Sunday January 29. Panama

Written by Jack van Ommen on January 29th, 2017

I left Golfito at 13.45 on Monday the 23rd, after being sent “van het kastje naar de muur” to check out. I first went to immigration, they told me to go first to the harbor master who told me to go first to immigration. Since customs was a long back track I decided to clear out with them they sent me back to the harbor master. I also had to spend waiting in the local bank to pay a $20 fee for the coast guard. All agencies were very kind and understanding but the whole process took 2 1/2 hours and lots of bicycle exercise. Thank God for my nifty stainless mount.

Winds were light. On Tuesday I caught a 12 inch blue fin tuna. It is all recorded on video. The sea and wind conditions were absolutely perfect. You will see it whenever I can win my battle with MS Windows 10 versus my USB connections. But on Wednesday the weather changed after rounding Punta Mariato. The winds increased and the seas got meaner. Much is written about rounding Cape Malo. The only place to hide before this cape is Bahia Benao. But this would be an anchoring in the dark and I decided to push on and figured that the winds would be less during the night. Not this time, the wind increased and was on the nose and the waves were steep and close together. There was no way to motor through it. I set the storm jib and took the main down and used the engine to maintain speed. But when I got closer to Cape Malo the electronic charts showed that I was going west instead of north. But when I looked ahead the bow was pointing north. The strong current here, around for knots, was pushing me side ways. I decided to try get away further west from the cape by easing the jib sheets to pick up more boat speed and get into less current. But the cape was disappearing to the east fast and before I knew it I was right on the edge of the commercial traffic lanes going to and from the canal. A steady stream of freighters. I turned back and I ended up closer to the Cape but miles below where I was before. You can see this weird exercise of going in circles on https://share.garmin.com/JackvanOmmen.

One would never expect these kind of current and tide conditions in the tropics. The maximum tidal difference here is 20 feet, if I am not mistaken that is 2 feet more than the Puget Sound. I must have hit it at the worst time. When the morning dawned I realized that I could raise the main with one reef in it. The boat came alive and sliced through the nasty steep waves like a knife through butter, assisted by the engine. I was fixed on the laptop screen and slowly started seeing me gaining some ground. But the waves got nastier, steeper. I would fall of the crests with a slam that felt like hitting concrete. The boat was at a steep heel, tacking up wind. Waves were slamming the bow, when I stuck my face over the dodger I got a snoot full and when I had to go to the fore deck to refasten the genoa I was totally soaked in salt water. The port red navigation light went out, probably because it was more under than above water, I tried to hook up an emergency battery powered light. Did not work but I was totally soaked. Until I found a spot on the stern pulpit.  Always dragging my safety harness tether and headlamp. I slept some on the alarm but was regularly awakened by some unfamiliar sound. Yesterday morning, while trying to grind coffee, a sudden nasty smacker threw me backwards from the galley into the chart table. I jack (punt intended) knifed my body. The back of my head hit hard and my left bun is blue and my left shoulder blade is hurting. But my lower back sustained some injury. The pain is just like when I had a pinched nerve in my lower back, in the sixties. I have Ibuproveno on board and that helps. I became very tired of this continuous sailing on the edge. And I have an additional problem. When I run the engine, cooling water is running into the bilge. I have to continually pump and sponge the bilges. Just the oil is cooled and the oil cooler needs to be replaced. Not that easy to find for an engine that was taken out of marine application, 50 years ago.

David on “Falcon”, guided me in to the Balboa YC when there was no response on thier VHF channel six. We had a drink together. Very interesting sailor, from San Diego. He left yesterday morning for a cruise in the nearby islands. I checked in with the canal administration on Flamenco Island and cleared in with immigration. Ken and Gail who I befriended in Gulfito gave me lots of good information since they spent time here at this YC. I met with the agent they had recommended Eric Galvez. He gave me all the required info for the canal transit. Tomorrow afternoon the boat shall be measured at an anchorage 4 miles back toward the canal entrance, then I get put in line. It might not happen until 10 days from now. I am anxious to get to the Caribbean but have plenty of chores. Most of the sailors here meet in the club bar/restaurant. Food is awful, drinks, internet and company are good. I  require to have 4 line handlers at a $100 each plus food and drink for two days and the latter also for the canal pilot. Lots of cruisers exchange this service on each others’ boats. My problem is that it will be tough to have six bodies on my small boat and to sleep the line handlers for the one night I’ll spend at anchor on the Gatun Lake. A very nice British couple met me afterward who are actually looking to check out the canal while being line handlers  on someone else’s boat. But I discouraged it because of what I just described.  With the canal fees, agent and line handlers I am looking at about $1,750. If my engine would act up and not make the minimum 5 knots and fall behind their schedule I could end up with another $ 800 penalty. That engine has never seen so much use as in the last two weeks. But it just keeps humming. Just for extra security, say a prayer for us.

I took a taxi into the old part of Panama City and went to 9 am mass at the church of O.L. of Merced. This was rebuilt after Henry Morgan the British pirate destroyed and pillaged the church and much of the old city in 1571. Ladies were cooking up a traditional Panamanian soup “Sancocho” with chicken on wood fires in huge cauldrons. I missed the priest’s blessing at 10.30. I wanted to partake in the noon serving of the Sancocho but decided I’d better try to find a fourth replacement charger for the Toshiba laptop, at the Albrook mall. I will go back there tomorrow morning when I really good repair man will bring me one from a store that opens on Monday. He also determined that my USB problems with the mini card readers is that they are no longer working, and not my suspicion of Windows 10. I figure it is the salt air everywhere on the boat. I bought another reader for the GoPro videos and it is (still…) working.

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contrast: old casco viejo and the new skyline

contrast: old casco viejo and the new skyline

O.L. of Merced

O.L. of Merced

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just wanted to brag again and name drop: I met the fastest man on terra firma Jim Neilson, here in the marina.

 

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