Today we went into serious expedition mode. An early start from the Maccavite hotel, then south to Escudo Veraguas 34 miles with 25 people on board. Escudo has zero population, rarely has a visitor and as it’s offshore some 10 miles we hoped would have more wind. Discovery comfortably sleeps 11. We have 25- 8 pro riders, Rami, 4 film crew, 3 boat crew, one photographer, one owner and his girlfriend, one writer and his wife, Scott (our local guide, guru and surf wave god), and two Panamanian chica friends of Scott to keep the morale high. One of them seems to keep Will’s morale higher than the rest of us, which doesn’t seem fair considering we’ve been catching plenty of fish… We planned to either sleep everyone on board or set up some tents onshore as there’s no way we can go all that way and get home in one day.
Day 4 will probably go down as the best surf day of the trip. With Scott on the Red Bull ski and the swell finally pumping, we pulled out early to head down to Cusapin, where we heard very few people ever reach. Cusapin is 4 hours south of Bocas, across a long channel, through a myriad of mangrove lined islands, across another open water channel and into a long, fully protected bay called Laguna de Bluefield.
This was our first day of real kiting, though it was a bit short and not a whole lot of sweet. But it was a pretty amazing day. The morning began early for me with yet another trip to the airport, this time to pick up Amit’s board bag, Erik’s camera bag and Rami Beracha, an Israeli kiter and friend/student of Amit’s who owns a school called Kiteaway in Israel. Rami lost one leg and one arm and suffered a serious injury to his other arm in a landmine accident in Lebanon while serving mandatory service in the Israeli army. Rami has climbed Kilimanjaro, and Amit insured us we’d be impressed by his kiting, but I was already impressed by just how he got around. He can handle a board bag better than I can!
With the addition of Raphael Salles, Mika Fernandez, Erik Aeder and Ryan Gaw today our crew is almost complete. The weather remains clear and sunny, but our swell is still minimal and the winds non-existent. The forecast however remains excellent- by tomorrow we should have some wind, by Tuesday the swell and wind, peaking by Friday. We’re planning an offshore expedition out to Escudo Veraguas. If we go, we’d have 24 people on Discovery- should make for some entertainment to say the least!
We’ve been planning this event for so long I can’t believe it’s actually happening. Ten of the top wave riders in the world. On our boat, in the middle of nowhere, in a place that as far as we know has never been ridden. I’ve had some serious jitters for weeks. Will there be wind? Will there be waves? Could we pull this off? Would everyone have fun? We arrived a week ago Saturday in torrents of rain. The rain continued for three days, then cleared up beautifully but of course the wind and swell cleared out as well. Two days ago I got an email from Michael Behar, the writer for one of the main magazines running a feature (I’m not allowed to say until it’s published) that he thought the magazine might pull the plug. The forecast was looking dismal and without wind there would be no “kiteboarding expedition”, and thus no reason to come. Without Michael our lead photographer (Erik Aeder) from Maui would have no main publication to sell the pictures to. Without Erik the pros get no press, and don’t have much of a reason to come. I felt like the domino was about to fall.
Our new group arrived on the 29th, the first sunny day we’d had in a week. Evidence of Global Warming is everywhere these days, and the weather is any thing but predictable. But somehow we keep getting lucky and wind or sun would be in no shortage for the next week.
It seems an eternity ago that I happened across an old friend, completely unexpectedly. I was having a tough day, running around Cartagena, Colombia trying to get parts for Discovery, dripping sweat in the blistering humid heat. I sat down for a moment in the yacht club trying to plan my next move when in walked Francis Savage, who crewed for me for two seasons in the South Pacific a few years ago. We hadn’t seen or spoken to one another (Francis isn’t too keen on modern technology, such as email) since June, 2005 in Buenos Aires, me on my way to sail around Cape Horn, Francis on his way to becoming his own captain (I’d taught Francis how to sail). I guess we always knew that we’d see each other again, but it was a hell of a surprise.
After hauling the boat in Cartagena and getting Discovery ready for another year in the water, Nico and I spent a few days on maintenance items and provisioning, then on a perfectly calm hot morning departed for the San Blas. 5 hours out the winds came on like someone had thrown a switch and within minutes the sails were up and we were ripping towards Panama. We covered the 206 miles in 23 hours- not a bad run. We chose an anchorage near Porvenir to make it easy to pick up Jody early the next morning and were quickly visited by a few Kuna families in dugout canoes offering big smiles, Molas (intricate hand sewn handicrafts), lobster fish and crab. The crab are related to king crab- huge rock crab with big claws and a menacing look. Nico decided they would be dinner. I decided immediately I’d be liking the San Blas.
So I’ve got a fixed mouth and a fixed knee, compliments of one of our owners and one of our sponsors (nice to know doctors!). Other than body repairs, my brief time home was spent visiting my mom and sister, catching up with friends, and working with Jody on all those little things that keep The Best Odyssey operational. A littany of parts needed to be ordered, shopping for needed supplies, planning for future trips, and research for our 09′ season across Micronesia. This last bit entails hours and hours of hunkering down with guides, google earth, internet searches, airline schedules, pilot charts (which give averages of wind and current for specific times of the year). And while it is a bit grueling, it’s also fun imagining and fantasizing the places to come. We now have the first half of 09′ roughly sketched out across Micronesia: Kiribati, the Marshall islands, and much of the Carolines from Kosrae to Palau and dozens of islands in between.
Our first trip to Los Aves proved worthy of a return, which has completely altered our planned itinerary, but all for the good. This time the crew of Discovery only had 4 days to prep both the boat and ourselves for our next guests, Thomas and Adriena Scheuring and their daughter Clara from Germany, and Martin Stockl and Keith Cockrum who would join us from the States. Martin and Keith were on our “try before you buy” gig and I’m happy to say now ten days later that they are our most recent owners! I’m not sure if it was the boat, the food, the locations, or what was the deciding element because unfortunately this trip it probably was not the wind. But I’m getting ahead of myself.