The Scoop on the Dups

The San Blas archipelago is one of the top cruising destinations in the Caribbean.  Lying only 70 miles east of the entrance to the Panama Canal, these 300+ islands range in size from a spit of sand with 1 perfectly arching palm tree seen by many only in beer ads to village islands with dwellings packing ever inch.

Cue the Corona commercial

Cue the Corona commercial

Of the 300+ islands, only 30 or so are inhabited, Nargana is one of them.

But mainly you see uninhabited islands surrounded by the clear Caribbean sea.   They lie off the Panama mainland which is mostly undeveloped.

Guarladup in Coco Bandero Cays is not

Guarladup in Coco Bandero Cays is not

Waisaladup

Waisaladup

Kanlildup (Green Island)

Kanlildup (Green Island)

Travel, other than by boat, into Guna Yala is an arduous dirt road jeep trip + water taxi or by small plane.

Yes, that is Neko anchored at the end of the runway

How is that for airport parking? Neko anchored at the end of the runway.

The Gunas are the indigenous folks who live in the islands and are proud of their traditional way of life and, though technically Panamanian, they have managed to live autonomously and preserve much of their culture.

Hard to see but this Guna lady is standing in her boat talking on her cell phone.  I didn't say they were Amish, a gal has gotta keep in touch.

Hard to see but this Guna lady is standing in her boat talking on her cell phone. Hey, I didn’t say they were Amish, a gal has gotta keep in touch.   Many times Guna will come by your boat asking you to charge their phones as most islands have no electricity.

The Gunas are the primary residents of these islands and have their own language and refer to the area as Guna Yala (Panamanians call it the San Blas).  Charts of the area label the islands with a bunch of hard-to-pronounce letters each ending in “dup” (pronounced doop), the Guna word for island.  Doesn’t “Ogoppiriadup” just roll off the tongue?

Guna sail or paddle their cayucos all around these islands.

Guna sail or paddle their cayucos all around these islands.

However, having once been a part of Colombia and now Panama, Spanish words pepper the area as well.  And now that the Americans, Europeans and gringos in all shapes and forms have discovered this cruiser’s paradise, they have added names of their own.   So the anchorages around Banedup, Quinquindup, Kalugirdup, Miriadup, Tiadup are referenced by clear-water loving cruisers as the ” the swimming pool” “the hot tub” and “the changing room”.

You can see why they call it the swimming pool.  Mike and Dave night swimming

You can see why they call it the swimming pool. Mike and Dave night swimming.  And if you look to the left of Mike you can see our anchor chain…now that is some clear water!

Neko & Apsaras anchored in the changing room. (thanks for the photo Rob)

Neko & Apsaras anchored in the changing room. (thanks for the photo Rob)

In addition, there is a Dog Island, a Green Island and BBQ Island.

Snorkel gang on dog island

Snorkel gang on Dog Island

Dog Island

snorkeling on a wrecked ship

snorkeling on a wrecked ship

Peter exploring the wreck

Peter exploring the wreck

Appropriately Lucy went to Perro Island

Appropriately Lucy went to Isla Perro too

The Gunas are small-statured people, with large skills in fishing and mola making.  Molas are multilayered panels of cloth cut away to achieve intricate patterns of abstract shapes or animals. Aappliqué is also used and carefully hand stitched to create the panels.

Guna women in traditional dress.  Note mola panels on the front of their shirts.   And wini beads around their legs

Guna women in traditional dress.  I got this photo online to illustrate the mola panels on the front of their shirts. And intricate wini bead design around their legs.

The molas are used as a front and back panel of women’s blouses, but the craft has become their signature and the panels are seen now by many as folk art.   While fishing, lobstering and crabbing are traditionally done by the Guna men, mola making is “women’s work”.  However, the two master, and best known, mola makers are transgender men (completely normal and accepted by the Guna), the famous and talented Lisa and Venancio.

Lisa, master mola maker comes by for a visit.

Lisa, master mola maker comes by for a visit.

Buying molas from Venancio

Buying molas from Venancio

We dined several times on local lobster and giant red crabs sold to us by enterprising Guna fisherman working from their dugout canoes. We had the pleasure of our friends Mike and Holly joining us on Neko for a few weeks of sailing these beautiful islands. Fellow boat pals Rob & Rose on “R&R Kedger”, Dave & Melissa on “Apsaras”, Dave & Margaret on “Heart and Soul” and special guest stars Roger & Susan on “Second Wind” made up our fun loving “lobster” fleet.  By the way readers, the SS Neko is now open for visitors, so let us know if you want to spend some time with us.

Peter, Mike and Dave aka the lobster executioners.

Peter, Mike and Dave aka the lobster executioners.

Mary and Holly ready to steam these babies.

Mary and Holly ready to steam these babies.

Lobster Fest 2014

Lobster Fest 2014

Red Crabs

Next up, giant red crabs for dinner. This time kindly fishermen did the dirty work of cleaning them.

Thanks to R&R, Apsaras and Second Wind for sharing photos.  Click on photos to enlarge.

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Dagger To The Heart

You may recall an earlier post where we described a little damage done to one of our daggerboards when we hit a rock in the Las Perlas islands.  Well, thanks to some FORMER friends ;-), we now have a landmark in Panama named after us in perpetuity.

Neko Rock in Eric Bauhaus' "Panama Cruising Guide"

Neko Rock in Eric Bauhaus’ “Panama Cruising Guide”

We attempted to have the daggerboard repaired in Balboa Panama by the local boatworkers.  But they did a poor job and the board did not fit in its trunk very well.  We decided to have Shelter Bay redo the repair, and at the same time perform a few other cosmetic jobs – remove old bootstripes and paint new ones, raise the transoms 3″, repair a few gelcoat dings, etc.

Neko's new stripes

Neko’s new stripes

new swim steps

new swim step

These jobs ended up taking a LONG time.  This is why it seemed we were stuck in Panama forever and why blog posts were few and far between.  We started the work in August and it was not completed until Thanksgiving.  We spent one month in the hotel in Shelter Bay while the boat was out of the water (NB: a lot of cruisers remain living on their boat while it is on the hard, but Shelter Bay keeps the cats far from the showers/heads and it is not easy to lift Lucy up and down several times a day, so we decided to treat ourselves to a hotel – it having air conditioning did not hurt).  When the boat was put back in – splashed in boatspeak – all the work was finished except the daggerboards.  After one more month, the boards were finally ready and we provisioned up and got ready to head back out for more cruising.

Pete leading the dagger lines

Pete leading the dagger lines

Attempt #387 trying to fit dagger boards

Attempt #387 trying to fit dagger boards

However, upon inserting the beautiful new daggerboards back into the boat, they once again were just too thick to slide into their slots.  We were crushed that our job was back to square one. Shelter Bay has a good overall mechanic in Victor, a very good paint/fiberglass guy in Ramon and Edwin, the yard manager, does the best he can with the resources he has.  Diesel work, general rigging, electronic work and sail repairs are done by journeyman sailors who may or may not be there when you arrive.  Also, they may or may not want to or have time to work on your problem.   We got big help from Scott and Eddie (the man) as well and Scott’s dog Eddie, Greg the diesel whisperer, and Pierrick.  The issue with the Shelter Bay yard, however, is that the owners do not provide the resources to function as a proper yard, yet they hold themselves out as being one.

Hard working Scott, Eddie and Peter

Hard working Scott, Eddie and Peter

Scott and Peter make a jig to shape the boards

Scott and Peter make a jig to shape the boards. Eddie the dog supervising.

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Victor is as ready for us to leave as we are

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Ramon, Scott and Pete use the travel lift to hoist the 300lb dagger board

DSC_0003 DSC_0008 DSC_0015 For example, our daggerboard repair took place outside in a work area with a mud floor, an insufficient amount of gravel strewn around to deal with the mud and old planks lying around to walk on.  The area was surrounded by marshy reeds and riven with mosquitoes.  One of the workers flicked a giant spider off him one day and they all worked in fear of snakes every day.  The structure was mere wooden posts with old jibsails tacked to them to attempt to keep dust out, a leaky, rusty corrugated roof that prevented work during rain (do you think it rains in Panama in the rainy season?) and barely adequate electricity.

Scott sanding boards in the mud pit, I mean work shop

Scott sanding boards in the mud pit, I mean work shop

make shift workshop

make shift workshop

Then we moved to an open air area where the ever-present vultures were an ominous metaphor for the entire job.  Once the boards were shaped properly, we moved again to the abandoned theater, er I mean sail loft, to hang for painting.

Not a good omen to see vultures hanging around the boards

Not a good omen to see vultures hanging around the boards

on the move

on the move

Boards hanging to paint

Boards hanging to paint

In any event, after another month of work in these conditions, the daggerboards were finally done.  It was now two days before Thanksgiving and we desperately wanted to have the holiday at anchor in a pretty spot with our friends.  So we ran around frantically for two days cleaning, stowing, provisioning and otherwise getting ready.  We got it done and were finally able to escape Shertel Bay.  Shertel Bay

Escape From Shelter Bay

If I were to pitch the movie version of the last few months at Shelter Bay Marina it would be Dante’s nine circles of hell meets a tropical version of Groundhog Day. Like Bill Murray, it seemed that each day we would wake up and repeat the day before; saying hello to the regular cast of characters, taking Lucy for a walk through the jungle in search of monkeys and sloths, working on boat jobs, jumping in the pool to cool off, checking on the repair of our dagger boards, joining friends for happy hour, rinse and repeat.

The long and winding road to Shelter Bay

The long and winding road to Shelter Bay

And just when we thought our endless boat work-related stay was coming to an end we were plunged into a deeper level of hell (see Dagger post).

Attempt #387 trying to fit dagger boards

Attempt #387 trying to fit dagger boards

Why oh why were we on this endless loop? Were the sailing gods, Dante and Harold Ramis all trying to tell us to reexamine our lives? Thankfully this is a feel good movie and after feeling frustrated and tortured enough, we cued the inspirational music, stopped feeling sorry for ourselves and made the best of a rough time.

We met a lot of new friends, old friends caught up to us for reunions and the dagger boards were FINALLY fixed!  And our happy ending had us leaving the docks along with buddy boats R&R Kedger and Apsaras and with friends Holly and Mike from Wanuskewin joining us on Neko to start our 2nd year of cruising.P1030353

Adios suckers

Adios suckers

We definitely were thankful to be on the move again and hosted Thanksgiving on Neko with 8 others.  Between us all we were able to create the traditional dishes and it felt like the real deal apart from the fact we were floating on a boat and it was 90 degrees.

Yes, oh so thankful to be cruising again…

Now these are the kind of days we want to repeat.

Happy Hour

Sundowners, the perfect ending to the day