Sunday, November 9, 2014

Third Attempt

This time things turned out different.  Not necessarily better, but different.  We are no longer in Panama, we are not in the Marquesas either.  We are in Behia Caraquez, Ecuador some six or seven hundred miles south.

We had a really great run out of Panama, motor sailing south at very low rpm's to escape the convection storms with their thunder and lightening.  When we cleared these we turned right for the south Pacific and had several days of really good sailing.  We sailed more on this leg then we did during two years in Mexico.  The wind was usually from about 220 ranging from 15 to 25 knots, our course was 270 so we were close hauled punching into the wind and waves. 

We did a lot of experimenting with sail combinations as the wind speed rose and fell, looking for a nice compromise between speed and comfort.  I really would rather be comfortable then fast, but our son Kris was all about speed.  I drove him crazy with my old man style of sailing. 

Besides trying to satisfy my need for comfort, our wind vane autopilot needed to have the boat's sails adjusted so they were "balanced".  The force the main sail develops tries to turn the boat into the wind while the head sail turns the boat away from the wind.  If the balance between the two turning forces is equal it is possible to let go of the wheel and the boat will continue to sail straight ahead.  This is what the vane needs.  It does a great job when all it has to do is make minor corrections.  Actually that's all it can do since it can only turn the wheel about half a turn either direction.  I did find a way to get the sails balanced, but I must be doing something wrong because I had to depower the main to the point that it contributed very little to moving the boat.  We could have dropped it and not lost any speed.  I need to talk with some of our friends who own BaBa 40's to see how they did it.

Another thing we experimented with was fishing.  Neither Judy nor I fish.  We figured that landing and cleaning a fish would be difficult and messy, leaving us with blood stained teak decks.  We were right.  It is hard to land a large fish.  It is messy filleting one, there are blood stains on deck.  But having fresh dorado for dinner makes it very worth while.  Thanks Kris for showing us how cool fishing is.

One of the cruising notes on the passage between Panama and the Galapagos warns of a small Columbian island, Malpelo Island several hundred miles from the mainland.  The note says stay away.  Malpelo, a nature preserve and site of a Columbian military base, may not be visited without prior arrangements, Occasional tour groups do go there to swim with it's famous schools of hammerhead sharks.  Its like a mini Galapagos island,  whose ecosystem evolved in it's own unique way. 

The military maintains a 6.6 mile restricted area around the island.  And wouldn't you know it, my excellent navigational skills brought us within 6 miles to the south.  They knew we were close, we heard them talking about the "barko on the border" but it was a blustery day with choppy seas. Perhaps this discouraged them from sending anyone out to chase us away.

We had one other mini adventure before disaster struck.  The day after we snuck past Malpelo, we were buzzed by a civilian helicopter shortly before sunset.  About an hour after dark we saw three fast launches come over the horizon heading right at us.  This was a bit disconcerting since we were only a few hundred miles off the Columbian border.  I had visions of drug runners taking over Grace.  About the only thing I could think of was to break into the cruiser check-ins taking place on the Marine Maritime Net at 14300 KHz. and report our situation to the net controller.  He took our report and asked what they could do for us.  I asked them pass on our position and what was happening to the Coast Guard if we did not call them in an hour with an "all ok".  The net controller and a couple old hands that were tuned in decided to give the Coast Guard a heads up right away pending our call in an hour. 

Well, thank Goodness, nothing happened.  The launches altered course, each one heading in a different direction, then a few minutes later a large vessel came over the horizon from the same direction the launches had come.  It passed by about 5 miles away before disappearing below the horizon again to our rear.  We started speculating about what we had seen and reached a tentative conclusion that the big boat was a fish processor, the launches were out chasing fish, and the helicopter was their fish spotter.  An hour later I was back on 14300 giving them the all ok message.  It was nice to have someone out there to call and know they would spread the alert.  The Coast Guard has a ship off Panama, so there could have been a fairly timely intervention if that had become necessary.

And now, the disaster that caused us to turn back.  Since turning west Judy and I kept getting whiffs of fuel in the cabin and out in the cockpit.  At first I thought the smell was coming from one of our jerry jugs filled with gasoline, as it had a small crack in the cap.  But the smell continued after I fixed the cap.  I started looking around and quickly found a small pool of diesel in the drip pan beneath the engine.  I looked at all the connections in the fuel lines and found nothing, so I turned the engine on and immediately found the leak.  One of the high pressure pipes between the fuel pump and injectors had a split.  It was spraying out a high pressure stream of diesel.


Hey, no problem.  I got out my Marine Tec epoxy, the most expensive epoxy I've ever bought.  It claims to be strong as steel when it dries.  I thought this was going to be a slam dunk fix.  I prepped the metal pipe per Marine Tex instructions, slathered on the epoxy, let it set overnight and the next morning......started all over again.  Mechanically talented readers are probably laughing their asses off at my stupidity after checking out the picture and know why I had to strip off the Marine Tec epoxy.  If you don't see the problem with this fix, welcome to my world.

I spent a great deal of time grinding off the epoxy, and managed to leave a thin layer of it over the split in the pipe.  Since I had used up all the Marine Tec, I applied 4 layers of fiberglass cloth using conventional epoxy, then wrapped this with self bonding "Rescue Tape" then clamped up the repair with band clamps.

The system pressure is 2600 psi, so I was not expecting a permanent fix.  I was hoping for an hour or so, enough to get over the bar at Behia Caraquez, Ecuador, but fuel started seeping out at the edges of the repair in about a minute.  We would have to get a tow across the bar into the behia.

We continued to have good winds on our way to Ecuador.  We were hoping to arrive in time to catch the morning tide, but as we closed with the coast winds went light.  We thought we could make the afternoon tide.  We had to break out the asymmetrical spinnaker and relearn how to fly it. 

We sailed to the waypoint where we would meet our tow, arriving about an hour early.  We dropped the hook and waited.  But not for long, a large panga appeared, tied up to the port side of Grace and began the 30 minute tow to our mooring at Puerto Amistad.  Everything went well as we made our way through the choppy sea. 


Behia Caraquez

A big thank you to Oliver on Mary Ann who called the marina and made the arrangements for our tow.  Also thank you Jacques on Nave, who along with Oliver gave us weather and moral support while we were under way.

Behia Caraquez
The condos along the waterfront are
owned, in most cases, by well to do Ecuadorians
who visit occasionally.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Second attempt at leaving

Our second attempt to leave was another bust.

We hit a storm, tore our headsail a bit, lost our wind instrument sensor at the top of the mast, and found our spreader lights had both burned out. 

We had also used quite a bit of fuel clawing out of the Gulf of Panama against the current.

The storm, with sustained winds in the high 30's with gusts into the mid 40's was totally unexpected.  Our weather report predicted light winds.  We expected to be motoring.  After about 6 hours of high winds, total darkness, waves about 5 seconds apart and a thunderbumper with lightening ahead, we turned around and run with it.  Ending up back where we had started the day before, we anchored, got some sleep, sewed up the tears in the headsail, then decided another attempt to head south against light wind and big current would leave us short of fuel.  Since we depend upon diesel to generate power as well as moving the boat, we decided not to use up what was left of our reserves just to get out of Panama.  Back in Panama City we have refueled, and replaced our wind sensor and spreader lights.

We will be leaving again real soon for the third attempt.  Since I never get anything right until at least the third try we are hopefully optimistic.

We left with two other sailboats.  Maryann, a beautiful one-off custom boat had to turn back early in the day, and rode the storm back to Panama City to repair their engine's high pressure fuel pump, the pump that gives fuel the last push through the injectors into the engine cylinders.  Nave, the second sailboat, managed the storm well and continued on westward toward the south Pacific.  They had several days of excellent progress until they hit a whale, damaging their rudder and cracking the fiberglass of the hull near the rudder causing a small water leak.  They have reached Salinas, Ecuador and are waiting to be hauled out of the water for repairs.

Maryann left this morning again with a freshly rebuilt pump,  We just got off the radio with them and found that the pump has failed again.  They are now about 15 miles out essentially adrift in very light wind.  They are hoping to get through the night without any conflicts with the numerous ships transiting the area on the way to or from the canal.  They have been in contact with a local who may tow them in tomorrow.  If this doesn't work,out we will volunteer to tow them back.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

We've left Panama City

We haven't gone far, we're about 40 miles south.  We are anchored off Isla Contradora in the Pearles Islands waiting for a weather window.  It looks like we might make the big break Thursday.

Kenny called the evening we arrived here to check on how things were working.  Thanks Kenny for your concern.

Dare I say it...we're leaving.

We have a date picked out....sometime soon, maybe Sunday. 

We will leave the Yacht Club and re-anchor in Los Brisas on the east side of the Causeway.  Total distance: two or three miles.  We need to clean Grace's bottom of scum that has formed from the almost daily diesel slicks and remove barnacles that have attached themselves during the last several months.  I suppose I could dive on the bottom here, but this water is so retched there is no way I'm gonna do it.

So, around to the other side, clean the bottom a shove off.  Finally. 

I have to admit to being nervous about this.  I don't have much confidence in the repairs we have been making on Grace.  I'm pretty sure the engine is ok, but need to run it for a while.  Same with all the other things we have worked on: water maker, SSB radio, autopilot, refrigerator, batteries, autopilot etc. We will be underway for some 40 days getting to the Marquesas' and I wonder what is going to break next.
And then there is the radio.  We have an ICOM 802 marine shortwave radio that we will use to communicate with other boats that will be leaving about the same time as us.  We will also use it to pull down weather reports. 

When I was going to school I had the bad habit of trying to cram a semester's worth of knowledge into my head the last couple of days before the finals.  I never liked studying much and would put it off as long as possible.  I remember chastising myself for being so immature and making promises that next semester would be different.  Never happened.  I forgot the pain of those few days, and regressed to my usual mode of just hanging out.

Well, the radio is a return to those old days.  I don't like it, don't understand it.  All the buttons and dials have a purpose and even though I have passed the ham test, I don't know much beyond how to turn it on, and that I must push the "push to talk" button on the mike.  So I have been in the cram mode learning how to get our weather.  And the fellows who have set up the system, call Winlink" have made it a non trivial exercise.  I think I have it figured out and have been testing the email service.  I still have to figure out what weather reports we want to receive over the radio while underway.

Monday, August 18, 2014


We're working on a departure list.  Actually have most of it done. the list that is, and we are working it.  We both went to the dermatologist last week, big checkmark for this one.  All is well.  Pharmacy, Price Smart (Costo-lite) bulk, Vegies, Meat,  Oil change (no filter), Chandleries.

And then there is Wx.  Weather conditions in the central Pacific have been dreadful.  We have already had 11 named storms.  Two hurricanes hit or come very close to the Hawaiian islands so far. And there are two additional suspects out there that may threaten the Islands again.  The first is an area of low pressure about 1100 miles ESE of Hilo, the second is Tropical Storm Karina heading west from Mexico and there  is a new storm brewing up east of Katrina that the Weather Service says is huge.  It looks like this one will stay off Mexico rather then head out west. 

This will not impact us too much.  We may have to stay in the Marquesas Islands a bit longer to be sure the Hurricane season is over before heading up to Hawaii.  Tough duty hanging out a few extra weeks in Paradise.

And then there is el NiƱo.  This could be a pain.  El Nino's weaken the SE trades and can sometimes cause them to reverse and become Westerly's for a time.  It also becomes stormy; thunder lightening and squally winds.  Just like here in Panama. 

There seems to be a consensus emerging that if the el Nino occurs it will be nowhere near as strong as originally thought.  One speculation is that the warm water that was making it's way eastward toward South America has begun emerging along the North American coast instead.

Variance of the Sea Surface Temperature from

So overall the wx picture looks better now then it did a few months ago.

One thing has stayed consistent however, there is no wind here in the summer.  Panama is tucked out of the wind behind the northwestern shoulder of South America.  South winds  coming up the west coast of South America spread out as land falls away to the east, and loose speed.  There are few times during the rainy season that winds reach higher then ten knots.  A rule of thumb is that it is necessary to get to 3N before the sailor finds decent winds.  We are at 9N so we are facing the prospect of a long motor unless we catch a break.

Sunday, August 10, 2014


Our oldest son has his boat in Hanalei Bay, on the north side of Kauai, Hawaii.  He has come through Hurricane Iselle just fine, but Hurricane Julio is approaching.  It will pass north of the islands by a hundred or so miles, but should throw off some significant swell as it passes.  We are hoping that the swell will not start breaking offshore.

Kevin, we're saying a prayer or two. 

There are live web cams at several locations around the bay, and we will be watching. 

Kevin, stay off the boat.


Our gen-set. 
A Kubota single cylinder diesel
driving a 210 Amp alternator

There are many styles of cruising.  One that gets a lot of lip service, but is not commonly adopted is KISS.  Folks who adopt this philosophy usually do not have refrigeration, electric water pumps, inverters, generators,short wave radios, water makers and all other sorts of complicated electrically driven conveniences that fare poorly in the salt laden air.  Some folks even forgo having engines, relying completely on wind power.  I respect these hardy souls, and I envy their free time.  While I drip sweat, shoe horning my body into places its not designed to fit repairing my luxuries, they are up in the bar relaxing over beers, or taking interesting land tours, or whatever.  I am becoming a believer in KISS, but would lose my crew if we had to drink warm beer, or warm rum and cokes.

Since we finished chasing our coolant leak I have rewired and rebuilt my water maker motor, removed the old refrigerator compressor and evaporator, installed a new system and finally dealt with  fuel supply and cooling problems on our generator.

The generator fuel supply issue was relatively easy.  The diesel supply pump had a speck of debris inside that was preventing its check valve from closing causing it to pump fuel backwards and forwards at the same time starving the engine of fuel.  It would start to run then die.  Once the speck was blown out of the pump it worked fine.

Fixing the cooling problem was a bit more difficult.  The problem was in the exhaust mixing elbow.  The mixing elbow is a device that mixes salt water into the engine exhaust cooling it to the point when it can be routed overboard through special high temp exhaust hose.  The hose is flexible and can run through the boat around obstacles on its way overboard.  The water injector in the elbow was defective and not well designed.  It had developed a number of pinhole leaks, one of which was spraying salt water back into the engine.  This would not normally happen when the engine was running as the flow of exhaust gas was sufficient to blow the water back, but I like to run the cooling pumps after I shut down the motor to extract a bit more heat from the engine and get it overboard.  This helps cool the space the generator shares with the refrigerator compressor and condenser.  If I had left the pumps run too long the backward spray could have flooded the engine cylinder with salt water, ruining it.

We didn't know about the bad water injector until we had removed the elbow.  The issue we were addressing was the bad shut off valve located below the elbow.  It was stuck in the open position and I had broken the handle off trying to close it.  It is necessary to close the valve while at sea to prevent water from backing up the exhaust hose and flooding the engine when the boat heels over.  The valve had gotten too hot, melting the Teflon seals blocking the valve in the open position.  We intended to just replace the valve, but when Kenny saw the water injector he recommended we remove the elbow and install a new one.  It is slightly longer and reaches further down toward the valve.  He also designed a kick ass spray tip that mixes the cooling water with the exhaust gas, cooling the valve much better then the old injector that had no tip.

The rebuilt exhaust elbow
and shut off valve

The new longer and larger diameter injector
with a spray tip

The old water injection tube

I have run the generator several hours now, and the valve feels cooler.  I am going to have to replace the valves sometime in the not to distant future anyway, as the quality of metal in the valves here in Panama is not good.  This nice shiny valve will not last long, but it will last longer with the new spray tip.  I bought two.

More to come....

Tuesday, July 8, 2014



Golfo de San Maguel
where Balboa claimed all of the Pacific
and the lands bounding it for the King of Spain




The arrival of four ocean going boats off La Chunga caused
a lot of excitement in the village.  We were asked when we would be
visiting the village.  When we arrived at the landing we were greeting by
village children who were to help us navigate the hazardous walkway through
the marsh.

This log had already passed through the anchored
boats once when the tide was rising and again when
the tide was ebbing.

We pushed it ashore and tied it to some trees.  It was not
the right type of wood for madding canoes, so the
villagers had no interest in it.

Arriving at the outskirts of the village, we were greeted with music.


We were formally welcomed in the "town hall".  Attending was
Charles who provided translation.
Charles "The Horse"
A Peace Corps volunteer living in La Chunga is
helping introduce low elevation coffee
growing.  The man next to him was from tribal headquarters in
the next village up the river.  He wanted to charge us $15 per day
for use of the anchorage.  We refused and eventually we reached
an agreeable figure, $15 per week. 
After the dance we had an opportunity to purchase
some of the crafts made in La Chunga.  Everything was
incredibly beautiful.
Our son Kris who went for the henna "tats" in a big way.
They washed off within a week.

The Chief
La Chunga Village
Rio Sambu

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Final Push #2: Exhaust Noozle

This is the exhaust elbow.  The last time you saw this it was bolted to the rear of the exhaust manifold.  It's now on a bench in Titto Torres' machine shop, where it is being used as a pattern to fabricate it's replacement plus an additional spare. 

Titto's shop is quite an establishment for a Panamanian business.  It takes up an entire building.  The majority of small service businesses are run out of a small, grungy, ground floor shop or a small shed.  His shop is in a neighborhood where a gringo like myself might run into trouble.  I could probably walk out to a major road without incident, but if I did get mugged the blame would fall on me for stupidly being in the wrong place at the wrong time.   The buildings are kind of shabby but they have good bones

Back to the elbow.  I am having two of these built because my existing elbow is at the end of it's life cycle, and I can get two very robust replacements that function every bit as good as the factory part for half the price.

Here's the fabricated part.  It's not as pretty as the original, but after a two hour test run, I can attest that it works just as well

We did have a bit of a glitch with this elbow.  We installed it, did a test run and found it necessary to remove it.  One of the welds had a pin hole leak requiring a return to Titto's.

The shop ground out the weld, and made many new welding passes rebuilding the ground out area.  When the job was completed we returned to Grace, installed the repaired elbow, test ran the motor, and everything was good.

This ends, I hope the engine saga.

I haven't, until now, posted much about what it takes to keep Grace running figuring it would bore my reader (hi Mom) but what I just went through is one of the realities of cruising.  Everybody out here has these kind of problems.  Engines, water makers, fragile electronics, etc. are breaking down all the time. 

We had a boat come through a couple weeks ago get hit by lightening just moments after completing a canal transit.  While on the Caribbean side they had installed a whole array of electronics for their trip to the South Pacific.  Everything they had just finished was fried.  He was on a schedule, so he hired virtually every boat worker in the area and was underway again within a couple weeks.  He had to pass through the ITCZ on the way out.  We have not heard from him.  Hope they're ok.

Kenny is bringing the second elbow over this morning, I will have him run me down to the bank to get what's left and pay him off. Then I will come back to the boat and figure out what to do with my Alder Barbour refrigerator that suddenly stopped cooling yesterday, after only 29 years of trouble free service.  It's running, I can hear gas entering the evaporator, but no cooling is going on.  I've probably got a refrigeration leak.  This thing is so old that it uses R12 type refrigerant.  R12 is nearly impossible to find even in Panama, so may have to replace the whole thing.  It's gonna cost a fortune.