Once again we saw the blackening of the skies over Panama City as we sat in the bumpy La Playita anchorage. With each passing day, we could feel the humidity increase and air tingle with the anticipated lightning and thunder show that would be descending on the hapless boats still foolish enough to continue to delay their departure to points south and west. As per usual, I was anxious, but Ron still had a few more things to purchase prior to our “getting out of dodge.” The last item on our list proved to be problematic, which obviously was the reason it was the last item on our list. Our new-to-us generator still needed 15 feet of marine-quality exhaust hose (marine-quality…….I’m sure the definition of this is “overpriced, and sure to fail at the most inopportune moment”). After several days of running around town, combined with the inevitable haggling and overcharging of the taxi fares, we finally located a store that had the stuff, but not before we were assured, in no uncertain terms that they didn’t have any. ??? Thankfully, a woman swung by, and in rapid Spanish told the 7 men standing around sorrowfully scratching their heads while looking at the computer, that of course they had the hose. We could only assume this was the madam-jefe, (ladyboss) – she needs to be cloned and distributed around ALL the shops of Panama City, or Latin America for that matter.
Preparations done, a “fraught with angst” trip to the La Playita dock for fuel and water, and we again escaped the treacherous grip of the lightning capitol of Central America.
Sunday – With just our jib up, we headed for Punta Mala (bad point) which would see us exiting the Bay of Panama. All good….sun shining, wind blowing 8-10 knots.
Monday – Jib still up, and a steady northwest wind blowing, we were happy making 3-4 knots in our floating home.
Tuesday – Arrival at the ITCZ (Intertropical Convergence Zone, which as it implies, is the area where the south and the north weather meet up) and it’s a “hang onto our hats” kind of day. Overcast and threatening, we knew this area just needed to be gotten through. My mind briefly turned to the ill-fated Rebel Heart of 2 months ago, and their unfortunate meeting of this zone. I said a silent prayer for our own home, and hung on. Torrential tropical rains most of the day, winds gusting to 35 knots, seas freshening to 6-8 feet, lightning and thunder, the dreaded accompaniments to this area…..the worst part is not knowing how long it will last. Our radar display showed the weather that, despite course shifts of 30-50 degrees, we just couldn’t seem to shake. In addition, after furling our jib, we noticed that the tack had come apart from the inner forestay (in normal speak, the bottom of the jib, where it attaches to the wire going up the mast, had its shackle pin come out, and as such was no longer attached at the bottom). When we changed out our sails from the new ones to the old ones, we had neglected to wire up the pin so it couldn’t back down. Now with all the rolling and bouncing, we needed to wait until it was safe for Ron to go forward to pull the sail back down and put the pin back in, but only after I had unfurled the sail. Head down…..
Wednesday – Through the zone, the day dawned bright and sunny. We dried out, but the winds had also taken a turn for the worse, and were now from the south. Bummer. Motor on, staysail and main up.
Thursday – Cloudy. Lumpy. 20-30 knots of wind on the nose. More motoring. Only positive thing about conditions like this is that your abs get a workout.
Friday – A beautiful day dawned. Wind on our beam at 15 – 20 knots, bliss. Today, our last day out, with perfect conditions, we gave our new Monitor windvane a try. It took some time to get the lines sorted, but with a bit of tweaking one thing and another, we had that baby dialed in. Never before had it ever been so silent. When an electronic autopilot is being used, you still hear a faint whirring when there are course corrections…..this was utterly without sound. Lying in our aft berth, there wasn’t a whisper of noise coming from our old pilot, located just under the mattress. We knew we had made the right decision in purchasing this important piece of kit.
Mid-afternoon, Ron noticed some water leaking across our galley floor. After a search under the sink, we discovered that the elbow fitting on the drain had broken, it being the highest quality plastic that a $2.99 Panamanian part could provide. This is not a tragedy; HOWEVER, the other end of the hose was below the waterline. If you know anything about physics, this COULD be a tragedy, because if we didn’t do something, we were going to swamp our own boat. With rapid fire timing, we tied off the hose upright, and shoved in one of our thruhull wooden cones, stopping the offending intrusion. Problem solved.
We arrived at the “waiting room” at Bahia de Caraquez an hour prior to high tide, and after a half hour of frantic VHF radio calls, we got confirmation that Pedro, the Piloto, was on his way out to guide us through the “very thin water” of mouth of the Rio Chone, which was to be our home for the next 6 months. The familiar sights of the bridge to San Vicente, the high-rise condos at the end of the peninsula, the murky brown water, the decreased humidity, the decrease in temperature…..all made us feel welcomed. Hellloooooo, Ecuador.