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s/v Always & All Ways
In Praise of Jaguars
Mark
11/21/2012, Back in Panama

Some of you may remember that we sold our 1990 Jaguar XJS convertible and bought a Panga for about the same price. I guess it is appropriate as a Panga is what we use instead of a car here in the Bocas del Toro archipelago, but a 3 cylinder 50hp outboard is not quite the same as a 5.3 litre V-12 - and the outboard's 4 mpg makes even the Jag's mileage look good. Of course, 4 mpg is actually quite good for a boat, but it cannot match the Jag for acceleration. Any way, it made sense as we were not living in the US and did not need a car there.
Or did we? We plan on about 3 trips back to USA a year, for about a month each time. In the past we have been fortunate enough to borrow my brother's "extra" car. During good weather (the only time we plan to come North) he prefers to drive his Porsche and we could use his Focus. This summer, however, the Porsche was ill and Dave needed to use the Focus. To rent even an econo-car was nearly $1500! We DO need a car in the USA! For what we would pay in a year or two for rentals, we could buy a used car. Since we only plan on visiting in good weather, it could be a fun convertible. And whichever child agreed to keep the car for us when we weren't there could enjoy it as well. We searched about for used convertibles and test drove a variety of cars ranging from an old Mazda RX-7 to a Beemer to a newer Miata. Thinking more deeply about our needs, we realized that what we needed was not so much a sports car as a true Grand Touring machine - something that could take the two of us comfortably and enjoyably over many miles. It needed to be a convertible as we are both addicted to open air cruising, but it needed to be comfortable for longer trips. When we get in the car, it is rarely for less than 100 miles, often longer. It also needed to have room for enough luggage for the trip - something most sports cars are rather short on. In the end we kept coming back to our XJS - if only we hadn't sold it, it would be the perfect car. Extremely comfortable, more than adequate power (as the Brits are wont to say), and real luggage space.
So, we found another. This XJS is a 1992 white convertible. It still has the wonderful V-12, the luxurious Connolly leather seats, a power convertible top that actually seals well, and a huge trunk.
We used it this summer and left it with Curry upon returning to Panama. She enjoyed it a few times, but complained about the cost of gas for it. (If you have to ask what it gets for mileage.....)
Last month we returned to USA to visit family & friends and for both of us to have surgery. In about 4 weeks we put more than 1500 miles on the Jag. It truly was the perfect car. A joy to drive - plenty of acceleration, good handling, very comfortable, and plenty of room. Not to mention style. Everywhere we go, it turns heads and gets comments. The crowning touch came when we drove her to Portland before leaving. My friend, Jack, had offered that we could keep the Jag in the underground parking area at his office - perfect for the winter, so we loaded all our luggage for return to Panama plus luggage for our time in Portland and to leave in Boston with Lucas. In all we had 4 x 50# suitcases to check, two carry-ons, two back packs, and a carry-on to leave in Boston - plus the car cover for leaving the Jag in Portland. It all fit! And, of course, all that weight had absolutely no effect on performance or handling. That is what I call GRAND TOURING! I cannot imagine a better car for our needs.

Big Problems, Little Problems
Mark
06/25/2012, Discovery Bay, Bocas del Toro, Panama

One of the problems I needed to deal with as soon as we returned from our cruise was the problem of our panga. We told Bill & Paula Tucker to use our boat at least occasionally while we were gone. Bill reported that it felt like the prop was slipping. It was fine up to ~4000 rpm but then slipped and jerked and wouldn't go faster. No problem, I thought. I have a brand new prop sitting at home. I'll just swap it out and all is good. So, the other day, I did that. It only took a half hour or so and I was out testing it. Oops. I see what Bill meant about it slipping. The engine seemed fine, but the boat hesitated and jerked and wouldn't get up on a plane. New prop did not solve the problem. If the engine was OK (it certainly seemed to be) and the prop was OK (brand new), that left only the lower unit. That was likely to be a BIG problem ($$$). Reluctantly, I made an appointment with Frank, a local mechanic who has done real well by Bill fixing his outboard, and motored SLOWLY in to town. As Frank got in the boat, he remarked that the bottom was dirty. Well, it had been sitting for nearly 3 months and the bottom paint is obviously past its prime, but that was a little problem that I could deal with later. I was worried about the BIG problem, so we went for a test drive. Frank sat on the back and watched the motor and prop as I drove slowly and then attempted to accelerate. Once I had shown him my BIG problem, he said, "No problem. You got a dirty boat." What? He eventually got me to understand that there was so much growth on the bottom of the boat that when it tried to plane, the growth caused cavitation directly in front of the prop which was causing the slippage. For $40, he had a friend clean the boat inside as well as out and it now runs like a charm. BIG problem, little problem, NO problem! That's the way I like it.

In Summary.
Mark
06/10/2012, Discovery Bay, Bocas del Toro, Panama

This cruise was quite different from our previous in many ways. It was the first time we traveled with other boats. That in itself was quite an experience. It began with trying to decide WHEN to leave. The number of boats potentially traveling together was upwards of a half dozen and everyone had a different idea of what constituted the perfect (or even acceptable) weather window. We missed the first window as we were in David buying provisions and visiting with our friends Larry & Dottie Thompson. Silver Sea grabbed the window and had a nice trip North only to get pinned San Andres for several weeks unable to go anywhere or do anything. After that, there were a number of narrow windows that I might have taken, but others were reluctant. After about two weeks we were all getting antsy. A window appeared to be opening. Sunnyside Up took off early with a couple others. Salida and we waited another day to avoid traveling in rain and ended up having a good trip. We stayed with Salida all the way to Honduras and really enjoyed their company. We met up with and parted from a variety of other boats as we went. Silver Sea stayed with us from Providencia to Roatan. We really never had a night alone until one day on Guanaja when we switched anchorages and Albatross decided to stay put. Initially we agreed to plans that were not what we would have done (like skipping Vivarillos because of supposed weather that never came), but eventually we learned to share info and discuss decisions but make our own choice even if it meant splitting up. We usually got back together again anyway as we were all going the same way. That made the &#147;buddy system&#148; more enjoyable and less tyrannical. The buddy system certainly was important when Craig had his seizure! Not only were there several of us there to respond to the immediate emergency, but we were able to talk about it later and help them arrive at what I felt was a good decision to investigate further before continuing. We also traveled together for the overnight passage so they would not be alone if something else happened. In the past, we have always traveled alone and enjoyed it. I think another time we would like to achieve a better balance of time with other boats and time alone as we still cherish that, but we probably would have had it this time if other (see below) factors had not intervened. Weather seemed to play a bigger role in this trip. It is always an factor, but this time it really dictated changes that resulted in our missing places we wanted to visit and things we wanted to do. Weather can have impact in many ways: too much wind or waves, too little wind, threatening storms that may or may not develop, etc. We had all of it. We started off waiting nearly three weeks for the wind and waves to recede to an acceptable level. Then we waited another day to avoid rain, but ended up with too little wind and had to motor more than we wanted. The real problem was &#147;threatened storms&#148; including a possible hurricane. Traveling over in the San Blas the last couple years, we did not have to deal with such. We also had gone earlier in the season which was different. This was certainly a strange season for weather as well. We had gale force winds for nearly two weeks in February when the pilot charts show <5% chance of gale. It was the first time since the 1800's that we had two named tropical storms before June 1. What is going on? The other issue was Chris Parker's forecasts which seemed to be way too &#147;chicken hearted.&#148; True, one would not want to get caught unaware, but when your weather guru gives such dire forecasts that you change plans and miss things unnecessarily, it is not so good. I have subsequently discovered Rob Lightbown of Crown Weather who seems much more realistic while still discussing potential storms. Provisioning and cash management were also different this year. In the past we have tried to provision for the entire trip except fruit & veggies that we pick up as we can. We have also traveled with a fairly large amount of cash on board even though that was quite uncomfortable. This time, we discovered that ATMs are everywhere and give you cash in the local currency without the issue of exchange. We returned with most of the money we left with. We also returned with a lot of our provisions &#150; especially booze! Part of what was different was that we ate out or at least went to shore for happy hour quite a bit. This was partly due to traveling in company and partly that the areas we visited were more developed and had more opportunity to eat ashore. Equipment failures were also more of an issue this time &#150; Deb wanted to call it &#147;The Breakdown Cruise.&#148; Cruising has been called &#147;boat repairs in paradise&#148; and failures and repairs are, indeed, a fact of life. But this trip did seem excessive. The microwave died before we even left Bocas. We lived without it. The coffeemaker died near the end. I &#147;repaired&#148; (jury rigged) it to get us home. We had minor issues with our diesel &#150; nothing unusual really &#150; clogged fuel filter, broken fan belt, reluctant started solenoid, erroneous alarm, etc. They did not really impact the trip. The failure of the hookah, however, was a major setback. It was very lucky it happened in Roatan where we were able to get parts flown in easily and quickly. The failure of the outboard water pump also severely impacted the trip and that is my fault for not carrying a spare. We missed the Vivarillos and Hobbies (for the second time &#150; the first due to &#147;weather&#148;) because of it. The failure of the harness on the dinghy davit could have had disastrous results. Fortunately it happened during the day, I recognized it immediately, and we were able to repair it underway. Losing the kellet two years in a row was very aggravating. I'll make another, but I have no idea how I can attach it so it won't come off! The failure of the watermaker &#150; also two years in a row &#150; was even more aggravating and definitely shortened our trip. Had we had water, we might well have waited out the bad weather in Albuquerque Cays to enjoy that area again. I don't know what I am going to do about the watermaker. It is a very expensive item so replacing it with another brand is hard to consider, but the expense &#150; and disruption - of yearly failure is intolerable. The final minor irritation failure was our Olympus underwater camera. The first one failed with snorkeling and was replaced under warranty. This one failed again, but is no longer covered. Oh well, it was sort of in the &#147;too good to be true&#148; category anyway. I think one way to avoid some of the failures is to spread them out. We need to take 2-3 day trips in the local area during the hurricane season - maybe even just going to our island and spending a couple days. This will give the failures a chance to happen while we are still at home and can deal with them more easily. So what next? We have talked of going to Cartegena and Cuba. Looking at the pilot charts (which were SO WRONG this year), November might actually be a good time to go. It is the height of rainy season here so good to get away and the winds are fairly calm across the Caribbean basin. The other option would be a &#147;reef tour.&#148; There are several reef systems off the coast of Central America that all have potential for great diving and most offer at least reasonable protection from weather. They are all uninhabited except for occasional fishermen. Many of them are owned by Columbia which put us off in the past, but now seems like a plus as the Columbian Navy is quite aggressive about patrolling them and that makes us feel safer. Hey, we just got back. There is plenty of time to decide. Note that this will probably be the last blog post for a while as we will be at our home in Bocas and then traveling by air to the US to see family & friends.

Day 86. We are home.
Mark
06/10/2012, Discovery Bay, Bocas del Toro, Panama

Sunday, June 10. I apologize for not posting earlier. The weather was starting to turn nasty – high winds, rain, and big seas - for at least several days. Although we would have been very safe in Albuquerque Cays, we could not have gone diving or really enjoyed our time there until the weather passed. The problem was, we only had limited water and no way to make or get more. So waiting for the weather to pass was really not an option. For that reason, we left early Friday morning. We had a great sail all Friday, reefed main most of the time making 7+ kts. Seas were big, 6-8' with some up to 12', but running away from them was fairly comfortable. By Saturday morning, when I would normally have posted Friday's blog, we were surrounded by storm cells with lightening everywhere. I had the computer and handheld GPS in the oven (it acts as a Faraday Cage to protect them in the event of a lightening strike) and did not dare use the SSB for fear of attracting a strike. By the time we were about 50 nm from Bocas, we lost most of our wind, but still had lots of rain and scattered lightening. We made it to our dock by 3:30 PM Saturday – 180nm in about 30 hours, and average of nearly 6 kts, not bad. Paula & Bill Tucker, our neighbors at Discovery Bay, had dinner for us which was really great as we were beat from the long trip. It was strange sleeping in a bed that didn't move. In a few days I will post a summary of this year's voyage, but I wanted everyone to know that we were safe and home in Panama.

01/29/2013 | Todd Miller
Wow, an 86 day voyage is impressive to say the least. I am seething with jealously. As you can tell I work with your son & was a frequent explorer around Rockland, ME where our Pearson 24 is moored. Thanks for sharing your observations & I will live vicariously thru you until such time I am able to accomplish something similar.

Your son & I started at BDT around the same time. Its been cool sharing observations about being the 'new guys' at a company where the average length of service of the managers is a decade.

Be well,

TM
Day 83, A Full Day.
Mark
06/08/2012, Albuquerque Cays, Columbia

Thursday, June 7,We only had 30 nm to go today, so when we left was not important. By 8:30 we had had breakfast, checked in with the SW Caribbean net, and were ready to go. We raised sail before anchor and motorsailed out past the destroyer. The wind was lighter, only ~10 kts and when we shut off engines and unrolled gennie we were only making ~4.5 kts. Even 30 nm is a ways at that speed. Fortunately this was only wind shadow from the island. We were soon seeing 15-17 kts and making 6-7. Seas were moderate, 6-8'. There were a variety of rain clouds that gave us good wind, but we never got wet. When we were about 10 nm out from the entrance to Albuquerque Cays, I heard a snap and felt the boat lurch. Looking about, I saw dink hanging lower than he should. Did the clutch slip? I pulled it tighter and then realized that the bridle that went to both sides of the stern had frayed through and broken on one side. The other didn't look much better. It was where the control arm of the outboard rubbed on the line. Fortunately the bridle had a loop formed by a knot instead of just being continuous, so the port side was still holding – for now. The waves were slapping up and hitting the underside of dink with each passage so I knew I had to do something NOW. I undid the stern lifelines and went down the steps until I could lean and catch a line through the eye bolt on the dinghy starboard stern and ran it up to the back lifeline which is 1” ss tubing. I then did the same for dink's port side knowing that line would not last long. With Deb's help I slowly recovered dink to his normal travel position. I had tied it with a clove hitch (my favorite knot) so I pulled a little slack and Deb took it up. It was heavy going as I usually have a 4:1 purchase to lift dink, but eventually we got dink out of the waves and in a safe position to travel. That was exciting! By noon we were approaching Albuquerque Cays and the wind and waves had dropped considerably. We dropped sail outside the lagoon and motored the 3+ nm into the lagoon, around all the obstructing reefs inside and eventually to our anchorage in 6' of water over pure white sand just off North Cay (where the military base is). It took 45 minutes to wind our way in, but we left breadcrumbs so going out should be easier, though I still wouldn't do it at night. An error of even 20' could put us on a reef – that's only ½ a boat length. Total course turned out to be 26nm, time, 5 hours so we still averaged better than 5 kts even with our slow entry into the lagoon. After we were anchored, I went ashore with our papers, found the commandant, and was officially welcomed to the islands. He was very polite and friendly, as we had experienced last time. We can stay as long as we want. When I returned to the boat, we still had most of the afternoon left, so we loaded the hookah and went out to dive one of the mini atolls behind the boat. The center of the “atoll” is ~5-6' deep, there is a coral rim that breaks in places, but can be crossed by dink in several, and the “wall” on the outside drops to ~30'. Really a miniature of a coral atoll in every way. The structures of the coral were amazing with long arms reaching out in all directions. We started into the wind, of course, and worked our way 360*. Nice coral, lots of sponges and great fish – even three large ocean triggers swimming together. We then swam the inside looking for conch. We only found two, but they were the biggest conch we have seen in ages. Sundowners and FRESH conch salad in the cockpit. And after dinner, the stars were brilliant as we lay in the tramp. That was a full day.

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