Freelance working can be tricky. It comes suddenly after periods of calm, and it forces to reshuffle my schedule to fit jobs and other life commitments. The month of February looked already busy enough for us when Maria contacted me asking if I was available to help her with two charters aboard Joana. We had to make a total revolution to our plans, but the opportunity was too good to let it pass.
I’ve been introduced to Maria and Cathy, owners of Joana, by Kirk, a friend of a friend who I briefly met in Georgia and then finally again in Puerto Lindo. At the bar of Linton Bay Marina, getting to know each other, they told me that it was good that I charter experience as they could use some help on their ship Joana, a beautiful 72ft gaff rigged steel yawl. Of course, that help could be needed in a non specified time in the future, as life afloat is all but easy to plan.
I had admired the lines of this ship from afar when she dropped the hook in Linton Bay anchorage, particularly liking the low freeboard of the steel hull, the classic rigging and the general rugged appearance. In a world of mass produced, performance-oriented plastic boxes, Joana stands out like a rare gem. If you don’t trust my words, check out some pictures of Joana on their website.
The job offer had to be fit into an ambitious plan, with the imminent Kate’s parents visit to Panama, our plan to haul out Tranquility on the hard for bottom paint and yard work, and an again postponed visit to Italy. I remember having meeting after meeting with Kate trying to fit everything in the short month of February, not without stress. What we would do with our boat and our cat?
Eventually we found a solution: I would spend few days in Panama City with Bernie Sr. and Sue and Kate after we made arrangements with our Guna friends and local authorities in Islas Robeson, to leave Tranquillity safely anchored and Beta earning his board on shore, helping make a Guna house pest free. Then, I would travel back to Guna Yala and start working on Joana.
I joined Maria aboard her ship in Esnasdup, a quiet anchorage in the vicinity of Green Island. In Guna Yala there are more than 300 islands and little cays, all with both local and Spanish names, and Attilio, the lancha driver, had a little hesitation when I told him where I needed to be dropped off. Lanchas are the taxi-boats that move people, goods and everything else from the arrival point of the only road in the ports of Cartì to the numerous islands. The reshuffling of our plans involved me taking many lanchas, from and to the port.
I could only arrive to Joana one day before the beginning of the charter so I needed a crash course: anchoring, sailing maneuvers, food and other supply stowage. Maria is very patient, and gave me a good tour and tutorial of my duties in the fore deck area, where my main actions would take place. As we left for our sailing training, she showed me how to set the gaff rigged mainsail, the cutter (that’s what she calls what I call the staysail) and the Jib.
Setting Joana under full canvas requires quite some sweat and fine technique compare to what I am used on Tranquility. By owners’ choice the running rigging has no mechanical help other than the purchase system of hand carved blocks. Without winches, everything has to happen in a specific moment, with a thoughtful planning ahead and sometimes with Maria leaving the helm for few moments to give a hand forward.
It all looks like a little ballet, as one of Joana’s guest once noticed, a sequence that I practiced everyday as we moved from one anchorage to the other. By the end of the trip I felt very at ease on the job, also learning few tricks of the trade that could be definitely used elsewhere.
Joana’s route for these two trips was in the area between Salardup and Rio Diablo. This chain of more than 30 islands stretches a mere 15 nautical miles but offer countless opportunities for snorkeling, laying on the beaches of uninhabited cays and fishing, all in the protection of coral reefs that create flat and crystal clear waters, a very relaxing and comfortable place to be even when the trade winds pick up to 30 knots as it happens for few days at the time during the dry season.
In the galley there was another kind of ballet happening. There was always activity down below, even under way, to make sure our guests received everything they need in therm of meals, snacks and drinks . During the charters we were blessed with good fishing, and we could put on the table a selection of seafood and fish, from lobsters and crabs, to red snappers, Spanish mackerels and conch. Maria and I served the catch of the day in many different ways, including sashimi, sushi, ceviche, grilled baked and steamed dishes.
In Green Island I had a particularly prolific fishing night, with four good sized red snappers brought on board. Also, we had the opportunity to spot the infamous two meter long crocodile that lives in the area, and that twice came alongside Joana before being scared away by our enthusiasms/excitement. Fishing is good where crocodiles live!
It is always a pleasure to see happiness on the guests’ face while they enjoy sailing in this environment. We surely do our best to help realize their goals and accommodate their needs, but the Guna Yala islands do us the biggest favor, as they naturally make one feel comfortable and surrounded by pleasurable experiences. Maybe it’s not a case that I keep coming back here, to absorb the good energy that are so plentiful in this corner of the World.
February is not ended yet and a new chapter awaits me. Work commitments will keep Kate here in Panama this time, while I will solo travel to Italy for a brief visit to family and friends. As I stated before, life on a boat is not as easy as one may think, compromise and complicated life arrangements are mandatory.
The last item on the list will be the yard period, that we hope to start around mid March. Tranquility needs some attention after being basically trouble free for a long time. Fatigue is unsparing at sea.
Impossible at the moment to make any further plans.