Thursday, December 23, 2010

Crossing to the Caribbean

Since we last wrote, my sister Stacy has come and gone after being indoctrinated into our way of life in a big way. When she arrived, the weather had not been perfect for several days and the wind was blowing at 25-28 knots. We had plans to go to the Perlas Islands and she opted to just get it out of the way. The seas were 8 feet in spots, but we averaged 7.5 knots and made the trip in five hours. Sloppy for sure, but wow was it fast! When we arrived, I managed to run over one of our fishing lines and fouled our starboard propeller. With one engine, we were unable to cross a patch of water with a lot of cross current and after re-hoisting the sails had to sail into the anchorage. I spent an hour under the boat cutting away the lines and then we were off to explore the rest of the Perlas in the coming days. All was well until the last three days of her trip when we lost a belt on the starboard engine. I had used our last spare on the port engine before we left, but all is well on a catamaran with two engines right? The new belt on the port engine gave out two hours later and we were left with sails alone. Fortunately, the wind held out and we sailed into the anchorage on Isla del Rey. We sailed to our last stop and then decided to leave with the wind back to Panama City. I had an improper sized belt from another boat on one engine just in case. 15 hours later, after two rain squalls, reefing (reducing) the sails twice, and tacking (changing direction) six times, we arrived back in the anchorage to drop off my sister and troubleshoot my latest engine problem. With everything fixed, and all things considered , the decision was made to cross the Canal into the Caribbean.
It has been a bit of an inauspicious start to our little change of plans. On the day of our scheduled crossing, we had three guests onboard to line handle and picked up two canal advisors at 0545. We were on our way until, for the first time in 20 years, the Panama Canal was closed to ALL traffic for bad weather considerations. It had been raining for several days and all of the spillways were at full open. Debris was littering Gatun Lake and it was determined that navigation would be hazardous. We were placed on the schedule again three days later. Brady went back to the store for fresh food and we hoped this would be the end of it. I called the scheduler to confirm our time and found that we were delayed again for one day. The day finally came and we up-locked into Gatun Lake without incident. We spent the night on the lake with all guests aboard and down-locked the following afternoon in lots of rain. We were finally into El Caribe!...and were met by 30 knots of wind and terrible conditions (inside the breakwater!). The anchorage in front of Club Nautico is large enough for 4-5 boats and we were the 10th to arrive. Not ideal, but the anchor was down and it was time for much needed sleep. This could be the end of our little story, but OH NO. The next night in 30 knots of wind and 3 foot waves entering the anchorage, our anchor slipped for the first time. We were both asleep and if not for hitting the cruise ship channel marker, would have drifted on past leaving about 100 yards for the anchor to re-catch...or not before hitting a container ship or the rocks. We almost needed to rename the boat Ran-aground-parents. The marker did not damage the boat and we were able to motor our anchor free (it did get caught briefly on the buoy). We re-anchored and you can imagine how well I slept for the rest of the night. We had intended to wait for our friend to cross the Canal a few days later, but could not take Colon (pronounce it without the spanish accent and you may BEGIN to get a feel for how nice this place is). Most of the town was built during the canal construction around the early 1900’s and it looks like not much has been touched since. The town looks like the most dangerous place I have been ever. Everyone we have spoken with advised us to take a cab EVERYWHERE or risk being robbed. So, despite visits from cruise ships (?????) you can all safely remove Colon from your list of must see places. We are off to Bocas del Toro for X-mas and I hope to keep the blog updates coming with lots of new stuff. Ta-Ta for now,
El Capitan