The weather that was coming was also going to mean that we had to keep going since the anchorages further south were either untenable in north winds or were protected but would not allow you to exit until winds and swells died down. A key choke point was to get through the Windward Passage, between Haiti and Cuba, before winds and seas built up there – the day after we passed through the Passage the forecast was for 35 knots sustained so we wanted to be further south by then.
Our trip south was most enjoyable. We did 958 miles in just under 7 days so we were not hurrying for sure. We were on a broad reach the entire way and used only the genoa for most of the trip. Morley, the Monitor vane steering was wonderful and conditions were quite enjoyable with winds usually around 20 knots true with no squalls to speak of. This was our longest passage so far with just two of us board and it proved to be not too stressful which bodes well for the future. We only had one mechanical problem. We had to replace the fuel filters since some crud had gotten lose in the tank and the filters (at least the primary) was getting nasty-looking (it has a clear bowl so you can see how you are doing. I decided to replace the secondary too as it was getting close to its 200 hours in any case. This is a pretty straightforward job, except that after the replacement I had a tiny leakage of air into the bottom of the Racor filter that I could not stop with any of the standard means. With a diesel fuel system there can be no air getting in so ended up having to goop over the bottom of the filter entirely. I think we will have to get a new Racor in Panama City in a month or so – this setup will work and I can replace the filter element as needed. Also, I will be draining whatever crud and water I can from the bottom of the fuel tanks. I am very pleased that our tanks have a drain even if one is very hard to reach.
We are now in the San Blas Islands (Kuna Yala to the local Indian tribe). They extend from about 40 miles east of the Panama Canal to the Colombian border. The islands themselves are quite tiny but often have extensive reefs and sandbanks around them. The mainland behind the islands is mountainous rainforest, with the Pacific really not that far away as the crow flies. The inhabited islands are often jammed with small houses. The Kuna people seem very nice but they are always looking for ways to make a buck from the cruisers here – ranging from selling fish and vegetables to ‘molas’ which are stitched embroidery panels usually with stylized birds and fish to unfortunately begging for whatever they can get.
There is even a tiny island which has a bar on it. They have a generator and a big satellite dish and were showing the Thanksgiving game between Dallas and New Orleans (in Spanish) in HD – says something about culture, technology, and globalization – I just have to figure out what it is. To add an environmental wrinkle, the island is at most one foot above sea level and is disappearing (global warming and erosion) – a big part of the island which was dry land last year is now a few inches under water at high tide. We were at the bar for a pot luck which included turkey, stuffing, and sweet potato pie – a southern US Thanksgiving south of 10N.
We will be in the San Blas until around December 15th before heading slowly toward the Caribbean end of the Panama Canal at Colon. These islands are a highly-regarded cruising ground and I will say more (and have pictures) later. We hope to post this at the bar mentioned previously (they have internet service but it is apparently quite slow.)
A final apology for not keeping the blog up – it was the result of moving faster than expected and not having internet access when we were stopped, for example in Florida we did not have internet in the harbour area.
BTW, we found out that Ainia, in the language of the Kuna Indians means “I am the Devil”. Long way from the Chinese meaning.