The ‘Clearing-off Boat’
For many years while we were working in London and spending weekends on boats in Chichester Harbour, there was a long running discussion about the ‘Clearing-off Boat’
Many happy hours were spent discussing the possible attributes of this hypothetical craft on which we would, one day, clear off. At that time I was keen on cutter rigs, flush foredecks and bowsprits.
The loudest voice of encouragement was always my daughter Jemima who had already crewed us across Biscay and was keen for me to get on with more ocean crossing adventures.
By the time we eventually ‘cleared off’ on Escapade, Jemima was sailing in New Zealand so missed our first winter. Since then she’s covered a few miles sailing to Polynesia and back. But now we have managed to tempt her out of the Pacific for the first time in years.
Finally at the end of our third season, Jemima has come to see us on Escapade.
So here we are, sitting in a San Blas anchorage, looking at the other boats and discussing the possible attributes of her clearing off boat. (Bowsprits etc..)
Farewell to Guna Yala
So one last lap of this beautiful archipelago with our special guest. We spent three months living in Guna territory and they looked after us very well. The Guna indians we met supplied us with all our food, welcomed us into their traditional island villages and even to their sacred ceremonies. They are a smiling, peaceful tribe and seem to be very happy in their world. And happy to have us passing through. It makes it a very relaxed place to live on a boat. The islands are safe, crime-free and care-free.
(There’s always an exception: just before we left a French yachtswoman was attacked by a crocodile. The first time anyone has heard of a human being bitten here. She was snorkelling in a popular anchorage where Jemima and I were swimming a few days earlier. She was badly chewed and lucky to survive. The news was a real shock to the locals and yachties who swim there everyday)
Our diet for almost all that time was fish, fruit and vegetables. All either caught by us or supplied by passing ulu dugouts. What’s for dinner? Wait and see what shows up. Lots of snapper, the occasional grouper, bonito, octopus, crab, lobster and conch. We also discovered a new method for extracting conch from it’s shell. Rather than chiseling a hole and severing the tendon as we had learned in the eastern Caribbean, the Guna skilfully chip away at the tip of the spiral shell with a machete, then unscrew the whole thing like a corkscrew, pulling the delicious meat out whole through the top.
We discovered a fish smoker, an old lady with racks of reef fish and lobster smoking over smouldering coconut husks. Delicious.
Most of my carbohydrate intake was in the form of chilled cerveza until we discovered freshly baked Guna bread rolls. Irresistible. We found a woman baking them in her thatch hut ‘panaderia’ and became regular customers. There was even a recent outbreak of toast and Marmite.
Underwater with my daughter…
Jemima seems to have a natural ability for free diving and is very comfortable underwater. We spent lots of time exploring the reefs and drop-offs. We could dive together pretty well, as long as we didn’t make each other laugh.
She was hoping to be windsurfing and kiting too but the wind went very light. We still had enough waves for a couple more surf sessions before we left.
More Friendly locals
The Gunas keep dogs and sometimes pigs. Vet Jemima swooped in to action cuddling piglets and puppies, feeding them and treating their various cuts and scrapes with iodine.
Jemima and I were passing Isla Linton in the dinghy when I noticed a small dark figure ambling along the beach. As we drew closer I could see he was about four feet tall and holding his tail high behind him. A monkey.
We waded ashore to say hello. There were three spider monkeys on the beach. A young one who climbed a tree and stayed there watching. A quite loud and aggressive male who occasionally charged towards us baring his teeth and then lost interest and retreated.
And a third character who was very friendly and seemed to want to tell me something. It began with a handshake. Then he came to sit next to me and slowly reached out with his prehensile tail and softly grasped my ankle.
Chattering away at me, he gradually moved closer until, to Jemima’s delight, I was encircled by his arms, legs and tail and my new monkey friend seemed to be set on leaving the island with me. I tried to explain that we had to leave and he would have to let go of me, which didn’t go down well. I finally escaped and we motored off with the distraught monkey reaching out to me in tears!
Colon: the end of the Caribbean
We had a great couple of days sailing from San Blas to Colon, light winds, blue skies, easy broad reaching under full main and gennaker. A fitting end to the season’s sailing, and the end of our three long winters plying the Caribbean.
Colon is the sprawling city and container terminal on this side of the Panama Canal. It loomed out of the hazy horizon along with about 50 anchored ships, all waiting to go through the canal. Quite a change of scene after our deserted coconut islands. The screen of our chart plotter went dark with a mass of AIS signals, more ships than we’ve seen all year.
We slalomed through them, got VHF clearance to proceed from the port controller and charged in under full sail, through the gap in the huge breakwater protecting the entrance to the canal. Escapade’s final flourish was a 12 knot surf down the last swell in to the flat waters of Colon harbour. It felt like a significant landfall (even though we haven’t come far) but behind us now are the Mediterranean, the Atlantic and the Caribbean. When we leave this harbour it will be through the canal to the Pacific.
Can it be yard time again already? We are hauling out in Shelter Bay and leaving Escapade here for the summer. Back in to my boatyard shorts..
Time to clean the boat and put everything away out of the sun. Sails off, halyards pulled, decks cleared. I have always considered boats to be sort of self-cleaning, leave them out in the rain for a rinse off, right? Jemima is much more fastidious, she’s worked on super yachts where everything has to be gleaming. So for the first time, Escapade has had the inside of her cockpit lockers scrubbed!
The boat is spotless, it was great to have Jemima on board for the lay-up, especially since Dawn had fallen over*, broken her foot and was hobbling round the yard on crutches.
Well there goes another winter. Escapade is safe in the yard, we’ll be back at the end of the year to prepare for the Canal and the Pacific.
Jemima is continuing her travels with friends through Central America, we are heading home to Guernsey for the summer.
*No alcohol was involved in this injury.