Sep 09

Rainy Season in Panama

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We are back in Linton Bay Marina, preparing Mistress for the next leg of our journey. When ready we will travel north to the  small Colombian island of San Andres. It is still hurricane season til the middle of November, then there is a short break before the Christmas winds kick in. Right now, here in Panama the rainy season is in full swing, the seas are calm and the wind very light.

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By the time we got back, the bottom of the boat had grown quite beard. It took 2 local divers more than 2 hours to scape all the barnacles and growth off. The bottom looks good, the paint is in good shape. Humidity is around 85%, with the temperature most days in the mid 90s. Need to get things done early in the day.

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While going over our systems on the boat, we discovered a faulty alternator. This was caused by the sea water bath our engine took last season when the heat exchanger broke. We had washed everything down with fresh water and sprayed with WD 40, but I guess that wasn’t enough. We now learned about, a new to us product called, Corrosion X, which if performs as stated should rid or stop any ongoing rust. So far it seems to be doing a great job.

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We found a company in Panama City that service Starters, Alternators, and other electrical components, so we caught the bus early in the morning to visit them. It involves a 2 hour ride to town, where you cross the highway and catch the Expresso to the City, as it’s known.

We were kicked off about 1/2 way due to a demonstration that had the only road blocked off. Apparently the small town are not happy with their officials. So a group of women decided protest, the police stood by and made sure it didn’t get out of hand. We had to walk past the blockage and get the bus on the other side, to continue our journey. We were only held up for about 1 hour.

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Around 11 o’clock we finally arrived at Internacional De Partes Electomecanicas, a leading dealer in downtown Panama city.It seems the more we come here the easier it gets to find our way around. The cabs are great.

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After determining that our expensive Balmar alternator could not be fixed, we were offered a replacement at a very good price. Successful shopping trip.

We treated ourselves to lunch in the mall before boarding the bus to return to the marina.

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Everything here seems to take all day to do, it was a long day. we arrive just in time to see the sun go down.

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Installing the new alternator will be put on the list of things we have to complete before we are ready to move on. Hopefully we get in done quicker than some of the residents here, who have been working for years.

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Apr 16

Our Animal Friends

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 Awhile ago, I shot a video of the monkeys on Linton Island, if you haven’t seen it…

[ Click Here]….  http://youtu.be/4ywjuwdMMTY

Animals, and nature in general have been an interest to me, my whole life . When I was young boy, my mom used to take the end of the bread, we called it the heel, and feed it to the pigeons beside our house. She herself had been raised through the depression of the 1930s, and could not see anyone or anything go hungry. I guess that’s where I get it from. I have a soft spot for ‘Mans best friend’, and I seem to attract local dogs and cats where ever we sail. I collect our table scraps then give them to our 4 legged friends near us. Muriel always makes extra so there is usually lots to spare. Most of the dogs are living a hard life, eating out of garbage sites. Some places a large number that become a nuisance. There are not enough  programs in place to control their numbers. Most dogs are afraid to come close. Probably chased away too many times. We don’t have a pet aboard Mistress, other than a small gecko that we discovered about  leaving Colombia, about six months ago who hides most of the time, but comes out at night to feed on insects. We would love to have small animal, but when we go home, we would have to find someone to look after them.

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The dogs known as coconut hounds, beach dogs, in Bahamas, as Potcakes, Puerto Rico, as Satos. Every island has a stray dog problem.

There is a lady, Kim Watson, who lives in Luperon, Dominican Republic, has dedicated her life to helping stray dogs and cats. Along with a team of veterinarians they have set up a program to spay and neuter local animals to help with the overpopulation problem.

www.dogsandcatsdr.com

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The first day we arrived in the marina here a thin brown dog came over to us and has sort of adopted us as parents. He is an alpha male, challenges any other male that approaches his territory, But usually gets his arse kicked. We call him Itchy cause he’s always scratching. When we first met him he had ticks on his head. We bought him a flee collar and they are now under control. We are now working on his ear problem. He is a very docile dog who follows us everywhere.

Another marina pup that came along, we call her Lady, is a calm dog who sleeps on our dock at night, [she’s just making sure we don’t leave]. For some reason, and I have seen this on other dogs around here, she has a problem with her front teeth. They seem to be wore away, but it was a mystery of how this would happen, until a fellow cruiser explained how this happens. This woman is a veterinarian, she said it is probably caused by the dogs picking things up or, attempting to eat off the concrete docks.

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All of this friendship only cost us a bowl of kibble once a day. I feel good feeding them its not like I haven’t done this before, In the past I have had favourite dogs or cats in other places. When we first arrived in Luperon D.R. a small white dog known as Cotton became our pet. All the time we spent there we fed her scraps and loved her.. A cruiser who settled there adopted her.

We have had many encounters from “High five” in Carriacou a dog that would slap your palm, to 2 pups that chose to guard our dinghy in Aruba. These animals sense, I won’t harm them.

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  Nature will teach you lessons…… I sat down on a stump, to relax while I waited for the paint to dry on something I was working on. I had picked a place out of the hot sun, under a shady tree, with one of two dogs who shadow our every move. I was just getting comfortable when I felt like someone had lit a fire under my butt. I stood up quickly, and found a colony of ants had come out, to get rid of the trespasser, trouble was they were also inside my shorts…….So hiding behind a tree was the best I could do in short notice.

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Early one morning just as the sun was coming up I had awoken and was just lying there when I noticed something flying inside the boat. Here, we leave everything open at night, usually there are no bugs to worry about, [too much wind]  I first thought it was a bird, then I recognized it as a bat. We had seen them upside down on a patio at a restaurant. Seems we had attracted one of them, by our stash of fruit and veggies that we keep in the shade under our dodger. I learned where the term “bat shit crazy” comes from as I cleaned up the mess he left……. Sorry go eat insects.

Mar 02

Las Perlas pt. 2

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After 2 days on a mooring ball beside the Balboa Yacht, on the Pacific side of the Panama Canal, our friends aboard Imagination invited us to join them on trip to the Las Perlas. You’ve already read about the island of Taboga, if not read previous post. We carried on from there, and even before we were out of sight of the island we had a nice fish on the line. We had 2 rods working as we  motor-sailed towards our intended landfall approximately 32 nautical miles away.

Isla Contadora, is the most developed island in the archipelago de Las Perlas, a favourite destination for vacationers from Panama city. The small island of Contadora boasts an airport, desalination plant, power plant, and a full network of paved roads. There are several nice restaurants, shops , and a gas station to fuel the many quads and jet skis. There are daily flights to Panama.

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We arrived after a relaxing sail, in the late afternoon and put down the anchor just off the beach in about 32 ft. of water. We could clearly see the bottom, and the schools of fish around the boat. Most boats that come through the canal are on a mission to get to French Polynesia, so they miss these beautiful islands.

We had a fantastic dinner of the Mackerel we caught, then probably turned in way too early. The next morning we were off to explore the numerous white sand beaches.

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Isla Chapera is best known for being the site, of where the TV series “Survivor” was filmed. Many times I found myself trying to imagine where the camps were located, or where they held tribal council. As you move away from the water, the vegetation becomes so dense that you can’t get far. There are many coconut  and banana trees, the rocks are covered with crabs, with fish in every crevice below water, I’m sure you wouldn’t starve being marooned here.

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Known as The Tourist Tree………..turns red, then peels

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We met Manu Sergent one evening on the beach with his dog, Buca. This guy runs the charter boat, El Bucanero amongst these islands.   www.oceantrips.com   He invited us back for sundowners, and wanted to show us his newest guest. While he was out snorkeling he came across a young Brown Booby, far down in the rocks close to the water, it was low tide. It must have fallen out of the nest, it had no feathers just white down. It could not survive in without the help of it’s parents, so he chose to raise the bird till it got it’s flight feathers and flew off. These birds grow to have a wing span of up to 31 inches across. Every day he would spear fish to feed the chick, who had a ferocious appetite.  He had plans to sail to a location where the bird,would have a chance to join a large flock.

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Deserted Beaches, littered with shells

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We learned from the birds on the way back to the mainland, follow the fishing boats. We were rewarded with a number of tasty tuna.

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Aerial overview of the islands…..

https://youtu.be/9AuVFi3kgYE

For more on Lorela and John’s travels, visit their page at:

http://www.lowerlatitudes.com

Feb 23

Panama City, Old Section and Isla Taboga

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The old city, Casco Viejo is where the City of Panama was founded , after the original settlement was invaded, looted, and destroyed almost to it’s totality by an attack lead by the pirate, Henry Morgan, in 1671.

Two years later, in 1673, the new Panama was founded again, but this time strong walls were built around the city in order to avoid further attacks. In 2003 it was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

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This Barber, even has a line up waiting,….. just provide a bucket to sit on, an old banner, and a pair of clippers.

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Been described as Little Dubai…..Panama City

Off the coast lay, 39 islands , known as the Las Perlas, a real tropical paradise: The Pearl Islands. it’s name derives from the abundance of pearls that were extracted during the time of the .Spanish colony. It was here where during the 16th century, the famous “La Peregrina Pearl” was discovered, a gem of unusual form and size which history is really fascinating. Since it’s discovery, it has belonged to countless famous people around the world. In modern times, it was owned by Elizabeth Taylor, after her husband Richard Burton gave it to her as a gift. In December 2011, the legendary pearl was auctioned for 9 million Euros.

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Taboga Island, also known as the, “Island of flowers”, is a volcanic island in the Gulf of Panama, it is a tourist destination only 7 nautical miles from Panama City. The name derives from an Indian word “aboga”, meaning many fish. Isla Taboga has been the home of Conquistadors, Pirates,Gold Rush prospectors, Artists, Soldiers, and rests in the glory of being the birthplace of a Saint. In the era of the French Canal construction, a hospital and sanatorium for workers with yellow fever and malaria was established.Among those who recovered and survived  was Paul Gauguin, the famous French impressionist.  Through it all, the island has remained it’s tranquil self.

San Pedro was founded in 1524,. The small town is pleasant and clean, with tiendas and nice restaurants, there is also a bakery and several hotels. The church of the same name is clamed to be the second-oldest church in the hemisphere.

Tourism is the major economic activity on the island, on weekends boatloads of people come from the mainland to enjoy the beaches and restaurants.

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Hotel…..overlooking the beach

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With as much as 20 foot tides, we actually motored the dinghy right up to the beach. When it came time to leave we found it high and dry. Back to the patio for a couple more beers while we wait………

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Feb 16

Panama Canal Transit

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When we were asked to assist as line handlers on Imagination, our friends beautiful, Leopard 42 catamaran, we jumped at the chance. All small boats transiting the Panama Canal must have on board, at least 3 crew, an adviser, plus a captain. We had met Lorela and John Hess in Santa Marta, when they first mentioned that they could use some help. We had sailed west together, but hadn’t seen them since when we arrived in the San Blas. They had carried on to Colon to do last minute preparations, and  provisioning to get the boat ready for their trip.   

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Balboa Yacht Club….on the Pacific side.

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Have a look at this video of our 2 days of Fun

Thanks Guys

Feb 09

Portobello

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Portobello was discovered by Christopher Columbus, in 1502 during his 4th trip to the new world. Because of the perfect harbour and location, it was chosen as the shipment center for the riches coming from Central and  South America. From this port, large quantities of  gold and silver were shipped back to Seville, the capital of the Spanish Empire. Between 1574 and 1702 forty five fleets of galleons, each carrying no less than 30 million pesos made the trip.  

In 1668, Henry Morgan, who worked the Spanish Main came calling. With an assault troop of 40 men he managed to take the town, the small troop of defenders put up little resistance and were overcome. Morgan demanded 100,000 pesos in order not to destroy the population.

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The Customs House, built in 1630, attacked in 1644, reconstructed in 1760, only to be damaged by a strong earthquake in 1882.  It is so nice to see this beautiful renaissance building, which was formally the Governors’ office and merchandise warehouse being restored.

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The hills on the north side of the road, hold more parts of this fort system, hidden by the vegetation.

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Church of San Felipe de Portobello

The church is located on the site of an older church built in 1814. A wooden statue of Jesus of Nazareth makes this church home. The statue has become holy and worshipped because miracles attributed to it. Every October 21st, the “Festival of the Black Christ of Portobello”, is celebrated. This local saint is worshipped by followers throughout Latin America. People walk on their knees from as far away as Costa Rica to pay their respects.

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Feb 02

Linton Bay Marina, Panama

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Lead around the small island we were anchored behind , then through the narrow channel between, Nester our Kuna guide led us and 4 other boats to open water. We had asked him to assist, as an additional crew member to travel with us to Linton Bay Marina. There we hoped to find a mechanic to solve our engine problems. When we started out, it was a bit unnerving when Nester asked us what the chartplotter was, our navigation system. He only knew how to travel amongst these islands by memory. He pointed out landmarks along the way, we double checked on the charts, he was correct every time.

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We had to pump water out of the bilge as we went along at a rate of about 50 gallons every 15 minutes, while our helper steered the boat. There were large swells, but we rode them well, and had a comfortable ride the whole way. While not doing his helm duties, Nester chose to relax on deck. ***click photo on right***

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After, around six hours, we rounded Isla Linton and made our way to the marina. Glad to have safely arrived, we could now get repairs done. Linton Bay Marina, will be our home for the next little while. Travelling by bus, which runs every two hours, we can get to the city to shop, or pick up parts  only a two hour ride Trucks stop by the marina loaded with cases of wine, today a great deal,   6 bottles for $30, or smaller vegetable trucks show up often. A 1/2 of Squash, Oranges, Cucumber, Plantains, Lemons, Limes, and a Papaya……..$6 bucks. You can see why, many cruisers have stayed for a while here. At sunset a guy even set up his mat and performed Tai Chi, I chose to relax on the bench watching.

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Never thought I would be spending my retirement……waiting for a bus. These music blaring, colourful, racing vehicles, actually, old school buses, will take you to where ever you need to go. For just 3 dollars they will get you to Colon, what a great deal.

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Who would have thought a Sloth could swim?????

Jan 26

Isla Porvenir, Capital of Kuna Yala

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We made it safely to this small island , where there is a Kuna operated Immigration office,a hotel, restaurant, and frequent flights to Panama city. There is no village but still considered the capital of Kuna Yala.

Our engine ran well, but we needed to pump out the bilge about every 15 minutes, water still trickles in. We kept ahead it the whole way. soon as the anchor was down, we shut off the incoming through-hull, to make sure we stayed dry. There was just one other boat, a trawler, in the anchorage, when we sailed in. The weather was unsettled,  so for the next few hours we watched as 4 other boats joined us.That night we had a very uncomfortable sleep. The waves and wind tossing us around. The next morning just after daybreak, I noticed us getting closer to the  trawler. We were dragging the anchor, and on second look they were churning up sand close to the reef. We turned on the motor, and used full power to move to a safe area, pulling the anchor behind us. Some how we managed to miss the other boats in the anchorage in the excitement I didn’t notice that there were a total of 4 boats dragging including us all at the same time. All this caused by a squall with very high winds. we had been warned about the sudden, “out of no where squalls”, that come through the San Blas. A father and son from the Brazilian boat, Allegro, came over and offered to help when they saw us struggling with the manual winch. We dropped and reset the anchor probably 4 times before it bit in. we were very grateful for the two strong men for there help. Not feeling confident of getting a good sleep that night after a day of high winds we took an offer by a local to move to a spot that was more secure. the problem being a coral bed with just about six inches of sand on top, not good holding. Nester a Kuna Guide and sometimes charter boat crew, lead us to a spot just off the dock amongst the huts. What a difference, The next afternoon we dinghied to the store with a small bar and patio on the side. We toured the small island of Wichubhuala with Nester who agreed to crew on Mistress for our next leg. He showed us his physical qualities by climbing a coconut tree.

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All supplies bought to these islands come by boat, the main ones being trade boats from Colombia. We watched coconut being loaded and goods being unloaded. Even children helped out. Our best place that we found was from the patio of the local hangout.We met some interesting guys who were eager to share info about their way of life, and find out about us.  Gabriel, a local who runs the ferry to the airport, told us his  favourite music is “Gons and Roshes”. Because we said we had never heard of it, he told the bartender to play it for us….apparently , he likes Rock….. Guns and Roses.

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Jan 19

Major Breakdown

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Why does everything happen at night?   Like captain Ron said “If it’s going to happen boss, it’s going to happen out there”.  We are thankful it happened while we were at anchor. there are so may reefs in San Blas you need a working  engine.

. WE HAD SEA WATER COMING IN !!!!!,  and that is never good. The previous day while sailing along our high water bilge alarm went off. It was a new item, I had bought that was actually made to sound a loud alarm when water is detected in houses. It is usually behind washing machines, dishwashers, under sinks or bathtubs or water heaters. Luckily I bought one to back up our onboard system. This water alarm made in Brampton On. by www.waterlineproducts.com saved us from sinking.

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We had finished dinner, the sun had set and it was getting dark fast. On hearing the alarm, I lifted the floorboards. to look in the bilge, I was surprised to see how much water we already had in the boat. I turned on the pump….. no sound,…. panic starting to set in,…. Breath,.. calm down,… think this through. The reason I can’t hear the pump is because it is 2 1/2 ft. under water. After checking the outflow I could see that water was indeed being pumped out. I opened the motor cover and could clearly see that we were taking on water through the heat exchanger. A boat does not have a radiator like a car, but instead uses seawater to cool a tank, filled with coolant to keep the motor at the correct operation temperature. This unit is called a heat exchanger, right now it was pumping in sea water into the boat. We tried many things in a short time but could not stop the leak. That’s when I heard the solution “shut off the intake valve” coming from Muriel. Sometimes in panic situations we don’t think of the most common sense solutions. Once I shut off the valve I started to  think about our predicament.

We are in the middle of nowhere anchored behind an island the nearest town sixty miles away. Marine dealers in Panama city, more than 5 hours away. All we would have to do, is flag down a passing fast boat, then travel 2 1/2 hrs. to Carti, a busy harbour with a direct road to the city, We could hire a jeep to take us over 2 hrs. through the jungle on the road to Panama City, which means at least one over night. One of us staying on the  boat alone, “out of the question” . We talked to the man in Cambombia  and he agreed to watch Mistress as long as we returned with Coke a Cola. We set out extra anchor chain, shut off through hulls, and boarded a fast boat to Carti at 5 am to, make the connection with the jeeps to Panama city. The only other passengers were lobsters being delivered to market. Small ones in a cooler, large ones walking around the boat.

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Fast boat = Large canoe with big engine

Slow boat = Large canoe with paddles

We were loaded into a SUV, 4 wheel drive type vehicle, their all called Jeeps, to travel through the jungle of Kuna Yala,  which is very rough. They even have a border of sorts, between native territory and mainland Panama almost a 1/4 of the total land area.

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The flag of Kuna Yala has a large swastika, but has no political connection to the Nazi symbol.  It was first used in a rebellion in February, 1925.

Our driver took us to a hotel he recommended in the downtown area with access to the Metro so we could easily travel anywhere in the city to find new parts all I can say about Panama city is we will return, right now we want to de-stress and find the part needed to fix our problem. .We will cover Panama City in a future blog post..

When we visited the Yanmar dealer, the maker of our engine, we were told the parts we required had been discontinued,.The only option for us was to seal the leak, and get to a place where a mechanic could have a look at it. No mechanic was going to come to us. Giving up on marine stores and listening to our son Jonny, “Dad real mechanics can fix anything with zip ties and silicone”. So we loaded up with both epoxy and high temp silicone.

The following morning we checked out at 5 am to start our long journey back to Mistress. We took more than a week of applying a layer,… then drying 18 hrs., …turn on the water, checking for leaks,…. re-applying, till no leaks appeared. When we turned on the engine, it was  still leaking but it was just a trickle, we had to get to a marina. Light wind so the motor needed to be used.

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Here we go next stop Porvenir !!!!!!