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?
‘Every now and then we run out of steam. At the beginning of 2019 we both needed a break, we had not spent a summer in England for over ten years, meaning that English summertime gradually began to appeal. It was the marvellous sport of cricket, the English style music festivals, beer not chilled, trekking the hills of Derbyshire, real cheddar cheese, good pork-pie and quality time with my grandkids. You know, all those things you think about when the adrenaline for long-distance sailing finally begins to wear thin.’
Dave – December 2019
A Year in El Salvador
We had crossed the sandbar into the Bahiá Del Sol, El Salvador in October 2018. We intended to stay only a few days for rest, then refuel to continue our voyage southwards towards Panama. Of course, it never worked out like that, but when do plans ever work out like you plan?
We have now updated the ‘Where Are We Now’ section of our Sänna website. Read more about Sänna’s passage south from El Salvador to Costa Rica during 2019, that took us through Guatemala, Honduras and wonderful Nicaragua… and our summertime return to glorious England.
“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.
“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…
Hello. I don’t know who you are but me, I’m called Nellie. That’s what they call me anyway. They used to call me Nelson but I went five times to see that funny lady wearing the white coat, now they all call me Nellie. I think I’m supposed to be the ship’s cat.
Well I don’t wanna be the ship’s cat. The ship’s too small and it stinks, it stinks all the time of them and sometimes I don’t even know what’s happening. The floor of this ship moves around too much and I slide around hitting things I’d really prefer to stay away from, like the table leg and other stupid things like that. Yesterday I tried to jump from the couch, then the ship moved the other way and I fell in a heap on the floor.
If you’re a cat and reading this then you seriously don’t want to be the ship’s cat. Let me tell you why you don’t want to be the ship’s cat…
“At some point we knew it would be time to leave Alaska. Leaving Hoonah would be hard, we’d made so many good friends here in this part of the world that’s refreshingly faraway from mainstream living. Alaska is exactly what we’d been searching for really but, like everything perfect, it couldn’t be forever. ” Dave
Alaska to Mexico 2017
Somewhat belatedly we’ve now written up a transcript of our long voyage from Alaska to Mexico from August to November last year. This forms part of our ‘Where Are We Now’ section of our website that details everything since we left the Mediterranean in 2006.
Mexico is a new experience for us. We’re back in a third world environment to some degree although many Mexicans will argue with that description of their country, but compared to mainland America that’s perhaps what it is. We had to give up our plans for the Northwest Passage route home because of problems with our Volvo Penta engine, so Mexico is our only option considering that we have to make for Panama and the Panama Canal.
Ahead of us await hurricanes, salsa and that curious phenomenon called Donald Trump’s wall… something that many Alaskans are massively in favour of even when considering there are exceptionally few Mexicans in Alaska…
If you are interested in reading our rather lengthy transcript then please click the following link.
“Whilst I kneeled behind Marie to listen in on the speaker a guy walked around the corner of the building then stopped suddenly when he saw me kneeling right behind Marie on her hands and knees. “Whoa,” he said, “I’m sorry to interrupt you, it’s a free world and you guys should do what you wanna do.” He sheepishly disappeared back around the corner embarrassed. Marie and I looked at each other quite shocked.” Dave.
The Harbour Police office had a notice posted saying that all transiting vessels must use the communication kiosk located at the outside corner of the building. The notice said this provided a link to the main police office downtown for processing incoming boat traffic and arranging for the requisite vessel inspection… except the kiosk didn’t do any of that. There was a keyboard on the kiosk but some of the keys didn’t work, so when dialling any of the four numbers given we then received a message on the screen saying we’d dialled an incorrect number. After fifteen minutes of trying our luck with the keyboard we somehow struck lucky and got the number right, a faint voice on the line then gave instructions that we could not quite make out because the voice seemed to be coming from somewhere around our feet…
“First off, a storm sized wave swamped our stern sending our bucket under the steering wheel which then jammed, that then tripped our autopilot which meant we broached beam-on to the next big green wave that nearly capsized us. All because we’d forgotten to tie down the bucket. Then the same thing happened again five minutes later because once more we didn’t tie down the bucket.” Marie
We knew we’d left things late but what could we do? Dave said everything would be fine but the engine setback in Port Townsend cost us time, precious time we couldn’t afford meaning that we’d have to make the eight hundred mile passage from Port Townsend to San Francisco towards the end of October. October is when the Pacific winter storms start to build and is why every sailor worth his salts on the American west coast who’s heading south reckons to be gone from Townsend by mid-September. October is way too late they say…