Leaving Panama

Leaving Panama

Planning, supplies etc. for the journey across the Pacific to French Polynesia was carried out at Vista Mar marina on the pacific coast of Panama. The marina had the facilities we needed such as drinking water, electricity, possibility to get propane via service by marina personnel who was very helpful in all matters. The berthing fee was acceptable and the lowest so far in Panama which might relate to the rather difficult swell and strong winds coming down from the high mountains. Anyway, it was a fair place for taking off. The nearest village/city, Coronado, had several supermarkets why getting supplies was easy enough.

Bearing in mind that the growth of barnacles on the hull was quick we decided to pass Isla las Perlas on our way just to be able to clean the hull, again. That was indeed necessary. Our propeller was hidden behind barnacles and the hull looked awful. We need new antifouling rather sooner than later not to be forced to scrape the hull every 3-4 week. The antifouling we put on in Sweden before we left is obviously of no concern to the barnacles in this part of the world. Moreover, next time we will mix approx. ½ kg Cayenne pepper with 5 L paint which will do the trick according to the “expertise” we have talked to. To get that much pepper is another question which we will get back to.

We left the Perlas at the end of February and had the plan to reach Galapagos after 6-8 days to fill up with diesel which we knew we would have to. We carry 575 L in total which should be ok for Galapagos assuming we got wind as well. The distance from Panama to Galapagos is approx. 860 nm and the distance from the Ecuador coast, around 550 nm.

We got 10-12 kn wind a couple of hours during 5-6 days which was not enough of course. Being in the InterTropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ) (doldrums) we knew this was likely to happen and that the engine probably would have to be engaged. We could of course have waited in Vista Mar for enough wind to push us out of the Panama Bay but we were tired of waiting and eager to start our crossing.

After being on the move for a week, we decided not to continue towards Galapagos when the weather forecast continued to predict no wind at all between our position and Galapagos. Instead we sat course towards Salinas in Ecuador, calculating with that we had enough diesel to reach Salinas. Our course took us 150 nm from the South American coast to stay clear from the northbound Humboldt Current which could be strong. We had also identified some other places along the coast where we knew we could get diesel if the need would arise. Please remember that along the coast of Ecuador, right on the equator, there is no wind and, has never been…

We reached Salinas just before lunch time a beautiful day, contacted the marina, got our diesel and took off without the need for formalities of checking into the country. The whole procedure took just under two hours. Perfect, we were in business again. The course was set for the Marquesas although we were not yet clear on Marquesas or directly to Tahiti. On our route in and out of Salinas we had to be on full alert due to a large number of local fishing boats with floating fishing nets during the night as much as up to 100 nm from the coast. The boats were lying still without any lights. When we got close they suddenly turned on their lights to alert us to stay clear. We had to do some quick turns to avoid some nets.

Our plan was to go ( not yet any wind) southwest to the 6th latitude where the north westerly trade wind together with the South Equatorial Current should carry us all the way to French Polynesia. We did hit the trade wind although the plan we had decided upon not fully worked. why, see next article “72 hours on Galapagos”.

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Panama (3)

Through the Panama Canal and beyond

Finally the time had come to take on the Panama Canal. Three line-handlers came onboard bringing 4 lines each 40 m long and a couple of big fenders. The fourth line-handler was Karin, first mate on Peach. We left Shelter Bay Marina at lunchtime and First Matepicked up two canal pilots on our way to the first lock which was part of the Gatun locks. In total we were 7 persons onboard to handle the canal transfer. Just before the first lock, one of three, was a giant crocodile resting on the shore. The biggest one so far. Anyway, we had been told that the plan was to get attached to a tugboat during the three locks which seemed to be simple enough. Unfortunately the currents in the locks were strong why it took some effort to get close to the tug and tie the lines without damaging Peach. This procedure were repeated twice before we had cleared all three locks and was able to enter the Gatun Lake which is huge. The lake is the fresh water reservoir for Panama City. Actually the drinking water (tap water) in Panama was surprisingly fresh.

We left the last of the Gatun locks at 5 pm why we needed to stay in the Gatun Lake during the night. We tied us to a big buoy which had been anchored in a nice place where also the pilots left us. It was now time for dinner and a lot of food was prepared to feed the young line-handlers. We had been told that the chance to see crocodiles swimming around Peach early in the morning was great. Unfortunately no croc showed up. At around 8 am the new pilot arrived and soon after that we were on our way again. It took close to 6 hours to reach the Miraflores locks on the south side at a speed of 6 knots. On the lake we saw one of National Geographic’s research vessels anchored just outside a well known bird watching station linked to the Smithsonian institute in Panama. That reminded us of where we actually had brought Peach.

Click on the picture for the movie

The transfer through the remaining three locks were smooth. Instead of being tied up to a tug we were placed in the center of the lock(s) via four lines. This was easy despite strong currents.

Finally the line- handlers had to do some work! It was a nice feeling to leave the locks and continue to the Balboa yacht club where we took a buoy and said goodbye to the pilot and the line-handlers who also brought with them the 4 lines and the extra fenders we had hired.

We stayed one night at the buoy at a price of 40 US which was a too high price according to our opinion. Sure, it was special to be very close to the big ships passing us to and from the canal but it was also very bumpy… The day after we moved further out to the bay La Playita at Isla Flamenco. This is also the place where we check out from Panama later. The anchorage was nice and not to many boats. We stayed a couple of days just to get the feeling of suddenly being in the Pacific Ocean. Our plan was to visit Las Perlas for a week or so and then set course for Vista Mar Marina, 40 nm south of Panama City.

Las Perlas

Las Perlas is a group of islands 35 nm out from Panama and well known for the extensive pearl diving 4-500 years ago until the Spanish came… Well, still people can get pearls and we were offered to buy from locals but chose not to. We sailed around the islands, anchored in remote areas where Peach was the only sailing yacht to see, especially in the southern part. Up north there were more boats. The most northern island, Isla Pacheca, had a large number of Frigate birds lovely to watch when gliding above us. All islands had many beautiful beaches. Unfortunately the cold, north- going Humboldt Current had brought in cold water of around 20 C and very poor visibility as well. Locals said that blue water will come later in April. Anyway and at last we spotted Humpback whales east of Isla Del Rey, twice actually. Fantastic! The area is well known for their feeding ground as well as for a place where they are bringing up their young ones. While anchored south of Del Rey we also scraped the hull of Peach wearing a 7 mm wet suit for protection against the cold water. We have heard stories that barnacles grow very fast and get big in the Pacific water. The hull was pretty ok due to that all of the antifouling had not yet disappeared.

After the Pearl Islands we set course for Isla Otoque and Isla Bona halfway to Vista Mar. We anchored off both islands and our favorite was Isla Bona, a small bay with calm water. When we left we had very strong wind accelerated by the larger island, Isla Otoque. Vista Mar Marina was 25 nm from where we were and it took half a day to get there.

Currently we are in the marina fixing a lot of things before we take on the Pacific. The marina is newly built and the price is fair although it is really windy this time of the year and the strong wind in conjunction with a tide of 4-5 meters makes the mooring very, very bumpy. The water is for free in the marina but we pays extra for electricity. With the help from the marina we have managed to get propane. All shopping has to be done in Panama City or in the closest village from here; Contadora, so it is important to plan ahead and to be effective. We have already made several trips to both places for ordinary supplies as well as for special items. So far we have repaired our toilet, our boom canvas for the mail sail and the bimini. We have bought all dry food we believe we need (Two hours at Rey,  Super 99 and eight hours of storage!) Extra water and other beverages are also in place. The refrigerator and the small freezer are now defrosted. We have also preserved a lot of food.

Important matters pending are e.g. fill up the fuel tank, put the dinghy on deck, hook up the rudder to the Hydrovane, buy fresh food, do the laundry, fill water in jerricans as well as top up the water tank, pay all bills and make final preparations in regards to  weather/wind and navigation.

Anyway, Vista Mar Marina is the place we start from in February and we plan to sail straight to the Marquesas Islands although one can never tell if we make a short stop at Galapagos which would be necessary if we need more fuel. The trip between here and Galapagos might be without any significant wind if we are unlucky. We estimate the journey to the Marquesas to take approx. 40 days if we manage an average speed of five knots. We look forward to the crossing and the destination.

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Panama (2)

Awaiting Canal Transfer

The site has not been updated since September why it is clearly time to get on with it. We have been back in Sweden for work and business.

Pelican newly awakeOur first picture is of a Pelican (again) when the bird actually sat on our pull pit sleeping with the beak under the wing and woke up when the camera got close, amazing is it not?

We stayed in Puerto Linton for two weeks before we turned south to Shelter Bay Marina inside the Breakwater. However, before we took off we ordered a new intermediate stay from the Chandlery at Linton Marina to replace the one which broke earlier on our way to the ABC Islands. Surprisingly they ordered the stay from Miami, USA, when the marina did not have a pressing tool. Anyway, we got the stay although we picked it up much later in December.

On the way south (25 nm) we anchored during the night just south of the island Naranjo Abajo in 4-5 m depth. We recommend the place when other, anchoring, yachts are rare. It is silent and very peaceful.

The day after we had 8 miles left to Shelter Bay, on our approach and outside the breakwater we called Cristobal Signal Station on channel 12 to get clearance to pass to entrance. Its important to watch out for big ships coming from the canal as well as being on their way in to the canal. As we all know, big ships always come first!

We arrived to the marina in October and our plan was to stay until it was time to go through the canal which will happen on January 10. Safely berthed we went back home for work and other important matters that needed to be taken care of in Sweden.

The marina is a good place to be. We were warmly welcomed and
got a nice berth with theShelter Bay marina bow towards the prevailing wind and with European electrical standard of 230 V. Nice and helpful staff, good order in the office and many facilities such as a nice restaurant, pool, gym, a small chandlery, laundry possibilities and a small mini market. The quality of the fresh water is surprisingly high and perfectly drinkable. Moreover, the water is free as long one did not use more than 35 gallons a day which is a lot. Overall the marina price is somewhat higher than we are used to but on the other hand the facilities were good. There is also a free shuttle bus to Colon Monday-Saturday for real shopping.

San Blas

Chichimine Cays

Back in Panama from Sweden we waited for our daughter to join us for a trip to the San Blas Islands which took place over Christmas. San Blas with the coconut islands is lovely although the trade wind constantly blowing made it important to find shelter from the swell behind an island when at anchor.Back to Shelter Bay. Note that the marina is located right on the edge of a protected jungle (National park) area full of wild life and guarded by soldiers.

CaymanEven the marina is visited by crocodiles (Cayman crocks). One was far too big to be allowed why that crock was moved to the other side of Panama. The smaller ones, well the one that swam past Peach occasionally, was between 1.5-2 m.

Toucan birdWe did some nature walks and spotted monkeys and birds. We also knew about a sloth and in which tree he/she normally stayed but unfortunately we never saw the animal. The jungle close by had 3 types of monkeys, howler monkey, capuchin monkey and spider monkey. We were lucky to see Capuchin monkeys and the very beautiful Toucan bird.

Capuchin monkeys

Our preparations for the canal transfer was to call and agent, Erick Galvez, who will take care of all paperwork and provide us with 3 line-handlers, 40 m lines and fenders. The total cost for the transfer of Peach is approx. 1700 $. You can take care of all of this yourself but we considered it worthwhile with an agent which was recommended to us. Included in all this is also an advisor who come on board before the transfer and join us during the passage.

New Year 2019The New Year celebration took place on Peach in shorts, and in skirt for Karin, with good food and in good company of each other.

Best whishes for a lovely year 2019 from the crew on Peach!

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Panama (1)

Arrived!

It took two days from Cartagena to San Blas, Panama. We had wind for 24 hours then the iron horse had to do its work. More or less for the first time on our journey we were without wind for more than six hours. Suddenly at 5 kn with the help of our engine, the intermediate shroud attachment on the mast on starboard side went off. We secured the mast with an extra backstay on the starboard middle cleat just to be safe. Going by engine did not pose any significant risk but, well, just to be safe. We arrived in San Blas at first light and were welcomed by three turtles. Well anchored we replaced the shroud with a spare. According to a rigging expert we have talked to, and after he had looked at the faulty shroud attachment, he said it was clearly a material error. We’ll see.

We had set course for San Blas, Isla Porvenir when we had been told that clearance and cruising permit could be done there. Wrong, we got a stamp in our passport which is most important when there are often passport-checks by the Police. The immigration officer on the island recommended that we get a cruising permit at Puerto Linton, 37 nm away. We had 5 days to do this he said although the legislation seems to talk about 72 hours. Anyway, we started our engine (no wind) and set course for Puerto Linton. Stopped for the night and anchored in a very nice place, Turtle Bay, where we were visited by a family of small whales called “false orcha”. Very nice indeed but no turtles.

Day two we anchored in the bay outside Puerto Linton and planned to get the cruising permit the day after. Well, not possible we were told by someone, we have to take the bus to Portobelo why we started to plan for that. Before we went, we met a Swedish sailor with his yacht TAO with which we spent (and spend) time with who said that it is no problem to get the permit at Linton marina located in the same bay. Correct, we went there and finally got our permit for one year, $185 US and it took 10 minutes. Perfect, all is set, we have all the necessary papers and are free to cruise in Panama waters for one year if we wish.

Currently we are at anchor in Puerto Linton which is well protected from all absent winds…except from westerly winds, well away from the hurricane tracks but not from all monkeys in the nearby jungle who are very noisy from time to time. Seems to us that they scream the most when they try to agree on who sleeps where. Suppose it is a matter of getting the best tree branch. From time to time there are thunder storms, lightning and heavy rain, it is indeed the rain season here. So far we have not had heavy winds, the pilot talks about as much as 45 to 60 knots from SE only for approx. half an hour or so. Regardless, we can do without such winds. There are many other boats anchored here but only crews on half of them, people seems to have left their yachts at anchor while they probably have gone back home for a while.

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Planning for San Blas

Planning for the San Blas Archipelago

We have been staying in Colombia for three weeks by now.

Our last week we have been docked at Club Pesca just north of Club Nautico. We really wish to recommend this private marina which has excellent security and friendly staff. Actually, the guards were packing that is, carrying guns. Whether this is beacause high criminality or just the way it is in this country, we never figured out.

Anyway, we have finally got all our papers from our agent for leaving the country. Totally, it was not as expensive as we have feared. The total sum we paid for in and out clearance went up to approx. 150 US dollar. Our agent, David Arroyo Romero took care of us nicely. In our Zarpe (the clearance document) it is stated that we go to Isla Porvenir in Panama for the next port of clearance.

Currently we are doing the necessary shopping and fixing a few things before we leave. Among other things we are mounting a board for cleaning fish we hope to catch. We got the idea for such a board from the movie “Adrift”. A very clever solution we immediately took on. We have ordered NOA holders for the board from Hjertmans in Sweden as well as a reducing valve for our propane tank. No problems with the NOA holders but we got the wrong valve due to that Hjertmans unfortunately had mixed up the article numbers on their web page. The cost for the shipment from Sweden was 120 US dollar.

Isla Grande of Isla Rosarios, a favorite anchor spot

Moreover, the autopilot has been calibrated for the Southern hemisphere and our extra 25 kg log anchor, well super anchor, we have carried all the way from Sweden has been looked over and is ready for use. It was a gift from a sailing friend who is not among us anymore.

It is still the rainy season, until November, in Panama and why we simply wish to move on, we just have to cope with all the rain they say we will encounter. Possibly the real annoyance will be the thunderstorms with strong winds that will hit us from SouthEast. Up to 45 – 60 knots some people say, thankfully during short periods of time. We’ll see. Provided we get a good holding for our anchor, we do not expect any major problems. We can always seek shelter in Shelter Bay Marina if the weather turns out to be disappointing.

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