We stayed in Panama for a few days preparing for our journey and as usual a few unexpected problems to solve .We still had to get the second fridge fixed Edgar the fridge expert had been working on it since before the canal transit but it was still not finished. His initial estimate of half a day was rather optimistic ! Nothing unusual in that in the marine industry. To his credit he would not leave the task until he had finished and indeed he did fix it and it worked until we went onto the hard at the end of the journey.
That problem solved we moved to the next one! We had noticed the steering had become very stiff ,this had happened before in Hong Kong as some may remember, but we had hoped it would improve with some sailing and underwater cleaning but sadly not .So we decided it was not sensible to do a long passage with it like this so we hauled out in Panama to have a closer look .Luckily we could get out the next day and also there was no serious damage, it only needed to be dismantled and cleaned. It seemed many sea creatures had made it their home while we had been in the various marinas so after a mass slaughter and eviction the steering was feather light .
We were then able to leave, but wary of leaving on a Friday we went first to Isla Bona about 20 miles south of Panama city and had a perfect deserted calm anchorage in a delightful bay to wait until Saturday .One of those times that make sailing worthwhile ,beautiful birds ,full moon calm water ….
It was an early start the next morning to go with the tide which doubled our speed! We motor sailed most of the first day but conditions were fine and pleasant .The trouble started at 3.30am the next day and we had continuous squalls with strong wind and thunder and lightening for the next 48 hours .We did not know what the wind was at its maximum as our wind transducer had been struck by lightning in Colombia ,perhaps an advantage .It was very difficult to make our course as wind ,waves and the Humboldt current were n against us .Luckily the motor held up although the noise was sometimes alarming as the propeller came out of the water due to the swell .It was continually gray, heavy clouds and regular soakings which we were surprisingly cold considering how close to the equator we were ,rather different from Singapore . By the third day conditions improved although still cold and gray and we managed to sail most of that day.The fuel was getting rather low and although we had plenty in jerry cans the prospect of refueling in the rough sea was not enticing.
We crossed the equator at 00.07 24th October and paid as much tribute to Neptune as we could muster under such difficult circumstances and we reached Bahia Caraquez at dawn with some relief and anchored in probably the least sheltered anchorage ever ,fully exposed to the weather from the south west .Unfortunately the windlass failed again and after so much rocking around the chain was in a muddle and did not run freely .After a struggle we were attached to the ground but the swell was big and the wind still strong .We had to wait until high tide the following morning to get up the river Chone to Puerto Amistad .The entry is very tricky because of the sand banks created by the river silt but luckily we could have a pilot from the marina to guide us .We were delighted to see Pedro early the next morning we not only needed him as a pilot but also to help haul up the anchor as well which he did very willingly .It was a knife edge ride to enter the river, depth below 1.00 m and a very circuitous route and by this time our nerves were a little the worse for wear . It was a great pleasure to be anchored in the river by breakfast time and be able to make the coffee without spilling it!
We had a very pleasant relaxing few days in Bahia de Caraquez meeting several other very intrepid sailors , enjoying some nice meals in the town and running along the pacific promenade .John did a crash course in marine electronics and we fixed the windlass problem and we visited Montecristi the home of panama hat making and had an entertaining morning buying two.
We had intended to stay there while we travelled in Ecuador but realized we could not as there were no moorings available and our insurance would not allow us to leave the boat at anchor unattended. There were no pontoons although they are planned for the future .So we had to go south to our final destination Puerto Lucia yacht club to be able to meet Vanessa when she arrived in Quito. We set off for the remaining 120 miles with some trepidation and lots of fuel! After the knife edge ride to get out of the river, fortunately Pedro was with us again, we had a rough start so expected the worst, but as we had some protection from a large peninsula conditions gradually calmed and stayed that way so we kept quite close to the shore and could see all the bright lights of Manta the provincial capital.
Our next worry was getting entangled in fishing nets, we had read several accounts of this happening to yachts , even Jimmy Cornell himself had that problem so we had to keep a very good look out and avoid any fishing vessels and we escaped this trauma .We anchored for the night by an island again, wonderful bird life and very sheltered ,a little deep at 19 m but the Rocna held perfectly .The next day dawned gray as usual and we motored to Puerto Lucia as we had arranged to be lifted that afternoon .This eventually happened and apart from a last minute panic that the travel lift was too small for the boat and we would have to take the forestays or the back stays down we were finally on the ground .
We spent the next few days getting the boat ready for the stay ashore and then off to Quito to meet Vanessa and a land holiday .So that’s the end of our sailing for this year, let’s hope there will be more in 2014.
Happy Days to everyone!
PS photos to follow: internet connection too slow here in Puerto Lucia marina.