The Vilisar Times

The life and times of Ronald and Kathleen and our voyages aboard S/V Vilisar, a 34.5-foot wooden Wm-Atkin-designed sailing cutter launched in Victoria, BC, Canada, in 1974. Since we moved aboard in 2001 Vilisar has been to Alaska, British Columbia, California, Mexico, The Galapagos and mainland Ecuador, Panama and Costa Rica.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Panaricadorez introduces comprehensive new park fees
Thursday, May 15, 2008

The Government of Panaricadorez announced today that it is introducing a comprehensive set of new park fees.

As from yesterday, maritime areas are divided into two types of national parks: “Beaches” and “Islands”. River estuaries are not considered separately but included in one or the other. Inland lakes are excluded as are any glacial melts.

New fees

Yachts wishing to visit either Panaricadorez Beaches or Islands will be required to pay entrance and anchoring fees as follows:

Park entrance fee: $25/person/day.

Basic vessel charge: $2 per LOA-foot per day for all vessels anchoring off “Beaches” or “Islands”.

Depth charge: $1/day/foot/ of depth up to 100 feet of depth. The fee is reduced by 50% if the water is turbid.

Sail surcharge: Sailboats will be surcharged $10/day for each mainsail, $5 for each headsail and $7 for mizzen sails. (No charge for topgallants, topsails, etc.)

Snorkeling/Scuba charge: $50/person/day; Scuba diving: $100/person/day.

(N.B. For the safety of divers and to protect local flora and fauna, a licensed underwater guide is obligatory.)

These charges, surcharges and fees are in addition to mandatory Cruising Permits, a government spokesperson stated. Cruising permit fees were “adjusted” only last year and will not be changed for the moment, she added. “But we are reviewing our procedures for Cruising Permits with a view to making things more boater-friendly.”

“The aim of the new fee structure is to provide financing for the care and upkeep of waterfront properties,” said the spokesperson who wished to remain anonymous. “This will make our maritime environment so much more attractive for well-off international cruisers from the U.S.A., Canada and Europe,” he added seriously. “The compulsory use of underwater guides is for the safety of divers.”

Cruisers taken aback

The new fees and charges have taken cruisers aback. The American sailboat Myopic out of Miami, for example, was approached by an unmarked panga for the ostensible purpose of collecting the above fees while the US-registered yacht was setting the anchor in 35 feet of clear water near Isla Coitus some 200 miles offshore of Panaricadorez . The occupants of the panga claimed to be “park officials”.

Myopic’s skipper, veteran cruiser Bill Rudderless, told this paper upon arrival in the capital city that he was at first very skeptical about the panga’s bona fides. “We had never heard of these charges. But, we are of course always very eager to conform to any local rules and regulations. We are after all unofficial ambassadors of our country. So we paid up. We had planned to spend two weeks in the islands but have had to curtail our trip to three days because of the charges.”

Other skippers are not so accepting. “This is outrageous! Let’s face it; this is gouging! What a rip-off!” exclaimed Captain “Bucky” Beaver of the 32-foot, Vancouver-based ketch Cornutos. Arriving tired and wet from the neighboring Central American state of Guatelexico after a trying overnight bash to windward, Beaver was presented with a bill for $466, i.e., entrance and snorkeling fees for a crew of three, plus boat and depth charges; this was only for the first day. He was anchoring in a cove and some 400 feet from the beach in 40 feet of water at the time. “It’s bad enough that marina operators and Aduana officials charge far more than in the U.S.A. or Canada. Why don’t they just make us tax liable in the country of Panaricadorez as well! I only wanted to visit the islands in Panaricadorez, not buy the damned place!”

Other, mainly American cruisers, were more sanguine and regarded Beaver’s outburst as bad manners and typical of the overly-thrifty, not to say cheap approach to cruising so characeristic of Canadian cruisers. One American cruiser went so far as to say in response, “Typical! If you can’t afford the normal cost of international cruising you should get a job.”

Beaver on the other hand has received moral support from another quarter. In a satellite phone interview from his fishing canoe on Lake Melvin, Idaho, the president of the Sick Seas Cruising Association opined that things were getting out of hand. “I don’t get it. Are they trying to get boat-tourists to visit the place or scare 'em off? Has anyone down there ever heard of pricing theory? If you put up the price the demand normally goes down.”

The high value of the Euro these days may account for the occasional equanimity of European cruisers. Raising his eyebrows, a taciturn crewman aboard the German yacht Wotan, for example, observed, “Sure, dat’s a lotta money. Fuer $466 you can get a good lunch in Hamburg these days!”

Governments hard-pressed

Governments everywhere are finding themselves increasingly hard-pressed to fund the maintenance of totally deserted islands and beaches that after all are used only by visiting yachts. In accordance with IMF policies, user fees are seen to be the answer. “Surely cruisers from around the world want to find pristine beaches and coves when they come here,” an obviously irritated government spokesman stated. “They should be ready to contribute. After all, we have to pay the park rangers and the fee collectors that we now have to station there. Nothing’s for free, you know.”

New clearing-in procedures for yachts

On a more positive note, Panaricadorez’ business-oriented government will soon be making it easier for boaters to clear into the country. Instead of being required to visit the port captain at each stop, a single National Cruising Permit will be introduced good for one calendar year. While final details of the permit are not yet known, however, it is clear that the price will be increased substantially. But officials are saying that it will cover everything needed for cruising in Panaricadorez national waters - with the exception of course of the fees just announced for all Beaches and Islands (see above). Customs, Immigration and Homeland Security are also at present considering introducing new charges on boating activities, imports, etc. Spokespersons for these agencies say they will be addressing the needs of international yachters soon.

The government spokesperson for Panaricadorez also stated that the contentious issue of mandatory use of agents is also being reconsidered. After first introducing the requirement for foreign-flagged vessels and then expanding it to include small yachts, the requirement was dropped in favour of a compromise system. This allowed marina operators to act as surrogate agents.

At first this was greeted as an improvement. It was of obvious benefit to the marina operators who could recoup their money by increasing marina fees. But the new arrangements have met with mixed reception by boaters since it appears to put the marina operators in a monoploy position and discriminates against cruisers who wish simply to anchor or moor elsewhere. Since it was the marina operators who got the old rules changed in their favour, yachters say they aren't expepcting the marina operators to give up their privileged position to help others.


The following message was circulated to boaters recently. The message applies to Panama rules but is not atypical of measures adopted in other countries in Central and South America. Not only are marina operators constantly jacking up the prices way in excess of local or international inflation rates, it seems that now governments are also into outright gouging as well.

Western Panama is really nice. But not worth these fees. Cruisers have no choice but to vote with their rudders. Maybe governments will get the message.

The protected marine areas in Panama fall into two fee
categories: Coiba National Park, and "others."

Coiba National Park encompasses islas Coiba, Jicaron, the
Contreras, Canal de Afuera.

Other protected marine areas include:

-Islas Cana and Iguana in Los Santos province;

-Taboga and Uraba in Panama province;

-Isla Bastimentos in Bocas del Toro; and

-Golfo de Chiriqui National Park, which encompasses a triangle
from Isla Parida to (but not including) Isla Boca Brava; it does
include islas Parida, Paridita, Gamez, Bolanos, San Jose, Saino,
Linarte, and Ventana.

Fees for Coiba National Park are $20/person. Anchoring fees per
day are $30 for a 25'-34' boat, $60 for 35'-49', and $180 for

Fees for all other protected marine areas are $10/person, with
anchoring fees per day of $25 for a 25'-34' boat, $50 for
35'-49', and $100 for 50'-100'.

At this time, Coiba is the only area consistently enforcing this
ruling, although on at least one occasion in the past month a
boat has been approached at Isla Gamez.

There are many wonderful areas to enjoy in Panama. And entrance
fees supporting the protection of park systems are valid, but
hopefully there will be a modification of this ruling for the
anchoring fees.

If you are interested here is the ANAM website
If you would like to write in your comments to ANAM regarding the anchoring fees write to: who is the Directora for Protected Areas and Forests.

Catonsville, MD, Monday, 12 May 2008

Arriving in the U.S., I find myself in the midst of the Democratic Party’s nominating process. Hillary Clinton looked like a shoo-in some six months ago and would probably have appeared to voters as a high-minded progressive candidate. Without a real opponent she would surely somehow have been able to gloss over the fact that she voted for the Patriot Acts, is a partisan advocate of Israel’s right-wing policies in Palestine and seems to base her foreign policy concepts on the same misguided, immoral and in the end ineffective militaristic/sole-superpower principles that have been the foundation of Bush-Cheney policies (and failures) abroad; the same precepts that now appear to be basis for McCain’s approach to the world.

Unfortunately, the more Obama caught up with her in the polls the more Ms. Clinton began to look just like every other common or garden variety, establishment hack; one not not at all above playing dirty tricks on an opponent. Ms. Clinton acted in fact like she had been entitled to the nomination. But she has seriously misjudged the mood in her party and, it appears now, the whole country.

Every country has two sides to its political life. But, while Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld/Wolfowitz and, yes, John McCain, appeal to the dark side, Barack Obama plays to the better side of America’s political make-up. For those of us who have been in despair at the direction American foreign policy has been taking for years, at the intensification of these policies to a shameful level under George Bush II, Obama seems almost heaven-sent. He appears articulate and fair-minded and it is he in this primary campaign who always takes the high road in his utterances and actions. He might sometimes be accused of intellectual aloofness even though clearly he can mix it up with the Man-(if not the Woman-)in-the-Street at least as well as Hillary Clinton, and probably better even than McCain. The amazing thing is that, with his approach, Obama has built a ground-swell of support for his candidacy.

So there is a better side to American politics! Ms. Clinton has made herself look cheap and opportunistic. Even though at this point she has not abandoned the race, it's surely all over but the cheering; Obama has already started to run against John McSame, the presumed Republican Party candidate under the assumption that the clash of these two men will be the main event in 2008.

Hillary Clinton might have been a great President or at least a great presidential candidate. She appeals to working class voters and older women, the latter who want at last to see their campaign for equality with men take symbolic fruition in a woman president, a national leader who will complete the process. But, as one female friend said, “Of course I want to see a female president; just not this one!” She was aware that feminist voters alone would not carry her to the White House. She was wooing working class voters (both black and white, by the way)with policies to redress the erosion of their exconomic situation so eroded under nearly thirty years of Republican or "Republican Lite" taxation and other policies. Ironically, some of these programmes (welfare reform, NAFTA, to name only two) were instituted by her husband during the period when Ms. Clinton claims she (sic) was gaining executive experience in the White House.

The Democrats are fortunate to have two such strong contenders; that’s speaks for the party. Compare the Democrats to the Republicans with their field of hard-arsed, know-nothing arrogant politicos like Giuli-Annie, Huckebilly and McSame, all trying to out-do George W. Bush in keeping the wogs in line overseas while at home pandering to their clientele in corporate board rooms and continuing to impoverish the majority of voters. That said, however, The Clinstones (one supposes that Bill Clinton would be de facto Vice-President in a Clinton II administration) now unfortunately seem so much like “Yesterday’s Men” (feminists should excuse the expression) by comparison to Obama who carries the aspirations of many new voters and not just the black and the young.


The real campaign i.e., the one against the Republicans, is just getting started. Not least because McCain will have to distance himself from the worst president in modern history, and because the race is going to be close, expect dirty tricks at every step as we have seen in the past. McCain is anything but electrifying. I had read a lot about him before returning to TV Land; on TV he definitely underwhelms. He portrays himself as the conservative heir to the Reagan crown. But this is disputed by the seriously conservative wing of the Republican Party who think McCain is an opportunist and four-square on nearly nothing. And without the right-right-wing constituency, which includes the evangelical mullahs, it is hard to imagine that he can win the presidency. NASCAR Dads and the corporations can’t be sufficient.

Indeed, everyone here now seems to believe that it is going to be the Year of the Democrats. Maybe so; maybe not; not too many months ago Ms. Clinton neded only to approach the throne to have the orb placed in her hand and the chism painted on her forehead. Even a few weeks in politics is a long time.

On television at least, McCain seems plodding and none to bright. Maybe that will be his main appeal, that and his 35-year-old and questionable war-hero persona (he was a POW in Vietnam for several years and admits that he freely gave information to his captors). Curiously, while the economy is going to hell in a handcart, the confesses he does not understand economics; his views about prolonging and expanding the imperialist war(s) overseas have already been repudiated by the electorate in the mid-terms. He still has a few reliable old knee-jerk issues such as “apolitical supreme court judges” (a joke considering how political GWB’s appointments have been, and that earlier conservative justices handed him a presidential election in 2008); “less government” (when Americans have government sticking its nose into every aspect of their lives under the pretext of combating terrorism at home); and "lower taxes" (only possible surely by either reducing military spending, increasing taxes or dismantling Social Security and Medicaid/Medicare the latter at a time when Social Security is neither unpopular nor at present seriously endangered financially, and in a year when universal healthcare’s historical moment seems finally to have arrived).

“Nice, but none-too-bright” and even “plodding” have of course never been absolute barriers to presidential aspirations or achievement. Harding, Hoover, Truman and Reagan rode to power on such unlikely nags. George W. Bush did “plodding" and "none-to-bright, but nice” extremely well in electoral terms. Some pundits say they are exactly the reason he got half the vote in two close races. (He got close to 50% of the actual votes in both of the last two federal elections, so a rough half of those who went to the polling stations those two times thought he was good enough for the job.) The ranks of his supporters are thinning perhaps, but there are still people - even on this planet - who think the best thing that ever happened to the Iraqi people was the American invasion and occupation and that unfettered market forces at home and globally are a guarantee of personal freedom.

My Prognoses

Everybody I talked to in 2000 and 2004 was going to vote “Democrat”, i.e., for Gore or Kerry. I concluded that Gore had it sewn up in 2000 and, although I was a little more careful in 2004, I was pretty sure from my personal soundings that Kerry would be occupying the white House by now. Laugh out loud!

So, at this early stage of what is these days now being called by the media the “General Election” campaign, I am only willing to predict two things (or maybe two and one-half). First, one of the candidates will win. But I will stick my neck half-out and say (s)he will win by only a whisker. Historically, the highest vote ever earned went to Nixon in his second, “landslide” election (63%). Ronald Reagan only got 60%, I think -of votes cast, not of eligible voters. So, a landslide is pretty seldom. Capturing the White House AND Congress is the trick. A defection of any consitutency dooms a candidate to perdition.

Dirty pool

It’s probably safe to say that just because it is going to be close again this year, we should expect dirty pool. This is my second confident prediction. Dirty pool is of course standard operating procedure with the modern Republican Party, fashioned and schooled as it is by strategists like Carl Rove and with ground-breaking intellectual insights from great political minds like that of Newt Gingrich and Rush Limbaugh. This year’s “Swift Boat” challenge has yet to be unveiled, but you know to a certainty that somebody has it waiting in his drawer. Moreover, there has been no substantive reform of the way electronic votes are counted since the last two elections. Of course, Democrats know these games too. The question at present is just how high-minded can or will Obama remain with the ring just within his grasp? He does not have the reputation for political expediency. But the stakes are big this time.

Take the Jeremiah Wright thing. Any impartial reader or viewer of the Reverend Jeremiah Wright’s sermons and TV appearances, for example, will find nothing there that seems unreasonable. The issues are strongly presented and argued there, of course. But they seem like core truths to me. The media on the other hand has looped so much out of context that, if you only watched TV, Mr. Wright must now seem to the generally ill-informed American voters rather like a black-American version of Muqtada al-Sadr, if they knew who al-Sadr is. After first trying to rise over the problem without outright condemnation of The Reverend Wright, everybody knew Obama wold to finally cast him into Outer Darkness for purely tactical political advantage. Obama at least had the character to look seriously pained as he did it; but pained because he was being watched doing something that was obviously politically expedient, or because he really was sadly in disagreement with an old friend? His gaze was constantly down to his right during his disavowal.

In a way it does not much matter since most of his supporters had forgiven him for it almost in advance, and even blame Wright for jeopardising Obama’s chances of entering Jerusalem in November on a white donkey followed by palm-waving young, black and/or liberal supporters.

The media

Oh yes! Television and the media! Following the campaigns here on TV or in the major newspapers will leave you very little the wiser about actual issues. Although the talking heads talk constantly about the candidates and ‘issues, I have yet to see any comparison in either the local Baltimore Sun (the newspaper delivered to our door here), on the online versions of national quality dailies or on any major TV channel (including PBS) of Clinton’s and Obama’s or McCain's opinions or plans on how to deal with the crisis in healthcare, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the bloated military-industrial complex or the serious structural problems in the economy - and I don’t mean just the housing bubble and the high price of gasoline, but more importantly: the long-term, large and ongoing deficits in trade, international financial flows and government budgeting; the dependence upon unstable and expensive foreign energy; the sad state of public education; the debilitatingly weak finances of government at every level; tax justice; etc.; etc. You can get some information on any of this stuff on the Web if you look long enough. But do not expect anything substantial from television or the newspapers. Only hours of babble, pseudo-debate and sound bites.(The closest to comparing hte candidates I have found is at Sometimes candidates studiously avoid stances or have two at the same time.)

I guess I knew all this before. But after seeing no television or national newspapers for the past few years, it is a real shocker to re-discover how trite and misleading they really are.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Catonsville, MD, Monday, 05 May 2008

We watch while the tree surgeons swing themselves metres high into the trees to cut off dead branches and thin out the crowns. One of them, Raoul, is originally from Cuenca in the Andes of Ecuador. Tree surgeons could show any yacht rigger a few things about knots and rope handling.

Catonsville, MD, Sunday, 11 May 2008

Chessie is a Shih Tzu lap dog. The name of the old, toy breed, Chinese in origin, comes from its lions-mane appearance. Chessie’s own name, on the other hand, is a shortened form of the word “Chesapeake”.

Chessie like all her breed is treasured because she is very affectionate (Shih Tzu dogs will follow you from room to room just to be near and want to sleep in the same bed with you), because has a very tranquil temperament (not overly frisky or yappy) and she does not shed (much) hair.

Catonsville, MD, Thursday, May 01, 2008

Now this is an abrupt change! From the warm tropical waters and dry-season marine haze of Bahía de Caraquéz, Ecuador, to a Maryland springtime that seems to get greener and lusher each day. The temperatures during the day are about the same as in Bahía.

Kathleen and I are house and dog-sitting for Kathleen’s parents at the ancestral manor in Catonsville, a suburb of Baltimore. This is in fact the house where Kathleen grew up, although it is the first time she has been back for springtime since she moved away years and years ago.

At present the weather is dry. The nights especially are now getting warmer and the spring blossoms seem almost to be bursting. The daffodils and tulips had already wilted and dropped by the time I arrived on April 28th, but the azaleas and dogwood are now at centre stage and the rhododendrons are about to explode everywhere.

The grass has to be cut every five days. When I start complaining about the work of maintaining a wooden sailboat, I must try to recall cutting the lawns of the various houses I have lived in.