Sunday, February 28, 2010

In Search Of?

S/V Aspen – March 1, 2010 – Log #31
Position: 8 degrees 18.0' N 79 degrees 54.25' W
(Isla Del Rey, Las Perlas Islands, Panama)

In Search Of?

We finally pulled our anchor out of the muck that entrapped us at
Balboa, Panama. Admiral Maria was not happy with the dirt, mud and
smelly things that came aboard with the chain. It took us nearly a week
to get rid of the smell with the help of quite a bit of bleach, comet
cleanser and even Febreze.

Checking out of Panama was quite an experience. We needed a fumigation
certificate, port captain clearance, immigration stamp and our papers
that indicated we had already checked in and out of the Caribbean side,
Panama Canal Zone and lastly the vital non-renewal cruising permit that
was about to expire in 3 days. All of this only took quite a bit of
payment to the right officials and visits to the nondescript offices
inside well guarded areas. But now we are legally able to leave Panama
aboard Aspen.

You have probably already read about our Tsunami incident so we won't
repeat that again. Instead we will describe what we have been doing so far.

We are following in the footsteps of Paul Gauguin, the famous
impressionist painter who sought the idillic life in the South Pacific.
Gauguin spent time in Martinique, that beautiful island in the eastern
Caribbean where we visited his house and garden near St. Pierre. It was
that visit that inspired at least one of us (Steve) to find out more
about Gauguin. Maria doesn't seem quite as interested in Gauguin since
he was fairly hedonistic in his lifestyle! But Steve searches on.

Anyway, we sailed to a small island called Taboga just off the coast of
Panama. Gauguin spent 2 months on this island of flowers recovering
from the diseases he contacted while he worked on the failed French
Panama Canal project. Yellow fever sounds right!

We visited the ruins of the hospital where he stayed and became healthy
again. But Taboga had an even more famous person as a resident.
Francisco Pizarro lived here for quite some time as he developed his
plans to conquer the Inca empire in South America. We know what
happened there!

So here we were, following in the footsteps of Pizarro and Gauguin in
the Pacific! We were both very impressed when we saw Pizarro's house
that sits adjacent to a very pleasant Spanish courtyard. On the
opposite side of the courtyard was the hospital where Gauguin stayed.
The history of this area is incredible.

But the winds said it was time to depart Taboga so we sailed south to a
string of islands called the Las Perlas Islands (Pearl Islands). These
are a series of islands that are very remote and mostly uninhabited,
except for half a dozen small fishing settlements. The fishermen from
these settlements come out to Aspen displaying their catch of the day,
lobsters and fruits that they have to sell. So we bought 4 lobsters for
$10 this time and had another feast!

The fishermen also have pearls to sell, hence the name the Pearl
Islands. It seems that Pizarro also visited these islands and captured
a king's ransom in beautiful pearls. We think that Pizarro must have
taken all of the pearls because the ones that are left are very very small!

Anchored off another of the islands, Isle del Rey, we took our dinghy up
a small river and enjoyed the calls of many birds that lined the silent
banks. Parrots screeched and tropical birds whispered to us as we
drifted silently by, pushed by the current.

There was a TV show that was filmed here a few years ago. It was called
Survivor - Las Perlas. It was filmed on one of the uninhabited islands
that is right next to the most populated village in the archipelago. We
guess the film crew needed more amenities than the survivors!

The weather here is HOT. And HUMID! Luckily the sea is crystal clear
and refreshing when we get too overheated. Steve was able to use his
SCUBA gear as he worked on the bottom of Aspen. Changing zincs and
scraping the barnacles off is much easier with a tank than with a
snorkel! Maria also thought it was easier because she didn't have to
revive an oxygen deprived captain Steve when he finally surfaced from
all his work this time.

We hear the Rally boats that are spread among the islands on the VHF
radio, getting ready for the sail to the Galapagos Islands, our next
destination. It will be a journey of about 930 miles as the whales swim
(crows don't fly out here).

Captain Steve has calculated that we have enough fuel to motor about 600
miles. Admiral Maria is quick to point out that maybe there might be a
problem with that? Arrrrrrrrr says Captain Steve, we are a sailing ship
so up with the main and out with the jib - those white things that
usually just hang there waiting for wind. We will let you know how it
goes out there!!

Sail on sail on Aspen...

Steve and Maria

Saturday, February 27, 2010


S/V Aspen – February 27, 2010 – Log #29
Position: 8 degrees 18.0' N 79 degrees 54.25' W
(Las Perlas Islands, Panama)


Around 8:30 AM today one of our group of boats in the anchorage was
zipping around in their dinghy telling everyone to leave NOW. There was
a tsunami warning issued for the Las Perlas Islands, right where we are!!!

Needless to say we didn't need any explanation but immediately picked up
our anchor and headed Aspen out to sea. The deep water offered us the
protection we sought from the large waves that were generated from an
8.8 magnitude earthquake near the coast of Chile.

Quickly looking at our satellite emails there were 14 of them waiting
for us - all from NOAA telling us the expected time of impact - in
approximately 15 minutes!

Motoring out into the open ocean we slowed Aspen to a crawl as we sat
and waited. It didn't take long before we saw some waves pass
underneath our boat. Since we were in deep water the waves barely
affected us but only rocked us a little on their way toward shore.
Luckily the waves appeared to be minor as they made their way onto land.

Then our satellite phone rang and it was Bob, who Steve is working with
in Denver, telling us about the possible tsunami heading our way. Then
the phone rang again and it was Tim telling us about the earthquake that
he was watching on TV at his hotel in New York City. Isn't technology

After waiting over 2 hours for the last of the waves to sweep past us we
headed Aspen once again into her anchorage off Isla Del Rey in the Las
Perlas Islands of Panama. We were safe from the tsunami!!

Hopefully we can now continue on our journey. We plan to sail to the
Galapagos Islands around the 2nd of March. This will take us about 9
days of sailing and we will pass the equator and enter the southern

So if you would like to keep track of us you can go to two places:
1. Our blog at:

2. Or you can log onto and login as a guest
The vessel name is: Aspen
The password is: aspen

We will try to submit our position report every day.

Sail on sail on Aspen

Steve and Maria

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Where to now?

Happy to have made the Panama Canal transit!

Just a typical yacht going by the anchorage.

Our anchorage at La Playita, Panama City, Panama

The final doors open at Mira Flores and ahead of us lies the Pacific Ocean!

The captain still worried. This is another of our line handlers from the sailboat Aurora B

Way up there is our canal line person who watches us.

Three other sailboats in the chamber ahead of us. The locks are enormous!

The sailboat raft with the doors of the lock closing behind us at Pedro Miguel lock

Still tense at the helm

Who has the right-of-way in the main channel???

Our companion ship in the Gaun locks.

The waters are swirling and the captain is a bit nervous!

This is Aspen rafted to another sailboat going into the locks. The two people in the foreground are the advisors, one for each boat.

Two of our crew for the transit from another sailboat, Chapter 2

Maria getting ready to leave the dock

This is a 102 foot catamaran owned by Richard Branson (Virgin Airlines). We decided it was too big for us

The tires are for additional cushioning of Aspen, just in case...

Getting ready to leave the slip for the transit. It is a tight fit!

S/V Aspen – February 16, 2010 – Log #29
Position: 8 degrees 54.4’ N 79 degrees 31.5’ W
(Balboa, Panama)

So here we are, anchored in the Pacific Ocean at an anchorage near Panama City, Panama. But where are we going next?

There are a string of islands that we can sail to and reach in a day. They are called the Las Perlas Islands (Peal Islands) that are owned by Panama. The TV show Survivor was even filmed on one of them. That sounds like a good destination!

Actually, the Las Perlas Islands are where we leave from to sail to the Galapagos Islands so we will head there after we stock Aspen up with canned food and lots of other good things to eat.

The Las Perlas Islands are mostly uninhabited so we will clean the boat in the crystal clear water and get some rest before the long passage to the Galapagos Islands. We hear they still have WIFI at one or two islands so we plan to use that before heading further out.

So for the next week we will be tweaking Aspen to get her ship-shape (don't you love that?!?) before bringing up the anchor again!

We have also posted photos from our Panama Canal transit aboard Aspen on the blog site if you would like to see them (see address below).

Sail on sail on Aspen...

Steve and Maria

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Pacific!

S/V Aspen – February 10, 2010 – Log #28
Position: 8 degrees 54.4’ N 79 degrees 31.5’ W
(Balboa, Panama)

Aspen is in the Pacific!

Our transit of the Panama Canal was a 2 day adventure. We started out at 3:30 pm on Sunday and entered the Gatun locks at 4:30, rafted to two other sailboats. There were three sailboats side-by-side as we entered the first lock in daylight.

Ahead of us was a 450 foot ship called the Pacific Reefer. We followed her throughout the 3 locks.

Locking up 85 feet into Gatun Lake took about 2 hours. It was just getting dark as we separated from the raft and took a huge mooring buoy in Gatun Lake for the night.

The stars literally sparkled as their light reached Aspen, sitting quietly in the midst of the calm lake.

We had 4 line handlers on board Aspen. The four people were friends from other sailboats who volunteered to come along for the ride. They were also all British so we learned a lot of new English words.

All we had to do for our line handlers was to feed them and give them a place to sleep for the night. Also, we should have had a toilet that worked and of course the toilet took this moment to barely work.

The captain, Steve, spent about 1.5 hours on the beast and decided it was time for the dreaded bucket to be deployed for later use. The toilet was hopelessly clogged.

The advisor, along with the six of us, enjoyed our evening meal of an antipasti plate, meatballs, pasta, garlic bread and salad.

Once the advisor departed it wasn't too long before we retired early to the sounds of silence all around us. Everyone was pretty exhausted from going through the locks.

Early the next morning, Monday, January 8th, we were awakened by the roar of howler monkeys all around us. As we were enjoying nature we heard another roar, that of the pilot boat looking for Aspen.

Within a minute the advisor was transferred onboard Aspen and we were motoring fast toward the three locks that would lower us into the Pacific Ocean, 35 miles away. The beauty of the lake was remarkable as we motored through the winding channel, dodging 960 foot ships enroute to the Caribbean.

Aspen was motoring as fast as she could go in order to meet our timetable for the Pedro Miguel lock at 11:01 AM. We arrived at the lock with only minutes to spare. We were rafted to one other sailboat this time as we made our way down the set of 3 locks into the Pacific Ocean.

The web camera at Mira Flores Locks looked down upon 6 people waving madly at the cheering crowd that was watching the entire process.

Our little raft once again split apart after the last lock and the advisor departed Aspen.

Directly ahead of us was the Bridge of the Americas - the Gateway to the Pacific Ocean!

So here we are, once again at anchor onboard Aspen but in an entirely new ocean. The water is just as warm, the trade winds are still moving us about but there is the promise of a new adventure just over the horizon.

Welcome to the Pacific Ocean Aspen and crew!!!

Sail on sail on Aspen...

Steve and Maria

Saturday, February 6, 2010

It's Showtime!

S/V Aspen – February 7, 2010 – Log #27
Position: 9 degrees 22.1’ N 79 degrees 57.0’ W
(Cristobal/Colon, Panama)

Aspen, along with Steve and Maria, will be going through the Panama Canal beginning today, Sunday, February 7, 2010 and ending on Monday, February 8, 2010.

We will be at the first locks (Gatun) at about 6:00 pm EST or later on Sunday.

Then on Monday we will be at Mira Flores locks at about 1pm or later.

To see us live you can click on this web site:

Then select which camera you want to view and look for us. If you can take pictures of us from the screen please do so! We would like any copies you can get.

Sail on sail on Aspen …

Steve and Maria

Monday, February 1, 2010

Panama Canal - Practice

Knowing that we will go through the Panama Canal in less than 2 weeks, we decided that it might be wise to see what actually happens when a sailboat goes through the Canal from the Caribbean Sea to the Pacific Ocean.

We met a nice Dutch couple in Trinidad who also arrived in Panama and were going through the canal last week on their boat. So we volunteered to be their line handlers for the journey.

Every sailboat that goes through the canal must have 4 line handlers, 4 very long and thick dock lines and numerous tires dangling from all parts of the boat to protect it from an accidental crash against the huge lock walls.

At 2 pm we motored out of Shelter Bay Marina and met our advisor who would ride along and tell us what to do for the first part of our journey. The boat we were on was a 53 foot sailboat named De Ware Jacob and it carried a Dutch flag because it is from Rotterdam, Holland. Of course everyone we would see assumed that all of the crew on the boat were Dutch so we always surprised them when we spoke English. We don’t speak a word of Dutch!

A swimming iguana in Lake Gatun!

We motored into the first lock called Gatun Lock in the dark at 7 pm. It was pitch black all around us. Only the flashing lights marking the channel could be seen beside us. There is a nice web camera at the lock but because it was so dark it was difficult to see us. Even though there are huge lights illuminating the lock chambers, the darkness still pervades everything. We entered the lock behind an 800 foot ship that was locking through with us.

Out of the blackness we heard the zip zip zip zip of the 4 monkey fists that were thrown down onto our boat and the smaller sailboat that was rafted next to us in the center of the lock (center tie). It was our job to retrieve the monkey fist, tie our large line to it and send the big line back up to the canal worker high above us on the side of the locks. This process must be done very quickly because the lock doors are closing right behind us.

Up went our lines where they were secured onto huge bollards at the top of the lock walls. Whew, our job was done, or so we thought. But not really! As the huge lock quickly filled with water we started our journey upward for 28 feet to the top of the first lock. As we rocketed skyward (well, it was not really that fast but it felt like it from all the work we had to do) we had to pull in the slack in our ropes so that we stayed in the middle of the lock. We pulled the lines quickly and that kept us in position against the swirling waters. Then there was silence.

Getting the line ready

We were at the top of the lock now and the lock doors at the far end opened allowing the 800-foot ship to churn up the water right in front of us as it exited the first chamber. We followed behind him into the 2nd chamber and repeated the same procedure. There were a total of 3 chambers pushing us upward a total of 85 feet before the final doors opened and we entered Gatun Lake. We were pretty tired after all this.

Gatun Lake is the largest man-made lake in the world. It is used only to provide water for the locks. It is here that we made the mandatory over-night stop, tied to a huge ship buoy to wait for daylight and the final part of the journey into the Pacific Ocean the next day.

Our advisor departed and left us in the quiet of the jungle that engulfs Gatun Lake. The stars looked like a painting over our heads as barely a ripple disturbed the calm of the lake.

Rafted to another boat in Lake Gatun

The next day, as daylight peeked through the jungle, our Dutch hosts began serving a breakfast of soft boiled eggs, croissants, coffee and fruit in the cockpit. Just as we started eating the roar of a pilot boat disturbed our peaceful breakfast.

Our advisor was coming toward us at 15 knots and was onboard De Ware Jacob in a flash, ready to go. Lines were quickly disconnected from the mooring buoy and we headed through the Banana Cut on our way toward the final 3 locks that lie at the entrance to the Pacific Ocean.

The advisor giving instructions to Maria

One of our neighbors through the Canal

After motoring all morning, we arrived at the first lock. Here we started our downward trip in each lock. Knowing the line drill quite well things were easier since we only had to let more line out – no more pulling! The first lock, Pedro Miguel, was followed by the dual Mira Flores locks.

As the last lock at Mira Flores opened we stared directly at the Bridge of the Americas – the gateway to the Pacific!

My sister Vicki took this screen capture. That is us rafted to another sailboat - way back there on the right side. See the 2 masts?

We will get to repeat this process aboard Aspen. Aspen is scheduled to transit the Panama Canal sometime between February 10-13th. We will keep you posted when we get an exact date and time and give you a website where, if you are lucky, you can see us in the locks!

Sail on sail on Aspen…