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Leg 3 - 2006 Acapulco to Panama

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Leg 3 - 2006, Update 1

May 5, 2006, 0600 hrs., 12.27 N, 94.4 W, Log: 99,647 miles, 614 miles from Isla del Cocos. Baro: 10011.4, Cockpit Temp: 86F, clear skies, Cabin: 87F

Our time in Acapulco passed quickly. After a couple of rough days with the current bouncing MT off a concrete finger pier Sr. Jose Marquez, the Club de Yates harbormaster found a much better mooring spot for us across from the fuel dock. Changing berths involved undoing six dock lines and one stern mooring line. In order to not hit the expensive sport fishing boat sharing the berth we had its skipper plus three helpers on dock lines. A stop at the club's fuel dock, the only place to fuel in Acapulco, took several hours as we waited for two large sport fishing boats to fuel before we topped our main tanks plus additional jerry jugs we had just purchased.

Acapulco Club de Yates
It took over an hour to carefully back into our new med-style mooring and adjust lines and fenders. Although the club has recently added over 100 new berths, demand for more berths from members purchasing ever larger yachts far outstrips the number of slips available. Our new stern-to berth meant that we could sleep through the night without having to get up to adjust mooring lines, plus we gained a fabulous view of the Acapulco skyline where the night lights reach up behind the city into the mountain ridges behind.

Armondo, a "boat boy" (he's in his 60's and is a delightful guy) allowed by the club to work on members yachts stopped by and helped us by having a metal shop machine up a new pin to hold our radar pole, and then assisted us in pulling the pole down, drilling a new hole and replacing the worn pin. He helped us five years earlier and we enjoyed visiting with him.

Amanda stripped the cap rail joints back to bare wood then applied a coat of varnish to them every day. I removed the caulking from a section of the aft deck, sanded it, and recaulked the

John, Armondo and Amanda repair the radar pole
seams. Provisioning took a fair amount of time as traffic was tied up with holidays and parades but we again used Wal-Mart for bulk and dry goods and the new Gigante for vegetables. The quality and price of fruit and veg varied considerably from store to store.

The highlights of Acapulco were a leisurely afternoon spent at Fuerte San Diego, an impressive, huge, pentagon shaped structure built to protect the treasures passing through Acapulco from English and Dutch privateers. The fuerte has been completely restored and turned into a first class museum, plus, it was air conditioned.

We haven't mentioned Acapulco's temperature, but it was so hot that I would leave for my morning run along the beaches or waterfront road well before sunrise and Amanda would spend that time with Rodney Yee and his total body yoga workout DVD. The yacht club's large swimming pool was our mid-day (and early evening) respite. I think one day we must have gone for at least five swims. The pool is surrounded by lush, tropical plants and flowers, and the entire club premises is an oasis of calm, beauty, extraordinary architecture and orange, yellow and blue color. Stepping out the gate is a quick adjustment into an intense, bustling slightly dirty and smelly

Downtown Acapulco
city. Maybe we're turning into wimps, but the $800 charge for eight nights of moorage (the most expensive we're ever paid) seemed a bargain compared to being anchored out in the dirty harbor and having to worry about the security of the boat and the dinghy. If we weren't working, we could never justify the cost, but as we treasure our days between expeditions, it was a joy to relax a little.

Before long it was Sunday evening, and our crew arrived at 1800 hrs with their passports. This is one of the reasons we insist that arriving crew arrive in port 24 hours before joining us at noon on the starting day of the expedition. Many times we ask crew to meet us the day before so I can collect passports and type up Crew Lists for customs and immigration. Being able to start the outbound customs clearance when offices open on the first day of the expedition frequently means that we can often set sail that afternoon, instead of waiting in port another night to complete clearance. Our crew's early arrival means any lost baggage or arriving crew with delayed flights (quite common) won't hold up our departure and that they will have a chance to become acclimatized and get over jet lag.

That was the plan, until we learned that Monday was a holiday, the first of May, Mexican Labor Day. Since the government offices were closed, we focused on getting through all of our orientation Monday afternoon with a swim break and a wonderful dinner at a little beachside palapa restaurant a short walk from the club called simply Cabana. We had run by it many times, and it was great to finally get to enjoy dinner there with a view of the fishing boats and small bay.

It was nip and tuck whether or not we would be able to clear out Tuesday as the club said generally they need a 24 hour warning, but Maria, the club secretary worked wonders with all of the offices and handed me outbound clearance at 1620. As a very gracious service, the club will arrange outbound clearance, getting the immigration officer to come from the airport (a one hour taxi ride away), standing in line (it can take hours) at the bank to pay for various exit fees and getting clearance from the Port Captain. The amazing thing is they only ask to be reimbursed for the fees. We appreciate the graciousness of the Club de Yates for allowing guests to moor at the club (when they have space) and for taking care of details like customs, immigration and Port Captain. We hope the Mexican government will consider opening a new, one-stop yacht clearance office in Acapulco, similar to the excellent new facility in Ensenada.

Within a few minutes of receiving our clearance the awning was stowed, stern lines and bow mooring were slipped and we were on our way to Cocos Island.

Our first night produced very lumpy head seas, but no wind, causing several of our crew to become seasick. Not long after sunrise Wednesday morning the wind picked up to 6-8 kts, just aft of the beam, and we couldn't get the spinnaker up quickly enough! It was amazing how well it pulled us along in light winds, but by swim time late afternoon the wind speed had dropped to 4 kts and we had to resort to motoring. Since that time our winds have been in the 1-5 kt range, and we have been motoring more than we would like to. The GRIB files are showing variable winds up to 20 kts ahead, so we have the spinnaker out and ready to go.

We have had quite a bit of shipping traffic, up to 2-3 ships per two hour watch. The new

Spinnaker Sailing
Raymarine C80 radar is excellent, and a real improvement over the R20XX that it replaced. This morning we detected a squall 58 miles away - not bad for a 48 mile radar!

This morning we transferred 60 gallons of fuel from jugs, nearly filling the main tank. We are saving our second tank (100 gallons) plus 45 additional gallons in jugs which should be just about enough to get us from Cocos to Panama if we are really unlucky with the winds.

Despite our lack of wind this crew is still focused and dedicated to learning all aspects of sailing. Morning class is full of questions and today we finished weather class with the test then continued on with medical. Late afternoon swims are truly welcome and with the calm conditions we're even having Hortatio Hornblower movies in the evening as a treat and break from the sameness of motoring.

Here's our Leg 3 crew:

I'm Skip Crilly, a 54 year old electrical engineer, presently moving and changing jobs from Spokane, WA to Manchester, New Hampshire. I'm hoping to buy a Corsair 28R trimaran once I get settled. My sailing experience has been on my Hobie 16 and on friends' boats. I don't have definite cruising plans yet, although I have a dream of sailing into Manila Bay, Philippines where I lived from age two to nineteen.

Rick Baird, 50 from Lafayette, (East SF Bay) CA. I was raised hiking and skiing the mountains of Colarado. Skiing is like sailing in that when you unstrap the skis or get off the boat, our minds says you're not done yet. I got the urge to sail while living in Seattle and learned the basics after a recent move to San Francisco and joining OCSC Sailing club. I live with my wife, 13 year old daughter and 18 year old son and am a founding partner in WindRiver Advisors investment management company.

Gail Kiel, 53. I am chasing the cruising dream. My husband and I currently live aboard our Spencer 53 ketch in Portland and hope to sail offshore in two years. (Gail's husband, J.M. joined us on Leg 1 this year).

Hi, I'm Tom Robinson, 54 a lawyer from Calgary, Alberta with a wife and two grown daughters. Until now I have only done coastal cruising, but now I am fulfilling a lifetime dream. Hopefully this will lead to a cruising adventure with my family.

My name is Tina Crabtree, 53 and I am a speech therapist for Healdsburg, CA. I've always wanted to cross an ocean and this expedition is giving me the skills to accomplish my sailing goals. I have two adult children and my husband is a land surveyor. I grew up sailing with my family in our folkboat out to Catalina Island.

Ed Nygard, 61. I am a diagnostic radiologist from Chehalis, WA preparing for retirement and more extensive cruising. This is my first offshore sailing trip. I enjoy photography and traveling with my wife, Jeanne, a librarian. We sail our F-24 tri out of Olympia, WA and will be looking for a larger cruising boat soon.



Leg 3 - 2006, Update 2

May 9, 2006, 0945 hrs., 06.12 N, 87.58 W, Log: 100,206 miles, 60 miles from Isla del Cocos. Baro: 1009.4, WSW winds @11kts
Cabin: 86F, Cockpit Temp: 86F

WE'RE DEFINILTY SAILING NOW!

A breeze filled in Sunday morning after dawn, so out came the spinnaker! Over the next couple days it amazed us that in 7kts of wind we could often maintain 5kts boat speed. Yesterday the wind further increased and by the look of the moisture-laden clouds, it seemed we were entering the Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ), a gap between the NE and SE trade winds formerly called the doldrums. We saw lots of high altitude lightning and dozens of small rain cells appeared throughout the night on the radar. That night it seems we might have sailed through it as we had clear skies and consistent winds in the 10-25 kt range. The current that has been against us up to 1.5 kts is now with us at close to a knot. We had nearly given up on a landfall today due to adverse weather but now if we maintain 6.4 kts we should reach Wafer Bay before dark.

We've had several flying fish land on deck, been visited by vast schools of dolphins, temporarily hooked a marlin (fortunately it broke the hook and swam away) but we are yet to land a fish. Amanda just pulled some Costco mahi mahi out of the freezer for dinner, generally a sure sign that we should catch a fish.

One of the strangest things has happened two afternoons at around 1400. A US Navy prop-powered surveillance plane has come in very low from the direction of Nicaragua, flown past us and then slowly curved around to the south. They haven't replied to our calls on Channel 16, so if they fly by today we are going to hold up a sign that says "Elvis is HERE!" to see if we can get a response.

May 12, 2006, 0540 hrs, 05.52 N, 085.34 W, Log: 100,353 miles Baro: 1007.4, SE winds @10.7 kts, broad reaching at 7.3 kts (that includes 1.3 kt favorable current) Cabin: 82F, Cockpit: 80F (cool!)

Our 11 kt wind held all the way to Cocos, but we motorsailed the last couple hours to ensure a daylight arrival, charge batteries and top up the water tank. We arrived at Chatham Bay an hour

Cocos Island landfall
before dark, giving us sufficient time to find a coral-free anchorage and don masks and fins to explore the bay and anchor. We saw a few small sharks plus hundreds of brightly colored tropical fish and healthy coral.

Cocos Island was discovered in 1526 by the Spanish navigator, Grado and during the 16th and 17th centuries it was used as an R & R stop for pirates and buccaneers who preyed on the Spanish treasure fleet in the Pacific. The American whalers started visiting in 1793 to fill water casks and gather coconut and left pigs and goats for future visitors. Costa Rica claimed the island in 1869 and until it was declared a national park a few years ago many treasure hunters arrived looking for vast amounts of buried treasure. These days a handful of park rangers spend 15-30 days on the island at a time, trying to keep the ever-present fish poachers outside the 12 mile park limit with a small launch. Costa Rican scientists and volunteers visit from time to time and there is a Peter Hughes liveaboard dive boat that makes weekly expeditions to Cocos from Costa Rica.

Early the following morning we were in the water again to discover three small sharks sleeping on the sand surrounding our anchor. A spotted ray often came zooming by and at first it was a little unnerving having swarms of inquisitive fish following us everywhere.

After breakfast we kept looking out for the park patrol boat, thinking they might come out to check us in as happened during our past two visits to Cocos, but no luck, so we launched the dinghy and Rick and I went ashore at the Chatham Bay ranger hut to enquire. The ranger said he didn't have the receipts and paperwork and asked if we could take MT to their main station at Wafer Bay.

Before moving, we took crew to a waterfall that cascades into the bay, drove the dinghy under it, half filling it with water. What a gas! We washed our clothes in buckets scooped from the bottom of the dinghy, rinsed directly in the boat then bailed before returning to hang them out. It has to be one of the easiest and coolest ways to do hand laundry!


Laundry waterfall

Tom gets clean


A southerly swell was rolling into Wafer Bay, making the anchorage quite a challenge. Tom and I ran the dinghy up the river and landed in front of the ranger station where Katty Conejo, an attractive marine biologist specializing in sharks, met us and checked us in. She explained that they normally go out to greet the very few yachts that stop at Cocos but the skiff was being repaired so the only boat she had available was a kayak.

She was grateful to have copies of all passports, ships document, clearance from last port and our crew list. Our little Canon photocopier has proven helpful many times. Katty apologized for the increase in national park fees to US$25 per person, per day, plus $25 per day for the boat. There would have been an additional charge if we had planned on scuba diving. I didn't bring enough money so Katty returned to MT, stamped our passports and joined us for lunch.


Wafer Bay

Park Ranger - Katty Conejo


Tom:
While onboard Katty offered to have a park volunteer take us on a hike to a waterfall. 12 volunteers are on the island building a bridge to give easy access to the hydro-electric generating plant when the river was high. Alegria, a Spanish volunteer took Ed, Rick, Gail, Skip and I for a 2 kilometer hike through rain forest following a good trail that paralleled the water feed pipe for the generator up to the falls. Alegria was a great guide pointing out local birds and lizards including the Cocos finch. She was also knowledgeable about the local plant life and highlighted the beautiful red leaved bromeliad that grew on the iron trees. The waterfall, located in a grotto filled with tropical plants and illuminated with shafts of sunlight was spectacular. We couldn't resist a refreshing swim in the picturesque pool at the falls base and we just had to swim to an underwater rock ledge beneath the falls to pose for pictures. On the return hike, we look backed to see a "Holy Spirit" (short-tailed tropic) bird hovering over Ed and Skip. The pure white bird did look like a halo and Alegira told them that it would bring them good fortune.

After returning to the station and thanking Alegria who loaded us up with water, bananas and warnings about how tough the next hike was, we headed across to Bahia Chatham where Mahina Tiare III had returned with John, Amanda and Tina. The hike was as brutal as Alegria said. It began raining as we climbed up a 60 degree slope and at steeper stretches there were knotted ropes to assist in the climb. When we did reach the top at 265 meters the views were beautiful and it was great to see the boat at anchor in the bay below. From there it was all down hill to the beach where the rest of the crew greeted us and we had a chance to study the names of ships carved in boulders along the shore. I would certainly recommend the waterfall hike from Wafer but you need to be sturdy for the cross peninsula trail.
Thanks Tom

That evening we watched Rescue South Pacific, the TVNZ documentary on the Queen's Birthday storm that we went through in 1994. The video and two books about the storm make this a classic case study of what type of boats and tactics helped boats survive, and which tactics resulted in loss of lives and boats. We enjoyed a good discussion that evening and over breakfast yesterday morning on scenarios and actions


Leg 3 crew: Tom, Skip, Tina, Rick, Gail and Ed

Tim hand sews a patch with palm and needle


All the next day (Thursday, May 11) it poured! and mud-colored water dashed our plans for snorkeling excursions by dinghy to a nearby island. Instead, we completed our Storm Tactics test and Amanda taught a detailed class on sail design, trim and repair. Everyone took a turn to practice sail patching our Pfaff 130 machine.

It looked stormy offshore, so we tucked a reef in the main before setting sail at 1730. Once offshore we found 14 kt winds, aft of the beam, plus a 1+ kt favorable current; we flew all night toward Panama. This morning the winds are holding, the sky is dry with partially overcast and it looks like an excellent day is ahead of us.



Leg 3, Update 3

May 17, 2006, 1630 hrs., 08.56 N, 79.33 W, Log: 100,846 miles, on a mooring at Balboa Yacht Club, in the shadow of the Bridge of the Americas, Panama
Baro: 1009.4, WSW winds @11kts, beam reaching at 7.8 kts
Cabin: 80F, Cockpit Temp: 86F


After leaving Cocos good sailing winds and a 1-1.5 kt favorable current held for a day and a bit, then the winds got lighter and the current turned against us at up to 2.2 kts. Unlike the last time we made this passage we didn't have any major cells of convection with thunder and lightning blocking our path.

Late Saturday we landed a small yellow fin tuna, just the right size for sashimi, but Sunday was our all-time best day for fishing, with six nice sized yellow fin! Rick mastered Amanda's quick and systematic method of filleting and spent over two hours cleaning fish. At one point we had

Rick with tuna number 1
two fish tied to the pushpit with sail ties and two more on the deck getting filleted. Finally, we pulled in the lines and Amanda announced there wasn't much space left in the freezer. What a great lunch and dinner we had with that fresh tuna!

The nearer we got to Panama, the more ships we saw. By Monday morning, May 15 we had Taboga Island in sight but before making landfall we stopped to practice Lifesling overboard rescue.

Taboga, "Island of Flowers" is a small, quiet and picturesque island just 9 miles from the hustle and bustle of Panama. It has a park where several species of birds are protected, hiking trails, a few small restaurants, and a small but friendly population. Our visit coincided with a religious celebration, and we witnessed a fair part of the island population walking and singing as several strong men carried a float featuring a statue and lots of fresh fruit and vegetables.


The beach at Taboga

Religious parade through town


We had told our agent, Tina McBride (tinamc@sinfo.net, www.panamacanaltransits.com) that we would arrive at the Balboa Yacht Club at 0900 Tuesday morning, so by 0700 we raised anchor and carefully picked a course through 36 anchored ships in the area before the start of the canal channel. As we approached the channel we checked in with Flamenco Signal Station (VHF Ch 12). They control the movement in the approach for all ships and were told to proceed to the yacht club.

The Balboa Yacht Club consists of 50 or so moorings, a fuel pier with a tiny office perched on top, an open-air bar and restaurant in the parking lot, and a couple of showers. The extensive clubhouse was burned down (we were told by the government) at the time the canal was being handed over to the Panamanians and is yet to be rebuilt. Cruisers are not allowed to use their dinghies, and the US$0.40 per foot per night charge includes a launch service. As we approached the mooring area, Amanda contacted the club on VHF Ch 06 and a launch directed us to a vacant mooring. We had been told by a cruiser we met on Taboga that recently all the moorings had occupied but we passed several yachts setting sail for the Galapagos and Marquesas, and their former moorings were now available.


Arriving at Balboa Yacht Club

Admeasurer Mickey and agent Tina


An hour or two after we arrived, Tina McBride came aboard, and another hour later the Canal Authority inspector came aboard, followed a couple hours later by Mickey, the same friendly, story-telling Canal Admeasurer who had measured MTIII in 2000. Since we had already been measured and had the original paperwork, his job was to inspect our cleats, determine that we could maintain 8 kts boat speed for the transit and have us sign some more papers. Tina and I then went to the Club office where handily an immigration officer is stationed, followed by a trip to the Port to apply for a cruising permit and another office to pay for visas. By 1600 or so we were all checked in, and our request to transit on May 26th with our Leg 4 crew had been submitted by Tina.

While I had been dealing with paperwork, our crew was busy! After Amanda taught winch servicing all six went to the mast head where they discovered a broken spinnaker block (no wonder it had been such a chore hoisting the dinghy on deck!) and a jammed mainsail halyard sheave. Crew next headed ashore for showers at the club and we met for dinner at TGI Fridays, next door to the very handy Country Suites Hotel just a few steps from the yacht club.


Rick climbs to the masthead using our new Spinlock harness

Rick's masthead view of Balboa Yacht Club and Country Suites


This morning we finished up Communications class where Skip gave an excellent demo of the use of his miniature ham radio for sending and receiving email using WinLink and we worked out our sun shots from two days previous.

Then it was off to the incredible handicrafts market, just a 15 minute walk away. Here we met

New night light on the Bridge of America's
Kuna Indian women making and selling molas, Wounaan Indians with their incredible woven baskets and Emberá Indians carving tagua nuts and weaving masks and baskets. This has to be one of the most fascinating places for aboriginal art in the world, and the prices are amazingly reasonable.

Tonight we are all going to check out the new Flamenco Marina at the end of the causeway and have dinner nearby. It's hard to believe that another expedition has flown and that we have met every teaching objective on our list.

One of the goals of every one of our crew was to transit the canal, so we announced on the morning VHF cruising net that we had six able crew eager to serve as linehandlers for any yachts scheduled to transit in the next few days. With no takers, and few if any boats headed that way, our crew were able to schedule passage on the MV Argo, a locally-based 60' tour boat that does a weekly one-day transit.



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