Posted by: catamarantwooceans | May 10, 2016

The way to Bocas

4.4.16 – Wednesday – Yesterday, after I published the last post, a yacht came in and anchored between “Two Oceans” and a blue monohull. Just before sunset the latecomer decided he was too close to the blue one, upped anchor and in spite of me motioning to him where my anchor was set he dropped his in a way that brought his yacht to a place right above my anchor or even crossing my chain. I tried explaining on the VHF but couldn’t understand the guy’s answer. The boat’s name was “Premier Crew”; to me they did not seem to be in any premier league.

This morning at 0610, as I prepared taking my anchor up, I saw that the Premier’s crew slept in the cockpit. They were quick to start their engine and move forward to let me go out with ease. So, they were gentlemen after all.

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They hailed from Cowes on the Isle of Wight, where I did a practical course of “Coastal Cruising Grade Two” way back in 1977…

I sailed, mostly motoring to Linton Bay marina.

5.5.16 – Thursday – At 8 a.m I was ready to leave. Went to the office to pay but the door was closed and a few local guys, including Raoul who is the office clerk, sat there waiting for Adam, the key holder, to show up. I suddenly saw that I knew one of the guys; it was captain Lopez, who used to be the port master in Porvenir. He recognized me too and we started talking. It turns out the Kuna people no longer wanted the Panamanian authorities to hold the offices in Porvenir, thus cancelling its status as a port of entry. Lopez was stationed here, in Linton and said that immigrations would also come shortly, The man’s family is still in San Blas,his lodging is temporary and uncomfortable, there is no place in the marina he can get food – he was very unhappy.

As we were talking I remembered that the day before I took all the different cheeses we accumulated during the last three weeks, buying without checking the inventory, out of the freezer.

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I went back to the boat and brought Lopez a plastic bag with bread, cheeses, pretzels and coffee. The way senior Lopez attacked the food showed me he was really hungry.

Once Adam, whose car broke down, came walking over, I paid my dues, including 64 cents for electricity and went out of the marina. With my head wandering elsewhere, I scraped the muddy bottom in one of the shallow spots, woke up and continued with no mishap. Out of Linton Bay I asked myself yet again: ”Where are the Trade-Winds?”. Ever since we left Providencia, more than two weeks ago, we saw none of those at all. I was motoring again. Around noon, just as I was preparing Pizza for lunch, the wind came. Eight to ten knots but enough to shut down the engine and sail, slaloming between the ships anchored in wait for the canal. At 1420 I entered Rio Chagres, this time anchoring near the entrance to save distance for the leg tomorrow.

6.5.16 – Friday – I made up my mind to try the anchorage near the new port being built 6 miles east of Eureo. In June 2015 I tried but the weather was not suitable for exploration with rain and bad visibility. This time all was good and I found a spot, not too close to the noisy port and anchored at a depth of 6 meters on a sandy bottom – excellent holding. It didn’t take long for the “Aeronaval” special forces to come over with their very fast boat, all except one wearing woolen ski-masks in the hot afternoon and all heavily armed. Their commander was friendly enough and said that anchoring in that area is not permitted. I had to go out of the buoyed perimeter. When not behind the cover of the port’s breakwater, one simply anchors in the big, open bay; I was not worried – the forecast was for light winds.

7.5.16 – Saturday – I was awakened at about 0430 by the erratic motion of the boat, the howl of the wind and patter of the rain on the cabin top; out to check the instruments I saw that it  was blowing 25 knots into the open bay and that the anchor held us in position. “Why not go out now?” I said to myself and started preparing for departure. I raised the anchor and motored into the wind, which by that time abated to 15 knots, and hoisted the main. It was still completely dark but I didn’t have to see; I could feel the short waves coming at us and the rain, light at first but becoming heavier as time went by. The wind was straight from the direction of Escudo de Veraguas, my destination for the day; in conditions like that the normal thing to do is put both engines ahead in cruise power and go straight to the island – but we had only the one engine and going against the wind and the waves it gave less than three knots.

I knew that if I tried tacking under sail I might have good speed but my distance would be doubled and daylight arrival was unrealistic. There  was no other port or bay in the vicinity and for a moment I considered going back with the wind to Colon. I would have gotten there in less than ten hours but then would have to sail that distance back again. The other option – go on to Bocas through the night. Daylight came and I could see the big rain-clouds all around me. Every passage of a cloud brought about a change in the wind direction and velocity. I saw the wind go from 15 to 30 and then 5 knots and let’s not forget the current – at least one knot running against us. Operation of the boat was hard and WET work .

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        trying bravely to smile

I started the tacking game. On starboard tack I was 65 degrees off my required course, on port more or less the same but right into the waves which necessitated using the engine to advance at a reasonable speed.

Breakfast? A granola bar; lunch – a sandwich. The going was rough but I made up my mind to get to Bocas as planned. All the time I was willing  the wind to go to the north and at one point it shifted and suddenly I was going straight towards Escudo at 6 knots! The time was 1545, the distance 18 miles – I  could get there with good light! Boy, was I happy! I even thought of  the dinner I would cook when I get there and took some chicken breast out of the freezer.

My happiness was short-lived though; nine miles to the island, I was inside the salon when I heard the jib flapping. The wind has backed and was now blowing 15 knots on the nose. Our speed dropped to around 3 knots, forget daylight arrival. Having been to the island twice in the past, I knew I could safely approach the anchorage “flying by instruments”, going to the way-point in the guide book and dropping anchor as I reach 4 meters depth. As I advanced looking at the island in the fading light, I imagined some entity slowly turning a dimmer switch to the stop, to complete darkness.

At five minutes to eight I dropped anchor. It was one of the most difficult legs I ever sailed, certainly the worst single-handing experience. It reminded me of something I put is the blog after a tough sailing day in Fiji: Cruising in not always Fun in the Sun… sometimes it is Pain in the Rain”.

Let’s see what tomorrow would be like.

8.5.16 – Sunday – I was awakened at about 0430 by the erratic motion of the boat… Not as bad as the day before but still with the wind blowing 15 knots into the anchorage the sea kicked up a bit. I waited until good light to go out hoping that the southwest wind will stay and let me sail a close reach course to Bocas. This, of course, did not happen; the wind went forward, forcing me to go more than 40 degrees off to starboard, out to sea and into a one knot current which slowed me down too much. But the sun was shining, the sea more or less calm, I even let the trolling gear out, trying to catch my dinner. A strike came quickly – a seven pound Jack. I released it and put the lure out again. Right then I decided to tack back towards shore, with the hope that there would be less current there. A tack does not take long and as I finished the maneuver I looked back and saw that my trolling line and lure were gone, taken, without me noticing, by some sea monster. 

The wind slash current situation did not improve, so instead of going around Isla Bastimentos and through Boca del Toro channel I entered the bay near Laguna de Bluefield aiming to go “the internal route” passing Cayos Tigre, Crawl Cay and through Bahia Almirante to Bocas.

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                                            Islas Tigre

That trick did it; no current and flat seas made my speed go up to 5 knots (!). Then another idea surfaced – why go all the way to Bocas if you only enter the marina tomorrow? I looked at the chart, found Johnson Cay, about 7 miles from Bocas and anchored there for the night. Trying again to fish dinner I hooked a small nurse shark; let it go free and made me a sandwich for dinner.

9.5.16 – Monday – At 0900 I entered Bocas marina, my trip ended. It was an irregular one where technical problems accumulated, surpassing my “Go No Go” principles by a large margin. The correct thing would have been to fix the boat as we first came to Panama and not continue on a single engine and a single improvised alternator. The thing was I made a promise to Gil, who came to Jamaica and saved me from the necessity of sailing single-handed long distances. My kids always knew that their father is a man who keeps his promises, I felt I owed Gil the San Blas trip. Would I go out again with just one engine? Not if I can help it. Would I continue sailing single-handed? As long as I am sound in body and mind – yes, I will.

Now another maintenance chapter is opening. I wanted to do it all in Florida but reality decided otherwise. Let’s see how it goes.

Posted by: catamarantwooceans | May 3, 2016

Panama–the Recovery

23.4.16 – Saturday – Jeff came to the boat and put in a new, original Yanmar belt for the small alternator and the water pump. He declared the engine to be absolutely fine, promised to bring some more spare belts which he did later in the day.

24.4.16 – Sunday – Russell, the electrician, came at eleven a.m. worked his magic on the alternator, checked the house batteries under load and pronounced both to be in good condition. The funny behavior of the charge and the batteries voltage was traced to corroded terminals of the voltage sensing wires. He also took the cannibalized starboard alternator for rebuilding.

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We would be able to go tomorrow towards San Blas.

25.4.16 – Monday – We did some more shopping at the expensive and “Kosher” supermarket on the southern part of town and an aggravating visit to the harbor master’s office. It seems that every bureaucrat makes his own rules and you are never sure which of those you can simply ignore. The local pleasure maritime Jeffe (chief) said we had to come to his office and obtain a Zarpe (permit) to go to San Blas. That document required the involvement of two secretaries, at least four different forms and the payment of 1.5$. The Jeffe himself was not in attendance and he was supposed to sign the permit; after waiting more than 30 minutes I exploded and demanded that somebody else would sign it. A few worried phone calls later the permission was granted and we escaped to the boat. Mike, the marina manager, came up with a rumor that the Kuna people forced the state officials to leave their offices in Porvenir.  We’ll see about that when we get there.

The marina’s panga pulled our stern and turned us in the direction of the exit, we went over to the fuel dock to fill the port tank and then motored out of Bocas. Destination – Chagres river, 130 miles away. Quiet sailing at speeds varying between 4 and 6 knots and when the evening came and the wind died we motor-sailed. Before the moon went up a ship on a reciprocal course passed very close to our starboard. The 90 percent full moon came up to light the calm seas; we were doing 6 knots – it’s good to be out again!

26.4.16 – Tuesday – We motored all night, wind was less than 6 knots from astern. At 0530 I relieved Gil and at first light put the trolling line in the water; in less than ten minutes I had a small tuna on board. I let the line out again. Gil came back around 0800. I went inside for a while and when I came back to the cockpit I saw that the fishing line was pulled all the way out, the rod bending to the weight of the hooked fish. The moment I took the rod the line snapped. Frustration! I prepared another set and very shortly we had another fish, some kind of tuna, I presume.

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When I finished processing the catch we were only 5 miles to the Rio Chagres entrance. Got in, anchored at my usual spot, we had lunch and went for a nap.

When I woke up I lowered the SUP into the water and paddled in search of howler monkeys. I found a location where they were howling quite loudly and went back to take Gil with the dinghy and show him the natural wonders of the Rio. We heard the choir of the monkeys but saw none. Entering one of the narrow streams that join the main river we saw an ant eating animal climb down a tree and also some beautiful birds.

27.4.16 – Wednesday – At 0700 we started out of the river to go to Portobelo. The main reason for that choice of destination was due to our need to buy a local SIM card with a data plan plus a few necessities like green peppers, cilantro (coriander) and eggs. I took Gil to the Portobelo tourist sites – the San Lorenzo fort, the Cathedral with the black Christ – as well to the Chinese supermarkets. We got all we wanted except the data cards for Digicell. Solution to that came later.

At 1400 we motored to Linton bay; After anchoring we took the dinghy to the new marina to check its progress. There were quite a lot of yachts in the marina; also some on the hard, a proof that the travel lift was operational. We went to the office to get more information and found the dock manager, Mr. Adam Baitel, a member of the family which owns the Linton Island as well as the area where the marina is being developed. He invited us to come to the marina, citing the low price and the free water. The prices right now are very attractive: 0.47$ per foot for a mono, 0.63 for a catamaran, that would be 25$ for us. The monthly rate is 0.3$ and 0.4$ respectively.

We rushed back to Two Oceans, bringing her into a big berth. Gil went with Adam to a store where he got enough prepaid cards to enable using data. Adam is a fun guy and we had a nice conversation with him as the main talker.

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28.4.16 – Thursday – Out of Linton Bay marina early in the morning, we motor-sailed most of the way to Porvenir, getting there at 3 p.m. As we prepared to go ashore to the Kuna congress office to pay the entry fee, a man on a dinghy came from a yacht anchored nearby. “Would you have a gallon of engine oil you could give me? I’m stuck here for three days, unable to go out”. Without fully comprehending his problem, I promised I would come over after our shore visit.

On shore the young Kuna ladies took our money; twenty bucks for the boat and the same for each of us. When I asked them about the Panamanian authorities they replied that they were no longer there. There was a presence of the Police and the Coastguard.

Back at the boat I checked my engine oil inventory. I needed to keep close to a gallon for my own needs so I could give the man half a gallon of good, new oil plus half of used oil that I had. Dinghied to the man; his name was Bill, hailing from Florida. He told me he had a leak from the engine into the heat exchanger (??? internal crack in the block???) and that he just wanted to get out and sail to Cartagena, Colombia. I asked him why he did not think of going to Turtle Cay or Linton marinas and it turned out that although he had the Eric Bauhous guide he was not aware of their existence.

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I gave him what I had and wished him good luck; only later, as we motored out, it occurred to me he could have asked the Kuna people to arrange delivery of oil from Panama City.

We anchored in East Lemon cay and went snorkeling on the reef. With the late hour the colors and fish variety were disappointing. The wind turn to the southwest, right into the bay, so we relocated to the lee of the small island at the southwest of the group and had a quiet night.

29.4.16 – Friday – We followed what has become my standard short time circuit of San Blas. West Holandes and then east to the “Swimming-pool” area, where I always have good fishing. Not this time, though; a jack was returned to sea, a single snapper we could keep and later a nurse shark, which provided a photo-op and then broke the line.

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30.4.16 – Saturday – I woke up early and decided to try my fishing luck again. Big strike of something that fought hard – a big sting-ray. After the picture was taken it took our line hook and sinker.

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  With no wind we motored to Coco Bandero, the place always enchanting. We swam, I paddled my SUP and we them watched a glorious sunset.

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While we were preparing our dinner, a few spotted Eagle-rays (or maybe it was just one) gave an appearance, fulfilling my promise to Gil to show him exactly that.

1.5.16 – Sunday – Needing to fill water and to communicate with the outer world we went to Nargana. Paco went out to the river to fill his tanks and it was not clear when he would be back; no cellular or Wi-Fi connection was available so we motored towards Rio Azucar for the water. I was a bit apprehensive about docking there with a single engine but with the light wind we were able to tie alongside a Colombian trader and fill up.

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A grumpy lady, carrying a small child, received the payment for the water (15$) and the docking (5$). In addition to the pic above, Gil took one of the local guy who brought the pipe to the boat.

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Out of Rio Azucar, we stopped at Cambobia for lunch and then prepared to go to Salardup, five miles away. “Shall we open up the sails?” I asked. “No, the wind is fickle and light, it isn’t worth it for such a short distance”. That sounded like a dare and anyway, I like sailing in light winds when not in a hurry, so I raised the main, opened the jib and off we went with no engine running. Gil lay in the cockpit and fell asleep. I decided to surprise him by anchoring under sail but he woke up as I was getting close to the anchorage. “You can still do it” he said. I did and awarded myself with a beer for the successful maneuver.

2.5.16 – Monday – Last day for Gil on the boat. We advanced towards Carti, stopping  for a swim in two of the small guest-house islands on the way. We visited Carti Sugdup where we were met by an old gentleman called John, who always greets me when I come there. He took us around the island, showing us the meeting house where the men delve in politics while the women take care of the economy.

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                                                  pic by Gil

There is a new “supermarket” on the southern side of the island with the best products I ever saw in that town. We bought some stuff for the next days and motored to anchor near the land terminal, ready for Gil’s departure.

3.5.16 – Tuesday – I took Gil ashore where we met Artemio, the driver who would take him to the airport and back to Civilization. Gil was on the boat for about three weeks; he came right on time to help me with all the problems that cropped up. Without him I would have had to tackle all those plus sailing single-handed from Jamaica to Panama – not a joyful combination. I promised to take him to nice places and I certainly did: Bocas, Chagres River and San Blas. As he left he voiced the possibility that whenever a crewman would be needed he would be willing to join. Thanks Gil!

As for my plans: day-sail back to Bocas in stages and be there when Jeff and Russell do some necessary repairs.

Until I get there – Adios from Miki, single handing again on Two Oceans.

Posted by: catamarantwooceans | April 24, 2016

Sailing from Providencia to Panama or “The Avalanche”

19.4.16 – Tuesday – Out of Providencia at 1750. Calm seas, would have liked a bit more wind but not complaining. All is well.

20.4.16 – Wednesday – Changing of the guard at 0130. Gil reluctantly reveals that there is a problem with the waste system on his hull. As I clear away the cobwebs of sleep I can see the full disaster. In spite of briefing, someone, sometime, put the holding tank seacock in the position which fills it up; it overflowed. Gil cleaned his head compartment and was released to his cabin; I worked more than two hours on the area adjacent to the tank. No fun, no further details needed.

Once I was finished I saw that our speed was too low and started the port , our one and only, engine. Motored happily along and suddenly the alarm sounded with warning lights for both “Water hi temp” and  “Battery charge” coming on. Typical of a torn belt which runs both the fresh water coolant and the starting battery alternator. This was verified by a visual check, with the additional finding that the pulley of the pump was loose, a good reason for the belt to break. After shutting down all high demand items – freezer, fridge etc. I decided to wait for daylight and a little rest after my watch to fix it. We were now just like “Espiritu Libre”; no operating engine! I felt as if I had been hit by an avalanche.

When I woke Gil up at 0500 I greeted him by saying:”I have good news and bad news, which would you like to hear first?”.  Gil is the type who chooses the good news first. “The good news is that I have a spare fresh water pump; the bad news is that we have no operating engine until I replace it”. I went into the engine room at 0830; not being trained as a diesel mechanic everything took very long. I had to learn by doing and when I thought I tackled it successfully the belt and the saltwater pump belt got entangled somehow and broke. After a lunch-break I went in again, installed the belts (the one for the alternator was taken off the starboard engine – no more spare for it) checked and double checked that I did everything right and started the engine. At the time of writing – just past midnight – and after 7 hours of operation everything seems fine.

21.4.16 – Thursday – During sleep I became aware of the engine running. When I woke up at 0530, Gil greeted me with similar words to those I told him the day before. He ran the engine when the wind became light and when he throttled back to shut it down the “battery charge” light came on. I looked inside the engine room and saw that the belt was KAPUT, broken, unusable. By that time we were 35 miles from Bocas, the wind was around 7 knots and our speed was 4 knots due to the favorable current. ETA – 1500; not so bad. We could go in sailing, starting the engine for a minute or so during the anchoring maneuver.

As time passed the wind became even lighter, we were now doing 1.7 knots, not even trying to calculate an ETA. I remembered John on the engineless Taraipo recounting how the last 20 miles into Bocas took them THREE DAYS; I was not willing to go through such an experience and my mind went into overdrive trying to find a solution. I thought of making a sort of belt out of small diameter rope, giving it a few turns, sewing and taping the ends. I took a spare big alternator belt to see how it fitted; it was too small to accommodate both the water-pump and the small alternator and a little too big for just the water pump. I resolved to try the second option but first called Jeff, the mechanic in Bocas I spoke to regarding the starboard engine situation. He liked the idea, cautioning me to use low power only.

I stood by the engine as Gil started it; the belt turned the pump’s pulley. We opened up to 1700 RPM – it was still turning. That power gave us 4-4.5 knots and an ETA of 1800. At the beginning I was going back to the engine room every few minutes but later relaxed, understanding that the thing worked. The downside was that we had no charge to the neither starting battery nor the house batteries. We had to shut down our freezer and fridge and all other unnecessary items.

We dropped anchor near the Bocas marina a bit before sundown; what a relief!

22.4.16 – Friday – In the morning we called the marina and motored slowly in through a narrow channel between mangrove islets.

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We tied up at the dock; Dana, the assistant manager was there. I told him we needed to find Jeff urgently and he turned, pointing at a man nearby. “That’s Jeff”. I went over to shake his hand; the man was happy we made it and I told him about our engine troubles, showing him the damaged belt. The guy has a sense of humor as demonstrated in the following picture.

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Later in the day – entry procedure, expensive and too long; why is Mrs. Espinoza of immigrations interested in the color of my eyes and hair? And why do they need the names of my departed parents? Port Captain wants us to come to his office before we go to San Blas to pay 1.5$ (no mistake! one and a half dollar) and get a piece of paper.

The task ahead is to bring the port engine and its alternators back to normal operations; only then will I sail on to San Blas. Russell, the electrician would come on Sunday, Jeff will supervise the installation of a new belt in place of the one that broke. Let’s hope we come out of the avalanche in good shape.

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