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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