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Friday, July 11, 2014

July 11, 2014-Papagayo Update


The Papagayos are behind us!

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Judy enjoys a nice sail.


We rode at anchor in San Juan Del Sur, in Nicaragua, where the Papagayos were blowing, for a week, and watched the weather patterns. After noticing that the winds were strongest from midnight to noon and that in the afternoon and evening each day they got lighter, and that the strongest area where they blew was over Popoyo, a surf town about 20 miles west from San Juan Del Sur, we resolved to leave on an afternoon, hoping on that day to get past Popoyo during the evening lull, and we waited for the best day to leave.

By Monday the breeze was down a little and we were ready so at 4:30 we set out for Corinto, expecting to get there by about 7:00 in the morning and, based on our strategy, hoping for minimal problems. Even with a good plan in mind we were nervous; it was still gustier than we wished for and the big mainsail we were carrying scared us a little.

But we went.

The sailing, however, was good. We reefed the main and set a small jib and had winds mostly in the low twenties, though at times higher, and they came from a good angle; a broad reach. With the good wind and some long surfs from the SW swell we were hitting 8's and 9's and at 8:00PM we flew past Popoyo. By midnight we were well west of the worst area and the wind got lighter, which we expected, and in the morning it died and we motored into Corinto right on schedule.

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Wings at Paso Caballos

Corinto

Getting into Corinto, Nicaragua wasn't totally uneventful; the navy chased us down after we passed their base and told us to "Go Back! Go Back!" and to stop at the main port and clear into the country, which we had already done in San Juan Del Sur, but there is no resisting men in a speedboat in combat boots and armed with AK47's, so we turned around. But that was nothing, really, the officials in town agreed we were legal, and sent us back on our route, again past the navy base, but this time they let us go, to Paso Caballos, where we anchored under the watchful eye of the San Cristobal volcano.

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Corinto, Nicaragua

The next day we walked in the small town of Corinto on brick paved streets, where traffic was mostly bicycles and a few cars, listening to music of a different culture coming out of the open doorways and seeing people in white aprons busy sweeping the streets; we were greeted with a friendly smile and incomprehensible Spanish by everyone we met. We found it delightful; Corinto is a great town. Totally absent any sign of tourism or tourists. Too bad most cruisers skip Corinto; we loved it. It's a seacoast town and seafood is a staple, so we had ceviche for lunch at the restaurante la playa and each of us had a fried whole Red Snapper at the upscale place on the estuary for dinner. The restaurant staff insisted that they drive us home (back to the boat) rather than let us walk, ("Peligroso" , they said; dangerous, but it didn't seem that way to us, however we accepted the ride).

Maybe we should have stayed at Corinto, but we wanted to keep moving, so the next day we sailed to Puesto Del Sol, which is only 15 miles, to a "fancy marina" but found a slightly run down, expensive, and mostly empty marina built by and run by an expat American, with high prices and not much to do but spend money in their bar and restaurant. Even the pool is too small to swim in. Oh well, tomorrow we'll check out the nearby village, and on Saturday maybe we'll take a 2 hour chicken bus ride to the nearest town and get some more money so we have enough to check out of the country.

We'll give you a report.

Click here for more photos.

Fred & Judy, SV Wings, Nicaragua

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Sunday, July 06, 2014

July 6, 2014-Papagayo Winds


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Judy Sailing

In the winter time, wherever there are gaps in the mountainous spine of Central America, east winds blow through from the Caribbean Sea across Central America and into the Pacific. Around here they are called "Papagayos" and they can be fierce, as can the "Tehuantepeckers" in the Gulf of Tehuantepec and northerlies in the Bay of Panama. They are all known, collectively, as the "Gap Winds".

We're finding they can happen in the summertime too.

A combination of high pressure in Texas and some low pressure systems on the Pacific side have got the Papagayos pumping. We are hunkered down in a small bay in Nicaragua off a town called San Juan del Sur, where there exists some protection but not much, happy to be here and waiting for the gap winds to subside so we can move north.

We had been in the northern part of Costa Rica, a rugged, remote, and unpopulated area that was stunningly beautiful with blue water sailing, wide open bays surrounded by forested mountains, and no signs of other boats, civilization, or even humanity itself. It was fantastic, but tense at times. The Papagayos were often gusty and wild and the water was white capped and dark. Squalls came up suddenly. We often found ourselves looking at the horizon ahead, and beating into it for all we were worth to make it to shelter just before it got really bad, hoping the sails would hold together and the anchorage we’d picked was a good one, which luckily they all were.

That was when the weather was nice.

But the forecasts we were receiving told us the weather wasn’t going to stay nice; the Papagayo was going to howl. So we dashed across the Golfo Santa Elena and into Nicaragua, and just got anchored before the blast of wind hit.

So here we are: Nicaragua, San Juan del Sur. We been here a few days and have enjoyed the funky town, the restaurants, the stores, and the bar where we have been watching the soccer matches, but we're looking at our weather windows, trying to find a shot at crossing the Gulf of Papagayo, (which gives those winds their name) on our next leg north. We have to say we are a bit nervous about it, mainly due to not having a good cruising mainsail; the racing main is huge and only has one reef point. Even reefed it is huge. If we get caught out with that sail we will have a tough time reducing sail area. We might have to take it down completely, not much fun in high winds. Well, whatever happens, we'll deal with it.

Meanwhile, as long as we're here, we'll enjoy Nicaragua and we'll just let the Papagayo winds blow.

Click here for more photos.

Fred & Judy, SV Wings, Nicaragua

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Sunday, June 29, 2014

June 29, 2014-Up the Mast and a Party in Paradise

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Fred at the Mast Head

I made a new windex, sort of primitive, works a little bit, and went up the mast to install it. Got some shots, click here. Maybe it will serve until we get a new one; we can order one as soon as we get to some place where we'll stay long enough to receive a shipment, probably Chiapas, Mexico. We'll also order a new mainsail from Hong Kong and have it delivered to the same port.

We have been watching the soccer world cup in the town of Playas De Cocos, where we are anchored. Today Costa Rica won the their third game and they move up to the quarter finals. The bar, the town, the whole country probably, went ballistic with this win. We enjoyed it too, but the party looked to last all night, might have been fun, but when they started to turn over cars we went home.

Ticos Celebrate

Tomorrow we will check out of Costa Rica and prepare to depart for Nicaragua.

Click here to see some more photos.

Fred & Judy, SV Wings, Costa Rica

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Wednesday, June 25, 2014

June 24, 2014-How We Blew Up the mainsail

By 8:00 PM we were hauling. The wind was 24 in a squall and still building and the boat was broad reaching at 7.5 knots. We had the full main up, maybe more than we needed but the wind came up quickly and at the moment we seemed OK and we were happy for the speed. Except that the autopilot alarm kept going off as the computer complained that it could not keep the boat from rounding up. I went back and took the helm. One good hard pull on the tiller and the boat swerved down and we came back onto the course.

Then the boat jibed; a sudden, unplanned, un-wanted, accidental jibe. Not my first but surely my most disastrous. The preventer kept the boom from coming across and that probably saved the rig, but the main tore right up the middle. It was a hole big enough to fly a drone through.

Judy came up, “What’s going on?”

“We jibed. Stay clear of stuff, I’m going to jibe back. The main is torn.”

But I couldn’t jibe back. The back-winded main, that part of it which remained whole, held the boat pinned down. I looked at the swirls of water in the glare of our stern light and saw that we were not making any forward motion. We were on our side and just sliding off to leeward, the rudder useless.

I tied off the tiller and together we eased the preventer and centered the main and got some way on, then tacked around, but it was slow, and took two tries, the main flogging constantly and that first tear was just the start; suddenly the mainsail simply ripped to shreds. It was an awesome sight.

“Look at the main.” I said.

Judy didn’t want to. Anyhow, she knew it was gone.

Somewhere in this mess the windex departed, so that was gone too.

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Torn Dacron

We got the sail down, pieces of it all over the rig and over the side and tangled up in the runners and reefing lines. It took a couple of hours to get them untangled and cleaned up and it was difficult work with the boat rolling mercilessly in the pouring rain and darkness. We kept our harnesses clipped on and worked with hand tools and flashlights; the engine running slowly ahead and the autopilot steering again.

Now the shreds of the main are rolled into a ball and stacked on the quarter deck, a reminder to the skipper of his errors, and we have motored on to Playa del Cocos without having any further incident, but the emotional scars will not heal as quickly. This incident has left us shaken. We’ve heard stories of disasters like this happening to other boats but we’ve avoided them for all these years. Maybe we thought we were invincible. But it happens quickly and when it does there is no going back to the time before; you can’t unwind it, you just have to deal with it. Some of the memories of that squall will stick to us for a while, like looking aloft and seeing the entire mainsail flying in the wind like so many white streamers and like me hanging on to the boom for dear life while trying to undo the shackles on the clew, Judy holding a flashlight and urging me to hold tight as I swung from one side of the boat to the other like a rag doll.

And the total disorientation I felt when trying to figure out which way to safely turn the boat on that black night in that gusting and shifting wind. I kept looking up where the windex should be to see the wind direction but it wasn’t there and all the numbers on the B&G basically meant nothing. I remember one moment when I finally got a mental image of it: “OK, the wind is 165, we are heading 30, so I’ve got it; I have to turn right to tack.” Sounds easy now but then, when our course up till then had been 290 and the wind 110, it took time to make that new mental image. I was glad the shoreline was miles away; at least we had sea room.

So now we have to buy a new main. It’s no surprise; the cloth was old and getting brittle and just earlier that day I saw that some stitches on a previous patch were opening up new holes. I just hoped it would make it to Mexico but it didn’t. We put on the racing main so we can sail again, and we’re looking for a windex or some sort of substitute for wind direction aloft, and we have to start thinking about where and how we’ll get another Dacron main. But that can wait for Mexico. Right now we are going to get ready for another leg:

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Fred

We’ll leave for Nicaragua in a few days.

Fred & Judy, SV Wings, Costa Rica

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Sunday, June 22, 2014

June 21, 2014-Back to Bahia Ballena


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Gulf of Nicoya

It’s twenty seven miles from Puntarenas to Bahia Ballena, less if you could go in a straight line but you can’t, Isla Negritos is in the way, and besides, on most days this time of year it’s a beat, and it was for us today, so you have to tack; you wind up going twenty seven miles.

That’s a long day if the wind is light, which it was. Longer if the bottom is foul, which it also was, and the boat is heavy with fuel and water, and which definitely we were.

But we made it. Even after waiting to leave until the wind filled in at 11:00 we got to Bahia Ballena by 5:30, well before dark.

There was a long starboard tack, a lift as the wind clocked to the west in the afternoon. We sailed easy, letting the wind vane steer, and we drowsed in the cockpit, taking turns watching for ships, never touching the sheets or the helm.

When we tacked to port for the leg into Ballena, Judy spotted the other sailboat.

“There is a sailboat,” she said, “behind us.”

I put the binoculars on it. A sloop, close hauled on starboard, with a tall mast and flat sails, looking good. They had been behind us all right, on a course to weather of ours, inside on the long lifted tack I thought, with some irony. I wondered how long they’d been tracking us, if they were, probably for a while. They could have been back there with an eye on us for a long time. We hadn’t seen them. Asleep at the switch. Lulled by the lazy day. We hadn’t seen a sailboat out here sailing in a couple of months so we’d become complacent. We let them sneak up on us.

We crossed ahead; there was that, at least.

The other boat tacked soon after we did and fell into an easy course to leeward. For an hour we sailed on parallel courses. I expected to leave them in our wake but it didn’t happen; they hung in there, neither gaining nor losing.

After a while I got irritated by their presence. I started to trim more aggressively. I cracked off a little and eased the sheets. I got on the helm. The speed went up, and we did not fall down on them. So it helped; we started to move, even starting to work up to weather of them. We were sailing better. I guess it takes some competition to make you sail better.

The wind continued to shift to the west. On this tack it was a knock. The other boat was benefiting by being on the outside of a knock, but by now it didn’t matter; the wind was lightening and they had sagged down quite a bit.

When it came time to tack they rolled up their headsail and turned on the motor. We sailed on to Bahia Ballena. They peeled off to the Tortugas.

I got out a beer.

Puntarenas.

Puntarenas is a province, not just a town. We took buses and traveled around a bit, to Jaco and Quepos. We saw some of the sights of Puntarenas, the province. We visited Manuel Antonio Park and saw sloths and howler monkeys, and a few hundred college kids from the US down here on break. We also saw a crocodile cruising just off the popular swimming beach in the park and a few dozen would be bathers gathered on the shore. The people and the croc eyed each other; a stand off. Once we took a long dingy ride up the estuary behind the marina and there were hundreds of fishing boats tied to small wharves and piers, and there were crocodiles.

In fact crocs are common in Costa Rica; we saw them often, besides when we were driving around in the dingy, but that part was the un-nerving bit since they are as big as our zodiac and have been known to be aggressive towards boats. After that we put the dingy away and stuck to tours we could take by bus.

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Fred watching the game

And we joined with a lot of enthusiastic Ticos to watch Costa Rica win its first two matches in the Soccer World Cup. That was fun.

Now, however, we have departed Puntarenas.

Next stop, Plays Cocos, Coco beach

Click here for images of Puntarenas

Click here for photos in town.

Fred & Judy, SV Wings, Bahia Ballena

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Saturday, June 07, 2014

June 5, 2014-San Jose, Costa Rica, and Poas Volcano

We parked the car and walked up the trail towards Costa Rica's Poas Volcano. We realized right away that we didn't need the extra clothing we wore; the path was easy and the exertion didn't make us sweat but the sun did; it was warm even at 8000 feet of altitude.

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Poas Volcano

We reached the viewpoint at rim of the volcano and the stunning view of the caldera with the green sulphuric lake and the rising columns of steam made us forget the sun and the sweat and the climbing up there. We didn't say much, just looked at the lava field 900 feet below us and stared. We were spellbound.

The wind blew one of the columns of steam our way and the sulphur made us cough and brought us back to reality. We could hardly breathe. We'd been warned that sometimes the park is closed due to the sulphuric gas, but then the wind instantly blew it away again.

The wind also dried the sweat on our bodies and we were cool.

A burst of steam came up to the surface of the lake and threw a black cloud into the air. A boulder splashed back into the green lake. This was what we came for; to be close to an active volcano, our first since Tanna Island in Vanuatu in the year 2002, and it was fantastic to be here. We continued to stare silently at awesome beauty of the volcano and felt its power and we knew we were lucky to see it; often Poas is obscured by clouds and fog. They warned us of that too, when we came in through the park gates, but like I said, we were lucky.

We watched the constantly changing scene for an hour.

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In the Cloud Forest

Then we returned to the trail and hiked another mile, still higher, through the cloud forest. There was another crater, the beautiful, cold, green Botos Lake, in the park, and we wanted to see it. The air was thin and we breathed deeply and we trudged up the trail with measured steps towards the 9000 foot level but the air was also cold and clean smelling and again the sweat dried on our skin leaving the welcome coolness and there was a tingle from our muscles and that metallic taste in our mouths from hard breathing. It all felt good and we enjoyed the climb.

Botos Lake was attractive but the crater's vents are not active and while pretty and surrounded by a forest of ferns and pine trees, we spent little time there. We were ready to go down, first to the car and then down the mountain road to San Jose, the capital of Costa Rica, where we'd come for a three day visit, leaving Wings in the marina at Puntarenas.

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San Jose, Costa Rica

This was our trip: three days in San Jose and its surrounds, including one day going up to the volcano and back. It was a good trip. We liked San Jose; though it was far below the summit of the Poas volcano it's elevation is still nearly 4000ft and San Jose, too, is cool compared to Puntarenas. The city is pleasant and filled with walking streets, museums, and small shops. In the suburbs we found malls and fast food restaurants but the city center is older and historic and we enjoyed strolling around with our cameras. We stayed in a small hotel and had a great meal at an Argentine Steak house nearby where the waiter kept our glasses filled with excellent Malbec and then walked us home in the rain when we didn't have our own umbrellas.

On the bus back to Puntarenas, as we came down from the central valley, we felt the growing heaviness of the atmosphere and the heat and humidity at sea level, but even though we enjoyed the coolness of San Jose, it was good to get back to Wings. After all, it's home.

Click here for more photos.

Fred & Judy, SV Wings, Puntarenas

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Saturday, May 31, 2014

May 31, 2014-No Hay Problema!


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Puerto Azul

Well, we've exhausted everyone's ideas about what could be wrong with Wing's motor and we've found nothing.

We don't know what caused it to apparently and mysteriously consume eight quarts of oil.

Further, the problem is no longer evident; we're not losing any oil now, and we've put about five hours of operation on it without any loss.

So we are left with three choices:
1. We had a serious problem which we still have since nothing was fixed, but it's in remission.
2. We had a serious problem which fixed itself.
3. We never had a problem, we just thought we did.

Frankly I am leaning toward door number three, which is the same view as my mechanic here in Puntarenas, William Martinez, who seems to be very competent and thorough, and is highly recommended by several sources. William doesn't know what to think, he can't find anything wrong and can't say anything but good stuff about what he sees in our motor, although he's puzzled by the oil loss I reported. He also brought two other mechanics by to consult on the problem, and has taken the oil-cooler and fuel pump to test labs for examination. They came back certified sound.

Possibly he doubts my report about the oil loss in the first place but it's hard to argue with the empty oil containers which we kept and anyhow, he's too polite to say so.

So now what?

Well, Puerto Azul, the marina, is pretty nice, and the daily rate for ten days, which, as a condition for entry, we prepaid, covers 30 days at the monthly rate. So, effectively, we have paid in advance for a month if we want to take it.

We might. There is some touring we can do in Costa Rica, and life is pretty relaxed on the river in Puntarenas, so staying would be easy.

We'll let you know.

Oh, by the way, we replaced the water pump impeller, which we knew was going out although it still pumped heaps of water, and the engine never ran hot in the slightest, and upon taking it out, were surprised at how shot it was. Check out the last photo here.

Fred & Judy, SV Wings, Puntarenas

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Sunday, May 25, 2014

May 25, 2014-Sailing to Puntarenas

Clouds over Puntarenas

The motor’s broken and we need a mechanic. Puntarenas should have one, probably several; we need to go there and try to get our broken motor fixed.

The distance from Ballena Bay to Puntarenas is 25 miles but there is a good anchorage about 18 miles away and we think we can break the trip into two days. On Friday we will leave.

Friday:

At sunup we are watching the bay for any sign of wind. At 10:00 there are a few ripples on the water, then a light breeze. It’s only four knots of wind but we can sail this. We immediately weigh anchor.

The breeze is an easterly, so it’s upwind, and we set the main and genoa and haul sheets out of the bay. We expect to have to tack to get around the heads but a lift is showing and we clear into the open water on one tack.

Now the wind frees and fills a little and we ease sheets and crack off to northeast. The speeds are good. We’re seeing six knots of wind and Wings is going better than 5 knots as we pass Isla Tortugas.

The wind vane steers and we concentrate on trimming the sails.

At noon, looking at the chart and the time, we decide to go for Puntarenas, now only 16 miles away.

This is not a race but we sail like we are racing. Trim, steer, watch the tides, follow the shifts. We’ve done this before; we know how to make a fast passage when we need to. The wind has shifted further around to the south and even though Puntarenas is north we are reaching towards the NE to keep the apparent wind on the beam. The computer program says to jibe when the mark bears 335, which we do, and the wind comes around to the beam on port side and we hold our speed.

And Wings performs. Even in five to six knots of wind we can make 4-5 knots of speed. In 11 knots of wind we are over six, almost 7.

At 3:15 PM we are a mile out and approaching the shallows off of Puntarenas. We drop the jib.

Thirty minutes later we come head to wind behind the point and drop the main; we’re in the harbor at Puntarenas.

It’s been a good sail today. Tomorrow, at high tide, we’ll go into the marina.

Saturday:

At an hour before high tide we weigh and motor slowly up the river the three miles to the marina.

We’ve topped the oil in the engine and we think we can run the motor that long.

Judy navigates us and though there’s less than 1 foot under our keel at times, she keeps us off; we don’t touch. Luck is still with us.

At the marina they are expecting us and they help us into the slip, which is tricky in the strong river current.

The mechanic says the motor sounds and looks fine; he says the problem has to be the oil cooler, can’t be anything else. He’ll come back Monday with tools to take the oil cooler off and into a shop for a pressure test. After he leaves we shrug; what can we do?

Meanwhile we watch the depth of the water in the slip; it’s the deepest berth they have but as the tide goes out we sink into the mud. I rock the boat to see if we are aground: if the boat moves we’re floating.

It does.

We decide the bottom is pretty soft. We’re OK.

So, here we are: the motor's still broken, but we're in a marina with a swimming pool, bar and restaurant, and we can float at low tide. We’ve got the mechanic going on the motor, and things could be worse. We’re fairly positive.

And we’ll keep you updated.

Fred & Judy, SV Wings, Puntarenas


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Thursday, May 22, 2014

May 22, 2014-Mechanical Opportunities Change our Plans


wingssail images-fredrick roswold
Sailing Back

Today I got up early to work on the engine. I was looking forward to it just like I was yesterday morning when I got up early to rebuild the backstay cylinder which blew out the day before. I hate to go to bed with a broken boat but evenings are no times to start big repair projects. Working after dark on deck doesn’t usually bode well however the fix went OK in the early daylight yesterday and I felt good about it all day.

Today I had another opportunity. While motoring out of Ballena Bay yesterday afternoon with our newly repaired backstay the oil pressure alarm started chirping. New Problem! Low oil pressure! Killed the engine, checked the oil. Low! Added oil. Restarted. Looked OK…for an hour. Then the oil pressure dropped again. We’re losing oil. It’s not in the bilge, and there is no smoke, so we surmised it was the oil cooler.

When it happened we were 10 miles out of port with 110 miles to go the next port and that is not a city or anything, just another bay in Costa Rica. Couldn't run the engine, the wind was light and we knew it would get lighter overnight. What to do? No other choice, set sail, turn back. We did. The wind was light but at least there was wind. We needed to get back to the anchorage. We turned downwind.

It was 3:00 PM. We figured we had two hours of breeze. Up went the kite. This time it was for real; we needed it.

Set on starboard and heated it up a bit to keep going in the light stuff. Watched the headings in the shifting wind and jibed when we could just lay the harbor entrance. Reached in on port just off the rocks and then hardened up. When we couldn't sail any higher, dropped the chute and sailed in the rest of the way under main. Judy did all the physical stuff while I conned the boat. She is good. In the last wisps of the dying breeze, we came head to wind and dropped the hook when we coasted to a stop. We used the main to back down to set the anchor.

Miller time; job well done.

Today however, it didn't go as well as with the backstay yesterday. I took off the oil cooler and bypassed it but all I verified is that it is not the source of the loss of engine oil. I guess it was an opportunity. Now what? We now think it is an exhaust valve seal.

Time for a mechanic.

We hitched a ride to the nearest town and bought 4 gallons of oil. With that and a little wind we probably can get to Puntarenas and maybe a mechanic.

That wasn't the plan, but that's what we need to do, so we'll do it.

Click here for more shots of us sailing back to Ballena.

Fred & Judy, SV Wings, Costa Rica

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Monday, May 19, 2014

May 19, 2014-Sailing the Monsoon Trough

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Sailing the Monsoon Trough

Yesterday we departed Golfito and set sail in a nice southerly breeze. We pointed the boat out of the Golfo Dulce and sailed close hauled towards the open Pacific Ocean. Soon we felt the lift of the long Pacific swells. The ensign on our back stay stood proudly. It was good to be under sail.

At Punta Matapalo we took a hitch into the beach and caught the lift around the cape, then held starboard tack well out to sea, looking for the right angle back to the north. The wind shifted, a knock which we didn’t expect, and we tacked on that shift and found we could sail on port right up the coast. It was a glorious sail.

To sail north along this coast, however, we must deal with the monsoon trough. The rainy season is in full swing and with the coming of this season the ITCZ has moved north. A monsoon trough is fully established over the Pacific Coast of Central America. There is a daily pattern which we have come to know well: Mornings are calm and sunny and you have to motor if you want to get anywhere in the mornings but at least the sky is blue and it is pleasant. Then by noon the sky becomes overcast and a wind fills from the south. From then until sunset you have very nice sailing. By evening the wind dies and you are on the motor again and the squalls come, bringing rain and lightning, torrential rain, and heavy lightning. Nights are dirty. We don’t like being at sea in those conditions but the harbors are far apart; we must keep going through the night, and we do, but we hang on with gritted teeth through the squalls, hoping to avoid a lighting strike, and water drips everywhere, inside the boat and out, as the motor drones onward.

Our next stop is in Northern Costa Rica, Ballena Bay, and here, if it is pleasant, we will stop a while and work on the leaks which have appeared in last few weeks. We’d like to keep the boat dry inside, which it has been in the past, even during the heavy rains. We are hoping, however, to get away from the monsoon trough, and away from the heavy rains and the hours of motoring. Perhaps when we reach the Papagayo, between Costa Rica and Nicaragua, the pattern will change. There, and further north, across the Gulf of Tehuantepec, we might see northerlies blowing offshore during the night. But that brings its own issues. The winds over the Papagayo, gap winds, as they are called, often blow in the 20’s and 30’s. The Tehuantepeckers, as the heavy winds across Gulf of Tehuantepec are lovingly known, can blow even more fiercely. They can be strong enough to keep you in port for weeks at a time, although that happens less frequently during the rainy season.

And then there are the hurricanes. The rainy season is also hurricane season. This part of the coast is generally free of hurricanes, but it is not impossible to imagine one causing chaos in southern Mexico, or even bringing rain and strong winds here in Central America. We watch the weather, and when we get to Chiapas, the southern-most port in Mexico, we think we’ll hunker down for the rest of the season.

So that is the plan: get to Chiapas and hunker down. Right now, on the way to Ballena, we are having another nice sail, under spinnaker, and we push most of this weather stuff into the back of our minds and focus on the sailing.

Click here for more photos.

Fred & Judy, SV Wings, Costa Rica

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Wednesday, May 14, 2014

May 14. 2015-Golofito is no Boca Chica


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Golfito

REVISION: I think my previous version of this story gave a worse picture of Golfito than is fair. In fact, we liked Golfito

We’ve sailed from Boca Chica, in Panama, to Golfito, in Costa Rica. Golfito is another great harbor with fine protection which is second to none, being surrounded by mountains and rain forests. And it is beautiful, even in the rain (which pours down like clockwork every afternoon). Maybe especially in the rain: sitting under an awning on Wings, in the steady rain, looking at the still boats anchored in front of the town and the mists rising from the forests, reminds us of places on Vancouver Island.

But even with the beauty of the surroundings, a great anchorage, and lots of welcome rain, (welcome because it fills our water tanks), I’ve been kinda grumpy here. Could it be the mud? Everything is muddy. Could it be the rain, which we love and need? Every time we get into the dingy we find it totally wet and half full of water. I operate the dingy standing up, with water up to my ankles, holding an umbrella.

Mostly, I guess, it’s the poor Internet and Costa Rica’s high prices which put me in a bad mood. Costa Rica uses an unusual frequency band for its high speed Internet, none of our devices can pick it up, and the WiFi is unreliable, so we haven’t had much Internet. Then there are the prices. The prices are high here for everything, particularly food, fuel, and transportation. Today we took a bus down the Pan American highway and back to buy groceries in Panama and the savings made it worthwhile. Marina prices in Costa Rica are so high it seems downright unfriendly. We don’t know why everything costs more in Costa Rica but it does.

But despite all this, Golfito has been a good stop. At least our water tanks are full. The Cruiser’s Clubhouse at LandSea Marina is where we hang out to get out of the rain has been fun and Tim and Katie, the people who run it, are helpful and nice. THEIR prices are good, so overall the Cruiser’s Clubhouse is a net positive.

Next door the Banana Marina has a great happy hour. We’ve been there a few times for $2 rum.

And we’ve spent hours wandering up and down the main street in town looking for bargains and finding some, if not many. Oh, did I mention the “Free Zone”? Down in the rainy end of town (yes, one end of Golfito gets much more rain dumped on it than the rest of Golfito) there is a shopping area, all fenced off, where, if you go with your passport in hand, you can buy goods which are duty free, which brings the prices back down to almost, say, anywhere in Panama. But they don’t have groceries.

Well, this is all part of cruising, and even if it sounds like I am complaining, I’m really not. Whatever we find when we come to a new place, like Costa Rica, it is still very much a voyage of discovery for us. And what we learn when we come to a new place, well, we couldn’t really learn it any other way.

But by the weekend we’ll be underway.

Click here for more Costa Rica photos.

Fred & Judy, SV Wings, Golfito

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May 5, 2014-Chillin’ in Boca Chica

wingssail images-fredrick roswold
Boca Chica

We are incredibly content in Boca Chica.

We’ve been here one week. We love it. Nothing much happens in Boca Chica but our life is good. We get up late, we do lazy boat projects. And we chill out. That’s it.

The thing is that it’s peaceful here. It’s quiet; very quiet. We hear birds. We hear the monkeys on the nearby island. Except for the birds and the monkeys, there’s no sound. We love the quiet.

The water is calm. There is hardly a wave. It is an inlet of the ocean but it could be a river. The water around us just swirls past the boat, lazy like. Once in a while a fish surfaces and leaves a circle in the water. Even when one of the sports fishing boats from the resort goes by their wakes seem somehow subdued and we don’t much feel them or hear their engines.

So our boat sits with a peaceful stillness all day and that encourages a calmness of the mind.

It is not just us. Ashore, life appears to be at a standstill. The trees are motionless. Sometimes a cow comes down to the shore and moos. There are some big houses. Their lawn lights blink on at 6:30 PM and in the morning they go off again. That’s the limit of the activity we see. There is a town, a village really. In the village people move at that slow pace of the third world. They hardly walk. We saw six guys waiting for the bus one morning. They sat on the swing set in the playfield next to the bus stop. After an hour, when the bus didn’t come, they got up and walked to a nearby bar. We waited another hour. Then the bus came. We boarded the bus but the local guys stayed in the bar. I guess their plans changed.

I went in to town again today and at the pier a man was in the water cleaning the bottom of his Panga. It was anchored, floating a few yards away from the pier, which is really just a wall.

He had a scraper in his hand. He had a face mask. I had to go around his Panga to get to the pier. He looked at me to see if I knew that he was in the water. We made eye contact. Then he returned to his task. I tied up my dinghy and scrambled up the wall and went up the hill for some bread and ice. The store was open. Often it is not. There is no sign on the store to tell me the hours it is open and the neighbors are no help, the lady next door just shrugged her shoulders when I asked her about the opening hours of the store. But today the store is open. I picked up some bread and asked about ice. No Ice. Where can I buy ice? Shrug of shoulders and a burst of Spanish which I don’t follow. I just stand there. Then she motions across the street. OK. I buy my bread, and a beer, and then I go across the street and buy three bags of ice from the blue house on the corner. While I wait for the man inside to get me the ice a man on the porch talks to me. I see from his eyes he is blind, but when I stick out my hand he reaches for it. His hand is boney but strong. The ice is $.75.

I go back to the dingy and the man scraping his boat is still there. He looks at me again. I nod to him and I motor around him giving him a wide berth. He returns to his task.

You know, in fact, this place doesn’t have much to recommend it. But despite the shortcomings, we are fine here. It is serene.

Fred & Judy, SV Wings, Boca Chica, Panama

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Sunday, May 04, 2014

May 3, 2014-Sailing to Boca Chica


wingssail images-fredrick roswold
Sailing

We departed Panama’s Las Perlas islands before lunch and in a nice south easterly set our course out of the Gulf of Panama bound for the Gulf of Chiriquri far to the west.

The Azuero Peninsula lay in the way. To get around it we had to clear three headlands: Punta Malo, then Morro de Puercos, and finally Punta Mariato. These three outcrops on Azuero Peninsula were reputed to be difficult and the forecast was for SW winds, on the nose, not the SE breeze we currently enjoyed.

So we expected the wind to switch around and our course would become a beat.

Well, we had plenty of time and the winds didn’t look to be getting stronger, so, if beat it was to be, we’d just beat, and off we went, close hauled on port tack, sailing at six and a half knots into the slowly clocking wind, sailing silently, each keeping our thoughts to ourselves as we wondered what night would actually bring.

But we were glad to be on the move. The season has changed and it was time to get going, maybe even a bit late. Our days in the Las Perlas were mostly overcast and grey and there were fierce thunderstorms and lightning each night. The anchorages which offered great protection in northerly winds were rolly in the swells from the south now that the northerlies were gone.

And there were the bugs! The rainy season brought bugs. Every night thousands of flying ants descended on us, determined to find a way in past our bug screens and far too many succeeded. We filled the trash cans with their bodies. Each morning we found hundreds more dead or dying on our decks. Sweeping them all off was a daily chore.

And our gecko was no help! Gecko? Yes, we have a gecko on board. He just appeared one day but he has not been out there eating bugs like we hoped he’d be. Instead he lurks behind the coffee cups.

Well, bugs, geckos, SW winds, and other adventures will probably keep us entertained as we work our way out of Panama and toward Costa Rica and the other central American countries and finally to Mexico, our destination this season.

Probably it will even be fun.

Next day

Well, that was a pipe dream, that we’d have a gentle beat around Azuero. Instead the wind died completely, the rain came in buckets, and we were surrounded by lightning. We motored miserably through the night.

Same story the next night: after a nice sail during the daylight hours, at night we had rain, lightning, (heaps of lightning), no wind, and tide rips. We motored again.

Finally, soggy and tired of the sound of the motor, we arrived in Boca Chica. Things immediately got better. The anchorage is quiet, the gecko has learned to eat bugs, and our water tanks are full (even if our fuel tanks are not) and we have friends here.

I quess we’ll go to town and do some shopping, and maybe try out the local bar scene before we head back out into the Gulf for more motoring, continuing on our way north.

Click here to see a few images, including our gecko.

Fred & Judy (and gecko), SV Wings, Panama

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Monday, April 21, 2014

April 21, 2014-Wind Howling all Night in Las Perlas

Boats Near Punto Chame, South of Panama City

The French single-hander came over in his dingy.

"This is a good place" he said, "much better than last night on the flats by Point Chame, where it blew the dogs off the chains all night; I could hardly sleep."

That was four hours ago. I wondered what the old man thought now; it was howling in the little bay where we'd set the hook for the night, and I could see the his anchor light bobbing ahead of us.

Even closer in he was still getting it.

At eight PM the flag's cracking and slapping in the wind got too annoying, we took it down. Thirty minutes later we struck the awning too.

Now, however, we were secured for heavy weather. You know it's rough when you have to do that in a harbor. But we've been here before: in some lonely anchorage where the wind howls all night. If you want to sleep you need to take everything down and clean up the boat. Clear the decks and tie everything . The wind driven chop still gives you some movement, of course, and you can hear the wind in the rig, but you don't have to worry about some bit of canvas getting loose and shredding itself to death.

Yesterday we got out of Panama City and ended up here. It could be a frying pan and fire sort of story, but all in all, it's better here. At least it's nature which is slamming us, not the wakes of roaring shore boats speeding through the anchorage, and we also know that we'll wake up in the morning to a clean smell and a clean boat, not the soot and dust covered decks from the filthy city air which blew down on us every night anchored at La Playita.

But we enjoyed Panama City, rough and dirty anchorage or not. The city was interesting and stunningly beautiful, and as we got to know it we found a lot to like. We began to feel at home in the different districts, on the freeways and the busy streets, we got to know the bus routes and how to deal with taxi drivers and we felt comfortable in the neighborhoods and we found where to shop, where to go for a haircut, a special boat part or a cold beer. In short, as we explored Panama we started to make it our own. It must have been time to leave. So we did.

We don't know in what city we'll live next; that's what we're off now to find out. For the next couple of months we'll cruise along the Central American coast and see what we find. Mexico is in our future, but we don't know how soon. We're not sure how much Internet we'll have so you may not hear from us as often as when we have been in a city like Panama, but don't worry, we'll be back.

Fred & Judy, SV Wings, Las Perlas Islands

PS, We rented a car and took a short trip before checking out of Panama, to El Valle de Anton, up in the mountains where it is cooler and scenic. You can check out the photos here.

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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

April 16, 2014-Do you know where your dingy is tonight?


wingssail images-fredrick roswold
Dingy Up

We hang the dingy up at night on the port side of Wings right outside of the head. When the dingy is hanging there I can see the top of the motor out the bathroom window and it gives me a good feeling; I know my dingy is safe and sound, tucked away peacefully, right where it should be.

Some other cruisers have had their dingys stolen this year and you have to take care. A real no-no is to leave the dingy floating in the water tied by a rope to your yacht. This is an invitation. Someone comes silently paddling by in the middle of the night and one quick slice with a machete and you wake up in the morning without a dingy.

Costa Rica seems to be bad for dingy theft. One cruising couple we met told us that they had their dingy ON DECK and locked in Costa Rica and it was still stolen while they slept. OK, I have my doubts about that one. They sleep in the forepeak and the dingy would have been stowed right over their heads. Probably even the hatch was open. They would have to have been sound sleepers and the thieves really silent to get away with that without waking up the couple.

We are headed to Costa Rica. We just bought new locks. Our dingy will be hanging where it belongs and locked with strong locks to the boat. But still, when I get up in the morning and stumble to the head, the first thing I will do is glance out the window to see if the top of my Mercury motor is right where it belongs.

Merc in view

Fred & Judy, SV Wings, Panama

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Saturday, April 05, 2014

April 5, 2014-Tsunami Warning

Panama City

Tsunami Warning

The call came in on the radio at 8:30pm: “An 8.2 earthquake occurred off the coast of Chile and there is a tsunami warning for Chile, Peru, Ecuador, and PANAMA! It could arrive here in three hours!”

Whoa! What was that?

Whenever there is talk of a tsunami cruisers tend to listen up. Here was someone talking about a possible tsunami in Panama. We increased the volume on the radio but the information was third-hand and no details were provided. A quick internet search got us to the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center and sure enough, the earthquake was confirmed and the tsunami warning was real. By now the chatter on the radio had increased to a fever pitch as more and more boats got wind of the warning and came up on the local channel to find out was happening. Others simply started preparing to get underway because no-one wants to get caught close to shore in a tsunami. Around the harbor deck lights were on and crews were on deck securing their vessels to go to sea.

A lot of scenarios go through your head. We especially recalled what happened to cruisers in SE Asia in 2004, when several boats were lost and even entire marinas were wiped out, and how many thousands of lives were lost when the waves came ashore without any warning on Sumatra and Thailand. Could we be faced with one of those? At least this time we have some advance notification.

A closer look at the predictions on the web site showed far less severe waves coming our way than what hit Sumatra in 2004. In fact, while it predicted 6’ tsunami for Chile, it only warned of 1.7’ waves for Peru, halfway between ourselves and the earthquake epicenter. Maybe by the time it reached Panama it would be insignificant. We decided to prepare the boat but not to get underway until we had an update at 10:30. Even then we’d have over an hour to get away from shore if the timings were correct.

Then Balboa Signal, the official Panama Control center for the Pacific side, came on the radio and told cruisers that “Leaving the harbor was not recommended.”

A confusing choice of words but we decided that they lost a bit in translation. What we decided they meant was, “We don’t think you have to leave the harbor now.” Still, the fact that Panamanian officialdom was tracking this thing made it more real. We continued securing Wings as if for heavy weather.

But at 9:30 the word came that the warning for Panama was called off. Everyone in the harbor must have given a sigh of relief. Deck lights went off, people went below. We poured a glass of wine.

Whew, that was an exciting evening.

Medical Tourism

Panama is supposed to have good medical facilities and reasonable prices for medical treatment. We are delaying our departure to have some long-delayed check-ups. Now, a few doctor’s visits and trips to the major medical centers later, we are finding that the reports seem to be true. The clinics and hospitals are excellent and the prices are reasonable. Not everyone speaks English, but we are finding we can get by. One thing interesting we did find however, was that, the costs for some services are not a lot higher in the US than they are here. For example, while researching costs for this story, I found that the MRI we obtained here for $522 could be had in many places in the US for similar prices. Well, that is good news for the future. I guess, but we are not in the US now, so we are happy to find advanced medical care at prices we can afford here in Panama. It’s the first place where we have felt that way since Southeast Asia.

What is Next?

We’ve been gearing up to depart Panama. We done some shopping for spares and supplies, we’ve researched weather resources and cruiser’s radio nets, and today we went to the fuel dock and filled our tanks. Gasoline was $4.32 per gallon and Diesel was $3.87. We’ve used 80 gallons of diesel since a year ago when we filled up in Antigua. We also filled our water tanks at $.10 per gallon and at that price we would have washed the boat but the marina would not permit it. Apparently they wanted us to move on so other boats could come in for fuel, but we didn’t see anyone waiting. Well, never mind, rainy season is coming.

We have some plans for some things we want to do in Panama City next week, but probably before the 20th of March we’ll be sailing on our slow cruise to the North; destination: Mexico. We’ve been researching stops and it looks like Central America has a lot of nice anchorages and towns between here and Mexico. Our first stops however will be in Panama; the Las Perlas Islands look really nice so we’ll go there next.

That's it for now.

Fred & Judy, SV Wings, Panama

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Tuesday, March 25, 2014

March 20, 2014-Back to the Pacific Ocean

Last Lock Door Closes

When Vasco Balboa first ventured across the Isthmus of Panama and sighted a new ocean he named it the Ocean of the South. In 1520, Ferdinand Magellan renamed the sea the Pacific Ocean because of its calm waters.

Having ourselves just arrived back on that ocean I can understand why he chose that word. Compared to the boisterous Caribbean Sea, where a thousand miles of fetch and strong trade winds bring big waves crashing onto the Panama shoreline, this side is calm. It has the protection of the land, and instead of the dark and angry waves, the sea is a weak pale blue; it is “Pacific”. And thus it was given the name it still carries to this day.

However, times have changed somewhat since Balboa first sighted the Pacific.

Now we have 30-40 ocean-going vessels charging past each day, either going into the canal headed to the Atlantic or coming out headed, oh, I don’t know, to China maybe. And there are a hundred vessels anchored offshore, waiting a cargo or waiting their turn in the canal, and the crews aboard these ships need some shore leave, so the shore boats ply back and forth. All these ships and shore boats leave a lot of wakes which destroy the pacific nature of the Pacific Ocean.

So we are bouncing here day and night.

But we don’t mind; it’s good to be back in the Pacific after 10 years.

The Panama Canal. Our transit of it went easy; deceptively easy. The canal has been in the back of our minds for years. It was the unknown; a possibly fearful experience. But you can’t shy away, you have to face it, so you get in line and you move up as the boats ahead of you go through, and some tension builds. Naturally, I guess. Then it is your turn and you march bravely ahead. You do what the canal pilot says, you follow orders. He says go ahead, you go. The stages seem easy, but disaster is just seconds away. A rope can tangle; a swirl of current can grab you and throw you against the wall. The worst disaster of all, for us, other than getting crushed by a big ship of course, which is always in your thoughts, would have been to break our gear shift. It was already dodgy when we started but we didn’t know how much we’d need it. Our pilot, however, seemed to delight in making us change from forward to reverse and back again about twenty times a minute. Over and over the gear shift balked against the heavy usage and I had to finesse it. It got so that I just knew it would break the next time he gave an order. “Just get me out of the last chamber,” I prayed. But you get caught up in the immediate, “Slow the engine now”, “catch this line”, “a bit of reverse”, “now make the lines fast, NOW! Ease it! OK, You’re OK, no, Reverse!” And you are too busy following the orders to think about the disaster which lurks nearby. Finally the doors of the last lock opened into the Pacific and we knew we had escaped the disaster, we’d made it. The gear shift held. The lines didn’t tangle; the swirls never grabbed a hold of us.

That’s the way it is in the Panama Canal, 24 hours of low key stress, then you’re done; you are out. You made it.

And it never seemed like a big deal, but looking back, it was. And we chalked up another one.

So we are happy to have gone through the Panama Canal and we are happy to be back in the Pacific Ocean. We’re not sure what’s next; we haven’t given it a lot of thought, but compared to the Panama Canal, it should be a piece of cake.

Click here for more photos.

Fred & Judy, SV Wings, Panama

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Sunday, March 16, 2014

March 16, 2014-Follow WINGS through the Panama Canal.

On Thursday and Friday we are scheduled to transit the Panama Canal and through the miracle of technology you can watch.

On the Marine Traffic web site, if we are underway, we'll be on the system and you can see our progress as the transmissions of our AIS transponder are picked up and plotted on Google earth. We had trouble with Internet Explorer, but with Google Chrome it works just fine. Open Chrome and click on this link and then paste our MMSI number (367362090) into the "Vessel/Port" search box at the top right of the screen. Don’t hit enter, just wait a few seconds until it pops up our name, then click that. If we are moving and we have our AIS transponder on, we'll appear on this screen.

When you see our photo and a red banner which says "Show on Live Map" you can click that and when the Google earth picture comes back we’ll be right in the middle of it. Play around with the check boxes on the left and you can eliminate some of the clutter and even show the names of the boats and ships.

Late on Thursday, if you watch, you will see us move into the Gatun locks and later stop for the night in Gatun Lake.

On Friday morning we will move through the lake the Culebra cut and into Miraflores Locks which will let us down to the Pacific side of Panama.

When we go through Miraflores Locks you might be able to catch us on the web camera there. Click on this link to see the live action at Miraflores. If you are following us on the Marine Traffic you will be able to predict when we’ll come into the camera’s view.

But don’t expect a lot of action, we’ll be trying our best to avoid that.

Fred & Judy, SV Wings, Panama


URLs used in the links above:

Marine Traffic:
http://www.marinetraffic.com/ais/home/fm:2430?cb=5004

Web Cam:
http://www.cruisin.me/cruisecams/ports/central_america/miraflores_locks_panama2.php

or

http://www.pancanal.com/common/multimedia/webcams/viewer-flash/cam-miraflores-hi.html

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March 16, 2014-Jungle Line

wingssail images-fredrick roswold
Panamanian Jungle

The city of Colon is east of the Panama Canal but Shelter Bay is on the west and just past the marina the jungle closes in. Walk a few hundred yards along the road leading away from the water and you are in the thick of it; the canopy spreads overhead and the eerie echoing sounds of the howler monkeys reverberate off of the forests of tree trunks and shake the banana leaves.

You can’t see the howlers. They roar and scream and they sound like they are just there, just off the road, but the jungle is impenetrable and even though you stare, you don’t see them.

And if you do stare into the green trying to see the howlers then the sound suddenly comes from behind you, from the other side of the road and you want to run. But wherever you go, you still hear the howler monkeys; a rhythmic, grunting, roaring, chest thumping sound, charging, chanting down the jungle line that makes you wonder what they are saying and if it is about you.

We’re told they are harmless, but those kinds of jungle sounds can still haunt you.

At the bar, a guy named Rousseau nursing dark rum stared into the distance and shook his head when I asked him if it was the howlers he had seen.

“No, I only wish. No, I ran into a big black cat, jaguar maybe, in one of those abandoned concrete buildings out there. He was just standing there when I saw him, and he stared at me with impassive yellow eyes and his tail twitched left and right. I just backed out of there and walked away and never looked back. That scared me. Still does.”

Howler monkeys, jaguars, what else? But hey, a walk in the jungle is supposed to be good exercise.

So one morning we grabbed the Nikon and headed out. Edith has been there before and she showed us the way. It was easy going, lots of birds, a few howlers, nothing much. Then Judy nearly stepped on the snake.

I saw it and yelled and shoved her and her foot missed the coiled serpent by inches. And she screamed.

But the snake was dead.

I was ready to turn back, but Edith said just a little father, ten minutes, no more.

And there was the sloth. We almost missed it as we walked under the branches which reached over our heads across the road but a group of workers cutting brush pointed it out to us.

Right above us about 50 feet was a furry dark mass with long arms gripping two limbs and not moving.

We moved around trying to get a camera angle and hoping for some sunlight.

Suddenly branches started breaking off to the side of the road, up in the trees, there were noises, leaves were shaking. No howling monkeys but this was no sloth either. A group of smaller monkeys appeared, looking to cross the road in the intertwining branches. They stopped when they saw the sloth right in their path and looked at the sloth and they looked at us below them in the road. What to do?

A bigger monkey came up from behind to check out the situation. I guess it decided it was OK because it led the way across in the branches over our heads, with the smaller monkeys following, and circled around the sloth who watched motionless except to swivel its head.

The monkeys moved away in the trees on the other side of the road, throwing down seed pods which thumped into the forest floor, and continued to make tree top noises; the sloth stayed put, and the birds sounds and the howlers came back into our consciousness.

But now, somehow, it didn’t seem so threatening anymore.

Click here for more photos.

Fred & Judy, SV Wings, Panama

Thank You Joni Mitchell

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Friday, February 28, 2014

Febuary 27, 2014-Judy Returns from Florida

Panama City

We are lost. Its 1:00AM and we're driving through the rough interiors of Panama City. Its dark, there are no other cars and nobody on the streets, hardly a lighted building. We got off the track somewhere coming back from the airport.

I'm not worried however; as long as we don't wind up at a dead end with a bunch of surely Panamanian youths I know I will find the hotel eventually but scenes from Bonfire of the Vanities swirl through my head.

Judy is navigating with Google maps and the android phone, but she is exhausted from the trip and from her time in Florida with Margie. She is incoherent, but she is trying to help.
"Turn right here," she says.

I am skeptical but I see a sign: Balboa Avenue. Now I am jubilant, from Balboa Avenue I can get to the hotel and I accelerate onto the elevated roadway. At 1:30 we reach Belle Vista and turn into the driveway of the hotel. The guard opens the gate and we're here. We have the penthouse tonight, what luxury, and we head up.

I love Panama City. The high rise buildings are stunning. The city is clean and modern. By day the streets are vibrant. But I didn't like getting lost at night.

The next day we have to go to the Canon warehouse to pick up our printer. We have a paper with directions, but the street names don't match up and besides, few of the streets have signs. Traffic is bad. We wind up in the Cinco de Mayo area. Here is a maze of narrow lanes, crowded with people, but the cars are moving; at least we can go somewhere. The freeways, on the other hand, are gridlocked.

Then Google packs it in. I don't know the problem but for the moment, it is useless. For the second time in 24 hours we're lost. The patina of Panama City is starting to wear thin.

We have a brochure with a map and a few streets on it. One I recognize from the directions: Ave. Frangipani. The warehouse is on Frangipani. But it's on the other side of the city. We set out again.

And of course we have another hour of cruising aimlessly before we see a landmark from the directions. Then everything clicks. By 2:00 we have our printer and we can head back to Colon happy to get on the highway north. Nothing left to deal with now but an empty gas tank, empty stomachs, and a baffling system of toll booths. But we're making progress. Judy is back, we've got our shopping done, and Wings is not too far away.

When we get to the boat maybe things can get back to normal.

Click here for shots of Panama City

Fred & Judy, SV Wings, Panama

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Febuary 24, 2014-Panama Canal Trial Run

Panama Canal

Colon: the Atlantic side of the Panama Canal. Boats here are going through the canal to the Pacific; half a dozen today and more arriving each a day to get into the queue. Most will head out into the Pacific Ocean to the Galapagos Islands and then across Australia. But first they need to get through the canal and for that they need crew to handle the lines in the locks. Line handlers. I was asked if I would go with Derek and Ann Marie on Sand Groper, a 46' catamaran.

OK, why not? Judy is in Florida; I am alone on the boat here in Colon. I could use the experience. We won't be taking Wings across the Pacific Ocean again but we will go through the canal before heading to Mexico. Besides, they will feed us. I agree.

I join Sand Groper and in the evening we set out for the Gatun Locks. It's interesting and exciting. Maybe a little challenging for Derek, our skipper; it's windy and the quarters are tight as a huge container ship glides by at close quarters to go in ahead of us. Along with two other yachts, to whom we raft tightly just outside, we enter the first locks. They are chambers of concrete with iron gates at both ends, long but not particularly wide. I am, however, impressed about how high the sides are. The locks must lift us 85 feet to the level of Gatun Lake before we can motor across the Continental Divide to the Pacific side of Panama and then be lowered again to sea level and the walls tower over us. The lock tenders high at the top of the walls throw monkey fists down then take our lines up to the bollards. They are silent, watching impassively as the lock floods with swirling water and we float higher. We are tossed around. The Panamanian advisor from the Canal Authority on our yacht reminds me to take in the slack on my line then secure it tightly as a swirl of water tries to throw us against the wall. I pull on the line then tie it off. I know my back will be sore after this night. I sit down on deck to be able to reach the cleat without bending over. I change the way I am tying it off the line so there is less chance of a jam. I am learning from this trip.

I am also thinking about how we will sleep six people on Wings when we come through, and what we will cook them; good meals are expected.

Then the gates open and we move into the next lock. There are six in total.

Twenty-two hours later, after a night anchored on Gatun Lake, we cleared the last lock gate and passed into the Pacific. Quite an experience.

Click here for some photos.

Fred, aboard Sand Groper, Panama Canal

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Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Febuary 12, 2014-One Day at the Beach and then...Panama City

Judy in the Water

We watched the weather and took our opportunities to work our way west from the Eastern San Blas.

We needed a window to get to Colon and then Panama City to get Judy on a plane. Her sister in Florida needed her.

Tuesday looked good; we'd leave the San Blas in the afternoon to get to Colon by Wednesday morning.

Time for one last day at the beach.

Our favorite location for private swimming was just around the corner from the Hot Tub anchorage (and that's as close as I'll get to telling you where it is) and we took the dingy over. We ran barefoot in the sand and swam in the deep, clear, cool water. It was marvelous there, and even though the light was not good for those stunning beach photos I wanted you can get the idea from these shots . We loved it

Back on Wings we made ready for sea; the dingy was put away, the awnings struck, sails bend onto spars.

At 17:00 we raised the main and sailed off the anchor and made our way out between the reefs, then we set the jib and turned west.

By sunset we were on a good breeze and we cleared into the open ocean between Hollandes and the Lemons. Sailing was fine and the farther west we went the freer we found the wind. Wings flew.
Now a new problem arose: we were going too fast. Before midnight we had to get the jib off and that took us down to six and a half knots; slow enough maybe. At 0800 we arrived at Shelter Bay Marina in Colon.

A day or so in Colon, long enough to clear in and decide Colon was basically a slum, (the whole place, but we saw that the Panama Canal looked interesting; we'll see for ourselves soon enough), and long enough for us to make Judy's flight arrangements to Florida and for us to catch a bus to Panama City.

Now Panama City is something else. For one it is stunning. The high rise buildings, the freeways, shopping centers, and it is huge, modern clean and buzzing. The Pacific ocean looks serene after the tumultuous Caribbean, I guess that is what Balboa thought too, since he gave it the name "Pacific".

We had time to have some minor dramas, senior moments I'd have to say, which are better left un-described, but we finally got to the hotel, checked in and everything was good. Dinner in the old town at Cafe Rene with some Panamanian rum and a bottle of Malbac, and we were feeling no pain and it was surprising that we found our way home to the hotel, but we did.

Judy is now in Florida and I am back on the boat in Colon, doing minor boat projects and enjoying the heck out of Happy Hour at Shelter Bay Marina, and planning our Panama Canal Transit. We'll go into Gatun locks in March and head back to the Pacific Ocean, which we crossed heading west in 1998 (we're still heading west, 16 years later).

And that will be another new adventure.

Click here for more photos.

Fred (and missing Judy), SV Wings, Colon, Panama

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Wednesday, January 29, 2014

January 29, 2014-San Blas Islands

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Wings in San Blas

Picking the perfect anchorage for the night in the San Blas Islands isn’t easy, something about a surplus of choices.

Cocos Banderas Cays is beautiful and we had phone coverage there so there was Internet, but it had no protection; we rolled and pitched there and one night of that was enough.

Green Island was crowded, and besides, we’ve been there.

There are a thousand other anchorages, how can we choose?

The we saw one on the chart which looked good; an uninhabited island in the Eastern Naguarandup Cays called Esnasdup. It wasn’t mentioned in the guide books but it looked protected.

We decided to give it a try.

And now we are anchored at Esnasdup Island which is a magic place in the back of the San Blas, under the tall, mysterious, mist shrouded mountains of the Isthmus and tucked in behind a vast reef. It’s quiet here. We are totally alone, no village or houses ashore, no other boats, and no way the wind or waves can get to us. We have absolute peace and quiet for the first time in the San Blas. We can hear the birds. There are hawks and eagles and egrets but strangely, no pelicans.

However there is a crocodile here. When we reported our location on the net this morning several boats radioed back that they have seen a crocodile here, about 2 meters long, and, apparently, shy. It flees from people. Well, I hope so. We have not seen it.

Here we will stay for several days, and we’ll be looking for the croc. We’re not sure about how much swimming we’ll do.

Other than Esnasdup, how has our stay been in the San Blas?

Pretty good, we’d say. We spent a few days in the main town of Nargana getting provisions including fresh meat for the freezer, whatever veggies which were available, rum and wine, propane, and some spending money. We stayed a night tied to the dock in a Kuna village at Rio Azucar and there we filled our water tanks from their pipeline. Being basically inside a Kuna Village all night was interesting. We could see life up close in the houses near the wharf.

And we’ve been to Green Island and Cocos. We have a few more places to try, but like our general approach to cruising, we know we can’t get everywhere in the San Blas, and it’s alright.

We’re going to enjoy where we’re at, and move on when we feel like it.

Click here for more San Blas photos.

Fred & Judy, SV Wings, San Blas Islands, Panama

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Sunday, January 19, 2014

January 17, 2014-Kunayala


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Judy in Panama

The Panamanian official stamped my papers with a flourish and handed them to me. “This is your Zarpe, it should get you through Kunayala” he said, which I thought was strange because it sounded like he was referring to a foreign country.

He was. Kunayala, the land of the Kuna Indians is autonomous from Panama. The Kunas maintain their own local government and customs and barely acknowledge the existence of Panama. They do not fly the Panamanian flag.

While there we did not fly ours either.

But they did honor my Zarpe. Other than charging us a fee every time we anchored in one of their towns, they didn’t bother us as we passed through their land.

That cruise however, has been interesting. We were fascinated by the Kunas. They are very traditional people living an existence which is more out of the 1800’s than 2014. Telephones are rare, banks are non-existent. We have not seen a single car, truck, or motorcycle.

The Kuna houses are made of sticks and thatched with palm fronds and have sand or dirt floors. But they are clean and there is little trash evident.

The Kunas paddle the waters in dugout canoes, outboards motors are also rare. They are forbidden to intermarry with outsiders and mostly do not permit photographs.

Tobacco and alcohol are not used. And they are small people, few over five feet tall. However they are beautiful people with high cheekbones, straight noses, and clear brown skin. The women wear bright red and blue dresses and scarves and colorful beadwork on their arms and legs. I’m going to try to get some photographs if I can without offending them.

And they are intelligent. The laughing eyes of the Kuna lady who sold me fresh baked bread, when she figured out what I was trying to say, told me that.

Then there is their choice of where to live. The Isthmus of Panama is mountainous; a hostile, and inhospitable place. It is and covered with dense, steaming, jungle. The valleys are swampy. Insects are fierce and diseases such as Malaria are common. There are snakes and alligators.

The Kunas don’t live there. They live on densely populated offshore islands which are cool and dry and free of the insects and other bad critters.

In fact, until you get close to the area of the Panama Canal, almost no-one lives on the Isthmus itself. It is roughly 100 miles up the coast from Colombia to the San Blas Islands, through Kunayala, and so far, along that distance, we have seen no sign of population ashore or in the mountains, just rows of jungle covered ridges and peaks disappearing into the haze. No roads are visible. It looks in penetrable. At night there are no lights there as far as you can see up the coast or down.

So this has been sort of a nature tour for us, away from the crowds. The sailing has been good, most of the anchorages peaceful and calm. We’ve enjoyed it. But we’ve been out a month and it’s time to be moving on.

Next we head to the San Blas Islands, where many cruising boats hang out and where we can buy cooking gas, supplies, and get our water tanks refilled.

And maybe we will put up our Panamanian flag.

Click here for more photos.

Fred & Judy, SV Wings, Kunayala

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Monday, January 06, 2014

January 5, 2013-Sailing to the Darien

Beating out of the Gulf of Morrosquillo

The afternoon sea breeze filled as expected and at 13:00 Wings weighed anchor and slipped away to the south-west under plain sail, bound for the Sapzurro, in the Darien Province, on the Isthmus of Panama.

The wind, which they thought would clock around to the NW and lift them clear of land, held stubbornly to the SW, and, to add insult to injury, even backed a little and they had to beat out of the Gulf Morrosquillo to reach open water.

Nor did the wind clock during the afternoon or even as night fell but there was nothing to be done for it and they just hardened up and worked the vessel as close to the wind as they could as they sailed down the Colombian coast, sometimes skirting just off shore of the shallows and sometimes sailing inside of islands. The lights of the coast seemed close.

By morning however, the expected shift finally came and Wings was lifted. The sheets could be eased. The speeds went up. The sailing became easier.

And when, at mid-morning, the mountains of the Darien hove into view through the mist, their spirits were also lifted as they anticipated the landfall in a new place.

They anchored in Sapzurro at 13:00, 24 hours after setting sail.

Click here for some photos.

Fred & Judy, SV Wings, Sapzurro, Colombia

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Saturday, December 28, 2013

December 27, 2013-Leaving Cartagena

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Ready to leave Club Nautico

Breaking Free of Marina Comforts

Life becomes comfortable when you are in port with the conveniences you have at the dock and the friends you invariably make and after a period of time in port you have developed some familiar routines and it becomes hard to leave. Days turn into weeks and weeks into months and months can become years as has happened to cruisers in every port we’ve been in; they never meant to stay there but all of a sudden it has been, well, as in the case of our friends Kenny and Jessie in Cartagena, six years.

It could happen to us, and certainly it will one day, but not this time.

So on Saturday we broke free of the inertia of port. We ran Blue Peter up, loaded the last of the provisions, collected the crew (just ourselves) , and cast off the lines. We pulled out of Cartagena and barely looked back.

Oh we’ll miss Cartagena, especially some friends like Omar and Geoff, and Kenny and Jessie and the others, and Cartagena has been good, but now it is time for a new adventures; there are new horizons calling to us and we are eager to go meet them.

We headed south.

Kenny told us about a patch of sand in 18 feet of water in a protected spot between two islands, Isla Grande and Isla Caribaru, called Isla Naval and that’s where we headed first. Coral reefs extend for miles around the Colombian islands known as the Rosariaos and it is rare to find a sheltered anchorage deep enough for a sailing yacht among the flats and but this place is one and we are glad to find it with its crystal clear water, which after Cartagena, was welcome. We stayed five days, swam a lot, saw some fish, and we cleaned the bottom and were astonished at the growth which happened in just one month in Cartagena since the antifouling paint was applied and visited the aquarium a few miles west, which was nice too. We enjoyed our first anchorage in the Rosarios. Thank you, Kenny.

Anchored in The Rosarios


But the wind blew hard every night at Isla Naval, it’s the season of the feared Christmas Winds, and we were ready to leave by Boxing Day so the morning after a nice Christmas dinner for just the two of us onboard Wings, we weighed and headed for the town of Baru.

Hectic Day to go to Baru

On Boxing Day (December 26) we had a few minor issues to deal with:

  • We found we had a big propane leak which emptied one of our two tanks, we disassembled the propane plumbing and found a leak which was a cracked fitting for the pressure gauge, which we bypassed and hope that solves the problem.
  • We broke the windlass raising anchor and we had to drive around with the anchor hanging down while we installed the spare, home-made, chain stripper.
  • Racing to town to buy propane to replace what we lost the Mercury outboard motor stalled and we had to row back to Wings and take off carburetor and float chamber and free what looked like a stuck float valve and we were lucky not to lose the small parts which dropped into dingy bottom.
  • Finally got to town and we had to buy 40lb propane tank since they don't refill propane here and that was the smallest they sell and besides being 4 times the amount we needed, it was heavy. But we got it out to the boat OK.
  • We got lost in the bayous coming back from Baru but found our way shortly.
  • Our dingy flooded and nearly sank. It's leaking water really badly, but we think it is the drain valve so we closed that and bailed like crazy.
  • Back on Wings we tipped the big tank over and hung it from the boom and poured propane into our tank (using cannibalized parts from our system which had to be disassembled again) and we were very happy to get our tank filled.
  • However, tipping the big tank over got dirt in valve and we could not shut off the flow of propane, so quite a bit of propane was vented to the atmosphere, lucky we had extra, and lucky there was no explosion. We're sorry about the air pollution, we hope it does not destroy the ozone layer.
  • Finally we put everything back together and had a drink.
  • (Oh, I forgot to mention, we broke one of our oars, Dang!)


The boy that fixed our outboard


Two Boys

Even after working for a couple of hours on the outboard on Thursday it still gave us problems on Friday when we left to go to town to return the propane tank. I thought for sure that the float was stuck again but we were short of time and we struggled with it instead of stopping to fix it and finally got to town to return our half filled, extra large, broken valve'd, propane tank so we could reclaim our deposit. While docking the motor finally gave out big time; I couldn't get it started to save my soul and we rowed to the dock. Two small boys were watching and I gave them a "its dead" slice across my neck. They looked on impassively.

Then we put the motor issues behind us for a while and went to town. We returned the propane tank and walked every street I think, many of them more than once. Got some nice photos. Baru is a very tranquil place. Most of our photo shots of the streets showed no people. There weren't many. But the ones we found were friendly and helpful. Some even spoke English.

Baru Street


The highlight of the day was buying two very cold beers at one small store, which was our lunch, since the restaurants were not open yet.

Getting back to the dingy a couple of hours later, as we came around the corner, I saw one of the boys fiddling with our outboard. Without giving it a thought I gave a whistle and waved him away. It's not surprising to find boys messing around with your dingy while you are gone but this was different. When we got to the boat the one boy said something to me about the fuel line, and pointed to it. I said, "This line?" and he nodded. "So What." I thought, but when I tried the motor it started right away. More amazing, it ran perfectly all the way back out to Wings.

So I guess that boy did something to our fuel line, what I have no idea, but it was a nice thing. Too bad I didn't give him credit or even thank him, but I didn't know he was just helping us out.

Click here for more photos of the Rosarios.

Click here for more photos of Baru.

Fred & Judy, SV Wings, Baru, Colombia

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