September 30, 2012
Saying Good Bye


September 15, 2012
Reflections on Our 27 Year Circumnavigation


September 01, 2012
Sea of Cortez Sailing


August 15, 2012
Back to the Sea of Cortez


August 01, 2012
After Circumnavigation: What to Take, What to Leave Behind


July 15, 2012
Mexican Booby Trap


July 01, 2012
Tackling the Tehuantepec


June 14, 2012
Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala and Mexico


June 01, 2012
Sailing northern Costa Rica and Nicargua


May 15, 2012
Costa Rican Cruising


May 01, 2012
New Found Friends in Golfito, Costa Rica


April 15, 2012
It’s a Jungle Out There


April 01, 2012
Hunting and Gathering in Panama


March 15, 2012
Money.... Money.... Money


March 01, 2012
Feel Free Transits the Panama Canal


February 15, 2012
Transiting the Panama Canal


February 01, 2012
Feel Free is Back in the Pacific


January 15, 2012
Charter Skipper for a Week


January 01, 2012
Confessions of a Charter Cat Chef


December 15, 2011
Away to the Andamans Part 2


December 01, 2011
AWAY to the ANDAMANs


November 15, 2011
Sailing in a Freshwater Paradise


November 01, 2011
To Barf or not to Barf, that is the question


October 14, 2011
Remarkable Cruisers


October 03, 2011
The Sea of Cortez, Another World


September 15, 2011
Panama Canal Here We Come


September 01, 2011
Sailing for Humanity


August 15, 2011
A Hard Lesson on the Hard and Reflections on Boat Work


August 01, 2011
Here Come the Lion Fish


July 15, 2011
The Joy of Books


July 01, 2011
The Sailors of San Blas


June 15, 2011
The Good Life in Kuna Yala


June 01, 2011
The Dirt Dweller in Paradise


May 15, 2011
People of the San Blas, Then and Now


May 01, 2011
Cruising in Kuna Yala


April 15, 2011
Near Disaster in the San Blas


April 01, 2011
At Last in the San Blas


March 15, 2011
Chilling Out in Cholon


March 01, 2011
Ah, Cartagena!


February 15, 2011
Cruising the Cape Horn of the Caribbean Part 2


February 01, 2011
Cruising the Cape Horn of the Caribbean Part 1


January 14, 2011
Aruban Interlude


December 30, 2010
Hunkering Down for a Hurricane


December 15, 2010
A Day in the Life - Our Passage to Aruba


December 01, 2010
Stuck in Curacao


November 15, 2010
Stormy Night Sailing


November 01, 2010
Sailing In The Sticks


October 15, 2010
Safety, Security and Circumnavigating with some tips on how to stay safe


October 04, 2010
Feel Free Transits The Suez Canal


September 15, 2010
Red Sea Sailing


September 01, 2010
FEEL FREEs Voyage Into the Red Sea


August 15, 2010
And just a little further, to Curacao


August 01, 2010
Bonaire Diving


July 15, 2010
Then To Bonaire


July 01, 2010
Cruising Remote Venezuelan Isles


June 15, 2010
Cruising St. Vincent


June 01, 2010
Right Place, Right Time


May 15, 2010
The Spice Isle


May 01, 2010
To the Grenadines


April 15, 2010
We Be In Barbados Mon


April 01, 2010
Atlantic Passage Part II


March 15, 2010
Atlantic Passage Part 1


March 01, 2010
Provisioning for the Atlantic Crossing


February 15, 2010
Atlantic Crossing Preparations


February 01, 2010
Cruising the Canary Islands


January 15, 2010
Out Of Africa


January 01, 2010
Come With Me To The High Atlas Mountains.............


December 15, 2009
Two Years Of Mediterranean Sailing


December 01, 2009
Moving On To Morocco


November 18, 2009
Leaving The Med


November 13, 2009
Reaching The Rock Of Gibraltar Milestone


October 15, 2009
Sailing Spains Costa del Sol


October 01, 2009
Sailing Spains Costa del High-rise


September 15, 2009
Sailing The Spanish Isles


September 01, 2009
At Sea Or On The Hook, These Recipes Travel Well


August 15, 2009
An Interlude At Menorca


August 01, 2009
A Pleasant Passage To Menorca


July 15, 2009
The Agony And Ecstasy Of The Tunisian Coast


July 01, 2009
Tripping Around Tunisia


June 15, 2009
Tales From North Africa


June 01, 2009
Dont Freak If Your Fridge Fails


May 15, 2009
Into Africa


May 01, 2009
Meandering Around Malta, Then Off To Tunisia


April 15, 2009
Low-Tech DIY Ideas For The New Economy


April 01, 2009
The Med Set A Few Cruiser Profiles


March 15, 2009
That Sinking Feeling


March 01, 2009
Thailand to Oman: Three Passages, Three Ports


February 15, 2009
Doing Hard Time in Malta


February 01, 2009
Pirate Alley Part 2


January 15, 2009
Pirate Alley Part 1


January 02, 2009
So Many Islands, So Little Time


December 15, 2008
Cruising With The Bear


December 01, 2008
Versatile Vinegar, The Boaters Friend


November 15, 2008
What I Did In This Summer -- Dock Masters In paradise


November 01, 2008
Over The Top Of Oz


October 16, 2008
The Tumultuous Tasman


October 01, 2008
Sweet Memories Of The Splendid Surins


September 15, 2008
And Then We Were In Malta


September 01, 2008
Feel Frees Siracusan Story


August 15, 2008
The Best of Times, The Worst of Times


August 01, 2008
All Tied Up In The Ionians


July 15, 2008
A Greek Odyssey Our Journey to Ithaca


July 01, 2008
Anatomy of a Near Catastrophe


June 15, 2008
Good-bye Turkey, Hello Greece


June 01, 2008
More Winter Cruising in Turkey


May 15, 2008
Winter Cruising in Turkey


April 15, 2008
Talking Turkey: Marmaris Marina Living


April 15, 2008
The Joy Of The Side Trip


April 01, 2008
Return to Marmaris, And The Budget


March 15, 2008
Passing Time And Dodging The Meltemi


March 01, 2008
Home Sweet Home


February 15, 2008
A Little Working, A Little Cruising


February 01, 2008
Working Our Way Around The World


January 15, 2008
Welcome Aboard Feel Free


January 01, 2008
Liz Tosonis and Tom Morkins Feel Free


January 01, 2008
About Tom Morkin and Liz Tosoni


January 01, 2008
About Feel Free


January 01, 2008
Voyage Itinerary


April 01, 2012
Hunting and Gathering in Panama

By Tom Morkin

The sailing for the 35 mile trip from Panama City to the famed Las Perlas Islands in the Gulf of Panama was as fluky as anticipated for that time of year. It was mid December and the winter trade winds should have but hadn’t arrived yet. In addition, the “Inter Tropical Convergence Zone” (ITCZ) which is a large area of low barometric pressure that meanders between approximately 10 degrees North and 10 degrees South latitude, was stubbornly refusing to leave the Costa Rica/Panama area and head south towards Ecuador. It normally tends toward 10 S in the northern winter and 10 N during the northern summer.

The consequence of this misbehaviour for us meant cloudy, showery days punctuated by thunder and lightning in the late afternoons and evenings. It also meant one could expect winds ‘from around the clock’, quite a different scenario from the winter weather pattern when blue skies and mellow and consistent northerlies prevail, which is what we are experiencing now.

But we did sail almost 35 miles to beautiful Isla Chapera so for that time of year, we weren’t complaining especially after dropping the hook in 30 feet of gin clear water off a knock down dead gorgeous white sand beach.

Minutes after the anchor was set we were in the water checking out our new under water neighbourhood. Without doubt, the Pacific side of Panama has amazing coral formations and multitudes of small colourful fish. The water clarity can’t match that of the Caribbean but it does seem to be more big fish- amberjacks, trigger fish, parrot fish, manta rays, sting rays, cod, pargo, corvina, pompano just to name a few. In the Perlas islands, time in the water was spent more fishing than sightseeing. For the next two and a half weeks, fish was on the daily menu.

Although we sometimes fish off the boat with rod and line we’ve found over the years that spear fishing produces more consistent results. It is also a great way to get exercise, not just for me but for Liz also. Although she’s not a trigger puller she is an extra pair of eyes under water and she tows the inflatable dinghy behind her so when I shoot fish I don’t have to swim far with a flailing and bleeding mass of shark bait. Occasionally, if I’m spear fishing solo, I trail a line to string the shot fish, trailing them behind me in the water, but somehow that just feels too much like trolling for sharks.

My fishing gear includes a two banded spear gun and a pole spear. Over the years the pole spear has delivered far more protein than the gun. Normally we’ll carry both the pole spear and the gun in the dinghy.

The advantages of the pole spear include:

  • Rapid re-cocking under water providing a second and sometimes a third shot at your elusive prey.
  • Little likelihood of damaging or losing the spear when targeting fish in rocks and coral.
  • They’re much cheaper, simpler and less likely to fail.
  • They’re safer- you are less likely to shoot your mate with a pole spear than a spear gun.

The spear gun is used for bigger fish. They pack a bigger punch and usually the spear goes completely through the fish. Since the spear is attached to the gun by a strong line, one can swim to the surface with the impaled fish in tow. The spear gun has a longer range than a pole spear, perhaps six feet (with my gun) and three feet with a pole spear.

Hitting the fish is only half the battle. More often than not, it is necessary to drive forward with the pole spear to ensure complete penetration. Usually this means swimming down to the hit fish taking it in your free (gloved) hand, forcing the spear tip through the body and surfacing with one hand on the pole and the other hand on the fish. The sad truth is I lose a significant percentage of the fish I hit with a pole spear. They often shake the spear before I can drive the spear tip home.

The only defense I can offer to this fruitless maiming of countless fish is that my lost rate is decreasing with experience. I take fewer long shots and seldom shoot a fish that is not a head shot. I avoid the temptation to shoot a fish that is so deep that I won’t have enough air to pursue it after the hit to ensure it doesn’t escape with a couple of spear holes in it.

A rubber band failure on my spear gun on our second day took the gun out of operation for the duration of our Las Perlas sojourn. Although this meant the bigger fish were not targeted, we dined on small trigger fish, parrot fish, cod mullet and corvina. We take only enough fish for a couple of meals so depending on the size of the fish, we usually stop fishing after we have two to four.

It was the abundance of pearl oysters in the islands that resulted in the name ‘Las Perlas’. Although we didn’t find any pearls, we harvested these same oysters which nicely complemented our seafood menu along with small snails (escargots) we picked on the rocks at low tide.

In a couple of Las Perlas anchorages, the spear fishing was unproductive. This was particularly true in places where the current was so strong that sediment in the water made visibility poor, not to mention the strong current made spear fishing difficult if not borderline dangerous.

In this situation we’d cast off the boat with rod and reel using pieces of scrap fish for bait. This kept us well supplied with trigger fish.

Trolling what we call a meat line behind the boat while under way has been quite successful so far in Panama. We call it a meat line to underline the fact that we do it for food as opposed to sport. No fancy, expensive fishing gear is required.

Our gear consists of a $6.00 ‘yo-yo’ around which 100 feet of 100 pound test monofilament line is wrapped, a two inch single or double hook hidden in a $2.00 ‘hoochie’, a rubber replica of a squid. We don’t use big lures for the simple reason that big lures attract big fish and I personally don’t want any fish bigger than me on the boat!

A two foot section of bicycle inner tube which is connected to the fishing line on one side and boat on the other makes a simple but effective shock absorber. Finally, a clothespin or two also connects the line to the stern rail. When a fish strikes, we hear a SNAP! (the clothespin lets go of the boat) and then we know we have a fish.

Our idea of playing the fish is to slow the boat down. That’s it. We wait for the fish to tire and then reel ‘em in. I gaff the fish to bring it to the stern rail and insert it head first in a large bucket. Liz then uses the highest proof, lowest priced rum onboard and pores an ounce inside each gill case. This ensures a quick and hopefully intoxicating death for the fish and a deck not splashed with blood.

We’ve come to realize that our boat speed must be at least four knots while trolling at sea. In fact, I can’t remember ever catching a fish under four knots.

Exiting the Gulf of Panama with light winds, our boat speed was between three and four knots. It was during a prolonged gust that propelled Feel Free to five and six knots that we heard the SNAP! of the clothespin. We had hooked a bull mahi mahi or a dorado as they are called in Latin America.

We decided it was too big to bring aboard until it was truly played out so this fellow was towed for half an hour at about four knots. When we started bringing him close to the boat we were horrified to see its mate was following him no less than six feet behind. She stayed with her mate until we landed him on the boat. How long had they been together? How will she do without him? Do they hunt as a team? Will she take another mate? Will she survive alone? These questions haunted us for the rest of the day.

But, it didn’t prevent us from putting the meat line out two days later when two fairly small skipjack tuna were put on the menu.

There is undeniably a strong atavistic pleasure I’ve derived over the years from using simple means to gather and hunt for our sustenance while voyaging around the world. In this increasingly specialized world we have become increasingly dependent on a handful of gigantic multinational food companies which exert more and more control over what we eat. We become more and more removed from the production and processing of the food we eat. To be able to occasionally circumvent the giant food companies and food distributors feels mighty good.