly, not personally  we reply, then you must know the Smurfit’s ! Ireland is perceived to be a very small place

15th February; Transit day at 15.00 we are boarded by our line handlers : Pat the tough single handing English woman, Henric from Sweden, and Laura part Italian and Venezuelan and of many languages, K will also be a line handler. We motor out to the flats and immediately are boarded by our pilot / advisor, Freddie, jovial. We raft up with two catamarans on our starboard side and enter the first lock behind a medium sized freighter.  Lines are thrown down by the ‘monkey-fist throwers ‘which we attach to our lines and all are pulled back up and secured, much to-do with engines forwarding and reversing, finally we put engine in neutral. Boiling turbulence as the lock fills and we rise 25ft. This is repeated three times before we steam off into the Gatun Lake and tie to a mooring buoy for the night.

16th February;  Rise at 06.00 to spot lights and pilots boarding, minutes later we are steaming for the Miraflores locks 30 odd miles away. Our advisor this day is Milano, a very professional charming man.  We apparently have to enter the locks  at 11.00 – our speed is good and in fact have to slow down to await boats coming behind us – the journey through the raised artificial lake is wonderful with lots of information from Milano,–with baking smells wafting from below as K does the catering.

The scale of the entire canal system begins to dawn on one as we progress. We reflect on the  30,000 workers who died during the construction of the whole system, mainly from malaria all to  serve the interests of commerce to cut its losses and costs on the Cape Horn route, one can bet that it was never envisaged that it would also serve the interests of the cruising sailor.  At 11.00 we lock into the first of the three Miraflores locks and drop the 75’ until the final gate opens and we are at Pacific level.   We break up the raft and motor to the gigantic Bridge of the Americas, there our pilot departs, we pass under the bridge . With our hearts in our mouths head out into the broad expanse of the Pacific.



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Posted: 3:26:41 PM - 2/19/2010

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