Saturday, May 23, 2009


May 19, 2009
anchored off Isla Ixtapa, Zihuatanejo Bay
17 40.788N,101 39.403W

We've had a great time revisiting our old haunts and familiarizing ourselves again with Zihuatanejo. The central mercado still runs alive and well every day, you can still buy bags of jamaica juice at every corner and on Sunday night the families and vendors still turn out in the square to enjoy a little get together. A very few familiar faces are still here that we know such as the friendly Port Captain, Victor and our favorite best hamburger man in the world. Due to the fact that high travel and sailing season are over and the fear of swine flu is still in effect, it feels much like a ghost town around here. The only tourists to visit the beaches are the locals and they are having great fun with it. The parasails and banana boats still manage to have quite a business running circles around us at anchor. The food has been fantastic and we have stuffed our insides with all the guacamole, roasted peppers and arrachera we can handle.

We spent a good week anchored just around the corner here in Isla Ixtapa. A little island that is used only during the day time and accessed only by boat. We have the peaceful anchorage all to ourselves in the evenings and spent each morning and afternoon with fun family surf sessions just a dinghy ride away. School and boat projects as usual in between down time. We've even attempted the sad task of beginning to clean and pack the boat up for when it goes on the hard: what goes home, what get's given away to locals and what simply get's tossed out. When the boat is on the hard, many items won't endure the heat. Many items, such as cooking utensils, will get left on though for when we come back to work on her in the spring and potentially move her somewhere new.

Monday the 18th brought the arrival of our friends Tim, Cole and Blake Mason from back home in Port Orchard, Washington for a visit! We are so excited to have them aboard for a couple weeks as we work our way up the coast toward Puerto Vallarta. Only few days on the boat so far and they have proven themselves as very worthy crew! We gave them a day to rest up and then took them on an overnight passage. With 15-20 knots of wind against us it has been a slow and bumpy ride and they are taking it all in stride! We would keep them as crew anytime!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Closed the circle - Completed Circumnavigation

May 6, 2009 9:55 am
Zihuatanejo, Mexico
coordinates 17 37.552N,101 35.457W

Under blue skies, a light breeze out of the SSE, a perfect 80 degrees with turtles dotting the water, we have officially closed the circle and completed our circumnavigation! We quietly snuck out of the bay in the early morning hours on March 28, 2006 and we glided back in just as peacefully. After so many years of each day bringing us something brand new, it is rather refreshing to see something familiar. It has been a remarkable journey and thankfully one that doesn't have to stop here. Thanks for coming along.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Abundant Life

May 1, 2009
departing Costa Rica waters
coordinates 13 40.709N,093 31.777W

We have rounded out our stay in Costa Rican waters and still are amazed each day with the abundance of sea life and creatures that we observed. With our extra crew aboard for 17 days, Lisa's sister Krista, her husband Jeffrey and their two boys Indiana age 13 and Lucian age 5 3/4, we explored both the water and the rain forest. Each day we were treated to a collection of rays and turtles, fish and birds. Sights we had never seen before such as clusters of rays, a hundred at a time, would be huddled together in layers just under the surface of the water. We still aren't sure of the nature of the event, be it a mating process or safety in numbers. Then, if we were to spot one turtle, we were guaranteed to see half a dozen in minutes. It didn't matter if we were 2 or 20 miles off shore they would pass us on every side. If any other location in the world is experiencing a turtle shortage, it is only because they have all moved here. One of my favorite events is still to watch the rays leaping out of the water. As we rounded Punta Mala one morning at sunrise, there were easily hundreds of smaller rays leaping to meet the morning like popcorn. One at a time or by the dozen they continued for an hour, jumping for joy.

After Matapala, we made stops along the Osa Peninsula, home to one of it's many many national parks. Ashore we had the chance to hike and ride a horse up the hill side to visit our their property. Tucked neatly inland, they are working to build themselves a peaceful retreat and help to regrow the natural forest that has been destroyed in years past. You could hear the howler monkey's roar in the distance and watch pairs of scarlet macaw fly over head. The hill sides are dotted with bananas, mangos, papayas, and towering trees along the river are strung with vines. After the hot hike a quick dip in the fresh water river was just what we needed.

Next stop was Isla del Canos. We took a quick snorkel and spied many a fish including parrot fish, tangs, angel fish, spotted box fish and a few unique puffer fish in their yellow transition states. One quick evening snorkel to cool off provided a zen moment with a turtle. Unafraid of people it allowed me to just hang out with him, nose to nose, fin to finger, for as long as I desired, watching him continue to move within the swell, chewing on grasses on the ocean floor and rising for air every so often. On the swim back to the boat I thought how wonderful it would be to see a spotted eagle ray and one appeared. I couldn't believe my luck and wished for a octopus, instead a small white tipped shark glided below me. Deciding not to push my luck, I quit my wishing and paddled back to the boat in a continuous praise for the abundance of gifts I've been given in life.

We continued daily to hop and stop along the way at Malpais, Quepos, Tamarindo, and Playa del Coco. There was fun in the water for everyone with friendly surf breaks that the both families could ride, all at the same time. A highlight for all had to be a stop at Roca Bruja (witches rock) and Ollies. Two surf spots made famous by the movie Endless Summer II. The Papagayo winds were living up to their name and blowing 30+ knots as we made our way there and continued for 2-3 days but that didn't deter us. Averaging single overhead, we had the wave all to ourselves in the morning and evening hours before day trip boats appeared.

Our new crew had really grown their sea legs but their time with us was drawing to a close. Daily swims, shared meals and giggles will be precious memories we hold forever. Their energy and enthusiasm was infectious, ready to experience everything that life aboard a boat could show them. We were excited to share our world with them and see this lifestyle through fresh new eyes. Including the stubbed toes, bumped noggins, spit showers and hand pumped toilets that accompany life aboard a boat, they took to it like fish.

Currently we are under way for our next destination, Mexico. We are getting a bit behind in the season and must make it to safer waters before hurricane season sets in. So we have by passed Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala this time, in hopes to return and explore more someday. We get the occasional buzz by a coast guard or navy plane searching for drug runners and the occasional container ship on the horizon but not much other company. We had a bit of sailing the first 36 hours with 30+ knot winds but as of late it has been a hot motor boat ride. Nightly squalls with lightning have spiced up the journey. It is amazing to think that we are only a few days and a few hundred miles from closing our circle around the world.
pura vida

Monday, April 6, 2009

Cruising Surprises in Panama

April 6, 2009
coordinates 08 06.573N,082 58.445W
sailing along the coast of Panama

Now that we have broken free of the anchorage near Panama City, life is a little more peaceful and familiar. We were a bit surprised to see the teeming sea life each day such as flipping dolphins, flying manta rays, sea snakes and moon jelly's. The birds perpetually dive bomb for their day's catch as the little critters leap for their lives from bigger prey below. It is nice to be back in the gentle roll of the Pacific swell. No more confused seas and choppy waves, at least until the Papagayo winds decide to pick up. We have had a bit of current flowing both ways at various times to work with but very pleasant conditions for day sails. One overnight passage and we found ourselves nestled in a comfortable spot, Ensenada Benao for a couple of nights. We anchored in 20 feet at low tide and just a hop away from the surf! We have to watch the tides a bit more carefully now that we are back in the Pacific since they can range anywhere from 6 to 20 feet depending on the moon at the time. A twelve foot exchange here with the new moon.

We were so happy to get back in the water and get some serious and fun exercise paddling together. It is strange to see only US boats now that all of our foreign com padres are heading in other directions. And the few boats we do see are heading south, opposite direction of us. We pass on info regarding each travelers needed direction and head on our way. Next stop was Punta Naranjo. A comfortable and flat anchorage we hear. The last one was a bit rolly but that is what one gets when they want to be near to the surf. Swell equals good surf and a rolly anchorage. We'll take it!

The next great surprise was our dear friend Natalie. A sweet young adventurous soul that we met when arrived in Puerto Vallarta nearly 4 years ago. A fluent Spanish speaking American living abroad for a time befriended us and we've been connected ever since knowing our paths would cross again someday. As luck would have it, she happened to be traveling in Central America as we are passing through. She managed to catch a flight into San Jose, Costa Rica, then an 8 hour bus to David, Panama, then a who knows how long a bus ride to Sona, then an interesting night sleep in an interesting hotel, to catch another bus to some tiny coastal town of Santa Catalina, where we found her standing on a beach, picked her up in our dinghy, doused her with sea water and we were reunited. We have been blessed by this renewed friendship and a traveling companion for a week. We've continued to island and anchorage hop our way up the last bit of Panama with her, from Morro Negro to Isla Cavada. We have introduced her to the lifestyle of a boater, she has brought amazing joy and energy to us. Together we have been discovering some of Panama's treasures along the way.

A less desirable surprise was in Puerto Armuelles. Again, the best laid plans... We timed our arrival into the final port of Panama for a Sunday night. Intending to check out on Monday and then be on our way. We had not even finished setting the anchor when the Port Capitan, the Immigration and Quarantine Officers appeared at our boat and boarded us. This does not happen often but is not entirely out of the realm of possibilities when entering a new Port. The unfortunate part is that they insisted we had to check in at THAT moment, which of course on a Sunday meant overtime for them and a lot more money. Even with Natalie's fluent and very persuasive interpreting we were not able to sway the officials to letting us check in the following day as we had planned. Long story short and a quick trip to town, a $36 dollar check out of the country process now cost us $136 and left us with a bitter taste in our mouth. One more official on shore sensing this displeasure didn't want us to leave his country unhappy and offered us a quaint little wooden replica of the "Mayflower" boat as a peace offering. We're touched, though we would rather have our $100 back.

This morning we are back underway and rounding the final point or Punta Burica in Panama and heading for Costa Rica. With great anticipation, we are awaiting the arrival of our newest crew members. Lisa's sister Krista with her whole family are coming for a visit to sail, surf and play with us on the sail boat in Costa Rica. They boys are most excited to visit with their cousins whom they haven't seen for a very, very, very long time!

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Panama City and Flamigo Island Anchorage

March 28, 2009
Flamingo Island anchorage
coordinates 08 54.606N,079 31.474W

We let you know what an experience transiting the Panama Canal was but we wanted to give you a bit more insight into the great bits of info our advisors had passed on to us. There are approximately 80 advisors that ride along with each vessel as they transit. If your vessel is over 65 feet long you need to carry an actual pilot captain. These men that join the smaller boats all have primary jobs, most of them within the canal system and do this "advising" on their off days. The ones we spoke with actually prefer this to their real jobs. It's a great chance for them to meet new people, break away from their usual work and make some extra cash. We were blessed with two great characters. And right of the bat we learned of just how great the Panamanian Foreign exchange program is. At age 13, many children of Panama get the opportunity to study for 3 months abroad in the United States. It was obviously a great start and opportunity for our guides as their English was spectacular, their knowledge of world politics, etc. as good if not better than our own. They gave us many insights on life in Panama and the city. One of our advisors primary jobs was supervisor of the security forces that patrol the waters on the Pacific side of the canal entrance. A few of his men passed us many times that day in their patrol boats and we were able to benefit from his position with the free delivery of buckets of ice right to our boat while under way. Nice treat in the heat!

The canal which was built under President Roosevelt was given back to the people of Panama December 31, 1999. From what we gather, when it was run by the US Military, it was run as a government institution not necessarily as a business and at the end of each fiscal year, they would plug whatever funds were left over back into the canal. Each department needed to find ways to put that money back into the canal, new paint or carpet for the buildings, etc. The military that oversaw the running and protection of the canal lived and stayed in the area, bringing peace, security and money back into the communities. There have been pros and cons they say to the US pulling out. That security and peace has definitely diminished especially in the outer areas such as Colon, the poor Cinderella step child to the greater Panama City. The money is no longer being put back into those communities as well. But while being run as a company, the Canal has managed to increase the amount of ships that transit, and therefore increase their net profit to the tune of $800 million last year. How that money get's put back into the country we are not sure.

They are busily expanding the canals with an additional mega lock at both the Pacific and Caribbean end, as well to accommodate the PanMax ships. Displays in the visitors center show how the new water pumping systems will be even more efficient. We hear that increases in the transit fees will help to pay for that expansion. Our transit fees ran us around $650, including using the assistance of Tito. The cheapest transit fee ever paid was 37 cents by an English man I believe who swam the entire canal. The most expensive fee paid these days is $250,000 for the larger container ships 250,000, the average freighter pays $180,000.

Just outside the Panama Canal on the Pacific side you have two immediate options for places to keep the boat. The Balboa Yacht club offers moorings for a fee or you can anchor for free in the protection of the Flamingo Island with 50 other like minded sailors. A few of them have been there for quite a while and they know their way around the place. The radio net in the morning will cover all you needs. If you can get your hands on one of the maps they provide you will surely find everything you need. Again the anchorage was comfortable enough despite day trip boats that parade past you daily, we were anchored in 20 feet of thick gooey mud. Again as in Colon, a dirty anchorage as the pollution level of Panama City declines with the continuous burning of something we know not what. We simply know the boats are consistently covered in ash, morning, noon and night. Across the bay Panama City shows an impressive skyline and malls to rival any major US town.

Ashore we were easily able to get our provisioning done with taxis that are always at the ready for you. Directly behind the Playita Marina Yacht club there is a Natural Reserve park of sorts that is home to a family of 3 toed sloths. We spent the week completing a few boat projects such as a new antenna for our radio that Bruce placed atop the mast, replacing spark plugs in the outboard, replacing belts on the engine. We treated ourselves to the tasty tamales that the locals sell outside each store. There is nothing as good as local flavor. We took a quick trip back to the Miraflores Locks to view them from the observation deck on land and cheered the Kelly's and crew on as they passed through the locks themselves. The boys were able to spend to spend some last great days playing with their pals, Alice, Will and Edward from s/v Vagabond Heart. They along with a dozen or more vessels are preparing for the own Pacific Ocean crossing where they are starting to head back toward their homelands of Australia and New Zealand. We had been traveling with quite a large batch of them through the canal and it was time to bid them farewell and send them on their way, as we head closer to home as well.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Port Colon and Cristobal

March 17, 2009
anchored in the flats Port Colon
coordinates 09 20.686N,079 54.529

We just rounded out our stay in Panama City and have to say the time spent here and in Colon was very interesting. Over all, despite the crime and pollution of the areas, Panama gets a thumbs up from us. First some thoughts on Colon.

We had some wonderful day sails as we left the San Blas Islands getting to the Port of Colon and Cristobal. They have created a new channel through the break water that allows smaller boats to enter the Caribbean side of the entrance to the Panama Canal shipping channel. This way we do not have to compete with the big boys. The enormous ships are stacked up inside and outside, anchoring everywhere while either beginning or ending their transit. It was remarkable that just anyone could motor on in there. They see you coming but didn't have anything to do with you. We wove our way through the big boys and anchored in the "flats" as the anchorage is called. It sits on the southern side of the channel right next to the loading dock for the container ships. A safe and comfortable enough anchorage, it did tend to get very dirty out at the boat since the ships closest to us were perpetually emptying themselves of some sort of gravel load. We gave up cleaning for the week and learned to keep the hatches shut. Rubbish and or tire fires burn perpetually, thankfully down wind of us. But the rosy glow they give on the horizon at night is a constant reminder of what is helping to cause the thick grey sky.

The Panama Canal Yacht Club (PCYC) or PanCan as they affectionately refer to themselves is situated up inside the loading docks for these large ships. You dinghy right past the container ships on your way in and can nearly slap the hulls if you felt so inclined. The land is owned by the shipping companies which brings us to the dilemma. The PCYC is unfortunately no longer allowed to keep their business and marina open on this land and were to relocate by April 1st. Three weeks prior to that date, starting at 3am, the shipping company took matters in their own hands with a bull dozer and began to tear the buildings down. By the time we arrived the marina docks where still standing with boats tied to them. Water was unavailable at the dock and power was precariously being wired in. The employees of PCYC were working out of a shipping container and they had fashioned an internet location out of a chain link fence with a tin roof and fake grass. While I sat there one day "connecting" to the internet, the bull dozer continued to tear down buildings only 20 feet away from me. They have stacked two giant shipping containers a top each other at the entrance so no cars may come or go. This left only space for a person at a time to squeeze though with difficulty. A container as well blocks the boat ramp that no boats may enter or exit the waters.

First and foremost we have to say that we have no knowledge of the reasoning nor the order of events that have led to the end of the current PCYC. The land does belong to the shipping company though it does look like things could be handled much more professionally. We do know that they are still currently trying to work on a compromise. What we do know it that all the crew and employees of the PCYC were the most professional, considerate and helpful bunch ever. Not once did they complain about their situation to us while they continued to work diligently, in very difficult environment, with the lack of knowledge regarding their own security and future of their jobs. Not once did they slander or disparage the opposing forces whom they were dealing with. They took fast and efficient care of us and all our needs. And there was a lot of us. With news of this port closing as of April 1st the rush of dozens and dozens of boats would have overwhelmed the most organized of marina's, let alone one that was barely standing on it's own two feet. I must say I was very ashamed though many times at the behavior of many of the other cruisers and their own lack of patience and poor treatment of this staff. This port is the only place on the Caribbean side where one can currently do all the work it takes to prepare for a canal transit. This includes stops to many offices, banks, copy shops, getting your boat measured, gathering tires and 4 100ft long lines for boat handling. Enter Tito. As we hit shore the first day, we had the pleasure of making his acquaintance. He is the go to guy. Instantly he scooped us up in his car along with the Kelly's and drove us everywhere we needed to go and in a matter of moments the process had begun, for what we felt was a reasonable fee. We were scheduled for our measurement, we were checked into Panama, he guided us carefully through the whole process and even treated us to some freshly squeezed o.j.

Watching him in action warms the heart as he takes the concept of community service to an all new level. We are sure nearly all of our $50 that we paid to him for his services were dispersed immediately back into his community. He willingly hands the money right back to his "neighbors" for school supplies, new shoes, lunch, what ever their needs are. He takes the young men of the community and employs them all in assisting with preparing the tires for the cruisers like us coming through. The tires are all ready wrapped in plastic and tied up with lines ready to go for us. A job that we reluctantly thought we were going to have to find a way to do ourselves. When they have shown him enough responsibility he assists them in getting jobs as line handlers for the canal and then jobs within the canal system itself. Anything to keep them off the amazingly dangerous streets of Colon. Unfortunately, not always successful he told sad stories of two young boys he had already lost this year. One just two weeks prior had been shot 8 times after stepping in to rescue a friend from being beat up.

And unfortunately, it really was that dangerous there. The staff of PCYC could not impress upon us all enough just how dangerous it was outside the chain link fence surrounding the shipping port and marina. You can see the bus stop only a block or two away from the gate and yet during our stay, there were two muggings as people walked to it. One in broad daylight where they stripped the rings right off the woman's fingers and her pack off her back. Kelly boy and Bruce were waved off one street and redirected by a gentleman one day as they walked around down town unaware of just how serious it was. It turned out he was waiving them to head a different direction and likely saved them from the same fate. It was difficult to imagine people living in such a situation since it was not just us obvious newbies that were subject to the violence. Everyone there is a target, evidenced by the armed guards that stand outside nearly every store front. If you want to enter a business they knock on the glass door, which is then unlocked to allow you to enter and then locked again behind you while you shop. Yet the people of Colon look as happy and relaxed as you would in your own neighborhood. We personally never felt in any danger due to everyone being so cheerful. I can't imagine the level of desensitization that would have to take place to keep any piece of mind and sanity.

We have not heard yet what is to become of the PCYC and what their next step will be. Shelter Bay Marina is still functioning on the north side of the channel. We have no doubts though that they will come up with some method to keep the process going to help other sailors on the transits through the Panama Canal.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Panama Canal Tranist MOVED UP! March 18!

Wednesday March 18, 2009
Ohana Kai has a new date to transit the canal. We are transiting the first set of Gatun Locks at approximately 7 pm local time or 5 pm Pacific time. We will pick up a mooring in the Gatun lake for the night and then proceed to the second set of Miraflores locks and transit on Thursday the 19th at approximately noon local time or 10 AM Pacific time. We are rounding up our tires for extra fenders on the boat currently, our last load of laundry and our last provisioning run yesterday and we're ready to go. The Kelly's from Moorea will be joining us for extra line handlers so we're in good hands!
Here is the link for the Panama Canal Live Video cameras
See you there!
your Ohana Kai crew