San Blas Sailing – Part 1

Sailing San Blas - Part 1

For the first time, I actually started listening to the announcements over the intercom:  “You are also reminded that any inappropriate remarks or jokes concerning security may result in your arrest.”  I’m glad the TSA Nazis weren’t at our family Easter dinner – I made a few jokes worthy of jail-time.

Then something really morbid occurred to me – that dystopian future I was thinking about on the drive to the airport:  it’s here. Now.  It snuck up on us like a 30th birthday.  This might actually be it – the beginning of the nightmare.  Some sick combination of Fahrenheit 451, 1984, and Slaughterhouse 5.  Hunter S. Thompson wrote about it.  Some of the same social criticism is seen in Henry Miller.  And even in my latest re-reading of Walden, Thoreau was making similar arguments about “progress.”

The good news is I was leaving this place.  It’s the poor souls that are stuck here, (many of whom are also repulsed by what we’ve created) that I really feel bad for.

This isn’t some pity-blanket I’m throwing over the masses.  Rather, it’s me remembering, just a few months ago, that feeling – of being trapped in indentured servitude.  Just a rat in a maze, with little hope of ever living a meaningful life.  Without the possibility to affect my own destiny.

I remember that feeling, it’s not pretty.   I’m leaving this place, hopefully far enough (and fast enough) to keep that feeling at bay.

Panama City

I like this place.  At this point I feel as at home here as I do anywhere else in the world.  Time slows down – people are simpler.  At some level it’s like stepping into a time machine.

Finally found my ride – so we’re off to provision for the sailing trip.  I’m pleased to find Tino has a taste for good wine and cheese.  I have a feeling we’ll get along.  Driving is a little nuts, and the scratches on the sides of the cars are evidence of an encounter with a motorcycle.  Clearly a losing proposition for the motorcycle rider.

The hotel was nice, and relatively inexpensive – $50/night won’t break me quite yet.  We’re waking up early for a drive across the country to the Caribbean side.  But we need food and I need a beer to wind down from traveling.

Despite being really excited about finally getting aboard my boat and sailing to San Blas – I don’t know if I’ve ever slept so well.  Morning comes, we drive.  Panama is just coming into the rainy season now – in a month or two it’ll be raining nearly every day.  And the clouds are proof of it.

The drive takes us through the mountains, which, by my account are really beautiful.  Everything seems lush, and the towns – though dirty – have some relics of old Spanish buildings and castles.  Tino knows a bit about it, so it’s a lot like being on a tour.

Sailing San Blas Part 1

Remnants of an old Spanish Castle

The Anchorage

My boat is moored on a mooring ball in a remote anchorage.  The only thing there is a small village and a small restaurant/hotel (4 rooms) catering to the local sailing community.  There are stray dogs and trash washed ashore – but I’m perfectly content there.  Quaint isn’t the right word, but it is remote and has a locals-only feel to it.

Sailing San Blas Part 1

Local restaurant in Puerto Lindo

My dinghy was parked at the restaurant, so we transfer our provisions to the dinghy.  I also managed to pick up a used sea-anchor (equipment to manage storms) for $200 at the restaurant.  Easy decision.  Then we’re off to my boat.

Seeing the boat moored here was a really great feeling.    Not the biggest, not the nicest, but mine.

Loading provisions left both Tino and I drenched in sweat – humidity was ridiculous.  It was also a stark reminder of how out of shape I’d become.  It turns out commuting and an office job don’t suit me.  Who’d have guessed?

Finally loaded we checked all the systems, set up the electronics, and unhooked from the mooring ball.  We motored out of the anchorage, the wind was refreshing.  Finally, I had the boat and I was only my way to sail San Blas.

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San Blas! And Sailing Lessons

my boat.  The good news is that I’ll be doing that Monday.  Yes – in 3 days I’ll be sailing my boat around San Blas.  That’s pretty damn cool.

About San Blas

The San Blas islands are pretty well known in Central America and elsewhere, especially in the cruising community.  Why?  Because they’re pristine, beautiful, and undeveloped.  Nobody has planted condos there quite yet.  Thank whatever God you believe in.

San Blas

photo credit: wikipedia

The San Blas islands are on the Caribbean side of Panama, in the Gulf of San Blas.  There are about 378 islands in the chain, which covers approximately 100 square miles.  Some say you could spend a lifetime exploring there.

Kuna hut - San Blas

Kuna hut – San Blas … photo credit: wikipedia

Most islands are uninhabited, with a few of the larger islands being inhabited by the Kuna – who are an indigenous tribe.  I’m pretty stoked about meeting the Kuna – they still paddle dugout canoes and are politically independent from Panama.  


San Blas and Puerto Lindo

San Blas and Puerto Lindo

I’m having Easter with the family – in the Houston area.  So I wake up early Monday, and head to IAH for a quick flight to Tocumen International Airport (Panama City).  When I get there the seller (Agustin) is picking me up and driving me across to Puerto Lindo – where my catamaran is currently moored.

Puerto Lindo

Puerto Lindo

We’ll jump on, provision, and sail to San Blas.  There, Agustin’s going to give me a crash course:  “Sailing the Lagoon 380.” I’d bet we’ll be able to squeeze in some exploring, good eating, and a couple of sundowners.

I’ll be leaving from Tocumen the following Sunday – back in Houston by 6PM next Sunday night.

Why Are You Sailing San Blas Now?

During the boat-buying process we negotiated to have the seller spend some time sailing the boat with me.  Measured in days, not hours.  So – with the boat being mine (and the bills are already rolling in) – it’s time to do the official handover.  I have the boat covered by insurance – so the real concerns at this point are:  where am I going to moor it? What maintenance needs to be done?  What additional spares do I need?  What (exactly) is on the boat?

Answering those questions, and learning to sail my boat around San Blas – important next-steps.  Having someone who knows the boat, inside and out, help me with the above?  Priceless.

What’s Next?

Well, after this week-long sailing/learning vacation – I’m back to selling things with a vengeance.  Two trucks, one motorcycle, and a plethora of other random things from long-forgotten hobbies.  Honestly, I’m a little disgusted how much “stuff” I’ve managed to accumulate – but that’s neither here nor there.

And then there’s a bash on May 31st for my local friends/family.  If you’re reading this – you’re invited.  It’s in Austin – text or email me for details.  The more the merrier. Long story short:  it’s going to be fun, and there’s a judgement-free zone after 6PM.  Feel free to act foolish.  Food and alcohol on site – a small bar on Rainey Street.

In the next post I’ll share a couple pieces of gear I’ve bought, to date. Salud!

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Yacht Insurance and Boat Brokers

The MultiHull Company and The Catamaran Company.   I was also looking at boats from and  I talked with a few brokers, but none were very helpful.

Eventually I ran across an interesting boat on Yacht World, and inquired about it.  Staley ended up being the person I chose on the form – there was no reason, just happened to be an interesting name.  But I picked well – as he was a good guy to work with and knew the Lagoon catamarans inside and out.  We went through several iterations of boat-searching, looking for that elusive “perfect” boat.  Eventually we settled on the Lagoon 380 that I now own in Panama.

I fully expected to fly down to see the boat by myself, but Staley made a point of being down there when we sea-trialed my boat.  And to be clear – he found most of the issues during the sea-trial.  I found the remainder (few).  The surveyor found exactly ZERO.  I paid Staley nothing to fly down there – he covered it.  Well, kinda.  The Catamaran Company has an awesome policy where they split some of the costs for the brokers to fly down to see vessels.  Back to the subject:

How did you choose Staley?  

Randomly – but he’s a top seller, a good guy, and very knowledgeable about all things sailing and catamarans.

Did he fly to Panama on his own dime?  

Yes.  But I did buy him a couple of beers. That’s a perfectly acceptable investment for me.

How much value would you put on using a broker, specifically Staley?

I have no way to quantify this.  I would say that having  a broker to bounce all of my ideas off of was near invaluable.  He also held my hand and tempered what were (in hindsight) some pretty emotional responses (on my part) to an “interesting” boat-buying process.  That said, I also had the benefit of a couple of private parties to help.  Thanks Bob and Travis.

Yacht Insurance

You might call me an easy target.  Generally, I took the recommendations of The Catamaran Company when deciding other businesses to use to close on my boat – like escrow and insurance.  It was simpler, and I had plenty of other things to worry about.  For yacht insurance, I used Coastal Insurance (who scanned the market, and got a quote from Pantaenius).   Coastal was easy to work with, communicative, and shopped the entire market for quotes.  I received 4 quotes, the cheapest being about $3K (2% hull value) annually.  This is pretty pricey insurance, but it was the most bang for my proverbial buck.

The company I chose for my yacht insurance is Pantaenius.  Remember – Coastal Insurance shopped my boat, and Pantaenius actually provided the insurance.  Costs:  Hull Insurance was $2,458, Primary Indemnity was $400, and War/Strike/Confiscation was $144.

Here is some stuff that helped sway me – and they have a good reputation (from what I could gather):

Advantages of the Pantaenius America Yacht Policy:

  • No hidden or implied warranties of seaworthiness. For details see below explanation.
  • Agreed fixed stated value for hull with no depreciation. The amount on the policy is the amount we pay in case of a covered total or constructive loss.
  • Worldwide navigation limits are available, and limits include the southeastern coast of the United States year round including Named Tropical Storm protection.
  • No deductible for losses caused by fire, lightning, total loss and constructive total loss.
  • Coverage for latent defects, including the defective part, insured at no extra expense.
  • Wreck removal costs covered to the extent of the policy liability limits.
  • Automatic renewal of the policy.
  • Longshore Harbors Workers Act is included.
  • Unlimited charter – available.
  • Coverage for paid crew (Jones Act)- available.

A significant benefit with the Pantaenius America Yacht Policy is our ability to service insurance needs throughout the world. Our claims service is provided directly by our experienced and knowledgeable personnel accessible 24 hours daily.

Back to the questions at hand:

Who did you end up going with and why did you choose them?  

Coastal to shop.  Pantaenius provided the policy (more below).

Did they discuss lowering your rate if you take coast guard safety classes or get offshore sailing certificates?  

No.  I’ll ask though. The biggest issue was the deductible for named tropical storms – it’s 10%.

Did you end up getting full coverage?  

Yes.  The policy that I bought covered my vessel, my dinghy, and personal possessions on the boat ($165,000).

Reasons I chose Pantaenius:

  • They covered me, singlehanding
  • They have world-wide coverage (but it’s additional, and precludes certain “unstable” regions)
  • I have, under this specific policy – a range of most of the Atlantic  US and Caribbean
  • They have a 0% deductible for lightning, fire, total, and constructive total loss
  • They were cheaper than the other quotes I got
  • I felt a little better about some of the wording in their contracts – it seemed more “fair”

I realize there is a growing contingent of people that go uninsured (calling it “self-insured”).  That may be a worthwhile risk on a smaller boat, or I may (after this policy is up) decide to go that route after I’ve had some extended time at sea.  But right now, I can’t afford to lose my boat – or have someone get hurt on my boat and decide it was my fault.  In the end, $3K seemed a fair price for the coverage I received – though I have no doubt that seems like a ludicrous price to others.  Quality yacht insurance, for me, right now, seems like a no-brainer.

Again- just shoot me an email nate (at) if you have a question I didn’t address.  I don’t have much knowledge, but I’ll share what I’ve experienced to date – as transparently as possible.

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My Lagoon 380 Catamaran from A to Z

Lagoon 380 cruising catamaran

Since part of the goal was to pull my mother into a more relaxed environment, I convinced her to commit to some time sailing with me.  What I quickly found out is that it was far easier for her to say yes, than to truly commit.  She did, though, need to make a decision so I could decide what boat.

I begin looking at cruising catamarans in the $200,000 range between 38-42 feet.  Over time though, I realized Mom wouldn’t make the decision.  And since my boat choice hinged on her – things were getting pretty frustrating.  I tried to arrange a charter but had trouble organizing it and getting commitment from others.  I tried sending her to a live-aboard catamaran sailing school.  She went.  Still nothing.

If she wasn’t going to come, I decided to drop down in budget to $100,000 for an outfitted, blue-water cruising monohull.  Of course, that’s a huge shift.  So I hedged, deciding to pursue a cruising catamaran in the $150,000 range between 36-38 feet.  Hopefully when it became a reality, she’d come.

The First Offer

I put in an offer on an Fountaine Pajot Athena 38.  It was exhilarating, and a huge wave of relief – to finally make forward progress. The seller was asking $179,000 and I offered something like $139,000.  Big difference – but sometimes that works in the boat market. He wouldn’t budge much, I came up to $145,000 but the deal was off.

I already knew all the cruising catamarans in my price range, and knew we were getting to the bottom of the barrel.  But we found a (my) Lagoon 380 catamaran in Panama for $159,000 – largely outfitted for cruising.  We put in an offer at $150,000 with 30-day close and made it a “take-it-or-leave-it” deal, with wording in the contract precluding me from negotiating on price (both of which are very attractive to a seller).  On the other hand, I could ask for repairs to be made.  The offer was immediately accepted.  If I had to do it over again, I would have come in at $145,000.

The next step was finding someone to look at the Lagoon 380, inventory it, photo everything, and give us a general idea of the condition of the vessel.  I was very hesitant to fly a surveyor in from out of the country due to the expense.  But I was open to suggestions. We weren’t able to find many suggestions, but a local Panamanian company named IME came up.  A quick call from me and some other fairly positive feedback made me comfortable enough with them.  The kicker was that my boat was on the other side of Panama from IME and they charged $65 an hour to drive there.

Survey Nonsense

With such a short close date, I was quickly running out of options (and time).  So I agreed to have IME do the survey.  It wasn’t cheap – but (in theory) they’d give me some excellent feedback that I could use to decide to proceed or not.  Either way, it’s way cheaper than me flying down there.  We arranged, with too much back-and-forth, a date for the survey.

The day of the survey I got off work, returned home, and had a frustrating email in my inbox.  IME was unable to complete the sea-trial due to the owner’s insistence on having the bottom done when the catamaran was hauled-out.  Without a sea-trial, my survey was pretty superficial.

I wasn’t happy, but the upside was I got a fresh bottom-job out of the deal.  Not all bad.

After receiving the survey results, I was underwhelmed.  The catamaran looked fantastic, but the survey pegged the value way over market value, contained several obvious errors, and there were many places where the surveyor chose to rely upon the seller for critical information. What’s the point of hiring a surveyor, if you’re relying on the seller for information?  Big red flag.  A friend called the survey  “completely and utterly useless.”

Nonetheless, I booked a flight to Panama and IME went with us for the remainder of the survey: the sea-trial.  IME drove myself and my broker to the Lagoon 380 catamaran (located in Shelter Bay Marina) and performed the sea-trial.  Again, I was underwhelmed by the surveyor.  We found several deficiencies onboard, but even the final survey didn’t address them.  Note:  when I say “we” found deficiencies, I mean myself and my broker – not the surveyor.  Not so spiffy. It was put-up or shut-up time, though.

I asked the seller to fix the deficiencies found, which he agreed to, and the deal was progressing.

At this point we had submitted 3 or 4 contract extensions – so everyone was ready to get the boat closed.

For escrow I was using Details Details, and for my marine documentation I was using ASAP marine documentation.   Both of those companies were excellent to work with.  Details Details finally sent me all of the necessary documents to close – both myself and my mother signed them (she’s co-owner, just in case).  ASAP marine documentation sent me an equally impressive pile of paperwork to have signed and notarized – once again completed without issue.

Banking Nonsense

It finally came time to wire the remainder of the money to Details Details.  I built in 3 days for the wire transfer, to ensure that I wouldn’t need another contract extension.  I went to the bank, singed the paperwork for the wire transfer, and received a stack of paper that served as a receipt.  I double and triple checked everything – the pucker factor was high.   I thought all was well.

The day before we were supposed to close (a Friday) – I received a call from my broker:  there’s no money in the escrow account.  Of course I revert to worst case scenario:  my money’s in the hands of a Florida drug kingpin, my trip is ruined, I’m broke, the world is ending.  Panicked phone calls ensued.  It turns out, after some detective work, that my bank had (incompetently) failed to authorize the wire transfer (a significant sum) and (negligently) failed to tell me about it. Disaster.  I started drinking at 3PM that day. 

The seller and seller’s broker are, at this point, assuming I’m not serious.  We need another contract extension (it’s Friday and the new wire won’t go out ’till Monday), and I’m terrified that my significant escrow deposit is now at risk.  The seller eventually agrees to extend the contract again.   Huge relief.  The bank and I have a no-BS talk, and they eventually do what they can to make the situation right (hint: there’s very little they can do).

In the meantime I secure quotes from a few insurance providers and begin evaluating them.  We weren’t done though.  There was yet another contract extension so the seller could get some documents notarized at the US Embassy in Panama.  Finally done, we closed.  And I had insurance the same day.

Now the real work begins – wrapping up 30 years worth of loose ends in a couple of months.  And learning to sail my boat.  And physically accepting my vessel.  And learning to plan and provision.  And learning about every single mechanical/electrical system on my boat.  Those are challenges I’m looking forward to though.

Now, finally, there’s some light at the end of the tunnel.  It’s the most liberating feeling I’ve had.  Ever.

Reasons I Chose the Lagoon 380 Catamaran

  1. It was cheap (compared to other, similar cruising catamarans)
  2. It was big enough, but not too big
  3. Lagoon builds a nice cruising catamaran – not a speed demon, but comfortable and safe
  4. There’s a huge resale market for the Lagoon 380 catamaran, and it holds it’s value well
  5. My Lagoon 380 catamaran was priced below-market
  6. I found an owner’s version of the Lagoon 380 catamaran
  7. They’re functional, fun, and easy to single-hand


Companies I’d use again:

  • ASAP Marine Documentation  – hassle free boat registration/documentation
  • Details Details Escrow Service – the escrow part of the Catamaran Company
  • Coastal Insurance – compared boat insurance through multiple companies
  • The Catamaran Company – specifically Staley Wiedman

Companies I won’t use again:

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Today, Finally

the boat, and it’s insured.  And my days of indentured servitude look to be numbered.

It’s a little bigger than just buying a boat, though.  It’s not just any boat.  It’s not just a weekend toy.  It’s a vehicle to go do something I’ve only dreamed about.  Something I’ve only read about.   This is a game-changer.  A life-changer.

There were more than a few setbacks.  There were some pretty serious speedbumps.  There were plenty of nay-sayers.  Nonetheless, here I am – just a few measly days away from something that will truly change my life.

Family and friends think I’m nuts.  Most of the rest of the world is just stunned when they hear about it.

There are a million things to do.  So many details to iron out.  So much to learn.  But it doesn’t matter.  Today we drink. Today is a good day.  

Today we celebrate. Today, finally.

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You’re Crazy

hunter s thompson you're crazy

Hunter S Thompson

I’ve come to believe that anything worth doing should:

  • Make the timid say “You’re crazy”
  • Make the adventurous say “That’s awesome”
  • Make the small-minded speechless
  • Make you question your own sanity
  • Change the way you see the world around you
  • Overwhelm you often

Looking around at the various websites of my predecessors, it’s clear that everyone struggles with the same questions:  Am I making the right choice?  Will the sacrifice be worth it?  What if everything goes wrong?  Can I pull this off?  What else do I need to learn?  

Reconciling the dream and the reality isn’t just a theory.   It’s proving to be the most challenging thing I’ve done – and I haven’t even started yet.  But I’m not the only person that’s struggled with this.

From Tahina Expedition:

The challenge of preparing for a five year circumnavigation is harder than any project we’ve ever undertaken. And, believe me, we’ve done some hard things in the past. I’ve started and run several businesses and any entrepreneur can tell you startups are really hard.

There are also a myriad of other things:  banking, healthcare, communications, and outfitting a boat in another country.  At times it’s downright overwhelming.  Preparing with a teammate is always easier – preparing solo teaches you quite a bit about yourself. Some of those “lessons of self” you may not like.  The thing that helps the most (for me) is putting the “big-picture” on the back burner.  Distilling something huge into a series of smaller, accomplishable tasks.

Another thing that has been helpful is having supportive people around.  I credit other people, often, for the motivation to keep going.  Interestingly enough, the motivation comes from positive support, but even more from the occasional negative response.

Again – if no one thinks it’s crazy – you’re not dreaming big enough.

hunter s thompson you're crazy

Hunter S Thompson

So remember that the next time you’re tempted to say “You’re crazy.” Whatever it is that inspires those words, that thought;  it’s an important part of anything worth doing.   And if you’re on the receiving end of that phrase – it should be validation of everything you’re working toward.

It makes no difference what your goal is.  Business, personal, or adventurous.  Just keep it big, keep it alive, and keep it crazy.

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