The cruising adventures of Sid and Manuela

Sunday, August 31, 2014


Our beautiful view, when it is sunny
The rainy season sure has hit hard. Ever since the girls left we have had nothing but rain. The weather turned from dry season to November weather, the nastiest rain time during wet season. One system after another was hanging outside the bay and brought high choppy waves our direction. 

Every other day we abandoned the mooring and anchored further back in the bay where the chop was 1/3. In one system that went by I noticed the start of a waterspout and notified the kids next door. We all watched in awe as a total of 4 water spouts touched the water within about 40 minutes. One headed north, the next one south, one was thick, one skinny. They came in all shapes. I watched one fall apart and it looked like a giant waterfall falling out of the sky. The other evaporated like a veil as it skirted between the mangroves of the main land and the small island off the point. 
Waterspout pulling up into the sky


Imagine our neighbor boat “Invisible” have 6 kids, one cat and a good size dog on board, a total of 8 bodies on a 41ft boat plus the critters (they have 7 kids, 2 boys and 5 girls, the oldest daughter left them to crew on a boat and is currently in the Azores. (Guess they didn’t have a TV LOL).  They are on a Morgan 41 and have a shallow keel which makes them roll around any which way. Since 4 of their kids had a nasty flu and started to get seasick, we felt sorry for them and let them borrow one of our two flopper stoppers. What a relief for them and Dad Mark ordered one immediately. In the mean time we became good friends with the family. They have no refrigerator on board either. I have no idea how they manage. Hats off to them! We were invited to a wonderful dinner, cottage soufflĂ©, homemade bread by son Zack and a rich chocolate cake without flour by the girls. It was a very crowded cockpit but oh, so much fun. What a neat family.

Little Bell
Bell and Connor, the youngest two, sometimes come over telling us they need some space from it all and hang out and chat up a storm on our boat …priceless. Connor at one time came over and said he needed to get away from the girls and needed to talk some manly stuff, so we invited him into the cockpit. There he was talking to Sid, kind of imitating him the way Sid was sitting and I was just amazed how much he knows of engines and boat stuff at 7 years. Cute kid and so funny! We definitely have been adopted by all the kids. 
Connor emptied our dingy out for $1 but not before he took a bath LOL

He was very happy to not just get the $1 but also a 50 cent tip!

Since Melania’s husband, Jim, was not home and she had some health issues I made a medical appointment for her and told her I would drive her. We found out that Melania is fine and while she, Deb and I had fun in Panama City, unknowingly Sid was battling a storm in Portobelo. He told me that I had missed quite some excitement as the wind started blowing out of the southeast, first at 10 knots then 15, then 18 and it gradually got stronger. At 25 he started to worry as it still accelerated and finally reached 45 knots for about 30 minutes. The wind caught our awning and we dragged about one boat length when the anchor pulled in hard, we were not going anywhere at that point, good thing. He said pretty much every boat was dragging, some more than others. One boat took off and headed out of the bay. The owner was not on board but, luckily, the anchor snagged somewhere around the corner. Later Jason said we were lucky we were not on Anita’s mooring as the boat would have hit us. We watched Consignment Dave about 2 days before the storm re-anchor his boat just dropping the anchor, hopping back on his skiff and driving off without even pulling back on the anchor to make sure it was set. During the storm Sid watched him chase after his boat which was Cuba bound without him on it. 
The big red ship that was anchored here for a couple of years with 4 pilot boats side by side, finally left but the pilot boats were left behind. During one wavy westerly they all dragged almost into the flats, but the 45 knots of wind blew them half way out the bay again and one boat came undone and they all rocked and banged into each other for days to come. No one tended to them. A couple days later we had 25 knots of wind out of the West and they slowly moved back toward the shallow water again, this time hitting a sailboat with owner, of course, not on board either. He is somewhere in Germany (does not want anybody looking after his boat as he has good insurance). How someone can leave their boat unattended in such an unprotected bay is beyond us. We guess the damage done to both sides of his boat ranges around $30,000. We are surprised that the pilot boats didn’t get tangled with more anchored boats. Finally some guys in uniforms tied them up and so far so good. They have not gone astray anymore.

Portobelo is a junk yard for derelict boats and most are an eyesore but see for yourself:


And these are just a small percentage of them all

I am sure you have heard of a poop deck. I always wondered what a ”POOP DECK” was, now we know!

A nasty cold was going around and Sid unfortunately had it for a week. A week later I had an airborne stomach virus, which lingered for 2 weeks. I feel sorry for the folks who caught both viruses at the same time. Everybody we know had one or the other if not both and we never even were in contact with each other.
The dinghy started losing air which had to be pumped up at least once a day. Sid found  a hole which was coming  from an old patch, taking the old patch off caused the old hole to get larger. After he fixed that and other worn spots he painted it with water based paint that when it dries turns into a rubber coating for the tubes. So far it works great and dinghy looks almost like new. MDR Inflatable Boat Paint, great product! So far the dinghy has not leaked any air. Plus Sid also fixed the water leak in the aluminum bottom. He sure comes in handy from time to time LOL. Luckily Fayne, Anita’s next door neighbor, let him do this under her dock house as it was raining. We had so much rain the canvas slowly but surely started to turn green and we both agreed next time we paint the boat it will be in green! 

From Portobelo it is so much easier to head into Colon or Panama City, the bus is on a ½ hour schedule so Sid headed twice a week to the dentist. The last visit was way too funny. Our dentist friend Ida Herrera sent me a What’sApp chat with a photo of the finished product saying: “do you recognize this guy Manuela?!” (Her grandson played with her phone and changed something so she could only speak but not type). I looked at the photo with Sid’s mouth spread apart with some plastic dental tools and noticed there was no mustache on the photo and answered back: “What did you do with his mustache?” Then I realized the photo was sent upside down and that I was looking at his hairless chin. The chat talks that came back were too funny with both Sid and Ida laughing their butts off when they also realized the photo was upside down. It was too funny. Ida is a wonderful dentist and it costs a fraction of what we would pay in the States. She did a wonderful job and Sid has some nice teeth again.

One night back on Anita’s mooring Sid saw some sparks at Fayne’s place then a power outage followed. Jason took care of the place at the moment so we called him on the phone to let him know what the problem was. Jason has no experience when it comes to an electrical problem so Sid went ashore to help him out, since Sid saw where it originated. Good thing Sid was wearing Crocks which are made out of rubber. As he touched the electrical box he was zapped with quite some electrical current which could have killed him … thank God and thanks to the Crocks. 

A few days later Fayne and I were sitting outside sipping a glass of wine when a blood curdling scream came out of her house. Jason was sitting at the desk concentrating on his computer when something brushed his arm, he looked over and he was face to face with a keel back snake checking him out. Not sure who scared who more. Later Jason managed to capture the snake and we  took some good photos of it. Beautiful!!! This snake is not poisonous but can be quite aggressive. It sleeps in the trees at night. 

By the way Jason does tours in Portobelo. After the storm I joined him in the jungle above Anita’s place to find some orchids. His trail at several parts was covered by fallen trees which are enormous. We spent a good two hours chopping our way through the trees. Well, that would be Jason chopping, I was just watching. We found so many different species of orchids, it was amazing. I have several on the boat now. What amazed me most was the knowledge Jason has of all the things growing or moving in the jungle, even the smallest of beetles or critters. 

Above Anita's house with Paradise


Amazing how a bug eats square holes

and another fallen tree

Anita’s friends Teresa and Don arrived from Italy for 3 weeks. They enjoyed a 7 day cruise to Cartagena, Bonaire, Curacao and Caracas. I drove them to and from the terminal. When I picked them up, Anita called me on the phone which I missed as I was packing groceries into her car. I tried to call back but it would not go through. So I drove the few hundred yards to the terminal, I entered the driveway to the terminal and had to come to a complete stop behind a van who was waiting for clearance to enter the terminal parking lot. Behind him was another car. I was stopped for at least 30 seconds when I took my phone out and called Don to let them know I was at the entrance. A policeman came over and asked for my driver’s license. From a previous experience when Francine arrive on a cruise ship and we picked her up a police officer wanted to know if we had a permit to pick up passengers, so I though that’s what this guy was doing as well. I asked him why so he said: for driving and talking on cell phone. I assured him I was in park mode and not driving. Did not matter at all, he took my license and walked away. After a few more minutes I was able to drive into the parking lot where the policeman pulled me over. Here he wrote me a ticket. I tried to tell him again that I was not driving and talking on phone I was stuck on a private driveway behind a car and many more were stopped behind me. He wrote me the ticket anyway. Well I am fighting the ticket. Sid and I actually went back to the scene and took photos and printed them out. I also printed an aerial shot of the place, which clearly shows I was way off the road. It’ll be interesting to see how fair or corrupt the system here works. Oh, I have to wait 1 ½ months to find out. The ticket by the way is 75 bucks. Fayne told me it could be worse, in Costa Rica it’s 400 bucks, ouch. 

I had a Fondue Bourgignonne waiting for Anita, Teri and Don. Should have been a sunset dinner on the dock but turned into a late 9 o’clock dinner. Never-the-less, we all enjoyed it so much we made another one the following dinner with all the leftovers. Don and Teri sure like to eat well. We had one gourmet meal after another. Actually thinking of it all we did was eat and eat and eat. We swore that once they were gone we would eat rabbit food for a while (carrots and celery, and of course that didn’t happen either).
Caviar tort with Mascarpone by Teresa, yummy!!!

Jim, Anita, Debbie, Teresa and Melania

Breadfruit stuffed with Spam

Teresa and Melania

Cindy, Anita Fayne Melania, Debbie, Teresa and Manuela

Good party good food

We did some incredible snorkeling trips and I realized that when snorkeling after 4 pm all the eels peek out of their hiding holes. Unfortunately we also found areas where the corals on the reefs are dying,  probably due to coral bleaching. Right next to it we saw a healthy reef of brain and elkhorn corals.  

This one would look good in my frying pan

Juvenile Drum



Teri and Don were lucky with the weather. We only had a couple of rainy days and we were able to stay 5 days on the mooring instead of the usual 3 in between yo-yoing back to the anchorage.

After they left I had a medical appointment with Dr. McKeever, a dermatologist at a new hospital in Panama City.  Anita asked me if I could make her one too as she has never been to his office. So, a few days later, the two of us walked into his waiting area and a few minutes later he called Anita first into his office. They were barley in the office when I heard them giggle and laugh and having a good old time. The giggling and laughing did not stop for the whole entire visit. The receptionist and I exchanged puzzled looks. After some 30 minutes they both came out still laughing. Dr. McKeever looked at me and said: “Anita was my 6th grade teacher!” Wow, small world. The funny thing was that his mother had just given him several of his old yearbooks the day prior to our visit and so he recognized her immediately. 

Debbie was coming for a visit so I was just getting the V-Berth ready for her when I heard some weird noises on the bow. I was going to let Sid know and check it out when at the same time Sid yelled for me, I knew something was up. The wind increased in just seconds to hurricane force wind and Paradise was yanked from side to side as the wind caught our awning. After two yanks, a loud pop and then a loud banging, we knew immediately our sunshade blew up. This storm out of the southeast hit so fast there was no warning and no time to get the awning down. I saw Anita run around in circles as well taking her laundry down and closing all doors and windows while watching us. She saw Sid hit the deck, but he was ok.
Huge adrenaline rush set in as our biggest fear was to break loose from the mooring. Sid turned the engine on, which didn’t want to start at first until we switched to battery. Sid steered the boat into the wind trying to keep us from yanking from side to side as the wind still filled what was left of the sunshade which acted like a sail. Unfortunately two of the battens were broken creating the loud noise as they were flapping around in the strong winds. They were also very close to our new solar panels which fortunately did not get damaged. I managed to get hold of one batten and tied it down with a piece of the shredded awning, while Sid tried to secure the rest on his side. I grabbed Sid’s Swiss Army knife as we needed to cut the awning free. Both of us were holding the puffed up awning down with one arm each and cutting lines off with the other which was a huge struggle. Finally we won the battle and took the shredded leftover material down. At this time the wind had significantly slowed down. During the storm there was no wave action just frothy white water with a white saltwater spray on top of it. This freak storm felt just like the 75 knots of wind we had in Hurricanes Frances and Jeanne. The whole ordeal lasted for about 10 minutes before it subsided. That was when we managed to get the awning down when we noticed we were going in a circle thinking we had broken loose of the mooring. What happened was the boat was still in gear and going in a circle! 

Losing the sunshade is a huge loss for us, it kept the cockpit dry but also it was our water catcher and unfortunately the battens can’t be replaced. It is about a $1300 loss. We of course moved back to the anchorage where we feel safer and have not dared to move back on the mooring. 
Sid loves to sleep in the cockpit but with the sunshade gone it gets very wet in heavy downpours. So I kept the V-Berth empty. In case of rain we both have a cool place to sleep (two in the aft cabin in this tropical humidity and heat is just too hot). Guess that’s the pros and cons of life in the tropics.

It didn’t stop there as a black cloud still hovered over us. The very next morning Sid sat on his kindle and broke it. A day later he accidentally turned on the new screen for our depth sounder. We are not able to use it until we install the transducer on our next haul out; the screen was broken! 

Then the following day Anita, Sid and I drove to Shelter Bay to visit with Debi and Reg. Reg had just returned from the States where he had surgery. We had a great day with them and Debi even gave us all a haircut. Weather was iffy with several squalls and when it was time to head home the sky turned darker and darker. We knew we would get into some heavy rain. Indeed we did and not just that. We got into heavy rush hour traffic as well and didn’t make it to Portobelo until almost 21:00. It was heavy rain with lightning flashing all around us. We all jumped in the car when a lightning bolt hit a few feet next to us. We were hoping that there was no rain back in Portobelo and were relieved to find that the rain had not hit Portobelo yet. We also knew we had not much time as lightning was closing in and a bolt just hit the next bay over where we came from. We decided to leave the heavy stuff in the car and just take the perishables with us. Of course, just as soon as we had all the perishables on the dock waiting to get it into the dinghy the sky opened up and we had a heavy down pour that soaked everything, nothing was dry not even stuff in plastic bags. Dropped soaking wet Anita off first then headed to our boat where we piled all our wet clothes in the cockpit. We pretty much went straight to bed. I couldn’t sleep so I played games on my cell phone when at 23:20 I heard weird wind gusts, went out into the cockpit to investigate, Sid was sleeping. The wind this time came out of the SW, a direction the wind never blows from. I could see the ship wreck way behind us so was not concerned, all seemed fine and went to bed again. I did notice the wind pick up and then at 23:30 heard this weird noise and felt a weird jolt between waves up and down motion.  I rushed into the cockpit where Sid just woke up and asked me what the matter was; we both felt the jolt again and again and again. I saw that the wreck was to the left of us. No way!!! We were aground, the wind stretched out the chain and we were in 5 feet of water and the wind was now howling at 30 knots. The whole thing turned into a 30 minute nightmare and adrenaline was on overflow. Immediately we turned the engine on and Sid rushed up to the bow and pulled the chain up to hopefully pull us back into deeper water; while at the same time I had the engine in forward gear at full throttle. We were not going anywhere. The wind pinned us against the shallow wall of, luckily, just mud. He tried to get into the dinghy but wind and waves knocked him on his butt, there was no way to lower the dinghy engine onto the dinghy, now what. We were just discussing what to do next then I saw the wreck disappear, realizing the now lesser wind enabled the now very tight chain to pull us free. While Sid rushed on deck with a flash light to make sure we did not hit any other boats, I immediately put the engine in forward and steered us into deeper water. Just to be on the safe side, he also pulled in the anchor chain some more. The rain was pounding down like nothing we’ve seen. Of course we could not sleep for a long time as the adrenaline rush woke us up big time. The wet clothes pile just got bigger. 
We did find out the next day that ,indeed, the wind never comes from this direction.

The black cloud kept hovering as the very next day the throttle on the dinghy engine broke. Since he had a spare, Sid was able to fix it. Wondering what is next??!!!

Here is what’s next: We went over to Anita’s as she had the refrigerator guy (finally after a month) fixing her fridge. I was in the kitchen prepping dinner when Sid hollered for me. I thought he said something like “Tornado”. I ran out to the patio where I saw Anita holding on to some of our laundry under her covered patio. All our laundry hanging on the line was being sucked toward the water. Then I saw the water spout twisting along the shore. I missed what Sid had seen, so here is his version: 
I noticed that it was raining, then it started raining leaves from way up in the sky and I thought “what on earth?”. I suspected that we would get very strong winds again and as I watched the leaves I noticed they were going around in a circle and thought that was weird but then about that time I saw the water all churned up in a circle going about 10 feet high and was heading into the bay about 20 feet off shore and went right across the dock where the dinghy was tied to. As it crossed the dock and went over the dinghy, (it was a good thing the dinghy was tied to the dock), the spout lifted the bow of the dinghy up about 60 degrees; I think the engine and tank kept the dinghy from totally going airborne. That’s when I hollered for Manuela to come out. It sucked one cover off the dinghy wheel, spun it about 80 feet high in the air. It then landed about 1 foot from the shore, yelled to Manuela to go get it while I jumped into the dinghy in hot pursuit of the waterspout that now went over the neighbor’s dock and dock house. Off to the sailboat I zoomed as Paradise was in its path! As I was on my way the air was really, really cold and all of a sudden it was very warm as I suddenly realized I was going right through the disturbed waterspout. I guess it broke up when it went over the neighbor’s house as it never made it over to the boat which was only about 300 yards away. The only thing we haven’t seen here in Portobelo yet is a hippopotamus. I think we covered ALL the weather phenomena. Our neighbors, ‘Invisible’ who were on their way back to their boat saw a large waterspout outside the bay and a small one inside the bay. 
I know now that we have the fastest dinghy as I could outrun a waterspout!
Anita’s version: I have lived here for many years and have never seen anything like this before. What I saw skimming across the top of the water, was a mini,  round cyclone of water coming from the west (open ocean) soaring horizontally  across the top of the water and moving very fast!

Boy we sure are taking a beating here, would someone pleeeeeaaaase remove that black cloud over us?!!!!

 As soon as the weather settles and Sid is done with all the project at Anita’s house (who is extremely appreciated of everything they have done for me!) we will move back to Puerto Lindo where at least the bay is protected from this type of weather and waves. They also had the rain but never more than 25 knots of wind. This year’s weather is very unusual. 

We’ve had a wonderful time with Anita and spent every day with her including happy hour and cooking dinners together. The storms put a little damper on this as we decided it was not safe anymore to be on the mooring in front of her house. In general, it is the wrong time of the year to be in Portobelo. So for now we motor back and forth in the dink. Now and then we have to head back to the boat ASAP as bad weather approaches. We will come back at a better weather time for Portobelo. 

The wind out of the Southeast happens usually only in the San Blas and is called Chocosana. On the mainland if they do get winds like that they call it Vendeval which, translated, means hurricane. They also call it Culo de Pollo “Chicken’s Ass”, I think I like this name best. They are winds caused by squalls and can last anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour with devastating winds. 

One thing we learned for sure is to respect Mother Nature, she can be an ass kicker!!! 

So here we are licking our wounds realizing again there is never a dull moment in and on Paradise but hey it makes for some good stories. “Just another page in our resume” as Sid would say and as Marge would say “no rain, no rainbows.”

Our view of the old Fort

and towards Anita's house which is around the corner

Sid daily exercise emptying out the dinghy

The yearly ceremony to protect the fishermen

View from Anita's second floor

We miss our sun awning

view from Fayne's garden
Some more fun with the Domino Diva's at Carol's

Carol and Pat showing off the buffet they prepared for us

Debbie cutting hair while everybody watched