Panama to FL – #102

For those of you wondering what happened to the Venezuela bound boat, she was motored over to Cartegena where she is having work done. Though Venezuela is renowned for inexpensive refitting, my friends living in the area tell me that Cartegena has a couple of boatyards that also do good budget work.
Back to Bocas: The Lats and Atts offices are in a building that overlooks the marina where my boat is. On my bicycle commute between Low Key and my desk I ride by “A” dock where the big boats get put. A few slips down from Lost Soul’s old spot was a new Beneteau 43 – Tommy Bahama edition. Over time, I watched Camaraderie II get fitted out for cruising and then suddenly she was gone – another success story.
The next time I saw the boat she was on the Caribbean side of the Panama Canal at my home away from home, little Bocas del Toro. Cam II needed to be moved up to Miami – 1200nm to windward. On my friend Chuck’s recommendation I found myself back in Bocas to sail off into the Caribbean once again.
You know the drill by now. The crew search email went out. Eric Stone provided me with Wade who used to be a shrimp boat captain in the south. Wade was finishing up another job and so I arrived in paradise before him. The boat was still in new condition which was a wonderful contrast from my previous local adventure. You could tell the owners had spent some time at the boatshows, they had one or two of everything. A lot of it was stuff that I find distracting from the simple joys of cruising. I fit most of it in the aft stateroom which meant Wade would be sleeping in the saloon.
If I haven’t mentioned it I’m a fan of Bocas. My friends Chuck, Ann and Charky run the marina and bar/restaurant and if that is not enough of a reason to like the place the little town, just a water taxi away, is a nice spot too. I was able to fuel up, do the first food run along with most of the checkout before Wade even got there. I got to work with a female port captain, a first for me in a Latin American country. The Customs girls who came out to the boat were nice too, no machismo just quick business with a sweet smile.
I met Wade at the mini airport and got him checked into and out of Panama in one go. We got the provisioning done and I took him out for a ‘last meal’ and some Seca con Leche at one of the Bocas over-the-water bars where we were served by a couple of dusky Latin lasses. I had a final check of the weather. is my new favorite – 8 days of animated downloadable wind strength and direction, free.
First thing the next morning we got in the water and cleaned the bottom. She had a sporty bulb keel and folding Max-Prop which always makes for a faster passage. Cam II only held 53 gallons of diesel which is a concern in a 1200 mile mostly upwind passage. There would be fuel stops.
We said our goodbyes to friends old and new. That was the part of cruising I never got used to. We eased her almost 9 foot draft over the beautiful reefs to get to the channel and then turned for the freedom of the sea. We pulled the inmast furling main out, being careful to keep a little tension on the furling line. One of the vertical battens jammed in the mast. We learned that with the topping lift at just the right length and the boat at just the right angle to the wind we could … just kidding, the inmast furling jammed no matter what we did.
We had to motorsail the first leg 350nm to get up and around the top of Nicaragua so we could fall off to a reach and sail the 400nm to Isla Mujeres. You know the upwind settings, when keeping a tight schedule: main sheeted hard to center, motoring at cruising rpm, turn the boat off the wind until the main just fills and you have some heel. This should also keep you from pointing directly into the chop or swell. It’s fast, it’s more comfortable.
It was the middle of the night when we spotted her, a very large dark spot on the horizon. The boat stuck out like a sore thumb, not fooling anyone. She seemed to be traveling at the same speed and direction as us. I hailed the “Northbound vessel” twice with no response. I turned out our lights and adjusted course. She didn’t follow.
I came up for my morning watch. Wade was reading a magazine. He gave me the pertinent details on conditions etc. for the watch changeover and headed for his bunk adding, “And there’s a Coast Guard cutter following us.” Are they allowed to tool around at night without their lights on not answering the radio? Maybe.
At 0830, with a big plume of soot shooting out the top of the boat, 270 feet of Coast Guard cutter came barreling up. I was impressed … with the squandering of my countries resources. There was a radio conversation and soon we were boarded. As with officials in foreign countries, we were real hospitable. The CG asks then checks for guns etc. They take ID’s and in Wade’s and my case, CG licenses. Then the digging begins. Of course we went through the lockers, settees, bilges and on. I had to remove and put back everything in that well packed aft cabin, twice. They rubbed swabs around the boat which were taken back to the ship for testing. I’ve seen it all before, just not so drawn out.
Four and a half hours later they left us. Anyone heard of drug sniffing dogs? I should say that every one of the kids that the bridge sent to do their dirty work were super nice and even funny. But with marks on the side of the boat where their skiff had been ‘landing’, black boot streaks on the teak decks, scuff marks throughout the new interior from belt-hung guns and flashlights; I felt a little used.
The good news is that they found something. It wasn’t all for naught. At 0830 the next morning they boarded us again for another four and a half hours. They had reportedly found a trace of a substance that could be used to cut illegal cocaine. Wade and I had a couple coldies on the aft deck while we mulled over what a great story this was going to make, regardless of the outcome.
I let them do most of the work this time as they went through everything again and added some measuring for hidden compartments and some whacky holding tank pumping experiment. Nothing else was found, they split and we didn’t see them again. You should know that I appreciate the CG and believe they are an integral part of maritime … you can fill in the rest.
As they had required us to change course we missed our fueling stop at a little Columbian island I like. I had to recalculate our fuel usage. We lowered the rpms and continued on. The next afternoon we ran out of fuel. If it had happened forty minutes earlier we wouldn’t have made it around the reefs that extend out from the upper corner of Nicaragua. Wouldn’t have made it without having to tack out, that is. We unleashed the headsail and Cam II screamed off on a reach toward the paradise of Isla Mujeres Mexico. Tune in next issue for our visit to one of my favorite Mexican ports followed by stops in Key West and Miami.

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