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s/v Always & All Ways
Under way at last
02/05/2012, Bocas del Toro, Panama

Friday, March 16. Rana Azul. We are finally off! We left the dock a little after 1:00 PM and had a delightful sail to Tierra Oscura. It had rained off and on all morning while we finished loading the boat, but in between, the sun shown too. As we said good-bye to Paula & Bill, our land bound neighbors, and headed out there was a large black cloud coming down Bahia Almirante towards us. There were white caps under it, but not too big so we put the sails up figuring if we had to get wet at least we would have wind to sail. We never got wet! We did get the wind and had a really nice sail all the way down Bahia Almiante and up Dolphin Bay. After sailing through the cut and entering Laguna Paulos, we dropped sails and anchored in the bay just outside our fried Cynde's house. By the time we were settled at anchor and had changed our clothes, Capt. Ron picked us up and gave us a ride to Rana Azul for dinner. We had a delightful time. Maria had made cerviche, stuffed peppers, and coffee crème for desert. Many of our friends were there and all wished us well on our trip. We were disappointed that none of the other boats headed North made it as I had announced it on the morning VHF net. Oh well, we will talk with them tomorrow and finalize plans.

Happy St. Patty's Day
02/05/2012, Tiera Oscura, Panama

Saturday, March 17 We are READY. We spent the day at anchor cleaning and making everything ship shape. I got the new VHF hooked up to the GPS so it would stop yelling at us. (A “safety feature” that cannot be defeated is that all new VHF radios sound a very irritating alarm every 4 hours if they do not have a position. This is for the DSC emergency transmission which broadcasts your lat/lon in case of emergency just by hitting a big red button.) However, when we are at anchor, our position does not change and it is a waste of electricity to run the GPS just for the VHF. Oh well, now that it is hooked up at least it will not alarm during night watch or any time we are under way.) Deb put away every thing and cleaned up a storm. I made rye bread for our St. Patty's day dinner, fussed over the refer and freezer to make sure they were holding the right temp (they seem to be), and dived the hull to clean the knot meter (It fouls after more than a few days at anchor and was not working on the way to Tierra Oscura.) We had a great St. Patty's Day dinner at Cynde's. Juanita made a traditional boiled dinner to go with the rye bread. Panamanian “corn beef” was actually smoked beef, but tasted fine and since she cooked it in the right spices, it almost tasted like corn beef! There were 9 of us in all: George & Juanita from “Clair de Lune” who just bought the plot of land next to Cynde's and plan to build, Roger & Frankie from “Infinity” who were out for their first sail since Frankie finished chemo for lung cancer, Colleen who just returned from a full year away in the US taking care of her newborn grandson, Capt. Ron, Cynde, and us. The sunset was fantastic – the best we have seen in Panama! Frankie is a watercolorist too and we marveled at the “water color sky” and sea and discussed the patch of cerulean peaking through the alizaron crimson and the ultramarine alternating with the sienna and crimson on the water depending upon whether or not there were ripples. We had a great time and are ready to leave tomorrow.

Fair weather sailors.
02/05/2012, Tiera Oscura, Panama

Sunday, March 18. Well, we are still in Tiera Oscura. It rained all day. REALLY rained! The grib files showed heavy rain nearly half the way to St. Andres. So we thought, “Who wants to start a voyage in pouring rain?" Wait another day. The files show the rain ending by tomorrow. So that is what we did. We went to Rana Azul and had ANOTHER good-bye party, then we went to Cynde's and used Skype to make some phone calls back home. Sorry we didn't get everyone. Tomorrow we sail! (probably)

Preparing to cruise
01/22/2012, Bocas del Toro, Panama

Deb & I are preparing for our annual cruise. This year we will be visiting the San Blas (again) and then on to San Andres, the Columbian islands, and the Bay Islands of Honduras. As expected, there are a variety of things that need doing before we leave. Here are the details of a few of them. The bottom paint we applied last year is still doing great - the bottom is spotless and we can still make 6 kts on one engine. The topsides were another story. They were GREEN. Everything down here molds - even fiberglass. I borrowed our neighbor Bill Tucker's power washer and what a difference it made! I used over 300 gallons of water total (water maker and rain catchment both working well) but the topsides are shiny and white again. We also used the power washer on our shade curtains (also green) and they look brand new as well. Thanks Bill! We are excited to have our hookah working reliably again. It had been acting up last year. It would run great and then, for no apparent reason, quit. When I started it up for Mark & Colton, friends of our neighbors who were visiting Panama, to try, it once again ran fine then died. I tried replacing the carb to no avail. (Dave had brought it down for me last Spring as a logical culprit) In desperation, I took the engine in to Gilbert, a local Panamanian who fixes any kind of motor. He totally fixed it by changing the spark plug! Now, I had checked the plug and it looked great, but Gilbert said he has seen this before on similar motors - the engine starts fine and after it is hot, the plug develops a short internally and it dies. When it cools off, it runs again. That seems to have been the case as it has not died once since replacing the plug. Gilbert apologized for charging me $20 "just to change a spark plug", but it was WELL WORTH IT. What would it have cost if I had taken the motor to a repair shop in the US? And would they have fixed it? During our daughter Curry's recent visit, we sailed Always & All Ways down to our island for a couple nights. It was the first time we had taken her out in some time. I immediately noticed that the wind indicator was not working and when I looked aloft, the reason was obvious - a large bird must have landed on the indicator wand and broken it. It was now hanging at about 90* from its intended position. The weather was calm, so while we were tied to the dock of our island, I climbed the mast and retrieved the sensor. The cone shaped piece that screwed to the mount was sheared off right at the end where it pressed the connection together. It was a clean break and I have had good luck with Locktite Super Glue for Plastic, but I doubted that it would stand up to tension directly across the glue line, so I first used the Superglue for Plastic to re-establish the cone and then reinforced the joint with JB Weld and and some fiberglass cloth bridging the break. Today I returned up the mast and reinstalled the sensor. It is working fine. Next in line for repair is the RAM mike at the helm. Ours has quit transmitting, though it receives just fine and the base VHF at the nav station inside works fine. The contacts where the remote plugs in had corroded and no amount of cleaning has remedied the situation. Of course, the model we have is now obsolete and so we have to buy a new VHF as well as a new remote mike and extension cable. Fortunately our friend Paula is still in the US and will bring it all back for us. My brother, Dave, helped with the research on replacement and will order the parts for us and get them to Paula. Just to make things interesting, I got to do some fiberglass repair as well. While we were docked at our island, our friend, Capt. Ron, was returning Deb & Curry to the boat after garden club when he rammed us tearing a big hole in the stern just above the water line. He was approaching at a rather high speed (as always) and when he dropped it into reverse the engine died. I had my foot out to catch them, but realized that the force was likely to shatter my femur if I tried to stop them at that speed so I absorbed as much of their energy as I dared and let the hull take the rest. The 'D' ring on Ron's bow punched right through the fiberglass. I could not find either "tiger hair" or "bondo" in town, but I was able to get polyester resin, fiberglass matt, and gel coat. The next day we anchored off the little island just outside our bay where there is nice snorkeling and while Deb & Curry laid in the sun in the tramp and snorkeled, I attacked the repair. I ground down the hole to create an appropriated taper and laid up about 10 layers of matt and resin and pressed it into the void. Once it set, I ground it down again and filled in some more layers. Next I added talc to catalyzed resin and made my own 'bondo' to smooth things out. After grinding that down as well, I applied gel coat. It was nice working with polyester resin as I could get it to set up hard in about an hour allowing me to nearly complete the repair in one day. It was also nice to do the repairs at anchor as I could jump in and get rid of all the fiberglass dust after each step in the repair. Since then I have sanded the gelcoat down and it will need a second coat to get it blended in, but at least it is structurally sound and water tight now. Our friend, Cynde, has returned after 4 months due to a life threatening illness and a prolonged convalescence and we are so happy to see her. I think she will come with us to David when we go to buy provisions for our trip. With everything else that is happening (like Paula's return, a Super Bowl party and a birthday party for Deb), I suspect it will be mid February before we actually get away, so check back then as we will update this blog frequently once underway.

White Squall – not quite
09/01/2011, Bocas del Toro, Panama

I had an “interesting” experience today. Have you ever broached in a power boat? Our panga did just that. Bill, my neighbor, and I had gone in to Bocas for a quick trip. The morning was nice and only partly cloudy, but satellite radar showed a large water vapor signature to our N that was supposed to bring afternoon thunderstorms. Somehow Bill and I missed each other and were both waiting for the other at different locations. The sky started to get black and we both had the good sense to head for the panga that was tied up at The Reef restaurant. “Looks like we are going to get wet,” I said as we cast off. Usually rain in Bocas, even squalls, are not accompanied by strong winds, so we weren't too worried. We could see the rain coming across the water towards us, “Here it comes,” said Bill. We were headed more or less Northeast and it was coming from the North. It hit with winds that were at least 30-40 kts. (I subsequently got word that a boat anchored nearby recorded the wind @ 44 kts.) The canvas top on our panga is a full length affair supported by inverted “U” shaped bows of 3/4” galvanized pipe that fit into tubes made into the side of the panga. It is secured by tie-down straps fore and aft. When the squall hit, the top acted just like a spinnaker. It rose so high that several of the pipes pulled out of there 6” deep sockets. I lost all control of the boat and she healed over dangerously. It was very different than anything I had experienced in a power boat. With more engine than I wanted to use, I was able to steer us directly into the wind. The top was still trying to fly, but it was no longer healing us. Conditions were a veritable white out. I continued this way until I could just make out that we had cleared the ferry (and not by much!); then, crossing my fingers, I spun us 180* to run with the wind until we could come around the point by Dos Palmas (a hotel we stayed at many times before our house was built) and into the lee of the island. There we found a newly built dock with slips for rent @ $100/mo. It was empty (at those prices, no wonder!) and since it was directly to windward, I approached it easily and we tied off to ride out the storm there. The top survived with just the stitching torn out on the aft most bow. I re-tightened the tie-downs while we waited. The bilge pump worked overtime. Eventually (maybe ½ hr.) the thunder and lightening past and the wind subsided, though it was still raining pretty hard. “I think it is time to go,” I said. Bill was not too sure, but several locals in cayugas began paddling across the bay so we decided it was OK. We still couldn't see Solarte through the rain, but I knew where it was (and had my GPS for back-up) so we took off into surprisingly flat seas. Even when we crossed the channel that opens to the Caribbean,there was little chop and only moderate swell. I remember experiencing a similar situation when we left the Dry Tortugas for Key West and were hit by a squall. It just blew the sea flat and was gone before it had a chance to develop new wind blown waves. We crossed the cut and hugged the shore of Solarte, staying in its lee, all the way home. When we got to Discovery Bay, there was a strange boat in “my” slip. I tied up elsewhere, checked the boat over and didn't recognize it, and headed up to the house. Half way up the path, we met the boat's owner. He and several passengers had been caught out in the squall and barely made it in to our bay to safety. They had tied up the boat and taken shelter in the Rudd's house which is still under construction and open. Bill got them towels to dry off and I made coffee to warm them. Deb said that the VHF had been buzzing with people caught by the squall. (I had the portable with me, but with the rain, wind, and engine noise, I never heard anything.) One woman had been in a cayuga that capsized and managed to use her cell phone to call for help before it drowned. The call went out on the VHF and she was, fortunately, found and is safe. A couple of small power boats (“pangas”) were capsized and sunk, several sail boats dragged anchor, but at this point no loss of life that we know of. As I am writing this, the wind has clocked around to the South and picked up dramatically as the tail of the storm is lashing us. Some are referring to it as a tornado, but no one has reported seeing any funnel cloud or spout. My guess is that it was just an unusually intense thunderstorm/squall. Probably not a true “white squall” but close to it. It sure was as much excitement as I ever want to have in our panga! It does make you wonder what we are doing to the planet when hurricanes devastate Vermont and a squall like this hits in Panama!

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