29 June 2012 | Panama
God is great. He protected us again on this journey as we declared in the previous blog entry.
Distance: 721.9 n miles
Min 37 nautical miles on day 5
Max 122 nautical miles on day 2
Average: 3.58 knots
We left Spanish waters at 8h00 on Thursday, 21 June 2013. The wind was mild and the waves small. It was such a pleasant sail that we wondered about all the stories about very rough seas. A very big school of dolphins joined us, which is always making the sail worth it. They stayed with us for a while, diving in front of the bow. Later in the afternoon only 2 dolphins appeared to come and play in front of the bow. It is amazing to see how close they get to the boat, but never touches it.
In the afternoon the picture changed dramatically. We almost thought we were back in African waters, except that the waves and the wind are totally confused. The wind keeps on shifting and the waves roll from different directions. You are unable to determine if it is coming from the stern or either of the sides. To make matterts worse, there were lots and lots of Cargo ships and tankers. At one stage there were 4 all around us and one within a mile, which got the AIS to send out warning signals.
The wind blew stronger during the evening peaking in the upper 20's and the autopilot kept on loosing control. Johan hand steered and baby sat the autopilot to reset it when needed most of the night. I was trying to sleep in order to do the day watch whilst Johan will catch up on some lost sleep.
At day break, Johan took the autopilot apart and built spares over trom those given to him in Trinidad. We connected it and will have to judge the success of the operation when the wind and waves arrive at night.
Francina took over the watch at 5h00 and Johan only fell asleep around 10h00. It is during these watches where we missed Eddie. He would have enjoyed the action last night. Otherwise sailing like we do is a bit boring to him. I respect his decision to go back although I still do not understand it.
Autopilot feedback: Johan, with the help from God, fixed the autopilot and it has not given any problems afterwards.
Another Sabbath on the ocean. We opened Sabbath listening to Richard O'Fill and his teachings on the Secrets of answere prayer.
The wind came up strongly during the night again. I took the watch until 01h30 when I could not keep my eyes open anymore. Johan took over and I went to sleep. The autopilot had to be reset a few times during his watch. We were pooped around 6h00 with the chart table being wet. Luckily the water was more a splash than an influx into the cabin.
We continued to listen to Richard O'Fill series on 'God, teach us to pray'. This time we listened twice to the elements of an effective prayer: Praise, Confession, Intersession, Petitions, Giving Thanks, Meditation and Commitment. Prayer is to draw us near to God, it is the key to the soul.
The wind gusts up to 33 knots whilst the wind and the waves are very unpleasant. We had water splashing into the galley, luckily not unto the chart table again. The auto bilge pump kept on kicking in. The outlet be transformed into an inlet when we heel with water coming into the bilge. The circle in the pipe is not enough. We need a one way valve to prevent water coming into the bilge.
We kept on checking Ugrip to establish how long the strong winds normally last, as well as the course to set with the minimum days/hours with strong winds. Unfortunately our forecast is a bit outdated. There was no time to connect to internet with all the commosion around Eddie's airline tickets. Hindsite is very good. Perhaps we should have taken the time to study the weather before we left instead of leaving on old data.
Sabbath closing was in faul weather. We were pooped around 22h00 after we let out 3 ropes to slow us down over the 6 meter waves. Johan was totally drenched standing in the companionway. The matrass on the floor (easier to sleep there in bad weather) pillows on the saloon benches, chart table, etc was wet. I also had to dry the galley floor and bilges. We reduced the sail to nothing, close the hatches and washboard and went to sleep. Or at least tried to sleep in a rocking boat with waves that washes over deck and into the cockpit. Ntombi was still running at 5 knots.
We left the flood light on to make us more visible to other ships. Not too sure if this is the reason, bur we had 83 flying fish on the deck and inside the cockpit in the morning. We will definitely not be able to sit in the cockpit at night with so many missiles flying around!
The wiod is a bit calmer in the morning at 20 - 23 knots. The waves is still high, but they died down slightly around 10h00. Johan increased the sail and went back to bed. The sea became much calmer and the wind died down to a mere 10 - 15 kinots. What a pleasant sail it became and the miles to Panama is getting less every minute. This is what makes the trip worth it.
It is strange and unusaul for us to see the stars and the moon with no clouds and wind speed over 30 knots. The SA weather we are used to, would have clouds and/or rain accompanying the wind. The wind was constantly pumpiong at high speed for 2 days and 3 nights.
I realised that my knowledge or rather lack of knoledge of geography caused incorrect information on the blog previously. I commented that we completed our sailing of the Atlantic Ocean when we arrived at Tobago. This was not true. Although we are sailing the Caribbean Sea, it is still part of the Atlantic Ocean.
Fellow sailors misled us in believing that the Caribbean sea is calm and enjoyable. You also read about all the cruising in calm water, palm trees and white beaches, drinking rum out of a cocnut shell with a straw. O boy, our experience is the opposite. The only place where we experienced the advert was Storebay in Tobago and Kralendijk in Bonaire. I would like to come back one day in search of the other jewels of the Caribbean.
When we reached Barranquilla, Colombia, we saw a very big river on the chart plotter, called Rio Magdalena. They used steam boats as transport medium on the river from 1845 until 1961, when the last steamers ceased operation. The Magdalena river flows about 1528 kilometres (949 miles) through the western half of the country. It takes its name from the biblical figure Mary Magdalene. 86% of Colombia's gross domestic product is generated at the drainage basin and 66 % of the population lives on this 24% of the country's area.
During the night we say lightning on the horizon and heard the rambling sound of thunder. On the 3rd night the noise was very disturbing, almost frightening. Johan was pressing the button on the "mik en druk" camera and every time there was a picture of lightning. During the day (day 5) there was no wind and we only accomplished 12 miles and 37 miles for the 24 hour period.
I spend time working out our food supply on board, dividing into weekly "allowances" until end of November when we expect to arrive in New Zealand. We baked bread in the pressure cooker and it was very successful this time round. We finally managed to get the ingredients and the cooking time correct.
We planned to bake one of the tinned Fray Bentos pies bought in St Helena for Eddie's 65 birthday. What a disappointment. Eddie is not on board to share in the feast and the feast turned out not such a great meal as expected. The pie consists of more than 50 % crust and only a few spoons of minced meat. It was the typical "stilte voor die storm".
The wind changed to a southerly and the storm hit us just after 8h00 in the morning. the wind varied again between 22 and 32 knots and squals kept on moving over us. It was interesting to sit outside watching the movement of the ocean. The waves (quite high) rolling from the North East with the wind creating waves of its own from the south, south west. This created a fascinating confused sea. All of this was happening in the area around Cartagena. Cartagena has been an important port on the Caribbean since it was founded in 1533. Gold and Silver were exported to Europe which created an easy target for the pirates. A walled fort therefore grew to protect shipping and sadly the slave trade.
The stortm only lasted for 1 1/2 hours and the wind then died down to a very nice 15 - 20 knots. Unfortunately the wind died down to a mere 7 knots shortly afterwards. The autopilot went into standby due to no wind registered and we started the engine to get us back on track. We agreed to motor until either the wind pick up or the wind change direction - still blowing over our nose.
The wind changed to a northerly at dawn and a north easterly during the night. We sailed or crawled with the pole and second reef main most of the night. We were too scared to take out the full main due to the lighting which indicated a possible storm again.
On the 26th we saw a fin swimming past the boat. It was approx 25 - 30 cm out of the water and the length was approx 700 mm. It was a dark blue to black colour. It is a pity we could not see the fish because it must have been something spectacular.
Johan caught another Tuna. It weighed somewhere between 7 - 9 kilos. On another day a fish broke our line (breaking force of line is 98 pounds). The line was stretched so far out that the whole line were lying on the deck after the break. Nothing was left trailing behind us in the water.
The rest of the sail to Panama was in winds varying between 7 and 11 knots. We were alternating between sailing with the pole and motoring. The night and the last day was spend motoring, even through the squals. It was such a relieve when we went around the corner and approaching Portobelo. We worked out our estimated time of arrival at Colon and decided to sail past Portobelo instead of spending the weekend there. The city was founded in 1597 by a Spanish explorer. Legend has it that Christopher Columbus named the port Ppuerto Bello", meaning "beautiful port" in 1502. It is also said that Francis Drake, who died in 1596 at sea, was buried in a lead coffin near Portobelo bay.
We arrived at Shelter Bay Marina at the Caribbean entrance to the Panama Canal. The marina is located within the Panama Canal breakwater at the North Western corner of Limon Bay. They began operations in 2005 and are well placed to assist canal transits. It was formerly called Fort Sherman, a US military base for many years.
The French sucessfully constructed the Suez Canal and therefore received a conract from Colombia to build a canal in 1878. They unfortunately underestimated the task at hand which started in 1881. The company was bankrumpt in 1990 after 22,000 workers died from yellow fever and malaria and insurmountable construction problems and financial mismanagement.
America, always keen to look after its investments, saw the business opportunity. Construction by America began again on the canal in 1904 and despite desease, lanslides and harsh weather, the world's greatest engineering marvel was completed in only a decade. The first ship sailed through the canal on August, 15, 1914.
Johan walked around the marina and found an old theatre (Fort Sherman Theater) on the grounds. It was used as a movie theatre and for live entertainment. We read about the Presbeterian chaplain and his wife (Army base) who performed/acted regularly in the theatre. It would be interesting to know who else performed in this theatre. Was Charlie Chaplan perhaps one of the performers?