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May 9, 2013


Dear Friends and Family,

More than a week has passed since we arrived home at our dock.


It has taken me awhile to get to writing this.   That may be an indication that we are getting back in to the swing of being land lubbers quickly as we have hit the ground running on getting back in our our land based life.  Before I get in to that, let me recap the trip.

It was disappointing that we lost our ability to send e-mail while en route to Florida but luckily, we didn’t lose our ability to use the radio to contact people directly.  When the modem went out on us, Rob contacted a HAM radio net that is on line about 20 hours a day each day.  These HAM operators from all over the country are happy to do what they can to help.  The one we contacted made a phone call to our daughter Lisa to let her know that the reason we were not in contact was a malfunction on the radio and not a problem with the boat or us.  Craig was able to publish that as well so hopefully no one worried when our little balloons showing our progress didn’t show up.

Over all, the trip went well.  The draw back, if you want to call it that, was that we actually made much better time than anticipated and as we made our turn more easterly, the winds had not clocked around as fully to the south east as they were projected to do if we had been about 12 hours later.  But the winds died down as projected so when we did get too close to the wind to sail, and started the engines, we were not in too uncomfortable wave conditions to manage it.  All in all, it was a great weather widow and we were glad we took it.

We did about the last 24 hours with the sails down and strictly motoring.  Of course we would have preferred to sail in but with changing of direction necessary, we knew that motoring was likely.  We were able to sail the other 5 days of the journey which was really wonderful.

We had several days of stronger waves but over all, it was an easy trip.  It is not something that is that hard to do but it is not the fun part of the cruising life style for either one of us.  Over all, the boat performed very well this year.  Rob will go in to more detail on that in his final report.

I did want to share a picture of the birds that joined us to rest along their way.  Here is one of them.


I also wanted to share the two Panama flag we have.  The top one is for the country of Panama and the one under it is for Kuna Yala.  They also have a different flag from the revolution that you can also use.  What is interesting about the Kuna flag is that it looks like it has a swastika on it.  Actually, this one is backwards and is a symbol that had meaning long before it became associated with Hitler.  It has no connection to that time and does not denote hatred and genocide.  It still makes me a little uncomfortable to fly it though.

P1080686When we left Panama, we took down all flags because we didn’t want them beat up.  We arrived about sundown on Monday the 30th of April at the entrance to Charlotte Harbor and anchored at our favorite anchorage there called Pelican Bay off the island of Cayo Casta.  It was very peaceful there that night.  The boat didn’t move at all.  HOW WONDERFUL!  A young couple saw us arrive and set anchor and as they were going around the anchorage on their dinghy, they asked us where we had come in from.  You can imagine how surprised they were to hear us say Panama!  It was cool to tell them that though!  We enjoyed sleeping at the same time that night.  For a week, we had one of us sleeping and one on watch.

The next morning, I raised our boating club burgee


to fly under that flag on our way back home.

Just before coming in to the canal system in our community, we saw some very strong rain.


With our radar, we could see that it was localized and moving away from us so we slowed down a bit and by the time we were in the canal system, it had just passed us by.  Luckily, we had not really been through anything like that during our whole trip and were glad we didn’t have to make land fall in the pouring rain.

Because no one knew for sure when we were arriving, there was no welcome committee but our house sitters took care of that before they left our house.


They left the house in perfect order and always leave little things around for us to find.  It makes coming home a treasure hunt!

We made it in before lunch.  I had lots of left over food so no problem eating.  We did go out and get some fresh things later though.  We have had no problems adjusting to being back on solid ground, not even dizziness after being bounced around for several days.  I think the sleep the night before helped with that.

We went to visit our grandchildren the next day and it was wonderful to see them and catch up on the changes in their place and their lives.  They will come join us at our place for Mother’s Day.  They have not seen the boat for 2 ½ years so they will probably want to check that out.  Rob is looking forward to letting the older kids drive the dinghy.
Lisa is doing well and the baby is due on June 2nd.  Less than a month to go.  It is nice for us to know we are back in time and also to get our selves sorted out before the blessed event.

Just the 7th, we had a great niece born.  Her name is Bonnie Evelyn named after her   grandmother and great grandmother, my mom.  Both outstanding women so the child has some real support in her growing up.  Our little one will be Melissa Jane and she will join a family that is already very full of love.  You can see them here.


You can see where we will be spending a lot of our future time.

We look forward to a trip to Nebraska for our yearly family reunion over the 4th of July when we will celebrate my Dad’s 101st birthday.  Last year he got a lot of cards that said 100 on it, I am not sure how many they make with 101!  He is in great shape and we don’t see an end to these birthdays any time soon.  He has already announced that 125 sounds like a ripe old age and I tell him that he is limiting himself with that statement.

We have a lot of things in mind to do from here that involve travel but we will be keeping the boat for awhile longer and enjoying local cruising and going a little further afield some of the time.  I will let you know if we do another blog if we do an extended trip again.  We are looking forward to working on our “What’s next list.”  Right now though, what is next is to stay around and enjoy our friends and family right here in our corner of paradise.

Thank you for coming along on the journey with us.  It has enhanced our experience and I hope it has been something that has enhanced your knowledge some of the time too.  We only just scratched the surface on the places we visited which is the frustrating part of life.  We only begin to glimpse what is there and then we move on.  Still, it was a glimpse we would not have had otherwise and we are very pleased with the years we have been doing this.

Now you can read Rob’s final words on this trip.

As Sue said, the boat and all its systems performed well this year.  Here’s a complete list of the problems and remedies.
Freezer door had started to come apart last year.  We paid a shipwright in Bocas to repair it over the Summer.  Mainly cleaning up, then gluing and screwing parts back together.
RayMarine depth sounder went out as soon as we left the dock in Bocas.  We used a lead line on the bow, and a hand held depth sounder (looks like a flashlight) on the back steps to confirm depths before anchoring.  Charts were very accurate for sailing between anchorages.  A month later Sue’s sister and her husband brought down a new depth sounder display and transducer.  I replaced the display, and everything worked.  Ten years earlier I had bought the hand held sounder, and was starting to wonder if it was worth it.   After this experience, I was very happy to have it on board.
We have lots of solar panels.  In fact so many, that as long as the Sun shines, we don’t need to run an engine.  The solar panels are controlled by a Xantrex brand voltage controller that’s in a closet.  The controller has a remote monitoring display panel that is by the navigation table.  I thought the controller had gone bad, and replaced it with a spare.  Then that one went bad.  I had a second spare, since we are so dependent on solar.  That one also showed error conditions.  I eventually unplugged the remote monitoring panel, and after that everything worked OK.  I’m glad I didn’t throw my “bad” controllers away!
The freezer/fridge stopped cooling.  You can imagine what a disaster it would be to loose all our cold and frozen food.  I traced the problem to the electronic thermostat, and then to a wire that had gotten pinched when the door was repaired by the shipwright last Summer.  I ended up duplicating the work we had paid for.
Our 13 year old microwave stopped working before we left the dock at Bocas. We traveled about 150 miles by bus to buy a new one, as well as groceries.  The new microwave worked for 2 minutes and stopped.  We were able to ship the defective new one back and get a second new one.  The only problem is it doesn’t fit in its cubbyhole hole properly, and all the labels are in Spanish.  We’ll get a new one that fits in the cubbyhole hole and speaks English, and donate the Spanish speaking one to someone who it can speak to.
The boat’s fresh water pump accumulator tank bit the dust, primarily because of old age.  The rubber bladder apparently sprung a leak.  To get a boat specific brand from stateside would have cost $140 plus international freight.  I found one in a Panama hardware store for $20 and can’t tell the difference.  Because of the accumulator tank going out, the pump cycled whenever we ran the water.  This caused the pressure switch to burn out.  I replaced the switch with a spare.
I replaced our old, dim, LED running lights with new LED lights.  I did this in anticipation of the trip home.  They may advertise the lights last for 50,000 hours, but they go dim after several hundred hours.
On the way home, one of the mainsail’s brass slugs that attach it to mast broke.  The sail continued to work well, but with increased load on the remaining dozen or so slugs as well as the mast track.  I could have fixed it underway with a spare slug,but didn’t want to take the sail off the boom to do it while the boat was underway and rocking.  Had it happened our first day out of Panama I probably would have repaired it.  However, knowing that we would be motoring within the next 24 hours, chose to fix it when we got home.
Due to some repairs in Guatemala last year, the line cutters didn’t exactly line up properly on one of the propeller shafts.  I didn’t think it was that big of a problem until I examined the cutters the beginning of this year.  Because of friction in the cutters, parts of them over heated and are melted, and will have to be replaced if I decide to keep them.  So for this year I took the damaged cutters off, and everything else has been OK.
Our head (toilet) is electric, which means you press a button and all your problems go away.  At least that’s what’s supposed to happen.  It seems the incoming water line is loosing its prime, and not getting adequate water to the toilet to allow it to flush properly.  This has been a developing problem and only this year became serious enough for us to be concerned about.  I suspect it’s an old joker valve in the vented loop that has lost its pliancy.  I’ll order a new one and see what happens.  Otherwise, it’s a loose hose connection or cracked hose somewhere along the line.  We worked around this problem by holding a finger over the vented loop’s joker valve area while pressing the flush button.  This created more vacuum so the pump would prime properly.   The other option would have been to use the other head on board.
I had to modify some electrical connections on the water maker.  No big deal.
As Sue mentioned, about three days before getting home, we lost our email capability.  A fuse had blown deep inside our Icom 802 radio when the wires connecting it to either the modem or the computer apparently shorted out.  I replaced the fuse once, and it immediately blew again.  At that point, rather than tempt fate, and maybe loose the use of the radio entirely, I decided to unhook the modem and computer from the radio, and just use it as a plain radio with a microphone for the last three days of the trip.  Other than that glitch, we had one of the strongest signals on the Western Caribbean the entire year.
In addition to the above, I replaced one fan belt, one head impeller, and performed scheduled oil and fuel filters maintenance.

I have written too long already, but here are some figures that may be of interest to some people.

We had a very good sail on the way home.  Over 5 days, pretty much strictly sailing (not motor sailing) we made these miles in 24 hour consecutive time periods.  150 miles, 158 miles, 175 miles, 159 miles, 173 miles.  Most of these were with some help from favorable currents, though.  I would guess the currents were from .5 to 1.5 knots.  To a large extent we were in these favorable currents because of Chris Parker, a weather forecaster that we would speak with every morning.  He would give us  recommendations of where the currents were most favorable.  This entire year has been the best year of sailing we have ever had.

Total miles traveled this year were 1,969.  1,262 of them were the trip back to Florida.  Port engine was run 138 hours, Starboard engine 118 hours.  About 30% of these hours was with both engines running.  The other times we ran on only one engine, which is what we prefer to do, except in rougher seas.  The generator was used for 119 hours.  This is high because we had lots of cloudy days, so ran the generator to keep the batteries up to run the water maker.  Water maker hours were 209, which means we used about 2000 gallons of water over six months.  For a cruising boat, this is high.  However, many homes in the US use this amount is a month or two.

Since our first longer cruise to Key West with our boating club in 2001 we have cruised just over 20,000 nautical miles on long distance trips.  There have been lots of shorter trips through the years,  but I did not keep track of mileage.  For reference, a trip around the World in a cruising boat would be about 24,000 nautical miles.

I still have all my fingers, and can honestly say I never had to put on my really grubby clothes to do a dirty job, because there just wasn’t that much to be done.  The boat did great!


One more comment from the Admiral.  I am so proud of how Rob has come to understand all the various components on the boat and has made sure we had spares and could diagnose and repair almost everything.  This has been a learning process since we have had the boat but it is so comforting to me to have someone aboard who can make our cruising life self sufficient.  Only boaters realize how often things can go wrong on a boat.  It is this way for all boats with multiple systems and if you can’t take care of things yourself, you are less safe, more inconvenienced, and have a lot less money left in your wallet.

We also need to give thanks to our son-in-law Craig, our blog master.  With internet connections that we had, even if I knew how to do it, we could not have gotten the information on to the internet and certainly, no pictures.  Craig is a very busy man and I know he spent some late nights getting things out.  I didn’t always make it easy on him either.  He has enhanced your experience and our memories!

P1070297Fair Winds,
Sue and Rob
At home in Punta Gorda

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Dear Friends and Family,

We arrived Monday the 29th at Pelican Bay at the mouth of the Boca Grande Pass in Charlotte Harbor and anchored for the night about 8 p.m.  It was a motor for the last 24 hours because of the wind direction and low winds but that was OK.  We knew that was likely ahead of time.  We had a very calm anchorage after bouncing around on our 6 day non stop journey.  We made very good time, expecting the trip to take close to a day longer.  We woke up refreshed this morning and got underway about 8:30 and arrived at our home dock about 11:30.  We have been making phone calls, looking around the house and checking the e-mail.  It is time to go get the license plate for the car and stop at the grocery store.  Lots of food left on the boat but nothing fresh.

Tomorrow, we will go visit the grandkids for the day.  Can’t wait to see everyone.  Then on to getting back in to the swing of life as a land lubber.  Give us a few days to publish a final chapter but in the mean time, WE ARE HOME!!!!!

Sue and Rob

Back in Punta Gorda, Florida

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Radio Update – May 28, 2013

Hello all,

Rob and Sue (aboard Catalyst) have asked me to forward the below information on their location at ±16:02 UTC, on the amateur radio HF frequency of 14.300 MHz. The USCG Amateur Radio Net had just started their Saturday morning one hour Net.

KG4QFO Captain Rob says:
Lisa, please call Julie and ask Craig to post this important information to the website.
Location: Cuba
Position: (22°-17’N x 085-16’W)
#1: All well aboard Catalyst at noon EDT Saturday
#2: The digital WINLINK email and position reporting software has failed.
#3. No more email or position reports are forthcoming.
#4. Voice radio communications on VHF and HF radios are still satisfactory.
#5. Estimated Time of Arrival: Punta Gorda, FL, Tuesday, April 30, 2013.

Hope you are all well.  I will post more as I get it.

Catalyst Blog”master”

Craig Davenport

Williamsburg, VA

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May 26, 2013

Dear Friends and Family,

Don’t let this title make you think it is about sailing!  Well, you will see later that it actually is but for now, life is fine.  Am I looking forward to another 4 days of being at sea?  Not really.  But life has taken on a pattern and we will be able to see it through.

In general, we have been lucky with weather and conditions.  The first couple of days were pretty mild but we were able to sail and make good time.  Yesterday afternoon, things got a little more breezy and the seas picked up quite a bit.  We are both doing fine but it makes walking around or doing anything in the galley tricky.  I am taking small doses of sea sick meds which keep me feeling well.

We have just reached a point in our sail where we should be turning more north rather than north west but because we have made good time, the winds have not yet moved further east as they are predicted to.  What that means is that we will be sailing further west than hoped for which means more easting when we pass Cuba and head for home.  Ultimately, this means a longer trip.

Still we are happy to have such good sailing.  Our sailing time in Panama was one of the best of any season and this will be the topping on the cake if all continues as anticipated.  We are still hoping for arrival some time on Tuesday but conditions can change that a lot, more likely taking longer than less time!

Now about the birds!  We are visited by birds that look to me like swallows.  They are a blue black with a rust colored breast and rather small birds.  We have seen them before when we have done open passages.  I don’t know why they are out this far but we always see them.  Some times they come land on the boat to get a rest but outside the cockpit is very windy for them and inside has people!  Still, sometimes they come and land for awhile before leaving again.  One even flew in to the main cabin while Rob was inside.  He was able to get it in a corner and it let him pick it up with a towel an put it on the deck.  Unfortunately, the wind was so strong it blew the poor bird off and it took flight again.

Last night we had been visited by some birds, one staying for awhile on a line we have hanging under the bimini cover.  It flew away and I was on watch at the helm seat when I felt something in my hair.  It started me and I brushed it way.  I soon realized it was one of those birds thinking my head looked pretty tempting for a perch.  I don’t know who was more startled.

We have been blessed with a full moon that keeps the sky and sea easily separated.  Sometimes when we have done this, it is so dark you can’t tell where sea ends and sky begins.  A month ago, Rob and I were on deck admiring the moon and we said that if we left at the earliest time we were willing to go, we would have a full moon to take us home.  Well, that is what happened and we are glad of it.

We have seen very few other boats in the last few days and the one or two have been by night and never reached closer than 3 miles away.  Closer to Cuba we will be more in the shipping lanes but for now we feel like we could be the only people in the world.

We are getting a lot of books read, redeveloping our sleep patterns and enjoying the messages we receive on our SSB e-mail.  Writing to all of you today is a way of reaching out of our little world and inviting in the greater world of family and friends.

We certainly know where the term “Old salt” comes from.  We will be “Old Salts” by the time we get home and the boat will probably weigh a few pounds more with the crust that is developing.  At least we can shower once in awhile though I think I will wait for calmer seas.  It may be a couple of days before we get that though.

Hope all is well with you.  Can’t imagine all you are packing in to a life in the time we are just trying to get home!  We have friends getting ready to embark on a trip across the Atlantic in the next few days.  We wish them the luck we have had on this trip so far!

Our radio email has been a little balky lately.  It seems to be developing a mind of its own.  If it decides to quit on us and you don’t receive any more emails or position reports, don’t worry.  All it means is we’ve lost email ability.

Have a good weekend!

Fair Winds,
Sue and Rob
Aboard Catalyst, coming home.

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Home in a week!

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April 23, 2013

Dear Friends and Family,

So much for going straight through from Panama to Florida. We realized at the time we left that we might run out of wind and determined that we would make a stop at the Colombian island of Providencia about mid morning on Sunday after about 2 days at sea. It is actually owned by Colombia but off the coast of Nicaragua. We stopped here on our way to Panama about a year ago so we have not gone in to sight see this trip. It is a great anchorage to get in and out of and comfortable when here so have enjoyed our brief stay.

We left Panama on Friday morning and headed to a place about 30 miles east called Turtle Cay Marina. We stopped there to get fuel as our supplier in the San Blas was not around. We actually saved about $100 in fuel costs as the price in the San Blas is higher because of the effort it takes to get the large amounts of fuel there by launchas carrying 50 gallon barrels.

We were slightly delayed at the marina as we had to wait for the electricity to come back on. There had been a power pole hit by a car that morning in the closest town and they had to fix it. It still took awhile to pump 70 gallons of fuel into the tank and several jerry jugs which are 5 gallon tanks that we carry as extra fuel. We were there about 4 hours total. We should have enough fuel now, even if we end up motoring most of the way home, though we stopped in Providencia so that we didn’t have that happen.

We did wash sheets today as a treat to have clean sheets for the next week underway. It was a bit rougher coming here but we are expecting calmer seas, at least for the next few days. Winds should be in the 10 to 15 knot range until about Thursday night or Friday when they may reach 20. Seas should be 3 to 4 feet, building to 6 when the weather builds.

Still, the forecast is for good sailing and it may even turn to the south east once we get by Cuba which would be too perfect for words! Hopefully, a good sail will be worth the wait we have had for 2 1/2 days. We have had about 2 days underway and it was a good test for us. I have made some more easy things to heat up and we should be great for food. I don’t much like cooking underway.

With any luck, we will arrive at home some time next Tuesday, or possibly early on Wednesday. You can follow our progress by checking our position report on our log site.

For now, we will be taking turns sleeping and standing watch so life will take on a regular pattern of wake, sleep and eat. Home in a week!

Fair Winds,

Sue and Rob

Aboard Catalyst

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April 18, 2013


Dear Friends and Family,

Suddenly, I am writing this last log from Panama.  It seems to have happened so quickly!  We said we would watch for a weather window starting about now but we figured we would have to wait awhile before we got good conditions to go.  Well, we looked and the window is open.  Of course you cannot predict more than a few days out but the expectation is that we will be able to have good weather all the way home.  Our only concern is having enough wind.  We are between the northerly blows and the summer tropical storm conditions.  Actually, it is the best time to go but also the best time to stay!

Rob is checking us out of the country as I start this log.  We motored the 2 hours here from Gerti.  The two teachers I worked with at the school there have a meeting at an island where we are.  There are several small islands close to each other.  We volunteered to bring them here on our boat and they were excited to do it as it is a dryer trip and their first on a big boat.  Trouble is we were in to the wind, so no sailing.  We had a nice visit with them on they way here and they stayed to have lunch which was baked underway.

I have made two loaves of banana bread, 2 of another fruit and nut breakfast bread, 7 meals of rolled sandwiches.  (I bake the filling right in to the bread, sort of like a savory jelly roll.)  Those are easy to heat up and eat underway, or eat cold.

I have homemade beef/vegetable soup and will make individual portions of tomato/sausage pasta and also a pork, rice and vegetable casserole which can be warmed up underway.  We have lots of canned soups, tortillas, crackers and cheeses and meats to put with them.  I also made two loaves of sandwich bread.  My freezer is full again!  If all else fails, we have peanut butter!

I have a lot of food to bring home with us but that will save a shopping trip when we return.  About all I will need are fresh produce and maybe yogurt.  My homemade efforts with that has not been good lately!

I emptied some of the groceries by giving things to a couple of the Kuna families we have gotten to know better.  Bradio, one of the men, is going to be building a new house.  Tonight he is feeding about 38 people who will help him do the work.  The party is tonight but the house won’t be built until May!  They shouldn’t forget the meal as I gave him some things that they don’t get here much.  Crackers and jelly is one example.  Also barbeque sauce, canned corn and canned green beans.  We had a lot of extra powdered milk so that went to the two families as well.  There was a lot more and so I hope it will help him feed his workers in style.  They two guys who work on boats and speak a little English have done well by our generosity and we have done well by their friendship.  Not seeing how life treats them will be a part of all this that we will miss.

Alberto is the older man we met 8 years ago and he was someone who always  helped us out with translations and friendship.  At the end, I went to his house to show them how to make banana bread.  I gave them my bread pans, measuring cups and spoons as well as some baking soda, baking powder and cinnamon.  I don’t know if they will make it again or not.  He is quite a guy.  I have one picture of him wearing a USA hat with flag and eagle and wearing a Punta Gorda, Florida T-shirt.  Could take him home with me!


His younger brother who lived in Panama City died and was brought back to the island for the funeral.  Another older man on the island died as well.  He was the medicine man I had hoped to talk to.  I would not say that his medicine didn’t work.  He was pretty old.  I am sorry we won’t be there to attend the burial because it would have been interesting.

We also sent a lot of things to the school.  I made many small jars with bubbles for blowing, popcorn, some prizes for the kids including many caps.  I had taken a lot of caps to pass out to the kuna.  The nicest ones, I saved for people to make mola caps.  I am coming back with 2 that were made for me and left some in case someone wanted to make more to sell but I don’t think they got the idea very well.  The school is having a celebration next Friday to celebrate 11 years since the school first came to the island.  They just got new desks for the kids and the teachers and will get more solar panels and batteries.   The funding comes from the Panamanian government.  Of course it helps that this is an election year.  They will be having games and competitions and kings and queens from the classes.  Our friend Jestino’s daughter is one of the queens.  We gave him balloons that Terri and Jon brought.  I think she was to provide them for the occasion as one of the queens.  Hate missing that too!

I finished teaching yesterday and this week’s lesson was pictures of our family.  I used a family picture from last summer with our kids and grandkids and also one of the whole big family at our reunion.  We learned the English terms for family names.  They found seeing the pictures the most interesting thing I have done.  I don’t really know that I made much of a difference but they do know a few more words than before, they got to hear English and they got comfortable with someone who is a stranger.  It wasn’t always easy for me but I know that I gained a great deal for myself!

P1080576 P1080584
Four of the guy students came by the boat and got a tour of the whole thing.  They had brought a gift of two really wonderful shells.  They told me that Rob’s was the bigger one!  Wish we could have developed the opportunity for more conversation with some of them.  These guys had come once before and visited with Rob while I was ashore.  They were eager to get the dictionary out and did some communication though their English is very minimal.  We would have also been taxed to improve our Spanish.  This kind of interaction takes years though and we didn’t have that time.

What was the best part of teaching though, was getting to know the teachers.  Jollie is the woman teacher.  She is 30 and her husband is with her on the island.  They are both Kuna.  He has Civil Engineering and Architecture  degrees.  He is 35.  Both have studied English and thanks to our time together, they now understand and speak it better though it is still a struggle.  We met once for conversation at the school in the late afternoon but later moved it to dinner on the boat.


They were over last night.  Even with the difficulty, we managed to never tire of the conversation or run out of things to discuss.  Of course it takes longer than when both are fluent in the same language.  The training from my old life as a teacher of foreign students kicked in and my speech is clear and slow.  My vocabulary is challenged to find a way to say things that I think will be clear to them.  I always enjoyed that and it was fun to have that kind of mix again.  Rob has been great with this too and his better Spanish helps us out a lot as well.  My Spanish is certainly limited but I can get a lot accomplished with it so I am happy that I can do more than ask for the bathroom!

Todd, the principal of the school also joined in but his level of English is very low, still didn’t seem to feel left out.  He possibly came for the food!  I know it was a treat for them.  We made pizza one night.


They don’t get that on the island!  A boat came by in the day selling things and I bought a long bean that when open has a white, almost cotton candy like coating around a shiny black bean.  Todd opened it for me and inside the fruit is sectioned around each bean so it is like individual candies in a row.  You chew the coating off of the bean  but don’t eat it.  It looked like cotton candy and tasted a little like it too.  It didn’t quite dissolve in your mouth like that but it was sweet and good to eat.


I hope life continues to give us new things to try.  We hope to become more world travelers, only not just by boat anymore.  I have always thought about foreign travel but in spending some time making a “what next” list, we realize that our own country and Canada is probably the biggest draw.  Certainly spending time with friends and family, near us and not so near, are big on the list.

I said that I would write more about the Kuna people but the longer I have known them, the more I realize I don’t know much at all.  They are generally a warm and welcoming people.  They live a very close life, not only to family but in physical proximity.  There is little that they don’t know about each other.  Our country style is so private that it is difficult to think about having no privacy or alone time.  Maybe that is why the kids were so interested in our family.

On the surface, they seem not to have much in the way of modern conveniences but once you go inside their houses  you often see a refrigerator or a stove.  Often both are run on gas, not electricity.  I saw many TV antennas so there are TVs.  There is only just one room inside with only hammocks for furniture so clothes are hung from the rafters and the houses look like big closets.  Sometimes you will find a roughly made table or some plastic yard chairs but no place to actually store things.  Of course every family seems to have a cell phone but don’t plan on getting through to them because they may be out of minutes or not have the battery charged!

The water supply is now outside each house.  They have had running water from the river on the mainland for about 6 months.  That is a big thing for them.  Many places now have their own solar panels with batteries.  The government is planning to give a panel and battery to each family, I think next week.  Trouble is that no one knows how to use them without ruining the batteries.  They try to run too much on the one battery and run it out of charge completely.  That ruins them quickly.  Batteries like we are talking about are about $250 each so replacing them frequently is out of the question.  They don’t have the devices to monitor usage and control the kind of voltage either.

All these changes seem like progress, and many already have these things already so I  guess it is a good thing.  The trouble with it is that now they work to buy things like TV, radios, generators, fuel, new batteries, etc. instead of feeding their families.  The kids are sitting watching mindless TV for hours and the commercials build a new group of consumers.  It won’t be long until traditional life is no longer!

Of course, that may not be all bad.  The culture is so colorful and unique to us visitors that we would like to continue access to it but it is not always easy either.  There are a lot of health issues that are left unattended.  People from the clinic come but don’t have medicine to give out.  The adults don’t understand how germs spread so things once started are contracted by everyone.  Conjunctivitis is very common along with skin rashes, babies with stomach problems and of course dental problems.   What they don’t have a lot of is the illnesses caused by stress and obesity.  That may change as well since they are drinking sodas and eating things that have no health value but are pure sugar.  Getting enough money to keep one in electricity and all the “stuff” it charges will cause stress.  We are seeing that already.

Fishing has been poor in the last few years and that makes having enough to feed your family and issue.  I think they are blaming the boaters for spear fishing, and that does have a small impact but a few years ago, the Kuna were catching lobster by spraying them underwater with clorox.  That killed the lobster and the surrounding reef as well.  Now they are dragging nets over the reef and that doesn’t help either.  There is a 4 month ban on lobster, conch, crab and octopus but while the boaters who are aware of this don’t fish for them or buy them from the kuna, the kuna continue to harvest them against their own law.  Boating friends, who have been here for many seasons say that the reefs don’t look as good and the fishing is not what it was, even for them.  Still, it is beautiful to us in so many of the places we saw.

So much is that this behavior is considering present need weighed against future supply.  I don’t see that they have been taught to think in terms of future needs.  Certainly, money runs through their fingers.  Maybe that is living in the present, I don’t know.  Hard for me though!

They certainly are not the only people to be facing these challenges.  It is an opportunity for a better life or a more difficult one.  I wonder some times if there is ever an indigenous population that benefited from autonomy.  From what we understand from our conversation with the teachers is that about half of the people on the island receive welfare of $100 per month, paid every two months.  There is no banking here, only cash, so they come every 2 months to hand it out in person.  Most are already in debt to the food stores on the islands so just turn the money over when they receive it.

Drugs have reached this area too.  Of course not the kind that can be of medical help.  There is a lot of traffic through from Colombia and for that reason the relationship between Colombia and Panama is difficult.  When boats look like they are going to be stopped, they toss the bales of drugs over board.  On the outer islands, some of the kuna walk the beaches each day to see if any of the drugs have washed up.  Sometimes they use the stuff themselves and sometimes they have a number they know to call so the “owners” of the drugs come and pay a reward.  Consequently, it has become a way to earn big money here!  Seeing how they are exerting more efforts to earn money has made it confusing and a little less fun to be here.  The cruisers are seen as a big cash cow.  Of course that was true everywhere we went but here they don’t yet milk you as much as other places.

Still, with all the changes and complications, I don’t think this destination can be beat for beauty, ease of sailing, good snorkel options, fishing and great people in both the Kuna and the boaters.

I will be thinking of this life for a long time.  It drew us back after only a month experience in 2005.  If we are compelled to come to the Caribbean in our boat again, this will be the place that will do it!  At least now, I have some contacts here so I can get a little caught up with some of the people we met and came to call friends.

Rob just got back as I finished writing this log.  We are check out and will seek fuel at a marina about 30 miles west of here.  We will leave in the morning for an afternoon arrival and may just get fuel and leave.  We hope to sail straight through to Florida if the weather allows.  We will stop if the weather looks iffy.  Right now it is predicted to be light in both seas and winds but still enough to sail.  I like the seas part!!!!!

We are rushing to get extra food made and the boat ready for secure travel for days on end.  We even rushed a last bit of clothes washing at 4:30 and we are hoping that things will dry before bedtime.  At least the wind is blowing even if the sun is not out.

Birds are sure unhappy we are leaving.  In Gerti, some were always trying to build a nest in our sail cover.  Now in this new place, some of the same kind are doing it now!  On one of our trips to the out islands, we left our door open and a bird flew in and started to eat our bananas.  It would spend time in the cockpit with it’s friends so we had a mess to clean up.

We won’t be using our Embarqmail account unless we stop someplace with internet access but we will be using our winlink account.  We will be sending regular location reports so you can check our progress on our blog site.  If not on the blog go there by entering  At the top of the page there is a link to follow Catalyst’s voyage.  Click on that to find the most recent update of our progress.  Rob will update it at least twice a day.  Check on the position balloon to read any comments from us.

We will send out a log or two underway so you can see how things are going but there will be no pictures.  Our final thoughts will come once we have reached home.  Might even still be April when we get there!

As hard as it is to leave, our hearts are already turning toward being back in our home in Florida.  While life for us here has been easier than for many boaters because of the comfort of our boat, we are already looking forward to the creature comforts afforded by living on land.  Being there for the birth of our newest grandchild is also primary on our minds and maybe being able to spend time with the older ones before their sister arrives will also be great.  It will be wonderful to empty the boat and give it a good scrubbing.  Wish we could get our Kuna guys here to help for $20 a day!  Can’t wait for a washer and dryer again!


Keep us in your prayers for a calm and uneventful passage.  We will be home soon!

Fair Winds,
Sue and Rob
Aboard Catalyst
Kuna Yala, Panama

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It has been awhile…

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April 13, 2013

Dear Friends and Family,

It has been awhile since I last wrote.  I guess without company, our lives take on a slower pace.  After Terri and Jon left, we celebrated Easter.  I had called for a pot luck and we had a pretty good turn out.  We had some of the best food ever.  Many of my bread baking students attended so I didn’t want to do a sandwich loaf which I usually make for these events but I did do two batches of cinnamon rolls.  That went over!

P1080563I also did some hard boiled eggs.  The ones we got last time were very little, the smallest I have ever seen.  They always come brown here but we had some crayons and decorated them for the occasion.  P1080562

You can see that we had a good selection and people were eager to enjoy.  Note in the picture the other tray of cinnamon rolls that was round and on the other side of the egg basket.


Two of my other students made focaccia bread and pizza.  We stayed until it was quite dark.  We were joined late by some families from South Africa.  It is a brother and sister, each on their own catamaran with their own families.  They are sailing together and so interesting.  They liked the cinnamon rolls too!  I am hoping they will come join us in Gerti before they leave and I told them I would show them how to bake bread.

We returned to Gerti to teach the following week but found out that they would be doing a Congresso there over the following weekend in to Tuesday.  This is a large gathering of the Silas from each of the villages.  These are like the chief or mayor of the village and surrounding islands.  Many visitors came to the island and they were fixing up the place.  Rob was recruited to help install or fix some of the lights.  Sometimes it just required changing a light bulb.  He is tall enough to reach many of them.  More on this subject at a later time.

The problem they have is that some of them don’t have regulators on the batteries and we have had a lot of cloudy weather, including during the Congresso.  There is only so much power and they keep adding lights to the system.

I made 8 loaves of banana bread that they shared with the Congresso leaders.  They had turned the large Chicha hut into a large dormitory filled with hammocks.  It is a very large building.  One can only imagine the sound of snoring coming from there.  Many people took others in to their huts.  The guests brought their own hammock to hang and have a place to sleep.  They also needed more food for all the people as well.  No hotel or restaurant means it all has to be taken care of by the village.

Because the Congresso was going on Monday and Tuesday, there was not school those days.  They had school on Wednesday but not on Thursday or Friday because of a teacher’s meeting.  We chose not to stay that week for only one day of class and have been spending the time enjoying the western portion of this area again, meeting up with boater friends and getting in some good snorkeling.  Not conditions quite like with Terri and Jon at the end of their visit, but some good places and interesting experiences.

Probably the best was right after we dropped the anchor of the dinghy and swam over to check it.  There we saw a large tight ball of thousands of moving fish.  We had been watching the Discovery Channel’s Blue Planet series and had seen this photographed in the open sea.  The ball was about 14 feet long, about 4 feet deep and maybe 4 or 5 feet wide.  The fish were silver and about 4 to 6 inches long.   Rob and I separated and came at them from different directions which sort of herded the ball.  We were close to shore so they couldn’t go that way.  It was amazing to watch their behavior.  I am afraid we distressed them quite a bit but they were zooming all around us and we were right in the center of the mass of fish.  After bothering them for awhile, we left them alone.  They were gone when we returned.  It was an experience we won’t forget.

We were back in the place called the Swimming Pool.  The water is so clear there.  You may be able to get an idea from the picture I am sending of the boats anchored behind us.

P1080623The shadow you see off the bottom step is not on the water but on the sand about 12 feet below.  We were in the dinghy heading out to snorkel and I saw a turtle come up for air close by.  We came over in the dinghy and were able to see it clearly swimming in the 12 foot water with the sand bottom.  Amazing!  We watched another large southern ray swimming around the bottom of the boat.  I was on the deck.  What a place!

We just got back from a great snorkel.  It was difficult to show in the pictures what we saw but we found the elusive drum fish again.  Rob went down to look inside a hollow coral head to find a drum and baby drum inside.


I want you to know he is not going bald but the water was washing his hair up.  We went snorkeling with a couple who showed us the location and can find things really well.  They have a spear gun and go after lion fish when they find them because they destroy a reef’s fish population.    He speared one as we watched.


We swam along the reef and continued past where we left the dinghy to see another part of the reef.  We turned to return to our boat and there was a nurse shark swimming freely right toward us.  It was about the size of Rob or maybe a little smaller.


It was pretty neat to see it up close and personal.  They are pretty tame and won’t bother you unless you are holding a dead fish or threaten it.  It was a great ending to a wonderful snorkel.

On one snorkel,  Rob picked up what I thought was an empty shell.  I reached inside and looked as far in as I could and thought it was empty.  Unfortunately a day or so later after the shell had been out of the water, I smelled something.  I shook it and out came the dead hermit crab that had taken up the shell as a home.  I felt terrible to have killed the critter.


It was dead already though so we pulled it out of the shell.  It is interesting to see what we usually don’t get a chance to see when we spot a hermit crab.


We will make the 4 or 5 hour sail back to Gerti tomorrow and teach again Monday through Thursday.  I only teach an hour a day but what I also enjoy is meeting with the teachers in the evening.  We practice conversation in English.  The woman teacher I like so well is with her husband and he understands and speaks some English too.  The man teacher is very weak in English but enjoys the process.  He is hopefully bringing back produce for me from Panama City tomorrow evening.  I have actually been doing pretty well in keeping some supply of fresh produce on the boat.

On Friday, we plan to go to the immigration office so we can check out of the country.  Hopefully the officials will be there.  You never know!  We hope to check out and top off with fuel at a near by island and then spend the weekend out on the reef islands where the pot lucks have been.  We probably won’t leave for the U.S. right away but we will be looking for weather after that.  We are checking out early because they don’t seem to mind here and that way we won’t miss a window trying to check out later.

Can’t believe that we are mid way through April already!  I will send a log out soon about school and village life with the Kuna people next.

One last point.  If you remember last year about this time, I wrote to ask your opinion about the condition of Rob’s work shorts which he wore most of the time.  I learned my lesson because most of you supported Rob’s desire to wear those ratty old things.  Well, this year his shorts are in good enough shape but he doesn’t wear a belt and consequently, he looks like those kids who have their pants half way down their back side.  I told him that if his underwear was going to show all the time, that at least he should buy some ELLEN underwear so it would be more cool.   One of my favorite shows in the day time when I can watch TV is the Ellen Show.  She gives guests her brand of underwear with her name prominently on the label.  Rob’s now reads “Ellen’s Fruit Of the Loom.”  This was his effort to pacify me.


Not the same but hey, he is trying to make me happy and indeed, he did!   Oh the fun of still negotiating the marriage after almost 41 years!

Fair Winds,
Sue and Rob
Aboard Catalyst
San Blas Islands, Panama

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