Panama Canal transit

 

The night was awful. It started out just fine; we had the cold beers the cheese and crackers, listened music and had a nice chat. I was able to give everyone a berth (or a half) but unfortunately two of these were outdoor ones. Not the best at the beginning of the rainy season. I was praying for a dry night. The two boys were sleeping outside, Elsa in the bunk berth, and the two of us in the ‘bow-cabin’.  Just after we fell asleep unusually strong wind arrived, flapping my cheap and noisy plastic sheet that was used to make a boom tent. The guys tried to readjust the system but I knew it was hopeless so I let them at it, and tried to sleep instead, I had a very long day before me. When they finished with the commotion and finally laid down to sleep the rain started. Of course the boom tent was leaking everywhere so they came in the cabin and sat wherever they could. Now, that would have been a picture, the five of us sitting around the cabin which is obviously too small for even one… We hardly slept all night obviously and when the alarm clocks signalled the wake up time at 4:30 in the morning it was inevitable that we over slept and only woke up to the bright light of the ferry boat bringing our pilot onboard. I tried to pull up my trousers and greet the man at the same time, but I was still half asleep it was dark and I hardly knew where I was. But we had no time to think too long, Freddy, possibly the biggest man of all pilots was ready to go, instructed us to start the engine and pull up the anchor. We followed again Lindsey’s boat, after I managed to break out the anchor, and soon were catching up with them. The two boat had to go into the first lock together, tied up alongside, and the bigger boat would control the lines and the engine while we only helping out if necessary. To come alongside S/Y Avolera I had to slow down so I pulled back the throttle and heard the stomach wrenching sound of the engine alarm. It was the water temperature sensor, overheating… I guessed it was just because the rev fell back and there was not enough water going through the system so I waited a minute or so and noise was gone. The engine cooled down now enough to continue and by now we were made fast alongside Avolera and practically on tow.

It was soon time to go into the first chamber of the three of Gatun Locks. The three Chilean and one American strong crew of the other boat was handling our situation well, Lindsey had his hand on the wheel and on the throttle, I only had to help with my engine to slow down and stop and my guys just had to occasionally help out the other boat’s line handlers  and taking photos of course. The shore crew threw the four monkey fists with the messenger lines, we grabbed them, tied our lines to them, and then the lines were pulled over to the shore crew, fixed on the bollards to let the boat crew tighten them. As we were going up, the lines had to be kept taut all the time and synchronously to hold the two boats at the same position in the middle of the chamber. It all went well and soon we were in the second chamber, when I heard the dreaded engine alarm again. My engine stopped and this time I had really no idea what caused it. At first I thought the worst, that the overheating cooked the engine and it will never start again ever, new engine plus the cost of towing us out of here, it is the end of the road. Well, we will see I decided, in the big chaos nobody noticed that the engine failed again, everyone was busy with their own job, we were still alongside so let’s keep going. When I was told to reverse my engine to help stopping the two boats, I pretended the engine was still running and moved the lever backwards. I put up the poker face and waited for what has to come. When we were out of the third chamber and it was time to part from Avolera I tried the engine and it started. It didn’t run too long though, just as we were saying good bye to each other it stopped again. That is impossible I thought, I opened up the engine room and again manually pumped up the system with fuel and tried again. It started again. We were out of danger at least now as we had steerage way, but the question was in the air. Will it work all the way through the 28 Nml to the next lock and further on out of the canal? Avolera offered us a tow all the way, but the pilots didn’t let us do it because of various (made up?) reasons. I set the cruising speed on 4.2 knots left the engine room open to let the air circulate better to help cooling the engine and again followed the slowly disappearing Avolera.  Our pilot was looking for affirmation that we are indeed able to continue and finish the transit and looked slightly unconvinced by the yes answer.

When things settled down, and the engine was running for 30 minutes or so, Regina presented us with a beautiful breakfast. Fruits and muesli, omelette, coffee and tea everything you need to forget the night and the morning hardship and get ready for the challenges of the day that was just before us. After breakfast most of the crew just gave in to the tiredness and fell asleep, including our pilot. It was just the long boring motoring, the jungle around us and the ships passing by every direction and very near to us. We made it through Lake Gatun, then the Chagre River. The space ship looking tug boats were speeding up and down leaving huge wakes behind them which we had to turn into if we didn’t want to get them from the beam and being in danger of thrown overboard by the rocking of the boat.

By lunch time everyone was sufficiently rested and Regina has finished the cleaning up after the breakfast. We made quite a good progress, but it was obvious we were not able to make the next set of locks to the planned time of 12:30. It was too tight of a schedule anyway, so it wasn’t a huge problem, and we saw the light at the end of the tunnel. With mutual consent our chief chef Regina set out to prepare our midday meal. With the rest of the crew we were sitting outside in the cockpit and on the deck looking at the big thick, black cloud that we were running into. Underneath the cloud the rain was clearly visible, not only on the water because of the bubbles but like a wall in the air, sharp and clear. It was coming and it was a heavy rain. Elsa, Laurent and me at the helm shoved Freddy down below to the galley to keep him dry and happy and we stood in the heavy tropical rain stunned but cheerful. It lasted 10-15 minutes, and we didn’t know to laugh or cry. Guillaume was stuck at front cabin where he climbed in and couldn’t move anywhere, Regina and Freddy was in the galley and filled out the available small place, and the three of us soaked to the bone standing in the rain nowhere to hide.

The warm breeze dried us quick after the rain, and the nice lunch helped to forget it. The Canal narrowed down by now and soon we arrived to the hill that caused so much trouble to cut through and demanded so many lives during the building process. The bridge we had to pass under signalled the end of our long motoring session and soon we saw the first of the descending locks where we had to wait nearly an hour to be accepted. Cabo Misaki, the ship we were going to share the lock soon was in sight and we moved in the lock, this time with no other yacht and crew to do the job for us. My line handlers handled their lines and their job like professionals and we were soon secured in the middle of the chamber by the four lines. This time, as the water was going down, it was crucial to feed out them precisely and without hiccup, I didn’t want to see Comino hanging up on the chamber wall like an oversized decoration.

Two more locks were handled in a similarly professional manner and the cheer and claps went up in the air from us. We are on the Pacific Ocean! We rounded the pillars of the Americas Bridge just before dark and dropped off Freddy to the waiting ferry boat. We were at the famous Balboa yacht club mooring field, and we tried to come alongside their pontoon so my crew can get ashore, but it wasn’t allowed. Eventually, a small water taxi took them, for a dollar each. We said good bye, I thanked them for their help and patience to endure the conditions then steered away and headed to the anchorage around the corner about a 6-7 miles distance.

Preparation

 

The transit was scheduled for the 17th May a Wednesday, so I calculated we night-sail back to Cristobal on Monday, do our shopping of provision on Tuesday, the crew would have arrived in the early hours of Wednesday, I’d pick them up at Club Nautico, then we proceed to the ‘Flats’ before noon, pick up the pilot and do the transit. Nothing like this happened. 

Monday early Regina and me said good bye to everyone we could in Portobello, did a last minute gas bottle refill, then left the bay and stopped at the beach at the north corner to swim and snorkel for the last time in this warm and pleasant water of the Caribbean Sea. We found a mango tree on the beach and ate as much mango as we could, marvelled the wildlife of the reef again and swam around for hours. At 1830 hours, just before dark we pulled up the hook and started to motor towards Cristobal with no wind and calm water. Not much later the engine started to cough and miss the beats then it stopped. It was completely dark now, we had the mainsail up and there was just as much wind that by unfurling the jib we had steerage way. I was completely devastated, we were not in danger whatsoever, but I knew I have to sort out this problem properly before we go into the canal and we had not much time left. I went down below and opened up the engine room. There was no fuel coming to the filter on the engine side it was obvious. I managed to manually pump the up system  and the engine started again and run for about 45 minutes before it stopped again. Repeat this many times, and we limped in to Cristobal Harbour and dropped the anchor at 0030 hours. I worked all day and night I was tired, and just fell into the bed and slept, but early morning I was up again nervous and thinking what to do. I wasn’t sure if the fuel pump was faulty or the system leaked air in somewhere else, I bypassed the Racor type filter last night but that didn’t seem to make any difference so I run out of idea. We went to a test run again and the engine run for two hours, I thought maybe it sorted out itself, but just stopped before we got back to the anchorage. It is no joke! I contacted Tito, the agent again, we met up and decided to postpone the transit and try to sort out the engine. He brought me to a mechanic near where we were staying anyway and he offered his help the next morning. I contacted the scheduler and asked two days and let my crew knew about the trouble. Shopping postponed, I just had to persuade Regina to stay an extra two days as her flight back to Europe was on the early morning of Saturday and we wouldn’t have finished the transit by then, not to say anything about unexpected events! And this, after her adventure with the outbound flight with a change in Atlanta mix-ups with visa and a day of delay! We called the airline, the change was possible they said, the credit run out of the phone and the call was interrupted… On the scale of problems we had it was actually laughable. Anyway I adopted the mantra ‘It will be a good story, it will be a good story’ to murmur as I had no better idea. We went ashore to the now well discovered town of Colón again, topped up the phone and called the airline again. It was too expensive… I had a momentarily brain break down at this stage. We were sitting in a nearly empty no-name fast food restaurant, where the policemen put us in, after we nearly wandered out of the safe zone of Colón to the gangs’ zone and the certain death, or robbery anyway. I tried to check my phone, maybe email, maybe Google something and I couldn’t open it up with the screen lock. I forgot the pattern I drew millions of times and use for seven or more years. It was so automatic before that I couldn’t consciously recall it; it was like I was locked out of my office. Later on, I managed to open it with a backup pin I didn’t even remember I saved, but the pattern never came back to my mind…

A few hours later we called the airline again and got a better price, so the ticket was changed. My crew was still OK with the date and time. Back to the boat, and the next morning we had the mechanic on board, he checked the fuel pump and it was working fine then traced the problem to the Racor filter. It was blocked, and fuel flow was insufficient. I hoped he was right despite that I tried to bypass it before and it didn’t help. Andreas, the mechanic, from Cuba, cleaned and replaced the filter. I dropped him back ashore when everything was ready and by the time I turned around the engine stopped again. Back to him, he bled the system again and said it should be OK now. We went to test it out, and run the engine for two-three hours and it seemed to work fine. We had an unnecessary spare day now, so I contacted the Canal office again if we could maybe go the next day, as they suggested this before, but the place was taken since. Waiting then, that was left.

Thursday came and it found us, yet again in Colón, as we were planning to do the big shopping for the big day. This was the day before, when you suppose to call the scheduler to confirm the day of transit. I called the scheduler. He said there is no transit the next day. They have no pilot for tomorrow. We went back to Comino. Every time you go out at Club Nautico you pay $3 per person and you passing through a gate, a check point. The security guy knew me by now, so many times I had to go in and out, and he was laughing at my long face. Well, I was not in the mood to laugh back at all…

On the way to the boat we met Lindsey and Paul from the next boat, a 44 feet home built steel boat and figured we are in the same situation, we will transit together, and theirs was rescheduled too. They already had their crew on board, so they were heading to the River Chagre to look around.

Tito called me, and said he has the stuff I have to take on board. Four ¾ lines 40 meters each, four tyres for fenders and the chemical toilet. I should come along side a big steel boat and take it from him. I did, we transferred nearly everything when a tugboat sped by quite far away from us, and its wake came in to this tiny harbour we were. The waves started to reflect from the big boat hull and by some strange phenomenon the incoming waves were amplified by this reflection. The waves were getting bigger and bigger and started to bang Comino dangerously to the ship. I had my biggest fender out it was squashed flat between the two boats. One big wave finally was too big to take, a big crush and a big chunk of the rubbing strake was torn out of Comino. The bare fibre glass hull where the timber was before, was like a big open wound on an animal, it was just about not bleeding. I jumped aboard the motored out as fast as I could. It was too late though, the damage was done…

They still had surprises for us, when I called again I was told the transit is now put on Saturday 5am instead of the usual afternoon then morning transit, ours will be a one-day one. Contact again Elsa, Guillaume and Laurent to come in time in the evening then we run to do the shopping and get ready with everything. With no fridge on board it is difficult to pick the food that will last and be good to eat for so many people. With the new time setup we decided a cold cheese-ham-cracker dinner with lot of beer, eggs and muesli for breakfast and grilled chicken for lunch menu. We worked hard with Regina all day, and we were just about ready when the guys rang me, they are here at bar ashore, and waiting for the transport. I picked them up and a bag of ice to cool the beer and we followed the wake of Lindsey’s boat to the ‘Flats’ to park for the night.

 

Portobello

 

 This little bay of Portobello that was so important for the Spanish during the age of discoveries and for the trade between the Americas and the old continent was a big and welcomed change for me.  I didn’t make it before dusk; I had to rely on the chart plotter when navigating and dropping the anchor, and I was glad I had spent the money on the relevant Garmin electronic chart earlier. The night was pitch black and I only saw a couple of anchor light and a few shore light so I dropped the anchor where I thought was appropriate and near enough to the town for later expeditions. 

The morning came with funny noises and a beautiful landscape. The jungle around the bay with a couple of houses here and there, some old ruins up the hill with canons pointing down and the anchoring yachts provided a picturesque scene. The noise came from the monkeys in the jungle who were loud and I never got to see them. As one looks around, the bay is like a square, on one side the open sea, one is taken up by the village, opposite the sea the mangroves where the rivers are running into the bay, and the other side of the village the jungle covered hills and the ruins of the old fort. Refreshing after Cristobal!

As I had plenty of provisions still on board, I didn’t go ashore until the weekend. I had to remove the front hatch and rebuild it; I put two new handhelds on at the two sides of the companionway, clean and tidy up the boat, reorganise everything to be able to accommodate my guest and later on the crew of lot for the transit. I didn’t feel alone though, with the plenty of boats around Portobello is like a little sailing community. You just have to be careful not to get stuck there for years, as it happens to some. The good weather, cheap enough living, warm sea and nice landscape attract people to come and they may accidently stay on longer than they had planned…

Stephen, from Germany wasn’t one of them; he only stayed for a few months yet. He passed by on his paddle board one day and invited me to spear fishing to the reef just outside of the bay. We took our snorkelling equipment and the spear-guns and motored out with his dinghy to the reef. What an amazing under water life! He got a big barracuda in the first five minutes (admittedly a lucky strike!) and probably was bored waiting for me while I was swimming around looking at the colourful and pretty sight of various reef fish. I tried my home made spear gun a few times but decided it was a failed design and gave it up. We had our fish for dinner anyway, and with my contribution of a head of cauliflower Stephen presented a first class dinner that evening.

Saturday we planned a night out, and Stephen, Laurent from France sailing  solo, and I went to the bar by the seaside. We had a few beers, listened to the ever-present loud music and played billiard with the locals. I think it is a good idea to leave the bar when those one litre rum bottles go around freely to everybody gulp down as much as they can…

My jobs are going well on the boat and I am making progress. Boats coming and going, local fishing boats, trade boats that cruise along the coast between communities that have no access to civilization via roads, canoes with the Kuna Indians fishing or just going about. And the yachts as well, waiting for the transit, waiting for clients to sail to Colombia as there are no roads between Panama and Colombia, or just waiting for the end of the hurricane season. One day my neighbours were heading towards me from a Dutch flagged Bavaria, the skipper seeing my Dutch flag hoping to find his fellow country man to speak to on my boat. It was a disappointment for him to find me, but not to his partner who is from Hungary! She nearly fell out of the dinghy when realised I am from Hungary. Small world indeed! The social network was growing, I met with David who sailed Anasu, an apparently famous wooden ketch from Dún Laoghaire, Ireland to Portobello ten years prior and he is still here.

The day has come when I have to leave Comino and the idyllic scene behind, if only for two days, and I have to go to Panama City to collect Regina. I double check the anchor; lock up everything and ask my neighbours to give me a lift to shore to catch the bus. Three hours and one change later I am in the city of new skyscrapers, controversial bank transactions and big social differences, Panama City.

– – – – – –

 

Comino was waiting for us safe and sound when we got back from the City with our numerous bags of stuff and shopping. It was raining, and we had a long day behind us, so took a water taxi quickly from the pier near the road. Locals use these small boats to cross the bay and so do tourists on the weekends to go to secluded beaches, and it was handy now to ask one of them to drop us back to Comino.

Luckily the bad weather didn’t hold too long and the following few days were spent with swimming, snorkelling, paddling around, jungle walking, mosquito hunting and further preparation for the dreaded transit. I needed three more people to be my line handlers, and I contacted two French guys who offered their service a week or two before, but they were not available anymore. There are hostels in Portobello and young backpackers converge here, just like yachts, in the hope to catch a ride on a boat to the Pacific or just to experience the Canal transit. The French brothers, who I had asked, put me in contact with Elsa and Guillaume, two of the hostellers and they agreed to help me despite my warning about the size of the vessel and the possible hardship. One more and I am good to go. Laurent came to my help; he said he would do it. We went together to an official debriefing combined with lunch, and discussed everything in details. We didn’t anticipate what was coming…

Panama bureaucracy

 

I woke up to the industrial sight of Pier 16 in Cristobal harbour. Container and cargo ships were loaded and unloaded, pilot boats running around the place like little toys, when you compare their size to the big ships’. Only one other sailing boat anchored here, which I found strange, as I had thought it was a busy anchorage. I got myself ready and quickly rowed across to them to get some information about Panama the canal and everything else. As it turned out, they are waiting for the inspection officer to measure the boat for the transit, something I am going to do hopefully in a couple a of days time. Most boats stop here only for this reason, the sailing couple tells me and then I am given some very useful advice about bureaucracy and sailing around Panamanian waters, before I am politely asked to leave the boat as the officialdom is coming and I am not even checked in to the country yet.

It is Tuesday, and I am very keen to start the process for the transit. It will take time I know, two or three weeks before I will be able to do it, and I don’t really want to spend more time in Panama then necessary. My only job here is to organise the transit then wait for Regina who is coming to visit me to experience some tropical summer and the transit itself if possible. At the moment, though, I am just heading to another anchorage, Club Nautico, where, I don’t know yet, but I will spend more time than I wished to. It is the unofficial anchorage where you can go ashore, leave your boat and dinghy in a safe place, and meet with other sailors who are in the same boat as you… excited and worried about the big adventure, the Panama Canal transit.

I drop the anchor again go ashore and check in to the country then I am wandering around in this beautiful and disgusting at the same time, Colón, the second largest town in Panama. I don’t know where to start, but I guess something will happen, like always did so far, and things will sort out themselves. Because that is how life goes, no? I am walking around for a few hours despite all the advice to take taxi everywhere you go as safety is not guaranteed here and soon I got back to the Club and rowing to my boat. Didn’t make huge progress, but one thing is done anyway. I checked in with the port captain and his college, who at first I thought was a detainee with his huge gold teeth tattoos and general appearance of a gang member, in a dodgy looking office at the new Port building. Strangely, the cost of checking in was $40 you could think $20 to each, if it crossed your mind that corruption is possible in Panama. I didn’t have to pay for cruising permit though which a save is of nearly $200 and I was very proudly announced this to everyone when the topic came up in the next few weeks.

Rowing back to my dinghy I see there is a boat staying behind me, with the name of Attila! I must say hello to these guys whoever they are and let them know they have my name on their boat! (In fact this is the second Attila yacht; I saw one in Lanzarote too.) I am immediately invited for dinner and vodka by the two Russian men onboard and besides having a good time, they explain me a lot about Panama, recommend Portobello to me as a place to anchor for longer term and put me in contact with Tito who is going to be my agent for the transit. I decide to take their advice to have an agent despite the additional cost; I just don’t feel it possible to do everything by myself. Things speed up from here, we meet Tito during the night, we agree in the price and the process, the next days I am doing my shopping and take cash out from the ATM to pay the transit, then I get my appointment for the measurement, I have to be at the ‘Flats’ on Saturday morning.

Friday evening finally I leave the anchorage at Club Nautico, for the Flats, where I arrived the first time. Neither is a nice place to stay. The dirty water, noise from the cranes and ships and ugly landscape that surround us, working boats running up and down making big wakes, tugboats passing as close as possible…we are not here by choice. As soon as this measuring is done, and I paid the transit, I am off to Portobello to wait for Regina, working on the boat, and getting ready for the transit.

Saturday morning is gone and nobody visited me. Not that I had thought things work out easy for me like that, but I was half-expecting if the Canal sais they send an inspector, they would or at least they would contact me if they won’t. There were a few other boats around me, but they left one by one and now I am alone again. Not sure what to do, I can’t even go ashore here, or do anything, so I call Tito to investigate the situation. He calls me back soon and tells me to wait for another 24 hours, the Canal was short of crew this morning, but they are coming ‘maňana’.

So the procedure for the Canal is changing time to time. Currently, it is simply enough, if you have a bit of Spanish, or more time to investigate how it works you can organise it yourself. First step to contact the Canal for an admeasurment appointment, they will come to you with an inspector on a working boat, measure the boat, give you the full instructions (in English) and a SIN (Ship Identification Number). I was asked about a toilet with holding tank, lines of proper size etc, and I was able to show the receipt from my agent that I will have everything on the day of the transit. When this is done, you go to the Citybank branch in Colón, and they have a designated cashier to deal with the Canal. You pay in cash (I do not know why?) and give your bank details to where they send the safety deposit back two-three weeks after the transit. After you paid you call the scheduler and discuss the day you want the transit. I was given a day but preferred a later one and it was no problem at all, if they have a vacancy. Just call again the scheduler the day before the transit to confirm everything, show up early enough to take the adviser (the pilot) onboard and off you go. Of course you will have to have crew (four line-handlers) and lines and fenders, food and drink for the pilot and the crew, cutlery and cooking facilities, a reliable engine, shelter from sun and rain, toilet with holding tank, and a big enough boat to accommodate all this stuff without sinking…

Sunday was a clear and hot day, the inspector came and we measured the boat and discussed everything from A to Z. It took nearly two hours, including the paperwork and I was very happy when we finished and she left Comino, climbed up to the work boat safely and I was free to go. The next day, Monday I met with Tito again, we went to the bank to pay the fee, I did a big shopping and run back to Comino to leave for Portobello as soon as possible. At 3pm the anchor was away, and I motored out of Cristobal as fast as I could. Exactly a week was more than enough to live in this industrial environment and walk around Colón nearly every day. I motor sailed the 16Nm to Portobello trying to make it before dark and testing the engine prior to the big undertaking. Breaking down in the canal could accumulate 5 to 10 000 dollars extra cost and penalty…

The dangerous Venezuelan coast

After an hour motoring I was out at open water again, and the wind filled up the sails. The plan was to sail between Aruba and the Peninsula de Paraguana, Venezuela, and leave the dangerous coast of South America behind before the dark. I was making quite a good progress, by 1200 hours I was 20 Nml from Spanish Water and before darkness I reached the narrowest place between Aruba and the main land. From here my heading was 305⁰ magnetic, and so I was heading into safe open sea. Shipping around Aruba was one of the busiest though, and lot of tanker ships seem to go around with no lights on, and in random directions, like around and around in circle. I couldn’t make sense of it so I just kept my intended course and slipped through the enemy lines, hopefully noticed, but not disturbed. I trawled a lure behind the boat, with extra reinforced fishing lines, and at 2000 hours a fish signalled his wish to come aboard via the normal route, fish usually land on sailboats. We started the fight and it lasted at least 45 minutes. I am not sure if I was fighting more the fish or my equipment, but the reel got stuck and it was extremely hard to spin the line up. Eventually, the tuna was lifted out of the water and dropped to the cockpit floor. I t was huge and I was happy. Arthur told me the night before, that between Aruba and Curaҫao I should expect a fish, I had said I wanted a tuna, and there it is. I just have to wish something and it comes through!
Wednesday, two days before Good Friday, I beat my own record with a 130Nml run in 24 hours. I was extremely happy. I have eaten half the tuna, and filleted the other half, salted it, and put it out to sun dry on a string between the mast and the topping lift. The roasting hot sunshine and the strong breeze did a good job in preserving the filets in two or three days, I just had to make sure to take them in for the night before the dew falls, and put them out in the morning to the sun. The most delicious fish bites I ever tasted, the organic, salted, sundried Caribbean tuna. I am glad now I have no fridge; I would probably never try this method if I had one, and what I would have missed out on!
Sailing was also perfect, F3-4, steady downwind sailing with sunshine and blue seas, far from land and trouble. Easter weekend 2017 promised to be a perfect one for me. On Sunday early morning there was a big knock on the hull from the direction of the bow, I run out from down below to see what happened and I saw a big tree trunk floating away from us. I hit it obviously, but no damage was done. It is reported, that around Panama there are lot of floating debris and trees in the sea. The wind was coming more from the North now, and I had to hoist the main and sail beam reach instead of downwind to gain some Westing. There is still more than 100 miles to Cristobal Harbour the Caribbean side of the Panama Canal.
Easter Monday brings bad weather. The wind is very light, I am barely making progress and later on the rain and fog arrive. I stop in the morning and heave to, to enjoy the last of the clean sea water, wash the dishes, myself and fix the wind vane. I can’t turn the vane from downwind sailing to close hauling without adjusting the bracket due to push pit rail hanging outside over the stern and into the way of the counterbalance weight. It is manageable but I will have to find some permanent solution – I think. I don’t know yet, that this is going to be my least problem for awhile now.
When everything is sorted, I start to sail, then motor sail and then motor towards Cristobal a couple of hours away now only. It is pissing rain and cold! And I am on the tropics! And I have to take out my sailing jacket, last worn around Madeira in the North Atlantic winter! I cannot believe how cold I am when at 1720 hours I drop the anchor at the anchorage, ‘The Flats’, in Cristobal Harbour, Panama. I close the hatches to keep the engine heat in, change my garments to a dry pyjama, have dinner and go to bed.