Sunday, January 29, 2012

Fish On. Fish On. Fish On.

Yippee., whoopee, yahoo ..for a lot of reasons.
Reason #1 – Lorna and Dave arrived safely to Panama and they get their fourth stamp on their frequent Astarte visitor card. It is great to have them aboard. They started on their very early flight from chilly Cleveland through the Miami airport and into Tocumen International in Panama City. They were loaded down with all kind of parts and stuff for Astarte...and had no problems. It's been like Christmas on Astarte with stove parts, head parts, caulks (West Marine did make good on their replacement), pumps, batteries, dive booties .and the list continues. Each night they have gifted us with something else. Of course the first night was pounds and pounds of Gibson chocolates. T-shirts the next night. It's been great having them here and the week's just started.

Reason #2 - We got out of Panama City. After a month at anchor in Las Brisas...we pulled up the anchor (boy was our new chain a mess with growth, barnacles and mud).and got out on Saturday. Dave and Lorna arrived on Thursday and we went to the airport to meet them We took local transportation there which was a fun adventure on the 25 cent bus – that took an hour and a half. But we saw lots of the city. We cabbed back with all their bags, which took lests than 30 minutes. On Friday, we hired a cab to take us on a last minute grocery shopping trek to get the fresh fruit, veggies and bread (and scotch for Dave). Then bright and early on Saturday morning, we left the anchorage for the Las Perlas Islands. This is a long string of islands that are about 35 miles away from Panama City. For those reality TV series fans - "Survivor" Panama was shot on this group of islands.

Reason #3 – We sailed. We had an absolutely fabulous, sunny day with a steady wind 12-18 knots from off our side – so we could reach and we were moving. It was a great sail.

Reason #4– We caught fish. Not one. Not two – but three fish! We put our brand new fish line (Dave and Lorna brought) on the reel and put it to the test. We also had our trusty old "yoyo" - and both lines got wet. We tried several different lures through the morning. Then, we had a major sail issue. Our mainsail jammed in the mast furler big time. It somehow got twisted inside and the huge crease in it wouldn't allow it to be pulled in or out. So lots of pulling, twisting, winching and bad language later – we managed to at least get the sail down. But, by this point, we had forgotten about the two trailing fish lines...and yes, they managed to get twisted together and then wrapped on the prop (luckily it wasn't turning – we were actually sailing!). So once the sail was down – before we could start the motor to deal with it further, we (meaning Michael) had to go overboard and untangle the mess. He did after several attempts. We had a good swell going so it couldn't have been much fun. But he did it. Then he got the sail off, and he and Dave got it back on the furler and back up. Finally we were sailing again under full main and genoa and moving. Good fish catching speed. Both lines were put back in the water and off we went again after an hour delay. Lures were changed and Barbara (who loves "spoons") put on her favorite spoon lure on the yoyo. Yup, a hit. A lovely "blackie" - a black finned tuna. Just as Michael is cleaning that one – another hit – this time Lorna pulls in a small, but very edible mahi. Yum. Then dave puts a spoon on the reel. A hit. He pulls in what looks like another tuna but it shakes off the hook. Then another hit on the yoyo – another blackie. We call it a day. Lots of fish to clean and then eat and there isn't much room in a fully provisioned fridge and freezer.

That night we dine on a fish medly – simply grilled with a little lime and pepper. Grilled Black Fin tuna and Grilled Mahi. Too bad we only had a boxed wine to go with it! But it was a feast.

So we are anchored at Isla Contradora. We'll probably stay here at least for today and explore the island and do some snorkeling.

Lots of reasons to be happy... oh by the way(Dave and Jamie), we did have bananas on board when we caught the three fish.

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Monday, January 23, 2012

Shopping Panama City

Let's start by saying, "we hate to shop." Neither of us enjoy going to malls. We much prefer the rustic, local veggie markets or fish markets to air-conditioned mega-malls. But, we needed some stuff before we head across the Pacific. Over the last week, we've been shopping...and spending.

On Thursday, we did some provisioning for our guests arrival. We took the local 25 cent bus to "Transmistica" where we'd hit 'Mega Depot," "Abernathy's" and "Riba Smith." Mega Depot is a sort of Sam's Club or Costco, but you don't have to be a member. They have the best prices on beer, wine and liquor as well as cases of items like tinned vegetables, meats and dry goods. We burnt through about 3 boat units here. Michael walked to Abernathy's, the local chandler, for some parts to install the new solar panel. Then Tony, a local cab driver, picked us and our cases of stuff up. Barbara got dropped off at a grocery store, Riba Smith, for grocery shopping and Michael and Tony headed off for multiple stops. Besides oil and fuel filters, the big search was for some aluminum bars to mount the solar panels. This required a pretty intensive search with many stops at machine shops, metal dealers and finally a window and door manufacturing company where they hit the jackpot. The day ended at El Tapiz, a fabric store where some sunbrella, vinyl and texteline was purchased to remake the dinghy cover (get ready Lorna!)

It was an 8 boat unit day! Ouch. And a very wet dinghy ride back to Astarte with all the stuff.

On Saturday, we went via local bus, to Albrook Mall. Now this is one huge mall. And on Saturday, it seems to be the place everyone goes. Families, teens, singles are here to ride the rides in the mall and shop. It is a huge mall with every conceivable store – two huge hardware stores, about eight large department stores, shoes stores galore, furniture stores, drug stores, clothing stores for men, women and children, wedding shops, a giant grocery plus a food court with at least 50 options, a movie theater, carousels, trains and rides and lots of banks, western unions and loan places. Our list included new water shoes for Michael, bed sheets, frying pans, bed pillow, paper, pens, reading glasses (for gifts), butane, mineral spirits, acetone, dremel bit, 2-gallon jug, leather anchor gloves, copies of passports, visa photos, etc. The list was long and varied But this was the place.

We started early and it was a non-stop trek. We crossed a lot off the list and spent a bundle (at least 5 boat units). We ended the shopping day with a treat – ice cream. We cabbed back with all our goodies – not wanting to fight our way onto the crowded local buses.

Sunday, we are putting things away and Michael is installing the new solar panel so that Dave and Lorna will have a place to sleep in the V-berth!

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Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Jesus and the Guardian Angel

It's been really windy here in the Las Brisas anchorage in Panama City. The wind yesterday was coming out of the northeast and that meant a lot of fetch and pretty good waves as well. We had delivered our dinghy to the repair shop yesterday morning (Monday) to get some "professional" patches put on – trying to make the 11 year old inflatable last longer. So that meant we were without a dinghy all day (or two or three). So we were stuck on board working on more projects.

Our friends Sunny and Blake on "Slow Mocean" went into town (after he kindly helped us bring our dinghy to shore). In the afternoon the boats were really pitching in the seas and the wind was a steady 20 knots pulling at their anchor rodes. The anchorage has a bit of everything – sailboats of all sizes and in all conditions, big work boats, derelict rusted heaps, fancy yachts – everything from 20 feet in length to probably 500 feet. One of the 70 foot or so local fishing boats "Jesus" decided to go for a walkabout. It was dragging through the anchorage at a pretty good speed. It just missed the sailboat "Aspara" – and kept on moving. The next victim in its path looked like it would be the catamaran "Slow Mocean" with nobody on board. Because we were without transport – we flagged down Matt on "Superted" who was out to try to help. He picked up Michael who went to"Slow Mocean" to "stand-by. We called Blake and Sunny(by cell phone) to find out if there were any secrets to start their engine and to let them know what was going on. That's always a bad call to get.

Meanwhile, Barbara called the dragging boat (Matt got the phone number) and in her Spanish tried to communicate that the boat was dragging. It seemed to work. Meanwhile, "Jesus" had seemed to grab again and had stopped moving. In about 20 minutes, a grey tug/pilot boat, aptly named "Angel Guardian", came along side "Jesus" and tied up to her. Someone jumped aboard and pulled up the anchor. The two boats were really crashing into each other in the waves, but they did manage to haul up the anchor and then tow "Jesus" further out. They dropped the anchor and it dragged again. After a few tries, it seemed to hold and "Jesus" held his ground through the night...when it calmed substantially.

The dinghy repairs will be ready tomorrow (Wednesday) so we'll head in to pick it up in the morning. Hopefully it will last a few more seasons. That will be another thing off the list. Next project: installing the solar panel – which means shopping for aluminum bars and a few connectors.

It's always an adventure on Astarte – whether in the anchorage or finding parts or making repairs. Everyday – it's something!

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Friday, January 13, 2012

Shopping. Spending. Installing.

Astarte is getting so many new things – she should be one happy boat. And we are spending boat units like a couple of drunken sailors!

We already have the new Tohatsu outboard, Jenny-San and she's working great. We're still on the "break-in period" with extra oil in the fuel. Michael can't go as fast as he'd like until we burn through this tank. So that big project is checked off the list.

Yesterday, after many, many, many phone calls we bought another solar panel (140 watts-Chinese made). The process was actually kinda funny. We started looking for panels when we were in Bocas del Toro. Michael called probably everybody in Panama that sells them to get prices. These ranged from around $400 to $800 for one panel between 90 and 190 watts. We just missed a shipment of a bunch of panels to the Bocas area from the states at what seemed like a really good price. But, that's how it goes – timing is everything. After much searching on the radio nets, internet and by phone we found a company called Panasolar that had the best price. But the panel had to be picked up from the free zone in Colon. Something that is quite difficult to do and can add quite a bit of cost. After talking to Sergio (A Russian living in Panama for about two years) we arranged to get a 140 watt panel for $390. He called us yesterday morning and said he had to be in Amador (the area where we are anchored) so he'd come by with the panel. We agreed to meet him at the public dock. He brought two panels and as we were looking at them, the Aduana (customs) men came by and wanted to see a receipt from Sergio. After much discussion (sometimes a bit heated) Sergio had to pack up the panels and leave. We then met him across the road behind a restaurant and made the deal. We exchanged cash and felt like we were doing something illegal (which we weren't) – but it seemed bizarre. We got a receipt and hoped we could get back to the public dock without any additional hassle from the customs agents.

We also purchased a new head (toilet) the day before and it would be delivered to the local chandlery on Thursday. It was near where we did the solar panel deal – so Michael walked down to pick that up while Barbara stayed with the solar panel. We lucked out when a van offered to drive us across the road with the panel and toilet to the dock. We got by the customs agent without any questions and quickly off-loaded the panel to the dinghy as well as the head.

Today, Friday is head installation day! (Friday the 13th – should we do it?) Getting the old, leaky one out wasn't too bad. Unfortunately neither the "out " hose or the screw holes from the old head, match the new one. So it's turned into a huge project.

Michael's been tackling projects non-stop. He re-sealed a leaky port and unfortunately the "Boat Life" caulk he bought while in St. Petersburg in September was bad. All three different tubes had gotten hard – so he was only able to squeeze about half a tube out of each – barely enough to get the job done. Hopefully the port light won't leak – we'll see when we get some heavy rain.

But, KUDOS to WEST MARINE. After a few e-mails back and forth about the caulk, they stood by their product and have sent three new tubes of the to Dave's address to deliver to us when he visits. They were incredibly fast with a reply to our e-mail and responsive by doing the right thing. They have our loyalty still. We were impressed.

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Monday, January 9, 2012

Vacation Time

Can' t take that much needed vacation? The mean boss won't let you have time off or are you simply a workaholic who is keen to move up in the world? Tired of being cold and tired this winter? Have we got an idea for you!!!

You can take a "Virtual Vacation" aboard S/V Astarte. Cruise the Pacific aboard a Moody 422. Cross the equator. See the Galapagos and the French Polynesian islands. No packing. No TSA hassles. No need to lose those winter pounds. You don't have to learn Spanish or French. No need to get the passport updated. Virtual Vacations does it all for you. Yes, you can come along for just a small percentage of what South Pacific vacation would cost you. You'll get photos to show all your friends and colleagues...and you'll get adventure stories to tell at dinner parties. You'll be on everyone's invitation list!

For costs and more details contact us!

(Hey we have to payoff all those boat units somehow!!)

Enjoy the full moon – howl if you want.

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Sunday, January 8, 2012

Boat Units

There is the US economy. There is the European economy. There is the world economy. And, there is the Astarte economy. Every economy is based on a unit of currency whether a dollar, a euro or gold. On Astarte, we call them "boat units.(BUs)"
When we look at what something will cost, we decide how many "boat units" it will be. A boat unit is roughly equivalent to $100 US dollars. (On some boats it could be equivalent to $1000 or $10- size usually matters in this case!) As we are getting ready for our sail across the Pacific, we are spending many boat units (so you'll see a jump in the international economic outlook.) But what's on our list? Here's the current shopping list for SV Astarte.
1 – Dinghy Outboard and spare parts
for that outboard. (We bought a
Tohatsu 9.8 HP along with a spare
propeller, carb rebuild kit, two impellers, fuel line
fitting, ten spark plugs
and 2-stroke oil)                                                        20 BU
1 – New Head (toilet) for aft (to match forward head) 3 BU
2 – Rebuild kits for toilets                                            1 BU
1 – Foot pump for galley                                             1 BU
1 – Set of sheets (that would line) for the new drifter    2 BU
1 – Lifting tackle line for outboard                             .50 BU
New foam for outdoor cushions                                   1 BU
Fabric to repair dinghy cover                                    .50 BU
Dinghy repair                                                             3 BU
Fishing line, hooks, swivels, etc.                                   1 BU
Batteries (AA, AAA, button)                                    .25 BU
Spotlight                                                                  .25 BU
Various plumbing fittings/spares                                .50 BU
Stove repair parts (We'll see if Force 10 helps us!)     1.5 BU
Various fuel filters, greases oil etc.                              3 BU
Bed sheets, new pillows                                             .5 BU
2 - New frying pans                                                 .25 BU
New lock for new outboard (to be machined)              .5 BU
Total estimated BUs                                              39.75BU(ouch!)
Everyday the list seems to grow as something breaks or we think of something that will be hard to get "out there." Of course the list above doesn't include the paper goods, toiletries, beer and food stores we'll need to cover us for about a year. Panama is much cheaper to get these things than the South Pacific islands – so we will load up here. That list will be posted in mid-February.
And of course there are also the things like teeth cleaning which we did the other day (1 BU). Barbara has to start churning out some articles to get published so we can pay the bills. Carol – you better be ready for one big Visa bill!
Perhaps we need to start the Astarte Pacific Passage Pledge Drive?
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Saturday, January 7, 2012

Prepping for the Pacific Passage

Sitting at anchor in Las Brisas off Panama City, we are busy checking items off lists we have compiled over the last few months. How do you get yourselves and a boat ready for months at sea as well as months in islands with few, no, or very expensive supplies? Plus, we've been on the boat, for almost three years now – and unfortunately things are starting to wear out or break. And, we've been using up spares and parts and supplies.

So we start with lists – lots and lots of lists. We read a lot and ask tons of questions to other boaters who've "been there." Lots of our friends who have already made the crossing have sent us their personal "cruising guides" (thanks Otto and Lilli, Chrissy and Dave, Mike and Karen, Jack, Tom and Liz) which have been most helpful with info like - "buy lots of toiletries before you leave Panama they are incredibly hard to find or expensive in the South Pacific."

Everyday we are crossing items off the list as we find them or order them. We have been gifted with a visit by our good friends Lorna and Dave in late January – so they will end up hauling a bag filled with parts and items that we can get more cheaply or more easily in the States. It will be great seeing them and they are saving lots of time by allowing us to go online and order stuff to be sent to them. Plus, because they are coming – it gives us some deadlines to get projects completed so that we can spend time with them visiting the western islands of Panama and the Las Perlas islands.

The new outboard "Jenny-san" is aboard and we have to make new locks for it – the old ones don't quite fit (bummer). Plus, we have to strengthen the wood mount it sits on to make it a tad thicker for the different size screws. Michael's already greased it all up. We have to try to disguise it a bit as well, so it doesn't look quite so new and "tempting" to the less than honest folks. Next is to get an estimate for getting the dinghy "leaks" repaired.

Besides "stuff" we need to get, we are also taking care of things like getting to a dentist for teeth cleaning. Luckily we did our doctors appointments in the states last August. We went to the Clinica Dental de Balboa yesterday and had teeth cleanings and X-rays. No cavities – so that's something off the list. It was $110 for the two of us to get a good cleaning and full set of X-rays and exam. We also get to take our X-rays with us so we have on board.

Over the next few days, we'll share the rest of the "list..."

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Friday, January 6, 2012

Crew-member Replacement

Sayonara Yoshi. Welcome Genny-san.

Our Yamaha 8 hp outboard, lovingly called Yoshi, has given up his urge to be a fully functioning crew-member aboard Astarte. He's been a problem child ever since we got him – probably a Friday built engine. It was also one of the Yamaha's built in France with french parts. At the beginning, while still under warranty, he had a serious carburetor issue and we fought problems – especially in the Turks and Caicos. In Puerto Rico, we finally thought we solved the issue when Yamaha finally gave in and sent us a new carburetor after six hours with a mechanic. More recently, the flywheel would seize up after it would sit unused for a few days. Plus, it would only running on one cylinder. Michael spent hours and hours working on the outboard and it now was barely getting us to shore. No chance of simply doing dinghy exploring – it was merely transportation (and that was sometimes iffy.)

So, thanks to generous Christmas gifts from our moms (Gen and Trish), we decided to get a new outboard. We shopped around here in Panama City – looking at a variety of brands. Thanks to cruiser web sites and talking to lots of boaters – we narrowed it to another Yamaha or a Tohatsu. We would have gotten another 8 hp Yamaha like the one we had (though with the issues we had we wondered if that was the right idea) because we did have lots of spare parts for it – a propeller. carb bits, hoses and the shop manual. But unfortunately, Yamaha does different models for the states and other areas. All that is available here is the 8 horsepower Enduro engine which is totally different so none of the parts would work. When we called Yamaha US, we also learned they don't carry Enduro parts in the states, so when we went back – the engine couldn't be serviced. Plus, Yamaha frankly has been pretty difficult to deal with here and in the states. And, we had lots of issues with Yoshi. On the other hand, the Tohatsu dealer here, was very helpful. We priced both and negotiated with both and ended up spending many boat units (a boat unit is $100 US). We are the proud owners of a 9.8 Tohatsu outboard. We will welcome it as a crew member today (Friday) and name it Genny-san after Barbara's mom.

With the outboard, we bought several spares to take us across the Pacific and into remote islands. The extra 1.8 horses, should actually get us on a plane. Now we have to keep the dinghy afloat and repair some leaks so the outboard has something to move.

So see ya Yoshi – you were a good crew-member at times. Genny-san, welcome aboard.

Today, we head to a dentist for a check up and teeth cleaning. We're checking things off the list before we depart.

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Sunday, January 1, 2012

New Year. New Ocean. Cheers!

We got a lovely literary gift from frequent boat guest Kathryn Sobocinski upon our arrival to the Pacific and thought we'd share it with everyone:
A haiku for you:
A new blue ocean.
The biggest, deepest of them.
Happy exploring
Happy 2012 everyone.
We are still amazed that we are here at anchor on the Pacific side of Panama. We continue to look at each other and say - "we did it!" It was quite an adventure and a special and sincere thanks to everyone who sent us so many warm wishes. We also got to see a few frame grabs of us going through the locks so thanks Margie, Anna and Ian and Tom H.
Astarte is getting back to her cruising mode – tires and the four 150 foot coils of line are off the boat. Anchors, fenders, lifesling, grill and dinghy back in place. Forward head is now repaired and now back to being a hanging locker/laundry room/storage unit. V-berth is back to being a garage / attic. And we're making our way through the leftover food that our capable crew didn't knosh.
We're getting used to the 16 foot tidal change and constant wind. New scenery is being enjoyed – a wonderful skyline filled with many, many varied shaped and sized skyscrapers, a strange looking building that is the bio-museum, fireworks at night (for our arrival perhaps??), and a varied fleet of boats at anchor - from colorful cruising sailboats of all sizes and from different countries to 600 foot ships, tugs, barges and work boats.
The anchorage, thanks to wind and tides, is a bit rolly – but the wind generator is certainly doing its job and the batteries are happy.
New Year's Eve was quite wild here. It was non-stop fireworks along the entire city. Some started as early as 10 pm and went non-stop until 0100 (1 am). It was incredible – everywhere you looked there were fireworks lighting up the clear sky. Even from the top of some of the skyscrapers they were blasting off – making the buildings look like 100 story roman candles. Way cool.
We are still pinching ourselves that we made it. Another checkmark on the old "bucket list."
Happy New Year to all – we'll raise a glass of bubbly to all our loyal readers.
PLUS: There is a new photo feature.  If you haven't discovered it yet, click on some of the photos of the canal crossing and you will see a map on the right of the screen.  You can see a map or a google earth satellite picture.  
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