Sunday, August 28, 2011

Zero tolerance for ‘dem bugs

Ever since I visited our friends on Storm Bay while in La Paz, we’ve had critters onboard. There was one cockroach that they scared off their boat and onto Jeorgia. Now the folks on Storm Bay are nice people, but I haven’t forgiven them for this lapse in Australian etiquette.  That single critter has somehow through the mystery of the virgin birth created numerous generations of little critters that seem more than happy to live in what I try to make as hostile an environment as possible. I’ve now taken the Zero Tolerance approach. No critter shows its face in this boat without an immediate and overwhelming attack. Colin Powell would be proud. We’ve tried the cruisers stand-by of boric acid – boric acid in powder, boric acid tablets, boric acid in smoke bombs. It seems to slow the guys down a little, allowing me to get a full shot with my fly swatter. The real armament is the green can of Baygon. You hit ‘em with a quick mist, there’s an instance speed up of the legs and then they leap in the air, land on their back, wiggle for a moment and it is all over – nothing but some sweep up in the morning.
I’m planning on mailing to Storm Bay the critter above who has been stuck behind the glass on my screen for days.  Even Baygon sprays don’t get to him.
Can you tell that life in Panama as a  bachelor gets a little self-centered and boring at times?

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

She’s a Metro Gal

Chris on her way to work at ACNM in Washington, DC in front of the Union Station metro after riding her Capitol loaner biker from her local B&B at Sally & Catharine's.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Don’t forget its Elvis Week

Born in Tupelo, Mississippi in 1935 and apparently not dead yet. He looks really well preserved for being 76.
The Official Site of the King of Rock 'N Roll

Monday, August 15, 2011

Another trip to the Las Perlas islands

Chris’ schedule to take off for work was pretty up in the air, so decide to a do a few more days in the Las Perlas.
balboaIMG_8751  On the way we had to pass through the ship anchorage. This Greenpeace boat was hanging with the big boys.
balboaIMG_8752 Like the Densa Tiger
Approaching an anchorage in the Las Perlas. The weather was good, the swimming warm, the diving not so clear.
Local fish boat on the way back from the Las Perlas. Clearly a bird friendly operation.
When we left the Las Perlas to sail back to Balboa I slyly noticed that we didn’t have a lot of fuel. No problem, we’ll just make sure we sail most of the 35 miles back. Of course the wind was on the nose. After about 3 long tacks and 8 hours of sailing we were approaching the big ship anchorage off the entrance to the Canal. Not wanting to push it, we decided to roll up the head sail and motor the last hour in. I gave a good tug on the furling line and it came in nicely. Unfortunately the line came in but the sail didn’t furl. I head to the bow and we dropped the head sail on the deck and tied it off. Turns out the 3 screws that hold the furler drum on had all fallen out, leaving the drum to free spin. Back to starting the engine. It started, but the raw water pump wasn’t pumping water. No problem, I head below and work on the pump while Chris drives with the mainsail through the anchorage. I took the cover off the pump and the impeller had self-destructed – picture above. I’ve had a blades come off before, but never the whole thing just come a part. I put a new one on and we tried again. No joy. Then an hour of screwing with it and still no joy. We decided it was getting late and we would just sail into the anchorage. An hour of short tacking, some friendly mast light flashing from our friends on Sunnyside Up and we did a pretty graceful under sail anchor set. Too bad it was dark and the crowd couldn’t see.
We did a trip into town to the walking street to see the shops and the older part of town with Tom and Carolyn from Sunnyside.
Checked out the old church.
It had a nice glass window of my namesake, San Pablo.
balboaIMG_8790 Here’s Chris trying to see how much money she has in her purse so she can go shopping at the SAKS over her head.
Kite boarder with the Panama City skyline from the anchorage.

Chris left a few days ago to head to Washington DC for work. Sometime in the next week or so she will be off to the garden spot of Africa, Nigeria. I’m expecting interesting e-mails from her new found rich uncle with a special bank account. Me, I’m left to hang in the anchorage, do boat projects and use up the free WiFi.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

WTF is happening in Washington DC?

As a cruiser, ex-pat, n’er-do-well I’m not supposed to care what the politicians are doing in DC. It is just hard understand what the politicians follow with after a decade of two failed wars, ruinous tax cuts, removal of banking regulation for the cronies and no solution to the outrageous high cost of health care in the US. The first two are primarily driven by the Repubs. The health care reform failure covers many decades. It isn’t Medicare and Medicaid that threatens to bankrupt the US, it is the inefficiency of the US health system, where we pay more per person in the country than any other industrialized country and get worse results.
The S&P downgrade of the US long term treasuries really says nothing about the US financial situation. It is a a strong statement of the lack of confidence in the political players. Players who are willing to sacrifice the countries well being for their personal and parties advantage.
For a clearly written understanding of why the S&P downgrade might not be all that important, check the NYT column by Paul Krugman, a Nobel prize winning economist.
image ….Let’s start with S.& P.’s lack of credibility. If there’s a single word that best describes the rating agency’s decision to downgrade America, it’s chutzpah — traditionally defined by the example of the young man who kills his parents, then pleads for mercy because he’s an orphan.
America’s large budget deficit is, after all, primarily the result of the economic slump that followed the 2008 financial crisis. And S.& P., along with its sister rating agencies, played a major role in causing that crisis, by giving AAA ratings to mortgage-backed assets that have since turned into toxic waste.
No, what makes America look unreliable isn’t budget math, it’s politics. And please, let’s not have the usual declarations that both sides are at fault. Our problems are almost entirely one-sided — specifically, they’re caused by the rise of an extremist right that is prepared to create repeated crises rather than give an inch on its demands.
Here’s the whole column: Credibility, Chutzpah and Debt
OK, back to hanging in the tropical anchorage next to the largest city in Panama, watching the ships pass into and out of the Canal and using up the free WiFi that is piped into the anchorage by the kind government of Panama.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

A Day at the Lock Races

We took a taxi over to the Mira Flores Locks on the Panama Canal. These are the first locks on the way in from the Pacific to the Caribbean. Surprisingly this is south bound traffic, as the canal is actually a north-south thoroughfare. There’s an interesting Panama Canal history museum there too.
mirafloresIMG_8724 The car carrier, or ro-ro for roll on-roll off,‘Pacific Highway’ approaching the first lock at Mira Flores on its passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific.
The small locomotives, mules, taking the lines of the Pacific Highway. The mules keep the ships centered in the locks. Today the actual ship movement is under ship’s own power. Originally the mules did the ship movement when the canal was built.
A drag race between the container ship ‘APL Qatar’ and the ‘Pacific Highway’ in the dual locks. The boats go through together.
mirafloresIMG_8740Mule headed down the track to the lower lock.
mirafloresIMG_8720 The original lock control building, 1913, with the gates in front.
Just read an interesting ‘history’ of the Panama Canal from a freebie Kindle download. The Panama Canal , A history and description of the enterprise, by J. Saxon Mills. It was written in 1914, so the history part is pretty much canal opening current affairs. The US interest in creating the canal was primarily military. After the Spanish-American war it was clear that the ability to move naval assets quickly and reliably from the Pacific to the Atlantic and vice-versa was important to the US’s control of the waters near her shores. The French canal company had essentially gone broke from mismanagement and corruption.  The US negotiated with Colombia to take over the canal and control the 10 miles strip coast to coast. The Colombians didn’t like the terms and the US didn’t want to up the ante. The easier path was to take a wink-wink, nod-nod with the group who wished to separate the state of Panama from Colombia. As they started their separation, the US helpfully stationed a Navy ship at each end of the cross isthmus railroad, just to make sure no one else intervened. As soon as the Panamanians finalized their separation, the Panama Canal treaty was signed giving the US exclusive rights and effective sovereignty over the canal strip. This lasted till the 1970’s when some Panamanians decided the deal wasn’t so sweet. The canal was transferred back to the Panamanians and has been run smoothly 24/7 for the last decade or so by them.
mirafloresIMG_8744  ‘Pacific Highway’ kicking out some turbulence on its way out of the locks and off to the Pacific. When cruising boats share the locks with big ships they have to carefully deal with this rumbling water on each lock.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

A tribute to a good old girl

Sydney was a great dog and had a great life herding the family. Thanks JoAnn for taking good care of her in her senior years and giving her one last important job – watching you.
Paul & Chris

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Clearing into Panama, Balboa style

For our cruiser friends on the way down, here’s what we did to clear into Panama – the Balboa treasure hunt with a picture of success at the end.
1. Anchor in Las Briasas. There is a a free, guarded dingy dock. No water. It’s a muddy bottom, where cruising boats and fish boats have been known, a recently witnessed, dragging anchor. Don’t forget about the 16 foot tides, put out some scope.
2. From the dinghy dock walk out to the buildings near the causeway and then start walking down the causeway – along the strip mall, left – toward Flamenco marina. Near the end of the first set of buildings is an HSBC ATM if you need cash. The walk to Flamenco is 10 minutes or so. The port captain is in the two story building that has large Duty Free signs on it. 
3. The Port Capitan is up the stairs from the marble center lobby. He speaks good English and is very helpful and his office has ac. The fees are clear and the forms make some sense. Cost us $190 to get a one year cruising permit. If you are only staying a short time, then you can get a 72 hour+/- permit to transit the canal and then leave the country. Other than that it is a year permit. It takes about an hour to do the port captain’s papers. Professional and no problems.
4. Then it is off to immigration and customs. Here you may have a choice. The Port Capitan directed us to the Flamenco Migracion office. Some people say you are better off  go to the Balboa Yacht Club immigration office by taxi. The Flamenco office is right when you exit the water side of the Duty Free building. Walk past the waterside restaurant and then the last building is the customs and immigration. The sign is obvious, but the door is not. It is the white unmarked door. Inside the small office are 4 desks. Migracion is the the first on the left. The lady speaks Spanish a mile a minute and has no intention of slowing down. The main goal of this desk is to collect $25. You will get a stamp in your passport which apparently is only good for 72 hours, pretty much in conflict with what the Panamainian websites say. The stamp has no time listed on it. It apparently becomes 72 hours because it is a blue stamp – but who knows. Across from the immigration desk is customs – Aduana.  Because we were anchored in Las Brisas and not in Flamenco Marina they refused to process us. Friends were in the week before and they filled the forms out no problem even though they were in Las Brisas too.
5. Walk back to the buildings above the dingy dock at Las Brisas. There is a small Aduana office there. The guy running it wanted nothing to do with us. Eventually he took one of the carbon copies from the Port Captain’s paper work. I’m sure he just threw it away.
6. We checked in on a Friday. On Monday we took a taxi to the Diablo Migracion office. ‘Diablo’ indicates an area of town. If the taxi doesn’t know where the office is, tell him near the Rey supermarket. Do not go to the downtown main immigration office.
Always get the price of a taxi before you get in. Two taxis next to each other will offer fares to the same place, one at $15 and one at $5. 5 bucks to the migracion for two is fine. If its raining or it is hot and you have packages, the offered taxi fare will go up.
At the traffic light on the main road where you can see the Rey supermarket on the right, you will turn left and up the hill. On the right is a two story shopping/business plaza with a closed Gourmet Market. Upstairs is the migracion office. Ring the door bell to get let in. Bring copies of the cruising permit, passports and crew list. There is  copy place near the Rey. $10 per passport for the magic stamp. This visa is a mariners or tripulante visa. It is good for 3 months and is renewable for another 3 months (or maybe more, maybe not) at the same office.
The fruit of our labors: Mariners visa on the right with magic stamp and the blue short term visa on the left.