April 30, 2010


Yesterday we arrived back at Panama City. We all kept saying to each other how strange we felt. As much as we are all embracing the twists on this adventure we all never thought we would be coming back. There are so many options available to us now that it is a bit overwhelming. A favorite pastime now is to play the, "What if we....." game. Nothing is off the table.

For now though we have decided to go back through the canal (can you believe it) and go and play in the San Blas for a while. Beyond that the plan is looking like maybe sailing back to Cartagena and possibly pulling the boat out for the rainy season and returning to Toronto for the summer and first semester of school. In amongst this we have to figure out how much fixing we want to do. We could just do patch work for now? Possibilities.

The kids love the idea of coming back for awhile. Amelia said how much she loves sailing for half the year and living in Toronto for half the year. They are both so flexible that it is really wonderful.

Artemo is coming back to order. We are all working hard and dare I even say this.....having fun. It is true what they say....hard work is good for the soul. Graham and Alex got a temporary fix in place for the anchor windlass and have reattached it to the deck. We have emptied out cupboards and wash down soaked shelves. We have dried out cushions and organized countless bags of laundry. The kids are taking on more and more responsibility it is fun to watch them evolve from passengers to crew members. Alex is taking over a few of my jobs lately and it is pretty cool. He had the helm and drove the boat as Graham anchored. I watched from the sidelines as he gave it a bit more gas, a bit less, a jab of reverse, etc. He did brilliantly. He is also lowers the 9.9 motor for the dinghy to Graham and the two of them ready it. He even manually inflated the entire dinghy on his own yesterday.

I definitely don't want to box the kids into roles but they do gravitate towards and are better at very different jobs. Amelia is 100 times better at dishes, bed making, cleaning, and organizing. She is really great at anticipating what people might need and making it happen before they even ask. She comes up with game ideas, holiday decorating.....she is our Team Spirit Coordinator!

Thanks so much to everyone who has sent emails or comments. It is really appreciated. I read an email out to the kids last night and at the end of the email it said, "....with your dream on hold". Alex stopped me and said, "Our dream isn't on hold? We are living our dream.". Made me happy to see how far we had all come on this journey.

Each time I start to wonder if we are on the right path, I go back to my dream. It reads, "I have a dream and it isn't to sail. My dream is for Graham and I to spend as much quality time as possible with our children while they want to hang out with us. My dream includes sharing new experiences as a family, meeting new people, challenging ourselves, problem solving together, feeling the pride of accomplishment together, and learning together." Check, check and check. Always makes me feel better. LOL.

April 27, 2010

Stormy Adventure

Unfortunately Amelia had written this blog but in all the chaos and clean-up it is gone. It was really good and much shorter than this wordy version you will get from me. She just didn't have the heart to re-write it.

Day 1 and 2 at sea were picture perfect. Things were really good and then on the early morning of day 3 the rain began.....

The wind shifted from behind us to just off our nose. The waves were also coming right at us, along with the current. The wind would build and gust up to 30 knots and then ease back to 20 knots and then the pattern would repeat itself over the next 48 hours.

We are all use to squalls on Artemo which are basically fast moving weather. They come in and knock you but they move off quickly. We weren't so use to storms. The whole sky turns dark. Everywhere you look is dark. We tried to avoid the darker patches of sky but it all seems for not. The rain was torrential. I have never seen it rain so hard. It reminded me of a snow storm. It came down so hard we had zero visibility.

We learned how to sail Artemo, hour after hour in this weather. We moved out of the soaked cockpit and stood on the stairs under the dodger cover with the door in and our heads popped up. We even got to the point that given we couldn't see anything anyways we needed to rely on our AIS and radar to let us know if anything was around us and also to make sure that we didn't run into Gromit or lose them.

Surprisingly all of this was manageable. It wouldn't of been a year ago but it was now. Artemo doesn't do well into wind but we still managed to move forward, all be it slowly. None of us, especially me felt the fear that usually grips us in situations like this. We took turns on watch and tried to get some sleep. We all got a little sea sick but gravol helped. Amelia was the only one to actually throw up. The kids slept through the worst of the storm, especially the lightening and loud cracks of thunder.

Now to the unmanageable part. During this soaking we now understood exactly how leaky the decks were. Every bed was wet, some more than others. Water was actually pouring in the navigation tables electronics and caused a small fire (more smoke than fire) in the middle of all the chaos. Another near miss though. The kids and I were on watch on deck in our rain gear and the doors and hatches were all closed up tight. Graham was asleep on the navigation bed, right next to the smoking wires. Luckily Amelia decided she needed a drink and we slid open the hatch and smelled the horrible stink and saw the smoke. We yelled at Graham to wake up and he bolted upright and in seconds he had flipped all the breakers off. It was shocking how quick he moved out of a deep sleep. He had to sit up on deck for a while to breath some clean air. Once he was able to go down below and assess the situation he found that the entire 12 volt system was down. Water had gotten into the 12 volt power converter. This meant that the AIS, SSB, heading sensor, VHF radio, the water maker and the list goes on, were all not working. Thank goodness though that Graham had the foresight to have spare parts on board. He was able to install a new smaller 12 volt power converter that we could make do with for the time being. He did all this during the storm. In amongst all of this the floors were all slippery wet, the sheets were all wet, the towels were all wet...you get the picture. Reality was setting in for Graham and I but we didn't really speak about it. We were dealing with the here and now. After about 30 hours and hardly any progress. We all decided it was decision time.

The weather was going to continue. Wind at our nose and current against us. We knew we didn't have enough fuel to motor at high rpm for many more days. Our options were 1) Heave to (basically stop at sea) 2) Head to the Colombian coast and anchor and wait for good weather 3) go on a downwind sail back to the Las Perlas islands.

We (Gromit and Artemo crew) decided to have our family meetings and then regroup on the vhf. Once we had all sat down around the table and remember up above the rain, wind and weather is continuing without us, Graham and I looked at each other and we both already knew what we were thinking. Graham spoke first. He said, "Guys over the past couple of days as I have been standing watch in the storm, struggling to sail Artemo into the wind, dealing with leaky decks and electrical fires I have been looking at all of you and asking myself if the price is to high to sail across this ocean right now".

We gave each of the kids the floor to give us their thoughts and ideas on options. The first words out of one of their mouths was something like, "What will people....". I stopped them right away in tears and said, "This is about our family of 4. No one else. There will be no factor that weighs into this decision regarding what other people will think."

Amelia spoke first. She said that she wanted to continue to Galapagos. That she couldn't imagine leaving Gromit like this. She thought maybe we could try and patch the decks as we go. She said why don't we heave to and think some more about it.

Alex spoke next. He said that he didn't think there were any options. We had to go back and fix the decks. The boat wasn't livable when it rained. He said since the next port where we could do any substantial work would be New Zealand, that we needed to turnaround and get the work done. He said, "It is so strange that 2 days ago I was asking myself how I could of ever thought I didn't want to go across the Pacific Ocean and now just as I am ready we are considering turning around. I know that it makes sense but it still feels strange."

I was next. I said how proud I was of how we had all handled the weather so far and how far we had all come as a family but that I knew we had to turn around and have the decks redone.

Graham said that he also felt this way and that he agreed with Amelia. We should heave to and give it some more thought.

We called Gromit and they said they were going to give heaving to a shot. Winds were between 23 to 25 knots and gusting above. Rain was still torrential and we were all about to perform a maneuver that none of us had done successfully in our boats.

Graham and I said we would try first. We had our reefed ginny out and our reefed main. We started into a tack and backwinded the ginny. We hardened the main and turned the rudder in the opposite direction it wanted to go. Artemo stopped but we stopped with the massive waves at our beam. Didn't take us long to call that try quits.

Gromit called and said that since they had only their reefed main up they would try and give it a go with just the main. Unfortunately another miss.

We both had the same book on board titled "Storm Tactics" by Lin and Larry Pardy. We read through how to heave to with a ketch and Gromit agreed to go first. The book said to use only your main and missen and both should be hardened. You should then come into the wind and then turn 100 degrees off of it and bring your rudder back 15 degrees and then tie off the helm.

This worked perfectly for Gromit and then Cornelia instructed us on exactly what they had done over the vhf and Graham and I performed it on Artemo. Finally we were both hove to at sea, going zero knots but unfortunately the current was still moving us 2 knots towards the Columbian coast.

We all got some sleep and food. We talked some more as a family and even Amelia realized that as hard as the decision was it was the right one. It was time to call the Gromits and let them know.

You can just imagine how sad this vhf call was. Everyone was in tears. It was difficult to even speak. Often times we say or hear the word standby, as the person talking needed a moment to collect them self. It was so hard to say good bye at sea like this. Able to see each other from a distance rocking back and forth in the weather but not able to give each other the hugs we really needed.

The plus side was that we all know that we will be friends forever and neighbors. We wished each other well and said we would call once we had Artemo ready to go. Graham went to the bow of the boat to ready the lines and check the rigging and to his horror he found the anchor windlass ripped up from the deck. Basically a huge gapping hole in the front of the bow on the deck. Luckily it was hanging on by 2 bolts. This totally cemented our decision for us. We took off the anchor and hoisted it into the locker (all in the weather) and then we prepared to leave. Away we sailed at about 10 pm, back to the Las Perlas watching the Gromits light getting smaller and smaller.

Rain continued for the next 24 hours. You might think that our drama was over but there is one more near catastrophe to be had. The wind shifted yesterday from behind us on our Starboard side, to behind us on our port. We needed to switch our pole out to the other side. Alex and Graham had their harnesses on and were at the bow switching it over when Graham noticed that the swivel point on the end of the pole was cracked and not useable. I was in the cockpit and just couldn't believe it. How could our luck be so bad? I went forward and asked to see the issue. Graham said he would have to lower the pole to show me. I said it wasn't worth it but he thought he should show us, so he pulled the rope to lower it and from about 12 feet above the aluminum pole came plunging down. Thanks to our guardian angel the pole just missed Graham and Alex's heads and actually landed in their arms. It was really quite remarkable. We all just stood in shock, at the reality of how bad that could of ended. Also, if he hadn't lowered it, it was just holding on by a thread and it would of come down on Artemo and hard. OIY.

Now you might be feeling sad for us, that our dream of crossing the South Pacific ocean is dashed for the moment but please don't be. Our dream is the adventure itself and let me tell you our lives take so many twists and turns that this adventure is better than any book I have read. We all seem to take these turning points in stride now, just part of the cruising life. We are excited about what tomorrow holds. The kids love having a voice in the decision making and realizing that there are options is exciting.

We hope to arrive back in the Las Perlas islands tomorrow morning. This will be 6 nights at sea. It is true what they say, you do get use to it. You slowly start returning to your regular life. This morning the sun came out and we had pancakes, eggs and bacon for breakfast. Graham and I had a shower on the back deck, Alex lounged, fished and read and Amelia is making cookies. All of this as the boat rocks back and forth. Oh it's not all roses though, I just remembered that last night Amelia made a batch of butter tart squares. We had them in the oven and we were all up on deck playing "Family Trivia" and I went down below to pull them out. I put them on top of the stove and went to close the oven door and at this moment a wave hits and the butter tart squares fall behind the oven. Like I didn't have enough to clean inside the boat right now! Anywhoo....not all roses :-).

Stay tuned for what tomorrow brings

April 26, 2010

An update at sea

Below is an excerpt from a quick email update I sent my family. This will give you the highlights until we have time to write the whole story (Amelia is working on it and has it half written) but I wanted to keep you all in the loop.
April 25th - 3am

We are about 4 days out of the Las Perlas and heading back. We hit torrential rain a couple of days ago and 25-30 knot wind on the nose. With both the current and the point of sail Artemo just doesn't like it. We had the engine just revved up high to make any ground. Regardless after about 48 hours or more of this we (Gromit was with us) we decided to heave to at sea and get everyone some much needed sleep and food. There we both sat looking like we were anchored at sea (only difference the HUGE waves), so strange. Graham and I have decided to head back to Panama. Given the torrential rain we could see how much our decks need redoing, it was raining inside the boat and worst of all our anchor windlass ripped almost (thank god 2 bolts held) completely from the bow. We also had a small electrical fire from all the rain inside. Ok, enough with the bad stuff. Things happen for a reason and I am glad it happened fairly soon out of the gate. We said goodbye to the Gromits at sea. very sad and we are on our way back. Wind is nice and the seas are good. We are doing about 6 knots with wind just behind our beam. Everyone is asleep and I am on watch. On the plus side we are all good with the sailing part, just not the problems part :-)! I will keep you posted but don't worry if you don't hear from us. Our SSB is only working sometimes due to the fire (more like smoldering).

ps I am trying to get Graham to write the next blog with our latest decision. We just decided all this in the past 10 hours! Gotta love the adventure. This is living baby. Miss ya

pss San Blas are a great place for a visit! ;-)

psss - cc to everyone I love. Don't worry. We are actually in good spirits and quite proud of ourselves for the way we managed the weather and the problems. I got awesome kids and one heck of a great hubby. I should break into song now "love will keep us together, in any kind of weather"!

April 23, 2010


It is early morning now, the sky is slowly becoming lit. It looks a bit dreary out. We are on a dead downwind run. Our ginny is poled way out to our starboard and our main is prevented way out to port. We are wing on wing. Picture the wind pushing us along from behind and filling both sails. We averaged about 7 knots through the night but we even saw a maximum speed of 10.6 for a moment! This is my favorite point of sail. We roll alot but it is like the kind of roll I imagine a baby feels in a cradle as they are rocked to sleep. The seas have been good to us on day 1, small waves and gentle slopes.

Ok, enough about the sail configuration and onto the Artemo crew! We have all been excited about leaving. The anticipation heightened as we had to wait a few days for a weather window. We were all in basically a "Let's GO", state of mind. It is so strange because I remember how much the thought of this trip terrified me not to long ago but now it doesn't seem so scary. I was thinking last night in the darkness as the sky filled with lightening that sometimes it seems that the universe gives you what you need when you need it. Having the Gromits buddy boat with us is definitely a comfort but it does something else....it brings out competitive, confident Julie and this trip needs competitive confident Julie. Not crazy, scared, overreacting Julie.(omg I am talking in third person...please forgive me)

I remember when I was little and had to go in for my vaccination needles. The doctor and nurses would remember me because each time I would kick and scream and cry and they would all fight to hold me down. This one time I went in and there was another little girl waiting to get her needle and she was crying. Well I was going to show her! I marched right up and put out my arm and no trouble at all! I had it in me the whole time. So, if you are wondering how I am doing, I am doing well.

The kids are fantastic. No one is seasick ( I say with a whisper as I knock on wood). Amelia loves having the Gromit girls, Maia and Zoe, so close and able to chat on the radio. They have played tic tac toe over the vhf and kept each other updated on what they are doing or recent dolphin sightings.

Alex is happy. He has that twinkle in his eye that makes me feel good as a mother! You should of seen him at sunset last night as he landed a 15 lb MaHee MaHee (sp??). OMG it was a moment. His biggest fish yet. Watching the fish bob along the water as Graham and Alex pulled and pulled. They got out the gaf and pulled it in and then....the death. It was so strange because once it had died it switched from its beautiful vibrant yellow and green to dark green. Amelia and I felt a little sad. Anywho.....crazy, scared Julie would of had a problem with Graham and Alex on the back deck slipping around in blood as we sailed at 7 knots and rolled but not competitive, dig deep Julie. They had their harnesses on and the excitement and joy on their faces made me forget my fears.

Amelia and Alex decided they wanted to take watches. They decided on 8pm to 11pm. Another huge step. They wore their harnesses and life jackets and tethered into the cockpit. I gave them a list of 5 things to check for and to wake us up if they changed significantly (our speed, wind direction, wind speed, other boats and Gromits location). I had them record the information every 20 minutes and they did great. Amelia made them drinks and a snack bag for their watch. She brought up pillows and blankets and Alex enjoyed the service. I think Graham and I may have even fell asleep for awhile and not just closed our eyes.

As for Captain Graham. He is keeping this boat together and moving forward in right direction. He has the sails all finely tuned and he is downloading and analyzing the weather data and deciding on our route. He is a true voyager. I knew this when I met him. He is in his element. I am going to try and have him write a blog while we are out here. Fingers crossed but bear in mind he doesn't take orders very well.

Ok, one last funny story before I close for the day. A boat came fairly close to us last night. It was a bit strange because they came quick and then turned back around to follow in parallel. The kids started asking about what they should do if pirates came up. We talked about the unlikelihood of this and how most often it is just curious fishermen. Alex though with his Alex with, says "We will just tell those pirates - if you like us, you will like those guys even better!" and he points to the Gromits boat. LOL. Reminded me of the Billy Goat Gruff story.

We are all really enjoying having the company of the Gromits along and we won't be sending any pirates their way!!

April 22, 2010

Fwd: Just about to leave

Hi Everyone,

No time to write a blog but below is the email I just sent Dad. Looks like today is the day. Watch the position reports. Here we go!!

----- Original Message -----
To: Griff Thomas
Subject: Just about to leave
From: VA3PRY
Date: 2010/04/22 12:10:50

Hi Dad,

We are hoping to leave at 10 am this morning (April 22nd). We getting last minute deck things done. I hope you can still download grib files. If you can keep an eye that would be great and email us with wind direction, speed, wave height (if possible) and current. Below are the waypoints we are currently targeting but we will adjust if necessary. So far it looks like the first couple of days things will be pleasant, wind from behind at about 10 but then it gets a little yucky. As we turn to head west the wind comes at our nose and a bit strong. We might have to tack, tack, tack for 12 hour stints or something. We will figure it out as we go. Watch our position reports. We will try and update regularly. Bank on average of 5 knots. We will try and let you know if we change our waypoint targets.

Any info will be appreciated. Also, can you email the Gromits(cc'd) to. That way if we can't download on the SSB then maybe they can.

Thanks Dad. Makes me feel better knowing you will have your eye on us.


Start - 8 08 342 N - 78 53 231 W
Waypoint 1 - 6 16 227 N - 79 13 762 W
Waypoint 2 - 4 13 897 N - 79 53 793 W
Waypoint 3 - 3 13 290 N - 82 03 547 W
Waypoint 4 - 2 11 244 N - 83 44 313 W
Waypoint 5 - 1 22 955 N - 85 34 743 W
Waypoint 6 - 0 29 128 N - 87 27 933 W
Waypoint 7 - 0 40 065 S - 89 44 763 W
----- End of Original Message -----

April 16, 2010

Boat Parts – A guest blog by Chris

My adventure to Panama began the day I met Julie for the first time, which was my first day on the job in Talent Management. These two new co-workers, Julie and Jeremy Huyder took me to Select Sandwich for lunch. We talked about a number of things which I can’t recall, but I’m sure the subject of sailing around the world didn’t come up. It was on an elevator weeks later, on the way to a meeting, when Julie casually mentioned to another co-worker that they may have found a boat. “A boat?” I asked. I should mention that my frame of reference was Ontario cottage country and I was thinking of a fishing boat, or something to pull water-skiers. Julie replied to my question with, “Yeah, we’ve been looking for a boat for our world trip and found a potential in Antigua - it’s a 43 foot Chassiron TDM Sailboat”. That was June 2007 – the boat she was referring to was Artemo. In that elevator, at that moment you may have tried to convince me that 3 years later me and Jeremy Huyder – a guy 5 cubicles down whom I barely knew, would be heading to Panama with a blue duffel bag full of boat parts – but I wouldn’t have believed you.

Well, in the intervening months and years, I followed their story as avidly as anyone of you reading the Casting Off blog right now. Somehow, we have all become involved in the Perry's journey - the trials and tribulations - the triumphs and defeats, all so beautifully articulated through Julie's writing on the blog. We are drawn to the story, and with this trek to Panama, I like to think that I became a little part of it.

Now on one of their trips back to Canada with Artemo "on the hard", maybe over coffee or lunch, the subject of the Panama Canal came up. It seems that to traverse the canal in a little boat like Artemo, you need some crew. Jeremy confided in me later that he was considering the brilliant idea that he might go down to Panama and volunteer as crew, at which point I invited myself on the hypothetical journey. "Imagine", I thought, "going through the Panama Canal on Artemo." I love that idea.

In what was surely a weak moment, Tracy, the woman I so undeservedly call my wife, agreed that I could go. Jeremy's Vanessa, a woman he also undeservedly calls his wife had a similarly weak moment. Whew – the stars were aligning.

Plans were set in motion, a boat was splashed in Cartagena, plane tickets were bought, lasagna's were prepared and frozen as a peace offering to the family I was soon to abandon for 5 days, and rendezvous coordinates were mapped.

Hold on – at this point, with the information that we are on our way, our hosts look around Artemo and find a few things missing – Jeremy and I go from lightfooted, minimalist adventures to mules in the blink of an eye. Here is the final list of things we were to bring:

1) Two huge bottles of sunscreen (as provided by the Perry’s good friend Martha) (The same Martha that met them in the San Blas Islands)
2) Two Canadian Flags (theirs had ripped)
3) A mysterious box of boat parts (thanks again to Martha for dropping them off at my house)
4) 100 All-aluminium pop rivets, ¼ X 1 inch (Graham wanted .75 inch, but I couldn’t track them down)
5) The Lonely Planet guide to New Zealand

Late Wednesday evening I kissed my wife goodbye and then my children as they slept and headed down to Union station on the first leg of this great adventure. At 12:35 AM on a Thursday morning - I got off the GO Bus in Milton. A small day pack with the basics - a couple changes of clothes, bug repellent, ipod - was slung over my shoulder and a big blue duffle bag full of, you guessed it, boat parts, was by my side. A few moments later, as arranged, a black pick-up truck drove up, with a driver, smiling ear-to-ear. I would later find out, over a can of Balboa (a fine Panamanian beer) that Jeremy (said driver) had mixed up the AM/PM on his alarm clock and nearly missed our meeting. Thank-you Vanessa for the save.

We drove through the night to Detroit. I guess two guys on their way to Panama with a duffle bag full of boat parts is suspicious, because we got the 9th degree at US customs. We were questioned and pulled over, and questioned again and inspected, but soon enough we were on our way, though we noticed that the boat parts box had been opened and resealed.

We made it to the airport, connected in Houston and landed in Panama about 2 PM.

That blast of heat and humidity hit us as we walked down the jetway - which felt great.

We taxied into the heart of the city towards our base to check things out. You could say that Jeremy was kind of our guide and his keen nose for frugality really saved us a bundle. Jeremy and I stayed at a hostel for 14 bucks a night, we had breakfast for 1.90 (that’s $0.80 each) and the fact that beer was cheaper than water was a fact that we fully exploited. I took my cues from him and I learned from a seasoned traveller how to navigate a foreign place.

We were to rendezvous with Artemo in a little town called Portobello on the Caribbean side of Panama. I find this part of our journey so funny – and a bit of a ‘leap of faith’. Meeting up with friends on another continent seems like it might be complicated, but really – it’s not. Here are the (unedited) communications back and forth between the sun-soaked crew of Artemo and their mules:

FROM VA3PRY (Satellite email from Artemo): Hey Wait....we just thought about another option...what if you and Chris meet us in Portobello (google it). It is a nice port town only 20 nm from Shelter Bay Marina. We would then dinghy you out to Artemo at anchor and we would all sail into the Grand opening of the Panama Canal together. It is going to be quite a moment for us and it would be cool to share it with you guys. You also would get to see Artemo shake her sails on the ocean.

Let us know what you think. Portobello looks clean, nice and easier to get to than Shelter Bay Marina and it is a really historic place.

FROM JEREMY (Mule 1): so we are planning on heading to portobello...we'll can try for mid-day...but there are a few links in that travel chain so might be a bbit late. Any ideas yet on how to conact or find you guys? Is there dock we should be looking forl landmark etc... let us know.

FROM VA3PRY: So in our guide book it shows the dinghy dock. Have them drop you at the dinghy dock and you will see Artemo in the Small bay. Jump up and down and wave your hands and yell! LOL. We will see you! If we don't just ask any other cruiser who is there to bring you over to our boat! We will be watching for you though. Let us know if you get a better idea of time but don't worry we will be constantly keeping an eye out for you and will be anchored close to the dinghy dock. Google the spanish translation for boat dock or dinghy dock? It is an adventure!

see you on Friday!!!

FROM CHRIS (Mule 2): So we've got 90% of your stuff - just pop rivets remain - will do my best on those
We'll be on the dingy dock waving a couple canadian flags from the Bay(as in Hudson's Bay)

So here is how it played out: From Panama city we took a couple of buses. Bus one was full, but Jeremy and I were offered small stools (the size of two paint cans stacked). We were the only gringos on the bus and I sat elbow to elbow with our fellow Panamanian travellers, with Jeremy behind me leaning up against the banos (bathroom) door. We transferred in Sabanitas – there are no signs in Panama telling you where to get off. The situation looked a bit dicey ie. No bus station and no buses, when suddenly a pimped out school bus drives up with PORTOBELLO written across the windshield. I’m pretty sure I rode on this actual bus when I was in grade 3.

Well – we made it to the sleepy little town of Portobello and we found the dinghy dock. And out on the most spectacular looking little bay with its ancient ruins and thick rainforest crowding the shores, floated Artemo. It was just like the photograph, but real, which I remember feeling was kind of… surreal. We waved and there was movement and waving and within moments a little dinghy was on its way to our rendezvous on the dock.

It was an awesome reunion – there were hugs and excitement all around. A tour of Artemo commenced promptly and we were shown to our berths. It was struck by how well I knew the boat – they have done such a great job of relating life on the boat to us all back home through the blog.

Over the next few days we lived aboard and were treated like kings. Our meals were incredible. I don’t know if it was the heat or the travelling but Jeremy and I could not stop eating – I think the crew has become accustomed to eating smaller meals, because beside them I felt like I ate as much as the whole Perry family combined. We may have consumed a bit more beer than Graham had anticipated, so we eased off (especially when the beer ran out).

We sailed in the open ocean, we navigated through dozens of huge container ships and tankers, and we docked in Shelter bay. (I will put a link to some of our pictures in the comments section of this blog-post) I was pretty disappointed when it became evident that we wouldn’t be able to go through the canal (the window of opportunity was small for us as we needed to be at the airport to catch our flight). We couldn’t really have anticipated it, and I wouldn’t trade it from the experience of seeing Artemo “shake her sails”.

We stayed with the Perry’s in Shelter Bay for several days. Explored the break-wall, met other cruisers (what an eclectic group these cruisers are), climbed to the top of the mast and tried to blend in, enjoy and observe a little glimpse of this amazing life-choice our friends have made happen.

Here are a few observations I jotted down as I though about our time on Artemo:

• Life is not wasted aboard Artemo – there is a necessary of economy movement. There is no single straight line destination on the boat. Going 10 feet involves twisting, and shuffling and ducking. The crew apologized in advance for the stubbed toes and cracked noggins Jeremy and I would endure.

• God help you if you can’t find a flashlight in the night on the open water and so - A place for everything and for everything a place. This need to put things back in the right place is a constant tension aboard the ship but I managed to get in line on my second day.

• As we prepared to leave port and especially anticipated the dreaded “docking’ of Artemo it was tense. I’m reminded a bit of spacewalks, where every moment is scripted in minute detail – that’s extreme but on the ocean, there is less margin of error than we are exposed to back on the hard.

• Beside the navigation area is a berth that you could sleep on while remaining close to the comm.. When I looked at it I would imagine vividly Graham sitting there – one eye open – the steady hand in control with his family sleeping sound in the knowledge that they are safe.

• The storage is amazing – every conceivable space has some purpose. Under the couch in the galley is the water machine that desalinates ocean water. Under the floors are spaces for tools and pumps and all manner of boat parts.

• Alex and Amelia are two amazing kids. It is not hard to imagine how much they are liked by the other cruisers. One night Alex radioed another boat in the port at Portobello – he called the name of the boat 3 times and then asked if they had an onion. In moments he was out on the dingy (without a lifejacket – Julie you have come a long way) and back with an onion and some other goodies. In the duffel bag of boat parts was a bunch of Jewelery making beads – Millie began making earrings and bracelets – I brought some back for my family. Lots of kids make crafts, but Millie is a sort of ambassador for Artemo, ferrying herself to other boats at anchor, bringing gifts of jewellery and endearing herself to the other cruisers.

• I loved this concept of knowing the feel of the boat – over time the boat becomes an extension of you – Graham described that he could almost sense a change in the hull speed, or tune into a sail about to flog.

• I was curious about all the improvements that were made – and I have to say that Artemo was about the finest looking sailboat we saw in Shelter Bay. I imagine the purgatory of the boat yard in Grenada, with Artemo pulled apart and exposed – I can see Graham peering into the bottom of the boat – running his hands along the newly repaired mast step before the workers came back to seal it in with fibreglass and teak.

• A job for everyone. I was amazed to see Julie plotting ‘way-points’ and piloting the boat as naturally as putting together a PowerPoint presentation. I was really impressed with the skill of this crew.

• On the Caribbean sea – under full sail, motor off it was glorious – beyond glorious – I would love to say that it was this moment when I fundamentally connected with life on Artemo – but it’s not. This is the easy part of the road – the part that make it all worthwhile, but my real connection was when we were at anchor – and things were a bit more chaotic – a few tools pulled out – some anxiety in the air about navigating locks and customs – some heavy talk about planning and groceries and 24 days at sea. A song that gets me thinking about Artemo is Hard Road by Sam Roberts. He sings ‘there’s no road that ain’t a hard road to travel on’.

Jeremy and I left the crew at the docks at 9 am and pulled away on the Shelter Bay bus. We had a few more adventures – saw the Canal at Minaflores – met some interesting back-packers – missed our connection in Houston. But we came back to our families safe and sound – I had missed them dearly. And we came back I think richer for having had this opportunity.

This is my message to you Artemo Crew– that when the road is hard – when the plans seem daunting and the hill is steep, when you can’t see around the next bend – remember that you are living your life fully – you are alive on your own terms.

Thanks for letting us be a little part of it. We may have left you with a duffle bag of boat parts, but we brought back a boatload of memories.


Culture done Perry Style

Just a short note to say......OMG!!!!! We are anchor right next to the Las Perlas islands where survivor is filmed and yesterday we decided it was time for a little culture. Off we all went in our dinghy to explore the two islands and see if we could find any reminents from the show. We were a bit disappointed because all we found was half of a dugout canoe with the survivor colors on it that may or may not have been used in the show and the symbolic las Perlas rock they show in the opening credit.

We swam at the beach, which was really beautiful and walk up a couple of trails. Amelia almost got stung by a sting ray and Alex and I saw a sea snake. This was all really cool but still not the survivor adventure we were hoping for.

When we were packed up to leave we decided to do a drive by the other island and as we came closer and closer I realized that there was a SURVIVOR film crew on the beach filming!!!! I started yelling at Graham, "go in to the beach, go in"! Graham being the nice guy he is, is trying not to ruin the shot for the crew (as one guy, most likely the producer is waving us away).

He finally pulled in close and I was waving my hands wildly and yelling hello hello! One of the survivors was in the water swimming and the rest of the team was around their camp being filmed. The girl in the water talked to us. She said it was Survivor and Graham asked what country and she said....I think Germany or maybe Turkey. She had the survivor bandana around her chest. We were all freaking out. It was so cool to see it from that perspective. We saw the crew tent to. Way cool!!!!

We are hoping to head out on our first leg to Galapagos tomorrow or Sunday. I will post a quick blog when we leave. I will also be posting a blog from Chris later today. He has written about his time here at Artemo. Alex says, "BEST BLOG EVER"! Thanks Chris for taking the time to come down and visit us and for writing about it. We miss you guys.

Las Perlas

April 12, 2010

She's only happy in the sun

Monday, April 12th, 2010

We have finally departed Panama City!!! 150 gallons of water, 130 gallons of diesel, 20 gallons of gas, $2500 worth of groceries, new sheets, clean laundry, 200 tablets of gravol, countless bottles of sunscreen and we are on our way!

We pulled up the anchor at 9:30 this morning with Gromit and we are destined for the Las Perlas islands. They are only about 7 hours away from Panama City. It is a nice shake down day cruise for Artemo and crew.

Alex took the helm as we left and once we were on course it hit me....we had LEFT! I screamed, "Oh My GOD" and scared the beegeeies out of Amelia.

There is almost no wind and the sea is calm. There is a wide rolling Pacific swell but it is very comfortable. The little tiny bit of wind we do have is coming directly on the nose, so we are motoring. It is about 35 degrees and I am sure with the humidity it is much hotter. We just got our aqua-zooka's out (compliments of Martha) and sprayed each other down. FELT SO GOOD. I have a few beads of water left on me but soon this bit of relief from the heat will be gone.

We just had one of those awesome high high moments you get every so often, Graham spotted dolphins. We all ran to the front of the Artemo and watched as we came directly into a huge herd. Over 100 of them! They were jumping in the air and diving and swimming at our bow. There we all stood in our soaking wet underwear jumping and screaming with excitement. The stereo was blasting, "She's only happy in the sun" and it was seriously like Artemo was smiling. She knows she is on her way. I love our boat. Thank you Harry and Hilary. This path was meant to be.

It was pretty cool to look back behind us as the dolphins moved on and see them arrived at Gromit's boat. There they all stood at their bow, experiencing the same feelings as us. Way cool.

We are all excited to be anchoring in clean water again. We have big plans of sundowners, swimming and appetizers.....oh the life. Our plans are to stay for a few days in the islands (hopefully get to the island that survivor was filmed at) and then the next leg......7 day sail (or maybe motor) to Galapagos. We will keep our position report updated so check in often. If you click on dot on the map you will see our one or two sentence update as we cross. (fyi....these are usually GP's updates :-))

Oh and we have a cell phone. Our credit is almost up but Rob called me the other night and it was crystal clear. Graham said you can go online and get a cheap calling card for 5 cents a minute. If you do, give us a call. It was so nice to talk to someone from home and not have it cut in and out. Our cell phone number is 507-648-45875. Just be sure to look up the country code for Panama and put it in front.

Miss you

April 06, 2010

Savor it

What an exciting week it has been here in Panama City. I keep thinking about how all the thing we have been doing on our long list are the things I absolutely loved reading about before we left. The days are filled with work but it is really rewarding to think that at the end of our shopping, fixin and installing we will be ready to be self reliant for 6 to 7 months!

I have learned a few lessons this week to......like don't load 100lbs of flour, 50 cans of tomatoes and 20 lbs of sugar in the bow of your boat it will actually tip the boat slightly forward! Who knew? Our cockpit drains are at the stern of the cockpit and once I had finished packing the groceries in the bow the water pooled at the front of the cockpit where there was no drain. I am sure you can all imagine how happy I was to unpack all of those groceries and rearrange with cereals, papertowel and toilet paper packed elsewhere. I kept telling myself, "savor it Julie, savor it"! LOL.

Now every book I have read about provisioning talk about re-sealing everything, since flour, beans and rice are prone to weevils. They also talk about getting rid of all cardboard packaging before getting on board, since cockroaches lay their eggs in the glue of the boxes. I was diligent but not obsessively so. I came home the other day from shopping and Graham says, "I have something to show you at the back of the boat". I head to the back and see one of my plastic containers that I store the vacuum sealed dried beans in and it hits me what is up. Graham pulls out a vacuum sealed bag of chic peas and it is filled with weevils (luckily contained). I don't do well with bugs. I freaked out. Needless to say it led to another job of checking every package of anything stored in the boat and checking for bugs. At the same time I got rid of any cardboard I could find. I found one other sealed bag of rice with some within. Again I am telling myself, "savor it, savor it"! On a side note many of the cruisers here say just to cook it up and skim off the weevils, since they float to the top. Not quite there yet.

Tomorrow I head off to the massive fruit and veggies market. We have our list of hearty veggies and fruits. I purchased a couple milk cartons to store everything in, now I just need to find a spot to put them. I also had the grocery store vacuum seal and freeze all our meat and tomorrow I will pick that up. The meat should hopefully stay frozen or at least partially for a few weeks. Once the meat is gone we are counting on Alex to catch fish.

Ok, enough about shopping. Graham has been busy with changing the hoses on the engine, changing a number of the sail lines, changing oils, installing the new auto pilot, setting up our preventer and pole and the list goes on and on.......Oh and of course he does all of this with a smile on his face. LOL. Truthfully though we are all really happy in amongst all of this work and chaos on board. Graham picked me up a mini shop vac the other day and I am shocked how happy a vacuum could make me. Who would of thought we would see the day? For those of you who remember Graham giving me a swiffer for my birthday, I am sure you would have thought he would never ever buy me a cleaning appliance again! Luckily he did though. This thing is amazing. I woke the kids up to the roar of the mini vac this morning. Graham was laughing remembering how his mom use to do the same.

I gave the kids each $50 to spend in the city. Alex spent $44 on fishing gear. He is crazy about fishing. It is really cool to see. He has a thing for raw chicken though. Drives me nuts. I guess the snappper go for it. He spent the remaining $6 on a segway rental for an hour. We even managed to get in trouble when I hopped on the back for a spin.

Can any of you guess what Amelia spent her $50 on??? hmmmm. Clothes of course. Amelia and I had a great day at a really nice mall. She tried on piles and piles of clothes, bathing suits and pjs. Clothing is really cheap here, so she got a pile of really nice stuff.

Easter was fun, although Amelia said, "I wish I didn't know because now you don't try as hard". Given this statement I tried to make it special. Both kids agreed that the best Easter ever for them was at my cousins Theresa’s house. They describe to each other in detail everything they remembered from that day. On board Artemo we all drew names to make each other a special card. We stayed up to 11 cutting, pasting and drawing. I wish you all could see these cards because you would laugh. Alex got Grahams name and inside his card he has written, "Here is a pros and cons list of yourself:"! omg I laughed. Number 1 pro is "Good with boats". Easter morning the kids found clothes pins that the bunny had hidden, since I believe the bunny is also worried about attracting bugs.

The kids are really good at bouncing around the boat on the halyard now. They have taken to hoisting themselves way up and swinging crazily around the spreaders and mast. Yesterday I look over and Amelia had lowered Alex through a hatch and he was hovering above the kitchen table like spider man.

Ok, so I am almost finished but one last story. Right now we cruise around in our dinghy with a 3.5 hp motor. For those of you who don't know this is a really small motor and we go super slow. The motor is also on its last leg. We have been rescued 3 times so far here in the bay. Alex is so embarrassed. Many years ago when we were planning this trip in Toronto Alex was babysitting his sister after school and instead of paying him we said the money would go towards a decent dinghy motor. Unfortunately the right time and the right price have never happened....until now. Graham has ordered a 9.8 Tohatsu ($1650) but it is stuck in customs, so he went to the Yamaha dealer to see if he could get a deal on their 9.9 (way better motor). Unfortunately the lowest the guy would go to was $2000. Alex has been asking me if I would go back and see if I could get him to go lower. Graham said that if he would go to $1800 then we could just pick it up. You guys know this is right up my alley. Alex told me how the sales guy was really "flat". His word. He didn't smile and was quite serious. When we walked in I introduced myself and asked his name. I told him how Alex had his heart set on this motor but we did have another on its way. I asked if he could come down farther on the price and he said that the best he could do was 1885 but no lower. I told him how our budget was really tight and that we were only a few dollars apart. I asked if he would bring it down to 1800 and we could make it a deal and......HE DID!!! In a few minutes we are leaving the boat to go and pick up our very respectable 9.9 Yamaha. We now will officially have something that someone may want to steal.

Our plans right now are to leave here on Thursday and sail the 5 hours to the Las Perlas islands (where survivor was filmed). We will spend a week there and then leave on the 7 day sail to Galapagos. We would then spend a week there and then sail the 23 days to Marquesas!!!!
Thanks to everyone who is following the blog. I have received many emails this past week wishing us well. It is really nice to feel so supported.