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Landfall-Learning > Ship's Log

Current Ship's Log: Updated August 9, 2008

The Bodega (a.k.a. "The Man Cave") Rises!

We have been hard at work up on Cerro Velero, our property near Buena Esperanza on Dolphin Bay, Bocas del Toro, Panama, that we previously described here and in the last log.

The folks at the lumber stores, hardware stores and marine gas stations in Almirante and Bocas are getting to know us pretty well. We have been back and forth to both towns more in the last two weeks than in the previous two months! The nearest warehouse-type store is in David, a two-day round trip away. So, as in rural areas before the advent of Costco, Wal-Mart, Sam's Club and Home Depot, we go to the nearest town and go a-hunting for what we need. It this hardware store doesn't have it, maybe the one down the street will. If not, then maybe in the next town, a little further away, we can go there...

But often the weather is bad, so the trip will have to be put off. It is the rainy season here now, which means we can usually count on showers or thunderstorms at least once a day. Sometimes we make it back to Landfall before it starts, and sometimes we don't. This trip home from Almirante, with twenty tongue-and-groove 1x6's for the flooring and roof, was drier than some.

It's only half the order, but any more weight and we'd be water over the gunwales! And at least it was flat, even if we did get a few showers.

We do wish we had a picture of the day in Bocas when we filled little 18-foot Cricket with our usual many bags of groceries and two cases of beer, and then added twelve 6x4-foot sheets of roofing zinc, a 10-foot section of roofing cap, eight pieces of 16-foot 1x6's and 2x4's, five 20-foot sections of 2" PVC pipe for Mary and Carl's place (another story), and all the fasteners, screws, elbows, glue and connectors to use it all. But it was pouring so hard that we couldn't get out the camera!

Pouring so hard, in fact, that after twenty minutes of driving southwest across the bay toward the south end of Isla Cristobal and the narrow entrance through the mangroves into Dolphin Bay, we thought we had missed the entrance. And so we backtracked north against the wind and waves, slowly, for we were fully laden with no freeboard to spare, for another twenty minutes trying to find it. As it was, we hadn't missed it, so we had to turn around again and go find the entrance. Made for a much longer, wetter trip home... And then Cricket still had to be unloaded!

But, you ask...?
No, we didn't have a GPS with us. Duh! But we'd made that trip so many times...
There is a lesson to be learned here, we are certain of it.

Seemingly numberless trips up the hill with materials later, it's turning from markups and framework and post holes

and piles of lumber and pots of sealant

and lots of hot, sweaty labor

into a real building!

Well, yes, it still needs a roof...

but we have the zinc right down here!

And while things are moving right along, Tracy did get distracted for a couple of hours one morning, helping our neighbor get a big cow unstuck from the mud just on the other side of our fence. I wish I'd had the camera nearby before he hosed himself off. He was covered in mud from head to toe! But the great thing about Tracy is, he liked it!

Well, that's it for this day. He'll put the tarp back on to keep out the night rain, and be back at it in the morning.

Reclaiming the Landscape

Meanwhile, Vicente and Solomon have been hard at work pruning trees, cutting back the tall grass, and planting (and saving) a lot of shrubs and baby trees.

While it looks pretty dead and brown now, it won't take long in this rainforest to green up as pretty as next door neighbors Mary and Carl's yard.

They've also cleared out some of the muck under a big fallen log at the bottom of the ravine to make a small pond, and planted the water hyacinths that Mary and Mary Margaret gave me a couple of months ago. That is one hardy plant. First it survived the water taxi trip from Changuinola in a plastic bag, and then a couple of months living in a small cooler on Landfall's aft deck. Then almost as soon as it was planted in the new pond, a big rainstorm came and washed it away! "Where did it go?" Gellie seems to be asking.

But the workers retrieved it from downstream, cut a few spare sticks, and voilà!

Let it rain: we're ready for it now!

It's really pretty amazing. All you have to do is hack down the grass to uncover some lovely little plant groupings. Keep it clear, and they'll grow like--well--like the weeds that they are?

And speaking of growing. Look at little miss puppy. No fear! Gellie and Indy tussle for hours on end, all in good fun. Already Indy is a lot bigger than Gellie was at the same age, so we keep telling Gellie she'd better be nice to her little sister, because she won't be little for long!

"Whaddya say we call a truce?"

And Indy has that same achingly familiar look: "Will someone please take me to the grass???"

The Roof! The Roof!

OK, new day: Let's get this roof on! We're really tired of the blue tarp!

And at the end of the day: Wow! Now it looks like a real house!

Tracy says: "My Man Cave!"

And man, it feels good to have that done! Let's get everything put away for tonight's rain.

And start thinking about the next project. about a porch floor?

Isn't this just so great! Our first cabin in the jungle! Oops! I mean...Tracy's Man Cave in the jungle!

Note the boots and knee socks fashion statement? Well down here, everybody's wearing them!

Another Story: Landslide!

We had a real gully-washer one night last week, and I mean, it poured! One neighbor's rain gauge said 4.5 inches; one closer neighbor said their 6-inch rain gauge overflowed! As you may recall, we're watching Carl and Mary's place while they're away (and using their dock and Internet in the bargain). As we were heading in from Landfall a day after the rain, we noticed that the dirt at the edge of the shoreline was a funny color, red, instead of black. On closer investigation, we discovered why--a big hunk of hillside had sloughed off! This picture doesn't do it justice; and it was taken after the repairs. But it's so steep there!

This was the culprit: the overflow pipe for the water tank.

The roof catches the rainwater and the gutters and pipes funnel it into the water tank. When it's full, it flows out the overflow pipe. Which, before the repairs, flowed onto the ground where the red valve is in the picture. With as much rain as we had, it must have been gushing like a fire hydrant! Supersaturated the soil, and whoosh! Down comes a hunk of the hillside.

Enter the PVC pipe. Tracy glued 160 feet of pipe together, to get the water down off the hill and into the sea. It's a high, steep hill, and that's a lotta pipe!

Watering the mangroves, now, instead of the hillside!

Getting Poles for the Pole House

Tracy sketch-designed and an architect in Almirante rendered our octagonal pole house that will be the main residence. As for the final design, we agreed that if Tracy gets his man cave, then Sharon gets her writing cupola. Up on top of the house, like a New Bedford whaling wife's widow's walk. Now all we need are the permits and the materials!

Taking the permitting leap with optimism, we've already ordered and had delivered thirty-three 25-foot poles that will form the basic foundational structure of the house. It took three loads and two days to get them all here, along with a bunch more 16-foot 2x4s.

Gently, gently, carefully! Each log weighs about 475 pounds, everything is wet and slippery, and we don't want the dock or yard or any body hurt. The pole delivery guys were assisted by eight men Tracy hired from the nearby village of Buena Esperanza. For $5 each per load, they carried the logs over to Cerro Velero.

Well, at least someone here doesn't mind the rain...Jasmine flew right off her perch in the cockpit to dance in the rain!

Dock Permit Inspections

Meanwhile, while Tracy was overseeing delivery of the first load of logs, Sharon zipped off to Bocas in Cricket to pick up Daniel, our new lawyer (who is actually getting things done!) and two officials responsible for inspecting the property where our proposed dock will be built. One official (AMAP) is in charge of mangroves, and he makes sure that no mangroves will need to be cut to build the dock. The other is a general maritime port official (ANAM) who ostensibly makes sure that the dock will not interfere with the environment in general, or with marine traffic, but who in reality seems to just pocket his fees. (Likewise for another un-named Catastro official, who has charged us the $100 for the permit and $35 for the transportation cost to inspect the property, but who in fact will not inspect the property, but who will give us the certification we need. Yes, we are happy with that because it suits our needs, but is it right? I strongly doubt it. Will we protest? Heck, No! )

When Sharon arrived in Bocas, there was yet another man, an Indian, waiting to climb aboard. Daniel explained that the officials wanted to use our boat to look at his property. Well, doing them a favor won't hurt our chances of getting our permit, right?

One bent prop later...

Moral of the story: Unless you have your own personal knowledge of the water depths, don't go fast anywhere around here! Not even when someone else tells you they know where they are going! We limped our way slowly back to Bocas, and forty-five minutes later, thank goodness for Steve at BOSS. Tracy called him ahead of time to warn him we were on our way in, and he swapped out the prop as soon as we got there. Within twenty minutes, off we went---to Cerro Velero, direct, no intermediate stops!

OK, officials, look at our bent prop for trying to do you a favor, and...big smiles! Now, we are going to get that permit after this, aren't we? Oh, yeah!

Click here for more story and photos...

Request for Addresses

If you are following this log and have not recently been advised of new updates, please send your email address to Sharon's computer crashed and died in May, taking with it all her email address lists. And Tracy's buddies have pretty much co-opted the 2captains address, so we're using twocaptains for our web site address contact. Thanks!

Old Logs


Cerro Velero, It Is!

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