Lightning Strike!

It's rainy season in Panama.

It’s rainy season in Panama.

For the past three-quarters of an hour, I had been admiring the awesome, terrible display of an approaching storm. Multiple spectacular lighting strikes streaked from the ominous skies down to the water’s surface. I had even called Cindy out to the cockpit to admire nature’s fury on full display. As it began to rain, I went back into the salon to do some blog work while Cindy made her way down the steps into the port hull to get food from the freezer for dinner. As she made it to the bottom step, a brilliant white flash surrounded Beatitude and a ferocious crack of thunder was heard simultaneously. Cindy, who was just about to reach for the freezer, saw green sparks fly from that appliance. I looked up and saw little orange fire balls spraying out from the top of our mast like a flaming umbrella. To complete our sensory experience, the smell of burning rubber or plastic permeated our environment. Beatitude had been struck by lightning!

A storm rolls through.

A storm rolls through.

Were we in danger of a fire breaking out on board? An explosion? Was there damage to the hull? Would we sink? All of these questions raced through our hyper-adrenalized minds. The storm continued to rage outside while we attempted to calm ourselves to assess the situation and act as needed. Gratefully, Cindy and I were fine. We didn’t feel any sense of electricity in our own bodies from the strike. Our boat — we were unsure? Fortunately, we did not catch fire, or explode, or sink. As best as we can tell, the smell of burning rubber was coming from the freezer, which was plugged into AC power and was fried. Although assessment is ongoing as I write this, it appears that most of our electronics and navigation equipment was fried, including our AIS, radar, autopilot, wind speed and depth indicators. Our single-side-band radio and VHF radio were also destroyed. Our inverter and battery charger are also gone. But our bilge and water pumps still worked, as did our refrigerator — and should do so, at least until our battery bank was depleted. Thankfully, none of our computers, iPhones or iPads were plugged in at the time. I had intentionally unplugged my Macbook about 15 minutes before the strike.

Miscellaneous fried pieces from atop our mast we found on deck

Miscellaneous fried pieces from atop our mast we found on deck

I was able to reach our friend, sailing teacher and mentor, Captain Roy on the cell phone to discuss what happened and formulate plans. We were in a remote part of Panama with no facilities nearby. Was it safe to start the engines and attempt to reach a facility where help was available? I was concerned that starting the engines could cause fire or explosion. Would they start? Would they continue running or was there damage to their electrical systems? After discussing the situation with Roy, we decided to go for it early the next morning. Well before sunrise, we were up and preparing to depart. We started the engines and thoroughly checked for smoke or smells. All seemed well. So, at 5:40 a.m., we weighed anchor and made our way through the reefs with almost no visibility (thankfully, the windlass worked as well. I was not looking forward to attempting to retrieve it by hand.). We followed our own track back out of the anchorage and made it with no problems. With no depth sounder, I had no way of verifying that we were in the channel or running up onto the reefs.

Leaving the Chichime Cays before sunrise... without electronics.

Leaving the Chichime Cays before sunrise… without electronics.

Cruising along the Costa Arriba of Panama

Cruising along the Costa Arriba of Panama

Twelve hours of hand-steering

Twelve hours of hand-steering

The Admiral helping out at the helm

The Admiral helping out at the helm

The parking lot of huge ships outside the Panama Canal

The parking lot of huge ships outside the Panama Canal

Just before 5 p.m., we entered through the breakwaters at Colon, Panama and proceeded to Shelter Bay Marina where we safely tied to the dock. What a sense of relief! We had covered slightly more than 70 nautical miles in just less than 12 hours — without navigation equipment or electronics. I did have my iPad and iPhone with navigational apps which we used to navigate. We used them sparingly because if there batteries had been depleted, we had no way of recharging them. We hand steered the entire way because we had no autopilot. And, we actually navigating by compass for a while to save battery power. For a moment there, I thought we were back in the ages of exploration!

Inside the breakwater, nearing the marina as the sun is setting.

Inside the breakwater, nearing the marina as the sun is setting.

Our vessel is in safe harbor. Now begins the tedious and cumbersome process (I assume) of contacting the insurance company and making repairs. My guess is it will take at least two to three months, if not much longer. The San Blas Islands were spectacular, but sent us away with a not-too-pleasant parting gift. Out of the 17 vessels anchored in the Chichime Cays that night, the lightning chose us. Why? Who knows? We were also told by the residents of Shelter Bay Marina that we were the 17th vessel this year that came into this marina after being struck by lightning in Guna Yala. We are parked next to another Lagoon catamaran which was recently struck. And, last evening, we met another gentleman who was struck by lightning a couple of weeks ago in San Blas. Wow! All that beauty does not come without significant hazards!

Approaching Shelter Bay Marina

Approaching Shelter Bay Marina

Chichime Cays

Sunset in the Carti Islands

Sunset in the Carti Islands

We left our anchorage just southwest of Sugdup around 9 a.m. on Thursday morning, the 20th. The nine and a half mile passage to the Chichime Cays would not take long. Just before our arrival, two big, beautiful dolphins played in the water at our bow. In less than two hours, we had dropped our anchor in 35’ of water in the middle of the busiest anchorage we’ve visited in San Blas. There were 13 boats here when we arrived. Wow! Wasn’t it a beautiful anchorage, though! We were situated between the two islands which make up the Chichime Cays, Uchutupu Pipi and Uchutupu Dummat. Paradise!

The Admiral in position to Anchor

The Admiral in position to Anchor

Interesting looking vessel leaving the anchorage

Interesting looking vessel leaving the anchorage

The view from our cockpit in the Chichime Cays

The view from our cockpit in the Chichime Cays

Uchutupu Pipi

Uchutupu Pipi

The anchorage

The anchorage

A gutted sailboat on the reef at the Chichime Cays

A gutted sailboat on the reef at the Chichime Cays

The ferry on the reef (I'm not sure how long it has been there.)

The ferry on the reef (I’m not sure how long it has been there.)

In the afternoon, we kayaked over to Uchutupu Pipi for a walk around the island. The white sand beaches, aquamarine waters and graceful palms made for a beautiful stroll through the shallow waters near the shore. There were two or three guns families which lived on this small island. Cindy had made brownies earlier in the day, so we shared them with the Guna folks we met. She also brings small toys back to the boat from the U.S., to give to children we meet along the way. So, we gave out three bouncy balls to children as we completed our perambulations.

Beatitude at anchor in the Chichime Cays

Beatitude at anchor in the Chichime Cays

Walking around Uchutupu Pipi

Walking around Uchutupu Pipi

Uchutupu Pipi

Uchutupu Pipi

Interior of Pipi

Interior of Pipi

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My lovely shipmate

My lovely shipmate

An ulu (with a lobster in the bow)

An ulu (with a lobster in the bow)

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Guna girl playing in the clear water.

Guna girl playing in the clear water.

Guna baby in the hammock with mommy

Guna baby in the hammock with mommy

Front yard for this Guna family

Front yard for this Guna family

Guna houses

Guna houses

Guna family car

Guna family car

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Tuna kids happy with our gift

Tuna kids happy with our gift

Beatitude from Uchutupu Pipi

Beatitude from Uchutupu Pipi

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Our own uninhabited island!

Our own uninhabited island!

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This day was a special one for the Carey crew. October 20th is our anniversary. Thirty-seven years ago, on this day, we pledged and committed our lives to one another. By the grace of God, almost four decades later, we have kept our promises. And we were rewarded with a little bit of heaven on earth in the San Blas Islands. We had planned a special dinner aboard consisting of surf and turf — we had purchased some filet mignon before leaving Cartagena and bought lobster from the Guna this afternoon. Our steak and lobster, along with mashed potatoes and corn, were paired with a wonderful Chianti. We enjoyed our delicious meal by candlelight in the cockpit before sitting out on the foredeck, staring up into a clear night sky in which we could see the innumerable stars and the milky white band we call the Milky Way. We finished off our anniversary celebration watching a romantic movie, The Lake House. I didn’t know how remarkable a woman I married thirty-seven years ago, but the fact that she is here with me on our sailboat in the San Blas Islands of Panama testifies to love and commitment to me as well as to her understated spirit of adventure. Who knows where we will celebrate 38!

A sunset in the Chichime Cays

A sunset in the Chichime Cays

Anniversary Selfie

Anniversary Selfie

Anniversary Dinner Table Set

Anniversary Dinner Table Set

Surf and Turf

Surf and Turf

When we arose from our slumber on Friday morning and looked out over the anchorage, the water was calm and glassy. It was a perfect morning for a two-mile dinghy ride over to Dog Island, for a little snorkeling. Submerged in just a few feet of water is the wreck of a cargo ship which sunk here in the 1950s. The ship was taking on water as it passed San Blas, so the story goes, so the captain intentional beached his ship with full power to at least save his cargo. The cargo, which included rum, was transferred to small freighters and taken on to Colon. It was cool to snorkel over and alongside this wreck in crystal clear waters.

Leaving the Chichime Cays  in Dalí to go snorkeling

Leaving the Chichime Cays in Dalí to go snorkeling

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The sunken vessel off Dog Island

The sunken vessel off Dog Island

Dog Island

Dog Island

Snorkeling at Dog Island

Snorkeling at Dog Island

Snorkeling a wreck

Snorkeling a wreck

DCIM100GOPRO

DCIM100GOPRO

DCIM100GOPRO

DCIM100GOPRO

On our way back to our anchorage, we spotted a very small island dotted with a few palm trees, which was begging for exploration. So, we dinghied over to this small cay, called Corgidup, relaxed, took some photos, and enjoyed the beauty. From there, it was a short ride back, avoiding the scattered reefs as we went. Before returning to Beatitude, however, we went to visit some neighbors. The evening, prior, we noted a catamaran in the anchorage called Pura Vida. We recognized it as our Brazilian friends with whom we made our acquaintance while moored off the coast of Bonaire. They seemed truly happy to see us again and invited us aboard their 42’ vessel to show us around. They, of course, speak Portuguese and a little English. We speak English and no Portuguese. Fortunately, they speak excellent Spanish and I speak un poco. So, we were able to communicate just fine. They, along with their small son, are enjoying their cruising lives aboard Pura Vida.

Corgidup

Corgidup

Paddling... too shallow for our motor

Paddling… too shallow for our motor

How'd you like to live here?

How’d you like to live here?

On Corgidup

On Corgidup

Corgidup

Corgidup

Guna fisherman near Corgidup

Guna fisherman near Corgidup

Beautiful beach on Corgidup

Beautiful beach on Corgidup

Beach selfie

Beach selfie

Our Brazilian friends aboard Pura Vida

Our Brazilian friends aboard Pura Vida

After a quick lunch, we hopped back into Dalí for another snorkeling expedition, per the recommendation of Peter, aboard Pura Vida. We journeyed 2.5 miles to the north side of Yansaladup where we found a sandy channel, about 15-20 feet deep, which is bordered by a coral garden. I didn’t see much at first, so we followed the channel all the way out toward the outer reef and anchored just south of the breaking waves. Here, there was an abundance of coral and fishes. There were several massive porcupine fishes, lionfish, filefish, and a hungry crab, in addition to a bounty of other reef fishes. Once sufficiently waterlogged, we returned for a relaxing evening aboard, first swimming off the back of the vessel, then making a rum cake for our pleasurable consumption, and hanging out on the foredeck, luxuriating in God’s grandeur.

Our Saturday in the Chichime Cays was a rainy one. The rain was unabating, at times just a sprinkle, at times a downpour complete with ferocious thunder and lightning. It was a good thing we satisfied our exploring and snorkeling urges on the previous two days because this final day in San Blas was a washout. The plan was to leave at first light on Sunday morning to begin our passage to Colon, where we would dock Beatitude in Shelter Bay Marina while we return to the States.

Swimming in the anchorage

Swimming in the anchorage

Selfie on the Foredeck

Selfie on the Foredeck

Another San Blas Sunset

Another San Blas Sunset

The Carti Islands

Goodbye, Gunboat Island.

Goodbye, Gunboat Island.

Wednesday, at noon on the 19th of October, we left Gunboat Island the same way we arrived, by cautiously crossing the sand bar which marks the westward side of the triangular atoll. We followed our recorded track in and once again cleared without difficulty, seeing a minimum depth of around fifteen feet. We set our course in a westward direction to visit the Carti Islands, among the busiest and most densely populated of all of San Blas. During certain times of the year, cruise ships anchor nearby allowing passengers to visit the villages. The four islands which make up the island group are Tupile, Yandup, Sugdup, and Muladup. We anchored just to west of Sugdup in 50 feet of water.

Passing one of the over 300 San Blas Islands.

Passing one of the over 300 San Blas Islands.

Crocheting en route to the Carti Islands.

Crocheting en route to the Carti Islands.

Cindy found a new place to  lay down on the foredeck while underway.  Not recommended!

Cindy found a new place to lay down on the foredeck while underway. Not recommended!

Passing yet another San Blas Island.

Passing yet another San Blas Island.

We hadn’t been anchored long when “John,” one of the members of the tribe on Sugdup, came by and sat for a chat on the transom steps. He had just returned from working on the mainland. Most Guna men arise shortly before sunrise and paddle the half-mile to the mainland in their ulus (dugout canoes), arriving at first light. They then may have an additional hour of walking inland to spend the day harvesting bananas, fruits, coconuts, firewood and sugarcane. Around one o’clock they return home for the day. It was around 2 p.m., when John said hello to us from his ulu on his way home from work. He invited us to dock our dinghy at his house dock on Sugdup. There he would show us around the island for a fee. He spoke decent English and seemed like a truly nice guy, so we took him up on the offer.

Sugdup

Sugdup

After docking, we walked through his home, in which he has a hotel upstairs. He also runs tours to the island. He escorted us up and down the narrow lanes of the village, past the traditional huts of the Guna, which consisted of walls made of cane held together with vines or twine, and roofs made of a special palm branch from the mainland. The floors of their dwellings are dirt and the only furnishings are hammocks and perhaps a chair or two. As we walked along, children played in the street while Guna women sat in their doorways hoping to sell their handicrafts, especially molas. We walked passed the “congresso” or meeting house in which most every night the village meets together for some time. The sailas, or chiefs (there are usually three on each island, with one being the superior) will recline in hammocks situation in the center of the meeting hall. The sailas often sing long, sacred songs about their ancestors and past exploits. Tribe members will be given time to voice their complaints or grievances before retiring to their homes in the evening. The Guna are obviously very communal people.

Dalí on John's rickety dock.

Dalí on John’s rickety dock.

Following Cindy and John into his house/hotel.

Following Cindy and John into his house/hotel.

Sitting in the living area/hotel lobby?  (Looking at moles for sale, of course)

Sitting in the living area/hotel lobby? (Looking at moles for sale, of course)

The hotel, which is upstairs at John's place.

The hotel, which is upstairs at John’s place.

John's place is a little atypical given that he has a hotel there.  But the dirt floors are typical.   The only furniture in the home is often only hammocks and perhaps a small table.

John’s place is a little atypical given that he has a hotel there. But the dirt floors are typical. The only furniture in the home is often only hammocks and perhaps a small table.

These are John's family "nuchus," carved wooden figures which are considered to possess spirits and be alive.  Every Guna house family has them.

These are John’s family “nuchus,” carved wooden figures which are considered to possess spirits and be alive. Every Guna house family has them.

The Congresso

The Congresso

Our “tour” also included a stop at the Guna Museum, where the overseer gave us a 30-minute lecture on Guna culture and spirituality. The kuna religion consists of a complex system of chants and other gestures of appeasement used by the medicine man and by a group of people to control evil spirits. The evils are thought to reside in storms, rocks, and animals. Our lecturer told how a snake stole his spirit earlier in the day and he has to see the medicine man to get it back. There is also much reliance on the inumerable small wooden dolls (“nachos”) which are carved in human form and animal form, of different sizes, specialized in treating disease.

Inside the Guna Heritage Museum

Inside the Guna Heritage Museum

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Yet another Mola maker, trying to sell us molas inside the museum

Yet another Mola maker, trying to sell us molas inside the museum

For the most part, we were stricken with the comparative poverty of the Guna with many other westerners. However, standing in contrast to the stark living conditions, were numerous anachronistically placed satellite dishes. It seems that most homes have satellite TV! All electrical power comes from generators on the island. Many also may have cell phones. We have actually been able to use our cell phones since arriving in Gunboat Island. As we’ve proceeded westwardly through Guna Yala, we come closer and closer to civilization and more densely populated areas, hence the better cellular service. We had gone eleven days with no wifi or cellular service. There is still no wifi, but cellular has been restored, which was nice since we’ve been able to message family and friends. Another grand realization dawned on us this evening: We realized we haven’t eaten a meal “out” in twelve days. For those of you who know us well, you know that is a definite all-time record. We like to eat out a lot, and usually do. However, our food has lasted well, and we’ve eaten very well over the last two weeks.

Walking through the Guna village

Walking through the Guna village

Mural of the Saila (chief) of this village.  Cindy and our tour guide, John, in front.

Mural of the Saila (chief) of this village. Cindy and our tour guide, John, in front.

This appears to be a favorite game among Guna boys -- walking on ones hands between circles drawn on the ground.

This appears to be a favorite game among Guna boys — walking on ones hands between circles drawn on the ground.

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Walking in the village, a traditionally dressed Guna woman coming toward us.

Walking in the village, a traditionally dressed Guna woman coming toward us.

A grandmother and her grandchildren coming to our boat to sell molas.

A grandmother and her grandchildren coming to our boat to sell molas.

She helped herself on to our boat and into our cockpit.  She was very aggressive.  We gave her two grandchildren a coloring book and crayons to share.  She was a little upset we didn't have two coloring books, one for each child.  She was pretty demanding and didn't seem very grateful for our generosity, including buying some of her wares.

She helped herself on to our boat and into our cockpit. She was very aggressive. We gave her two grandchildren a coloring book and crayons to share. She was a little upset we didn’t have two coloring books, one for each child. She was pretty demanding and didn’t seem very grateful for our generosity, including buying some of her wares.

Contentment.

Contentment.

Yandup

Yandup

The next morning, Thursday, we would weigh anchor and travel to our next destination in San Blas, one with considerably less inhabitants.

A beautiful evening sky over Sugdup

A beautiful evening sky over Sugdup

Goodnight, Carti Islands.

Goodnight, Carti Islands.