Sunday, December 2, 2007

Snorkeling and Snakes

November 26, 2007  Monday
Nuinudup, East Lemon Cays, Kuna Yala (a/k/a San Blas Islands)
09.33.708N; 078.51.686W      Distance traveled from Green Island 27.6 NM

Ever true to our tradition since starting cruising, we again cleared in on a weekend, thus providing us the privilege of paying additional $40 overtime fees.   This was the price we paid for not wanting to move last Friday.  At the present time the normal costs Monday through Friday when clearing into Porvenir are $69 for Customs and 90-day cruising permit, plus $20 for Immigration (30-days allowed), plus $8 for Kuna congreso.  But on weekends both the Customs official and the Immigration official are entitled to collect an additional $20 each.  Funny thing, our receipts indicate that we paid $69 and $20 respectively; the additional $20 to each guy went straight into his pocket.  But this is legal here; they showed me the printed regulations that allowed them to collect the overtime fees on weekends.  We radioed YEMANJA and warned them about this and Paula relayed the message to BLUEPRINT MATCH.  To further put kinks into our plans, we learned that the Customs official will be gone for business in Panama City from December 5-10.  We had planned to clear out at Porvenir on December 7 and start towards Shelter Bay Marina.  We are scheduled to arrive at the marina on Dec 10.  So now we either need to clear out of Porvenir by Dec 4 or change our arrival date with the marina.  You can see why all cruisers’ plans are written in jello.

Weather has been rainy since we arrived in the San Blas Islands.  According to the weather gurus, the ITCZ has blipped up covering this area and caused all this dreariness and moisture.  The trade winds are starting up again now so the ITCZ is expected to withdraw closer to the equator sometime this week.  We certainly hope so.  It is time for some sun.  Yesterday was the nicest day in the past 2 weeks and we took that opportunity to sail from Green Island to Isla Porvenir to clear in.  Our intentions were to anchor off Porvenir overnight and clear in today during regular office hours.  But it was so rolly at Porvenir that spending the night there was not attractive.  So we bit the bullet and cleared in on Sunday, paid the extra fees, and quickly motored to the East Lemon Cays – where we spent a thoroughly calm night in a lovely anchorage.

The Eastern Lemon Cays are exactly what Bill & I envisioned the San Blas Islands to be like.  A guy came by and sold us a few small lobsters.  I gave his albino 4-yr-old son some candy, crayons, a little book in which to draw and some of the clothes that I had purchased in the thrift store in Cartagena.  The dad asked for cigarettes and Bill gave him a few in a plastic bag.  Bill does not want to give these people a whole package of cigarettes because he thinks that then all their friends will be coming over and asking for cigs.  We still have almost 3 cartons of the cigarettes that we bought in September 2006 to give away (our bribery when clearing in some places).  Those cigarettes must be really stale, but what do we care about that.

Later the same guy came back with his pregnant wife and their 2 sons.  The 6-yr-old boy has normal Kuna coloration, but the 4-yr-old boy is albino.  They wanted to sell us some really nice whelk and conch, but we don’t know how to get those out of their shells.  Nor do we know how to cook either whelk or conch, so we passed on those.  (Really not fans of either.)  The wife had some molas for sell.  I did not plan to buy any more molas, but she was asking only $5 and the quality of stitching was very good so I broke down and bought one.  It is only a 2-layer mola.  I doubt that she could afford the fabric to make the 5-layer molas.  But her quality of work was very good even on a simple 2-layer mola and I felt like she should be rewarded for her work, so we bought one.  I also bought a beaded bracelet for only $3 that she had made.  The entire family climbed into our cockpit while mom wound the string to affix the bracelet to my wrist.  Bill gave the boys each a glass of Diet Coke (warm; he didn’t want to spoil them with ice) and the dad asked if he could have a beer.  Dad also asked if I had any “colores” for “mi esposa.”  He wanted fingernail polish and/or red make-up for her cheeks.  She was dressed in the traditional Kuna fashion but did not have any color on her cheeks.  It was obvious they could not afford a gold nose ring for her.  I didn’t have any “colores” to give them.  They climbed down into their ulu and left, saying they would see us again manana.  The poor pregnant wife had obviously never climbed over a life rail before or up and down a ladder on the side of a boat.  She was making little moaning sounds under her breath the entire time and was panting softly from excitement by the time she sat down in the ulu.  She was flustered but she managed to do it.  If they do come back today or tomorrow I will give the dad some fish hooks and the mom some sewing needles and a tube of dark lipstick that I will never use.  Guess she can use lipstick to color her cheeks, but they will be “Berry Freeze” colored instead of bright red.

On Saturday night at Green Island, Paul on BLUEPRINT MATCH decided to throw out a fishing line while anchored.  It was just getting dark and there was a full moon.  That is supposed to be a good time to catch various snappers.  Well, he caught one – and what a fish it was!  He had a strike almost as soon as the line hit the water.  Paul was so excited about it that he called us on the VHF radio.  We wanted to see it but our dinghy was already up on davits for the night.  So Paul came over & picked us up so we could see this big fish.  It had to have weighed more than 20 pounds and was some kind of snapper.  We will upload a photo when we get internet access again.  Michelle said it looked like a Culebra snapper to her.  The next morning Michelle brought us a large bag of fish fillets.  I fried some in beer batter seasoned with Old Bay for dinner last night, and it was terrific.  This morning I am baking bread so we can have beer battered snapper fillet sandwiches for lunch.  Boy, are we looking forward to that!  Thanks to Paul & Michelle for all this delicious fish.

It is steadily raining hard again today.  We are snuggled inside with the air-conditioners going.  Nice to be cool and comfortable, but the real reason for running the A/C is to keep the dampness out of the boat so mildew won’t start growing.  Everyone else on boats that we know have problems with mildew inside their boats.  We don’t have any yet and hope to keep it that way for as long as possible.  Hoping the rain stops tomorrow so we can enjoy this lovely little group of islands and reef known as the Eastern Lemon Cays.

December 2, 2007  Sunday
Banedup, East Holandes Cays, Kuna Yala
09.35.005N; 078.40.459W                  Traveled 12.7 NM

We are back tracking at this point.   After 5 nights in East Lemmon Cays it was time to move to another island.  So we motored back to the east to the Eastern Holandes Cays.  This is the most popular destination for cruisers in the entire San Blas Islands, so it has not been high on our list of places to visit because we didn’t want to be with the “crowd.”  There is a particular spot in the Eastern Holandes Cays that is commonly called “the Swimming Pool” by the cruisers.  This small anchorage is directly south of what is called Barbeque Island.  It is a tiny uninhabited island that is very beautiful.  Cruisers gather on Barbeque Island for sundowners and pot luck dinners or just visiting or playing volleyball or such activities.  They also traditionally have a big pot luck Thanksgiving dinner on Barbeque Island.  Some people actually had turkeys flown in for this get-together.  We chose to avoid the big cruiser scene on Barbeque Island this year.  We instead enjoyed our quiet Thanksgiving dinner aboard BLUEPRINT MATCH.

There is another area in the Eastern Holandes that cruisers call “the Hot Tub.”  Egress to the Hot Tub is a bit more complicated, but it is infinitely calmer than the Swimming Pool where there is a very strong current.  We chose to avoid both the Swimming Pool and the Hot Tub and anchored south of an island called Banedup.  BLUEPRINT MATCH was already anchored at Banedup and we needed to connect with them to get back our fridge control panel and handheld VFH and a few other things that we had loaned them. 

Their guest had arrived with their replacement parts.  She had also brought a spare fridge control board for us.  Definitely something every cruiser should have aboard.  We are lucky that we have 3 separate fridge/freezer units with 3 separate control boards.  So one spare control board should suffice since it is not likely that we would lose all 3 at the same time.  We know someone on a beautiful (and very expensive) 62-ft Oyster who also has 3 fridge/freezer units but all 3 units are controlled by one control circuit board.  When their board failed, they lost all refrigeration for more than a month until a replacement board could be obtained.  Our Amel is better designed with the 3 independent fridge/freezer systems.

This anchorage south of Banedup is great – totally calm and picture-perfect beautiful white sand beaches with coconut palms to sit and stare at.  Yesterday we took the dinghy around the small island called Tiadup which is south of Banedup.  There are 2 bands of reef on the southern side of Tiadup, so it makes a perfect place to anchor the dinghy and snorkel in very shallow water.  The water at the Holandes Cays is the clearest in all of San Blas Islands because it is the farthest from the mainland and receives less run-off from the rivers coming down from the mainland mountains.  Holandes is pronounced like Hollandaise sauce, and cay is pronounced ‘key’ --- so it sounds like the Hollandaise Keys.  Near where we were snorkeling there was a yacht overturned on the reef.  This boat has been stripped of everything of any value whatsoever; only the hull remains, laid over on her port side.  This wrecked yacht is mentioned in the sailing guide that was printed in 2001, so it has been on that reef for some years.  A grim reminder of how important it is to be constantly alert when navigating through the reef-filled waters of San Blas.

Late yesterday afternoon there was an unusual bit of excitement on BLUEPRINT MATCH.  Michelle and her cousin Annie were on our boat because they needed more provisions.  Michelle was running out of snack foods and a few other things so we agreed to sell her some of ours.  She had tried to provision in Cartagena to last for 2 months without buying anything; but it is hard to plan that far in advance, especially when you have guests for 2 weeks.  So she was getting short on several items.  We have enough provisions to last Bill and I for about 6 months, so it would place no hardship on us to part with a few things.  Anyway, just as they were finishing up with the provisions they wanted, we heard a VHF radio call from Paul telling us to all get over to BLUEPRINT MATCH right away. 

Seems they had found a large snake onboard!!!

We all figured that Paul was just joking around again and that was his way of telling everyone to come over to BLUEPRINT MATCH for a sundowner drink.  So we hopped into our dinghies and went on over there.  And were totally surprised to see a large snake twining itself up onto the stern railing!  This snake was at least 5-feet long when all twisted up on the railing, much longer if it had stretched itself out fully.  Little 3-year-old Seanna was the first person to see this snake in the main saloon.  She told her dad about it.  Soon it crawled back out of the saloon and into the cockpit and wound its way to the port steps of the catamaran, where it then decided to climb the stern railing going across the bridge deck on the rear side of the cockpit.  Little 4-year-old Merric was acting like a typical little boy and wanted to keep the snake.  He got all upset because everyone said the snake had to go.  He really wanted to keep that snake.  When the snake decided to climb the traveler sheets that lead up to the main boom, Paul decided it was time to grab a boat hook and remove the snake.  Paul did not want this snake to get up into the sail bag and nestle down into the flaked mainsail.  What a horror that would have been! 

Paul managed to get the snake untwined from the traveler sheet and used the boat hook to fling it into the sea.  The snake immediately took off swimming at a fast clip towards the south; towards the little island of Tiadup.  The snake got about half-way to Tiadup when it did an about face and started rapidly swimming right back towards BLUEPRINT MATCH.  It first went to the stern of our dinghy and I was afraid that it was going to climb the outboard to get into the dinghy.  But it only hesitated for a few moments at the outboard, then it swam between the hulls of the catamaran and kept going north to Banedup.

Bill inquired today on the SSB cruiser net for this area, and the consensus of opinion was that this snake was most likely a common boa constrictor.  Supposedly, the local venomous snakes do not swim; so that was good to hear.  But the bigger question is how the heck did that snake get onboard that big catamaran.  Of course it could have climbed up the anchor chain or (more likely) up the swim ladder hanging down into the water at the stern steps of the port hull.  But none of us have seen any snakes swimming in the seas here.   In fact, none of us have ever seen snakes swimming anywhere in the Caribbean Sea.  How it got aboard remains a mystery.

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