11/23/2011, Bocas del Toro
The Oil Cooler
This morning we headed in for our last minute shopping, which requires going to at least 6 different grocery stores before you can complete your list. And at each we said good-by as we have been here so long that we are now regulars. And up to the Golden Grill for a last internet fix and more good-bys, then back to the boat in time for lunch.
After lunch we removed the awnings and were ready to head in to Bocas Marina to top off our fuel... whoops, closed between 12:00 and 2:00!
Finally we're full and heading out. Then I noticed the engine wasn't charging the batterys and the oil pressure was falling to dangerously low levels. WHAT NEXT????? At least we made our way into a beautiful anchorage where we sat in the quiet while the unusually fresh breeze blew above us.
Two hours later, after changing out the voltage regulator to no avail, I discovered a blown fuse. Replacing the fuse all was well, generator charging properly and oil pressure great! So tomorrow we're off to Eastern Panama, not sure where.
One option is Portobello, made famous as the port from which the spanish treasure ships left and where Captain Hawking and Sir Frances Drake attacked and plundered. In face just last month, divers discovered what they believe to be Drake's ship, and also think his lead casket may be aboard. But it is wide open to westerly winds and they may blow up. If so, we'll give it a pass and head further east to Isla Linton or Isla Grande, closing in on the San Blas at last!!!
11/22/2011, Bocas del Toro
Today was the big day! Yesterday we got a call saying the part had finally arrived and was en route to the airport, but too late for Monday's last flight. So this morning we were up bright and early to be at the airport (5 min walk from the dinghy dock) for the plane's arrival at 8:30 am.
After all the confusion of passengers arriving and departing was done, we finally attracted the attention of a clerk. We explained our needs and off she went. Back within 30 seconds empty-handed! "No parcel for James Lea." We expected this last hurdle, so I quickly called Joanna at the dealers in Panama City. She said yes she had personally sent it, so I handed the phone over to the clerk. We could here some excited talk, and off she trotted again, returning this time with our precious parcel!
Back at the boat it was just a matter of a couple of hours in the sweating heat on my stomach in the cockpit locker and it was installed, in time for a late lunch. But we couldn't test it as I managed to drain all the coolant out of the engine in the process. So back ashore to Chou Kay's (the local hardware store where I am now known by name). But Chou Kai closes from 12:00 noon to 2:00 pm.
So another wait and back aboard at three and the engine tested perfectly! No rising oil level. The pressure was not as high as I would like, but with Bruce Montgomery's help I learned that it was adequate. Ready to go! Tomorrow some last minute shopping, top off the fuel tanks and start out!
11/19/2011, Bocas del Toro
That was the reply I got yesterday at noon. Apparently traffic in Panama City grinds to a complete halt when it rains and the possibility of the part reaching the supplier let alone them getting it to the airport is nil. But they are open on Saturday, so Saturday for sure!
Based on that, we scurried into town, got our new Zarpe, this time for El Pourvenir, the check in port in the San Blas Islands, and some last supplies to replace those we have consumed in two weeks of waiting. Then at 5 pm I got another call saying that it wasn't out for delivery after all, but still in Customs. "Their system is down", whatever that means. "But Monday for sure!"
So here we sit. We have met lots of boaters all heading back to the San Blas for the winter season, but by now most have departed. We still chat with them in the morning on the SSB, but its getting frustrating to say the least. We are mostly concerned about weather. For now the winds are favorible for sailing to the San Blas, an easterly cource. But soon the winter trades will set in with strong easterlies, right on the nose. So we want to be at least to Colon before that starts.
If I thought the parts were available, I would fly to Panama City myself to get them, but right now all I know is that they are in Panama City (or at least I think they are). But for now Monday will be the next stage in this little drama.
I can now change the oil in the generator since we have run it so much keeping the batteries charged here at anchor, but even my maintenance list has shrunk pretty much to zero. I finished varnishing the toe rail and rub strip yesterday and will tackle a couple of small spots if we sit here much longer, but I'd rather be sailing.
In the mean time we'll see a bit more of the area, maybe rent bikes again for a long trip. We'll see, but its getting frustrating.
11/17/2011, Bocas del Toro, Panama
Bocas Day Parade
Yesterday was Bocas Day, the town's biggest celebration of the year. We landed ashore at 10:00 am to find the main street closed to vehicles and covered with people. Up at the usually quiet Golden Grill (our internet cafe) we found it crowded with lots of locals and an unusual number of
Gringos (like us) all here for Bocas Day.
As a prelude to the day, across the street in the park drummers from rival bands were holding an informal drum-fest. The one style seems to be LOUD! The din was unbelievable. People milled the streets, checking out the many craft stalls set up wherever space allowed. The official
reviewing stand remained empty.
Then we heard the first of the parade about 11:00 am, an hour late. First marching down one street then back up the next were all of Bocas' town officials, all in official dress and with banners and flags waving high. At the reviewing stand they solemnly climbed up and began the process of
saluting the delegates following who represented the many other towns and communities in the Bocas district. Then the bands started. We estimated thirty bands, most consisting only of drums, but a few with some musical instruments. Each was preceded by a group of majorettes and
followed by a gymnastics group. We think they were all from different schools. Ages ranged from pre-schoolers to high teens, some in snazzy marching outfits, some in traditional garb, but all working hard in the hot sun. As each group reached the reviewing stand, the official end of the
parade, they would halt and put on their finest show, batons twirling and flying, drums drumming madly and gymnasts tumbling on the hot pavement. So the parade became a start/stop event. But the drummers never stopped. Some times the drum corps, each with their own beats were no
more than 100' apart, so thet the majorettes and gymnasts had no idea whose tempo to march to. We watched through lunch, then again after lunch until about 3:30 pm when we had had it in the hot sun. Back at the boat the drumming drifted clearly over the water while we swam in the
late afternoon to cool off. By dinner time it appeared that the parade had finally wound down, but by seven in the evening they were off again, with drums crashing and the few bugles blasting their hardest to be heard over the drums. By 10:00 pm things finally wrapped up with a brief display
of fireworks. Today is clean-up day, I hope. The litter is everywhere. Some shop owners are obviously trying to clean up, but it's not a high priority at the best of times, so there's a lot of trash to remember the day by.
All in all, a really fun and impressive show. We estimate at least 1500 drums in 30 bands and an equal number of majorette corps together with naval officials, native groups and lots of street hawkers. Another thing we noticed is how multi-racial the parade was with Afro-descent, Chinese,
Native and Spanish cultures all blending together. The few cruisers and tourist gringos (like us) were very much the exception.
And more exciting news about my part... the distributor in Panama City has it! So it should arrive by plane here some time today... or tomorrow. But in any case we should be away in a day or two... two weeks behind on our non-schedule. But just to see the parade may have been worth the
I have added a new gallery for pics of the parade.
11/08/2011, Bocas del Toro
The day started as usual (no rescues) with the morning net. By the time coffee was over (excellent Panamanian coffee), it was 9:30 am and time to face the day.
Project No 1 was clean the water line. Things grow quickly in 80F water. So I spent an hour in the dinghy on my side, alternately on my stomach or back, depending on how deeply I probed, and then went over it with Starbrite Hull Cleaner, a magic product that instantly wipes stains off (thanks to Oxalic acid).
Then ashore. By now it was lunch time and no word about our engine parts, so I furtively sent off an email as we passed The Golden Grill, our internet cafe. Lunch at a seedy-looking Mexican restaurant was above excellent! We'll be going back for dinner.
Then the day began to really bloom. Back at the Golden Grill I received an email telling me our engine parts would be released from Customs tonight... here tomorrow or Wed! And from there the day just got better.
We have been trying to buy a local cell phone, but without any luck. It needed to be:(1) unlocked) (2) digital capable, (3) hold a Digicel (carrier) SIM Card. All week we tried at various places, with Digicel signs, only to be met with blank stares or shaking heads. Today our luck changed. Most stores in Bocas are run by Chinese families. Today we met the best of the lot, a girl of about 20, with no English. But within minutes she understood. She pulled out a phone. When we said we wanted a Digicel SIM card (Chip) she yelled and a young local took off down the street at a full run. Minutes later she was testing it. She used it to call her cell phone and then reversed, calling ours from hers. Perfect! So now we're on the phone network. The best part is Digicel's North American package, 100 minutes for just $1.99! There is something to think about here when Rogers "Special Panama Package" was $1.00/min.
To end the day I put on mask and snorkel and scrubbed some accumulation off the prop and rudder. Dinner was a nice "Corvina" (Sea Bass) grilled in a lemon/dill sauce. Cold white wine an essential part. Dessert is like breakfast... lots of local fruit.
So we're now looking at a departure later this week. We'll have to decide whether or not to wait for the "Bocas Day Parade". The bands, particularly the drum section have been practicing, and it sounds like quite an event. In any case, we're starting to look at weather for heading west along the coast, in company with Astarte, a boat we were anchored next to here for a few days.
Many boats seem to be looking at moving, some north to the Guatemala/Belize area, others, like us, to the San Blas, and others, like Astarte, through the canal and across the Pacific. On a good, sort of, note, our friends on Sapphire made it to St Martin. I highly recommend reading their blog about their experience in a hurricane. Read it at: www.sailblogs.com.
11/08/2011, Bocas del Toro
At 5:15 am I was nudged awake by Jeannie telling me someone was yelling outside. Sticking my head up, I could see little in the dark but could make out something in the water about 100 yds off. With the binoculars I could just make out someone in the water clinging to an upturned cayuka (small dugout canoe). On the VHF I chatted with the next boat who was also awake, and a boat across the anchorage. We jointly decided to investigate.
By the time I had paddled my dinghy across (we take the engine off every night) I found a native with his head barely above water and his cayuka pretty much the same. Dragging him aboard the dinghy, Geoff from a neighboring boat arrived in his panga (20'open boat with outboard motor) and we managed to right and empty the cayuka. With that, our guest hopped back in, begged a paddle from Geoff and a bailer from me and was off. In exchange, Geoff kept the half bottle of gin that had fallen unnoticed from the cayuka as we dumped it. And I was back in my bunk at 6:00 am!
So this morning's lead on the VHF net was our rescue. Our VHF traffic had been overheard by the net controller, so he called for details, so the story was the news of the fleet by 8:00 am. For Bocas, pretty exciting stuff!
We're still waiting for our engine part, hoping it will arrive tomorrow. In the mean time we still seem to have lots to do. The day starts with reading the Globe & Mail that arrives on the Kindle each morning. Then the VHF net and we're into the day!
Yesterday was a cool 72 and pretty much steady rain, so I spent a frustrating day trying to get our satellite radio to access the internet, but no luck. Today we explored the outer reaches of Isla Colon on rental bikes, Then more shopping since we have been going through our food inventory (not to mention gin and wine) quickly. So we are starting to re-stock in anticipation of our part arriving tomorrow! Just like Christmas!!!
It will be a couple of uncomfortable hours work to replace the old with the new, then off east to the San Blas Islands (known by the natives as Kuna Yale) or so the theory goes.
11/08/2011, Bocas del Toro
The New Fans!!
The mornings start with the Bocas VHF Net. It starts at 7:45 am and runs for 20-30 minutes. A big part of it is "Checking In", or saying Good Morning. Then we get a weather report followed by announcements from various commercial enterprises, mostly restaurants, about what is on offer. Then it moves into things like boat problems where you can talk about a problem you have and ask for help or suggestions. Then it moves to general stuff like "where can I find ...". Then to closing, and you have just successfully wasted another half hour of your life!
Then off to the internet cafe where we are now regulars. A quick check and all is well in our e-world, although we continue to worry about friends.
Last summer, we met a couple in Charlottetown at the yacht club, Moby and Caroline Burton on Sapphire, a Bristol 41.1, the mate to our boat. They departed Norfolk last week for the Eastern Caribbean and have sailed straight into Tropical Storm Sean. We have followed their progress through Sailblogs, and with correlating their position with weatherfaxes, have watched as they have been hammered for days with storm (35-50 knots) winds and 12'-20' waves. They continue to make progress, but life on the boat must be challenging. We do know, though, that the boat is strong and they will pull through.
So, all things considered, we are not complaining. And today, I installed the other fan in the V-berth, so nights will be cool! Tomorrow is Cell Phone Day! And Thursday, another holiday and parade day.
11/06/2011, Bocas del Toro, Panama
Well, I have now crossed six items off my repair/to-do list, and it still has six more. Every time I cross one off, another appears. Today's new job appeared first thing this morning... the propane breaker tripped off, leaving us with no propane for the stove. After some fiddling, it was clear the solenoid in the propane locker was kaput! So this afternoon I took it out and by-passed it. Its not a major issue, except we now have to manually turn on and off the propane each time we want to use the stove. I'll try to find a replacement, but if not, add it to the growing list of stuff coming back at Christmas. Not much other excitement to report. The town is as quiet as we have ever seen it. All the celebrations ended last night, and today's biggest excitement seems to be a cruisers game of Mexican Train Dominos in the marina. Unfortunately we had a prior arrangement. For our major project of the day we headed in to town to confirm our part order... 2-3 days delivery... can you believe it??? We can't, but we will see. Tomorrow's projects will be finish fan installation, repair leak in forward head and time for shopping again. We are quickly eating through our supplies for our trip. Yesterday I began varnishing the teak that got missed by the marina. I managed about half of it with a first coat. Because it is weather dependent, it can float to the top of the priority list if the day looks fine. Otherwise it falls back on the list. Lots to do... With any luck we'll be off later in the week, just a weeks delay. In the mean time we are gabbing with family and friends on our satellite phone whose minutes expire next month. Not too bad considering...