Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Another Day in the Anchorage

One thing that I really like about Panama is that it is the cross roads of the shipping world. Ships from every part of the world are sitting at anchor, going through the canal or dropping off cargo for transshipments. There are cruising boats from a wide swath of the world here: US, Canada, France, Chile, Belgium, Chile, Poland, Italy, Germany, Australia, New Zealand, Hungry, Japan and host of flags I don’t know.  The boats don’t all look like the cookie-cutter plastic boats that we typically see in the US. Above is a Meer (or maybe Mir) 30, Dragonwing. Note that it is Junk rigged. It has no stays to hold the mast up and the sail is like a typical Chinese junk of old. Dragonwing was built in South Africa as a junk rig. Most of the Meer’s were built as standard sloop rigs. The owner, Ben, is from Hungry. He is leaving Panama soon for a jaunt down the coast single handed: Galapagos, Easter Island, around Cape Horn to the Falkland Islands. Then to Brazil to sell the boat and head back home to his family. That’s some trip on a junk rigged, singled-handed, 30 foot boat that only sails downwind.

Above is a Panama Canal Police boat cruising through the anchorage – just checking out who’s in town. There is a ‘Causeway’ that separates the anchorage we are in and the Panama Canal. It was built with the dredging material from the canal and connects a few small islands. On the other side of the Causeway from our anchorage is the Balboa Yacht Club. It has a club house/bar, fuel dock and a host of moorings for boats to tie to. The moorings suffer from constant canal traffic and wakes.
A few days ago there was a cocaine bust by some not so brilliant smugglers at BYC.
One Colombian and one Panamanian were arrested early yesterday morning, Friday, by the National Police and the Naval Air Service (SENAN). It was 5:00 am when a patrol of the National Police passed through the area outside of the Balboa Yacht Club on the Amador Causeway. Suddenly, the police officers were told a man had fallen into the ocean. The agents went to the area where the supposed victim was located, and found two packages of drugs. One person who was near the scene claimed the suspect argued with another man and fell into the sea along with a cooler. When SENAN members located the suspect, they also found 17 kilos of cocaine. And with the help of divers they located a 9 mm gun with 11 rounds of ammunition, and seized a boat the other suspect had in his possession, along with another cooler with 12 more kilos, inside of the 7 foot boat.

We got a 25kt blow through the anchorage the other day. Here’s a sequence shot of one of the semi-derelict steel fish boats cruising sideways through the anchorage after their anchor started dragging with a Guatemalan cook/caretaker on board and no engine. This time it was no hurt, no foul.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Taxi Anecdote of the Day

I went with Tom & Carolyn off Sunnyside to the walking street a couple of days ago. It is a regular shopping street that is closed off to most cars, hence the name. We picked up a taxis near the Las Brisas docks. The cabbie was a jolly, overweight guy with one of those stretchy polyester shirts that works well at XXXL size, who quickly agreed to the $5 price. The cab was a little beat up, but the A/C worked (it seems  to works in about a 1/3 of the cabs). Carolyn needed to stop at the fabric shop Pico Pico. I was bored, so came along for the ride. After deciding on the fabric Carolyn needed to get some brass grommets. We wandered around the Walking Street looking for some to no joy.  Tom & Carolyn knew a store that had them and they wanted to walk there. It seemed like a long way to me – of course anything that has to do with walking in that heat seems like a long way to me – I whine a lot about having to walk.
Last time we were at the Walking Street, we passed an old church on a square and started to wander down the side street next to it to take some pictures.
walkingstIMG_8792 A couple of tourist police came up and asked us where we were going. They politely informed us that we really, really shouldn’t go down there and that there was lots to see staying on the main drag. Worked for us. Well the direction of the grommet store was off to the right of the Walking Street – the same basic direction as the road next to the church. I was thinking of objecting and bailing out, but I figured deep down inside that my objection had more to do with being too lazy to walk all over hell. The streets didn’t look too bad. So we start off walking that way. After a few blocks on the narrow sidewalk the same taxi that had taken us from the dock drivers by and sees us, he pulls over and has a fit. He tells us in very excited Spanish that he saw us and his heart started pounding: “There's guns, juvenile gangs, cocaine, marijuana and police in these streets. Lots of guns!” He says you can’t go in there as a tourist, then a long pause and he adds ‘maybe as a black one, but definitely not as a white one’. He gave us a $2 cab ride to the grommet store. The cabbie seemed really relieved that we made it safely.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Word from Africa

nigeriaP9130061 Finally got some pictures of Chris at work in Nigeria earning our boat money for next year. I’m not sure who’s baby that is in the bottom left corner --- it ain’t mine --, but it seems to be getting ignored by the pretty lady to its left.
Kano-20110908-00753 The working team in Kano.
Chris is working with ACNM out of Washington DC (American College of Midwives) and a British based organization PATHS2 (Partnership for Transforming Health Systems Phase II). They are training midwives in Nigeria in methods to train rural, lesser trained, informal midwives in advanced life-saving techniques for maternal and child health.
Not sure where Nigeria is?  Center west of Africa. Chris is working in Kano for 11 weeks. Kano is above and to the right of Abuja, the capital, on the map. Abuja is where the PATHS2 main office is and where some of the work is done.
Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, can be a difficult place to work and live. From the CIA factbook:
British influence and control over what would become Nigeria and Africa's most populous country grew through the 19th century. A series of constitutions after World War II granted Nigeria greater autonomy; independence came in 1960. Following nearly 16 years of military rule, a new constitution was adopted in 1999, and a peaceful transition to civilian government was completed. The government continues to face the daunting task of reforming a petroleum-based economy, whose revenues have been squandered through corruption and mismanagement, and institutionalizing democracy. In addition, Nigeria continues to experience longstanding ethnic and religious tensions. Although both the 2003 and 2007 presidential elections were marred by significant irregularities and violence, Nigeria is currently experiencing its longest period of civilian rule since independence. The general elections of April 2007 marked the first civilian-to-civilian transfer of power in the country's history. In January 2010, Nigeria assumed a nonpermanent seat on the UN Security Council for the 2010-11 term.
The country has a life expectancy of 48 years with 40% of the population under 15. There are a number of criminal and militant groups that wreak havoc with the locals and attack foreigners. Much of this is in the Nigeria Delta region, although the UN mission in Abuja was blown up by car bomb a few weeks ago.
Needless to say, Chris doesn’t get a lot of just walking around town and the country side time. So far she’s been working long hours, enjoying the challenge and, of course, missing me.

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Magic of Posting a Comment to Blogspot

At the end of every blog entry is a spot to enter a comment. The button is there so our reader can be immersed in the social network phenomena and make witty and well reasoned comments to the world. This comment button works both in the Northern and Southern hemispheres – making it particularly handy for Australians from Port Macquarie. Here’s the abbreviated, quick launch directions:
1. Select Comment.
2. Select a Profile. Anonymous is fine, or some other profile that you can be logged into, like Google Account for GMAIL,
3. Stick in your witty, well constructed and carefully edited comment
4. Hit Post Comment
You would think that that would get you a comment, but no, there's more!
5. Enter the Word Verification magic. This is to slow down the spammers
6. Hit Post Comment again.
That's it. At some point the comments are e-mailed to me and I say Post and its then recorded in history (more spam defense). If you use Anonymous I will not see your e-mail address.
Now all it needs is a Southern Hemisphere beta tester and then we can say the directions are fool-proof.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Lost Dinghy Dock

I got back to Panama City (Las Brisas) after a nice 5 hour sail back from the Las Perlas Islands. It turns out they let the place fall apart while I was gone. If you look at the center of the picture above you can see the long blue covered ramp heading straight into the water. It is supposed to attach to the center dock, that has now sunk.  This makes it pretty hard to get to shore, as there are 20 foot tides here in Panama Bay. It is kinda like having a 12 foot wide river between your front door and your car. Makes hauling groceries tough. There were lots of cruiser rumors as to what happened in the night to cause this – as best as I can tell, the dock simply sank.
I spent the day yesterday out of commission with an earache. It reminded me of being a kid in Florida in 3rd grade suffering at night. Looks like the El Salvadorian ear drops Otan are making progress and I’ll be back to my chipper self soon.
Truth in lending statement. Turns out the white-tipped shark photo in the last post was borrowed for effect by Carolyn from the Interweb, not taken by her. So the shark I saw was this guys brother.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

More snorkeling time

I spent a total of 3 nights at Isla Chapera. The best diving I’ve found in the Las Perlas.
chaperawhitetip This white-tipped reef shark figured he owned the place. Carolyn, on Sunnyside, took this picture yesterday. I dove this reef this morning alone – well not exactly alone, as this same shark was cruising around. A little freaky being the only one out there.
I would have taken my own shots of him but my Olympus 8000 Tough Shot ain’t so tough. These things just aren’t built to take the conditions they are sold for. You can see the water sitting behind the display.
chaperaIMG_8975   A lot of playful whales going in and out of the Las Perlas this time of year.
Here’s one that decided in come straight at Jeorgia. I wasn’t sure if I should start the engine to make some noise or just continue ghosting by under sail. They past by the bow before I decided to do anything. This time of year, summer, they are humpback whales from the Southern Hemisphere. In the winter the Northern Hemisphere humpbacks come to vacation here.
Unfortunately I heard from our friends on Ann Lucia who I helped through the Canal. They made it out to the San Blas Islands and promptly ran into a reef. They didn’t think it was too bad, so they decided to a wait an hour or so for high tide to get off. About 10 Kuna Indians came out to ‘help’. One jumped on board and amid the language confusion proceeded to move the boat in reverse. The rudder slammed into a rock and was bent. They got towed in by a fellow cruiser and dove the boat the next morning. The rudder would only turn to port. They ended up cutting off a small piece enabling it to turn port and starboard. They are headed back to Shelter Bat Marina in Colon to haul and repair.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Some More Time in the Las Perlas Islands

Seems a bit surreal being anchored out in the Las Perlas islands and listening to the 9/11 10-year anniversary on the HF Radio 12.1335 MHz broadcast of the NPR feed. Most days it doesn't usually come in very readable, but this morning I can clearly hear the Star Spangled Banner being sung live at the Pentagon. Surreal in deed.
It was an easy motor out the 35 miles from Balboa to the Las Perlas. I've been at Chapera Is for a few days now. There is a total of 4 boats here including Jeorgia. All boats that I know from El Salvador. The water has been clear making for some good snorkeling. Saw a small reef shark yesterday and the standard set of colorful reef characters. I got off about 3 pictures on my underwater camera that I revived with a new XD-picture-to-microSD adapter card. Then I dove about 12 or 14 feet down and the screen flashed a complex message in all red. Of course there's little red light at that depth so it was completely unreadable. Either way I figured red wasn't good. The net is that its now drying out in the cabin with water behind the little screen that used to deliver red messages. I suspect it is never to come to life again. Meghan, start looking for a good new one.
It rains here tropical hard almost every night and into the morning. Then most days it clears off for at least half the day to allow us all to get out play. I've got another couple of dives to do to finish cleaning the bottom. There was a great study of hard growth and barnacles on the keel. I haven't cleaned the bottom for 7 weeks. Clearly too long around here.
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Monday, September 5, 2011

Ann Lucia through the Panama Canal

The second day was a charm for getting started through the canal transit. We had a total of 6 people onboard, soon to be 7 when the advisor shows up. For boats over 65 feet they each get a Canal Pilot. The pilot takes over control of the ship. For shorter boats they receive a Canal Advisor. The advisor advises the captain on canal issues and what and when to do things. Boats that are less than 65 feet are handline vessels. This means that helpers on the locks throw down light lines with monkey fists tied to the end. Then 3/4 inch to 1 inch 125 ft lines are tied to the monkey fists and brought up to the lock sides where they are made fast to bollards and then controlled from the boat side.
canalIMG_8853 We showed up in front of the Balboa Yacht Club at about 8:00am to await our advisor. This is the same spot in front of the Bridge of the Americas that we waited at the day before. Lots of big ship traffic headed past us for the Canal or for the Port of Balboa. Here’s the Cape Race about to pickup her tugs. Tugs go for $3,000 an hour here – fortunately the sailboats don’t need them.
We got a VHF call from Flamenco Signal informing us that our advisor would arrive at 8:45. Here’s his delivery boat heading our way at 9:30.
That’s are advisor, Francisco, in the white shirt, about to leap to Ann Lucia.
We were off into the channel immediately and then under the Bridge of the Americas.
We saw a number of these buoys that have obviously been hit by passing boats. This one is just under the bridge.
Ken, Ann Lucia’s owner, checking the channel ahead. Behind him is a large canal dredge.
Entering the Mira Flores locks with our advisor, white hat, eyeing the way in. We will be side tying to the large steel hull boat that is tied to the right lock wall. Ahead of him you can see a multi-million dollar sportfisher that will go through this lock center lock. This means that they pass lines from each corner of the boat to the lock walls and control the boat to stay in the center. We’ll meet these guys latter in the down locks.
The goes up locks are much more turbulent than the goes down locks.
Breaking up the nesting in the rain. It rained pretty continuously for the first few locks. There are 3 up locks, the first is a double, followed by a single lock. At the Atlantic side of the canal there are 3 down locks, as a triple.
Here’s Tom off Sunnyside concentrating on getting us away from the nest while Carolyn controls the stern line.
The big ships use the locomotives, known as mules, to hold their lines to ensure they stay center of the clock. It looks like they have about 3 to 6 feet free from the lock wall on each side of the monsters. The mules are parked at the end of the quay waiting for the next paid transit.
The repair shop for the mules.
After you exit the third up lock at the Pedro Miguel Locks you enter the Gaillard Cut. It then passes under the Centenario Bridge.
pedro miguel locks 1911
The construction of the Pedro Miguel Locks in 1911.
SS Ancon first transit Panama Canal
The SS Ancon, first ship to transit the canal.
Getting closer to the Centenario Bridge, still in the drizzle.
The Gaillard Cut is pretty narrow. Here’s a car carrier with its tug escort passing us.
You have to serve your advisor a decent meal. If there isn’t a meal onboard, they can call out for one and have it delivered to the boat by the canal work boats at your expense. Francisco seemed to enjoy his beef stew and Balboa beer.
A canal work boat heading toward us.
When transiting from the Pacific to the Caribbean side of the canal, South to North, you can sometimes make it in one day if you get some luck with the locks and your boat is fast enough. Otherwise you anchor for the night in Lake Gatun. Above is the Banana Channel Shortcut. It cuts across Lake Gatun and saves maybe an hour of travel time for small boats. Our advisor had us take the Banana Channel so we could try and make the last handline lock down of the day and complete the transit in one day.
Banana Channel guard.
When we arrived at the Lake Gatun anchorage there were 2 or 3 freighters and this car carrier. Only a deluded naval architect could come up with the name for this ship – pretty she ain’t. The sportfisher that entered the original lock with us and a Panamanian go-fast boat were also in the anchorage. There was lot of distressed discussion among the handline boat advisors as to how we would all enter the Gatun down locks. The sportfisher wanted to go center lock alone, the go-fast wanted to go sidewall tied and we needed to raft with someone, as they don’t let sailboats go sidewall and there wasn’t enough room for multiple center lock hand line boats.
Here’s our lock down partner, the tanker Maersk Misaki, picking up their tugs to enter the lock. On the down locks the handline boats enter first, then the big guy behind us.
Sylvia having a good time waiting for the next moment of ‘excitement’. The locking is relatively boring and low-key, interrupted by moments of shear terror. You can see the tanker approaching the side wall and the go-fast boat getting into position.
The tanker is picking up her starboard side mules. You can see the lines from the bow to the locomotive. We have finally all agreed that the sportfishers would go in the center, the go fast boat on the right side and we will be on the left, all nested together. This pristine sportfisher didn’t have a single fender out. If you look over Sylvia’s head you can see the blown up small raft sitting on top their solar panels. This is to protect them from the monkey fists that are thrown down.
The double gates open and we all move forward in a single raft to the next down lock.
Finally the last lock. It is getting near dark and the lights are on. In the distance is the city of Colon. We head to the Flats Anchorage off Colon to drop off our advisor. He seemed ready to get home. It was dark now and we needed to thread our way across the channel and through the ship anchorage to find Shelter Bay Marina.
Ken, the happy skipper, and Ann Lucia tied up safely at Shelter Bay Marina. I’m sure Ken slept well this night.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

The Arms Race Escalates

I bought the mother of all syringes today -- this thing is 12 inches long and all mean energy. Guaranteed to stop the birth process of roaches for 3 months – kind of an aggressive Planned Parenthood for roaches. This arm races is forcing me into deficit spending, but the results will be worth it -- $12 a syringe.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Missed Approach – Lunch bag let down

We left this morning early on Ken and Sylvia’s Nauticat 35, Ann Lucia, to go through the Panama Canal. That’s them above with the Japanese flag hanging in the background. They left Hayama Japan, near Yokahama, last summer for a 52-day sail to Victoria, BC. They are off on a 3 year cruise around the Pacific with a stop off in the Caribbean.
canal002 We made it as far as the Bridge of the Americas near the Balboa Yacht Club and waited by the red buoy for our Canal advisor to show up. They direct you through the canal and are required to be on board before you enter the channel. You can see a Mersk container ship heading under the bridge now to go through the canal. He was sitting high in the water, so we figured the containers must be full of potato chips – a treat which are readily available in Panama City but expensive. The bridge was completed in 1962 and at the time was the only fixed bridge that connected North and South America. The Pan-American Highway crosses over the bridge.
We got a call from Flemenco Control, the folks that control the Pacific side of the canal approach, on VHF 12. They told us to call on a cell phone Canal Maritime Control. Apparently the only advisor for the day called in sick – come back tomorrow, and we will.