‘The Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea didn’t look much different to the Pacific, both oceans are a relentless mass of heaving water that has no emotional attachment or care for an insignifIcant sailing yacht, especially one trying to make its way fighting with the wind. In a strange way, now that we’d transited through the canal, we expected something different from the ocean – perhaps a more benevolent attitude or even a friendly gesture by allowing us an easy passage to Bocas Del Torro. No, what we got was a hard overnight slog, driven back by a fierce three-knot current flowing against nearly twenty-five knots of breeze – the kind of wind against current that mariners fear with good reason, one that creates a maelstrom sea deliberately thrown upon us to kick our backsides big time. ‘Welcome to the Atlantic,’ I thought to myself with grim foreboding…’
Dave – 2021
This blog describes both our transit of the Panama Canal and the trauma of returning to Sänna in Vista Mar after eighteen months of the covid pandemic. Our trials and tribulations were emotional and sometimes heartbreaking… though we somehow triumphed against the strangeness of the odds thrown against us…
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 mad. 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…
‘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.
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…
“Why bring a cat all the way from England,” the Mexican Immigration guy asked, “there’s already ten million cats in Mexico.” 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.
Neither of us can 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 theme 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 this around a pair of dedicated cat lovers.
Almost 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…