Hurricane Plan

There’s a lot to catch up on since our departure from Pacific Honduras, but let’s jump ahead to the current happenings of the SV Azimuth crew.

A couple years ago, we met two friends at our workshop + farm space and learned they operate an eco-retreat in Panama. We added a star on our map app and spotted it getting closer as we neared the canal zone. A flurry of emails followed, and they jumped aboard Azimuth as part of our crew for the canal transit. They were indispensable whipping up meals for our crew of seven, documenting the day, and handling the starboard stern line when locking. We spent a few days at a marina on the Caribbean side before setting sail to Bocas del Toro province and their property there.

We wound our way through the reefs and tropical islets to Isla Cristobal. Christopher Columbus named this island after himself in 1502, and the Ngabe people he met then are among the primary residents today. People have lived in this part of the world for at least 11,000 years. 22% of Panama’s land is designated as comarcas, semi-autonomous indigenous land.

A few thatch roof buildings studded the shoreline as we approached the pin on the map. We heard someone call “Ashley?!”, and after anchoring and a big nap, we went ashore for a tour and dinner with the other retreat guests.

The Reef Center – kitchen, communal dining, diving board, and yoga and laptop lounge. Azimuth anchored over to the right at sunset.

Over the past twenty years, our friends planted trees to rewild this former farmland and built cabins and solar power and rainwater catchment systems to host a dozen or so guests at a time. They say this is where “the jungle meets the reef”. You can hear howler monkeys while snorkeling and sloths have been known to swim in the area as well. The Caribbean side of Panama has a mild tidal range of 1.5′, which allows for cabins built right over the water in the mangroves. The reef is thriving and I’ve taken to swimming laps along it and watching the show. We have spotted sloths, poison dart frogs, monkeys, and owls and eaten cacao, coconuts, bananas, plantains, mamey, pineapple, and more on the finca.

We intended to stay for a week or two to rest up from the shuffle of the canal transit. Instead, we found ourselves falling easily into the mix of hikes, shared meals, maintenance projects, and fun in the water. We observed priorities similar to the values we honed at sea, plus the opportunity to practice them alongside others. Resilience, connection with nature, and making do with what’s on hand all spring to mind. Scott has joked that this remote property and its off-grid setup are a “really big boat” with similar responsibilities for power, water, waste, and supplies brought from elsewhere.

While in the canal zone, we had space to reflect on the journey and consider the threshold event before us. We rendezvoused with Scott’s mom for a week of sightseeing and connecting to family history. The act of recounting stories brought added clarity to what we are in search of and have found so far.

After meeting dozens of other sailboaters on the move, we have come to understand our journey as a “delivery cruise”. Many shift to this lifestyle after they have saved enough to live this way indefinitely, and many others plan to do it until the money runs out. We designed our trip to coincide with a move back to the east coast and often tease ourselves that we could have walked to Virginia by now. Our boat has been our home for six years and taking it to so many new places really feels like a magic trick.

Azimuth sits pretty for the hurricane season in the Bocas del Toro province of Panama.

We set out from San Francisco thirteen months ago, burned out from working day jobs from the hull of our boat and riding the waves of concurrent global crises. Most of the things we loved about living in the Bay Area revolved around gatherings and unique public spaces. With these stripped away and our preferences for the future clarified by so much time together, we decided to wander towards a new destination. It felt victorious to have mustered the effort and gumption to leave then, but not much like the movie scenes of sailing off into the sunset.

5000 miles of blue water sailing and exploring new places loosened us up and grew our capacity. The canal transit felt like the last dragon on a long quest at the edge of our comfort zones. The fifteen-hour process of shifting oceans was intense and so much fun. As we took the left turn towards Bocas, the remaining miles of our route felt strikingly straightforward.

Perezoso / sloth taking it easy

June 1 has been marked in our calendars since before we left our dock in Alameda.

NOAA begins tracking hurricanes on May 15 and many insurance companies stipulate that enrollees be north of South Carolina by June. The past several years have been riddled with headlines like “worst tropical season on record!”. Hurricane Agatha touched land in Mexico days ago and there is a hurricane heading towards the Florida Keys now.

Our initial plan was to reach the Chesapeake in June, and we paired back to two or three long jumps to get to Florida by June 1, where we would have consistent access to stronger forecasts and more documentation of safe hurricane holes. This was all still doable when we slid into the Caribbean in mid-April.

Tropical cyclone tracks since 1851. Source: Wikipedia

One principle of the trip has been ensuring that the easiest option is also the safest.

We rigged our boat so that one person can easily shorten sail. We keep safety equipment at the ready and trade off a primary lifejacket when we change watches and a secondary sits nearby for the rare “all hands on deck” moments. Snacks and water are some of our best helpers and they are abundant onboard to keep us sharp. We text our float plan via Garmin InReach to a trio of contacts every time we head to the next stop.

So when we found ourselves settling into the jungle with hurricane season only a calendar page away, it seemed like another convergence of easy and safe (not to mention fun). Our decision-making felt a bit surreal: we could leave imminently to stay on track or commit to living south of hurricane alley for six months. Discussions ensued and we received the opportunity to exchange our maintenance skills for room and board.

Our new abode at night

As we drew closer to the Atlantic, we found that we missed conveniences and collaboration. The former is likely a classic case of “the grass is always greener”. We cited mailboxes and dishwashers and workout space and running errands by bike or car. The latter is trickier. We have been in continuous collaboration with each other as we doublehand a sailboat around a continent, but we haven’t had the opportunity to show up as regulars in anyone else’s life. Wifi was slow and sporadic for connections afar, and routes didn’t tend to line up for long with new friends. These constraints do wonders for living in the moment and while we are enriched by the process, we missed having everyday relationships and building something with others.

We could geek out on self-sufficiency and DIY until the sun comes up. Learning, building, and maintaining systems that lead to a sustainable, healthy, and comfortable life is satisfying and increasingly important. In our newfound roles as handypeople, we get to collaborate with a new and regular crew of people and tons of new-to-us supplies. Our project list includes working out some bugs in the water and power systems, rewiring a building and a boat, organizing workshop spaces, sewing projects, and mangrove planting. We have a three-course breakfast and dinner with a rotating group of guests who are all seeing the place with fresh eyes.

We’re finding that a lot of the things we missed throughout the last few years are easily available here. I spend time in the kitchen with the Argentinian chef practicing my chopping and Spanish skills. I have a small but regular crew for yoga and free diving. Scott is once again turning wood pieces on a lathe. We have wifi for calls and game nights and freelance work. There are a few trails on the property and maintaining them brings me back to the fun of growing up in the woods. We even have two loveable dogs who insist on joining for paddleboard rides.

All this to say – life’s good. Drop us a line if you’d like to come visit!

A note on Cypress the cat: After hopping around open guest cabins, we moved up to the volunteer house to give her a regular environment. Her life on the boat included lots of birdwatching and stargazing, naps in sunspots, and the occasional thrill of hunting small critters at marinas. Now she goes on a walk every day and returns to us when called like a bounding bunny rabbit. There are no big predators, but we don’t let her roam unsupervised. She is warming up to the company of housemates and two canine friends. She’s a loveable goofball and I’m continually inspired by how she rolls with new situations.

Published by Ash

Knitter, sailor, and sewist on the move from San Francisco to the Chesapeake Bay aboard a 36' sailboat named Azimuth.

2 thoughts on “Hurricane Plan

  1. What a life!!!
    Thanks for keeping us up to date.
    Ashley, your writing is wonderfully insightful and fun to read, Young Salt!


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