We postponed departure from Colombia because Arrrr Boy was running a fever... and fevers are no fun for either a five year old OR his parents, so we stayed a bit longer in the lovely walled city of Cartagena.
I decided to make the most of it by visiting a dentist office near the anchorage in hopes of getting a quick fix on a lost filling from one of my teeth. I arrived at the office just before noon and the dentist (another beautiful young woman) asked if I had made an appointment. I plead my case and she asked me to lay down for a quick assessment and an X-ray. She asked me to return at 3:00 for a root canal and filling. Root Canal?! Don't these take weeks and thousands of dollars to perform?!!? It hurt just thinking about it!
I returned promptly in three hours and was directed to lay down in the electric chair and open wide. Novacaine and my iPod numbed my skull and eased my mind and the entire procedure was completed in two hours. Total cost for the examination, two X-rays, root canal, filling and everything came to just over $200 USD! And I was done in time to attend the once-a-week happy hour(s) gathering at Club Nautica! Two Hundred Bucks! Last time I had a root canal (in Guam) my co-payment was $1200 out of pocket... and I had full medical & dental insurance!
And, Boy-O-Boy, they have some high quality novacaine in Colombia! My face was numb all evening! Somehow I managed to avoid drooling my beer while engaging in meaningful conversation with our fellow sailors at the social gathering.
We departed the following morning bound for Panama's San Blas Islands - 200 miles west, where we were to meet an old high school friend and his date. The passage greeted us with head winds and current which made sailing pointless during the entire passage. However - we did keep the mainsail hoisted and sheeted tightly to act as a roll dampener. The 200 mile passage took 48 hours and we arrived at the island of Porvenir with our friends waiting on the dock. After checking in we loaded-up, weighed anchor and moved five miles east to a pristine spot in the Lemon Cays and spent the afternoon snorkeling, drinking rum and negotiating the best deals on brightly colored molas and big fresh lobsters from the Kuna Yala who came alongside in their canoes.
Jeanne - I tried trading fish hooks, tinned food, mirrors & marbles with the Kuna but it seems now-a-days they are only interested in trading their things for good ol' US Green-Backs. I even offered to trade my spare Leatherman Tool for two HUGE lobsters and a king crab... but the guy insisted that he'd accept nothing less than the $10 he asked. The Leatherman cost me $75!
The highlight of the San Blas Islands came with the arrival of three young Kunas whom my wife had invited out the previous day. They arrived aboard Gallivanter with a sack of cold Balboa Beers and the plesant afternoon soon gave-way to a delightful evening of strumming guitars, telling stories and singing under the stars and gentle sea breezes. One of the fellows had the facial features of a classic Mayan stone carving. It was a fantastic cultural exchange and an evening we'll never forget.
The 220 mile passage from the San Blas to Bocas del Toro delivered even worse conditions than the previous passage by increasing the current velocity and the onslought of wind-driven rain (quite heavy at times) forced us to shut and dog all the hatches and kept everyone cooped-up in a humid saloon below. I played our Captain Ron DVD to ease their misery. Das Boot followed to show then that things could be worse. For the very first time in the 14 years since leaving Hawaii - my wife and Aye needed to wear foul-weather jackets AND pants while on watch. The wind was on the nose and our best efforts to sail only resulted in a course made good perpendicular to our destination. So we motored, hard, the entire way... except for the two times I had to go over the side (in harness teathered to a cockpit winch) to clear the prop of giant wads of weed which brought our speed from less than three knots to less than zero. All along the Mosquito Coact, we encountered floating debris as large as trees as a result of the torrential rains which were battering all of Central America, causing the most severe and broad ranging flooding and landslides in local memory. At our rate of engine speed, we should have completed the passage in 36 hours. Because of the foul conditions, the passage took 57 hours.
But we did manage to land two nice, big Mahi Mahi.
We arrived in the safe harbor of Bocas del Toro, Panama right at dusk on the evening before Thanksgiving and were rewarded with the best tasting cheese-burgers any of us could remember eating, at the Bocas Yacht Club. We were exhausted... and happy to be alive.
We met my sister & her husband there the following morning and the nice folks at the yacht club graciously invited all of us to join-in at their annual Thanksgiving feast later that afternoon. They even had American Football showing on a wide screen TeeVee... so we were made to feel right at home among friends and family. Very nice.
Our arrival landed us right in the middle of a huge disaster relief operation as countless trees are down, roads washed out, bridges collapsed and remote villages isolated from Here to Honduras. There's a near constant flow of US military helicopters flying in and out with cargo nets slung under them delivering aid in every direction. There's no gas or diesel fuel to fill our empty tanks, food is in short supply... and it's still raining. But we still have some fine Mahi filets in the freezer and I have no reason to complain.
Given the circumstances... life aboard a sailboat in Panama is pretty plesant.
I look forward to seeing the sun again.