Saturday, March 27, 2010

Belize Wedding

Panama Canal Pictures

View from the top of LightSpeed.
Peter and Tim having some fun at Isla Cobia, Panama where we went snorkeling and saw six sea turtles and at least nine sharks and tons of fish.
Hanging out on the trampoline Brant, Tim, Dave and Kathy.
Dave, Brant and Tim shuck a few Oysters in the Las Perlas and to our delight the first one had over 25 tiny pearls.
A lucky find! Look at all these Pearls... know we know why they call these islands the Las Perlas.Brant gaffs a Spanish Mackerel while Tim does the reeling.
Cruising though the Continental Divide under a blazing hot sun and no wind.
Big machines work to enlarge the canal for future bi-directional ship traffic.

Mooring bouy in Lake Gatun where we spent the night during our two day transit of the canal.
We shared the lock chambers with this medium sized ship.
Looking toward the Caribbean sea from the middle lock at Gatun locks.
For the transit we were rafted with two other boats.
Heading into the second lock chamber at Gatun locks.
Heading into the locks behind this medium sized ship. The big ships require the entire 1000' x 110' all to themselves. Since this ship was only medium size there was room for us as well.
Line handling crew for the Panama Canal Transit work on their line handling skills.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Panama Canal Fees and process

Panama Canal on 3/13/10 to 3/14/10.

We arrived at Shelter Bay Marina near Colon, Panama on March 5 in the early morning. As you approach Colon, 6-8 miles out, you should make radio contact with 'Cristobal Station' on VHF 12 and ask for permission to proceed through the breakwater. Usually they will ask you to call back once you are 1nm from the breakwater for further instructions. Since we have an AIS transponder hooked up to our navigation program we could easily stay out of the way of the many big ships both underway and anchored. Once at 1 nm out we asked for permission to proceed through the breakwater at which point you make a turn to starboard and head for Shelter Bay Marina. Be aware that the marina has a new dock 'B' and plans for more docks in the future.

Once on the dock I put in a call to an 'Agent' named 'Tito' at (507) 6-463-5009. Tito did not answer the phone, but instead 'Tito's brother' who informed me Tito was on vacation, but that he 'Tito's Brother' could be at Shelter Bay Marina around 9:30 that same morning. Great! Around 10:00 I called to find out the current planned arrival time and about 10:15 'Tito's brother' arrived in a Taxi. Several other cruisers who were using Tito descended on 'Tito's brother' for schedule updates and paperwork hand-offs. 'Tito's brother' was pretty busy so I interviewed a few of the other sailors whom were waiting to talk with 'Tito's brother' about what services 'Tito's brother' offered, costs and how he had performed for them. One guy was pretty happy, one guy did nothing but bitch, and another wasn't sure yet. With the existing clients cleared away 'Tito's brother' said we should go directly to Colon and start the process. OK, I had all my relevant paperwork in hand so we were off. First to the ACP (Panama Canal Authority, the guys that run the canal), but before arriving 'Tito's brother' jumped out of the cab and it was just me and the driver whom had very limited English to compliment my limited Spanish. At the ACP office the whole scheme started to become more clear. Tito's brother was just a handler and the Taxi Driver would be my guide through the process (i.e. take me to the relevant offices in the relevant order), not an agent... just a guide. At the ACP office I asked for and scheduled the ACP admeasure for Monday. Great so far. Then off to the Port Captain to check in the boat and obtain a cruising permit ($29 bought me one month although more time was available for an additional fee). I was also warned that if I let the cruising permit expire then it would cost me an extra $100). The port captains office offered very poor service to say the least. Employees were extremely uninterested in doing their jobs and seemed to stall or do something else for as long as possible before even acknowledging our presence, the first guy was very good at ignoring us even though no one else was in the office. He even had a TV set up so he could distract himself for the nothing he was doing. It was at least 15 minutes before he looked up at us then once the paperwork began he would pause to watch TV for several minutes at a time. Finally I asked if I could fill out the form. And then, finally, we got to move to the next office where we paid the fee. Again, we are the only customers in the office. The clerk enjoyed a 12 minute personal phone call before looking up then stalled more, until we asked if she would take our money that had been on the counter the entire time. About 15 minutes another client arrived so she served him first! Then about five minutes later we got the 'forms' we had to fill out. The only problem was there was only one pen in the office and we had to share between the other client, clerk and us. Grin and bear it is all you can do or risk who knows what sort of 'bad' service for acting impatient or rude. After the Port Captain we had to make some copies of the documents and then we headed to an Immigration office for a stamp, then another for a $10 visa. Then to 'Tito's office to pay for the tire and line rental. Then back to Shelter Bay. All in all it was a good deal for me as I like an adventure. If you want an agent look elsewhere as this service offers only a glorified taxi driver, although still a good deal as I would have racked up significant taxi fees should I have gone it all on my own.

On Monday the ACP admeasure arrived per schedule. Although, I called serval times in the proceeding days to reconfirm. ACP office was very professional and you could speak either English or Spanish. All other offices it was Spanish only. Several other boats reported delays in getting admeasured, but I think this unusual.

As soon as you are measured you can head to town to pay the ACP fee at Citibank near the Port Captain office. Be sure to bring bank info for an international wire (if you want the refund of $891 to be wired to you home account). 'Tito's brother' should have provided the ride, but said no taxi was available so I joined up with a few other cruisers and we went it alone. The ACP fee needs to be in cash and the bank DOES NOT have an ATM although there is one down the street. Riding around Colon with two other guys whom are also packing $1500 in cash is asking to get mugged. I brought my big can of pepper spray 'just in case'. At the bank I managed to smuggle it past the guard who checked my bag and scanned me with a metal detector... he should be fired for doing such a lousy job and not catching my pepper spray!

Then back to Shelter bay a $15-20 dollar ride from Colon... too bad we couldn't get a refund from 'Tito' for having to bear this expense ourselves.

Beginning after 6PM the day you have made the payment to ACP you can then call ACP and schedule your transit. I was able to call on Monday at 6:04PM and obtained a transit date for the following Saturday. Others whom called later ended up with a transit on Monday or later. Have the number in speed dial!

Fees Summary:
Check in to Panama $49 ($29 cruising permit and two $10 visas)
Exit Zarpe for Coast Rica ($25 through my taxi driver, otherwise only $1.50 if you did it yourself which would cost more in taxi fees)
Agent $100 (really just a glorified taxi driver)
Line and tire rental $120 (I rented twelve tires)
ACP Fee $1500 (Panama Canal Authority) For boats up to 50' that can make 8+ knots under power.... more on this later.
Refund due from ACP in 4-6 weeks ($891)

Total cost if and when we get the refund back: $903USD

More on the actual transit later.

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Monday, March 22, 2010

Pacific Panama Fishing

March 22, 2010 1:00PM CST
Position: 07°43'N 081°48'W
Enroute from Cobia Island, Panama towards David, Panama.
Nautical miles sailed year to date: 1758

Fishing in Pacific Panama is spectacular. In the Las Perlas islands we caught so many fish I stoped counting after fifteen when we started getting picky about which fish to keep. Bonita Tuna also called little tuny, jack, or aku depending where you fish were practically jumping in the boat. Bonita are decent table fare, but with other more desirable fishes in the sea we practice catch and release unless the fish was gravely injured. Spanish Mackerel a firm white fleshed fish were prolific as well and I think we caught and kept at least seven of these. En route from the Las Perlas islands to Coiba island we hooked and landed a nice Mahi Mahi also known as Dorado or Dolphin again depending where you fish. Later we hooked into a nice looking 80-100 pound Marlin at jumped, thrashed and tail walked enough times we even got in on video. Unfortunately, the leader was only 50 pound mono filament and was severed by the sharp bill of the Marlin after 10-15 minutes of battle. All the better as we planned to release the fish anyway as we didn't have sufficient refrigerator space to store a fish of that size without taking all the cold beer out of the fridge.

Once at Coiba for the night we dropped anchor around 4:30PM or what we consider 'shark thirty' the time after which we usually like to be out of the water. Sharks prefer to feed at night! But, it was very hot and we needed to check the anchor so we jumped in for a swim. In just a short time I'd spotted a pretty big Leatherback turtle and a smaller Green turtle. Visibility was decent and the turtles unperturbed so I swam up close for a look. Very COOL!

Lots of live oysters on the sea floor and something similar looking to a Caribbean conch. Plenty to see, but with fading light it was time to get out forteh evening.

This morning we got back in the water to check out the underwater landscape of a nearby island. Lots to see with a variety of box and puffer fish, four green turtles, seven white tipped nurse sharks? and two white tipped reef sharks of which the biggest was maybe five feet. We also swam in a school of 100+ 12" Trevali, 40+ 16" barracuda and a few smaller schools of various fish. Coral was limited in quantity and color with mostly rock out crops shaping the underwater world.

Now underway toward David, Panama we will likely stop for the night near Isla Cavada then push on for David tomorrow to drop off more guests.

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Sunday, March 21, 2010

Sailing in the Pacific ocean for a change

March 20, 2010 10:00PM CST
Position: 07°24'N 080°00'W
Enroute from Las Perlas Islands, Panama towards Costa Rica.
Nautical miles sailed year to date: 1640

Highlights in the last few weeks:

Preparing for the Panama Canal crossing.

Crossing from the Caribbean Sea to the Pacific ocean via the Panama Canal.

Sailing with five guests aboard (our Panama Canal Crew) in the Las Perlas Islands off the Pacific coast of Panama.

Beginning 4600 our nautical mile voyage from Panama toward British Columbia / Seattle.

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Friday, March 12, 2010

Panama Canal Transit

We are scheduled to transit the canal this Saturday and Sunday March 13th and 14th.

You can watch on the live web cam at:

We will be going through the Gatun Locks on Saturday afternoon and the rest of them on Sunday.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Nice Fish

Spanish Mackerel caught off Providencia Island, Colombia. 37" long caught on silver spoon with strip bait on hook trolling at 5.5 knots on the edge of the reef drop off.
Some sort of snapper. Speared with a pole spear.

Friday, March 05, 2010

Arrived Colon Panama

March 5, 2010 7:45 AM EST
Anchored outside of Shelter Bay Marina: 09°22.3814 N 079°56.7496 W
Miles sailed year to date: 1493nm
Miles sailed so far on LightSpeed 3257nm

We arrived safely in Colon, Panama yesterday evening covering the 262nm distance in 32 hours for an average speed of 8.1 knots. Top speed through the water was recorded at 17.1 knots and the best speed the GPS recorded at 18.9 knots. Winds were from 22 to 32 knots for the duration and our focus was on slowing the boat down. Seas built to at least 10'-12' and trying to manage speed became a challenge as gravity kicked in as we surfed down the bigger waves. We ended up settling for just the Jib and this had us going a little slower on average, but with the main up we would surf too fast and too often for comfort.

Heading into the Marina today to get started on the Panama Canal Transit Paperwork. Wind is blowing 25 knots and I'm not excited about manouvering the boat in the confines of the Marina in these conditions.

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Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Underway to Panama

March 3, 2010 4:30 PM EST
Position: 12°48'N 081°15'W
Underway for Shelter Bay Marina, Colon, Panama.
Miles sailed year to date: 1276nm

About 220nm to Colon, Panama the Caribbean entrance to the Panama Canal.

Our time at Low Caye sure was nice. Eighty two degree water with amazing visibility, pristine coral gardens and lots of fish to stalk with the pole spear. Unfortunately, two little problems came up. One we would need to check in with customs, immigration and port captain sooner than later and this would be $120USD plus at least two days of chasing paper. And two, the weather forecast predicted another 'Norther' on the way with strong winds that would hamper our dinghy and snorkeling expeditions. So we set off for Panama to put the strong frontal winds associated with the 'Norther' to good use and dodge the bureaucracy.

Motoring down to the primary anchorage off Providencia we trolled some lines. Oh and was the fishing good. Ok back up right before we left I speared my biggest ever fish with my pole spear and what a fight I had holding my breath battling that big boy under water. Turns out to be a very nice 15 pound snapper. Ok, back to the trolling. We've been reading our new 'fishing book' a very well used wedding gift and had just added a strip bait to our normal fishing lures. Then BAM, ok not really BAM, but more like BUZZ, CLICK CLICK CLICK sped up about 50 times as the line raced off the reel. Since we were motoring it was the perfect time to hook into a fish as we could quickly and easily stop the boat and fight the fish. So I grab the pole and the line is pretty slack. Darn. I think I lost the fish already. Then the pole dips heavily and the fish takes off and the reel goes BUZZ, CLICK CLICK CLICK again speed this up about 50 times to get an idea of what a big Penn Senator reel sounds like with a big fish on. Then the fish jumps and dives and then swims toward the boat as I madly reel to try to keep tension on the line. Then another dive and line screams off the reel again. What fun. Kathy has the fishing belt around my waist and gloves and gaff in hand. Wow we wonder what's on the line. The battle ensues and finally we get the fish gaffedd. I stab the poor fish in the brain to end the suffering and then we slide a 200lb piece of fishing line down his spinal column (just like the Japanese fishermen do when they catch sushi grade tuna). Boy does this set off some nerves a the fish simultaneously gnashes it's sizeable teeth and thrashes it's tail. Sort of dangerous work for the old fingers to be this close to those teeth. That done we slice the fish in four strategic locations to bleed him out then tie a line on him and tow him behind the boat to both cool off and bleed out more. The fishing book advises to skip this step is sharks are already present. Standing on the back swim step I contemplate this advice as I imagine 'Jaws' surging out of the water sampling the fish as an appetizers on it's way to devouring me as the main course. Back to reality, the fish is a beautiful thirty seven inch Spanish Mackerel one of the tastier fish in the sea. So we enjoyed some deep fried snapper for lunch and seared Mackerel for dinner.

Then we trolled for a hour or so heading down to the main Providenecia anchorage and hooked up with a 37 inch Spanish Mackerel. Beautiful fish.

We were supposed to leave last night around mid-night, but that plan lost it's luster pretty quick once we were in bed so we ended up having a lazy morning and finally getting the anchor up at 10:30AM today. By noon the 'Norther' was upon us with frontal winds near 30 knots and some rain and stronger winds in squalls. The good news is this is what we wanted for nearly due south passage to Panama. Basically, when you are going nearly down wind more wind is better as it's not the wind that is the dominant factor it's the waves. With the waves nearly from dead astern all is good. Except, I'm not really sure how fast I should allow the boat to go. It is named 'LightSpeed', but even so I don't want to surpass a safe limit. Until I learn more we'll try to keep the max speeds around 12 knots if the auto pilot is going to be driving. I must say I'm not too pleased with the 12 year old autopilot. I think it drives like a 12 year old boy... a little reckless and blissfully ignorant to it's actions and requisite consequences. When this boat catches a surfing wave speeds can easily and regularly hit 14 knots in a few seconds (double reefed main and partially furled jib with 16-20 apparent). Basically, the autopilot corrects a little late and then not enough. An approaching (bigger than normal) quartering wave will lift the stern and give it a push to leeward which changes the apparent wind applying more force to the main (weather helm) which induces a slight turn to weather. Then the boat catches the wave and takes off from 9-10 knots racing to 16.7 knots (today's record) and starts catching the wave ahead. Pretty fun, but now we are off course by maybe 20 degrees to weather and the Autopilot finally catches up and steers hard to leeward just as the boat slows as the surf runs out and then over steers by 20 degrees luffing the Jib which then resets with a CRASH BANG SHUDDER. Not ideal in the least. So, I want a new autopilot course computer that has more brains than this old one. Now days the course computer is very 'smart' and will learn the wave patterns and with a rate gyro understand the rate of turn thereby steering much much better.

Anyway the result is that I've taken the mainsail down as having the jib luff and reset in this much wind with a CRASH BANG SHUDDER is NOT good. With the main down the Autopilot is doing a lot better holding course and the boat speed is more modest with a 50% reduction in sail area. We are still catching surfs, but now only to the mid 12 knot range which is much more comfortable.

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Monday, March 01, 2010

Panama Canal Crew?

Anyone interested in joining us for our Panama Canal Transit. We need four line handlers for the two day one night voyage from Colon to Panama City. Let us know if you might be interested. The voyage will be sometime this month.

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Low Caye, Providencia Island, Colombia

March 1, 2010 6:35PM EST
Anchored at: 13°31.3815 N 081°20.3708 W
Sailed year to date: 1219nm

After too much wind we ended up with not enough wind and decided to stop at Low Caye, Providencia Island, Colombia in lieu of motoring. Low Caye is at the north end of the reef and about 6 miles north of the island of Providencia. Striking blue water laps gently at the hull as we sit anchored over a white sand surrounded by a horseshoe shaped barrier reef. Huge ocean swells crash and roar as they break on the reef outside and create perfect white noise for a well deserved nap. But, who has time for a nap with emerald coral heads dotting the inside of the lagoon and perfectly clear eighty two degree water teaming with tasty fish for lunch? We arrive around 10:30 and by 11 we were off exploring the underwater world. Three tasty reef fish a large queen conch and a huge lobster later we are ready to break for lunch and it's already 1:30. After lunch Kathy succumbs to a well deserved nap, even though she is a confirmed 'fake napper' and rarely actually falls asleep. Today she was out solid. Still a little amped up from the passage to slumber this afternoon I found distraction with a new book 'The Glass Castle' by Jeannette Walls and kept the sleep at bay.

Perhaps we'll stay a few days and continue to enjoy this bit of paradise. We're not in that big of a rush to get to Panama.

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