Guess where we will be..
Three tomatoes are walking down the street- a poppa tomato, a momma tomato, and a little baby tomato. Baby tomato starts lagging behind. Poppa tomato gets angry, goes over to the baby tomato, and smooshes him… and says, Catch up.
So its been a while, but we are still safe and having a blast.
We arrived Sint Maarten (Dutch side) and haven’t really strayed very far. It is almost like last year, where we spent almost 6 months here getting the standing rigging replaced. Tho this time is very different.
Christine went back to the states and I returned to work (remotely) only to find out that my job required an Austin presence, mid-life retirement kicked.
Had already run into our friends. the Princess, the Ogre, and Ho Aloha that we met here last year, they took care of me while Christine was away. So started boat projects, all the oil was changed in all 4 engines. The Dinghy engine (gear oil), the 2 main Volvo engines, and the Honda generator (used for making water and electricity when not wanting to run the diesels). Washed the boat several times, cleaned the engine rooms. Sewed a dinghy gas cover, it was just baking in the sun so I channeled my inner Betsy Ross and it turned out okay – but it still needed some love later when I had more time. That time came, and now it has a velcro opening for refilling the tank and holes for the tie downs that keep the tank from sliding around in the dinghy. Works pretty good, for using scraps of Sunbrella Christine picked up last year.
Just before Christine returned, I had had to clean up the boat and fill up the tanks with the water maker so I went for a sail. Solo. I had moved the boat solo a few times and anchored without too many issues, including a motoring Jib sail to La Semmana, and trip to Phillipsburg to pick up 700lbs of replacement ceiling material, so why not try sailing. Nice ‘green’ day, meaning less than 20knots of wind forecasted so prefect day for full sails and what else am I gonna do. Pulled anchor went out a way from boats and raised the main sail with no real issues, other than making sure all the reefing lines ran free as I wasn’t sure what reef we had in when we last had the sail up. Set a course for Saba, an island about 25miles a way. Pulled out the jib, turned off the engines, fired up the Honda, and started the water maker.
Sailed about 18 miles toward Saba and the Port tank was full, and I just made some lunch, so perfect time to turn around. I was trolling fishing lines too, but no bites on the way out – definitely none on the way back. I went to tack the boat using the Auto Pilot’s tack feature. Well that didn’t go as smoothly as one would have hoped, I didn’t get all the way around and ended up in irons. Hmmm.. I was doing 8knots, I guess that the Auto Pilot 100 degree tack needed to be a bit more so, fell off and got it going again to try again, this time with the dagger boards down and and extra turn of the wheel. Again didn’t quite make it, but this time I was also drifting backwards and the fishing lines and teasers all ended up under the boat and around the rudders. Grabbed the dock hook and was able to untangle the mess as it never made it to the propellers. But in the process broke the dock hook, in half again – had fixed that last year too. Got the lines straightened out, and fired up the starboard engine to get around and back on course back to the anchorage. Then turned it back off and started sailing toward St Barths and noticed a couple squalls (rainstorms) on the way. Now I had full sails up and rain storms normally bring more wind and looking at the water, I could see more white caps, so pulled a reef in the main, and no sooner then the wind jumped to 26knots, pulled a little jib and all was good. No fishing lines in the water tho, thus no bites. Made it back the anchorage, full of water in both tanks and full of electricity – a great day. And now we have a new boat hook that is made from one piece of aluminum instead of one put together with a an old broom handle.
Reworked the rain catchment system on the bimini, they were forever getting taken out by flapping jib sheets because they hung down too low, found some 90 degree sprinkler fittings that were able to be customized to a hose connection and epoxied in place, so far they have lasted an should be out of the way of the flapping jibsheets when taking and rolling up the sail.
Might have found the port engine staring issue as the negative connection on the starter wasn’t giving enough juice to spin the engine over, the solenoid would throw but unless there was perfect star alignment wouldn’t always engage. I had brought an automotive remote starter button so that I wouldn’t have to hot wire the connection while in the engine room, or go up and use the key. When using the remote starter I was able to hear / see the the little arc that was happening on the negative side of the starter – pulled off the wires, re-ordered them after sanding lightly, to where the biggest wire was on first to make the most connection and hasn’t been a problem since – tho now that I talk about it, its bound to happen again. We do have that extra starting battery onboard too.
Picking up the ceiling material was an adventure in its self, I ordered 12 4×8 foot sheets of 3mm PVC sheets, 6 in beige and 6 in white from a sign company in Puerto Rico. PVC will not mold, can get wet, should last a life time, but nothing really sticks to it. After motoring the big boat from La Semana over to Phillipsburg and frantically looking through the cruising guide as to where to anchor (as we had never been there before), found a spot that seemed good, and ran off in the dingy to find the shipping company. Walked to where the containers were, asked the guard and he pointed back down the street a half mile where I came. Then a semi truck stopped and said get on, he was going there. On? Where? He pointed to the back where the trailers get connected. I jumped up there with my dolly and held on, he dropped me at the Front office, of course lunch time had just started so I had an hour to wait till they opened up in some industrial park. Luckily it was shaded, and then I spotted a convenience store. Walked over even though it was going out of business they still had a cold beer, but only Bud Light – oh well it was hot outside, the beer was cold, and it was lunch time. After lunch when they re-opened, I went in and paid $80 for the shipping, not bad at all, but the invoice said 700 lbs? Uh this little dolly isn’t going to work with 4 foot by 8 foot panels weighing 700 pounds. Its gotta just be the packing right? Went around to the back and the guy looked for the package. It was on the floor on two pallets. Uh-oh. Luckily, they said they deliver, so back around to the office to see about delivery. Lady in the front was so nice, but wasn’t sure when they could deliver, when I informed her the guys in the back said they could do it today as I was only a short distance away, they loaded it up with a fork lift and we took it in a truck down to the place I had left the dinghy. The driver helped me load the sheets into the dinghy, the sheets were so big that was almost no room left for me in the dinghy but made it out to the boat without the wind blowing the sheets into the water. Now back to the boat, how to unload to the mother ship? Two sheets at a time and used the blowing wind against the sheets as a kite, all aboard, then to find a place to store em. The boat is big, but finding 8 foot in a single location was a challenge. Each sheet weighs in at 15 lbs, so the actual weight is closer to 200lbs, not too bad.
Hiked to top of hill,
swam a shore went for a walk.
And of course celebrated the last day of work
Matt and I hired a taxi to take us to the big city of Colon. We could have taken a 2+ hour bus ride for $3 each but we wanted to do a large provisioning run and make multiple stops. A friend of ours gave us the name of a wonderful, English speaking taxi driver, Jack who took care of us! Our goal was to hit the fresh market, the Zona Libre de Colon (free zone), and Quartro Alto all in one day.
Jack picked us up at 0730 and we were on our way. It was such a nice ride being in a car rather than the noisy, bumpy, rickety bus. We were able to enjoy the beautiful rolling hillside. Panama is very lush, green, and beautiful this time of year. We passed through several coastal towns, tons of farms with grazing cows and horses, and a large national park. After about an hour and a half, we arrived in Colon.
We had heard that Colon was not safe and that we should not walk around, but Jack assured us that he would guide us in the right direction and keep us in safe areas. And he did.
The fresh market is similar to the one in Colombia with fresh fish, meats, veggies and fruits. The free zone is a massive (thousands of stores) area where you can buy just about anything duty free and tax free, and Quatro Alto is a large outdoor mall that has a huge grocery store, technology stores, and a marine store that we wanted to check out.
The first stop was a marine store. We were in need of a few basic items such as boat polish, friction rings, silicone grease, 4000 UV adhesive, etc.. and the marine store in Quatro Alto is small.
The first marine store was well organized, two story building mostly dedicated to fisherman. The entire bottom floor housed fishing gear, lures, poles, dry suits, spears guns and more. The smaller upstairs had boat stuff, but it was pretty darn small. At this store, we found boat polish and our U.V. sealant which was good.
The fresh market was next as you want to get here earlier than later to get the freshest foods. We were instructed to stay inside the open air building as it was located in a “not so good area.” Jack would have come in with us but he could not find a parking spot. He dropped us off and picked us up at the entrance. It was similar to Colombia, but much more organized and professional looking with official stands for each vendor. We did a quick walk through first before we decided which vendor to buy from – there were a lot, but we wanted to get as much as we could from one place.
It’s overwhelming because you can’t hide from the damage we do to animals Again, I do eat meat, but seeing the meat section makes me sick. We ended up buying a 9 kilo pork shoulder for $20 and lot of veggies including: 3-papaya, 3-pineapple, 2-stocks of celery, 2-cucumbers, 2-squash, 10-oranges, 5-limes, 3-green peppers, 2-red peppers, cilantro, 2-avocados, 3-apples, 4-onions, and 2-heads of lettuce for about $36. The price stunned us, but we were too busy grabbing stuff to ask for prices and we just wanted to get out of there. Either way, they were fresh and looked delightful!
Next stop, the Zona Libre de Colon. Jack did not know much about Zona Libre de Colon so we really did not know what to expect. Liquor and perhaps an iPhone replacement were top priority for this excursion. Friends told us that it might be difficult to get cases of liquor out of the zone and to ask before we buy: good plan! Jack dropped us off at a secondary gate and we went to the office to get a pass. After showing our passports, we paid $1 each and were let lose in the jungle. This place is so big that they have tour guides on the corners to show you around. There were well over 16 blocks in the clothing area alone. We found a tour guide and asked where the technology section was and he pointed 4 blocks down and 10 blocks over.
Several stores had the apple logo, but many did not sell any apple products, WTF? A few stores had the 7+ but they were more expensive than buying from the states so we soon gave up on this search.
Next we found the liquor area where we were hoping to buy a few cases of rum, vodka, and beer. We had heard that you could buy a bottle of vodka for $4. Once we found a good store, we inquired about the process. We could certainly buy the cases, but they did not know how to get it out of the free zone. Our taxi driver did not even have a permit to come into the free zone (he could not drive his car in so he dropped us off outside). If we had a connection at the gate we might have been able to pull it off, but we didn’t After discussing a few scenarios, we decided it was not worth the trouble and walked away.
An hour later, we were done with Zona Libre de Colon and a bit exhausted after walking around for a little over an hour. Now we had to find our way back to the place where Jack dropped us off. Most of the streets did not have names and did not go all the way through. We knew we needed to get back to Calle 14 and Enrique Jimenez but the later street never appeared again. After wondering around aimlessly for awhile we asked a vendor who pointed us to 3 exists. We took our best guess and headed toward the one that looked closest to where we started and low and behold we found it! Yeah.
Jack took us to Cuatro Alto to find a Mas Movil sim card, a marine store, and the market. This was a lot more civil than the free zone. We easily found a place to buy our sim card so that we now have multiple ways to try to get online while in San Blas. We have the Digicel card, the Mas Movil, GoogleFi and of course Matt’s pirate ways. Try to hide from us now, Mr. Internet!
The marine store in Quatro Alto was very, very small. Even smaller than the first store we went into and we were not able to find much of anything there. It looks like we will have to order the rest on Amazon so I can bring it back with me in January.
Supermercado Reys is the largest grocery chain in Panama and is owned by a single family. It was a very clean, orderly, and well stocked market. We loaded up two carts with almost everything on our list. We found a 750 bottle of Smirnoff vodka for $8 (not the $4 bargain we hoped for, but not bad) so we grabbed 4. I know, you are wondering if I lost my mind as it is not a potato vodka, but beggars can’t be choosers. We also found a liter bottle of Abuelo rum for $10 so we grabbed 6 bottles. We’ve heard that alcohol is very expensive on the Pacific side so we are stocking up. We could not find cases of beer or diet coke so we swung by the Reys in Sabanitas to get the last items on our list.
Exhausted, we headed back to Linton Bay and hauled our goods to the precarious dinghy dock, managing not to dump anything in the water.
It took Matt and I a few hours to stow everything. We removed all cardboard and labels from cans (prevents weevils), wrote expiration dates on all cans, bottles, jars. Cut up, vacu sealed, and labeled all frozen meats. bleached and washed all fruits and veggies, and managed to find places to store it all inside the boat.
- Beverages & Liquor
- Sim card
- Marine Store
- Fresh Fruits and Veggies
We were so tired, but we decided we deserved a reward and headed to the bar to catch the last of happy hour. The usual crew was there, “Sweet Chariot” “White Shadow” “Wandering Rose” and a few others.
It was a fun day, full of a few adventures. Colon turned out to be lovely, but we did have rose colored glasses on with the help of our new friend Jack!