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.



  1. Alex was right. Totally awesome post Chris! I felt like I was right there with you.

    "I was amazed to see Julie plotting ‘way-points’ and piloting the boat as naturally as putting together a PowerPoint presentation." - - This part had me laughing out loud. You really know Julie well. I know she's already looking forward to putting together the PowerPoint presentation of their trip :-)

    Can't wait to see your pictures.

  2. I loved reading this blog, it is a chapter all to itself. Earl and I can hardly wait for our turn in December. I also can't wait to see your pictures. This will be such a great book.

  3. I think Chris missed his calling in life and should write books for a living. I so enjoyed this blogg and felt as if I was along for the ride. I cant wait to see the pictures as well.

  4. Here are my pics from the trip - let me know if the link doesn't work:



    BTW - When I referred to 'Julie and Jeremy Huyder' in the first paragraph, it may have been misconstrued that they were married - they're not ;)


  5. Great post Chris. Made me jealous. I can't wait to go down and see the Perry's now!


  6. Its awesome post Chris! You have included all details so well. Enjoyed reading thoroughly and get lot of new information too.

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