Monday, 27 February 2017
A. Replace the Batteries
B. Get Volvo to fix the intermittent stop/start problem on the new engine
Plus we need reprovisioning for the best part of three months.
Having spent time trying to find battery suppliers I took a cab to the north of the city to Casa de las Baterías, where they had a good range in stock. However when I measured up I found that the only suitable ones were too tall for our underfloor battery box. In the end I bought two on sale or return and Mark heroically lugged them, o e I. Each hand, down the long long bridge to the ferry dock. Once back aboard we took out old batteries and tried the new ones, but they were a few mm too tall and the floorboards wouldn't sit back
So on Friday we all set off to search for more batteries and to do a provisioning run. We came back exhausted without batteries but with lots of tinned food and 60litres of milk.
Then I paid for the mooring and we motored down to the free anchorage at La Playita.
Saturday breakfast was amazing because we were under the densest concentrations of sea birds that we've seen for a long time. Huge flocks of pelicans, terms, little gulls (must look them up) were then followed by a black river of cormorants flying low round the headland in a dense stream that kept on and on and on coming. Meanwhile the water was erupting with the great splashes as flight after flight of pelicans suddenly tipped on one wing and hurtled into the murky brown water, chased by gulls and terns anxious for leftovers.
Going ashore we found that the elusive Volvo Penta building was facing the boat (albeit closed till Wednesday pm for Carnaval). The marina had a good chandlery and although they had denied selling batteries when I had called them on Friday, I found three suitable ones hidden away. They said they could get more, so it seems our power problem may be fixable.
Sent from my iPhone
Apologies for any text errors
However I said that we were originally scheduled to transit on Monday at 3pm, and they didn't hear the "originally" and got te painting finished and the boat in the water by 2pm. That gave us time to collect the repaired sails, fill with water, hose off the dust etc. We had also had the help of Pierric Bages, a very helpful French electrician, trying to sort out issues with loss of battery power, and he worked up to the last moment investigating the problem before we left.
We motored over to anchor at The Flats to wait for our adviser/ pilot and by 5pm were rafter up with another yacht and entering the first of the three lock Gatun series. Ahead we had a cargo vessel and a large motor boat. Our team took one pair of lines, while our companion boat took the port side pair. By the time we had reached the top lock it was pitch black, and we motored quickly to the designated mooring buoys. Here we took a chance and used red paint to stencil TIN TIN ROUND THE WORLD onto the faded red buoy, hoping we wouldn't get arrested. However at breakfast it was obvious that no one was likely to spot our red on red graffiti!
The next day got off to a slow start as Omar didn't arrive till about 10:30 and then we only motored at about 5-6 knots all the way, overtaking large vessels that all seemed to have to wait till critical bends in the channel were clear of boats heading north. So it was5pm when we picked up the last available mooring at Balboa Yacht Club, and handed our lines and fenders to the boatman with the required $12. Once we'd got our selves sorted we got ferried ashore by the club boat to the pontoon at the end of a long bridge to the shore. The plastic thatched bar of the Yacht Club soon delivered supper and cold drinks before we headed back to sleep, content that we were safely through this momentous crossing of the continent.
Monday, 20 February 2017
The triple lock up to Gatun Lake is impressive, with 4 meaty locomotives hauling the cargo ship through, and 4 people dealing with our lines. They throw a weighted line across to the boat, where we tie on a 150' mooring line. When we have got to the right spot the dock handlers haul in the morning lines and drop the loop over a bolllard. The boats crews then have a hard time hauling these in to maintain tension while a maelstrom of water is unleashed, filling the lock at about 1 foot per second.
Once through to the lake we were directed to moor to a buoy for the night. Chris produced a good super of roast chicken and pototoes and some welcome beer. Then Mark slept on deck and Chris in the cockpit while Steve Justin and I got berths below. Very hot night !
The following morning different advisers arrived at 06:30 and we set off to motor through the lakes. There is impressive forest cover to the water's edge and little islands from drowned hill tops. We spotted a couple of crocs too.
Once down the far side we were moored outside the Balboa Yacht Club at about 14:00 and went ashore for cold beers and a bite of lunch before our taxi took us and another crew back to Shelter Bay.
Altogether a very useful recce.
Sent from my iPhone
Apologies for any text errors
Friday, 17 February 2017
With that done I informed our agent to go ahead and book our transit for Tuesday 21st February if possible. Then various other things could be scheduled, and we proceeded with lift out a couple of hours later and TinTin was placed on the hard for antifouling. We will live aboard for a few days with a ladder to climb.
At 07:30 there is a radio net for cruisers announcing various activities and allowing people to ask for help with things. Mark announced that he would be available to help any boat through the canal, and got a ready acceptance from Chris on a 35foot boat, who also asked for three more people. So Steve, Justin and I all went along to meet him and our team will now be his requisite four line handlers on Friday and Saturday, leaving Emily to hold the fort and chill by the pool. All good experience before our own transit, now confirmed for Tuesday.
That evening we were all invited to a bring and share BBQ to celebrate someone's birthday, which was a good opportunity to meet people. I brought a bluetooth loudspeaker and added music to the event, playing rock n roll requests for the birthday boy.
It seems that all sorts of nationalities wash up here en route to the Pacific, and some of them end up staying to get things fixed, and then stay on longer and longer. So theres a little long term community running the activities, radio net, buses into town, and so on. We heard of people who had been here for two years, four years, seven years, living on their boats. A girl from Falmouth got out a guitar-ele and sang beautiful funky rap ballads. Someone else had brought a huge pile of chocolate cupcakes. We met Vasiliy and Nelly, who had sailed from Vladivostok, and were on their third circumnavigation, interested in the OVNI as their next boat. Bill and Jeanie were long term residents doing up a cheaply acquired trimaran, and great party organisers. so much so that the marina has hired them to organize the Oyster Rally party to a suitably high standard in the nearby fort.
Another couple have stayed long enough to set up a sail loft, where April uses her sailmaker skills to earn a living for a while. Their derelict building is emblazoned with graffiti of a huge multicoloured Dorado, and a boy playing with a toy yacht. I brought our spray paints and the stencil that Niall had made to put our mark on the building. It turns out that April & Keen encourage yachts to paint their signs there already, so we weren't vandals.
Later a lot of marina children arrived on their way to camp in a derelict church in the jungle, where they had hung hammocks for the night. The marina occupies just a few of the buildings built for a US base, most of which has now been swallowed by dense jungle.
I can see how easy it could be to arrive here, stay a little longer than intended and then find it difficult to leave the little friendly community, to head south into the unknown, from which there can be no return.
Wednesday, 15 February 2017
This morning I met our agent, Erick, and set about trying to get all our paperwork and permits set up to transit the canal. There turns out to be a problem getting the boat officially measured in the marina now and we may have to shift out to the anchorage at The Flats. Then our first chance of a transit could be Sunday or Monday. He organised his driver to pick us up at 13:00 to take us into Colon to deal with Immigration.. Then I took our Gas bottle to be filled, tracked down the boatyard manager, Edwin Chavez, and arranged for the boat to be lifted, pressure washed, and then sandpapered and anti-fouled with the paint we bought in Curaçao. I also arranged to have the boat fumigated, and got an electrician to look at our charging systems which are defying logic. Meanwhile the boat was a hive of activity, with Emily cleaning fridges out, Mark and Justin sorting out our leaky aft locker and the current leak, and Steve trying to get the washing machine to work again.
Then once in the cab I got sailmakers to do a couple of repairs on the Genoa and spinnaker. Our driver took us a King Harry ferry to Colon, having driven through dense jungle. Soaring over the river are gigantic concrete pillars on which a great arc of bridge will cross this waterway. Colon itself was run down, and often derelict, and we visited the port offices and immigration where we were roundly ignored, and grudgingly signed through.
Our visit finished with a trip to El Rey super mercado where we stocked up on stores that were running out.
Little islands sometime had accumulated unusually large groups of boats, probably because a local had set up a decent bar! One or two people had built huts in improbable positions, on a tiny outcrop of coral two inches above the water isolated in the middle of a submerged sand bar.
I altered course between several islets and sailed in a brisk wind up towards Chichimé, where we dropped anchor in a sheltered spot behind a wall of Palm trees. Out to our left were several wrecks perched on the reef - a couple of yacht hulks, and a large white ferry, marked SAN BLAS FERRY in large black letters along its hull! The cruising guide had warned us of this reef, the author having witnesses to a boat full of backpackers being wrecked there.
We went ashore and found several local Guna families in huts, who ignored us, and quite a number of Pnamanian families from the mainland staying in reed huts along the beach. Although there was a rudimentary cafe, no one engaged with us when we tried to buy a drink or asked about getting food. Beautiful Mola cloth work was displayed outside some huts, but although we stopped to look closely at the intricate embroidery we could not attract attention to enquirer the price! The Mola style is very interesting. Layers of different coloured cloth are cut in intricate patterns to expose the different colours, and the edges embroidered.
The following morning we set off early in order to get to Colon before sunset. We rose at 05:30 to breakfast before raising anchor as the first hint of dawn light lit the water and have enough confidence to motor out and miss the reef. It was great sailing along the coastline, dotted with little sugarloaf islands. The wind was much lighter than for the last month, and we put up our colourful Parasailor with its big horizontal orange stripe and made good progress.
Approaching the breakwater to Colon we became aware of what a huge shipping hub this is, with our chart screen covered with icons representing ships. Port control was very busy and organised,a nd we had to wait for three ships to exit before we were allowed in. Thence it was a short trip along inside the breakwater to Shelter Bay where we were welcomed by the manager, John Halley, and Steve Tedbury who had arrived that morning to join the boat for a week.
SHelter Bay is effectively The Marina At The End Of The Universe, as from here there is no return. It is full of boats waiting for permission to enter the canal, and lots of like minded adventurers teetering on the edge of a new beginning.
Saturday, 11 February 2017
In fact, as we've found before the wind files downloaded from PredictWind generally underestimate the wind speed by about 10 knots, and this was soon confirmed as we got away from the influence of the land, as the wind rose to 40-50 knots. We held this wind in an ever rising sea all day and all night. At sunset as we were eating supper in the cockpit a young Brown Booby flew round us and then settled I the rail, balancing precariously against the wild movement of the boat. He seemed unperturbed by four people in close proximity, preened his feathers and stuck his head under his wing, and went to sleep -still wildly balancing by dramatic movements of his tail.
I handed over my watch to Emily, but stayed on for an hour and a half to see that it was alright. However after I'd gone to sleep a tremendous wave crashed over the stern, knocking the bird into the water, and also knocking the horseshoe life buoy over the side, which then jerked the dan-buoy after it, igniting its flashing light. Emily made a brave attempt tore over it. But was too late and it went off into the night flashing away. Shall inform authorities so that no one starts looking for us.
I was on watch again as dawn came, have been sleepless worrying about our approach to the coral reefs of San Blas in the storm. In the event we spotted mountains in the haze before we saw the low palm fringed islands. I set a course through a wide gap in the reefs, and as we passed we could see the 5 meter swells rear up and curl over in a crash of foam on the shallows. We were soon past and motored up to the Cayos Holandés, making our way past strangely named islets ringed with white coral sand, and crowned with tall palm trees. There were ten yachts scattered around the various anchorages, and I made my way up to a long stretch of pale blue shallow water which cruisers have named the Swimming Pool. The water was churned by the unrelenting gale, but the huge force of the incoming swells was completely dissipated on the protecting reef, leaving the water undisturbed. We anchored and found that the water was flowing clear and blue at 1.5 knots as millions of tons of surf flowed calmly across the reef and through the lagoon.
The dinghy was soon in hooked and struggled up wind to a little caricature of a tropical island, almost akin to the tiny world of Le Petit Prince! We were met on the shore by the resident villager who charged us each $3 for landing. Under the palm trees there was a natural close-clipped lawn. the family hut stood near the beach, where the sole inhabitants - husband, wife and three children - lived. We walked round the entire islet in a few minutes, drunk with being on dry land, improbably few inches above the blue lagoon water. Occasionally surges of swell that got through the reef slopped over the grass and outside Palm trees. Amazingly there was an open well of fresh water in the centre of the island. It turns out that this is where the boats bringing back packers come for a break, and there was a rough picnic table and benches set up. As a brilliant touch two poles had been thrust into a sandbank just awash, which held a volleyball net for games splashing about in six inches of water.
I sat and sketched the view across the lagoon while the others relaxed in different ways - Emily sunbathing on the sand and Justin in a hammock.
Back on board, relaxing after our rough night sail, Emily produced a fantastic Sri Lankan curry with all sorts of side dishes which we enjoyed in the cockpit while a tropical downpour lashed the sunset.
Hot and thirsty, we walked into the Getsemani quarter which was a delight. Much less gentrified and with a great sense of colour and old colonial buildings. We lunched in a little shady courtyard on arepa ,which is a small circular pitta bread, filled with fish in coconut and chilli sauce
Immediately afterwards I got my chance for a haircut, as a large hand painted sign announced BARBER UNDER A TREE and pointed into a dusty yard. Sure enough a barber was at work on a client, under a tree whose trunk and branches had been painted pink. I got a very short back and sides and a beard trim that involved rather slot of cut throats razor work. Mark followed me for a haircut too. The last time we both went to the barber together might have been at school in Saffron Walden, or perhaps earlier in Malawi
Friday, 10 February 2017
With so much wind we are,Ives a good three hours early at Cartagena, and having called the Port Authorities got permission to enter via the narrow pass in Boca Grande. Across this wide entrance a defensive underwater wall had been built to stop pirate raids, after Sir Francis Drake sailed his fleet in and held the city to ransom.
with Port Control keeping in close touch we were authorised to anchor near the Club Nautico de Cartagena amongst many other yachts.
I went ashore and got hold of an agent to handle the customs and immigration formalities as required. The two I had emailed before hadn't answered!
The following morning we were cleared in, and by midday were free to all go ashore. We walked the mile or so to the old City in sweltering heat, eventually collapsing under a cafe sunshade in the Plaza San Domingo, where I sketched the bronze sculpture of a reclining lady of very ample proportions, a colourfully dressed palanquero, or fruit seller, and an elegant Colombian lady. Later at another cafe the waitress saw my sketch, and said "That's my grandmother, Angélica Maria!" I think she meant the fruit seller, but now given her own proportions I wonder whether she meant the redoing nude!
The streets of Cartagena are a wonderful maze of colonial architecture, with overhanging wooden balconies, huge double doors studded with metal bosses that allowed the master to ride his horse in, and small inset slave entrance portals for daily business. The colours are vibrant ochres, reds yellows, blues and greens, but subtle and elegant rather than the rather less sophisticated Caribbean colours we have seen on other islands.
We met up with Kate Kendon, her sister Deb and friend Sue, for a walking tour of the city which was fun and then explored until we found a much recommended restaurant, La Mulata, which served a simple but exciting menu of fish. I had ceviche de Rubalo, which is raw fish cubes steeped in lime juice. Very good.
We said farewell to Kate et al as they are off to Santa Marta next. Quite amazing to meet our aunt in Cartagena!
Thursday, 9 February 2017
Then, very hot and thirsty, we walked across the causeway into Getsemane, where we found a section of the city that had not all been improved, painted, gentrified and boutiques. This proved most enjoyable, and we turned into a dark doorway. Beyond which a little green courtyard beckoned with tables. We ordered Arepas stuffed with various things. An arepa is a 4" circular pitta bread, opened to receive a filling - I had fish in coconut and chilli.
Then I said that I needed a haircut, and stepping outside we saw a sign pointing through a gate into a dusty yard, and there, under a tree was a barber shaving a young man. The tree trunk was painted pink, and teh house walls beyond were a orange ochre, so it was a colorful sight. We settled ourselves in a ring of plastic chairs to wait our turn, and eventually Mark and I had our long locks shorn, and my beard trimmed. All very atmospheric and memorable!
We wandered and expired for the rest of the day, and then went back to the marina where I settled up with David and retrieved our passports and international Zarpe document that authorises our departure from Colombia.
We also enjoyed meeting Paul, Jane and Lily Thornton and their energetic dog, Skye, and learned of their 4 years touring Mediterranean and Caribbean, aiming to now head north with a view to visiting Guatemala.
We did some shopping to finish up up our Colombian pesos, and then headed back to Tin Tin for supper. With the wind picking up we should now have a fast trip south to San Blas islands, where we will pass a coupe,of days, and then on to Colon on the 13th to meet Steve Tecbury, who is coming to help us through the canal to the Pacific.
Sunday, 5 February 2017
As we closed the coast it slowly emerged from the haze to show massive mountains which rise to 5000 meters and are often snow capped. Reading the pilot information I selected a sheltered bay that would allow us to anchor and we were soon out of the crashing waves and motoring serenely up a fjord like bay. Violent winds gusting over the mountains struck the water surface sending whirling plumes of spray across the bay. Steep slopes rose either side coloured vivid ochre orange and with grey green scrub tinged purple. Tall olive green cacti punctuate the slopes. Ahead a little collection of huts seemed to be more sophisticated than the reed shelters at our last stop, and a thatched verandah at the water's edge suggested a well thought out bar or restaurant. We edged out of the squalls into still air and dropped anchor close to the beach. It was very peaceful with no one about, until a motor launch from the National Park came and told us that there was no anchoring allowed he
re, and indicated that we should go to Taganga further on.
Back out to sea and in such rough conditions, I didn't fancy the short cut inner passage past Isla Aguja, where currents and waves produce "el choque choque" or "bump bump" according to locals. So around the outer island we went, surprised to see small motor boats fishing with lines from poles each side, rather dwarfed by the turbulent water. As we turned back in towards Taganga the wind outdid its earlier efforts by blowing steadily at 45-55 knots. However we were soon into the bay where the a sleepy fishing village had turned into a vibrant tourist party centre with speedboats whizzing to and fro full of life-jacketed tourists. The beaches were packed with colourful humanity in vibrant swimwear, while swimmers, pedalos, canoes and paddle boards ventured off the beach. We passed a coastguard speedboat and nervously gave them a wave. Our documents state that we are going to Cartagena, so we may be allowed to drop anchor for a bit on the way there. Once anchored the coast
guard came over to tell us we were in the wrong place. Off we went as directed, and chose another spot. This time two policemen on the headland waved us away to a further beach, where finally we settled just offshore from a pulsing Latin beach band.
There we stayed enjoying the sights and sounds, swimming and relaxing. Various canoes and boats came and said Hola! Later, whilst I was trying to sketch the wonderful orange and purple of the mountains, Emily and Justin were hailed by a Canadian lady swimming by. Turns out Leslie regularly spends the winter in a beachfront house here. They invited her to come aboard for a rest and had a good chat, learning lots of interesting information about the area.
Later Leslie came by again in a boat and, having learned that we couldn't set foot ashore because we're in quarantine until Cartagena, brought us a delicious takeaway supper from a good restaurant ashore. Such a kind and generous act! She couldn't stay, but her timing was perfect for supper and we sat down to enjoy beautifully cooked fish, beef and peppers, salad and a spaghetti carbonara, topped off by "non GM fruit"! Wonderful! Thank you Leslie!
We were thrilled to get news that Alice & Matt's son has been born today safely. Being close inshore we had good phone links to get photos of the little lad, and to call Alice to congratulate her. Very excited PapaPaul, Aunty Em and Great Uncle Mark on board!
The wind continues to howl down the valley, and the forecast is for more tomorrow. We will set sail at midnight aiming to reach the mouth of the Magdalena River just after dawn, in order to cross its outflow in the light, as it is reputed to wash down logs and other debris.
Then it's full steam ahead for Cartagena, aiming to be there before darkness falls at 18:00.
Saturday, 4 February 2017
After that the wind dies again and we had a peaceful night sailing arriving off Cabo de la Vela at about 10:30. We turned in between the off lying islet and the headland, in a wind that had increase to 40 knots again. The desolate ochre desert landscape came down to a long sweep of beach around a vast bay behind the headland. Little villages with waterside huts were clustered along the shore with canoes drawn up on the beach. But for the square metal tower of the lighthouse and a glimpse of a Toyota pickup it could have been just as the Spanish conquistador saw it in 1499, when he named it because he though the pale rock was a distant sail.
We motored along the bay in the howling wind, and watched a canoe ahead of us paddling shorewards laying out nets. Then we spotted plastic water bottles he and there and realised that these Guaraji tribespeople had strung nets out from the shore. As we made our way carefully along we eventually picked up one of these round the rudders and dropped anchor to sort it out. Finally we came to anchor at the north end of the bay in 3 metres of water, but still a good half mile out. Incongruously a flock of kite-surfers were here, racing back and forth with their colourful kites. A fishing boat full of curious young men came out to see us and hung alongside making conversation. Then we went ashore to explore, but Mark elected to stay onboard because he was concerned about our illegal landing and the thought of years in a Colombian jail!.
Ashore we hauled up the dinghy and strolled along the beach where a few young people were watching the kite surfers race past. The front was lined with huts made of split reed or bamboo, some with hammocks strung in rows, where presumably the kite-surfers sleep. Once in amongst the huts we found little cafe shacks and lots of kite surfing schools. We stopped in a shady cafe where a couple of Argentineans were playing cards, and with Emily's best Spanish managed to order Fish for lunch and a banana and passion fruit smoothie.
We were soon engulfed in a tide of children selling woven goods followed shortly by their mothers. Grandmothers and aunties. Since we only had dollars, buying things wasn't easy, but the Argentinean couple kindly offered to change some for us.
Our fish, when it eventually arrived was excellent red snapper.
Back on board we set sail again hoping to make another stop tomorrow evening before reaching Cartagena. Big winds and big seas as I write, but Emily produced a great sweet potato tagine for supper.
Friday, 3 February 2017
We can be followed at www.whatthefocque.blogspot.co.uk where there is also a sidebar link to a chart with our track. If you sign up as a follower it will email you every annoying episode that I write :-) but for the chart you have to go to the website. There's a link to Mark's blog as well with loads of his excellent pictures.
Thursday, 2 February 2017
Spanish Water was a surprise, and very different from what I had expected. A wide expanse of water bounded by low wooded hills interspersed with deep Inlets. The surprise, however, was the extent of high quality housing development around the bay, with charming water front cottages and little docks, and red roofs stretching up over the lower slopes. Various Marinas were up different arms of the lake, but once anchored we could find nowhere that welcomed us and provided clearing in facilities. We stopped briefly s
At the Curacao Yacht Club and found that we would have to drive into the city of Willemstad. Needing fresh supplies we walked a mile or so up hill and down dale to the Van Thiel area to find a supermarket, but also found a coastal beach resort to see out the sunset.
On the first of February we caught a bus into Willemstad, relieved to be routed through everyday homes rather than the glittering well todo holiday villas. So much variety of cottages, shacks and more substantial houses, decorated with intense colours and considerable style.
The city was amazingly colourful with grand Dutch buildings lining the main port entrance painted in vivid yellow, blue, red and green. The bus dropped us by the floating market full of old wooden Venezuelan craft selling vegetables and fish. I then spent an hour in Customs before emerging to find the others in a waterfront cafe watching the ship traffic, and the amazing floating pontoon bridge that swung open to admit huge cruise liners, coastguard cutters, tugs, cargo vessels and even yachts. Two small foot ferries shuttled back and forth whenever the bridge swung open.
We then all trekked along the other side of the port to immigration and port authority which took us till 2:30, by which was needing a cold drink and lunch!
I then spent a productive afternoon in a shady courtyard using wifi to arrange an agent to transit Panama, a berth in Shelter Bay marina and clean off and anti fouling, and to scan and send all the necessary documents.
The bus took us back at sunset, and still needing more time to send documents we enjoyed supper in a lakeside cafe before retiring to TinTin