We arrived at the Barillas Marina Club (a great place; check out their website!) on Fri. the 13th at 08:15, six days (137 hours) and 1025.6 nm after our quick fuel stop in Barra de Navidad, giving us an average speed of 7.5 knots. The weather treated us remarkably well, considering that we had to pass a chunk of water known for its potential for violence. We enjoyed watching the porpoises and sea turtles (many with a sea gull perched on top), and were successful in avoiding the several areas of fish nets marked only with small black flags mounted on low floats. Another challenge was threading our way through what appeared to be a congregation of the entire Mexican shrimping fleet clustered on the Mexican side of the boarder shared with Guatemala. This exercise was markedly different from the many watches that passed without encountering a single other vessel.
From the time we left Cabo we'd known that a trip straight through would have us arriving before dawn at the meeting place outside the reef protecting Bahia de Jiquilisco (13º 7' N / 88º 25' W) and the Barillas Marina, but we'd gone anyway, based on arrival time at Santa Cruz Huatulco where we expected to have to wait on a weather window to pass the Golfo de Tehuantepec (departure time plus expected time enroute equals expected arrival time). Since it was important to make the Huatulco arrival time fall during daylight (why make entering a strange port more difficult by trying to do it during the hours of darkness??), that governed our departure time out of Cabo.
Approaching Hualtulco we checked with Walt Hack, our weather advisor, via satellite phone. Although not ideal, he suggested that Tehuantepec was a "go", and the crew concurred. Here is Sandy's impression of our passage."We started through Tehuantepec with some trepidation. Things got pretty rough - particularly at the beginning, when we were a little farther offshore winding our way past the numerous anchored ships at the commercial port of Salina Cruz. The winds built to 39 knots, somewhat above the 30 to 35 predicted, and the waves seemed to come from nowhere.
"We all sat on the pilothouse settee, watching the waves hitting against the pilothouse windows, seeing (through the aft facing hatch in the pilothouse) the spray splashing down inside the flying bridge. We could also sense the bulbous bow coming out of the water and feel the resounding boom as it went back into the waves. Finally things calmed down enough for us all to go to bed. Our surprise was complete when we awoke the next morning to a flat calm and a sunny day!"
Making the Tehuantepec crossing without stopping to wait for a weather window was delightfully unexpected, the only drawback being that we knew it would make our arrival at Jiquilisco Bay occur, as they say, at 0 dark thirty. Accordingly we slowed from 1575 rpm down to 1500, then 1400, and ultimately to 1150 to delay our arrival til after dawn. Apparently we were caught in a mighty current because, despite our slowing the engine, our speed over the ground continued to rise, peaking at over 9 knots. This current from behind, in the face of the large swells coming toward us, gave us quite a few hours of what felt like a roller coaster ride. To continue quoting Sandy, "It had those of us not on watch bouncing off our pillows, so we again gathered in the pilot house."
Inevitably, we arrived at our second to last waypoint at 03:15, and on my watch. With an entire fleet of El Salvadorian shrimp boats anchored in the area, I elected to zigzag back and forth for the 7 nm remaining before we reached our final way point outside the reef, spending 1 hr. 45 min) doing so.
Still just short of that last waypoint, our assigned meeting point for the ponga which would lead us through the reef and up the rivers to Barillas Marina, I was happy to turn over the watch to Tom at 0500.
Optimist that he is, Tom expected the marina to open for business at 0600, and began calling them on the VHF at that time. About 30 minutes later he was answered by a cruiser at the marina who told us that no one was at work yet, but that Donna Rose would try to round up someone to help us. Before 0700 we heard the good news that the guide boat was on its way! (Pongas are the ubiquitous local craft, shaped somewhat like a huge, sturdy fiberglass bathtub. They are nearly 25 feet long, outboard powered, easily handled by one local man, rarely are seen with more than 3, and are occasionally encountered far out to sea (with minimal lights, if any at all), carrying the men to the fishing grounds.
The entrance into Barillas took us past the impressive breakers of the reef, then coconut plantations, native villages, miles of mangroves and a spectacular view of Volcan San Miguel and Cerro Azul (Blue Hill). The ponga driver, Luis helped us secure Boundary Waters to a mooring ball, then brought the El Salvadorian officials to the boat.
Unfortunately, when the papers were prepared for us to leave Cabo, the person able to issue an international zarpe (the paper authorizing passage from country to country) had been "unavailable". Of course, the officials present in the office assured us that this would cause "no problem" so, rather than waiting for the absent official, the decision had been to accept a domestic zarpe to Acapulco. Bad move! In addition to a fine, (negotiated from something astronomical down to about $55 by the ever helpful marina manager), we had to agree to a "thorough inspection" (more like a boat tour). On top of that, the Port Captain also required a written statement of support for our plea to remain in the country from the marina manager (fortunately he remembered Tom from our previous visit here!), the customs inspector, the on site representative of the Port Captain (a nervous looking man with one chevron), and the severe looking immigration officer. Apparently this occurs fairly frequently as the U.S. does not issue zarpes at all, and Mexico bureaucrats often don't wish to go to the trouble of doing the proper paperwork.
As soon as we got the word that we'd been formally cleared, (escaping the threatened personal visit to the Port Captain's downtown office, a $60 taxi ride away), and finding out that even the token fine had been waived, we grabbed the next ponga for a ride to the marina bar (first drink for arriving cruisers is on the house!) and then to the swimming pool!
Yesterday the crew took an all day tour of El Salvador nearly to the Guatemalan border with our wonderful and charming guide, Celina. Among the sights we saw were the volcano-preservedMayan village of Joya de Cerén ('The Pompeii of the Americas' from roughly 500 AD), the nearby U.S. Embassy (one of the 3 biggest in the world) a brief glimpse of San Salvador and many of El Salvador's 52 volcanoes. The indigenous Indians range from the amazingly petite Olmecs to the tall, rangy Aztecs with the extremely angular faces. Fascinating to see!
Departure time from here is still under discussion, but is likely to be early next week. More then!
PS Right now, noon, Mon 12/6, we're hoping, weather gods willing, to head out tomorrow about 2 pm for Balboa, Panama City, Panama.
It is noon, Saturday, December 21, and we've just arrived at the quarantine anchorage within view of the Bridge of the Americas which is the Pan American Highway bridge over the Panama Canal. We made this last 767 nm in 5 minutes under 95 hours, and are excited to have reached this milestone!
Future plans: our wonderful canal agent, Peter Stevens (bearer of the previously ordered computer monitor as well as gift books and fresh bread), is currently working to get us on the list to pass through the Canal on Monday, December 23. Otherwise we'll be delayed here until after Christmas.
Details: So far we've covered 2,976.1 nm since we left Dana Point (on Sun., 11/24) which represents two-thirds of our expected mileage to Ft. Pierce. It has taken us 374 hrs. 55 min. spread over parts of 20 days underway to make it this far, with only 8 days of no travel at all.
On this last leg we've reached our southern most point: 07º07.7' (0734 yesterday morning, just south of Isla Jicaron, which is just south of Isla de Coiba) and our eastern most point: 79º30.48'. Just ahead of us is the challenge and excitement of the Panama Canal, the Crossroads of the Americas! I'll try to give you a few words of history and geography later, but if you're at all interested, David McCullough's "The Path Between The Seas" tells it far better than I can. An imposingly sized paperback, it is quick reading that I enjoyed very much.
Challenges met: When we were in Cabo I spent an entire long, frustrating day trying to get the ship's computer to send e-mail via the satellite phone and was never successful. After numerous satellite phone calls to both e-mail provider and electronics guru, it appeared to connect in the couple of minutes I had to test it in Navidad. Unfortunately, I didn't have the time to get my disk of email (composed on my laptop) inserted and sent at that time. Between Navidad and Barillas the computer monitor failed and since then the computer has been useless to us. Another couple of phone calls to Nordhavn's electronics guru and they agreed to send a replacement monitor to Panama. (It's here and installed. Wish me luck!)
At Barillas, on the Monday that we'd intended to leave (12/16), the generator suddenly shut itself down, sending these air conditioning dependent folks into shock! Fortunately, a neighboring cruiser, Charlie on Mystic, dropped in and together the guys were able to spot a couple of ground wire attachments that had shaken loose. Our engine room wizards were easily able to fix that problem. Whew!! Incidentally, it was Sherry off Mystic who took the fabulous photo of Boundary Waters that has been emailed to some of you (we didn't want to clog up everyone's inbox with unexpected photos). Thank you both, Sherry and Charlie!
Two days later the entire inverter system shut down early in the morning. The unexpected complication was that our generator was wired to make only 240v (we still had the use of the washer, dryer and air conditioning). We were unable to make coffee, toast or anything else on the 120 v system. Oh, horrors! But, with the dependable satellite phone and the resourceful folks at Nordhavn, we were able to test our options and ultimately decided to wire around the inverter (which is now toast) and hook the generator directly to the ship's 120 v system. (That solution will soon be hard wired to a permanent switch to ease any future inverter hiccups!)
In this list should, perhaps, be the numerous hours we've spent plowing into head seas in the last couple of days. Remarkably, the motion of the boat is rather tame (though a bit on the short, sharp and jerky side). What is remarkable is the noise of, we presume, the bulbous bow pounding back into the water. A peculiar jarring crash, it sounds and feels as if the boat itself has been dropped a couple of feet onto cement. This motion brought down a couple of the decorative overhead panels in the forward stateroom, the only damage being to the wiring in the reading light located in one of the panels.
During this boat motion I could hear, coming from behind the door that opens from the back wall of our shower stall, the 'muttering' of the anchor chain as the links moved over each other. I didn't think much of the quiet, rather soothing noise until it changed to a rather pronounced 'clink'. Investigating (being the nosey type), I discovered that the chain now led from the anchor down to the *bottom* of the pile of anchor chain. Giving it a couple of hearty tugs brought absolutely no reaction, and I realized that it would take more strength than I have to rearrange all that heavy chain so that the anchor could again run freely.
Always hating to be the bearer of bad tidings, I nevertheless felt that this information should be made known sooner, rather than later. Ron and Tom heard the news with that "oh, so what's the big deal" expression that many husbands spend a lifetime perfecting, so I committed my info to a yellow 'post-it' and stuck it to the anchor windlass control in the pilot house.
Skip ahead with me to our entry into Balboa Harbor, with all of us showered and groomed for entry formalities (read: clean tee shirts, shorts and bare feet), and we're given instructions from 'Flamenco Signal', the local VTS (vessel traffic system official), to anchor in a certain part of the charted small boat anchorage. Reminding Tom and Ron of the state of the anchor chain, I was invited to join in the fun. Declining the privilege, Sandy and I opted for helm duty while they wrestled with unearthing at least 100 ft of chain so that we could anchor. Doing that chore, one in the sun and humidity out on deck, the other one doing the heavy work in the close confines of the doorway at the back of the shower stall, I hope, made them believers in my many little 'post-it' messages.
The last challenge, so far, has been the stabilization system. It began with growling noises emanating from the engine room. Eventually traced to the stabilizer pump, it appeared that the direct belt drive from the engine was slipping enough that the stabilizer pump drive pulley would actually stop. With a great deal of disassembly (all the guard rails and protective pieces keeping engine parts and crew parts separate had to be removed) the way was finally clear to get enough purchase on the pulley to tighten up the belt. It has now operated properly for over 24 hours. Unfortunately, we don't have a spare belt, but we'll attempt to purchase one in Panama City.
It's official! We'll be headed through the Canal tomorrow, Tues., December 24, Christmas Eve Day. We're supposed to leave Isla Flamanco about 0630, and we expect to be in the first lock, Miraflores Lock, about 0900.
If you care to see us on live camera -- go to www.pancanal.com , click on 'live camera' and look for us, Boundary Waters, *about* 9 AM Eastern Time. Of course, there is a prize for the best photo of us printed from the web. ;-)
Next stop: Bocas Del Toro, Panama for a couple of days rest (read: oil change and boat cleaning). After that, either Isla Mujeres, Mexico (near Cancun) or, weather gods willing, direct to Marathon, FL! Wish us luck!!
Happy New Year! Today is Tues., December 31, and Boundary Waters is at Nene's Marina in Isla San Andres, Colombia. We arrived Sunday about 1330 after a very long and bumpy 27-hour trip from Bocas, from which we had departed at 1030 Sat., Dec. 28. The trip was 196.3 nm, for an avg. speed of 7.3 kts.
Current status: We're about due east of the center of Nicaragua's eastern shore where it runs north to south. The island appears to be moderately high hills, covered in coconut palms interspersed with a scattering of condo and hotel complexes. Beaches seem to be its forte, the water being that gorgeous, swimming pool aqua. Playground for the well-to-do Colombians, it doesn't seem to be a cruiser's destination, judging from the disproportion of work boats to pleasure boats. Even there, sport fishermen (hunting bill fish) predominate over what I'd call cruising boats.
Future plans: Right now the weather report indicates that we probably won't be able to leave here before Thursday (1/2/03) because of cold fronts in the Gulf of Mexico. Depending on what those fronts do, our next stop might be Grand Cayman, Roatan (Honduras), Isla Mujeres (Mex) or even, pie in the sky, Marathon, FL. The entire crew has all their fingers crossed for a quick and smooth leg from here.
Recent history: On our trip here, the weather was just about what the forecaster had predicted: winds to 30 k, waves 8 to 10 ft., with a few showers. Hardly ideal cruising weather, but the best available window we'd have for the next 5 days, and the Bensons are most anxious to get their beautiful new boat back to US waters. We'd prepared well for the expected bumps, stowing or bungeeing down all items likely to move, the only exception being ourselves. Underway, we each moved as little as was humanly possible to avoid being tossed around. Unfortunately Ron was compelled, when not on watch, to be everywhere, constantly seeking the gremlins in the engine room or spare parts in the aft lazarette.
Sleep was a very iffy affair, even though Tom and I moved from the forward stateroom to the pull-out settee bunk in the saloon. When we finally arrived here, got the boat secure (Med mooring in a cross wind takes quite a bit of time and effort! More about that at the end.) and entrance formalities completed, I slept for 14 hours straight. Need I say more?
Ancient history: There didn't appear to be much of note in the small town of Bocas, but the local cruising seemed to be magnificent. I'd have loved to have stayed around Bocas for a few days longer because two sets of old friends, sea sisters both, were there -- Sue and George on Suething are in the process of buying land there, and I finally got to meet Cher and Wayne on Illihee! How can you "just" meet an old friend, you ask? Through the wonders of modern technology, I have many dear friends on whom I've never set eyes. Cher and I have been corresponding for more than 5 years, back when they were still cruising Alaska, and here we are, finally getting to meet in Central America! But such are the wonders of cruising life!
Challenges: The mechanical gremlins were definitely with us on this leg! The two overhead panels in the forward stateroom were jarred down again in the first hour due to our rough ride. Fortunately, we discovered, the wiring for that reading light is a special, simplified spade connector -- no damage when it pulls loose!
In the next hour we noticed the main bilge pump light staying on. Ron descended from the pilot house, down through the pitching boat and into the hot engine room to check. He found that only one bilge blower was operating normally and that temps in there were even more uncomfortable than usual. He also discovered that there was indeed water in the bilge, but not enough to justify the pump running continually. By sticking his arm past the rapidly spinning propeller shaft, down into the shaft tunnel and manipulating the float switch, he was able to confirm that the primary bilge pump wasn't responding. By the time he was able to emerge with that info the circuit breaker on the bilge pump had snapped itself into the off position. That took care of one problem, but left us with another.
All too soon we became aware of an irritating amount of water in the bilge. Certainly not a dangerous amount, not enough for the secondary bilge pump to pick up, but just enough to occasionally set off the high water alarm when the boat jerked more abruptly than usual. Identifying the problem required Ron to, once again, go from hand hold to hand hold and enter the noisy, sweaty, smelly engine room, impressing those crew members sitting still and concentrating on the horizon.
Fortunately, this well equipped boat has a third, hydraulic bilge pump which runs off the wing engine. (That entire system is amazing -- I'll try to get Ron to tell you all about it!) So, we fired up the wing engine, switched on the hydraulic system and the bilge pump on that system, and immediately the water was gone! OK, so where'd the water come from?
Ron again went into that stiflingly hot engine room and discovered that we had a leak in the water maker: an 'O' ring chafed through where the filter chamber attaches to the unit. Looking for the necessary spare part required Ron to move through the jerking boat to go out on the aft deck to the lazarette (where he, overheated from the engine room, was repeatedly doused with salt water pouring down from spray landing on the boat deck as well as from waves sweeping across the aft cockpit deck through the scuppers). However, he drew another blank after searching through the box of spare parts. With Ann's ubiquitous silicon caulk and a quantity of Teflon plumber's tape that 'O' ring connection was temporarily set to rights.
Next we noticed the light beside the fresh water pump circuit breaker remaining on far too much. Guessing that it indicated a leak, we searched through all the inspection panels we could find on the tossing and pitching boat, but we were not able to find it underway. Another item to be repaired during our time in port, except that now the fresh water pump appears to be working normally! Hummm! Very difficult to fix something that begins to work correctly on its own!
Once we were securely docked I asked Ron about his thoughts while spending so much time moving around the wildly tossing boat and going into the miserable heat of the engine room. What he remembers most is deciding that, if the boat pitched enough to cause him to fall, that he'd rather land on the guard rails around the running engine than hit a Racor and possibly breaking off one of those see through plastic bowls. Deep thoughts for the 'holy place'.
Here in port, Ron continues to battle the mechanical gremlins. First order of business was locating and checking out the primary bilge pump. Examination of the wonderful Nordhavn manual (a fabulous compilation of info for each individual boat) led him to the pump located under the lazarette floorboards (under all the cases of oil and other supplies stowed there). The motor of the little diaphragm pump seemed to be frozen. Further checking revealed a strainer between the inlet hose and the pump itself. Clogged with the detritus of new boat and ocean, it was obvious that the blockage had caused the primary bilge pump to fail. A check among the various pumps in the spare parts locker showed a replacement belt and diaphragm for the pump, but no spare bilge pump motor. Careful disassembly did not fully reveal the problem, but after Ron reassembled it he took the pump to a local repair shop in hopes that the pros can fix it.
That should bring you completely up to date on the adventures of Boundary Waters and her crew. Have a safe and happy New Year!
P.S. Mediterranean mooring: a method of cramming the largest number of boats into the smallest amount of dock space. Rather than pull up along side the dock (thus taking 50 + feet for this 50 foot long boat), Med mooring involves dropping an anchor roughly 3 boat lengths out from the dock, then backing the boat to bring the stern swim platform within stepping-off distance of the dock (thus using only 16 feet of dock, equal to the beam of this boat). Holding the boat in place against the inevitable cross wind necessitates use of lines off both sides of the stern and from both amidships cleats. Angling out from the boat to the dock, these lines must strike a balance between the best possible angle (inevitably encroaching on the neighboring boat's space) and the straight line run to the dock cleats (not giving enough purchase to keep the boat from twisting out of place).