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Miami To Panama May 20, 2004 Español

Posted by Belle in : Miami to Panama

Life on the sea

Left Miami at 6PM towards Port Lucaya Sailing to the north in 15 nots right on the nose, crossing the gulf stream made our first two days difficult and uncomfortable.

Dio had a fever that would wake him up at night, the sound of the waves smashing into the hull and the rough, jerky movements of Simpatica sailing into the wind and waves kept him awake.

The watches were a bit hard to get used to. Glen and Penny would watch for four hours and then Wences and I would take over. I felt sick, but was good at keeping down as much as possible so I didn’t actually get sick.

There were a fair amount of cruise ships and big boats that showed up on the radar. Wences would watch for a bit, then it was my turn. Having never used radar before, as soon as anything showed up on the radar I paniced and said, WENCES-WE’RE HEADING RIGHT FOR THAT HUGE THING! Then he explained to me that each circle represented two miles and that HUGE THING that we were about to run into was actually eight miles away. OOOPS.

Then he went back to sleep and I watched the radar, occassionaly walking towards the outside (don’t worry mom, we use harnesses at night that we wear and are tied to the boat so if we fall off, we aren’t lost forever, instead we get to do a nice little water ski ride behind the boat).

Suddenly I saw little dots in the radar, that would come and go very quickly and this time, they were RIGHT IN FRONT OF THE BOAT. I woke wences up, panicked again, and to show him what could only be aliens invading from the depths of the sea rather than the sky, those tricky bastards,, I thought to myself, of course, who would expect them to come from BELOW! Sure that I was saving Simpatica from serious catastrophe, I showed wences my evidence of alien existence.

He popped up from his spot on the couch, took one look at the radar, said “Those are the waves in front of us.” and popped down again. OOPS! At least I was paying attention, I told myself. The first two nights was a reality call to life on a boat that is actually MOVING instead of in the marina, motionless.

Day Two

Arrived at Port Lucia at 3PM. We were there long
enough to pass through customs, get some ice, and nothing more.

Day Three

Arrived at Allan’s Cay in the Exeumas. Just when I was beginning to wonder why we were doing this, Dio’s fever vanished and we anchored in a secluded beautiful spot right next to a tiny little uninhabited island. Well, I should clarify that. No PEOPLE live on the island. Glen told Wences and me that there were lots of iguanas living there and that when people go there, they come out to see if you’ve brought them any lettuce, which they love. Wences, the eternal trickster told Sophia to bring all the lettuce that was going bad to the island, where we could throw it out and give it to the cute little birdies. Sophia got it all together and we all set off on the dingy. When we got there, Wences ordered Sophia to take it over by a somewhat tall tree, farther into the island. We could all see a HUGE iguana right by the tree, and we waited for Sophia to see the beast. She walked casually by the monster, seeing nothing, we told her to drop the lettuce there, before she got to the tree, but she said she would take it all the way to the tree. Just as she was dropping the lettuce to the ground, dozens of smaller iguanas appeared out of
no where to gobble up the leafs of lettuce. I’ve never seen anyone so scared. She screamed, dropped the plate and started running. But by this time iguanas were all around her and wherever she ran, one of them would run towards her. By the time she made it back to the dingy, we were laughing so hard. It took Sophia a while to get her breath back, but she was a very good sport about the whole thing. We stayed on the island for a while, watching the iguanas and trying to get Dio to walk in the sand. The incline was a little too much for him, but we had a good swim in the warm, light, light blue water. We slept soundly, no watches, just peaceful sleeping.

Day Four

We heard the weather was not favorable for a long sail. The wind was over 25 knots in our area and coming again from the north east. We decided to take smaller, shorter day sails and wait for the system to pass us. Turned out to be a strong storm. 900 people died in Haiti from the floods alone.

Day Five

In the morning wences and I went snorkeling at a reef not far from where our boat was moored. It had been so long since I had gone snorkeling, it was almost as if I was going again for the first time. It always surprises me how you go along in your little dingy, zooming across the surface of the water and you see some thing that looks like a pile of rocks a couple of feet under the surface and when you put your gear on and take a look, you find a beautiful busy ecosystem with all kinds of colorful fish. My favorite fish for the moment is the queen angel fish. We stayed there as long as we could then went back to Simpatica for a quick and yummy lunch that Sophia made and sailed to Wardwick Key. Just before we arrived there we ran into a small fishing boat. Two guys came out toward us holding a couple of HUGE lobsters. We bought four beautiful, fresh lobster for thirty bucks and a corona. Beer seems to be a powerful bartering tool out here. Later, after we ate the lobster, we remembered that it’s not lobster season now. But, somebody had to eat it!

Wardwick Cay is a national park. A beautiful mooring. There were so many different colors of blue so close to our boat, it looked like a painting. We visited the park station which is not much more than a small wooden cabin ontop of small hill. Two big old doggies came to greet us at the shore. Then shortly returned to their siestas in the shade. The park station had some descriptions of local fish, a little shy lady who kept herself busy filing papers when we were there. A Bajan mocking bird came close to the cabin as we sat on the wrap around porch and sang her little heart out. The park lady told me she calls her chatty Cathy. Not a pretty bid to look out, but with a beautiful song. When we went back to the boat, tiny little yellow breasted birds with a small white and gray crest were landing on the table as we ate lunch. We put some sugar out and they flew onto sophia’s hand, gobbling up as much sugar as their narrow little beaks would allow. Fearing we might give them cardiac arrest, we cleaned up the sugar. They stayed. eating pieces of bread, whatever they could fine. Little crumb catchers. In the afternoon I took Dio to the beach again, hoping the remind him what it feels like to walk, but again, the incline of the sand from the water upwards was too challenging to him. We swam around and Dio rode his first wave, unintentionally of course. Don’ worry mom, it was about three inches high. He likes to sit in the place where the little waves break because they give him a fun, bouncy ride.

Day Six - Arrived at Bell Island

Bell island was very different. Lots of little, flat islands with bushes. Somehow it reminded me and Sophia of what we imagine New Zealand to look like. We wanted to make sure Sophia got to go snorkeling because she had never been. Wences and Glen found the reef that the park lady told us was really good and came back to confirm the report. Wences took me and Sophia in the dinghy. We had a nice ten minute ride past little islands. We tied the dingy to a buoy next to the spot and dove in. It was amazing. Hundreds of sargent generals, these small white fishes with black and yellow stripes swarmed around us, curious and probably looking for food. Not far from them a beautiful blue trigger fish followed, watching us. As we swam farther, toward the tiny island surrounded by coral reefs, I saw all the different kinds of fish that I have ever seen, but in such a small area. It was like a live display of our diving book. Sophia loved it. As I was following an angel fish around, I suddenly was attacked by a swarm of sargent generals. A couple even bit me, softly, of course, but it was still a little alarming. I imagined a swarm of little fish like that could probably eat me if they really wanted. I tried to swim away from then, but they kept following me. PLOP. A large piece of bread suddenly landed right in front of me. I poked my head out of the water to see Sophia launching large chunks of bread my way, laughing hysterically. I guess she got her revenge.

Day Seven - Staniel Cay

Just when we thought we had spoiled Sophia with the best diving in the Bahamas, we found THE CAVE. Hollowed out by years of water with a big hole that let sun shine right through the center of the cave, THE CAVE was a really fun place to snorkel. Wences and Glen can go down to the bottom and really get a close look at the fish. I’m still trying to learn how to do that. I go down a ways and then feel like my ears are about to explode and although I hold my nose and blow, I still feel like my ears are on the verge of explosion. Then I start floating up to the top because I’ve been so interested in my ears I’ve forgotten to use my flippers. Hopefully I’ll get it together one of these days because I would love to hang out at the bottom and watch all the fish chomp on the coral. You can hear them eating away. It crunches kind of loudly, like they’re eating chips. That night we had our first night out. We went to a small restaurant on shore where you had to call in advance to tell them how many people you were going to be and what you wanted. I think they had to go fishing again after we called.

The bar was filled when we got there with quite a few older american men who looked like they’d been there, on their stool, all day. They all tried to talk to Dio and he looked at them like they were scarey beasts risen from the dead. Smart kid. Shortly after we got there, they rang a large cow bell and tourists emerged from boats and bushes, dressed in appropriate resort wear and flocked to their table of choice. The mahi mahi was really good, with a nice spicey sauce. I let dio eat the peas and rice, which he enjoyed for a while. Then all of the sudden he seemed to get that we weren’t on the boat anymore and wanted to explore. He dragged me over to a table of New Zealanders. One of the ladies was six months pregnant. She beamed with joy as she watched Dio. Her husband was really sweet and Dio and he bonded immediately. It was hard to get him away from their table. Then we went to the bar where he smiled at a couple of the local customers who all nodded their head and waved, warmly, giving Dio his space instead of the americans who come up and get right into it. Dio has learned how to say no. He shakes his head violently with a very stern look on his face when he doesn’t like something (and sometimes just when he feels like asserting his independance, sound familiar mom?). Every time a drunk american came up to him he would shake his head. If they tried to touch him he would wave his hand quickly in front of his face, actually hitting any hand or finger that ventures into his space. I couldn’t help but laugh. The drunken sailors pretended not to be offended as the wobbled back onto their barstools. Then Dio walked out of the place and down to the marina, fascinated by the moon and starts. I realized that he usually goes to bed before night fall, so he had never seen them, or at least not since he was a couple of months old. He learned how to point that night. He pointed up at the moon and would say something that sounds like Juice. Seems to be his word for everything he likes.

That night we sailed by Long Island. I could see the lights off the starboard side and pretended I could see our house on Dune Road and that all of you were sitting in the living room reading by the fire (who cares if it’s the end of May), with those beautiful old lamps making just enough light to warm the room. The table wiped down after a yummy dinner. And I couldn’t help but imagine Pele lying by mom’s feet. This night watch was really beautiful. No other ships, very calm seas, perfect temperature. It was the first time I’ve sailed at night and was not afraid. A really nice feeling.

Day Eight - Crooked Island

Glen and Penny have been to Crooked Island a couple of times before so we decided to check it out. Half the population (which we guess to be in the fifties)knows and loves Glen. It seems the last time he was here he fixed the small resorts washing machine and a couple of other things. Since everything breaks down easily and quickly here because of the salt water, and it’s a real pain and very expensive to get things sent there, a guy like Glen is very appreciated. He had told us about his friend, DK, who had moved to the island in the late eighties and had started a small resort. He told us DK and his wife Megan had the most amazing view and house we could imagine. We all nodded, each of us thinking we had probably seen a house that was nicer. When we saw that house, we realized we had better trust Glen in the future. It was a simple two story house with a half acre of palm trees and green in front of it, overlooking the ocean. The light house was perfectly visible, and at sunset, the light was amazing. The first story is their kitchen. living room area, which was nice, plantation style furniture mixed with a bit of florida-esque kitchen stuff. Very nice, but I wasn’t sold yet. The second floor was their bedroom. Their bed was on a raised platform in the center of the room-a huge four poster bed with white linen, see through curtains on the side and top (I forget what those beds are called-the SUPER romantic ones). Obviously the bed is the main attraction. The view from the bed is beautiful. The sun was just setting, it seemed unreal some how. We decided we could definitely stay there for a while.

Earlier we went to THE STORE which was about the size a large walk in closet. They had canned goods-we got juice, pasta, soda, flour, butter, crackers, cheese. The owner of the store was very sweet. She wore a black baseball cap over straightened black hair pulled into a pony tail, a worn, long flower print skirt and a green t-shirt. She came to greet us in a golf cart when she saw us coming in the dinghy. Turns out she was also the owner of the gas station, so she took us for a ride her cart to the gas station where we filled up two containers with gas and then took us back to our dingy.

Later that night we went to dinner-after seeing DK’s house. The vibe in the place was great. There were some locals really jamming out when we got there, big grown men dancing in the playfully. Some tourists who had been thre for a while were hanging out with the locals, joking with the kids. It was nice to see.

Everyone seemed relaxed and happy. No tension between the tourists and locals. We met THE local RASTA who really hit it off with Dio. He smiled mischievously at Dio and talked to him in DONald duck voice and dio loved him. It was hard to get Dio to leave, actually. I think he could’ve hung out with Rasta man all night long. We promised him we’d be back in the morning.

Day Nine - Sofia made GOOD BREAD

Dio found a new toy, my wallet. Keeps him occupied for at least ten minutes. And I am finally writing this-remembering all of the places we’ve been, wishin we could stay longer here at Crooked Island. But we’re off to the Big Iguana island where we will clear customs tomorrow and head for Panama.

Crooked Island

We loved Crooked Island. If we had more time, we could have stayed a week there. Everyone was so nice. It probably helped a lot that we were with Glen, who has been there a couple of times. Apparently one time he went around fixing things, washing machines, gadgets and things, and now he’s famous there. But there is something about the people there too. You can see it just by watching them. They like meeting people and having fun. The night we went out, there were five big men dancing and singing to good music, laughing it up. They didn’t care who was watching, they weren’t trashed, they were just having fun. And people would smile and go on with whatever they were doing. I already talked about that night, so I’ll start with the next morning.

We moved the boat next to a coral reef on the other side of the island in the morning. Glen and Penny went conch “hunting”, Wences went fishing with a bunch of locals, and Sophia and I played with Dio in his private pool on the trampoline. In Crooked Island spear fishing is prohibited, which says even more about the place. They let you fish with something called a Hawaiian sling which is fishing version of a sling shot. Wences, however, LOVES spear fishing. So, he had to ask permission from the keeper of the fish. He had to go ask Shakey, a sweet little man with big sad eyes and a slow, but long lasting smile if he could break out his weapon of mass destruction. Shakey thought about it for a while, it was a big decision. If word got out he had gone soft and was letting just any guy go spear fishing, eager spear fisherman would flock to Crooked Island and eat up all their fish. Wences saw it was going to be a super tough decision for Shakey. Should he offer a bribe? No. Too argentine. Should he offer peace, democracy, and better human rights? No, too American. So, he did what he always does when he knows it’s a close call. When he knows he might just lose everything. He tilted his chin down, put a little frown on his face, and looked up through pleading eyes. The pleading eyes of a little boy who’s about to be so sad that you have been mean enough to deprive him of something that will bring him so much joy. Wences brought home a great grouper that day. And cooked it in a sauce from the FISH book, garlic and onions. The best grouper I’ve ever had. And I smiled, happy with the fun day, the nice people, the yummy fish, and knowing that one day Wences will be in serious shit. The day Dio learns that face it’s all over.

Day Eleven

We left in the afternoon and sailed all night until we got to Gran Inagua Island. This was to be our last stop before our five to seven day sail to Panama. How can I describe Gran Inagua? Well, there’s nothing Grand about it. It’s one of the ugliest places I’ve ever been. Even the trees are ugly. Maybe it has to do with the fact that Morton makes all of their salt there. Too much salt in the land. And most of the island works for Morton. Morton doesn’t seem to care to much about the island aesthetics, to say the least. We needed to get some gas and some food. It wasn’t an urgent stop, but a way of breaking up what was going to be the longest leg of our journey yet. We got there at 2:30 PM. Nobody was at the marina gas station. A local guy names Sissel had heard us calling on the radio to see if the gas station was open and came to greet us. He offered to take us into town and show us around the island. Since we needed to go into town for food, we said sure. And we asked if we could find out when somebody would be around for the gas. On our way into town we ran into the brother of the owner of the gas pump, who told us his brother had gone fishing and wouldn’t be back til after five. Sissel told us there a couple of places we could go for food, that he would take us to the best place where we would be able to find what we needed. He told us we probably wouldn’t be able to find fresh fruit and vegetables because they ship them in and they’re the first to go in every market. We found almost everything we needed at the first store. They live off canned food and soda it seems. The owner of the store was a nice lady in her forties, very curious about where we had been and seen and where we were from. She had never left the island. I wished we could pack her into a storage compartment and bring her out when we got somewhere pretty, but I didn’t think he daughter would like it. Her daughter, it seems, hadn’t seen too many strangers and didn’t trust us. Kidnapping her mother probably wouldn’t help. When we told Sissel we still needed to get some more stuff from the other store, he kind of rushed us out of the store. Seems he was trying to do the lady a favor because the next store he took us to was definitely better. We didn’t say anything. How could you blame him for trying to help out a friend. Besides, the owner of the second store, a seventy something, half deaf, hair net wearing, funky breath smelling lady was not so nice.

Sissel took us back to the boat where we waited. And waited. Five came and went. No gas guy. We radioed someone (I have no idea who) and a man sounding somewhat professional and serious said he would do his best to expedite the problem. Suddenly a woman showed up with a bunch of keys. She was going to unlock the pump. But out of all of the keys she had, not one would open the lock. Her friend got out of the car, carrying a two year old little girl. Dio fell in love. He crawled to the edge of the boat, heaved himself up on the life line (with the safety net for Dio so he can’t fall off the boat) and reached his hand out to her. She squeeled and hid behind her mother’s legs for ten minutes. Poor Dio had no idea what he had done wrong. Not EVERY girl is going to love him. First painful lesson in love. Then a truck pulled up with a bunch of guys in the back drinking from paper cups. A balding, chubby guy stumbled over to us and gave us a very elaborate welcome. He informed us that Gran Inagua was home to the largest flock of sea gulls in the western hemisphere, and the most varied wild life and sea life in the Bahamas. Turns out he was the mayor and he had cut short a fishing trip (and excuse to drink a lot of beer with the boys) when he heard our cry for help. Great-where are the key. After five more minutes of blahblahbalbh, he said he would go find the gas guy, who was reported to be back from his fishing trip and was out with his friends somewhere on the island. He left. Glen and Wences, bored and desperate, found a way to measure exactly how much gas we had (the gauge hadn’t been working) and after a few minutes of calculating, realized we didn’t need the gas, although it was always better to have too much gas then too little. Just then our boat was attacked by the thickest swarm of mosquitos I have ever seen in my life-and that seemed to be the deciding factor. CIAO GRAN INAGUA.

Day Twelve

Not too much action. Not too much wind. It was so hot and windless that we took turns swimming in the ocean. Dio looked like he really wanted to come in, but he has his own private pool which he loves. It looked like he was getting pink eye so we called the MEDLINK, the company we’ve hired to help us deal with any medical issued that come up while we’re sailing. A doctor told me where I could find the eye ointment for him and to use it three times a day. Nice to know the system works and that it’s pretty fast. Beats going to the doctor on land!

We caught a tuna and made sushi. Glen made a conch ceviche that was really yummy. We felt clean and healthy.

A huge boat passed within a half mile of us during my watch. I thought I was going to throw up. I asked Glen to help me decide if it was going to crash into us or not. He showed me how to watch the radar and look at the lights on the ship to see which direction it’s going and whether we’re on a collision course. The radar has a function that figures it out, but you still have to make sure with your own eyes.

That night was the first night I did my watch alone. And I was scared. There was 19 knots of wind, which is more than I’m used to, and we were going 8-9 knots, which is also fast for me. The seas seem to be getting bigger, too.

Day Thirteen

The seas gradually changed over the night. By the time I woke up in the morning, it felt rough. Every once in a while a wave would crash into the hull, sounding like an explosion. Glen and Penny call it a bowling alley. The waves are getting bigger. I kept Dio inside all day, afraid a wave would scoop him away, although they were not crashing on the deck, the boat was moving a lot more than it ever had. At least there was no rain, a sunny sky, I thought to myself. That night on watch, I was SUPER scared. I hadn’t been that scared since I went on the vision quest and was so delirious at night, that I thought I was being surrounded by a pack of hungry bears. We flew by Haiti and Cuba and just passed Jamaica. I thought how nice it would have been to stop off, have some jerk chicken and a rum punch, listen to some reggae. Of course there’s no such thing as just stopping by, on a boat. And I knew we needed to get to the Pacific. I remembered the rainy season in Miami and didn’t think it would be something fun to sail through. The wind went up to 29 knots on my watch. And I was pretty sure the waves were over ten feet. I crawled out to attach my harness to the line when I had to check outside. I wasn’t sure if it was a good thing or a bad thing that Penny had told me she’s been sailing all her life and these were the worst seas she had seen. At least it made me feel like I wasn’t being a chicken. But then I thought SHIT! What the hell are we sailing through? When we would reach the top of a wave Simpatica would skid down the side, in effect riding the wave. She was doing what she was supposed to do, but it just felt so scarey to me. That night made me question the intelligence of having another baby too soon. I could hardly take care of myself that night, how could I take care of two babies?

Dio was great. Most of the time, he didn’t seem scared at all. Sometimes he would get frustrated that he couldn’t walk, and sometimes couldn’t’ crawl, but he wasn’t scared. He made me laugh. He has this knew thing he does. He wriggles up his nose and breathes out of it like a horsey-really hard. We’re not sure what it means or where he got it, but we’re pretty sure he’ll be doing it for a while because the response is always laughter

When the seas are like this, you sleep as much as you can. Since we’ve divided the days into three hour watches, when you’re not on watch you’re sleeping, or reading or eating.

June 1

We had wind over 30 knots in the morning and waves probably up to 15 feet. We can’t keep any of the hatches open, so the air in the boat gets stale and so sticky. I spent the day keeping Dio entertained inside the boat. I found what has proven to be the most effective toy so far. My wallet. He’s happy with that thing for at least a half hour. He loves to take all the card out, chew on them, throw them around, take more out. My wallet saved me that day, eventhough there was not a dime in it. I gave Dio a couple of showers to keep him cool. He has a crease under his neck where he always gets lint and dirt -so yucky. His new favorite thing to do is to go caca in the shower. At least he’s going, I tell myself.

Somehow I seemed to get used to the movement of the boat, somewhat, during the day. I think it calmed down a bit too. We were all starting to breathe again, maybe the worst is over.

But no. A half hour before my watch was over Dio started screaming hysterically. He could not be quieted by Sophia, which is strange because usually she can. I went in and got him and brought him up thinking, I have twenty five minutes, I’ll feed him and check everything and maybe ask wences to start five minutes early. As I looked outslde I saw a huge lightning rod light up the entire sky in front of me. We were sailing into a storm. Aside from the rough weather a storm brings, lightening is one of the worse things that can happen to a boat. If our boat was hit by lightening we would lost all of our instruments. Luckily Glen knows how to navigate more or less under conditions like that, but the thought of anyone having to sit outside and manually steer during this weather made my head spin. I woke up Wences who woke up Glen. They looked very concerned. Dio started crying so I took him down into bed with me, pulled the blind down so I didn’t have to see the lightening or the waves, and somehow managed to sleep.

June 2

What could have made last night worse? If somebody had left a hatch slightly open? Allowing water to pour into the main salon, seep dangerously close to the batteries? Yes, I did that. Poor Glen, Wences and Penny had too much to deal with. They were so exhausted in the morning. Dodging lightening and sopping up water. They needed sleep.

The sea seemed calmer, the wind died down a bit. Our spirits were a little better. Partly because of calmer weather, partly just knowing that we would reach Panama the next day. Only one more day! That night we had a feast, broke out the ice cream, Penny brought out her home made cookies that she had vaccum sealed into bags. They tasted fresh! My watch wasn’t too eventful, I noticed the winds were picking up again. A huge ship passed-and I was able to figure out on my own that we weren’t all going to be crushed to death by a tanker. That felt good-being able to do it on my own.

I woke up early in the morning. Penny was calling Wences. The automatic pilot had stopped working. I looked outside and saw we were in another storm. With lots of lightening. I went up and waited while Wences helped Glen fix the automatic pilot. Glen and Penny were drenched. Wences fixed it pretty quickly and we went back down to sleep. I felt bad leaving them up there, but there was nothing I could do. The lightening continued. A few hours later I heard the engines roar. Glen was tired of being in this storm. He was going to blast through it. And he did.

June 3

Sophia was the first to spot the land. It looked like a boat highway. So many tankers and ships heading in and out of Panama. We saw a long line of what looked like 20 ships waiting to go through the canal. We found our way to the marina and just when it seemed like we had nothing to worry about, twenty knots of wind whipped Simpatica around, the anchor had slipped and was dragging something. We had to quickly get out of the marina, wait for the winds to die out, and then come back in and try a different spot. It felt like NOTHING could be easy. Not even parking the BOAT! It was pouring rain. I haven’t seen it rain that hard since the summer I went to Madame Svetlova’s in Vermont. I remember we all went outside with our wella balsam shampoos and washed out hair in it. That thought made me smile. Rain can be fun, I reminded myself. But we’re here in Panama’s rainy season. Too much rain is not fun.