Twelve long months have passed since we abandoned Sänna in Panama, when our fourteen-day quarantine back in Norfolk turned into a two-month lockdown retreat hiding from the virus. For me, it was two glorious months – sunshine and empty beaches, long daytime treks through wild dunes and hair-raising confrontations with pitchfork-wielding locals intent on keeping themselves and their families alive.
Never did anyone back then think the virus could get this bad. That first wave of covid was an auspicious beginning, a preemptive far-eastern strike against western humanity that was a nasty taster of what the whole world could expect next. Now, here in England at least, the virus is being knocked back, there’s a wonderful light shining at the end of the dark tunnel, an Astra-Zeneca Oxford – Pfizer Biotech salvation not unlike the fightback victories of our maritime heroes Drake and Nelson.
Norfolk is the birthplace of our greatest hero Admiral Horatio Nelson, where he is still revered and worshiped to this day. Now that incredible vaccine technologies mean our long cold-winter lockdown is being lifted, we have returned to Norfolk knowing there is as yet no way we can get to Sänna still moored in distant Panama.
Meanwhile, here in glorious pitchfork-defended Norfolk, not much has changed…
October the 12th finally brought a COVID update from the president of Panama.
Land and air borders are now open, meaning that air travel into Panama is now possible though military and police enforced curfews are still in place. Security forces ensure that government imposed restrictions are strictly adhered to with the curfew hours of 11pm to 5am Monday to Saturday maintained. From 11pm on Saturday to 5am on Monday a full lockdown is in place, meaning that no one is allowed from their home for any purpose or travel. In Panama City, the volatile eastern provinces bordering Columbia, the Caribbean-side provinces of Colon, Chiriquí and Bocas del Toro are each under stricter curfews – from 11pm Friday until 5am Monday it is almost a total weekend lockdown. The president fears lack of social distancing and increasing civil unrest will spread the virus in these higher risk locations.
Of course, this differs greatly from the new virus restrictions in the United Kingdom. So how does this leave us with Sänna still tied up in Vista Mar?
‘Right now, just like everyone else on this virus-ridden planet, we don’t know what is gonna happen. When we set out back in January from Marina Papagayo in the north of Costa Rica for the Panama Canal, everything was fine – the world then had not gone crazy. Even when we sailed across Costa Rica’s southern border into Boca Chica there were few signs that in just a short while our whole adventure would tumble into this mind-blowing crisis. Only the Lord knows how this murderous Chinese bat virus is gonna change the insane world we now live in…’
Anchored in Golfito, in the south of Costa Rica, we were fine. We’d heard the virus was bad in other countries, but these places were around the other side of the world. In the two countries we were in touch with, the UK and the US, there seemed to be no panic or even any form of preparation, so we didn’t think there was much to worry about.
Then, over the next two weeks, everything went from bad to worse, then deteriorated even further – before the whole world then tumbled over a cliff…
“Many long-distance sailors fear lightening more than they fear anything. Battling atrociously big seas and gale-force winds comes with the ticket, with storms an experienced mariner can ready their vessel and take precautions, experience will then generally see them through. That is the way it has always been. With lightening at sea or even in harbour, a sailor can do nothing. It is not unlike being shot at by a large cannon that could sink your vessel if hit, and many ocean sailboats are struck by lightening. A lightening storm is a truly frightening experience, because you cannot do anything to prevent it.”
Sir Francis Chichester, 1979 (edited)
We ourselves have come across many sailboats, a large number of them multi-hulled catamarans, that have been struck by lightening. A lightening storm at sea is a frightening experience, it has always been our own greatest fear.
Bahiá Del Sol, in El Salvador, suffers its fair share of ferocious tropical storms during its wet-summer season, further north in Mexico and Guatemala they generally manifest themselves as Pacific hurricanes. Even so, a tropical downpour in this rain-forest and mangrove wilderness is something you won’t forget.
At the back end of August both the Dutch catamaran SVMadeleine and Sänna were struck by lightening whilst moored in the Bahiá Del Sol. Madeleine was severely damaged, ourselves less so but damaged nevertheless. It later transpired that two other vessels had been struck during the same storm, including Doug & Sara on Illusion.
They say lightening never strikes twice, it’s the second time that Madeleine has been struck…
“We left Sänna in, of all places, El Salvador, which made one or two blink wide-eyed because of the high crime, the gangs and all that. It seems an okay place so far, there’s a small gathering of US and Canadian sailboats waiting out the hurricane season, they tell us there’s never any trouble…”
It’s a little late, but we’ve now gotten around to writing-up and updating our ‘Where Are We Now” part of our Sänna website. Lots of you have been asking. This describes our voyage south from Ensenada in a northern Mexico to Bahiá Del Sol in El Salvador back in 2018.
Much has happened in the last twelve months or so of this year. You know how it is, family, the lure of an English summer, music festivals, the cricket… so we decided to spend this last summer back in England.
La Paz is a nice place, there’s no doubting that, the harbour sits forty miles or so up on the east side of Mexico’s Baja Peninsular and is considered by most sailors to be the gateway to the fabled Sea of Cortez.
This eight hundred miles of smooth sea that’s landlocked on three sides had been the subject of much conversation between ourselves and American sailors ever since we’d sailed our way south from Alaska, eventually reaching the San Juan Islands to the north of Seattle’s Puget Sound in Washington State. In the truly sublime North American harbours of Port Townsend and Friday Harbor every sailor it seemed had spent some time or other in Mexico’s most well-known sailing destination.
As we then made our way south down the US Pacific west coast, their enthusiasm and perfunctory advice grew in intensity, we were not under any circumstances to miss out the Sea of Cortez…
Leaving Ensenada to make our way south provided a welcome relief from the trials and tribulations of bringing Nellie Cat from England to Mexico. Now we’d see how Nellie took to life on the big ocean which, let’s face it, would be a new experience for all three of us. Well, coming as a complete surprise our new ship’s cat was seasick. Neither Marie or myself had given any thought to the issue of cats being seasick, I think it’s fair to say we were as much stressed than we’d ever been since our time onboard Sänna… we were paranoid about losing our new ship’s cat overboard.
By the time Nellie herself overcame both her fear of the sea and her insufferable seasickness, we’d made the sixty-five miles south overnight to anchor in the tenuous shelter of Cabo Colonet…
I’ve made an adorable friend here in San Carlos, he’s a handsome Mexican cat who lives near the dustbin compound but he knows loads, he tells me I’m being robbed, that I should get myself a lawyer. I like him a lot, he tells me that one day he wants me to have his kittens, he’s all the time going on about that. My Mexican friend tells me lots of other things too… like, I should be paid the national minimum wage for the work I do because he thinks I’m being treated like a slave. Did you know there’s a minimum wage here in Mexico and it’s eighty-eight Pesos a day? I didn’t know that until my adorable Mexican friend told me. I didn’t even know there was such a thing as a national minimum wage or even what a national minimum wage was. And now I’ve found out that back there in England the national minimum wage for a cat is three pounds and seventy an hour. Do you believe that? Did you know that? Me, on this ship I don’t even get paid any minimum wage.
I don’t get paid nothin’, nothin’ at all, I have to work all day and every day just to get my terrible food…
This is what happened. Don’t let anyone else say different coz I was the one that fell into the sea.
It was that dog from the other boat, the boat that was tied right next to us. I got bored so I went down through their hatch, the one they’d left open, I wanted to take a look around but of course that stupid dog thing wasn’t around then was it. I found some food left out in a bowl on the floor so I ate it. It was there doing nothin’ so why let it go to waste?
Then I found were they kept that food so I opened the little door and got it out, I ate that food too but what’s wrong with that? I have to catch all my own food on my boat.
“Why bring a cat all the way from England,” the Mexican Customs & Immigration guy asked, “there’s already ten million cats in Mexico to choose from.” I explained that Mexican cats could only speak Mexican… which would be of no use to us at all because we only spoke English. He nodded and excepted my explanation before waving us away, worryingly unconcerned. Dave.
I can’t remember who made the original decision, I think it was me. It must have been me if I think about it now, because I suggested to both Marie and Henry that we should have a ship’s cat, one that was grey to match the colour decor of our boat. It was a joke of course, I never expected either of them to take it seriously… but you should never make jokes like that around a pair of dedicated cat lovers.
JAlmost immediately I was inundated with internet links to cuddly little grey kittens. Dozens of them from all around the UK, from Inverness in Scotland to someplace I’d never heard of way off in Cornwall. Before I could say ‘Yikes, here comes Officer Dibble’ both Marie and Henry singled out a really cute looking male down in Ramsgate, a harbour town on the south coast of England… a very nice little sea port but quite a long distance to travel. Henry argued that with Ramsgate being a harbour and close to the sea any cat from there would already have its sea legs, which was a vague argument in which I did see some logic. Marie disagreed entirely, but she just wanted to cuddle a little grey kitten sitting on her lap.
So off we travelled down to Ramsgate… just to take a look of course because I already knew this was a really stupid idea…