Okay, it has been a few days, and I have just about have recovered from an truly epic set of adventures with my uncle Dave Bethke.
Dave and I did not really know each other that well. He is ten years younger than my dad, and fourteen years older than me. So my dad really did not hang out with either my dad or me that much. Every Christmas I would see Dave. He always gave the best holidays presents – even better than my dad. Dave was always friendly, but quiet.
Dave flew down to Ad Astra here in Panama, to help us transit the canal and to catch up and do some necessary bonding after my father, and his brother Neil Bethke, passed away in December.
We took a two-hour Uber back to the Shelter Bay Marina, and then a stroll through the jungle and caught up with the Spider Monkeys. Now that should be exotic and fun, and sure it was, but it would end up being a low-key part of our adventures. That night, the Pacific Puddle Jump was putting on a party for the cruisers at Shelter Bay Marina, awaiting for their transit and the beginning of their Coconut Milk Run. Naturally the government of Fiji sponsored a beer drinking contest, and we quickly created a team under the Maple flag. Teams of three – Dave, Daryl and me would face off against other teams of three. The format was a relay race: the captain drinks his beer, then turns it over on their head, then #2, then #3, and then the captain brings it home with the 4th beer. After taking an inventory of beers already in our bellies, I took on the role of team captain. We absolutely smoked the first team, total beer domination. And we went on. At the final round we were squared up against a three young, tall Aussies. We were first to finish, but being the gentleman that I am, I didn’t feel good about how much foam was left on my head, so we declared a tie. The prize? Tequila shots!
Next day we showed up for duty as line handlers on SV Maple. When the first lock’s doors closed and it started to fill – it was truly awe inspiring. We rose up and looked over the wall back at the Caribbean. 100 year old mega tech! We were members of the Lake Gatun Yacht Club for one night, and we shared the experience with a coast guard cutter and a windjammer. The crossing was very smooth, we all did our jobs and there was nothing stressful or strange. Daryl is a great and attentive captain and both Daryl and Janet hosted us far too kindly for our meager labors - we feasted like kings.
Saying goodbye to SV Maple was hard – they have been our good friends in Bonaire, Rio Dulce and now Panama. We were to sail with them into the South Pacific – but Our Plans Have Changed ™.
Max, Kyle, Dave and I explored Panama City on foot. We checked out the trendy coffee and ice cream shops and had a nice vegan brunch. We finished the day 66 floors above the Panama Canal. Through the day I came to learn that my modest plumber of an uncle has been making some serious money. We did an impromptu financial & retirement planning session while watching the sun set with a most awesome view.
Picking up Kaiwen at the airport, we went on a never ending Uber ride back to Shelter Bay Marina and put Dave to work the next two days. Max and Dave worked together changing the sail drive oils on both engines, and Kyle became an apprentice sail maker at the loft at SBM.
After two days of hard work we had all of our sails back on the boat and were ready to sail for the San Blas island group. Neptune had a suggestion: he pointed out the 20 kts of wind and 2m of waves on the nose for the San Blas and suggested we head to Bocas de Toro instead.
135 nm due west, we left in the morning against a grey sky and large winds and large beam swells. I lost the whole crew to sea sickness including our newest addition. We made fast progress for the first 75nm under a main in the 2nd and reefed genoa. As predicted by the weather forecast the wind died at sunset. Yep, it went from hard sailing to zip, zero, nada in about an hour.
Port engine on (with the fixed transmission) we motored the remaining 75 nm. Dave took a surprisingly long 18:00 to 22:00 night watch, and I took over in the zen captain mode until 04:00. Max and Kyle brought us in as dawn patrol.
Immediately I was enchanted with Bocas de Toro. Tropical, white sand beaches – with surfing waves – and diving – and sailing – and a good sized town and a national park on land and sea! All the boxes are checked. (And yes, many gears are turning in the back of my mind.)
By the end of the day, I knew our plans would be changing again, no longer sailing north 1600 nm, Ad Astra would stay here in Red Frog Marina.
Red Frog Marina is named after the indigenous Red Frog that is threatened with extinction from being over-harvested for its poison as well as habitat loss. Beautiful, super-classic frogs. There are abundant here in the marina.
Dave and I would continue to get to know each other, with adventures on Exit Strategy the dinghy, Bocas Town, and long deep discussions.
We caught up on family events going back and filled each other in on the the missing bits.
The last two days we spent our afternoons together – Dave, Max, Kyle and I – body surfing the nicely shaped waves of Red Frog Beach. We took turns using the last gift my Dad gave me – two pairs of Churchill’s.
That is how cool my Dad is – even dead – he throws an epic party and brings people together.
Looking forward to the next Adventure Dave!