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.



  1. Merry Christmas from cold Sacramento. It's been in the forties the last couple of days...brrrrrr. Nice post, but I really just check in to read posts from Mickey and J.P.! Hope to hear from them soon. Take care all...

  2. Happy New Year from wet San Mateo. Sounds like you are having so much fun. What an adventure! Can you sail over to Kauai and meet my family there in March?