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Catalyst log, November 10, 2011

Dear Friends and Family,

We made it to the boat yesterday morning after a long travel to get here.  As I had said ahead of time, we flew to Panama City on the 7th.  From there, we were met by our driver Roger who works with Deb.  Deb owns the bed and breakfast where we were stay for the night.  We could have actually continued on that night but wanted to check out Deb’s place for future guests and it was a little less stressful to do it that way.

Deb is a former single-hander sailor who has sold her boat and is now trying to make a go of it with a cruiser oriented B&B.  She and Roger (partners in business but not otherwise connected) work together to get things taken care of.  Roger is Panamanian and since Deb doesn’t speak Spanish, he is her advisor and help.  He mostly does taxi service and together they are working on making deliveries to the San Blas for provisions for those who are staying there.  He also has independent work, mostly driving.  He is a very nice guy with a wife and kids and has worked with cruisers for a long time.

The down side of staying there was that she had to relocate as she is renting the house and the owner is coming to take it over.  She had anticipated moving in to the new location by now but as is common here, things were delayed.  Consequently, the house was full of packed things waiting to be moved and since her new location has 4 bedrooms and this one only three, she had booked people accordingly which put her and her adult son (who may stay on and help) sleeping on the main floor in the open space.

It may not seem like a very good situation and it was certainly not luxury but it was OK and us boaters are used to about anything.  What was wonderful was meeting Deb and Roger and especially the other boating couples that we met there.  Some we will likely spend some time cruising with as the season progresses so it is good to already have friends to look for.

Her new location is actually down town instead of in the former Canal Zone.  It is a 20 floor pent house apartment with amazing views of the down town and the bay.  There will be 3 bedrooms with their own private full bathroom.  One of the rooms will have a queen bed and the other two will be more dormitory style with 3 single beds in each room.  There is a master suite on a lower floor but connected by stairs.  There is a kitchen, dining area and living room and a maids quarters with a bathroom as well.  She is not sure what that will be used for.  The building has a pool, hot tub and exercise room on a lower floor that can be used by the guests.  It is near many restaurants and she said it is OK to be out walking in the area at night.  I wish we had gotten to stay there.  We saw pictures and it looks great.  Boaters are allowed to do their own cooking there and there will also be laundry and food storage in refrigerator and freezer if they are provisioning from there.  So far, she has not advertised and has only used word of mouth.  Some of our guests may wish to spend a night or two there.

The next day we went to the mall here that was built in the Air Force airplane hangers that were here when it was the Canal Zone and the Americans had it.  It has been updated and is very nice looking.  It is the biggest mall we have seen outside of the Mall of the Americas in Minneapolis.  We were told that it was the largest mall in Central and South America and I can believe it.  There are many American stores here as well as others that we are not familiar with.  There is one place that is called “The American look” and it has teen/young adult clothes that they think look American.  Things are written on them in English.

We mostly went there to see what was available, to get a card for the cell phone and to buy bus tickets for our transport that night.  The main bus station is there and also the airport that does the small flights around the country is in that area.  We were really tired of walking by the time Deb picked us up.  She took us to a regular grocery store where I stocked up on some non perishable items that are hard to get in Bocas where we are, or PriceSmart as well.  Then after all the people at the house ordered out for pizza, and we enjoyed dinner together, we were taken by Roger to the bus depot.  It is not far away.  By this time, we had 7 pieces of luggage.  Others helped load the car and Rob had not been able to count the bags as he usually does.  Just as we got close to the bus depot, Rob realized that he forgot our computers at the house.  We called Deb and she, and one of the other cruisers, brought it to us.  Luckily, it didn’t delay us getting on the bus.

Traveling with so much, we were worried about customs, weight, etc.  Even though they searched our luggage with TSA (we found their note in one bag) and they searched our 4 large bags in Panama, even after they went through x-ray, nothing was a problem and all made it through without damage or extra cost.

We got on the night bus and were prepared for the coldness of the air conditioning.  Now this is not just chilly, it is like riding in a meat locker for 10 hours.  I had come prepared by wearing jeans, tennis shoes and socks and packed a denim shirt to wear over my T-shirt and I also added a heavy sweater.  Because our luggage was so full, I wrapped the shirt and sweater around my waist from Florida on.  It was an inconvenience but so needed.  I actually spread the sweater out and used it as a blanket.  Rob likes the cold better so did well.  Now the trouble is that when you finally get out of the bus, it is hot so you suffer with the jeans until you get to the boat.

It is common to stop once for food and potty and you also stop at a check point where an official comes on board to look at your passports.  That is all they did when we took the night bus last year but this time, after looking at the passports, they got everyone off with their carry on luggage, put it in a line with us standing behind it and opened the luggage area and had a cocker spaniel sniff everything.  No problem so we all got back on the bus and on we went.  Because of a traffic slow down leaving Panama City and this extra time, we were running about 2 hours late getting to our final bus destination, Almirante.  We left Panama City at 8:30 p.m. and arrived in Almirante about 8:00 a.m. the next morning.  From there, we took a short land taxi ride to a ferry and had only about a 15 minute wait to board and get going to Bocas del Toro, which is an island.  Sitting next to Rob was a local who had a small boat and he wanted to know if we needed a ride to our marina which is on another island.  We agreed and he helped us get the luggage to the place where his boat was.  I left Rob and went to get some provisions in town, like fresh fruits and vegetables and some things we could eat on the boat until we had time to do a better shopping.  The boat was full with the two of us, our stuff and the driver.  We got sprayed on during both boat rides, so we were warm and salt covered when we arrived.

All in all, it was not a big problem, nothing really unexpected and everything made it safely.  Rob had packed a lot of boat parts, some delicate, and so it was a constant concern to him.  Luckily, our attention to everything worked and those things beyond our control didn’t happen!

Of course, I almost blew it when I stayed up later than Rob last night and forgot to close an overhead hatch.  It rained last night and got a canvas carry bag with some of the electrical parts wet.  Luckily the boxes that things were in it and the canvas of the bag protected things well enough but you can bet I will be more careful about being sure I close things up before coming to bed!!!!

It is rainy season here and as we are eating a late lunch, we have the air conditioner turned on and it has been raining.  It is actually quite cool in the breeze but being at the dock, and hatches closed for rain, we don’t get much air flow.  Since we have shore power, we might as well enjoy it!

Rob has a lot of work to do to get the boat back in order.  He is wearing his working clothes.  After last years log on his work shorts, I thought I would show you his shorts and shirt at the beginning of the season and we will see how it goes.

It took until late this morning to get the dinghy engine and hooka rig out of the main cabin.  It makes life so much more livable inside but now the cockpit is hard to get around.

Rob started working on replacing the trampolines on the front of the boat.  Once they are on, it will be easier to move around that area and not worry about falling in the water.  We can put up sails, put the engine on the dinghy and start stowing things away.

Today, the diver with the marina took off the plastic bags that were covering the propellers.  This is done to keep sea growth from growing on them.  If you don’t know, salt water is very nutrient rich and barnacles and other sea life grows on the bottom of the boat and the propellers.  This has to be cleaned off periodically.  The diver said that the boat bottom is pretty clean except for slime, which is likely to come off under way or can be wiped off without too much trouble.  Cleaning the boat bottom is a constant job for sea water boaters.

We are seeing many of the same people that were here last May.  Some call it home for extended periods.  The new bathroom/laundry/boaters lounge facility is finished.  The showers are wonderful.  There are 6 separate full bathrooms so you have privacy.

We had lunch yesterday at the youth hostel.  It is a big hill to climb to get there and I realize how out of shape I am.  We hope to get more boat work accomplished and have some time to go visit the beach and see some other parts of the island before we leave.

We had thought to stay through Christmas in this area but may leave closer to the end of this month to work our way east toward the San Blas Islands.  I guess that at this time of the year the winds from the east make passage there difficult and you have to wait for a weather window.  It is not a long trip so you don’t need a particularly long window but it could be weeks or even a month before one happens.  We will likely make our first run to Porto Bello and then from there to the San Blas.  Once in those waters, distances are shorter and waters are protected by a reef system.  Our first guests arrive on Jan. 7 and we don’t want to miss their seeing the San Blas so that is our latest target date.

We will be working on the boat and staying here at Red Frog Marina or at anchor near town for the next couple of weeks.  If you wish to know more about this area, you can reread some of the last logs from last season.

Would love to hear what is happening in your life.

Fair Winds,

Sue and Rob

Back Aboard Catalyst

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