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.

Posted by: catamarantwooceans | April 22, 2016

Sailing from Jamaica to Providencia

13.4.16 – Wednesday – Gili and Yaron left in the morning and a new crew member came on board. He is Gil Margalit, a 57 years old Israeli, who lived and worked in the U.S for about 20 years and is now back in Israel working as a Hi-Tech entrepreneur. He saw an ad that a friend of mine put up in his sailing club and got in touch.

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   As we were talking, getting to know each other, it turned out that he met my son a few years ago; small world!

In the afternoon we went shopping in the big Mega Mart, a few minutes taxi ride from the marina. As we were finishing our business there my phone rang. Remember that our starboard engine is in-operative? I was advised to take the injectors out and put oil into the cylinders; when I looked at the motor I decided I wanted a professional to do it. The call was from Dawson, the marina’s dock master and he said the mechanic arrived. Back at the marina we met the man and brought him aboard. He did the job quickly and efficiently; I’m sure I would have bungled something there. The name of the man is Sonny Morris, tel. 876-3102256; he also does aluminum and stainless steel welding .

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14.4.16 – Thursday – In the morning we did the departure procedure. We decided to go to Negril, 27 miles away on the west of the island, a familiarization trip for Gil, spend the night there and go towards Providencia Friday morning. Man makes plans  and Poseidon laughs (my version of a known German proverb). While motoring  we noticed that the alternator charge current was unstable, sometimes disappearing completely. Having only that alternator to charge the house batteries it was a “No Go” item and needed to be fixed. I thought the problem was dirty connections and decided to continue to Negril and clean them up there. If worse come to worst, we could always replace it with the one from the dead engine.

We came into Bloody Bay, about which the guide raves and found ourselves in an anchorage opposite a big resort, loud music blaring incessantly but an O.K place for the night. I went into the engine room while Gil went swimming. After cleaning the cable terminals, as I tried putting the big positive cable back in place, it sparked frightfully and it took me a minute to realize that we lost all electrical power on board. No navigation, refrigeration, water – nothing!

I looked up the main fuses and couldn’t understand their condition. Gil checked the main one with the multimeter and thought it was fine. Clearly an electrician was required but where could we find one? It was already late afternoon; going back to Montego Bay in the dark with no lights was out of the question. Gil had an idea:”Why don’t you go to the resort? they have big boats, they may have a man”. On shore I met Nike, a man working in the resort’s water-sports center. “Yes, we have one, I’ll bring him tomorrow at twelve o’clock”.

Back to waiting on the boat. We considered our situation; we could use water from the spare Jerry-cans I keep on every trip, our gas system was operational and we would use inflatable LED lantern (Luci – 15$ at Amazon) as an anchor and house lights. Our fridge and freezer would keep the food cold if not frozen – we would survive until the electrician comes. I donned my swimming trunks and as I was descending the stern to go into the water, my eye caught water flowing out of an outlet in the hull, the exact purpose of which I could not readily determine, but it obviously came from the starboard engine room. Forget swimming! Instead I dived into the engine room and discovered that a connection of a  pipe to the salt water broke and the bilge-pump was doing the job and sucking it all out.

It took a while to plug the pipe but the incident brought up a serious matter. Clearly I failed doing PREVENTIVE MAINTENANCE. The adage “If its not broke – don’t fix it” has no place in long range cruising. I need to think, consult other people, formulate and follow a plan in that regard. I feel very bad about this and know that the tendency to come to the boat and just go sailing is not good enough; I need to take more time for preventive maintenance.

15.4.16 – Friday – During our wait for the electrician I dismantled the port alternator. I figured that after the shock it received its probably burned on the inside and anyway, the starboard one had better performance lately; I wanted to put it on the operating engine. Surprisingly, Santos, the man we were waiting for came on time. He quickly determined that the 250 amps fuse which we mistakenly thought to be good was defective. I only had a 175 amps one but once installed it gave us the power back. When Santos picked up the alternator I wanted him to install, he showed me that its bearing was bad, the shaft not steady in place. He took both alternators and made an operating one out of the two. Inexplicably it only gave about 30 amps and that after some improvisations which I will not go into.

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At the end he wanted me to pay 100$ for each hour of his labor; the man worked four hours. Reminding him that the repair was less than perfect he agreed to take 50$ per, which is still not very cheap.

(Should one send alternators, starters etc. for a periodical inspection? The port alternator has been in more than one checkup and no one noticed that an isolating ring of the plus stud was missing – the cause of the short).

On one of the times I went ashore, a man accosted me. He said his name was Captain X (name withheld for a reason) and asked me about my trip. “Are you going back to the U.S?” he inquired “You can take a package for me, stash it in the boat and make a lot of money”. “I’m too old for this, man” I said. “This is even better, they will not check you”. When he understood that I was not going back to the U.S he suggested a delivery to Barbados. Getting a clear and decisive Negative he sighed saying:”O.K Man, if you reconsider, I’m here on the beach, my phone number is on my boat but don’t call, find me here”. This is Jamaica, where people say “YA MAN” all the time.

As another slap to  my ego as a boat maintainer we found out that the connection of  the accumulator tank I installed in Florida opened spilling the port water tank which was on at the time into the bilge. Once discovered and rectified, we had one tank full and with the help of a resort boat skipper named Captain Monk I “evaded” the resort’s security and filled two more Jerry-cans as spare. We were ready to  go. Initially we wanted to go immediately but it meant three nights out and possibly a nighttime arrival so I decided to go early in the morning  and hopefully get to destination Monday midday.

16.4.16 – Saturday – Out at 0605. Light wind so a lot of motoring. Leaving Jamaica behind, we quickly entered deep ocean; Walton Bank, with depths up to a minimum of 20 meters came as a surprise. I checked all the route at large scale before going out but this one hid at the 1:260000 scale and I missed it. The border between it and the deep was full of fishing traps which we had to evade. We were fishing too. Gil was politely skeptical until we saw two Mahi Mahis jump clear out of the water in pursuit of something. One of them hit the lure. I fought it all the way to the stern but before I could gaff it on board it gave a mighty tug and broke free. I didn’t mind; let this beautiful fish go on living, we’ll get another. Just past four p.m. when I took some chicken breast for dinner out of the freezer another fish was on; a nice big headed tuna which gave two and a half meals for the crew.

The wind was fluctuating in both velocity and direction. From time to time I tried using sails only but when the SOG went down below 4 knots I went back to motor-sailing. By evening it stabilized, enabling sailing at around 4.5 knots. Good enough for now; tomorrow it’ll get better. We had our tuna dinner and started our watch system. I went to bed at 2200.

17.4.16 – Sunday – I slept soundly and continuously waking up at 0124, six minutes before the start of my watch. I could hear that the boat was going well. Flat sea, 12-14 knots wind from the east, the moon two thirds full – great sailing. It continued all day long, the boat going fast enough for a daylight arrival into Providencia.

18.4.16 – Monday – As the sun rose we had about 60 miles to go. I was not happy with the alternator performance and started considering entering Panama in Bocas del Toro, where I know an electrician who should be able to make it work correctly. A mile and a half to the Providencia entry channel we started the engine, mostly for charging and went in under sail. Suddenly the “water hi temp” alarm and light came on. I shut the engine down and looking into the engine room saw a small puddle of coolant in the bilge. I put a wet rag on the coolant filling port to cool it and had enough time to replenish it. At the very last moment we started the engine, dropped sails and anchored. Investigation postponed for later.

We went over to Bernardo Bush’s agency; the man called the authorities and arranged that our clearance would be as “Transit” so that we would not have to pay the 100$ tourist tax. Thanks Bernardo! In the past he loaned me a lot of jerry-cans and let me fill them from his rainwater tank. Now he gave us four 5 gallons plastic bottles and sent us to the supermarket to buy the water. Each of us carried two of those to the dinghy. It was quite difficult; they added 50% to my body weight.

Back on the boat I went into the back of the engine room, Gil started the engine and I shined the flashlight in search of the leak. Found that the pipe coming from the hot water tank to the engine was the culprit, its end torn beneath the tightening metal band. That was easily repaired; let’s hope there would be no more surprises.

As I was toiling I heard Gil speak to some one. One of the yachties came over to invite us to a meeting in a bar on Santa Catalina island. After a shower we went over. It was a nice meeting with representatives from Canada, the U.S and England.The latter brought their musical instruments, Stephaney played the violin and Stewart sang and played the guitar. Nice!

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19.4.16 – Tuesday – You meet interesting people among the yachties; we met an elderly couple from Culebra in Puerto Rico at Bernardo’s. They told us they where sailing straight home and that they had no engine at all. That’s close to a thousand miles as the crow flies and is against the prevailing winds. Their boat is named “Espiritu Libre” and just like the boat they are colorful characters. Here they are going out of Providencia.

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We plan to leave this evening and reach Bocas, Panama Thursday afternoon.

Posted by: catamarantwooceans | April 13, 2016

Sailing Jamaica

10.4.16 – Sunday – The promise to the the Errol Flynn marina manager was that we would leave at 0600. I woke up much earlier to find overcast skies and rain falling. It took me a while to organize the boat (the agreement with the crew was that they could go on sleeping) and at 0620 I went out. When we drove along the shore the day before the sea was marvelously flat but now, as I motored through the channel I felt relatively big swell; where did that come from? Some far away disturbance? Our destination – Port Maria, close to 30 miles away. The recommended anchorage there is on the southwest of Cabarita island in the big bay; I was worried that the swell would make the anchorage uncomfortable and prepared an alternate – Oracabessa harbour, five miles to the west.

As we came to Port Maria my premonition became a reality. Northerly wind  augmented the swell. We anchored for lunch, deciding to go on to the alternate. The C- Map does not give details of the area and the Virgintino Free Guide has a chart for Oracabessa which does not inspire confidence. He also cautions about the presence of of local craft, making:”Finding a suitable anchorage… a challenge”. Sailing there was nice, with the wind abaft the beam at 13-15 knots, giving us a speed of over 7 knots, not so good for trolling. Local fishermen were keeping the same pace, using two tree branches or bamboo as rods.

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When I turned around the headland to the Oracabessa entry waypoint I couldn’t see the harbour immediately. About a third of a mile to it I saw a pass into a basin surrounded by trees. As we got closer we saw a big fishing boat and some other water-craft inside. Going in was like entering a parallel world compared to what we had in Port Maria; it was simply beautiful!

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                                 Oracabessa looking west

We went ashore and had another surprise. We could see there was a hotel near the harbour but as we went deeper and deeper into it we found ourselves in a huge resort with luxurious accommodations on small islands connected by bridges to shore and the whole place situated in a tropical botanical garden. We spoke to a couple of the resort guests and found out that the whole area was the property of the late Ian Fleming, the creator of James Bond. He actually wrote the books here. The resort is aptly named “Goldeneye”. His villa is being let to guests; I cannot imagine the price of it; a regular cabana would cost 900$ for one night. There are cheaper deals, 1500$ for three nights.

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                                 “Goldeneye” accommodations

On the other side of the hill, but in another world altogether lie Orocabessa town. No fancy Spas and entertainment facilities but they do have their own establishments, like the one below.

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Back at our floating home we had one of the best dinners ever. Excellent steaks grilled to perfection on the Weber grill which we succeeded coaxing into lighting up. Green salad and home fried potatoes. Australian Cabernet Sauvignon washed it all down. LIFE IS GOOD!

11.4.16 – Monday – Our original plan was to go to Saint Ann’s Bay, resulting in a longish 50 miles leg to Montego Bay tomorrow. Taking a closer look at the chart and guide suggested that going 14 miles further to Discovery bay would shorten the long one. We did lunch in Saint Ann’s and sailed on to Discovery, catching a nice small tuna for dinner. We called the Montego Bay marinas trying to secure a berth but neither MB Yacht Club nor Pier One marina had space. “I suggest anchoring” said Dawson, the MBYC dock-master. We’ll try again tomorrow, maybe something will become available. Arriving at our destination we discovered a good anchorage behind the east headland in the company of another 38 foot catamaran.

12.4.16 – Tuesday – At 0620, a little past first light, the skipper set out with the crew still in bed. Very calm seas with light wind on the first two thirds of the way and then beautiful wing and wing sail right into the harbour. Arriving at the MBYC we saw that the anchoring area was full of moorings and it was very difficult finding a suitable place to drop our anchor.

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                              MBYC – note the green buoy

I called Dawson and he said he might have a place. I dinghied over and he showed me a vacant seven meters dock, near a German flagged monohull. He wanted me to tie a very long line to the green buoy and go astern to that dock. The problem was I was on a single engine, the port one, and with a cross wind of 15 knots blowing 90 degrees from the left it would have been impossible. I thought of a way it could be done. I connected three lines to make one over 50 meters long, from the dinghy I tied one end to the buoy and the other to the dock. To that line I tied a mooring line with a float 15 meters from the dock to which I planned to tie our bow. We sailed to the float, Gili picked up the mooring rope and tied it to a cleat and then we started pulling the long line towards our stern, which swung against the wind and into position. There were, of course, a lot of final adjustments but after an hour of hard labor we were safely in place.

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Jamaican bureaucracy required that we check again with customs and immigration; I’ll have to go through all that again as we leave on Thursday.

Gili and Yaron are flying home tomorrow and a man named Gil Margalit is joining. More about that in the next post.

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