Saturday, December 29, 2012

Current location:  Panama City, Panama

Merry Belated Christmas one and all!  We are currently anchored out with about 100 other boats in Panama City near the entrance to the Panama Canal. Our beautiful view of the city skyline is amazing and we spent the first few nights in awe watching the enormous tankers exiting the Canal and feeling extremely small.  At night they appear to be huge office buildings floating through the water heading for the Pacific Ocean.  I’m still finding it hard to believe that we are here and will be transiting the Canal in the near future.

My concerns for fulfilling the boy’s Christmas wishes were put to rest when we arrived on December 21st, in time to do some serious holiday shopping. It was quite a push to get here, but we really needed purchase gifts and wanted to be amongst our other gypsy friends. Thanksgiving was tough for me this year since it was just the four of us. I know I should be grateful for celebrating in this beautiful setting with my amazing boys, but I miss being amongst extended family and participating in holiday traditions. However, surfing, boogey boarding and watching an amazing sunset on Thanksgiving night is not something I can complain about!!

To add to my anxiety, the two younger members of Knee Deep had written their letters to Santa with some very specific requests, which…if Santa lived in Panama and didn’t have those midget elves working for him, would be difficult to find. Where does one find a miniature set of plastic NFL helmets (Mickey’s Christmas wish) in a country that worships baseball and soccer? Fortunately, Santa pulled it off and delivered the goods on Christmas day (which also included a skateboard for J.P.). That Santa is truly amazing, if I do say so myself!!!

One incident of note was the transport of gifts from the United States.  When we returned home for a visit this summer, I planned ahead and purchased some things for Mickey and J.P. that I knew they would love. Things like a Matt Cain, “Perfect Game” t-shirt and Star Wars Lego sets which I knew would be difficult items to find in Central America.  As I unpacked after our arrival from the airport, I found a note inserted into my suitcase stating that my bag had been inspected. Much to my chagrin and frustration, I found that some of the gifts were missing. 

Fortunately, the Lego Star Wars advent calendar I had smuggled over the border made it, however, I had second thoughts about this purchase as the days progressed.  The countdown to Christmas progressed and I observed that things like thermal detinators, lightsabers and Darth Maul dressed up like Santa were not representative of the pacifist and loving Jesus' birthday.  This led to J.P. opening a new window each day and proclaiming, "Yes!! A Battle Droid with gun!!! Oh, wait, Jesus would really not have liked this!"

As Christmas grew nearer (and the Star Wars weapons piled up), I stewed about the pilfered presents from my suitcase and the fact that I was without “special” gifts for our boys. I spent a good, thirty minutes venting to Ben about the “shadiness” and “misdeeds” of crooked agents with sticky fingers.  With assurances from our friend Nicole that I would find anything I ever wanted at the Allbrook Mall here in Panama City, I hopped in a cab to the largest, craziest place I have ever encountered.  I braced myself for the frenzied crowds of last minute shoppers and was not surprised to find wall to wall people making their way through the miles long mall. What did astound me, was the lack of crazed and frenzied people. Everybody seemed to move at a slow pace and not rushed at all.

As I tried to shop efficiently and quickly, my pace was slowed down by the fact that all stores require you to “check” your packages at the entrance while you shop. You walk up to a person in a booth, hand over your goods and are given a claim check.  Most of these lines were 30 people long so as the day proceeded and our bags multiplied; I would leave Ben outside the store while I ran in to shop.

Miraculously, I found everything I needed, except for a small, fake Christmas tree.  We made up for it with other decorations which we wrapped around the mast and hand rails of the boat.  The boys were tickled and positive Santa would know instinctively where to place their presents and stockings even without a fireplace and tree.  They were right!

As Christmas Eve approached, Ben was sorting through his duffle bag and discovered all of the presents that were missing from my bag.  It was a Christmas miracle!!!  I immediately felt remorse for accusing wrong-doing of border agents and realized it would be a banner year for the boys since their gifts had now doubled in quantity. Come to think of it, they were the ones who probably hid the presents!!!

Another true holiday miracle occurred when our friends aboard, Bella Star, Serendipity and Taking Flight took our children on excursions and shopping trips while we shopped and prepared for Christmas.  Anne, Hugh and Ann (Serendipity and Taking Flight) took the boys to the Mira Locks Museum to learn all about the Panama Canal and watch the large boats make their way through. The boys returned home with huge amounts of information and even more excited about our impending trip through the Canal.

Nicole and Aaron on Bella Star offered to take the boys shopping to find presents for each other and their parents.  This was the first year where Mickey and J.P. took on the task of buying presents for others, joining the ranks of American consumerism (sigh).  My suggestion of, “Why don’t you make me something. I would love that!” was met with scowls and comments that they weren’t babies anymore! (double sigh!)

I am happy to report, I received a People magazine (in English…can’t tell you what a treat that is down here) and a bag of candy.  Oh, how they know their mother!!! Ben was the happy recipient of fishing lures which were specifically designed for catching Dorado. Apparently, J.P. suggested buying a bottle of nice whiskey for Ben, but Nicole reminded him that an eight year old probably shouldn’t be buying alcohol….even in Central America! Oh, they grow up so fast!

Christmas Eve was spent eating a great meal and listening to Christmas music aboard Knee Deep. Nicole and Aaron joined us for dinner, solidifying our official reunion with Bella Star.  We also enjoyed having over our new friends on s/v Gundermain for dessert. This is a couple that has spent their lives sailing, circumnavigating twice so the conversation was never dull!! At one point Mike told a story of navigating by only a sextant and asking us all, “So, do you have a sextant on board…just in case??” I don’t know about the others, but I was in awe, just like when I met our friends Helen and Chris aboard s/v Minke, a couple who traveled for years on their homemade sailboat without an engine.

Christmas Eve festivities aboard Knee Deep...Santa hats required!!
Mickey and J.P. on the bow of the boat with Panama City in the background.
As we tucked the boys in with our traditional reading of “Twas the Night Before Christmas”, Ben and I got to work, wrapping presents and preparing for Santa’s visit. As I finished, I went up on deck at 12:30 and watched the amazing fireworks display all along the Panama City skyline.  There must have been 20 different shows going on and they didn’t stop until dawn….I’m not exaggerating….all….night…long!!! I can’t imagine what New Years Eve is going to be like!!

Fortunately, Santa made his way through the pyrotechnics and delivered the goods to Knee Deep.  J.P. found his skateboard on top of the dodger in the cockpit and Mickey found his NFL helmets stashed in the quarter berth. It appears old St. Nick has a sense of humor and hid the treats just like the Easter Bunny or perhaps the little angels were awake a bit too much, forcing Mr. Claus to ditch the presents wherever he could and get out of dodge (audible sigh).

After a gorging on a big breakfast, we all settled in to enjoy our presents and spent a lazy day aboard our boat. They boys tinkered away with their new Lego sets and I consumed my People magazine like a voracious, gossip-starved addict. I was amazed to discover Princess Kate was expecting and yet another Hollywood marriage was on the rocks….sweet indulgence!!!

That evening we met our friends for a traditional holiday meal of pizza and beer, exchanging baked goods, pirated movies and cheered our good fortune of being in another exotic place for the holidays.

So there you have it….another Christmas abroad! It is always an interesting time for me, torn between the desire to experience new places, yet also missing the traditions of home. In the end, I'm still learning that it’s about being in the moment and enjoying myself.
I hope all of your holidays were wonderful!

Happy Holidays from The Doolittles aboard Knee Deep.


J.P. taking the dinghy out for a ride Christmas Eve with his friend Aaron. Panama City in the background.

Mickey waiting for his turn to drive the dinghy around the anchorage. J.P. and Aaron are the blur in the background!

Nicole and I enjoying some Christmas pizza and Panamanian beer.
Kara from Taking Flight and J.P. enjoy some video game time on Christmas night.
Some Christmas swag!! J.P. loved his "brown Santa, just like the people from Panama!" The next day at school both Mickey and J.P. were scolded by their "maestra" to put away the Mars Mud and Kazoo....
With all our friends on a Panamanian pizza parlor, complete with a brick oven and $1 beers. Can I just say, I love these gypsies!!!
Nicole and Mickey (in his Matt Cain "Perfect Game" t-shirt) on Christmas night!
Sailing stories and Santa hats on Christmas Eve!!!
Mickey and J.P. amongst Christmas decorations and dirty Chrstmas Eve dishes.


Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Photo Montage - Golfito

Current Location:  Golfito, Costa Rica (leaving today to head south to Panama)

We are leaving today to sail (hopefully) south into Panama. We hope to be in Panama City for Christmas so we will be off the grid for a week or so.  In the meantime, here are some photos of our visit in Golfito and our attempt to get into the swing of things for Christmas.

We picked up some Santa hats in the grocery store recently. Here are the boys trying them out. But to quote them, "Dang these things are REALLY hot!!" Christmas + 80% humidity + 90 degrees + Santa hat = HOT!!!!

Katie who owns Land and Sea, offers moorings, a great cruisers club complete with shower, honor bar and an awesome deck/bbq space to have some meals. She had a Christmas decorating potluck one night to get into the spirit of the season.

Ben and J.P. joined by Caroline and Tony from Macha (a home built trimaran). Ben and Tony spend many a hours discussing boat building.

Mickey, Malia from Macha and John from Contento having some grub! Malia is so very kind to our boys! She often tolerates the same question over and over, "Hey, have you ever played Minecraft??" 
Francisco, the inkeeper had his nieces and nephew over. The requested that Katie make "gringo" food like bbq chicken and mashed potatoes.  She also had them build their own pizzas since they had never had it before. After they started eating them raw, Katie informed them the needed to be cooked first.  The boys loved having other kids around (we haven't run into many kid boats yet) and apprently a language barrier does not inhibit friendship OR schoogirl crushes!
Francisco's nieces hanging out in the cruiser's clubhouse. Boats that pass through here, paint their names on the walls.
Gotta love the Honor Bar.....
....except when the tallies for beer outnumber soda and beer
and when your alcoholic friends leave their outstanding tabs behind for you to pay!!! Ha-ha-ha!!
As we get ready to do a week long sail down the coast, let it be noted, that this is NOT what it looks like!!!! Is she actually wearing white pants????
Couldn't find a pic of me while underway...thank God!! But it's kinda like this....blurry, sweaty and minus the smile on about Day 3.
Merry Christmas!!!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Crazy Critters in Costa Rica

Current Location:  Quepos, Costa Rica
It’s been a while since writing about the wildlife we encounter aboard Knee Deep (this excludes the human species on our board…which can technically be classified as “wild”).  Costa Rica has served up an amazing mix of land and sea animal encounters we have yet to experience elsewhere.

While anchoring off Playa Panama, Ben and I sat up on deck after putting the boys to bed and were awed at how much phosphorescence there was that night.  However, I had the boys do some research on the subject and they discovered it’s actually called bioluminescence….but I’ll let them explain that on their own blog.

 If you’re of my generation, imagine one of those black lights we all had in the 1980’s, that when you turned off the regular lights, it made white items glow in the dark (or check out the Friends episode when Ross gets his teeth whitened and dates a girl with a black light). We assumed the large, moving spotlight against the dark water were schools of fish swimming under our boat and were amazed at how bright it was. Our educated guess was confirmed with the arrival of a dolphin pod. First, we heard the sound of blowholes approaching, which we have smugly grown accustomed to (i.e. Mickey and JP saying “dolphins are kind of like squirrels to me now.”).

Then we spotted torpedo-like flashes flying through the water, chasing the large spotlight under our boat. The dolphins had come to feed (if it had been the 60’s, I’m sure we would have chalked it up to another ‘crazy trip, man’……or if the 70’s or 80’s, Pink Floyd would have been playing in the background).  As the dolphins raced into the large school of fish, there would be an explosion of white light as the two masses came together and then quickly parted ways.

We were entertained for the next half hour as they raced around our boat eating their evening meal.  Ben had briefly taken the dinghy out to rescue a wayward ponga which had broken free of its mooring (honestly, the guy has a cache of good karma points stored up!). He rowed through the pod of dolphins and I watched in amazement as they flew under and jumped alongside him.  From both our vantage points (me on the bow of our boat, he in the dinghy), we could have reached out and touched them.

Perhaps Ben put it best when he softly said, “I’ve never seen anything like this in my life”.  This, from a man who has sailed 20,000 miles in various international waters. It was that spectacular. It moved me and although it may sound corny….it was quite the spiritual experience.  Afterwards as we sat in the cockpit grinning like the little kids, I thought back to the long conversations where my college roommate, Bridget and I would commiserate over questions like:

Is there a God?
What is the meaning of life?
What is the need for humans to have religion?
Are people intrinsically good or bad?
Was Buddha really fat?
Does watching 10 Christmas movies in a row during finals week constitute a religious experience or does it just cause temporary insanity?

Much to the annoyance of our fellow roommates, these questions were pondered often and were usually inspired by the most recent Star Wars the Next Generation episode. In our defense, they really should have known.  Bridget, Humanities major and I with a minor in Philosophy was a recipe for nerdy late night commiserating.

The nighttime experience definitely is my front runner for all time top wildlife encounters so far, but there are others that rate pretty high on the list since entering Costa Rica. Recently, while sailing offshore we saw two huge sea turtles mating.  Picture these decades old creatures, 4 to 5 feet in diameter, bobbing along in the middle of the ocean. It’s still exciting to see one these solitary creatures floating by, but to witness one on top of the other engaging in “relations” was hard to believe. One of them was wildly flapping its flipper, making me realize those guys can really move if motivated correctly.  As you would guess the other Frat House brothers cracked jokes and giggled while witnessing the scene. The boys (not Ben) eventually asked, “What are they doing?”

I replied, “Making babies”.

Glib with my scientific explanation, J.P. quickly added, “But wait….I thought the mom laid eggs on the beach alone and left them there. That’s why we helped release the baby turtles on the beach in El Salvador.”

Damn, this kid is already too worldly for his own good. I quickly added, “Well, she still needs a male to fertilize her eggs” (secretly willing the conversation to end here). Both Mickey and JP seemed satisfied with my explanation....Marlon Perkins style…if you don’t know who that is, you didn’t grow up watching Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom on Sunday nights…if you did, let it be known my favorite part was Marlon proclaiming every stinkin’ week, “now Jim, my assistant will approach the dangerous and deadly _______ (enter wild animal name here) as he narrated safely from the Jeep or boat.

But I digress….

There have also been beautiful brightly colored parrots which we saw in Bahia Santa Elena, an isolated National Park we anchored off of for a week. I was surprised to find even more during our stay at Marina Papagayo, where every evening they would take over the trees outside the clubhouse. My favorite part was watching them fly two by two every where they went. Even living aboard the Floating Frat House, I’m still a sucker for romance.

The most anticipated animal for me were the wild monkeys I have heard so much about. To my surprise, our first encounter was in Playa de Cocos while eating in a restaurant. I was stunned to look up and find a group of 6 or 7 howler monkeys climbing amongst the treetops directly overhead, complete with baby in tow. Now we have grown accustomed to their deep, guttural howls we hear every night in most anchorages we visit in Costa Rica.


Video to follow when we have better Internet.

Even the cows are more exotic and different.  Mickey will be posting a recording of the belching cow we stumbled upon in Bahia Ballena. Hilarious!
But perhaps the most exciting encounter took place within the walls of Knee Deep. One morning while anchored off Playa Samara, Ben took the boys off to explore a nearby island with our friend Michael…an all boy’s excursion. I was left behind, happily snuggled in my bed fighting off a cold. Half asleep I felt something stir above my head on the pillow and when I turned to check it out….there staring at me were two little, beady, black bulging eyes.

What happened next was similar to a campy horror film. I leapt out of bed, violently smacking the top of my head and shrieking at the top of my lungs. If a local fisherman had been passing by, he would have surely concluded someone was being murdered aboard Knee Deep. I have no shame….I was freaked!!! From my perch in the cockpit, as far as I could physically get from my bed, my brain attempted to deduce what the heck was sharing my pillow?

“A mouse…but I’ve never seen a black mouse!!” I thought.

After radioing Ben and the boys without a reply, I realized I was on my own for the next hour. Just me and my new bed fellow.

“Might as well figure out what the hell that thing is”, I thought.  And further comforted myself with, “besides its probably dead!”.

So back in the boat I went, like a scared child condemned to her dark bedroom after a scary nightmare. I grabbed the long flag pole from the quarter berth and flipped up my pillow from the safe distance of four feet.

There he was – lying on Ben’s pillow, still for a moment and then scurried off to the darkest corner of our bunk.

“Soooo, not dead!” a little voice inside my head shouted. More shrieks occurred.

Short, little tail….black, furry body…webbed-like wings. You guessed it….it was a BAT!! Not a bat of the George Clooney, Christian Bale or Val Kilmer type (who I would not kick out of bed, by the way)…but the real deal, a stinkin’ BAT!!!
NOT....George Clooney....

While the nighttime dolphin encounter was euphoric and inspiring, this one was teetering on hellish. Honestly this is a perfect example of how life goes living aboard a sailboat, one minute you are watching golden sunsets, sipping a rum and coke with tropical breezes flowing through your hair and the next you are up on deck in the middle of the night on anchor watch with 40 mph winds blowing.

The pink line in this picture is where our boat swung (all over) during a high wind night at anchor.  J.P, who slept through the whole thing, awoke the next morning, looked at this and proclaimed with a smile on his face, “Hey, look at all these pink lines, what’s that all about?”. Aw, ignorance is bliss!!!

Image 2496 (chartplotter)

After giving myself a pep-talk worthy of Norman Dale from the movie Hoosiers (one of those college roommates I annoyed, Darla, will know what I'm talking about), I managed to sit in the companionway and contemplate my options. Extract the beast on my own? But what if he bit me? Rabies? Risk of becoming a vampire?

I concluded that the safest option was to sit and watch where he goes so I could inform the onboard exterminator the bat’s exact location, whereupon I would rapidly run from the premises.

So that’s what I did. Ben and the boys arrived about an hour later and my husband reluctantly, yet valiantly went down below to evict our newest resident. He didn’t have the heart to just throw him overboard since he appeared unable to fly. So he did what every experienced bat extractor would do….dumped him in a Tupperware bowl and rowed him over to our friend, Michael’s boat (in the spirit of full disclosure, I informed Ben that the bat could no longer be on our boat and he really didn’t feel like making a special trip to shore to release him). Michael looked after him for a while (see his side of the story) and a couple hours later they were on shore releasing him back into the wild. We are not quite sure how long the little guy would last if he didn’t recoup his ability to fly, but it was the best we could do.

So there you have it….glowing dolphins, humping turtles, howling monkeys, burping cows and bed sharing bats. Life is never dull on the high seas.