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Engine update

The first thing I did when we got onto the mooring was dive to check the prop (quite brave of me, considering there are crocodiles around here!) The blades were all clean and clear, nothing round the prop or shaft, it turned freely by hand, and no discernable play when shaken.

We (when I say we, Kevin physically does most of this sort of work, with me annoying him from the sidelines with suggestions that sometimes-only sometimes- are useful!) -anyway, we put the bolts back in, heart in mouth turned the engine on- all seemed ok; tried reverse- quietly chugging away, no problems- tried forward- rattle rattle, engine jumping about, problem. We found an english speaking mechanic by asking on the local VHF cruisers net, (Ch74, 0800 local time) who re-assured us that the engine and gearbox seems all ok still, but there definitely IS a problem somewhere, which he feels sure he can sort but isn't free for a few days. In the meantime we are working our way through the many variables (engine mis-alignment, bearings knocked out of true, bent shaft, dodgy cutless bearing, etc etc) and are hoping that we can find something that fixes it before the (very nice!) mechanic comes back or we have to come out of the water. One job we have just done is, the front 2 engine mountings were on some hardwood shims, the back 2 weren't, there was a lot of play and the engine could move about a lot. We have now- after a day of blood sweat and tears- added some shims to the aft mountings (good thing we had a good supply of teak offcuts and big bolts on board) and the engine seems more stable. After a 5 hour trip around town with no Spanish, we eventually succeeded in buying a set of feeler guages, so Kevin is now into day 2 of engine re-alignment; he's doing a fantastic job in this sweltering heat, the salt water in the bilge isn't sea water and he's lost about a stone!

Great transit yeehah! No engine boohoo!
04/13/2012, Balboa Yacht Club moorings Panama

Full story on the actual transit will be posted later, with pictures etc- but a quick update as to our current situation follows...
We had a brilliant time going through the canal, and we were just about to celebrate being in the Pacific Ocean (and Kevin's birthday)- but first we had to drop our linehandlers off at the Balboa Yacht Club jetty with the rented 150 foot lines, and the plastic-wrapped tyres we had used as fenders, before we went a bit further south to find a (free) place in an anchorage, or possibly go into Flamanco Marina. BUT as I put Wanda into reverse to stop her at the jetty, I heard a loud 'gerdunk gerdunk gerdunk' sound- and she wasn't slowing down.... Kevin jumped off and managed to stop her with a line, I killed the engine and we tied up. Kevin had a quick look at the engine- SERIOUS problem. The transmission coupling bolts had come loose, fallen out, sheared off- basically our engine was no longer attached to and turning the propshaft, and was jumping up and down all over the place. Luckily Louis, one of our linehandlers who could speak both Spanish and English, was still around, so was able to translate and help me arrange a tow to one of the Yacht Club's mooring bouys, thus getting us out of immediate trouble. We were also very lucky, as normally there aren't any spare bouys; also if we had had the problem in the middle of one of the locks it really doesn't bear thinking about!
So we are safe and sound, but working hard at getting motoring capability back again- may be a while..
Kevin is currently having a go at re-aligning the engine and bolting everything back together; we have found out the name of an english-speaking mechanic; and fingers and everything else crossed that we haven't done real damage to the cutless bearing, propshaft, or gearbox, and that we don't have to be hauled out. But hey ho, if we do- well it's all part of the adventure- and there are worse places to be stuck in than Panama City!

Monkeys and crocodiles
04/11/2012, Shelter Bay Marina

We had a great time in Shelter Bay Marina,
which is in the north-west corner of the bay that forms the entrance to the Panama Canal on the Caribbean side. It used to be Fort Sherman, a military base, and is right on the edge of a protected bit of virgin rain forest- the San Lorenzo National Park. The dawn/night chorus here is deafening- not just birds (eagles, toucans, kiskadees, parrots) and cicadas, but tree frogs and loudest of all- howler monkeys. Just 5 minutes walk away is the jungle, with the derelict buildings of the military base- it reminded me of the 'I want to be like you-oo-oo' scenes from the Jungle Book.
We took a walk and saw the howler monkeys, also thousands of leaf-cutter ants making enormous long trails through the forest.
The marina also seems to be home to some resident crocodiles- about 2m long, we saw them most days swimming up and down the aisles between the boats. Didn't feel like going for a swim despite the overwhelming heat and humidity! Unfortunately, every photo I took just shows ripply water and no crocs, but believe me, they were there alright..

Scheduled Panama Canal transit times

Pleased to inform that your vessel has been schedule to transit canal as follows

Pilot boarding time 1556/10th

Arriving Gatun locks 1726/10th

Clearing Gatun locks 1841/10th

Completing transit 0156/11th

So, it looks like we ARE going through the Canal tommorrow- how exciting. It looks like a straight through overnighter with no stops- this is good news because it means we only have to provide an evening meal and a few drinks and snacks for our pilot- but also a bit of a shame because apparently it's quite nice to stop and anchor in Gatun Lake overnight and see all the monkeys, crocodiles and toucans! Got to go and finish getting the boat ready- I am pleased to announce that I am 'flushed with success'- in other words the new toilet pump arrived, and after a few hours of hard toil I managed to fit it- so we now have a working toilet for the first time since 3rd January!!

The Shelter Belters and the Birthday Girl
04/06/2012, Shelter Bay Marina

I've been inflicting my violin playing on people at various beach partys along the way, usually doing some Irish or English folk, as my more usual Bach etc doesn't seem to make the party go with a swing somehow! One evening I was sitting in the cockpit practising the end tune from the 'Master and Commander 'film, plus a bit of folk and tango, when Steve, a liveaboard cruiser, walked by, and persuaded me to come along and jam with 'The Shelter Belters' a band made up of staff, liveaboards and cruisers in the marina, who gig every Thursday in the bar and restaurant. Well I was a bit nervous- I usually play with 'the dots' in front of me, unmiked- my sightreading is excellent, my improvising and playing by ear not so hot- however I thought I'd give it a go.
Well, the guys in the band (Steve on guitar and vocals, Keith on percussion, and a lovely local bass player) were great- so supportive and friendly- and the audience were very forgiving, clapped and cheered a lot- and slowly I relaxed into it, and managed a country/folk/blues imrov that went really well at times (I remember a texas trucking song number that was actually very good) and not so well at others (The Stones 'I can't get no satisfaction' was particularly cringe-makingly bad!) Anyway, I had a ball- the manager brought out a birthday cake , someone came up and tipped me $10, I had rather too much to drink- all in all a pretty good birthday!

Panama Arrival
03/30/2012, Shelter Bay Marina

After leaving San Blas late afternoon we arrive at the Panama Breakwater the following morning. We are given permission to enter and we pilot our way into Shelter Bay Marina.
We intend to stay here until we can transit the Canal. We guess 7-10 days. It's a good marina and we have hired an agent to do all our paperwork, transit, immigration etc and we are oh so pleased he is only going to charge $350 and the whole transit is only going to cost about $1600 + marina fees whoopee dooo! The marina is only $45 per night whoopee dooo. I guess they have a captive market. The marina has swimming pool jacussi restaurant bar showers etc and real toilet, so we are able to relax by the pool while our agent earns his dosh. Nice. Actually what really hurts is we need the heads working to transit, as we have had to hire 3 line handlers and a pilot for the transit, and apart from feeding and watering they will need the heads to work! The new heads pump that we have ordered from Florida is $120 but the Fedex cost is $185 ouch! ouch! ouch! that hurts more than our mosquito bites. Apparently 22000 people died building the canal ... mostly from mosquito borne disease.
Time for another swim.

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