Saturday, April 26, 2008

Isla Cristobal first, then to Isla Santa Cruz

April 26, 2008 Saturday
Puerto Ayota, Bahia Academy, Isla Santa Cruz, Galapagos Islands
0.44.864S; 090.18.501W
Distance traveled today 42.4 NM

Soon after we anchored Friday morning in Wreck Bay on Isla Cristobal the Port Captain and a military guy visited our boat.  The Port Captain told us what we already knew – that if we officially cleared into the Galapagos on Isla Cristobal then we would not be allowed to move our boat until we cleared out for the Marquesas.  We could take some boat tours to other islands, but our boat must remain at port of original anchorage.  Had we obtained an “autografo” prior to arrival in Galapagos then we could have visited the other 4 allowed ports on a few other islands.  The autografo is a cruising permit but it must be obtained through an agent prior to arrival.  We knew this because we have been in contact with an agent for a couple of months, as well as having email from 2 other boats that were here last month.  Ecuador has a new government as of last year and a number of things have changed for visiting yachts, both in Galapagos and on mainland.  The rules are evolving and will certainly change again from the current restrictions.  Since we were delayed a month at the Panama Canal that meant we would not have time to spend 3 weeks in the Galapagos islands, so we had opted not to obtain the autografo prior to our arrival here.  If it meant that we only got to see Cristobal for a day or 2 and then depart for the Marquesas, that would be okay.  But we really wanted to visit Santa Cruz for a few days if possible.  The Port Captain is a very nice man and understood perfectly what we wanted to do, and he was kind enough to do what was within the scope of his authority while still following the current Ecuadorian laws.

The Port Captain had authority to allow us to remain in Wreck Bay for 24 hours before proceeding to Santa Cruz, a privilege which he very kindly granted to us and also to our friends on FREE SPIRIT.  He would take possession of our Zarpe from Panama for this 24-hour period and return it to us just prior to our heaving the anchor and departing Saturday morning.  That suited us perfectly.  One day was enough to see the highlights of Cristobal.  Most of the tourist things to see and most of the tour boats operate out of Santa Cruz.  This way we get to see both islands.

We took a water taxi to the newly built malecon (waterfront street).  The new malecon is very nice and construction was completed just a few months ago.  They started the water taxi service because the sea lions were getting into cruisers’ dinghies and making a huge mess.  The sea lions were everywhere – reminded us a lot of Fisherman’s Wharf area of San Francisco, except that this is a very quaint little town.  A guy named Fernando quickly attached himself to us.  Fernando is quite a hustler.  He speaks English moderately well and works for Carmela Romero, sister of Jhonny Romero.  Carmela operates the Cristobal branch office of Jhonny’s company called Yachtgala Agencia Naviera.  We told Fernando that we wanted to rent a car and drive around the island by ourselves.  I know someone who did this last year.  But Fernando made us understand that this just wasn’t going to be possible but that he could arrange a “looking” tour for us for $40 per person for a 4-hour tour around the island.  We agreed since we couldn’t find anywhere to rent any form of transportation except bikes, and you all know I’m not riding a bike around a 25 mile long island with lots of hills. 

At our request Fernando directed us to a restaurant where they would serve us lunch at only 10:30 in the morning.  Local time is UTZ minus 6 hours, so we have moved back another time zone.  After sailing all night we were ready for lunch at this very early hour.  Bill enjoyed a Brahma beer and hamburgueza.  The hamburgueza turned out to be chicken on a hamburger bun; but, hey, that’s okay too.  The Brahma beer was huge by USA standards.  They measure the bottles by cubic centimeters rather than by milliliters so we have no idea how much beer was actually in that bottle.  The label said 580 cubic centimeters.  Anyway, it was a large beer to have at 10:30 in the morning.

The driver met us outside the restaurant at 11:30 and we started our “looking” tour.  First thing the driver did was stop and pick up his wife to join us for the afternoon.  That was actually a nice thing all around.  Gave her an afternoon outing and it was fun having her along.  Neither of them spoke a single word of English but we managed communication just fine.  Learned that she was originally from Quito and has lived here in Galapagos only a few years.  BTW, Ecuadorian laws prohibit foreigners from residing in Galapagos Islands now.  She had a good sense of humor and we enjoyed having her join us.

First stop was the Cerro Colorado Tortoise Conservation Center.  All of the Galapagos Islands are a national park and technically we should have paid the $100 per person park fee, but since we were with a guide we were not asked about this.  We will pay the park fee when we officially clear in at Santa Cruz.  You are only required the pay the park fee once and it covers the entire Galapagos.  The Cerro Colorado Tortoise Conservation Center is fairly new; I believe it opened in 2005.  It is amazing that each island of the Galapagos has a different species of giant tortoise.  This conservation center concentrates on the species that is indigenous to Isla Cristobal.  It is a very nice facility.  We walked the trail and saw several tortoises ranging from medium to large size.  The incubation and breeding center has raised cages that contain tortoises ranging from 3 months to 3 years.  The 3-month-old tortoises were about the size of my entire hand including fingers.  The shell of the 3-year-old tortoise was about 1 ½ feet in diameter and 2 feet long.  These smaller tortoises are kept in the raised cages to protect them from their natural predators – mainly wild pigs, feral cats and rats—all of which were introduced from sailing ships of yesteryears.

After the conservation center we walked up lots of wooden steps to a hilltop overlooking Puerto Chino beach.  A very pretty view.  Puerto Chino beach is the prettiest beach on Isla Cristobal and can only be reached by hiking.  Not our deal.  We were surprised at how cool the weather is on Cristobal on the eastern side vs. the western side.  This temperature variance is due to the Humboldt Current coming up from Antarctica alongside South America and then turning towards Galapagos.  The ocean can be 60F degrees on one side of an island and 80F degrees on the other side.

Cristobal also has a wind farm.  They have 3 enormous wind gens on top of a mountain.  They were barely turning as we drove past on this particular day. 

We drove past a house that had watermelons stacked by the front door.  Our tour driver stopped and talked to the owner.  The owner pulled out a machete and soon we were all standing on the roadside eating chunks of “sandia” from our hands.  The watermelon was so good that Bill bought one to bring back to the boat.  We will enjoy that in a couple of weeks during our passage to Marquesas.  Another time during our “looking” tour the driver stopped and his wife picked some fruit from a tree.  We sampled it and the taste was good but it had lots of large hard seeds.  The driver and his wife ate the entire fruit but Bill and I didn’t eat the peeling or the seeds.  They seemed to enjoy this fruit a lot but it is not something that either Bill or I would want to eat again.

Rain is supposed to be rare on this island.  So, of course, it rained on our only afternoon to visit Cristobal.  One of the main tourist attractions on Cristobal is El Junco Lagoon and we were looking forward to visiting this volcanic lagoon.  Unfortunately, the rain caused the road up the volcano to be closed for the day so we were forced to skip it.  Since we missed El Junco, the tour driver took us to another attraction.  This was one that I had never read about.  His wife said something about a casa de arbol and muy bonita.  Now, I know that arbol means tree in Spanish.  So she was saying something about a house and a tree and very pretty.  But neither Bill nor I could quite understand what she was trying to convey. 

It was a tree house!  A very unusual and big tree house.  In the oldest tree in all of the Galapagos.  There was a suspension walkway made with hand-hewn pieces of wood and tension cables from the roadway level to the tree house level.  The tree was enormous.  It is 315 years old.  The tree house had a small living room with sofa, a kitchen, a bathroom, 2 beds, and a patio.  And the real surprise was a cave in the trunk at ground level.  Bill enters the cave and went down a ladder into an underground room constructed within the root system of this huge old tree.  The batteries on our camera chose this moment to die so I didn’t get any photos of the underground room (and I refused to go down there anyway), but Bill said it had a ceiling and walls and lights and was just like a regular room except that the headroom was low.  This tree house was the highlight of our tour of Cristobal.

The rain came down harder so we opted not to visit the marine iguanas.  Lazy us.  We did not want to walk in the mud to get out to the point where the marine iguanas live.  Maybe we will see marine iguanas on Santa Cruz.  We declared an end to the tour; sat around a bar/restaurant for an hour or so; and then returned to the boat.  Ahhhh, we were looking forward to actually sleeping through the night after our 9 day passage.

Shortly before sunset Fernando delivered the diesel fuel that we had requested.  We had asked for 109 gallons but he delivered what he claimed was 90 gallons.  Our boat has a very accurate dipstick to measure diesel in the fuel tank and we knew that Fernando had not added 90 gallons.  Our dipstick indicated that only 80 gallons had been added to the tank.  Fernando argued and Bill would not relent.  Eventually Bill agreed to pay for 85 gallons.  So we got taken a bit but at least the fuel was delivered and put into our fuel tank and Bill didn’t have to deal with lugging those heavy jugs in a dinghy.  Consider the extra 5 gallons that we paid for and did not receive to be their labor charge.  Bill had planned to tip them, but considered the tip paid because of the discrepancy.

We were worried about the sea lions possibly climbing onto our boat during the night so Bill rigged fenders on the stern of the boat and coated them with dishwashing liquid.  We could hear the sea lions all around the stern of the boat for most of the night.  One of them did make it onboard and the noise immediately awakened us.  We both saw this sea lion stick his head inside our bedroom hatch.  I screamed and Bill started making loud, deep bass sounds as he punched the sea lion square on the jaw!  That was enough to make the sea lion turn and slide back into the sea.  I don’t know what we would have done if that silly animal had slid down inside our bedroom.  We would never have been able to get him back up out of the interior of this boat.

The Port Captain arrived back at our boat shortly after 8 on Saturday morning and returned our Zarpe.  He doesn’t speak a word of English but managed to convey that we are to proceed direct to Santa Cruz and that when we clear in with our agent Jhonny Romero that we are not to mention that we stopped in Isla Cristobal.   We weighed anchor and sailed/motor-sailed/motored the 42 miles to Santa Cruz.  We arrived around 4 p.m. and found a spot to fit into.  This anchorage is very crowded and also faces on-coming swell; so boats must use both bow and stern anchors.  This is the first time that our stern anchor has ever been into water.  The anchoring went smoothly and we found the motion not at all uncomfortable.  People complain about the motion in this anchorage, but we find it quite comfortable with the bow facing into the swell and being held in that direction by a stern anchor.  We will clear in with the agent and do some tours.  FREE SPIRIT arrived an hour or so later.  There are now 17 sailboats anchored in this bay, and probably all of them will be heading off to the Marquesas soon.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Passage Panama to Galapagos Islands April 2008

This posting is copied from our original website:

Day #1 April 16, 2008 Wednesday
Distance traveled 57 NM
Left the mooring at Balboa Yacht Club at 0610. Departed from coordinates 08.56.25N; 079.33.5W. There was a nice wind from the Panama mainland mountains. We sailed approximately 30 miles against ½ knot current, with poled jib poled to starboard. The wind changed to only 6 knots, no current; and we began motor sailing with poled jib with engine at only 1100 rpm. Saw half-dozen porpoises; one was a baby and was the tiniest porpoise that I have ever seen. Also saw one southern ray that jumped out of the water. Current rant positive at 1 knot for the final 20 miles to anchorage at Espiritu Santos in Las Perlas islands. Anchored at 1600 at 08.25.458N; 078.51.14W. 9 hrs 50 min trip, average 5.8 knots

Day #1 continued April 17, 2008 Thursday
Awakened to birds calling "OW - OW - OW" like they were in pain. Never saw the birds. Left Espiritu Santos at 1230 on course of 211 degrees. Motored 4 hours and then sailed overnight with flapping jib in 10-15 knot winds. Porpoises around boat several times. At least 4 ships at all times on radar stern and starboard throughout the night. It was hot during the day and cool at night. We connected with S/V FREE SPIRIT on VHF radio as they sailed down the western side of Isla del Rey and we sailed down eastern side. We remained in VHF contact and they were parallel to us all night. Beef fajitas for dinner. Wasn't hard to cook underway. Since we left around noon today, we will take noon position reports for the duration of the passage to the Galapagos Islands.

Day #2 Noon Friday, April 18, 2008
Distance traveled in past 24 hours: 135 NM Distance traveled since leaving Balboa: 192 NM Current position: 06.21.13N; 079.56.60W at sea
Changed course to 180 degrees so should go below a low-pressure rainstorm predicted to cross our original course during the next 24 hours. This should provide more favorable winds for rest of passage to Galapagos Islands. Lots of porpoises, both large and small variety. Beef fajitas for dinner again. Full moon; totally flat glassy sea.
Note at 9:35 p.m.: at 05.31.98N; 079.58.36W we were enveloped by FOG!!! Have never seen fog in the tropics. Could not see a thing. Thank goodness for radar.

Day #3 Noon Saturday, April 19, 2008
Distance traveled in past 24 hours: 134.4 NM Distance traveled since leaving Balboa: 326.4 NM Current position: 04.33.028N; 080.07.93W at sea
Rainy, gray day. Course for most of day was 190 degrees, changing later to 203. Had adverse current of ½ knot that overnight became 2 ½ knots. Boat speed 6 knots but SOG only 3 ½ knots at 1800 rpm engine. Very frustrating to make such slow headway. Crossed a shipping lane just before sunset Saturday and saw about a dozen ships cross our path within an hour; then no more vessels spotted. This morning we saw 2 very large creatures about 500 meters off our port side. Whales? Did not get close enough to identify but they had the circumference of a VW Beetle. Meatloaf with demi-glace and mashed poratoes for dinner. Sure am glad I pre-cooked meals so can simply re-heat while underway.
Thursday night we did alternating 3-hour watches overnight. Firday night Bill could not sleep during his off-watch time. Eventually he fell asleep and I didn't want to wake him, so I stayed on watch from 1800 Friday evening until 0300 Saturday morning. This worked well and we will try to continue this watch schedule as it allows Bill to sleep a longer stretch. There was a beautiful full moon shining on a totally flat, windless sea. A large porpoise surfaced around midnight right next to the cockpit where I was sitting. He made a noise and scared the living daylights out of me.
Finally made visual contact with FREE SPIRIT on Sunday morning. We both changed course to try to get past this strong adverse current. Course on Sunday morning now 252 True (244 Magnetic). Boat speed 6.6 knots, SOG 4.7 knots. Our next waypoint will put us back on the route recommended by Jimmy Cornell. I have decided that you cannot rely on GRIB files here in the ITCZ. The doldrums cannot be forecast accurately beyond 12 hours. The bad weather we diverted around simply dissipated, so we could have stayed on our original course of 180 degrees and avoided this wasted time southing.

Day #4 Noon Sunday, April 20, 2008
Distance traveled in past 24 hours: 101 NM Distance traveled since leaving Balboa: 427.4 NM Current position: 03.33.07N; 081.22.11W at sea
Rainstorms with thunder and some lightning all around us all day. Changed course to 242 degrees True, SOG 4.7, boat speed 6.35, true wind speed 9.8 knots; motor sailing against 1.65 knot current. At 8:00 p.m. we were on same course, speed about same, but adverse current was down to less than 1 knot against us. We are going slow to conserve fuel and also because there is a bad weather cell ahead of us on this course and we are hopeful that it will either move or dissipate before we reach it. The new watch schedule is working well for us. Bill gets to sleep 6 to 8 hours. He takes over at 0300 and I go to sleep until around 0800. He takes a short nap in the morning and I nap for an hour or two in the afternoon. We would not do these long watches in rough weather because the person on watch would get too tired. But this works well for us in calm weather.

When the moon rose tonight it was on our stern. The moonlight was so bright that it lit the cockpit like an approaching car headlights on a dark highway. There is no phosphorescence in the water sliding down the side of our boat tonight, but there was one large spot of bright green that looked like the phosphorescent green. Except this spot was the size of my hand and looked like an eye. Probably better than I don't know what it was. Dinner tonight was rotisserie chicken with mashed potatoes and stir-fried veggies. Around midnight we will reach the half-way point of this passage from Balboa, Panama to Isla Cristobal, Galapagos Islands.

Day #5 Noon Monday, April 21, 2008
Distance traveled in past 24 hours: 120 NM Distance traveled since leaving Balboa: 547.4 NM Current position: 02.47.49N; 083.01.88W at sea
Rainy again all day. Much more sea motion but not bad. Wind picked up for a brief time and we took off fast, pinched as close-hauled as possible. Since this is the type of sailing that causes a tablespoon or two of water to sometimes enter through the bow thruster channel into the forward under floor area, Bill raised the floor boards to check ---- and found more than a foot of water sloshing around!! 500 miles from land! We both started searching for the cause of such heavy water instrusion and each started mental exercises of steps to deploy the life raft should it become necessary.

Bill rigged an emergency pump and soon had it dried out. He then realized that his hands did not feel sticky; this did not feel like sea water. He tested it with our TDS meter and, sure enough, it was fresh water - somewhat brackish but very definitely not dea water. We think we have figured out what happened. Fresh or brackish water could only have entered the boat during our Panama Canal transit. That is the only time this boat has ever been in fresh water. This could have been caused by any or all of 3 possibilities.

First, we were positioned directly behind a large ship when inside the 3 Gatun locks. Our bow thruster was lowered and operating the entire time we were in the locks. Each time we departed a lock, the prop wash from the large ship was very turbulent and right on our bow. This could have forced water up through the bow thruster channel.

Second, a boat sits lower in fresh water than in salt water. Remember fourth grade general science class. We drove fast for about 22 miles from the mooring in Gatun Lake to the San Pedro Miguel lock. The bow thruster was raised during this fast driving, but not locked into position to tightly close the seals. Since we were sitting lower in fresh water, maybe water was forced up through the bow thruster channel.

Third, and most like cause, is that we drove hard across the little lake between San Pedro Miguel lock and the Miraflores locks while nested with the other boats. We were literally dragging the other 2 boats along our sides. Their spring lines would have held our bow down lower than normal. This could definitely have forced water up through the bow thruster channel.

Glad we figured that out. The interior of our boat looks like a college dorm room. Everything had to be emptied from the under berths storages areas and checked for water damage. Everything was fine; only lost a few rolls of paper towels.

Day #6 Noon Tuesday, April 22, 2008
Distance traveled in past 24 hours: 122 NM Distance traveled since leaving Balboa: 669.4 NM Current position: 01.52.81N; 084.56.87W at sea
Finally got a bit of wind from the right direction and were able to turn off the motor and sail for a few hours. Then back to motoring in less than 10 knots wind from the wrong direction. Adverse current still about .8 knot to 1 knot.

Today was baking day, as there were several things in the fridge that needed to be eaten soon or tossed. I had made a pie for dessert when we visited S/V FLAME for dinner just before the canal transit. As surely everyone knows, when you make a pie crust recipe, the dough is sufficient for either one double-crust pie (top & bottom like an apple or cherry pie) or for 2 single-crust pies (like lemon meringue). I had made a single crust banana cream pie for that dinner, so still had dough for a single crust pie. Pie dough can be kept in the fridge for 2 weeks and this one was now 12 days old. Time to bake it or toss it. Also had some smoked turkey breast, left-over veggies, swiss cheese, chipotle gouda, half an onion, several strips of cooked bacon and several ounces of grated cheddar - all of which needed to be eaten or tossed. So I made quiche. Since the oven was hot I also baked corn bread muffins and blueberry muffins. Thought about also baking some foccacia but knew it would spoil before 2 people could possibly east that many baked items. Bill talked to Paul on FREE SPIRIT (still in visual sight of BeBe) and learned that Michele also baked quiche today and she also make foccacia. Guess good minds think alike. There are 4 adults and 2 children on FREE SPIRIT so they won't be letting any baked items spoil on their boat.

Speaking of S/V FREE SPIRIT, that catamaran sails to windward exceptionally well. They took off at almost 10 knots boat speed on 30 degrees apparent wind for a few hours today. Best our ketch would do pinched on close-haul was 8 knots on 35 degrees apparent. Catamarans are notorious for not being good for sailing to windward, but that Catana 431 is an exception. It sails beautifully to windward. Although Paul says it does not sail downwind well at all. That is a surprise since cats are supposed to do best downwind.

It is now 7:15 p.m. and we are at 01.32.166N; 084.32.168W. Slowly motor-sailing along in 10 knot winds at 4.5 knots at 1500 rpm. No point in wasting diesel to go faster. It is a pretty evening and not raining so what more could we want. We have stars on the water.

Day #7 Noon Wednesday, April 23, 2008
Distance traveled in past 24 hours: 127.2 NM Distance traveled since leaving Balboa: 796.6 NM Current position: 00.58.238N; 086.35.151W at sea
Earlier this morning at 01.03.27N water began to drain counterclockwise from a sink. Guess those old sailors with their sextants weren't as accurate as the GPS technology of today in pinpointing the true equator. This water draining information was relayed to us from FREE SPIRIT. They have been doing the water drain experiment several times daily. Great learning experience for 5-year-old Merric and 3-year-old Seanna. We will save our equator crossing celebration until the GPS reads 0.00.000; but based on the water drain test we are already in the Southern Hemisphere.

It is a gorgeous day - finally! Bright sun; no rain clouds; sea is brilliant blue and has a gentle swell. We have been sailing without motor since 0300. Actually had to start the generator to charge the batteries; first time we have had to do that since leaving Balboa.

Day #8 Noon Thursday, April 24, 2008
Distance traveled in past 24 hours: 134 NM Distance traveled since leaving Balboa: 930.6 NM Current position: 00.06.441N; 088.28.387W at sea
Position reading actually taken at 1100 when Bill measured the diesel tank and did his daily calculations of miles/gallons/etc. He has a great Excel spreadsheet for all that.

We crossed the equator at 0730 this morning. Bill awakened me with a kiss and we heaved-to and shared some champagne. Poured a glass into the sea for Neptune with mental pleas for calm seas and fair winds. For you non-sailors: a sailboat can heave-to and basically park the boat; a motor vessel cannot do this. When a sailboat is hove-to, you feel almost no sea motion or movement. This is accomplished by back-winding the jib or genoa and balancing helm and rudder with the back-winded sail. Takes about one minute to do this. If you want to know more then Google is your friend.

Today was gorgeous; first bright sunny day of this passage. So we rigged the laundry lines and also did line laundry. Ran 2 loads of clothes laundry and hung out to dry. Bet we looked funny with sails out and clothes hanging all over the topsides, but there were no other boats around to see us. Then Bill removed all the lines used to rig our 2 jib poles and we soaked them in fresh water to remove any sea salt crystals. Salt crystals break down fibers in lines so it is a good idea to clean the lines before stowing away.

Someone sent an email asking if we had seen any other boats during this passage. Not really. We crossed a shipping lane on Friday. Didn't see another boat until Wednesday when a container ship passed us going opposite direction. Today we say 2 fishing boats. There was a stick marker floating about 2 miles behind one of the fishing boats, so we assume that it was trailing either a long line or a net.

We sailed past what looked like cut-up car tires sticking up out of the water. Took me a minute to realize that it was really 2 large sea lions floating on their backs! Their feet/flippers were sticking straight up out of the water. Their fat bellies were floating right on the surface and their heads were lying on their bellies. Looked like they were sleeping while floating at least a hundred miles from land. Cool thing to see.

Another wildlife story. Every night some large brown birds with white undersides come and circle our boat all night long. They never land on the boat. They make a very creepy creaking sound. I am not found of them. But a few nights ago we had a couple of different bird visitors. A couple of red-footed boobies landed on our boat and decided to spend the night with us. One perched on the top of the mizzen mast. The other booby clung to the life sail near the port bow. He sat there all night. Bill flipped the jib sheet (rope) on him, but the bird just screeched and fussed at the jib sheet and refused to budge. We were about 300 miles from Galapagos. Guess they were tired and decided to rest on BeBe.

Another calm night spent reflecting on the Milky Way. I am far less tired tonight. Must be adjusting to the watch schedule - just as the passage is almost completed.

Day #9 Friday, April 25, 2008
Arrived about 0730 at Wreck Bay on Isla Cristobal, Galapagos Islands, Ecuador.
Distance traveled in past 19.5 hours 81.5 NM Distance traveled since leaving Balboa 1012.1 NM Current position: Anchored at 0.53.723S; 089.36.821W

We anchored in Bahia de Naufragio, a/k/a Wreck Bay. Isla Cristobal was previously named Chatham. The Galapagos islands have been known by several names during their various ownerships. Each bay and anchorage also has had many names. This makes navigation interesting when using different nautical charts. Will write about our one day spent on Isla Cristobal in a separate log.

The passage here took several days longer than we had anticipated. We normally very easily cover 150 miles in a 24 hour period; and for this passage we averaged only about 114.5 miles per day. And we were forced to motor many more hours than we had hoped, due to contrary head currents and light winds. But Bill had stocked sufficient diesel to allow us to motor the entire trip had that been necessary. Our final stats for the passage are that we either motored or motor-sailed for 70% of the miles traveled. I am sending this passage log via SSB email to our son Trey who will update the website for us. Just wanted to let everyone know we arrived safely after a non-eventful voyage - the best kind.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

MISTER Chicken Man and our Panama Canal transit

April 15, 2008 Tuesday
08.56.250N; 079.33.500W      Distance traveled approximately 55 NM
Balboa Yacht Club mooring

We are now in the Pacific Ocean!

The canal transit was tiring but we all came through without a scratch to either person or yacht, and that is all that matters.  We were accompanied on the canal transit by B’SHERET on our starboard side and ARGANAUTA I on our port side.  I did the driving and Bill was free to move around the boat as needed to assist with various line adjustments or anything else that needed tending.  Our line handlers were Paul & Diane from S/V FLAME from Perth, Australia, and Hans & Georgie on S/V ARBUTHNOT, also from western Australia.  Both boats are in the final legs of circumnavigation and all 4 people are experienced with locks in various parts of the world but this was the fist Panama Canal transit for everyone on BeBe.  We came close to 2 mishaps during our transit but both times the reason was because a stern line was too tight which prevented movement of the bow, not because our line handlers on the bow did anything incorrectly.  As soon as the stern line was loosened both times, I was able to move the bow back to the middle of the lock.  This happened once on the starboard side and once on the port side.  But no one hit the wall; so as our kids say when playing basketball: no blood, no foul.

Now for the blow-by-blow details of our transit:

We left Shelter Bay Marina around 4:00 p.m. on Saturday April 12 and motored to The Flats anchorage as instructed by the canal authority.  They are only allowing 3 yachts every other day to transit at this time, so it was easy to spot the other 2 boats that would be accompanying us.  All 3 of us had black car tires hanging down the sides of our boats; that really stands out on a white sailboat.

The advisor arrived late at around 7:20 and managed to get aboard without any damage to our boat.  His first words were “Communication is the most important thing.”  And that was almost all his communication for the rest of the evening.  His second sentence was “What is on the menu for tonight?”  We found out later that this is an important issue for this particular guy.  He agreed to try the meal I had prepared.  He sat in the cockpit and ate dinner (we had all eaten earlier while waiting for him).  Then we pulled anchor and motored off towards the first Gatun lock.  The advisor decided that we should be tied next to a tug boat instead of being nested with the 2 smaller monohulls.  So we waited patiently (and later impatiently) for the tug to assist the huge ship CALEDONIA into the first lock.  I drove the boat in circles repeatedly while this incredibly slow process was completed.  CALEDONIA finally was inside the first lock around 10:30 p.m.  By this time the tug decided that it was too late and they were quitting for the evening.  That meant that we reverted back to Plan A – nest with the 2 smaller monohulls, with us in the center.

The other 2 monohulls were already tied together.  In order to nest with us they had to separate and then tie onto either side of BeBe – in the pitch black darkness.  This was accomplished and BeBe took control of the 3 boats tied together and drove us into the first lock.  Man did it look close to that big ship in front of us in the lock!  The control lines were shared by all 3 boats.  The stern lines up the lock walls were run from the aft of the boats on either side of us, so the aft line control was something we did not have to deal with.  The bow control lines up the lock walls were run from the bow of our boat.  So our line handlers only had to deal with the bow lines as we were raised in each lock.

I do not know how boats manage this procedure without a bow thruster.  The bow thruster was the only way I could control the rafted 3 boats inside the locks.  There is a lot of turbulence as the water fills the lock from beneath; and there is a lot of current in the locks.   And the prop wash from the huge ship directly in front of us was quite strong when it would motor forward to the next lock.  Also, when the water level is down and the locks walls are high around you, the slightest bit of wind will cause the boats to turn and become difficult to control.  But we managed the Gatun upward locks just fine.

After the third lock we entered Gatun Lake.  By now it was after midnight and the advisor was quite tired.  In fact, for the past 4 hours he had been falling asleep in the cockpit – when he wasn’t talking to his wife or girlfriend on the phone.  We untied from the other 2 boats and motored quickly to the mooring where we were to spend the night.  It was a very dark night and we prayed that this guy knew where he was taking us, as we were speeding along at 8 knots in total blackness.  Turned out that he did indeed know the route to the mooring and we tied up for what was left of the night.  The other 2 boats arrived shortly thereafter (lucky them; all they had to do was follow us in the darkness).  They tied to the other mooring, one on each side of the large rubber mooring.  Our advisor called for a launch to come pick him up; and he left our boat around 1:30 a.m.

When the above mentioned advisor arrived on our boat in The Flats, we of course asked his name.  He said his name was Ernest Cooper.  Someone asked what he preferred to be called:  Ernest, Ernesto, Ernst, or Mr. Cooper.  He replied, “Mr. Cooper would be fine.”  This set the tone for entire evening.  He called all of us by our first names, but he wanted to be addressed as Mr. Cooper.  Bit haughty, don’t you think?  After all, he was the age of our children and addressed all of us by our fist names but he wanted to be addressed as “MISTER Cooper.”  He seemed to have an attitude that did not set well with any of us.  We later learned that MR. Cooper does not have a good reputation with the other advisors.  In fact, he is called Chicken Man by the other advisors.  Chicken Man was given this nickname because he really likes turkey and was served chicken for dinner one night by a transiting yacht.  He refused to eat the chicken and called for a catered meal, at a cost of $255 to the transiting yacht.  Guess it was lucky for us that he liked the carne guisada, yeast rolls, salad and brownies that were served to him on BeBe. 

Here is a link to another cruiser’s notes about their canal transit and it mentions Mr. Ernest Cooper:

And FWIW, here is a link to another yacht’s YouTube videos of their canal transit.  One clip shows Mr. Ernest Cooper, a/k/a MR. Chicken Man, arriving:

Our second advisor, Meza, arrived at 6:30 a.m. and hurried us off the mooring.  Meza said the San Pedro Miguel lock was reserved for us to transit at 10:00 and we needed to motor at 7.5 knots in order to travel the 24 miles and nest-up again with the other 2 boats and enter the lock on time.  I had prepared a full American breakfast of bacon, eggs, bread, cantaloupe, banana bread and juice.  The crew ate this, but all Meza wanted was coffee.  What a difference from MR. Chicken Man!  Meza was very nice, communicated instructions clearly, provided us with lots of information about the canal and surroundings, and was a very, very nice man.

BeBe maintained the 7.5 knot boat speed and we arrived at the lock on time;  B’Sheret arrived next and Arganauta I arrived last.  Arganauta I was having an engine temperature problem and could not motor faster than 5 knots.  We nested up again ----- so much easier to do this in daylight rather than in total darkness.  Then BeBe drove us into the lock. 

We had the entire lock just to ourselves!!  That was unbelievable.  There are dozens and dozens of yachts waiting to transit the canal from the Atlantic side (current transit date being assigned is 8 weeks out, meaning mid-June), and here we are experiencing a private lockage.  Such a waste.

Locking downward is very different than locking upward.  Everyone had warned us that locking upward was very turbulent (and it was), but that locking downward was very gentle and calm – just a piece of cake.  Well…..not really folks.  The movement is gentle as the boats float while the When locking down the nested boats obviously finish with very high lock walls on either side.  This creates a wind tunnel effect.  Combined with the strong currents in the downward locks, the boats can be difficult to control.

The canal wall workers throw down a thin line with a large knot tied on the end; this is called a monkey fist.  And it is the size of a large monkey’s fist.  They are pretty accurate throwing these monkey fists; they throw them like one would throw a baseball.  But everyone needs to watch out for them because getting hit in the head or face would hurt.  The yacht line handler then ties the heavy yacht line into a bowline knot around the monkey fist and the wall worker pulls the heavy line up to the top of the wall and ties it off on a bollard.   Four heavy yacht lines are used, so the boats are tied up both forward and aft.  The yacht line handlers then adjust the line tension on all 4 lines as the water level and boat are raised or lowered in the lock.  This holds the boat stationary as the water current swirls around inside the lock.  When the water is either fully down or fully up, then the heavy yacht line is retrieved from the monkey fist thin line and the yacht motors to the next lock.  

Since BeBe was the largest of the 3 boats, we were the center boat.  The control lines were run both port and starboard from our bow and from the port stern of ARGANAUTA I and the starboard stern of B’SHERET.  As I said in the first paragraph of this log, the only times we had serious movement toward the wall and I was unable to move the bow of the boat back to center was when a stern line was too tight.  As soon as the tension was loosened on the offending stern line, then I was able to straighten the boats into the middle of the lock.  Both times this happened were during downward lockage. This happened once on the port side and once on the starboard side; but neither time did a boat actually hit the wall; so in our opinions the transit was smooth and uneventful.  I’m sure the boat getting close to the wall during these incidents didn’t consider the transit quite so uneventful.

Our enthusiastic thanks to Paul, Diane, Hans and Georgie for a job very well done.  We wish you all pleasant passages and calm seas during your Pacific travels towards home.  Hope to see you again either in New Zealand or Australia.  Hope your canal transits go as smoothly as ours.

Within minutes of going beneath the Bridge of the Americas and entering the Pacific Ocean we were on a mooring at the Balboa Yacht Club.  A few minutes later we were visited by 2 men from the Port Captain authority.  Our agent Stanley had already obtained our zarpe clearing us out of Panama to the Galapagos Islands, but we had to pay $20 and give copies of various papers to these guys.  We are now free to leave Panama whenever we like. 

As luck would have it, our printer decided to refuse to power on just when we needed it to print a copy of our documentation for the authorities.  I found last year’s certificate of documentation and they accepted it.  But we had to buy a new printer before leaving Panama.  Good thing the printer decided to die here as you really need a printer on a cruising yacht these days in order to handle all the copies of various documents needed to clear in and out of ports.  We were able to find one that uses the same printer cartridges so we won’t have to trash all those extra printer cartridges we bought in Houston during our Christmas visit home.

Last night we had delicious burgers at the new Balboa Yacht Club with a dozen or so other cruisers.  Very nice new facility and great tasting, reasonably priced food.  Learned that B’SHERET will be sailing on to the Galapagos about the same time as us and FREE SPIRIT.  FREE SPIRIT began their canal transit last night and will arrive in Balboa this afternoon.  We plan to leave Balboa tomorrow and go to Espiritu Santos in the Las Perlas islands.  We will wait there for FREE SPIRIT and then we will start the 950 mile passage to the Galapagos Islands shortly thereafter on the first decent weather prediction.  

This website probably will not be updated again until after we arrive in Galapagos.

Update June 2013:  We have been told by another sailor who just transited the canal that Mister Chicken Man, a/k/a Ernesto Cooper, no longer works as an advisor on private yachts. He supposedly now worked strictly on tug boats on the canal.  Good.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Transiting Panama Canal this weekend!

According to the canal authority last night, our transit date is definite for this weekend.  The agent will deliver the tires (to tie alongside the sides of our boat) on Friday; and we are supposed to be in the anchorage area called The Flats at 4:00 p.m. Saturday to pick up our advisor.  We will then move near the entrance to the first Gatun lock and will be nested there.  Nesting means rafting up.  We will tie up with 2 other sailboats and then enter the first lock while all tied together.  We have met the owners of one of the other boats.  Supposedly we are the largest boat of the 3, so that means we should be placed in the center.  Could not be any happier about that bit of news!!  Sure hope it turns out to be true.  If we are the middle boat then we will be the controlling boat who uses their engine to drive all 3 boats through the canal locks.  We will untie the boats when we reach Gatun Lake and then tie up again before we enter the San Pedro Miguel and Miraflores locks.

We had planned to have the agent supply the linehandlers but have changed our minds.  A very nice couple from Perth, Australia are docked here at Shelter Bay Marina.  They are on the last third of a circumnavigation.  They offered to be linehandlers for us.  Another young couple, also from Australia, said they also might volunteer; but we won`t know for certain for another day or so because they might have another commitment.  If they cannot help us, then we will find someone else.  We really only need one more person because either Bill or I could also be considered a linehandler while the other one of us drives the boat.

We will transit the 3 Gatun locks on Saturday evening; then motor across Gatun Lake and stop for the night.  Sunday morning we will transit the San Pedro Miguel lock and the 2 Miraflores locks; then enter the Pacific.  There are live cameras in 3 spots of the Panama Canal.  If you want to look for us, here is the link:

Sorry that we cannot provide times that we will be in either Gatun locks, Miraflores locks or the Centennial Bridge area.  But there should be only 3 small boats transiting this weekend so we should be easy to spot.   Look for the brown genoa cover on a ketch and that should be us -- hopefully in the middle between 2 smaller monohull sailboats.  Once we have exited the Miraflores locks then we will be untied, so we will pass beneath the Centennial Bridge (Bridge of the Americas) individually.

Bill has gone to Panama City today to pick up his visa for French Polynesia.  We tried to go yesterday but due to various delays there just was not time for us to make the trip and be at the Embassy before they close at noon.  So we returned to the marina and Bill will try the trip again today alone -- while I defrost one of the freezers and pre-cook some things for this weekend. 

Each boat is required to provide meals for their advisor, among other things.  Must also provide shade for him and drinks.  If the meal is not to his liking then he can call for a catered meal to be delivered to our boat once we are stopped in Gatun Lake.  A delivered catered meal for an advisor would cost us $350.  These guys think they are important!  As we are also required to have 4 linehandlers (even if we are the center boat and won`t be handling any lines), that means I need to provide dinner, breakfast and lunch for 7 people, plus drinks in this hot weather.  And there is always the possibility that the advisor will be accompanied by an advisor trainee.  In that case I will need to feed 8 people for the 3 meals.   So I want to cook or bake several things today and tomorrow to have ready for the weekend. 

We bought some very sheer cotton fabric when we were in Panama City last week.  I hope to make some long pants and long-sleeved top of some sort to protect me from the "no-no`s" in the Marquesas.  I`m sure these are the same as what we call no-see-ums.  Since I do not have a pattern and definitely am not a seamstress or tailor, there is no telling how bad this outfit will look and fit.  But the important thing is just to cover up, so wish me luck with this sewing project today. 

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Bill is back in Panama

Bill arrived back in Panama City on Wednesday.  I took the express bus over and we got a hotel room for a couple of nights.  The hotel made a mistake and had the wrong date and was booked full, so we had no room when I arrived.  Good thing I arrived several hours before Bill`s flight was due to arrive, because the hotel shuttle would not have picked him up.  The hotel asked if we would mind having a king-sized room rather than the standard room; well, duh!.  I walked around for an hour and found a McDonalds for lunch while waiting for our room.  When I returned, we were given a large corner room on the top floor.  This hotel is known as a dump (but popular with cruisers), but our room was better than expected.  Actually had new sheets on the king-sized bed, a television with a few channels in English, a small breakfast table with 2 chairs, a sleeper-sofa and a small refrigerator.  What more could be ask for!  Bill returned with one 50-lb bag and one 67-lb bag, loaded with boat spares and a few things that cannot be purchased outside the USA.  He also had 2 heavy carry-ons.

Late on Wednesday afternoon we visited the Halcon photo shop and got photos for Bill to get the 90-day visa for French Polynesia.  While waiting for the photos to be printed we walked around the area near Hotel El Panama and found a wonderful Rey Supermarket -- far superior to the ones in Colon.  We bought two bottles of champagne, brie, a baguette, good crackers, small filet of smoked salmon, orange juice and sweet rolls.  Might as well put that little fridge in our room to good use.  These items were our dinners for the 2 nights we stayed in Panama City.  I do love champagne and smoked salmon and we so rarely have it these days.

Thursday morning we visited the French Embassy/Consulate and submitted the application for Bill`s visa for French Polynesia.  This was exceptionally easy now that we knew exactly what to bring.  Big difference from the stress-filled morning that I experienced last week when trying to obtain everything required and meet the noon deadline.  I also picked up my visa.  My visa indicates dates of June 1, 2008 through November 27, 2008; but supposedly is really only valid for a total of 90 days in French Polynesia within that 6-month period.  Nowhere on the visa does it indicate that it is only valid for 90 days within that 6-month period; but that is what the lady told us.  Doesn`t matter because we will have to move on within 90 days in order to make it to New Zealand before typhoon season starts at end of November.

After our visit to the French Embassy we walked around a couple of hours.  The embassy is located on a point that is called Casco Viejo  This is where the original city was built by the Spanish in the 1500s.  After it was sacked by pirate Henry Morgan, Spain declared that the city should be abandoned and rebuilt in what is now known as the Ancon district, close to the foothills and will more difficult land access than Casco Viejo.  The Casco Viejo area deterioted over the centuries.  As the city grew the Casco Viejo area became a very low-rent residential area.  Now this area is finally being re-discovered.  Restoration is occurring all over the place.  Most of the area is still pretty delapidated but the restored buildings look great.  Lots of neat little restaurants and bars.  We enjoyed sitting beneath a tree canopy at Simon Bolivar Parque and people-watching.  Neither of us was interested in doing any of the tourist stuff that Panama City has to offer. 

After we had our fill of people-watching we grabbed a taxi back to the hotel, then another taxi over to Albrook Mall.  We had the best steak in many months at a place called Lenos.  Then we caught a movie.  Wasn`t very good but was in English and a new release, so what more could we want.  Cost for the matinee was only $2 each.  What a change from USA movie prices.

Friday morning we took the Panama Railway back to Colon.  The Panama Railroad was built in 1863.  It was a financial bonanza.  Stock traded on the New York Stock Exchange for $265 per share -- that was an incredibly high price back in the late 1800s!!!  The railroad was used to transport people from the Atlantic to the Pacific so they could get up to San Francisco and to the Yukon for the gold rush.  The railroad continued to operate but was in deplorable condition.  Finally, it was refurbished and in year 2000 the name changed to Panama Railway Company.  The Panama Canal could not have been built without the Panama Railroad.  The two run basically side-by-side.  The trip from Panama City/Balboa to Colon took a little over an hour.  It cost $22 each and was comfortable.  We sat in the only vista-dome car and were served complimentary coffee.  It was a nice little trip but the only thing interesting to see for us was the tree stumps in Gatun Lake.   Sure hope our advisor knows the route since we will be transversing Gatun Lake in the dark when we do the canal transit soon.  FWIW, the train only saves about one-half hour time over the express bus.  Given that the bus costs $2.50 each and the train costs $22 each and the scenery is basically the same, we would not bother with the train again.  But we are glad we did it just for the experience.

Our canal transit date is still set for April 12, but they said for me to continue to call back because it will probably be changed to the 10th.