Cruising with Soggy Paws
Soggy Paws is a 44' CSY Sailboat. In 2007, we set sail on a 10 year around the world cruise.
Thursday, October 30, 2008
Punta Balsa, Last Stop in Panama
Anchorage Position: 08-04.610N 082-50.967W

The jump from Isla Gamez to Golfito is about a hundred miles... too far to make in one day. Friends had told us of a passable overnight anchorage at Punta Balsa, on the east side of the Burica Peninsula, on the very western edge of Panama.

It's 35 miles from Isla Gamez to Punta Balsa, so we left in the early morning, motoring north around Isla Parida. Again, virtually no wind. In heavier conditions, the way north and west around Parida might be risky due to relatively shallow water (15' deep). Some of these areas would break in heavy seas. Even though we've had less than 10 knots for nearly a week now, there is still a 6-8' long Pacific swell.

We have not been 'off soundings' in so long that Dave thought our depth sounder wasn't working. But the area between the islands in the Bay of Chiriqui (where we've been for the last week) and the Burica Peninsula gets very deep--1500 feet deep.

We were only about a mile off the waypoint we'd been given before we finally 'found the bottom' at 500 feet. It still didn't look like we'd find any protection from the considerable swell rolling in. But we kept on going in.

The bottom came up rapidly, but was still at 80 feet a hundred yards from the waypoint. We went in very slowly and finally, we found the little pinnacle... it shallowed up to about 20'. We motored around in a cloverleaf to make sure we had plenty of swinging room (the tidal range is still about 10' here). We finally dropped anchor in about 25' at half tide. The swell had dropped off in the last quarter mile, due to shoals that extend from the point just south of us. We could see heavy breakers
for quite a ways out from shore.

During the night the conditions changed from 'really rolly' to 'not bad', as the current and wind changed. The current runs along the shore and reverses with the tide. For about 6 hours during the night, with no wind, the current held us beam to the swell, and we rolled like heck. But the wind was zero and we knew we were stuck well to the bottom, so it wasn't dangerous, just uncomfortable.

We have only seen one other cruising boat during this whole trip, and only a couple fishing boats. We are in the 'skip zone' for the Panama Pacific net, so we can't hear the friends we just left in Panama.

We are looking forward to getting in to Golfito, where there is a fully protected anchorage, and reportedly a small cruising community.

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Islas Secas, Western Panama
Anchoring Position: 07-59.467N 082-01.812W

We left our spot in the Contreras early in the morning, and motored in mostly calm winds to the Secas.

The guidebook shows about 4 anchorages on the NE side of Isla Cavada. What we found was that the sketch chart is not very accurate as to depths. Each bay with an anchor in it shoaled up rapidly, and we could never get in all the way to the anchor. And the chartlet is just a little off (the features do not all match up). Our raster chart was no more accurate. So we carefully felt our way around and ended up right where our friends on Carina and RDreamz told us to anchor. They also found the other
anchorages too shallow and too confining.

In each bay, we saw one mooring in the exact best spot to anchor. Just inshore of the mooring is where the bottom came up fast. So pick a spot just outside of the mooring.

The northern anchorage, where we ended up, is off a pretty little sand beach with palm trees. We anchored near a rocky pile (we could see it on the depth sounder and just barely make it out from deck). Dave managed to pick out a nice sand spot in 20' of water. The anchorage was passable in the mild conditions we are experiencing... a little rolly, but not too bad.

In the morning I snorkeled the whole area, and did find some live coral and tropical fish just inshore of us, but the water was disappointingly murky. Friends passing thru here a few years ago mentioned snorkeling and finding clear water here even during rainy season. But not for us this time.

We also did a little gunkholing in the dinghy. The resort here looks deserted. We met one caretaker fishing off the floating dock in the southernmost bay. He said the resort is closed until December 15.

We spent all Saturday here, and expected to be inundated with weekenders by Saturday afternoon. We did see 2-3 small sport fishing boats trolling around the island, and 2 of them anchored overnight, but away from us. They were gone at first light.

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Isla Gamez and Isla Parida, Western Panama
Anchorage Positions
Isla Gamez: 08-07.697N 082-19.037W
Pta Jurel: 08-08.347N 082-19.300W

We left the Secas at about 10am. The wind as usual was about 2 knots from the SW, so we motored most of the 20 miles. Toward noon an onshore breeze developed and we were mostly sailing for a little while.

The guidebook mentioned that cruisers favored the Punta Jurel anchorage at Isla Parida. There is a small resort there that welcomed cruisers. So that is where we planned to stop. But on our way in, we passed close to Isla Gamez, and that looked just beautiful.

We went on in to Punta Jurel, and put the anchor down for lunch (we were starving by then). Either the resort is no longer functioning, or it is in sleep mode for rainy season. The beach looked junky (buckets and things scattered about) and not like it was being maintained as a resort. We could see one building in the trees with a guy sitting on the porch, but no other signs of life.

The anchorage itself was OK, but nothing special. So after a quick crew conference, we voted unanimously to go back out and anchor off Isla Gamez (only about a mile away).

This turned out to be a beautiful anchorage--the best so far on the Pacific side of Panama, in our opinion. Nice holding in heavy sand, a gorgeous beach with palm trees ashore, some wind to keep us cool, and very little swell. I could have stayed here for a week or more.

There were a couple of local boats picnicing at the beach on Sunday when we arrived, but they were gone by sundown. We had the whole place to ourselves all day Monday. We swam into the beach and found some coconuts. We burned our trash at low tide on the beach. There is supposed to be good snorkeling here, but again rainy season has rendered the water very cloudy, with only about 8 foot visibility. So we didn't even bother.

We got the usual evening heavy rain, with a little wind. But we were sheltered and secure. A very nice anchorage (this time of year).

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Saturday, October 25, 2008
Islas Contreras, Western Panama
Anchoring position in the Contreras: 07-51.964N 81-47.635W

We totally skipped Isla Coiba, which is no longer a penal colony and is now a national park. Until recently, there was a reasonable fee to stay for a day or two (something on the order of $10-$20 per night). But cruisers who arrived in Panama City just before we left said that they were asked for $100/day to stay there. ($20 pp per night, and $60 for the boat for the first night, and $40 for subsequent nights).

We wanted to go check it out for ourselves, to see if it really was that outrageous. But we're getting short on time and we just decided we'd skip it. I wanted to go, confirm the fee, and leave immediately (in protest) to make a point. But it seemed a little ridiculous to go to that extent (it's 2 hours motoring to get there, and 2 hours to get anywhere else).

So we went directly from Bahia Honda to the Contreras, going around the south and west end of Isla Medidor. (Someone had warned us not to go through the narrow slot between Medidor and the mainland, saying the currents and waves were nuts there).

We found a nice anchorage in the deep bay on the north side of Isla Brincanco, approximately where the Bauhaus guide indicates. The sketch chart, when used with the GPS and Sea Clear to plot the boat on the chart, isn't exactly accurate. But it is accurate from a visual standpoint. The best anchorage IS west of the prominent rocks, but the location that that plots in Sea Clear on the sketch chart is just EAST of the rocks.

We didn't get to do any exploring, because it started raining soon after we dropped anchor, and poured all night long. There were 2 fishing boats that came in late in the day and anchored in the NW corner of the bay. They were gone at dawn.

This island group is supposedly part of Coiba National Park, and we'd been warned by others that we might get asked to pay a fee to stay there. Our strategy was to resist paying and cite weather and just an overnight stop. With the dinghy up on deck, it's not too hard to argue that we didn't plan to go ashore. But the weather was so nasty that I think all the patrol boats wisely stayed in port. We never saw a soul. There is nothing that we could see ashore... one small beach and 2 palm trees,
and then heavy vegetation everywhere else.

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Life in the ITCZ
For the last 2 days, it has been pouring rain.

On our last night in Bahia Honda, the heavens just opened up, and it poured all night long. The first hour of pouring rain is nice... it fills the water tank, washes the salt off the boat, etc. The next day, we left Bahia Honda in the rain, and sailed in the rain, and then it poured all night long again. Yesterday, it only threatened most of the day, but everywhere we looked were low black clouds. After 3 days of it, we are shouting ENOUGH!!!

Taking a close look at the weather map (http://weather.noaa.gov/pub/fax/PYEB11.TIF), I see that the Inter Tropical Convergence Zone has been sitting right over top of us again. Hopefully it will move a little south or a little north and leave us alone.

I see a gleam of sunshine in the Eastern sky this morning. The low black clouds that have surrounded us for the past 3 days have broken up some. Hopefully we'll get a sunny day today. (and by 11am, we'll probably be complaining about how hot it is! :) But we sure need a day of dry weather to chase the damp away.

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Tuesday, October 21, 2008
The Beautiful Bahia Honda in Western Pacific Panama
Anchorage Position: 07-45.124N 081-32.800W

The comments we heard about this bay seemed unanimously wonderful. The West Coasties all said "Better even than Bahia Santa Elena in Costa Rica." Since we haven't been to Bahia Santa Elena yet, we couldn't relate. However, our own reaction is WOW!

After nearly 2 weeks of rockin and rollin at the Flamenco anchorage in Balboa, and then 4 days of tenuous rolly anchorages, this is REALLY NICE.

Bahia Honda is a really deep bay where you can get total protection from the swell and the wind. And amazingly, it is very sparsely developed and so our anchorage feels very remote. We heard a waterfall ashore after the rain last night, and howler monkeys and various birds, too.

We are the only cruising boat here. We've only seen one other boat in the last 5 days of traveling, and they were headed the other way. From listening to the SSB nets, it seems nobody moves anywhere in the Panama/Costa Rica area this time of year.

We left Isla Cebaco about 10am yesterday, and headed NNW toward the coast. We wanted to sightsee the coast a little on our way to Bahia Honda. It is a beautiful and wild coast. Not much in the way of habitations evident here. Our Panama road map doesn't show any roads in this area. And there is no cell phone service at all.

We did check out Puerto Escondido, the next bay to the SE of here. Tao 8 told us it was a very nice anchorage. It did look nice, but we are glad we carried on to Bahia Honda. Puerto Escondido is a typical semi-exposed swelly anchorage compared to here.

Soon after we dropped anchor, we were visited by Domingo, a talkative old guy in a cayuca. We had heard about Domingo from other cruisers... He and his family live across the bay on a finca (farm) and he can supply some fresh veggies, and also can hustle gas, diesel, and 'dry goods' from the town.

Domingo talked a mile a minute in Spanish, and we only half followed everything he said. But he did invite us over to his house, we will probably go for a visit this afternoon. He mentioned there were children there and suggested we could bring some cookies and maybe school supplies for the kids. Later we were also visited by one of Domingo's sons, Kennedy. He was looking for fishing line and lures. His opening line was "You have a very nice boat, mucho dinero". Dave told him he would look
and see if there is something he could spare. I don't think we should just give stuff to anyone who asks. But it's hard to say no sometimes, when we have so much and they have so little.

Cruising Details

We had all 3 chart programs (SeaClear with the Bauhaus chartlets, Nobeltec with Raster charts, and MaxSea with older CMap charts) up and recording our trail as we came in. The Bauhaus chart is still the most accurate, except we found at least one shoal (5' or less at mid tide) where he has a 6 meter sounding. CMap and the Raster charts seem to agree with each other pretty well and are both off positionally by about .2 miles. Our raster chart says it is WGS72.

In the Bauhaus Guide it is the '6' (meter) depth indication, due north of the eastern edge of Punta Miel and SSW of Isla Levin. (on our raster chart, which has depths in fathoms, it's where the 3 1/4 spot is).

It's at 07-45.096N 081-32.515W. We were exploring at low-rising tide (about +2 feet according to our tide chart) and trying to find an anchoring spot in one of the bays as you come in, on the west side. We could see the one spot that is noted with 1 meter indications in the first bay, and went around that and into the blue area on the north side of the first bay. By the time we got to reasonable anchoring depths there, that seemed to too confined to anchor in. So we carried on around the point
to the north of it, outside the blue shading, to go into the next bay. We were RIGHT OVER the 6 meter depth indicator when the depths went from 30' - 15' - 5' in one boat length. I am not sure we touched, but we backed right out of there, nosed out a little further and tried again, and got the same. So then we went way around the point.

We ended up a tiny bit east of the 14 and 10 meter spots in the westernmost bay, at 07-45.124 and 81-32.800W. There is a narrow shelf here that is anchorable depths, a small beach at low tide, and waterfall we can hear ashore to the south of us. A little wind comes over the low spot in the hills to the SW. There are no obvious habitations in this bay, but we did see some guys get dropped off by lancha in the low spot to the SW...not sure where they are going, except maybe to hike across the low
spot for a lancha to Isla Medidor, where we have heard there are some very large foreign residences under construction.

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Monday, October 20, 2008
Finally in Western Panama
After 2 more long days of motor sailing westward, we are finally in the area known as 'Western Panama'.

In the last blog post, we had just rounded Punta Mala. We actually turned the motor off and did some sailing that morning. However, soon after we finally shut the motor down, true to form, the wind went light and on our nose about an hour later, so we had to turn the motor back on. I think I need to add 'miles actually sailed without motor' to my monthly progress log!

As I keep telling Dave, we'd actually sail more if we weren't trying to go everywhere and do everything.

So picking up from yesterday's blog... the destination yesterday was Benao or Punta Guanico, about 10 miles apart just a little west of Punta Mala. Benao is open to the southwest, where both the wind and waves are coming from this time of year, so we weren't sure it would be a good anchorage. But friends had said you could tuck up way in and it's OK in mild weather.

We got to Benao about noon, and went in to have a look. Conditions were probably about as settled as you'd ever get during rainy season along that coast. Where the Bauhaus guide had an anchor didn't look that good... too exposed to the SW winds and southerly swell. But on the west end of the bay, there was a spot where one or two boats could anchor up and be a little more out of the wind/swell. (Approx 07-25.675N 80-12.205W) The bottom looked OK on the fish finder. But we did not stop. We wanted
to go a little further so our next day wasn't so long.

So we carried on to the Punta Guanico anchorage, about 10 miles further west. We stayed close in to sightsee along the coast. (watch out for fish buoys crossing the bay, but I think they are long lines, not nets).

Approaching the spot where both guide books said there was an anchorage, it didn't look very calm. But we crept in closer and motored up and down the coast a little, and found a fairly nice spot that seemed tranquil. (07-19.709N 80-20.773W) Since the tidal range is 'only' 10 feet here, we anchored in about 15' deep at mid tide. The bottom was very good holding.

We heard howler monkeys in the trees in the late afternoon. We could see the town further north in the bay, and hear music coming from a cantina (it was Saturday night), but weren't really interested in going in. A open fishing boat passed us in the early evening, going out to fish for the night. We saw 3 lights out near the point all night long, and they were still there when we left in the morning.

I found out later that the long low island to the north of our anchorage (Isla Cana) is home to one of the most prolific nesting grounds for the Ridley sea turtle, and it is nesting season. It would have been nice to have explored a little, but we are running out of time, and didn't want to lose this weather window to finish the most difficult part of the passage.

The next morning, we again got up at 5am and motored out and headed westward again. The Guanico anchorage had turned out to be very peaceful. But during dry season, with northerly winds, Benao might have been a better choice.

On our passage from Guanico around Punta Mariato we experienced the worst of the current-against-wind conditions that people told us to expect along this coast. We had a 1-2 knot following (westbound current) and light westerly winds and a large SW swell. The current made the waves very steep and close together. We buried the bow several times, even though the wind was only blowing about 5 knots. The worst part was the last 10 miles approaching Punta Mariato.

With the following current (and the motor on) we made very good time and rounded Punta Mariato around noon. Though our original plan was to head for Ensenada Naranjo for the night (#4 on our chart), we decided we had time to check out that anchorage and go all the way on to Isla Cebaco. So we stayed in close around the point, and went up through the slot between Isla Roncador and the mainland (in a heavy rain shower) and poked our nose into Naranjo. Again, it looked like, under the current conditions
(light SW winds and mild southerly swell), it would be an OK overnight stop. The swell does find its way in there, but gently so, and it looked like a good bottom for anchoring. Anchor spot approx 07-16.437N 80-55.510W

Then we carried on NW to Isla Cebaco, the SW corner, to an anchorage also called Ensenada Naranja (note that this Naranja ends in 'a' and the other one in 'o'). I did not number this one on our chartlet, but it is roughly due south of spot #5.

We had some decent sailing winds the last 2 hours, but since we'd decided to push on all the way to Cebaco, we had to keep the motor on to keep the speed up, so we could make the anchorage before dark. It looked like, in the SW conditions, that the traditional anchorage in the SE corner of the bay would be totally exposed, so we needed time to try to find a good anchoring spot.

We first went to the west side of the bay to look at what appeared to be on the chart, an anchorable spot with more protection. But it is not a designated anchoring spot in either guide book. And we agreed. It just looked too small to us, and maybe rocky on the bottom. Not near as anchorable as it appeared on the chart. It might be worth trying if you had more time to fool around.

So then went to where both guidebooks had the anchor, on the east side of the bay. We found some protection from the swell, but, as it appears on the chart, it is pretty much totally open to the southwest. We found about 6 moorings around the spot where the guidebook shows the anchor. Carina had told us that during the winter months, there is a fuel barge stationed in this part of the bay, and it's a popular stop for the sport fishing boats to get fuel and overnight on their way from Costa Rica
to Panama. Carina hadn't mentioned the moorings, though. But the fuel barge doesn't arrive until the winds change to a northerly quadrant, when the bay is well protected. Now, no barge, and all the moorings are empty--we were the only ones in the bay.

We poked around and found a bit of room shoreward of the moorings. The bottom is good sand and the anchor hooked up smartly. The light SW wind, blowing right into the cove, at least held us into the swell (until it dropped and went NW after dark). Since the wind dropped, we have been drifting around all night in essentially no wind, sometimes beam-on to the swell. But after the 3rd day of 'up a dawn, going all day', we were pretty exhausted, and slept pretty well in spite of the roll.

Our anchoring position is 07-29.528N 81-13.329W.

Note that on our Raster chart, this point shows as slightly inland. This chart is an old one, with WGS-72 as the datum. There may be a newer version of this chart that plots correctly, but be cautious.

Chart Name: M21582S0 - Bahia Montijo
Source Scale: 1:45000
Horizontal Datum: WGS-72

Just before dark, a Canadian boat named Tao 8 sailed into the anchorage and dropped nearby. We chatted with Larry for awhile, swapping experiences in anchorages. They are on their way from Golfito to Panama City.

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Saturday, October 18, 2008
Safely Around Punta Mala
We are currently under sail, having rounded the dreaded Punta Mala only a half mile offshore.

Our departure from the Flamenco anchorage near Panama City 2 days ago was really hairy. In the morning the winds were light and it seemed time to go. But by the time we'd loaded the dinghy on deck and got ready, the winds had picked up again to about 15 knots right on our nose. Plus we had some current going against the wind, so the first hour was really unpleasant. At one point we were only making about 2.5 knots. I almost talked Dave into anchoring overnight at Taboga. But we pressed on another 15 miles to Punta Chame. #1 on the map below.

By the time we arrived at Punta Chame at about 5pm, the wind and seas had calmed considerably, and our trip had not been unpleasant.

We tried to pick an anchorage as far in as possible, but away from the very small town on the point. We came in at high tide on a 17' tide, and while Dave was fooling with the anchor, we edged in to water that was only 13' deep. At low tide we would have been high and dry there! Needless to say, we went back out to deeper water.

We finally anchored at 08-38.794N 079-42.896W, in what would be about 15 feet of water at MLW. The anchorage was mostly tranquil in SW winds about 10 knots... at least until the current changed. With a 17' tidal range, the current rips in and out. In the middle of the night we were hanging dead stern to a 15 knot wind. Early in the morning, when the tide changed again, it got choppy enough to be banging us around. We finally gave up trying to sleep at about 4:45am and got underway.

Coastal Panama at Sunrise

The Captain Naps

The day dawned bright and sunny, and the winds dropped to nothing. We motor sailed the whole way, mostly with some current behind us. (there is a big eddy from the Humboldt Current that runs counter clockwise around the Bay of Panama). It was a beautiful day and we saw turtles, some very frisky small black spotted porpoises, whales, and jumping fish, as we sailed along.


We had sweated making the 70 mile trip from Chame to Punta Purio and arriving with enough light left to pick a good anchorage. But we left early, made good time, and arrived at Punta Purio about 5pm. (Sunset here is about 6pm)

Punta Purio is #2 on the map below. (Click to see a larger version)


We anchored at Punta Purio at 07-39.312N and 80-03.759W, in about 12' MLW. By this time, amazingly, the wind was SE. We had seen this predicted on the GRIB files and thought it was bogus, but sure enough, we had SE wind until about midnight, when it turned W. Again we had a tranquilo anchorage until the turn of the tide near dawn. We are not sure what's up with that particular tide turn, but again it was choppy enough to wake us up early.

We had nice winds when we woke up this morning... 5-10 knots from the NW. Leaving the anchorage, we angled out to get a look at Isla Iguana (another possible anchorage). There were an amazing number of frigate birds circling the island as we motored past. Probably a nesting ground. It didn't look like a very good anchorage.


We put out the sails, and combined with the prodigious southbound current, we were clocking about 9-9.5 knots for awhile.

Our Navigation Screen Showing 9.1 Knots

We rounded Punta Mala about 9am with still light WNW winds and about 6" seas (with of course the ever-present large slow southerly swell underneath). Because the conditions are so tranquil, we stayed in close to sightsee. We were about a half mile offshore in 60' of water. There is something like a Coast Guard station at the point...a lighthouse and several fairly large buildings.

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Thursday, October 16, 2008
Cruising toward Costa Rica

Looks like the wind has laid down, so we plan to set out today for a 2 week cruise north and westward to Costa Rica. We hope to be in Costa Rica around Nov 1.

Above, for your viewing pleasure, is a simple map of the area we will cover, and most of our planned anchorages. Click on the image if you want to see a larger copy.

You can follow our actual progress with this link. Soggy Paws Position

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Wednesday, October 15, 2008
Soggy Paws has Eyebrows

Sitting here waiting for weather, with the sewing machine newly tuned up, has been a great opportunity to work on sewing projects.

The latest project is 'eyebrows' for the dodger.

We have 2 big awnings that cover the whole boat. One goes from the mast to the forestay, and the other goes from the mast back to the arch in the back. However, we rarely put them up because (a) it's a big production to haul out and put up and (b) we never know when we'll get slammed with a thunderstorm and gusts to 40 knots. But having a little sun protection, especially just in front of the dodger and over the main cabin area, would be a good thing.

So we sketched up a design for what Dave calls 'eyebrows'. A relatively short, flat sunbrella awning that we can leave up in fairly substantial winds. I made it in 2 pieces (one strip for either side of the mast). They fasten to the hard dodger top on the outboard side (just grommets and line), and fasten together under the boom at the back, and go forward to shrouds outboard of the mast. They turned out pretty good and we're congratulating ourselves on a good design... something that's easy to put up and leave up in most weather, and gives us some sun protection and some rain protetion.

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Still Sitting in Panama City
Yep, here we are again 'waiting for weather'.

We finally got all our critical repairs done by last Saturday. Now we've been waiting out an unusual bout of high winds, I think caused by tropical activity in the Western Caribbean. Gosh I miss Chris Parker.

However, I am finally accumulating enough weather links to feel like I have all the weather available to me as a layperson. And starting to feel like I know what is 'normal weather'.

We think we have a window to get around Punta Mala (Bad Point in Spanish) coming up on Saturday/Sunday. So we plan to leave here tomorrow and make 2 day-hops to get positioned for a rounding of Punta Mala on Saturday. All the anchorages we've selected are kind of iffy... open roadsteads that should be protected enough for a rolly overnight anchorage. But we're not sure. The guidebooks don't cover this part of the coast (from Panama City direct to Punta Mala) because, coming in the other direction,
the advice is to go via the Las Perlas islands, to totally avoid rounding Punta Mala at all. But that doesn't make sense for us, because it would add about 90 miles to our windward journey.

So if we get to one of our selected anchorages and it is totally untenable, we'll just have to gut it out, keep going, or go back.

The good news is that it has been mostly sunny and cooler here the last few days. The winds have been really gusty in the 15-20 range. It's a nice change from hot, humid, rainy, and zero wind. It kinda feels like fall.

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Friday, October 10, 2008
The Saga of the Sputtering Tohatsu - Part 3
We finally did resolve the issue with our 15 HP Tohatsu.

After taking apart and cleaning the carbuerator 4 times over the last year, it did turn out to be the carb.

We took the motor to the Tohatsu dealer here in Panama, and they did a full workover of the motor. They found a couple of minor things. But when they brought it back for a test drive, it still didn't work any better.

The mechanic had insightfully brought a new carbuerator, just in case. When he swapped it out, the motor worked perfectly. They said that sometimes the carb just gets boogered up.

So it cost us the price of a new carb, and some labor, but it's now performing properly. We have the old carb to keep as a spare. Dave wants to try to rehabilitate it some day when he has nothing better to do.

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Back in Panama City
Well, we're back here in Panama City.

After about 3 days of enjoying the extra amps our new generator gives us, the battery charger in our Heart Freedom 20 Inverter/Charger went out.

Dave spent a day in the Pedro Gonzales anchorage troubleshooting things. We borrowed another Honda genset from a friend and made sure it wasn't the generator. Then we called Xantrex (the new owners of Heart) and got some troubleshooting advice. When Dave exhausted everything we could think of, we headed back to Panama City to see if we could hook up with the Xantrex Authorized Dealer.

Well, it turned out that the Xantrex rep is in David, the second largest city in Panama, and a 4 hour bus ride away. So we opted to instead take it to a local well-recommended electronics shop. (Electronica Ancon in Balboa, near the YMCA). They took it apart and did component level testing, and found a couple of relays that seemed to be burned. They replaced the relays and it seems to be working. Dave will install it this morning and check it out. Whew! I hope it works.

Meanwhile, we've taken our sewing machine to the local Singer place. We're supposed to go back to pick it up today, with a handful of Sunbrella and the normal thread we use, so he an do a final tuning on it.

Unfortunately, while screwing around in Panama City, we may have missed a very good weather window to go west. The wind came out of the NE yesterday, for the first time. And it's supposed to stay that way for today, and then switch back to SW and blow like stink for a week. :P

I can't quite figure out what weather features are creating the big wind, other than maybe the 2 hurricanes off the coast of Central America, much further north than here. My grib files only go out 6 days, and I don't see any letup in the 20kt SW wind. Bleah!! The highs and lows move around but the wind doesn't seem to change.

We haven't found a 'Chris Parker equivalent' over here in the Pacific, to help us learn how to read the weather patterns. There's a guy that forecasts further up north, but not really down here.

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Wednesday, October 08, 2008
Mileage Update
So Far in 2008:            Miles: 2,514   Engine Hrs: 441
Since May 25, 2007:   Miles: 3,750   Engine Hrs: 616

Total Nights: May 25 - Oct 8: 499
- On Passage:          11
- On Anchor:          206
- On a Mooring:         4
- In a Marina:        278
   - Inland Travel:    63
   - In the U.S.:        50

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Thursday, October 02, 2008
Hanging out in Pedro Gonzales
We left Balboa on Saturday and have been hanging out at Isla Pedro Gonzales in the Las Perlas islands of Panama.

When we got here on Saturday, in this normally quiet beautiful anchorage, we anchored in the middle of a 'weigh in' and sponsors party associated with a fishing tournament. We found 3 sailboats and literally 50 fishing yachts in the anchorage. There was a canopy with tables and chairs and a band on the beach. Lanchas were running back and forth carrying people into the party. They didn't invite us.

The cruisers gathered on another cruising boat, RDreamz, to watch the fun. Fortunately Phil and Leslie on Carina had been thru one of these before, and said that most of the boats do not spend the night. True to form, all but about 6 boats left soon after dark.

We've been doing 'boat projects' and socializing with the other cruising boats. A couple of boats have just arrived from western Panama (and before that, Costa Rica).

So we've had a couple of happy hours, a trash burn on the beach, and a potluck on the beach.

Above: Philip & Leslie from s/v Carina


Dave got our dinghy wheels mounted. They are huge but effective. Thanks to Jim Yates for lugging them down in his luggage!

You need them here because the 15-foot tide create very looooong beaches for dragging the dinghy up and down.

We have commissioned our new Honda EU2000i generator. It is a quiet, light, but very effective gasoline generator. We were able to buy one here in Panama through Marine Warehouse for $1100 (you can buy them in the States for about $875 delivered). It is the size and weight of our sewing machine, so it is easy to move around, and store it down below when we're on the move.

Dave made a plug that goes from the generator 110v outlet to our normal 30amp 110v shore power plug. Our Link 2000 has a way to limit the load that the battery charger draws (Power Sharing = 10amps) so we don't overload the generator. With this on, it starts out with a 60amp DC charge and then does the normal step down as the batteries come up.

Though Dave is an avowed solar power nut, we have found that trying to live on 100% solar power during rainy season near the equator isn't cutting it. We have 2-3 day stretches where we aren't getting enough sun to keep up. So we will use the generator to fill in the gaps and save wear on the engine. So far we're really liking it.

Our Outback solar controller showing 30amps going into the battery, late morning on a sunny day.

We ran a new halyard for our Code Zero sail yesterday, and Dave wanted to route it inside the mast on the way down. So he spent yesterday cutting a hole in the mast to let it out.

We've spent some time swapping cruising info with the boats headed into the Caribbean, and info on Panama and Golfito, Coasta Rica for us. Both Carina and RDreamz are headed into the Pacific this season, so we've also spent some time swapping info with them.

I have also been working on understanding the Pacific weather products, so we can figure out weather windows. Unfortunately, it sounds like getting to Costa Rica from here is going to be another nearly upwind and maybe upcurrent slog for 400 miles. Fortunately it's light air season, and we don't have to do it all in one jump.

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Friday, September 26, 2008
Canal Recaps & Pics Posted
I have put a couple of new posts and some pics from our transit, but I sequenced them in order for our historical record. So those of you watching for the latest posts for updates, might miss it.

You can see them all together at this link: Panama Canal

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Wednesday, September 24, 2008
The Flamenco Anchorage, Balboa, Panama

We stopped in here for a few days to let off passengers and pick up a few things before we start moving NW toward Golfito, Costa Rica.

The favored anchorage seems to change depending on the season, as the prevailing winds change.

For the rainy season, the anchorage is on the east side of the causeway that the Balboa Yacht Club is on the west side of, at the Pacific entry to the Panama Canal. As shown by the anchor in the Bauhaus guide, you tuck up on the north side of the Flamenco Marina area.

The only dinghy dock is at Flamenco Marina, and they charge $5.25 per day, somewhat loosely enforced (ie you definitely have to pay on your first visit, but they're not super strict about checking your receipt all the time. Some cruisers told us you could get by paying a few days at a time, and then skipping a few days). The dock is a nice floating dock and very secure.

View of Dinghy Dock & Fuel Dock

There is supposedly a $5/bag trash fee, but we have yet to be asked for it when we have dropped trash off. That may only be for boats getting rid of trash without paying for the dinghy dock.

There is a water hose at the dinghy dock, so you can fill jugs in the dinghy. Right now the dinghy area is at the far end of the fuel dock (in and to the left). There is a blue rope that designates the dinghy area, though even now in the low season, there's not enough room there for all the dinghies.

The Typical Clientele at the Docks

Note: Though the sign says Flamenco Marina, the official name according to the receipt we got is the Fuerte Amador Resort & Marina. Dockage is available at $1.65/foot short term and $1.50/foot long term.

The first time we anchored, we anchored south of where the Bauhaus guide showed, closer to the actual marina breakwater. This was fine for a day or so when the wind was very light. But when the wind came up just a little (10-12 knots), it got very rolly there. So we moved a quarter mile north to where Bauhaus shows the anchor. It is further from the dinghy dock, but much less rolly here. There is a large area, good holding, with about 10-15 feet at low tide.

Internet access: I can see the marina wifi out on the hook with my good wifi setup, at our first anchorage near the marina. But couldn't get anything free/open out there. The only usable hookup was the Flamenco Marina hotspot (nice strong signal), but when hooked up, you get a logon screen. When I asked at the marina about a logon, we were told that the marina internet connection is terrible, so don't bother paying for it. There is free wifi at the Flamenco Cafe and at Bennigans, both right at the marina. It is slow... probably the same feed that you have to pay for on the marina's wifi. I have not pursued a faster alternative ashore.

When we moved further down to the regular anchorage, I started picking up the Whisper hotspot. This is a 'for pay' hotspot, and you can buy 2 hrs for $5, or 15 hrs for $20. At $1.25/hr for reasonably fast wifi on the boat, I think it's a good value. (Dave said "Twenty dollars!!") You can sign up on their website with a credit card, or call the number on the webpage, or find a physical outlet (the shops/restaurants ashore in the shopping center, probably... we haven't been there). I just used my credit card. So far haven't regretted it, though it is probably a little bit risky over an unsecured wireless link.

There is fuel at the Flamenco Marina. It is way cheaper than it was at PCYC in Colon, and a little cheaper than BYC. It does a huge volume with the sportsfishing boats, so the fuel is very good.

There is a mini-mart at the marina, across from the office. It has basic stuff you'd expect at a marina-based mini-mart (no veggies).

There are taxis hanging out at the marina parking lot. We met one who was very nice, with a/c taxi, speaks english. Ramon's cell is 6452-7157. It's $30 to the international airport. Ramon will do 'by the hour' taxi $10/hour and he knows most of the places that the cruisers want to go.

There are buses that stop at the marina but as yet do not have any experience taking them yet. We understand that the route here either ends near the Albrook Mall or at Centro Commercial.

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Saturday, September 20, 2008
The Pearl Diving Submarine in the Perlas Islands

Yesterday, on our way around the east coast of Isla del Rey, we went to see what the locals call 'the Japanese Submarine', on the north coast of Isla San Telmo (St. Elmo).

Though everyone, including the cruising guides, refer to it as 'the Japanese submarine', we understand that it is really a 1860's pearl-diving submarine.

A marine archaeologist friend of Dave's by the name of Jim Delgado was here in 2001 and thought it didn't look very Japanese-like. He was very familiar with Japanese sub construction after spending years in the Pacific documenting Pacific WWII ship wrecks.

After encountering the sub on the beach while on vacation, he researched it some more and after spending time here again in 2002 and 2004 with several friends, including Larry Murphy formerly of the National Park Service, he eventually established that it was a "lost" pearl-diving submarine, 'Sub Marine Explorer', built by a German engineer in 1865. It is one of only 5 surviving submarines built before 1870. Read about the find here. Jim Delgado, the archaeologist, is a former historian with the US National Park Service, and is now the director of the Vancouver BC Maritime Museum. He and Dave worked together in the Pacific in the late 1980s, documenting Japanese wrecks.

To sum up the history of the Sub Marine Explorer... a German engineer, Julius Kroehl, built the sub in 1865 to do pearl diving in the Las Perlas islands. But they didn't know about 'the bends'... a problem that occurs when breathing compressed air at deep depths and then surfacing without properly decompressing. The boat arrived in Panama in Dec 1866 and did make several successful pearl dives to deep depths, but by Sep 1867 the engineer and all the sub operators died of 'the bends'. The next/last documented attempt to use the sub occurred in August 1869 when over a period of 11 days it recovered $2K worth of pearls (a LOT of money in those days). But again, soon after, all its crew died of the bends. The sub was then was abandoned, apparently beached on San Telmo and left for good.

The Bauhaus Panama guide book mentioned the sub, but only that it was a Japanese sub on the north side of San Telmo. So we got on the VHF and got a waypoint from s/v Carina. Our Tides & Currents 3.0 program seems to be pretty accurate, and it indicated that low tide was about noon. So we set out from the Punta Cocos anchorage (S end of Isla del Rey) and arrived right about noon.




The sub was clearly visible on the beach at low tide, but would be covered at high tide. It was shaped like a fat cigar and is pretty large. I am amazed at how well-preserved it is after sitting in salt water for 150 years. We took a zillion pictures and will post some here as soon as we get internet.

Sub position: 08-16.896N 078-50.743W
Our anchorage: 08-17.050N 078-50.801W (day anchorage only, in settled weather)

There is an uncharted rock/reef outside/north our anchored position that was visible at low tide at APPROX 08-17.136N 078-50.815

On a settled day with a fast dinghy, you could also dinghy to see the sub from the Punta Cocos anchorage.

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Friday, September 19, 2008
Whale Ho!!!
Our First Whale Tail! (Jim Yates)

We are really excited to be in whale territory. We have had numerous sightings so far of huge humpbacks, though we don't have a great picture to post yet.

Once when we were sailing, we sighted a whale about 200 yards directly in front of us. Dave was worried about colliding with it, but it sank out of sight before we got close. You could see the swirls in the water where he had flipped his tail when we went over the spot.

One night, in the Isla Pedro Gonzales southeast anchorage, they were playing in the swirl of current going by the point. Doing what we called 'Tail Flops'. They stand on their head and whack their tail back and forth on the surface of the water. Very impressive. No pics of this, as it was at night (but enough moonlight to see that it was whale tails making the smacking sounds).

On our final night in the Perlas, we were anchored on the north side of Isla Contadora, and were treated to a show by a couple of whales going by the anchorage.

A Humpback Whale Breeches Nearby (Dave McCampbell)

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Thursday, September 18, 2008
Isla Contadora, Las Perlas, Panama
Monday, Sep 15
Anchorage Position: 08-37.91N 79-02.39W

We left Taboga about 8:30 for the 40 mile run to the Las Perlas islands. We had chosen an anchorage on the north coast of Contadora, because someone told Dave that there was good diving there. The guidebooks talk a lot about the winter weather, but they don't say much about the summer weather. And we don't know the normal weather patterns here.

We had a nice day motoring across. We trolled two fishing lines, and did get several hits, but all the fish we pulled in were Bonito, which aren't very good eating.

When we arrived at the anchoring spot, it looked OK. Here again there were moorings in the anchorage, but also a couple of anchored cruising boats. So we picked a spot between empty moorings and anchored in 25'. Checking my trusty electronic tide table, we were at high tide, with a 15 foot tidal range. That means that at low tide, our 25' depth will shrink to 10' !!!

During the evening, dark clouds started to build. We had a pretty good lightning show after dinner. We were a little apprehensive about what the weather might bring during the night. But the weather held until early morning, when we really got hit... hard rain and lots of lightning and thunder very close by. We filled our water tanks and put the valuable electronics in the oven. Fortunately, no direct hits from the lightning.

The forecast was for strong SWly winds, and we were a little exposed to the SW. We heard a couple of boats on the net talking about Isla Pedro Gonzales. We remembered reading an SSCA letter from another cruiser saying that Pedro Gonzales was the best anchorage they'd seen on the whole west coast of Central America.

So when the rain let up, we set off for Pedro Gonzales.

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Isla Taboga, Panama
The guidebook has a clearly-marked anchor in the harbor at Taboga, but where the anchor is is now filled with moorings.

We arrived on Sunday afternoon, and understandably, the harbor and the beach was pretty full of power boats from Panama City. As far as we could tell, everyone was on a mooring.

We hadn't thought to ask anyone about Taboga specifically, though we had gotten several tips from some new friends on Rhapsody on where to go in the Las Perlas (Pearl) Islands. The only cruising boats we could see in the harbor looked unoccupied. Where there were no moorings, it was over 50 feet deep (at high tide). Even the outer harbor had 4-5 large (about 200 feet long) Tuna boats.

Finally we saw a dinghy coming out from shore to a power boat on a mooring. They looked like cruisers and not locals. We idled over nearby and asked them about anchoring and/or mooring. They recommended we call 'Libre' on channel 74 and ask about a mooring. We called a couple of times, but didn't get an answer. Then we heard Rhapsody, back in Balboa, calling us and telling us to go to 77. We still aren't quite sure exactly why, since Libre was close ashore somewhere, but Rhapsody (8 miles away)
could hear Libre answering us. So they relayed for us and directed us to a mooring.

Later, Chuy and Susan from Libre stopped by in their dinghy. They are a cruising couple from California who have put down roots at Taboga, and they now run 'Taboga Island Moorings'. You can call or email ahead for a mooring at 507-6442-5712 or chusanandlibre@hotmail.com. They also do 'boat sitting' for people who need to leave the boat for a little while.

We didn't go ashore. It looked like a small town with a resort atmosphere... there is regular ferry service to Panama City/Balboa, and cell phone service, and even wifi. It's very popular with the Panamanians on the weekend, but gets a little sleepy on weekdays.

It was a nice enough anchorage, but a little rolly (our mooring was pretty far out). The only really bad thing was that the tuna boats ran their generators and lights all night long.

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Our New Code 0 Sail

Dave has been talking about getting a Code Zero sail ever since I met him. On our first date, he showed me the Facnor roller furler that he had just purchased for it.

We have looked on all the used sail sites on and off for the past 2 years, and have been unable to find a used sail that would work. And by the time you buy it used and have it modified to do what we want with it... We talked to a few sailmakers at the last St. Pete boat show, and got some quotes. They were pretty expensive (in the $2000-$4000 range), so we put off doing anything.

But as the price of diesel fuel has been rising, and as we've been motoring around in light winds all summer long, we finally justified the expense by talking about cost savings at approx $4.50 per motoring hour here in Panama and probably more than that out in the South Pacific.

So with the ability to ship stuff to Panama pretty easily via Marine Warehouse, we went ahead and ordered a new Code 0 from Dave's favorite sailmaker (SuperSailmakers in Ft. Lauderdale, a Doyle loft). We took delivery of the sail in Colon just before we left... didn't even have a chance to get it out of the bag, though.

Finally, sitting on the mooring in Balboa, Dave hauled it out and he and Jim Yates (one of our visiting line handlers) rigged it up and got it rolled onto the furler.

With great anticipation, we rolled it out on our way to Taboga. It seemed the conditions were perfect... light winds on the beam.

It lasted about 10 minutes before the wind came up a little and broke the block at the top of the mast. Rats! And with the rise in wind came a wind shift... on our nose again.

The next day before we left the mooring, Dave found a replacement block and went up the mast to replace the broken one. (The cheek broke).

But on our way from Taboga to Contadora, the wind was almost on our nose the whole way. And, the distance was 40 miles to the closest anchorage, so we couldn't afford to stay out there messing around with sails all day. So we motored again. But we did notice that the lower attachment point of the sail, on our anchor tray, as far forward as we can put it, wasn't working out as anticipated. (the tray was lifting off the frame as we tensioned the luff).

So yesterday, hanging out at anchor at Isla Pedro Gonzales, Dave and Ron and Jim engineered a cobbled-up fix to the problem. I was busying doing other things, but there were sawing and drilling noises coming from the workshop. I'm sure Dave will explain the final solution when we have it working well. About dusk they seemed satisfied that what they had whipped up would work for now.

We are hoping to be able to sail today. We have 20 miles to go to the next anchorage.

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Monday, September 15, 2008
Balboa Yacht Club
We stayed about 24 hours at Balboa Yacht Club, situated right at the entrance to the Panama Canal on the Pacific side.

A few facts:

- Only moorings there (no room to anchor right in this spot) - $22/night plus 5%
- Wifi available in the mooring field
- Free lancha, so you don't have to put your dinghy down
- Nice bar and restaurant
- BYC stands by on VHF 06
- The local cruisers are on VHF 74 and there is a net 8am every day except Sundays

- The HF net on this side is the Panama Pacific Net on 8143 USB, at 9am local time

We had to leave by Sunday afternoon, because Dave opted to check out of Panama at the Colon Yacht Club for Costa Rica (with intermediate stops), when we left Colon.

It was either that or check out of Colon for Balboa and have to check out of Balboa (another expense) later. What we didn't know when we made that decision was that we'd have to check out of Balboa, immigration-wise, within 48 hours of getting our Zarpe in Colon (or face a fine, or have to check back into Balboa). We were hoping the Balboa Immigration guy would let us stay til Mon morning, but no such luck.

So we left BYC yesterday and sailed 9 miles SW to the island of Taboga.

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Sunday, September 14, 2008
Panama Canal - Locking in the Rain

Catching up a little...
One of the passengers on the small cruise ship Islamorada that we rafted up with for the last set of locks sent us some pictures of us in the rain. (Thanks, Maria!)


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Saturday, September 13, 2008
Panama Canal Transit - Our Crew
Just wanted to recognize and thank our crew... guest linehandlers Ron & Dorothy Sheridan, and Jim Yates, who flew down from Florida to help us out. And of course, Sherry, our 4th linehandler, and Captain Dave, who impressed our Advisors with his skill on the helm.

Ron Sheridan, owner/captain of the CSY 44 Pilothouse Ketch, Memory Rose, currently based in Guatemala


Dorothy Sheridan, Chef Extraordinaire and First Mate on Memory Rose


Jim Yates, owner/captain of the Roberts 56, Carisma AND the Lindenberg 28, Bad Penny, both currently based in Satellite Beach, Florida


Co-Captains Dave and Sherry McCampbell

The pictures on the Panama Canal and Las Perlas sections of the blog have been taken by one of the above people. We had 5 people and 7 cameras!!! Thanks crew for the help, the pics, and the memories!! See you in Tahiti!!

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Panama Canal Transit - Day 2 Recap
When we woke up the next morning, there were about 8 large ships out there on the lake, between us and the main channel. From what we understand, part of the route between Gatun Lake and the next set of locks is too narrow for large ships to pass each other. (I think the part that's the problem is Galliard Cut, but I'm not sure). So they have to sequence the ships so there's a group that comes thru in one direction, and then a slug that comes thru in the other direction. And the tail end of each group waits in Gatun Lake.

Our Advisor Finally Arrives

We were up and ready to get going by 6:30am, as instructed. But our advisor didn't get there til about 8am. We got underway immediately and took the 'Banana Cut' route. It is a small boat channel, and saves about a mile and a half. We had about 25 miles to go to the next lock (Pedro Miguel), and an appointment for 12:30. So we had the pedal to the metal the whole time, even cutting corners on the wide sweeping channels (at the direction of our advisor) to save time. It was a pretty trip but I didn't see much of it... I was too busy feeding people. Jim and Dorothy took lots of pics. I was making breakfast and lunch, mostly.

You Can Still See Trees from When Gatun Lake Was Flooded

A Car Carrier called a RoRo (Roll On, Roll Off)

Dredges Keeping the Channel Open

Ships Passing By in Channel

The USCG Training Ship Eagle


The down locks on the Pacific side are two sets of locks... Pedro Miguel and Miraflores, about a mile apart. I think there are 2 chambers in Pedro Miguel and 3 in Miraflores. As we started into the first chamber at Pedro Miguel, the dark storm clouds that had been gathering finally opened up. It absolutely poured on us for the entire time we were in the locks.

As we pulled out of the last chamber at Miraflores, the rain quit. Our advisor (who had said, when Dave asked him if those dark clouds were going to rain on us, "No.") said he had never been in the locks in such heavy rain. He was not dressed for it... he had a jacket but it was more a windbreaker than a heavy rain jacket. At one point, once we got secured, he gave his radio to us to keep it dry (they are special radios on special frequencies, not standard VHF).

Our Advisor, Happy to Be Through the Locks Safely

Once you exit at Miraflores, you are only a few miles from Balboa Yacht Club, passing under the famous Bridge of the Americas.

The Bridge of the Americas

Onward To The Pacific!!!

We had called ahead on the phone a couple of days before to get a mooring at Balboa Yacht Club. They don't take reservations, so we called the afternoon before and again the morning of. Fortunately this time of year it's low low season, so there was a mooring available. For $25 a nite, it's not bad... convenient. But not absolutely necessary.

Now that we've been in the Flamenco anchorage, that would be perfectly fine too. (The Flamenco anchorage, at least this time of year, is around on the other side of the causeway from BYC, pretty much right where Bauhaus shows it). In the Flamenco anchorage you pay $5.25 per day for dinghy dockage, for a floating dock with security. They supposedly have a $5/bag trash fee, but we've never been asked for it yet. Dave thinks the dinghy dock fee is reasonable, and apparently there's no way around it... we've asked several people and there seems to be no other place to leave your dinghy on this side of the causeway. But someone else told us that they don't enforce/check your receipt. So if you pay for a few days at a time, once a week or so, you can cut your costs by a third to a half. However, you know Dave, he insists on following the rules, so we are paying for every day.

Customs/Immigration issues... You have to get a zarpe for somewhere when you leave Colon. Your choice is to zarpe to Balboa, and then pay for another zarpe later to leave the country, or zarpe onward to whereever you are going next. For us, that was Costa Rica. For only $20, Tito in Colon got us our onward zarpe. Versus paying about $50 in Balboa on top of a $20 zarpe for Colon to Balboa. What we didn't realize when we made the decision was that, once you have your international zarpe, you have 48 hours to clear immigration and (theoretically) leave Balboa.

There is an immigration guy at Balboa Yacht Club, and our 48 hours was up at 5pm the day after we completed the transit. Dave asked him if we could stay overnight and leave in the morning, but he said we had to leave that day. With him right there, we couldn't really stay. So we left for Taboga that afternoon (only 7 miles away).

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Panama Canal Transit - Day 1 Recap
The transit wasn't very hard. We had good advisors on both legs (the evening lock up, and the next morning lock down). They both spoke good english, knew what they were doing, and knew enough about small boats to understand the situation. Dave is really good at driving Soggy Paws, so everyone was pretty calm.

Getting Ready to Leave Panama Canal Yacht Club

On the lock up, we were supposed to 'side tie' to another vessel. That's what Dave requested when we scheduled our lockage, and that's what the plan was when the Advisor got on board. He even pointed out the boat we were going to tie up to (the Islamorada, see pics in another post)

Our Advisor Comes Aboard Near The Flats

But as we were getting lined up for the first lock, he said the plan had changed. It was something about that it was not safe to have 3 small boats AND a big boat in the locks at the same time. And we were the last guy/smallest boat. So we got bumped to the other lock (there are 2 locks side by side) doing what's called 'center chamber', behind a big ship. (They always put the small boats behind on the up-locking and the small boats in front on the down-locking).

Waiting Our Turn To Go In

The reason you want to request 'side tie to a tug' is that you raft up to the tug (or larger vessel) and THEY handle the lines along the wall. We just tie up to them. It's much easier for the crew on your own vessel. (As long as the crew on the other vessel is competent.)

'Center chamber' meant that we had to work... They put us in the middle of the chamber, behind the big ship. We had our 4 long lines out bow and stern, and then we had to keep tightening the lines as the water rose.

As we approached the lock, we had our 125' lines ready with a loop in one end and flaked out on deck, with the bitter end secured to a cleat. The Canal line handlers up in the lock threw us a monkeys fist tied to small line, and we tied that around our loop, and they brought the loop up to them and dropped it on a bollard. Then we tended our lines as the water rose.

Jim Readies His Line

It was really hard work... the lines are so thick and stiff that we had to pull the slack in on the line with one hand and take it up around the cleat with the other, bending over the whole time. Because of the way the water comes in, it pushes the boat from one side or the other, so usually only the lines on one side or the other of the boat get any slack in them. The boat line handlers on the other side just keep their line secure.

In the first chamber, Ron and I were on the stern, and I did all the work. Ron gallantly offered to switch sides with me for the next chamber, and I gratefully switched sides with him. But the direction of the 'push' switched sides too, so I had to work again.

Dorothy, up on the starboard bow, had a little trouble getting her line secured at the first chamber, but we had Jim Yates on the bow with her, and the advisor was right there helping out a little also. By the second chamber, we were all 'old hands', and had no further problems.

Dorothy on the Starboard Bow

Locking up at night wasn't hard. We took the advisor onboard at 5pm and got to the approach area of Gatun Lock about 6pm. We had to wait for the other boats (a large ship and 2 other smaller boats). We got to the first chamber before dark, and then once in the locks, it's all lit up.

Entering Gatun Lock at Night

When we got thru the last chamber at Gatun Locks and went out onto the lake, it was pretty dark out there. Though our advisor knew about where it was, and it would show up on radar, a waypoint for the bouy would have been useful.

Gatun Lake Sailboat Bouy: 09-15.665N 079-54.138.

There are two huge moorings there, and at least 4 35-55' boats could raft up to the two, easily. The moorings are so big that you don't tie off to it from the bow, but actually side tie (raft) to it.

Jim on the Mooring in Gatun Lake

We finally got secured about 10pm, and the pilot boat showed up about 10 minutes later to take our advisor off. The Soggy Paws crew had a congratulatory drink and a snack, and went promptly to bed.

Our Advisor Leaves for the Night

We were the only boat we could see on the lake. The other two smaller vessels that we were supposed to have been locking through with... a large fishing vessel and an excursion boat (the Islamorada) had gone on. Unfortunately, it's not as exotic and remote as it sounds... The mooring was off some kind of maintenance facility that was also pretty lit up. But we did hear a very loud troupe of howler monkeys on shore. We looked for, but did not see, crocodiles.

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In the Pacific Ocean!!!

With 4 cameras aboard, we took about a billion pictures yesterday and today. I will post a few very soon.

But we are now on a mooring at Balboa Yacht Club in the Pacific Ocean. Yahoo!

No problems on the transit (other than getting very wet handling lines). We had good advisors (one last night and one today).

Thanks, Nicki... great job posting. Sorry about the raindrops on the camera... it poured rain the whole time we were in the Pedro Miguel & Miraflores locks. (and quit just as we pulled out of the locks).

Crew is celebrating. More tomorrow!

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Panama Canal - Miraflores Lock

Thanks to cousin Bryan for capturing this picture as we locked thru at Miraflores!

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Panama Canal: Tracking Post Day 2
10:00 AM EDT: ETA at Pedro Miguel lock is 1:30 PM EDT.

1:40 PM EDT: Entered Miraflores lock in a rainstorm!

Soggy Paws in the Miraflores Lock

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Friday, September 12, 2008
Panama Canal: Tracking Post
This post will be updated as I receive new messages.

8:45 PM EDT: Soggy Paws entered the first Gatun lock (east). They are behind a ship?

9:30 PM EDT: Entered the 2nd lock. Waving at the cameras!

10:50 PM EDT: Done for the night.

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Gatun locks: 8:15 PM EDT
This is Nicki posting for Sherry and Dave. I just received a text message from Sherry stating that their ETA for the Gatun locks is 7:50 PM EDT.

UPDATE: Current ETA at Gatun is 8:15 PM EDT, east locks.

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Pilot Time: 5pm (6pm EDT)
We are supposed to meet our pilot on The Flats at 5pm. There is still a chance the schedule might get changed, however. Our friend here who is a retired pilot told us that anything could happen. She strongly recommended that we call about 2pm and double-check the time.

But for now we are planning to have all our stuff done by 3pm. Dorothy is working on a last load of laundry for everyone. Ron and Jim are inspecting the lines we got yesterday from Tito. Dave is working on paperwork... getting our Zarpe and paying our bill at PCYC. I am cooking a big stew for the crew and our 'Advisor'.

Tito Delivering Our Lines

I'll do another post when we confirm the pickup time (about 2:30pm Local Time.. add 1 hour for EDT).

Nicki has promised to do another post when we start through the locks at Gatun, but we will probably be going through about 6pm local, 7pm EDT.

The Gatun Locks webcam

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Wednesday, September 10, 2008
Sightseeing a Little
Yesterday we took a break from 'getting ready' to go to Panama City.


It was partially a sightseeing trip, partially to go 'collect' 2 of our line handlers (Ron and Dorothy Sheridan) and partially to get a few things in Panama City.

Though taking a bus is the cheapest way... The bus departs once an hour from the Colon bus terminal near the marina, and only costs $2.50 for a luxury A/C bus with movie.


We opted to take the train. The train makes a round trip from Panama City daily, leaving Panama City about 7am and returning from Colon at 5:15pm. We originally thought is was totally a 'tourist train', but found out that it has a practical purpose. It brings workers from Panama City to Colon, primarily staff of the Free Trade Zone. Apparently the employers lease cars on the train to bring their workers back and forth.


Only one car on the train is for the tourists, a nice observation car. It fills up quickly, so we were glad we got there early (about 4:45pm). It was a nice 1 hour ride to Panama City.

Gatun Lake from the Train


We stayed overnight in La Estancia, a small bed and breakfast situated in what used to be Officers Quarters on Ancon Hill. This is a nice setting, close to the city, but away from the city. At $70 it is a little higher than we usually choose to pay, but breakfast was included and it was really a nice place (hot water, very good beds, nicely kept). There were birds and monkeys in the trees.


Dave and I did some running around in Panama City early in the morning. When Ron and Dorothy arrived, we all headed out to Miraflores Lock to have lunch and see the museum. We also got to see a ship transiting the lock.

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Thursday, September 04, 2008
Official Panama Canal Transit Date: September 12

Well, we have it. An official date for our Panama Canal Transit. We will leave Colon the evening of September 12, and do our up-locking during the late hours of the 12th. We stay overnight on a mooring in Gatun Lake, and then lock down to Balboa on the 13th.

Yesterday our agent, Tito, took us down to the ACP (Authority Canal de Panama) office and we registered Soggy Paws with the ACP. After registering and scheduling the measurement, Tito got us in to the Canal Operations Room. This is where the guys that actually control the traffic at the Colon end of the canal operate. They have a control tower view of the port and the beginning of the Canal, and an electronic status board of where all the ships are (probably using AIS). We got to meet the head guy, Captain Federico Cockburn, whose official title is Senior Canal Port Captain. He gave us a tour of the control room.

Dave in the Canal Operations Room with Captain Federico

Then the measurer came to the docks to do the official measurement.

Dave thought Soggy Paws was a shade over 50 feet, from the tip of the bowsprit to the aft end of the dinghy davits/solar panel arch. We were anticipating getting hit with the 'over 50 feet' fee, which is $250 more than the 'under 50 feet' fee. We had contemplated disassembling the arch, but decided it was too much work (not just the structure but the wiring for the solar array, the radar, the anchor light, etc).

We were pleasantly surprised to find that we measured out at a few inches under 50 feet.

The measurer is also supposed to inspect and make sure that we had the required 4 125-foot lines, and appropriate fenders. However, all we had to do was wave Tito's receipt at him, and he checked the box that said 'inspected'. Tito will furnish the lines and fenders on the day of our transit, and be responsible for getting them back after the transit. He is well known at the ACP, and one of the reasons we chose to use him, rather than try to do it all ourselves 'on the cheap'.

After about an hour of paperwork and discussion with the measurer, we had our official ACP Number.

The next step was to go pay the fee at the bank. They made a credit card impression that INCLUDED the $891 damage deposit. They hold this credit open until you actually complete your transit, and then close out the transaction without the damage deposit (hopefully). This process is much easier now with credit cards than it used to be with cash transactions.

Here are the fees we paid for Panama:

Panama Canal Fees
- Transit for vessel < 50 feet $500
- TVI Inspection (Measurement) $54
- Security Charge $55
- Buffer (Damage Deposit) $891
- Tito's Service Fee $50
- Taxi (ACP visit, bank, etc) $20
- Line Rental (4 125-foot lines) $60
- Fender Rental (10 fenders) $30
- Agro/Health Inspection $17
- Linehandler Fees (if any) $110 per person

Customs Fees
- Cruising Permit for Panama $69
- Passport Stamps $10 per person $20
- International Zarpe (to leave) $20

We think we have 3 friends coming from the States to do line handling, and are looking for the required 4th line handler from the cruising community locally. Hopefully we won't have to PAY for a line handler, but we've already had offers from the local dock hands.

After 6pm on the day we completed the paperwork, we called the ACP scheduler for our transit date. Though I think we could have gotten through earlier, we asked for a date of Friday, September 12th, because we have friends flying in to help with the transit, and they don't arrive til the 11th.

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

The Panama Canal has webcams on the main locks. We will be passing through Gatun Lock, southbound, on the evening of Friday, Sep 12, and through Miraflores Lock, southbound, on the morning of Saturday, Sep 13.

Here's the link to the Panama Canal webcams page. Maybe you can see us transit. We won't get specific times until the day before, and as soon as we get them, we'll post what we know.

Background information on the canal is better found at the Panama Canal Wikipedia Link

A great history of the Panama Canal is The Path Between the Seas. You can order a used copy at Amazon.com for under $10, or probably find it at the library. Very fascinating, both the engineering side of the construction and the international politics at the time.

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