Tag Archives: cruising family

#SurfPanama #SailPanama

We enjoyed 13 days of sailing through Panama’s remote Northwest coastline. Upon the end of the second week we sailed into a populated anchorage called Ensenada Venao, known for its protection, waiting to round the point into the Gulf of Panama. Also known as Playa Venao, its in the list of places in Panama for surfing. We went there for all of the above, but especially for the surf. We had a VERY long day sailing the 70 miles from Isla Cebaco to Ensenada Venao (aka Playa Venao or Ensenada Benao). We were able to sail for the first 2.5 hours until we started sailing as high into the wind as possible, with wind speeds fluctuating anywhere from 10kts to 30kts. To top it off, we had a current pushing is back. We were in a very frustrating situation. We needed to have our sails set for 25-30 kt winds for the times when the wind would blow that hard. As soon as the wind dropped to 10 kts we lost all speed (which was only 2-3 kts at best) and we would lose steering from all of the wind chop and current. After a few on and offs with the engine, we made the decision to motor-sail, bashing up into the wind and current. Our goal became “let’s just try to get there before dark”. We ended up motorisailing for over 13 hours. This was a first for us and was a hard choice to make. We basically motored more hours in one day than we had over the last 3 months. The good part of this sail was that we caught a large female Mahi Mahi!

Overall, the day felt like one of those times where you wonder if you did something to bring on bad luck. We were getting so much water over the bow, we discovered new leaks seeping into the V-berth. We lost one of our SUP paddles. A wind gust came on so strong along with bashing into waves that the paddle popped out of its tied up place and sank faster than you could say “we lost a paddle”. Another one fell off too! Of course there’s more to that story. I was down below, cooking, and Christian says nonchalantly, “well we get to do a man over board!” My heart jumped through the ceiling. Then he revised it to “sorry, Ellamae’s paddle fell overboard.” Heart rate went back to normal, mostly. It was great practice that’s for sure and I’m sure glad it wasn’t one of us in the water waiting for us to retrieve them. The good news is that we were successful at retrieving one of the lost paddles! As bad luck normally happens, things happen in threes… Davy Jones wasn’t through with us. As soon as we anchored a gale force gust came up and blew Ellamae’s boogie board right out of its tucked away spot and sent it skipping and flipping across the water and out to sea. The boogie board was in poor condition, so our disappointment in having it blow away was stemmed from feeling terrible about adding to the litter out at sea more than losing the board itself. (Sorry no photos of all the shenanigans, we were too preoccupied).

We arrive at Ensenada Venao at 7:20pm, just before dark. I’d been down below making “sushi” out our Mahi Mahi. I put “ ” marks around sushi, because we cooked the Dorado first, having never heard of it being used raw. A feast was ready to eat as soon as we anchored and relaxed. Based on the guide we had, we did not expect a beach full of hotels and restaurants that lit up the sky come nightfall. I guess we were officially out of remoteness. It brought a bit of excitement aboard. We hadn’t really conversed with many people and we were getting pretty low on our fresh fruits and veggies. The thought of surfing, conversation, people watching, and potentially having wifi was uplifting.

We spent the next four days surfing first thing after coffee. I’d go first, then we’d swap kid duty and Christian would go. I’m still learning, so an hour in the morning worked me. Christian could easily have surfed all day long. We managed to get the kids in through the surf and onto shore to play in the waves and socialize as well. Nina was very happy to meet some other teenage girls that were on vacation from Alaska. She even ended up having a sleepover with them. Lucky girl got a freshwater shower and a memory foam mattress in an air conditioned room!

The offshore winds were pretty strong for the first 3 days, but the weather was overall amazing. The sun is definitely more intense down here closer to the equator. The swell was on the rise starting on the day we arrived. Day 3 was getting so big, that after getting pounded on my surf session I decided it would probably be best to stay aboard with the kids for the day. The wind was blowing too hard to paddle to where the waves were smallest. The next day was just as big, but we needed to get our feet on ground. The wind had finally let up, so Taj, Nina and I hopped on the inflatable SUP, stopped over at the sailboat (S/V Jabiroo II) that came in during the night to say hello, then made our way to the more protected landing further down the beach. I was a bit of a paddle, but we were glad we did it. We explored only the few blocks of the vacation village that was there. We found a cute coffee house and ice cream shop. A produce truck happened to be driving through, so we bought a few affordable greens and plantains. The one and only mini-mart there was overpriced and had a very limited selection of food. We bought one dozen eggs for $4 (doubled that of Mexico prices.

On our way back out to the boat we stopped by S/V Jabiroo II again to chat. They had us aboard and we talked boats. We established that we had actually met them before, up in the San Francisco Bay Area while we were visiting last year and they were making their way south from Canada. It was great to see other cruisers and chat. They had tried rounding the corner to head into Panama City, but got pushed back by the wind and current. Their plans were to leave early in the morning with the ebb tide. Originally we were going to get one last surf in, but looking at the tides and weather, we jumped onboard with their plan. Nina putting away the inflatable xterraboard.

4am the next morning (Sunday) we left by motor alongside with S/V Jabiroo II. It felt great to have other people to commiserate with. We haven’t seen too many other boats down here. I’m guessing the strong winds and currents detours people from making this a regular route, unless of course the intent is to pass through the Panama Canal and head east. We’re glad we took this route though. Seeing Costa Rica and Northwest Panama has been awesome!

I made another S/V Luna Sea recipe. French Bread!

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Northwest Panama, remote heaven.

Northwest Panama, remote heaven.

After 3 weeks to the day of exploring Costa Rica, our pocket book had enough hole diggin’. We were ready to move on to Panama not just to save money, but also to explore more remote places, hopefully catch some uninhabited surf and discover new food. Ellamae is back with her biological father for 2 months, so you will notice she’s not in these photos.

January 25th, we sailed off the hook from Matapalo, Costa Rica and set our hydrovane for Panama. Of our 46 miles that day we only motored for 1.5 hrs. We would have drifted more, but wanted to get the hook down before dark. We anchored in Punta Balsa at 6pm, just after sunset. Not in the Sarana guide book, we found a few houses, a hotel and some fishermen. In the morning, while drinking our coffee, the Howler Monkeys were louder than we’ve heard so far. This anchorage was only a stop over for us.

After coffee we motored out an hour to make our way toward Isla Parida. For most of the morning we lacked wind and ended up motoring a total of 3 hours. The entry to the anchorage on Isla Parida is not one you want to do with poor lighting, we therefore wanted to get there before the sunset this time. We had great wind in the afternoon, and perfect for sailing into the anchorage with a couple of tacks and set the hook under sail. We had time for a quick swim in the warm but murky water. As we ate dinner during the sunset, we came to the conclusion that this was the most beautiful place that we’ve been anchored at.

The next day there, we swam and paddle boarded. We also took buckets to shore to fill up at the fresh water spring. We found two older Panamanian boys siting around the spring. It turns out, the whole island is privately owner and by many different people. They were there to watch that particular property. With my not so good of spanish we did establish that we were allowed to walk around and they also let us fill up on fresh water. In the afternoon, we had coconuts on the beach. A deer came and joined us for coconuts scraps to wrap up the day before dinner.

January 27, we motored out of the anchorage, following the suggested waypoints for navigating through the rocks and reefs. Our destination, Isla Cavada, amongst the Islas Secas group of isles. We sailed all but the first hour and the time it took to anchor. The anchoring was the tricky part. Following the Sarana Guide recommended waypoint, we noticed that the one other boat, a sport fishing yacht, was already in that exact location. We dropped anchor, failing twice, a hundred yards south of the waypoint, due to rocky bottom. We had enough light left to see that there was a more shallow spot further south. Third time’s a charm, we anchored in 15 feet mid-tide, so hopefully all was good. And it was. The island was beautiful, but we soon found out that it was private and we were not aloud to explore on shore.

Successful Paleo Plantain Muffins cooked in the pressure cooker!

January 30, We sailed off the hook at 7:30 am from Isla Cavada. We sailed the whole way (30 miles) to Ensenada de Rosario on the mainland of Panama. We were approached by a Military high speed pursuit boat. Needless to say our heart rates jumped up a notch. We intentionally made Taj visible. They got up close. We said “hola”, they looked at us and Taj, nodded and went on their way. Phew! Shortly after, we turned on the engine to get us into the anchorage safely and set the hook well. Great day sailing! We enjoyed the calm anchorage, but had a surprise visit, yet again, from the Navy in a panga. At first we weren’t sure it was Navy, it could have been local thieves, but Christian recognized the boat’s silhouette from seeing it out and about earlier. We had turned off our anchor light, thinking it would draw less attention to us from possible thieves, but really it drew the Navy right to us. They ended up just asking us a few questions about where we were from, where we were going, who was onboard and told us to turn on our anchor light. Once we repeated that we had kids onboard, they said “ok” and “adios”. That was a little nerve wracking to say the least. Christian had our bear spray and spot light ready just in case, but thankfully we didn’t need it. In a way, it’s great to know that the Navy is out watching over the waters. They were probably making sure we weren’t up to no good, hiding in a cove without our anchor light on. 😂😂😂

We ended up having a great night’s sleep. In the morning, Nina got to eat her yogurt that she spent all day the previous day making for her biology lesson. It was a success! This was the first time any of us had made yogurt. I’m stoked to know how to do it now for future passages. After a morning SUP, swim and boat-schooling, we took the dinghy to explore the estuary at high tide. We are so awed by the beauty here. Slowly cruising through the mangrove, there were birds everywhere! We didn’t see the crocodiles we hoped for, but everything else was amazing.

Feb 1, the next morning, we motored 10 miles around the corner, to Bahia Honda (aka Bahia Chinche). We read in our guide book about an establishment and anchorage called Domingo’s. Apparently, Domingo loves company and loves to trade random stuff for his fresh produce as well. Knowing this in advance, I rummaged through our boat for items to give away, most of which were toys and shoes from Taj in which he outgrew. Sure enough, after only an hour of being anchored in front of Domingo’s, an older Panamanian and young child came motoring out in a panga. With the largest smile on his face, the man introduced himself as Domingo. He came out with a bucket of lemons to give us! He only spoke Spanish, but he was very clear and articulate, and very talkative, which made it easy to distinguish what he was saying. He asked us for medicine for diarrhea, in which I gladly gave to him and I grabbed the hand-me-downs to give to him as well. He then asked us if we wanted anything else like bananas, cilantro, coconuts. Of course we said yes! He came back later in the day with cilantro, red bananas, coconuts, and pineapple! He also brought some wooden platters that he carves himself to sell. We bought one for $10. Not that we needed a platter, but we felt good supporting him and it would remind us of his great spirit.Not long after Domingo’s visit, two boys rowed up in a small canoe. The older of the two brothers spoke to us in English and asked for water to drink. The oldest was 23 and he was self taught in English. He loved to practice. We were impressed with how well he spoke. He was a middle child out of 16 kids. He was out fishing with his 15 year old brother. Before leaving he asked for any magazines. We gave him one of Nina’s old Rollingstones magazines and a few of her old books. He was so happy! The next day Domingo’s son, Kennedy showed up to our boat on a kayak with his son. He had a bag full of grapefruit, oranges, and lemons. We didn’t think we had more to trade, so we offered him money. He was very grateful. His son that was with him was 6 years old. He asked if we had a backpack for him. We managed to find an old one and threw in some toys and fishing gear. We paddled across the bay to get wifi. The paddle was successful, but the wifi wasn’t too much with the one lonely wifi antenna. The locals would gather around outside near the antenna to get their free wifi. The locals were definitely interested in us. I don’t think they get very many American visitors. If you are a cruiser and you are sailing through here, make sure to stop at Domingo anchorage in Bahia Honda (Bahia Chinche) and either purchase food from him or his sons or plan ahead and bring items to trade. They said they like backpacks, clothes, fishing gear etc.

Feb 3rd, we sailed off the hook and down to Isla Cebaco. We sailed the whole way and tacked into the bay to set our anchor. A beautiful bay. We came here hoping to get surf. Our first day we stayed in the bay and explored. On the 5th, we looked for surf by motoring to where a local pointed us as to where the surf break was. We were barely successful. I chose to swim and walked instead and Christian went to surf when I got back. The kids did school and played as usual.Homemade tortillas! Thanks to SV Luna Sea for the amazing flour tortilla recipe!

We also did some not so nice boat projects.Fixed a clogged head (toilet). Yuk!

We are in love with Panama’s beauty. We haven’t entered the land of expensive and craziness that we hear of near Panama City. So far, it’s been tropical islands, small fishing and local huts, much wildlife, and NO wifi. The only bummer so far is ALL OF THE TRASH that we’ve seen washed up on the beaches. Most of it, plastic bottles and flip flops and crocs type sandals.I found my gym!Shawnigan anchored off of Isla Cebaco.

Please leave a comment! I will try to respond as soon as we get reliable wifi!

Costa Rica Rainforest zip line tours and more

We started Costa Rica off strong first with heavy winds pushing us out of our first anchorage and then with a zip line canopy tour with Vista Los Sueños Canopy tour company.

January 3rd, after our 19 day passage we thought we would have a great nights rest anchored in Punta Leona, Costa Rica. We thought wrong. Upon going to bed we had light onshore winds, most likely Papagoyo related, but not strong enough to be a concern. By midnight, they got stronger, then by 2 am we were sitting a lee shore with wind blowing 20 with gusts of about 25. No fun! We were about to pull up anchor and head south around the corner when we realized the windless wasn’t working! It was dark, windy, we were tired, there was no way we were going to pull are anchor up by hand. (I’m sure we could have if we had to.) We were solid in our holding, so we opted to sleep in the dodger and take watches until the morning. Needless to say, we didn’t sleep well at all. First thing in the morning light, the wind had calmed a bit, we pulled up the anchor and sailed out and down to the next anchorage, Herradura.

Although sleep deprived, we were so excited to get our legs on land. Shortly after dropping the hook, we rowed into shore, where we tied our dinghy up on the beach and walked into town. We spent the entire day walking around, just getting a feel for Costa Rica. The Spanish is different, faster with different words. Most people speak English here though. Figuring out the money was a challenge too. The Colones is 560 per the US dollar. After having the Mexican Pesos figured out, now we had to adjust to Colones. We quickly discovered that Costa Rica has about the same prices for everything as the US and double the prices for anything related to marina fees and boat related costs. We will not be staying in any marinas here if we can help it. One thing we loved and worth the money here, was the fried plantains. We had “nachos” with friend green plantain instead of chips as part of our first Costa Rican meal. Yum!

During our 5+ miles walk about, we stumbled upon a Canopy Zip Line tour company called Vista Los Sueños Rainforest Tours. We decided to splurge this one time and schedule a 10 platform zip line experience for the next day. Everyone was so excited! First thing the next morning, we rowed to shore and made our way up town to Vista Los Sueños for our 10 am tour. We were the first of our tour group to arrive, so we given bracelets stating we were #1, which meant that we got to go first! The staff at Los Sueños were super nice. They are all bilingual and well trained. After a safety intro, we took a tractor ride up the rainforest’s hill to platform 1 of 10. After another quick instructional talk it was time to start. I went first, followed by Ellamae, then Taj (yes, Taj went all by himself!), followed by Nina, then Christian.

The tour itself was about 2 hours. We all had a blast! At the completion, they give you a nice cup of seasonal fruit.

Afterward, we got a shuttle ride into Jaco, the tourist surf town nearby. We were in search of coffee and wifi, but instead found an acai bowl/yoga studio place called B-Fresh that offered amazing smoothies, acai bowls, panini sandwiches, kombucha on tap, and cold brew coffee for the after fruit sugar crash. It felt like we were in California again, in a good way. The prices were expensive as far as our cruising status was concerned, but still a little cheaper than California.

Before heading back to the boat we tried our first Costa Rican “Soda” place for dinner. A Soda is basically a cheaper typical food restaurant. Sometimes more like fast food, and not quite as expensive as a tourist oriented restaurant. It was good, but it was not the Mexican food we had been spoiled with for the last 2 years.

Southbound from La Cruz de Huanacaxtle, Mexico.

Southbound from La Cruz de Huanacaxtle, Mexico. (Dec 6th – 10th, 2017)

At the end of our four day surf binge in Banderas Bay, we took the good weather window out of La Cruz to make our way south. Our destination, Tenacatita, about 130 miles south, would take us about 24 hours with decent conditions.

December 6th, the day started with a warm welcome from Saint Nicholas. One present in the stocking , traditionally a boot left out for Saint Nicholas. We all got 1.5 – 2 mm tops for future surf and snorkeling sessions. As soon as the wind picked up around 10am , we finished prepping the boat and sailed out of the La Cruz anchorage by 10:30. First, we had a wind sail out, then switched to upwind for a few hours. By the time we were just northeast of Cabo Corrientes the wind was in our beam out of the north and slowly cocked behind us, giving us a nice push out of Banderas Bay and pushed us around the corner and south. We ended up wing on wing (main sheeted out to one side and Jib sheeted out with a whisker pole on the other side) around the point and up until about 12 midnight. The seas were pretty flat as the winds 10-15 most of the time. It was only from 10pm – 1 am that we had a reef in the main and the jib partially furled in. The wind slowly started dropping off around 2 am and switched to a broad reach. This made for a few comfortable hours to rest in between watches and the 15-20 minute naps for Christian who was on the 3am – 7 am watch.

Around 8am (1400 Zulu) , we were 5 miles west if Chamela, when Nina performed her Net Control commitment for the Amigo Net. Sea state was calm, wind was about 5 kts, which made for a relaxing morning coffee while we listened to the net. By 11am wind speeds picked up to about 10 kts and we were back to wing on wing , heading straight for Tenacatita. School underway was successful as it was the previous day as well. It seems like we’ve been able to get back in the grove of sailing a lot quicker these days , even after long periods of off season activities. I was happy to be able to go down below to cook and sleep without feeling the slightest bit of sea sickness.

We arrived into Tenacatita under jib alone by 2:30pm. To my surprise it was perfect timing for the daily Tenacatita group swim into shore and Bocci Ball on the beach. I swam as fast as I could to catch up and the rest of the family paddle boarded to shore.

The next few days were more of the same. School, swim, paddle board, boogie board, bocci ball , mangrove paddle, and meeting other cruisers.

below: Taj Kayaking to CarmanahTaj Surfing on his boogie board.paddling up the mangrove.

We even got to participate in the first dinghy raft up of the season! “The Mayor” of Tenacatita , Robert on S/V Harmony always does a great job at getting the cruisers together and making everyone feel welcome. We make the dinghy raft up into a potluck. Each boat brings a dish to share, we all bring our own plates and eating utensils, we pass the food around, eat, and introduce ourselves . The topic to add to our introduction was , “what inspired us to go cruising?”. I left that one to Christian, since we was the one who started sailing as a youngster with his dad. It was great way to learn a little bit about each cruiser. We had a total of 18 boats in the anchorage, not all were present that evening. (Adagio, Aldabra, Bula, Caper, Dos Gatos, Carmanah, Floating Stones, Haramara, Harmony, Hooligan, Kook, Shawnigan, Wind Rose, [and a few boats that In forgetting ] ). Thanks Robert and Virginia for facilitating keeping the Tenacatita community alive!

After a few enjoyable days in Tenacatita, we found ourselves heading to Barra de Navidad, for probably the last time for a long while. Nina will be turning 15 on the 12th and really wants to go out to a restaurant there called “El Riconcito”. We will also be prepping for our next big hop, sailing out of Mexico.

Back on the run, heading south of Mexico for fun!

Well, more like back on the slow sail (not a fast run). My 13 weeks for refilling the kitty turned into 19 and now we’re topped off. We’re hoping $20,000 will take us south from Mexico, into Central America and Westward. The idea is to cross the Pacific in March from Panama, spend our 3 month visa time in French Polynesia, make our way toward Fiji and then head down to New Zealand. Hopefully we’ll arrive in New Zealand November 2018 with just enough $ to find a place for S/V Shawnigan and our Family Afloat and to find myself a job in the NICU.

So now that you know “Plan A”, stay tuned as we make our way south from La Cruz (Puerto Vallarta). Ellamae and I returned to the boat and family on Friday. Saturday and Sunday we spent at the beach surfing and playing with friends. Today is a Boat-School day and Costco provisioning run. We hope to leave on Wednesday for Tenacatita, possibly stop in Barra de Navidad for Nina’s 15th Birthday, then Santiago. This will be our first time south of Barra (except for when Christian was a kid sailing with his father). We are looking forward to new anchorages and new towns to explore!