Category Archives: Living Abroad

Mea Maxima Culpa…

I know I’ve been horribly neglectful about posting to this blog. It’s not that things haven’t been going on, it’s just that I’ve been posting to Facebook instead of to this wider audience. I’m making my New Year’s Resolution early to keep things up to date here.

We’ve moved into winter here at the Bradenton Beach, FL, anchorage. This past week was extremely nasty as far as weather was concerned.

So here are a few of the items to bring things up to date…I live full time on a very small sailboat, a Venture 22, at anchor. Sometimes it’s really, really not easy…

My Facebook friend Chris Shelton’s liveaboard boat is on the hard in St.Pete. He came by earlier this morning, Wed, the 20th, in his pickemup truck and we went toddling off to Home Depot where I could pick up some final things I need to finish off a project to keep rain from seeping under my sliding hatch.

We then drove to South Sarasota and had delicious mahi sandwiches at the Barefoot Bar and Grill. Before he retired Chris was a science teacher in small town Missouri and the owner of the place is the uncle of a couple of his former students. The man came over to visit with us and he and Chris had a great timemtalking about thenplaces they knew in common.

One of the things I bought at Home Depot was a new, cheap, set of rain gear. Good thing,too. Prognostication was for rain to move into the area for the next couple of days. Well it started on our way to lunch and was going pretty good by the timemwe got back to the dinghy dock.

I had to bail a good bit of water out of the dinghy before settling off, but I made it easily enough. There was enough juice in the batteries to put a good jolt into the depleted cell phone (and wifi hot spot) and the iPad. The patter of rain lulled me into a nice nap.

Thursday was a nasty, rainy day with the wind strong out of the south. When it’s from that direction there’s a fetch of a dozen miles and the wave action here in the shallow anchorage is really nasty. It never gets much more than 3 feet since at low tide I’m just sitting in about 5 feet of water but it’s uncomfortable as can be. It rained all day long and filled my dinghy to the point where it was close to sinking. Water weighs 8 lbs a gallon and there was at least 40 gallons in the boat designed for a load of about the same. When there was a bit of a lull in the afternoon I went out and bailed about 3/4 of the water out. But with food and water aboard I was doing okay. Just before going to bed the 25 pound Danforth anchor I have on deck (I have two other anchors down and holding me) kept moving around rumbling across the non-skid area from the wave action. I’d never be able to sleep with that going on so I suited up and went forward hanging on, desperately, to the mast to keep from being tossed into the water. I have two milk cartons tied to the bow pulpit rails to hold the anchor lines. I grabbed the bitter end of the 1./2-inch line, fastened it to the anchor stock with a bowline and tossed it overboard. No more noise and I can recover it at my leisure. Then I snuggled down and went to bed.

About 3 in the morning a gust of wind hit me so hard it woke me from a sound sleep. It broke one of the restraining straps on the Bimini top and the whole boat shuddered. It kept up like this for hours and hours. The saving grace was that the wind had swung around to due west. That put the land just a hundred yards or so there was nearly no wave action. All day long the wind roared across the anchorage…

wind

As you can see gusts were coming at us at close to 50 mph!!!

That’s all over now, though. It’s calm here as if nothing ever happened except it’s cold.

On Thursday night I saw flashing lights ashore from Fire/Rescue vehicles but had no idea what was going on. It turns out that a couple of experienced sailors who live on a boat here were trying to go ashore. Their boat overturned and dumped them in the water. They were in the drink for nearly half an hour before being rescued by the Coast Guard, who happen to be stationed right on the other side of the Intracoastal Waterway from the anchorage, and taken ashore and treated for hypothermia. 

I haven’t seen them since the incident but I’m sure they were trying to take Shawn ashore for her shift at the nearby Circle K. Come on, folks, there isn’t a job in the world worth risking your life to get to! EVER!!! 

Enough for now.

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Filed under boats, Bradenton Beach, FL, Living Abroad, Living off the grid, Living on the hook, Uncategorized

Watch This Spot For Future Developments

I haven’t been sleeping well since the shanty boat bug bit me again. I’ll go to bed and then wake up at 3:30 or 4:00 in the morning as 72 year old men are wont to do, but then when I lay down again my mind keeps churning about all the possibilities of  this venture that I can’t get back to sleep. So a half hour, forty-five minutes later I’m up again and roaming around on the computer.

Here’s one of the hurdles I have to overcome…

Where I Am

As you can see by the yellow stick pin where I am and where the boat should be are quite far apart. Not only that, running right smack between those two pins is the continental divide. A mountain chain thousands of feet high!

I have a complete set of plans for a shanty boat called the Brandy Bar

brandy-bar

It’s 25 feet long and 10 feet wide. That would make it too wide to put on a trailer and truck over the hills to Almirante where it could be launched. The construction is pretty straight forward. It’s like building a house because everything is right angles and no complex compound curves. It would be pretty simple to simply modify the plans and scale the beam down to 8 feet so it would be trailerable.

Another problem is cost. Even scrimping on things like interior design and not counting such essentials as navigation lights, anchors with their chain and rode, regular lighting, cooking facilities, etc., etc., the bare hull would cost around $4K!

Then we get into construction problems themselves. 1) The best source for marine plywood is over there in Bocas del Toro. I live here in Boquerón. For those of you not familiar with boat building, real marine plywood is expensive stuff. Without getting into a big dissertation about how plywood is made I’ll just say there’s “Marine Ply,’ ‘AB’, ‘BC’ and stuff called ‘CDX.’ The letters all refer to the condition of the outermost ply, and the X means ‘exterior.’ All need to have exterior grade glues so the plies won’t delaminate.  The supplier I know of charges $99.95 for a 3/4″ sheet of the stuff. Tack on Panama’s 7% tax and each sheet come in at $106.95. There are approximately 18 sheets needed to build a Brandy Bar or $1,925.00 worth of plywood! He also carries CDX which costs $54.95 for a 3/4” sheet. That would cut the plywood costs to $1,058.33.

Now all that doesn’t include the framing lumber. There are 21 frames that need to be built with 2X6 inch, pressure treated lumber. Each of the frames requires 14′ of the stuff. An 8′, pressure treated 2X6 costs $14.12 (tax included). Each frame is 3′ high, so the lumber for the framing comes in at about $77.00 whether you’re building with top rated marine ply of CDX.

I was also directed, yesterday, to a place that’s supposed to sell plywood in David. What I’ve seen so far has been disappointing, but I’ll check out the new place in the next few days.

And that’s just what the lumber costs. Add in epoxy resins which are far from cheap and which I haven’t even tried to price out though I did find out about a place in David that sells it, fiberglass mat for protecting the hull against ship worms down here (Columbus abandoned two of his boats here in Panama in 1502 because of ship worms). And so on and so on with expenses.

Another problem arises in the building process. You have to build the damned hull upside down on a kind of large jig to hold the framing in place while you’re putting on the plywood sheeting and glassing it all together.

upside downSo, when it’s all sheeted and the fiberglassing is done you have to do this…

flipping itYou have to turn it over so you can build the cabin. And the flippin’ thing is HEAVY right now. (The last two photos courtesy [though they don’t know it yet] of http://littleshantyboat.blogspot.com/ which is one of the best blogs I’ve read anywhere about the actual building process of a shanty boat. If you’re interested in building one you need to bookmark this site.)

So, the other night I was talking to my surfing friend, David, who lives in Costa Rica but who is thinking about resettling, too, in Bocas, when an idea hit me. . .

From time immemorial boats and ships have been built as a single unit. The keel was laid down, frames were attached to that and planking was added to the frames to complete the hull. Instead of building my 25′ long by 8′ wide hull as a single unit, why couldn’t I build, say, units that were 8’X8′ which would be a lot lighter in weight and them, with epoxy, through-bolt those units together? Sort of like putting Legos® together.  Why not, indeed? I mean they build HUGE ships and aircraft carriers that way, now, don’t they?

If they can build something as big as an aircraft carrier in sections and, essentially, bolt the pieces together why couldn’t I do the same thing with something so simple as a shanty boat?

So, naturally, this set me off in other sleepless wanderings around the internet. I found a TON of stuff. From Viet Nam there was this: http://www.hapby.v-nam.net/builds/projects.php,   And this: http://shantyboatliving.com/2012/collaborative-modular-project-post-1/ Plus a bunch more, but you get the idea.

Four Puddle Duck Racers bolted together would make a 16’X8′ hull. Six of them and you’ve got a 24X8. Four of them with a deck covering the top of each one, and joined with spanning  members floored over and you’ve got yourself the pontoons and platform for a pretty large floating home.

And here, too, you don’t have to build it all at once. You can build something large enough (or small enough) to give you a place to live in while you construct further modules. My uncle Dick and his wife Helen lived in the basement of their house in Cincinnati, Ohio while they were building the big house. My secret heros, Jim Kimball and Jay Viola (not to mention their wives who worked just as hard as they did, though in the States) built a fabulous Eco Resort, Tranquilo Bay (http://www.tranquilobay.com/) on the island of Bastimentos  in Bocas del Toro, Panama, piece by piece, and they lived in a TENT on a rickety dock when they started the venture. You really SHOULD read this story, it’s absolutely inspiring about what guts and determination can accomplish…http://www.inc.com/magazine/20080501/paradise-the-hard-way.html I had the good fortune to spend a couple of hours with Jim Kimball a few years ago when I was making my first exploratory trips to Panama and it would be hard to find a nicer person  willing to sit down with a total stranger for a couple of hours and discuss the stranger’s crackpot ideas of building a shanty boat.

So, there you have it. I’m sure there will be many more sleepless nights ahead because of this nonsense. My birthday is only a couple of weeks away. I think this year I’m going to gift myself with some power tools. I’ll show you when I get them.

 

 

 

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Filed under adventure, boats, Boqueron Panama, Floating Homes, homemade boats, Houseboat, Living Abroad, Living in Panama, Living off the grid, Living Small, Minimalist Cruising, PDR Racer, Puddle Duck Goose, Puddle Duck Racer, Retirement, Retirement Abroad, sailboats, Shanty boat, Shantyboat Living, Small Houses, Small Sailboats

Yipee, It’s Raining!

We’re deep into the middle of the “dry” season here in Panama. It’s only rained a couple of times since the wonderful fireworks displays of Christmas Eve and New Years, and it usually stays dry until sometime at the end of April or early May. The afternoons have been incredibly hot. I rarely use the air conditioning which is why I’ve come up with a couple of $8 electric bills. For the most part I’m very comfortable if I’m in some shade with a breeze blowing, but over the last month I’ve shut the doors and windows around two or three in the afternoon and cranked up the a/c.

Everyone’s lawns have taken on the color of a shredded wheat biscuit with tiny hints of green poking though like bits of mold. The river, only a few yards away from the house has been silent and normally I can hear it running over the rocks but recently it’s been nearly dry, and you can easily walk across it in quite a few places without getting your feet wet. A patina of fine dust coats everything inside and out.

Yesterday morning when I got up it was gloomy. I thought it was just breaking dawn and was surprised that it was nearly eight thirty, and I almost never sleep that late. It stayed overcast all day which moderated the heat of the afternoon and a couple of times a few drops of rain fell, but only a very few. Not enough to wet anything down.

This morning it was also overcast, but a slow, steady rain was falling and it still is three hours later. What’s remarkable is that almost instantly the lawn, which was 95% brown is now more than half green as the rain soaks down to the roots of the grass. I doubt that the dry season is over, yet, but it’s nice to see some rain again.

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Another Shock

I recently posted about my shockingly low electric bill. Last week I got another bill from Union Fenosa. This one was slightly higher. They said I owed them $10.94 for the period between November 7 to December 7. I went to the Plaza Teronal shopping center to buy my monthly medications and stopped at the Union Fenosa payment center at the El Rey supermarket and received another shock. The girl said I only owed $8.46, not the $10.94. I figure the way things are going Union Fenosa will start paying ME for being hooked up to their service sometime around the end of April.

Another Shock

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Filed under Boqueron Panama, Living Abroad, Living in Panama, Panama Cost of Living, Retirement, Retirement Abroad

Third Christmas In Boquerón

This is the third Christmas I’ve spent in Boquerón, Panama. Christmas Eve was a little different than the previous two in that no carolers appeared to sing for anyone in the neighborhood.

In the early evening  my next door neighbor brought me a delicious plate of arroz con pollo and the most delicious platanos maduros I’ve ever put in my mouth. Another neighbor invited me up to her house for hot chocolate and some moña bread (click here to find out what  moña bread is ) which is a tradition here in Panama. This was the same family that invited me to the wife’s birthday party back in July, and like then, I was the only person outside the family that was invited. When one of Llalla’s daughters and her husband and their two kids arrived. Their little six-year old girl, who I’ve only met a couple of times, came up to me and gave me a warm hug and a hearty “Feliz Navidad.” Really sweet for this old Gringo.

After a couple of hours of trying to follow the rapid-fire Spanish conversation the party broke up and I made my way back to my house having to say, “Feliz Navidad” about a dozen time between Llalla’s gate and my own.

As is the tradition here, people have been setting off fireworks for the past few days. Primarily bottle rockets and Roman candles. But at the stroke of midnight, turning Christmas Eve into Christmas Day, the whole area erupted. An incredible din of fireworks being set off reverberated all over the area. A racket you just have to actually be here for to believe how much money is going up in smoke. The other day I passed by one of the almost endless number of Fuego Artificiales stands and noted that boxes the size of a case of canned Budweiser was selling for about $175. (It’s easy to know what it costs in terms of U.S. Dollars since there’s no need to do any currency conversion since Panama uses the dollar as it’s paper currency. (Officially the currency here is the “Balboa” and the coins, one, five, 10 and 25 coins are the same size, weight and metal content as their gringo equivalents, plus the B/1 coin as well.)

About five minutes after midnight mi barrio’s display began. Judging from the angle from my house I think I know who set off the display. There’s a large house just down the road with a couple of expensive SUVs in the drive most days. I’m sure it was them. The following videos took several HOURS to upload to YouTube this morning. I’m sure their servers were working overtime with people uploading vids of their kids opening presents. The first display was more than six minutes long. Then there was about a 15 or 20 minute delay, though the hills were still echoing with distant detonations, and a nearly three-minute encore ensued. Unfortunately the camera didn’t capture the brilliant colors but you’ll get the idea. Enjoy. I did.

 

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My Translator’s A Champion!

Saying that the United States has had an influence on the Republic of Panama is an horrific understatement. You can see the Gringo influence right down to the playing fields of Panama. While soccer (fútball) dominates most of the world baseball rules in Panama. Philadelphia Phillies All-Star catcher, Carlos Ruiz, hails from right here in David and has a World Series ring. You certainly can’t overlook Mariano Rivera. Twelve-time All Star pitcher and five times World Series winner with an 18-year career with the New York Yankees. He is MLB’s all-time leader in saves (608) and games finished (892). While I’ve never followed baseball, names like Juan Berenguer, and Rod Carew really don’t send you to Wikipedia to find out what sport they play.

In the last couple of years American-style football has been making inroads into the sporting scene here in Panama. There aren’t any Panamanians, that I know of, playing in the NFL, but who knows what will happen a few years down the road? One of the girls who translated my book, Stephany Peñaloza, has been posting photos on her Facebook page about a local girl’s flag football team here in Chiriquí. Recently they went to the Province of Veragua and played for the championship of LCFA flag football. They won, and Stephany is their quarterback! (#11 for the girls with the yellow and black jerseys.

Now, if they get into the Lingerie League, I’d pay to go to their games.

Congratulations, Stephany and all the girls on the Wildcats’ team!

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My Shocking Electric Bill

When I lived in Fort Lauderdale my electric bill normally ran around a hundred to a hundred and twenty five bucks a month. Granted, I had the air conditioner running most of the time. It’s about the only way you can survive there for three-quarters of the year. The other three months you need to have the a/c turned to the heat function.

When I was first researching the possibility of retiring to Panama, I read a lot of different blogs and paid special attention to posts about the “cost of living.” People often wrote that one of their largest expenses was for electric service and that the cost per kilowatt hour was higher than it was in the States. Well, you’d probably expect that you’d be needing to run your air conditioning 31 (that’s 24/7) in a country that’s only eight degrees north of the equator. It wasn’t unusual to see people saying that they had monthly bills in Panama similar to what I was paying in Lauderdale.

When I finally made the move it was to a house in Potrerillos Arriba, Chiriqui Province in western Panama. The house didn’t have air conditioning, but at 2,600 feet above sea level it wasn’t necessary. In fact I spent a great deal of the time wearing a sweat shirt to stay comfortable. My electric bill there generally ran about $25 a month. Certainly a bargain compared to what I was used to in Florida and a fraction of what I’d been lead to believe I’d have to pay according to the blogs I’d read.

Boquerón, where I currently live, is 2,000 feet lower than Potrerillos Arriba. The house I rent does have air conditioning, but I rarely use it. The house is small and with the front and back doors open there is generally a nice breeze flowing through. I’m usually comfortable if I’m in shade with a breeze, and when there is no natural breeze one of the two pedestal fans I have works just as well. There are three reasons I turn on the air conditioning. 1) On the first of each month I turn the upstairs unit on for an hour just to make sure it’s functioning. 2) When a neighbor down the street decides to crank up the music and it forces me to close the doors and windows to block out the bass. 3) When I’m using the oven and it heats the downstairs to an uncomfortable level. When the food’s done I shut it off. At night, if I’m not cooking, there are only two lights on and they are the kind conservatives in the U.S. condemn as part of a nefarious socialist plot against their individual freedom to use incandescent lighting. My monthly bill here is pretty much the same as it was in Potrerillos…around $20/month or a bit less.

Last Friday I received my most recent Union Fenosa bill for October’s service. It was shocking! The electric company wants me to pay them $9.87!!! Just so you don’t think I’m pulling your leg, here’s a pic of the bill.

While I came to accept hundred dollar electric bills as normal while living in Florida I also had exceptionally low electric bills when I was living on my shanty boat in Louisiana where it’s every bit as hot and humid in August and September as it is in Lauderdale.

As you can see, I had a window-banger a/c unit but I never used it. Each slip at the marina had its own electric meter. My bill was usually just the minimum necessary to have electric service. It was $7 a month.

One month when I went to pay the bill I stood in line and watched people paying three, four and five hundred dollars just to keep from having their service cut off. The only thing I could think of that would warrant such bills is that they kept their a/c going day and night keeping the temperature of their homes at a level where they could store meat just by leaving it on the kitchen counter.

When I made it up to the window I told the woman, “I’m almost embarrassed to give this to you.”

She looked at the bill and said, “well, you don’t live there.”

“I do,” I told her. “The thing is, when I’m not home the only thing drawing electricity is the refrigerator. If I’m home during the day you can add the television or the stereo. At night you can add a single light bulb.”

The lady took my seven-dollar payment and I left.

One morning, a few days later I was lying on my sofa reading a book (I’d been laid-off at the time). I heard a vehicle crunching down the shell road along the docks. It came to a stop nearby and I heard two doors open and close. Curious, I raised s slat on the blinds and saw two men from the electric company with an instrument testing my meter. The lady at the counter had pimped me out, unable to believe that anyone could exist on seven dollars worth of electricity a month.

The following month I went back to the electric company and paid my monthly seven dollar bill.

 

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Filed under Boqueron Panama, Living Abroad, Living in Panama, Living Small, Panama Cost of Living, Retirement, Retirement Abroad