We’ve had periodic announcements about this party for the last few weeks – pretty much everywhere: SSB, VHF, and most crew on most boats. We even heard that a couple of the backpacker boats were going to come in (they did). There was a small contingent that elected to anchor in Yansaladup and take the dinghy/launcha over to the party from there. I was glad we only had to weave the dinghy back a couple hundred meters to the mothership.
That day started pretty innocently. We did what we always do – we went spearfishing. We brought along the nephew of an old cruising buddy and did some fun diving. This was almost the least productive diving I’ve ever done – right here along Elephante. I’ve had a good dive on the same reef-wall, but we just couldn’t find the fish this time around. That said I brought home 4 dinner-fish, enough for a tub of ceviche. Then when we got back to the boat we cleaned. And cleaned. And cleaned. We cleaned (and I scrubbed decks) until the party started. At that point I figured I better get to work on the ceviche, which I did.
We made it to the party fashionably late, and thats not such a bad thing. I handed off the ceviche to some friends and started making rounds, shaking babies and kissing hands. The list of people that I met and bumped into is long enough to not include it. We suspected there were 50 yachts in the harbor, and the guests kept coming.
Everything got a little more interesting after dark. I found myself in a circle around a small fire eating grilled chicken with friends. That’s a good place to find oneself – on a sand beach, on a tiny island, with friends, a fire, a party, and some food. I’d call that a win. At some point everyone began deciding to head back to their boats. We headed back, had a quick recap of the night’s adventures, and then retired.
The next morning was a predictable mix of hangovers and minor regrets of the night before. Luke and I had already decided that we absolutely weren’t doing anything that day. Except to attend the swap-meet, which was scheduled on Elephante that afternoon. We took it easy, but were soon sucked into some boat-drama; likely an event directly a result of the shenanigans on Straya Day.
I’d made a friend on a nearby catamaran the night before. So when they hailed me on the radio, I was happy to hear from them. But I didn’t really expect to hear what he told me. Apparently – they had an unexpected crew member come aboard that morning. One of the backpacker boats that came to the party apparently forgot a crew member that was snorkeling around the island. You heard that right, a backpacker boat forgot one of their paying passengers when said passenger went snorkeling. This backpacker boat simply left, and this backpacker was left in a foreign country, in a near-deserted anchorage, without the boat they were supposed to be sailing to Cartagena on. Bob (my friend on the cat) needed to know who to call and what to do. I had very few ideas, but could help by getting in touch with some of my friends – who would then get in touch with their friends, who would then put a call out to this backpacker boat when they saw them at the next island.
The kicker is that we had no idea where the backpacker boat was going next. And this guy didn’t have his passport. And this guy had no money. And poor Bob and his family were (more or less) stuck with this liability until the backpacker boat realized their mistake and decided to come back. Well – we made the appropriate phone calls, sent the appropriate emails, and hailed the appropriate yachts on the VHF. Then we listened to our own little soap-opera while watching episodes of Justified. Despite myself and a couple of the other yachts making some extensive requests into the whereabouts of this backpacker boat – it was Bob who figured it all out. Not a huge surprise because he was certainly the one with the most motivation.
The backpacker was reunited and we went back to our regularly scheduled programming.
The Swap Meet
These are always interesting, and there is always a couple of things worth picking up. I only grabbed a bit of neoprene and a carabineer. But I did manage to sell three cruising guides. Some people made out like bandits. One World sold a ton of cheese. Then we decided to have a beer with One World. Then it got late and we came back to the boat, watched a movie and crashed.
The next day was spent recovering from our recovery day. And cooking, cleaning, etc.
During the preceding two days I’d received a message from two friends in Chichime. I made one promise to cook for me, and the other said they wanted the extra solar panels I have onboard. That was enough to make Chichime a stop on S/V NOMAD’s most recent journey through San Blas. So today, we clean and then sail. If you’re wondering why we’re spending so much time cleaning – it’s because the boat was starting to look like a bachelor-pad. And though that’s not quite false advertising, it is a state of non-organization that will drive you mad.
The plan is to spend the next few days in Chichime, where I can do some boat work and hang with friends. Luke’s probably going to try his hand at a couple surf-breaks in the area. Then we’re going to sail to Porvenir to deal with checking in, cruising permits, and zarpes. At that point, I’ll likely be making a Visa-Run to another country so that I can restart my 6-month Visa here in Panama.
The joy of red tape.
Boats and Reefs
There have been 8 boats that were lost in the last month here. 8. That’s a big number. NONE of these skippers were first-time skippers. All of them have more experience than I do. And they lost their boats in the same areas I sail in San Blas. Even here, where we have decent charts and where the water is clear enough to visually navigate – experienced captains are losing boats. In fact, there’s one within sight of me right now, sitting on a reef.
There are various reasons these boats hit reef, but virtually all of them were preventable human-error. The kinds we all make, especially under stress, on schedules, without sleep, or after getting the crap kicked out of us by weather. A crew of a recently lost vessel came by S/V NOMAD the other day and it was devastating. Just months before they’d sold everything and put it all into the boat. Now the boat is gone, they had to watch the Kuna celebrating as their boat was stripped. Now that crew is talking about going back to the States to live with their children. Devastating.
The yacht on the reef here in Elephante is a really salty guy. He runs backpackers through San Blas to Cartagena and has been for quite a while. But he made a mistake and now his yacht is so far up on the reef that tugboats can’t pull it off. And his engine room is full of saltwater, and his hull has a hole in it. He was selling food, spices, and other odds and ends at the swap meet. It’s tough when you see someone giving up all hope.
Occasionally, still, when I’m sailing – I get a little tense. Usually when something breaks, in high wind, when I’m anchoring or navigating around reefs. It’s hard for crew, or non-sailors to understand this. But when you’ve met enough salty captains that have lost boats, you begin to realize how each small issue can compound and how any small mistake could be the one that causes a complete loss. So, if you’re crew, or you know crew, or you’re going to be crew, or you have been crew – understand that your captain has it all on the line, and if he gets a little tense when things start going to shit; it’s probably not a huge overreaction.
The good news: so far (knock on wood) NOMAD hasn’t met any reefs. She’s survived a small number of challenging instances during that time-period, too. So, I’m learning and while doing so – it appears that I’m getting Rule Number One down: keep the boat off the reef. Watching the waves crash against this boat on the reef as I write this is a healthy reminder of that most-important rule. It’s funny how we drastic the change from everyone having fun on Straya Day, to everyone being reminded about boats on reefs happened at the Swap Meet the following day. Stark contrasts are definitely part of this lifestyle.