Friday 27 February 2015

Doldrums & Dolphins

We had great winds for the first two days of our sail to the Gal├ípagos Islands.  Each day about 4:30 or 5:00 PM we had visits from Dolphins. What a wonderful sight to see them playing.  You can see them jumping out of the water and flipping over on their side and splashing into the water. They also would come and play on the bow off the boat zipping past the bow and then surfacing for a breath of air while they weave back and forth. 
Then we hit an area of no winds and the motor was started. The winds returned once again that evening so we were able to rest without the roar of the motor.  Instead we were able to be serenaded by the lapping of the water as is rushed by the side of the boat. Part way through the next night the wind died again and we were forced to motor once more.  

Sunday 22 February 2015

My first poem from the Pacific

The Pacific Beckons

Pacifico Oceano as the Spanish in Panama call it
Beckons you in all its blue as you sail upon it
The dolphins await to welcome you
And turtles swim out far from land too

Captain Rob at the helm with a steady hand
Guides us along with a spinnaker, a parasail brand
We glide through the water with nary a sound
It's 6000 feet down to the ground

Admiral Carol is hard at work as always
Writing her blog as she tries to do most days
Through sailmail we'll send it on to be posted
As we cross the Equator, Neptune will be toasted

Crew member Barb has returned to the heat 
For a turn at the helm and has come with a treat
With cookies, snacks and parts in tow
She was warmly welcomed and we were ready to go

Crew member Bob is enjoying the view
Of Oceano Pacifico, the great ocean blue
The waves have calmed as we approach the ITCZ
Soon it will be time for the crew to be fed

The boat has be provisioned for 7 weeks or more
Out in the Pacific there isn't a store
The cabin is tidy and the crew have been told 
Galapagos is the next stop and it won't be cold
                                                               Barb at the Helm

                                                                         Bob watching Bow Line in Canal

TCTZ awaits

As we approach the ICTZ the winds have died on us.  We were zipping along in 15 to 22 knots winds through the night and suddenly the winds started to disappear.  We were making fairly good headway with the genoa and the main with 4 to 8 knots of wind. Eventually the winds got down to 5 or less consistently and we got the spinnaker up so that we could make the most of the wind we had.  We have been doing fairy well with 3 to 7 knots of wind.  The Blue Planet Odyssey parasail spinnaker has been carrying us along at 4 to 5 knots.
We saw dolphins playing on our bow this morning and also saw a turtle way out in the middle of the Pacific.  Very strange.  The Galapagos beckons and we are well on our way

More on the Panama Canal and Panama City

A few things I neglected to tell you about our trip through the Panama Canal.  There is a fault line where earthquakes have occurred that Oscar pointed out to us.  We saw it just before Centennial Bridge.  We also saw the jail that Noriaga is currently in along the canal.  We also saw them dredging the canal.  They are making the canal wider in the Gatun Lake area and in the Gailliard cut.  This is because they will have larger ships going through once the new locks are open.
While anchored La Playita we were entertained by 100's of brown pelicans. It was amazing to watch them diving for fish.  A pelican would hit the water ever second.  It was amazing.  After catching its fish it keeps its beak under water while it eats the fish then straitens it's neck, beak strait up in the air and you see the fish go down it's throat.  The sea gulls are right beside the pelican waiting for any scraps and sometimes land right on the pelicans head.
In the evening on Tuesday we saw fireworks over Panama City celebrating the final day of Carnivale.

Galapagos Bound

We finally got out paper work done on Wednesday morning and headed off for the Galapagos.  We had to motor for 2 hours to get far enough away from land to find some wind.  The wind was 12 to 18 knots and we made great time heading south out of the Bay of Panama.  On route we caught 4 fish.  2 Benito and 2 Spanish Maceral. The Spanish mackerel were small and we threw them back.  I filled the 2 Benito and they tasted great.  Later in the day I hooked a big mackerel or sword fish, 2 jumps into the air and it broke the line.  Since then we have had 2 more strikes but the line was broken almost immediately.  Fishing is curtailed for the present time.
Barb who joined us in Shelter Bay prepared 2 wonderful meals of jambalaya that was enjoyed by all. We are currently headed for the equator which they recommend you cross at 84 degrees latitude or east of there.  We have had winds from 15 to 25 knots and have been sailing along at a good clip of 6 to 9 knots. The forecast is for the winds to be good for the majority of our trip.  We will let you know if the forecast holds true.

Wednesday 18 February 2015

WOW We have gone through one of the 7 wonders of the World

Our remaining time in Shelter Bay Marina was filled with trips into Colon and Panama City to provision for the next 7 weeks. 

We started our passage through the Panama Canal at 6:39 PM local time upon our entry into the Gatun Locks with Maurice our pilot safely guiding us through the rafting up process where we are tied to another boat OM who also had No Regrets tied to her other side. A bit of trivia.  A boat is always referred to as a she.  We entered the locks behind a much larger ship and had several boat lengths between her and the 3 of us rafted together.  We had several boat lengths between us and the gates of the locks.  We also had to have 4 line handlers as well as a helmsman on board so we had Abdel a line handler that was arranged by a local agent Teto. As you can tell the canal has very strict rules that you must follow.  Even though we are rafted to another boat and only needed 2 people to handle lines you are required to have 4 just in case for some reason you are unable to go through the canal as planned because one of the boats have a problem.

On with the trip through the canal.  Upon entering the locks 4 guys on shore throw a line to the bow and stern of the 4 corners of the rafted boats. The ropes they throw have a rubber ball on the end. The guys then walk along the side of the locks as you drive into them.  The pilot of the center boat tells them which spot to tie the lines.  We then feed the heavy lines up to these canal workers who loop them over the cleat and then we tighten the lines on the boat on our cleats.  The gate locks close and the water boils in moving the boat around. As we go up you tighten the line to keep the rafted boats in the center of the locks.  Each lock raised you 9 meters up.  Once at the top the middle boat puts it in forward and the pilot of the middle boat blows a whistle and you loosen the 4 lines and the canal worker removes it from the cleat. You then pull the heavy line back onto your boat and the Canal Worker carries the lighter line while he walks to the next lock.  When he reaches the stairs to climb to the next lock you need to hold the lighter line high so it does not catch on anything.  You then follow the same procedure through the next 2 locks.  The next 2 locks were much more turbulent and the rafted boats moved further away from the wall we were against due to the currents generated by the filling of the locks. After we were raised up the 3rd lock (28 metres in total over the 3 locks) the Canal Workers just dropped the lines into the water after removing the lighter lines they had thrown to us prior to entering the first lock.  After leaving the 3rd lock in the dark we separated the 3 rafted boats and the pilot boat picked up the pilot.  We then proceeded to a mooring ball where we rafted up to Capricho (a 56 foot catamaran that had 3 levels). 

Gaillard cut area

The next morning our pilot Oscar arrived at 6:17 AM and we separated from Capricho and passed through Gatun Lake past the mouth of the Chagres River into the Gaillard cut which was the most difficult part of the canal to build in 1902 to 1914.  Then under Centennial bridge to the Pedro Migul locks where we waited.  We rafted up with OM in the middle and Coconut Woman on the other side of OM.  We entered the locks at 12:30.  The procedure was the same except we let the lines out rather than pulling them in as the water left the locks.  It was a much less turbulent decent. The water just disappeared. The lines were released and OM motored out into Miraflores Lake (about a kilometer long) and into the next locks.  There were 7 boats in the locks together. Our raft of 3 boats and 2 other rafts of 2 boats each.  Down 2 more locks and out into the Pacific Ocean where all the boats separated.  We then passed under the Bridge of the Americas, our pilot was picked up by a pilot boat.  We proceeded to Balboa Yacht Club where Abdel was picked up along with the tires and lines we rented.  We proceeded to the La Playita Yacht club where we anchored.

The original plan was to head directly to Galapagos Islands once we departed the Canal. Because this is Carnivale weekend we were unable to check out in Colon so we are required to stop in Panama City to have our passports stamped and to check out.  As we are waiting fireworks are exploding over Panama City.  A real sight to behold.
                                                         Panama Canal Dredge Ship

                                                                        Bridge of the Americas

                                              Approaching Centennial Bridge-Panama City

Panama City from the canal

Sunday 15 February 2015

Pictures from the Start of the BPO until now

 In Martinique with our brand new Blue Planet Odyssey Flag before we departed.
 Before the official start watching the Yawls race out of Le Marin harbour.
The Yawl racers hiking out to keep the boat from tipping over

Flying the Blue Planet Odyssey spinnaker for the first time ever on the first day of our trip.

 Captain Rob with Nestor's parrot on our first day in the San Blas Islands
 Lobster dinner in Nestor's home, note the bamboo walls, the roof is thatched palm frons

Airplane landing in Porvenir, You can't anchor in line with the runway or the plane will hit the mast on the boat.
Bob's exciting ride in Nestor's yul with the sail.  Bob is doing his best to lean out and hike while sitting in the bottom of the dugout canoe.
Bob (AKA Captain knot) learning the turkish bend so he can tie one on the helm.
A typical island in the San Blas islands. This is in the Berdero Cays. Note OM in the foreground
Two tree Island in the San Blas.  A great place to visit, there were people there with a hammock
 Maggie in the Bendero Cays.  Great reefs here for snorkeling and viewing coral and colourful fish.
 Bob's rushed attempt at a sea turtle sand castle.
Checking out the molas.  These are made by the Kuna  and are a good source of income for them
Construction of the new much bigger locks for the Atlantic side of the Panama Canal
 One of the 6 gates for the three new locks on the Atlantic side of the Panama Canal

 View of Maggie from the top of the mast
 Two of the gates in place on the Atlantic side of the Panama Canal.  Note we are driving along the bottom of the gate.  A real thrill.
All the wheels are each controlled by remote control. Each one moves separately and can  turn any direction.  They are used to transport this huge gate to the lock into place so it will run on rails while floating to open and close the locks on the Atlantic side of the Panama Canal
The President of the Panama Canal Authority signing Maggie's log book with Captain Rob Getting the page returned to him.
The spiral tower in Panama City.  The Trump tower.  It is apparently a casino.

Saturday 14 February 2015

PORTOBELO and Beyond

The trip to Portobelo was a great trip with winds on our beam most of the way.  For the non sailors out there that is the wind coming at you from the side and you are able to move very quickly if the wind is good. We were expecting a 2 knot current to be against us but there did not appear to be any current.  Portobelo is a very protected anchorage and there is lots to see
 Cannons at one of the 2 forts on either side of the harbour with the harbour in the background.

The fort on the other side of the harbour protecting the Spanish gold that was shipped from Portobelo

Upon arrival the crew from “No Regrets” invited us out to Captain Jacks for supper.  It turned out there were 4 boats from the BPO (Blue Planet Odyssey)  who had dinner together that night.  Lovesail and Ransom joined us as well. The food was so good we went for lunch the next day as well with the crew from sailing vessel OM. 

The Black Christ in the local church. It is said that there was a pilgrimage each year where believers would crawl on their knees from as far away as Costa Rica to visit the Black Christ.

From Portobelo we came over to Colon.  There was very little wind & we motored the whole way over. 
There are ships everywhere as you approach.  They are anchored awaiting their turn to go through the Panama Canal 
What a sight to see all the ships anchored waiting to get through the Panama Canal.
We are now in a slip at Shelter Bay Marina across from Colon.  We depart on Monday and will go through the Canal between 4:30 and 5:30 PM Panama time on Monday.  If you watch this web cam
of the Canal at 2:30 PM  Calgary time or some time past that you will see sailing vessel Maggie going through the canal. From the information I have right now we will be tied up to 2 catamaran boats as we go through the canal.  Maggie is blue in colour.

We just had a fabulous day.  We toured the building of the new locks of the Panama Canal.  Jimmy Cornell arranged  the visit. The locks will be 1200 feet long and 60% wider than the exiting locks.  It is being built to accommodate the LPG gas super tankers that will carry the gas from the fracing in the United States.  We learned that the Chinese are interested in helping Nicaragua build even larger locks through Nicaragua.  We were able to drive through the bottom of the locks and see the huge gates that were shipped from Italy.  4 of the gates are already in place and 2 still need to be put into place.  The fellow leading the tour creates the 1100 page monthly report for the building of the canal complete with 200 pages of full page photographs.  He takes a monthly  helicopter trip to get a picture of the progress on the new construction. The new locks will use 60% less water than the old locks using 3 separate catch basins per lock to save the water.  From what I understood there is full redundancy in all the controls and wiring for the locks with over 500 kilometres of wire. They told us this is the biggest building project anywhere.
 We then went to Panama City and saw the other end of the Panama Canal. Then on for a visit with the head of the Panama Canal Authority where he told us about the new locks that they hope to test in March and April and open them in May 2016. He signed BPO boats log books and was presented a plaque from the Blue Planet Odyssey.

Tuesday 10 February 2015

More clear blue water, more sand and beaches, more palm trees ...

The snorkeling in Coca Bendero Cays was great.  Lots of colourful fish, blue, yellow, silver. and black fish.  All different types of coral including staghorn coral, branch coral, brain coral and pipe organ coral.  I'm sure I've got the names wrong but you get the idea from my descriptions.  There were lots of other types as well.  I went to 3 different reefs and should have gone to more. 

Yesterday we moved to Chichime Cays and had a great sail on a beam reach for a good part of the way.  We are anchored behind Uchutupu Dummat in a nicely protected area.  We have a large sailing vessel used for training people to sail anchored not far away.  We walked around the island after our arrival and determined there are at least 4 different areas with buildings.  Two of them appear to be huts that people can rent and they also have a tenting area.  I was surprised to see them as I figured only the Kuna people would be living on the islands.

Tomorrow we head about half way to Colon and we will anchor.  Then on to Colon to be measured by the Panama Canal authorities for our trip through the canal.

Friday 6 February 2015

Snorkeling is Great

What has been up in the last few days.  I spent part of a day caulking the outside of the toe rail.  We had a leak into the boat and the outside of the toe rail was suspected to be the source.  The next day we came over to Coca Bendero Cays.  A beautiful spot where the snorkeling is fabulous.  Upon arrival we explored 2 tree island and the island directly in front of us where I purchase a mola.  We headed back to the boat and cleaned for the arrival of our company.  The crews from 3 other boats came over for sundowners.  That progressed into discussions of watching a movie about the building of the Panama Canal.  2 of the boats headed back to their boats and brought over food and we had a joint meal while watching the movie on the building of the Panama Canal. 

The next day I did some snorkeling and swam over and visited 3 of the boats around.  I'm finding out lots of interesting things about the crew on the other boats.  At some point I will have to give to an idea of the crews on the other boats that are part of the BPO.

Today I have been to 2 different reefs snorkeling with 2 of the crew from sailing vessel "No Regrets" and have seen some terrific coral and lots of very colourful fish. Later today I will take the crew of Maggie over and show them the highlights.

Tuesday 3 February 2015

This is very close to Paradise Picture this if you will...

 Clear turquoise water with white sand underneath. The sound of the pounding surf in your ears.  The wind blowing any bugs away.  A round island 400 metres across with palm trees and a white sand beach.  Now close your eyes and imagine this in your minds eye.  I'm sorry we don't have internet and I can't post a picture. The water is 31 or 32 degrees C. 

So what has been up since my last post.  I think we were off to a lobster dinner held in the home of a local Kuna who befriended us.  We had a lobster tail, with coconut rice and refried beans with coleslaw.  We sat in a hut with bamboo walls that were 1 1/2 inch across bamboo standing vertical and lashed together. The roof was a special kind of palm that they have to get on the mainland.  I believe the meal was prepared for the 6 of us by Nestor's wife.  The next day was involved doing boat repairs with Captain Rob and I getting to sail in Nestor's dug out canoe around 4 PM.  Rob unfortunately on his second step into the canoe lost his balance and went kersplash.  Unfortunately we missed that moment on camera but did get lots of photos of Rob and I in the dugout canoe sailing.  Nestor has a pole that goes into a hole in the seat & then into a resting point carved into the bottom of his dugout.  The main sail has a boom that has a point on one end and goes into a knot in the rope from the tiny foresail  He has a piece of rope to hold the mast from falling over and a piece of rope on the end of the boom. Like the Laser I used to sail on Glenmore Lake in Calgary you need to lean out so the boat does not tip.  Nestor steers with his paddle for a rudder.  The winds were strong and we flew across the water.  It was a neat and exciting ride.  The Kuna in the area have a regatta in February and Nestor has apparently won the sailing race 3 different times in a much faster dugout than the one we were in.  It was easy to see he was an expert and handle the dugout canoe with it's sail with great skill.

Yesterday we got a few more boat chores done then sailed 30 nautical miles to BBQ island where we are now anchored.  Today at noon we had a lunch for all the boats on the BPO which included those that started in Martinique and those that started in the Florida Keys. It was great to finally meet everyone and catch up on their trip to this point in time.  Many stories were shared, new friendships were started and old acquaintances were rekindled.  The start time was delayed by a rain shower but soon everyone arrived and the party began in earnest. Fish, lobster and sausages where cooked and shared as was fruit and baking. On our return aboard it was agreed it was a fabulous get together.  A half hour later our weather buoy (that we will deploy between Panama and Galapagos) arrived from Chapter 2 (another sailing vessel). It is large and heavy and wrapped in plastic.  More on the weather buoy on a future blog.