Final Blog – 2011-2012 Season

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May 18, 2013

Dear Friends and Family,

We are home!  It has taken a few days to find the time and energy to write, but this will be my last log of the season.  After you have finished my part of the log, you can enjoy reading Rob’s comments on what happened of note with the boat this season.

We (mostly Rob) worked hard to get the boat ready to leave it for 6 months during the remaining days in Red Frog Marina.  Sometimes I think Rob is too picky about things but his efforts keep us safe and the boat in good condition so I guess I should not complain.  We are actually not used to living on the boat while all this is going on so it made it more challenging.

We did spend some time in town together and I went in one day on my own as well.  There is a lot there to access but like most places, it is a learning curve to find what you need.  One of the fun parts of getting to know a new place is the treasure hunt mentality that makes it an interesting challenge to find all those items you are seeking, that is, if they are there to find.  Having people to help us who know the place really can make a difference.  There will be a lot more of that type of thing once we return but we have an idea that we will be able to get most of what we want from this location and anything we can’t find, we can certainly live without.  I can’t say we have spent enough time in town to have a true impression of the place.

We did finally realize that people were meeting for a happy hour at the tables at the end of each of the long docks.  Once we quit work in time to go, we enjoyed the social time with the other boaters.  There was also a mother’s day pot luck with grills and table set ups provided by the Marina.  One of the other boaters had put it together including a trivia event after dinner.  This couple retired on to their trawler full time, and after 3 years their youngest son died and left a 3 year old.  The mother was Bi Polar and not well so they took the child and have been raising her for the last 10 years on the boat.  The grandchild made cookies for everyone for mother’s day.  You can imagine what a change in life this has been for the grandparents but the young girl is turning out well, though she probably is learning to live life with adults more than other kids.

We also got away for awhile one afternoon to hike to see an area on the island where they are renting villas.  Each villa has it’s own swimming pool and hot tub and most have spectacular views of the water.  Like many developments, this one hit a financial down turn but seems to be rebounding and moving ahead.  There is construction all around there that has been reclaimed by the jungle.

Our main reason for making this hike was not to see the villas but to look for the name sake of our marina, the red frog.

The marina manager had told us exactly where to look.  These frogs are quite small, about the size of your thumb from the tip of the thumb to the first knuckle.  What makes them able to be seen Is that they are a bright red color with tiny black spots so they do show up when in the open though they like to hide.  Sure enough, the tree that we were told to look around, had a red frog there.  We saw one more in a near by plant but only the two.  We were told of another place that is a long hike on a beach that we will likely try to find next year.  The location we saw the frog was at the entrance to where they go zip lining.  We may try to do it when we return.  We enjoyed the experience a few years ago in Belize.  They also have classes available on jungle vegetation and how to cook some of the exotic produce and I hope to get a chance to take that when we return.  The island that the marina is on has a lot to offer for all levels of tourists, from those with limited resources to those who have money for a little more comfort.  It is a beautiful place still in the beginning stages of what it will become.

We have been told that there are a lot of wonderful anchorages in the general area and we may take in some of those before we move out of the area next year.

Our trip home was pretty tiring.  We had so much to complete yet that day and living on the boat to the last meant that some things had to be left until that day to close down.  I helped where I could, but my hand and arm are still not back completely and so there were some things I was not able to do.

We had a launcha waiting for us and we kept him waiting for about 30 minutes over the time and still rushed to get off the boat.  Luckily, we can e-mail and have anything we forgot taken care of.  One of the things that happened of note was that when Rob changed in to his travel clothes, he brought up the now famous pair of shorts and put them in the trash.  He had cut out the stringy areas as had been suggested and they were really tacky looking then but he certainly got his wear out of them.  If we had not been so rushed, I would have taken one last picture but as it was, they are now just a fading memory!  After the responses to the log about them, I really had to smile every time he wore them.  I must say, I was smiling a lot of the time!  The good thing about hanging around other cruisers is that they are a pretty non judgmental group.  If they do have a problem with tacky clothes, then who cares as they will just move on anyway.

We took the launcha in to town and then waited for the next launcha to take us to the main land.  That took about 1/2 hour.  We got in a taxi for the couple of mile trip to the bus station.  We were there pretty early so had over an hour wait.  Not a very luxurious place but we did have a bench to sit on.  We had some interesting conversations with others waiting to board the bus.  So many of the people we saw in town or waiting for the bus are back packers.  They are generally younger, although we do see people like us doing this sort of thing as well.  Hearing about their life and the travels they have done is something hard for me to contemplate.  At that stage of my life, I was married and had children.  I certainly would not have considered it then.  Of course marriage and children is about the most challenging experience one can take on but somehow it seemed safe compared to traveling on my own around the world!  I am still not sure how I feel about it.  It delays for so long the efforts to have a career and family and I am not sure it ever pays off in that regard.  On the other side, the world view they gain is really amazing and the feeling of independence and self reliance they acquire is also worth while.  I will say, they are mostly European and this time many from Israel rather than American kids.  It is always interesting to meet these travelers and they bring so much to the table.  Most really fantasize about living on a boat so are interested in our point of view as well.

Rob and I realized that we were the old people on the bus by probably 20 years.  I guess most people of our generation are wise enough not to put themselves through a 10 hour bus ride through the night!  The bus was not the typical school bus that is used to get around the city or the country side.  It was a large air conditioned bus with reclining seats but still difficult to be comfortable.  It took some time to get settled to sleep and then just as we did, the bus would stop for the potty break or to get fuel or at one point to have passports checked though we were not crossing a border.  We actually arrived earlier than normal at 4:30 A.M. and were dropped off at a large shopping mall.  Unfortunately, there was no place to sit and the taxies were down a flight of stairs.  We had arranged to be picked up by a driver who spoke English and do some touring before going to the airport.  We were not sure where we should be for him to find us.  He did eventually find us though and by 5:30 we were with our new friend Stanley.  We of course had to take a picture of him with our Flat Stanley.  He even had his name on the sleeve of his work shirt.  Actually his last name is Stanley.  We first went for coffee as it was still dark.

We heard about his life and it is an interesting story.  A few years ago he had been driving a taxi and had dropped off an American who was going to fly to Bocas town.  The man left his passport with $3000 in cash in the taxi.  When Stanley found the passport, he immediately went to the airport and got the man before he left.  He didn’t even know the money was there but said that it would not have mattered because he would have returned it anyway.  The man was so impressed that he called the hotel to tell them that they needed to always use Stanley as he was honest and gave excellent service.  They started to use him so much that he eventually went in to business with 3 others and they have their own company doing all kinds of services for clients.  He said that his honesty got him his business.  It is a wonderful story and certainly, if we have guests who need his service when they come see us, we will give him a call.

We had him take us around to places we knew when we lived there 39 years ago.  The apartment we had in a 4 plex was still there.  We had returned about 7 years ago and seen things but it has changed since then.  There were some high rise apartments built in the area now and land is selling for a large asking price ($500-$700 a square meter), though it is going down.  I think the development down turn that happened around the globe hit here as well but Stanley said the economy is doing well and unemployment is below 10%.  That may sound high but in countries that are used to much higher unemployment, it is pretty good.  The work on the wider lock system has boosted the economy and there are a lot of large projects in the works that will provide jobs in to the future.  They are putting in a subway system in the years to come and that will take some time.  The city is full of high rises, mostly white, and many with interesting architecture.  We took a drive down a causeway to an island that has been developed with marinas, shops and restaurants and seeing the sky line was something.

The older part of the city is slowly going through a renovation and really needs it for sure.  If it ever happens, it will be a charming area, much the same as what New Orleans has to offer in the French quarter.  There is a lot of history there, including a church with a golden alter.

During the looting by pirates, the alter was painted black to disguise the fact that it is all gold.  We got a picture but they were having mass when we stopped.  We had been there when we lived in Panama in the 70’s and it was nice to see that it was still in tact and being used.

We also took pictures of the boats at moorings along the canal with the large tankers going by and also with the Bridge of the Americas in the background.

This is a bridge that we went over a lot when we lived there.  We also drove to the closest lock to the Pacific side were you can watch the ships in the locks and go to a museum.

We didn’t stay very long because we had been there before but one thing we did was put a relative’s name in a computer they had that would list those that worked on the canal.  Sure enough, his name did come up!  It was a little strange to think of watching a ship transit the canal in Panama knowing that in the afternoon, we would be back in Florida.

Panama City is hardly recognizable as the same place we lived so long ago.  It is a city with growing pains, and a country that is dealing with control by a select few families who still seem to be taking all the wealth ( not an uncommon theme world wide) but it is prospering in it’s own way despite all this.   We will always have a strong affection for this country where we began our married life and gave birth to our first child.  Though that part of our life was lived out mostly on the Pacific side of the country, we will enjoy the Caribbean side next year.

After driving around for several hours, we were dropped off at the airport about 10:30 for our 12:30 Flight.  That all went well, though we were delayed on getting a gate when we landed but luckily, we didn’t have connections.  It took a lot of wandering to get through immigration and customs but finally we got to the rental car and by 6:30 P.M. we were on our way.  We got home about 10ish to a spotless house with the air conditioner on.  The friends we had staying in our house who are from Australia, bought a condo here because they like the area so much.  They moved in the very day we arrived.  They left a welcome home sign for us.  There were gifts there from the other couple who had the house earlier in the year as well.  We got together with Peter and Julie the next day for dinner and became their first guests to their furnished condo.  They have a really great place with good furniture and a fantastic view.  We are glad they will be here from time to time as we really enjoy their company.  We met them because they had a Manta and now it is sold, which is why they were using our house.

We had hoped to see our kids who live locally on the 16th but our son-in-law Jeff had to have a kidney stone removed and it would be Thursday so we waited one more day and early in the morning we drove to babysit the 6 children while Lisa and Jeff went to the hospital.  It was a great day with them.   They are so good and even though I am sure Lisa still has challenges with them, they have their jobs and they are pretty good at doing them.  At 13, Aly is very helpful with 2 year old Jenny and almost 9 month old Luke so that was helpful, though the kids were perfect.

We are still a little tired but things are getting done.  We will be here until about the first week in June and then we go to see our newest granddaughter Clara and her brother Henry.  Of course I guess we will see their parents too!  We found out that we will be there for Clara’s Dedication Ceremony on the 17th.  After that, we will head to Nebraska where we will help with preparations for our family reunion and my Dad’s 100th birthday on the 4th of July.  So far, only one nephew is unable to attend because he is starting a new job that very week.  We will find a large hole with the absence of my brother Don, who died tragically last December in a fall from pruning a tree but his wife and all the children and grandchildren are coming and that is a real blessing to all of us.

We will fire up the log again next year so unless your address changes, you should be on the list at that time.  We have not made the reservations for our return but we anticipate late October or early November.  It is earlier than normal for us but since this is planned to be our last year in the Caribbean with the boat, we want to take full advantage of the time.

This has been quite a year for us.  The broken arm changed things considerably but though we missed out on some things, we stayed in Guatemala longer.  There is something to be said for staying on one place for a prolonged period.  It bonds you more to that area for sure and even though it is where I broke my arm, Guatemala and the people we met there will always hold a special place in our hearts.

We learned that traveling through the eyes of a child makes the journey more interesting and so we are happy that we were joined by Flat Stanley.  We hope you enjoyed some of his reports that were sent through the logs.  He will be flying home to be with his sponsor soon and we will miss him.  It is a reminder to be more child like in our appreciation of the wonders of the world around us.

I think that this year more than most, we learned that “stuff” takes over your life and you can live with so little and still be happy if you choose it.  Coming home to our materialistic economy is almost difficult to deal with.  Even our house seems too opulent.   I wanted to go to a vegetable market and find the big carrots that are so sweet and delicious.  I wanted to yell at people to quit working so hard to buy “things” and consider a more simple life and just love each other as the priority.  Unfortunately, it probably won’t take long for me to get used to the abundance in front of me.  Now though, I hope I can appreciate the access without getting caught up in it as being important.

It is amazing how I lived for 6 months without catching up with the Kardashians, or hearing about the terrible state our world is in.  I hope I will become more of the kind of person who seeks to make life easier for others rather than indulge myself in meaningless ways.  I hope I will be more gentle and less judging.  Perhaps, this year was exactly what it was supposed to be though it was not what was planned.

We are so happy that our friends and family joined us on this adventure through reading these logs and I hope you have gained from the experience as we have.  Thank you to those who took the time to stay in touch as it made it seem more like a dialogue than a monologue.  Rob will write now to give you some boat details.  The good news is that we are still in love and still talking to each other, (shorts and all) and getting ready to celebrate 40 years of marriage this month on the 27th.

Have a great summer and see you again in the fall.

Sue Linehan

Home for now!

Captain’s Log, Supplemental:

Often, when speaking with other boaters about our trip, they ask “What broke?”.  For those non boaters reading this, things are always breaking on boats.  So here is a list:

1.  Sue’s wrist.  Probably one of the less expensive things to repair.

2.  Before the boat was even back in the water, smoke was coming out of our notebook computer after I had hooked it up to the short wave radio so we could send email over the radio.  Luckily we cruised in areas with great wifi internet, so could remain “connected” from the boat almost all the time.  Computer and radio came back with us for repair this Summer.

3.  Wind instrument display head was not functioning when we returned to the boat.  While trouble shooting the problem, I broke the wind speed/direction transducer on the top of the mast.  Luckily we had a spare transducer on board from when I installed a new (now broken) display head back in 2008.  The new transducer with the old original display head gave us reliable wind direction but not wind speed.

4.  Last year when we left the boat, I knew there were problems with the autopilot.  I didn’t know if it was the electronic control box brains of the unit, or the electromechanical control arm that actually moves the rudder back and forth.  We bought a new brain and a new motor for the control arm.  I replaced the brain and its display head before the boat went in the water, and all worked well, so I kept the new motor as a spare.

5.  Genset salt water pump seals were leaking.  I replaced the pump with a spare we had on board.  I’ll rebuild the leaking seal pump this summer.

6.  About four months into the cruise, during a long, several day, 375 mile passage with fresh winds, the autopilot started making distressing sounds.  We crossed our fingers and hoped it would continue working until we made landfall.  Steering a boat by hand, especially in the night when there is no horizon or other point of reference, is difficult.  Thankfully, it continued to work, and in Providencia I replaced the motor with the spare I mentioned in above item 4.  I suspect it has broken brush springs.  Old motor came back with us and I’ll work on it this Summer.

7.  Shower sump box leaked and its pump switch was unreliable.  That explained our stinky bilge.  I had been blaming it on the unreliable switch occasionally not working and the sump overflowing.  The stink was probably caused by both problems.  Sue’s brother brought down a new shower sump box with pump and switch.  The bilge no longer stinks!

8.  Between Providencia and Panama, at 1:30 A.M., while sailing very nicely, a fitting on the boom vang broke.  I repaired it the next day in daylight when I could see what needed to be done.  All it took was a spare shackle.

9.  One of the watermaker pumps came home with us too.  It will be rebuilt as part of periodic maintenance.

For those interested on some numbers, we traveled 976 miles this season.  This is about half the distance we would do in the Eastern Caribbean.  We motored about 130 hours, much of it from Guatemala to Honduras on both engines and few months later, when the autopilot was making distressing sounds we motored to take some of the load off of it.  We also ran out of wind near Panama, which was not unexpected.  Our fasted strictly sail 24 hours period was between Guanaja and Providencia, and we averaged 6.8 knots.  This passage was also our fastest sail/motor sail of 365 miles covered in 51.4 hours, for an average speed of 7.1 knots.  We had three major passages.  Guatemala to Honduras was 112 miles, Honduras to Providencia was 365 miles, and Providencia to Panama was 251 miles.

In reviewing my above list, I guess what I learned from five and a half month aboard and 40 years of marriage, is carry spares for everything except item #1 above!

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