News from Bocas - July - The Dark Month

Phil & Nikki Hoskins
Tue 7 Aug 2012 16:30
Apologies for the wordy text this month!
It's not too surprising really that the locals call July 'The Dark Month' as it seems to do nothing but rain, rain, rain !!
                                                                                  The Indians still have to get about - try bailing, paddling & holding an umbrella at the same time!
We had a total of 21.4" of the stuff all told during the month and a lot of that was accompanied by thunderstorms - frightening ones. Not once but several times we found ourselves out in the sticks on one of our mini cruises right in the path of one. We would not wish it on our worst enemies - if we had any that is. On this occasion we were anchored out in the secluded mangroves in one of our favourite haunts in the Buttonwood Cays when the mother of all lightening storms passed overhead around breakfast time. This one had been brewing all night offshore but when it came through it was directly overhead. The first lightening flash followed immediately by the thunderclap was so close that we moved into our forward cabin well away from the mast. Immediately a massive bolt hit the water just behind us and then another hit just ahead of us. This was probably the closest we have come to taking a direct hit. The storm seemed to take an eternity to clear through. Of course a massive amount of rain poured from the sky in the process and despite the sun being well on the rise the whole area was dark and foreboding. Our friends anchored two miles away happily played cards during the storm as they are onboard a steel Shrimper of about 60 feet length - a complete Faraday's cage! As the weather cleared through we decided to stay another day (fools) and were again surrounded by electrical storms the following morning only not so close this time. On leaving the anchorage later that day we found that our wind monitor system had suffered an electrical spike and no longer worked at all. Although the damn thing has not been reliable since almost day one! We've had our fair share of storms during July, although strangely, Bocas town seems to miss most of these electrical cells that pass over the local islands nearby.
                                                                  Oh! Oh! here comes another one -  this is mid-morning and its so dark
On our way back from the cruise we called into Dolphin Bay to pay a social call to 'Mr Bill' and his good lady, or Ben 42 as they are known over the VHF. They are typical of many of the ex pats in the Bocas area who have bought some land and had a house built. It wasn't all plain sailing for them but they are a truly nice couple who open their house to anybody arriving by boat. We were invited for some cocktails along with an Australian who is house sitting for an English owner a few hundred yards away. House sitting is vitally important here as the rights to build and live on the land in the area are only rights of possession. If the property looked to be abandoned then you could be in for a shock when arriving back from a visit home to find your house has become the new home for some Ngobe Indians! So nearly everyone uses house sitters to keep the property occupied.
                Ajaya anchored off Mr Bills house (mid afternoon and still dark!)   This piratical deterrent to intruders is a sculpture, not 'Skip' fooling around!
Back in town we became aware of a scam that the Chinese supermarket we had been patronising since arriving here was using. It became clear that they were taking our cruising friends for the same ride after we announced the problem on the morning VHF net. On a $75 shop they were casually adding up to $5 on top of the final bill which they would do by 'mis-keying' on their shop calculator which conveniently did not issue an itemised slip. Even when they had been using a machine with a paper receipt they had a way of putting $5 on at the start of the list which didn't show on the printed paper copy. Clever work eh? We caught them one day when we took our own calculator into the store and added up the items as we went round the shop. Sure enough there was a $5 difference between their total and ours. The young Chinese lady at the checkout looked ashen faced as we showed her what we had calculated the total to be but left the shop after paying their amount so that we could go through everything outside. Sure enough our calculation was correct so we walked back into the store and dumped the shopping on the checkout and demanded they add everything up again. The assistant then tried to peel the price label off a bottle of gin saying it was more expensive than what the price label read but the 'Admiral' was wise to that having purchased that particular brand several times before. In the end the difference was refunded and the assistant then stormed away from the checkout almost in tears. It was not the first time we had been diddled but it was the last for that shop as we now shop elsewhere, still occasionally using the calculator!
The next assault on our budget came via the local Mayor's office. They have a trash problem and the story goes that some years ago they agreed with a local landowner to use some of his acres for landfill for the Bocas area trash. Despite the site being used for waste the landowner never received any money with the suspicion that it went into the Mayor's pocket. Well this is Central America where local officials are regularly locked up for embezzlement. Now the Mayor has a waste problem as the land owner has closed his site and it costs money to have the waste taken elsewhere which is where the cruisers come into the equation as we are seen as a cash-cow. So he promptly sends out a launch with two representatives from his office to collect $12 per month for trash disposal from each of the boats anchored off the town. (The annual charge for locals by the way is $7 which means we are paying about 15 times the going rate and we still have to take the dinghy ashore to dump it). Most of the cruisers managed to 'dodge' the fee collection by being ashore or feigning lack of cash. This month the trash police were out collecting fees again only now it's dropped to $7 per month. Now there's deflation for you.
The next money making idea that would affect the cruisers was broadcast by the Bocas harbourmaster during one of the morning VHF nets. Leaving everyone open-mouthed he announced that every person piloting a dinghy with an outboard in the Bocas area would have to have a license to operate which as a special concession for this year would only cost $160 !!! Yes, just getting ashore from your anchored craft would mean being in possession of this special piece of paper and, wait for it, next year this license would cost $280 !!! When somebody asked what the locals pay he replied $18. So if you had 2 persons onboard who operated the dinghy it would cost nearly $600 in future. This is on top of the cruising permit cost of $193 per annum which in Bocas is 'manipulated' up to $293 as the officials insist on coming out to the boat in a hired launch! After one of the local ex pats wrote to Don Winner at the 'Panama Guide' (an internet news site that digs the dirt on local affairs) Mr Winner subsequently contacted the Harbourmaster by telephone who back tracked at a rapid pace to announce that this rule was only meant for the local launches and not yacht tenders although we had all clearly heard him say ALL craft driven by an outboard. So another hole in our cruising budget was averted.
                                                                       Back in Bocas Town anchorage - a little less dark!
The end of the month saw the 'Admiral' marched off to Mr Wong the dentist for a molar repair in Bocas town. The tooth, or what was left of it, had broken up a few weeks previous and so an appointment was made to put it right. This provided the opportunity for many in-jokes amongst friends revolving around the poor chaps name such as, make sure he doesn't fill the wong tooth, or, turning up for your appointment on the wong day. However, on the day in question Mr Wong duly arrived at the surgery at the wong time due to appalling weather conditions! We sat freezing in the air-conditioned waiting room whilst he made his way from the mainland, arriving an hour late. But he did do a good job!
Earlier in the month saw Skip take on the challenge of Net Controller on Wednesdays for the Southwest Caribbean Net on the single side band radio. As we are in the off season there are a lot of people away and so to keep the net going they asked for some 'volunteers' from the local cruisers (well it was closer to being press-ganged actually) and he 'stepped up to the plate' as they say in the States, although we're not quite sure where this phrase emanates from. Then a few weeks later and at 10 minutes notice he was asked to run the Saturday edition of the Bocas Cruisers and Ex Pats net on VHF. Having already become involved by running a small musical trivia section on the same net it wasn't too awesome a task to actually run the net. He has just one more to go before we fly back to the UK to catch up with family and friends.
On another occasion due to the length of his locks the 'Admiral' was asked to make with the scissors on the aft deck so as to reduce his chances of being mistaken for a Yeti at British Customs. After only five minutes the heavens suddenly opened above us and Skip sat dripping forlornly on the aft deck in the pouring rain with half a haircut whilst the 'Barber of Bocas Town' scurried around inside to shut the hatches and port lights. Fortunately it was a passing heavy shower so unlikely to bring on pneumonia and several more inches were hacked off nicely blocking our small aft deck drains with loose hair.  No wonder he doesn't have a haircut too often.
Despite the rain July proved to be quite a social month with a couple of visits to 'Rana Azuls' our favourite meeting place. As their boat was secure in the marina we asked our friends Jim & Laura to overnight with us onboard as they too liked to go to that restaurant. They bravely accepted and seemed to enjoy the experience despite us having to motor through a torrential downpour with attendant lightening the first time and an absolute deluge on the Monday morning the second time. Whether due to not being used to having guests on board or an overwhelming urge to expose himself,  twice Skip was caught in the nuddy when Laura was innocently going about her business in having a shower on the rear deck or merely hanging up her swimming costume. Once was accidental to which an embarrassing apology was accepted but she probably downgraded Skips respectability when it happened a second time on the following trip when he emerged up the rear steps from a swim in 'swimwear economy mode' just as the poor woman was emerging into the cockpit from below to hang up her costume! On the way back to Bocas we collected two other friends who were leaving their boat at anchor under the care of another cruiser and going back to Boston MA. So for the first time in four years we had 6 persons underway onboard Ajaya and unbelievably the sun came out!.
                            Stopping off at another friends house in the big boat and delivering two of our 'guests' back to town in the little one!
In fact it was on their boat that Phil discovered just how hot the emission of antifreeze could be when exhausted under pressure from the glow plug holes in a diesel engine. Phil had gone to assist when our friend who shall remain nameless to avoid embarrassment accidentally poured neat antifreeze into his air intake instead of his water filler cap, resulting in a hydraulic lock when he then subsequently attempted to start his engine. Ajaya's resident engineer duly offered to assist and was blasted for his troubles when we took out the glow plugs to blow out the antifreeze when turning the engine over. Despite overlaying an oil absorbent cloth over the holes the blast of hot vapour blew a hole in the cloth and hit Phil in the side. Fortunately he had a t-shirt on but was that vapour hot!!! The next time the engine was turned over he was standing safely behind the main engine, a massive Detroit diesel, some 10 feet away on the other side of the engine room from where the generator was situated. As the engine was cranked up again he could see the white cloth wafting up and down in a ghostly dance as each piston came up to compression. Fortunately no permanent damage had been done to the generator and the job was declared a roaring success. 
One important world event we simply didn't want to miss was the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games. Quite a large crowd gathered at the marina bar, however, unlike some other establishments boasting huge 40" TV sets,  the set at the Calypso Cantina bar is barely 15" wide which made viewing from any distance, like 10', a challenge.  A further frustration came by way of some annoying breaks in the satellite transmission due to a deluge of rain accompanied by yet another thunderstorm.  At one time there were about 10 breaks inside one minute which drew oohs and aahs from the assembled audience as the picture repeatedly returned only to disappear again. In one of the longer breaks we missed the 'queen' exiting the helicopter and, bless them, some of the assembled viewers actually thought it was the real Queen accompanying 007 on his mission! It also didn't help matters when we could not find any satellite transmission that was in English language so had to be content with a Spanish commentary overlapping a barely audible English commentary in the background. Although with the rain hammering on the tin roof above us any commentary was difficult to grasp.  The Spanish commentators, as did many of the foreign viewers we were watching with, hardly knew what the heck was happening in the stadium but we tried to fill in the parts that were purely British in nature. The biggest cheer of the evening came with the arrival of Rowan Atkinson at the piano. He needed no explanation!!  It was an evening to remember and, without prompting, our friends who are mostly American gave generous praise to the organisation of the ceremony. We thought it was pretty special as well.
So that was July in Bocas and as we move into August we are secure in the Marina getting the boat ready for a 5 week absence. Our daunting trip home has the following flavour -
Sunday 12th August AM:
0600 Water taxi from Marina to Bocas Town (3 mins)
0630 Water taxi from Bocas Town to Almirante on the Panama mainland (20 mins)
0800 Bus to Panama City (appoximately 10 hours depending on mud slides or demonstrations!)
2 nights in Panama City to recuperate
Flight to Miami (3 hours)
Flight to London Heathrow (8 hours) - arriving Wednesday 15th PM