Friday, April 09, 2010


Cayos del Albuquerque

Magic...these tiny isles are pure magic. After a relatively uneventful (except for an emergency change of a clogged fuel filter - bad fuel from Panama?) overnight motorsail from Bocas del Toro, Panama, we arrived at mid-day in the Cayos de Alburquerque.

A massive reef surrounds these isles and we would not have risked coming here if we hadn't gotten GPS waypoints (Latitude & Longitude) from other cruisers who had stopped here before. So, we slowly approached the isles. I stood up on the bow of the boat and watched for shallow areas or high coral heads while Jonesy steered.

The visibility of these waters is fantastic - you can see down to 70 feet thru the clear waters. Beautiful to look at - but watching the sea-bottom and coral reefs float by underneath us was quite unnerving. Usually if we can see the bottom we are in shallow water at risk of going aground.

Of course I managed to take the requisite foot over the water shots as we crept towards the desired anchoring spot. There were so many colors of blue!

Uh-oh...this is not blue. Nope, those are the coral reefs that you can see below my foot and therefore below our keel. Depth here was about 20 feet though. Sure looks like it is less than our draft of 5'5" to me. We watched the depth but the shallowest we saw was 12 feet and that was only once.

The sovereignty of these isles have been under dispute for many years. So Colombia as the current stakeholder, keeps a military outpost here to stave off an invasion from Nicaragua. Our responsibility is to check in with these soldiers upon arrival and we had no idea what to expect.

We were surprised by the warm welcome and absolutely charming (and handsome) Colombian navy guys on the little island. Although the soldiers were all wearing bathing trunks no shirts, and smiles, they were also professional and military. We were led up a conch shell lined path to meet the highest ranking officer. After he reviewed and recorded our vessel documentation, passports, and international "zarpe" he granted us permission to visit the island and walk along the white sand beach.

We stayed out here, 110 miles from the nearest shore, for several days. Our sources of entertainment were the daily ham radio cruiser nets, watching the wildlife in the water, reading, knitting, and..SIRRUS Radio! Yes! For the first time since we were on the Pacific side of Central America over a year ago our Sirrus radio picked up a signal. Jonesy has been trying the radio for months as we slowly moved towards the north hoping to finally get within range and now we did it.

The variety of colors of the sky and water inspired me to do a little yarn dyeing. So I painted up 2 sock blanks and a wad of various leftover sock yarns. The sock yarns were all self-patterning yarns that I overdyed with a dilution of sapphire blue. My goal was to make the yarns more uniform (by color) but not to obscure the self-patterning. I'm knitting the "monster" socks now - will share later when done.

The first sock blank was painted with colors of the sky and ocean. The second was painted with a couple of shades of red, black, and just a hint of golden brown. yep. I'll share the socks when they get knitted up. This should be fun!

So how does a cruising knitter rinse her sock blanks when fresh water is a valuable commodity? In the ocean of course! Or was it just an excuse to get back into the water again? Later I would simply hang onto the swim ladder and snorkel to watch our personal aquarium right under the boat in a clump of coral.

Oh and I finished the last beanie of my 4-beanies project. This is the one with
the thrums (tufts of unspun wool) tucked into the knitting and hidden in the hem. this should make some girl in Kazakhstan warm next winter! I´m bummed that I can't share my other knitting, but it has been enlightening for me. I test-knit a pair of socks for the Six Sox Knitalong Yahoo group to be released in June. Very innovative design!

Also, I've been finishing up some of the knitting for my Holiday Mystery gifts group too - new 7X7" squares which are being released through this spring and summer and new designs for the Knitalong event starting in September. No fair peeking!

A sunset! We hadn´t seen a to-the-horizon sunset in a long time as there were the mountains of Panama in the way. But now that we are over a hundred miles from the mainland we got to enjoy some beautiful sunsets. Ahhhhh....

A weather window opened up so it was time to move San Andres Island, another Colombian posession.

Thursday, April 08, 2010


Fun with a Natural Dye

While we were touring the botanical gardens in Bocas del Toro, Panama, I was given a Jagua (Genipa Americana) fruit. The juice of this baseball-sized greenish-gray colored fruit is the source of a dye which is used by the Woumaan and Embera Indians of the Darien rainforest region of Panama. They not only dye palm fibers for weaving baskets, but also use it as a stain for elaborate body decorations!

Here’s a photo of a small basket I bought in Panama which was made by these indigenous people with the palm fibers.

Well…it just so happens that I have a book (Margo M. Callaghan “Darien Rainforest Basketry”) which describes how to extract the juice from the Jagua and use it to dye palm fibers and to decorate oneself. Not that I’m that much into self-adornment (well, except I did just have Panamanian flags painted on my toenails), but the dye part could be applied to YARN! Ooooooooo.

Well, you can guess what happens. Yep. I peeled the jagua, and grated it. What I didn’t know was that the “peel” was really thick like a grapefruit (about ¼”). So I had only really peeled the dark outer layer and started grating the pith which has no juice. Eventually, I got to the center of the fruit and found the juicy sections similar to an orange. Oh! That’s where the juice is! The juice was a greenish-gray color, but it turns indigo blue
when exposed to the air for a few hours.

So…first I painted a flower on my ankle. A tattoo! Jonesy asked if it would wash off and when I told him it was permanent his facial expression was priceless. Not forever permanent, geez, just about 8 days or so according to the book. He should be thankful that I didn’t paint geometric designs on my face like the Indians do (okay, I admit I was a wee bit tempted).

Then I smashed some fingering weight 100% wool into the juice, and a small length of size 3 mercerized crochet cotton. I wanted to experiment with both protein (the wool) as well as cellulose (the cotton) fiber types to see how they would work with this dye. There wasn’t quite enough juice so I smashed the fibers into the grated fruited to absorb more juice. I added some white vinegar and salt to help set the dye and make it colorfast so it wouldn’t just bleed out when I rinsed it. Who knows if this was the best way to treat this dye – it was all a fun experiment.

After heating these in the microwave a few minutes, cooling, rinsing and air-drying, this is what I got.
The wool is a deep purple/brown/gray color with some mottling. The cotton is a much lighter shade of indigo blue. I’m bummed I don’t have any more fruit to play with now. It would be fun to dye up a big batch!

And the tattoo? Well, after 24 hours it has turned a deep blue-black and looks like a tattoo – kinda more like a prison tattoo. I feel like a bad girl with this on my ankle. And combined with the painted toenail – whoa!

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