We’ve pulled up anchor and we’re moving. Yep out of Panama City. We’ll return one more time to pickup the new Kubota, some more supplies, and the French Polynesian stamp; then we’re outa here. About time. But now we’re heading to Contadora, Las Perlas.
For most of the trip we motor. Best motoring one can have. The seas are so small we have no spray. The cockpit shade is up and we’re heading about 120 degrees. There is a small current against us but we persevere. We have two fishing lines out, my secret weapon; the lure that is under the surface, and the Dirk lure; the surface lure but this time without the hook protector. Yeah, he left the protector on for our last trip here.
About 1/2 way there we hook a nice small Bull dolphin and thanks to Dirk and Silvie’s advice I actually land him. I do it all Dirk’s way. Get him up to the boat as fast as I can and then grab the line and swing him aboard. No fancy gaff, no net. He jumps a few times on his way to the boat trying to dislodge the hook and I pull him across the top of the water as rapidly as I can. While he’s out of the water he has no control. At the boat I swing him aboard and W/ throws a towel over his head. Blinded he calms down a bit. I hold head and tail while W/ grabs a small line and a knife. I tie a noose around his tail and to the boat. I’m not losing this one! And then I slice his gills and we hang him upside down in a bucket to bleed out.
An hour later I begin to clean him. But my tush is no where near as petite as Silvie’s and I just can’t handle a knife, the fish and myself safely in the gunel so W/ assents to me finishing him up on the cockpit sole. Once competed we have some nice fillets for quite a few meals.
Soon after the winds pickup and we motor sail the rest of the way through some Red Tide areas and finally make the turn to Contadora where we unhappily pick up some spray covering the port side with salt water. Oh well, guess it had to happen. It just couldn’t have been a “perfect day” only close.
We left the nice quiet, calm, bug free anchorage and began our trek back N towards civilization. We left early enough to make our approach during good light but this left us fighting the current and adverse wind around the W side of the Perlas. We were motoring so this was not a comfortable ride. I have a simple philosophy: If the time required to work the sails and set everything up and take everything down is greater then the travel time then the payoff isn’t worth it-so we motor. Granted this was close call, but we still have to motor in and out of the anchorage. Plus I get the added benefit of running the refrigeration system. So we motor.
After a mildly rough ride we begin our approach to Contadora, the semi posh tourist town in the Perlas. The anchorage isn’t the best but we do hope to avoid the “Bouncy, Bouncy” we’ve had more frequently then we would have liked. The anchorage was farther from the beach then I had hoped for; in approx 50′ of water but we were here, the anchor down, and we were relatively calm. Dirk chooses to hang on the boat, playing with my computer stuff, making sure it all works right and is integrated properly. He used OpenCPN with most of their circumnav and I’m just learning it. So the “younger brother* is teaching the older one the tricks of that program.
W/, Silvie, and I went ashore, to get some more gasoline for the dinghy and scope out the island. We discovered it was quite different from those on the Caribbean side. The roads were in good shape, we
walked without fear of being run over, and we discovered deer! What a surprise. They seemed about the size of Key Deer and they were a little shy but not like the white tail deer in the states that at a whiff of people they would be off bounding across fields and jumping barbed wire fences like us walking over a crack in the sidewalk. These deer hung around for a bit and then slowly meandered off looking for more food to forage.
We found that on Contadora some of the population still believe in siestas. The gasoline store (not gas station) was closed so we meandered to the beach, some shade and a few cool beers. An hour later we too had slowed down to latin time and took about 15 more minutes to decide that we could indeed wander back towards the boat and pick up some gasoline, then see if Dirk was sound asleep or into other mischief. As usual, he was into mischief, still on my computer making sure it is configured right for OpenCPN, making sure the peripherals worked and then attempting the tough task of showing me what I need to know.
But I resisted the class room approach. We had only had breakfast; well, I and W/ did, Dirk and Silvie had their required 36 cops of coffee ( I exaggerate a wee bit), and I was getting low on blood sugar and cranky. The girls pushed and pushed (really I did but I do like to blame them) and we all finally crawled in the dinghy for a trip to a real restaurant. There in I gorged on food and lacking social amenities slurped my beer. As all of us were hungrily eating no one noticed.
That evening it was decided to head the following day to Taboga and the day after to Panama City where our well worn crew was to depart. 🙁 . In sailing circles we often say plans are written in water and this is a perfect example of that saying. The following am our crew changed their minds and we were to head to Panama City and skip Taboga. We had a leisurely breakfast (W/ and I) Dirk and Silvie received their oral injection of caffeine, we picked up anchor and motored West to round the Northern end of the Perlas. Once free of the islands we hoped to sail.
And sail we did; for about an hour. Most of 30 minutes the winds were steady and we were heading in the right direction. We had our fishing lines out; Dirk with his fancy surface lure and the hook protecter REMOVED! I with my dirt cheap hand line. Near the end of the hour the winds were going light on us, the wind vane lines having been connected backwards sorted out, we chose to furl the sails and start the engine. So it is again, we motor the last 30 miles back to PC.
Somewhere not long after and maybe a little before we made this change; I received a strike on my hand line. Again the clothes pin was snapped but the fish wasn’t at the surface. I began to tug on the line and indeed there was a fish. We repeated the previous fishing experience, Dirk swinging it on board, Silvie severing the gills and hanging it upside down. This one; a 12 lb Tuna was going to be food for awhile. We pulled in our lines and took care of the boat for the rest of the trip. Dirk playing (he would say “working on”) OpenCPN and making sure the AIS was working.
We were not getting any AIS signals in Contadora and Dirk thought we should be. I wasn’t worried but worse case scenario is that we travel the Pacific without the AIS. The boat traffic in the S. Pacific is quite minimal and in Samoa we’ll be able to replace the box. But as in many of life’s little adventures; patience works wonders and as we came closer to the Panama Canal AIS targets began to show up. Wonderful! One more item I don’t need to replace.
We arrived back in Panama City anchoring on the side within full view of the Panama skyline. There we set about cleaning up the boat, preparing dinner and cooling off with some really, good, really cold, Balboas (the Panama) beer. After a dinner of fresh Tuna we chewed the fat, told some more lies (sailing stories), all over some invented drinks by W/ and Silvie; Coconut water with Rum and Coconut water with Coconut Rum.
The following day our crew packed up. While it was a sad time, we know as sailors that there are no goodbyes, only Ciao; until we meet again. I dropped them all off at the beach; since low tide was now, and motored over to the “stairs of death”- the cruisers dinghy dock. W/, Silvie, and Dirk hauled their bags up the beach over the rocks and parked at the restaurant until I arrived for breakfast. There a quiet meal was had, taxi hailed, hugs shared and waves goodbye. As with Jenny leaving, Dirk and Silvie left a hole in our hearts as they headed back home to the land of everything.
* Sometimes in life you discovered people very much like yourself. Dirk and I are in many ways similar and a few not; one’s good looking and the other is smart 🙂 , one prefers to move often and the other very little. But we both love the water, we both are cautious, conscientious sailors, we both love beer (but I can’t keep up with him anymore) and in many ways we are more alike than different. Silvie and W/ sometimes smile when one of us mimics the other in words or actions. So I think of him as my little brother. He is one of the few people that I would trust my boat to, knowing that it would be returned to me in as good as or better shape than I left it. Trust is one of the few things in life that needs to be earned (IMHO) and he has earned it many times over.
With Dirk and Silvie aboard we headed to Taboga the next day. Dirk travels fast. With him Silvie is pulled in his wake like drafting a semi on I-80. And now we’re all drafting Dirk.
In sail boating circles talking about speed is like discussing how fast corn grows. You know it grows because you planted it a few months earlier and now one could easily get lost in the field. But with boats and owners arguing the merits of how fast their boat goes IMHO is just, well, downright comical. We go X number of knots, Hell! we travel Y knots. Oh we make XYZ miles. But no matter what, we all travel around the speed of a bicycle. Yeah, some bikes go a little faster than others, some cars too, but then you have jets, and fighter jets, and then rockets. Compared with other modes of transportation boats go damn slow.
Life however is different. The way one person lives is molasses to another. And that is Dirk and Silvie and Wendy and I. They traveled 28k miles in 3 years, we’ve traveled maybe 5 k in 5 years. However the Pacific will raise our mileage a bit but we just like to meander.
With Dirk here meandering will be difficult. First the Mules (Dirk, Silvie, and Jenny) wanted to visit Taboga when we cleared the last lock, dropped off the advisor, and rid ourselves of the fenders and lines. That didn’t happen, but as we’ve now lost Jenny back to the land of instant everything; we head to Taboga.
There we pick up a mooring and enjoy the afternoon. It’s kind of dreamy. Dirk and Silvie and W/ jump in for a refreshing swim, I hang on board; content to do nothing.
But that doesn’t last long. Within minutes of Dirk back on board he’s thinking of heading ashore. Ok, lets start the dinghy engine.
Now don’t get me wrong. I appreciate his approach, just his timing has me discombobulated. It would take me a day or so before we got the engine going and without his assistance maybe more. He has the genes for working with mechanical things. I mean, for him it’s innate. He said we should try it hanging on the pulpit before we get the dinghy down and all set up. So we put gas in the tank and give it a few pulls. She turns over but not even a sputter. Damn good thing the dinghy is not in the water waiting to go ashore. We take a break. Then we pull the spark plug, clean it and check for a spark. Now we’re on my time schedule. To check for a spark we wait till it’s dark. Dirk grounds the plug and I pull the cord. Yep we have a spark! Should work, doesn’t. No shore side visits tonight.
The boat is moving a bit. The winds have shifted to the NE and we’ve a good chop coming in to the anchorage. The Lison crew called it “Bouncy Bouncy”. It’s decided that as pretty as Taboga is from the water we don’t have to go ashore right now. The anchorage isn’t the most comfortable so we might as well head out to the Perlas tomorrow. We find rest by looking at the back sides of our eyelids and the following am we head off for the Perlas.
Near after first light, before the circumnavigaters have their first hit of caffeine W/ and I are furling the awning and preparing the boat for sea. While it’s only 30 nm or so we need to ensure things don’t change places. At least without some human making the change happen. We wake up the vacationers and within short order are on our way.
Dirk ; whose internal motor comes the closest to a perpetual motion machine, decides to begin fishing. First however he needs to replace some old monofiliment line on the fishing poles. On one pole the replacement goes well while the other reel is frozen. Without concern he gets one line in the water and I decide to put in the line from our hand reel that has’t been used since we’ve been cruising. The hand reel has a line out with a shiny jig and
a Planer (that allows one to fish at a specific depth). Dirk’s fancy setup has a new Dolphin catching surface lure. W/ was at the helm and we were motoring towards our target; 5 hours away. I started to take apart the other reel to get it working.We watched as W/ steered by many fish balls with birds feeding from above and larger fish feeding on the fry from below. Dirk watched his lure expecting to hook a fish any minute. I had most of the reel apart and was letting the lubricant soak into the various gears. When I went back on deck I saw that my clothes pin warning had snapped.
I run the line out the midship hawse pipe and it is heavy line. Able to carry well over 100 kg of weight. To that I have attached the Planer, There I run out 50 lb test to a swivel and then I attach a 10′ wire leader. Don’t want the fish biting through the leader. On that is a shinny jig. By adjusting the speed we troll at and how much line is out the Planer moves to a specific depth. The more line from the boat to the Planer the deeper it trolls. The faster you go the deeper it trolls. I don’t know exactly what depth I troll at but I only let out about 50 feet of the heavy stuff and the rest just runs behind the Planer. When a fish grabs the lure the Planer is tripped to rise to the surface and then the line goes taught and the hook is set. At this point my little clothes pin announces a potential fish by being pulled free. I can then see a fish being pulled along the surface if indeed I’ve hooked a fish. Some fish are still strong enough to stay down and I won’t see them. So I need to tug on the line and see if there is any extra pull or movement at the other end. “Dirk, I’ve got a fish”! Dirk first reels in the extra line; we don’t need two fish at once, and then comes to where the hooked fish is and begins to hand over hand the line bringing the fish the boat. Now, I’m not a great line fisherman. I fish only by trolling and my ability to land fish is about 50%, up to now. Dirk is a good fisherman, notice I did not say “sport fisherman”. He knew the size leader I had and saw that the fish was well hooked. Instead of accepting my gracious offer of a Gaff he just told everyone to move back as he was bringing it aboard. Silvie knew what was happening and was ready, W/ stayed at the helm mesmerized by this, new to us, method, and I stood back. He donned leather gloves wrapped the line to hold it well and swung that fish out of the water and onto the boat. Flopping away Silvia secured the fish, I got a knife and then she opened up the gills. Dirk grabbed the bucket and we tied the fish’s tail to the life line and hung it head down to bleed into the bucket.
Now W/ is happy that Dirk and Silvia are here. Really happy! I would have the fish in the cockpit flopping and bleeding all over the place. The pros (Dirk and Silvie) tell us that this method limits the blood in the fish. They let the fish hang long enough for rigormortise to set in. That aids in filleting the fish. We untangle the hand line and begin trolling with both lines again. The fish is left tied by the tail and hanging upside down dripping into a bucket. W/’s smile is big; she knows I’ll be doing my next fish cleaning with this method.
Maybe W/ knew more than the rest of us. Silvie cleaned the fish an hour later. Rigormortise set in and as the fish was now bled out and firm it was an easy task to clean it in the gunnel. Easy for her. She’s rather petite and I just can’t get my big behind between the cockpit and the outside of the boat, not enough to clean a fish. Right now however Silvie is doing a mighty fine job. Not long after she finishes Dirk thinks he had a hit as the pole end quivers and then stops. I check my
planer and while the line seems to be acting funny I don’t see anything on there. But Dirk tells me he thinks there is and I begin bringing in the line. And by God! There is. I hand over the line to the master fish lander and then; just in case we need it I go to find a gaff. Again he said to forget it. Again we bring the fish up to the boat and viola, he swings it aboard. Silvie covers it with an old towel to settle it down, then I hand her the filet knife. She puts two nice cuts on both sides of it’s gills and we again hang this one face down in a bucket. A nice Peanut Mahi – Mahi. Tonight we have fresh fish. Silvie repeats the process from earlier and we have 4 fresh filets cooling in the refrigerator.
About now we’re getting close to the Perlas and so Dirk and I bring in the fishing lines as navigating is more important then catching more fish. For some odd reason Dirk informs us why he didn’t catch any fish, not even the one that attacked the lure. HE LEFT ON THE HOOK PROTECTOR! Now that is funny, I’m busting a gut laughing and W/ and Silvie are looking at each other like; “How could the master ever do that”? But I have to say while I hooked ALL the fish, Dirk landed them. In the end who did what doesn’t really matter. What matters is …. they tasted DAMN GOOD!
We anchor in the cut by Moga Moga where the first US TV show Survivor was filmed. The crew stayed on the plush resort island of Contadora while the victims stay on the uninhabited island Moga Moga. There is a great deal of current running and the sea life in these islands is extremely prolific. This evening Dirk shines his light in the water and a school of a million fry swim towards it; I guess looking for salvation because they were not getting any food from us. Not then anyway.
Before the Sun set, before we had our fresh fish dinner, before I sat down with an evening drink, Dirk had the little engine that didn’t on the boom gallows checking it out. First we checked the fuel. I smelled gas but it did look funny. He had us drain it into a cup and it looked; well, not like gasoline. We drained more. Finally we had gas. Sitting in the rainy season out on the pushpit the tank decided to fill itself with some fresh water. No wonder it wouldn’t start. We (mainly Dirk ) cleaned the tank and then checked the bowl. The float pin had come off. Now this is my fault. I thought the float screw had to be backed off a turn or so and I had done that when I decommissioned the engine and drained all the fuel lines. Varnished lines, bowls, and jets do not make a happy engine. He politely ( and I do mean that) informed me that they need to be screwed in tight. Once we did that, and had good fuel to the bowl / engine he pulled the cord and viola, bang! the damn thing started. Tomorrow we explore.
The next am we motored to the island looking for survivors but alas, we found none. However there were some truly unspoiled beaches. The tidal range here at times is close to 20′ and keeps the beaches clean and without footprints. Dirk finds our wheels on the dinghy a cool gadget and adds them to his cruising list. (He does this by taking a picture and writes nothing down). A good part of the am we wander the island for new views of our boat and just checking out the surrounding area.
Now Dirk and I have a slightly comical (to me) running battle. Dirk IMHO has to move every day. He’s like a shark he has to move or he’ll die (know that Sharks don’t really have to move to live). I on the other hand like to sit a spell. But it is their vacation and I’m content to indulge him / them. And besides, Elysium is coming out ahead. We have things working that would have taken me a week or more to get working and it still might not have been right. Dirk completes in hours what it would easily take me a day or more to do. So we move… again… to another anchorage. As the last two have been a bit; bouncy, bouncy, I chide him about this one and if so it will be the last one he chooses on board Elysium.
We head south a few miles and anchor near sv Rachel. When we came through the canal Rachel came out to the flats, anchored and then left. When we were through the canal in Las Brisas Rachel came in and the following day left. When we came in to Survivor Island, sv Rachel was there and after we anchored she left. (BTW I won a beer off betting she would leave 🙂 . ) We now came into our new anchorage and sv Rachel was there too. Not long after our arrival she left. She left us with a gorgeous beach, a small island to play on and a quiet – calm (finally) anchorage. Me thinks I won another beer here but my memory is becoming a little off with all these victories. 🙂
Dirk took the dinghy out for a spin making some final adjustment to the engine, Silvie, W/ and I put up the awnings and prepared for an afternoon of luxury. W/ chose the beach, Silvie and I chose to snorkel the little island and Dirk just figured he’d hang out in the dinghy and play chauffeur. I took my new Lobster gun hoping to find something. While I saw no lobster, no crab, I did see some good fish swim by and unfortunately they knew the length of this little guy (about 4′ was it’s range) and so while I took some shots I scored no kills.
An hour later we were back aboard, washing the salt and sand off our tropically tanned bodies, preparing dinner, just plain enjoying the evening. I dreaded the following day! No need, Dirk liked where we were and we actually spent two nights anchored here …. in Paradise.
I’ve said it before, Cruising is not a 365; 24/7 vacation. It’s a lifestyle. The difference between living on land or living on the water is in the kind of work we do for daily living and the places we do it in. We’re in Colon, Republic of Panama at Shelter Bay Marina which bills itself as equal to a first world marina. In some respects they are equal. In others – not and that can become problematic.
In the US the average home is without power for 2 hours / year. Last month we were without power 11 times and it averaged about 5 hours per time. It’s not the marina’s fault. We understand that some of the less than honest individuals living in Panama like to cut down a tree at about 2 am and fell it across the power line shutting down the power in that line. Then they cut the cable and take it to resell the copper. One would think that either the powers that be would cut the trees back so they couldn’t be used to turn off the power or figure out a way so the copper couldn’t be easily sold. In Florida the State began to delay the payment on certain quantities of metal giving the authorities time to make sure that the metals were not stolen. For the most part we’ve barely felt the power outage on our work because…..
I’ve been hanging in the engine room doing wiring, or laying in the engine room doing wiring, or reaching over the main engine putting in a new belt for the alternator, or…. any multitude of things mostly in the engine room.
The new Serpentine Belt we added to the main engine to drive the alternator went smooth as silk. Thanks to TransAtlantic Diesel (TAD) the kit went on mostly without a hitch. TAD made a video and put it on a CD that I was able to watch and then follow their directions. Sweet! and if one has a Perkins 4-236 or even the 4-108 I would highly recommend the kit. I did make one Skype phone call to TAD to clarify some part of the process and they responded within about 20 minutes. It is so nice to deal with a company that has a good product and takes pride in ensuring the correct installation of that product.
If another boat does choose to get their kit make sure you get some Taps to clean out the bolt holes. The one almost “gotcha” was that the bolt holes on the crank were 7/16″ fine thread. Whoever the engineer was that decided to use that odd size needs to be keel hauled! I doubt there would be any difference in using 1/2″ fine thread bolts in the total cost than the 7/16″; however there is a lot of difference in finding such an odd size both in the bolt and or associated tap.
Right now I’m installing the new Engine Panel and that too is going well. If you remember awhile back we tried to get our mechanical Tach cable fixed and were successful; but, as a repair it only lasted about 3 hours of engine run time. Thus, to
have a new Tach we might as well redo our 30 year old Panel and then she’ll all be good. Therefore W/ has me working; you guessed it, in the engine room some more.
And as for how much cruising is like a vacation I refer you to our friends Mike and Sue on Infini, a Westsail 43, who lived a stones throw from us in Florida but now are 1/2 way round the world. His report on the simple task; one would think, of replacing a check block (used to change the direction of one of the sail control lines) just made me laugh out loud. It is not funny if you are there in the midst of the activity, but what they went through sure is funny because… we’ve been there.
When we’re in range of decent internet I love to play chess. I play on FICS which is a rated chess server (free) and I play people my own level in real time from all over the globe. Mostly I enjoy playing but there are times when I for some odd reason give away points and games to no end. Then I’m motivated to do something else; it’s time to update my blog. I try to stay roughly two weeks behind in the blog as respite provides me enough time for my thoughts to ferment and coalesce.
As for Lima, we flew into the city; again. At the Airport in Cusco we were standing in line talking away to anyone that tolerated our still limited Spanish or who spoke English. Two people behind us we found some sailors too that had decided to spend time in Peru. Their boat was in Curacao, so we had lots in common. We talked about Machu, Cui, and altitude sickness. We talked like old friends.
After our arrival in Lima checking in to our hotel we again connected with Leslie and Dave of the sv Texas Two Step. There we traipsed about Lima,
walking down to the shore and telling tall tales. Dave too felt the jitters on a nearby similar hike called Machu Picchu (not the National Park by the mountain) and I felt relief. Dave is a commercial helicopter pilot and still works a few months every year. Had I understood that a vocation like his would have allowed me 6 months of work and 6 months of play I would have jumped ship from education long ago. But hind site is always 20/20 and for better or worse we are where we are.
The four of us ate at Al Fresco‘s and I had my new favorite dish “Cevichi”, and I was in Heaven! More then heaven because right across the street were half a dozen red clay tennis courts.
We are always looking for the perfect place to stop for extended periods of time; like 10 years or so, and Lima was moving quickly to the top of our list. Great food, lots of Tennis, a multitude of activities, and friendly people.
But we’ve not yet seen the rest of the world so we do feel the need to move on. After the day with Texas Two Step’s crew we retired to prep for our return home. Maria; our Peru Travel Agent, is picking us up the following day for a visit to the Park of the Fountains and then we’ll be dropped off at a wonderful seaside restaurant for our last supper; only symbolically.
The fountains were highlights of imagination as we’ve never seen so many different ones in one area. Oh, yeah; places in the US have fountains but never a park of them. And of course for a town built next to the sea, beside a river, and in a desert, water is certainly a wonder. Here too,
in all of water’s glory were a dozen fountains, some with high shooting water falls, some where children could play, one we
walked through and others with a variety of undulating displays. An hour or so later we were dropped off on the Pacific Ocean for dinner.
The following morning we finished our packing and prepared to exit the country; or so we hoped. We had round trip tickets to Panama but as we had no other tickets leaving the country we were a little concerned. Countries; including the US, don’t like non citizens entering without plans of leaving. We had given all our boat papers that Shelter Bay had requested for the next year’s cruising permit for our boat but we had not heard from them.
I had called John; the manager before we left Panama and he assured me that they would fax the cruising permit to us and then entry into Panama would be without any problems, as now we could show we had passage out of Panama, albeit on our own boat. It would have been sweet. What is often said to be simple is not always the case!
The day we were flying out of Peru we again contacted John and he indicated there was a problem. The Port Captain in Panama needed the current boat registration papers to issue the new permit. Our problem was we didn’t have the current papers with us. The papers were securely stored in Panama. Since we were in Peru and the papers were in Panama it would be difficult for us to fax them to Panama to get the cruising permit. I could see trouble ahead.
By now I’m quite frustrated and rather irritated. When we had stopped at Shelter Bay in February, I went to the office and asked the staff what they needed to apply for and secure the new cruising permit. I gave them everything they asked for and went away happy that all would now be taken care of. I had the current boat documentation papers with me had they just asked for them. Now; in Peru, we could be trapped, not much different then the Tom Hanks movie, The Terminal.
As most yachties do, we try to have multiple uses for everything and multiple back up plans. We have two back up plans; three if you count living at the Peruvian Airport for the rest of our lives as one of the plans. We didn’t count the Airport. The worse case scenario is that we’ll have to purchase a ticket from Panama to the US and once we get it all straightened out then apply for a refund… from the airline. That will obviously cost us some extra dough as Airlines are not real fond of giving anyone their money back today. The other idea was to show the individuals at the airport; should they ask, the boat papers we have that are outdated but shows the boat in Panama; legally, last year. We hope the second idea is the one that works.
Through into the terminal we go. Here as in most places south of the US we have to show two things: 1) a passport – we have, and 2) a ticket we have. If an individual doesn’t have both they don’t even get into the terminal. So we’ve now made it about 1/4 the way through the gauntlet. Next we go to the airline check in and the attendant at the turnstiles asks about our trip. We’re going to Panama. And then where she asks. We have a boat there and will take the boat to Australia. She ponders a minute and then accepts our story and we proceed to the counter. 50% of the way. Maybe we’ll be lucky.
We’re flying COPA airlines and while it seems that with American and Delta we’ve not had this much of an issue in addressing our continued travels, COPA is Panamanian and we surmise there is a little more scrutiny here. At the desk they take our bags and ask where our final destination is. That provides the attendant some pause. The bags stop and they want more info. We provide them our boat papers from the year we entered Panama. He scans them and then calls a supervisor over. This situation has obviously never happened to them before. The supervisor scans them all the while we’re doing our best to look cool and calm. We are legal but technically we don’t have the current papers showing our boat is in Panama legally. They ask us to wait a few minutes, they need to call Panama.
Ok, I still hope all will be fine but now there is a third individual in the mix. Our agent calls Panama and speaks with a General or Admiral in Immigration and provides him with the details on the Cruising Permit we have. A few minutes later he instructs our attendant to issue the boarding pass and records the name of the official in the computer that said yes, we could return to Panama. We didn’t even sweat through our cloths this time. But we’re still only 75% of the way to the boarding gate, however we’ve reached the summit and are on our way down hill.
At immigration we present our Passports and our Visa, the immigration official takes the Visa and stamps the Passport. What these countries do with all the paper they create I have no idea. Why any country really needs to know when you have left I don’t understand. No matter what they say I don’t believe all the info is entered into a computer and then cross checked with who entered the country. In Trindad it is all written in a LARGE book in very small print. It seems most countries make it difficult for you to visit and then make it difficult for you to leave. When we gain entry into a new country with our boat I plan on one day’s time with officials and paper work. Rarely am I disappointed. Even the US makes is difficult for foreigners with boats to travel and our government likes to talk about how free the US is. Hogwash!
With relief we have now made it to the gate and wait patiently for our plane. While there we pick up some snacks and looking at the prices I was glad to see such reasonable numbers. Reasonable till I get to the cashier and am told that the prices are in US currency! Here I thought I was still in Peru. Yet I am glad they took Soles (Peruvian money). We snacked, read, rested and boarded our plane on time bound for our boat, our home, our womb; Elysium, safely awaiting our return in a secure yard at Shelter Bay.
I remember last year flying into Panama. We had been in Panama for almost a year but flying into the country anew we could see the vigor and the life in the people. There was a feeling of joy, energy, adventure in their walk, in the feeling on the street, in the shop owners and the customers. That same feeling we feel in Peru.
Guatemala was different. While many things about the country are magical we found that the people seemed to be carrying a heavy burden. They were moving forward, but slowly. Peru and Panama are moving at light speed.
Oh, both countries have a long way to go but they are moving in a positive direction; not just positive for the wealthy but one that is good for most everyone. One HUGE difference I find in Peru is the number of book stores and the emphasis on reading. One can judge a country’s health by their dedication to education and the peoples ability to read with access to knowledge. In Guatemala Libraries were rare and from what the locals told me; reserved mostly for the gringos. The few book stores had books but by the standard income of Guatemalans they are expensive. Textbooks in schools had to be purchased and only the rich were able to buy them. Students of the rich sat in the front rows. The rest were left behind. In Peru most every business has a note about how to recycle, trade books.
One local told us that in Ica there is 100% employment. I kind of doubt the 100% but I understand that anyone who wants a job will find one.
This doesn’t mean there are no problems in Peru. We would actually like to bring our boat here but were told that near the Navy Station there are still Pirates. Go Figure. So until the Pirates are of minimal concern we’ll have to skip visiting by boat. But….
We like the country. We’ve been here a week, the Pisco Sours are ok, a bit strong for my taste but the Ceviche is great. Equal to and often better than in the Bahamas; which until now I felt had the best Ceviche in the Caribbean.
We arrived in Lima and checked into our hotel, changed money, picked up some SIM cards for the phones and started this adventure. We’re into our fist week, already we’ve been to 3 museums, flown over another UNESCO site; the Nazca Lines, ate at a dozen local restaurants, traveled cross country on their bus lines and visited one Winery where we were shown the old ways. No one really makes wine the old fashioned way anymore but it was interesting. We visited a zoological garden by accident (it was part of our Hotel) and have been moving every couple of days.
My grandfather was here in 1952 and I can’t wait to look at his pics from those days and compare them to now. That experience will occur later as the pictures are in Florida and we’re in …. Peru. Ciao
One of my goals this season had been to ensure the boat could cruise a full year without major issues. A major issue is one I can’t fix and forces us to high tail it to the nearest port where we can effect repairs. We didn’t make it a full year but we came close. We have had a few rather serious (not catastrophic) issues. The exhaust elbow in the generator has a smallish 2 cm crack. I fixed the crack with JB Weld that held for a bit but it didn’t last more then 3 months and so I’ve re JB Welded it and put a cover over it so there is no spray, only dribbles. Till we get to the marina it will remain 1/2 fixed.
Then, the genset’s heat exchanger began to leak. It’s an older style heat exchanger and now looking back I see where I could maybe have lucked out and recognized there was a Zinc in the heat exchanger. Two of the three pictures in the Aquagen instruction manual identify a drain at the bottom of the exchanger and the third one now shows a Zinc. The solder has been etched away and now I has a leak. I’ve since rubber clamped it shut so it will not leak and will send it back to Aquamarine for repair when we get back to the states. In the meantime I’ve ordered and received a new heat exchanger, a new model and it has a Zinc of which I need to purchase many more and make sure this doesn’t happen again.
The High Pressure pump (HP) on the water maker leaks. My error. I had found difficulty with the original boost valve (it was of a lawn sprinkler valve and I had put the valve in vertically when it needed to be below water level and horizontally – not well documented in the manual), so I had replaced it with a manual valve. One time running the water maker I forgot to turn the valve on to start the system and this caused excess cavitation in the HP pump. Thus a small leak. I called Dan (of Aquamarine – and that is one great thing about the company — I can speak to him about any issue most anytime), and he indicated that I needed to get a new gasket kit. I now have that and a spare and will replace it when I get to Shelter Bay Marina. It’s the rainy season now and we can catch plenty of water.
In the last 2 weeks the Aquagen began to crank over ever so slowly and finally it just wouldn’t turn over the engine. I knew we had plenty of power and suspected the starter we had fixed (almost) in Panama City. There they didn’t have a replacement starter but we found one that appeared the same size and I put that starter motor in the housing I had. However; I don’t believe the front bearing was ever replaced. The starter worked but it took about 5 seconds on the glow plug and then it required about 5 seconds to turn it over before the generator would catch and 90% of the time or more I would hear teeth grinding as the starter disengaged. Well the replacement finally wouldn’t do the job.
Thinking ahead while back in the states I purchased a new replacement starter for this engine and had kept it as a spare. Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me. I replaced the Panama City starter and viola! I turned the key and the generator started just like new! No longer did I need to hold the glow plug on for 5 seconds, in less then a second or two she fired right up. Sweet.
And about this same time I had taken some refrigerant out of the engine driven system and bought some fuel from a gas station in town. The refrigeration system was overcharged some and we were having to run the generator longer then we needed. When it’s running correctly we run it approx 45 minutes in the am and 45 minutes in the pm. With the overcharged state we were needing to run it approx 80 minutes am and pm. The extra time was a PITA. So I pulled out approx 5 psi and the generator ran fine that evening; the refrigeration plates pulled down faster, but not yet perfect. The next day we added 25 gallons of diesel to the tanks. The next time we ran the generator to pull down the plates in the freezer and the ice box things began acting weird. The rpms on the generator began to vary and once they went so low as to stall the engine. I suspected the new fuel.
Running the generator with the refrigeration compressor (RC) on, we heard some significant changes in engine rpms. It seems that both W/ and I are extremely sensitive to small sounds and how they end up telling me to find what’s wrong. We shut the system down and I figured the fuel filters were getting clogged. Fuel was the last thing added and the last change to the engine. Diagnosing issues on a boat isn’t a lot different from diagnosis in terms of computer issues or I suspect any other field where one has to problem solve. It is a lot like playing 20 questions. As long as you ask simple questions and learn the answer you can solve the problem. Working on several things at once and then trying to identify the issue would easily have me fumbling all over the place. That is exactly what happened. Since the fuel was the last thing I did it was the first place I looked to solve the problem. I was hoping to make it to our respite in Shelter Bay Marina before a lot of this smaller maintenance work, but as teenagers today say “Oh Well”. So before I figure I needed to, I first chose to change the Racor fuel filter. I changed that filter and the next time we ran the generator it did the same thing; varying engine rpms by about 300. Ok, next change the fuel filter on the generator. and I did that. Now the fuel getting to the generator will be crystal clear and yet the same issue occurred. Last thing in the fuel system would be the fuel pump. I had a spare. Whoopee! I changed that too.
This time while running the generator and the RC when the engine started to bog down (damn it’s still doing the same thing) I shut the RC off. Viola! The generator ran as expected. What the $#%#$ ! I wasn’t expecting this! Now I know there is an issue with the compressor.
Thinking I still have a bit too much pressure in the RC system I pull out approx 5 more PSI and I email Mike on Abake. He actually has training in refrigeration systems and I email Dirk on Lison Life who knows more about mechanic issues on engines than I do. The consensus seems to be that I have a RC that is soon to become toast. DAMN! (I actually have a more colorful vocabulary marching through my brain but do try to keep this blog PG).
In this process of checking the RC out I had hooked up the gauge set and ran all the numbers. They were well within range if not a little low on the HP side. To get a full set of numbers when the engine began to bog down I tried reducing the rpms a bit. I went down to 2500 rpms. Again, Viola! There was no more bogging down on the system and running the RC an hour gave me a full pull down on the refrigeration plates as well as a working set of numbers.
With Mike and Dirk saying the same thing that the issue was the RC I contacted Roger in Panama City to help locate a replacement. Roger is a Panamanian that is cruiser friendly. He had worked at the Panama Yacht club till it closed. Since then he’s made a career out of assisting cruisers in transporting and securing supplies. He speaks fluent English and obviously Spanish and he knows where the places are that cruisers need to stay afloat and happy. While he searched in the city I called Sanden International in the USA and got the run around trying to connect to a real person on the phone, then found out they know almost nothing of the Sanden unit I have except they don’t make it anymore and they have no idea where a supplier is in Panama. So much for them being “International”!
So I waited. Roger called about 4ish and had found a similar Sanden sized correctly and hopefully W/ will pick it up today. While I wait for her return I changed the oil in the genset and ran the RC successfully at the lower RPM. I’m wondering now if I run it at full rpm if I’ll still get the engine bogging down. Time will tell.
We’ll; we’ve done it. We had to move to Sapzurro for political reasons. Yep, not every country is as friendly as the US. Panama said one year was enough. Well; come to think of it, most countries are friendlier then the US. The US is so bureaucratically cumbersome that had we been in the US as a foreign national with a cruising boat moving from one harbor to another a nightmare. I personally know of other cruisers that have avoided visiting the US with their boat because of the undo burdens put upon them by our government. A foreign national with a boat is expected to check in with the authorities whenever they move the boat from one port to the next. And our government doesn’t even know it’s own rules or follow them very well. I’ve spoken with one cruiser that toughed it out and cruised the US. When they call, the officials are sometimes standoffish and wonder why they called, then other times the official chewed them out because they hadn’t called promptly. What is ironic is that the same people could fly in, rent or buy a car and travel 10 times as far in one day and no one in the government would be the wiser or even care. Why the US has this weird affinity towards harassing foreigners with small boats I don’t know.
Fortunately other countries aren’t like the US in how they treat visitors. In Panama we fill out some paperwork and are given a cruising permit good for one year at a cost of $193.00 US. Then as a cruiser you can get a marinerer’s immigration stamp. We checked in in Isla Porviner and paid $100 to immigration for their service and then $5 extra per person. This is $110 bucks more then last year when we checked in. Additionally, this time when I went into immigration I was informed I had to go back to the boat and pick up W/. Traditionally the boat captain travels to the necessary offices and acquires the necessary passport stamps for the boat’s occupants. Last year I went in alone and took care of everything. Since then Panama has changed their policy and all boat occupants needed to present themselves at immigration. Maybe that’s the sign of the times to come. Remember! We had to both go in to Immigration in Sapzurro, Colombia too. However; once in the Immigration Officer’s office there was a new added step, they finger printed us. I’m guessing to identify us if something untold happens, then they’ll have the correct body identified. I don’t really think they’ll feed the fingerprint into any database. Not in Panama. Not at this time.
In the end we made it through all the formalities and on a Friday morning to boot, both glad the officials hadn’t decided to add an extra day to their weekend. As westerners and America’s I’m not sure I’ll ever get use to the elastic time in Latin countries. I wonder how time is viewed in the other end of the world and if luck will have it we’ll know soon enough.
With $303 dollars less in our pockets we can now legally “hang out” in Panama. And with the changes in policy I’m reminded of what Heracles said, “Nothing is permanent in the world except change”.
We’ve moved, not far but we’ve moved across the reef. There is a reef dividing Isla Linton and the Isthmus and a small passage with deep enough water through it for us to get to the other side without having to go out and around the island. We moved and within that is the good and bad.
We’re planning on the following am to leave for the San Blas Islands, Kuna Yala and it will be nice to have navigated passed the reef in good light. What we didn’t expect that our cell phone connection there would be so poor we can’t get the internet to get the local radar and wx info. We easily get the off shore information with the Pactor Modem and the Icom 802 SSB radio but the local stuff is what we really need. I did look at it before we moved and all looked good but that is 24 hours out and here in the rainy season local wx is good for about 6 hours.
The next am looks good. That is there is no rain, same wind, and the Sun is out. We leave before any of the am SSB and Ham nets and are passed Isla Grande before 8 am. Not soon after the nets we get a call from Reggie on Runner and he tells us that there was a good squall in Kuna Yala with winds to 45 kits and move E. We’re committed and we’re prepared. So far we’ve had 4-6′ swells and a light wind chop. We fully expected that to change. Less then an hour later we’re motoring into head winds of 20-30 and we’ve slowed down to 3.5 -4.5 kits with the engine ticking along at I’m guessing 1500. Remember we’re out a tac as the last attempt to fix went bust! We watch our course, watch the wind hoping to be able to pull out the headsail but all is like spitting into the wind. No luck on missing the mess. We’re all of a couple of km offshore and we’re still heading E. The wind is slowly abating but not as fast as either of us would like and by 12 we’re putting along at 5-6 kits. By 2 we’re inside the Esconoba Shoals and they’re breaking up the swell quite a bit. The wind chop is back to the 2 foot range and we’re making good time. We expect to be in the West Lemmons before dark. Traveling around in Kuna Yala after dark is much so much like Roulette. Yeah, sometimes you might win, many times you might survive but there is always the possibility of going belly up. We planned on making it in before dark and we will.
Now anchored in the West Lemmons we settle in for a calm evening and a trip to the Hollandaisse Cays in the am. There we’ll see Passsport (IB and Becca) again who we’ve not seen for 6 months, We’ll be near new friends (Hans and Susan on NautiBear) we met in ShelterBay and we’ll eventually run into Mike and Gloria on Respite who we tried to catch leaving ShelterBay a day behind them only to have the Battery and solve our WaterMaker issue.
Safely anchored in about 20 m of water with 60 meters of chain out we’re feeling rather secure for the evening. Another boat is coming in the same pass we did and from my vantage point they’re a little close to the S reef. I see the boat jerk like it was struck in the face and then see it jerk again. It begins a rapid turn; the WRONG way, into the reef. There I see it come to a complete stop like it hit a wall and it did; but the wall wasn’t at the bow of the boat but at the bottom. As the slight swell heading out of the N feels the bottom and creates a surf the boat is being pushed up farther into the shallow water. We don’t have any dinghy in the water so I make a call to the boats in the anchorage telling them there is a boat on the reef in the W. Lemmons on the W side and they could use some serious help now. It doesn’t seem like anyone of the 50 boats in here is responding so put out the call again and see a couple of the larger dinghy’s with larger engines begin to move towards the now fully grounded boat. They arrive and discuss the issue and nothing seems to be happening fast. Fast is what’s needed as the swell is putting her farther and farther up on the reef.
The dinghy’s tried to pull her off from the stern, no good. One runs back into the anchorage and gets more line and then they try to haul her down by attaching the tow line to the mast and pulling her over and dragging her off. But it’s getting late and they get her hauled over and try to pull astern. By this time the engine on the sailboat isn’t working and they’re trying to pull a 10 ton boat with a couple of small dinghies. Some Kuna’s show up in a Panga with a 40 hp engine and they try too. Dark now and they give up. The owners of the boat depart; staying I don’t know where, close up and leave it for the night. I’m not sure what they hope to attempt by doing that, maybe just saving their lives. The boat is left on the reef stern to the seas and there appears to be no anchor out.
The following am I ask Yogi (his name) who is a permeant resident here if the boat has water inside and he says yes. Doesn’t look like it’a coming off the reef anytime soon. I don’t really know if water ingress came from the seas breaking over the stern working their way in the companion way or if the boat is now holed. But it’s not going anywhere soon. We feel like we’ve just watched the slow death of a person. It was torturuous watching the boat grind on the reef and the feeble attempts by those willing to help try to save her. She’s not gone down but she has gone out.
It’s tough wondering how that could happen, a small misjudgment, exhaustion on the part of the owner or bad luck. The reef slowly shoals there where as most of the reef in this area comes up from 4-15 meters of water all the way to the surface and they’re easily visible. Dark blue water good, breaking water, light brown water bad. Stay away from breaking water and light brown water and you’re basically good. Stay away from moving at night and your good. We hope to stay good.
My general belief is that advice is worth what you pay for it. Sometimes we pay with time, sometimes we pay by the hour, sometimes by relationships. I haunted several cruising bulletin boards before we left on this chapter of our lives. One of the questions I asked a year or so before we actually cast off was, “What spares should I carry”? And the advice I received is what I’m paying for now.
We’re waiting in Linton, Republic of Panama for some water maker parts from Aquamarine. While we’re waiting for the parts we’ve been meeting people both shore side and other cruisers. We’ve had
Thanksgiving dinner at an ex – pats home; her house overlooking the harbor, W/ actually put the inflatable Kayak in the water and paddled
around once (hopefully more then once will totally transpire), W/’s played Mexican Train Domino’s and gone to Yoga 2 to 3 times per week, we’ve read between us a half dozen books, played 100’s of Suduko games, I’ve play chess on FICS (real time with people all over the world), we’ve caught and filtered about 120 gallons of rain water making sure we’ve got our back up water catchment system working properly. We’ve taking a couple of long dinghy rides around and basically we’ve been
hanging here enjoying ourselves.
I didn’t carry a spare electromagnetic clutch for the water maker pump in any of our supplies. We do carry a multitude of spares but they tend to be stop gap, where we can Jury Rig (a Willie Wonka Chocolate factory fix) the repair and get to someplace where we can completely rehabilitate the part. I know one cruiser who carried 3 spare starters and when he went to install them none worked. I know of another cruiser who when he bought his boat actually had a spare transmission aboard. When he finally needed it and took it to the shop to have it prepared for installation he told me that it cost more to repair the spare (all the rust on the bearings etc) than it would have to repair the messed up transmission! Getting the right spares on board is more an art than anything else. These three plus years have been helping me identify the correct ones to carry, ones that if there is a problem we need to fix it ASAP, not wait. But waiting isn’t all bad.
This anchorage for about 85% of the time is quite nice but at other times there is a bit o’ roll that sneaks through the reefs. Our spares have finally hit Miami where Airbox Express our mail forwarder will then ship it to Panama City and I’ll go and pick the parts up.
Oh, and the advice I received online from another cruiser whom I never met; “What’s the worst thing that can happen if you need a spare and don’t have it….. You get to spend some extra day’s or weeks waiting for it …. in Paradise”.