The next day we put out some small fires, went grocery shopping, and headed to Puerto Lindo in my rust-bucket. My brother was impressed that the car made it. We had two days to get the boat ready for my Mom and sister. But first, monkey-feeding.
What started out as a couple of small boat projects escalated quickly. I put on new zincs, worked on boat lettering, switched out Jabsco heads, and a variety of other small but important tasks. While doing that – my brother attempted to change out an alternator on my port side engine. That 20 minute task took us two days – we ended up having to cut the alternator off with a Dremel (but we got it done). This, of course, led us to the realization that I didn’t have the right size bolt to mount the new alternator. We realized this at 4PM on the day before Christmas Eve. I had to make it to Colon within the hour if we were to be able to sail the following morning. I made it, but by the skin of my teeth.
The Family is Aboard
Mom and my sister were delayed, but they made it back to the boat before I did. I was still on a last-minute boat-part run. Nonetheless, we were all onboard with all systems go for an early sail out of Puerto Lindo (to San Blas) the following day. The boat already looked like Christmas – with a small tree and tons of gifts under it.
The next morning I found my navigation systems were down, but playing with some connections managed to get it all under control. So we motored to San Blas (with headwinds). On the way I lost my port engine. Upon inspection I found that the electric fuel-pump had burned out – so I rerouted the fuel lines, replaced the Racor, and hoped for the best. It worked, and we were back underway.
We made it into Chichime with daylight to spare on Christmas Eve. We managed to drop the pick without issue and headed to shore. A quick exploration of the main island led us smack-dab into some backpackers spending Christmas in San Blas – we were quickly invited to their Christmas Party. That party included Santa hats.
I wanted to see my buddy Rob on Christmas. The issue was that he was in Nargana and I was in Chichime. And we had 25 knots of wind on the face, gusting to 30. The biggest concern was that I wanted to leave Chichime for Christmas – so I decided we’d give it a shot and see what happened.
We tried a bit of sailing, but quickly found how futile that really was. So I cranked up the engines and we were underway. Everything was fine, until my port engine went out again. Clearly a fuel issue, but I couldn’t really figure it out – despite all of my troubleshooting. So we limped along with a single engine until we finally made it to Nargana – where Rob was waiting on us. Luckily, as I went to anchor – the port engine came back online – allowing me to maneuver and set the anchor correctly. Needless to say, my nerves were a bit raw.
But we finally were anchored, Rob & Laurie came over with their guests, and my whole little family was onboard S/V NOMAD for Christmas. I really can’t ask for anything more. Though I was beat, we managed to open presents, have an awesome dinner, and kill a couple of bottles of wine. Rob and I became convinced that I have a bit of particulate floating in my port fuel tank that is intermittently clogging my fuel intake line. That’s a disappointing diagnosis as I just flushed both fuel tanks hoping to avoid exactly this.
Shopping In Nargana
The thing about Nargana is that it’s not very pretty. Especially compared to the rest of San Blas. So – we did some shopping, picked up some more diesel, and tried to head out of port before noon. We made it.
I knew we were going to have some great sailing winds, and a semi-favorable wind angle – so I was excited to do some real sailing. Upon inspection, the port engine started and everything else seemed to be working. Which is great news, considering how failure-prone all of this marine stuff is. We set off, raised the main, let out the genoa, and suddenly we were doing 7 knots. Then 8 knots. Then 9 knots. I was having so much fun that I didn’t stop at Green Island, deciding to take advantage of the favorable wind to head to some islands further offshore.
I managed to take a screenshot of us doing 8.8 knots, but kept missing the 9 knot mark. Alas. I love sailing that fast, and after the last few days of unfavorable wind angles, it certainly was welcome.
There are a couple of non-marked anchorages that I’m aware of in West Hollandes. They’re nice spots as you’re able to anchor in relative peace and quiet. Quite often these anchorages are deserted. The wind was pushing about 18 knots when we went to drop anchor, and so two of these anchorages weren’t holding us very well. I had to re-anchor 4 or 5 times to get a hold that I actually felt comfortable with. Then I dove the anchor, and the holding looked alright – but not exactly what I wanted. But we stayed there, and we never pulled anchor. I’m learning how to set this Manson Supreme. This is a 60 pound anchor – rather than my 44 pound Bruce, but the Bruce seems to be more forgiving of shorter anchor scope. That’s a really surprising thing..
We headed ashore and did some exploring. It didn’t take long for the brother and sister to resort to their usual antics.
We made our way back to the mothership and had a relaxing night reading. I, of course, was a little nervous about our anchor and so I slept fitfully – constantly monitoring the anchor alarm.
The next morning was glorious, though windy. After a quick breakfast we all headed out to a reef where I’ve had some luck in the past. Within an hour we had more fish that we could eat – a couple of triggers and a barracuda. I was comfortable taking a little more than we would eat as I knew the local Kuna, and enjoyed making fish-gifts to them. They’re always pretty happy to get fresh fish.
We made the fish-gifts, had a nice lunch, and headed to see Prado – a local mola-making guru. The family picked out some molas, they gave us some fish they had smoked, and we left.
That evening we needed to burn some trash (the only way to dispose of trash here) and we decided to do an island clean-up while we were at it. We spent a few hours gathering plastic and other trash off the beach and collecting it. Then we burned it, and watched the fire with a glass of wine. Our good deed wasn’t on a global scale, but that beach was a completely different sight after we had finished.
Another night was spent at anchor in West Hollandes. That night my brother hooked up with a baby shark under our green fish-light.
We needed to get to relative civilization to get my brother and sister heading back to Panama City, where they’d then return stateside. But before we set sail again, we made another quick dive for lobster. We found one, and having plenty of fish – I refrained from pulling the trigger on any more fish.
We set sail from Hollandes with a not-so-favorable wind angle, but I was tired of motoring and wanted to sail. So I put the crew to work and we sailed to East Lemmons – tacking the whole way, and only burning diesel to set our anchor. Despite the wind angle, we averaged over 6 knots – though not in a straight line. Not too shabby for a bunch of amateurs.
We found a spot with a favorable depth and plenty of swing room and dropped the pick. I dove the anchor, and with being satisfied with the holding – we took off to Elephante. Brother and sister decided to kayak, while Mom and I took the dinghy. We gave the kayakers a head-start, but managed to catch them in time to spin the dinghy around them in circles and try to dump them over. They were more resilient that I’d hoped and managed to stay on top of the kayak. Very disappointing.
On Elephante we had beer, then headed to the other island where we arranged transportation to Porvenir the following morning. Their flight left at 7AM from Porvenir, which meant that brother and sister would be leaving S/V NOMAD before light. No problem though.
All Good Things Must Come To An End
We feasted and drank wine. But, with the days activities, I was beat before 10 PM.
We were all up by 5 AM. The water-taxi was due at 5:45 AM. At 6 AM we got a little worried, and my brother and I headed to shore in the dinghy to wake up the locals. We really needed that water taxi. We found the water taxi on the way in – and shortly we were loading the water taxi. We said hurried goodbyes (the wind was gusting at 25 knots) and suddenly S/V NOMAD was short two more crew. It was decidedly quieter onboard, but that’s not always a good thing.
I can’t say this is the kind of Christmas everyone should try – but it worked for us. And when it was over we were all sorry to have to say goodbyes. There was plenty of laughter, great food, wine, and general good cheer. I can safely say I don’t have much love for the Christmas debacle in the States, but it really is nice having your family around for the holidays. Especially if you’re onboard a sailing yacht in San Blas.
Now, back to cleaning and fixing stuff.