Archiv der Kategorie: Caribbean

Parades all over the place

Sounds of drums clang all over the anchorage, make their way into the marina and add a very special atmosphere to the Bocas tel Toro Archipelago these days. It is November and official life in Panama has come to a slow over the many public holidays this month. Everywhere colorful Parades are held while the residents celebrate the founding of not only their own country. – A must see for everyone traveling along the western caribbean coastline.

20141104-203942-Panama-School children were already practicing their marching, baton twirling, and playing mostly drums and xylophones for weeks already. Many of them will march in uniforms while those not playing an instrument dance in traditional costumes of vivid colors. The dancers, swirl their full bright skirts and twirl down the street to the beat of the all ruling drums.

The first day of celebrating was November 3rd, when Panama every year celebrates becoming its own Republic back in 1903. Officially it is called „Separation Day“ and is just followed by „Flag Day“ or „Dia de la Bandera“ the next morning. Now we celebrate the brave Panamanians that secretly designed and sewed the Panama flag to fly the day after separation was declared.

The country’s huge party continues on November 5th with „Colon day“. This time the groups parade along the streets to remember when the provinces of Colon and Panama City joined forces to to separate from Columbia. – Time for a break!

But only until November 10th when Panamanians remember the “Cry for Freedom” or “El Primer Grito de Independencia en la Villa de Los Santos”. There, in the town of La Villa de Los Santos, the full separation from Columbia was proclaimed throughout the whole nation. The last holiday celebrated in this row will be next week on November the 28th. This one is rooted back about one hundred years further, when Panama at that time was a part of Colombia and still they celebrate the independence from Spain on this day in 1821. Therefore, even though it is not a true Panamanian day to remember, it still is called the Independence day.

Right within this series of events another one settles in on November 16th. The „Fundacion de la Provincia de Bocas Del Toro“, the founding of the province in 1904.

Tomorrow Bocas Town will be full of people. The festivities are shared with residents from all the other towns, villages, smaller islands and neighborhoods within the province of Bocas Del Toro. It also is a great time for People from Almirante, Changuinola and other communities to join the local residents.

Legs that don’t belong on a beach

The air smells salty, fresh and is sentenced with an undistinguished taste of adventure. Some silver glitter sprinkles all over the bay behind a narrow line of palm trees. The beach on Isla Colón is just a stone throw apart from the open car window I am sitting at. On the other side shadows of a the deep jungle, black and gray, seem hostile and inviting at the same time this night. It feels almost like a call to venture into the woods. – But such undertaking will better be done at daylight than tonight.

Our taxi makes a slow progress along the dirt road that winds north along the shore from Playa Bluff. As usual the trade winds have become more intense over the day and are now on their nightly decline. On the other side of the island Paulinchen is well protected from them at her anchor.

Isla Colón Beaches
Isla Colón Beaches

Even in the car the sound of huge waves breaking over the large reef north of the Islands overtones the rumbling of overstretched dampers and a niggling engine. Nobody speaks much. Less because of the late time, more because we all wander back and fourth through the last couple of hours and the impressions on the beach that we just left behind. Weiterlesen

[Mexico] No beer in Paradise

Hut Point, Mexico. – Upfront: Happy Thanks Giving! It is quite an interesting moment to celebrate one of America’s top holidays in Mexico and meet a fresh married couple on their honeymoon vacation who spiced this day somehow to a real "Thanks Giving". It all started with a clear first-world-problem on this little adventure cruise: We took the dinghy ashore and walked up to beach bar after beach bar to order "dos cervesas, por favor." Every time we learned in perfect English: "Sorry, but we can only serve the guests staying here in the Hotel and are not allowed to serve the public. Maybe the Hotel next to us can help you." There we stood in our bathing suits with some almost dry Pesos, US-dollar, Euro and even Credit Cards in Paradise: Unable to buy a cold beer Waiting for a front to pass over us at Hut Point took already a few days longer than planned. And slowly we became desperate to get off the boat for a while. The Place was not as great as the book described. Still ok and it is not the authors fault that "a conspicuous hut" at "Hut Point" turned into a bunch of hotels since the most current guidebook for these waters was written in the nineties. The forecasted strong winds associated with the front came two days ago. A typical clockwise cold front called "Norder": The warm westerly trade winds die, while the wind starts turning south. The cold winds pick up from the southwest to full strength from northwest and turn northeast. Now they are on their decline but still too strong and yet not east enough for us to catch a sleep at the anchorage at Cozumel. So we stay here between a Resort-Marina-Adventure-whatever-makes-Fun-on-the-Water-Thing ashore and a quite useful coral reef on the other side at a place called Hut Point. The coral reef is our shelter from the swell that comes off the Caribbean Sea as it breaks most of the large waves and only some light rolling makes its way to us. That alone makes one say "Thanks Giving" for it. But it also invites for snorkeling and watching the later to be grilled lobster and fish while I get better in opening fresh picked coconut from the trees behind the beach every day. – Waiting out a bad weather has been harder on this trip than it is here. To not make the picture too desirable: The "Thing" on land on the other hand offers between 9am an 5pm all sorts of Jet-Ski rides, speedboat rides and snorkel trips on with too many people, some drinks and loud party-music on large catamarans. These "Ocean Safari", no surprise, include the most exotic things to see: A boat smaller than one of their floats carrying a German flag and two persons – Well, who knows for sure on which side of the fence is one when visiting the zoo? However, after a few days on the boat, in the dingy, below and above the water we were a little desperate for a "not moving table and chair" at the beach. We had almost given up and were about to return to the boat when we reached the final bar for another episode of the already known result. – This time the place felt more friendly and the barkeepers "Sorry" sounded a little more real to us than before, still not changing the outcome. As he was about to explain the problem with us being no guests another voice came from the opposite side of the bar: "I buy them a drink if that would work." – It worked! Besides just being thankful today for being here, being thankful to live this adventure, being thankful to travel and make a small living from it, we have to add a "Thank You".

[Mexico] Perspectives on a boat and what is a harbor

Puerto Morelos, Mexico – We moved on for a few hundred miles to the west, some to south. After a week on Isla Mujeres we jumped yesterday to Puerto Morelos. After the isolation we experienced in Cuba it was good to be in the ever alive streets of the mexican Island. We needed people and voices, smells and even honkig cars around us. Yesterday the desire for more remote places returned. The first one is an anchorage in a, to me, before rare style: A wide horizon to the east marks what I would not consider to call a sheltered place. A harbor looks differend. Especcially since that open east is from where the tradewinds blow and pile up two to three feet waves. But we are not exposed to them, only to the wind. Half a mile to the east breaks a shallow reef the waves into a white line that seperates us from the open sea. We anchor in almost calm water. Behind us on the beach are fisherman preparing their boats for the day of work and now, the sun just rose out of the sea, the small town becomes alive. Dogs bark, birds sing, a few cars go around. As I sit here and watch the scene I suddenly see me and the boat from a different perspective. This was just the next port from Isla Mujeres wich was just the next from Cuba, wich was just the next from the USA… But than… Wait a moment: I sailed this boat from Germany to Mexico, I’m at the Yucatan.

Darwinism in Weather

Mobile, Alabama, USA – I almost forgot about the „waiting“ ahead of a passage. A constant mixture of feelings between „should I go or better wait“. Monitoring weather patterns helps to make this decision by giving a feeling of what is to expect out there. My first leg from here on will be straight to Cuba. Five to six days on a south south easterly heading until I round Dry Tortuga and then turn a little more easterly for Havana. The challenging Parts will be on these last two days passing the Straights of Florida. Pushed by the beginning Gulf Current, and slowed down in a probably choppy sea as the current flows against prevailing easterly Winds.

Clouds opening after a strong Front passed the Bahamas. Alan Cay, 2011
Clearing sky after the pass of cold front in The Bahamas

From now on the days start with forecasts on HF radio nets and reading fax charts. Checking long term predictions is vital prior to departure: First, to pick a day to leave, second to develop a feeling of how weather works along the next part of the trip. A friend of mine once said: „Patient sailors always have favorable wind.“ Evolving to this patient sailor requires to know about weather behavior. Wind shifts that are to be expected as fronts arrive will affect the planned route and to know about them is the key to a handsome passage.

[quote align=“right“ color=“#999999″]The weather was now quite fine and the Beagle was ready to set sail on 26 December. Unfortunately, the opportunity was lost due to the entire crew being either missing or drunk from the festivities of the night before (for Christmas). (from[/quote] Surprisingly, doing this preparation always reminds me of Charles Darwin. I read his memories when I left England for the Azores in 2010. And according to his book it took some frustrating month before HMS Beagle Captain Robert FitzRoy saw a window coming to head out on a cold morning three days after Christmas in 1831. For me I hope the departure will not take that long.

And since forecasts and satellite images help in finding such a window it currently seems there is one opening late thursday or early friday after the pass of a cold front. Ahead of it all forecast are reading like a simple command: Stay where you are, develop patience.

Forecast Mobile Bay, Offshore
Tempting conditions for today and tomorrow but not after that

Winds from south-east to south up to 22 knots are expected in Mobile Bay, slightly more in open water. The direction the wind is coming from is exactly where I am about to go. This means breaking free from a lee-shore though shallow Mobile Bay‘s nasty chop for the first 8 hours of my trip just to beat agains seas forecasted up to nine feet (three meters) for the next 100 Miles.

So everything is on „wait“ and while I gained a little extra time in the US, my time frame for Cuba shortens. But that is just what you get if you put yourself on a boat and on a schedule. – Time to evolve a little more until Friday when hopefully happens what monitoring weather patterns turned out to normally happen: The clockwise turn I already know from my winter The Bahamas: Within one day the wind will turn westerly and continue to turn until east. Picking the middle of the turn will push me out into open water and on my way to Cuba.

A schedule for a summer

Even a sailor has a few appointments. And while my calendar fills up quickly this spring, it‘s time to get some antifouling on the bottom of my boat and put her back into the water. Major objective now is to depart within the next two weeks from the US.

I wonder if any of the Loopers I met last year will be around somewhere in southern Bahamas for a reunion on the way. But my guess is that most of them are already making their way back into the Abacos and further north for a cooler summer in Georgian Bay.

Heading though the Caribbean will be an adventure of its own. The route however is unfortunately again aigainst winds and currents.
Heading though the Caribbean will be an adventure of its own. The route however is unfortunately again aigainst winds and currents.

If so, I will be following the quickest route: Straight down to Cuba and southeast along the Coast for about 1600 Miles to the Dominican Republic. Three to four weeks is my estimate for this. But if there is one to meet a gathering will put me closer to what is called the classic „Thorny Path“ (red dotted line), adding another week or two.

Good things first: This way is the way to go for the greatest variety of cultural and sailing attractions. And said that we talk about the „thorns“: Prevailing easterly Winds will slow down the sail an all the routes I plan on. The mor Northeastern my route will be the more the wind will be. And as always there is an appointment to hang on to: Kinga will join me for a vacation in May.

After that I have to make my next appointment in Grenada for some Lobster and a beer on Misty. South enough to be out of the hurrican belt (red solid line). The boat will be hauled out again for a some maintenance and in fall I will quickly head west, following the general route to Panama and jump into the Pacific Ocean.

That by the way is a little new thing I have planned over the winter in Switzerland. I will head along the South American Coast to Patagonia on the pacific. This way I have less current to fight. but going aorund than will bring me back to the atlantic. So I changed the whole plan for turning east from here and head to Australia from the other side. (Updated map)  But that‘s the next adventure.

Oh, and meanwhile: In case anyone has a good working heater for a boat I guess I could need one after leaving the caribbean …

Caribbean pilot chart for april (c) NOAA
Caribbean pilot chart for april (PDF)

For those interested in meteorological details: NOAA provides a set of pilot charts for common winds and currents on the Atlantic Ocean. These charts can be downloaded as PDF-files and give at least a good estimate on what weather and currents are to be expected along a trip: March, April, May, Jun, July, August, September, October, November, December