Sunday, July 28, 2013

Captain's Log....

Saturday, July 20th
Night.  Scary.  REALLY SCARY! In all my years of living in lightning country, tonite took the cake.  Both Ron and I agreed it was the worst lightning storm either of us had ever lived through.  For the first time ever, I covered my eyes and ears with a pillow to avoid having to deal with it all, in true ostrich fashion.  Hours and hours of strikes directly overhead, and miracle of miracles, we didn't get hit.  God was giving it one last go - GET OUT OF PANAMA OR ELSE!

Sunday, July 21st
We did, and left bright and early the next morning.  I admit to trepidation.  Our last attempt to make it to Ecuador didn't end the way we would have liked, but as we all know with sailing, you need to adjust expectations periodically.  It was sunny, and although we were motoring with the main up, all was well.  Then, of course, clunk, clunk, THUNK.  Ron threw the gear lever into neutral, went below to check "stuff", and came up and said "we have to go overboard to check the propeller."  Now, anyone that knows us knows that in this case, "we" means "Heather".  Adrenaline stampeding through my veins, I tossed off my clothes while Ron found the snorkeling gear.  Stark, raving naked (funny phrase - must you always be stark and raving if you are naked, one wonders?) with flippers and a mask on (can't you just picture it? - you shouldn't, but.....).  Sure enough, a tree sized branch, combined with 55 miles of various diameter line, had wrapped itself around our propeller.  Ron threw me a fancy/schmancy Japanese saw used to removed teak plugs flush to the deck, and I proceeded to cut away the offender.  No harm, no foul, and 20 minutes later we were underway again.  Just another day in the life.....

Monday, July 22nd
Our routing was a point of discussion.  Everyone has an opinion.  The last time we went out, we were told "go west, go west", in order to avoid a north-setting current along the coast. We did and got the snot beat out of us due to swells.  This time, Ron had done a bit of research on currents, and found an interesting link on the NOAA website,  Very enlightening and basically showed a highway running from north to south that we could follow.  This changed our routing from our last attempt to this one and we were much happier.  The winds were still on our nose, and we closehaul motor-sailed, but at least we were making 4-5knots.  All good.

Tuesday, July 23rd
It's now been two nights out, and not a hint of lightning.  We are very grateful.  We had a moment (brief) that we shut the motor off to give it a break, and actually got out the genoa for a few hours.  Still cloudy, and we would still like a bit more wind, but I say it quietly, just in case I should jinx our conditions.

Wednesday, July 24th
Crap conditions today.  Should have known better than to ask for more wind.  We got it, directly ahead of us.  The staysail was the hero today, giving the engine a bit of help, but not much.  Big swells coming also from the southwest, so terribly uncomfortable.  8-10' breaking waves, WTF?  Not again!!!!  We're following 80 degrees west, so at least the current seems to be helping, rather than hindering.  Crossed the Columbia/Ecuadorian border.  Spotted a sailboat in the distance and made contact with Frangapani, a boat we had identified a few weeks earlier in the Las Brisas anchorage.  They too had been miserable....Told us about a spot that they were headed to called Punta Same, to see some friends, just slightly south of Esmereldas.  We thought that might not be a bad idea.

Thursday, July 25th
Arrived Punta Same.  It was rolly, but what the hell, we were used to it.  Looked exactly like the Las Hadas area of Manzanillo, Mexico, albeit with no sunshine.

A few black flags to avoid, fishing lines, and 30+ pangas returning back from sea in the morning.  Had a great breakfast, and wandered the decks doing a bit of tweaking with some of the shackles, and bits.  Lazy day.

Friday, July 26th
A not-so-bright, and early start to the day.  Put on a pair of pants and a longish-sleeved shirt for the first time on the boat in 3 years!!!  Bigger winds today, 15-20 knots, more swells, blah, blah, blah.  But we had a party to look forward to.

The Equator!

Captain Ron is now a Shellback
Party ON!

Yes, we drink and sail
We had made sure to stock up on party supplies prior to our departure from Panama City, as we knew that we needed to do it up as we crossed the equator.  After much searching I finally found where I had stashed the Champagne (in the clothes cupboard, where else?!) As it always happens, it was at an unfortunate time of 11:53pm.  But the hats came out, the bottle was popped and poured.  Ron was channeling his inner Minnie Pearl (can you spot why?)

Saturday, July 27th
We had sent Tripp, owner of the mooring field at Puerto Amistad in Bahia Caraquez, where we hoped to pick up a ball for our stay while in South America, an email the day prior informing him our intended arrival time.  Unfortunately, we missed the high tide but were able to hang out at the mouth of Rio Chone, until the next high at 6pm.  As it was going to get dark quickly, we just threw out an anchor after we literally threaded our way through the mouth.  Not for the faint of heart, so we were glad to have Pedro, our faithful Piloto aboard guiding us through the VERY thin water.  Dead calm water......welcome home. 

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

First leg....complete!

While not a huge accomplishment, we've been able to haul our sorry asses out of Panama City, to begin our second assault on the equator. 

Sails were returned to us with brand new stitching only 2 days after they had been picked up by Roland (a fellow boatless French cruiser holing up in PC for awhile), for what we felt was a pretty decent price of $250.  It's all about the equipment and of course while I have a sewing machine on board, that didn't mean that my trusty friend Ken would be able to sew through 13 layers of sail material.  A bit of repair to the main, the blown out clew, new halyard loop and some repair to our sail cover on the jib, and we were back in business. 

We patiently (or not) waited for our friend Ean to make it back to Panama from his self (and needed) imposed exile to the US - he seemed to be quite happy regaling us with stories of unlimited water for his showers, great Thai food, clean sheets on his bed, museums and (gasp) culture, and proudly showed off a brand new shirt.  Bastard!  But....he did also agree to return with a suitcase of goodies for us, the most important being a brand new windicator.  Man, this thing is so pretty, and does so many things, that I fear I have been made redundant.  If I fire it up and it starts to make a pizza, I might as well throw my hands up and content myself with reading another book. 

This lifestyle is one of chance meetings.  We meet so many people in the various anchorages and villages we rock up to, but while the time spent together with new friends may be funfilled, we know that everyone has a different schedule and destination as their next port of call.  Over the last few years, we've met some people that are good for drink or two, but others we end up spending weeks and months with, rendezvousing in various bays and countries.  Ben Doolittle, of Knee Deep fame, was one of those men that we've spent considerable time with in El Salvador, and with his family had shared some pretty good memories.  Leo Lestant, while time spent was fleeting, was a memorable French character that we met years ago in Mexico, while he aided and abetted the mighty crew on Aquadesiac (is that the best name for a boat, or what?!) Somehow, not knowing each other, they both ended up being hired to bring Andiamo lll from Bahia del Sol, El Salvador to Panama, through the canal to the Caribbean, and put her to bed in the Shelter Bay Marina. 

We were disappointed to hear ourselves being hailed on the VHF, the day before we had decided to head out of the anchorage and to try to make Ecuador again.  It was Ben and Leo, saying "hey, let's get together for a beer on Friday night"  (we were scheduled to pull up the anchor on Saturday morning).  I say disappointed because I knew how it was all going to turn out.  I anticipated it being ugly, and it was. 

Hauling the More Joy crew with us, Ean and Jane were to be our buffers when we met up with the two guys up at the Balboa Yacht Club for "a few".  We proceeded to camp out there, not having a clue how the 20 jugs of beer kept showing up.  Jane, she was totally innocent.....she quietly plowed her way through her own 20 rum and cokes.  As I said, it was ugly. 

Now I must explain where we were anchored.  In the summertime, the preferred anchorage in Panama City is on the north side of the causeway.  This is due to the increased wind and swell that arrives from the south/southwest direction, sometimes making "the other side - La Playita" and bit (really) rolly.  We had taken refuge in Las Brisas, but the downside is that it has a difficult and dangerous dinghy dock (my use of alliteration would make my English professor proud).  Receding tides make for VERY slippery steps, and if one isn't paying 100% attention, problems could crop up.  Something about all that beer made me a bit less cautious, and I slipped my way from the stairs and into the briny blue.  It certainly wasn't a tragedy, and while I wasn't very happy with all my scrapes and slices from the barnacles, the thought foremost in my brain was the sight of a used condom on the steps the day before. 

Sometimes this life isn't so glamorous....

With a well-deserved hangover, we managed to get to the fuel dock the next morning, and with old beer streaming out of our pores, we made our way through filling up the diesel and water tanks, and headed south to Contadora.  Now, you might be wondering why, with our seeming lack of urgency to move ANYWHERE, why we felt it necessary to get out of town that morning.  Well, Jill on Rock and Roll Star was having a birthday, and we were not going to miss the party that was sure to be had at Isla Contadora.  We made it by dark, in time for round 2.  By the time we got back to our boat around 10pm, I was WRECKED, and hardly able to stand.  Fatigue, alcohol poisoning, too much all contributed to a state I might have called "passed out" in my college years.  Apparently, this state of being follows you as you get older. 

And this is how we started our second assault on the equator.....

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

We've arrived.........BACK IN PANAMA CITY!!!!

You all need to pick your chins off the floor right now.  Ours have already been there; we’ve wiped the drool off and feel human again.  So let me tell you a story…..

Last Monday was an excellent start to the day.  We had finished our provisioning, and were ready to hit the high seas.  We picked up 2, 6 gallon jerry jugs filled with booze (one of Jack Daniels and one of Ron Abuelo) from Jane and Ean from More Joy Everywhere  (long story but we got the benefit of their purchasing and efforts) and dropped off “marina jewelry” (dock wristbands – those of you that know, will know).  We then set the sails for the southwest and with any luck, the sighting of the Ecuadorian coastline in about a week and ½.  Sigh, it was not to be.  

Can we get more wine, please?
Seems we're going to be gone a long time - at least a week
That's not water in there
 The first 24 hours was uneventful, and we made good time riding the south flowing current down the western coast of the Bay of Panama, averaging about 6 knots, and made Punta Mala in decent time.  Let out a little whoop-whoop when we crossed our ill-fated track from 6 months ago, arriving to Panama Bay.  The windicator we had tried to fix the week before was intermittent with information, but we could deal with it, as we had lots of telltales on the sails and shrouds to at least give us wind direction.   

With words of wisdom from Terry on Oh, Baby! we kept tacking through the southwest setting wind and swell, heading either west or south, and while it was slow going, it at least was going.  

So of course something has to happen (this is the short version).  The stitching on our outhaul clew board gives up the ghost, and we are left with a flapping main sail.  Oh, well, we’re a ketch, and we’ve probably sailed 50% of our time without our main, so no tragedy.  Another 24 hours passes, and Ron notices that we’ve got some horizontal wrinkles in our jib.  Mmmmm.   The loop for the halyard had ripped right through.   Gulp.  The mantra begins….we are a ketch, we’ve still got 2 more sails to use, and we’ve got an excellent John Deere engine.  
Now by this time, the benign weather had changed.  We were in 35 knots of wind, and 10 foot breaking waves.  These waves were coming at us directly from the dreaded southwest direction, our "go to direction" and as such we even had them coming over the bow AND over the pilothouse.  We’re not sailing in Mexico anymore, Dorothy!!!  

So of course something ELSE has to happen.  The autopilot chooses this moment to say, “nope, not gonna play.”  We were about 50 miles away from our first waypoint of Isla Malpelo, after a hard won 2 and ½ days.  NO AUTOPILOT?!?!  (After not being able to find my boat in a dark anchorage after a night on the town drinking, it is my worst nightmare to not have an autopilot)  After about a minute of discussion, we decided the prudent thing to do would be to head back to Panama City, and get ourselves sorted out.   So now the fun REALLY begins….


Notice the Pigpen like squall surrounding our boat

Yup, it's raining AGAIN

The sailors out there reading this, yes, it was as bad as it sounds.  With our trusty 3rd crew member declining to participate, it was a 1 hour on, 1 hour off schedule. 

Upon arrival back in the Bay, the seas set down enough to be able to recalibrate our autopilot.  It took, thank god, but we were still committed to heading back. 

All told, our little burn around the Bay of Panama took 5 days, and cost about $500 in diesel.  Yay!!!

Good friends treated our arrival appropriately.  "We’re sorry you’re back, but great to see you."  Last night, Mike on Hartley said, “I hoped to never see you again.”  So funny, but only sailors would see that this was not a slam, but just a part of the life.  Because you see, he took off 2 days after we did, and also returned with the same blown out clew on his mainsail.  Weird!  

Our autopilot is operational again, and a new spare “brain” has been ordered.  A new skookum Garmin windicator/gps/barometer/thingymabob has also been ordered.  The sails are getting picked up today for repairs (I tried yesterday on the machine that our friends Matthew and Jill on Rock and Roll Star have but the thickness was too much – oh, for a Sailrite onboard!)   Ean from More Joy will hand deliver our new gear, plus a new starter motor that Ron had ordered months ago for the generator, when he returns to Panama on the 10th.  Until then, we eat, drink and attempt to be merry.  

Meanwhile……the lightning continues.