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.
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.
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:
Yesterday, 3/6, we'd planned an E-Z 10-mi. sail from Isla Linton to Green Turtle Bay. Weather was fine, NE winds12 kt., NE swell 4'-6'. Sadly, Green Turtle Bay = untenable due to NE swell so we sailed the extra 35 mi. to Porvenir in the San Blas islands. About 8 mi. out, rain squall reversed our winds then stopped it completely. Tried starting engine but no water cycled thru. Unwise to sail thru the reef passage to Porvenir w/o engine & no visibility due to rain. Reversed our course back to nearest anchorage with a safe approach in zero visibility: Portobello, 52 mi.
3.5 hrs.later, GB successfully replaced our engine's impeller, which had disintegrated & caused the failed start. Continued to Portobello, arrived in total darkness @ 10:30pm, anchored w/o incident amongst other sailboats.
3/7, Monday (today): GB successfully found what might be all the broken bits from disintegrated impeller - in front of inlet to oil cooler. Engine starts, runs normal. Will stay in Portobello thru at least Tuesday a.m., 3/8.
3/4: Arrived yesterday, 3/3, motorsailing easterly 12 mi. from Portobello. Forecast was for NE winds 10-15 kt., NE seas 4'-6'. We actually got NE winds 15-23 kt., seas 5'-8' on a 6-sec. period. Equals, rough water for traveling E like we are. Isla Linton anchorage looks like it might be nice -- but it's hard to tell, what with the 49 sailboats crammed in here. Intermittent 3.5G Internet is here tho, so we'll stay 1 more nite in this crowded & somewhat rolly anchorage, looking at the weather, before moving on another 10mi. tomorrow, 3/5, to Green Turtle Bay, at 09deg.36'N/79deg.26.5'W. Forecast still calls for light winds & calm seas but this time of year - the dry season - the NE swells coming from Colombia remain high and choppy, so we're expecting more of the rougher stuff we experienced 3/3. Welcome to the Caribbean, MS.
3/1: anchored in Portobelo 5 days. Toured town & 2 of the17th-cen. Spanish forts.
Also saw the famous Black Jesus of Nazareth upon marble side altar in town church. Sculpture is well dressed w/ very disturbing eyes.
Weather: reinforced trades = E winds 15-24kt. w/ occas. lt. rain showers but bay has only low chop so is comfortable. KISS wind generator supplying all our energy needs & then some. Vessels offshore report high, rolly seas so we work on small projects & wait for waves to settle down to sail to next anchorage, Isla Linton, at 09deg.36'N/79deg.35'W. Maybe set sail there tomorrow p.m., 3/2.
Left Shelter Bay Marina/Colon @ 0800 Fri., 2/25. No wind - motored 17mi. to Portobello (09deg.33.5'N/079deg.40'W), found by Columbus in 1502; later, the port from which the Spanish shipped much gold & silver from the New World. It is indeed a beautiful port. 40 boats here, most our size, most from Europe. Ruins of 500 y.o. forts ashore, pod of 12 dolphin in bay, howler monkeys roaring in jungle at sunset. We'll stay a while.
Long story short, it went fine - much more smoothly and incident-free than I ever expected. We had 2 professional line handlers who were terrific & helped out the rest of us (thanks, Mauricio and Ivan!), and one amateur line handler who was a real quick study (kudos to you, Anne!). GB rounded out our line handling crew, keepin' The Fox safe at the stern, port position. The requisite Canal Authority advisors oversaw the helmsperson (me) and our 4 line handlers very well. Thus, for the 12 hours we were actually underway and locking through, things were fine indeed. Our only problem was the combined total of 21 hours of waiting for the Canal Authority to locate an advisor, that made our little 12-hour transit into a hot, sweaty, 2-day affair. The transit details and procedural particulars are below the fold for those who are interested. For the rest of you, here's a photo essay.
Day began auspiciously at the Balboa Yacht Club on the Pacific side, with a morning rainbow. (There were actually 2 rainbows but the second was too faint to capture.) After a few hours of waiting, we were assigned an advisor and we were off to the 2 sets of locks at Miraflores, where the observation decks are always full. We locked through here as a single vessel, which looks like this when the water's just beginning to fill the chamber.
Next up: the single lock at Pedro Miguel, where we tied up to a tour boat, to the great amusement of its passengers. Here, the upper deck folks are admiring the timeless beauty of The Fox and crew.
Due to all the delays during the day, we were unable to reach the Gatun Locks on the far side of the Culebra Cut and Gatun Lake, before they closed to small vessel traffic. So,we grabbed a freighter-size peg buoy just off of Dock 45, where they're doing construction for the next set of super-size locks for the mega-freighters that can't fit in the Canal. The next day more delays in finding an advisor kept us stuck to the peg buoy until late afternoon. But we got to lock through tied up to a tugboat, which is the coolest way to transit the Canal. Although the freighter locking through close behind us made me nervous.
We successfully completed our transit and still had enough time to scoot across Limon Bay to Shelter Bay Marina right at sunset. Had a sloppy landing in 25 knots of crosswinds but the only damage was to my pride. Safely offloaded our 2 pro line handlers, and so to bed. Awesome.
Technically, January in Panama is well into Central America's "dry season" when the days are hot and sunny, and the nights near shore are usually cooled by light breezes. It doesn't rain often, or for very long; but when a rain squall does come: boy howdy.
Here's what a typical dry-season squall looks like, as it engulfs the downtown Panama City high rises, obscures the view, and rumbles toward the Casco Antiguo district. You can see by these salty sailors' expressions that they'd prefer running for cover instead of letting me take their picture:
Just a few minutes later the rain starts at the front line of the squall and the wind suddenly arrives - with force. Thunder and lightning may occur close by. Check out those palm trees blowing in the wind as our prudent tourists exit stage right.
In this situation it is advisable to let the squall pass by spending a couple hours in the shelter of the nearest wine bar, listening to each other's sea stories and fairy tales. By the time a round or two has been quaffed, the squall has moved on, the cruisers have dried off, and tourism may comfortably resume.