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Before we left Pangai I did one more trip ashore to do some final internetting, buy some more phone time and get some bread. On the way back I saw a tent set up and underneath they were cooking chicken dinners. I managed to get a nice pile of chicken for about 5 bucks which I took back to the boat for our brunch.

Shortly after we raised the anchor and, with the trade winds reasserting themselves, hoisted the sails for our 5nm sail to Uoleva.

Already in the anchorage were Sympatica and Visions of Johanna. Behind us, coming to the same anchorage, was Sea Mist – even though we’d not discussed our plans. Somehow we ended up snoozing much of the afternoon. Bill from Visions borrowed our hookah to clean his bottom as well as inviting us, the Sea Mists and Sympaticas over for cocktails later. Although we came here for a nice walk along the beach we never found the time to do it.

We had a good evening aboard Visions – Bill being liberal with the rum cocktails. We got the usual boat tour which was quite amazing. Bill had designed a lot of the interior himself. The boat is a whopping 62ft long but he’s laid out the interior for convenience rather than packing in as many state rooms as possible. His engine room is a picture of redundancy.

Not sure what we’ll do today. Maybe we’ll go ashore or perhaps just push on. Maybe both.

Water, water, water

The last two nights and yesterday involved a lot of water. Most of the water has been in the form of rain, lots of rain. We did have plenty of breaks though. We are near to a supposedly excellent snorkeling site called the “Coral Gardens”. This involves dinghying over a reef to our west which can only be done around high tide. We gave it a go but weren’t too successful. The winds have recently been all over and we have a westward swell. The swell is coming over the reef from the wrong direction. The result was that our dinghy completely filled with water as several waves crashed over us. We turned back and dragged the dinghy onto a nearby beach and attempted to cross the reef on our snorkels and flippers. That failed too as the current was too strong. We tried one other spot but it didn’t look too good. That was that for our snorkeling.

In the evening we had Jules and Lois from Sympatica along with Gary and Tiera from Pursuit IV over for sun-downers. As of time of writing this blog Sympatica have already left the anchorage so it was good to catch up with them before they headed off. There’s a small chance we’ll bump into the them next week.

Not sure if we’ll stay here today or press on. A lot depends on the weather predictions. I am now spending a lot more time listening to the southern radio nets and looking at the broader weather picture in this region. Two reasons for this. The first is that the anchorages in the Ha’apai group are not as sheltered as those here so attention needs to be paid to what could be happening in the short term. The second reason is to build up some familiarity with the weather conditions for our trip to NZ in 2-3 weeks time.

Last Day in Nieafu

Without spoiling it too much I can say it now – we have finally escaped from Nieafu. The last 24 hours has been as packed as ever. Early evening we had a curry evening. Joining us were Charlie, a delivery captain, and Kel & Adriana, a couple who run a local business who we’ve got to know. By 10pm we were all done but not finished. We went ashore for one final Wednesday night at Tonga Bob’s where we met the Bamboozles (Mum included) to watch the Faka Ladies. We had more than a few more beers and wore ourselves out laughing and dancing not returning until well after midnight.

This morning was another familiar Neiafu morning: hot, humid and hung over. That was no excuse not to get busy. I went ashore to clear us out while Helen and Ben cleared up from the night before. Then we returned the electric piano to the Bamboozles as our paths are now unsure to cross in the near term – we had to almost rip Ben off it as he got in his last few tinkles on the ivories. Then Helen and I provisioned for the next 3 weeks as we work our way down to Tongatapu.

As soon as we could we up anchored and headed off to Vaka’eitu where we are now anchored. We were able to sail most of the way in light winds only occasionally using battery power to nudge us through wind shadows.

There are a few boats here – no surprise. But a nice surprise was running into Sympatica who we’ve not seen since we played volley ball together with the Kuna Indians back in the San Blas on the other side of Panama. I’ve over to say hello to Julie and Louis who are their same old selves. We’ve agreed we’re all partied out and will have a quiet night tonight but will be getting together tomorrow.

Neiafu has been a lot of fun but it’s good to be away and off to new adventures. We’ll stay around Vava’u for a few days before heading south to the Ha’apai group of islands where we can hopefully unwind from the past month’s debauchery.

Some good news of a sort regarding our charger. An address in Opua where we will check in the NZ has been agreed for delivery and it will hopefully be there when we arrive. Furthermore Lagoon has thrown in a few extra pieces free of charge which will be helpful.

Chichime, San Blas

Although we planned to leave Isla Grande around 7am we actually left a little after 8am to allow Sam and Annie a little extra time to sleep. The wind was under 5 knots so there was no point raising any sails. We motored all the way to the San Blas. We had trolling lines out almost straight away with the hope of catching something along the way. The legs too and from the San Blas would be the longest and hence best chance of catching anything. We made a point of sailing over La Provendencia Shoal (9°3922’N 079°26.84’W) and while most of us were looking back we saw a barracuda strike one of lures. We hauled it in successfully and found it to be a 4lb fish, not too large to eat. I prepared the fish, this time down to two single filets. Then came the task of clearing the stern of all the mess. Barracuda taste nice but they stink and are quite scaly, all of which has to be cleaned while on the move.

On two occasions we saw a couple of dolphin near the boat. They didn’t hang around but at least we had the pleasure of seeing them. We’re pleased for Annie and Sam as there’s no guarantee of anything and getting even a short sighting is better than none.

We had a few patches of rain along the way. Sam and Annie didn’t seem to mind, sitting through it out front and drying off once it had passed. I also had a closer examination of my new speargun along the way. In doing so I managed to stab my hand on the tip. Not too deep but enough to make it quite sore.

We finally arrived in Chichime, a popular San Blas stop. There were a number of boats here including, we noticed, Sympitaca. We anchored in what we thought was plenty of space but were wary of the other boats due to their being little wind and the possibility they could be sitting over their anchors. It didn’t take long before another squall came through and blew the anchor lines straight. We almost collided with a nearby boat but managed to get moving and reanchor without a problem. Now at least we know we can swing.

Chichime comprises three islands, one not much larger than the few palm trees standing on it. They are inhabited by Kuna who soon came out (naked kids, dogs and all) in their hand carved canoes to see if we were interested in molas and lobsters. We were interested but in no rush for either and think we managed to let them know this.

Louis from Sympatica soon passed by and invited us to beach volleyball. 15 minutes later we were in the dinghy heading ashore to play 3 rounds of volleyball in the Kuna camp. A couple of the locals joined in too, one on each team. The match was close and a lot of fun. Feeling my age I mananged to twang a shoulder and a hip along the way (and am feeling quite stiff this morning). Neither Helen nor I had played volleyball for over 30 years so this was a real relearning curve for us.

Sam and Annie stayed a little long while John, Helen and I went back to the boat to start dinner. Being covered with sand we had a dip in the sea to clean off before going aboard. Helen prepped the fish and I manned the grill. Later, Sam and Annie swam back to the boat.

The barracuda went down well and most was eaten. The kids helped clear up afterwards and soon we settled down to watch a movie. The movie was interesting but not that engaging and it ended up being one of those we couldn’t wait for to end so we could go to sleep. Without waking everyone to check I’m pretty sure everyone slept (and is sleeping) well.

We’re going to stay here another day. I can read up on the nearby spots from my guide book that came with Annie and Sam. We also have some tips from Louis and from Gerald on Whiskers which will be included in our itinerary. But today will be one for everyone to catch up on needed rest and probably to go snorkeling. I’m itching to try out my speargun even if it’s to blast apart some poor sergeant major.

Isla Naranjo Abajo

Sunday morning we did indeed get to see the sloths. Louis called us on the radio and around 9:30am we dinghied over to Sympatica and then over to a grotty beach nearby where we hauled the dinghy ashore and locked it up. It was a short walk along the shore path before we came to some steps up the hill to Beanie and Rogers beautiful property. They are CLODs (Cruisers Living On Dirt) who have retired here in Panama. They have a large plot of land on which they’ve had built a stunning home. The sloths, all orphans, were quite amazing. They naturally hang onto trees so picking them up is done by holding onto their front claws and holding them involves a cuddly embrace. They move so ponderously and slowly and seem very content just to hang on to us. One was sitting in the kitchen, one was up the Christmas tree and the largest one we saw (called Lightening) was on the bed in their bedroom feeding. In the bedroom Roger had built a ‘tree’ in which Lightening lived. All very bizarre.

We had to say our goodbyes in order to get down the coast before light fell. Having had a plan A and plan B to choose from we opted for plan C and head to Isla Naranjo Abajo a small island 10nm from Shelter Bay and Colon. Leaving the shelter of Linton the seas were quite rough. At one point we were slammed by a particular large wave which sent a few things flying including some of our wine cartons, one of which burst draining red wine into the bilge. Once out of rough waters the sailing became smoother but demanded our attention as we were in the main shipping lane going down to Colon. The wind was better and seas smoother out in the shipping lane so we ended up playing slalom with the tankers. Our early days of learning to sail in New York Harbour made us feel reasonably safe but the AIS system which gave us good info on projected closest approach was invaluable.

We are the only boat here in Isla Naranjo Abajo which makes it quite nice. At night we can see the orange glow of Colon off in the distance and the lights of ships in the lanes. But around us it is all vegetation and no sign of man. It’s nice to be on our own like this from time to time.

Our plan for today is to leave here early and go to Shelter Bay Marina and get the ball rolling with our clearing in and transit booking. We have some more shopping to do involving runs today and tomorrow. If all goes well we’ll only need one day in the marina possibly staying out on the ‘flats’ outside Colon the following evening. Then will begin the slog back up the coast against the prevailing winds. Looking at the weather data the most recent forecast we have show the winds dying and clocking around from the south for our trip back east which would be good if it plays out.