Blog Post 52 - Back to Shelter Bay - AGAIN

Tue 4 Jul 2017 09:51

Blog Post 52 – Back to Shelter Bay – AGAIN

01/17/17 – 02/17/17

09:22.09N – 79:51.09W


As we prepared to leave the San Blas and head back to Shelter Bay in Colon, Panama I was severely disappointed. This was now the 3rd time we would be returning to Shelter Bay for boat repairs. What is it about Panama that just won’t let us go? Having plans constantly change is one of the hardest things about cruising. They say that you should never sail/cruise to a schedule. Inevitably weather, boat issues or any one of a number of things will change your plans. You have to be flexible and be able to adapt to a fluid situation or you are going to be miserable. On the ride back to Shelter Bay, I thought about how I would keep myself busy every day.  Since the beginning of this journey I have had my heart set on going to Cartagena, Columbia. There is so much history there, I have read so much about the old city and Spanish rule throughout the centuries. We should have already been there. The plan was to spend Christmas there. Oh well, get on with it Teresa; everything happens for a reason….

We took the same route back as we did on the way. One stop at Linton Bay for an overnight then on to Shelter Bay the next day. The kids of course were thrilled, they got to be reunited with their friends, the pack would be complete again and there was great Wi-Fi to be had. Shelter Bay is a nice 5 star marina. It has a pool, a decent restaurant, good Wi-Fi and lots of activities. The problem is its location and its lack of provisions. As I have mentioned before on this blog, just to go into Colon to go to the market is an all-day affair. Then you get to schlep your groceries back to Shelter Bay in their little minivan, with all the other cruisers from the marina. My way of dealing with that was to go into town once every 7-10 days and do a huge provision run. I would make a run to the market for groceries then take a taxi to the Free Zone to get alcohol and sodas. Drinking in the bar in Shelter Bay can get expensive, really quick. It was much more economical to buy your own alcohol and make your own drinks.


We settled into a routine. The kids and I would go to yoga first thing in the morning, led by our dear friend, Micah from Tanda Malaica. Daniel would stay and have breakfast at the café with the pack of teens and Nico and I would return to the boat to have our breakfast and do school. As soon as we were through, he would join his brother and the pack and we would not see them again until they were hungry and came back to the boat to forage for food and snacks. In the afternoon, Jirig and I would go to the pool and swim laps and then I would stay for a water aerobics class. Between these activities, the blog and boat chores pretty much filled our days. There was a great cast of characters coming through the marina. Any boat going through the Panama Canal to the Pacific, had to stop in Shelter Bay, so you were assured that there were some real characters, families, and cruising fleets.

While we were there the World ARC (Atlantic Rally for Cruisers) came through. There were over 70 boats. The round the world ARC is a cruising event that circles the globe in 18 months. It was a treat to meet the rally participants and check out their boats. These were the real deal. Boats decked out with so much equipment that their decks look cluttered. There were solar panels, wind and water generators, life rafts, kayaks, paddle boards, man overboard equipment all displayed on their decks. Jirig and I would walk the docks in the evening with a cocktail and check out the boats and make plans for what we were going to do as we cruised the Caribbean and beyond. The idea of crossing the Atlantic by ourselves seemed daunting. We started to look in the ARC Europe. It was a rally (as a pose to a race) that started in the BVI’s (British Virgin Islands) and ended in Lagos, Portugal via Bermuda and the Azores. We were seriously considering it.


Preparations to obtain a new generator began in earnest. We had hoped we would be able to get a generator in Panama. We had some restraints  that significantly limited our options. The first was the size of the generator itself. It had to be able to fit into the spot that the now defunct generator occupied. That was not easy, as we wanted to upgrade from a 4-kilowatt generator to an 8 or 9 kilowatt one. The more power it generates the bigger the generator is. It also had to fit into the 23” stairwell that led into the salon of our boat. After about a week of sourcing in Panama and the US we finally settled on an Onan generator.  It would have to come from the US. It was a top of line generator that would more than meet our power needs. It was a bundle of red tape to get the generator into the country, clear customs and then get it delivered to the marina. The entire process took almost 3 weeks.

The import laws of Panama allowed us to import the generator without being taxed but only if we could prove that we were putting it in our boat and leaving the country and were not going to  sell it in Panama. In order to do this the company that we purchased it from had to pay for it to be delivered (because it shipped later than they said it had to go air freight and they were picking up the charges) for a Panamanian Customs officer to travel with the shipment and verify its delivery to a boat. At 10PM on a Friday night the generator was delivered. The customs lady was an absolute delight. She enjoyed the trip from Panama City to Shelter Bay. She loved seeing the boats in the marina and talking to the cruisers. She showed us pictures of her children and grandchildren and we took a picture of her with us so that she could post it on her Facebook page.

Figure 1 -  Jirig strategizing with the crane operator

Figure 2 - Steady as she goes....

Figure 3 -Almost on the back deck

Now the next problem was how we were going to get the generator down the dock and onto the boat? The generator weighs 750 lbs. and cost as much as a small car! We did not want to damage it in the process. This is where Jirig’s unique genius kicks in. He had been pondering and planning for a long time about how we were going to get the generator on the boat. The marina had a large crane that they used to haul heavy things in the marina. We were going to move our boat to the closest dock to the crane. The crane would then lift the generator on to our back deck. That was the easy part and the crane operator did a fabulous job. Now to try to fit it through the 23: stairwell and down into the salon of the boat. The passage down the stairs into the salon was so narrow that only 2 people could be there holding the generator at one time, one in the back and one in the front. There was no way 2 people could lift that generator alone. Jirig devised a ramp that he made from assorted wood pieces from the boat yard and slid the generator down the stairs an across the salon to the table. Then he borrowed a chain and pully device to actually hoist the generator into the engine room. There we would remove the table and open a hatch underneath that led to the engine room. Once in the engine room it had to be squeezed into the small spot where the old generator had been removed.

Figure 4 -set it down nice and slow

Figure 5 - I never even knew there was a hatch below the table!

Figure 6 - This gadget with the chain and pullies did the job of 3 men

Figure 7 - Now to squeeze it into place....

Figure 8 - A good kick now and then never hurts

Figure 9 - The final push to get it into place

Figure 10 - That's what success looks like!

After we had the generator successfully installed we started to take a serious look at the weather. The season had changed and the trade winds now howled at 20-30 kts outside the marina for days and even weeks at a time. Inside the protection of the marina we still had winds 15-20 enough so everything had to be secured on deck and hanging your laundry out to dry on the railing was a dicey proposition as to whether it would be there when you returned. It looked like it would be a good 10 days before the winds would die down and we could continue our journey.


Meanwhile the kids kept themselves busy. They found an old abandoned church in the jungle and decided to make it their own. Daniel and Jude set up an elaborate system to rig up hammocks so the kids could camp out there. The kids begged and borrowed all the equipment from cruisers in the marina that they needed and set up house in the old church. For me, even the vague thought of sleeping outside in the jungle gave me the creeps. The church looked haunted, once it got dark you could not see a thing beyond the small clearing around the church. There were howler monkeys everywhere, howling and growling through the night. I don’t know if any of you have ever heard a howler monkey? They screech and howl and once one starts going off, the others soon follow until it is a cacophony. It is a horrible sound. I would crawl across broken glass before I would sleep in the jungle with them. Don’t even get me started on all the creepy crawlers that come out at night in the jungle to feed. Bats, scorpions, spiders, rats, bugs and bugs and bugs! At any given time, there were 8-10 kids sleeping out there. They would rotate in and out as kid boats left and new kids took their place. They would return in the morning to eat, shower and plan their day only to return the abandoned church in the jungle to sleep. About the 2nd night they were out there an elaborate scheme was hatched by Belinda, the mom from Tanda Malaica. All on her own, without even telling her husband, she snuck out of bed, dressed all in black, with a black hoodie and left the boat. She crept into the jungle by herself, with only a flashlight, and approached the church, her sole purpose being to scare the living shit out of the kids, of which 4 were hers. That she surely did. She crept around the side of the church right up next to the wall where the kids were sleeping on the other side. She started jumping up and down and screeching like a howler monkey while slamming her hands on the ground. The kids were mortified. They stayed in their hammocks and covered their heads with the blankets. Daniel, being the oldest went outside to investigate. By the time he got there, she was gone. Needless to say, they got little or no sleep that night. The kids came back to the boat the next morning and they were going nuts trying to figure out what it was that had come to the church last night. They were doing research online to find out how big howler’s get. Their maximum weight is 30 lbs. There was no way the thing they heard and vaguely saw was only 30 lbs. Nico determined that it was a Panamanian Sasquatch. They had long discussions on whether it was animal or human? I told them they probably should not go back out there again. That night at water aerobics, Belinda told me that it was her that went out there. She swore me to secrecy. She hadn’t even told her husband yet! That takes balls. Who would go to such elaborate lengths to scare her kids like that? Belinda would. My esteem for her went up a couple of notches. I asked her when she planned on telling the kids? She said, maybe never, she planned on keeping it going as long as she could. It was the hardest secret I ever had to keep. I could not stand it any longer so I told Jirig. Now that he was in on the secret he played it up to the kids, bigtime. As the kids prepared to spend another night in the church, they planned on being prepared this time. Everyone got a flashlight. They all had cameras on their phones. Now they were looking for weapons to protect themselves. Nico wanted to bring his Katana sword. Daniel wanted the BB gun. Someone else was considering a knife. I ran to Belinda’s boat. I told her this has gone too far. Someone is going to get hurt. Jirig and I discouraged the kids from bringing any weapons and they went out there for another night. This time Belinda waited until 2AM. The kids had just fallen asleep. This time she crept into the back of the church where the kids were sleeping. She started her screeching routine again. This time Nico and Jack had gotten a good look at least of the shape of the beast, they thought. Another sleepless night for them. They came back in the morning, exhausted. They argued about how tall the beast was. One kid said that it was 5 feet tall. Nico insisted it was over 6ft tall. (Belinda is 5’11”) . One kid said that the beast had long hair, one said that it did not have any. This went on and on. Finally, Belinda came clean with them. They didn’t believe her. They insisted that if it was her they wanted to see her do it. She got up from her chair and started the screeching, howling and banging her hands on the ground. The kids were stunned. How could she have fooled them so bad? They vowed to get her back one day. She had it coming for sure. They would remember this for the rest of their lives.


We celebrated Jirig’s B-day with a potluck dinner with Tanda Malaica and some other friends in the marina. It appeared as if we might get our weather window in a few days. We made preparations to leave, Jirig worked on the boat and I went into Colon, hopefully for the last time to provision.

Figure 11 - Celebrating Jirig's Birthday

Figure 12 - Danny & Belinda from Tanda Malaica


Figure 13 - Emma and Crippin form Tanda Malaica



We had decided that we were going to go the Europe with the ARC. The alternative was to stay in the Caribbean for another year, in which case we would have to find a safe place for the boat, outside of the hurricane zone in this part of the world. We decided that we were done with the tropics, the heat, the humidity and the bugs. We wanted to get to Europe. We signed up and paid for the rally. That gave us a new goal and a deadline. The ARC would sail with approximately 40 boats from Tortola, BVI headed for Lagos, Portugal on May 6th. We needed to get across the Caribbean and to Tortola by then. It was getting late in the season, it was already almost the end of February and we needed to cross the entire Caribbean in 10 weeks. 


The weather window we had been watching that had originally given a 3-day window of good weather, broadened from 3 to 5 days. We needed 3 days to get to Columbia. We needed 5 days to get to Aruba.  As we looked at the weather further out it looked like there would not be another good weather window for some time. We had a decision to make. Do you take the weather window and go to Cartagena and risk possible getting stuck there for a few weeks waiting for another window or do we make a run for the ABC (Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao) islands? The kids were no help. They didn’t even want to leave. They would have been perfectly fine hanging out in the marina with their friends.


We have made our decision. We are going to skip Columbia and make a run for the ABC’s. We had a good 5-day weather window, just enough to get us the 650 miles to Aruba. We were afraid if we diverted and went to Columbia, we would risk getting stuck there waiting for the weather to break and we would miss our ARC deadline. We broke the news to the kids and prepared to sail. They were not happy campers…….


We said tearful goodbyes to our dear friends on Tanda Malaica and to our other friends in the marina and hopefully said goodbye to Shelter Bay for the last time.