More San Blas Sunsets on NOMAD

Family Fun, Sailing in San Blas

We’re sitting in Chichime now, resting a bit and cleaning. Always cleaning.  We just finished one of our most fun charters – a family of four from California/Costa Rica.  A really good time had all the way ’round.  There is some bad news though – there’s some major engine work in my near future.  Perfect timing.

Family Fun, Sailing in San Blas

The day leading up to the charter we did some vegetable shopping and then moved the boat out to one of our super-secret spots.  It’s G-10 classified.  There we cleaned a bit more, prepared some food, and I did some last-minute maintenance and then studied the weather a bit. This time of year the weather is inherently unpredictable.  I try to plan but really I just have to be very, very flexible.  The good news is that our guests usually understand this.

Around 11AM our guests arrived and the fun began. We start with a tour of the boat, some basic information, and then some safety points. Next we tried to get a handle on what our guests wanted out of the trip.  In this case:  relaxing, meeting the Kuna, seeing pretty beaches, a bit of snorkeling, and (yes) fishing.

A boat-natural

A boat-natural

I have one engine that is worrying me and another with a fuel issue.  It’s not a great situation, but I manage it doesn’t’ affect where we go and what we do. It just changes the order of some of the activities as we need to use wind power more than diesel power now.  Not a biggie, it is after all, a sailboat.  So we picked the days that would work for a 1/2 day dragging lures and then planned the rest of our trip (loosely) around weather.

Snorkeling in San Blas on NOMAD

Snorkeling in San Blas on NOMAD

Our first day was a bit of snorkeling, a smoked chicken, and then some sushi (two kinds of tuna in this one).  Then there was the champagne for the campaign.  Then a bit of Marissa’s margaritas (now called Marissaritas). Then it was time for sleep – an early wakeup the next day to pull lures and then explore Kuna villages.  We woke early and got a good start, but had a 2 knot current on our nose and I couldn’t get out of it.  So our progress was slow, almost as slow as the fish bite.

Sushi on NOMAD

Sushi on NOMAD

After a strikeout on the first fishing attempt we pulled back behind the islands and hung out with one of my favorite Kuna families. We swam and walked around the beaches and then came back to another excellent meal and even better drinks. The next morning we took a long dinghy ride out to a protected area where the snorkeling is easy and the coral abundant. There we did some kicking around – we saw a couple of lobster, I saw rays and a nice Dog Snapper and a Cubera Snapper.  The snapper were too smart for me, so we settled on three types of conch for conch fritters.

Hammock time on NOMAD

Hammock time on NOMAD

Then we came back to the boat and then our Kuna friends brought us some lobster and some crab.  Needless to say, we ate very well.  Then we had a couple of drinks and sat around watching the fish under the green light.  The next morning was a rainy one, so we played games and drank coffee until late morning, when the rain cleared.

After a bit of kicking around and some food we moved the boat again, this time not all that far.  Once again we were the only boat in the anchorage – but that wasn’t what made this evening cool.  What made this evening cool was that we anchored very close to a rip that was bringing water from outside the reef in – and with it bait and fish.  We watched a school of Bonita pound bait on the surface and then witnessed some mackerel do the same and then when we saw the Tarpon join in on the action – Mike and I agreed we should take a little dinghy trip.  We packed a couple of trolling rods and a spinning reel and off we went in the dinghy. As the swell was small and the period long – we took the dinghy out in the open water and pulled a couple of lures through the rip.

Dinghy fishing

Dinghy fishing

After about 20 minutes of trolling Mike had a nice fish on and the fight began.  The fish would take a little line, then run to us, then fight and take line again.  More than once we thought we lost him (he ran to us) and more than once he pulled line off the reel. But eventually we got him up next to the dinghy, at which point we both realized we hadn’t really planned for anything other than a) catch and release or b) a football tuna.  This was a pretty good-sized King Mackerel, who was putting up a decent fight and who had plenty of teeth which could do plenty of damage to both dinghy and/or feet.  Eventually Mike pulled up the Mackerel by the line and I pulled him up by the tail and we got him in the dinghy – but not before he gave us a shower. Once in the dinghy we had a moment of ‘what now’ and then used the anchor to give him a bonk.  Done deal.  Fish in boat, fisherman happy and exchanging high-fives.  Plenty of fish for fish tacos and sushi.

Mike's King

Mike’s King

Then we began working our way back to the boat, where I got a strike on my rod.  There was a brief fight and then we had a Barracuda up next to the dingy.  I managed to (eventually) get him unhooked and released without puncturing the dinghy. Then it was nearly dark and the wind increased dramatically.  We made it back to the boat in the choppy dark, where we took pictures and then cleaned the fish.  I was out early that night, again we were waking up a little early to drag lures outside the island.

The welcoming committee

The welcoming committee

The next morning we pointed the boat North and headed out of the islands toward open water.  As soon as we dropped the lures we hooked a Spanish Mackerel, boated him, unhooked him, and released him.  Ten minutes later Mike was reeling in another lure (to check it) and a Spanish Mackerel shot no less than 10 feet out of the water while we all watched him.  It really was an amazing sight – seeing a fish jump that high out of the water.  He resembled a rocket more than a fish.  Very, very cool.

We saw birds working and smaller schools of Blackfin and Bonita, but nothing that got our blood pumping or made the reels scream.  Alas.  That afternoon we pulled behind Chichime and dropped our anchor.  There we ate another excellent meal and I took a much-needed rest.  Later we walked around Chichime and did a bit more Mola shopping and then retired to the boat for our last supper.  First, though, we cleaned 3 different species of conch.  I don’t want to brag here – but Marissa can make some world-class Conch Fritters.  World class.

King conch cleaning on NOMAD

King conch cleaning on NOMAD

The conch-cleaning operation

The conch-cleaning operation

Then there was more champagne and more Marissaritas.  Then we dropped in the green light and watched the fish congregate around NOMAD. There were several Spotted Eagle Rays in the area and eventually the temptation was too much – so I dove in and swam with them and the other baitfish under NOMAD.  I enjoy night diving, but it’s always easier after a glass of Rum (or two).  Anyways, I did manage to hang with the Spotted Eagle Ray for a bit and even got some footage.  It didn’t take long before most of the crew was in the water with us.  Then, suddenly, it was late and we were exhausted.

Spotted Eagle Rays at night

Spotted Eagle Rays at night

The next morning came early, and before we knew it our new freinds were off.  Moving guests from the ‘client’ category to the ‘friend’ category is one of the pleasures of this business, and I’m very happy to say we were successful in this again.

 

 

Our islands

Sailing Charters in San Blas

Look at this:  another update!  It’s almost like I have time and connectivity (I don’t).    It, literally, took me four days to make this post.

Before you read anymore, I just want to say that I realize this site is a bit different now that we’re chartering.  Just want you to know I’m just pushing charters here, I’m also attempting to share experiences (which are now, you guessed it:  charters). I think there’s a difference and there is value in that.

Sailing Charters in San Blas

So we had a charter (very past tense). They were rad, which is where our last post left off.

Then we had another charter (not as past tense).  They were also rad.  This couple was Australian and I’m a fan of the majority of Aussies (especially you, Rob!).  It starts as they always do, with wind on the nose and chop on the beam – heading to Carti where we do our primitive vegetable shopping and then cleaned and then cleaned some more and then I did some work on the boat and then we cleaned again.  It really was leading up to this charter that I realized how much cleaning is involved in this business.  SO MUCH CLEANING.  It doesn’t help that I’m allergic to it.  It doesn’t help that we catch lots of tuna and bleed it (important for sushi-grade tuna). I cannot fathom the reason that boat decks aren’t a light grey (yes, sunfading – but we can send stuff to Mars.  I’m sure we can figure out this white-decked boat issue).

Moving on, we moved the boat over to another island chain that we like so we don’t name it.  Sometimes it seems if I share something here, we come back and there are boats crowded in there next time – which I’m not sure is related to this dinky blog, but it is uncanny.

At this unnamed place we picked up our guests.  They were bringing squid and glowsticks for our next whack at the swordfishing out here.  I’m determined and we’re going to get them. It’s tough now, for reasons I’ll explain later – but we’re gonna get’em.  Until then I’ll just be buying glowsticks and squid like a madman and burning fuel and breaking things.  But I don’t feel like my strange and unruly behavior surprises people anymore.

Our islands in San Blas, chartering in San Blas, Fishing in San Blas

Our islands in San Blas

Our guests showed up. There were squid and glowsticks with them, that’s a point for the home team.  We went diving and ate and then moved the boat a bit.  They quickly found the best spot in the house, as you can see.

A big Lagoon 380 upgrade

A big Lagoon 380 upgrade, rear seating over the water

Then we went diving again. Then we went and visited our fave Kuna village. Then we went on a scavenger hunt for heavy things – as we needed weights for swordfishing (that weren’t lead or expensive).  We found a couple things, but really – I have to start making weights from concrete. Which is perfect because I have so much time now.  Sigh.

Good people, good conversation

Good people, good conversation

 

There was a sushi meal, then some smoked ribs, some great conversation, and then we dropped off our guests to sleep on hammocks on their own private island.  I went to work rigging swordfish baits (dude, this is hard, smelly, thankless work).

Swordfishing Baits in Panama

Swordfishing Baits in Panama

Lots of debate on swordfishing.  What I end up doing is using a circle hook as the main hook, ran with 150-250# mono/floro leader, and then a wired stinger (130# wire) with a J hook crimped to the main hook.  I may change this as we keep loosing hooks to sharks (normally, this is the point of using mono over a wire leader – not having to pull up a shark from the depths – they just chew through the leader and move on).  But that’s not sustainable out here where getting quality gear is so damned difficult/expensive.

Anyways I rigged in the sun for a while, then our guests came back and we talked through the rigging.  I’m no expert here, but I’ve done my homework and I’m handy with, hooks, lines, crimps, a rod and reel.  I’ve also, recently, done a ton of swordfish research (scientific papers) about eating habits, depths, and migration patters.  Fun fact:  all larger swords are girls. So when I say I’m out ‘looking for the big girls’ I could be talking about swordfish :)

When there is bait involved on the boat, it’s especially nice to have a fish-table a long ways away from everything.

Another major Lagoon 380 upgrade - the fishing table

Another major Lagoon 380 upgrade – the fishing table

Then it was time to get out there and put our work to work.  On the way out I drug the  fishing lines through the dusk light and over the best fishing spots.  We got lucky.  One reel went off (slowly) and Debbie pulled in a smaller Black Jack, which (after releasing it) I realized would have been worth a shot as live bait. Oops.

Not a giant, but a fish

Not a giant, but a fish

So we released our first fish.  I updated our heading and then our other reel started screaming. Screaming.  ‘FISH ON’  The sound of a screaming reel topped by those words makes the hair on my arms stand up.

Back to the story:  there are two fish that run that way – taking off so much line without breaching, large tuna or wahoo.  A large tuna isn’t so likely in this area, and usually they just sound (dive deep) and stay there.  This was a smoking run.  Nothing broke the surface – so not a marlin or a dorado (mahi, dodo).

Wahoo. Had to be.  I was stoked. They’re hard to get around here, specifically at this time of year, on this kind of tackle (we were running a monofilament stinger behind a Sterling Tackle Spreader Bar).  Second time we’ve hooked very toothy creatures on Sterling Tackle with mono stingers.  But look at this picture – it’s what happened to my first Sterling Tackle Spreader Bar when a big wahoo decided he wanted it- one second I had a Spreader Bar full of squid and hooks and ball-bearing snap-swivels.  Then I saw the water break and the wahoo hit the lures and then he destroyed my gear.  It was a cool thing to watch, but it was a major gear-bummer..  Don’t look at Marissa, she’s just a distraction :)

One of these is not like the other

One of these is not like the other

 

Darren vs the 'hoo

Darren vs the ‘hoo

There was the first, smoking run. Then he ran towards us, then when he saw the boat he ran again.  Then we got him up behind the boat, we were doing about 2 knots, and I missed the first gaff shot but got him solidly on the second.  Boom.  Wahoo on deck!  Those are good words to say.  As happy as I was about Darren landing this fish, I was even happier when I saw the pictures – the wahoo was lit up.  Usually in pictures the fish’s color fades. Wahoo are beautiful (and tasty) animals.

Wahoo!

Wahoo!

This was all on the way out to our swordfishing grounds.

Next up was the actual swordfishing.  We found 1500 feet of water, then I figured our drift.  Then we dropped three lines off the side of the boat (it’s a little easier than the back of the boat when we have the dinghy up). Here’s a picture that shows how we fish, but please excuse me for the lack of photo credit, it’s just the picture I keep on my desktop when I’m thinking about rigging..  I’ll figure out where it’s from and update this (sorry whoever made this picture). The main difference is that we fish off of the side of the boat rather than the back, it makes more sense (our boat is 38 foot long and 20 foot wide – there’s more space, duh). But most folks that fish for swordfish are: a) commercial fisherman with longlines  b) Serious sportfisherman with sportfishing boats.  It’s hard fishing off the side of those.

Our setup

Our setup

There were some smallish (see: large) issues.  One – our glowsticks weren’t working.  Two – the squid were small and old (guessing by the smell).  Three – my weights were mediocre at best.  Four – sharks love me and my baits, whichever is in the water.  Five – I had a smoky, knocking engine (more on this later). It was midway through our adventure that night when I noticed this very important detail.  That said it was a calm sea, nearly a full moon and a wonderful night drifting.

Working up to full moon

Working up to full moon

So we caught a decent shark, 1.5 meters.  It was exciting but it stole my hooks and it made me way more excited than I should have been (I suspected it wasn’t a sword, but it could have been).

Darren playing tug of war with a shark

Darren playing tug of war with a shark

Then we got (what I strongly believe was) a swordfish bite.  The line buzzed for just a second (we leave the reels just above freespool with the clicker on).  Then nothing. Then a tiny buzz again, then nothing.  We waited.  Then we reeled and teased a little, but nothing more from the fish.  When we checked the bait, it was cut, but not eaten – which is a classic swordfish move – whack it, kill it, but leave it.  Swordfish are notoriously vicious.

So we lost one rig to a shark and the other to a passive-aggressive swordfish and I was rigging and keeping the boat on the right drift and trying not to fall asleep.  Oh, and cleaning that wahoo from earlier.  I might have had a glass of rum.  Just one, really.  Then I had a bit of coffee as I was nodding.

No more clean decks...

No more clean decks…

Darren and I chatted, then we pulled the lines and went for another drift.  No dice .  So we moved on.  With the waves and speed and not-quite-right engine our time back in protected waters (where I could finally sleep) was just after dawn.  To that end I asked Darren if he wanted to hang outside the reef for a bit and wait for light, so we could troll over the structure for one last shot at a fish.  He said yes and then took a nap. I putted around marking good bottom structure and then when dawn broke I sighed a sigh of relief and pointed us toward our anchorage and held my breath for one more good fish.  Apparently we burned our fish-luck early with the wahoo.  I’ll take a quality fish on deck over the possibility of a record fish, every day.

Finally (long nights seem longer when you’re listening to the ocean and the rumble of diesels) just after 7 AM, Marissa got up and took her shift – which is cooking and cleaning.  She made everyone breakfast and then I dropped anchor, ate, and took a much-needed nap.  A couple hours later I was up and we were back to full-blown charter mode.

We were among friends at this anchorage, so we loaded all our friends up with wahoo.  This is a not-so-secret pleasure of mine – feeding friends with the best seafood on the planet, which we catch. Then there was island time and fun time and then there was dive time.  I took our friends out to a super-secret dive spot and then we made a drift dive.  After a wonderful drift full of Moray Eels, Cuttlefish, Stingrays, Lobster, Conch, etc.  Darren expressed an interest in spearfishing, so I brought out the gear.  We talked about species and fish identification.  Then we talked basic safety, then we went for a little dive through a channel which is usually productive.

Darren's first spearing-dinner

Darren’s first spearing-dinner

There I watched Darren locate, identify, and stick an Ocean Triggerfish on his FIRST spearfishing attempt ever.   Color me impressed.  We loaded the fish in the dinghy and then took off again.  Darren found a respectable Barracuda, identified it, and then he was in full-blown hunting mode. He took the shot and hit the fish but it was a grazing shot that only irritated the fish.  Missing the Barracuda was a blessing in disguise as they are difficult to deal with.  It’s a very cool thing to watch people locate, identify, and take their own food from the wild (at Whole Foods, they call it ‘Free-Range’).

Then, suddenly it was our last day with our new friends.

We moved the boat the next morning and drug the lures the whole way.  We caught two Spanish Mackerel, but we were full of fresh Wahoo so we released them. They aren’t hard fighters so we don’t slow the boat, reel them in as quickly as possible and release them as quickly as possible – unless they’ve been mortally hooked, in which case we eat them.

We're often a taxi service

We’re often a taxi service

The next morning our friends left and Marissa and I refused to clean for a day. Then we moved and resupplied and then moved again.  Then we confirmed the knocking in one engine that was worrisome.  Then I spent four days in the engine room working on isolating or identifying the issue.  No dice.  Turns out I’m in for an engine overhaul. Not cool, not simple, not cheap. I can’t write the words I say when I think about that engine.

Because I’m through my period of ‘freakout and worry’, I can say that I have a few ideas and if it comes to the absolute worst-case-scenario, I can deal with it. Much of troubleshooting boat-systems is not jumping straight to worst-case scenario. I’ll update when I know more, have connection and have time. Or at least two of the three.  For now, we’re about to receive more guests.

Marlin in San Blas Panama

Fishing And Chartering in San Blas

I’m assuming you read my last post, which seems like a reasonable assumption.  So I’m assuming I can pick up where I left off last time. But you know what they say about the word ‘ass-u-me’ 

Fishing And Chartering in San Blas

At this point we had just ducked into San Blas, fueled up, and started prepping to have Joe and Lisa onboard.  They were/are awesome, and for this we are/were incredibly grateful.  It’s a crap shoot with chartering – sometimes people are great and sometimes they are not. In this situation the consumer has much more knowledge than the provider – in that the consumer has recommendations and reviews, etc and the provider (us) has little/no knowledge about the consumer. 

In some things this isn’t as big of a deal – but in this context, it matters.  I can honestly say that I’ve had people onboard that I would never again have onboard unless they were buying my boat at a significant premium.  None of our charter guests have been this way, thankfully, but it will happen.  I say this just to highlight how much of a pleasure it is when we have interesting/fun guests onboard and it all of our future bookings sure seem that way too. 

We love it, thank you past and future guests for being awesome!

So when our guests arrived and they were cool and calm and collected, we breathed a sigh of relief.  There was a bit of fruit to eat and then we headed out to the clear water and the pretty reefs.  Joe was outside with me and I asked him about fishing – he said he wasn’t so keen, but then became interested when I told him the goal was to catch dinner.  I showed him how to let the lines out and how to keep the lines level when retrieving them.

Within twenty minutes there was a very healthy strike on our Sterling Tackle Spreader Bar and because it wasn’t a monster I kept the boat moving.  To my surprise, Joe asked Lisa to take the rod and so I helped keep the line level while she fought the fish to the boat – it was a Little Tunny  and definitely not my favorite of the tuna-types, but if you bleed it well, handle it well post-catch, marinate it, and eat it fresh it is edible.  Lisa brought the fish in (15 pounds), and by then we were both sweating and breathing hard.  I cleaned the fish underway and in a couple of hours we were anchored in a beautiful spot.  Just after a lobster risotto lunch we went for a snorkel among some great reef structure. 

Lisa bringing in Tuna

Lisa bringing in Tuna

Lisa weighing her Tuna

Lisa weighing her Tuna

The charter lasted for a few more days and we visited the caves, did some drift diving, ate very well and had some great conversation.  My highlights were the lobster risotto, the fresh crab, and the conch fritters – we ate the best and freshest seafood.  Toward the end we visited one of my favorite Kuna families and they brought us bread and Lisa chose a couple of molas (the indigenous artwork) to bring home.  Then it was their last day and it was time for us to get to Puerto Lindo where we could get our paperwork in order and begin prepping for our next charter. 

Molas and our Kuna friends

Molas and our Kuna friends

But before we took off, I wanted to try a sword fishing drift – so in the morning we took off for a bit of trolling, hoping to hook something for bait (squid is preferable, but nearly impossible to get here unless you shoot it with a speargun. I’ve managed this a couple of times, but it’s rare and difficult).  As soon as we were outside the reef I saw a squall headed our way, no biggie we get one once a day. 

But not like this one – we clocked 51 knots of wind in this one.  That’s crazy.

Right before the squall hit us two of our rods started singing – one came up quickly (grouper) and the other went straight down and then stayed down (a fish grabbed my Sterling Tackle Daisy Chain and then ran to the rocks).  Then the squall hit us in full force and we could see nothing and the autopilot couldn’t hold us on course and we were smashing from side to side blindly.  Not fun.  This lasted for nearly an hour, during which time I got to see a wahoo come and slash our remaining lure to shreds (a Sterling Tackle Spreader Bar).  By the end of the storm I’d lost 300 yards of mono, a Sterling Tackle Daisy Chain and the majority of a Sterling Tackle Spreader Bar – all while I watched helplessly, barely holding on. We finally got rigged back up and immediately hooked a Yellowfin Tuna, so I pulled the lures in.  It was a weird day.  Very weird when you get hit by a huge squall, catch a Grouper and a Yellowfin Tuna in the same hour. 

Grouper and Yellowfin Tuna

Grouper and Yellowfin Tuna

The rest of the day was spent rigging swordfish baits and then the night fishing for them while Marissa caught some ZZZ’s.  No luck on the swords but the sharks were out in force. 

Marissa and the Squid

Marissa and the Squid

The taxman

The taxman

When I pulled up from our first swordfish drift it was time to get to Puerto Lindo, so I turned our motors on and pointed us West and we were under way.  Around daybreak I took a break and grabbed about an hour of rest, when I was awoken to Marissa yelling ‘fish!’  … If you haven’t slept in a couple of days, it can take you a moment to get your bearings.  The reality is when I try to sleep, the fish hear about it and come by and grab a lure – so I’m kinda used to this wakeup now. 

By the time I got to the reel I saw the Marlin come out of the water and I knew I was in for a fight.  Nothing crazy – he wasn’t a big for a marlin – but he was big for a fish.  So I got the drag the way I wanted it and then got snapped into the harness and started our game of tug of war.  He was winning at the beginning, but I am ready for this class of fish now.  The fight was relatively short and soon enough I had him up next to the boat.  We don’t kill Marlin unless they’ve been mortally hooked (and we don’t target them, they are bycatch).  So I unhooked the fish and revived him and released him.  But I can’t tell you how good it felt to (finally) get a quality fish in.  After much heartbreak, hundreds of hours of fishing, countless hours of research and rigging (and more than a few dollars), we’ve got this fishing thing figured out.  For now.  

Of course now we’re adding swordfishing into the mix, which is a whole different beast.  Having a bait 1500 feet underneath you and then trying to pull up seamonsters from the depth is, literally a whole different beast.  They’re here and we’re looking for them.  I have a feeling it’s just a matter of time. 

 

Tug of War with a Marlin

Tug of War with a Marlin

Marlin in San Blas Panama

Marlin in San Blas Panama

Back to sailing/cruising/traveling…

Naturally in Puerto Lindo, the Port Captain had a car accident and the Immigration guy wasn’t around.  I shouldn’t have been surprised, but this country can really throw some curve balls. So we waited and fueled up and waited again.  Finally ready to leave we were hailed by someone trying to sell us kitesurfing gear (my next hobby), and so (again) we got a late start and had wind in our face on the way back to San Blas, where we dropped anchor just after dark behind Chichime (sometime I strongly advise against unless you really know the area). 

Charter-wise our next charter is a fisherman and his wife and I couldn’t be happier about that.   Marissa is probably ready for a break in fishing-related conversation too.  Though she hasn’t pointed it out yet, I suspect having another female to commiserate with (‘all our men do is talk about fish’)  will help :)

Until next time, send me good swordfish karma.  I need it.

Dolphins!

Fish and Other Good Things

It’s been a little while.  Sorry about that.  It’s just that since we started chartering, my focus has been elsewhere. But here’s an update and that makes us even again, right?

Cool. 

The upside of waiting so long to update (see what I did there?) is that there is so much to share.  The downside of long periods between updates is that there is so much to share.  Might as well get started.

We had a charter, it was kind of last-minute on our end so we were scrambling.  But it worked out well and I couldn’t chosen a more awesome couple.  We did some diving and spearfishing and some fishing and some sailing and then they were leaving and we were cleaning – getting ready for our next charter. 

Fish In San Blas

On our way back to the area where we would pick up our next charter (my buddy Dan) we were trolling behind the boat and we hooked up with a giant Spanish Mackerel.  I mean giant.  I’ve went back and forth and forth and back on this and I’m convinced, 100% it’s a Spanish Mackerel.  That means this fish is double the current all-tackle world record, which currently stands at 12 pounds.  The fish we caught, pictured below, weighed in at 24.5 pounds, 26 pounds, and 25 pounds.  Our scale isn’t that accurate and is really for larger fish and/or reference purposes, so an exact weight wasn’t an option – but no matter what weight you choose to accept – this fish was the world record Spanish Mackerel for sure.  Of course we caught him on a Sterling Tackle Daisy Chain (we lucked out that he didn’t chew through the mono).  Almost all of our good fish are taken on Sterling Tackle. 

World record Spanish Mackerel?

World record Spanish Mackerel?

The picture isn’t great because we were getting our ass kicked by the ocean, I was having trouble with one engine, and Marissa was seasick – but you can just make out the yellow speckles on it’s side that make it a Spannie.  It’s hard to imagine this fish is a Spanish Mackerel – but I studied and studied and I really believe it is.  I’ll hear arguments otherwise – but really, if it’s got the spots, it’s a Spanish.  Anyways – it was tasty and it was double the standing all tackle world record.  That’s pretty cool. I suspect if we had the gear to register the record, this record would have stood for my lifetime and likely beyond.   It tasted like a world record. 

Moving on. 

So then we cleaned and cleaned and moved the boat and towed some Kuna and Marissa went to Panama City in search of more good food.  Here in the islands we can’t get the good stuff and we cook the good stuff for our charters.  So every so often we make a run to Panama City and get good food, it’s expensive and time consuming – but we do that for you guys because we love you. 

Helping out our brethren Kuna

Helping out our Kuna brethren

Then, suddenly Dan was here with Jonny and Kristen and Ale. We picked up our last fresh vegetables and we were off.  At our first spot I grabbed a grouper and we were already set.  Then Dan wanted to fish a bit so we hung a line off the boat.  We got to eating and drinking and playing Cards Against Humanity and forgot about the line and then we caught a shark on it and he wrapped himself up on our anchor.  I swam down the anchor chain the next morning and that scared him enough that he freed himself.  It was an interesting way to wake up in the morning but it was only a Nurse Shark. I have a short video of the whole thing that one day, when we have a decent connection, I will probably not post. 

We take celebrations seriously!

We take celebrations seriously!

Then we moved to The Swimming Pool where we did a bunch of diving and more diving and more diving.  I took a couple more fish and Marissa rolled sushi for us.  We gorged ourselves and then ate a little more for good measure.  Then it was Dan’s Bday and he got a cake and it had candles on it but we had a stiff breeze so lighting them was out of the question.  The thought counts. Also, please look at the shirt Dan is wearing in the second picture.  

Sushi 'till you drop

Sushi ’till you drop

Lobster 'till you drop

Lobster ’till you drop

Nomad's conch operation

Nomad’s conch operation

Dan love barracuda (and I hate them)

Dan loves barracuda (and I hate them)

That night we had barracuda and a sea turtle around the boat, coming into the green light.  Dan was really intent on catching them (not the turtle).  Alas.  The next morning Jonny and Ale left and we were back to diving constantly.  Then we moved to another area and we took the outside route and were rewarded with two slightly seasick ladies and two tuna for some very, very fresh seared tuna steaks.  I consider that winning as the ladies were good sports and Kristen even brought in the larger Blackfin.  Dan brought in a tiny tuna, but it was in rough shape so we kept it and ate it, rather than feeding the sharks.

Dan's tiny tuna

Dan’s tiny tuna

Kristen's upside down tuna

Kristen’s upside down tuna

The next morning Dan went diving again, we explored the islands, etc.    Then they took the afternoon launcha back to Panama City.

Marissa and I were completely exhausted.  Completely.  Exhausted.  Chartering is fun, I enjoy it.  It is also TON of work and you earn every single cent. Being the captain, the boat owner, the mechanic, the tour guide, the dive leader, the taxi driver, the fish provider – it adds up. 

We had a couple of days to recuperate and then it was on to Colombia.  We were sailing the boat to Cartagena as I have a remodel going on in Medellin at the moment and I needed a massive amount of boat work done.  The last time I checked out of Panama for Colombia, I simply sailed the boat to Porvenir and checked out – Immigration and the Port Captain were there in the same building and the entire thing took about an hour. 

This time we sailed to Porvenir and found that only Immigration was there and that the nearest Port Captain was 50 miles in the opposite direction.  That was beyond disappointing and rather than go back the way we came, we decided to bounce down the coast through the more remote parts of Kuna Yala and then jump to Colombia via Sapzurro and then from there to sail up to Cartagena.  It was a long trip, turning what was a 36 hour sail into a 5 day ordeal – but we got to see some truly beautiful, untouched country. 

Sapzurro

Sapzurro

So one morning very, very early we left The Swimming Pool on our journey – our friends were up and we waved goodbye and the night before we’d had The Last Supper with some new and amazing friends on the catamaran C-Level.  Immediately, outside the reef, we hooked a large Yellowfin and I wasn’t fully prepared so I overtightened the drag and we popped a 100 pound test line (which indicates the line was frayed/worn, meaning this wasn’t entirely my fault).  The fish ran off with my favorite cedar plug and a couple hundred meters of heavy mono.  Jerk. 

Moving on, we sailed through a couple of very remote San Blas islands and then did a couple longer hauls – through Los Pinos and then some other unnamed island where I was attacked by a flying cockroach (who thought it was in his best interest to kamikaze through our hatch in the pitch dark) after 3 hours of sleep over a 48 hour period.  I’m not afraid of most things you are supposed to be afraid of, but I am terrified of cockroaches and the incident sent me smashing through the boat, half-asleep in the pitch-black.  After that I was well awake and badly bruised so we left.  Lesson learned about anchoring too close to shore.

From there we dropped into Sapzurro and did our checking out, one guy was supposed to be there and wasn’t.  Another wouldn’t be there until later.  Then there were the military guys who needed all of our info.  Then there was the Port Captain who asked for an inspection, complete with military escort, and then proceeded to tell me I needed to get married and asked for our Facebook and Whatsapp contacts and has been messaging us constantly since.  Panama and Colombia are full of ridiculous things and (like any other part of the world) they are also filled with ridiculous people.   But the world would be boring if everyone were well behaved and acted intelligently.   

Mistakes

Mistakes

Then we were off again.  Marissa and I were engaged in some kind of discussion when the drag on another of our reels started screaming.  It was another Yellowfin (a decent one).  It peeled line off of our reel until I got him turned and then I started gaining line on him and then the reel handle just broke off.  Literally broke off. Just like that.  Naturally, without the ability to reel I couldn’t keep tension on the line and again I lost the fish.  Completely heartbreaking.  I hate gear failures.  I fail enough without gear failures.  We did get the lure back this time, which was a relief as it was a Sterling Tackle Daisy Chain – a very valuable lure.

So we were back underway – low on diesel and the wind that was supposed to be on our beam was on our nose (as it always is).  So we were a few hours behind and our diesel situation was becoming precarious.  We chugged on, pounding into the seas and wind.  We caught alot of fish on the way.  Here’s another.

Blackfin Tuna in Colombia

Blackfin Tuna in Colombia

Then the drag started screaming on another reel.  The line was moving off the reel in a way I’ve only seen once before, when we had a 1/4 ton fish tail-walking behind the boat. We had about half a kilometer of line out before I got the boat turned and we started gaining on him.  Marissa was fighting the fish and I was moving the boat toward him when he breached and came fully out of the water.  Marissa didn’t put the screaming reel and the whale-sized fish (now breaching consistently) together right away.  When she did she didn’t believe it.  I did. 

Fighting Marlin in your underwear

Fighting Marlin in your underwear

We fought this fish for the better part of an hour and finally got him turned and under control.  At this point Marissa couldn’t reel anymore, she was completely worn out.  So I put the boat back on autopilot and took control of the reel – gaining a little line here and there just to lose it.  Over an hour into the fight we are sweating and cursing and burning in the sun and the brute is finally coming to the boat.  I’d put the fish in the 500 pound range, could have been 100 pounds on either side of 500 – he was jumping and tail-walking, but we didn’t get a look at him close to the boat. With 100 meters of line out, the tension on the rod disappeared.  I began a string of curse words that would make any other sailor blush.  Another good fish lost. Bummer.

The food chain

The food chain

We hooked the Marlin (and the tuna above) on a Sterling Tackle Spreader Bar (again), but because we’d had so much action on these lures, I’d run out of the higher-quality hooks and used a lesser hook.  Had this been your run-of-the-mill Yellowfin or smaller Billfish, I’d have been alright – but this was a good sized Marlin and he bent the hook straight.  More gear failure.  Very frustrated, I brought in the rig, dug until I found an appropriate hook then crimped the heavier hook onto the lure and set it back out.  Then we saw whales and forgot about the rig for another 15 minutes while we watched the whales.  We were brought back to reality by the drag screaming again and I turned around just in time to see a smaller Marlin – I’d say 200 pounds – jump just behind the boat with our the Sterling Tackle Spreader Bar in his mouth.  I ran to the reel and started tightening the drag and the line went slack.  Again.  This time our stranded wire leader broke.

 

Broken stranded wire leader...

Broken stranded wire leader…

At this point in our trip I’d had one reel seize (don’t talk to me about the Shimano graphite reels), heavy lines snap, wire leaders shred, hooks straighten, and reel handles fall off.  I was down to two decent reels, absolutely zero patience, and not enough line.  One thing that this trip did for me was to remind me how woefully under-gunned I was in this firefight.

The ocean houses some powerful animals. 

Needless to say, now I have solved many of these issues – but we lost good fish and it cost me a fair bit of my dwindling sanity.  Since then we’ve upgraded to a Penn International 50W, upgraded the drags in my remaining Senators, purchased a heavy 30W 2 Speed (Quantum makes them?), and purchased what I believe is my favorite reel on the market right now – the AVET 2 Speed SDS 50.  All of these are on quality rods with heavy mono wind-on leaders which sit on top of heavy, high-quality braid.  There are kilometers on line on these reels and my wire leaders are now heavier, double crimped and I’ve thrown/given away the marginal hooks.  We are solidly in bear country, and so we are justifiably loaded for bear.   

Which brings me to my next point – we’re taking the offshore fishing very seriously.  It’s something that our charter guests appreciate, and even the ones that don’t care to fish – certainly do appreciate the amount of can’t-get-fresher-than-this sashimi/sushi we feed them. We catch fish.  Lots of fish.  More fish than anyone in this area, by a landslide.

We arrived in Cartagena very low on fuel and very tired and very late.  Sailing on a schedule sucks. But we were greeted warmly by old friends (thanks Kenny for everything!)  We dropped anchor and went to eat at a real restaurant and had a bit of rum and passed out.

The next day we started arranging for the boat work to be done and made plans for getting to Medellin where I’d be overseeing the remodel of my condo.  Marissa flew out to visit family/friends, I moved the boat to a rough part of town to start the dirty work, and then flew to Medellin. 

Our time in Medellin went quickly.  Suddenly we were back in Cartagena and I was fighting with boat laborers about prices and painting engines and cleaning fuel tanks and cleaning the entire boat and fumigating it and converting our salon table to a bed and getting my fishing gear up to snuff (fool me once). We finally got out of the rough marina and moved the boat back to Club Nautico where we were to do our final shopping run. 

Once there the anchor windlass failed to go down and so I had to manually drop the anchor, which is only a PITA because it has not once been done in 17 years.  That sucked.  Then I checked switches and connections and then decided it must be the solenoid, which I purchased at the very last minute to the tune of $250, only to shortly thereafter find it was a tiny wire which connected to the solenoid.  All of this delayed our departure by a couple of days and so we were again in a rush to get back to San Blas for our next charter. 

Then I went to fill the diesel tanks and the guy at the fuel dock said:  ‘sacabo’  which means:  we’re out.  Which  means I’m SOL.  When I asked when they would get more diesel he shrugged, and then said ‘posible mañana?’  When ‘mañana’ is phrased as a question, it means ‘not now,’ and it could well be a week or a month.  So we left Cartagena with about 1/2 a tank of fuel in each tank.  That gave us enough fuel to make it about halfway – which was fine because the weatherman told us we would have wind on the beam. 

The weatherman is a pathological liar.  To be fair, I know this now and I knew this then. 

Somewhat unrelated, but  on the way back we found this.  For my Namibian friends – a fridge floating in the middle of the ocean with no fish under it.  Tell your friend he’s wrong.

floating fridges

floating fridges

So we slogged through the sloppy seas and I kept praying for wind that never came.  It was on this trip that I learned the following:

  • Diesel engines like it when you talk dirty to them, treating them nicely to them gets you nowhere.  Loving abuse.
  • Gas engines like to be pleaded with and coaxed (especially four-strokes).  Be gentle. 
  • Weather responds best when you curse it with all of your might. Plead with it or pray to it and you will be ignored or (even worse) punished for your transgression.  Don’t get punished. 

So we were in the middle of the ocean between two countries running out of fuel and had a charter waiting on us and the wind wasn’t doing what it was supposed to (old news, right?).  So rather than go to Portobello to check in there (further) – we dropped into San Blas (closer) and fueled up, took on our charter, and put off our check-in and immigration until post-charter.  Not ideal, but largely out of our control. Truth is, nobody cares about anything in Panama anyways…

We rested for a couple of hours and then switched our SIM cards in our phones and began answering emails and arranging transport and then we started cleaning and prepping for our guests. 

And that’s probably enough for now.  I’ll try to update again tomorrow, but please don’t hold me to that…

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 :)

 

 

 

Casco Viejo Panama City

Panama City Guide

Alrighty, since we’re getting charter bookings (thanks!) we decided it is time to put together a quick guide to Panama City.  Getting to us (NOMAD) is simple and fairly quick considering you’ll be going from civilization to a part of Panama that you can only really explore via boat (San Blas/Guna Yala).  We handle this, though the cost isn’t included in our prices.  It runs about $60/person to get out to us from Panama City.

  • Dinero – Money-wise, Panama operates mostly on the US Dollar.  If you’re American, you’re cool.  Bring a bit of cash, but there are plenty of ATM’s around, just be sure to call your bank and let them know you’ll be traveling to Panama. In Panama City you can use your credit/debit card almost anywhere.  BUT – if you’re coming out to see us in San Blas/Guna Yala, BRING CASH.  The last part of your payment for the charter is in cash and there are no ATM’s out here.  Also bring small bills to buy things from the local indigenous folks (who are wonderful) – the Kuna/Guna.  They make awesome artwork (molas).
  • Language – it’s Central America, so it’s Spanish.  That said, Panama City is nearly fluent in English.  Nearly.  Download Google translate offline and you’ll be just fine.
  • Getting around – cab it.  It’s easy.  If you cab it, negotiate.  Uber exists too.  If you are planning on renting a car, rent with an American Express card (you’ll be insured for free), decline the insurance at the rental place, and download and use Waze (it’s like Google Maps, but better for S/Central America). Google Maps offline is helpful too.
  • Safety – Panama City is safe.  That said, exercise the kind of caution you would in any big city.  If you feel uncomfortable in an area, just take a cab/Uber.  If you don’t know an area, take a cab/Uber.  Don’t be flashy or get obviously drunk and then stumble around dark alleys in the middle of the night.  You know, be smart.

Let’s walk through getting to the boat.

Getting to NOMAD

  • Most importantly, you’ll fly into Tocumen International Airport.  Let’s say you fly in on January 1st.  There is almost always a travel day on the front end of the trip – meaning you’ll spend your first night in Panama City (1/1 in our example).  Tocumen Airport is on the outskirts of town – so you’ll pay anywhere from $15-30 to get into Panama City, to your hotel.  As far as hotels go – it’s probably best to use one of the popular hotel sites to book (AirBnB is a viable option too).  I prefer staying in El Cangrejo – which is central and has some decent restaurants and some good bars. Via Argentina is good for bars and nightlife. Another (maybe the best) option for a night’s stay is Casco Viejo.  It’s an up-and-coming area with some great bars and restaurants.
  • Your night in Panama City is the time to do any last-minute shopping for food and drinks.  Specialty foodstuff or anything you may have forgotten should be picked up this evening. If you’re looking for specialty food or spices – ask any taxi driver for Riba-Smith.  All other shopping can be done 24 hours (yes, grocery stores are open 24 hours) at a Super 99 or an Exito or an El Rey.  Too easy.
  • The next morning (1/2 in our example), fairly early, a 4X4 which we will have pre-arranged will pick you up and you will begin your trip to San Blas/Guna Yala.  The 4×4 trip is a fun one, through the jungle on some windy roads.  You’ll have to pay a small entrance fee to get  into San Blas, and then you’ll be moved to a pre-arranged water taxi that will drop you off onboard NOMAD.  That’s it.  Super easy.  You’ll probably be onboard around lunch, so we’ll have food and a welcome drink waiting on you!

Then your experience onboard NOMAD begins.  And it’s our job to make it unforgettable :)

Leaving NOMAD

Going home is basically the opposite of coming to see us.  Who’d have thunk it?   There is one difference though – you can leave NOMAD early in the morning (8-9AM) and make it back to the city by 1-2PM with a reasonable degree of certainty.  Meaning you can, 98% of the time, leave NOMAD and Panama on the same day – assuming your flight leaves Tocumen sometime after 3:30PM.  

It’s your call.

A Quick Panama City Guide

What to see

Should you decide to stay in Panama City for a night or two – here are the things I think are worth seeing/doing:

  1. The Panama Canal – let’s be honest, the canal is the reason Panama is what it is.  It’s also a very impressive example of engineering and perseverance.  I’ve visited it (and plan on going through it), there’s a museum and you can watch a boat go through the locks if you time it right.
  2. Visit Las Perlas – this is an island chain on the Pacific side that’s an easy day-trip or a weekend getaway.  They are pretty and it only takes 90 minutes to get there and come back. There are two companies that run trips out there:  Sea Las Perlas and Ferry Las Perlas, just pick one.  PS – there are whales here during whale-watching season (August through October).
  3. Casco Viejo – this is the coolest area of Panama City for sure.  Stay there or stop by during the day and walk around.  There’s plenty to see and do and eat and drink.
  4. The Fish Market – very close to Casco Viejo is the fish market of Panama City.  Stop in to get fresh ceviche or your favorite fish meal.

Where to Stay

I touched on this earlier, at the top of the page.  I don’t spend much time in Panama City, but when I do – I stay around Cangrejo.  I usually go out to bars on Via Argentina or in Casco Viejo.

  1. Casco Viejo – If I were visiting Panama City for the first or second time, I would most certainly stay in Casco Viejo.  It’s the hippest area around and there you can see some shocking contrast – the up and coming, freshly remodeled places directly next to the derelict.  There are good bars (including rooftop bars) there, some great eats and you can find places to hang out during the day and through most of the night. Specific recommendations for hotels/hostels aren’t my cup of tea – but I’d start with AirBnB and then check out TripAdvisor for reviews.
  2. Cangrejo – If you want to stay somewhere more central (meaning you want to shop, or in my case:  find boat parts) you should check out the Cangrejo district.  It has plenty of places to stay in every budget, restaurants, bars, etc. Here you’ll find casinos too.  Again – Via Argentina for bars and entertainment.

All ’round contacts – I have several taxi drivers in Panama City that speak excellent English and are very reliable.  Just ask and I’d be more than happy to share them or arrange just about anything for you in advance.  Here is another one-stop shop for everything Panama City:  https://bedsboatsandbeyond.wordpress.com/

So. Hope that helps.  Ever more, hope to see you down here soon!

-Nate

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!

 

So, what’s new? Chartering in San Blas

I’m back.  It’s been awhile, yeah? I know.

Why the delay?  Because I was doing some land traveling, some writing, some visiting people, some of this and some of that.  Most importantly, I wasn’t on the boat and when that happens I don’t like to broadcast my whereabouts – on more than one occasion I’ve had my boat broken into.

Alot has changed, let me catch you up:

I went to Africa. Then a family member’s wedding. Then there was Mexico, all over Mexico.  Then Christmas back home again. Then there was more Mexico and then Colombia again – Cartagena, Santa Marta, Medellin, Guatape, and more. During this time in Colombia I grew to like Medellin, Colombia quite a bit. So much so that I decided to look into real estate there (Medellin), as I was trying to move some investments out of the stock market due to the long bull-run it’s had and the political shenanigans going on there…

So, after a ton of looking around. I found a place in Medellin for below-market and I bought it.  Or, technically, am in the process of buying it.  If you know Medellin, it’s in Provincia, Poblado, Medellin.  Yeah, in the heart of the best restaurants and bars. Why Medellin, why there? Because when I want to take a break from the boat I want somewhere where the weather is always nice, it’s not humid, there are no bugs, there is no saltwater to corrode all of my electronics, and I can order delivery sushi over a blazing fast WiFi connection.  Oh, and I wanted a place where I can eat five-star meals for the cost of McDonald’s back home.  Why Medellin, specifically?  It’s the lowest cost per square meter of all of the world’s cosmopolitan cities, it’s nicknamed ‘The City of Eternal Spring’, and yes – the people are friendly, educated and beautiful. Also, the deal made financial sense.

The downside?  It took the vast majority of my liquid capital.  Which means that hoodlum Nate needs to get to work to build up a little financial cushion before he continues his little journey.  Which leads me to the major change about to take place on this site, and in my life.  I’m about to do some serious charter-work.  Crewed charter – meaning me and one crew member bring people to the best places in San Blas (undoubtedly one of the most beautiful places on Earth).  I’m leaning toward two years of this, maybe three and then a little jaunt across the Pacific.  Of course, the plan is to not have a plan – so all of that is subject to change.

The biggest change here is that the site is going to be optimized and dedicated to chartering.  I will still post, you’ll still get updates, and hopefully it’ll still be fun for you.  If not, you’ll just have to excuse me while I make some money.  Then it’ll be back to regularly scheduled programming.

We’re open for charter business in April of this year, and you guys (who are on the email list) have first shot.  And you get a 15% discount just for being awesome enough to be on this list.  If you want to come down to San Blas for an unforgettable vacation, shoot me an email (or reach out via Facebook) and we’ll figure out a date that works to fish, sail, dive, or just drink margaritas on the beach.

-Nate

Water hole

In the Namibian Bush

So.  At this point I’m with friends in Namibia.  We’re all getting ready to go out into the middle of nowhere for a week (ish).  The goal is to see alot of the country and it’s animals.

 

In the Namibian Bush

This is the day.  We have a huge breakfast at the bakery.  After breakfast we begin packing for our safari. At this point we are introduced to the vehicle we will be riding in, and it’s awesome owners (Joep and Anita).  It looks like this:

Our ride

Our ride

That, folks, is a huge off-road, diesel, 4×4, Mercedes truck.  The inside of which has been converted into a condo (think bed, sink, shower, toilet, table, fridge, etc).  It’s a massive thing that you can take almost anywhere.

And then it’s time for lunch.  We head back to the bakery, where we are treated (again) to an excellent meal – hell, they even had our names on our placemats.

The crew at lunch

The crew at lunch

After lunch, we’re on the road – heading to the campsite.  It’s not as remote as many of the places we have planned later in the trip – but it’s cozy and convenient. We spent two nights here and then moved.

In the shade

Setting up camp was so difficult, we took a break

Here are some pictures over those two days/nights.  Some of these pics are Cristelles, some ours, some Joep’s.

Wildebeest

Wildebeest

Zebra fights

Zebra fights

Water hole

Water hole

Smallest antelope in Namibia

Smallest antelope in Namibia

Baby giraffe

Baby giraffe

Momma giraffe

Momma giraffe

 

Esquillo

Esquillo

Zebra

Fat Zebra

Oryx

Oryx

 

Elephants!

Elephants!

Don't drink this stuff

Don’t drink this stuff

Dinner and drinks

Dinner and drinks

Colors

Colors

Sundowners on the deck

Sundowners on the deck

Sundowners, again

Sundowners, again

One of those days we took off for a game-drive (some pics above).  Excellent stuff.  Ana and I were riding on the top of the big truck drinking beer/cider and taking pictures of all of the wild and weird animals.  Elephant, zebra, giraffe, oryx, springbok, wildebeest, etc.  Fun times.  A  privilege to be treated so well by our many hosts.  This was the day that Ana and I saw a very rare animal – the hyena.  It was too quick for a picture – but it was very, very cool.

Kudu

Kudu

More giraffe

More giraffe

 

This one (below) is a favorite, though the quality clearly sucks.  Zebras moved into our camp one night and we got close enough to take these pictures.  If you’re from the South, you might think this is like cow-tipping, but Zebras.

Zebra-tipping

Zebra-tipping

The morning following the game drive, we woke up very early.  I was freezing and had a bit of a headache, but I made it.  A light breakfast and we began taking down camp.  We were on the road early and we were heading to a different type of terrain in Namibia:  the rocky desert.  So we drove and drove and eventually pulled up at a cool campsite, nestled into some sizable boulders.  On top of many of the boulders baboons sat guard and screamed at us when we came close.

 

That day was a rest day.  We took a break and drank and ate and visited the pool.  Yes, that’s a pool overlooking the bush in the middle of Namibia.  We were spoiled.

Pool over the desert

Pool over the desert

And that makes this a good spot for a break.  Cheers!

Caipirinha's all around!

Caipirinha’s all around!

Baboons, roadside

Afreeeka!

The rumors are true.  I did it.  I went to Africa.  Namibia, actually.  If you don’t know where Namibia is, that means you’re part of the 99% of the world who isn’t from Southern Africa – fret not.  But go ahead and Google it (or just click here).  Not so many pictures on this post, but they’re on the way.  Bear with me.

Getting to Namibia

So I had to get from Bocas to Namibia.  And I’m on a budget.  So I’m not renting a private jet for this transatlantic crossing.  Bummer.  That means long flights, long layovers.  All of that with large people spilling over into my seat, screaming infants, ridiculous climate controls, and BO.  Oh – and airport security.  Sweet.

I love flying  (as a mode of travel) because it’s fast.  I hate flying for all other reasons.  Enough said.

Here’s how this all came to be:

  1. Get the boat ready to leave (easier written than done)
  2. Pay the marina (ouch)
  3. Flight from Bocas to Panama City
  4. Overnight at a hotel in Panama City.  Booked on LMT, so I didn’t know it was the infamous Wyndam (think hooker-central)
  5. Fly from PTY to MIA.  Flight delayed, book another connecting flight.
  6. Fly from MIA to London (a looooong flight).  Note to self:  London Heathrow is a zoo, the animals are pasty-white folks and their children
  7. Long layover in London.  Kick feet up, take shoes off, get my Netflix on.  Computer dies and I realize I need a converter to charge everything… What a dummy.
  8. Fly from London to Johannesburg.  Godawful long, screaming infants (plural) next to me. Get through security, realize wallet isn’t in my pocket.  No big deal, it just has 90% of my cash and three of four credit cards in it.  Good news:  I have a stash of cash and a spare card in a different spot.  I’ll probably survive.
  9. Finally find someone to talk to about lost wallet.  Inform them of said wallet misplaced by said numbskull.  Jaco and Cristelle (our hosts) find me, I tell them the wallet-news.  They suggest we drink coffee.  I agree.  We drink coffee.
  10. Ana surprises us all by showing up when we’re done with our coffee.  This leads us to buy a bottle of wine (early in the morning), much to the waiter’s surprise.  Which brings back the memories of sailing in Cuba where our coffee mugs were often replaced by cups containing some (alcoholic) treat.  The wine (not the cheapest and excellent) costs $6 for the bottle.  In an airport.  Good God, I’m in love.
  11. We take separate flights from  Johannesburg to Windhoek, Namibia.  While boarding my plane, a girl from Virgin Atlantic smiles and says:  “I’ve been looking for a guy with a beard and long blonde hair.  I guess that’s you.  Nathan Niehuus?”  She was smiling and didn’t appear to be law-enforcement, so I acknowledged.  She handed me my wallet (with all my cash/cards in it).  I gave her a $20 bill.  She had no idea how much money that was – neither did I (they use the Rand, not the dollar).  The only thing I knew was how much a bottle of wine cost… I told her it was about 5 bottles of decent wine.  We were both very happy.
  12. I arrive first in Windhoek, I get a taxi and head to the Puccini Guest House (Jaco and Cristelle are part owners) where I had a room waiting.  On the way I see baboons on the side of the road and it sinks in:  Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore.  Cool.

Home-ish.  At last.

That night we had a meal at a Soccer Club with Jaco and Cristelle’s friends.  Which is kind of a pub, with a strong leaning toward (you guessed it) – Soccer!  I had a (1 pound) T-Bone and fries and a salad and we spilt many a bottle of wine around the table.  All-in it cost me a bit over $10 at the end of the night.  Wonderful.  And I will say this:  Namibians know their meats. Their steak competes favorably with our steak in Texas.

Up Next…

The next day we wake up early, which is not my specialty.  We are busy – provisioning for our upcoming trips to the bush.  Over the next week we’re doing a bit of camping, seeing the countryside, looking for weird (and tasty) animals.

We provision.  Per usual, the bigger decisions were about what wines to bring along.  I love these kinds of tough decisions.  We decided well.  Meat and veg and everything else.  Biltong, which is like our jerky back home (sometimes better).  They eat it like candy here.  Really they eat it much, much more than candy.

Dinner with family

Dinner with family

Then we drive to Outju, where some of Cristelle’s family lives.  There we have are introduced all-around and we are treated like family.  We’re given a place to stay with Cristelle’s family and eat at their bakery.  Life is good. That night we have a big cookout with Cristelle’s family, where we are introduced to her father and mother.  Her father is a retired conservation expert, a biologist.  He has great stories, has lived a fascinating life and he likes white wine.  We had great wines and smoked a couple good cigars and ate fine meats.  Africa is a tough country.

Learning from the grill-master

Learning from the grill-master

For the next three weeks:  the running joke is that pork and chicken (white meats) are counted as vegetables in Namibia.  It’s only funny because it’s true.

We make it back to our beds tired and full and a little drunk.  And we are happy.