Thursday, November 8, 2007

Close lightning strike; slight damage to us but lots of damage to our friends

November 18, 2007 Sunday
Ticantiqui (a/k/a Niadup), Devil Cays, San Blas Islands, Panama
09.25.222N; 078.28.974W

I don’t know where our logs last stopped because our computer died (story below).  So I will recap from where I think we last reported in. 

We left Ustupu on 11 November and motored about 20 miles to San Ignacio de Tupile.  We stayed there for 2 nights.  We anchored about 2 miles south of the village and had the entire bay to ourselves.  BLUEPRINT MATCH anchored near Mono Island, so we were within VHF radio range of one another.  Since we were anchored so far from the village, it greatly reduced the number of people who came out to try and sell us things.  Three boys (ages 10, 8 and 4) paddled out; their mother sent them to see if we would buy any of her molas.  The molas weren’t very good quality, so I didn’t buy any.  Just gave the kids some candy and they left.  Later, a woman and her teenaged son paddled out.  This woman had the brightest red cheeks that we have seen so far.  Her cheeks were painted fire-engine red.  She had a gold nose ring and a very colorful outfit.  I bought a child size mola blouse for our granddaughter BeBe.  This mola blouse isn’t as brightly colored as most we have seen and I think it would look cute on her worn with jeans.

On our last day in Tupile we took the dinghy up the Mono River.  This river is the source for drinking water for the island of Tupile; the women paddle up the river in their ulus to collect drinking water and haul it back out to the island.  To prevent contamination of their drinking water, outboard engines are forbidden.  So we had to paddle the dinghy up that river.  Bill decided that he would learn to row the dinghy.  Anyone who has ever tried to row a RIB knows what an almost-impossible task this is.  But Bill did master rowing it in the calm water of this small river.  We saw several strange birds and strange flowers but did not see any monkeys.  When BLUEPRINT MATCH went of the river the previous day, they had seen some small white-faced monkeys.  But the monkeys did not chose to grace us with an appearance.

Then we went to the village on the island to buy bread.  We finally found a “restaurant” upstairs in a building near the police office where bread could be purchased – we just had to wait for them to bake it.  While the bread was baking we walked a short way and watched a PE class at the school.  The coach was teaching them how to play baseball and we thoroughly enjoyed watching this.  Then they held a baseball game – girls vs boys.  This was a hoot.  They were playing with a really thick purple plastic bat and a yellow tennis ball.  Sandals were placed upside down for bases and pitcher’s rubber.  The coach drew home plate and batters’ box in the dirt.  The kids were very careful not to mess up what the coach had drawn in the dirt.  They had just as much fun if not more than the properly equipped and uniformed Little Leaguers back home.  The lady baking the bread sent word that the bread was ready.  So we walked back to her restaurant and purchased 54 pieces of Kuna bread; 34 for our freezer and 20 for BLUEPRINT MATCH.

We motored 8 miles out to Aridup in the Ratones Cays.  BLUEPRINT MATCH arrived there before us.  They had caught a nice-sized fish on the way, so we joined them for a pot-luck dinner.  Michelle fried the fish in a beer batter and it was excellent; salad, fresh veggies, potatoes au gratin and just-baked brownies rounded out the dinner -- topped off with a couple of bottles of good red wine.  A great evening and we enjoyed visiting with Paul & Michelle.  Their Catana 431 is the nicest catamaran that we have ever seen.  It is a very comfortable boat.

A northwesterly swell grew overnight and we rolled and rocked with our stern awfully close the reef behind us.  It was not a pleasant night on such a close lee shore and none of us slept well.  First thing the next morning we hauled in the anchor and motored about 5 miles south to Snug Harbor.  And snug it is!  There are many mangrove covered small islands that comprise Snug Harbor, with deep channels between the islands and lots of patches of reef.  We had the Maxsea track from S/V APPARITION and followed their path to anchor between the 2 largest outer islands.  This was a perfect anchorage while the breeze was blowing, but unbearable when the breeze stopped on the second day due to no-see-ums that lived in the mangroves.  The no-see-ums only come out if there is no breeze.  As usual, I received 50-60 bites and am still dealing with the itching. 

The locals came by the boats and offered lots of crabs and lobsters for sale.  One guy also tried to sell us 6 freshly-caught octopus; but since I don’t have a clue how to clean or prepare octopus, we passed on that.   We bought from 3 different guys and ended up with 3 huge crabs and  eight small lobsters for $5 total.  Then our big splurge for the day was $10 each for two 3-pound lobsters.  Those we split in half and cleaned, and put into the freezer.  That will be Thanksgiving dinner.

Many thunderstorms passed through the area during Thursday night.  About 0300 Friday morning, BLUEPRINT MATCH took a direct lightning strike to their VHF antenna, which was the highest thing on their mast.  The lightning strike caused lots of damage to their boat electronics.  The VHF, SSB, autopilot, laptop computer and refrigeration were fried.  Not sure what else was damaged.  All aboard were fine and that is what is most important.  I do not know where the lightning exited the boat, but there was no hole in the hull.  They have a carbon fiber mast and supposedly those are more susceptible to lightning damage than aluminum masts.  They later learned from Michelle’s dad that this is the second time that boat has sustained a lightning strike.

Luckily, the Catana is also a French-built boat like our Amel; and it also has a Frigoboat refrigeration system.  They have a different model Frigoboat system than we do, but many of the parts are interchangeable.  We have 3 separate Frigoboat refrigeration systems on our Amel.  We have one locker set as a freezer, and it is jam-packed full.  The standard upright fridge is also full.  We were using the second locker as a secondary fridge since I had stocked up so much with fresh veggies just before leaving Cartagena.  We were able to shift stuff around and empty the second locker, so that we could loan the control board for that unit to BLUEPRINT MATCH.  This enabled them to run their freezer all night and their fridge during the day.  So far, this is working well for them.  Everything in their freezer is still frozen rock-solid, and the fridge is staying acceptably cold.  They are expecting a guest to arrive in about 10 days, and she will bring them some replacement parts.  She is also bringing us another control unit for the fridge so that we will have a spare onboard.

Bill went over and helped Paul with the electrical.  Paul probably did not really need any help because he knows that stuff pretty well, but he had already been awake all night and it was a good idea to have a more rested brain working alongside.  Paul & Bill rewired some things and got the boat in “cruise-able” condition; so at least they can continue to cruise and not have to rush off to Colon for emergency repairs immediately.  They will have to hand-steer, but they can continue to cruise and not cut short their time in the San Blas.  They planned to arrive in Colon about the same time we will, so we will probably stay fairly close together just in case they need some additional help or parts.

We thought our boat was fine, but Friday evening we realized that our AM/FM radio is fried and our new laptop is fried.  Bill has not yet been up the mast, but he thinks there is also some damage to our AM/FM radio antenna.   Both the VHF antenna and the AM/FM radio antenna are on top of our mast; they are the same height.  Our boat was stern-to BLUEPRINT MATCH when the lightning struck.  The AM/FM antenna is located on the rear side at the top of our mast.  If we had to lose one of them, I am glad it was just the AM/FM radio.  It would be much worse to lose the VHF antenna and radio.

Bill has checked everything he can think of and has not found any more damage to our boat from this very close lightning strike.  We were anchored relatively close together when this happened.  Good news is that we just bought this computer first of August and it has a 6-month warranty.  We have done some testing and think the only thing damaged was the hard drive.  Bill had backed up everything only days before, so the only thing lost was several days of photos.  Count us lucky.

This morning the no-see-ums came out in full-force shortly after the sun rose.  They were swarming me so badly that I jumped into the shower and then into long sleeves and long pants – in this heat!!!!  We pulled anchor and BLUEPRINT MATCH followed us 16 miles from Snug Harbor to Devil Cays.  There was a large swell rolling across our beam almost the entire trip; not pleasant.  We are anchored behind a small island close to the mainland and the swell isn’t bad back here.  Plan to stay here only a night or two and then move out to some outer island.  We have all had enough of these villages and people visiting our boats.

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