Monthly Archives: February 2016

Colon, Panama–Getting Canal-Ready!

We stayed as long as we could in San Blas, but we needed to head down to Colon, where we would transit the Canal. You have to be measured, briefed, etc. beforehand so we left San Blas, overnighted in an anchorage called Linton Island (where we saw monkeys), and headed to Shelter Bay Marina the next day to do what we needed to do. Now we are in Shelter Bay awaiting our canal departure today. We have had some fun here too despite the chores we had to get done. We spent an entire day provisioning because apparently, we are not going to have a big grocery store with good prices until we reach Tahiti so everyone really stocks up big time here. It was an hour bus trip to the grocery store and we were caught up for a bit waiting for a ship to go through the canal (there is a bridge in the canal we have to go through to get to the store). After returning with the groceries, we basically spent hours trying to organize it all and find space for it. What a chore! We finished that off with dinner with Widago while the five kids, who had already eaten, stayed onboard Widago to play together.

There is a short but wonderful walk right at the marina. One day we saw spider monkeys and a mother and baby three-toed sloth, and this morning, Ali and I saw white-faced capuchin monkeys playing in the trees. I still can’t run and my ankle still hurts, but I can’t be completely sedentary!

A great picture of mama sloth and her baby.  The baby can be seen in the second photo much better.



Monkeys in Colon, Panama



Yesterday, the kids and I went on an organized trip to visit the Embera’ Indians. They are one group of indigenous people from Colombia who moved to the national forest land of Panama because of the drug cartel issues in the 1970s. The government provides them two teachers for their children two times a week (up to grade 6), but they are a people who truly live like they have for centuries. They are a peaceful culture that hunts, fishes, and gathers, and they live in elevated huts on the Chagres River. To be able to continue on their own, they allow groups to come to their village two days of the week. They truly do live rustically, but outside influence has crept into their lives as well. They have 15 and 30 horsepower outboards on their dugout canoes! At first, I thought, what a way to ruin the “real” feel of it all, but from where they pick you up to where you need to go, it is an hour up-river and they have to navigate very shallow areas by having someone pull the boat forward with a stick from the bow. When we arrived, we were greeted by a lot of topless village women and some music playing. The villagers make a lot of things by hand and some of it was quite good. They weave intricate plates and bowls, carve wood, and also make animal carvings from a nut called Tagua, which is also known as vegetable ivory. Ryan loved them so much that he bought one with his own money. The villagers made us fried tilapia and plantains and served them in a palm frond bowl. They danced a bit and explored the village. It was an interesting day, but I did feel like it was a bit “staged,” and it didn’t help that a big group of cruise ship people with an obnoxious tour guide came after we were there only about 40 minutes. Prior to that, it was only our group, so it was quieter and subdued. The other ARC folks (who transited the canal on the first day) went to the village a few days earlier and had no cruise ships. We would have preferred that. I am glad we went, as it was very eye opening to see that some people still live so primitively, but I’ll never forget Ryan’s comment when we left: “Before we came here, I didn’t know that everyone would be topless.” A ten-year old boy who was probably a bit shocked at the experience, initially, but he handled it like a travel pro!

Embera Indians, Dug-out Canoe ride to their village an hour away (on the northwestern part of the Chagres River.

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The Embera Indians cooking Tilapia and Plaintains in Leaf Bowls

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Kids at play


Ariana and 5 year old Angelina


A typical hut and kids playing hide and seek

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A staircase that is carved out of a log 


Embera Indians and ARC members


So today, we go through the canal. You can actually watch us transit the Panama Canal on their live feed, if you’re interested.   The site is:

We will be going through Gatun Locks tomorrow afternoon (the 2nd) late afternoon/early evening (approximate time after 4:45 p.m. Eastern time), and the Miraflores locks before noon on the 3rd (that is the Pacific side).

There sure is a lot to it.  Being a line handler is not going to be easy, and I may have to rely on Ariana to tie a bowline for me when the line with a monkey fist is thrown at me. Under pressure, I don’t think I can do it and she is a pro! So, you have an “advisor” onboard who will expect dinner tonight and breakfast and coffee by 6 a.m. tomorrow morning for the continuation. We will go through the first set of locks this evening (Gatun), anchor in the man-made lake tonight, and proceed through the locks on the Pacific side (Miraflores) tomorrow morning.   The advisors don’t sleep on our boat, but they are there fairly late and back again the next morning.

If you look for us on the live feed, we should be in the middle of three boats, with one monohull on either side of us.  The canal is 110 feet wide and can take ships to 106 feet wide.  They are building a much wider canal next to it so they can clear through larger vessels.  Panama is hoping it will be completed this year.

Also, I found out that a big freighter would pay about $200-$400K to go through the canal, and a cruise ship pays based on potential occupancy (not actual occupancy) and may pay about $475K.  Personal sailboats are about $2K from what I understand but the ARC fees cover our transit (and they may get a better deal because we raft up in threes and there are 30 boats).  The canal puts through about 30-45 boats per day.  Do the math.  They make a killing!  The U.S. turned it back over to Panama on December 31st, 1999, and Panama earns all of the money from it (and our Navy pays to transit too). Of course, the former President is being hunted down because he was corrupt and pocketed a great deal of money from the canal, but he hasn’t been found yet!  Apparently, if Panama does not continue operating the canal properly, the U.S. has the contractual right to come back in and take it over. Wish us luck. This should be a unique experience for the kids (and for us)!










Aha…Here is the rough passage we were told about! Our sail to the San Blas Islands, Panama and Hanging out in San Blas

Our Sail to San Blas Islands, Panama

“Woop, there it is!” Leaving out of Santa Marta, we experienced heavy winds, swells on our beam, and fast speeds. We started with a double-reefed main and our jib for the first 30 miles of our trip. It was rough and a bit precarious; we again hit 40 knots of wind but it was the seas on our beam that caused the most heartache. Finally, we were able to turn and experience the swells coming from downwind. That was a relief! Surprisingly, only Ariana got seasick, but it was bad enough this time that we had to give her a patch, which pretty much knocked her out for a day and a half. The poor girl made it down to her head and vomited all over everything in there.   Luckily, she had eaten strawberry yogurt prior to passage so clean-up was super-easy! (said with sarcasm)—hard, pink, crusted-over vomit. Another great sailing moment for the Gabiers!

The winds died down some after several hours so we decided to sail with our Gennaker, which is a large sail that is a cross between a genoa and a spinnaker. Well, when we put it up, we were on a broad reach, winds were light, and we were still making good speed. When we sail downwind with the gennaker, we have to take down the main sail, because the main sail blocks the wind and the gennaker luffs a lot and the main doesn’t buy us any additional speed.

As an aside, this was considered a racing leg with the ARC. Some legs they have a friendly competition among boats and prizes are awarded later on. You CAN motor, but that time motoring counts pretty heavily against you, so it is most beneficial to sail, regardless of the light wind conditions. The kids really wanted to try to “win” one of the racing passages, and we figured this was the one we had a shot at winning because the winds were generally heavy and coming at us from 60-120 degrees which are great points of sail for our boat—and it was only going to be a two night sail. So, when the winds died sufficiently (at one point, we were only making about 3-4 knots speed over ground), we had a family meeting and asked the kids if they still wanted to continue sailing, even if it meant arriving much later because of our poor speed. The consensus was “so what if we arrive later—let’s sail on!” So, we didn’t turn on the motors and sailed slowly for a while. Then, miraculously, the winds shifted to a beam reach, (which meant the wind was coming from our side), so we were able put the main sail back up without a luffing gennaker. And—the winds picked up… A LOT, and shifted more upwind (60 degrees off our bow). We actually ended up overpowered with our gennaker and our main sail up full (no reef), but there was no way at that point that we could bring in the gennaker safely, so eventually, two things happened: (1) the last night at 1 a.m., we blew out our gennaker. Yup. True. Our sail essentially exploded at 1 a.m. AND (2) our boat saw 18.2 knots speed over ground for a second. That’s a lot of speed for a 40-foot cruising catamaran—almost 21 miles per hour. Holy crap.   We were overpowered.

Anyway, after our gennaker was no longer usable, we put up our jib (the sail we wished we had had up beforehand), and sailed on. We arrived over the finish line before 4 a.m. and had to sail back and forth until dawn (because there was no way we were going to anchor in the coral-full San Blas Islands in the dark). The kids were shocked because before they went to bed they still thought we wouldn’t get in until about 11 a.m. because of light winds. How quickly things change!

San Blas Islands, Panama

Cruisers talk about their love of the San Blas Islands and I can understand why. There are about 350 islands and only about a seventh are inhabited. The people living in the islands are Kuna Indians who came down from the Darien Mountains long ago to reside in the area. Some of the San Blas Islands have only one family living on them, and other islands have a village of people. Our favorite was BBQ Island, which may or may not have a more formal name. The island had grass, a hut, a few picnic tables, lots of palm trees, and water volleyball. There was also a nice field for the kids and adults to get a game of stickball going. The man who lived there had a puppy and cold beer. What more can you ask for?

San Blas Islands, Panama



Kuna Indian in a dug-out canoe


One of the San Blas Islands


A beautiful San Blas beach


A Flamingo Tongue–viewed on coral while snorkeling


Dinghy ride with Widago and K1W1Beans


BBQ Island, San Blas Islands


A stickball game on BBQ Island


One of the uninhabited islands


Typical huts on a San Blas Island


The kids get along well–most of the time!


We did some snorkeling in the San Blas and that was also quite good. Ariana and Dan saw a few nurse sharks when they went, and the number of species of different fish was amazing!

Another island that was fantastic was Salardup. One family lived there and if you give them a heads-up, they will prepare dinner for you on their one big picnic table with folding chairs. Earlier in the day, he showed us the lobsters he had caught and would be serving to us, and then he killed them in front of us (which I could have done without because it is basically just chopping them up into pieces). He served it with white rice that had a bit of coconut milk in it for $7 each. We went out to eat with Ali and Guy from Widago and the very nice folks on Carango (Peter, Vicky, Richard and Tricia from Great Britain). We had a really nice evening. The only thing that wasn’t as great about this island was the little noseeums that would bite you. That’s why our kids and Widago’s three boys decided to stay on Widago for dinner and we just brought them back some lobster.

Our private dinner on Salardup, San Blas Islands, Panama with Widago and Carango


Dinner for someone!


I had a bit of an accident while in the San Blas. We went to Provenir to check in to Panama (after several days of already being there), and Dan finished the process and came back to pick me up so we could go in to meet Widago and K1W1 Beans for a beer. I was putting our passports and documents away and accidentally stepped on and rolled off of a boat hook that I left in our cockpit/companionway. My ankle twisted, I heard a snap sound, and thought for sure I had broken my ankle. It swelled up immediately and hurt like Chinese torture for a little while, so I couldn’t do anything but lie there and ice it. Peter and Vicky on Carango summarized it as: “so you fell over trying to get a beer?” In essence, I guess they’re right, but I never did get that beer!

Now it has been about a week, and my ankle still swells up during the day and hurts. I don’t know exactly what damage I did to it, and may never know because it’s not like I can get an x-ray or MRI at the drop of a hat! I haven’t let it stop me from doing things, but I definitely can’t run yet, which just stinks. The optimist in me thinks at least it’s not broken!










St. Lucia and Colombia—We are moving on!

We arrived into St. Lucia after a quick sail from Martinique on December 28th, 2015. St. Lucia was spent getting checked into the ARC rally, provisioning our boat, and solving the issues that had been causing us problems (such as our AIS, radar, our freezer, etc.). We did manage to have a day to bus it to Castries and then on to Marigot Bay, which was okay. Marigot Bay is pretty, but it is not as I remembered it from years ago when Dan and I visited.   It was MUCH more touristy, and the only really good part of being there was Dan’s interesting and much needed haircut on the beach. Otherwise, the prices were outrageous and the people were focused on targeting tourists, neither of which are my favorite things!   Castries was much more “real” for good and for bad. One of the local women on the bus told us to hide our cash in Castries—so we decided to heed her advice. But, we did see a street fair going on, which was mainly focused on selling a lot of hard alcohol at every kiosk. This was definitely different than a street fair in the U.S. but made for an interesting walk-through.

Marigot Bay, St. Lucia



Haircut on the beach


Marigot Bay


Castries, St. Lucia



Another day, the kids went ziplining with Mary Beth from Paradise Found and several of the other rally kids.   They had a great time but I don’t get the sense ziplining is the least bit exhilarating after doing it three or four times.

Otherwise, St. Lucia was mostly “business” for us (along with a handful of cocktail parties), so I was glad when we were finally able to move on and head to Colombia.

Of course, I had been dreading the sail to Colombia from the moment we signed up with the ARC. It was notoriously rough and many people from years past reported seasickness onboard their boats. I pretty much expected we would experience that as well. But, we really had very little. Only Ariana was seasick briefly on this passage. And it was calmer than I envisioned—well, up until the last few hours. Then we had the 35-40 knot winds I had come to expect.   The one nice thing was that the boats ahead had informed us of the conditions, so we had our main sail double-reefed and we were ready to be pummeled a little bit. What was REALLY strange was going from 40-knot winds to 6 in a matter of minutes. As soon as we rounded the corner into the marina, we had basically NO wind. Overall, the sail to Colombia lasted into the fifth night and we arrived at about 3:30 a.m. I couldn’t wait to sleep but we did have a quick Piton beer upon arrival.   Ariana was awake (again) but I couldn’t believe Ryan never woke up, despite being thrown around A LOT, having the lights turned on in the cabin, getting into the marina, getting into a slip, and talking to the ARC folks on the dock. Sadly, all of us could fall off the boat screaming and Ryan would have absolutely no clue. He would just wake up the next morning and wonder where we all went…

The start of the ARC race (from St. Lucia to Santa Marta, Colombia)  


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A beautiful sunset on our way to the Santa Marta, Colombia




Our dolphin visitors


Ha, ha!  And we thought this was some significant speed.  We hit 18.2 SOG (speed over ground) at one point surfing down a wave on the next leg from Santa Marta to San Blas Islands, Panama.  (We were overpowered.)


Arriving into the marina at Santa Marta, Colombia in the middle of the night.


Colombia was BUSY. The first day there we were off for a city tour. I think the man who talked the whole time was in education because all I learned besides the history of Simon Bolivar (who by the way had syphilis, tuberculosis, and was quite the ladies’ man, in hindsight, much to their chagrin) was about every private and public school in the city of Santa Marta.

The second day we had a huge ARC BBQ on a beach that was really fun (with about 130 people there). Ryan and Ariana got to play cricket, which is quite different for Americans who usually swing bats in a baseball position and drop the bat before running to base. Ryan had a difficult time hanging on to his bat.

Tug-o-War at the Beach Party.  Ariana is the second child in the photo.


Ryan playing cricket.  Before he hit it, someone corrected his stance so it was actually cricket and not baseball.


Widago and K1W1 Beans adults


Another day we went on a smaller (mostly kid boats) trip to a native people’s land along the Tayrona River (and there we learned that men sleep in hammocks while the women sleep on mats on the hard, dirt ground so they can be closer to the earth and therefore more fertile—what a load of crap that is!) followed by lunch and a lazy inner tube float down the river. Add to that a lot of happy hours, dinners and cocktail parties and that was Colombia. We were ready to depart Colombia after about 5 days, but the port captain would not allow any boat to leave the harbor because of conditions out at sea. So, we were supposed to start our next “racing” leg at noon but had to wait until 8 a.m. the next day.   That was fine, but we did lose out on a day in the San Blas Islands because of it…


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Some of the ARC boat kids (including ours)


Ariana’s photo


More Santa Marta, Colombia


Santa Marta, Colombia


Adults’ night out for dinner in Santa Marta, Colombia


A knife to the throat in Santa Marta, Colombia


Happy Hour men