We Got Hustled (reality of living on a sailboat)

We Got Hustled (reality of living on a sailboat)

Living on a sailboat is a mixed bag of adventures and we never really know what each day might bring.  These few days were no different.

We arrive at what is sure to be the future set of a blockbuster film.  A picture-perfect island with sandy beaches, dramatic rock coves and clear turquoise waters.  All is right in the world and everyone is in paradise…but wait, as nightfall approaches a mysterious gang of men appear alongside our boat.

Then, it’s our last sail with Justin, Dale and Dan on board…so naturally we want to find out what it’s really been like for them living aboard our sailboat Curiosity.

And finally, we arrive at our next destination, Portobelo.  But, we can’t let you go thinking sailing life is all dolphins and seahorses…even though some days are.

After these few days of cruising I feel like there is so much to touch on, so I am just going to dive right into it.

The Scoop On Escudo de Veraguas

There’s not much info to be found on this little island.  It’s by far the most beautiful island we’ve seen in Panama and I can’t believe there isn’t a steady stream of tourist boats coming and going.

most beautiful island in panama

Up until 1995 the island wasn’t inhabited.  Which might explain why it’s so pristine (us humans can sometimes leave a nasty footprint).  Slowly, the nearby natives moved in and now its said to have about 120 residents, mostly made up of fishermen and their families.

It was the sailors who raved about this island in Bocas that convinced us to make the stop, and we’re sooo glad they did.  Even with our crazy encounter, this is still our favorite island so far.

snorkeling in panama
Escudo de Veraguas

We Got Hustled

Traveling to another country always presents unfamiliar challenges.  From our experience, most formalities in Panama are disorganized.  There is a general lack of structure that makes any dealings with officials feel like a game of chance.  Paperwork required, fees and rules are all subject to change depending on who we’re talking to.  Then there’s cultural differences and bureaucracy between the general Panamanians and the natives.  No matter what, we are a guest in their country and do our best to play by their rules.

travel to foreign country

From the moment we arrived, we had local boats coming by to sell us fish or lobster.  Which is totally fine, we didn’t need any seafood but bought some anyway.  It’s a way for us to interact, be friendly and help support the local economy.  We even had one guy ask for money to protect the turtles, but we politely declined and told him we made a donation to the turtle sanctuary in Bocas Town.

But, coming back to Curiosity, with two boats lurking around as the sun was setting, didn’t give us the warm and fuzzies.  We were all silent and there wasn’t a conversation about what we could clearly see ahead.   Everyone was on high alert and our lighthearted smiles turned into blank, emotionless expressions.

Luckily all they wanted was some money for what they claimed was a commission for the protection of the natural area?  We’re still in the learning phase with our Spanish but their requests didn’t make any sense to us.  It’s not anything official with the government, Escudo is not a recognized marine park, and that much we knew as they were asking for donations.

These guys had plenty of chances throughout our stay to approach us during the day.  But, they choose to come in the evening, and as a group.  It set the scene and they knew it.

safety and security on sailboat

They could be considered locals who feel they deserved a fee, modern day pirates, unofficial officials or whatever.  We’ve gone around in circles about what exactly that whole experience was, and if we could have handled it any differently.  We tried to kindly but firmly say no…but they weren’t going away.  In the end, we decided it was best to pay them a negotiated fee and not mistakenly escalate the situation, or give them reason to come back.

The Big Takeaway – Maybe we were hustled for a little cash.  That happens every day in cities around the world. Exploration comes with unsavory encounters.  One moment can be filled with glorious discoveries and the next can be a harsh reality.  It’s all part of seeing and experiencing the world the way it is, not through rose colored glasses.  We will witness hustling, bribing of officials, pirates and injustices.  There will also be random acts of kindness, friendships forged, beauty seen, and knowledge gained.  It’s all part of the adventure we call life.


What Would You Do

Okay, I know I may be opening a can of worms here, but this is a good topic for discussion. We would love to know your thoughts and experiences.  Cruisers being hustled for money by the locals seems to be a somewhat common occurrence here, and I am sure in many other parts of the world. How would you have chosen to handle the situation?  Have you ever been in a similar confrontation?  What did you do?  Leave us a comment down below.

What It’s Really Like Living On A Sailboat

I always love hearing everyone’s perspective on this subject.  New and old salts alike, everyone has challenges when it comes to living on a boat.  Dale, Justin and Dan all hit on some of the most common points.

  • Heads/Toilets are different and take some time to get used to.  Traditional marine heads break or get clogged often and become the bain of some sailor’s lives.  For us, we have a unique, far less frustrating setup with our composting toilets in each guest cabin.  Justin was referencing how quickly the urine tank fills up and needs to be emptied.  His struggle was real.  The urine tank with two thirsty Canadians needs to be emptied about every 3 days.  It’s a simple and easy task but alas, one more thing to do and one that isn’t required in a typical home.
  • Cooking in a small confined space is something that doesn’t faze me anymore. But space isn’t the only challenge.  Getting groceries in remote places isn’t like big supermarket shopping.  You can’t plan a meal and then go to the store.  It works the other way around.  You go to the market, see what they have and get creative.  Then, on top of that, will the produce last in the tropical heat?  It was eye opening and reminded me of how frustrating it can be for tiny kitchen newbies.  It gave me a renewed dedication to sharing more cooking tips and ideas (perhaps a “Things on Thursday” video?).
  • Schedules are impossible.  Our lives, while incredibly free, are completely at the mercy of nature and the state of the boat.  It’s something that you simply can’t fully appreciate unless you’ve spent extended time traveling on a sailboat.  The wind could change, the weather can turn and something on the boat will break.  Plan for delays, and then plan for more delays.
  • Everything takes longer on a boat.  A task you think should only take an hour will take two…or quite possibly a whole freaking week.  The simplest thing, like going to the grocery store, can be an all-day adventure.  As for boat work, we all joke it’s not done right until you have re-done it at least twice.

Sharing Our Sailboat

First, there is a huge difference between having traditional paid crew on a super yacht, paying guests on charter, and what we’ve offered up.  We’re inviting people to live with us for a short period of time.  In the cruising world, “crew” is the common term for people on a boat.  Plus, we’ve always referred to our friends as our “crew”.  So, it just fits.

For us, this whole idea of sharing our space is about sharing in the adventure. You can see the full scoop on the crew call here: gonewiththewynns.com/join-our-crew

We’ve been living a nomadic lifestyle for almost eight years now (shesh time flies).  So, we’re fairly broken in when it comes to many aspects of the traveling lifestyle.  But we’re not used to having people live with us.  Much less in such a unique space that requires a lot of love and care.  Naturally, we’ve learned a lot about being hosts and we still have a lot to learn, but overall it was an excellent first experience.

I’ll eventually put all my thoughts together on the subject, but for now I wanted to share my biggest lesson learned.  Which is all about Check Lists and Schedules. I figured everyone is a responsible adult and I didn’t want to seem like a dictator, so I was being way to casual about everything in the beginning. That wasn’t helpful because then nobody knew what to do or when.  This is a dramatically different way of living and everyone likes to have clear expectations of what needs to happen in a day. The more information we include, the easier it is for everyone.

Now, I have an email I send before someone arrives, a suggested packing list, a boat orientation checklist I go through when they arrive and a calendar with cooking and cleaning duties divided on a calendar.  On that same calendar we also write out the tentative schedule for travel, provision runs, possible adventures, our personal computer work days/times and boat tasks that need to be done before the next destination.  That way everyone knows what’s going on and can plan beach time or individual adventures while we are working.  Plus, everyone has personal needs and family back home.  If they need to plan something or to be online at a specific time, its easy to make note of that on the calendar too.

Sailing Report

To see our full map with interactive pins, click here: gonewiththewynns.com/map

Panama sailing map
  • Dates: 9/25 – 9/27
  • Nautical Miles Sailed: 102.5 from Escudo to Portobelo
  • Anchorage:  Escudo has lots of good sandy bottom to choose from.  We had calm weather so I can’t say what it would be like in a blow.
  • Cell & WiFi:  There is no cell phone reception and no services.  We used our Iridium Go / PredictWind Offshore App for weather updates and communication: bit.ly/PredictWindIridium

Sailing Specific Gear

Snorkel Gear

Underwater Cameras





Cameras Used to Capture This Video

Full Review Of All Our Camera Gear: gonewiththewynns.com/camera-gear-review-2017


Thank You!

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