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Off to the Galapagos Islands

Well I never did get round to completing the 'Canal Story'- I will soon... anyway, we're off to the Galapagos Islands today, it's 900 miles and the route crosses the Pacific's version of the Doldrums, so very little wind is forecast- and even if we get some wind, it will be the wrong direction. We have got a fair amount of diesel on board to motor with, (and the engine has been 'passed' by the mechanic) but we will have to do some sailing as well. We have plenty of food and water, and it makes a change to be setting off worrying about boredom and too little wind rather than too much! We will post to this blog every 3 days or so from the satellite phone, if we can, but apart from that we'll be back in touch soonest- hopefully with tales of fish caught and an Equator crossing party!

Another engine update
04/23/2012, Panama Balboa Yacht Club

I have now adjusted the engine (Nanni 50HP) so that the aft engine mounts are now sitting higher on the bed and therefore the whole engine sits lower on its adjustable screws. I undid the coupling, wound the engine up to maximum height then chocked it at one mount undid the bedding bolts loosened off the height adjustment nut and slipped in a pre drilled hardwood shim. I cut new longer bolts to bed the whole thing properly and although i am sure thats not the right method I dont think ive done any damage.....phew....The engine now sits much firmer. I have spent some time with the alignment and it now seems better than it has been as far back as I can remmember.
I believe there are still some unresolved issues, (some not quite right sounds from gearbox in tickover forward, that then disappear at higher revs) but we took it for a test run and that aside it all seems sound.
I will get another opinion from the mechanic before we leave.

Transit part 2, Gatun locks and lake

One has a choice, theoretically, of how to proceed through the locks: tied up to the lock wall; tied up to a tug; on your own in the middle of the lock;or rafted or 'nested' up with 1 or 2 other boats in the middle of the lock. The first option is not good, as the lock walls are rough concrete and the turbulence is severe. We had to tick the form for our choice- we said 'anything but no 1' . As we approach the lock, we don't know which of the other 3 options it will be..
we are then directed by our pilot to tie up to another boat- she's bigger than us, steel; another smaller yacht joins her on the other side, so we are 3 nested together. The pilot on the middle boat takes charge, giving clear instructions as to when and how much to use our engines; he also 'borrows' one of our linehandlers, as the ropes used to keep all 3 boats in the middle of the lock are coming off the central yacht and its going to need strong experienced crew. We don't mind- I steer, Kevin doles out the drinks and snacks, and Robin and Javier are free to chat and take photos!

Panama Canal Transit- the story part 1
04/16/2012, duh...

Firstly, hats off to our lovely agent Roy Bravo who ran around doing all our paperwork and organising our transit. We thought at first that we would be going through in one hit, doing the Gatun locks early evening, motoring through the lake and exiting Miraflores in the small hours of the next day.. this would mean just one evening meal and a few snacks for our Pilot advisor and 3 line handlers. However, at the last minute we learnt that we would be doing the classic 2 day trip.. aagh, all of a sudden its evening meal PLUS breakfast PLUS lunch PLUS snacks... anyway, tipped extra pasta into the pot and ran out to the shop for hotdogs and rolls.
So, 2pm - the 4 extra long/strong lines and 8 plastic-wrapped tyres that we have rented off Roy arrive, along with our 3 hired linehandlers. (Some people use their own crew plus volunteers from other cruising boats, but we want people who have done this many times before!) Edgar and Eric, 2 strong local lads, are brothers in their twenties, who have been making 2/3 canal trips every week for years; and Louis (Roy's brother) speaks excellent english. We're a bit worried about where to sleep 3 extra people overnight, but the plan is that the boys will get dropped off on another boat with more room than us.
We motor off the pontoon (without incident- always nice when there's people watching!) and make our way to 'The Flats'- an anchorage area near to the Gatun locks, where we gill around waiting for our Pilot Advisor. When the launch turns up, 2 people come aboard- Robin, the advisor- and Javier, a trainee advisor, making just his 2nd transit. So now there are 7 people on our little boat!

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!

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