Sunday, May 22, 2016

To The Panama Canal

Departing Cartagena
Thump, thump, thump, THUMP, bang, bang, bang, Bang, BANG, SNAP!! To quote Janet, “What the ——!!"

Ah yes friends, the sounds of something nasty breaking on a boat. Immediate loss of propulsion although the engine is running fine. So what do you think? Transmission? That was my assumption, never having had complete faith in the Hurth ZF-15 system since we broke one heading up the coast of Northern California many years ago. But, what the——, it doesn’t really matter when you’ve no way to fix it at sea. This pleasant little event occurred on the way to Linton Bay Marina from the San Blas Islands of Panama about three forty-five on a rather choppy but light wind afternoon. So we got up sail, and the wind died. Then the wind filled in on the nose. We started tacking along the coast towards the narrow channel leading to Linton Bay from the east. We got ahold of Adam Baitel  the marina manager using the SAT phone and he made arrangements to tow us in when we got close. The wind finally veared around to the north. It got very dark. It rained. We were able to clear the last islands into the channel without more tacking. A panga and Adam in a skiff met us and towed us into an anchorage for the night and to a slip the next morning.
Hauled out a Linton Bay Marina
So it wasn’t the transmission. The propellor shaft, a 35mm diameter stainless steel shaft, had broken cleanly in half just where it exits the tunnel on the transmission v-drive. Pretty amazing IMHO. No impacts, no sign of external damage. The mechanic at Linton Bay was of the opinion that it had been an original manufacturing defect and it just finally broke after thirty years of use. That’s as good an argument as any.
160 ton travel lift at Linton Bay
We had departed Cartagena after a nice enough stay. Cartagena has a great reputation as an exotic and lovely city. Sorry to say we were not that impressed. It was ‘OK’. It was a decent stop on the way across the southern Caribbean but in our opinion not a destination in itself. The best time we had was going out with Dave Elbow and his son and son’s staff for an evening. Dave is a fellow NWA retired pilot, fellow anchorage pilot, four engine driver extraordinaire, and Bon Vivant!  Thanks Dave, for a nice evening.

With Dave, son and friends in Cartagena
 So we left Cartagena in very light conditions and motored the entire way to the Coco Banderas Cays in the San Blas Islands of Panama, 187 nm. Lovely anchorage in the Banderas. Beautiful little palm tree islands with white sandy beaches. No development. The San Blas are the home of the Kuna Indians and the Kunas have a semi-independent arrangement with the central government of Panama. 

San Blas anchorage
They maintain a very traditional culture and are famous for their intensely colorful embroidered appliqué “molas” which are truly lovely. So we had Kunas in their canoes stopping by every day to sell us molas and lobster, fish, coconuts, etc, etc. Very sweet and very interesting people. The whole Kuna/Panama arrangement is complicated but we would recommend the San Blas to anyone going that way. We only spent a week, people spend years cruising the San Blas.
Mola buying

From the San Blas we were heading to Linton Bay Marina to visit Felipe Serrano, an old friend who I saw last saw when we flew together in Greece in 1985. Felipe has his boat currently hauled out a Linton Bay doing a bottom job and other work. 

With Felipe Serrano
Linton Bay is a new marina with very nice new docks and a big new travel lift. They have very big plans for development and a great location. The other amenities haven’t come yet but they got us hauled and their maintenance staff was very helpful and competent. They actually had another 35mm shaft in stock. 

Look closely, the stub of the shaft is visible to the left of the green hose.
 Of course it had to be cut to length and machined to fit our MaxProp and the transmission coupling. We got the prop disassembled and the shaft out (in two pieces of course) and got everything machined and back together in a week. It coulda been worse and it coulda been a lot more expensive. Rather than life on the hard with no facilities available we stayed at a nearby guest house, the “Bamboo Guest House” run by a nice German couple and were a lot more comfortable than we would have been on the boat. The staff at Linton Bay Marina all proved to be very friendly and helpful. Other than the machining, I could have done this work myself, I’ve done it before, but having a professional to  work with was reassuring and we did well together. The run from Linton Bay to our present location was about thirty miles and things seem to be running very smoothly. With a little luck this repair will be permanent.

Flamencio and crew
So our present location is Shelter Bay Marina, just inside the breakwater at the entrance bay to the Atlantic side of Panama canal. We said goodbye to Felipe and our new friends at Linton and made it here in five hours. Shelter Bay is a very isolated spot but also a very full service marina with just about every comfort. We have nice new friends, Kenny and Betsy Linn, who we met in the San Blas and who are following a similar path, very near us here in the marina. 

Kenny and Betsy Linn
Tomorrow morning, the twenty-third, we haul out at 0800 and by afternoon we should be at the Crown plaza at the Panama City Airport. Tuesday we fly home via Atlanta and San Francisco. Its been quite a season of sailing and travel. I’ll recap and offer some comments in the next blog after we get home. Wish us a smooth trip!

Love to all,
Bill & Janet
SV Airstream

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Cartagena, Columbia

 Hi Everybody,

Note the size of that new inner turnbuckle
The installation of the new lower shrouds went well. After paying the exorbitant shipping fees I had a dread that something wouldn’t be right, that some dimension would be incorrect. Not so, everything is as it should be and Lennart  “Lelle” Davidson, the rigger in Bonaire, proved to be a guy who knows his stuff. We got the rig slackened up, the new lowers installed and the rig retuned in about two hours. Everything looked good and the voyage to Cartagena proved that, so far at least, its pretty much the way I want it.
Lelle has tougher feet than me!
We departed Bonaire with some sadness. The people at Wannadive had become friends and we had some good times with them. Between Janet and I we did eighty-five dives on Bonaire and felt it really was an excellent dive destination. True, there were no real mind blowing once in a lifetime dives. Not that we saw anyway. However, there are many, many miles of easily accessible and quite excellent reef with a great variety of reef fishes, coral, sponges and about any kind of life you might expect to find in a healthy tropical reef system. The large Tarpon we saw on almost every dive would let us get quite close. There were as many as seventeen around us on one dive. It is a good place and we’d recommend it for a dive trip. We also had fun with the staff at the marina restaurant and bar and they were nice people
First view of Cartagena through the haze
But this season has been about moving west and after seven weeks in Bonaire it was time to resume. We did a non-stop to Cartagena. 510 nautical miles in 77 hours, lines off at Harbour Village Marina to lines on at Club de Pesca Marina in Cartagena. We sailed the first two days in moderate conditions and motored the last due to light air, laziness and the desire to get into port during daytime. Rounding Punta Gallinas, the “Cape Horn of the Caribbean”,  in those conditions was no problem although there were some interesting seas. It was easy to see how in gale conditions you would not want to be anywhere near the area. So we made it to Cartagena with no problems and no breakages and we’re comfy and secure at the rather classy Club de Pesca Marina

Nice equestrian monument to Bolivar
Its hot and humid and very hazy although there were some thunderstorms in the area yesterday which seems to clear things out a little. There seem to be no mozzies here at the marina which is nice for a change. What we’ve seen so far of this city has been interesting but not world class wonderful. The harbor area of Boca Grande and Santa Mari is posh Miami Beach style high rise.  El central is  the old city of Cartagena which dates back to the 16th century. We’ve done some exploring around and we have a lot more to do. So far we are underwhelmed by the old city, it’s too touristy and not as picturesque as its touted to be. 

El Central street scene
We’re a rather jaded pair of course, but  Cartagena seems like a good place to stop enroute to Panama and not a world class destination in itself. People are sweet, there’s lots of well armed security at the marina, lots of cops on the streets, cabs are cheap and prices in general are quite moderate. There are very good super markets for provisioning and plenty of good restaurant food available. Also, true civilization can be found in the fact that they know how to make a really good chocolate shake! There is hope for Columbia!

Monument to San Pedro Claver
We plan on being here ten days, departing Tuesday the 3rd of May for the San Blas Islands of Panama. Should take  just over a day for our planned landfall. The boat is in good shape with the exception of the fridge which has ceased to cool once again. You may remember it failed on the Atlantic crossing. I had the coolant filled in St. Lucia and it seemed to hold pressure and to have solved the problem. Well, it quit again and seems to be out of coolant and that shouldn’t happen in just a few months. We’re supposed to have a service guy here this morning and hopefully the fix will be simple enough. Of course a different service outfit was supposed to be here all day yesterday and never showed! We’ll see.

So we’re both homesick and by next week it’ll be time to get moving towards Panama and ultimately towards the great white bird homeward bound. With a little luck there will be some very good stuff between here and there, the San Blas Islands  are supposed to be wonderful, but home sounds pretty good.

Love to all,
Bill & Janet
SV Airstream

Monday, April 11, 2016

High Times In Bonaire

Family time, Harbour Village's beach
 By Caribbean party island standards Bonaire is a very quiet place. As far as we know there isn’t a tourist attracting night time hot spot to be found anywhere. The local bars don’t seem very interesting and there seems to be no live music to found other than the small but rather good jazz group that plays Wednesday nights here at the marina restaurant. Ahh, there was one night of hell on the other side of town in the local stadium where some disc jockey “music” was being played at about 160 db. Luckily we are berthed far away and up wind.
The "floating hotel" with a"red hot" dinghy
But do we care? No way, we like the quiet. We dive almost everyday and we’re getting to be friends with the crew at WannaDive which is a very nice operation. They do our tank fills and we do an occasional boat dive with them.  
Suited up for a shore dive
We have great gelato at a nice place in town. We have a  happy hour libation at the marina bar with like minded folks. We know where to find excellent pizza and great ribs. The trades are always blowing and although its in the eighties every day it cools down into the seventies at night and there’s a cool breeze through the boat for good sleeping. 
Monkeys on board
The main event since your last update has been a visit from my niece Julie LePrie, husband Russ and their two kids Owen and Jack, ages seven and five. They stayed with us on the boat for five nights and then next door at the Harbour Village Resort for the last two evenings. Great fun was had by all! We showed them the island and spent two days on the beach at the Plaza resort snorkeling, diving and using the Plaza’s lovely facility. 
Look out below
All for the price of a $15 cabana. We had an afternoon at Jibe City where the boys played on the beach and Julie took a wind surfing lesson. Then a couple more days on the Harbour Village Resort’s beach with more snorkeling. The boys made friends with the iguanas. We had a morning dinghy ride each day. They think our dinghy is definitely hot stuff. Owen is an avid fisherman so I managed to get him onto a couple fish off our docks. Julie and Janet talked about everything and kids and Russ and I solved the world’s problems.
Prior to lift off.

Mutton Snapper
Atlantic Thread Herring
The family that fishes together........
He does, however, have entirely too much faith in the future of self driving cars. Now me, after a lifetime of monitoring aircraft systems that should be in a “nothing can go wrong” mode, I am probably far too cynical and have little faith in automatic systems unless monitored by at least one very professional person who’s awake at all times. The future will tell.
Chad and Jerry
So it was lonely after they departed. We miss them all and we miss Jerry and Chad and our cruising friends. And we’re beginning to get homesick after four months on the boat. The stem balls for the stainless steel rod rigging that forms our lower shrouds, the shrouds we will be replacing, are supposed to be at the supplier in the Ft. Lauderdale today. If he does receive them he’ll get the new shrouds shipped tomorrow and we’ll have them in a couple days. A day or two of work on the rig and we’ll be ready to depart only a few days later than we had planned. Then it will be off to Cartagena with perhaps a couple stops enroute, then to the San Blas islands of Panama and then Panama itself.
Wish us luck

Love to all,
Bill & Janet Wickman
SV Airstream

Tuesday, March 29, 2016


 If you’ve ever seen the great WWII submarine movie “Run Silent, Run Deep” you’ll recognize Clark Gable’s iconic command, “Dive, dive dive!”.  If you haven’t seen the movie you should, that and “Das Boot” being the greatest sub movies ever made and great movies in themselves.

Cockpit social hour with Jerry Dahl
 That’s also pretty much what we’ve been doing on Bonaire the past three weeks. Sure enough we’ve done the usual boat stuff. I’ve changed engine oil and filters. The outboard is finally starting reliably and running very well. The lower shroud parts are supposed to be shipped the 1st and we’re ready to do that replacement. The dinghy leak has been fixed….apparently. We’ve explored much of the island and spent more money than planned upgrading dive gear, etc, etc.
Fellow diver
But it seems every day is pretty much organized around diving somewhere. The entire leeward side of the island (the west side) is one long coral reef and in some places its a double reef. There are a couple marine reserves but all the rest is available for a good to great dive and there are over one hundred categorized entree points. You can just drive the coastal road and shore dive, you can dinghy out to buoys anchored at the known sites or you can do boat dives. We’ve done twenty six dives here as of yesterday. We don’t make any effort to do multiple dive days. A few of those dives have been boat dives but most have been shore entries. The trades have been blowing exceptionally hard the past couple weeks and that has churned things up. Visibility in the water has probably been less than 100 feet but that has begun to improve as the wind is backing off a little. As an example yesterday we dove a site called Karpata at the northern end of the central west coast. Entry and exit were a little rough due to wave action but there was little current and the visibility was at least 100 feet. 
Karpata entry point
 The reef drops off almost immediately from shore  to beyond scuba depth. Went went down to 130 feet along a gorgeous wall of sea fans, mixed soft and hard coral with a wide variety of tropical fish. We worked our way back up along the wall through coral canyons and then eventually into shallower water and back to our entry point. It was a great dive with the only missing element being no really large fish or turtles. We do some variation of that kind of dive somewhere almost every day. We’ve been getting our tank fills and doing a few boat dives with WannaDive which is dive operation near the marina. We would highly recommend them as a very friendly, competent and laid back operation. When my niece Marissa and her friend Olivia were with us they got their open water certifications with WannaDive and were happy with the program. They let us keep our gear in their dive rooms and we just pick up our tanks and gear and go.

WannaDive's operation
 We been socializing and diving with Jerry Dahl who has become a good friend and dive buddy. His sweetie Gwen left a few days ago but he’ll be here a few more days on his boat ‘Castaway’ until heading for Curacao with a friend as crew. Jerry and I have an amazing number of things in common starting with being Iowans the same age and it goes on and on. Jerry has been coming to Bonaire diving since 1972! 
Janet and me...
.....with Jerry Dahl
 So the next big event is a family visit from my niece Julie, her husband Russ and their two boys Owen and Jack, ages six and four. That will be a kick! If we survive the week we’ll get this boat up and ready to move onto Cartagena about the middle of April.

Love to all,
Bill and Janet
SV Airstream