Saturday, January 12, 2008

Returned to Shelter Bay Marina

January 12, 2008

 It’s good to be back home on the boat.  Visiting our old land home and family and friends was nice but real home is now the boat.  Flight back to Panama was uneventful; my worrying about luggage contents and TSA and Customs proved a waste of time.  TSA did not even question my carrying a very heavy transformer as carry-on luggage.  And, surprise to me, they also did not even open Bill’s bag which contained a spare starter for the generator; and certainly that big chunk of metal should have raised some flags on the x-ray screen.  Each of our checked bags weighed exactly 50 pounds – not even a tenth of an ounce variance from the maximum allowed -- thanks to my old doctors scales being stored at Trey’s house.  Continental had a luggage embargo effective until January 15 and would not allow any excess baggage weight.  Otherwise we would have purchased another suitcase and brought back another 50-pounds of stuff.
 Bill had attached invoices to each item we brought back for the boat, and he had printed a spreadsheet listing each item, its purpose and its cost.  We presented this spreadsheet to the Customs official in Panama and were cleared right through.  They did not even open a single bag!  I know the guys on S/V BRUADAIR had a horrible time with Customs at the Panama airport last summer - held in Customs for 12 hours because Customs wanted $400 duty for importing boat parts for their vessel in transit.  So I was expecting a problem when we cleared in.  Just goes to show how proper documentation presented in a clear and concise manner can smooth the process.  We breezed right through.

 Unfortunately, our taxi driver was a no-show at the airport.  We had emailed him twice (including the day before our flight) and he responded each time that he would pick us up as scheduled.  Not a problem.  He was also supposed to take us by the Yanmar place in Panama City so we could pick up some spare parts they were holding for us.  We hung around on the curb outside the airport for almost an hour; finally called the taxi driver and learned that he was still in Colon; so we hired another taxi to bring us back across Panama to the marina near Colon for $100.  But this replacement taxi driver did not know where the Yanmar place was located in Panama City so we were not able to pick-up the spare parts which we had purchased.  Annoying, as this means another trip back over there.

 We arrived at the boat to discover that the accumulator tank on the pressurized fresh water system had developed a tiny hole during our absence.  This was not a problem until we turned the water system back on (we turn off everything when we leave the boat for more than a day).  Bill turned on the water and left the boat to go walking around the marina.  Very soon the water pump and the bilge pump were working together. I noticed that the bilge pump was running constantly but was waiting for Bill to return before I turned off anything because I didn`t know if he was intentionally pumping out water.   Soon the fresh water tank was pumped dry.  Bill disconnected the accumulator tank and jerry-rigged the water system using the handle of a wooden spoon to plug the opening which would normally connect to the accumulator tank.   He filled the water tank with enough dock water to get us through one day and we were set for the night.  This marina has fantastic bathrooms and showers, but we both prefer to shower on our own boat.

BTW, we had rented a dehumidifier from the marina.  This kept the humidity out of the boat while we were gone.  It worked great and we still have a mold/mildew-free boat.   Hope it remains that way forever.

 We also discovered that the macerator pump on the forward head had developed a leak.  The toilet bowl would not hold water.  Leave the boat for 3 weeks and return to find 2 things had failed in our absence!   Good thing that Bill is such a Mr. Fix-It.  His skills are constantly being tested living on a boat.  Seems like every week there is something that needs repair or maintenance.  And this is on a 5-year-old boat.  Can you imagine what it must be like on a 30-year-old boat!  If you don’t have electrical, plumbing and mechanical skills then you should not ever consider owning a boat and leaving the US.

Bill spent 2 days installing all our new toys: JVC radio/DVD player with attachment so that the iPod now plays through the data port (since the audio port was fried by lightning in November); our new smaller flat-panel monitor (Thanks to John!!); AIS receiver; installed a new 4-port Edgeport serial to USB; relocated the WiFi adapter and amplifier; and networking our 3 computers.  He also re-wired all the 12-volt breaker switch wiring and relocated several things.  Basically he re-did everything that he had spent 3 days wiring in St. Thomas when we first moved aboard and added the new toys.  He used JB Weld to fix the tiny hole in the accumulator tank and it is holding fine; and installed a new seal kit on the macerator pump. 

So all our boat projects are complete for the moment.  Guess that means it is time to start a new list.

 I made 2 morning trips to the supermarket and then spent 2 afternoons vacuum sealing things, storing them and modifying my inventory list.  Freezer is now full again and we are pretty much fully provisioned.  Just need to replenish the beer and Diet Cokes.   We still need to collect our Yanmar spare parts from Panama City and have our propane tanks refilled.  Then the last-minute trip to the fuel barge to fill our diesel tank and jerry jugs, and we will be ready to leave here. 
 We have decided to go up to the Bocas del Toro area of Panama for about 6-8 weeks or so, then back here to transit the Panama Canal in March.  We plan to hang out on the Pacific coast of Panama and Costa Rica for the next year.

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