Lemon Cays

10-30-2002 3:45 pm Lemon Cays

N 9 32 42 Air 87F Water 82F
W 78 53 58 Just starting to rain a bit



I finished relashing our ratlines this morning and added a new step. We now have one solid wooden step lashed about 25 feet off the deck. It will make a nice place to perch while entering reef areas. After I got it up we decided to give it a try and proceeded to get the boat ready to move to another island.


Just before we started the motor some of the local Kuna Indians came by wanting to visit. They had invited us to their hut a couple of days ago so we invited them aboard. When we first entered the Cay they were the first group to come by to sell molas. We asked to trade but they weren’t interested. Actually the husband seemed to have his eye on some locking pliers and screwdrivers in my bag but he said that his wife would only take money. Today they wanted to trade. They wanted some tools and some perfume, nail polish and lipstick. I think he needed the cosmetics to make his wife happy giving up some molas. He really seemed to want the tools. Birgitta asked him why he wanted them and she thinks he intends to become a mechanic. He doesn’t seem to know anything about tools or machines but now that he has some I think he feels much more qualified. Future cruisers may want to watch who they hire for fixing their outboard in this area. While that family was there another couple of locals came by selling lobster and crab. We bought a local crab. It is huge! The legs are more then 2 feet across. Someone said these are really good to eat so we will give it a try tonight.


A smaller crab we bought another day because we forgot to take a picture of the big one.

When they left with invitations to visit their village on another island, (they only stay on this one for a couple of months a year to gather coconuts) we started the engine and proceeded to way anchor. About half way through the anchor chain some French cruisers arrived who wanted to visit with us. We told them where we were going and they decided to come along. We slipped through the pass in the reef following our old course (GPS is wonderful!) and motored the 4 miles to Lemon Cay. I climbed up the ratlines into the rigging and guided Birgitta through the reef here to a really nice anchorage. The wind has dropped down a bit this evening but I think that even if it picks up again this anchorage will be millpond flat. There are also fewer locals on the islands so the mola and fish selling didn’t take anywhere as long.

We just took a swim in the clear water. It is really something being able to see 40 or 50 feet. We just swam around the boat but even there we saw a lot of fish and crabs. There were many barracuda swimming about and suddenly rushing off after a fish. I think Birgitta may remove her watch and wedding ring before swimming next time. I had my first real look at Temptresses bottom since the haul out. It is immaculate. Not a speck of growth yet. There is one place where the paint was removed by the straps of the lift, but even there there is nothing growing. I think this paint is much better then what we had last year. Only time will tell but I am optimistic.


We ended up spending 3 days at ChiChime Cay. I wanted time to fix up the ratlines and I replaced the front bearing in our wind generator. It now is much quieter and makes significantly more power. It went bad so very gradually I didn’t notice how bad it had become. While we were there we had quite a bit of breeze. With the solar panels and wind generator we made enough power yesterday to fully charge our batteries by about 11am and run our water maker all day. We now have full tanks and have even turned up the refrigerator. It is nice to have enough electricity. On the pacific side we started to have to ration power when the rainy season started. No wind over there and not much sun. Here is is sunnier and there is much more wind.


Molas are colorful, intricate, multilayered applique textile sewn by the Kuna women (and some men). They are traditionally worn sewn on their blouses, covering their midriff. The blouse itself is made of gauzy material typically pink or blue with bright flowers, and does not match the mola at all. The skirt is a rectangle of navy blue cotton with simple yellow patterns, wrapped around the waist and falling to just below the knees. They also wear bead bracelets covering the the leg from ankle to mid-calf and the arms from wrist to elbow, and a scarf on their head. They also wear a gold nose ring. They apply rouge on their cheeks liberally, and a black line from the forehead to the tip of the nose. Most Kuna women still wear the traditional dress, except in the busiest islands close to mainland. Men dress the western way, tee-shirt and shorts in this hot weather.


Robertino and his family

Selling molas to tourists is a significant source of revenue for the families and they can be very persistent. Once, we had a canoe with two women selling molas visiting the boat and the second woman became quite upset that I bought a mola only from the first, even after I gave her pencils and paper for her daughter who needs them in school. Although most of them are polite and will leave if told no more molas, I do feel pressured by the daily visits and the request for free pencils, magazines, sewing needles, milk, cigares, fish hooks etc. Clark says I should just say no and not get upset about it but it is hard to say no. In our society, people are taught not to ask or expect anything for free (Birgitta hasn’t had to deal with many door to door salesmen or Jehovah’s Witnesses apparently. clark) I resent the Kuna taking me for Santa Claus even if they are not pushy about it. I have a few magazines but I want to keep them for cruiser friends, so do I lie and say I have none or do I try to explain in my broken Spanish they are reserved for friends? Their Spanish is not always very good as their main language is Kuna. All children learn Spanish in school and some do also learn English but older women have never learned either.

Besides selling molas, the Kunas gather coconuts which are sold to Columbian traders, lobster which is flown to Panama City and they grow various roots and pineapples on the mainland portion of their territory. It is mostly subsistence leaving. All the Kuna land belongs to all Kunas. There is no private property but their society is very tightly organized and controlled by chiefs. A permit is necessary for a Kuna to move from one island to the other. The family of Robertino, whom we met in Chichime, was gathering coconuts 2 months in Chichime, 6 months in Holandes Cays and spent the rest of the time in their home village where they fished and grew fruits and vegetables. Robertino is a very smart man who learned a bit of English so he could be friendly with cruisers and give a better chance to his wife to sell molas (he said so himself when I talked to him in Spanish).

ChiChime Cays

10/27/02 12:00 noon ChiChime Cays

N 9 35 14 Sunny Air 90F Water 84F
W 78 52 51 Anchored


We are now in the San Blas Islands. We just anchored nicely between Uchutupu Pippi and Uchutupu Dumat islands. We are in a beautiful anchorage.


As soon as we arrived we were met from all sides by the local indians, the Kuna. They all wanted to be the first to offer their molas for sale. We have heard that they are very pushy salesmen but we just said that we would rather look at them tomorrow and they backed off. Maybe it was lucky for us that another boat was right behind us and they all went to it for a try. While they were here they all invited us to visit their huts and I think we will be looking at molas tomorrow.


Mola buying.

We entered the reef at just before noon in bright sun with just a bit of wind. Everything was perfect. I climbed the rat lines and gave instructions to Birgitta who was at the helm. On our way in we passed over the tip of a reef. Up to now we couldn’t see more then 6 feet through the water but it is much clearer here. It was a shock to suddenly see the bottom coming up at me. I called for a turn and for the boat to be slowed down. Then I asked what the depth was and it was still more then 15 feet. So everything would have probably been fine but it was still nice to be up in the rigging to be able to see the reef. From the cockpit you cannot see much of anything underwater. I think that tomorrow I will be adding a few more steps to the ratlines.

The ratlines are rope lashed between shrouds so I can climb up and get a better view. I started them in Seattle several years ago but haven’t used them until now. I always planned on finishing them in a nice calm anchorage on the way. Problem was that Mexico didn’t seem to have many nice calm anchorages. And trying to lash rigging while 30 feet in the air isn’t a pleasant thought in a rolly anchorage. The water in the Pacific was always too murky to see the bottom through anyway. Here I have a need for them and have renewed the lashings on my existing lines and will be adding some more so I can climb up to the spreaders. I think I will start putting solid wooden steps between every 2 or 3 rope lines from now on so I have a really solid place to stand while I am up there. You can see the ratlines in any picture of Temptress on the website. They are on the right (starboard) side of the boat. If I get around to the project you should see more in subsequent pictures but I don’t know when we will be able to post pictures as there aren’t many internet cafes around here (even telephones are very rare in the San Blas according to the guide).


I expect we will spend a few days here. The diving on the reef should be very nice as this is one of the more offshore islands and the water should be clearer. Further towards land the water is full of silt from river runoff. It is rainy season here and a lot of water falls over the mainland mountains. It appears to be much drier here but we do expect some rain in the next couple of days as a tropical wave should come through soon. As you can see from all the messages piling up we haven’t connected by radio in a few days so we haven’t gotten a new weather chart. I just haven’t installed the dipole antenna. It takes a while to put it up and take it down. I do miss the antenna tuner.


2:30 pm Escribano

N 9 33 08 Sunny Air 91F Water 83F
W 79 09 18 We are anchored in 7.5 feet of water behind a nice reef.



Right after I wrote the note above the wind started to die and the rains started to come at us from the mainland. We motor sailed for most of the day and only got rained on for about 15 minutes. When we entered the sky above was clear so we could see the reefs. This seems to be one of only a few places on the coast that aren’t being rained on right now. I was glad as this was my first shallow, reef strewn entry. It is so weird to anchor with just 2 feet under your keel at high tide. I still expect to hit bottom any minute but we seem to be OK. It is pretty calm in here so if we do touch it shouldn’t be a problem.


It is really pretty here. Very green with some tropical flowers in bloom. There is another boat in the anchorage named Moonshine. Haven’t met them yet but I’m sure we will tonight.


8:00 PM Escribano A discussion on herbal tea and culture.

I often like to drink a cup of herbal tea in the evening, after diner or before going to bed. Even though it is still hot at 85F (30C), I find the ritual of the cup of tea soothing. I had thought that it might be difficult to find herbal teas outside the US, just like it is difficult to find decaffeinated coffee. But it turns out that the tradition of healing herbal teas is widespread. However the recipes vary wildly!

In Mexico, the local herbal tea were restricted to plain mint, chamomile and something like lemongrass. In Costa Rica, one brand made teas to treat every ailment imaginable, but they all seemed to have lots of anise or liquorice (reglisse in french) in them, which I do not like. I could not identify all the ingredients since my english/spanish dictionary is pretty small and does not include translation of many herb names, but I could smell the liquorice from all the boxes. I bought the one with the least amount of liquorice (the tea is supposed to help you sleep) and surprisingly enough, I got used to it and now enjoy it.

Tonight, I am trying my first tea bag from Panama (but made in Argentina). It is supposed to be good for digestion but does not taste like anything I recognize. Mint and chamomile are ingredients, and I typically like a mixture of those two, but the cedar and two other mystery ingredients give it a strange bitter taste that is most unlikely to help my digestion as I doubt I will be able to swallow the whole cup. But there is no liquorice in it.

Are these tea recipes based on local traditions and herbs? I don’t know but I do know that I have seldom if ever tasted a herbal tea in the US that I could not finish a cup of. So there must be some cultural variations to the tea taste. Fortunately, I still have some herbal tea imported from the US and from Costa Rica so I will be able to toss this Argentinean version. Maybe someone fluent in Spanish can tell me which herbs or trees are “boldo” and “carqueja”, the mystery ingredients of my tea.

At Sea

10-26-02 12 noon Underway.

N 9 35 41 Sunny where we are but cloudy and rainy all around.
W 79 20 41 Sailing at 5.5 knots with a knot of current push
6 knots of wind true on port beam.

We got up this morning and headed east from Portobelo on our way to the San Blas Islands. We plan to stop at Escribano. This will be the first tricky entrance in our trip this year. We will have to get used to it though since the Carribean is full of reefs and shallows. This harbor looks really snug after you enter between the reefs and find a place to anchor in the 8 feet of water available. In the Pacific ocean there is always a tide to contend with. In Seattle it was 10 to 15 feet each day. On the Pacific side of Panama it was as much as 20 feet. But here in the Caribbean it is only about a foot. So you can anchor in some really shallow water as long as there is protection from the waves and your boat’s draft is low enough. Temptress has a center board that allows her to sail better when we lower it but it allows us to enter shallow places like this if we raise it. Down we draw about 10 feet of water but with the board up we need closer to 5 and a half. We have a lot of friends with boats that require up to 8 or more feet of water to float. We have been thinking about them a lot while reading the charts for this area. Temptress was built in Florida with a mind to Caribbean cruising. I guess we will now really be able to reap the benefits of its design. Having said all this I really hope I don’t hit a reef on the way in. I planed to enter at 2 to 3 pm with the sun high overhead so I could see into the water. But it looks like it will be overcast and maybe raining when we get there. Well we will go slow and be really careful. I might scout ahead with the dingy.


10-24-02 Portobelo, Panama.


Leaving Colon/Cristobal.

We left Colon, Panama this morning and are we glad to be out! We found it stressful as the anchorage wasn’t very well protected, the water was dirty, there were wakes from pilot boats all day and night and the city is infested with criminals. Also all the time we were there we were fixing problems with the boat. It isn’t where one would want to be while cruising. Panama city was much nicer but it was also not what we are after. We left just before a drenching rain shower hit us and motorsailed about 20 miles down the cost to Portobelo.


This harbor was originally named Puerto Bello by Christopher Columbus in 1502. I guess he had a bad passage and found the place quite nice. It is most famous as the harbor the Spanish stored the gold and silver they raped from the locals before they sent it to Europe. A lot of pirates raided the town here for the riches it held and we plan on seeing some if the ruined forts tomorrow. Not much gold here now, I understand, but it is nice and calm. The anchorage is protected and there is little noise. We are finally able to relax from our hectic 3 weeks getting the boat ready and getting through the canal. The one down side about Portobelo is that it rains here more then any place in Panama and we are now in the middle of the wettest month of rainy season.


Anchorage at dawn


First line of defense!


From here, the Spanish could easily defend the harbor entrance.


The fort was built on several levels all the way up the hill.


This is the top fort on a very steep hill.


City side fort. There are 3 forts in Portobelo.


A Portobelo city street

We understand that the San Blas Islands don’t get as much rain and are looking forward to getting there in a few days.