We took several days to only go about 150 miles, but it was well worth the slow pace. With only one overnight, we were able to stop in places, see the sights, go for a swim and sleep the whole night through. You know, that whole assumption of what the cruising life will be like thing. Here are some highlights from the trip.
We hadn't even made it out of the Bocas channel when Vlad caught a gorgeous three-foot long wahoo. Or at least, we think it's a wahoo - long body, pointy snout, tiny teeth and pretty coloring. Fish identification is still not one of our talents. Anyway, whatever it is, it's delicious, and we thank the purple squid for once again working its magic. I'm telling you, our purple squid lure is the best. Fish seriously dig it.
The Topping Lift
For those of you who don't know, the topping lift is a rope and pulley system that allows you to raise and lower the boom, and while we were coming into our first anchorage at the Zapatillas, two gorgeous little islands 12 miles outside of Bocas, ours decided to come unpinned as it were, causing the boom to come crashing down onto the starboard solar panel, which magically escaped unscathed. So now we get to do that thing that all cruisers dream/fret about - climbing the mast while at sea. And we got to test out Vlad's windlass theory, which basically consists of him attaching himself to two halyards - one that he controls and one that I control - and then I wrap my halyard around the electric windlass while he attaches his to a climbing harness and an ascender, and I haul him up the mast using the power of windlass. And even though it felt a little like cheating because I didn't even break a sweat, the theory has been tested and approved.
Fortunately, there was zero swell that day, making for a smoother climb to the top, but Vlad still got tossed around up there, resulting in some scratches, bruises and just general discomfort. As it turned out, the pin that keeps the topping lift pulley attached came out but was still miraculously dangling from the top of the mast. And in another miraculous moment, Vlad was able to snag it without dropping it. High drama on the high seas, for sure.
Escudo de Veraguas
The next day we stopped at Escudo de Veraguas, another tiny island about 30 miles away from the Zapatillas, and there we stayed for two more days because the awesomeness of this island is almost too much to handle. In fact, it was such a cool place that it deserves its own post. Patience is a virtue, remember?
Bird's the Word
On our overnight trip from Veraguas to Portobello, I was on watch in the early evening, and these tiny little birds started zipping around the boat. We had seen this type of bird before and had grown to greatly appreciate their mosquito catching prowess to the point of considering inviting one to move aboard. Little did I know, an invitation would be unnecessary.
As darkness approached so did the birds. They started checking out all the available landing spots aboard Bettie, those areas suitable for roosting, and eventually settled on the lifelines after a brief flirtation with the jib. At highest count, we had eight tiny, fluffed-up birds perched on the lifelines, and they separated into snuggling pairs for the night. By the time I got up for my watch at 2:30, however, there were only three left. The weather had turned a little rowdy, and despite all of Vlad's best efforts to keep his flock intact (yes, by this point he had started referring to them as "his birds") most of the birds had decided to go elsewhere. And then there was this little guy.
Vlad had fallen asleep face down in the cockpit while we went through the Canal area in case something happened that needed both of us immediately, and one of the remaining birds decided that Vlad's back looked mighty hospitable and snuggled up in the crook of his foul weather jacket hood and his harness. Then, the bird disappeared. I thought he had flown off to join his compadres, but no. We found him an hour later on the floor of the cockpit, soaked and exhausted. Vlad gently picked him up and cradled him in his hands, where the little guy stayed for a long time.
Not to continue on about the birds, but I find it interesting how those barriers between people and animals seem to break down out on the water. It's mainly birds because no other animal can get out that far, but it's as if you both look at each other and say, you know, we really should stick together out here.
Crossing the Canal Zone in a Storm
We were told to time our crossing of the Panama Canal area to coincide with daylight. Unfortunately, we came up to it a couple hours earlier than that, and to make matters more sporting (and more Panama) there was a set of squalls dancing through that 20 mile stretch. So picture it. It's dark outside. We are in one of the busiest shipping areas in the world. There are giant boats everywhere. And we are dodging in and out of thunderheads, trying to keep the birds dry and our electronics un-electrified. In a way, thank goodness for the massive lightning bolts that kept hammering Colón because it meant we were able to scan the horizon for a half second or so for any container ships that might be lurking under a storm cloud and consequently hidden from our radar. Despite our best efforts we did hit a couple of rain storms, torrential downpours that soaked us and the birds and reduced visibility to about 15 feet, but those passed in minutes.
It was kind of intense, but, hey, I never once felt like falling asleep on watch with all that excitement.