The house sits a short (and steep!) jungle ride up the hill from the bay where the boat was moored. It has some of the most amazing views I’ve seen. His house is the only thing around, surrounded by miles of rain forest and ocean in every direction (almost creepy, it’s so isolated). The house is completely off the grid (of course there are no services in the middle of the rain forest) so all of the water is collected rainwater and the house runs on solar power. In the evening these cool little solar lights come on inside and you feel like you’re camping. We became accustomed to rising with the sun and retiring for the night shortly after dark. The howler monkeys would wake at sunrise, too, and make a cacophonous morning raucous. After breakfast the parrots and toucans would fill the trees just beyond the wrap around, tree top porch. It was a sight. And there were fire flies! (Did you know that I thought fire flies only existed at Disney Land until I was 19 and saw them in Costa Rica for the first time?) I love fire flies. They are so magical. It was exciting for the kids to see them for the first time.
The cold water shower was of the open air variety (read: out door) and situated on the north facing porch. That took a bit of getting used to for our modest and spoiled-by-unlimited-hot-water, kids. But, for me, the view and the cold water were invigorating! I loved it.
As beautiful as it was, there were a few difficulties to being at Mark's tree top jungle abode.
First, it was so isolated there was no where to go to get a burger and a beer after a hard day working on the boat. We were limited to eating whatever we could put together out of Mark’s pantry. And, he’s a bachelor who lives in the jungle, so options were limited. We ate a lot of pasta and rice. And canned mushrooms. But, I tell you. It was refreshing to see our kids eat EVERYTHING that was put in front of them with nary an "I don't like that" and then ask for seconds. With all of the snacking that we do at home, our kids seem to think that meals are optional and are served with a side of fussing. At Marks they discovered a new found appreciation for food. Hallelujah. I hope that lasts.
Another difficulty was that there was relatively no internet, aside from Dave's iWife, of course, for which he's paying a small fortune for an international data plan (and thank goodness for that). So researching boat issues and how to fix them was tedious. We've become so dependent on the internet and the information that is so readily available to us. Sigh.
For me, as much as I love the idea of being off the grid, the laundry situation proved rather challenging. Dave and I pretty much wore the same work clothes the whole week (clean sleeping clothes, of course) and the kids wore bathing suits so it wasn't our laundry that needed doing. It was boat laundry. All the towels, all the sheets, all the cushion covers (the ones that were salvageable) all the rags, all the foul weather gear. Everything. I was lucky that Mark has a mini washing machine. But with water and electricity being in short supply and everything having to be hung dry it wasn't easy. Especially with the ocean breeze running up the hill and the rain forest fog blowing down the hill, linens on the clothes line never really dry completely. They're always a bit damp. Then you put them on your bed and they still feel a bit damp. Even the toilet paper feels damp. Very unsatisfying. Anyway, I have a heightened appreciation for my mega load washing machine and my fossil-fuel-burning-dryer at home.
Lastly, being so isolated in Cauchero was no good for getting supplies and tools to fix the boat. So after we had done all we could with duck tape, bleach, and a leatherman we decided to limp to the nearest "big" town, 20 miles away, on one engine and tattered rigging. We made up the bunks with damp sheets, stole the remainder of rice and canned mushrooms from Mark's pantry, and loaded our crew onto Balance for the three hour tour.
It should have been smooth sailing and, at first, it was. We hoisted our black sail and were making pretty good time with our one engine. The skies were blue and there was just the nicest little breeze coming over our port bow. The seas were calm being that we were on the inside of the Bocas del Toro Archipelago. I made myself busy organizing the galley while Jack Johnson strummed his six string in the salon. It was lovely. And we were so happy to be sailing somewhere. Anywhere. Then Dave poked his head down into the salon and said, "Rain coming. You might wanna close up."
"How many minutes?" I asked, reaching for a stray measuring cup deep in the galley locker.
He glanced up, calculating the distance between our bow and the gray squall brewing near the cut where we were headed.
I hopped up and started making the rounds; stowing stray gear and closing hatches. A few wayward rain drops slipped through the windows as I closed them up tight.
Approximately three minutes later all hell broke loose.
I had just finished closing up the boat and stepped out of the salon into the cockpit when I noticed that the rain was starting to fall in ernest. Then I saw our nine year old perched like a bowsprit on the starboard bow seat, in front of the open jib sail. The sail began to flap and flutter as the erratic winds of the squall were upon us.
"Time to furl the jib, boys." Dave says. (This means roll it up. Not good to have a big sail up in a squall.)
No sooner had they released the jib sheets and starting cranking on the wench that rolls up the sail than a huge gust of wind slapped us across the starboard beam. The sail snapped angrily across the bow, the metal grommet crashing loudly into every piece of standing rigging it could reach. At that moment, Evie, sensing impending danger, decided it was high time to make her way back to the cockpit. She narrowly escaped a concussion as she ducked and dodged her way past the deadly black sail as it bucked and spit like a wild bronc. My screams for her to "STOP!" and "LAY DOWN!" were reduced to silence by the howling wind, pounding rain, and thrashing sail. Thank God she made it back to the cockpit safely where she quickly grabbed her sister's hand and could be heard saying, "Come on, Soli. We're outta here," as the two of them retreated to the safety of their bunk to put on their pajamas.
Meanwhile, back on the bow, the jib struggled wildly to free itself from the confines of the slapping lines. But the ropes held firm in an effort to break the enraged beast. The boys were no match for the snarling sail, and Dave's single motor, even at full throttle, was useless in holding us to weather. The wind pushed us off course and downwind, further enraging our sail. In no time our lines were a tangled mess, fruitlessly whipping at wind and sky with the terrifying crack of broken sound barrier.
"Dammit." Dave cursed as he realized one engine is NOT as good as two. "I need to go on the bow and untangle those lines."
I looked up at our infuriated sail and the hissing mess of husband-damaging metal parts and whipping lines that were attached to it. I sent a silent plea to the wind gods to be gentle with him.
"Emerson, take the helm. Heath, haul in on the port sheet. Cole, crank in the slack when you can," he ordered as he stepped into the ring to wrestle the writhing beast. It was terrifying to watch him up on the bow tacking and jibing to avoid the sail as it tried to buck him off the boat. But, the wild black jib was no match for my man, and he quickly wrangled the lines into submission. Cole and I took in the slack to keep the lines from tangling again while Emerson spun the helm to no avail, as the boat continued to be pushed downwind by the storm. Back in the cockpit Dave cranked on the wench handle and furled the broke beast onto the headstay.
Unable to make headway with one engine, we threw the hook and rode out the remainder of the storm in the salon. It was all over in 10 minutes. On the other side were promises of blue skies and internet. We happily arrived in Bocas del Toro at sun down where we have been enjoying the good life at Bocas Marina ever since. Unlimited water, electricity, internet, laundry, a restaurant (which we have shamelessly been frequenting 3 times a day for the better part of 5 days), and hot water showers...with doors. And, it's a darn good thing we're happy here because it may be a while before we can leave.
Here's the good news and the bad news on the boat:
The bad news: The port engine needs the top end rebuilt.
The more bad news: You can't get those parts in these parts.
The good news: For a small fortune the Miami Grandparents are sending a small package worth another small fortune to Mail Boxes Etc. here in Bocas. Should be here in 7-10 business days. Thank you, Miami Grandparents for running around the greater Miami area on our behalf. I guess there were a few more things we forgot to buy. You two are life-boat savers.
The bad news: The majority of the sheets (ropes) on the boat are brittle and frayed.
The good news: Another cruiser here in Bocas just happened to offer a boat load (literally) of brand new lines. We bought them all for a small fortune.
The bad news: We were supposed to leave Panama a week ago to head north in time to pick up our friends in Honduras on March 5. Rule number one of cruising: NEVER make plans involving firm dates. We should have known better.
The good news: Those friends are spending a small fortune and flying here instead. Phew.
The good news: Dave borrowed a prop puller and was able to muscle off the half eaten props.
The bad news: The bolts are bent and so even though we have two replacement props (a small miracle, btw) we can't install them.
The more bad news: Of course they don't sell those particular hex bolts anywhere besides the Volvo Penta Marine Diesel Dealership in Virginia.
The good news: We paid a small fortune to have them overnighted to the Miami grandparents who included them in our care package. Should arrive in 7-10 days.
The bad news: The inverter seems to be dead and is not charging our house batteries. So even though we are on the dock and have unlimited 110V electricity we still have to run our engine and charge our batteries in order to be able to use our 12V systems (like the fridge, lights, and fans).
The good news: For a small fortune, Mark is picking up a new inverter in David, Panama. In the meantime, we borrowed a battery charger from a neighbor here on the dock so we have unlimited 12V.
The bad news: The windows and hatches still leak sumpin' fierce.*
The good news: It rains enough inside our boat for me to collect all of the water I need to do dishes for a whole day.
*Since I typed this up Dave has sealed the windows by caulking the insides (caulking the outside wasn't enough).
This picture makes me laugh right out loud. It was taken overlooking the Mira Flores Locks of the Panama Canal. We had about 25 minutes before we had to be at the airport for our puddle jumper to Bocas del Toro. You know that scene in Vacation where Chevy Chase stands with his family overlooking the Grand Canyon, bobs his head for 3 seconds, and says, "Ok. Let's go!" That was us at the Panama Canal. We ran up the stairs to the overlook, had someone snap this pic, watched a big ship move halfway through the locks and then ran back down the stairs to our waiting taxi. Panama Canal: check.
On our way to Cauchero with our friend, Mark. Crazy as ever!
A darling family in Loma Partida. Look at that sparkling white laundry! (I wonder is she gets hers to dry.)
Dave trying to hear the weather report on the SSB overlooking the bay where Balance is moored. How 'bout them views...
Our first day of home school on the boat. No. It's not as much fun as it looks. At least not so far.
Now this is as much fun as it looks. The kids have discovered the bosin chairs. They spend several hours a day swinging from the rigging like monkeys and throwing poop at the neighbors.
A typical scene on our boat...
Need I say more?