September 30, 2012
Saying Good Bye

September 15, 2012
Reflections on Our 27 Year Circumnavigation

September 1, 2012
Sea of Cortez Sailing

August 15, 2012
Back to the Sea of Cortez

August 1, 2012
After Circumnavigation: What to Take, What to Leave Behind

July 15, 2012
Mexican Booby Trap

July 1, 2012
Tackling the Tehuantepec

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

June 1, 2012
Sailing northern Costa Rica and Nicargua

May 15, 2012
Costa Rican Cruising

May 1, 2012
New Found Friends in Golfito, Costa Rica

April 15, 2012
It’s a Jungle Out There

April 1, 2012
Hunting and Gathering in Panama

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

March 1, 2012
Feel Free Transits the Panama Canal

February 15, 2012
Transiting the Panama Canal

February 1, 2012
Feel Free is Back in the Pacific

January 15, 2012
Charter Skipper for a Week

January 1, 2012
Confessions of a Charter Cat Chef

December 15, 2011
Away to the Andamans Part 2

December 1, 2011

November 15, 2011
Sailing in a Freshwater Paradise

November 1, 2011
To Barf or not to Barf, that is the question

October 14, 2011
Remarkable Cruisers

October 3, 2011
The Sea of Cortez, Another World

September 15, 2011
Panama Canal Here We Come

September 1, 2011
Sailing for Humanity

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

August 1, 2011
Here Come the Lion Fish

July 15, 2011
The Joy of Books

July 1, 2011
The Sailors of San Blas

June 15, 2011
The Good Life in Kuna Yala

June 1, 2011
The Dirt Dweller in Paradise

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

May 1, 2011
Cruising in Kuna Yala

April 15, 2011
Near Disaster in the San Blas

April 1, 2011
At Last in the San Blas

March 15, 2011
Chilling Out in Cholon

March 1, 2011
Ah, Cartagena!

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

February 1, 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 1, 2010
Stuck in Curacao

November 15, 2010
Stormy Night Sailing

November 1, 2010
Sailing In The Sticks

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

October 4, 2010
Feel Free Transits The Suez Canal

September 15, 2010
Red Sea Sailing

September 1, 2010
FEEL FREEs Voyage Into the Red Sea

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

August 1, 2010
Bonaire Diving

July 15, 2010
Then To Bonaire

July 1, 2010
Cruising Remote Venezuelan Isles

June 15, 2010
Cruising St. Vincent

June 1, 2010
Right Place, Right Time

May 15, 2010
The Spice Isle

May 1, 2010
To the Grenadines

April 15, 2010
We Be In Barbados Mon

April 1, 2010
Atlantic Passage Part II

March 15, 2010
Atlantic Passage Part 1

March 1, 2010
Provisioning for the Atlantic Crossing

February 15, 2010
Atlantic Crossing Preparations

February 1, 2010
Cruising the Canary Islands

January 15, 2010
Out Of Africa

January 1, 2010
Come With Me To The High Atlas Mountains.............

December 15, 2009
Two Years Of Mediterranean Sailing

December 1, 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 1, 2009
Sailing Spains Costa del High-rise

September 15, 2009
Sailing The Spanish Isles

September 1, 2009
At Sea Or On The Hook, These Recipes Travel Well

August 15, 2009
An Interlude At Menorca

August 1, 2009
A Pleasant Passage To Menorca

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

July 1, 2009
Tripping Around Tunisia

June 15, 2009
Tales From North Africa

June 1, 2009
Dont Freak If Your Fridge Fails

May 15, 2009
Into Africa

May 1, 2009
Meandering Around Malta, Then Off To Tunisia

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

April 1, 2009
The Med Set A Few Cruiser Profiles

March 15, 2009
That Sinking Feeling

March 1, 2009
Thailand to Oman: Three Passages, Three Ports

February 15, 2009
Doing Hard Time in Malta

February 1, 2009
Pirate Alley Part 2

January 15, 2009
Pirate Alley Part 1

January 2, 2009
So Many Islands, So Little Time

December 15, 2008
Cruising With The Bear

December 1, 2008
Versatile Vinegar, The Boaters Friend

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

November 1, 2008
Over The Top Of Oz

October 16, 2008
The Tumultuous Tasman

October 1, 2008
Sweet Memories Of The Splendid Surins

September 15, 2008
And Then We Were In Malta

September 1, 2008
Feel Frees Siracusan Story

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

August 1, 2008
All Tied Up In The Ionians

July 15, 2008
A Greek Odyssey Our Journey to Ithaca

July 1, 2008
Anatomy of a Near Catastrophe

June 15, 2008
Good-bye Turkey, Hello Greece

June 1, 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 1, 2008
Return to Marmaris, And The Budget

March 15, 2008
Passing Time And Dodging The Meltemi

March 1, 2008
Home Sweet Home

February 15, 2008
A Little Working, A Little Cruising

February 1, 2008
Working Our Way Around The World

January 15, 2008
Welcome Aboard Feel Free

January 1, 2008
Liz Tosonis and Tom Morkins Feel Free

January 1, 2008
About Tom Morkin and Liz Tosoni

January 1, 2008
About Feel Free

January 1, 2008
Voyage Itinerary

April 1, 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.