The locals calmly and quietly paddle around in home made wooden dugout canoes. They seem to take a liking to paddle really near our boat and always catch us unaware as you can’t hear them coming. I’m not sure if we are the local thing to gawp at (I do admit Hugo and Felix dancing and running naked around the deck during tropical rain showers is quite a sight – but if you can’t do that at age 6 and 8 when can you!!) or if they think trawling a fishing line in their hand they will get fish nearer our boat? Either way we both smile and wave with our “hola” greetings. How the canoes stay afloat is amazing, they sit so low in the water, are paddled from the rear with a homemade wooden basic paddle and are very narrow (think tree girth width and then narrow hips to fit inside it), and they always seem to be bailing water out too – leaky trees it seems. The sight is somewhat surreal when you see a guy go past in a football shirt and on his phone, in a rustic dugout canoe. Obviously the way to travel even if you have a phone. Most don’t own shoes let alone phones though.
Panama have put a restriction on yacht movements, ie you can’t. So our pace of life has just got even slower to match the sloths we see in the rainforest trees. We hope to be able to ask for permission to move bays, apparently they grow cocoa beans on the next island and have a small chocolate “factory”. Sounds like a place to be stuck to me!! Dolphin Bay is also renowned for as the name suggests, the dolphins who live and play there. We hope to spend a couple of weeks soaking up the atmosphere there soon.
Apart from that we are enjoying the quietness of the mangroves and exploring the rivers. The surf beach on the other side of Bastimentos is great and the boys have made friends with local kids of the owners of a beach shack/jungle tent hotel thing that appears closed.
Hugo has donated his bike to the girl his age and in return we get to use their WiFi and sun loungers. There is little point in having bikes on board anymore they will just rust away, a dugout canoe would be more useful 😂. The girl and her family seemed delighted, so we’ve made someone happy at least. We have promised to buy Hugo a surfboard to replace his bike as he would get much more use out of that now. We just have the wee problem of finding a) a shop b) anything that is open and might even sell one to buy it. Fingers crossed and we put out a call on the vhf cruisers and expat net today to ask for help/advice so you never know. The sailing community is nothing short of resourceful. The boys have been lent a homemade sailing dinghy to sail after school tomorrow, so we are being well looked after by the local sailing community.
The most exciting thing on the horizon is a big trip by boat taxi to the mainland on Tuesday to get food, supplies, boat bits and maybe some post 🤞. I hope to speak to family too and get enough WiFi to upload this. All good from us 👍⛵️🏝🐬🐒🦥🌴
We are only 30 miles from Costa Rica and this archipelago of islands range from tropical rainforest to mangroves islands.
Once we’d cleared arrival protocols we were finally allowed ashore masked up. We visited a supermarket and delighted in fresh produce and a well deserved ice cream. I think Felix has eaten at least 7 bananas straight! He was delighted with his first coconut juice too.
Most of the town is shut due to COVID19 shutdown so we soon departed for a rural bay to enjoy the wildlife. We happily anchored amongst mangroves outside Red Frog. The name comes from its famous inhabitants, yes, red frogs which we had great fun spotting in the rain forest. We also saw our first sloth (in the wild) too on our walk to the beach. It’s great to be able to hike!
Panama has put out a new decree that all yachts are now banned from moving which is a pain. But at least we are in a lovely area and we are happy to explore these islands for a couple of weeks. The surf is good and the beach is long. There are worse places to be stuck I am sure.
Surviving quarantine aboard our yacht was the next challenge. All five of us stuck aboard for a further 15 days after sailing for six days straight. Yes, no one was to step off the boat for 21 days. It’s a very small, hot space with limited water and a lot of tinned food. We had been on a COVID-free island for three months, self-isolated for nearly a week sailing to Panama but we still had to do quarantine at anchor. Daunted but optimistic we started, at least we had been allowed to arrive in the country and we are safely out of the hurricane zone now.
Russell made a swing for the boys out of the bosun’s chair and the boys took turns climbing the mast much to their glee. Hugo worked out he could run a mile by doing 65 laps of the boat! Which he proudly did and was the only time he has worn shoes, I had to go searching to find some!
School provided a good structure and distraction for the mornings although we needed to adjust to the 31+ degree temperatures and 100% humidity, we are only 9 degrees from the equator here. In the afternoons Chloe, quiz master and Minister of Fun held board game tournaments. I managed to dig out recipes sent by family and friends and tried baking with the boys most days. To say it’s hot baking on a boat is an understatement more like a sauna and steam room combined! But we managed pizza, bread, scones, biscuits, banana bread and even cake. For someone who has never been a cook, it’s an achievement! Thank you everyone for your bullet-proof galley friendly recipes.
Chloe even cooked a real quarantine treat of toad in the hole, much to the boys utter delight. I think Chloe might have melted in the process though!! It was delicious, very happy crew that night.
We let the boys loose with paint and the dinghy again…this time we inverted it so they got to paint its base only… They happily plastered it with paint much to the amusement of passing locals on a mixture of zooming pangas and gliding dugout canoes (who seem to do an equal amount of paddling to bailing).
We have started to get used to the new sounds, smells and sights in the anchorage; Howler monkeys from the trees in the morning, the warm moist air even at 10pm at night, the loud siren at 9pm for curfew on land (we suppose). At dusk a small pod of dolphins enter the bay and pass our boat enroute to their fishing grounds. They passed Felix swimming only about 15m away.
As the tides change we watch a strange assortment of items float past our boat. Coconuts and bananas frequently float past and the odd chilli. A highlight of one day was seeing a battered saucepan float past and six hours later it floated back past us the other way!
The area of the Bocas north anchorage has been nicknamed ‘refugee corner’ and ‘prisoner bay’ by the locals as there are a group of yachts all with hoisted yellow flags (which highlights we are in quarantine limbo, healthy and requesting entry to the country). There is a friendly cruisers and expat net on the VHF radio every morning at 7:45 and we have been warmly included into the fun chatter. Hugo has even been providing quiz questions to the Bocas community much to his delight.
Our time at quarantine is passing well, our pace of life is slow and we can swim around the boat to cool down and get some exercise. Although they did have a sighting of a 12ft crocodile at the south anchorage yesterday (less than a mile away) so swims are brief and fast!
We are relaxed and happy. We have haphazard and appalling WiFi but at least it’s a vague link to the outside world. Roll on day 15 at anchor, when we get a visit from the doctor and immigration and are finally allowed ashore. We can’t wait.
We set sail to Panama, Bocas de Toro which is over 1000nm from Bonaire crossing notoriously rough sections of sea past the top end of Columbia. Due to COVID-19, our plans to stop and see Aruba, Curaçao and Columbia were slashed, hence the non-stop straight to Panama, where we knew we could arrive and do two weeks quarantine before getting a cruising permit.
As predicted the seas were rough to start and we surfed down waves higher than our binimi which probably didn’t aid the crew getting their sea legs quickly! I’m glad I’d spent the day cooking before leaving. So with the fridge filled with four dinners to start us off I knew my job would be easier.
Three days into the weeks passage the Atlantic rollers eased into more regular waves and everyone relaxed into sailing life. School resumed and afternoons of games, toys, Lego and audiobooks were the structure of the day.
The seas were empty, nothing to see, no one on AIS. COVID-19 has emptied both the skies and seas.
Handovers on night watches started with the question, “Anything exciting”? The response was always, “nope”. Careful for what you wish for though as we sailed into quite a lot of excitement…
Dark brooding clouds filled the horizon and flashes of light crisscrossed the sky. Soon we were under a deluge of rain. Not the pitter patter stuff, the full bucket of water in your face lot. Even the cockpit drains struggled to cope to empty the water fast enough. With the wash boards in, water was still pouring through the ventilation slats, the water was that high from rain! The lightening was all around. From 9pm till 6am the following morning we were in torrential downpours and lightening storms – it was quite scary.
The next day I looked nervously at the sky to see what more was to come but the dawn was bright and beautiful. Our boat was shiny clean too, not a spot of Bonaire dust left anywhere, one advantage of the downpours! But as we tried to trim the sails we realised our instruments were not working, the wind was not being read. And basically every other instrument is a calculation from the wind speed and direction, so if that’s gone you are slightly stuffed. Looks like we got struck by lightening last night then. Not good news at all and we had our fingers crossed that there was no other damage. I had unplugged our satellite phone and spare radio and put them in a makeshift Faraday cage (our metal oven) during the lightening on my night shift as I vaguely tried to recollect an A-level Physics lesson on the subject!! I reckoned they would be safe there at least. We’d have to wait till we arrive to climb the mast and check what other damage we might have incurred.
Five days into the sail and we were starting to get excited about arriving in a couple of days when we got news that a boat ahead of us had been refused entry. Panic rising we used our satellite phone to contact more people in the anchorage and asked for updates. We had only left Bonaire as we knew we could arrive in Panama and do the obligatory two weeks quarantine before getting a permit to cruise the islands. But during these times anything can change…Our contacts reassured us to keep heading to Bocas and they were expecting us. “Be prepared to be met with the armed machine gun navy and you must all be wearing masks” was the reply. Slightly daunted we continued, not that we had a huge amount of choice at this stage of the route.
The wind died and we resorted to motoring the last 40 hours. We even stopped, did our setchi dish (global ocean plankton measuring) experiment and went for a swim. It’s always an odd sensation swimming above a 4000m abyss. The sea was a stunning blue and there was nothing lurking beneath that we could see!
On my night shift I was treated to a pod of dolphins who jumped and swam at the bow under the strong moonlight. They lifted my spirits and I spent a glorious half hour watching them play in our bow wave at night. Truly magical. Moments like this are why we are doing this trip.
At 5am we were only two miles of the coast but with a shallow approach and poor charts (unmarked small islands and no navigation buoys) we motored in circles avoiding rain clouds until dawn lit the way in. A frustrating and diesel wasting activity when you are exhausted and just want to sleep, but necessary. As dawn lit the sky we sailed into the Bocas de Toro inlet and a pod of dolphins jumped out of the water to welcome us. The boys squealed with delight. The sight of so much greenery, tropical rain forest on the islands stunned us after the brown barren dust of Bonaire. We dropped our anchor and awaited the authorities…desperate to collapse into bed and sleep but staying awake, trying to look smart and ready to see what fate awaited us…
We were instructed to anchor beside the pirate ship, we guess this is the place!
After 10 weeks in Bonaire, things are starting to open up globally so we are leaving our safe COVID-free bubble and sailing 1000 miles to Panama. Time for a change of scene.
With six days of sailing ahead of us and two weeks of quarantine when we arrive, I have stocked up on food as if we are crossing the Pacific.
The nets are full, cupboards are rammed with pasta, tins etc and we are full of water and diesel. Time to go.
It’s a sad farewell to the many families and friends we have made here in the last 10 weeks. We hope to see you all again soon. Farewell and we will be off grid for three weeks. But you can track us on marine traffic if you need, just search Kathryn del Fuego and it should find us!
I will post more about Bonaire once I have access to my photos again. Delights of iphone storage issues….😂
Lots of folk have asked us what it’s like to be stuck and have your sailing plans turned upside down with no control over anything and Russell found this text from ‘Live the Voyage’ which sums it up nicely. So if you’re wondering, here goes…
Imagine planning for years that you’d take a couple of years away from your job, or maybe even put your career on hold, to purchase a boat for your family to sail the world. You might sell your home, along with many of your possessions all for one dream. One that you may have dreamt about for your entire life. A dream many said would be close to impossible to execute. When the day finally comes and you move on your boat with your few possessions and your family. You’re in a new country, maybe one that doesn’t speak your language and the only familiar faces you see are your family members. Figuring out how to get food and supplies, and for many, how to sail your boat. You wonder how you’ll ever adapt to such a different lifestyle. What happens if weeks or maybe months into your one year plan, a global pandemic strikes and your dream comes to a complete halt. You and your family get stuck in a country, without anywhere to go. Healthcare is questionable. The language different, and the locals are petrified you will be the one to bring disease to their country. They are scared. This is reality for many sailing families right now. Imagine that one week vacation you had planned, but add in leaving your career, leaving your home for a floating one and selling your things, and then the only thing you can do is stay on your boat and not leave. What about traveling to all those exotic places you had on your list? All those places you talked incessantly about to your family for years. Not happening. Right now, there are families all over the world, ones like the ones I’ve described above, who are close to waving the white flag. They didn’t sign up for this when they were leaving their jobs and selling their possessions. Global pandemic was not on their list of “10 things you should worry about when moving your family abroad and onto a boat”. One may think being overtaken by a rogue wave or boarded by pirates was pretty high up there on the things people worried about when you said you were going to sail the world with your kids, but a global pandemic? No way. That’s science fiction – crazy! Not only are there families out there who have only just started, there are ones out there who may be years into their adventure, and even when they think they may have seen it all, they are faced with the unbelievable. The entire globe has basically come to a screeching halt due to COVID-19, and many families like us who travel by boat are left wondering, “what next?” or even more important “where can we go from here?”and most often, the answer is “no where” or “there’s no right answer.” There are families who had multi-year plans to sail the Caribbean, then cross over to Panama and prep for a month-long passage across the Pacific Ocean to French Polynesia to eventually circumnavigate the globe over a set period of time. These plans, years in the making, and countless pounds spent prepping for a huge undertaking. Some families were able to leave their boat safely and get back to family, while others ultimately did leave Panama for French Polynesia, only to be turned away once they arrived, after traveling for weeks non-stop, even with children on board, to be told, there were no islands accepting visitors and they must turn around and go back where they came from. Their only option? Sail to Hawaii, another several week passage, or continue on. However there was no guarantee other countries wouldn’t turn them away as well. Then what? Almost months on the ocean without stepping foot on solid ground and still nowhere to go with waning food supplies. There are those out there who left their boat in a foreign country to travel back home to visit family, maybe take care of some medical care, only to be told, they were not allowed to return to their boat, which is ultimately their home and must stay where they were. They never planned to leave their boat unattended for an unforeseeable length of time and the financial burden begins to build. Due to the nature of the pandemic, the chances of successfully selling their boat and/or being able to even go back to their home country are slim. All they can do is sit tight and watch their bank account empty and hope countries start lessening travel restrictions. One family with the mother 7 months pregnant, located in the Cayman Islands, had plans to return home to Canada to deliver their unborn child and were notified all the borders and airports were closed before they could leave. The catch? They now will be forced to deliver their new baby in the Cayman Islands. Not only does this create stress and problems for the family, but the financial impact is real due to hospital fees and lack of health insurance coverage this family now faces. Some families face being in a foreign country and are now being asked to leave, or have no choice to leave in order to position their boat in a hurricane free zone. The real challenge comes when there is no logical place to go from their current location, or one that is thousands of miles away, which entails crossing oceans in order to get home, often with small children and/or inexperienced sailors aboard. The opportunity to find crew members to assist in this potential dangerous undertaking is close to impossible. Travel restrictions around the world making a typically easy task of finding crew, next to impossible. Travel insurance companies dropping healthcare coverage if patrons cannot return back to their home country, yet they are not able to leave their boat behind. Some islands are harassing people to leave immediately. The challenge is real and most often cruisers are faced with the option of inaction being the best action, which is sitting tight and seeing which direction the world goes. One family interviewed stated they had no solid plans as to how long they’d continue traveling, but now they may be forced to sell their boat due to financial insecurity. Their primary income coming from a vacation rental property, but with COVID-19, many are cancelling, leaving many families with drastically reduced income streams. Unfortunately, situations like the ones above are just a small handful of what cruising families are currently facing. One could say “this is what people get for not going back to their home”, but the reality is, home is no longer home and is now their boat, and home is wherever that boat may be. The truth is, the changes that occurred happened so very fast that it was close to impossible to make plans to leave your home safely in a hurricane zone and go back to your country, which often meant for many that there was no actual physical address to return. The truth is, no matter where you are on the globe, one thing is for true, life is uncertain. It’s a scary new world that we are all just watching unfold before our eyes. We are all being faced with challenging choices and decisions, and many people like us are feeling exposed and not quite sure where we belong. Those families who had one year to execute their dream are now watching it unfold in unimaginable ways. The sailing community is full of amazingly strong people who face challenges like this with grace and strength, and it’s a special feeling to be surrounded by families like these. We are all facing incredible challenges, but we’re in this together. People helping people, despite the wide range of obstacles that we each face on a daily, or even hourly basis. We are all living the voyage.
We hope to continue our dream of sailing the world and will work through our stretched patience and raw nerves at “times like these”…
What to do in Bonaire when you are here for three unplanned months…everyone try diving in the crystal clear waters of the marine park. Even Chloe is now an advanced PADI diver.
Hugo had a go (admittedly only allowed to 2m), but it was like a fish to water. Once in, he was off! The dive instructor laughed at Hugo’s speed of adapting to diving and then hurriedly descended to catch him up!
Hugo even saw an octopus on his first dive, amazing.
S/y Pearl are our diving buddies and together we are seeing the amazing underwater Bonaire.