Sunday, February 9, 2014

Finally, Panama astern!!

21:30, Monday, 27 January 2014. Anchored at La Playita, Panama

It is hard to believe that we are back in the Pacific Ocean and back in the anchorage where we were almost a year ago. We know some of the boats here. Some have been here all along while others, like Sundancer, have returned from voyages far afield, Ecuador in their case. There are also a few that crossed the canal before us or since we did who are getting ready to begin their Pacific adventure. The ARC rally boats (around the world in 15 months) are also coming through, some 45 in all. The rally actually started in the Caribbean so some are not tuned in with the rigors of cruising yet, like the boats on the Baja Ha Ha. Several have been causing havoc by dragging at anchor, taking up most of the dinghy spaces at the dock and a few almost losing theirs as the tides left them high and dry. They are entertaining….

We departed Shelter Bay as planned last Wednesday, with the Jacksons and their grand-daughter Ashlyn as our Canal crew and crossed the first set of locks in the late afternoon.
The Motley Crue: Bill, Ashlyn, J-G and Janet

We were one of 3 sailboats tied together for the locking up. By the time we arrived at the mooring buoy in Lake Gatun it was dark. It was a pleasant night but an early morning with the advisor scheduled to arrive 06:30. He (Harold) arrived an hour late but we were the first of the 3 boats to leave for the crossing. Harold’s real job is as a security guard but he moonlights as a small boat advisor as often as he can. He proved to be quite the character and kept a running commentary for almost the entire crossing pointing out highlights and giving us a Canal history lesson. Among the many sights he pointed out were the prison where Noriega has been incarcerated since he was returned to Panama and the giant “Hercules” cranes that had originated in wartime Germany for lifting submarines in dockyards. 
Harold: Advisor, tour guide wannabe
Hercules crane
Noriega's home sweet home
We arrived at the Pedro Miguel locks by 13:00 but had to wait till 16:00 for the ship we were supposed to be locking down with, and it was late. The other 2 sailboats had already gone through so we were left all by our lonesome in front of our accompanying freighter. While we were waiting a Canal tug did some alongside practices on a buoy close-by. It is a daunting feeling to see a Panamax ship sliding into the same lock astern and we couldn’t help but pray that the small line handling locomotives, assisting the ship would keep positive control. Being alone in the lock we were secured by 4 lines, two each side, handled by our crew so that we maintained that position while they drained the lock. We had no incidents, unlike many boats we heard about where lines parted or the vessels slewed into the walls due to crew error or just plain bad luck.

Canal tug: buoy bashing practice

Janet tending a line with freighter astern

By 19:00 we were out of the last of the Miraflores locks and back in the waters of the Pacific, on our way to this anchorage. We arrived after dark found a spot and settled in for another celebration of a successful Canal crossing. While in the Miraflores locks our advisor had the canal crew re-aim the webcam so that it pointed directly at us and a flurry of phone calls, e-mails and Facebook postings went out to notify as many people as we could to tune us in.
Pacific in sight!!!
Canal geek, with GOPRO camera 

It has been 4 days now since that memorable event and we are getting ready to press on to Mexico. The Jacksons left a few days ago and are now home in Canada. We are getting used to the better weather conditions here. It is sunnier, less chop, still windy during the day but we are now experiencing more of an on-shore, off-shore wind pattern.  

3 days ago we discovered that our refrigeration system had a major problem. The seawater cooling had finally corroded through the Freon tubes and contaminated the entire system. We have been trying to source out a replacement but we will definitely be delayed until it arrives. Hopes to meet my brother and sister-in-law in Playa Del Coco, Costa Rica in 10 days will most likely be dashed.

 Meanwhile we are getting back into the routine of this anchorage with its morning nets, the various cruiser services, Pizza night Thursdays and better access to shopping. Tomorrow Fran completes the exit papers and I get the propane, gasoline and diesel tanks filled. Then we wait for the fridge parts.

We had a great evening with Ron and Heather (Sundancer) last night catching up on all of their adventures in Ecuador. They almost talked us into accompanying them on another trek there later this season. We were sobered up the following morning and nixed that idea but, I must agree, it was tempting. 

21:00, Thursday, 30 January 2014, La Playita Anchorage

Great news! The new refrigeration system has arrived. We should have it installed and working by tomorrow afternoon and, with luck, we should be on our way the following day. We had problems getting the initial order sourced out and had decided that we were going to leave anyway using ice to get us up the coast but Tuesday afternoon, Marine Warehouse, a local facilitator for marine orders came through with the promise of a 2-4 day delivery. They did it in 2, fabulous!! We are $2000 poorer (lost 10% on the exchange rate) but we can now be assured that we will have ice for the rum and cold beer. Creature comforts, I know. We can now do our last big shop before we leave, knowing that the perishables will keep.

It has been interesting to see our batteries charge up without the refrigerator drain; by 10am we were fully charged. The amount of sunshine also helps, quite the difference from the Caribbean.

Yesterday was 25% off day at Abernathy’s, the local boat supply store so I got a few early birthday presents; an air propelled spear-gun and a decent trolling rod and reel. Hope to give both a baptism by fire soon!

22:00, Saturday, 1 February 2014, La Playita Anchorage
The fridge took a bit longer than planned to install due to a lack of proper sized hoses but after a run into town today it is almost completed. We have refrigeration on the air-cooled circuit and, hopefully, will have the water-cooling installed tomorrow. We now realize that we will not be able to make it to Playa de Coco in time to meet my brother so we’ll be leaving Monday. 

Yesterday an old friend arrived from Tobago Island where he had stored his boat for the last 7 months. Michael Bell and his Argentinean friend Alejandro sailed Epiphany the entire way but needed a bit of assistance to anchor on arrival. Epiphany’s Atomic 4 engine is not working and will need some TLC before they can leave for Golfito. If the repairs can be done we may have them as sailing buddies for the way up.

Sad to say we will also have to say good-bye to Heather and Ron (Sun Dancer). They will be heading to the Galapagos and Ecuador in another month. We will miss them and Heather’s great pub food.

 14:00, Tuesday, February 04, 2014, Moored at Chuey’s moorings, Taboga, Is

 I had hoped to post this before leaving Panama but our internet stick continued to give us problems so it will have to be sent from our next stop, Golfito, Costa Rica. 

More delays and issues caused us to lag on in Playita for another few days. The salt water cooling function for the refrigeration system was a bit trickier to install, then we had to clean out the water-maker system and then, to top it all off, I came down with another case of prostatitis, the second in 3 months. That gland has its days numbered!!! We had to let that run its 3-4 day course but decided to leave Playita for Taboga, a 5-mile trip, this morning when I didn’t feel to bad. It sure feels nice to finally be away from Panama.
Fresh bananas for the ride up. 

Royal Exchange is still here, after 2-3 years looking forlorn but in good shape. Her owners, Lin and Lee will, most likely never be back after Lee's tragic accident just over a year ago. Royal Ex was the first boat we really cruised in and where we got our desire to do it ourselves. She is for sale and will be a bargain for whoever takes her on. We took a number of photos for Lin and Lee but were not able to get inside as Chuey is away on holidays.
Royal Exchange

The water quality in the entire Gulf has changed again to the conditions that met us as we arrived last year. The water is much colder than usual, in the low 70s F and it is carrying a lot of plankton and other crap from the deep. The other day, in Playita, a surface layer of red tide drifted into the anchorage. The smell alone was bad enough but it also left a “bathtub ring” along our waterline. 

07:30, Friday, February 07, 2014, Anchored at Isla Brincano, Islas Contreras.

We stayed for the afternoon at Tabago and sailed away with the freshening late afternoon breeze. Our intention was to sail the night and get around Punta Mala by morning but I started to feel crappy again in the late afternoon so we anchored for the night at Isla Bano. We left early the next morning with a nice NW wind that lasted all morning but by the afternoon we were powering again and rounded Punta Mala in calm seas. By nightfall we were sailing along the southern cape in a brisk NW breeze that lasted into the following day. 

And here we are in another magical anchorage!! This island is part of the Coiba Marine Park system, patrolled by a private organization, the Mar Viva Foundation, which has its roots in Switzerland. The main island of Coiba is reputed to have the best scuba diving conditions in all of Panama. 

We arrived here late afternoon yesterday after an overnight passage from the Gulf of Panama. This is one of those anchorages that you rarely experience. We were the only occupants of this lovely bay and it is absolutely quiet. The water is crystal clear with fish and rays jumping so we decided to join them, al fresco. What a difference from the Gulf of Panama!! Here the water a pleasant 81F. It is sad to realize that we will not experience conditions like this again in our travels this season. 

16:00, Saturday, February 08, 2014. Anchored off Land and Sea Marina, Golfito, CR 

Another overnighter and we have arrived at Golfito. It was an early arrival and we managed to fuel up before anchoring in front of Tim and Katie’s little marina. We were here almost a year ago and little has changed. It is Saturday so we will have to wait out the weekend to check in to Costa Rica, actually we can’t do it till Tuesday as aduana (Customs) is closed Monday, another delay! We will have to make our next stop in Playa de Cocos to clear out of the country and that is a chore because of the aduana stop which is a taxi ride to the airport at Liberia, some 20 miles away.
Grackel inspection on arrival at Golfito..... 

On our way yesterday we decided to stop in at Isla Ladrones, a small island about 20 miles offshore but only a few miles off our track. We had time to spare so the diversion was welcomed. There was already a fishing boat at anchor, the crew resting before a night of grueling work so we quietly slipped in and anchored close by. We both went snorkeling (with suits on) and were amazed at the tame fish life. I think the fish were attracted by Fran’s bright yellow bathing suit. I went back for my spear gun and everything changed! Many fewer fish but one big parrot fish teased me for a while but slipped under a coral head when I went after it. Not to be outdone I followed and stopped dead when I saw a large moray eel stick its head out of the same coral head. Talk about a sneaky fish but this symbiotic relationship is probably the reason the Parrot fish was so big. We left at sunset and powered directly into a light westerly breeze, and a half moon that kept the ocean bright most of the night. Had we known that there was no possibility of checking into the country over the weekend we would have stayed but, alas, it wasn’t to be.

Since Panama we have gone 342 miles and have motored almost 60 hours. Hopefully we will, actually, sail more from here on in.

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