Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Death of an Engine


After getting all the repairs we knew about finished, Mags and I took the boat out for a shakedown cruise a few days ago. Without going into extensive details the engine block got really hot although the water temp and oil pressure gauges were reading good. Water was boiling out of the fresh water side of the heat exchanger so we stopped the engine and tried to sail.
Our short shakedown cruise - the double black course lines out and back
We had gone through the pass to the outside of Bocas del Toro. Seas were pretty large but the wind was down and a current was drifting us towards Isla Bastimentos. I checked oil and water/antifreeze and added a bit but they were not down badly. We restarted the engine and returned to Bocas Marina. Hot, hot, hot, hot!
Jeff the local diesel mechanic and I started it up a few days ago with the radiator/heat exchanger cap off and air was beltching out but the level of the water didn't drop so it wasn't just a vapour lock working its way out. Unfortunately, it was engine exhaust getting into the fresh water jacket and the engine got really hot really fast.
Our Pathfinder is not the first engine to die in Bocas, this big Worthington dates to the mid '30s
Normally I would pull the head and check the head gasket and head for blown gasket or cracks but this is an old, 1981 engine, that VW is no longer making and the marinizing company, Pathfinder is out of business. They had issues and therefore were not too popular. We managed to keep it going to here but now it would be good money after bad.
I have been checking the new Yanmar diesels and I can make the switch with a bit of work. But, even if the engine was here now, hurricane season would be on us before we could finish the swap and get to a really good hurricane hole. Bocas is below the normal hurricane paths so it makes sense to leave Kanilela here and return  in October when it is a little cooler. We can do the swap and then head out for next season in November.
Our immediate plans are up in the air but there are lots of options.
First, I will get the new engine ordered and prep the changes I will need to do for a new Yanmar. Why Yanmar? They are really popular with spare parts readily available around the world. 
We'll be in touch as I know more. Mags and I are disappointed not to be sailing but I had little confidence in the VW/Audi/Pathfinder after being let down numerous times so a reliable engine will be good.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Bocas Botanical Gardens

A view through a small part of the gardens
When we arrived in Bocas we had a bent davit that needed repair. Dana gave me Kiwi Dave’s name and said to make sure that we visit the Botanical Gardens that Dave and his wife Lynn started almost twenty years ago. As it turned out we visited the Gardens first and later I got the bent davit to his shop.
When Dave and Lynn first bought the property the roads past it did not exist and they cut their way through the mangroves from the beach up to where the land rose up from the swamps. I can only imagine the effort required to tunnel through the mangroves and thick jungle while mosquitos and no-see-ums were eating them alive.
Lynn standing with palms she planted as 6' tall plants almost 20 years ago
Endless varieties of bamboo
 Lynn’s tour of the garden was incredible, especially when she explains that she planted these various palms as small potted plants and now some are over sixty feet tall. The variety of heliconias, orchids, palms, bamboos, varieties of bananas, herbs, spices, medicinal plants and tropical flowers of every variety was endless. It is amazing what they have accomplished. They are in the process of building a new visitor’s center and adding to their future rental accommodations. 

Dave did manage to repair the davit that was bent over at the Pacific end of the canal. I can recommend his work and prices to anyone in need of quality stainless steel welding.

Sorry about the formatting of the photos.










Self opening red ornamental bananas

another variety of red bananas






Saturday, March 18, 2017

The Velcro of Bocas


Still in Bocas, Panama #2

14-March-2017

Boat repairs in Paradise or – Bocas really is lined with Velcro.

When we arrived back to the boat in January we thought we could be headed out to San Andreas by February 10th, weather permitting. No particular urgency to get away, it just seemed like it was time to go.
Bearing and seals not looking good

This looks better
During the process of getting all systems working again the raw water pump was seized and the belt drive broke on start-up. Fortunately we had a spare rebuilt water pump and belts on board so a fix was available. Unfortunately this is a systemic problem with the pump design, our third time in four years, so we did not want to head up to Cuba where American pump parts would be unavailable.
It seemed smarter to get a new pump and a couple of sets of spare bearings, seals, bushings and impellors sent to Bocas. All of which arrived safely.

While we were recommissioning the nav system the autopilot decided it would not engage. Although it is a Raymarine autopilot all of the hydraulic parts are manufactured by Hydraulic Products Inc, also from the UK. Fortunately the solenoid controlled by-pass valve had a part number stamped on it which led me to Hy-Pro Inc and a source for a replacement. Unfortunately, the UK was the only place that the suppliers had the correct part number with a confirming picture of the unit. The US suppliers had a Raymarine part number that was a distinctly different part in the supplied pictures so I went with the Hy-Pro part out of the UK with slightly longer shipping time. Fortunately it was the right part and the autopilot is working again.

When we put the dinghy back in the water and put the outboard on, it ran poorly and would not idle down. I am the first to admit that I have zero experience with outboard repair so even pulling the carburetor was venturing into unknown territory. It is a 6hp 4 cycle Suzuki and no helpful u-tube videos exist for it. Lots of info on 2 cycle carbs and Yamahas etc but nothing for a 4 cycle Suzuki. I pulled it apart and the illusive idle port may have been one of the several places I blew through to clean it out because when I reassembled it, admittedly after a few tries to get everything in the right place, the engine started. Bob from Nirvana came by and showed me what I needed to clean but unfortunately, the port would not unscrew so we could not remove it. The good news is that Bob, being a musician, had a mandolin string that worked as a cleaner. Although still not perfect it improved the idle somewhat.  
While checking that the bees had left from the top of the mast I got this photo of Bocas.

The view from the mast to the south anchorage
Also, while all of this was happening we had an additional distraction. An adjacent boat in the marina was visited by a swarm of bees. They managed to discourage residency but the bees thought our mast might just be ideal and collected on the top of the mast. As much as fresh honey while cruising sounds attractive, I was not quite certain where on the mast I should place the spigot for our fresh, free honey. After much movement of halyards and sending bee swatter like sticks aloft taped to the halyards over the course of a few days, the bees got the message and left.
Block of treated wood fills missing battery space.

Oh, and did I mention that I have been watching our house battery bank not hold its power over the last couple of weeks…. Well, while trying to determine a “why” for this issue I placed my hand on one of the batteries and it was hot! Hotter than a firecracker as the saying goes. They are sealed AGM batteries and fortunately the vent seal had not blown. The faulty battery was at the back of the bank so I had to remove the one in front to get at it and then rewire the bank as a three battery bank with the net result that we dropped from a theoretical 860 Amp Hours to 645 Ahrs. These batteries weigh 132lbs so you get a serious workout just looking at them even before you start moving them around in a confined engine room. And on the topic of batteries…. the starting battery appears to be losing its charge and may need replacing. At least the starting battery is a single battery and can be replaced, the house batteries have to be replaced as a complete bank, not just added one at a time so we will see if 645 Ahr is adequate before we replace all four.

The Velcro of Bocas.
The Cantina Restaurant and bar at Bocas Marina
Marina office and shuttle dock
Actually Bocas del Toro is a great place with some really interesting people, some excellent restaurants and a good music scene. The marina is convenient to town but accessible by boat only so it is nicely private.
Ignacio running the free shuttle from the marina to Bocas town

So now we wait for a weather window to head north……

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Still in Bocas


Still in Bocas del Toro, Panama

12-February-2017

San Jose, Costa Rica to Bocas del Toro.

San Jose, Costa Rica is actually closer to Bocas Town than Panama City and we had a very good flight with AeroMexico from Vancouver through Mexico City to San Jose.  The AeroMexico staff were really friendly and the service was excellent but furthermore, because we did not land in the US, the TSA security issues were much less aggressive than on flights into the US. The only thing to be aware of is that it may take a bit of searching for the correct baggage carousels in Mexico City. For those who may be curious, the cost was about $225 US each for a one way ticket. I have been asked to include costs more than I typically do and I will try to remember.

On our sail down the west coast of Costa Rica we stayed close to the coast for all of our land travels so we had not gone into San Jose, the capital. Frankly, we had only heard negative reports about the city and had mixed emotions about spending a few days there.
Post Office in San Jose
We had an excellent time! It is an extremely walkable city with several streets closed and turned into pedestrian walkways that extend throughout the central city. There are numerous parks and plazas and the people were friendly. There are several museums in the downtown core.
Butterfly feeding station in National Museum
We managed visits to the National Museum and the pre-Columbian Gold Museum, both were well worth the time spent. The city does not have the antiquity of Antigua, Guatemala or Leon, Nicaragua but there are some beautiful surprises to be found while walking. The Mercado Central, or covered central market, is an active commercial hub of the city on the Avenida Central pedestrian walkway about 3 short blocks from our hotel. There are some tourist goods in the market but it is primarily the go to place for Ticas (Costa Ricans) doing their shopping or for having a delicious cheap meal.
One of the many Parks and Plazas

We had found the Hotel Novo on line <www.hotelnovo.net> and after discounting a few negative reviews and determining the type of travellers giving it positive reviews we decided the location and price were too good to pass up. $45 including taxes/night for a private room with bathroom, shower, air conditioning and breakfast included. The narrow street-side entry between shops on Calle 14 leading back to the registration desk was definitely unassuming but the smile and welcome Teresa gave us immediately made us feel at home. The elevator worked, which was much appreciated with our luggage full of boat things and our third floor room, the top floor, overlooked the street. The air conditioning worked, as did the TV and the sheets and towels and room were clean. The included breakfast in the second floor restaurant had several choices and was very good. The only down side to the street facing rooms is the bus stop on the street in front that starts dropping passengers, with much shouting and horn beeping, at about 4:30 am. The rooms away from the street have no windows so I did not want that and once we had determined that the noise did not involve us we managed to sleep some more. The hotel was located just around the corner from the Avenida Central Pedestrian walk.

Security in all the Central American cities seems to be a common concern for travellers but like everywhere else we have been if you are not out late at night and have lots of people on the street as well, you are probably safe. There may be barrios that are less safe but the downtown pedestrian walkways seemed fine as we made our way back to the hotel at about 10:00pm after an exceptional meal at the Tin Jo Restaurant. The Tin Jo started years ago as a Chinese Restaurant after the new immigrants to Costa Rica found out their university qualifications were not recognized there. Their children, after getting university educations in the US and spending time travelling in southeast Asia returned to transform the Tin Jo into a fusion of SE Asian foods. There are six large themed rooms, Thai, Indian, Japanese, Chinese, Indonesian and a bamboo room complete with a bamboo forest. The menu draws from these countries and the meals were excellent. By Costa Rican standards it is expensive but some appies, two meals and a bottle of wine for $45 seemed pretty good.

We had heard that seats on Nature Air from San Jose to Bocas cost $106 but they must have sold out because we were quoted $225 each so we decided to take a van. Teresa at Hotel Novo called for our van tickets and arranged to have us picked up at the hotel so unfortunately I do not have the company name but the cost was about $70 US for a trip that included three different vans and the water taxi from Almirante over to Bocas. We had not seen the Caribbean coast of CR and the infamous border crossing point is definitely out of the annals of 1950’s travel in Central America so we were pretty happy not to be on the flight. The entire trip, including a breakfast stop, a two hour lunch stop, about two hours crossing the border, a sloth rescue stop and a boat taxi ride took about 12 hours total.

As is so often the case, fellow travellers added immensely to the enjoyment. There were only five passengers including us, on the new van that picked us up in San Jose so we quickly shared stories with another couple, Jon and Dede as we headed east through the verdant mountains to the Caribbean coast. The van skirted south of the port city of Limon and stopped for lunch at a small beach side resort. We transferred our luggage to a larger bus to complete the run to the border. The border crossing at Sixaola serves a potholed one lane road that handles local trucks and backpackers heading to Bocas only. The big main border crossing on the Pan American highway near David is the usual crossing for big trucks so Sixaola is a bit of a forgotten backwater.

The vans do not cross the border so make sure all your luggage is with you. The roof top unloading is chaotic, handled by a group of “employees” while you are trying to fill out exit forms and get into the correct line for clearing out of CR. The bus had to be called back to retrieve baggage that was left on the bus, much to the relief of our friend Jon and a young, about nine years old, girl who was clearly happy to see her back pack returned.

The bridge to Panama
First one must clear out of Costa Rica where a $4 US per person payable in CR Colones or US dollars, unfortunately they never have change for US$20’s so the people in the line are quick to form groups of five to solve the change issue. The original single lane trestle bridge and parallel Bailey bridge see far more foot traffic than vehicular but semi’s do make the slow transit.

We have heard of other cruisers returning to their boats in Bocas who have had problems crossing and were required to return to CR and purchase a ticket out of Panama before they were permitted to enter. We had all the boat information with us including our Panamanian Cruising permit with multiple photocopies of everything and after our Immigration officer had studied everything thoroughly and had taken her copies she deemed desirable we were allowed to enter. I think it was $8 each at the Immigration office plus a few dollars for customs that was payable in a small dilapidated shack across the road and we were back in Panama.
What a smile!

Our third van of the trip was there to take us to the water taxi dock in Almirante. Again the drive is through beautiful country to the town of Changinola and onto Almirante. Enroute our driver saw a sloth starting to cross the road and pulled over to help it. After the driver had encouraged it to head the other direction Jon picked up a big branch and offered it to the sloth. He/she slowly and deliberately reached up and grabbed the branch with three legs and accepted the ride Jon gave him to a big tree well off the road. Mags managed to get a good video clip of the sloth getting onto the branch that she has posted to facebook. It is impossible to look at the perpetually smiling face of a sloth and not smile yourself.

We shared the water taxi to Bocas with 24 of our closest and dearest friends, well certainly our closest friends as the boats are always packed for the 30 minute trip to Bocas. As we passed the marina it was good to see Kanilela at her berth. It felt like we were home.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Back in Bocas


Return to Bocas del Toro, Panama

26-January-2017

After a brief trip to the UK and an extended stay in Canada we are back on board.

Again, kudos to Mags. The witches brew of vinegar, tea tree oil and bleach, well, not actually mixed together but applied in her own special way, worked its magic. The boat was immaculate on our return. No mold, mildew or cockroaches, thank goodness. I must get her to do a “Putting your boat to bed” blog.

A brief review of where we were:

We had a fabulous stay with Mags’ cousin Ann and her husband Tom in Old Roan outside Liverpool. It was great catching up with Teresa and all the cousins right down to the youngest, one month old Joseph.
The Liver Building and the Cunard Building from the
restored waterfront
We had some great excursions into L’pool with Emma and David. The city has reinvented itself! Clean streets and refurbished buildings and a cultural pride in all the locals. We really enjoyed it.

Ann and Tom took us on a pleasant walk on public paths through farmer’s fields and along the old tow paths beside the Liverpool to Leeds canal. Later, Sue took us for lunch at a rural Pub on the canal that exuded a charm of antiquity with canal boats travelling up and down. Although I had often heard about the canal narrow boats and the growing popularity since the 1970’s and 80’s, I was not prepared for the beauty and serenity of the canals and the absolute artwork presentation of many of the narrow boats. Mags and I were kids in a candy store helping open the locks and talking to the boat Captains. Definitely a different experience than our transit of the Panama Canal.

From L’pool we drove down to Wiltshire see Mags’ former roommate Sue from their youthful London days. She and her partner David have an old house beautifully refurbished in the tiny village of Bishop’s Canning. The village has more thatched roofs than not so you are stepping back in time when you step out the door. Again, we were out on the public paths finding long boroughs and remnants of construction dating to the druids.
Caen Flight, 16 locks on the Kennet and Avon canal.
You push on the ends of the long arms to open the locks
after you have filled or emptied the chamber.
And of course, following canal paths and playing on the locks and stopping at canal side pubs. The Caen Locks, built in 1810 at Devizes on the Kennet and Avon canal, have 29 locks in two miles for an elevation change of 237 feet. 16 locks are placed in tight succession up a straight staircase. Sue and David's home was centrally located for side trips to Stonehenge, Woodhenge, Ashbury and Bath. For a west coast Canadian, the historical significance of these sites dating to the druids and Romans is awe inspiring. After several days with the girls reminiscing and interesting conversations of travel and the state of the world we had to leave to return to L’pool. We hope one day to return their hospitality on the boat or in Canada.

Our final road trip was to the south central highlands of Scotland with Ann and Tom. We had a beautiful drive up and then a lot of exploring the minor one lane roads. Our cottage was in the country between Pithlochry, Blair Atholl and Aberfeldy and yes, more than a few drams were tested from the local distilleries, Edradour, Aberfeldy and Blair Atholl, all serving the single malt nectar of the Gods. Beautiful country but too short a visit.

On our return drive to L’pool, about midway between Edinburg and Glasgow we stopped in the town of Falkirk, now famous for the Falkirk Wheel. Google it.
The Falkirk Wheel
It is the most modern thing to happen to canal traffic in the last several hundred years and due to the cost will probably never be replicated. Essentially it is a 75 foot diameter ferris wheel with two long bath tubs as the conveyance modes. The two long bath tubs line up with a canal at the higher elevation and a canal at the lower. You simply enter the tub, they close the water tight gates and then by rotating the wheel either lift you or drop you to the other canal. This replaced about 1.5 miles of canal and I believe six locks. Of course we had to take the tour boat up on the wheel, through a tunnel, (yes, they have canals running thru tunnels!) to the next traditional lock and then back to the wheel and down.

Needless to say, Mags is now having to put up with my scheming to spend a couple of years with a canal boat as a way to decompress from ocean cruising on a sailboat. As I’ve pointed out to her, there has never been a canal boat washed up on the beach by a hurricane.

The bulk of our time away from Kanilela was spent in British Columbia.
Beautiful fall colours beside the lake at Oyama
We had a wonderful time catching up with many friends whose names I won’t list for fear of forgetting someone.
We managed to finish the playhouse before the snow started
We were held captive by two little girls who made our stay magic, especially through Xmas when we had a family gathering with Bree and Matt coming from New York and all staying with Dustin and Cheryl. Vancouver has had the coldest winter in more than 30 years with snow on the ground for more than seven weeks. The most unusual aspect was clear blue skies for days in a row with temperatures staying below zero, more like Montana or Alberta than Vancouver.

We miss our granddaughters but the weather here in Bocas is very nice. The A/C is not essential as it was back in July, August and we have only had a couple showers two nights ago in the four days we have been back.

I will do a brief post on our short stay in San Jose, Costa Rica in the next few days while we prepare the boat for a trip north to San Andreas and Providencia.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Shelter Bay Marina to Bocas del Toro, Panama


Shelter Bay Marina to Bocas del Toro, Panama

27th – June to 3rd July - 2016

The Crew Heads Home

A nostalgia moment for all cruisers who have been to SBM
Shelter Bay is a very nice clean marina. We were received at the dock by helpful new neighbours, taking our docklines and answering our 1001 questions. Shelter Bay is somewhat remote from Colon and services but judging by the warnings regarding safety in Colon the remoteness is probably a good thing. Coming from the Pacific side the shallow depths were a bit unnerving but once you are used to the 1.5 foot tide range it is fine.

Doug used the shore time to complete the work he had done getting the ICOM 802 HF radio working. The terminals at both ends of the coaxial cable to the ATU were bad and had to be replaced. I also straightened the run for the antenna so hopefully the pactor will send airmail and receive grib files. The radio transmissions are working but not tested over longer distances because there are no cruisers moving around. It is the rainy season…..

Joe Gannon doing penance on Isla Buoy, Gatun Lake
Unfortunately for Joe our extra day in the canal meant he had to return to Panama City from Shelter Bay to make his June 29th flight back to New York. He was a great addition to the crew and is always welcome back. He caught the Marina van to the Colon bus station where he boarded an aircon bus to Albrook Transportation Center and then a taxi to the Hotel Riande near the Tucuman International Airport for his morning flight. Thanks Joe.....

After two nights in Shelter Bay we left for Bocas del Toro. With a few days to spare until our next departures, we decided to do the 100 mile overnight trip to Isla Escudo de Veragua, spend the next afternoon and night at anchor and then continue northwest the 40 final miles to Bocas. Escudo is a small island with only a few Guaymi Indian families as the only residents. The two anchorages are roadstead anchorages but according to Bauhaus are protected from most conditions.

The weather patterns in the Caribbean approaches to the canal are incredibly localized with change being the most constant feature. The trades do not dip this far south so counter currents and variable winds continually keep one working when trying to do a crossing during the rainy season. We left the breakwater entrance with a 15+ knot wind on the nose.
One of the biggest pangas I have seen, riding the swell in.
A huge panga streaked in the entrance running with the wind and swell as we turned out into the swell. Although not particularly high, about 8 to 10 feet, they were very close together making for an uncomfortable ride. As we got far enough through the anchored ships to turn west, the wind veered, coming out of the northwest as well. For the next 20 hrs we motor sailed into the confused seas. The bottom is quite shallow and the north coast of South America and the close Panama coast set-up a disarray of reflected waves. Some resulting in short period 12 foot high haystacks. Not fun. At night the effect could not be anticipated, just reacted to after the impact. Escudo, rising out of the sea, was a welcome sight.

Sandy, SW point on Isla Escudo de Veraguas as we departed
We checked both anchorages and decided the south west anchorage was best although neither was ideal for the west northwest wind we were experiencing. We were the only boat at anchor and only one panga was on the beach. After getting some sleep on the hook we decided to see how close the reef was. There were enough seas running that putting the motor on the dinghy would have been difficult so we just went in with masks, snorkels and fins. The water was warm and considering the conditions, surprising clear. It was good to finally be able to see the anchor well buried in the sand and that the tides would not vary our 15 foot depth much. After swimming a couple of hundred meters towards shore where shoaling was reported, no coral or rocks were found, just continuing sand bottom with very little marine life evident. The island does have good snorkelling but it would have to be for another day.

During the night with one of my anchor checks, I spotted a new anchor light just south east of us. As dawn broke, Sunrunner became visible. Paul had just spent 36 hours without sleep beating up to the anchorage after dropping his canal crew in Colon and making some coastal stops. He was happy to get the hook down and get some sleep.

We departed northwest to round the Valiente Peninsula at the southern edge of the Bocas Archipelago. We took the Cayo Crawl Passage between Isla Popa and Isla Bastimentos. Unfortunately our intended stop for a snorkel on the Cayos Zapatillas had to be passed because although the wind and waves were better, conditions did not warrant a stop.
Everyone got time on the helm -
Once inside the pass I was quickly reminded how shallow it was and how quickly the bottom came up from 30 feet to 6 foot sandy underwater knolls.  I managed to become briefly intimate with two of them but motored off successfully.
After the Skipper touched bottom twice!
The seas inside were calm but the rainy season cloud cover diminished the colours of our tropical paradise.

Again with several people on board, we decided to check into Bocas Marina. With shallows across the mouth of the bay it was great to be given some route directions in. The marina’s free shuttle panga makes regular trips across the bay into Bocas Town where we were hoping to get Bree, Matt and Doug booked onto flights back to Panama City. Surprise - all flights booked for three days which meant missing flights back to NY and Canada. After some sleuthing Bree came up with a great return trip by boat across the bay to Almirante, van through the jungle to Boquete, bus down to David and an available flight to P’ City. They had a great adventure and made their flights on time.
Bocas waterfront

Contrary to what I was accustomed to in the rainy/monsoon season of southeast Asia, there is no pattern to the weather here. Every day is different with thunder and lightning occurring any time of the day or night. We had a good blow that had boats at anchor dragging and an enormous flash of lightning put the power out in Bocas Town for several hours. Other incredible lightning storms have reminded me that we aren’t supposed to be here, we’re supposed to be in Ecuador! Damn earthquake! Although we have travelled a lot in Asia during the rainy season, the lack of predictability makes travel here a little more problematic. We will see what we can manage.
Canada Day at Bocas Marina

Mags and I are getting used to having the boat to ourselves again. Some really nice people on the dock but several are still in the process of leaving for the season so we are not sure how many stay here full time. Mags has done the cleaning of lockers that she was trying to get done before the canal and now the boat feels great. Bocas Town has several provisioning stores and lots of restaurants so exploring is fun. We have a few issues with the auto pilot not releasing the wheel when we go to Standby that I am chasing, probably the solenoid in the bypass valve, so life is back to normal. Doing boat projects in paradise, albeit a little wetter than the usual view of paradise.
It was great having Bree and Matt onboard, looking forward to the next time.