A start.

With the understanding that I do not keep a journal/diary about my daily life and fun things that happen from day to day, I will do my best to give you an idea what the process of building a cruising sailboat is all about. Thanks to several people, not including myself, Bonnie and I happen to have hundreds and hundreds of pictures documenting the entire thing. Without a doubt, 95% of the pictures you see here were taken by our good friend Jim LaGasse, and I thank him heartily. That said, let’s see if I can answer the question Bonnie and I have both been asked dozens of times over the years; Why did you decide to build a boat and not just buy one? The only real solid answer I could give was simply, “Because we wanted to.” So we did, nothing profound. I have always loved building, anything at all, and I seem to have a knack for it, so that is what I do.

There is so much I want to say right here, but it would be far too much for the purposes of this web log. That said, I am writing everything that comes to mind about the whole process and adventure of the building Willow saga. Consider this the abridged version. You will just have to wait for the book to get the whole story. I will skip the background info and jump right into the boat shop. Here it is, ain’t she a beauty. The floor is 2 by 6’s, ¾” OSB for the surface, all supported by a goodly number of 4 by 4’s set in concrete. The walls and roof are simply A-frame supports covered in plastic. The end walls were ridgid, sheathed in plywood.

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Here is a look from the inside before it was filled up with the boat. Take note of the lights hanging from the roof supports, VITAL. Lights are cheap, if you decide to do this, get lot of them, for you will be working after sunset. In the far left corner is the wood stove that kept the whole place warm for the first two winters. That was an awesome design and it really did heat the whole thing up with the help of the fan on the wall there to move the heat around. Oh, we built the boat in Bellingham, WA, north of Seattle. It rains a lot there and is rather cool most of the year, if not exactly cold.

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We had decided on a design from Jay Benford, he calls it simply a 34’ Dory. However the design has gained a bit of popularity from the books written by Annie Hill. While cruising we are often asked if our boat is a Badger, the name of the Hill’s boat. Anyway, we sent a check to Mr. Benford and he sent us a full set of plans, all we need to build the boat. Well, sort of anyway. There were one or two other items needed, like tools, shop, money, that sort of thing, but you get the idea. We had the design plans and most importantly the magic set of numbers called the Table of Offsets.

The offsets is the most vital set of numbers in the whole set. These are the measurements that allow us to draw out, full scale, the shapes of all the bulkheads, frames, basically the numbers that define the skeleton if you will. Below you can just make out a mess of lines on the shop floor, that would be the offsets come to life. Jake and Willow are there ready to be of assistance. Although, they usually just tracked muddy foot prints all over our nice white floor. No matter, they were good company and always welcome in the shop.

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Here is a closer look at the lines. I cannot give a full description of how we did all this and what exactly it all looks like, but it was a lot of fun to see the shape become real and begin to understand how the thing is put together. Once you have the lines on the floor a method of transferring them onto wood to cut to shape is needed, thus the roofing nails embedded in the floor. They are set on edge, along the lines of what ever shape I want to pick up, a bulkhead for example. When I set a nice big sheet of plywood on them and walk around very carefully, they leave an imprint on the wood, a set of dots basically. All that is left is to connect the dots and cut. There you have your first bulk head, or frame, or knee, whatever. (OK, it is really easy to write about it in two paragraphs, but seemed a lot more difficult at the time.) One lesson we learned very quickly is that every little mistake you made with each move got worse and worse. The lofting process is vital, shoot for perfection, but be reasonable and move on was my basic code. Eventually the learning curve kicked in and I started learning where I could fudge a line and were it would be folly to do so. That is the art of boat building, and that is what I like the most about it.

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Well, there I am, long haired and full of energy, wait till you see me by the end of it. The pieces I am hanging on are the shapes picked up from the lofting lines, using the roofing nail technology. They are patterns now. I used cheap particle board for this as I did not really know how it would work out. A piece of ¾” marine plywood is way more expensive and I would have cried had I screwed up due to inexperience. Not only was I protecting expensive materials, I was learning how to handle the tools of the trade, practicing on something that was not going to be part of the final product. Looking back I realize how useful this was and would do it again even with the experience I now have, sort of like getting back in shape after a long time away from any exercise.

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So, I use the above pieces as the pattern for the major frames and bulkheads. A few of the first ones I put together are shown here. See the plywood shapes in the lower left and right corners of the frames, they are part of what will be the setee’s. In this type of construction you can build in all of the shapes that run abeam the boat, before they are even set in place and begin looking like a boat. In the long run it is a huge savings of time and effort, as everything is done on the work table, not crouched over in some torturous position later on.

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Messing around with the lights was a far to common thing for me to be doing, and that is because early on I was to cheap to by new lights, I went for the used versions, and I paid for it in the long run. Oh well, here you can see most of the frames and bulkheads leaning here and there. The gray surfaces are epoxy. Everything, and I mean everything, was coated in epoxy before assembling them. The gray is simply a pigment I added to have some visual gauge of how thick the coating was or if I sanded through the layers by accident.

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Now things are beginning to take shape. We had to take meticulous care to get the frames set up in their proper place in space. Once again the lofting lines were used to set everything in the proper spot fore and aft and abeam. This process as I recall took several days to get right, and even then I found some mistakes. The mistakes are remedied easily enough by sucking it up and taking the time to move them around, yet again. Perseverance and patience are the two virtues that I had to work at every day. Luckily I am an overly energetic, obsessive compulsive type, so I was in my element. The patience part I did have to work on though.

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Here is Jordan, the very cool cat, checking on our progress. It was fun having all the creatures coming and going throughout the day. They were usually a welcome break from some task or another.

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The hull was built upside down. This is a shot looking at the bow. The big hunk of wood all the way forward is called the stem. It is a very stout laminate of mahogony and plywood, this is the working end of the boat, the structure that will one day plow the oceans of the world. The other prominent structures are the chine logs. The top of the picture, on both sides. Initally I thought the shop was huge, 20’ by 40’, but as the boat took shape I was wishing for another 10’ on each side. But we made due and all turned out just fine.

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Now, we stuck faithfully to Jay Benford’s design throughout the whole process, except for one spot, the stern, or transome. The plans showed a true double ended vessel, pointy at both ends. This has great value both functionally and asthetically, but I do not like them, and that is from experience. So, I added a bit of a transome, without changing the waterline in any appreciable way. It has given us a great deal more room aft for messing with the wind vane or what every we do back there. Eased installation of the wind vane and stern pulpit, more room in the lazarette, that sort of thing. Not to mention a bit more volume to deal with following seas. I wish to start no discussions about the virtues of one shape over the other. I will only say the change has suited us as I had planned. I have apologized to Mr. Benford for doing this without consulting him first. In my inexperience of the boat building world it did not cross my mind that he would care. Which seemed true enough after I mentioned it to him.

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I am a little weary now, mostly from staring at the computer screen actually. There are bright flashes of lightning all around Willow as we sit at anchor in western Panama. Not much rain so far, but I think we are in for some tonight. That said, I am going to sleep a while. Hope this has been of interest so far. I realize I could go into excrutiating details about every little step of the way, but have to consider it may be very tedious to folks reading here. Let me know if you are interested in more or less, and I will do my best. It is fun for me to look at the pictures and try to put them into words……

Last words from Panama.

Willow and Tara left Golfito, Costa Rica, hmm, about two weeks ago. We spent a few days surfing at a beautiful spot just south of there. The local crowd was about 6 teen-aged kids who could ride boards like pros. They were very friendly to us and got a good laugh on our behalf every time we ate white water, which was often. It was about the best wave I have ever ridden, right up until I had an equipment failure and broke the board leash. Actually, the leash itself did not break; it tore the attachment point out of the board, which will require a little epoxy magic to fix up. I felt the board come free from the leash (the leash is a 6’ piece of stretchy line attached to the back of the board and my ankle) after a really nice ride that brought me a bit closer to a pile of rocks than I had been before. Well, I have only one surfboard to my name and there are no shops nearby to buy another one. So, as soon as I surfaced I was off, swimming as fast as ever I could go for the board. It was floating inshore of me a ways, the race I was in was to beat the next wave to the board, as it would probably get sent crashing into the rocks. The next wave landed on my head just as I got hold of the thing, and all was well. No more waves that day, the repairs would take a bit of work.

In the meantime, we hauled anchor and headed for Panama, just 25 miles away. Our first stop was Isla Parida, and what a great island it is. We met several other cruising boats, finally getting to put some faces with the voices we have been hearing on the SSB over the past months.

One of the coolest meetings was of another boat with a junk rig, similar to ours. The boats name is “Gia” the owners are Damon and Desiree. (Sorry if I got the spelling wrong guys). They bought the boat in Everett, Washington and have been cruising her for the past 5 years or so. It was awesome to see another Junk sailing into the anchorage, the first other we have seen since the Pacific NW. It is a Colvin design, called the Gazelle. Built of steel in Great Britain and then shipped to Everett, where it sat never sailed for over 15 years. I think I got some good shots of her and will post them here when I get to it. Gia is on her way to Ecuador as I write this. Bonnie and I hope to catch up with them down there, as they were a lot of fun.

Well, I found the pictures I took with our little camera and that is as good as it gets, sorry. Eventually we will acquire a digital camera that can actually zoom in on something.

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Speaking of good fun, we met another couple on a 50’ Sparkman Stephens, about to complete their 5-year circumnavigation. The boats name is “Julia” the crew, Larry and Ken. Their claim is to have been the first gay couple to circumnavigate the globe by sail (and motor of course). They have had several articles written about them around the world looking for challengers to the claim. They are a riot and very generous on top of it. We pulled out the kite boards and surfboards and got whipped around the anchorage behind their super fast skiff, once again taking some hard falls, but laughing the whole time.

Larry and Ken had endless crazy stories of adventures on their travels. As it turns out Turkey was one of their favorite spots, go figure. Guess we will have to get there some day. We met them at anchor off of Isla Parida, out in western Panama. It is the first good-sized island you would run into after leaving Costa Rican waters. The islands out here remind me a lot of the San Juan Islands of the Pacific Northwest. A big difference would be the heat, iguanas, monkeys, and palm trees, that sort of thing. A similarity is the rugged beauty of the area and the often-present rain clouds amongst the distant mountains inland of us. There are rocky islets everywhere, submerged rocks to keep us on edge while moving around, and fairly big tidal exchanges. The tides are something we did not really have to think about up in Mexico, being only a few feet. It is definitely useful to pay attention down here; the result of not doing so would be an accidental careening in the middle of the night while at anchor.

Boca Chica, Panama.

Well, as it turns out, western Panama is not as remote as we thought it would be. Here we are, anchored up in the entrance waters of a very large river/estuary system and there is a fishing resort here putting out a wireless signal, who knew. It is a very small fishing village called Boca Chica. (08°12’.9N, 82°12’.4 W) That is the GPS position. Go ahead and Google Earth it, I think it will be a really good picture.

Here are a few of the local watercraft anchored off of Boca Chica. Most boats we see the locals cruising around in are made of fiberglass these days. However, we certainly see some very old dug out type craft still moving through the water.

Here is Willow at anchor about half a mile from Boca Chica proper. The sunsets are usually very nice up there as a result of the light cloud cover to add some dimension to the sky.

bocawil.jpg

Here is a group of Panamanians just back from a day at one of the hundreds of islands in the area. It seemed they were all a huge family unit, off to celebrate someone’s birthday. They were all in that boat, and no, they did not have enough life jackets for everyone.

locals.jpg

They did, however, have some food, on the hoof, so-to-speak. Yep, you have heard the iguanas are eaten down here and it is for sure. Why not? We have seen more of them than any other type of land animal, and they can get quite large. The coconuts are the back up when the beer runs out I think.

iguna1.jpg

Yep, amazing creatures. Wonder what it is thinking right now.

iguana2.jpg

This place is owned by a Canadian, named Jorge (pronounced horr-hay). That is his real name, not a Spanish version of George or anything. He opened this place up just a few years ago and it was great fun for us. Beers cost 3 quarters, cheeseburgers (good ones too) are 8 quarters. You may think, right, typical American, beer and burgers. Fine, I accept that. The reality is that the food since leaving Mexico has left much to be desired. Not sure why that is. They have the exact same raw ingredients down here as up there, but do not seem to put them together in the fantastic ways the Mexicans did. So, I try burgers out when ever they are on the menu, which is not very often.

willies.jpg

Bonnie and I are very content here in Panama. There are good people everywhere, all
willing to talk and teach what they know about their world. It has been a bit warm here, and humid, but we can handle it. At the peak of the heat we just hide out in Willow, take frequent swims and fresh water showers. It helps for about 15 minutes, and then back to the heat. One new daily event as of southern Costa Rica and now Panama is almost daily rain showers in the afternoons or evenings. These are usually preceded by an unearthly lightning show with the necessary thunder for dramatic effect. Before heading south for Mexico nearly two years ago we added a rigid awning over the cockpit on Willow. I built in what is effectively a gutter set up with two drains in the low spots for rainwater collection. These have finally become useful after 15 months of cruising along the coastal deserts of Mexico and Central America. We simply plug a hose into the drain/spigot and the other end into the water tank. The result is tasty fresh water, without having to haul around jerry jugs from point A to B and so on. It seems we will be getting a lot more rain over the next few hundred miles south and I look forward to it.

Isla Seas

OK, to get us up to speed, let me jump forward a few days. Willow is now anchored off of Isla Cavada, in the Secas group of islands. We left Boca Chica yesterday morning and made the 15-mile transit in really good time. We had 15 knots of wind on the beam or slightly forward of it. That gives both Willow and Tara over 6 knots of boat speed, which is really fun. (Probably should have hauled the skiff on board instead of tow it, but all was well. It actually surfed down some waves and passed us, but stayed upright and no problems). We were getting lazy and complacent, but no longer. We had an awesome sail into the anchorage. Got to show off a few of the beauties of how junk rigs can be handled. Willow flew around the northern point of Isla Cavada, plowing a frothy bow wave in the clear blue waters. As we rounded the point we got headed by the breeze, no problem, these rigs actually do sail up wind, contrary to popular belief. We worked our way up into the lee of the island and towards the other boats anchored there. There was a cut, or low spot, in the island that was funneling nice breeze into part of the anchorage. Once we made it into the favorable breeze from the cut and had our spot picked out, we fell off onto a broad reach under full sail, sliding along nicely. Then, as sweet as can be, a calm jibe of both sails. As we head up into the wind, whoosh, Bonnie lets go the anchor, I let go both halyards and the sails drop like a Venetian blind that has come loose from the wall, which is a very handy thing if the wind is really blowing.

As one of the very few junk rigged boats out here, I feel the need to be a vocal advocate of the rig and do a little bragging every now and then. Yesterday’s maneuvers could have been done by any boat, but certainly not as easily and safely. OK, I will step off the junk rig soapbox and get back to our daily lives.

For example, right now it is 9am local time; Bonnie and I are sitting here finishing off a nice breakfast while sipping some Costa Rican coffee. While we do that, we are also listening to the morning Pan Pacific Net on the Single Side Band (SSB). The SSB is the marine version of a HAM radio. Basically we get to listen to people all over this part of the world as they move about. We also check in with the net when we are under way. It has become a morning habit to listen in. One of the most useful aspects of this radio net is the info on wind and sea state conditions. Every boat that checks in gives their position and weather conditions. This is extremely useful to us as we develop our sailing plans moving into new waters.

Willows next big sail will be from here to Ecuador, about 500 miles, but there is a glitch. 500 miles is not that long a passage, if the wind is on the beam or behind us. Well, the passage to Ecuador will be headwinds as well as a very strong opposing current (it is called the Humboldt Current, check it out). The Humboldt Current runs from south to north up the coast of South America at anywhere from 2-3knots. Now, Willow can only go 7knots, and that is only in ideal sailing conditions, usually we make anywhere from 4-6knots, on average. Well, the math is simple there, that give us only 1-3knots of speed made good. Most people walk through the park faster than that. This current has been known to sailors for centuries now, and is either avoided or utilized depending on the direction of travel.

Another obstacle is something called the Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ), also known as the doldrums. It is a band of no wind, or rather no consistent wind, squalls, thunderstorms and more no wind. This band is usually parked just north of the equator, fluctuation north to south depending on water temps, equatorial currents and probably some other voodoo I have not studied up on at this time. At our present location, we are just north of the ITCZ, which is good actually. North of the ITCZ we can hope for some favorable winds out of the north, hope being the operative term.. So, if you check out your handy globe or world atlas, you will see that from western Panama to Ecuador is due south, which is not so ideal for us. Now look very closely southwest of the Panama/Costa Rican border, you’ll see an island called Isla del Coco out there, about 350 miles. It sounds like an amazing spot; supposedly lots of big marine animals. Think Jurassic Park type setting, minus the dinosaurs. It is a national park of Costa Rica and we want to go.

It seems foolish to miss up a chance to visit what is claimed to be the largest uninhabited island in the world, virtually untouched by modern mans influence, which is a really big deal, because nothing is untouched. Another good nautical reason to go out there is the fact that we will get ourselves very far west, setting ourselves up nicely for the SW winds below the ITCZ, I think!!!!!!! We just heard from S/V Gia on the radio (the other junk rig), they left from here for Ecuador yesterday morning. Looks like they had the same nice wind we did yesterday and made good time south. Right now they have only 5 knots of breeze from the SSW, which is not a lot and from not such a good direction, but they are patient it seems.

Well, either way, we will not be heading offshore until Ben and Nikki meet up with Ben’s father, Bill, on the 16th. Then, a few bottles of wine and some eggs and we are ready for an ocean passage. Isla Coco will certainly be given a good go, but we will see what the gods cast at us as far as wind and currents go. If we make it to Isla Coco, we will probably stay only a few days, they charge 25$/person/day, plus 25$ for the boat/day. That seems a bit excessive. They offer no services of any sort out there, none. We do not need any services mind you, but where the money going? Either way, it seems a really good place to check out.

Isla Contreras

It is now April 14th as I write here from an anchorage in the Isla Contreras, only about 14 miles from the last anchorage in the Secas. Willow parted company with Tara for a few days. Ben and Nikki are headed back to Boca Chica and then on up the river to Pedrigal, very near the city of David. That is where they will be meeting up with Bill and doing a little of the bureaucratic dance that we have come to understand a little, if not comprehend. The best approach seems to be this: Bring tons of copies of every official piece of paper you have, pace yourself, perhaps have a beer on your way from one office to another and back and forth and so on. If things get frustrating, which happens often, consider another beer and coming back the next day. It really does put a guy to pondering why all of the fuss is even taken to keep track of all of us travelers. But, since it has been decided it is necessary, why the hell can it not be figured out how to do it in some way that resembles efficiency.

On the other hand, we meet many Canadian cruisers down here and they all say without hesitation that by far the worst, most unreasonable and screwed up place to deal with checking in and out from, was the good old USA and the wonderful folks from Homeland Security. (Homeland Security, now there is a handle and no doubt about it. For some reason is conjures up memories from history classes, wars, and dictators, that sort of thing. I cannot quite place accurately enough the reference that comes to mind, but perhaps you get the idea anyway.) Ooops, I had decided not to make any judgments or observations involving cultural norms, or political issues that I am too ignorant of to verbalize intelligently, so I will stop there. The bottom line comes down to this. So far the most pleasant noise I could wish to hear when standing at the customs, or immigrations, or Port Captains office is the rapid, old school stamping of papers. The folks down here have got the machine gun stamping technique down and I love them for it. Wham, thump, wham, thump….music to my ears!

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I know, I know, I have become quite the dashing sailor, it is a hard image to keep up.

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Last words from Panama.

Willow and Tara left Golfito, Costa Rica, hmm, about two weeks ago. We spent a few days surfing at a beautiful spot just south of there. The local crowd was about 6 teen-aged kids who could ride boards like pros. They were very friendly to us and got a good laugh on our behalf every time we ate white water, which was often. It was about the best wave I have ever ridden, right up until I had an equipment failure and broke the board leash. Actually, the leash itself did not break; it tore the attachment point out of the board, which will require a little epoxy magic to fix up. I felt the board come free from the leash (the leash is a 6’ piece of stretchy line attached to the back of the board and my ankle) after a really nice ride that brought me a bit closer to a pile of rocks than I had been before. Well, I have only one surfboard to my name and there are no shops nearby to buy another one. So, as soon as I surfaced I was off, swimming as fast as ever I could go for the board. It was floating inshore of me a ways, the race I was in was to beat the next wave to the board, as it would probably get sent crashing into the rocks. The next wave landed on my head just as I got hold of the thing, and all was well. No more waves that day, the repairs would take a bit of work.

In the meantime, we hauled anchor and headed for Panama, just 25 miles away. Our first stop was Isla Parida, and what a great island it is. We met several other cruising boats, finally getting to put some faces with the voices we have been hearing on the SSB over the past months.

One of the coolest meetings was of another boat with a junk rig, similar to ours. The boats name is “Gia” the owners are Damon and Desiree. (Sorry if I got the spelling wrong guys). They bought the boat in Everett, Washington and have been cruising her for the past 5 years or so. It was awesome to see another Junk sailing into the anchorage, the first other we have seen since the Pacific NW. It is a Colvin design, called the Gazelle. Built of steel in Great Britain and then shipped to Everett, where it sat never sailed for over 15 years. I think I got some good shots of her and will post them here when I get to it. Gia is on her way to Ecuador as I write this. Bonnie and I hope to catch up with them down there, as they were a lot of fun.

Well, I found the pictures I took with our little camera and that is as good as it gets, sorry. Eventually we will acquire a digital camera that can actually zoom in on something.

gia.jpg

Speaking of good fun, we met another couple on a 50’ Sparkman Stephens, about to complete their 5-year circumnavigation. The boats name is “Julia” the crew, Larry and Ken. Their claim is to have been the first gay couple to circumnavigate the globe by sail (and motor of course). They have had several articles written about them around the world looking for challengers to the claim. They are a riot and very generous on top of it. We pulled out the kite boards and surfboards and got whipped around the anchorage behind their super fast skiff, once again taking some hard falls, but laughing the whole time.

Larry and Ken had endless crazy stories of adventures on their travels. As it turns out Turkey was one of their favorite spots, go figure. Guess we will have to get there some day. We met them at anchor off of Isla Parida, out in western Panama. It is the first good-sized island you would run into after leaving Costa Rican waters. The islands out here remind me a lot of the San Juan Islands of the Pacific Northwest. A big difference would be the heat, iguanas, monkeys, and palm trees, that sort of thing. A similarity is the rugged beauty of the area and the often-present rain clouds amongst the distant mountains inland of us. There are rocky islets everywhere, submerged rocks to keep us on edge while moving around, and fairly big tidal exchanges. The tides are something we did not really have to think about up in Mexico, being only a few feet. It is definitely useful to pay attention down here; the result of not doing so would be an accidental careening in the middle of the night while at anchor.

Boca Chica, Panama.

Well, as it turns out, western Panama is not as remote as we thought it would be. Here we are, anchored up in the entrance waters of a very large river/estuary system and there is a fishing resort here putting out a wireless signal, who knew. It is a very small fishing village called Boca Chica. (08°12.9′ N, 82°12.4′ W) That is the GPS position. Go ahead and Google Earth it, I think it will be a really good picture.

Here are a few of the local watercraft anchored off of Boca Chica. Most boats we see the locals cruising around in are made of fiberglass these days. However, we certainly see some very old dug out type craft still moving through the water.

bocaboats.jpg

Here is Willow at anchor about half a mile from Boca Chica proper. The sunsets are usually very nice up there as a result of the light cloud cover to add some dimension to the sky.

bocawil.jpg

Here is a group of Panamanians just back from a day at one of the hundreds of islands in the area. It seemed they were all a huge family unit, off to celebrate someone’s birthday. They were all in that boat, and no, they did not have enough life jackets for everyone.

locals.jpg

They did, however, have some food, on the hoof, so-to-speak. Yep, you have heard the iguanas are eaten down here and it is for sure. Why not? We have seen more of them than any other type of land animal, and they can get quite large. The coconuts are the back up when the beer runs out I think.

iguna1.jpg

Yep, amazing creatures. Wonder what it is thinking right now.

iguana2.jpg

This place is owned by a Canadian, named Jorge (pronounced horr-hay). That is his real name, not a Spanish version of George or anything. He opened this place up just a few years ago and it was great fun for us. Beers are 3 quarters, cheeseburgers (good ones too) cost 8 quarters. You may think, right, typical American, beer and burgers. Fine, I accept that. The reality is that the food since leaving Mexico has left much to be desired. Not sure why that is. They have the exact same raw ingredients down here as up there, but do not seem to put them together in the fantastic ways the Mexicans did. So, I try burgers out when ever they are on the menu, which is not very often.

willies.jpg

Bonnie and I are very content here in Panama. There are good people everywhere, all
willing to talk and teach what they know about their world. It has been a bit warm here, and humid, but we can handle it. At the peak of the heat we just hide out in Willow, take frequent swims and fresh water showers. It helps for about 15 minutes, and then back to the heat. One new daily event as of southern Costa Rica and now Panama is almost daily rain showers in the afternoons or evenings. These are usually preceded by an unearthly lightning show with the necessary thunder for dramatic effect. Before heading south for Mexico nearly two years ago we added a rigid awning over the cockpit on Willow. I built in what is effectively a gutter set up with two drains in the low spots for rainwater collection. These have finally become useful after 15 months of cruising along the coastal deserts of Mexico and Central America. We simply plug a hose into the drain/spigot and the other end into the water tank. The result is tasty fresh water, without having to haul around jerry jugs from point A to B and so on. It seems we will be getting a lot more rain over the next few hundred miles south and I look forward to it.

Isla Seas

OK, to get us up to speed, let me jump forward a few days. Willow is now anchored off of Isla Cavada, in the Secas group of islands. We left Boca Chica yesterday morning and made the 15-mile transit in really good time. We had 15 knots of wind on the beam or slightly forward of it. That gives both Willow and Tara over 6knots of boat speed, which is really fun. (Probably should have hauled the skiff on board instead of tow it, but all was well. It actually surfed down some waves and passed us, but stayed upright and no problems). We were getting lazy and complacent, but no longer. We had an awesome sail into the anchorage. Got to show off a few of the beauties of how junk rigs can be handled. Willow flew around the northern point of Isla Cavada, plowing a frothy bow wave in the clear blue waters. As we rounded the point we got headed by the breeze, no problem, these rigs actually do sail up wind, contrary to popular belief. We worked our way up into the lee of the island and towards the other boats anchored there. There was a cut, or low spot, in the island that was funneling nice breeze into part of the anchorage. Once we made it into the favorable breeze from the cut and had our spot picked out, we fell off onto a broad reach under full sail, sliding along nicely. Then, as sweet as can be, a calm jibe of both sails. As we head up into the wind, whoosh, Bonnie lets go the anchor, I let go both halyards and the sails drop like a Venetian blind that has come loose from the wall, which is a very handy thing if the wind is really blowing.

As one of the very few junk rigged boats out here, I feel the need to be a vocal advocate of the rig and do a little bragging every now and then. Yesterday’s maneuvers could have been done by any boat, but certainly not as easily and safely. OK, I will step off the junk rig soapbox and get back to our daily lives.

For example, right now it is 9am local time; Bonnie and I are sitting here finishing off a nice breakfast while sipping some Costa Rican coffee. While we do that, we are also listening to the morning Pan Pacific Net on the Single Side Band (SSB). The SSB is the marine version of a HAM radio. Basically we get to listen to people all over this part of the world as they move about. We also check in with the net when we are under way. It has become a morning habit to listen in. One of the most useful aspects of this radio net is the info on wind and sea state conditions. Every boat that checks in gives their position and weather conditions. This is extremely useful to us to develop our sailing plans as we move into new waters.

Willows next big sail will be from here to Ecuador, about 500 miles, but there is a glitch. 500 miles is not that long a passage, if the wind is on the beam or behind us. Well, the passage to Ecuador will be headwinds as well as a very strong opposing current (it is called the Humboldt Current, check it out). The Humboldt Current runs from south to north up the coast of South America at anywhere from 2-3knots. Now, Willow can only go 7knots, and that is only in ideal sailing conditions, usually we make anywhere from 4-6knots, on average. Well, the math is simple there, that give us only 1-3knots of speed made good. Most people walk through the park faster than that. This current has been known to sailors for centuries now, and is either avoided or utilized depending on the direction of travel.

Another obstacle is something called the Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ), also known as the doldrums. It is a band of no wind, or rather no consistent wind, squalls, thunderstorms and more no wind. This band is usually parked just north of the equator, fluctuation north to south depending on water temps, equatorial currents and probably some other voodoo I have not studied up on at this time. At our present location, we are just north of the ITCZ, which is good actually. North of the ITCZ we can hope for some favorable winds out of the north, hope being the operative term.. So, if you check out your handy globe or world atlas, you will see that from western Panama to Ecuador is due south, which is not so ideal for us. Now look very closely southwest of the Panama/Costa Rican border, you’ll see an island called Isla del Coco out there, about 350 miles. It sounds like an amazing spot; supposedly lots of big marine animals. Think Jurassic Park type setting, minus the dinosaurs. It is a national park of Costa Rica and we want to go there.

It seems foolish to miss up a chance to visit what is claimed to be the largest uninhabited island in the world, virtually untouched by modern mans influence, which is a really big deal, because nothing is untouched. Another good nautical reason to go out there is the fact that we will get ourselves very far west, setting ourselves up nicely for the SW winds below the ITCZ, I think!!!!!!! We just heard from S/V Gia on the radio (the other junk rig), they left from here for Ecuador yesterday morning. Looks like they had the same nice wind we did yesterday and made good time south. Right now they have only 5knots of breeze from the SSW, which is not a lot and from not such a good direction, but they are patient it seems.

Well, either way, we will not be heading offshore until Ben and Nikki meet up with Ben’s father, Bill, on the 16th. Then, a few bottles of wine and some eggs and we are ready for an ocean passage. Isla Coco will certainly be given a good go, but we will see what the gods cast at us as far as wind and currents go. If we make it to Isla Coco, we will probably stay only a few days, they charge 25$/person/day, plus 25$ for the boat/day. That seems a bit excessive. They offer no services of any sort out there, none. We do not need any services mind you, but where the money going? Either way, it seems a really good place to check out.

Isla Contreras

It is now April 14th as I write here from an anchorage in the Isla Contreras, only about 14 miles from the last anchorage in the Secas. Willow parted company with Tara for a few days. Ben and Nikki are headed back to Boca Chica and then on up the river to Pedrigal, very near the city of David. That is where they will be meeting up with Bill and doing a little of the bureaucratic dance that we have come to understand a little, if not comprehend. The best approach seems to be this: Bring tons of copies of every official piece of paper you have, pace yourself, perhaps have a beer on your way from one office to another and back and forth and so on. If things get frustrating, which happens often, consider another beer and coming back the next day. It really does put a guy to pondering why all of the fuss is even taken to keep track of all of us travelers. But, since it has been decided it is necessary, why the hell can it not be figured out how to do it in some way that resembles efficiency.

On the other hand, we meet many Canadian cruisers down here and they all say without hesitation that by far the worst, most unreasonable and screwed up place to deal with checking in and out from, was the good old USA and the wonderful folks from Homeland Security. (Homeland Security, now there is a handle and no doubt about it. For some reason is conjures up memories from history classes, wars, and dictators, that sort of thing. I cannot quite place accurately enough the reference that comes to mind, but perhaps you get the idea anyway.) Ooops, I had decided not to make any judgments or observations involving cultural norms, or political issues that I am too ignorant of to verbalize intelligently, so I will stop there. The bottom line comes down to this. So far the most pleasant noise I could wish to hear when standing at the customs, or immigrations, or Port Captains office is the rapid, old school stamping of papers. The folks down here have got the machine gun stamping technique down and I love them for it. Wham, thump, wham, thump….music to my ears!

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