Thursday, February 28, 2019

San Andres, Columbia

San Andres, Columbia


San Andres is a positive surprise.

As expected it is a beautiful tropical island but several cruisers had said we should not bother stopping as it was so commercialized. Several years ago a Columbian president decided to make San Andres a duty free port and a playground for wealthy Columbians.
The clean Malecon
The main town is situated on the north east end of the island and the waterfront has a Malecon, sidewalk, that follows the coast from Nene’s Marina around the coast to a long white/golden sand beach.
white sand and hotels

kite surfers and shade tents

A new lifeguard in town.
The beach has long expanses of shade tents with chairs rented by the tourists who stay in the large hotels and apartments that line the land side of the shore road and malecon. In the blocks behind, modern high ceilinged, air conditioned, full frontal glazed, immaculate modern stores representing the name brands entice the wealthy tourists to spend, spend. SPEND. Actually, most of the stores have few or no shoppers and the beautiful, young, smart-uniformed staff stand by the open front doors, perusing their cell phones while mildly curious if the passers-by may indeed enter the store. There is a Columbia Brand store where for a mere $1,600,000 Columbian Pesos, now quickly do the math and divide by 3,000 to get $266ish US$, for one of their ubiquitous fishing shirts. I passed.

The beauty of San Andres lies immediately beyond the big brand stores. In the nine days there Mags and I developed our “go to” merchants in the small crowded shops where if they did not have what we wanted they would give us directions to another small, crowded shop that appeared to have everything the previous merchant had plus that one thing we were searching for. Oh, and for a price comparison, I managed to by two pair of soccer shorts for $12 US. We often ate in the small cafes where a large bowl of soup, a quarter of a big chicken or several pork chops, with salad, rice, beans and bread cost $3 to $4. Poor Mags was generally full after the soup.

Balconies on a government office and our 
grocery store beyond
The people, shopkeepers and other customers, were incredibly friendly and curious as to where we came from and I think, more than mildly surprised that we had ventured into their side of town. The tourists do not. We did go to a higher end restaurant, The Gourmet Shop,
The Gourmet Restaurant's pork medallions in sauce and 
chicken on a baked pear sauce
 where both the flavours and presentation were excellent. Our meals and drinks were about $35 for both of us, far more economical than comparable in Vancouver.

San Andres is very safe, with the exception of the traffic. Timing your crossing of streets to coincide with the flow of motor bikes, golf carts, quads and cars is an art we perfected in Asia and were soon back to using. Just do not change your pace or intention. We rented a quad and drove on every road on the island, first the coastal perimeter and then the various interior roads. We stopped for a ceviche and camarones lunch,  lunch, watched the wind from a coastal blow-hole blow the tourist’s long hair vertical and stopped for a very good snorkelling excursion on a deserted lava-lined beach. Well, deserted until the other people in their rented vehicles saw us and decided we were where they should be. Actually, great fun and we were surprised how many of the tourists were from Brazil. We also visited an old wood structure home Museum that had raised generations of San Andreans, with a lovely guide explaining the old implements and furnishings, some of which Mags and I grew up with. In the interior villages the smiles were infectious, from little children to the elderly. Again, we encountered no tourists off the coastal road. So, quite clearly, San Andres is a tale of two places and the very good side so completely outweighs the part that did not appeal to us so we are really happy we stopped.

Ceviche and Camarones

The marina staff led by owner, Nene and supported by Antonio and Guillermo were really helpful and friendly as was our agent Rene. Our marina neighbours, Stephan, originally from Belgium, and his wife, Pamela, from Costa Rica, on s/v Coco Prinz were enjoying the drier cooler air of San Andres so much they decided to stay another week or so. They were fun people to be med moored beside. We had been across the dock from them in Bocas del Toro. Cruising can be a small world.

Friday, February 8, 2019

Isla San Andres

Isla San Andres, Columbia


Finally, Sailing Again

Last sunrise at Marina Bocas

Bocas del Toro to Isla San Andreas, Columbia

We had a fabulous time in Bocas del Toro, albeit a much longer stay than planned. We have made friends there we will see again either cruising or by land travels. (Yes s/v Goenplaces II, Dave, you, Mags and I will see Max in Lankawi, Malasia. Porque no?) 
A farewell from close friends, Russell, Dave, Rich, Larry, 
Christian and Brian. We'll miss you guys!

We will miss all the staff of Bocas Marina who were wonderful and became good friends. We wish you and your families well. Bocas is great for provisioning and repairs, we recommend it highly.

While there we replaced our VW/Audi/Pathfinder engine with a new 54hp Yanmar 4JH5E that is so quiet and starts instantly. We hauled Kanilela out at the Almirante boat yard and did the engine swap ourselves. The yard is set in a filled clearing behind a mangrove coastline. It has both a mobile crane and travellift but is off the electrical grid with a genset running only during working hours. Again, Dave from Goenplaces II came to the rescue and loaned us his Honda 2000 genset so we could run our air conditioner while hauled out. Without it the month we were there would have been very difficult so he saved me from a mutiny. The chitres (no-see-ums) would have been unbearable.

We had 4 new agm house batteries shipped down from Florida and they are performing perfectly.

Our pvc/aluminum inflatable dinghy split a seam last month but we very were fortunate that a friend in the marina, Shannon on s/v Elsewhere, had just bought a new hypalon/aluminum inflatable that did not fit his big catamaran. In discussions we decided to buy his brand new 15 hp Yamaha engine as well. The new dinghy flies so we can get 4 people to snorkel/dive sites in minutes. Thank you Shannon.

As well we had parts and new equipment too numerous to itemize both purchased in Bocas, shipped from Florida and carried in our luggage from Vancouver. Kanilela was ready for her first crossing since arriving in Bocas 2.5 years earlier.

Looking North at Laguna Bluefield, fisherman in a beautiful 
new cayuco
We left Bocas on Thursday but only sailed to Bluefields Lagoon about 20 miles east of Bocas to spend two nights at anchor to relax and make sure that all systems were working. The trip to San Andres is 200 miles so the stop also ensured we would arrive on Monday, not the weekend. Bluefields, named after the Dutch pirate Bluefeld who frequented the bay, is beautiful. There are a few indigenous villages in the lagoon with numerous possible anchorages but we chose the first one on the SW corner after taking a leisurely cruise around the long bay. We knew that our friend Ignacio who runs the shuttle panga at Bocas Marina owned the point area we were anchored beside. Although Ignacio lives mainly in Bocas, his wife and some children and several grandchildren live on the bay we anchored in. We spent a leisurely morning and early afternoon doing a few boat chores while watching a group of five kids on the jungle lined beach with a cayuco (a dugout canoe) pulled up the bank and another cayuco with three people fishing along the coast. The ones fishing were in the hot sun for several hours without being able to move around in the cayuco. 
The two cayucos leaving Kanilela, heading to the village
in the distance.
In the afternoon we watched as the fishing cayuco joined the other on the beach and large bunches of plantains, (starchy bananas), old coconuts and yuccas were loaded into both cayucos.  They then left the beach and paddled out to Kanilela with four people in each. They were a middle aged woman who had been in the fishing cayuco, six girls ranging from late teens down to a five year old and one young boy. The cayucos were loaded with plantains, coconuts, yuccas and a few dozen fish they had caught. We told them we knew Ignacio and their faces lit up. In the course of a conversation in my Spanish and the older ones explaining to the young ones in their Indian dialect we learned that three of the girls and the young boy were Ignacio’s son’s children. 
Beautiful in the late afternoon sun
Ignacio was their abuelo they proudly said with shy smiles. After a short, smiling visit they departed paddling towards the village across the bay that they could not have reached before darkness had closed in.

As an aside on the Panamanian indigenous cayucos. They are carved out of a single tree and can range from as small as six to seven feet up to forty plus feet. 
More than 40 feet (12m) long by 6.5 feet (2 m) deep,
difficult to get a shot that gives its true perspective.
In the 2.5 years we watched a very big one being carved and then finished in Almirante. 
The adze work both inside and out was amazing followed 
months of sanding and finishing.
It was nearly ready for launching on my last visit to the Port Captain in Almirante to get out Zarpe documents to leave Panama. We were often amazed by six or seven kids out in the bay at Bocas playing in a cayuco with only two inches of freeboard and someone constantly bailing. As you travel through the archipelago the cayucos are ubiquitous, with men and women out fishing and children playing. The largest have outboard motors but most are paddled. While in Dolphin Bay we anchored near an Indian village that had small open deck restaurant over the water. The fish tacos we had were excellent and the beer was cold but most interesting was the local Indian who came up in his cayuco and ordered a beer. He stayed in the cayuco with the restaurant deck at the perfect armrest height. In the course of an hour or so he had three beer and then left paddling a few kilometers across the bay. He never left the comfort of his cayuco. In Laguna Bluefield we saw several brand new cayucos that were the beautiful honey brown colour of new wood. All very reminiscent of our time in Alert Bay off Vancouver Island when twenty plus first nations dugouts arrived on a coastal journey north.

We left Bluefields at about 4:00pm for the two nights and one day trip north to San Andres. The Bocas coast is a world renowned surfing area with breaks exceeding ten feet so you have to choose your departure time well. Our forecast was for waves to six feet, wind light. The winds from the north were light but the waves were in the ten to twelve feet compounded by the reflected waves off the various irregular coastlines. A veritable washing machine. Motorsailing into the wind, pitching and rolling in all directions for our first time back at sea in 2.5 years.

Although we had regularly added biocides to our diesel tank and because it had been near full I thought the condensation and sludge issues would be minimal. The constant rolling and pounding stirred up our fuel tanks that in fact were a mess. In the middle of the night I drained off water and sludge from the two engine filters, 10 and 2 micron, and went back to our day tank. After running through the day tank I transferred fuel from the main tank to the day tank through our 20 micron Recor 500 filter. After running for several more hours it was apparent that I would have to change all the filters to be able to continue. This is not a fun job in a sweltering engine room over a hot engine in rolling seas but eventually was completed. After about one hundred miles the wind had clocked to the NE and the seas became less irregular, also from the NE. We were sailing and feeling much better. Late in the afternoon Mags noticed our house battery charge was getting low. After a bunch of checking I found a connection from the solar panels that had melted and failed. After repairs it still did not seem to be getting the afternoon charge it should so we decided to motorsail again to provide power to the autopilot.  We travelled through the night with only one more incident when the Jabsco transfer pump spun its impellor while trying to refill the day tank. Fortunately we have spares and after again cuddling the hot engine in a sweltering engine room in the middle of the night the new impellor was in and the fuel transferred. The worst part of fuel issues is that you cannot relax, you are constantly concerned the engine will stop at the most inopportune time.

Finally dawn came and Mags got some land fall photos of San Andreas in the distance as we approached the entry buoy. While we were dropping and stowing the sails to enter the channel through and behind the reef into San Andreas we had an Armada Maritime large inflatable with 3-300 hp engines and pilot house on it approached and wanted to board. We of course invited them on as we continued up the channel, Mags at the helm. Four very friendly young naval personnel and a beautiful golden Labrador came on board, checked our documents, opened most compartments and sniffed everywhere, the dog did the sniffing and they left us just prior to our arrival at the only marina in San Andres, Columbia.
M/v Chartwell and s/v's Coco Prinz and Kanilela Med moored
 to the dock at Nene's Marina.
We decided to opt for the Marina because I thought I may need power to solve the charging issues and possibly have the fuel in the tank polished.

We are stern tied to a dock on the Malecon. The marina staff are friendly and were patient with my inability to smoothly Med-moor.  The water is clean and a beautiful blue. 
Palms and bright colours of the Malecon at the Marina.

The street in front is a frenzy of activity with motorbikes and scooters to rival any Asian city. We have done a little walking in the town and as a duty free resort for wealthy Columbians it is teeming with activity. Kanilela has her encrusted salt washed off and sails all stowed. The two nights sleep have been glorious and tomorrow we plan to take the dinghy out to the reef for some snokelling.

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


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……