15 November 2005
San Blas Archipelago to the Flats of Colon, N W
From Fun to "Fixin"
We have been hanging out at the Coco Bandero Cays and loving it. We believe it is the most picturesque spot we have ever been. The anchorage is surrounded by reefs and small islands and during the off season there are no more than four or five boats, making it almost cozy. Since it is the rainy season in Panama, we have a few thunder showers every week but not often enough to spoil the fun. However, from the anchorage we can see the shore of Panama and every day the mainland is covered with rain showers and clouds.
On one of the boats in this anchorage resides one of the best jazz saxophonist we have ever had the pleasure to listen to. We first heard his music come floating through the anchorage at the Holandes Cays but believed that it was emanating from a CD. A few days later in the Cocos Cays, we were invited to a concert on Naughty Bear, a German flagged vessel, along with Camperdown (US), Marne Lynn (US) and Baloo (Austrian). Paul (last name unknown) from Holland. played for us that evening and it was better than any CD. Paul is a world class musician who started with classical piano lessons at the age of six and ended up as a Psychologist with an insatiable desire to be on stage and performing. Paul has been traveling the Caribbean on his boat WaterGues with his wife Vivian for the last five years. Vivian is from Guatemala and was once a student at IU's MBA program and is also a trained chef who ran her own restaurant. It was a splendid evening, one or those times when you lean back and look at the stars, listen to the music and you know how fortunate you are. You're enjoying life, you have your health and you haven't looked at your investments for so long you don't know how close to poverty you are.
Days in the Cocos are typically include spear fishing with my friend Al from Camperdown. This is a new endeavor and the nuances we are learning are only now beginning to pay off in a few moderate size fish. We are still shallow water hunters which limits us to sneaking up on moderate size fish. I am using a hand sling with the range of three feet or so. This weapon is like having a six foot spear with a rubber band on the end and it's not surprising that many shots just bounce off the fish especially Trigger fish who have a hide like an armadillo. Triggers are are splendid to eat but cleaning them is like taking the cover off a baseball with a plastic knife. So sometimes your are ambivalent when the spear bounces off.
I can't yet hold my breath as long as some of the more experienced and I might add younger spear fishermen but I still enjoy the hunt and the exercise. There are stories of cruisers that go down and sit on the bottom and make grunting noises. These sounds attract fish from their hiding places and hence the adage 'curiosity killed the cod '. When you're spending a lot of time in these waters you are bound to see a few sharks. Nurse sharks are the most often spotted. They come in a variety of sizes from uh-oo to ooh-shit. Nurse sharks are more passive than other varieties of sharks but if aggravated can do some damage. There is something about being out of your element with these prehistoric predators. When a fish flashes in front of you and heads in another direction that is one thing but when something seven feet plus long is coming toward you that can turn so quickly and move so gracefully, well forget your little spear. Occasionally you see these reef sharks and that's when you learn to quietly but quickly get in the dinghy.
But now it is time to head back to Colon. Our visas need to be renewed and the damn generator is cumbersome to operate and needs to be properly fixed. Of course there is also a three page list of things to do, things to buy and things to fix. On the trip back we were facing strong currents or so we thought. We were running both engines and making less than four knots. This brought us to our primary destination, Linton, too late in the day so we continued on to Colon. Outside of the entrance to the canal we weaved our way between the dozen or so freighters waiting to cross into the breakwater and at 3:00AM we dropped our anchor in the flats. We knew that there was something terribly wrong with our port engine and the next morning we found out , yeah - like the propeller was missing! Now how does a very expensive three bladed feathering prop just suddenly fall off? I called PYI the manufacturer and they were apologetic but they said that it does happen with boats equipped with saildrives, since the saildrives were manufactured without a hole in the hardened steel shaft to accommodate max prop's. After a lengthy international discussion of my situation I was still perplexed. So now we contemplate the possibilities.
Now in "the flats" of Colon we watch the canal traffic which seems to have increased to a continuous stream with the passing of hurricane season. Cruise ships are now part of the traffic and you can see on three or four days a week. One evening an ugly looking workboat anchored too close to a nearby yacht, Insatiable 1. The workboat realized it was too close and decided to pull up and move. They hoisted the anchor and motored away and the 50 foot monohull yacht, Insatiable 1, followed behind. The work boat had entangled the anchors and was pulling the yacht. Several of us started to blow our air horns and finally the workboat realized what had happened. Two of us in the anchorage headed for the yacht in our dinghy's and were surprised to find the owners onboard. Evidently they were asleep and didn't wake up until some yelling on the workboat woke them. We boarded their boat to help untangle this mess and guess what, no windless. The large steel hulled tug type boat was not equipped with a windless either and lifting their anchor was accomplished by six men at the bow hauling chain by hand.. Two of us tried pulling the anchor up on Insatiable 1 by hand until an hour later it was apparent that all this pulling was just getting the two boats closer and closer, and definitely not untangling the anchors. Finally the decision was made on the yacht to let go of his anchor, mark its position with a fender and pick it up in the morning. The yacht then re-anchored using it's second anchor but during the night the wind picked up and they started dragging. The next day the anchor was recovered and no damage was done to either boat.
After that bit of excitement it has been nothing but drudgery. A trip to Panama City for parts is almost a two hour bus ride one way that cost $2.50 and then taxis and after you accomplish a few thing it's back to Colon. Everyone in the anchorage is waiting for parts or else why would they be here. The water is too dirty to utilize the watermaker so Rene devised a rain catcher and since it rains everyday and sometimes all day we are able to keep our tanks nearly full without hauling cans. Hauling water in 5 gallon jugs back to the boat is heavy work and I appreciate Rene's good work on this project.
Finally all the parts for the generator are ready and today I reassembled everything. Carefully I cleaned every part and every connection. Greased every part requiring grease. With the pump and exhaust repaired and in place, I push the start button. Nothing, nada. I want to give the damn thing the float test. Ten days of waiting for parts. Hours and hours of disassembly and reassembly and NOTHING. There is something wrong with the starter. Never no never buy a Panda. Everyone we know has had nothing but trouble with them. Well actually everyone we know has problems with everything and especially with their generator. But what better way to get to know a place than to visit the hardware stores? Or practice your Spanish by trying to explain what is wrong. Or expediting a part through customs and then from one side of Panama to the other.
Oh well these are the trials and tribulations we endure in exchange for sunny days of spear fishing on the shores of beautiful deserted islands.
We finally pulled the boat into the Panama Canal Yacht Club and have begin to undertake every repair we have ever postponed and ready the boat to be left at the dock as we return to the US for a visit over the holidays.
So once again, from the S/V Shiraz we wish you all a happy and fun filled holiday season.