Monday, January 28, 2008

Chagres River, Panama

Chagres River, Panama

January 22-28, 2008

N 09 17'44.2", W 079 58'47.3"

The last week and a half has been a mixture of about every emotion I have ever experienced. We originally intended on leaving the morning of my birthday, January 20th. As we pulled away from the dock with half a dozen other cruisers waving,wishing us well and singing happy birthday I was elated to finally be leaving the dock. No more than 30 minutes from the dock I began to notice the engine was running much too hot. After a quick call to the former owner we turned back to the marina to determine why the engine was overheating. I located a leak in the water pump and thankfully there was a replacement on board. The rest of my birthday was spent removing the old water pump and installing the new. Not a difficult job but one that did require a vise which I got access to the next morning courtesy of the marina. So after a 48 hour delay we were off again. During repairs, the kids were able to play Mexican Train Dominoes with about 20 other cruisers…a regular Sunday event.

It was a blustery day but our trip to the Chagres was a short hop so off we went. Leaving the Panama Canal breakwater surrounded by container ships makes one feel really small. As we cleared into the ocean it was apparent this was going to be a roller coaster ride. We were happily motoring along when the fuel filter warning light came on and the motor began to sputter. Down in the engine compartment I went and while rolling up and over 8-10 foot seas I drained and cleared the fuel filter and we were once again on our way.

No sooner did this happen than we lost the dinghy. We did not really lose it;I just did not tie a good enough knot. That special snowball knot I tied just melted away. On a short motor like this we were towing the dinghy. On longer passages the dinghy would be secured to the fore deck. Anyway, Sue took the helm and turned the boat and positioned us up wind from the dinghy and on our second pass I retrieved our wayward dinghy, tied a better knot, and we were off again. Neither of these events are any big deal; it is always just a little more stressful the first time. The cool part was that everybody did exactly what was needed without a lot of shouting etc. and I was very proud of the crew.

Amy faired the best of everyone in terms of the rough water. Marshall got sick but I have to say he was really amazing. He threw up without complaining once and just took it all in stride. Thankfully he didn't need help or comfort from anyone, because the rest of us were all trying to hold our own in terms of how our stomachs felt. In fact the anchor had barely hit bottom in the Chagres and Marshall was in the water swimming and having a great time. I think Sue and I were too stressed to be sick.

The Chagres River does not reveal its' treasures without a cost. The cost to cruisers is getting through the entrance. On a calm day it is tricky at best but on a blustery day it is nothing short of a roller coaster ride. The entrance is a due east approach between Lajas reef on the north and a shoal to the south. Vigilance is mandatory as are good charts and navigational equipment. After turning due east to head into the river and passing Lajas Reef to our port, the seas that had been building all day sent an unusually large wave that broke completely over s/vMima. Neither Mima nor any of the 4Wheelers was in any real danger but suffice it to say we were glad to arrive safely and that was enough excitement for one day. Look at the before and after photos of my office on board Mima.

We anchored in three different locations throughout the week and had a grand time. The beach at the entrance to the river was a blast to walk on and the kids had fun in the waves and collecting shells. Amy found her first shark tooth and some cool shells. Exploring in the jungle was really cool as well. The day after we got here my refrigeration system went down again. You know that brand new one I just had put in. Yikes,when will these problems end? After a frustrating 4-5 hours of trouble -shooting and no solution found, we decided we had plenty of provisions on board and we would just stay put and enjoy the river. So we just began eating what thawed first, we had a rather high protein diet for a few days. In retrospect it was absolutely the right decision. We were in a wonderful new place and if cruising teaches us anything we hope one of them is to be more flexible when life throws a curve ball. I think we lost one chicken but our loss was a gators' gain. It is their river after all.

No sooner had we entered the river than all of our senses were inundated by the fragrance of tropical trees in full bloom, the raucous calls of parrots, and the unmistakable roar of howler monkeys. This is the Central American jungle at it's' best and a wonderfully unique and protected place to anchor. Tributaries and waterways allowed for endless hours of exploring in the dinghy, deep into the jungle. The jungle canopy here is over50 feet high which means very little undergrowth making exploring on land also easy. Check out the picture of the canoe and paddle Sue and I found exploring one afternoon. This was a wonderfully romantic place for me and it reminded me again that one of the things that has always held Sue and I close over the years is a shared love for our natural environment.

The cacophony of sounds resonating from all the inhabitants is at once enticing and also maddening for amateur naturalists who long to not only hear, but also see the authors of this jungle symphony. Our last evening on the river as the sun was setting, we saw three species of toucans and hundreds of parrots while sitting on the bow of the boat (check out the bird/mammal list from the Chagres River and a few photos). The smallest of hummingbirds and antwrens, Violaceous Trogons and Blue-grey Tanagers, large Keel-billed Toucans and Mealy Parrots all provided us with non-stop aerial entertainment. Howler and Spider monkeys along with crocodiles, coati and even a Northern Tamandua (Google that one)entertained us as well.

We went spotlighting at night and although I got a hold of two crocodiles I was unsuccessful in keeping a hold on them, but I will keep trying (sorry Mom, I just can't help myself). We spent two days with the Grego family on the river sharing meals, trips to the beach and one croc hunting adventure. We are blessed to have met them and we certainly hope our paths cross again soon.

The trip back to Colon was much less exciting but just as rough. So now we are back in Colon tore-provision and get this &*#$ refrigerator fixed so we can head toward Portobello and the San Blas Islands. One of our cruising friends told us the definition of cruising is, "fixing your boat in exotic places". Well, I guess we are cruising then!


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Monday, January 7, 2008

Why Mima, Why Now?

Why Mima, Why Now?

Economics, the desire for a life change, kids growing up,fulfilling a dream, or all, in the aggregate, whatever the reason, on December30, 2006, while driving home from visiting family in Arizona at Christmas Susan turned to me in the car and said, "I'm ready to go". I knew immediately what she meant and so it began. We got home to Idaho and began looking for a boat.

The biggest challenge living in Idaho and wanting a cruising sailboat was traveling to areas with boats to look at. I traveled to Seattle, Portland, San Diego and Puerto Escondido, Mexico to look at potential boats. The other challenge for us was trying to figure out what we wanted in a sailboat. Our entire boating experience had been powerboats. We had owned a number of powerboats, the largest being a 33 foot Sea Ray cabin cruiser. As such we were comfortable with navigation, anchoring and basic boatmanship but we had never owned a sailboat and our sailing experience was the grand total of a few days on my best friend's boat.

None- the- less, I flew to Panama to see the boat in May2007 and after a few days with the prior owners and being on board I decided to pull the trigger and bought Mima. In the time between deciding to go cruising and when I visited Mima our friends had decided that they were not going to be able to leave and consequently we were free to begin cruising in Panama on the Caribbean side. Susan and I traveled to the boat in October for two weeks to get acquainted with her and try to prepare for our return as a family in January 2008.

I began turning on systems and troubleshooting as well as performing basic maintenance. Susan began to provision and after innumerable trips to the store and untold hours on my part trying to figure out how things work three weeks later we untied from the dock and left.

We left having read everything we could on sailing but with only a grand total of 10 hours of sailing experience. We know we will make many rookie mistakes but we are committed to learning and living.

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Tuesday, January 1, 2008

The Journey Begins

"The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step"

author unknown

In many ways this blog is one of many single steps required of us before our journey could begin and we trust an ongoing point of contact for family and friends as our adventure unfolds. We hope our blog accurately represents the story of one family's desire to fulfill a dream, a dream that has been incubating for over a decade and has now begun.

It is our desire that our family, friends (both old and new)and all those who yearn to follow their hearts and dreams will find in the pages that follow not just our story but perhaps just maybe a tiny bit of inspiration to cast off the mooring lines that hold you captive and allow you to LIVE.

First, a little about the Wheeler family. We are, I guess, best described as an ordinary family with perhaps an extra-ordinary dream. Susan and I met and began dating in high school. We attended university together and were married the summer before my senior year and her junior year. In August of 2007 we celebrated our 21stanniversary. Like any couple we have had mountain top and valley experiences yet through it all we have remained committed to each other and our common dreams.

Sue and I both graduated with undergraduate degrees in wildlife biology (specializing in ornithology) and I completed my MBA in2005. We have lived in Idaho, South Dakota, Colorado and Texas. My business career was spent in medical sales and real estate development. Six years ago I left the for-profit sector and began working in the non-profit arena for my alma mater. Susan also worked in medical sales with me until our kids arrived and has primarily been a stay at home mom since.

We both fell in love with the ocean and boating early in our married life. Vacations revolved around scuba diving and many boating adventures in Baja California. Those early experiences planted the seeds that have grown into this family adventure.

We have two amazing kids. Make sure you check out their logs on the website for their unabridged perspective on the journey. Our daughter Amy turned 12 prior to our leaving. She has more personality than the day is long and once you have met her you will always be remembered by her and will be her friend. She is bright, loves people, animals, and experiencing all that life has to offer.

She has a generous and caring spirit and loves to give to others. I think her most distressing moments are when she has to choose between two equally exciting activities. If anyone has ever had the desire to do it all it is Amy.

Our son Marshall is 9 ½ as we depart. He is all boy. Marshall loves to hunt, fish, play football, tackle dad and is particularly adept at turning the most common objects into a weapon for a Star Wars battle reenactment. He is also an avid reader, mathematician, and very creative. Marshall possesses a wonderfully warm and tender spirit. We feel blessed to be the parents of Amy and Marshall.

Sue and I always seem to have known from very early in our marriage that we would spend an extended period of time at sea sometime during our life together. The question was always what would be the best time? Amy and Marshall are the reason for the journey now. As they began to grow up we realized that life will only afford us one opportunity as a family like this and so we begin. Come join us in the journey as we learn about ourselves and each other, as well as new cultures, and strive to expand our world view and to learn more fully what it means to be global citizens.

We are glad you are part of our crew on board s/v MIMA. WELCOME ABOARD!

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