Posted by: catamarantwooceans | June 15, 2015

Panama–June 2015

1.6.15 – Monday – Today was dedicated to cleaning the boat. Gili surpassed herself, slaving for hours, while yours truly tried to keep a similar attitude and pace. We contacted Thomas, the taxi driver recommended by the marina, to arrange Gili’s ride to the airport. She has to get there around 0715; Thomas was adamant that they should leave the marina at THREE O’CLOCK. It sounded crazy but the assumption was the man knew best so we agreed. At midday I went on the marina’s car to Nombre de Dios and the Chinese minimarket. They had little to offer in the fruit and veg department; I’ll buy those in Nalunega in san Blas.

2.6.15 – Tuesday – Three a.m. and no Thomas. At 0305 I phoned him; a sleepy voice answered, clearly my call woke him up. Very quickly he came up with the announcement that he was on the road or maybe “en el camino” means “on the way”. The guy arrived at 0337 and used the language barrier to escape my criticism. They reached the airport at 0600 so what was the early departure all about? He may have had another ride and tried to do both.

At 0740 I left Turtle Cay marina to go back to San Blas. The wind was very light and I motored using one engine to conserve fuel. I had lunch of leftover fish and rice when suddenly I noticed the boom moving freely from side to side. A quick look showed that the main block system parted company with the traveller car, a part of which was simply torn away and fell into the sea. I secured the boom with two ropes to cleats on the sterns and proceeded to Nalunega, where  the number one fruit and veg“ shop is located. To my surprise they said they had no merchandise at all, explaining that the men were doing the islands run and that I may see them there.

On to the Nonomulu anchorage, right by the Carti terminal, from where I’ll pick Itzik, my joining crew. Once the anchor was down and holding I went up to see what could be done about the broken traveller.

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Delving into my hardware box, I came up with a few bits and pieces and improvised a temporary repair. I’ll have to take care not to stress it.

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I’ll  probably need a new traveller anyway – as well as a new ST 60 Tridata instrument which developed a black smudge covering part of the display.

3.6.15 – Wednesday – Beto, our trusty driver, brought Itzik to the Carti terminal; we boarded “Two oceans” and went through a short briefing to reacquaint Itzik with the yacht. Last time he joined me was in October 2008, just after we crossed to the Pacific.

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Itzik will stay until the 13th, leaving the boat in Bocas del Toro, so his time on board is limited. I made a plan that would give him a taste of the place and number one destination was just a mile away – Carti Sugdup, representing the Kuna town. A short visit ashore included some shopping; we were lucky to find limes, carrots, cabbage and good peppers which were not available in the Chinese shop at Nombre de Dios. Next we started motoring towards West Holandes, a place that would display the island’s reef system. Out of Carti I turned against the wind and raised the mainsail, mainly to check my traveller improvisation.

As I finished hoisting the sail, I noticed the port engine had lost RPM. Opening the throttle did not bring those up and some vibrations were felt; something must have snagged the prop! We continued on the starboard engine and when we reached our anchorage, I went down to check. This is what I saw (courtesy of my GoPro).

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I disentangled the sack quickly. Itzik was tired with jet-lag and went for a nap and then we just relaxed and went to bed early.

4.6.15 – Thursday -  In the morning we went snorkeling and walking on Waisaladup island. The long swim back was not to good for Itzik’s aching back. We’ll  take it easy in the future. On to the Eastern Holandes, where we anchored between Banedup and Tiadup. While I was having a rest in the afternoon, a knock on the hull brought me out. A panga with three Kuna guys was alongside and one of them explained that they were very short of fuel. Could I give them a gallon? I did not have a lot of gasoline myself but as always found it difficult to refuse and gave them half a gallon. It’s the second time a thing like that happened to me here; is it becoming a local habit?

We went visiting in Tiadup, walked around the island and met the local men just as they came back from Conch collecting.

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I was hoping to meet Victor, who lives there but the guys told me he was off the island.

5.6.15 – Friday – at 0215 it started raining. When I woke up I felt sorry for not installing the water catchment apparatus. Now it was too late. We waited for a lull in the weather in order to go out to Coco Bangero. It came around 0900; I raised the main at anchor and turned towards the exit leading south. Even before we made it to the exit, the wind changed direction and started blowing from the south at 15 knots. Looking ahead all I could see was a black cloud blocking the view of the mainland. A lightning forked down and a thunder grumbled. We don’t want to go there! I turned back to the anchorage we just left.

In minutes the wind blew over the 20 knots mark and heavy rain started falling, limiting visibility and inundating the helmsman. The shoals in the bay were very difficult to see; I turned towards a turquoise patch, assuming there was good depth and sandy bottom for good holding. The rain and wind grew stronger and as I reached the spot, it was blowing at more than 30 knots. I pressed the windlass switch – it chose not to work just as I needed it most. I rushed to the front locker, loosened the friction nut and let the anchor go down by its own weight. After an adequate length of chain was down I retightened the nut and was happy to see that the anchor held. I later checked the maximum wind velocity the instrument recorded and it was 38.8 knots.

An hour and a half later the skies cleared, the wind veered to the west and abated; we could go out again. It was midday when we came into Coco Bandero and the scene was magical. Blue sky appeared on our east, the sea was completely calm; we chose an anchoring spot that would give us an ample swinging space. “There is a cayuco coming in our direction” said Itzik. “It’s probably Beto, bringing the lobsters” I answered and as the dugout came closer I saw that it really was Beto, whom we met here on a previous visit. We bought two nice ones for dinner and Beto put up his rig to go back to his home in Rio Azucar.

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In the afternoon we went snorkeling here and there; If I had the right equipment, I could have added a third lobster to our stock. I was content to just take this picture.

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6.6.15 – Saturday – Our last day in San Blas. We relocated to Chichime, a good starting point for the leg to Portobelo, our next destination.

7.6.15 – Sunday – Light wind from the southwest so it was engine work all the way. At a certain moment the wind died completely and I had to use two engines. As we reached Portobelo, I told Itzik it was the rainiest place in the region. Just after anchoring I put the rain catchment gear in place and it didn’t take long for a rain shower to start falling. Once it ended we went ashore to show Itzik the sights and to do some shopping.

8.6.15 – Monday – There was no rainfall during the night; I decided to change the name of the previously mention rig to “rain preventer”. With no wind at all we motored towards Rio Chagres. Aeolus took pity on us and gave us an hour and a half of southwesterly wind, topping at 9 knots, which made it possible to use sails only. Entering the river the sea was so calm it was very difficult seeing the Lajas reef in the entrance but using the satellite photo with the geographical grid in the guide brought us in safely. Chagres, as always, was beautiful and peaceful.

9.6.15 – Tuesday – Eureo, our next destination and the best mainland anchorage on  the stretch between Chagres and Bocas, was 52 miles away. We started out around six a.m. exited the river to find ourselves in a windless, oily sea. We motored along using one engine and perhaps aided by a current, had a speed of more than 5.5 knots. The wind came and went, making us alternate between motoring and sailing; on the whole we had good progress. The guide says that six miles before Eureo a port has been built “which creates a sheltered area for yachts to anchor”; coordinates are supplied.

As we approached the site, black clouds covered the sky; lightning was seen and a clap of thunder boomed, followed by rain. We saw that the port is still in the construction phase and not yet is use but entered, hoping there would be a calm anchoring spot inside. There was none and we went back out. I thought the coordinates given were outside the port but having no detailed chart or sketch,I didn’t want to take a chance and we continued to Eureo. Heavy rain and reduced visibility were with us on our way; as we reached the anchorage it was not calm at all. I decided to drop the anchor hoping it’ll calm down. The alternative was to go on sailing through the night to our next destination, Isla Escudo de Veraguas, 47 miles away.

It did calm down and as we started preparing for dinner, the lights of a vessel showed up coming from off shore. The police came alongside on one of their super-powered, three 200 h.p motors boats. They boarded, looked us over, made some small talk and went away into the rain and dark. We had our fish dinner and went to bed early.

10.6.15 – Wednesday – A calm morning; surprisingly the windlass operated on the first try without having to tap it with the plastic hammer. Again, we alternated between motoring and sailing. Escudo de Veraguas is a beautiful island with rocky wooded outcrops near its shores.

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We anchored in the general area the guide recommended, actually closer to the beach, at 4 meters on sand. Swimming to check the anchor I realized we could have gone much closer. Before going ashore with the dinghy I looked for the calmest landing spot; it all seemed the same – small waves breaking from time to time. As we neared the shore I could see the swells turning into breakers. I waited for a lull and when I thought it came I revved the motor and sped towards the beach. A wave broke and receded landing us on the bottom; a second approached menacingly, lifted us up and started yawing us to the left. I was quick enough to gun the outboard and point straight for shore and safety.

Seven years ago, when I visited the island, one of those waves came after us as we hit the beach, breaking over the stern and wetting the backpack in which our cameras were stowed; both were ruined. Now they were inside a waterproof bag. We took a walk, having to battle all sort of insects which fancied a drink of human blood. First we went to the east of our landing point, where more outcrops lay off the beach.

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Then to the western side of the island, which is recommended as an anchorage when it blows from the northeast and swell disturbs the area on the south. As we turned north around the corner, we saw a hut at the edge of the jungle, a few people and a panga.

Back to our dinghy, we planned a quick start to avoid those waves. We waded to a depth I could lower and start the motor, jumped in, not without difficulty, and as I opened the throttle a steep wave broke into the dinghy, throwing Itzik on his back to the stern. We regrouped and continued to calm waters. We then noticed the panga we saw before, standing off, watching our water show with hilarity. They were people from the mainland, men and women, who came to catch lobsters. We chatted a bit and each of us went on his way.

11.6.15 – Thursday – Today we had only 30 miles to go, so we took our time in the morning. Breakfast over, I started the starboard engine and as is my habit, turned to verify that cooling water were coming out of the exhaust. No water! Engine shut down, I opened the engine compartment to investigate. The belt driving the salt water pump was loose. I tightened it and asked Itzik to start the engine; looking at the water filter that goes to the pump, I had the impression that there was no flow. “Shut it down” I hollered and joined him in the cockpit. “I’ll have to replace the impeller” I said. “We’ll do it in Bocas”. “Try again” says Itzik. I did and to my surprise and delight water flowed normally.

Now to take the anchor up. Will it operate on the first try or would I have to tap the windlass again? I was hoping for it to work one more cycle before we reach the Marina Carenero tomorrow but the machine gave up the ghost, refusing to cooperate. We had to take the anchor up by hand with all 30 meters of the chain attached. Being at a depth of four meters made it relatively easy. I will never forget the time we had to take the anchor up manually from 17 meters in Suvarov atoll; that was a hard job.

Anchor up, we motored towards Zapatilla Cays. Those are part of a national park and the ranger was quick to come and collect 10$ from each of us.

12.6.15 – Friday – Anchor manhandled aboard, we set out towards Bocas del Toro. We were motoring, using the starboard engine; suddenly a shrill alarm sounded – water temperature. I shut the engine down and started the port one. Yesterday I had to tighten the starboard water pump belt; I should have regarded that as a warning. Looking into the engine room I found the broken belt under the engine. I let the motor cool down for half an hour and then installed a new belt. Itzik was surprised by the speed the job was accomplished;he doesn’t know that I have a lot of experience in that department.

Turning into the channel between Bocas town and Isla Carenero, an inflatable approached us. It was John, of S/V Stigo, the last Maxim 380 built, before the boatyard was closed. We had been in e mail contact a few years back. He invited us to visit him in Bocas marina later.

We entered Carenero marina and were assigned a berth between poles to which we had to tie our lines to. Not so easy and I was happy to have both engines operating; just imagine doing it on one engine! A marina guy was also there to help us with the lines. On the dock waited Mary, the marina manageress. She noticed our Panamanian flag tattered remains and cautioned me that I was in danger of being fined a 100$ for the offense. “Do you have one for sale?” It turned out she did and brought it over quickly.

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We took the dinghy to town and walked around a bit. Frankly, I was very tired. We went to Bocas marina to see John on Stingo, an then back to our boat. 

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                              Two Oceans in marina Carenero

A meal in a restaurant in town was not a big success but it was nice not to have to cook and wash dishes for once.

13.6.15 – Saturday -  I took Itzik to town for his early flight out of Bocas and came back to my boat chores. The main item – dismantling the traveller- turned out to be a mission impossible. Two out of three bolts holding the end fitting on the traveller track were completely frozen: that what happens when you put stainless steel into an aluminum part. If I can’t take the end fitting out I can’t replace the traveller. Mary advised that spraying the bolts with silicon spray would release them. “Just spray them every hour and tomorrow they will be free”. Not feeling very optimistic about that treatment, I bought a few drill bits, thinking of a destructive alternative.

14.6.15 – Sunday – At 0700 I was already on the job. The “soft” approach (silicon spray) was not effective, so I resorted to the use of metal saw and electrical drill. Have you ever tried drilling a six millimeter bolt lengthwise? Not so easy! I had to recharge the drill’s battery twice, rain stopped me too for a while but at 1251 (I noted the time) the work was done and mustering what little stamina that I still had left in me, I made a salad and had a satisfying lunch.

Tomorrow I’ll leave Bocas and “Two Oceans” for at least three months. The wet season is in the door and I don’t fancy sailing in that period. Once I get home I’ll publish the second volume of my “Around the World” book. Plans for October are in the research stage and will take definite shape in the near future. 

In the meantime -  Adios from Miki on “Two  Oceans”.


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