Sunday, February 27, 2011

Panama City

Ellida's canal transit was fine. Our pilots were not so friendly as those we had for Kuheli, also not so skilled and we were driven hard sideways into the canal wall by our attached catamaran at one stage, but that's what the tires are for and no damage was done.
We are anchored at Playita, waiting for the shops to open on Manday to buy more fuel and oil filters. The good thing about the wait is that good winds are coming on Wednesday, so we will have a better run to Galapagos.

That is the Shelter Bay Port Captain with the iguana he keeps in his brief case! And the picture of the canal bank is actually a pic of a large caiman.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Panama Canal Transit info

For those planning to go through the canal.

You CAN do everything yourself, I did.
You do NOT need a cruising permit nor visas (at least as Australians and French) if you are just transiting. The port captain said I needed one and that an agent would get it for me. I sat quietly looking friendly but worried, he went for a walk, then issued my Zarpe. It was $24, the office lady was angry as it should be $13, but a cruising permit plus agent would be over $200, so I'm ahead at the moment!
We actually stopped in the middle of San Blas risking a fine, but cleared in at Shelter Bay and cleared out to Galapagos. We will stop a night or two in Balboa, so there is some risk of trouble for not having a zarpe to Balboa, but it saves a lot of time and a few hundred dollars.

If you do it yourself;
ring admeasurers office 4432293 and ask nicely if you can fax through your documents for a transit. Then fax them (free from Shelter Bay marina office, but the marina is NOT free) on 4432313 a cover letter with boat name, colour, email, phone number, position (ie, your dock number, shelter bay or anchorage if you try to do it that way). A copy of your registration, crew list and all passports. (Photocopier is next to fax in marina office, also free)
Ring them back straight away to confirm and they tell you when the admeasurer comes. (You should start this process ASAP, after measuring you can wait for some time before booking transit if you want)
He will come and pretend to measure your boat, ask a lot of questions about how comfortable the toilet seat is and give you a lot of papers.
Take one of them to Citibank (free marina bus in the morning then $2 taxi to Citibank) and hand over $1500 in cash (for our boat).
Ring the same day after 1800 to schedule a date on 2724202. They asked which day I wanted and gave me a slot that day.

Now, you need some tires, 4 lines and 4 line-handlers.
We got tires from another boat coming the other way.
We hired lines from Tito, 64635009 ($60 + 15 delivery and pickup).
We helped another boat through, they will help us.
Marina office can get tires and lines, a little more expensive though.

The boat we helped used an agent, $300 covers tires, lines and all paperwork, plus the agent pays the deposit of about $900. I will get mine back if we cause no trouble, but… after all the bank fees I think I have saved only $100. Still I enjoyed the process, people are always helpful. (always agree on taxi fare before you get in, we only had one honest one)

Now the canal…
easy and fun. There are just a few moments when things could go wrong.
Make sure your best line handler is on the bow rope, you don't want the bow getting away. Simply keep the line under control as you go up. There will be quite some turbulence, but it's fun!! Watch out for the prop wash from the ship in front.

Going down, make sure you don't lock the line to the cleat, you need to be able to feed it out! There is no strength needed, just common sense.
Ask to go through the banana cut if your advisor doesn't already plan to go that way.
Hope this helps.
OH, and to get back from Panama City, I got a taxi from Balboa Yacht club, you can get dropped off at the jetty, to Allbrook Mall Bus station. Find the bus to Colon, it goes often. $2.50, 1 1/2 hours. If you return the same day you'll need to get a taxi to marina, I paid 15, or bus to the canal entrance, $1 and walk 10k. Return the following morning and you can get the free marina bus from the shopping centre.

More Info for Cruisers… for all engine filters in Panama City;
Dilupa, Vía Fernandez de Cordoba, 2298766 email
They had all my filters and, for example, the primary fuel, $25 in Italy, was $4.70 (I got 10, should have got more!). They supply oil, and told me they can supply diesel as well, and next time to just call them, they will deliver saving the taxi fare. Not sure how diesel delivery would work, but that's what they said.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Canal

We jumped on a Swedish boat and helped them do their canal transit, now they will help us through. The trip is wonderful, a water and jungle wilderness with panamax ships! We saw a couple of large caiman, that's an alligator relative, and quite a few toucans.
I came back to Ellida alone, while the crew had a day in Panama City, and ended up walking in one of the parts of Colon that I'm not supposed to. Everyone got off the bus so I did too! It was very colourful, small shops and market, a lot of people around. I did notice that there was a lot of surprise to see me… They quickly bundled me into a taxi and out of there, so again, the people of Panama are mostly delightful, helpful and friendly. The taxi driver was also shocked at where I had been, but there were police with guns and caring citizens. In the taxi, on the other hand, were just myself and a suicidal maniac, taking all the blind corners on the wrong side. All I wanted for my birthday was to arrive alive at the marina, and in the end, I got what I wanted.
Checking out of Panama has me worried. The Swedes were very stressed when the Port Captain was 2 hours late to clear them out. The problem is that he has to hitch-hike to work so one can't be sure when he will arrive!
There will be no photos for a while now, Steve has had his bag, with camera, stolen in Panama City and we won't have internet for some time!
Galapagos in 10 or 14 days, then Marquesas 3 or 4 weeks after that.
I should be in touch with Anne via HF radio and sailmail most days.
So Canal, Pacific, Equator! A lot to look forward to.
Just had my last Shelter Bay jungle stroll and saw not only a few more unbelievable butterflies, but the other common monkey I hadn't seen yet, capuchin, and the icing on the cake, a good long look at a Neque, or Agouti. No wonder people find our Australian wildlife strange, these things don't look anything like a kangaroo!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Armani Guanayu Cut

Today I went on a big jungle walk in San Lorenzo National Park. The first few k's were on a lonely bitumen road. We keep reading and being told that Colon is very dangerous, one must not walk anywhere. OK, Colon is on the other side of the bay, but any cars driving by probably come from there… on the other hand we heard that the crime problem in Colon is actually just gangs of teenagers. So I'm determined not to worry, but when a very sick car clunk clunks past me, and I smile and wave, and the only open window frames an emphatically un-friendly face I do start to wonder if I should go bush with the crocodiles and snakes… Eventually I do head off on a dirt track, it's a great jungle walk, amazing butterflies and birds, incredible bird songs like nothing I've heard before so having a great time. Returning, I'm nearly out of the park and stop to dehusk my coconut on one of the bolts in concrete the USA left behind. Clunk, clunk, clunk… the decrepit car pulls up right next to my american bolt and I turn to a mass of un-smiling black faces. The biggest un-smiling face, the driver says "Armani guanayu cut". I've made no effort at all to learn Spanish but brain is in overdrive trying to translate. "Armani guanayu cut" he repeats. It clicks and the car-full of happy black faces and my white one explode with laughter. "No iguanas, but I caught one coconut!" and off they clunk.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Shelter Bay (Colon)

Having arrived before office hours, we dropped anchor outside Shelter Bay and waited for a few hours for the marina staff to tow us in. This was easy and fun and now we are parked in the rather expensive marina surrounded by jungle full of howler monkeys, toucans and butterflies! I spent a few days in the engine room cleaning gunk, pumping oil, spraying WD40 and had her starting but not running which drove me fair mad. Greg from a neighbouring boat put in a little time and felt that some water had been forced up valve guide/s from the cylinder and was causing some sticking, so we kept spraying his super duper wd40 type spray and eventually it paid off. Motor is now running perfectly, oil and filters changed a few times and we're ready to move on. Now to organise the canal transit.

Marina is next to some nice jungle, so with motor sorted I finally went for a walk. This area was a US military base, there are roads through the jungle, strange concrete ruins covered in vines and moss. Like a movie set…
There was a rusty sign saying "Live Explosives, Stay On " so when I saw a troop of howler moneys I "stayed on" over into the jungle till under their trees. They didn't move away but one did defecate in my general direction, which apparently is their way of showing displeasure. He can't have been completely displeased as I have read they can be quite accurate when they wish. Sorry about the photo, if you want close ups watch David Attenborough.

Steve has been trying to post a parcel home since Martinique and has been horrified at the lack of an Australian Post Office in every port. Yesterday his disbelief attained new heights when it was explained to him that he would have to go to Panama City to post a parcel! Colon, Panama's second largest city does not have such possibilities! I think this is just wonderful, Steve is unforgiving.
Listened to the radio all day and it's accordion, accordion, accordion. Infectious happy music. I'm infected and happy.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011


Steve has suggested that I acknowledge photos…. Well I have been a bit lazy with my camera. If someone else takes a snap I just don't bother, so here goes.
From the beginning of the blog, most photos are Anne or Sabine's work, then there are a bunch from Aniko Daroczi. Dimitri didn't take any!! Sabine Pabel took some of the Turkey photos. When Andy arrived I really liked the different view from his camera and eye, so most photos from that time are his. From Martinique onward most photos are from Steve's cameras. Marcel took one or two of them, but with Steve's camera…
you can see more of Steve's photos here;

Monday, February 14, 2011

San Blas to Colon

It was great to lift the anchor and sail off without using the motor, just like in the olden days… although a little scary as she preferred not to turn from the beach to open water…. good to practise anyway. We had a splendid sail, some of it inside the cays, so flat water and coconut islands all around. Also shipwrecks all around. Not very relaxing sailing through coral reefs. Again we had somewhat more than forecast, so we arrived before planned. There were probably only about fifty big ships anchored outside but they are so lit up, it looked like a city. We had a slight argument with a big red ship about where we should go once through the breakwater entrance, but he had a really loud horn, so after a respectable pause, we gybed and let him think he was the winner.

Things we ate

From the top...
Green Plantain fritters.
Some shellfish Marcel found on the reef. It was a shame to eat something so beautiful, probably won't go hunting them again, but it was very very nice.

Montain, a fruit in a pod. Delicious sweet pulp around the seeds.

Cocoa from Martinique with the cinnamon from Dominica and sugar from Venezuela to brew it with.

Shellfish minus shell.

Rum cask and stuff.

Aniko's coffee pot in use.

Yellow tail snapper, another fish and a spotted mackeral.

Then there's the Gaitero (bagpiper) cider (I bought a case, what could I do?) and the fantastic Martinique mix of french mustard and some hot chili idea.

Sunday, February 13, 2011


Here are the molas, you can read about them here

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Snug Harbour

Snug Harbour

We were not actually supposed to be here. A boat must clear into Panama, gain a cruising permit, then a permit to cruise in the semi-autonomous San Blas, then you can enter this area. This can only be done at either end of the San Blas region which would add some days of travel. Marcel was really keen to come to San Blas so when my friend 'the draft dodger', in Curaçao, suggested we just drop into the middle, where the Kuna indians won't care about the permits, then sail direct to Colon to clear in, I thought it a good risk to take. I wasn't prepared though, after the crowded sophistication of Europe, and the post-colonial madness of the Caribbean, for what we found here. The landscape is magnificent, rugged jungle rising up in a steamy mess, coral islands covered in coconut groves, magnificent bird life, some big herons or cranes or storks…, black hawks, and the Kuna indians, paddling and sailing their dugout canoes. Their life seems to be still very traditional, at least there was no mobile phone signal here!
The first visitor was Delion, who came offering 'Kuna bread'. This was a french stick, but just one inch thick and a foot long. And stale… he wanted one dollar for it, but we had no dollars, having just come from Europe. Eventually something was traded for the 'Kuna bread' and Marcel traded some beads and jewellery for fruit which was to arrive tomorrow. It didn't. However…. Delion did spend some time with us over the next day, sharing sprouted coconut on 'his' island, taking coffee with Steve, and the finale…. I kept joking to my crew that I wanted to ask him how much for his canoe, how much for his spear. Delion wants to know how much everything we have costs, and how much coconuts are in Australia, but I still didn't feel too good about asking the value of his most important (as I saw it) possessions. So, Steve says to me 'do you want to ask about the spear' and I shyly say 'no, no'. But Delion has many english words and immediately begins the process of selling us the spear!! Negotiations took about an hour. Steve was making huge efforts bringing out (remember we have no cash, or at least that was what I believed) valuable items like fishing lures and pocket knives, but Delion was not so impressed. Then Marcel brought out some of the old clothes he didn't want any more and things began to hot up! Delion liked the jacket and the shorts, but it was still not quite enough. Did we have a tin of meat? I rummaged around the shelves and found two appalling tins of fish from previous owners…. no I thought. Then I saw it!!! Andy had provisioned us a glass jar of 'sausages'! He must have been dying to eat them on the Atlantic, but it was fish fish fish, and thank the heavens for that. Delion liked the look of the jar of sausages and once assured that they were actually meat (perhaps we should feel a little guilty on that point?) the deal was done. Spear was ours! It's a great little spear, a good length for coral reefs, very heavy wood, very strong, surgical rubber tube for a sling, and extremely sturdy prongs with a new idea on me. I think the prongs have been gone over with thin welding wire to make a lot of small ridges. These hold the fish or lobster from sliding off. Can't wait to actually use it! It's more or less the same thing we made as teenagers in Taroona, just shorter and stronger. And the only kids with such good rubber in those days had mums who worked in the hospital!
Delion still hadn't brought the fruit for the beads, and wanted us to stay longer so he could 'honour us' with a lot of fruit, but with salt water in the motor we had to move on. As dark fell another canoe arrived, Delion's son in law. He didn't have Delion's language skills but where Delion's molas were rough and ugly, son in law's were finely stitched and beautiful designs. We couldn't work out why Steve was spending so much time looking at them when we had no money….. but he knew what he was up to. There WAS money all along, just in big notes. Steve chose some wonderful designs to take back to our loved ones. Word must have got out as another canoe came at first light to collect a $10 fee for anchoring, for which we were given a real paper receipt.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Curaçao to San Blas, Panama

Curaçao to San Blas, Panama

Forecast was for mostly 20kn, but can't expect them to cover five days perfectly, so there were no hard feelings for the weathermen as we scooted along in 30 - 35kn, with 3 - 4m seas. Ellida was quite happy with conditions and we covered the distance with just our genoa, sailing at over 6kn in front of the wind.
Fishing was good, we ate tuna all the way and anchored with mackerel in the fridge. We arrived just off the San Blas coast a little early and had to tread water for a few hours till daylight, then made our way in between the reefs to the magical Snug Harbour. As we sailed around the last reef and started the motor to take us into the shallows it didn't. Start. For a long time. So I did all the usual tricks and finally it ran and took us to shelter but a bit too deep for complete comfort, then stopped. After a bit of poking around I found there was water in the motor and at that I became quite miserable, as one would! I did what I could to get it going again, but realised we needed civilisation, and that was a days sail away.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Leaving Curaçao

by the time we paid the marina bill, checked out at customs and immigration it was a bit late for the plan, which was to head to the north of the island and find a mooring. Steve had been up on the bus and with his usual optimism had seen moorings suitable for big boats. I didn't like the idea of arriving on an unknown shore in the dark and would have preferred to take immediate advantage of the weather window we were offered and get on the way to Panama, taking an extra day in the islands. However my crew made it clear that they were not happy with where I'd taken them so far, and if I didn't go up to West Point they would be even un-happier.. I was also under a different colour of pressure from Marcel. Our marina on Abbatoirweg had put on a free BBQ for staff and yachties on our last night and Marcel had become blotto, appallingly drunk, annoying nearly everyone but himself but doing no real harm. He took 36 hours of sleep to recover and it was probably not wise to head straight out to sea with him so I set course up the coast, vainly hoping to spot a yacht or two as an indicator of a safe and good place to park. It is forbidden to anchor most places to protect the coral. We arrived at West Point after dark and Steve eventually spotted the place he had in mind. I edged us toward the shore using reflected shore light to pick clear paths. The only real danger here is of embarrassment. The wind in Curaçao blows at 20kn day and night from the same direction, there is no chance of being caught by the weather, and there are no offshore dangers, the bottom simply drops straight down, sometimes after a narrow shelf. However, I do hate embarrassment and we could potentially run aground, catch a mooring line around our prop. We're also going to an unknown mooring so we could damage it or find ourselves being evicted as the owner returns. I was most unhappy but continued edging in till Steve found his buoy in his torch beam, picked it up and we were tied on. To something. With a not too thick rope.
I went down and cooked a delicious trahanas soup, and as I picked the red and green bits out of Steve's bowl so he'd eat his dinner, (I'm being unfair, which I do enjoy in moderation, I bought a lot of dry Spanish chorizo for the Atlantic, just in case, but we ate fish the whole way, so now I'm trying to use it up, but both crew would prefer not to eat it), Marcel having decided he would eat his sausage tonight, I swore I would never ever put the boat in a situation I was not uncomfortable with again… unless of course, there was the smell of mutiny in the air… What would Bligh have done?
Next morning we jumped in to look at our 'mooring' and found a little lightweight sand anchor wedged in a crack in a rock with one foot of light chain! Oh well, we stayed put, didn't break it, didn't get asked to move and Steve is happy. He caught a Yellow Tail Snapper and had an underwater encounter with a Wahoo. I swam to the bottom to check if a string had a lure attached. Turned out to be a wire, but it's always worth being on the same level as the coral and fish so I was glad to be there. Noticed it took some time to get back to the surface and later thought to measure the depth. Eleven meters! Eclipsing my Previous Personal Best of two and a half! Amazing what warm clear water and a bit of practise can do.
We ate the snapper for lunch, let go the buoy, set the genoa and set off at 7kn for Panama, the land of my dreams, where everything smells of bananas sagt die Tigerente.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Moving on again..

We've spent a week here in Curaçao mostly just working on the boat, but today we leave. Heading for Snug Harbour in the San Blas islands, should take 5 days, then on to Colon to organise the Panama canal transit. Here is what they say about Colon;

Colon is Panama's second largest city and the Caribbean entrance to the Panama Canal. From the Lonely Planet Guide: "Colon is a dangerous slum, and if you don't have a pressing reason to come here, do yourself a favour and bypass it. Crime is a serious problem. It is not only possible but likely that you will get mugged, even in broad daylight, and even if you take precaution. If you have to go somewhere in Colón, take a taxi; don't walk."


The week has seen a few breakthroughs. We finally have the HF radio working properly. The ground AND the antenna were both kaput. Ground system we fixed in Martinique and I built a new antenna here. Just a length of plastic coated stainless safety rail, Marcel shot up the mast again and tied it on. Simple, cheap and it WORKS! Now we can get weather fax and email at sea... we hope.
Also did a bush mechanic job on the wind-vane self steering and have it mounted back on it's rudder, so that's another thing to play with. Hope to get it functioning for the long Pacific crossing. Spent a few days inside the engine room looking for gen-set faults, don't think I found one. Marcel moved the nav lights so we won't have bright reflections from the stays in our eyes.
So we're leaving with a happy boat!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

They Fixed My Bottom

That's the motto of Curaçao Marine. I still love it here, the crew still complain and want to go to nature….
We hired a car today and went in search of beauty and neoprene (for a rudder seal). Found a nice dive shop who will bring some neoprene in a day or so and gave us good directions. So off to 'Tug Boat', a dive site just near Spanish Water. It was a great snorkel, incredible drop off just off the shore, huge variety of fish. We also saw lots and lots of lizards, and every ten minutes, a new bird we'd never seen before! The afternoon was not so much fun, kept trying to drive to spots that looked nice on the map, but they were resorts or plantations and couldn't be accessed, so we mostly just drove through fairly suburban territory. Marcel scaled a coconut palm, a boat motored past called 'Miss Ann', saw a Dutch gabled shipping container, bought 'Dragon' stout from Jamaica, since 1920!