The Last Sail …. April 15
April 15 … Too soon it seems, every cruising season comes to an end…. The mainsail goes up, the clink clink of the chain links on the electric windlass signal an adventure ending and another about to begin. After over 170 days at anchor in dozens of interesting new ports from Panama to Columbia, Winterlude hoists the sails for the last time this season. Sailing slowly past the Spanish forts safeguarding Portobelo for the last four centuries, we hang a left toward Colon. In the distance, 17 miles and a lifetime away, we can see dozens of ships, the size of small cities, waiting their turn to proceed through the Panama Canal. The wind is light, the sun is warm on our shoulders and the sky paints a brilliant blue against the white of our sails. Bo, our Monitor windvane steers us closer & closer to civilization.
I sit watching the crystal blue waters flow by, straining for a last glimpse of dolphins playing in our bow wake or an eagle ray gliding alongside, but I see nothing other than the sun sparkling on the water and an occasional Jesus fish – nicknamed because they appear to walk on water … on their tails, no less! Looking to starboard is out to sea and a parade of container ships and tankers interspersed with a single gleaming white cruise ship. Looking to port I see an occasional tiny fishing village nestled in the rainforests under towering green mountains. The white puffy clouds almost kiss the tops of the highest mountain peaks with only the slightest splash of blue sky in between.
Sailing slowly, enjoying every minute of our last sail, both of us were caught up in the rushing waters, the sound of the wind whistling in the rigging and the boat heeling slightly. Suddenly a brown spec appears in the blue. I jump to the rail watching intently. Everyone else – including both Danny & Aly who were only aboard a week – has seen sea turtles this season, just not me! As a final farewell, a lone sea turtle swam almost alongside Winterlude. It was huge, at least 4 feet and swimming leisurely in the middle of nowhere as if it had nothing better in the world to do but swim up & bid us farewell.
Mezmerized by the sparkling blue ocean water, knowing that once again, our cruising season ends in only a couple of hours (and two weeks of hot hard endless boatwork), we reminisce about the past six months.
Winterlude traveled almost 1,000 miles in six months through clear tropical waters teeming with fish from Bocas Del Toro, Panama in the far west to Cartagena, Columbia in the far east. Along the way we passed over 400 islands, only a smidgen of which we had time to stop & savor. We’ve anchored in 33 different places, including the Chagres River, Cartagena, five different islands along the Columbian Coast, six Eastern San Blas stops, eighteen Central & Western San Blas islands, plus Colon and Portobelo. Obviously next season, we’ll have to return to Panama since there are at least 350 islands and a few rivers in the San Blas that we missed entirely! It won’t be the same without our buddyboat, Kristiana, but we’ll force ourselves to eat extra Kuna bread for them since they won’t get it in Belize next winter!
During those six months…
* Rayene & I swam with the dolphins … literally … and also with countless eagle rays – better than Disneyworld or Seaworld! We invited a black fin tuna, some snappers & a grouper or two to dinner and swam the other way quickly when we saw sharks!
* David splashed gasoline in the most famous Kuna mola artist’s eyes … our first meeting with Lisa will not be soon forgotten. Luckily Lisa was not injured … but she was out of gas & had several miles to travel to get back to her home island of Rio Sidra. David was trying to be the nice guy when our boat lurched in the gas transfer. Lisa did return & sell us all mola art – even Aly!
* Doug & David played pied piper in the Kuna villages with dozens of Kuna children flocking after them as they entertained, blowing bubbles while Rayene & I explored the villages, visiting with many Kuna women & inspecting hundreds of molas. We enjoyed learning firsthand about the Kuna culture & way of life. It is unique in the world and fascinating, if sometimes overbearing.
* We gave away dozens of reading glasses to Kuna Indians who needed to see better … to read or to make quality molas. Not speaking Kuna made it a challenge, but it was always rewarding when someone tried on a pair of glasses that obviously allowed them to see more clearly. Next season we’ll take more glasses & try to help more people. The word gets out quickly & in some islands we had almost blind elderly people paddle out to the boat saying “len ses” “lenses” . We haven’t determined if that’s Kuna or an attempt at English, but we recognized what they wanted & helped when we could.
* Rayene deviously talked her way into the Cartagena Hilton on the pretense of wanting to look in the shop for a new swimsuit… both David & Doug were drooling at the inside opportunity to watch the bikini photo shoot at the Hilton pool with the Miss Columbia contestants… BTW Rayene really was looking for a new swimsuit!
* The magic of the Rio Chagres, from spotting my own sloth slowly making it’s way along a branch of a tree to the noisy troops of howler monkeys to the chattering white faced monkeys … and who could forget our explorations, the $60 Disney tour – even swimming in the waterfall during such a torrential downpour we couldn’t even see – so much rain that it kept trying to wash my contact right out of my eye! We even had to bail the dinghy on the trip back up the river!
* David & Doug looking for the start of the Carnival Parade in Cartagena … while going with the crowd flow of 10,000 people, they were as “inconspicuous” as two gringos can be. But when they turned to take photos, they were swarmed with paint slinging carnival enthusiasts … most had handfuls of white paint, red paint, or blue paint … David & Doug both ended up mostly red. Thankfully they both evaded the motor oil boys, but just! Earlier this week I washed the Chicago Bears cap that David had covered with red paint & it mostly is all gone … very sad, another memory washed away.
* Our “out of food” dilemma actually was fun being creative with meals, trying to keep it interesting. How many ways can you eat beans & rice, especially after we ran out of beans! I think we actually ate better when we had no food than when we DO have food! David’s opinion might vary!
* I still wish I had taken the photo of the frozen chicken feet sticking out of the top of my freezer compartment! The savory delicious aromas of Thanksgiving morning filled the boat when we cooked that chicken! YUM! And every time I used REAL chicken broth, the boat smelled good all over again!
* Challenging the “no roads to Kuna Yala” reality by playing in the sticky red gooey mud all the way up & over the mountains on the jeep
experience of a lifetime. David ended up with a new $8.95 pair of long pants courtesy of a useless trip to immigration & we both were covered with mud, but happy to see Winterlude & still be alive!
* David being less than thrilled by the hammerhead shark that confronted him while cruising the reef edge behind the Hot Tub out at the Holendes Cayes. Of course, we both watched Aly walk on water after Danny scared up a BIG nurse shark that didn’t seem to realize he was supposed to be sleeping in the cave under the ledge. Then there was the shark that chased David around the rudder of the boat while he was trying to clean the bottom! We hadn’t seen sharks before Panama, so they were quite the adventure… one that we tried to stay as far away from as possible!
* Walking in the footsteps of the infamous pirate Henry Morgan as he ransacked the forts at Portobelo & later based his infamous overland
invasion to Panama City from Fuerte San Lorenzo which we explored while at Shelter Bay Marina.
There are so many unforgettable experiences in a season of cruising but alas, finally you know you’ve been anchored too long when a giant frigatebird soars above, day after day using the windvane on top of our mast as his morning roost! Frigates are BIG and we watched nervously several mornings as the fragile windvane bent & swayed under his weight. Luckily, it survived, but it was definitely time to move on!
Now secured to a brand new floating dock in Colon’s Shelter Bay Marina, Winterlude enjoyed a fresh water rinse. David can’t wait for his first shower in six months with unlimited hot water AND water pressure … and me?? I’m looking forward to handing my overflowing laundry bag to a marina laundry lady!!
Last Update coming from Shelter Bay Marina on May 1! Then we’re back to Illinois & I’ll post some photos as I find time in between racing
David &Jan Irons