Sunday, July 17, 2011

Our Little home on Little Corn Island

Ok, sorry about the delay in posts, but we have had an eventful three months. First, we returned to Little Corn Island and closed on our beachfront property. Then it was time for the permits, which in Central America is like everything else we have done so far...convoluted. We had the property surveyed by a guy with no survey equipment or a tape measure for that matter (apparently this is not out of the ordinary) He basically walked along and said, “right here”, which was where the prior owner had established his property lines. The same person, for $120, started the application for our building permit. We gave him a set of plans, a materials list, estimated cost and a few other things and waited. Brady’s mom came for a visit and after a few weeks, we were told that we would be receiving our permit in the next week or so. We waited and my dad flew down to help with the construction. The next week passed, still with no permit. I stressed that we needed to sail south to avoid the hurricane season and that I would like to get materials and get started. I was told by the official building department representative that I could go ahead and get started since everything was fine and our permit would arrive soon. My pops and I wasted little time and we had our little beachfront cabana built in a few weeks. Brady made a trip over to the big island to check on our permit and found out the the representative had been fired for taking money and other misdeeds and our application had not even been filed...HMMM. No permit and house already built...I did not fret about it too much as this is Nicaragua. The lot is titled and registered on the main land with an official survey stating the dimensions and such. We had enjoyed several beach barbecues in our new fire pit and even camped out on the hard floor for a night...not the brightest idea. We put the finishing touches on the oiled exterior, painted the shutters and varnished the floor. I have already bought the kitchen and bathroom sinks as well as the toilet and only need to install the septic and plumbing on our next visit. Just as we were preparing for our sail to Bocas del Toro, I received a nice letter from the building department stating that I had built without a permit and needed to pay a $3300 fine...HMMM. I spoke with several other folks who have had similar permit problems who were fined $250. I guess it’s time to try to squeeze the gringo. Since the house only cost around 5K I don’t think I am going to pay. A Nica attorney should do the trick, so I am told. There are always trade offs in life right? Cheap beachfront land, perfect climate, awesome water, but a few hitches. We saw a lady arrive, get land, permits and start construction in two weeks...Of course she took the building department rep. to dinner several times. I am apparently not fully aware of the grease the palm trick, but am a fast learner. In a nutshell, Little Corn Island is a slice of heaven. We found a place that has no cars, motorcycles or roads. There are only walking trails that lead from place to place. One side of the island has most of the restaurants and bars and the other has the best beaches and the hotels, which are more like cabanas. The diving is world class and we snorkeled with hammerheads. We meet great people and have made many friends. The “panga” arrives twice daily with a fresh load of travelers from all over the world. The food is great and the local people friendly. We left our dinghy on the beach for hours everyday and in the water every night with no problems. For those of you who need an affordable, off the beaten path vacation...this is your place. We finally had to leave and made the sail to Bocas del Toro in 36 hours with our two Aussie friends aboard. We are officially out of the hurricane zone and are awaiting our next adventure, although I have to admit I didn’t want to leave what felt like our new home!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Providencia and Corn Island

We heard that Providencia was the laid back little sister of San Andres. After a 50 mile sail, we arrived into a very scenic anchorage that was the fortified site of many a pirates raid by Captain Morgan back in the day. There were fourteen sailboats in the anchorage and we were ready to explore! The town turned out to be about 2 square blocks and there was not much beach to speak of and what little there was had a few too many sand fleas for our taste. There was nice hiking for Brady and a great seafood lunch for me. We did manage two potlucks on the beach and met some wonderful cruisers. Snorkeling was so-so (we are getting a little picky). In our opinion, San Andres is the better option.

From here we left for the Corn Islands to meet up with Brady’s sister. It was downwind the entire 120 miles or so and Brady caught our first shark. We covered the distance in a bit over 24 hours and found ourselves in another picture perfect anchorage with no other boats. We thought that this was not a port of entry, but we had to clear in after the navy paid us a visit. Big Corn has an airstrip, cars, and not much else. We actually heard about this place several years before we left from a fireman who had honeymooned here. After picking up Brady’s sister Kara and her beau Ron (Thanks for coming guys, we had a wonderful time and in case I forgot to mention, thanks for the sunglasses...and Brady’s purse...and the kids stuff...and we miss you), we left for Little Corn in about 20 knots of wind. The swell was running large enough to make the trip a little interesting for our two new guests. This was before we were hit incredibly fast by a squall bring 35 knots of wind and rain. Ordinarily this is no big deal, but in this case we were only slightly offshore of the reef on Big Corn and we were quickly being pushed aground. Fortunately, we were able to tack away from danger with the help of both motors....we were in 12 feet of water. The squall disappeared as fast as it came and we were soon in the next perfect anchorage on Little Corn. This place is very unique from our perspective. The island is pretty small with no roads and motor vehicles of any kind are not allowed. This means that to get around you have to take one of many walking paths/hiking trails that run all over the island. There are two dive shops, a few stores and probably 40 gringos a day that come from Big Corn by panga. There are a handful of trendy cabanas for the tourists and an organic farm with tons of fresh produce. In our explorations we met 2 couples from Colorado who own property on the island and we have to take this moment to recommend Little Corn Beach and Bungalow. Scot and Christine (Hey guys!) from Fort Collins run this fantastic spot on the beach and would love your patronage, We also met, Nick (Canada) and Gusuma (Thailand) with whom we made immediate friends. Gusuma had us over for traditional thai food, which was excellent. Apparently we all made enough of an impression on each other to warrant becoming neighbors. Brady and I always said that we would keep our eyes open for property that we felt could be our home someday. This place is affordable, has a great climate, nice people, good beach and just feels right. Sooo...we are currently under contract for 1/4 acre of beachfront and hope to build a house for all to come and visit. In the meantime, we shall sail on and continue living the dream (while planning another home construction).

At risk of sounding like I have been at sea for a little too long and am a little dinghy (haha) I am pretty sure I saw an alien spacecraft. Brady is really laughing hard right now, but also has no rational explanation for what we both saw. OK seriously, while sailing towards San Andres again, at around 5 AM, I saw a bright orangish white light that at first seemed like a masthead light or a light from a container ship. After checking to make sure we were not going to hit anything, I realized that the light was a bit high in the sky and did not appear to be moving. No, it was not a star, but please laugh at the picture. It was about five times the size of the biggest star I have ever seen and was the brightest object in the sky. It dimmed periodically and then got bright enough to leave a reflection on the ocean surface. It was Brady’s turn to watch and the exchange went something like this. Troy (very tired):”Hey honey, keep this course, let me know if you need anything and keep an eye on that alien spacecraft.” Brady (while laughing):”WHAT the *&%$?” She made several attempts at an explanation, which I had already done while waiting to be abducted by aliens, before I went to bed. I am pretty logical but am going with UFO for lack of better evidence.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

San Andres, Colombia

We opted for a trip to Isla San Andres before we headed to the Corn Islands. San Andres is a Colombian territory along with Isla Providencia and several surrounding cays (read: land and coral in the middle of nowhere that will eat your boat if you don’t pay attention!) San Andres was a bit tough for us to get to because the winds from Bocas del Toro are predominantly north and that is the way we needed to go. Once again, our sailboat made the trip as mostly a motorsailer. The trip was 193 miles offshore from Panama and we made it in about 50 hours and sailed the last 10 with no motors. We were immediately shocked by the beauty of this place. The main town is sheltered behind a several mile long coral reef and the bottom is white sand. This gives the water that tropical turquoise look and feel that we have been searching for all our lives (or at least for the last year and a half). We have explored the entire island and found a rather unique place. There are lots of tourists here, but they are all from mainland Colombia and it has been described as the Hawaii of Colombia. It is very upper class, but the feel is still very local. There are a few high rise hotels and some all inclusive resorts. The people are Colombian, but with a Jamaican sort of flair and the people are a mix of Latin and caribbean islander. Spanish is the main language with a surprising number of locals who speak English as a first language. The town itself has an incredible number of supplies and services considering the distance from the mainland. You will find all manner of American brands and stores along with a fantastic white sand beaches and the clearest water we have seen. I can see the bottom in 50 feet. For you potential tourists, there is snorkeling, diving, glass bottom boats, swimming with the mantas, and weather to match. We have not had a drop of rain during the day and full sun with a trade wind to keep the temperature just right. We have broken the record for the cheapest meal out in a local restaurant of which there are plenty. The meal was rice, beans, salad, chicken and soup with a definite local flavor. We left with full bellies and a bill for $8.50. I have informed Brady that we can eat out for two meals a day for less than our grocery bill. I do think we would pack on a few pounds on this diet :) After a week of this torture in paradise, we decided to head for Providencia, 55 miles to the north. We left after dinner with the hopes of arriving the next morning and were 8 miles into a perfect sail when a 15 foot seam on the mainsail decided to let go (read: the sail ripped in half). I did not want to motor the whole way, so I guess it was back to paradise. The next morning, I inquired about a local upholstery shop to help us out and was quickly distracted by an American boat needing help with getting their boat into the dock in 20 knots of wind. When we were finished, I was met by a local who was here to fix our sail. I was totally taken by surprise that not only did the (very local) marina know someone who could help, but they called and he came right away. I removed the sail and sent it off with Miguel, who fixed it the same day and for only $100. This place has met our definition of the perfect place: Super nice people, Beautiful scenery, Great climate, and Cheap cost of living. If there were a downside, it would be lots of traffic (cars, motorcycles, and golf carts) although it is still nothing like the U.S. (there are still no stoplights!). There is an international airport and I think this place will continue to grow as more people discover it. Troy

Saturday, January 15, 2011


Bocas del Toro is an absolute breath of fresh air. We had to fight a headwind and an incredible current to get here, but we are here at last. It is 133 miles from Colon to Bocas and it took us 72 hours to make the trip with good wind! We moved at a snails pace since we had to tack against the wind and fight the current the whole way. We did stop at an island called Escuda de Veraguas for some rest after the first 48 hours, but got wind and waves directly into the anchorage and did not sleep much. We caught our first Atlantic fish (36” wahoo) and had Brady’s house special sushi the first night and fish tacos the next. We entered Bocas del toro (on one engine again...tracked it down to a broken clamp on a fuel line later after changing both filters and spending 3 hours bleeding the fuel system-probably could have used some stitches on a cut finger too). The first thing we noticed was that everything is on the water-literally. Bocas del Toro is situated on an island and has hotels, restaurants, bars, stores and houses built on pilings or stilts on three sides. All of these places have docks that are available to customers and basically it is a boaters paradise. There are surf and dive shops (both with excursions), resorts, hostels and even a firehouse with a dock on the waterfront. The town itself is about 8 blocks long and three blocks wide with an airstrip and ferry service to the mainland. We hope that any of you adventurous souls will put this on your list of places to see. The prices run the gamut from U.S. pricing at the nicest places to the local places where beer is still a buck and we can feed the family for $15. We have visited the Zapatilla cays (snorkeling photos attached), Starfish beach, and several other locales. We entered the boat in a lighted boat parade and won some really cool stuff and are soaking it up until we head for the Corn islands in the next few weeks. Ta ta,
El Capitan

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Crossing to the Caribbean

Since we last wrote, my sister Stacy has come and gone after being indoctrinated into our way of life in a big way. When she arrived, the weather had not been perfect for several days and the wind was blowing at 25-28 knots. We had plans to go to the Perlas Islands and she opted to just get it out of the way. The seas were 8 feet in spots, but we averaged 7.5 knots and made the trip in five hours. Sloppy for sure, but wow was it fast! When we arrived, I managed to run over one of our fishing lines and fouled our starboard propeller. With one engine, we were unable to cross a patch of water with a lot of cross current and after re-hoisting the sails had to sail into the anchorage. I spent an hour under the boat cutting away the lines and then we were off to explore the rest of the Perlas in the coming days. All was well until the last three days of her trip when we lost a belt on the starboard engine. I had used our last spare on the port engine before we left, but all is well on a catamaran with two engines right? The new belt on the port engine gave out two hours later and we were left with sails alone. Fortunately, the wind held out and we sailed into the anchorage on Isla del Rey. We sailed to our last stop and then decided to leave with the wind back to Panama City. I had an improper sized belt from another boat on one engine just in case. 15 hours later, after two rain squalls, reefing (reducing) the sails twice, and tacking (changing direction) six times, we arrived back in the anchorage to drop off my sister and troubleshoot my latest engine problem. With everything fixed, and all things considered , the decision was made to cross the Canal into the Caribbean.
It has been a bit of an inauspicious start to our little change of plans. On the day of our scheduled crossing, we had three guests onboard to line handle and picked up two canal advisors at 0545. We were on our way until, for the first time in 20 years, the Panama Canal was closed to ALL traffic for bad weather considerations. It had been raining for several days and all of the spillways were at full open. Debris was littering Gatun Lake and it was determined that navigation would be hazardous. We were placed on the schedule again three days later. Brady went back to the store for fresh food and we hoped this would be the end of it. I called the scheduler to confirm our time and found that we were delayed again for one day. The day finally came and we up-locked into Gatun Lake without incident. We spent the night on the lake with all guests aboard and down-locked the following afternoon in lots of rain. We were finally into El Caribe!...and were met by 30 knots of wind and terrible conditions (inside the breakwater!). The anchorage in front of Club Nautico is large enough for 4-5 boats and we were the 10th to arrive. Not ideal, but the anchor was down and it was time for much needed sleep. This could be the end of our little story, but OH NO. The next night in 30 knots of wind and 3 foot waves entering the anchorage, our anchor slipped for the first time. We were both asleep and if not for hitting the cruise ship channel marker, would have drifted on past leaving about 100 yards for the anchor to re-catch...or not before hitting a container ship or the rocks. We almost needed to rename the boat Ran-aground-parents. The marker did not damage the boat and we were able to motor our anchor free (it did get caught briefly on the buoy). We re-anchored and you can imagine how well I slept for the rest of the night. We had intended to wait for our friend to cross the Canal a few days later, but could not take Colon (pronounce it without the spanish accent and you may BEGIN to get a feel for how nice this place is). Most of the town was built during the canal construction around the early 1900’s and it looks like not much has been touched since. The town looks like the most dangerous place I have been ever. Everyone we have spoken with advised us to take a cab EVERYWHERE or risk being robbed. So, despite visits from cruise ships (?????) you can all safely remove Colon from your list of must see places. We are off to Bocas del Toro for X-mas and I hope to keep the blog updates coming with lots of new stuff. Ta-Ta for now,
El Capitan

Friday, November 26, 2010


Since last we wrote we have changed our plans and are now going through the canal. This winter will be spent cruising the beautiful San Blas islands. Every cruiser we have spoken to has said that the San Blas islands are one of their favorite places in the world, which leaves us with great anticipation for our next season of travel. We are planning on crossing the canal in 1-2 weeks and should have plenty of details to start blogging again (hopefully nothing too dramatic). We are getting excited to start moving and seeing something besides Panama City's skyline, not that it isn't wonderful. We have really enjoyed Panama City and have met some amazing people, but are overdue on a departure. For all those who have dreams of traveling the caribbean by sail boat, you are always welcome to meet up with us. We love having visitors. Wish us luck on going through the canal. Brady

Monday, November 1, 2010


I know it has been a long time since our last entry, but I have excuses, really. OK, not really. The truth is that Panama is not a very big country and we have already seen the majority of what it has to offer us on the pacific side. My sister, Stacy, is coming for a visit on the 3rd of November (WOO HOO!) and we are seriously getting the itch to move on. The reason for the layover is that we can only visit parts of Colombia, which will not take long, and Ecuador does not have much to offer either. From there, crossing the Pacific should happen around February. This is when all of the Pacific Puddle Jumpers set sail from Mexico, Panama and Ecuador for the islands of the south pacific. The cyclone season in that region is from October to March and you shouldn’t arrive too soon before March unless you like hurricanes...Since we last posted, there have been a plethora of mechanical problems and I am learning to fix most of them myself. A brief re-cap: replaced headsail bearing, rebuilt fresh water pump (port side), replaced upper sail-drive shaft bearing (starboard), portable generator fell into the ocean, while running (still working on that one), replaced faulty wiring on bilge pump (port), repaired hole in fresh water line, re-plumbed refrigerator cooling line from salt to fresh water. So you can see that I have at least been busy.
Fortunately, Panama is a good place to find supplies. Brady has been back to the U.S. to visit her mom, we have re-visited the Perlas Islands (three times), and will probably head back again with my sister. Hopefully, we have come to the end of our boat project list (wishful thinking) and will be heading south before too long. Meantime, we are exploring the city one little bit at a time. Apparently, Panama has a family day at track. Wouldn’t want to wait too long to expose the children to the wonders of gambling at the track, so of course, we went. The kids enjoyed seeing all the horses and Dad gave a good lesson on why you shouldn’t bet the horses by losing every time I did. Finally, Halloween was an altogether different experience. One pirate captain, one pixie princess, two fairies, and mother nature set off in a dinghy to trick-or-treat through the anchorage. Surprisingly, they got a pretty good haul before hitting the shore. From there it was off to our friends neighborhood for some real candy action. About one in 10 houses was decorated to the nines and that is the candy signal here in Panama. We walked around for about an hour and saw four other kids motivated enough to trick-or-treat. The rest just followed behind us asking for our candy...The concept hasn’t quite caught on fully, but it was a great time. The final stop was the Multiplaza mall, but it was near closing and most of the stores were out of candy. One McDonald’s dinner for the me and the kiddos and another Halloween is over. Until next time...Ciao! Troy