A new adventure in the British Virgin Islands
21 April 2017
Early Saturday we fly to the USVI and then take the ferry to Tortola, BVI, where we will board our bare boat at Marine Max for 7 days of enjoyment. Stay tuned and watch our progress!
Compelled to turn back ...
03 March 2016
It is now March 3 and I find myself in the Courtyard Panama Hotel in Panama City's Megamall Mall waiting to fly back to Wisconsin. I'm not in Honduras, Mexico or Cuba! How did this happen? There are many reasons!
On Sunday February 21 we all had a pleasant dinner together ashore at the marina restaurant in preparation for cast off Monday morning. Then, when we were in the process of actually casting off on Monday around 9, the port main backstay turnbuckle toggle shattered when Michael grabbed the stay sideways to hop on board. Mike was OK and fortunately the bow lines had not been cast off yet so we turned the motor off and tied back up as Captain Don stared in amazement at the broken fitting. Now what?!
Not to be deterred, Don immediately conferred with Thorston, a fellow sailor and a boat repair wizard (who with his partner Laura was seeing us off) who recommended a new toggle. Don then spent a couple of hours on the internet researching where this item could be found in Panama and discovered that Dimar in Panama City could do it. So late that afternoon Don taxied to Colon to rent a car so he could drive from Shelter Bay (which is about 25 km from Colon) directly to Panama City early the next day to get the part. In the end it was a small cable assembly company across the street from Dimar that actually made a new cable with a turnbuckle for us and we returned to the boat by 5 that evening. We installed the backstay right away and, miracle of miracles, it worked! It was exactly the right size! So we adjusted our plans to cast off early the next day, Wednesday morning.
Around 9 on Wednesday, February 24 we did cast off. After 2.5 weeks of preparation (6 weeks for Don) we were finally underway! We motored out of Shelter Bay into Colon Harbor and into the world of MANY big ships. Panama has the busiest harbors in the world because of the canal. So we set the main, mizzen, stay and genoa sails and motor-sailed out into the Caribbean Sea.
But wait! Why did it become so quiet? Oh Oh, the motor stopped! Well, with giant ships bearing down on us we couldn't stop to diagnose the problem right then so we sailed our sailboat out of the harbor and began our journey without mechanical propulsion. When we reached our first waypoint a couple of hours later we discovered that one of the fuel filters had an air leak that was easily resolved by re-seating the filter cover. We continued on our starboard (northwest) tack and it was evening. That night we tacked to the east to align our course for the 3 day starboard tack that would bend us westward around the Honduras reefs and on to Roatan.
Thursday provided lots of heavy weather as we cruised at 330 degrees. While motor sailing, our decks were awash in constant 8-10' seas. Occasional squalls brought 30 kt winds and taller seas. We shut down the engine Thursday to ensure that all was OK, and it was. What wasn't OK was that Irina was totally seasick. I was a bit green, too, but I knew it was coming and carried on.
Friday we decided to put in at Isla Providincia since Don was concerned about Irina's persistent seasickness. A bit of time in port often brings resolution. We set a course to come up the southwest side of island. We believed we would be in the lee of the island and the heavy seas would abate. As we began our approach we found that the wind comes around both sides of the island at a blistering clip and we could make no headway. In fact, we were being pushed toward the reefs that surround the island. It was time to tack away.
We headed east again to plan for a northerly approach to the island. We were looking at tacking east 30 nm then 30 nm northwest to go around the reef to take advantage of the light marks that delineate safe passage. Still the squalls and high waves persisted but we headed east. Later we re-evaluated our situation and decided to proceed to Roatan. Less time would be wasted overall and it seemed Irina's sea sickness was improving.
Saturday's weather brought water into Hekowi from previously unknown deck and hatch leaks. The floors became slippery, the galley was flooded, and conditions worsened as we continued east. The primary bilge pump was having trouble keeping up until Don cleaned its intake. Then, at the 0230 change of watch I discovered that the engine oil pressure gauge had dropped to zero. Don ordered the engine shut down immediately. No oil showed on the dipstick. Worst of all, the oil pressure reached only 30 psi when more oil was added. It was previously running at 50 psi.
It was too rough to diagnose the situation at the time but the strong suspicion was that an oil line to the filter had let go. OK, it's a sailboat and the sails were all still working and everyone was safe so the choices were: Sail on to Roatan; sail back to Isla Providincia; or sail back to Colon. After group consideration we recognized that we didn't know what resources were available in Roatan; it was too risky to sail around the coral reefs at Isla Providincia; and the following seas would provide a safe 3 day sail back to Colon. We had come 240 nm and we would now backtrack the same distance. All power was shut off to save battery power as well.
Sunday and Monday were very nice days for sailing. The weather was sunny and clear with 10 - 20 kt breezes. We pressed on and eventually spotted land at 0600 Tuesday although rain and haze had developed. The weather then cleared a bit and we arrived at Shelter Bay around noon. The marina assist boat greeted us and snugged us safely into slip D-47. Our journey to Florida ended a bit short of its mark and the ultimate irony was that on Tuesday the US Coast Guard had granted us permission to make a stop at Marina Hemingway in Havana, Cuba!
During the days of sailing back to Colon, it was fun to look at the amazing cumulus clouds that surrounded Hekowi. They were clouds with faces: Children; rabbits; people. God moments, perhaps. There was also the beauty of Isla Providincia emerging through haze with its majestic mountains and large apparent size, even though the chart showed it as a small dot in a very large sea. Even the breakers that formed over the coral reefs presented an image of powerful ease. A most pleasing observation was the multitude of stars that emerged after the sky cleared up following brief squalls at night. They were stars that you could steer by. Cool breezes made the hot weather comfortable.
Irina recovered significantly from her sea sickness and Michael cooked up some fine meals along the way despite the seawater-soaked galley. We all learned a lot and Captain Don had the leadership skills to bring us safely back to port. He has thousands of miles of bluewater sailing experience to his credit and he taught us that a sailboat without a working motor can indeed bring us to where we want to go!
We are casting off,
24 February 2016
We are off to Honduras this morning (Wednesday) at first light. We started to cast off Monday morning but an oil leak and a broken piece of deck gear required us to tie back up. We zipped back to Panama City to get the gear replacement and we located the oil leak and fixed it. What does this all mean? It's an older sailboat! Things break. We have learned the systems over the past 2 weeks and now feel that we can safely travel the first leg. We'll be out of internet range for the next 6 days so stay tuned to our satellite fixes on the Google Maps portion of the web site.
21 February 2016
It's Saturday night, February 20, 2016, in Shelter Bay Marina, Colon, Panama and tonight is party night! Folks with guitars, harmonicas, good voices and dancing feet gather together on the patio in front of "The Dock" restaurant, next to the marina pool and mini-mart. Visitors here have come by sailboat, mega-yacht, motorboat and taxi from Denmark, Germany, Canada, Australia, Seattle, Panama and, yes, even Long Beach, California, the former home port of Sailing Vessel Hekowi. (That would be us!)
Saturday night is also potluck night. Many boat owners who stay at the marina long-term have formed friendships and share food and invite the transient sailors to join them to swap stories and information. English is the common language but German is the most popular second foreign language with Spanish, of course, being the official language.
Shelter Bay Marina is part of the old Fort Sherman which was established by US forces back when the Panama Canal was built. Another transient sailor here noted that he had served at Fort Sherman off and on until the mid 1970's when the former "Canal Zone" was permanently turned over to the Panamanian government. Today Panama maintains a military section on the sprawling former base to oversee the aids to navigation (for the entrance to the canal) and a small fleet of patrol boats (former US Coast Guard vessels). The rest of the base has been allowed to be taken over by the jungle. Many barracks buildings, built of concrete and steel, remain but the windows are broken out and trees and shrubs grow out of them. The old runway for C-130 cargo planes is now jungle. There were a total of 40,000 GI's here and at 7 other US bases at one time so the influx of US funds provided a flourishing economy. There were many intermarriages of servicemen and Panamanian women, too. Today the earnings from the canal operation provide a major source of income to the country but the country is still quite poor.
20 February 2016
Bureaucracy is a fact of life. On Friday we checked with the Captain of the Port to make arrangements to check out of Panama. The weather window for sailing to Roatan, Honduras looked very good for a Saturday morning departure. The Captain of the Port had other ideas, however. It seems that our cruising permit was missing and we needed one before we
could leave. This would take an extra day and cost extra money. So, Monday is the earliest we can depart. Let's hope the weather will cooperate!
18 February 2016
Cast off is imminent. We have a couple of more details to iron out but it looks like we will leave Shelter Bay Marina on Saturday at noon. We will steer 356 degrees for 2 days before turning more westerly to steer toward Roatan, Honduras.
We've learned that Hurricane Mitch wiped out most of Islas Guanaja, our original destination, and that recovery has been slow and services are very limited. So we are off to Roatan.
We have enjoyed our stay in Panama but are eager to get some sea miles under our feet. The Colon to Roatan leg will be our longest, taking about 6 days. The winds will be NNE to ENE at 15 - 25 kts with an underlying NW current at 1 - 2 kts.
Today we returned our rental car to the Tocumen (Panama City) airport and used a series of busses and taxis to make our way back to Shelter Bay. The trip that takes 1.5 hours by car took closer to 4 hours but it brought us closer to the people of the region. The families are poor according to US standards but they are primarily honest and family oriented.
The malls downtown are bustling even though items cost much more than in the US. And, of course, the ocean front "gold coast" of Panama City is crammed with luxury high-rise condominiums that appear to be 30 stories tall. One of the buildings looks like a spinnaker sail under full down-wind run. Traffic for the most part is unbearable and the roads are in great need of repair (doesn't the repair part sound like where many US cities have been lately, too?!) but people somehow get around.
Traffic jams are common and I've learned that you can use your car horn to speak to other drivers by the duration and
timing of your beep!
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