Left Panama @ 1600 on 3/28.Good sailing winds of 10-20 kt. NE but w/ rolly beam seas to 6'-8' 3/29 gave us a couple boarding waves into cockpit. Now easing to 6' or less. Our 3/30 0800 position = 12 deg. 40'N/081 deg. 00'W. 1014mb, winds NNE 035, 12-15kt., sea 1.5m-2m @ 6sec. Course =350T, SOG 4.7kt. Skies PC w/ slight haze. Plan to pass E of Isla Providencia (now 35 mi. away) then either E or W of Quita Sueno Banks depending on wind. All's well but salty. m
No satellite connection thus no trip report for a while. Waited out approx. 8 days of enhanced trades w/ strong breeze to high-20s/low 30s when daily squalls passed over. Had a few days of sun & calm water when the snorkeling was excellent. Very crowded everywhere, about 200 boats just in the western San Blas. And this is Early Season. Exited San Blas 3/24, backtracked to Isla Linton for fuel loading & seashell collecting - both successful - 3/25-3/27 (this a.m.). Now in Portobello for intense Internet work on shore plus a bit of provisioning. Weather looks good for an imminent departure for Mexico - maybe Tues., 3/29. More to follow. m
You're looking at a helicopter buzzing past a ketch anchored behind us in Portobello, Panama. Click to enlarge.
Because of the TV camera we saw mounted to the bottom front of the helicopter...and the fact that it was setting up and then "chasing" a guy and a woman riding full speed in a panga toward the Spanish ruins of the north fort (you can see the panga's wake in one of these photos)..., we guessed someone was filming a segment of some TV travel show or whatever.
We were not entertained.
Chopper Pilot Dude was flying BETWEEN SAILBOATS AT ANCHOR. In 20+ knots of wind. And it's tight in here - the boats in the Caribbean don't leave as much space between them as boats do on the Pacific side. We saw Chopper Dude do his first dry run OUTside the boats at anchor (i.e., next to The Fox), and almost lose it in the crosswind. And then he gets comfortable and makes a dozen passes in between various boats, lower than mast height and no doubt looking for Awesome Camera Angles. At least he didn't hit anything, so I guess he knew what he was doing.
The things you see while cruising.
Can anyone tell me what TV show he was working for? Were we on TV? Hmmm?
Considering that we've already visited Portobello twice since we transited the Canal, a photo essay is overdue.
Portobello is located about 20 miles from Colon/Shelter Bay Marina, so depending upon when you exit the Panama Canal, you could go straight to Portobello and start your Caribbean cruise at once. The mostly-jungle-covered bay has a wide-ish, deep-ish approach. The only obstructions are on the periphery, no big deal. You can anchor anywhere in the bay you like the depth, but most boats prefer anchoring either in front of Portobello town or a half mile across the bay along the north shore in the shadow of a very well preserved Spanish fort. Howler monkeys bellow near there.
Portobello town has the usual cruier amenities: bus-to-Colon-access; dinghy dock (aim for the church, look for other dinghies, pay $1); garbage drop (will offend Western middle-class sensibilities); Captain Jack's (VHF72 at 0900 local time for local cruiser net), can arrange jerry cans of diesel & gas, plus propane, laundry, etc.); markets, church, museum, cafes. Nice town.
3/12: after consulting Total Yacht Works/Mazatlan & Nigel Calder's manual, GB lowered the raw water intake on engine thru-hull by about 2". Cutting hoses was involved. No leaks, no apparent prob's tho we'll know more once we're beating to windward & heeled over. 3/13: left Chichime, 12 mi. later anchored next to s/v CYNOSURE at Isla Salardup, 09deg.30.4'N/ 078deg.47.5'W. Snorkeling's very good- MS encountered a 6' nurse shark in the sandy shallows. Will stay here several days for more reefy goodness.
Apropos of absolutely nothing, here are three small things that make the boatin' life easier.
1. Stern or mast reflectors.
It is generally very bad practice to enter an anchorage at night, but once every 15 months or so we've found ourselves having to do exactly that. We've always had a choice of entering a fairly well-charted anchorage with a wide, deep approach mostly unobstructed by hazards. One such occasion occurred last week when a blown impeller forced us back into the anchorage of Portobello, Panama. We were lucky that we'd recently been there and knew where most boats were anchored. We had a good chartlet to follow with GPS and radar (thanks, Eric Bauhaus!) and we had binoculars and a giant floodlight to help us spot the boats at anchor as we got close to them. It's importantfor an approaching boat to have some way to illuminate boats at anchor, because in our experience at least 25% of the boats in any given anchorage are unlit. Masthead lights and boom lights are fine - that's what we use - but when we were the ones in the boat approaching the anchorage in total darkness, it was difficult to distinguish the nearby boats that had only a boom light, from the more distant boats that had only a masthead light. There was one sailboat in Portobello, though, that really stood out and made our approach easier. It had two small, round reflectors mounted on either side and slightly above its stern pulpit. We could easily see the reflectors from a few hundred feet away, and those reflectors helped put the rest of the nearby boats into better perspective.
That experience made us resolve to get some nice reflective tape for the two poles we have mounted on either side of our stern. We figure a row or two of reflective tape, placed about shoulder height, might help illuminate our boat a little better for anyone approaching in the dark. Including us, if we happen to be out late with the dinghy. We've also seen a boat or two that has placed rows of reflective tape around an upper portion of the mast, to better illuminate the boat not just when at anchor, but also while underway. It may not be USCG-approved, but it sure works for boats that are cruising far from home. So, I'm pro-reflector.
In a desperate effort to bring some sort of consistency to this liveaboard cruising lifestyle, I have designated one day per week to clean the decks, do laundry in the 5-gallon buckets I keep aboard, and anything else that involves the use of water to get clean. I call it, "Washing Wednesday." When we first started cruising I spent time rinsing the salt off The Fox's lifelines and stanchions, and pinning the clean laundry to them with clothespins. And when the wind picked up I always seemed to lose a clothespin or several. Way too stressful for the cruisin' lifestyle. Nowadays, I tie a thin clothesline between shrouds and anywhere else that's handy, and raise the laundry higher off the deck. Instead of pinning the laundry to the line, I run the sleeves of shirts and the legs of pants around the line itself, then just use clothespins to hold it all in place. I don't have to worry about any laundry flying away; it all gets more air and dries faster; and I haven't lost a clothespin yet. It also makes The Fox's topsides look like the white-trash version of Tibetan prayer flags.
3. Time Management.
I've tried going with the cruising flow, and I often do. For example, if we're underway, certain chores get put off. But during the four years we've been cruising 24/7, I've also often found myself lurching from one chore to the next, and doing the same chore day after day. Like doing laundry, or mending boat canvas. To bring a little rhythm back into my life, I have designated certain chores to be performed on certain days of the week. All the days remain flexible to accomodate travel and emergencies, but for my current general schedule, we have Sewing Sunday, Mending Monday, Trash Tuesday, Washing Wednesday, Anything Can Happen Thursday (Big Bang Theory thought of that one first), Financial Friday, and Don't Bug Marianne Saturday.
Yesterday, 3/11 was 1st sunny day on Dark Side (Caribbean). Arrived at Chichime Is., 09deg.35'N/78deg.53'W. All San Blas anchorages have far more boats than we were used to on the Pacific side but snorkeling visibility=great. No big fish seen, just 1 spotted eagle ray but the usual small reef fish are here in brand-new species, e.g. bluehead wrasse, & varieties of parrotfish. The sea stars, coral & bryozoans make a fantastic scultpure garden. Our biggest excitement: we snorkeled right over the wreck of the Twyla, serial-killer Javier Martin's 1st boat, which he lost on the Chichime reef 12/2010 in that big storm that closed the Panama Canal. Today, 3/12=engine maintenance, misc. chores. Next few days, we'll head a few mi. E to other cays for more water fun.
"Hey, Dude - thanks for replacing the impeller. The engine sounds really happy now."
"Yeah, it seems to spitting a lot more water out of the exhaust. It's all good."
"I'm going to take a picture of the disintegrated impeller and all the bits you removed from the engine. I want to write a blog post reminding people where to look for the pieces to remove so they don't cause more problems later."
"Knock yourself out, babe. Tell them to look in front of the oil cooler intake."
"I only count six pieces of impeller blades here."
"Yeah, that's how many there were."
"No, the impeller had 12 blades, and four of those are still intact. Eight got shredded, and you recovered six of those. We're missing two more bits. Any ideas?"
"...Yeah, Ms. CSI Panama. My idea is...I hope those other two bits were small enough that the engine chewed them up and spat them out all by itself. I can't think of how else they could have gotten past the oil cooler; and I can't look at anything more internal, until we're anchored in the San Blas, or we maybe get to a dock somewhere. Think happy thoughts until we get to Mexico."
Yesterday, 3/10, 0720: sailed close-hauled 45 mi., from Isla Linton in NE winds 8-15, but very lumpy NE swells 4'-7' at 5 sec. Bounced in to Isla Porvenir, San Blas/Kuna Yala @ 1700. Today, 3/11 = check in w/ officials, make general inquiries, then explore other anchorages. Skies are partly-clear, morning breeze = NE 10. Many s/v's here relative to Pacific side: 16 anchored here at Porvenir, 14 @ Lemmon Cays, 6 @ Chichime. And that's just the anchorages we can see, w/i 3 mi.of each other.
3/9: This morning at 0700 we saw calm seas and light breeze in Portobello Bay, despite the forecast for area winds getting into the high teens/low 20s - which for exiting Portobello and heading north and then east means steep, choppy seas and not much fun. So, we took advantage of the flattitude and promptly fired up the trusty Yanmar which works ever-so-much-better now that GB replaced the impeller; and we motorsailed once again the 12 miles to the crowded anchorage at Isla Linton. We have 56 boats here -- and all but one of them is a sailboat. Awesome. There is intermittent 3.5G Internet access here (thanks, Claro modem!) so we'll be carefully watching the online weather to see if we can head the remaining 35 miles tomorrow into Porvenir and the San Blas archipelago. Time's a-wastin'.
Meanwhile, here's what sunset looks like at Isla Linton, when rays shine out from behind evening clouds: