Our Front Yard in San Blas

Catching Up in San Blas

It’s been a whirlwind around here.  There was so much to do to get the boat set up to host, so many recipes to nail down, so much gear to square away.  Just so much.  That’s not even counting the endless hours spent online tweaking the website and the various other channels.   But it happened – we got a last-minute charter request and so we were off to the races.

Catching Up in San Blas

Our first bit of time back in San Blas was spent catching back up.  We have friends in various places, we need to get reacquainted with our launcha contacts, we need to get reacquainted with the drivers from Panama City, and I needed to get reacquainted with all the fish and where they’re hanging nowadays.

First up we finally caught up with the girls from One World, and that was cool. They were keen to check out a dolphin that had washed up ashore in the Coco Banderos – so we sailed there.  Thus ensued the dolphin excavation, which I watched at a safe distance with a cold drink in hand.

The Great Dolphin Excavation in San Blas

The Great Dolphin Excavation in San Blas

Then we sailed back to the Swimming Pool to hang out with friends and do some diving.  I grabbed a few fish for our friends and for the smoker.  We did a dinner one night with our friends on Runner (thanks Deb and Reg!) and then we were invited (again) to another dinner in exchange for more of our smoked fish – but we had to decline as we got a last-minute charter request.

Dog Snapper Spearfishing in San Blas

Dog Snapper Spearfishing in San Blas

Black Grouper Spearfishing in San Blas

Black Grouper Spearfishing in San Blas

That request was welcome, but we weren’t expecting it on such short notice so it sent us into overdrive.  There were so many small things that had to be done.  So many.  And then there was provisioning.  And logistics.  To top it all off we were having trouble with the Interwebs, so we worked another day in the Swimming Pool and then pulled anchor and moved off to Kuanidup (Los Grullos on the charts) and then dropped the hook there where it was back to scrubbing and organizing and prepping.  We spent a couple of rolly nights there and then, suddenly, our guests were onboard.

It was a really fun couple from Canada, and we couldn’t have been luckier.  That’s the thing about chartering – it’s a bit of a lottery on both sides:  for the customer you’re never really sure about the captain, for the captain you’re never really sure about the customer.  No worries, but it’s a thing – which is where me having an online presence probably helps the customer.

This couple owned two boats in Canada and he was into freediving, spearfishing and line fishing.  So there was a good deal of understanding and there was plenty to talk about.  This was their second catamaran charter here in San Blas and it was the first place in all their travels they came back to, which speaks to the beauty of San Blas.  One of the first things they told us was the difference in experiences between our charter and the other boat – in food quality, personal attention, and level of activities.  In addition we were cheaper.  We take great pride in offering value, great food, and an unforgettable experience, so it was nice to hear them tell us over and over :)

Trolling and Offshore Fishing in San Blas

Trolling and Offshore Fishing in San Blas

After we had our guests onboard they went ashore and had a drink with some other visitors – enjoying the turquoise water and white sand beaches while  I smoked a chicken onboard.  Yes, we smoke food onboard.  I have a smoker onboard. And it makes all the difference in the world.  We ate a great lunch and then we were off, dragging a spread behind the boat and heading North to the outlying islands in search of clear water, easy snorkeling, and hopefully some big fish.  We found all of that.   But before we even got to that good stuff – we rolled a TON of fresh sushi and gorged ourselves on the freshest of the fresh sushi.

Fresh Sushi on NOMAD in San Blas

Fresh Sushi on NOMAD in San Blas

Now, there is no way I’m giving away spots or even areas – but let me say this.  On our first dive the following day we found amazing coral, a beautiful ledge, and saw large Black Grouper and Cubera Snapper. OUR FIRST DIVE.   I stuck a fish for ceviche and then we went back to the boat to prepare the ceviche and eat lunch.  After lunch we headed to a nearby island where I know the local Kunas – there we looked at the molas and jewelry and picked up a few lobster for dinner.

Another Beautiful Sunset on NOMAD in San Blas

Another Beautiful Sunset on NOMAD in San Blas

Then we were off again – sailing to yet another uninhabited island chain. I’d been watching the weather, so I knew we were in for a Southern wind (which is opposite of what prevails) and with this knowledge we anchored in my new favorite anchorage.  This place will remain a secret.  I can describe it though – it’s white sand beaches lined with palm trees :)  Of the three islands near this anchorage, two are completely uninhabited and the other is inhabited by one of our Kuna friends.   On one of these islands I dropped Marissa and our guests off and they had a beach fire and had a very interesting conversation with our Kuna friend on the history of their culture and the way it’s changing.  While they were having this conversation, I smoked a rack of ribs.

Kuna Storytime in San Blas

Kuna Storytime in San Blas

Guests and Kuna friends in San Blas

Guests and Kuna friends in San Blas

Yep, we smoke ribs for our charters.  Damo – if you read this, I know you’re freaking out – the smoker is the bee’s knees.  Jaco if you read this, thanks for the inspiration!

Our guests and Marissa came back for a rack of smoked ribs and we gorged ourselves and then retired – we had a full day of beach and diving the next day.

We woke up in the morning and decided we liked this anchorage too much to leave.  There were huge fingers of reef that ran from 5M to 25M in depth, walls, shallow coral, and (as we found) the best fish were right under the boat.  There were white sand beaches.  And there was 360 degrees of protection.  But what really tipped the scales – was that there was a huge Cubera Snapper living right under the catamaran.  We could see him clearly on the bottom in 15M of water, he would come up in the water column and check out the boat and then drop back to the bottom.

Freediving under the catamaran in San Blas

Freediving under the catamaran in San Blas

First thing in the morning I worked with Jon (our guest) on his freediving and breathold.  I took him through his first contraction on the bottom and we worked through lowering heartrate and then technique underwater.  Then we went and dove the reef fingers outside of the anchorage and practiced what we’d just learned, and then we added some spearfishing technique to the mix.  Of course, when we returned the Cubera Snapper was back under the boat.

We saw the fish for the rest of that day and the next morning, as he really was an excellent fish.  Jon – our guest, took two shots at him over this time period – but this was a wary fish in clear water.  And he was a big fish hanging at the bottom in 15M of water – meaning a good shot was a necessity.  I decided not to shoot the fish – but I know where he lives and one of our charter guests will get another shot at him.  Because Jon had his spearfishing in the morning while Marie (Jon’s g/f) spent the morning relaxing and playing games with Marissa – Jon owed Marie the afternoon, and they spent this exploring the other islands in our anchorage.

Private Island for our guests in San Blas

Private Island for our guests in San Blas

That night our guests cooked for us – a hot pan-fried fish fillet laid over a bed of rice covered in a mango chutney.  Very, very tasty.  And then we had a glass of wine, told some fish lies, and learned a little more about each other.

The next morning was our guest’s last – but they elected to have the 13:00 launcha pick them up rather than the 08:30 launcha pick them up so we had plenty of time for morning fun.  We hung out and relaxed and talked over some fresh-ground coffee.  Then about 10:30 Jon and I went for our last dive – our Cubera friend had been sighted that morning but failed to give us another shot at him.  But after the dive, when we were coming back to the boat, I saw a Mutton Snapper under the boat.  It was 15M or so in depth and they usually run – but I dove on him and (because he was harassing an octopus) he turned around and swam within range.  I took a good holding shot and stuck him, but in the ensuing chaos he pulled himself free.

Success! Mutton Snapper Spearfishing in San Blas

Success! Mutton Snapper Spearfishing in San Blas

Mutton Snapper Spearfishing in San Blas

Mutton Snapper Spearfishing in San Blas

Jon saw this from the surface and was convinced the Mutton Snapper was still in the area – so we took turns diving and looking for it over the next half hour, our freediving practice earlier being key.  Eventually I saw Jon line up and take a shot and then we had it – the world’s toughest Mutton Snapper was on the boat.  Right at the buzzer.  While Jon and Marie got their things together, we prepared lunch and cleaned the fish – then we ate and then the launcha was here.  They were sad to leave and we were sad to see them go.

Picture Perfect Sunset on NOMAD in San Blas

Picture Perfect Sunset on NOMAD in San Blas

It’s great when clients turn into friends. The last thing they told us is that they were coming back, with friends :)

 

 

 

Charter NOMAD

NOMAD is up for Charter

It’s finally happening.  We (Marissa and I) are offering customizable and fully crewed charters onboard NOMAD.  For the time being we’ll be in San Blas (Kuna/Guna Yala), Panama.  There may be some other locations in our future (think Cuba) – but for now we’re happy to have the white sand beaches, the palm trees, the turquoise water, and the amazing reefs of San Blas.

To catch you up – I took a break from the boat about six months ago, starting in Africa and ending up in Colombia (with a few stops in other countries).  At the end of all of that I decided it was time to put some money back in the cruising kitty – so here we are.

As far as charters go, we’re on a great platform (the Lagoon 380) for it.  And NOMAD is a very well-equipped example of the world’s best selling catamaran.  We have two queen berths and a full berth (meaning we can offer charters for groups up to 6).  Two heads, one with a walk-in shower, and a third shower on the back deck.  We have a ton of solar – so we don’t ruin the peace of San Blas with a generator.  We have a huge fridge and a large separate freezer, meaning we can keep hard-to-find foods and drinks cool.  We have all the toys – from underwater lights to heavy-duty fishing tackle to our two-person fishing kayak to our aluminum RIB w/Yahama 15hp outboard.  Even a couple of surfboards.

Most importantly, I know these islands, the people, the Kuna.  So whatever it is you want to do – I can get you to the right spot for it.  We’re specializing in three areas – freediving and spearfishing, offshore fishing, and exploring the remote parts of San Blas.  We’re especially capable in those departments – and if you’ve been following my progress for any length of time, you probably need little convincing.

Getting here is simple – fly into Panama City and let me know when you’re coming in.   We have all of the contacts to get you out to the boat quickly and efficiently.  Note – we are happy to make the arrangements, but we don’t cover the cost of getting you to the boat in our prices.  How it works is:  you fly into Panama City and usually spend one night, then the next morning a 4×4 picks you up and takes you to San Blas (2.5 hours, a fun drive) and transfers you to a water taxi which drops you off right onboard NOMAD (.5-1 hour).  Usually you’re onboard before noon of the same day.  Easy, right?

At that point we sail you to a beautiful anchorage and drop the hook – and you’re off on a vacation you won’t forget!

To charter NOMAD we need at least two people and our rates start at $225/person/day.   That includes everything onboard – lodging, 3 large and healthy meals per day (plus snacks), drinks, and a moderate amount of alcohol (including a welcome drink).  We’ll even help take pictures and video for you and give you a USB with all of your pictures and video, to take back home and show off.

Oh – and if you’re on my mailing list, you get a discount just for being awesome.

So, what are you waiting for?  Come visit us!

 

The Swimming Pool in San Blas

The Swimming Pool

So we left Green Island with a German hippy onboard (Lisa).  Hippies are always good for a case-study, mostly because I can’t quite grasp the mentality – but I do try.  And the sailing thing is pretty close to hippiedom.  And there are many a sailing hippy.

The good news is our German hippy knew how to cook and clean, and she’d been working on boats for the last few months – which took some of the burden off of me. Luke’s idea of food continues to be popcorn, cookies, and sometimes he splurges and cooks rice.  Though he has taken to baking quite nicely – fresh bread and pizza is a real luxury out here.  In fact, he’s done so damn well at bread and is so fond of pasta – we began calling him Luigi.  The name stuck.

There was no wind for our trip to the Swimming Pool.  So we motored for a couple hours.  I didn’t mind though, because the lack of wind meant we could get to the outside reef and get into the best spearfishing San Blas has to offer.  When we arrived there were no less than 15 yachts anchored there.  We dropped anchor, setup our trampoline-tent-thing, and Luke and I decided to dive.  The diving was phenomenal. We saw nice Dog Snapper, Permit, Cobia (Ling), and Horse Eye Jacks.  Naturally, most of the fish were skittish.  I pulled out every trick in the book – but they insisted on staying just out of range, and just within eyesight.  Though staying within eyesight wasn’t all that impressive as the visibility was probably 100 feet.

Shortly after getting in, I shot a nice Dog Snapper and stuffed it in my wetsuit for safe-keeping.  To date, stuffing them in my wetsuit or keeping them on the shooting line of the speargun has been a solid technique – but I’ve been spoiled.  I’ve been spoiled because there aren’t many sharks where we’ve been diving in San Blas.  Of course, this time there were sharks.  A larger-than-average Bull Shark was the first to show interest, following me around and making a fairly consistent effort to get behind me.  Nothing too worrying, but enough to make me lose the Dog Snapper while I was spinning around trying to keep the man in the grey suit in sight.

I’m pretty sure said shark ended up with said Dog Snapper, as I noticed it missing but wasn’t able to find it. Meh.  I wasn’t going to lose any sleep over that.

The taxman left, I kept diving.  Next up was a bunch of hole-hunting to replace the lost Dog Snapper.  Then came the Horse Eye Jacks.  A fairly large school.  I stuck one of those, and he promptly went apeshit.  Which promptly brought in the sharks again.

This time a Grey Reef Shark, which are arguable as dangerous as the Bull Shark.  This one was much more brave/curious than the preceding Bull Shark, and certainly wasn’t intimidated by me swimming at him.  At this point the sharks were telling me I needed to drop fish off in the dinghy rather than swim around with them.  I took the hint: I dropped the fish in the dinghy.  Then I saw an Ocean Triggerfish, and wanting to have enough fish to trade – I shot him.  The damn Grey Reef Shark started harassing me again.  We had enough fish to feed our crew for a couple of days, and with the constant harassment by the sharks – I called the dive and we went back to the mothership.

Cleaning fish in the Swimming Pool

Cleaning fish in the Swimming Pool

After cleaning the fish I found we had more fish than I originally thought. The good news is that we had plenty of Americans in the anchorage – meaning that I could offload some fish and have an excuse to go freediving and spearfishing the following day.  I cleaned the fish, bagged it, and took it to our closest neighbor (the yacht Away) who was ecstatic.  They asked if we needed anything.  We were in a desperate way for pancake syrup.  They had a ton of pancake syrup. Excellent trade.  I can’t tell you how happy that made my crew – after a few days of non-pancake mornings, stuff gets weird on S/V NOMAD.

The next three days were very similar.  We spent the days cooking, relaxing, diving, swimming, and did one day of full day-drinking – using the kayak as a floating bar and the surfboards and lifevests as floating seats.  Fun.  I missed taking a picture of our kayak the next morning – clear evidence of the previous day’s nonsense.  Those kinds of pictures explain things much better than I can with words – the whole “picture worth a thousand words” cliche comes to mind.  This one will have to do – note the shadows on the sand under Luke and Lisa.  Awesome.

Day drinking in paradise

Day drinking in paradise

Our last day of light-wind we went for another freediving and spearfishing adventure outside the reef.  Lisa chilled out onboard and made some coconut jewelry stuff. I was honestly impressed by her work.

Luke and I hunted together almost the whole time.  We tried a couple of different spots, saw some decent fish, but were having trouble putting big fish in the boat – they were actively avoiding us.  I was checking holes and caves right beside Luke when I heard him shoot.  Then he yelled at me, then I saw what he shot.  He made a pretty epic shot on a large Dog Snapper – putting the shaft through the front of the fish, right between the eyes, and going back through it’s tail.  That is a perfect shot – the fish is dispatched immediately, and with both it’s tail and head on the spear it is completely immobilized. Awesome.  I was really stoked for Luke, but we were back to a very common conundrum:  what do we do with all this fish?

Snapper in the Swimming Pool

Snapper in the Swimming Pool

Europeans, Stories, and Scotch

It was early, so we went back to the mothership and tried to trade fish for beer in the anchorage via VHF.  We haven’t managed this yet, but we did meet our new neighbors – all young European guys, on a 32 foot monohull.  They were having trouble finding fish, so we gave them some.  That went over very well.

The following day they came to spearfish with us, but at this point the wind and swell had picked up so much that we couldn’t get outside the reef.  So we anchored the dinghy inside and kicked against the current for awhile to get outside and find fish.  After a couple of hours of kicking against the current, I was far enough outside the reef that I was seeing fish.  Including another very large Cubera Snapper.  He wasn’t fond of me, and quickly took his leave. I trailed him until I saw him duck into a hole, but when I dove down I quickly saw what I expected:  his hole was, in fact, a huge maze of large caves with more entrances and exits than I’d ever be able to cover. So he was gone.  This kind of thing is pretty predictable, but one of these days a big Cubera will make a mistake and he’ll be dinner for an anchorage.

That evening our European neighbors cooked us a lobster pasta, brought some excellent single-malt Scotch, and some nice cigars over.  We ate and drank like Kings (again).  Then we started into storytime.  One of these gents told us about his time in Cartagena, including his escapades with a local pirate and the pirate’s girlfriend.  It’s tough to put into words how hard we laughed.  And, well, the story probably isn’t fit for public consumption.

That night we retired pretty late, but managed to con our European neighbors into giving us a couple of pounds of flour, if we agreed to make fresh bread and French Toast for the following morning.  That’s a real treat out here, and so the exchange was fair.

Our breakfast was delayed, and I reckon we’d be correct in blaming the empty bottle of 15 year The Glenlivet.  But eventually we baked bread and then cooked French Toast.  The guys came over, ate, then left the anchorage, but we spent the next day recovering, cooking, relaxing.  But, all good things come to an end. The end of our Swimming Pool vacation was directly correlated with an increase in wind.

The Wind is Back

When the wind picked up we decided to leave what is now my favorite anchorage in San Blas – the Swimming Pool.  There’s something about a place that has crystal clear water, white sand beaches lined with palm trees, and good spearfishing.

Next stop:  West Hollandes. We knew a couple of the local Kunas on the islands there – one is a master Mola maker, Prado.  Prado has a thing for young gringos with long hair, but he’s harmless.  The other Kuna bossman in the area is Julio. Older and pretty straight-edge, not allowing them to sell beer on the island.

So early in the afternoon, we picked up our anchor and motored out of the Swimming Pool toward the West Hollandes.  We raised the main and put out the Genoa, but with a bad wind angle I decided to motor rather than tack all across San Blas.  It’s a good practice to run the engines every so often as well.  So we motored, again, despite the fact that we all really wanted to sail.

Watermaker Hell (and Freediving)

Watermaker Hell (and Freediving)

Three days.  That’s how long I’ve been working on this damn watermaker.  And it’s still not done.  I do (finally) have everything semi-working, but it’s not putting out enough freshwater to sustain Luke and I.  So, today I’m back at it.  It won’t be fully complete until I can make a run to Panama City and get parts.  Right now it’s pretty tough to get the parts I need, being anchored behind a remote island in a remote part of Panama.

The Generator

They say that the two things most prone to breaking while cruising are a) the watermaker and b) the generator.  That has proven true for me.  My diesel generator is super-handy, when it’s working.  But it’s a super-PITA when it’s not working correctly, which is fairly often.  It’s a simple thing, a single-cylinder diesel, with very few moving parts and only 500 (ish) hours on it.  Ferryman produced it originally, and then several other companies “marinized” them.  Mine is an Entech West version.  I will say that all of the problems I’ve had with it are fairly straightforward – overheating (clogged heat-exchanger tubes), overheating (loss of coolant), and fuel (bad fuel in a dirty tank).  Those things just happen.  So it’s not a flaw of design, it’s just another system to maintain.  But to me, it’s a worthwhile system to maintain.  For running power-tools, charging batteries, etc – it beats the heck out of having to run an engine.  I want engine hours to be moving S/V NOMAD somewhere.

Luke actually did a fair amount of the fixing of the generator, I had my head buried in the watermaker.  The (original) issue with the generator was a clogged fuel filter (I believe).  But the “mechanic” who did some work several months ago had overtightened the fuel filter to a ridiculous level.  We had to remove the fuel filter housing, put it in a vise, and actually ended up completely trashing my fuel filter and bending my filter wrench.  Another example of a simple task turned weird on a boat.

Of course, once we got the fuel filter changed and re-installed, I had to bleed the lines.  Then we tried to start it, and it finally did start.  But then I noticed another problem – the exhaust hose was spouting seawater.  So I killed the generator, cracked a beer, and called it a night – it was after 7PM and completely dark.  The fix was simple, and the next day I told Luke what to do and he did it, without issue.  We now have a working generator.  For at least a little while.

Watermaker Hell

So I’m changing my defunct Spectra Catalina 300 into a Spectra Cape Horn Extreme.  The major difference between the two is that the Catalina is mostly electronic and the Cape Horn is mostly mechanical.  In addition the Spectra Catalina uses a single vane pump, while the Cape Horn uses two diaphragm pumps.  Two things prompted this change – my Catalina wasn’t electronic anymore anyways, and the Catalina vane pump was in bad shape.  The repair/spare parts bill for the Spectra Catalina vane pump topped $1900, before shipping.  Insane.

So, rather than continue to shell out big-bucks for an overcomplicated, underperforming system I opted to reconfigure one to the other.  This would make more sense if I was a watermaker guru.  But I’m learning.  The hard way.

Long story a little shorter – I spent three full days bleeding, sweating, cursing, and fighting with my watermaker.  And it’s still not right.  But it’s closer. More importantly, I understand it now.  What seemed like Black Magic is now a fairly straightforward system, almost entirely mechanically controlled and almost totally overhauled. As usual though, I relied on the help of a couple of friends around here to help me understand the system and it’s requirements – here’s a public thank you to Mike and Sheila.  You are both awesome and helped me immensely – I’d be up a creek without your expertise and problem-solving.

I’m sure you’re wondering why I have a watermaker if it’s such a PITA.  Plenty of cruisers survive without them.  Well, in short, because I need it.  For many people it’s a creature-comfort, for me it’s a necessity.  S/V NOMAD was ordered from the factory with only 75 gallons of water storage onboard (the other side of the hull being a generator).  That effectively means that if I don’t have a watermaker, I spend an inordinate amount of time sailing around trying to find water.  I hate that, when I drop my anchor – the only reason I want to leave is because I’m tired of diving a certain spot.  So, I need a watermaker.

The first problem I had with my watermaker redesign was a that the pumps were shipped without the fitting that connects them to the necessary hoses. The second problem is that they originally installed my watermaker with two different inner diameter (ID) hoses (meaning I needed two different ID fittings) which I was unaware of, because they are remarkably close in outer diameter (OD) size. The third problem was that the ShurFlo fittings I ordered leak horrifically.  The last problem has to do with placement of the pumps, air bubbles in the fittings, clogged (and unnecessary) filters, leaking high-pressure fittings, and a leaky sea-strainer.

First I had air-bubbles in the lines.  Then I couldn’t get enough pressure to my Clark Pump.  Then I realize they’d installed the wrong filters in the wrong order (and too many). Then I realized that my fittings were restricting water flow.  Then I realized that my high-pressure fittings were leaking on the membrane and clark pump.  I tried to fix all of those problems, but it took an immense amount of troubleshooting, time, and talking through problems. Some parts were supplied by Mike, some by Sheila, and most brought in by Luke. An immense amount of helpful knowledge was shared by both Mike and Sheila, in the typical cruiser fashion – kindly, slowly, and without an expectation of anything in return (besides helping out when/if I can).  So cool.

As it sats this morning we were making a little bit of water – but it’s wasn’t enough, and we believe that the shortage has to do with a) a leaky sea-strainer b) leaky high-pressure fittings, c) not enough voltage getting to the pumps.  I’m was going to attempt to fix all of that tomorrow, but I decided to take a shot at rebuilding the Clark Pump, since I have it out anyways.  All of this, of course, was compounded by me breaking a filter wrench and other unforeseeable bullshit – partly self-induced. Today I took apart the entire Clark pump, replaced some leaky high-pressure fittings, etc.  Naturally it took all day, and by the end of the day when I went to try it out – it wasn’t working correctly.   Rather than fighting it tired and frustrated, I opted to take a beer break and write this post.  Then I’ll cook dinner and take a whack at it fresh in the morning.

When (or if?) I get it working correctly I’ll post some pictures of the setup and outline what I did to make it work. Of course, the way to avoid much of this is to simply NEVER buy a watermaker that is electronically controlled.  Those parts break, short, have CPU failures, get struck by lightning (it happened to me), etc.  And when all that happens, you end up trying to simplify your system – when you could have saved $3,000 and bought a simpler (and more robust) system from the get-go.  Really, sometimes I believe the choice in equipment onboard (which I inherited) was made by someone with an IQ in the mid-teens.

Still Diving

Watermaker Hell (and Freediving)

Finally! Some spearfishing photos

The first day in Watermaker Hell (the second day I was working on the watermaker, though) was spent with the entire day (from dawn to after dusk) working on the watermaker.  The second day in Watermaker Hell I managed to solve some problems and produce a few gallons of water.  Then we decided to tackle some other projects in the afternoon/evening.  Then we went diving right before sunset as a reward for being awesome.

We took a looong dinghy ride to an outer island and then dove an outer reef of that island.  Both Luke and I were pretty happy with the way we dove – I was pushing 1:30 with a depth in the 50-60 foot range pretty consistently.  We’re a long way from where we want to be, but we’re diving fairly and making a bit of progress.  More practice and we’ll be even better.

While freediving at this spot was really great, spearfishing here was meh.  That said we did kill several Lionfish, one of which was the biggest I’ve ever seen.  I also managed a long shot on a small Cero Mackerel, which makes a guy feel good about his accuracy (since said guy was missing fish just two days before).   Forgive the low-light pictures – Luke is still playing with settings.

Spearfishing in San Blas

Spearfishing in San Blas

I would have stayed there and dove for hours, but it was getting dark, we had a ton of fish onboard, and we weren’t seeing much.  We also needed to get back, clean fish, and start dinner.

Of note, Luke is starting to play with underwater video and photo.  My job continues to be mechanic/cook/provisioner/captain/navigator/parts-sourcer/spearfisherman/writer.  It’s hard to add “video-guy” to that list, but Luke is a video-guy and I’ve got a bit of faith.  Finger’s crossed.

Sunset San Blas

My First Charter

So, I’m pretty new at this whole sailing and cruising thing.  Like really new.  So imagine my surprise when a friend asked me to pick up a charter for him…

The good news is that sailing in San Blas is simple.  Nice, enjoyable, simple.  The biggest real risk is a chuckasana – which is a short, but gnarly gust of wind and rain.  They’re pretty common here, and every time one comes through several boats drag anchor – either into other boats or into a reef.  As a matter of fact, there’s one grounded here in Chichime right now.  Shit’s real.  It takes an immense amount of blood, sweat and tears to get the boat and learn the systems.  It takes just minutes to lose one.  Really, only seconds.

But I haven’t lost it S/V NOMAD yet, and I have survived one of these little storms.  I didn’t know what they were called then, but the last time I was here I was hit by one the day I capsized my dinghy.  It kept me up on anchor watch after a really long and trying day.  I wonder if that makes me a chuckasana veteran?

My First Charter

Back to the present.  I have a couple of charter guests onboard.  And they’re great – intelligent, good conversationalists, easy to cook for, adventurous and well-traveled.  Can’t complain at all.  That said, I wasn’t looking for a charter.  And I won’t again for a while.  It is nice to have a little money coming in, as so much has been going out.  But we’re a little cramped with 5 people onboard.  Not badly, just a little.  I have the owner’s version of the Lagoon 380, so I’m a little short on cabin space with larger groups.  There’s plenty of space to hang out, only sleeping arrangements are questionable as we’re all single (excepting our charter guests).

So – the charter is great.  It seems like everyone is enjoying it.   Damien is an excellent chef (and has been awesome).  Chelsea is a little OCD, so she cleans like a champ (she’s also been great).  And I get really dirty fixing stuff in the engine room, and steer this catamaran around the reefs.  We’ve got a good thing going, the three of us.   That works out nicely for this mini-charter I have going on, as they don’t ever have to worry about stuff – it just gets done without taxing anybody.

Once it was settled that I was indeed having a charter – we needed to provision.  So we went to Carti.  On the way we caught a nice mackerel, which fed us for a night.

Holy mackerel

Holy mackerel

Anchoring in Carti was a nightmare.  We almost parked S/V NOMAD on the reef.  Then we were forced to anchor in deep water.  Because the anchorage was questionable, I sent Chels and Damo to shore for the shopping and I stayed onboard in case the damn anchor pulled.  Good thing, because the damn anchor pulled.  And suddenly my ass-end was in 2 meters of water with a hard bottom, and that 2 meters was shrinking.  No bueno.

So I lifted anchor and moved my boat into deeper water where it was safer.  Of course that meant I had to let out tons of rode, and that I’d invariably pull anchor slowly – but at least I wouldn’t punch a hole in my bottom.  Damo and Chels made it back and we ran out of that horrible anchorage to East Lemmon Cay – where we picked up our guests.

The "grocery store"

The “grocery store”

Provisions

Provisions

No Water

With 5 people onboard, you burn through water.  There’s no way around it.  People do start to get the hint when the water runs out though.  I (of course) have an emergency drinking stash of water, so we’re fine.  It’s actually a good exercise as it’ll keep us conserving water after our charter guests leave.  And it taught me just how deficient my watermaker is right now.  Part of that is related to my battery bank.

No Energy

It all started in Puerto Lindo.  I went out for  a quick drink (I think?) with a friend.  Or maybe to borrow something.  Anyways, I was off the boat, and I hadn’t had the opportunity to show my new crew how to monitor the batteries onboard.  With the last few months of cloudy weather and no sun, we were consuming WAY more energy than we were giving back into the batteries.  So, I got back onboard – and the batteries were so low that they wouldn’t crank my engine (my fault, as I left the battery switch in the wrong location).  That was a sign, as normally that wouldn’t have happened – my batteries were in rough shape.

Well, since then, we’ve been fighting cloudy days.  And I’ve learned the battery bank is failing.  It’s not taking a charge, and dumping the charge immediately.   That’s impacting my ability to make water, because my watermaker needs 12.5 volts at the watermaker (meaning it must travel through the wiring, where it looses voltage).  With my battery banks not taking a charge over 12.4, by the time that energy makes it to my watermaker – it’s not enough to produce meaningful water.  ‘Nuff said.

Something Nasty

I caught a bug.  It was a stomach bug (I think).  It started with all the signs of a stomach bug.  But then it progressed into lightheadedness, cramps, some chills, and then a fever.  Crazy, nasty stuff.  I wasn’t sleeping well, pushing pretty hard freediving, and sweating gallons in the engine room.  And there was some stuff going on at home that kept me a little stressed – so it was understandable.  The good news is that it was only a couple of days worth.  And though it did happen during the charter, my awesome crew (thanks Chels and Damo!!!!) really covered my ass and kept everything operating smoothly.  We think it was the pate.  We had a bleu cheese and pate lunch one day – it was delicious, but it was likely the cause of my stomach woes.

 

Black Smoke

Well, on the way back from Carti (to provision) my portside engine just cut out.  Completely dead.  That’s a problem, because it’s pretty tough to anchor on a single engine.  We had trouble starting it, and I decided that were were going to hang outside of the anchorage, drop the dinghy, and tie the dinghy to the port side to help steer into the anchorage.  Before I did that I tried the old diesel hard-start trick of a rag of WD40 (or alcohol, or any other combustible fluid) over the air intake.  And it fired up.  But it was spitting black smoke.  No bueno.

We limped into East Lemmons and anchored.  Met a fellow cruiser who told us to contact some South African on the net – his name was Mike.  Of course, we had just left Mike and his wife.  And fed them.  So I felt not at all ashamed about giving him a ring on the VHF and asking his advice.  He told me to pull the exhaust hose off the engine and check to see if the exhaust had calcified, blocking my exhaust and causing high exhaust back-pressure.  That would, in turn, cause the diesel to not fully combust in the chamber, which would then come out in the form of black smoke.

I eventually found the problem, which was (as Mike suspected) high exhaust backpressure due to some clogging of the exhaust.  I spent a couple hours breaking out the calcified exhaust with a hammer and screwdriver.  It was a nasty job, but I got it done.  And then, guess what?  It worked!!!! I was so damn happy that I had a couple Cuba Libre.  Which didn’t agree with my already hurting stomach, but I didn’t care.

 

Diving with Friends

The good news is that, despite some obvious concerns – we’re killing it out here.  We’ve had some ups and downs, a couple of minutes of panic and terror as well as some pretty chill days in a beautiful spot on Planet Earth.  I’m stoked to have a good crew onboard, to have people to dive with, cook and eat with.  We’re having the occasional movie night, complete with Chels’ favorite – cheddar popcorn.

Most importantly though – the crew loves the water.  In fact, we’ve been diving so much that we’ve worn ourselves out.

Hunting in Pairs

Hunting in Pairs

Even cooler than that though, is that we keep meeting people that love to dive.  And those people have been showing us their dive spots.  Sidebar:  for what it’s worth, I NEVER share dive/fishing spots.  Never.  Ever.  Period.  It’s the only way to earn fisherman/diver’s trust enough for them to share their prized spots with me.  And we always respect the spots shared – never overharvesting, and (when possible) sharing the catch with the folks who showed us the spot.

Those practices led Mike to show us his favorite fishing hole the other day, complete with a speedo-escort.  At one point Mike, who’s always working to make us laugh (or mildly offend us) – gave us a really nice view of his bare white ass on the way to the dive spot.  We tried to get a picture of it, but Damo was so excited he fumbled with the camera and we missed it.

DSC00529

There wasn’t much home at Mike’s favorite spot – but that’s fine.  We just appreciated him showing it to us.  There’s rumored to be a massive grouper there, and after Mike bounced a spear off of it’s face – he made us promise to not take it.  The good news is we didn’t even have to face the temptation, as it never showed itself.

The Descent

The Descent

Best Laid Plans

The original plan was to head through San Blas to Cartagena.  Now it looks like we might just spend some time in San Blas – then sail back to Puerto Lindo.  There are a myriad of reasons, but my crew isn’t as stoked on Cartagena or the passage right now.  And we have some pretty awesome friends in Puerto Lindo now.  And I need to iron out some boat issues. That said, I’ve been fighting to get boat work done in Puerto Lindo for so long now that I’m sick of it.  Cartagena would be much more conducive to boat-projects.  Decisions, decisions.

There’s also this nagging feeling that I’ll be pushing it to be ready to cross the Pacific next year.  Almost without fail, every cruiser has told me to slow down – learn my boat and spend more time sailing on this side of the canal.  And I’d be alright with that – but I know that I want to be in the Pacific.  The Pacific is just so much more fishy.  I get pretty tired of diving hard to shoot tiny fish.  It’s just not as fun.

Finally, there have been some personal issues at home that I need to get fixed.  Which means I may, again, be headed back to the States.  I can honestly say I’m not looking forward to it at all.  Leaving the boat is stressful, and it’s so much damn work and money blown.  Some stuff does need to get ironed out though, and it’s important stuff.  So at some point in the relatively near future, I’m back in Texas.  Again.

The Bahamas Sailing Adventure (my beta)

bahamas sailing adventure

I call this “my beta” because I wasn’t really sure that I could handle being stuck on a sailboat for more than a week, with the same crew, and be comfortable without being connected to the world.  Good news is “my beta” was an awesome experience, one that I’d like to duplicate for much, much longer -my next adventure is another sailing adventure.

The Plan

Pretty simple – we wanted to get away from the Christmas rush, go somewhere remote, and have a sailing (bareboat) adventure.  Problem was we needed someone much more qualified than I to skipper the boat. I had just the guy; now I needed to convince him to come with us.

deserted island

A typical Bahamas island

This started a long, and relatively stressful period where I told everyone I knew about it and hoped that someone would jump at the chance.  It was like herding cats.  Schedules, budgets, and desires had to be evaluated, then aligned.  Our goal was to keep the entire trip under $2K per person, including airfare (which was pricey).  We managed, but it wasn’t by much.

The Boat

our boat

Ended up being a pretty small Beneteau (“bendy toy” as our captain called it) in order to account for a constantly changing number of crew, everyone’s budgets, and everyone’s comfort.  We rented from a French operation down there – Navtours. I’m happy to report that the boat was in good shape and the Navtours crew were pretty easy to work with.  No complaints here.

The Crew

As with any sailing adventure – our crew grew, then shrunk – got as big as 9, but eventually settled at a modest number:  5.  This was perfect – the captain had plenty of room, and each couple (there were two) shared a berth.  We ended up at 2 girls and 3 guys, an excellent mix.

a room aboard

A room on the boat

After we got firm commitments, I fronted the boat deposit and wrangled everyone into a set timeline.  Then I spent the rest of my time gathering funds (which I hate doing). Then everything was set and we were all scrambling to get the right gear – freediving gear, spices we wanted to cook with, and general boatwear so that everyone was happy during our little sailing adventure.

The spearing gear was a PITA to secure; seems like everyone wanted long, lightweight polespears – but nobody wanted to pay for the Riffe Carbon Pole-Spear (which I really like, but it’s pricey).  So I bought the spears that everyone wanted, and as it turns out, the one thing everyone would complain about.

No worries though – we got it done.

Finally together

It seemed like our sailing adventure got here too quickly, but not nearly fast enough.  I’m convinced that planning a vacation is almost as much fun as the vacation itself (the anticipation!). After a grueling couple of weeks at work for everyone (getting ready to leave for 9 days without communication sucks) – we were off.

Myself, my girlfriend and another couple met at the airport and went through the typical delays and confrontation with TSA as we tried to explain what all the gear was, without using the word “spear” or “spearfishing”.  Our captain is the definition of a “lone-wolf” and we were left to hope that he’d make it there and find the boat.

view from plane

View from plane

We took a small plane from Miami to Nassau and then begin navigating the city to find our harbor and port – without getting shafted by a local taxi driver.  We negotiated a (semi) fair rate, and before we new it we were headed to a marina – the wrong marina.

Finally, there we were – looking at our tiny floating home (for the next 9 days).  I was in a hurry to get under way but our captain (in true form) decided to walk.  So, we waited.  I had my first beer, got the gear on the boat, and we ate our most expensive meal of the trip at the marina.

Big buger

That’s a big burger…

Shopping:  Wow, never shopped like this before.  We bought so much of everything – but it turned out damn near perfect.  After loading up the stuff I wanted, I rolled to my favorite spot – the liquor store.  Beer is expensive, rum is cheap!  Normally this wouldn’t be a problem – but the occasional beer after diving is really, really nice. I bought a little bit of beer and a bunch of red wine and rum.

Since our modus operandi for our sailing adventure was to complicate everything – we decided to stock up on groceries and alcohol without planning our ride back to the marina.  Luckily the locals are forgiving of us, dumb, not-so-great-at-being-self-sufficient tourists.  Other than that, we did keep the tourist thing kinda low-key; nobody wore a fanny pack.

First Days

We were relieved that our captain found our boat and went through the necessary familiarity training and inspection.  That night was a restless one, we spent it at the dock and I was more than ready to be diving and sailing.

under motor

The next morning came and we were off fairly early.  We sailed a little, but mostly we just wanted to get somewhere we could dive.  So we headed to the nearest island, took the dingy out, and found some decent reef. It was surprising to me how hard it was to find a decent spot to dive – but that day I found a couple of holes with fish and snagged my first lobster, snapper and grouper.

snapper, grouper, lobster

Bowl of snapper, grouper, and lobster

The next day was pretty neat – we dove the same spot and we managed to take home lobster, grouper, snapper, and even a decent amberjack.  Note to self: shooting and landing an amberjack with a polespear is noticeably different than landing one with a speargun…

ben with a nassau grouper

Ben with a Nassau Grouper (they match)…

We feasted that night and spend the rest of the night drinking rum and wine and listening to our captain tell stories about his circumnavigation.  We all knew this was a really lame “sailing adventure” compared to an 8-year circumnavigation, and his stories only reinforced that we needed to make this leap… The next stop was a little marina. We explored an island there and found some cool reef to dive on the other side.  That piece of the reef wasn’t very fruitful, but we managed.

marina

Grafitti – island style

 

big lobster

Big lobster

Over the next few days, the reef ended up being productive for us – we harvested what we needed to eat and did some pretty amazing diving. Dan was the star of the trip, landing a 25 pound black grouper with a tri-tip polespear.  To be clear – this is a hell of a feat.  The tri-tip polespear he was diving with is meant for lionfish shooting (an invasive species), and hadn’t killed anything more than a small snapper. But, that day he managed to sneak up on a grouper (that I couldn’t get close to) and stun him with the tri-tip polespear.  Then he smacked the grouper again, and quickly pulled him to the boat.  In fact, when I caught up with Dan next – his grouper had just regained his senses and Dan was trying to get him into the boat…

big black grouperbig black grouper

A respectable Black Grouper

During this time the highlights included playing with some nurse sharks, seeing (and being a little afraid of) sea turtles with heads bigger than ours, and catching more lobster than I could eat (but everyone else made up for my lacking in this department).

swimming with nurse sharks
Playing with the sharks

Final days

Things never did “wind down”, but we spent some time just hanging out in what are some of the most beautiful parts of the Earth.  In hindsight – if it would have wound down, it wouldn’t have been a sailing adventure. Clear water, cool breezes, and great friends made it a truly amazing experience.

just hagning out

Just hanging…

There was an interesting point; where we had eaten so much lobster (at least twice a day, every day) that we would find them and leave them.  Great problem to have, right? Hell, we were going to go back to port with 1/2 a grouper – it seemed like food was everywhere.  Everything said and done, when we got back to port we had only one fillet left and some snacks – almost perfect planning.  Naturally, our stash of alcohol ran out a little too early – but we were probably better for it.

another big lobster

 

The only thing I pulled out of the ocean that no one would cook/eat was an octopus.  Only one other crew member was interested in helping me prepare the octopus so I ended up returning it to the ocean – bummer, I really like calamari.

I catch an octupus

It was time to head back to port, and a good portion of the last day we spent running around Nassau.  We even mingled with the brash, annoying cruise-ship travelers for a bit before finding our way back through the more genuine parts of the city.  Speaking of genuine – Nassau, like many other tropical destinations – is littered with fancy storefronts on a single, main drag.  But in the interior – it’s quite poor (maybe even desperate).

cruise lines

Never did we feel threatened, but when we were walking through parts of the town we had police officers slow down and ask us if we were lost… Which is never a great sign.  It may not have meant much, our light skin made us stick out like sore thumbs.

Going home (whatever that means)

Actually getting ready for the flight was less painful than it usually is, but no less sobering.  Our sailing adventure was over.  While we were all fine with returning (the trip had been awesome!), none of us were quite ready to give up the experience.

Bahamas sunset

Special thanks to Ben, Dan, Kristen and Tess – couldn’t have made this happen without an awesome crew.  And thanks for agreeing to come with me, on what is (I hope) our very first sailing adventure in a long string of sailing adventures – stretching all over the world.

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