Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Shelter Bay

So we have now been here for a couple of weeks. Our first impressions of Shelter Bay are that it is well sheltered and safe. There is a slightly more American feel to Panama whereas I think the Spanish influence was more in evidence in Colombia, though having been used to the windy Colombian coast it's quite a pleasant change to get in a sheltered harbour. First things first we had to check in. There is a little shed here which it would be very easy to miss ....this is the Port Captains office. Fortunately he speaks some English so we were able to follow what he was saying. I have been trying to learn Spanish via an app called Duolingo this tells me I'm now 17% fluent in Spanish which in reality means if I'm lucky I can get the gist of what is being said and offer up a few words in return! However I will persevere as being able to speak Spanish definitely puts you at an advantage! Having checked in the Immigration Officer who was very helpful and checked us in for 72hours in which time we needed to go into Colon to see the Port Captain there and get our cruising permit then return back to her with two passport photos for our visa.The Marina puts on a bus that goes into Colon in the morning and again in the afternoon so we duly signed up for the next day. Once we had our cruising permit in our hand we were told to go back to the Office and we would get a three month stamp on our passport. 
                                  The tugs pushing the container ships in place for their transit

So off we trundled the next day,Mauricio the bus driver dropped us off at the Port Captains Office in downtown Colon and after knocking on every office door we finally found the Port Captain. There were quite a few in the Office and it was apparent that something was awry! There was a lot of huffing and puffing and shaking of heads...... A guy called Luis took us under his wing and as he spoke English he was able to let us know what was going on ....the system had frozen!! Just our luck. Luis suggested that we go and get our passport photos for our visa whilst we were waiting ....not a bad idea as he said he would show us where we could do this. Colon is not for the feint hearted, many of the building are falling down,there are people sleeping rough and the general advice is get a taxi to where you want to go, do not wander around with anything valuable and if possible no bags. 

                                        The old lock gates Crocodiles have been seen here!

Luis however told us to stick with him and he would show us the way. As we set off, as it turned out it wasn't far, the heavens opened! I began to resemble a drowned rat but John with his trusty Crocodile Dundee hat did not fare so badly. We got to the shop, one of those Chinese run we sell everything type of shops and I was expecting a booth like you get in the local supermarket in the UK but no we had our photos taken,printed and ten copies cut to size with a guillotine all for $2....bargain! I just kept my fingers crossed that a picture of me hair dripping and soaked to the skin would be acceptable for my visa! So back we strolled to the Port Captain hoping that our cruising permit would be there waiting for us when we arrived, wishful thinking, no such luck! So we waited and waited til finally it became obvious that we would be out of luck today. So determined we would catch the afternoon bus back to Shelter Bay we agreed we would return the next day. Sure enough the cruising permit was waiting for us the next day and with our 72 hours well and truly up we finally got our passports stamped and our visa a week after having arrived. Knowing what we know now, I think we would probably hand the whole process over to an agent to do all the running around .....worth a few bucks just to forego the hassle.
                                                     The new locks ...work in progress

We have now been into Colon and Panama City on the Shelter Bay bus which has very little suspension and we soon discovered if you want to minimise the effect of the bumpy roads try to sit in the front! The trip to Colon involves going on a very small one way bridge through the locks. If you are unlucky enough to get a red light then the wait can be up to an hour whilst they move two supertankers into the lock and finally close the gates enabling the traffic to pass through. It does enable you to get off the bus and watch the tugs stuffing these enormous ships into the locks and the trains tighten the lines to slowly pull the ships into the lock. There are currently new locks being built and a bridge that will mean that the traffic can flow freely .Inevitably these projects are behind schedule but it will make such a difference to the flow of both marine and local traffic. Shelter Bay is in what was an American base, it is now a nature park and there are a few good walk but more of that later.....

Sunday, 6 December 2015


So we finally found a decent weather window.....not an easy task in Colombia, either no wind, too much wind or wind going the wrong way it seems to me! We decided to leave early in the morning hoping that it would then allow us to get sixty miles or so before dark but also for us to be I front of the edge of the strong winds that were evident on Weather 4D our weather app of choice. As I let slip the lines I noticed that there were swarms of midges behind the stern sheltering from the wind! Usually the wind has been strong enough to keep the mossies and no seeums away but this morning they seemed to be out in full force and by the time we had slipped the lines and driven out of the marina with the gearbox behaving beautifully both John and I realised that we were both starting to resemble a pin cushion! The insects had had a tasty breakfast and the scratching that continued over the next two days had started! 

We had a good sail winds around twenty knots to start and then the wind moved around onto a reach..... we averaged six and a half knots covering about 165nm day one though we did slow down day two. The trip I'm glad to say was uneventful and we decided we did not want to go into Colon in the dark so we put into Portabello, dropped the hook and chilled over the weekend. It was like a millpond in there so we had plenty opportunity to catch up on some sleep. The anchorage at Portobello is disturbed by water taxis whizzing across the bay ferrying workers and assorted travellers to both sides of the Bay. It is also littered with 'dead' boats which is sad to see. We did not put our dinghy in the water but noticed that the water taxis came very close to the boats and particularly at night if your dinghy was not raised then it was possibly dicing with disaster! We lit up our cockpit to ensure the boat boys could see us as they ferried revellers back on Saturday night. Apart from the drumbeat that went on into the early hours and the unmistakeable sound of outboard engines the anchorage was still and we both slept soundly. 

We figured it would take us about five hours to get to Shelter Bay. Leaving early Monday morning on another good reach we got to the outskirts of Colon and the numerous parked large cargo vessels in good time. Going through busy anchorages like this is when AIS is really useful, it makes it so much easier to identify those parked and those still moving very slowly.you can also earwig in on some interesting conversations on the VHF......one interesting one we listened to between two large cargo ships ' Vessel A I have you on my AIS what are your intentions? ' ' Vessel B I am at anchor, repeat I am at anchor' ' Vessel A we have a cpa (closest point of approach).         of .5nm what are your intentions?' Somewhat exasperated the reply came back 'we are at anchor!' The reply was an increasingly concerned and edgy ' yes you are at anchor but we are not under command ( in other words drifting! ) stunned silence on the end of the radio and then came the reply 'Standby' .......we heard no more from these two ships and looked at the AIS monitor to see if we could work out who it might be ...but no luck they were probably out of our range but hoping the outcome was not too stressful! 
As you can see from the picture it is a little busy in Colon! 

However we are safely tucked up here in Shelter Bay and planning what next?!

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Just about ready to leave!

Amazingly having been in Colombia for nearly five months ......has it really been nearly five months?! In that time we have painted the decks,replaced the gearbox as well all those boat jobs that are standard....oil change, fuel filters the list is endless but necessary.

We tried to source a gearbox in Colombia but all the advice we got was it was a logistical nightmare so in the end John hopped on a plane to Miami, picked one up that we had shipped down from Washington and bought it back in his suitcase! Fortunately our Hurth gear box weighed 20kg and fitted neatly into our hard suitcase so there were no problems with weight. John was three days in Miami and he was quite surprised by the place. The buses were free,the roads wide and tree lined and the hotel he stayed in was run by Greeks....it's a small world. He managed to keep himself in check as he perused West Marine chandlery where he got chatting to one of the staff who hailed from Cork and after a long chat with him he managed to get staff discount....I think it's called having the gift of the gab!

I had to go back to UK for a couple of weeks so John fitted the gearbox then and a fine job he did too! By the time I returned he had the thing fitted the shaft aligned and Dorothy, our Perkins engine was purring nicely and obviously pleased with the new addition in the engine room!

The week before we were due to leave we had some rough weather one night. The Colombians call it ..'pollos culo'...which roughly translated means 'chickens Arse'. Basically it's when the wind comes out of the South/ South West . The weather did not last that long but by daybreak the damage was evident. All the yachts had no problem but two of the fishing boats were sunk. It would seem that both of them had no automatic bilge pump. The heavy rain filled the boats and the wind slapped more sea water over their sterns which were close to the water line as they had large outboards weighing them down. Both were towed onto dry land in a sorry state .....it will be a long time before they get those outboards going again ....if at all!
Before we came to Colombia many of those that know us back in the UK asked....'Is it safe?' Well we felt perfectly safe but whilst in Puerto Velero the Armarda boys who guard the coast managed to impound a fishing boat that was full of drugs.They towed the boat in and it put along side the Catamaran that had been impounded a long while back for the same offence .....they were getting quite a collection! We got quite friendly with some of the Armarda who lived in a container at the end of the pontoon. They changed shift about every month but once a week a whole bus load would arrive for training which seemed to consist of going to the end of the pontoon and jumping off and the having to swim to the shore or drag themselves onto the pontoon. They would of course sing as they swam.....all good male bonding stuff.
Finally we figured we were ready to leave so asked JC if he would clean the hull and the propellor which he did free diving! He told us that an octopus had taken up residence on part of our hull and had had to evict him! Our prop cleaned we were finally hot to trot.