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Ship's Log: Updated July 7, 2008

Cerro Velero, It Is!

Much has been happening! Most exciting is that we have purchased the property near Buena Esperanza on Dolphin Bay that we previously described here. We decided to call the property Cerro Velero, or Sailboat Hill. Here's a picture of the view that inspired the name.

This many boats in our bay is actually a very unusual event. Usually it's just Camryka and Landfall, which are the first two boats on the right.

Leaving Bocas del Toro for Dolphin Bay

To catch up: We left Darkland in late April, went back to the Bocas Marina for a few days, and then moved Landfall down to Dolphin Bay to work on finalizing the land purchase. We've been anchored off of our new property since May 4th.

This picture, taken from Landfall at anchor, is the view to the south that we wake up to most mornings. Our neighbors Mary and Carl's boat, Camryka, their house, Casa Qué Será, on the hill to the left. Cerro Velero is the hill just to the right. Tobe and Judy Green, the folks we bought the property from, are the hill to the right of Cerro Velero, and to the right of them, David and Linda Cerruti, who own Green Acres, a chocolate farm.

Every morning now Tracy takes Gellie "to the grass" to let her do her business, then comes back for his morning coffee.

The land view later in the day. You can see Tracy's blue tarp shelter on our house site, peeking out from behind a tree on the top of the hill.

This is the view to the west, toward the mainland on a soft, overcast day. Our friends Tom and Susan on Limerick were anchored out in the bay for a few days.

The sunsets often knock our socks off (well in our case, our flip-flops). This is the view looking northwest. Friends Tommy and Cynthia on Moondancer were anchored nearby for a week or two, helping Mary and Carl with projects up at the house.

The full moon looks pretty nice, too.

But the invasion of moon jellyfish a few weeks back was not nice at all! Yuck!

There were so many it seemed like we could have walked across them all the way to shore. Reminded us of a sea version of Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds! Fortunately it was a short-lived event. The locals tell us that these invasions are cyclical and unpredictable. Hmm...

Addition to the "Watkins Navy"

Since it's an eight mile boat trip from our property into Bocas del Toro, the nearest town (and grocery store, hardware store, restaurant, etc.), and thirteen miles to Almirante and the nearest road that goes anywhere on the mainland, we needed something faster than Landfall and bigger than our dinghy to get us back and forth. After hunting around for a few weeks Tracy located a lovely little used 18' panga with a 40 h.p. motor.

Faster than Landfall, bigger than the dinghy!

It's light and quick and agile; Tracy named it "Cricket" because that just fits! The engine is a fuel-efficient Evinrude E-Tec; it takes us about 3 gallons of gas per round trip. We were close to buying a larger boat with a bigger engine, but with the way gas prices were going, we opted for the smaller engine and lighter boat, and are we glad that we did! Gas here is $5 a gallon.

Warm Welcome to the Neighborhood

When we moved down permanently, our next-door neighbors and now good friends Mary and Carl Heckrotte hosted a potluck at their new house, Casa Qué Será, to welcome us to the neighborhood. The party was planned for a Sunday, which ended up being the same day that we finally left the marina in Bocas del Toro. After working all morning to get Landfall ready to go, Tracy got in Cricket, towing the dinghy, while I took the helm on Landfall, and we all headed south to Dolphin Bay. We left the dock around noon and dropped Landfall's anchor at 3:30 p.m., just in time for the 4:00 p.m. party. How's that for timing?

Mary has pictures of the welcome party in her May photos. In addition to party pictures, these feature the Landfall crew: Sharon Party; Sharon Bench; Gellie Friend; Sharon Friends. There's also a great photo of Tracy the Mover helping them load up "the pickup truck" in Almirante to transport their new kitchen island to their house. Mary has kept a detailed photo documentary of their experiences over the past year buying their property and building their house. Lots of great pictures--she even has one of our worker Vicente's children--darling!

She also has some photos taken in an airplane flying over our bay. They give a good overview of the peninsula of land that we're on.

This was taken by friends Susan and Tom on Limerick at a small celebration at Mary and Carl's shortly after we agreed to buy the property. (Note: We are not as fat as we look in this picture! Really! :-) But if we were, the many-many trips up and down our new hills will soon melt it away!

Doing the Deed

Although we started the process in April it took forever to get documents lined up. Meanwhile, we started work on the property. First, the survey. The boundaries we all agreed on encompass just under three acres, shaped in a long rectangle going back from the shoreline. The terrain features one small building site and a couple of steep ravines.

Next, Tracy erected a temporary shelter at the top of the hill and staked out the house site.

We hired a man to build a fence on the western boundary to keep out our neighbor Tobe's horses and cows.

127 fence posts later...

Then we hired Vicente and his nephew Solomon to start clearing the property a little bit, hacking down tall grass, making a trail along the fence line, and making trails to meander through the property so we can get a better idea of what we have to work with.

Looking north from the southwest corner.

Looking north from near the southeast corner. The blue tarp shelter is almost hidden in the foliage.

A meandering trail along the eastern ravine and boundary, adjoining Carl and Mary's property..

There are really steep hills almost everywhere!

We (mostly our workers) are carving out homes for good plants among the invasive grasses and vines.

Underneath the mango tree, me honey...

Finally, after weeks and weeks of waiting for our attorney to draw up the papers, we met with Tobe and Judy in Bocas to sign the contract in front of the Notary Public. What a great day!

Bringing in the Building Supplies

The 4th of July began with an early morning Cricket trip to Almirante to pick up lumber for the bodega (shed) we're going to build. Almirante is 12 miles away by boat and the lumber yard is a short taxi ride from the dock. Madera Nativa (Native Wood) is owned and run by Heather Guidi, a gregarious transplanted Canadian who has been in this area for thirteen years. There was a bit of delay when we got there; Heather had just dashed off to the hospital with a worker who had cut off a big hunk of his thumb! But she soon returned, and we started to count out the boards to complete the purchase.

While we were counting, another worker found the sawed-off hunk of thumb, put it in a water bottle, and presented it to her. Ouch! We quickly paid for the wood and she rushed off to take the worker to Changuinola, which has a bigger, better hospital.

We needed a truck taxi to haul the lumber to the dock. Wouldn't you know, he showed up in the diesel twin to the "Tracy Truck" Toyota we had for so many years, roof rack and all!

On the way back to the dock we were stopped by a parade. We are pretty sure it had nothing to do with the American 4th of July, but who knows?

We needed a bigger boat to haul the lumber back to Cerro Velero because there was too much wood and weight to fit in Cricket. Tracy made a few calls, and the boat and captain were waiting for us when we got back to the dock. A few locals pitched in to help unload the truck, and they were off.

Although we had to stop and get gas for Cricket, we soon passed the loaded boat and Tracy was able to drop me off at Landfall and then meet them at Carl and Mary's dock to help unload. (What a blessing having their dock to use!)

Once the wood was unloaded it was time to dash off to the party!

Fourth of July Party

A huge ex-pat gang gathered at Janice and Danny's place in Darkland to celebrate the 4th of July. What a great crowd! Granted, many were not from the United States--we had representatives from Canada, Malta, France, England, Switzerland, Australia, Vietnam, Japan, China, Costa Rica, Panama, Texas (it qualifies as its own country, doesn't it?), and probably more; we didn't get to meet everyone. But all were happy to celebrate our right to Independence! Our hosts are wearing the red tank tops. The man in the Panama hat? A true and loyal American!

When we arrived the tables were piled high with potluck appetizers and snacks. Then Danny started grilling (and grilling!) hot dogs and hamburgers for the crowd. The serving table was covered with typical 4th of July salads and baked beans. My plate was filled just with all the different potato salads! And then the dessert table was brought out--lots of brownies made with locally grown chocolate, carrot cake, key lime pie, cheesecake, cookies, and of course, homemade ice cream and a couple of apple pies. Yum!

Dogs, children, young and old, everyone was welcome.

Their dock was a crowded parking lot! Since there are no roads in this part of the country, all transportation is by water, and everyone arrived by boat.

Most parties end by dark because navigation can be tricky through the mangroves and reefs, especially when there's a new moon. So unfortunately, most of us missed the fireworks...But look what Tracy found before we left!

And brought home with us! (No, not the women; the puppy!)

And she has settled right in. How did this happen?? Well...Our party's hosts' daughter, Jenica, has a dog named Gringa. Gringa had puppies on Mother's Day. Jenica's mother, Janice, was going to take this little brown one, but when her husband Danny saw the puppies, he wanted the white puppy that looked just like Buddy, the dog they already have. But Jenica had really fallen for the the little brown one, and was so glad that her mom was going to take it. When that fell though, she was very sad. So now this little one needed a home; all the others were adopted out already. Well, the family all loved the idea that we would take her, because we're neighbors and they'd still be able to see her often. Now, why Tracy offered to take her in the first place, I'll never know! Anyway.

Jenica had named the puppy I.D., for Island Dog, but using the Spanish pronunciation of those letters, so it sounds like "Edie." When we took her, we said we'd keep that name. But having slept on it, we're now inclined to call her "Indy," since we got her on the 4th of July. She comes to Edie well enough; we figure she'll just think we're mispronouncing Edie at first, and eventually Indy will work just as well for her. At least we're not calling her Peanut Butter! And yes, Gellie was a bit bent out of shape the first night, but she woke up in the morning thinking her new little pal was just right.

Indy was born on Mother's Day and came to us on Independence Day. I wonder what the next holiday holds in store for her?

Starting on the Bodega

Monday morning after the 4th of July dawned dark and wet, but the workers were lined up so the work must proceed. We've added Marcos to the lineup for the first three days of the week. Tracy worked with Marcos when he was helping Garry build Dave's house in Darkland. Marcos has experience in construction, which will be a big help to Tracy. Unfortunately, Marcos lives too far away to commute to our property paddling his cayuco, so Tracy has to take Cricket and go pick him up at Dave's in the morning and drop him off at the end of the day.

Tracy's work on Sunday getting the bodega's 8x10' footprint lined out worked to good advantage, and the workers got right to it in the drizzle.

Notice how steeply the hillside falls away. There is really only that one spot to build on, except the house site.

Tracy expects construction to be complete by the end of the week. This is how he felt at the end of the first day, so...We'll see!

In the interest of quicker-loading pages, click here to read more...

Old Logs


Landfall the Darkland Lighter

Savoring Bocas

Hunkered Down in Paradise

Moving on Again (to Bocas del Toro, Panama)


Christmas Greetings from Isla Providencia

Halloween Fun and Fiestas on Isla Mujeres

Feasting on Isla Mujeres

Living on Isla Mujeres

More Isla Mujeres Adventures: Hurricane Dean!

Isla Mujeres Adventures

Staying in Isla Mujeres for a While

Key West, Florida to Isla Mujeres, Quintana Roo, Mexico

Pensacola to Key West, Florida

Gulf Shores, Alabama to Pensacola, Florida


Olympia, Washington to Half Moon Bay, California and Half Moon Bay to Mobile, Alabama