Monthly Archives: March 2009

WaaaHoooooo Sailing

You think sailing is slow? Check this out…

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Nancy Dawson

The boat that is pictured in my first post was MY boat…Nancy Dawson, a Kaiser26, hull #24 of only 26 built.

I had always dreamed of owning a sailboat and making a single-handed journey of some sort. I never wanted to circle the globe. I don’t know why, but it just wasn’t one of the things I wanted to do in my life. I had more modest goals. One of them was to circumnavigate the eastern half of the U.S. and I accomplished that in 1974 and ’75.

In ’74 I got my first captain’s job on a Hatteras tri cabin berthed at Burnham Harbor in Chicago. A slug of a motor yacht with a pair of GM 853s. The damned thing couldn’t have done more than 15 knots unless it went over Niagra Falls. This is a photo of what one looks like.


In September we left Burnham Harbor and went the lengths of lakes Michigan, Huron and Erie, down the Hudson River. I dropped the owners of in Stamford, Conn., and then, in Norfolk, VA., my deckhand had to go home. I took the boat all the way down to Bahia Mar Marina inFort Lauderdale by myself. My first single-handed adventure even if it was just “day sailing.”

The next fall I helped a young couple take their Out Island 51 (called by those who know an Out House 51 due to, once again it’s sluggish performance) like this one oi-51 to Fort Lauderdale via the Chicago River, the Illinois and the Mississippi, then across the Gulf of Mexico and eventually to Bahia Mar, and since both voyages started in Burnham Harbor and ended at Bahia Mar I closed that dream out.

At the end of 1988 I was offered the job of caring for and supervising the changing of the keel on an 85′ motor sailer located on the French Riviera in Antibes…

jolie-aire-shogunThe 85 footer is the SMALL sailboat in the picture. Nobody paid any attention to it over there whereas they’d walk to the end of the dock in Fort Lauderdale the “Yachting Capitol of the World.”

While I was over in France, nearly three years as it turned out, for a job that was presented to me as, “how’d you like to go live in France for six months or so?” I met two people who would indirectly lead me to owning that boat.

The first was a young French girl I dated for a few months named Estelle who was the chef on one of the mega-yachts in Antibes. Besides being a fantastic cook she had also been a model and a dive instructor who had spent quite a bit of time in Belize. In addition to things we won’t go into here she showed me all her photos and videos of Belize and said I should go there sometime.

The other was a Howard Hessman impersonator disguised as Bill King who was there in France supervising the building of a 60 foot catamaran for his boss, a wealthy oil billionaire from Texas who had extensive business interests in Belize. Bill showed me all his photos and videos and said I needed to go there some time.

So, I said to myself that when I eventually returned to the States I would take what ever money I had and buy a boat and actually go visit Belize. The only criteria that were essential to do this were: 1) the boat had to be within a very cheap budget that would leave me a cruising kitty, 2) it had to be a sailboat 3) it had to be big enough that I could lie down in it comfortably in order to stay dry when it rained.

Back in the States I went on a search in which I discovered there were a LOT of boats I didn’t want to own. I travelled as far south from Fort Lauderdale as Marathon in the Keys on my search. I went to Tampa and Clearwater on the west coast of the state and as far north as Vero Beach without finding anything that really interested me. And, bright and early every Friday morning, I would be at the local 7/11 to buy the Sailboat Trader the moment it hit the stands.

One day I went to a tiny marina on the Miami River to check out an Herreshoff 28, a fine classic wooden sailboat. I liked the boat, but it needed some repairs to make her capable of making the voyage I had in mind. It wasn’t that I couldn’t do the work. I’d had plenty enough boat yard experience to do what needed to be done but I didn’t want to take the time or spend the money necessary to get the boat in shape.

I then took a walk down each of the three piers at the marina and at the end of the last dock I spotted a small, pretty red sailboat. It had a beautiful wine-glass transom on which was mounted an outboard motor bracket and a wind vane self-steering system. It was love at first sight. I sat on the dock for about an hour envying whoever owned this lovely little craft. She had a dodger over the main hatch to protect the cabin from rain and spray when the hatch was open. There was a lovely, substantial teak bowsprit with stainless steel railing. There was an anchor windlass up on the bow. The outboard bracket indicated that the inboard motor had probably been removed and, though there was no For Sale sign on the boat the fact that there was no inboard would lower the selling price. I also noted that there were six opening port holes which would be essential for ventilation in a tropical climate. It was exactly the kind of boat I’d been searching in vain for.

Several weeks later the newest edition of Sailboat Trader had an item I was interested in. It was a 26 foot boat and it was for sale at “$6,500…bring a check.” The photo was smudgy and didn’t help as a sales tool. I called the number on the ad and spoke to a broker who told me that where the boat was located wasn’t accessable during the weekend. I told her that I was very interested and that if I found the boat acceptable I didn’t need to find financing. I had the cash available. We agreed that I would follow the rush hour traffic to Miami where I’d meet her at Coconut Grove Marina Monday morning.

When I met her she asked me if I knew such and such a marina on the Miami River. I did, I told her since I’d visited it recently to look at the Herreshoff. We met at the marina, walked to the end of the last small dock and she pointed at that lovely red sloop and said the magic three words…”There She Is.” I hope I was successful in keeping a huge grin off my face when she said that.

I went aboard and found two VHF radios, a single sideband receiver and lots of other things including a set of navigational gear and pencils. The only bad point to the boat was that all the cushions below would need to be replaced. In addition to all the things that I saw a brand new 8 hp oil-injected outboard motor and a brand new 10′ hard-bottom Avon inflatable dinghy were included in the deal. Best of all I was able to seal the deal for an even $6,000!

The boat was a Kaiser26 built in Wilmington, Delaware by John Kaiser. I spoke to Mr. Kaiser for an hour after buying the boat and he told me that he knew of three that had made round-trip transAtlantic passages and one that had made six round trips from New York to Bermuda. In reading the old logs on the boat I discovered that the previous owner, a girl, had double-handed the boat in a round trip from Tampa, Florida to St. Croix in the U. S. Virgin Islands.

The boat was named Little Dipper, but that was about to change. Back when I was living in New Orleans I came across the Oxford Companion to Ships and the Sea in a musty old book store on Royal Street. One of the entries was the term Nancy Dawson which was the name of the song to which the rum ration was piped in the British Navy for over 200 years. I told myself that if I ever owned a boat worthy of having a name that is what it would be.

So, Little Dipper became Nancy Dawson and I didn’t go through any of that name change BS they talk about to keep bad luck at bay. And from the single-handed trip I made to Mexico, Belize and Guatemala showed that she was happy with the change.

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Back in the USA

Well, my second trip to Panama is over and I’m back home. Or what will be home before I finally move to Panama for good.

This trip back went a lot more smoothly than return in December. Back then the plane had been delayed by winter storms in the States and arrived several hours late in Panama. So late, in fact, that it would have had to discharge all its passengers, cleaned the plane and loaded us on in the space of 45 minutes and take off before the pilot’s logged time expired.

Well, that didn’t happen, of course, so we spent another two hours in line at American’s counter to get room and a $10 food voucher. We were then bussed back into the city where I received a free $225/night room. We left early the next morning and arrived in Miami before noon.

So, I’m back in Fort Lauderdale to the delight of my dog.

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Gamboa Rain Forest

Right in the middle of Panama City is a place called the Gamboa Rain Forest.

As you turn off the main road you go through an archway of bamboo…


There are critters you have to watch out for…


There’s water and beauty all around Gamboa…


But the road’s narrow and you are instructed to blow your horn in the curves so this doesn’t happen…


There’s a huge,expensive, $200+ a night hotel there


with views like this…


Attention to  detail outside is class all the way, like the lighting in the parking lot…


And that detail follows through inside with such mundane things as the stair handrails…


You don’t get the same view down at pool level as this, though…


And how could you pay attention to what’s being said in one of the meeting halls with THIS overhead?


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A View From the Hill

One of the most recognizable landmarks in Panama City is Cerro Ancon…Ancon Hill. It stands 654 feet above the surrounding area and commands great views of the city and canal below. When Henry Morgan sacked the city in 1671 his scouts climbed the hill to scope out the local defences. The hill lay within the old Canal Zone and when Jimmy Carter signed the Canal Over to Panama one of the first things they Panamanians did was to raise an oversized flag on top of the hill that can be seen from many parts of the city.


The views are, indeed, spectacular. Like this one of Casco Viejo


Looking in on the city


The container port and entrance to the Canal


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Pedasi, Panama

Many Panamanians have said that one of THEIR favorite places in the country is the small town of Pedasi on the Azuero peninsula. Since this current trip to Panama was designed not simply to renew my “Cedula”, the official ID card issued to me by Immigration, but to explore the country to see where I might want to settle down, I decided to go spend a couple of days in Pedasi.

I made a reservation at a place called Dim’s Hostal which my guide book said was the BEST place to stay in Pedasi. They weren’t mistaken. Dim’s is a funky place and was a good choice.


Dim’s is right next door to this restaurant…img_0256

Dim’s Front Porch


Dim’s Second Floor


A great place to lounge around and chat with other guests at Dim’s after. . .


a visit to the beach


Life in the Slow Lane…this is morning hour rush hour in Pedasi


Life is good

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Pensionado Benefits in Panama

In a previous post “Why Panama” I didn’t go into depth about what Panama offers to retirees. At the time of my preliminary research Panama only required a person to receive a minimum of $500.00 per month from a pension, either from Social Security or a private fund. It has been raised to $1,000 a month, but still easy enough. My Social Security benefits were just slightly double what the country required. However, when I was doing this research I wasn’t yet receiving my SS benefits. I simply knew how much they would be so I couldn’t jump right in.

If you have the “Pensionado,” also known as a “Jubilado” you are eligible, by law, to the following discounts:

1. Discounts of 50% off the ticket price charged for movies, theaters and Panama sporting events like soccer, boxing, baseball etc. Charitable events would not offer this discount to the Pensionado.
2. 30% Discount for City Buses, Panama Trains and Boats (not cruise boats).
3. 25% on airfare if flight is in country or if ticket purchased with COPA airlines in Panama.
4. Hotels discount 50% from Monday to Thursday and 30% on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
5. 25% discount of food eaten in a sit down inside restaurant.
6. 15% discount in fast food establishments.
7. 15% discount services in hospitals and private clinics.
8. 10% discount in for prescription medicines in pharmacies.
9. Discounts in the following medical services:
o 20% discount fees for medical doctors
o 15% for dentist fees.
o 15% for optometric examinations.
10. Health Insurance shall adjust fees for Pensionados & Jubilados.
11. 20% discount on any professional services utilized in Panama.
12. 20% discount for all prosthetic devices.
13. 50% discount on the price of a Panama passport.
14. 25% discount on your electric bill up to 600KW’s and then the discount is gone if the usage is over this figure.
15. 25% discount to the basic residential phone service charges when the phone (one phone only)is registered in the name of the Pensionado
16. 25% discount on primary residential water bill if the bill is in the name of the Pensionado and the monthly bill does not exceed $30.00
17. A Pensionado can buy a car every two years free of import duty.
18. A Pensionado can bring in $10,000 worth of personal goods one time with no import duty.

In my most recent visit, which is ending tomorrow, I have been getting some of those discounts, and I even received them a couple of times without asking. On this visit when I went to buy my bus ticket for Santiago I received the discount. On my return to Panama City I’ve been staying at the home of an acquaintance who has the Pensionado and he said that the ID I received from Immigration was just as good as his, so we’ve been using them every time we go out to eat. The big advantage to this is that with 25% off already reasonably priced meals one can order “UP” and still get a deal.


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Why Panama?

Previously I wrote about that the idea of living south of the border grew from my experience of spending five months in Belize and Guatemala. To me it seemed like an almost perfect area in which to retire. The natural beauty of the countries, the relaxed lifestyle of a cruising sailor and how relatively inexpensive it would be to live there considering how little I would have in the way of retirement income. What could be more appealing than to live on the Rio Dulce with its easy access to the lower cayes and clear waters of Belize when one wanted a break from the rain forest.

I dove into the web and found out that while Belize has a program allowing resident status for retirees the requirements were beyond what I would be able to put together, but it was still possible to spend a good deal of time there without major hassles. Guatemala, though it didn’t have a system specifically geared to retirees, still made it easy to spend the majority of the year there. When I arrived in Livingston I was automatically given a three month visa both for myself and my boat. If you wanted to stay longer all that was necessary was to go to Guatemala City and you could get a nine month visa for the boat. You, on the other hand, had to leave the country for 72 hours and then could return for another three months. A bit of a hassle, but not excessively so…take a side trip to Copan to visit the Mayan ruins “et voila” as they say in Antibes.

I did extensive research with the idea of compiling an e-book about retirement in Mexico but with the amount I would be receiving from Social Security would barely meet the Mexican requirements for their visas allowing gringos to stay year-long. On the other hand, you can spend six months of the year there simply on a tourist visa without hassles but then you have to go somewhere else for the rest of the year.

El Salvador, Nicaragua and Honduras held no appeal and Costa Rica isn’t much less expensive than here in the US. But for some reason I didn’t even consider or look into Panama. That is, until I was talking to a friend about future vacation plans. I’ve spent much of my life on the water and it came to me that I’d like to go through the Panama Canal. I knew, from reading, that each yacht going through the Canal is required to have, in addition to the captain, four people to handle lines in the locks one on each corner fore and aft. In a lot of transits the line handlers come from other yachts waiting to make their passages for the experience when their turn comes. If the yacht owners can’t scrounge up free help then he must hire someone from between $50.00 to $100.00 each.

I thought it might be a fun vacation to fly down to Panama City and hang out at the Balboa Yacht Club with a tee shirt saying “I Can Handle Lines.” I’m sure I could connect with someone within a week to ten day vacation.

That, of course, led me to a Google search for line handlers and got hits like this: When I worked as a freelance writer one of my favorite things was the research I’d get to do at the library. I absolutely loved thumbing through the card catalog. As my fingers would flip through those small pieces of stiff white card stock searching for some subject books and themes would jump out and grab my attention leading me down a completely different path precursors to URL links. ( A little sidebar: Cut and paste comes directly from the old days of being impaled on my own freelance. In order to keep a train of thought going when writing first drafts I bought rolls of newsroom teletype paper and run it through my typewriter. That way it wasn’t necessary to stop regularly to put a new sheet of paper in the machine. If a new idea leaped to the front of my mind I could simply keep on going after making a quick mark in the margin and keep pounding away. It made me more productive doing a 10-page draft by not having to stop nine times to put in a blank sheet. With that done I’d then sit down with a pair of scissors and a little jar of rubber cement and cut and paste away.)

It didn’t take long before I’d burrowed into “Retirement in Panama” and discovered the Pensionado Program. The fiscal requirements were minimal for a single person. Simply prove a minimum monthly income of just $500.00 a month, since increased to $1,000 a month. That meant I easily qualified. Through a mutual friend I was introduced to a couple who had recently purchased property in Panama and was fortunate enough to spend a day with them and gaining from their first-hand knowledge.
In just about every blog written by people who have successfully moved to a foreign country the writers recommend that those considering such a move spend at least six months in the country before moving there. Since I believe that’s excellent advice why am I considering going down sight unseen? I think that my approach to retirement is a bit different than most. I intend on buying a sailboat and living on it rather than going somewhere and renting a stationary house or apartment. The beauty of this sort of arrangement is that if you don’t like where you’re at, or simply want a different view of the world while you’re making your morning coffee you simply get up and move to a different location. In 1992 I left Fort Lauderdale and went to Mexico, Belize and Guatemala but I spent every night at home.

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What is an adventure?

One of the Merriam-Webster definitions is “an exciting or remarkable experience.
It  doesn’t have to involve great peril. In fact, for an adventure to be successful according to the definition above, it should avoid peril as much as possible.
So, what do I mean my one MORE good adventure? Well, having recentlystarting to collect my Social Security benefits it means I’m free of having to worry about the weekly pay check and health care (Medicare, the first health care I’ve been able to afford in a dozen years). The SS income isn’t a whole lot. In fact, if I were to stay in the States I’d have to work until the day I die so I wouldn’t have to end up eating cat food and living under a bridge somewhere. I intend on moving out and moving on.
On my last good adventure I had bought a beautiful 26′ sailboat. A Kaiser of which only 26 were made and I had hull #24. I bought it for a song and took off from Fort Lauderdale for nine months and single-handed my way down to Mexico, Belize and Guatemala. Even though I had lived out of the country for several years prior to this cruise, it was always on somebody else’s boat somebody else’s schedule. The good part was it was also on somebody else’s dime and they paid me every inch of the way. I spent 2-1/2 years living and maintaining an 85′ sailboat on the French Riviera and the Costa del Sol and the owner was never once there and the only guests that were ever aboard were there at my invitation. Since nearly everything was provided for me, a rental car, food that I ate on board, etc. it really didn’t matter a whole lot when I’d drop in to Monaco to watch the power boat races that a can of Coke from a machine cost over $5.00. And that was back in ’89.
But the perspective changes when it’s now MY dime. I spent three months on the Rio Dulce in Guatemala and it was there, 16 years ago, that the germ of the idea of retiring south of the Rio Grande started to germinate. I “lived on the hook” (at anchor) except for one long weekend when I put the boat in Mario’s Marina for a trip up to Guatemala City to pick up a part for my outboard engine. Life was good there. Like the Mayan Indians do you get up with the sunrise and go to bed when it gets dark.
There were several marinas on the Rio and most had a restaurant with water you could depend on not to give you the “trots.” I’d eat my main meal of the day at whichever one advertised the most tasty dish of the day over the morning cruiser’s net. A specified time during which interested boats and shore stations would listen in on their VHF radios. You could generally get an excellent meal with perspiration dripping down the sides of your ice cold Gallo lager all for about $3.50 and tipping is pretty much unknown.
In town at one of the houses of ill repute, the beer bottles were dipped in water and then put in a freezer and when the temperature is around 95F with 90% that first near-slushy Gallo goes down easy. Beers there were 35 cents. Outside there was a little stand with the most outstanding tamales you’ll ever find anywhere. Wrapped in a banana leaf they were about the size of a paperback book and in the center there’d be a huge chunk of chickem (I’m assuming it was chicken) with maybe some kernels of corn or peas and a nice sauce that saturated the whole with flavor. One of those would fill you up and they only cost $1.00.
There was a good deal of free or low cost entertainment. Mario’s Marina had “movie’ night on Wednesdays. Pretty much a DVD run up on a big screen tv. It was set up under a large palm thatched hut and you could order food and drink from the bar and restaurant a few steps away. There was no charge for the movie, but they made up for it with their sales. Suzanna’s Laguna would bring in a live local band once a month and the Nirvana Express Bar sponsored cruising sailboat and cayuca (dugout canoe) races every other Sunday with a party afterwards.
And to highlight how inexpensive things were down there, a friend of mine who I had met in France, was the captain of a 65′ custom catamaran. They were at a dock at one of the best resorts on the Rio (coincidentally called the Catamaran Club). It is as nice a place as you would want to spend a vacation in the world. Bill was there at a dock with water and 220 volt electricity for the princely sum of $5.00 US a day. In contrast, when I spent a night at a marina in Key West on my way south it cost me $95.00.
I estimated that if I was able to have $5,000.00 a year I could have had a very nice life. But that wasn’t going to happen right then and I had to return to the States to build up a new cruising kitty. I never did rebuild the cruising kitty and the money that my father left me when he died pretty much disappeared in the Republican Depression,

So now I’ve applied for a Pensionado Visa which will allow me to be a permanent resident in Panama. I’ve completed all the paperwork a I’ve been told it’s been approved. Now I’m simply waiting for it to be signed and then I’ll be packing up my life in the U.S. and moving down here permanently.

I think that qualifies as an adventure.

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