There to Here - Panama, Califate Berries & Sadko

As is many times the case with this crew, plans change. We spent the rest of the 2007 summer in New England, then headed south to western Florida for the holiday season. Soon after the new year, we were sailing past the west end of Cuba, on a direct route to Panama. Our Pacific crossing was long overdue.

We received word from a British friend, Noël, that his boat was still in Ushuaia, Argentina after a momentous cruise to Antarctica. He hadn’t been feeling well after his Antarctic passage and flew back to the UK for a check-up. The news wasn’t good and he would not be able to sail his beloved Sadko home. She'd been stranded in Ushuaia and left alone for over a year. He asked if we might be interested in recommissioning her and then sailing her to Uruguay where she could be hauled, decomissioned and put on the market for sale.

 Bringing Sadko to the dock in Ushuaia

Bringing Sadko to the dock in Ushuaia

We'd sailed, traveled and spent a lot of time with Noël and we knew him well. There was no hesitation on our part. Noël was a good friend and we were in a position to help. Nine of Cups went on the hard at the Shelter Bay Marina in Colon, Panama and the crew flew to Ushuaia via Buenos Aires shortly thereafter. In a brief respite, Noël was feeling well enough to travel to Ushuaia and met us there where we lived aboard Sadko, recommissioned her and made her sea ready once again for the long trip up the southern Argentine coast and across the Rio Plata to Uruguay.

calafate berry.jpg

Having been in Ushuaia before, we were familiar with the city and enjoyed being there, however we had never thought we would return after our initial visit. As the planet’s most southern city, it’s definitely not “on the way” to anywhere. There is a legend, however, that if you eat the local califate berries (somewhat similar to blueberries), you’ll return to Patagonia. Well, we had indeed eaten califate ice cream and jam when last in Ushuaia and we guessed that the legend was true because here we were, back at the bottom of the world.

 Rainbow at the bottom of the world

Rainbow at the bottom of the world

 Up Sadko's mast for repair and rigging check

Up Sadko's mast for repair and rigging check

After three weeks of repairs, replacements and maintenance and an afternoon shake-down cruise, Sadko was ready to go. With hugs and goodbye kisses, we bid adieu to Noël, the sadness and regret in his heart palpable as Sadko pulled away from the dock. We knew we would probably never see him again and he would never again sail on Sadko. Sadly, this proved to be true.

Up the Argentine coast we sailed, a steady north wind fighting us most of the way, despite weather predictions to the contrary. Fifteen days, gales, bumpy seas and nearly 1,500 nm later, we arrived at dawn in Piriapolis, Uruguay. Cruising friends, Mike and Cath on Breila, were waiting on the dock for us … offering hot coffee and media lunas (local croissants), a most welcome gift on arrival.

It took 2-3 weeks to haul Sadko and decommission her. We took pictures along the way and talked with Noël frequently.

When all was complete, we headed back to Panama. It was nearly May … barely time to get through the Panama Canal for our Pacific crossing. There was just one tiny problem. The canal workers were on strike … significantly slowing down traffic through the canal. Instead of the usual, 3-4 day wait, the transit time was now 4-6 weeks! That would put us in the Pacific too late for a reasonable crossing. Now what?

 Before dawn transit through the Gatun Locks at the Panama Canal

Before dawn transit through the Gatun Locks at the Panama Canal

We scheduled our transit for late June, worked on Nine of Cups and pondered our options. In the end, we decided the Pacific crossing would have to wait one more year. Really? We’d waited so long, we had no intentions of rushing across. Instead, once through the Canal and back in the Pacific, we spent time in the Panamanian jungle up the Darien River, met some great new friends (Hello World, are you there?) and returned to Ecuador to meet up with old friends. Once again, the Pacific crossing was postponed. For how long this time? Would we ever get across?

 Up the Rio Sabana  in Panama's Darien jungle

Up the Rio Sabana  in Panama's Darien jungle