November 13, 2006 Letter

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Dear Family and Friends,

A little over one year ago, we threw off the dock lines and headed south to explore new countries and experience the cruising lifestyle.  So far, we think it suits us pretty well.  And while we miss our kids and grandkids enormously, we really enjoy being out here together.  We enjoy the casual nature of this lifestyle as well as the physical demands.  We've learned a lot about sailing and a lot about Aquila, and more importantly we've realized how much more we have to learn!  For sure, we will never be bored.  We love that our "list" is always long, yet we have the freedom to spend hours or even days doing nothing at all.  Mike loves to read.  He gets a new stack of books at the cruisers' book exchange library in each port.  Linda likes to meditate (sit and stare out at the ocean, the shore, the birds, the clouds) or produce videos on the computer.  In the heat of the day, we will jump in the water to cool off.  When we're not socializing with the other cruisers or exploring on-shore, we enjoy a late afternoon game of cribbage in the cockpit with music playing and a glass of something cold.  After dinner, we will often set up the flat screen and watch a favorite movie from our DVD collection.  It is at this time that Mike requires his chocolate fix and Linda craves her kettle corn.  We typically go to bed pretty early.  In the morning, Mike gets up early to make the coffee and after 15 years of marriage, he still brings Linda her coffee in bed every morning.  However, we typically like to drink our coffee up in the cockpit and enjoy the sunrise.

That is the simplistic view of our life.  Generously sprinkle into that picture the following activities:  boat maintenance and repairs, finding the necessary boat parts, grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning, laundry, searching for the local ATM, eating out, snorkeling, plotting and sailing to the next location, weathering the storms, avoiding the shoals, finding fuel, and doing the "paperwork shuffle" to check in and check out of each port.  All in all, we're loving this experience.

The first week in October brought us a visit from Sean, Keni and our granddaughter Kailyn to Bocas del Toro, Panama.  Of course an hour before they were scheduled to land, the sky turned dark, the wind came up, and the rain started.  Mother Nature likes to tease us when our kids come to visit.  It rained for a day and a half, but we didn't let that stop us from swimming off the pier.  After all, it's a warm rain.  When the sun returned, we had a fabulous week, full of excursions.  We took the 40-minute water taxi ride across the channel to the mainland and up the banana canal to Changuinola, so that we could renew our tourist visas.  That is such a fun, scenic ride.  And the weather was perfect.  The next day we hired a tourboat to take us to Dolphin Bay.  The boat created a large wake by speeding in circles.  This attracted the dolphins as they came to surf and leap through the wake.  Then we went to a great snorkeling spot called The Garden.  We put Kailyn on a little raft that had a clear plastic window so she could see the fish below her.  Mike dove under her and put his face in the window which she thought was pretty funny.  Then we stopped at Isla Bastimentos and hiked a short trail through the jungle over to Red Frog Beach.  This was Kailyn's first time in the sand at a beach, so Mike enjoyed making sandcastles with her.  The surf at Red Frog is very strong, and even the shallowest area knocked her down several times.  But she enjoyed it and wanted to go again as long as her Daddy securely held her hand!

The next day we left the marina and sailed over to a secluded anchorage called starfish beach.  Lately our dinghy motor has been giving us problems by sporadically dying on us.  But we tempted fate and took the dinghy around the tip of the island, about 1/2 mile, to Bocas del Drago beach for lunch.  After enjoying the afternoon at the little restaurant and snorkeling the reef, we couldn't start the dinghy motor to return to the boat.  Sean, Keni and Kailyn walked the long beach trail back to starfish beach, then swam to the boat.  Mike and Linda continued to try to get the dinghy motor started, then finally secured a tow from a large panga which delivered us to our boat.  The next day we weighed anchor and sailed to Dolphin Bay.  It is a very large, shallow bay and we anchored in the middle of the bay to watch the dolphins playing all around us.  It felt weird anchoring so far away from the shore!  Dolphin Bay is the breeding ground for up to 100 or more dolphins and many babies can be seen playing in the bay.  It was beautiful.

After returning to the marina, and enjoying a day of shopping and eating in Bocas del Toro, on October 11 the kids caught a plane back to Los Angeles, via Panama City.  It was a delight to have them here and we hope the trip was memorable for them.  We all agreed that the saddest part is that Kailyn is probably too young to remember this.  Linda made a video capturing the highlights of the vacation to help her remember.

Our boat insurance requires us to stay below latitude 124 until November 1, so we remained in Bocas until then.  Two and a half months in one place!  It was time to move on.  As always, it was bittersweet because we had to say goodbye to all the new friends we met there.  The local cruisers' morning radio net sent us off with many well-wishes.  Ray from s/v Aventura rowed over to bid us adieu, and our friends Gary and Gloria from s/v Bold Venture came out in their dinghy to ceremoniously escort us out of the anchorage.

After two days and nights underway, sailing on a good beam reach, we anchored at Isla de Providencia, Colombia.  It's a very quiet, pretty little island off the coast of Honduras.  However, it belongs to Colombia and we didn't know it would create such an issue when we went to Mexico (more about that later).  We spent 3 days there, resting, exploring, and waiting for a good weather window to proceed north.  Then we spent 4 days and nights underway to Isla Mujeres, Mexico. Isla Mujeres is an island about 6 miles from Cancun.  We had the best sailing ever on the way here!  The wind was too weak on only one day and we had to motor.  But the majority of the time we were sailing, scooting along at 7-8 knots with 12-17 knots of wind on our starboard beam and sunny skies.  It was great sailing and we loved it.  The only problem is that our galley is on the starboard side and on a starboard tack, it's harder to prepare meals because everything wants to fall toward you (cupboards want to unload on you, frig items try to fall out, etc.).  But it's worth it to do 8 knots!  That was fun.  On the 4th day, the wind diminished and clocked around behind us, so we flew the spinnaker all day.   There's no heeling (leaning over) on that point of sail, so it was a very good day! 

The forecast called for possible thunderstorms and squalls every day, but we only got hit with one.  It was night, Linda was on watch, and Mike was sleeping.  It developed pretty quickly.  The sky was getting darker and the wind increased to 17 knots, Linda called for Mike to come up and help reef the sails (make them smaller).  Within moments the wind reached 25 then 30 knots and the rain was coming at us sideways.  We struggled to furl the headsail under that kind of pressure, as we were heeling so much that the toerail was buried and the seawater was flowing along the deck.  To avoid getting thrown over the side, Linda sat on the floor of the cockpit controlling the release of the genoa sheet (rope) while Mike manually furled the genoa (headsail), getting flogged a couple of times as the wind snapped the sheet back and forth.  Linda was then able to reef the mainsail even though the rain was blinding as it hit her face, and within 10 minutes the squall had passed.  It took another 20 minutes for our heart rates to return to normal though!

We were trying to reach Mexico before dark, but we didn't get into the harbor until almost midnight.  It's very stressful to enter anyplace new in the dark.  Using our paper chart, electronic chart, guidebook text instructions and our eyeballs, we safely reached the anchorage and dropped the hook.  Whew.  A cold beer for Mike, a glass of red wine for Linda.  We sat in the cockpit enjoying the starlit sky and twinkling lights on the island, as we let ourselves unwind before turning in the for night.  In the morning, a couple from France on s/v Chogolisa dinghied over to say hello and offer any assistance.  Over the next couple of days we became good friends with Jean Luc and Emmanuel, with plans to reconnect with them in the Caribbean in February to go diving in the Turk and Caicos Islands.  They departed today for Key West.

We moved Aquila into the El Milagro Marina in the morning to officially check-in to Mexico.  When they saw that our paperwork from our last port was Colombian, the Mexican Navy was contacted.  Within minutes they arrived at the boat with their drug-sniffing dog to search Aquila inside and out.  Also, an Immigration official arrived, and then a Health and Sanitation inspector who needed to review our refrigerator/freezer.  An hour of paperwork followed.  This is the first time we've ever been boarded or inspected in all the countries we've visited.  The agent said it was because we came from Colombia. 

Anyway, we're glad to be here.  We really like Mexico.  We like the people here, we like the weather and we like the food.  We've already walked around town, enjoyed tacos al pastor and beer, ceviche and margaritas at the beach bar, and dinner at the Sunset Grill Restaurant on the beach.  We plan to rent one of those golf cart vehicles (popular around here) to tour the entire island.  Jeff, a single sailor from Florida and our dockside neighbor, will be showing us around.  We'll probably stay here about a week, and when weather permits, we will head to Ft. Lauderdale/Miami.  Our friends, Larry and Mary, will be commissioning their new Hylas54 and we can't wait to see her!  We plan to leave Aquila in Florida and fly home to California for the Christmas/New Years holidays. 

Adios for now!

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