Back Aboard: Bocas Del Toro, Panama

As the time gradually draws nearer to return to Winterlude, it seems appropriate to share our update from returning to Bocas Del Toro Panama … with a hydraulic arm for our new autopilot in an oversize wooden crate … We were in a hurry to leave the marina to meet cruising friends in the Rio Chagres.  We skipped through the San Blas Islands on the way to Cartagena, Columbia.  We wanted to enjoy Cartagena and cruise the Columbian coastline islands as well as Sapzurro before the infamous Columbian Lo started kicking up it’s heels.   We left the Rio Chagres in October, were in Cartagena by festival time, and safely tucked back into the San Blas Islands before Christmas.  Here’s the return to Bocas update:


Hi all! We’re back aboard Winterlude and life is good! It’s great to be back, I’ve missed seeing coconuts drift lazily by the boat in the clear water, orchids and all the brightly colored flowers, the cute little geckos, unfamiliar bird cries — I’ve even missed the noseeems!

Bocas Marina, Between the Mangroves

Bocas Marina, Between the Mangroves

Altho’, I’d love to fast forward through the first week back aboard after being gone for 6 months.  The first week or so simply isn’t fun. Those that aren’t cruisers won’t understand the frustration of waking up first thing in the morning & realizing the bilge pump isn’t working (in a driving downpour) – David handpumped 2 1/2 gallons out of the bilge to find that the check valve we have trouble with annually is stuck again (big surprise)! We are STILL paying for accidentally dumping the oil in the bilge several years ago (for those who don’t remember the infamous incident… there is no good way to change the oil in our diesel, but in the yard in LaCeiba, they simply held 2 gallon baggies under the drain hole – there’s no clearance for anything else — but when David & I tried the baggie technique, the bilge caught alot more of the oil than the baggie). The moral to the story is DO NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES let engine oil leak into your bilge!!! 🙂 But once again, after cleaning the bilge & banging the check valve with a hammer, it apears to be at least unstuck, if not fully functional.

Or how about two days ago waking up & realizing the head isn’t pumping … gggrrrrr … once again a mere cleaning of the air valve fixed the problem — only took two minutes. The good news is, this is our 3rd year returning to the boat and some debacles appear to be regulars! The head problem rattled us alot more last year — this year we simply got out the instructions, & disassembled it, applied a bit of vinegar & voila!

Don’t get me wrong… we’ve been mixing boat tasks with pleasure, just not as much pleasure as we’d prefer! We finally were able to enjoy “Om”, the Indian restaurant in Bocas with friends from Bruadair, LoneStar Love and Angelheart. My food was delicious – and an added bonus was watching the local marching band parade past the street below our 2nd story balcony seats.

Growing Stuff!  Bocas is Famous for This!

Growing Stuff! Bocas is Famous for This!

One new occurrence …. we grew our own coral reef right here at the dock! The prior two years in the freshwater of the Rio Dulce, nothing grew. But here in Bocas Del Toro, the warm salt water grows coral and “stuff” as you watch! Our extra zinc on a line fed over the stern accumulated a nice living reef – about two feet long by 3-4″ wide — too bad we weren’t fishing, all those tiny crabs would have been great bait! The good news is that the zinc had barely been eaten and the diver says our maxprop zinc and shaft zinc are both in great shape. We had a bag over the prop — if you’re leaving the boat in these waters, it’s a must — otherwise when you return, the growth would be so substantial, your prop would never turn again!

It’s been a long time since we’ve enjoyed life on the hook – and we can’t wait to get back. As a result, the last few days have been a whirlwind … anytime you leave your boat for awhile, you quickly learn to appreciate all the simple pleasures that you never really think about while living ashore .. like the head (toilet) working perfectly the first time (it was 4 days later that it jammed!)! The stove lighting on the first try gets a big HURRAY! — though the propane bottle only shows 50 lbs of pressure after being refilled just before we left in April. I’m hoping we don’t run out of propane a week out, but other cruisers here have the same experience – must be something weird with Panama propane! The refrigerator gave us a scare because we couldn’t hear it kick on as soon as we flipped the breaker, but then we remembered the same thing happened last year … so we decided to ignore it & move onto other projects & sure enough, hours later – ICE CUBES!!! The electric windlass goes up & down, the jib and mainsail are bent on, the canvas is all up AND … the new MacBook laptop appears to be working fine with both Nobeltec and Sailmail/Winlink via Parallels/Windows XP.

David and Friends, Enjoying Happy Hour at the Bocas Marina Bar

David and Friends, Enjoying Happy Hour at the Bocas Marina Bar

Traveling from Indianapolis to Panama City, Panama via Houston on Continental Airlines was surprisingly pleasant … arriving at the airport — with 270 pounds of luggage, 3 bags and a large wooden crate to check. David taped a screwdriver to the outside of the crate – sure that someone would want to inspect the contents (the hydraulic arm for our new autopilot and random other “stuff”) and sure enough arriving in Panama City, the crate had an inspection notice … unfortunately, at some point someone coveted the screwdriver or it simply disappeared. Here, Panamanian officials wanted to look in the crate, but we didn’t have another screw driver and after some consternation, they decided they didn’t have one either and let the crate into the country. Jose, our favorite cab driver, winced, but gamely loaded 270 lbs of “boat stuff” into his
Toyota and off we went to the hotel. In Panama, it’s almost impossible to fly from the US (at least northern states) and catch a commuter flight to anywhere else — the commuter flights to Bocas are done at 3:30 PM and our flight from the US didn’t get in until 7 PM. Plus there’s more than an hour travel time between the Tocumen International Airport and Albrook Commuter Airport. The next morning, at a civilized hour, Jose reloaded all our stuff & drove us to Albrook where we were able to book 3:30 flight for both us and all our stuff! HURRAY! This was a big obstacle, one that David had been dreading for weeks! At the Albrook Airport, we reunited unexpectedly with some friends — Sandy & Cheri on s/v Namaste and Paul & MaryMargaret on s/v Angelheart — in addition to helping us lug all the stuff, they got a BIG van taxi from the Bocas airport and then a water taxi that brought us directly alongside Winterlude to offload. At this point it was definitely time to head to the little bar for drinks, glad to have that part of the journey behind us!!!

2 weeks-ish later, we’re close to being ready to leave – waiting for the hydraulic hoses for the autopilot to be made in Almirante and for the rain to quit so we can re-commission the diesel since the bag came off the prop yesterday. We’re hopeful as soon as we get the hoses, we can go cruising once again!!! I can’t wait to play under the Rio Chagres waterfall and later float down river in our dinghy sipping vino and spotting crocodiles after dark! Until then….

Fair winds!

Jan & David, s/v Winterlude, Bocas Del Toro, Panama
9 20.136N 82 14.814W

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