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The Two Captains


December 9, 2000

Green Island, San Blas, Panama
Latitude: 09-28.80N; Longitude: 078-38.10W

Our six-day visit with friends Diane and Alex of Atlanta seems to have passed in the blink of any eye, proving empirically what we suspected in advance: six days is NOT enough. The visit itself was great. The four captains got along happily, everyone pretty much thinking at the same leisurely pace (to which the Atlanta captains had slowed and the Caribbean
captains had stepped up!) The weather, however, was not cooperative! Of the six days only two were sunny, and two of the cloudy days included steady rain and our first "chocosana" squall! So much for the beginning of the dry season!

The big success from our point of view was the acquisition of provisions. A woman named Julie Arias runs a service from Panama City where you email her a list and she shops and puts it on a plane. Our first morning at Rio Diablo we were up before dawn and at the airport at 0615. The airport, on its own island, consists of a 15-20' wide strip of broken concrete flanked by dense brush, a tiny building where they weigh parcels by hanging them from the door jamb, a 40' wooden dock, and a 2-door concrete outhouse hanging Kuna-fashion over the water's edge! There are two airport employees who come out by ulu: a lady with a spiral notebook and a little old man who hoists a white flag to alert the passing planes that they have passengers to fly out! The planes fly out from Panama City making the circuit down the coast, literally hopping from strip to strip, rarely climbing to more than a couple hundred feet!

Sure enough, in come several little planes, one behind the other, from the third one of which is disgorged two coolers and five boxes with our name on it! It was incredible. Nice fresh produce, including such exotica as mesclun and arugula, Tropicana juices, beautiful cold cuts, boneless skinless chicken breasts, bagels, cream cheese, smoked salmon (mmmmmm), Tostitos and salsa, a restock of Pringles, frozen vegies, etc. etc., and even six bottle of wine. Can we say WOW! Although Julie charges 20% of your order and the airline charges $.25/pound (giving new meaning to the words "eat light!"), prices in Panama are evidently very good, because we not at all unhappy with the total bill! Julie says she can always tell a list from a former charter chef, but I'm not clear on whether she means we are especially organized or whether we ask for especially weird stuff! We are already dreaming up a pre-Christmas order!

So, the very next morning we are back at the airport awaiting Diane and Alex, and sure enough in come several planes. The first was a big 14-passenger AeroPerlas plane that disembarked a whole gang of pale white gringo tourists, none of which proved to be our pale, white gringo tourists! A little disappointed we awaited the second plane, a much smaller Aviatur Cessna 182 whose three passengers did include Diane and Alex plus one ancient little Kuna lady. There was, however, only one suitcase. It seems the airline only allows 25 pounds per person; Diane and Alex had 175 lbs., most of which was parts and stuff for us!

We waited and we waited. They had seen the bags loaded onto a plane, but the plane never came! Finally, we went back to the boat for some coffee and breakfast. Maybe the afternoon flight? We went ashore and showed Diane and Alex the towns of Nargana and Corazón de Jésus, an interesting pair of relatively non-traditional villages linked by an arching wooden bridge. Here, women as well as men dress American-casual, there are more stores with a somewhat wider selection, plus there is an actual bank (indeed the only bank in Kuna Yala!). Although there are more concrete buildings, both old and new, mixed in among the traditional huts, they are better maintained than the ones we saw on other islands. I kind of like the town because there seems to be more zip to the populace and because we are not beseiged with people selling molas. Don likes the town because he can buy cold beer!

Yachties are promptly scooped up by Frederico, a Kuna man in his 50s, who runs Welcome Yacht Services from his back yard. This encompasses a bulletin board of enticing sailing photos (clipped from magazines!), a bunch of boat cards, a list of services (he will coordinate just about anything you want from bread and tomatoes to gas and diesel), and three "secure dinghy slips" between the walkways -- made of lashed together sticks (with pointed ends!) -- to three separate outhouses! Frederico's friendliness is delightful. He speaks some English, is eager to learn more, and is good at helping visitors with their Spanish. Payment for his services is a little vague -- "what you feel from the heart," he says. Our tour around town with Diane and Alex was our third jaunt with Frederico.

In the course of conversation, our sleepy visitors let slip the detail that the plane with their luggage had taken off BEFORE them! Light bulbs flash! The AeroPerlas plane with all the gringos! Off we go to the airport office in Corazón (which absolutely no one mentioned existed) to find out where all those tourists went, and Ta Dah!-all the missing luggage!

We promptly returned to the boat, upped the anchor and motored away into the gray afternoon, a drizzle beginning even as we dropped the hook in a little anchorage tucked into three unnamed islands. No sooner did we anchor, than our gay mola salesmen (who had been waiting for hours in hopes of our arriving with our guests!) swarmed aboard to beseige Diane. Alex bailed out to snorkel.

The next morning was a bit brighter, so Don and Alex dove Ogopsibudup while Diane and I snorkeled. Before we were back, however, the rain returned, and the afternoon grew downright blustery and wet. No problem; get out those books! Fortunately, the rain didn't daunt the Kuna fishermen who sold use two good-sized lobster and two giant crabs enabling to introduce the D&A to a typical San Blas dinner.

The next day was better, so we hurried north to the Coco Banderas Cays, the next island cluster to the north. These are tiny islets clustered in several groups along a coral reef several miles long that has a huge freighter grounded midway. In the bright sun the cays were postcard perfection. We anchored at the west end behind our friends on Briana, and after lunch five of us went looking for a dive (Diane napping out the last days of a bad cold!) It took us quite awhile to find it, even as clouds began to mass yet again overhead, but we all quite enjoyed ourselves, because there were actual fish, including sizeable groupers (no spear gun, of course!) In celebration of such excitement, Bob and Kathy had us all over for "Green Flashes" (a tropical cocktail) and the kind of hors d'oeuvre spread you see on cruising boats when the crew is trying to empty the fridge! (Bob and Kathy fly to the States in a week!) It was a great evening, the kind of time that is special to cruising, and made both Diane and Alex dream of being back on a boat of their own.

We sloshed some cold water of reality on that dream the next morning when the weather deteriorated again and we were hit with our first "chocosana" squall. Here's how it goes. We are sitting to a westerly wind, which although not normal, we had had for a week or more. The sky goes dark and turns kind of purple. The radio cackles with reports of gusting wind from all your friends, and then…wham!…heavy wind (up to 37 kts!) and rain slams into us from the East sending the boat 180 degrees on its anchor rode. It's these scenarios that get boats in trouble, and indeed had Briana not moved out that morning, she might have gotten into some reef. TII made the swing relatively sedately on her long and heavy scope. HOWEVER, below - over the two captains' bunk - a leak project the boys had worked together on the evening before turned into a Niagara Falls. Shit! We could have filled the water tank with its flow! Diane and I watched the boat while
Alex worked from outside (in the rain) and Don worked from below over his head to staunch the stream.

When the squall passed, we escaped Coco Banderas for the more open anchorage back at Green Island, in order to be sure we'd be able get Diane and Alex back to the airport in time. The boys spent the afternoon on repairs, and we are most grateful to Alex, the woodworker for his careful follow-up on the leak, finding and excavating the guilty void and filling it properly. Our reward, the next morning, was a decent day in which we tried to pack all the undone activities, more dives, an actual sail, and a river trip by ulu up the Rio Diablo, with parrots, eagles, herons and other unidentified birds the highlight. Unfortunately, it was too early in the year for monkeys, who come down from the hills for ripe mangos around
March. Not so unfortunately for a fresh water swim, no crocodiles.

Diane and Alex's last night aboard happened to coincide with the first night of Nargana/Corazón's multi-day celebration of Dia del Madré, or Mother's Day, to which all cruisers were invited by the sahila! The town was ablaze with light and decorations, everybody was dressed to the nines, there was music and dancing, and lots of tipsy mothers! A large group of cruisers happened to be assembled, and we caused a small riot among the children with about three or four digital cameras. Unlike the adults who don't like their photo taken, children adore it, especially when they can see the photos in the viewer.

The next morning we were once again back at the airport at the crack of dawn, and we are glad to say that passengers and baggage left without a hitch on the same plane! It was sad to have them leave. There were easy guests to have, and, of course, thanks to the timing and the weather, we couldn't help but feel like there was so much we didn't get to do. On the other hand, we were all masterful at the real essentials of cruising: eating sleeping, reading, and imbibing! Diane and Alex may not have been tan when they left, but they were relaxed!

As quick as we could, Don and I scurried out of Rio Diablo back to Green Island. The beds are stripped, the laundry is sorted, and bread baked. I'm sure Diane and Alex will be pleased to hear that there has been no abrupt improvement to the weather, but,you know what? These two captains don't mind a bit as, courtesy of Diane and Alex's parcel service, we have new books to read, new videos of our favorite TV shows to watch (thanks to Don's folks), and much computer work to do as we deal with three months worth of mail and accounting!


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