Saturday, January 31, 2015

Galapagos Passage Day 1

We left the Las Perlas Islands in Panama Bay yesterday morning around 10am. After a couple of hours of sailing we got to put up the asymmetric spinnaker -- big red. Had a nice 4 hour spin sail. The big ship traffic to and from the Panama Canal is like a busy highway -- with us sailing down the median strip. As we approached Punta Mala around 12 miles off, the winds picked up and we got rid of the spinnaker and put a reef in the mainsail. The seas are small, so the rides been pretty good so far.
We had a big inbound freighter just abeam of us in the early hours of the morning. Another cargo ship was on the same course but about 5 miles further out. The further out vessel called the closer in freighter on the VHF and immediately went into a long conversation in what I believe was Hindi. The only thing we could understand was when the closer vessel explained to the other one "its a sailboat, Georgia, red light". The further away boat changed his course to miss us by a mile.

Winds have lightened up this morning, but we are still making 7.5kts.

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Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Checking Out of Panama

After we got through checking out of Panama we sailed the 28 miles to the Las Perlas anchoring behind Isla Chapera at sundown. It was a good sail with Georgia doing 7.5kts the whole way or better. We had a nice visit from dolphins who came over to play in the boat wake. Also saw a whale spouting as we approached the islands.
Checking out was a little more complex than it should have been – welcome to Latin America. After a 1/2 hour wait, the very helpful and friendly Flemenco port captain showed up and got us our Zarpe for Galapagos, Ecuador. Then we headed to Immigration to get our passports stamped. The immigration lady was having nothing to do with it. She insisted we head to the main Immigration office and get our Tripulante (crew) visas paid for and put in our passports (these are actual stamps they stick in your passport) before we check out. We had already paid for them -- $100 a piece – in  Porvenir in the San Blas islands when we checked-in. The visa in the passport had hand written next to it ‘Tripulante’ by the Immigration officer there, but no stamp. That wasn’t enough for her. The immigration officer had no English, so we were struggling a bit on the language side. We knew where this other immigration office was and didn’t want to spend the day getting out there, being told the right person wasn’t there and having to come back the following day. Just as I was getting a bit feisty with the situation the Port Captain stuck his head in. Despite his translation and encouragement we were at a standstill with Immigration. Then Chris found the receipt for $200 from Immigration in the San Blas. This broke the log jam – although the Immigration officer still wanted to see a receipt for an additional $5, but she finally relented on that. A dozen photo copies later and we had our exit stamps dutifully stamped into our passports.
Before we left, though, we needed a fumigation certificate to enter the Galapagos. A dozen phone calls, one more day, and Tito, the guy we rented Canal lines from, came by and with our $25 certificate. comment redacted for now..
A couple of days of cleaning the bottom, as it has to be spotless to enter the Galapagos, and cooking up meals for the passage, then we will take off – probably on Friday.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

The Big Stockup

Everyone tells us that the French Polynesia food is very expensive. You hear stories about $10 cabbages and the like. So we spent two days hitting the Panama City stores with our $10/hour driver Deb. The big hit was PriceMart (aka Costco). Just like being in a Costco in the US – stack ‘um high and sell ém cheap plus $1.50 hotdogs. It took us 3 full dinghy loads to get everything back to the boat. The last dinghy trip was in a torrential downpour that was unusual for this time of year. We had to wait for that load to dry before putting them away.
We shopped at two different large grocery stores, Super99 and Riva Smith. It was good to see that things haven’t changed in the Super99 by Albrook Mall since we were here 2 1/2 years ago. There is still half a long isle dedicated to soy sauce and the belts on the checkout register still don’t work.
pc_IMG_6678-001 Filling the bilge with long term stuff
We now have dedicated lockers for Panama Beer and Tonic water. Lots of rice, Ramen noodles and a fair share of miscellaneous.
pc_IMG_6680-001 And there’s the locker full of Chilean Clos boxed wine at $3.00 a box. Their marketing motto is “It’s close to wine”.
With a little luck we will checkout of Panama tomorrow and sail over to the Perlas Islands. There we’ll finish putting things away and clean the bottom. The Galapagos does an underwater inspection of the boat and will send you 70 miles offshore to clean it if they find growth on it.
Then its wait for a weather window to sail to the Galapagos. The basic weather pattern we wait for is when the ITCZ (Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone) moves north of Panama and fairly strong winds from the north pickup. Right the ITCZ is just south of us, but moving northward. This should give us a decent sail for at least the first day or two, then it will most likely be light air and we take what we get. We’re hoping the passage will take us about a week.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Panama Thinks Big

These are the gates to the new Panama Canal locks waiting to be installed on the Atlantic side. The wire lines in the foreground are standard telephone poles. They are 95feet tall and weigh 3,319 tons. The old locks can fit boats known as ‘Panamax’ size. These boats are basically 965 ft long, 106 ft beam with a max draft of 39.5ft (in tropical fresh water). The new locks offer a new size: ‘New Panamax’ which will accommodate boats 1,200 ft long, 161ft wide with a draft of 50ft. That’s a big ship. The old size took container ships that could hold 5,000 Twenty Foot Equivalent Units (TEU) – standard measure of a container. The New Panamax ships will be able to carry 12,000 TEUs.
The new locks should be ready early next year and hopefully be usable for the next 100 years. The 100 year old original locks will stay in service.
panamasubway  When we were in Panama City about 2 1/2 years ago the streets of downtown were all torn up with the construction of a subway. If this had been any other Central American country I would have bet that the project wouldn’t be done in 5 years – if ever.  Not in Panama. They do big projects. The first line of the subway is open and really easy and fast to use. A trip on the subway costs 35 cents. You use the same Metro card for air-conditioned bus trips at 25 cents each. Beats taking a taxi!
We are busy getting the boat stocked for the long passages into the Pacific. We went to the Cruiser’s Dim Sum breakfast Tuesday on our way to shopping. Dim Sum for breakfast never showed up on my breakfast list before, but its actually pretty good and a good way to get to know what the other cruisers in the area are doing.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Return to the Pacific

Four years after leaving Seattle, two trips up the US East Coast getting as far north as Cape Breton in the Canadian Maritimes and as far south as Cartagena, Colombia in South America, visiting major U.S. cities like Boston, New York and Washington DC. After traveling 20,000 nautical miles, visiting something close to 19 countries (depending on how you count a country), each of us losing a parent and getting our daughter married off, we are back in the Pacific.
When we left Seattle we were on our way to the South Pacific. We are now 600 miles further away from New Zealand than when we started out. Our passages are marked in white in the Google Earth view above.
Our Canal transit back to the Pacific went well. All four of our fantastic line handlers came back with all their hands and feet – and with some great memories of seeing one of the man-made wonders of the world from the working side. This was my 8th Canal Transit and I still am amazed and enthralled with the 100 year old engineering. Equally amazing is the scope of the massive engineering project underway now to build bigger locks for the canal.
We will spend about a week here in La Playita (the anchorage near Panama City) stocking up for the South Pacific. The SP doesn’t offer much in the way of supplies and they are expensive. So the more we carry, the cheaper it will be. Then we’ll head off to Las Perlas (The Pearls) islands, just off the coast from Panama City, to clean the bottom and await a weather window for our sail to the Galapagos.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Live at the Locks

We are scheduled for 4:0pm EST lock through at the Gatun Locks today. The live web cam feeds for the locks are here:
We should be going through rafted to the German catamaran Yara.
(See Ya on the Pacific)

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Not Everyone Loves Windows

Wanted: Bill Getz, $5,000 Alive”
This is a destroyed laptop tied to the bow of a French catamaran. He used the French phonetic spelling for Bill Gates. I suspect he wasn't happy with Windows 8.
We are in Shelter Bay all prepped for our Canal Transit tomorrow. We have Mike & Liz onboard as line handlers – friends from Edmonds and formerly of the Cal 40 Argonaut. Maurice and Maria from the Canadian boat Cattiva will be our other line handlers.
OK, I just got off the phone with the Canal Scheduler. We are now scheduled for the day after tomorrow. Apparently they are short of Advisors. The Advisors act as pilots and travel with you on the transit. Oh well.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

A Full Ride

When I first saw this picture I thought it was a wanted poster hanging in the Post Office. Nope. Its our son, Derrek, featured in a full page ad for Ride Snowboards. Pretty cool --– but thinking as a parent it sure looks like a long way down from that wall he’s on.
Good on Ya, Derrek

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Time for a New Ride

It was really strange looking at our dinghy hanging from the backend of someone else's boat. After a lot of years of good service, we decided it was time to retire the Aquapro and invest in a new dinghy. The tubes on the old one were solid and have never leaked. But the handles and other attachments were failing. We found a French boater in Isla Linton who needed a new dinghy and made quick deal.
SBIMG_6588  Then we bought this new AB dinghy from Arturo at Marine Warehouse in Panama. The AB’s are built in Colombia. Its a 9UL model, i.e. 9 feet long with an aluminum bottom. Arturo gave us a decent cash discount and delivered it to us at the dock in Shelter Bay. Can’t wait to cruise around the anchorage and have everyone in total envy of our new ride.
We left the San Blas after about a 5 week stay. We had visited the San Blas 2 years ago. Not a lot of changes, other than there are a lot more backpacker/charter boats moving people in and out, and the cell network data connection is really fast now. The cell network works better in the remote San Blas than it does in Shelter Bay Marina near Colon. The Kunas don’t seem to have changed much. Still quiet and friendly.
The last week in the San Blas was very windy. Too much to get in any decent snorkeling, or much of anything. The seas were 6-10 feet as we sailed downwind in 22-29kts of true wind up the coast toward Colon. We did a stop in Linton to drop off the dinghy. That was after a little navigation faux pas. I used some courses on the chart plotter that were left over from the last time we were in Panama. Somehow I picked up the entrance course to Isla Grande, right next to Isla Linton, instead of the Isla Linton course. We had a few moments of confusion with islands and landmarks not really matching up to what should have been there. Then a quick and graceful navigation recovery was made and all was well.
Next day we sailed to the entrance to the Panama Canal and headed into Shelter Bay Marina to start prepping for our Canal transit.