Panama - Balboa

Friday, January 2, 2009

Balboa - final preparations

The excitement is mounting! Three more weeks to go and we’re outa Panama and off across the Pacific. Thousands of miles to cover and exotic landfalls expected. Names like Nuku Hiva, Rarotonga, Papeete, Morea, Bora Bora, Tonga and the Bay of Islands are calling us!

We’ve cleaned the engine, the heat exchanger and the bilge; replaced hoses, wiring and oil; re-stocked on spare parts; refurbished the canvas and added extra shade for protection against the sun. The winches are serviced and the water maker has been pulled apart and re assembled. All that is left is to stock the freezer, fill the lockers with food (and beer and wine and rum) and we’re all set.

CC will be hauled out of the water soon for a fresh paint job on her bottom – hopefully to make her go faster. Our sails have been checked out and we’ve acquired a brightly coloured light air spinnaker for light winds, a sea anchor for stormy seas.

We’ve met with other voyagers to exchange information plan routes and set up radio schedules for weather information and safety concerns.

One thousand miles to the Galapagos, and three thousand miles to the Marquesas. Thirty days and nights on the ocean with only the radio for contact with other human beings!

Another adventure! Black pearls, Tapis cloth and Polynesian carving to collect. Photographs to be taken. Memories to be tucked away.

The challenge ahead is to learn to navigate in strong currents through low lying atolls and dangerous coral heads. Endless days of breadmaking and hand washing to endure. Not to mention just the two of us on board – no respite if we have a difference of opinion!

We’ve spent an interesting year since we were last in Panama. South America is a truly fascinating continent, and our travels have barely skimmed the surface, there is a world of diverse civilizations and the full range of topographical scenes to assimilate.

Our immediate challenge turned out to be much more mundane and entirely unexpectd.

Normal 0 At the yacht club we have to take a mooring, and found ourselves a bare 100 yards away from the main shipping channel that the large commercial vessels use entering the port or the canal.

Car Carrier passing our anchorage.


We rock and roll every time one goes by, and are pretty impressed at their size. No wonder they can't see us when we are close by! The 'roll on, roll off' car transporters have to be about 5 stories high, and the container ships almost as tall. Eve the cruise ships seem vast, but we know they have a better all around line of sight, and also that they are very careful to keep good watch - we don't have the same confidence in the commercial vessels.

Currently we are usually to be found anchored in the free anchorage in Playita at the end of the attractive causeway.

Mexican Tall ship passing our anchorage decked out in full regalia

We have seen submarines go by, as well as a large warship with a USA flag, some smaller coastguard vessels. Everyone was delighted to watch a Mexican tall ship pass - the crew dressed in their best uniforms and standing to attention in the rigging.

Later in February

It's hot, we are working on the list of things that must be done before we leave here.

This list doesn't seem to get any shorter as every time we do one job, we seem to create several more items that have to be seen to! The cruisers say that cruising is really fixing the boat in exotic locations - and it's quite true for us at the moment. The acronym for BOAT is Break Out Another Thousand! and our pockets are feeling the strain!

Panama city - derelict structures beside beautifully renovated buildings

The Bridge of The America's is directly in front us. We are suposed to be anchored in the free anchorage at the end of the causeway but we have a problem with our drive shaft, and although we were hauled out last week, we are waiting to go up on the haul-out railway again - this time to fix the problem for once and for all

The holes that hold the retaining screws in the old shaft were worn, so we replaced it with a spare one we happened to have on board. Lucky us we thought. Unfortunately, as soon as we were afloat and Mike tried to go forward we heard a bang! and discovered we had no propulsion! A few short minutes of panic ensued, as we were close to shore, in front of a reef and the boats that are moored to the side.

We dropped the anchor in a flurry and a hurry! After we had been towed to a mooring we found that the lucky spare shaft had come off!. The mechanic rushed back out to us, replaced the shaft but we then discovered that the engine was doing a jig and bouncing around. So we're waiting for the old shaft to be cleaned up and replaced. Trauma!

The original shaft was re-installed, and appeared to work well - unfortunately, some an old repair on the bottom of the keel was cracked as we sat on the smaller of the two railways - so now we have water coming into the boat! Hope we don't have to find another yard to get lifted out of the water again!.

Later still in February

Commercial Tuna fishing boat. They often carry their own small helicopters on the foredeck

Expecting to be on the railway again today - after two attempts when there wasn't enough water to allow us to haul out.

Mike had to change the bilge pump -our old one would come on and get rid of any water in the bilge, but we had a check valve installed after our Quebec adventure and the pump was the type that had to be turned off manually. We didn't get much sleep that night, and Mike changed the pump for a nice new automatic model. This new model means that we can get more than 15 minutes shut eye!

Hundreds of motorcycles from all over North and South America swept past us. They were gathered for a rally in Panama and drew plenty of attention.

Getting satisfactorily placed on the railway so that we could reach the repair took five attempts. The railway is quite a contraption. There are two wooden railings alongside a platform made of steel girders. Four of the yard workers stand two to a side on the wooden rails and the head honcho winches the whole contraption into the water. The boat motors up and between the two wooden arms, throws ropes to the four men who then tie the boat securely to each side.

Then the whole caboodle is winched onto dry land, the boat nestled into the simple cradle. The process is orchestrated in voluble Spanish - every man yelling orders at each of the others, with much gesticulating and shouting to the head man on winch duty who is on dry land, or pacing the nearby wall and directing operations to his satisfaction.

The job took three days - with the very welcome help of Ali from the boat Genesis. He lent us a grinder to remove the old repair, helped and instructed us with the laying of layers of fiberglass and generally became our hero.

Cutting a long story short, when we went back into the water we floated beautifully, and the bilge pump hasn't come on since.

Even later in February.

Back in La Playita anchorage, we hurriedly finished shopping for provisions, took an extra day to pick up some spare parts, and motored off to the Las Perlas islands for a little R & R and to tidy up the last few jobs on our list.

Cruise ship passing

A few days later we bid the parrots goodbye, waved at the flying formations of pelicans as they glided past, skimming the water, bid farewell to the black butterflies whose wings were decorated with bright green tips, hoisted the anchor and set sail for the Galapagos Islands