Sunday, March 30, 2008

Boat rammed by a whale -- not us! Plus got visa for French Polynesia

S/V VAGAMUNDO recently was rammed by a whale while enroute from Cartagena to San Blas Islands.  They were about 5 miles from the Eastern Hollandes Cays and sailing along peacefully when a whale rammed the port side of the hull.  It was quite a jar and there was blood in the water all around the boat.   The wood joinery inside the boat was shifted almost a foot over towards the starboard side.  This was a major impact about mid-beam area of the port side.

They limped into the Hot Tub area of the Eastern Hollandes.  Another cruiser helped them use a halyard from the top if the mast and tilt the boat as far as possible to the starboard side, exposing the cracked port side of the hull.  And another cruiser had lots of underwater epoxy on hand, which they used to fill the crack.

M/V DIESEL DUCK was about 15 miles behind VAGAMUNDO when the whale struck and they hurried to help.  DIESEL DUCK had a portable large capacity pump, the discharge hose is almost firetruck sized.  DIESEL DUCK could not stay to help further because they had to hurry to Panama for a reason that could not be delayed.  So, they loaned this pump to VAGAMUNDO and went on their way.

VAGAMUNDO used the pump and very slowly made their way to Shelter Bay Marina, where they hauled the boat.  This will require major repairs.  While it is awful that this happened, they are very fortunate that this happened in an area where other boats were available to assist.

It is extremely rare for whales to ram vessels.  The owners of the boat assume that they sailed between a mom and her calf.  They were under sail with no motor running, so they were moving quietly through the water.  The mother whale might have taken this boat as a predator after her calf.  This is still the season of humpback whales calving in the Caribbean.  I wonder if the shape of the hull and keel had any bearing on this incident.

Bill`s visit to the VA hospital was very beneficial.  He was able to obtain a script for the expensive drug that he takes for Crohn`s Disease.  The VA benefits covering just this one script will save us more $4550 per year, so this was certainly worth a trip home.  The doctor said Bill`s lab results were excellent; like they might see in a 35-year-old----unheard of for a 61-year-old who takes no meds for chloresteral or blood pressure or anything of the other typical things one expects for someone his age.  So he again has a clean bill of health.  Guess living on a sailboat agrees with him
Thursday I made a trip over to the French Embassy in Panama City to apply for a 90-day visa for French Polynesia.  I couldn`t wait for Bill to return so that we could do this together because my visa for Panama will expire on April 7.  So needed to get the French visa handled before the Panama visa expires.  Don`t think the French would look too kindly on me if I am in this country beyond my visa date.  The family on S/V FREE SPIRIT accompanied me on this day trip to also apply for their Polynesia visas.  Also along was their guest Jerry, who is a French Canadian.  His fluent French was a great help.

Getting the required photos and copies of various documents was a bit of a challenge, but we did manage to get everything and complete the application forms before the Consulate closed at noon -- thanks to Michele.  Michele was determined we were going to get these applications processed that day and not have to make another trip from Colon.  She went walking down a side street going into businesses and asking to use their computers and copy machines; and she found one office willing to help us.  We printed and copied the things required (a lot more than the Consulate had told us to bring when we called there the previous day).

We high-tailed it back to the Consulate and arrived about 20 minutes before closing.  Paul and Michele and their kids went first and did not have a problem.  Then it was my turn.  The woman processing the applications initially rejected my photo because my face was too large and there was not enough white background showing around my hair.  Tried to tell her that I have a lot of hair, but that did not matter.  As I was leaving, Michele pointed out that the photo lab had given us 6 photos each and that the face on each one was a slightly different size.  So I went back into the office and the woman agreed to take one of my photos and process my application after all.  The French are very, very picky about the photos.
By the time we left the Embassy we were all emotionally wrung out and decided to stop for pizza and beer.  I could have used a stiff drink after that morning but settled for a Diet Coke since I don`t drink beer and the tiny restaurant did not sell liquor.  Then we grabbed our fourth taxi of the day and visited the Miraflores Locks of the Panama Canal.  Recommended if you ever visit the area.  Then back to Albrook Mall to the bus terminal so we could catch the express bus back to Colon.  It was well past dark before I finally made it back to the marina.  This was a busy day, and I am glad that we accomplished the French Polynesia visa application. 

Our canal transit date is still set for April 12.  The canal authority told me to check back again on Wednesday as they are expecting things to speed up a bit next week.

 One final note about the James Bond movie #22.  When the film crew finished here at the marina most of them were then going to Chile.  There was a duplicate film crew already in Chile shooting the same scenes they did here.  There are also 2 film crews in Europe.  So they had at least 4 complete film/production crews operating at the same time.  No darn wonder these movies cost a freaking fortune.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Almost finished shooting the Bond movie at this location

March 22, 2008  Saturday

Bill is on his way to Houston this morning and will return April 2.  He will take care of medical appointments and also use this opportunity to bring back 100 pounds of various things for our boat, as well as a couple of items for friends’ boats.

The portion of the filming of the Bond movie here at Shelter Bay Marina is winding down.  This morning they are breaking down the “market” that they had built in the boat yard.  That filming was completed yesterday. This consisted of 4 small vendor stalls; they had placed lots of plants all around the stalls to make it look tropical.  Will be interesting to see how big the market place looks in the final movie.  Take it from me – it was really tiny.  They also flipped the black inflatable boat yesterday afternoon.  I knew it was happening but did not bother to walk over to D dock to make a video of it.  I have sort of lost interest in all this movie stuff and will be glad to see them leave soon.  It was nice to have this diversion but I am tired of diesel fumes from the enormous motor cat that docks next to us every night.  Bill had worked hard for a couple of days and our boat was nice and clean and shiny; now it is covered with grime from diesel fumes.  This big motor cat is used by the film crew as a lounging/eating and make-up “trailer” out on the water during the day while they are filming.  Then it docks on the T-dock next to us each night.  It is loud and dirty and I will be glad to see it gone. 

BTW, everything was shipped in for this movie production.  Even the catering company and trucks were shipped in from Georgia, although surely they are buying some of their food locally.  A lot of the workers are from California and England, but It has surprised me how many of the production people are from New Zealand.  The vast majority of the workers are young, very few over 35 years of age.

They have completed the action shots and chase scenes – and the real Bond actor didn’t participate in any of those scenes.  They only brought in Daniel Craig for the close-up shots.  Basically any time that the boat is moving or any action of any kind happens, that is the stunt actor, not Daniel Craig.  BTW, the stunt actor is a really nice guy; almost always has a smile on his face and chats with everyone.  Daniel Craig is a serious fellow; never a smile for anyone.  And he is not an attractive person; the stunt actor has a much more pleasant appearance than Daniel Craig.  I did not realize just how unattractive Daniel Craig really is until I came face-to-face with him near the marina office and had to step back out of his way.  From a distance I thought he looked a lot like my brother Boyd looked when Boyd was younger.  But after seeing him so up-close and personal, I realized that Boyd never looked that bad.  Haven’t seen this man on camera and am now curious if cameras are kind to him.  Surely he looks better on film than he does in person or he would never have been selected for this job.  After all, James Bond does have a reputation to maintain.

There were actually 2 stunt doubles for the actress who appears in the action scenes.  One girl did all the real action scenes.  She did not look much like the real actress; her hair is much redder and straighter with coarser texture.  Then they would switch to the second stunt actress and she appeared in scenes closer-up, but not in the more dangerous action shots.  This second stunt actress looked much more like the real actress, smooth dark hair and same complexion coloring, but taller than the real actress.  She has a very large scar in the middle of her back; looks like an old burn scar.  This was covered up with make-up.  Then they used the real actress only for close-up shots with Daniel Craig.  BTW, the Bond girl actress is cute; not drop-dead gorgeous like some of the Bond girls in yesteryears; but she is cute.  Whoever she is, she at least smiles a lot and talks with the film crew people; unlike Daniel Craig who has an angry, sullen look all the time and is addressed as Mr. Craig by the film crew and production workers.  As you can tell, I really do not have a favorable opinion of this man.  There is no need for him to act the way he does towards the “little people” working so hard to make this film a success.

I called the Panama Canal Transit Authority yesterday and learned that our transit date has been moved up to April 12.  They told me to check back every 3-4 days for updates because transit dates are shifted continually.   Keeping my fingers crossed that our transit date ends up being on April 3, the day after Bill returns.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

James Bond movie #22

The filming of the James Bond movie #22 continues.  Seems like the entire marina has turned into the movie production business.  All, that is, except the marina restaurant and the marina office.  They are entirely remote from all this movie activity.

I made a shopping trip to the new Mega Depot in Colon.  While I was gone the marina manager came and made Bill to our boat to another slip.  This was accomplished and I returned to find our boat missing from where I had left it.  But she was just across the dock so not hard to find.  In the first slip we were facing bow-to the wind and it was very comfortable.  Now we are stern-to the wind and don't get the nice breeze flowing through the boat since the hatches now face away from the wind. 

Yet another mega-yacht arrived today and we are now surrounded by mega-yachts.  They run generators 24-hours a day and the noise and diesel fumes are not pleasant.  Did not bother us when our boat was on the other side of the dock and facing the wind because the diesel fumes were being blown away from us.  Now the diesel fumes are being blown into our boat through the companionway.  Hope some of them leave soon.

Today they filmed a chase scene directly next to our boat.  S/V BeBe was in the camera line, but since we have not signed a waiver with this movie production company I am sure our boat will be digitized out of the movie.  Or maybe they will just change our boat name and leave the boat itself in the movie.   Will be interesting to see the edited result when the movie is released later this year.

Since our canal transit is scheduled so late (April 14 at the moment), Bill has decided to use this time as an opportunity to visit home.  He recently obtained VA medical benefits.  He was able to make an appointment for next Monday.   He has no medical complaints but it would be wonderful if he can get a script for Pentassa through the VA.  This is the drug he takes for Crohn's Disease.  Right now we have no insurance and we pay roughly $5200 per year for this one script.  If the VA writes the script, then it would cost only $9 per month.  So that makes it worth paying for a trip home.  I will stay in Panama on the boat.  We are hoping that our transit date gets bumped up before April 14, but seriously doubt that it could be before Bill returns to Panama on April 2.

This trip also will enable Bill to bring back even more spares and some of the things we have not found locally.  I ordered cans of powdered eggs and half-dozen cans of butter. to be delivered to our son's house and Bill will bring those back.  These will be great to use if we do the Pacific crossing.  I also ordered some MREs for our ditch bag.  For you non-sailors, a ditch bag is exactly as it sounds.  If we have an emergency and are forced to abandon ship and get into our liferaft, we will also bring along the ditch bag.  it contains survival items which are not packed inside the liferaft -- like the epirb, extra flashlights, fishing hooks & line, small rope, lots of granola bars and peppermint candies, handheld GPS, handheld compass, extra flare gun and flares, and numerous other things.  I thought MREs would be perfect for a ditch bag because they require no water to prepare and each pouch comes with its own little heating packet.  If other sailors are reading this, you might want to check out

Saturday, March 15, 2008

We are right in the middle of the filming of new James Bond movie

March 15, 2008 Saturday

As mentioned previously, the newest James Bond movie (#22) is being filmed here at Shelter Bay Marina in Panama.  The movie is set in Haiti and we guess that most people won’t realize that Haiti doesn’t look a thing like Panama.  For one thing, there are no trees in Haiti because they have all been cut down to be used as fuel for cooking and such.  And Panama is jungle so there are millions of trees of all kinds. 

It is interesting watching all the work that goes into making this movie.  They have 4 little souped up boats that are being used in chase scenes.  These look rather derelict but are really fast boats with brand new big engines.  They look like they are driving themselves but there is a guy strapped into a rocorro seat inside the wooden console in the middle.  There is a very small slit for the driver’s eyes so that he can see, but with limited vision range.  This small slit is covered by netting so it appears the boat is driving itself.  The James Bond actor and a brunette Bond girl stand in the back and sometimes act like they are fighting while the boat drives itself during these chase scenes.  Funny to see and we are sure the final movie won’t look anything like the play-acting fighting that happens while the shots are made.  Don’t know how they shoot and edit to make this play acting fighting look realistic, but it just looks funny in real life.

The actor playing James Bond (think his name is Daniel Craig or something like that) is being hosted on the big mega-yacht docked right next to us, named OLGA.  But we have only seen the actor from a close distance so far.  He has a body guard that makes sure that no one gets too close.  And they don’t like photos taken.  We are not fans of this guy so really don’t care.  But it is entertaining to watch all the movie goings-on happening around us.  Bill talked to “James Bond” and his Bond girl this afternoon; just a few sentences.  The body guard didn’t stop him.

They were supposed to blow up a small boat yesterday afternoon.  The explosives are all set, but they still have not blown it up.  Hope we are around when that happens.  Would like to see what it really looks like and then see how they make it look in the final movie.

The admeasurer was out to our boat this afternoon and measured BeBe in every direction.  We now have a Ship Identification Number for the Panama Canal transit.  Our agent is supposed to call us after 6:00 this evening and tell us the assigned transit date.  But we already know that it is very likely that the assigned transit date will be changed, probably more than once.  We arrived to transit the canal right in the middle of a work slow-down by the pilots.  

A pilot is required on a big ship (I think a pilot is required on any boat over 80-feet length.)  At any rate, smaller boats like ours do not use pilots; we get an advisor.  An advisor is someone who is gaining experience so that he can eventually be a pilot – because pilots make the big bucks.   The advisor will board our boat and remain on the boat through the transit process.  We have to feed him nice meals while he is aboard (as well as the 4 line handlers that are also required).   The advisors make a big deal out of the quality of the meals served to them.  If we do not feed him or if he feels that the quality of the meal served is unacceptable to his standards, then a catered meal must be brought out to our boat – at a cost of $350 to us.  So most cruisers make it a point to serve something good.

So back to the pilot work situation.  This is the busiest time of the year for canal transits.  We have heard that the pilots now make $250,000 per year and they want a raise to $400,000.  They have labor contracts and cannot simply strike for higher pay.  But they can call in sick.  And they can move the ships through the canal locks at 3 knots instead of the required 8 knots.  And that is what they are doing right now.  This explains the unusually high number of ships outside the breakwater awaiting canal transit on the morning we arrived here.  The pilots are creating a backlog of ships to transit the canal.  And we are caught in the middle of this, even though we don’t use a pilot.  Commercial traffic takes precedence over pleasure yachts transiting the canal – as it should be, since they pay roughly $300,000 to transit the canal and we pay less than $2,000.

Nothing we can do about this except hope for the best.  The transit date is out of our control.  Stay tuned for several updates about this, I’m sure.

You might remember that we came to this marina so that Bill could work on our engine because we experienced a slight problem on the passage from Bocas del Toro.  Bill wrote the following about our engine heat situation:

We were experiencing white puffy smoke or steam and overheating at high RMP.  This symptom means that it is likely that water is hitting a hot mixing elbow in spurts rather than an even flow. 

How a Marine Diesel Engine is Cooled:
A marine diesel engine cools itself with a combination of two water systems.  One is sea water; the other is a mixture of coolant and water.  The mixture of coolant and water circulates through the engine just like an automobile.  However instead of a radiator, we have a "heat exchanger."  Cool sea water passes thru small tubes which are surrounded by the coolant and water.  The sea water removes the heat from the coolant and water and is expelled through the exhaust.  It is injected into the exhaust at the "Mixing Elbow."

We did the obvious things we thought:
  • Checked the Water Chest Strainer (it was OK)
  • Replaced the Impeller (old one looked fine)
  • Removed and cleaned the heat exchanger (looked OK)
  • Removed and cleaned the Turbo Intercooler (looked OK)
  • Replaced the thermostat (did not check the old one)

The problem continued on our passage from Bocas del Toro to Shelter Bay Marina near Colon.  On the way here I recalled that a small transmission oil cooler is plumbed in-line with the sea water line from the Water Chest to the sea water pump on the main engine.  It is relatively simple to disconnect the rubber end boots from this oil cooler. 

I disconnected both ends of the transmission oil cooler.  On the inlet side of the cooler I found about 1/3 cup of small mussel shells and other debris which almost completely blocked the water flow.  The water flows thru 3/16" tubes and the transmission oil flows around the tubes.  The whole thing is about 2 1/2" in diameter and about 8' long...water hoses on each end: 1 "IN" the other "OUT"...and two high pressure hoses from the transmission - 1 "IN" the other "OUT."

Anyway, I got it cleaned and put everything back together.  I started the main engine and noticed that a lot more water was flowing through the exhaust.  I am 99% sure the problem is solved.  We will not know for sure until we power up to 3,000 RPM under load.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Bocas del Toro to Colon

March 11, 2008 Tuesday
Laguna Bluefield, Rep. of Panama
09.09.447N; 081.54.179W                  Distance sailed approximately 30 NM

Anchor and up at about 10:30 yesterday morning and we motored out of the channel between Isla Bastiamentos and Isla Carenero.  Goodbye to Bocas del Toro.  As we approached the final channel markers to exit Bocas we encountered what was first beautiful sailing conditions.  Winds were light at 9 knots from the east but just high enough to sail.  Large 10-12 foot swell was running from the ENE but spaced well apart so there was only a slow lifting and lowering movement to the boat.  We cut the engine and enjoyed a couple of hours of very pleasant sailing.

And then things suddenly changed.  We had been watching dark gray/blue masses approaching from the east, but radar didn’t pick up anything.  Instantly the winds jumped to 20-24 knots, the temperature dropped at least 10 degrees and the drizzly rain started.  This lasted a couple of hours.  It was cold!!  Not what you would expect in the Caribbean where our normal temperature lately has been 88F.

The course here took us down the eastern side of Isla Bastiamentos.  We have too deep draft to safely navigate the Crawl Cay cut way out of Bocas which is on the sheltered western side of Bastiamentos.  Our course was basically eastward bound but did have several waypoints taking us further and further back westward until we finally were heading west towards Bluefield.  These course changes placed our boat beam-to the swell.  For you non-sailors, the 10-12 foot swell is not uncomfortable if it is hitting the boat from an angle off either bow or stern; but a large swell hitting a boat directly on the beam makes the boat roll side-to-side.  We did this for a couple of hours.  Not pleasant. 

But the final hour of approach to Bluefield was behind some very small islands which broke up the swell.  And our direction to the swell was now comfortable anyway and the rain stopped, so the final hour was pleasant. 

We dropped anchor at 3:30 in exactly the same spot where we had anchored here on our way to Bocas on January 30.  This large lagoon is really an enormous bay with several long smaller finger bays branching off.  The water is totally calm.  There are no no-see-ums or mosquitoes – why I do not know, because there is plenty of vegetation and some mangroves.  There are no other boats anchored here right now.  The local Indians are friendly and paddle by in their little canoes but haven’t bothered us. 

We had hoped to go to Escudo de Veraguaz today.  This is small island about 27 miles away and would be a great jumping-off point to start the direct passage to Colon.  Haven’t decided yet if we will go.  If that large swell yesterday is still running, then it might be pretty uncomfortable anchored off a small island as the swell curls around it.  It is already after 10 a.m. so we need to make a decision soon whether we want to try it today.

Later same day…..
We did sail/motor the 30 miles out to Escudo de Veraguaz.  Cost us $20 “contribution” to the local Indians for the privilege of anchoring there.  Could have also gone to Tobobe and 2 other Indian places for the single $20 contribution, but we weren’t interested.  Stayed one night at Veraguaz and it was quite rocky – reminded me of Prickly Bay in Grenada with all that motion.  Wasn’t bad, but was a lot more motion than we are accustomed to.  By the next morning we were ready to leave.  On the way out to this island Bill noticed that our engine is still smoking.  So the mechanic we hired in Bocas was unsuccessful in finding and fixing this problem.  After we negotiated through the rocky area and were in deep water, we set the sails with preventers; put the engine in neutral and revved it up to 2500 rpms; and put in a healthy dose of Yanmar turbo wash; then flushed it with clear water.  Unfortunately, this did not solve the smoking problem.  Now Bill is very worried about the engine, so we will go into the marina in Colon so he can work on it himself now that his back is not hurting anymore.

March 12, 2008 Wednesday

First, Happy Birthday to our youngest son, Aaron.  Hard to believe that he is 33 years old today.  Seems like just a few years ago he was only 2 or 3.  Time does fly and seeing our children age really brings it home to us.  Sorry we can’t even call Aaron on his birthday while we are at sea today, but our SAT phone signal is intermittent in this area of the Caribbean.

We left the rolly anchorage at Excudo de Veraguaz shortly after noon.  The plan was to sail as slowly as possible and hopefully average 4.5 knots so that we would arrive in Colon area in daylight.

March 13, 2008 Thursday
Shelter Bay Marina, near Colon, Panama
09.22.086N; 079.57.019W                  Sailed 104 NM on overnight passage

It was an uneventful passage (the best kind!), and we arrived at the breakwater to the canal at 0800 this morning. There was a fairly large swell running and winds changed all over the compass, so it made for a very tiring passage.  Worst part was that we had to run the engine for about one-third of the passage and the diesel fumes made me nauseaus.  Very glad that this passage is over.

Boats are supposed to contact Cristobal Station on VHF 1212 when 20 minutes from the breakwater and they direct the traffic in and out.   We contacted Cristobal Station as required and were instructed to call back when we were one mile from the entrance.  When we called back at that point, the controller said he had 3 ships lined up to enter and 1 to exit so we should stay out of their way as we came in.  Yeah, well, that got my attention!!!  There were between 40 and 50 ships anchored outside the breakwater.  We waited while one ship entered and then we made our way through the entrance – with another huge ship coming up right on our tail!  All went smoothly but it is unnerving to have a ship that large coming that fast directly behind us.  We know that their navigator or pilot cannot see our sailboat when we are that close in front of the ship, and those ships move many times faster than our little sailboat.  We scooted out of the entranceway as fast as we could and headed toward the marina.

Cannot remember if I already mentioned this or not.  The latest James Bond movie is being filmed in the Colon area right now.  They were looking for sailboats to anchor in a certain place as background scenery for the movie.  We know another boat that wanted to participate but they did not want to commit for the full 2 weeks required and already left here.  The movie producers are paying $100 per day plus fuel and water, but each boat was required to commit to staying anchored in the same place for 2 weeks.  Heck, we would have done that if we had been here last week.  Too late now because they are already in the second week of filming that requires the boat background scenery.  Besides, we need to be in the marina slip so we can have shore power to charge the batteries while Bill works on our engine.

Anyway, as we headed toward the marina from the breakwater entrance we encountered all these sailboats anchored where boats are not supposed to anchor.  Turns out that these are the “movie boats” and that this James Bond movie is being filmed on the premises of Shelter Bay Marina where we will be docked for the next week or so.  There are notices posted on the doors of the marina facility telling the movie people that they are not welcome in the restaurant or bar and that they cannot use the marina restrooms.  That struck me as strange.  Seems like the marina restaurant and bar would welcome the additional business rather than rudely turn it away.  We recognized a couple of the boats anchored out there so maybe we will learn more about this movie deal.

We treated ourselves to a nice breakfast at the marina restaurant and today we will rest up and lounge around. Tomorrow we will contact our agent to get cleared into Colon and to start the process to obtain our canal transit date. Hoping to transit March 23 or so.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Leaving Bocas today

March 6, 2008  Thursday

We left the marina on Tuesday morning; motored a short distance past the Bocas Town anchorage and pulled into the Saigon anchorage.  Saigon did not appear at all appealing so we did a quick about-face and went a short distance farther to the Big Bight.  Several people had told us how very much they enjoyed Big Bight.  One couple said they spent over a month anchored in there and that there were no bugs.  Well, there did not seem to be any bugs during the afternoon; but there was a small swarm in the cockpit right at sunset.  We lit a mosquito coil in the cockpit and went below and did not experience any bugs inside the cabin.  I flash-seared the last pieces of the tuna that Bill had caught on our way here from Colon and we had a lovely dinner, albeit with way too much wine.  It felt so good to be back out on anchor instead of docked in a marina.

Wednesday morning we awoke at 7 a.m. to find literally thousands of no-see-ums swarming in our bedroom cabin, even though we had a no-see-um screen over the rear hatch.  At some point during the night Bill had opened the side port that goes from our bedroom to the cockpit.  Don’t know if the bugs all came in through that side port or if they had managed to get through the screen over our big rear hatch, but they filled the cabin.  I threw on long pants and shirt and we pulled the anchor and left that place as fast as possible.  So much for listening to people tell us that any of the anchorages in Bocas del Toro don’t have these nasty bugs.  If there are mangroves and the wind is still, there will be bugs around this entire area.  And some people stay here for years and love it.  We just don’t get it.

We moved back to the anchorage at Bocas Town.  If we are going to be bitten by bugs then it might as well be in an area where we can have internet access.  Plus, it is just a short dinghy ride to town from here.  Not to mention that there is a Mexican Train dominoes game played on Friday afternoons at a local bar/restaurant.  We went into town and did more provisioning and hit the ATM.  Panama is the last place where we can easily obtain US dollars.  We normally keep very little cash aboard since we go from one country to another and they all use different currency, but we will need US cash for several expenditures during the next 2 – 2 ½ months.  More about that stuff in the months to come as we venture westward.    

The bugs are not nearly as bad in this anchorage as they were in Big Bight.   Today was overcast with pleasant winds, so we took the opportunity to raise the dinghy and clean the bottom.  We raise it with a halyard and electric wench and tilt it upside down over the mizzen deck.  This makes it really easy to clean the marine growth off the bottom.  We put the outboard engine on a mounting on the rail and cleaned it too.  We had left the dinghy in the water almost the entire time that we were docked stern-to in the marina for a month, so the dinghy bottom did need scrubbing.  We used a paint brush to apply 50/50 Clorox water, scrubbed with a scrunge-like device, and rinsed with fresh water.  The gunk drained off well clear of the side of the boat as we had the dinghy raised and tilted.  This was the easiest dinghy cleaning we have experienced to date.  Now we will go back to raising it on the davits every night so it will stay cleaner longer.

Looking for the first weather window after this weekend to make the passage back to Colon so we can schedule a definite date to transit the Panama Canal.  Hoping to make the passage approximately next Wednesday if the weather cooperates.  There is a cold front off the Yucatan right now and that will need to diminish first.

March 10, 2008  Monday

Clearing out of Bocas del Toro this morning.   Probably go to Bluefield for a night or two, or we might go to an island about 45 miles away and stay there.  Best day for good weather for the passage to Colon is supposed to be Wednesday.  So should be updating again by this weekend.

We have stayed in the anchorage near Bocas Town for the past few days.  Winds have been pleasant and no bugs, and there was WiFi here; so seemed fine to just sit here.  We are both now ready to leave this place.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Leaving the marina to anchor out

February 27, 2008 Wednesday

Yesterday was the best day in Bocas so far during our stay here.  Winds were nice and temperature pleasant.  We took the dinghy over to Bocas Town (we are at a marina directly across the channel on Carenero island).  Went back to the Mexican restaurant and again feasted on spicy pork soft tacos with the chopped cabbage and jalepeno version of pico de gallo.  Yummy!! 

Last week we had bought one bottle of wine at one of the Chinese grocery stores and one frozen steak at the Gourmet Grocery.  We have learned to test things before buying in any quantity.  Both were acceptable, so today we returned to buy more.  Returned to the boat with a case of Shiraz-Malbec blend from Argentina and all the frozen Berard brand ribeye steaks that were available today.  Our freezer is again totally full, and we have probably total of three cases of various red wines onboard. 

Bill also found the local beer distributor (located inside a restaurant) and learned that Balboa beer is available for only $10.65 per case.  Balboa is the Panamanian beer that Bill prefers.  I don’t drink the stuff so don’t care which brand he buys.  I enjoy one Coca-Cola Light or Pepsi Light daily while Bill enjoys two beers.  The red wines are saved for either steak or pasta dinners, or for evenings of wine and cheese, or if guests visit.  Anyway, as I have said previously, beer costs up to $5 per can in French Polynesia; so buying it for only $10.65 per case sounds wonderful to us. To last us eight months to New Zealand we will need twenty cases of beer and ten cases of diet coke/pepsi—assuming we can find diet drinks with appropriate expiration dates.  Good thing we have such a huge stern lazarette, affectionately known as the trunk. (Note that only in the United States are these products marketed under the name of “Diet” Coke or Pepsi.  Same products are sold in the rest of the world as Coca-Cola Light or Pepsi Light because the rest of the world has a problem consuming something labeled “Diet.”  To them, the term diet implies that it is for diabetics.) 

Bill’s back has been bothering him since the last time he went up the mast about two weeks ago.  He twisted while reaching way out to grab our starboard flag halyard.  Then he spent several hours hunched over the engine.  And his back has been hurting ever since.  That is another reason we hired a mechanic to clean the turbo on the engine and check everything out.  Bill’s back prevented him from working on that stuff.  Since his back is still painful, we did not buy his twenty cases of beer or my ten cases of soft drinks today.  But we certainly want to get that purchase done before we leave here.   The water is so quiet and calm here that it will be much easier loading all those cases into the dinghy and unloading onto the boat than it would be either in Colon or Balboa where the waters are not nearly so calm.

Back to Panamanian food.  We tried another local dish called chicheme.  It is basically nothing but cracked corn kernels that are cooked a long time in sugared water until soft and liquid is cooked away.  Then they add a small quantity of evaporated milk.  It was not bad but I did not go crazy for it.  Bill would not touch the stuff.  So overboard it went.  Surely there must be a local food that is good because every country has at least one, but we have not found it yet in Panama.  On another note, Bill bought some bread last week and did not notice that it contained raisins.  It was just a plain white bread with chopped raisins in it, no cinnamon or sweeteners added.  Since he bought the wrong thing, he decided that it was his responsibility to eat it.  So he ate ham and tuna sandwiches on this raisin bread for lunch for several days.  Yuck!! 

March 3, 2008  Monday

Nothing really to write about but thought I should update the website because we will be leaving internet access tomorrow.  We are leaving the marina at high tide tomorrow.  Our plans have been delayed a few weeks because our buddy-boat friends now have guests coming to Bocas to visit next week.  So we will not be heading to Colon until the first weather window after those guests leave.  Still hoping to transit the Panama Canal before the end of March and depart for Galapagos Islands during the first week of April.   Just have to wait and see how everything goes. 

We now have our 8 month supply of beer loaded on the boat.  And a few cases of decent wine.  Plus 5 cases of Pepsi Light for me.  That puts us one step closer to beginning our Pacific journey.  Things we need to do:  one major supermarket trip in Colon and then 2 small taxi shopping trips in Panama City, one last refill of propane in Balboa, top off the fuel tank and jerry cans, visit the French Embassy and get our 90-day visa for French Polynesia, clear out of Panama and get going. 

We will spend the next week or two exploring various anchorages in the Bocas area.  Here’s hoping that we find anchorages with lots of wind and no bugs.  This is such a nice area that it is a shame that it is spoiled by these darn noseeums.