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Leg 3 - 2015, Update 1

May 3, 2015, 1415 hrs, 14.12 N, 96.18 W, Log: 183,778 miles
Baro: 1011.1, Cabin Temp: 89 F, Cockpit: 81 F, Sea Water: 86F
Close-reaching at 6.1 kts under full main and genoa in 13 kt N winds with clear HOT skies

AN EXCELLENT START TOWARD COCOS ISLAND

We enjoyed our week between Legs 2 & 3, only leaving the very comfortable and safe Club de Yates de Acapulco for morning exploratory runs and for forays to the new well equipped nearby Superama supermarket. When we asked Maria, the marina manager about current safety situation in Acapulco, she simply said, "You can no longer go downtown, but the tourist strip along the beach is heavily patrolled, and the yacht club is safe because we have naval police upstairs, above this office.”

Sure enough, on our morning runs we became accustomed to passing more than 50 federal police vehicles: pick-ups with machine guns mounted and manned with the back bed full of armed police, Dodge Charger police cars, large troop transport trucks and smaller Jeeps. The federal police had been brought in because of ineffective and corrupt local police and were staying in the hotels above and around the yacht club. Locals told us the police avoided the trouble areas in the hills above the city and mostly just drove up and down the tourist strip all day.

Curious about the new small marina in front of the unfinished Santa Lucia condo building adjacent to the Club de Yates, we asked the guard if we could check out the dock and take a picture of the yacht club from the unfinished building. The guard recommended we come back any morning after 9 am but a smart looking gentleman who was sweeping the sidewalk came over and in English asked us where we were from. We'd stop by and say hello each morning, and then one morning I asked if we could pay him to take us to Walmart. Roberto explained that he and his wife own the cliff-hanging home next to the new condo-marina development and that he is a doctor drives and drives to his clinic near Walmart every morning at 10am.

Roberto graciously offered to give us a mini tour and history of Acapulco the following morning before dropping us at Walmart. He was saddened by the direction the city has gone, and by the fact there are now very few international tourists. He pointed out several grand unfinished government public projects explaining who had pocketed the funds for each project. When I asked if there was any honest business conducted, he said, "Very little”.


When we last visited in 2006, Walmart was quite new, very tidy and looked like any Walmart. Now it looks quite worn and is undergoing major modifications with dozens of jack hammers working on concrete behind plastic walled-off sections all while the store was open and busy with customers. We found most of the products to be less expensive Mexican version of US products and not much value to us except for a few types of cookies and cracker products we did not find at Superama. We later learned from Roberto that the same family now owns Walmart and Superama, the much nicer, newer and quieter supermarket ten minutes' walk from the yacht club, and that prices were nearly identical at the two stores.

Once we learned that Friday, the first of May and the day our crew would be joining us was a holiday, we decided to hire Jorge Torres, (naviaso@btu.com.mx) the ship's agent recommended by the club to help with our outbound clearance. What an excellent idea! For US$150 we didn't have to wait until Monday to clear out, or spend a day going from customs to the bank, immigration to the bank and port captain and to the bank. Instead Jorge had two attractive young immigration officers come to the yacht club Thursday
afternoon who stamped our passports and took the crew list Jorge had prepared. Jorge had already collected our customs clearance documents and with that we were cleared out and ready to sail three days earlier! As moorage at the club is US$3 per foot per day (the most expensive we found anywhere) hiring the agent to clear us early saved $300.

With midday temperatures in the 90's we weren't in a rush to leave Friday with only six miles to go until we were in offshore waters clear of obstructions so after crew came aboard at noon, we had lunch, they unpacked their bags, and we all headed to the amazing yacht club pool to cool off before setting sail.That was Friday afternoon. It's now Sunday afternoon and we've had some excellent sailing in the right direction with much less motoring than in 2006.


Acapulco Yacht Club - MT in on the right in the red circle

Crew relax in the shade pool side - Gerry, Erin, Tim, Amanda, Jeff, Tati and Alison

Those of you who read our Leg 1, Update 2 may recall reading about and seeing the picture of Alison, the super keen rocket scientist who REALLY wanted to show her kids and husband the boat that she would be sailing on for Leg 3. She was so keen that once she noticed on our Google Earth YB Tracker (bottom of our homepage) that we had stopped in Monterey, she piled husband Glen and the kids in the Subaru wagon and drove 1.5 hrs from Redwood City to Monterey where she gave her gang the MT tour.

Alison's ten year old Clair and seven year old Paul are already telling other kids at school that in 15 months they will be on their way sailing to Tahiti and Australia, so we thought it would be cool if Alison has a chance to share a glimpse of her current passage experience with her family and with you, our readers.

Heeeere's Alison:

Hi Clair, Paul and Glen! It's Sunday evening and we are sailing under a nearly-full moon. The sky is completely clear so we can finally see stars. The moon is shimmering on the water just off the bow to port. It's so bright on deck, no headlamps needed but that makes it tough to see too many stars. The last two nights were a bit overcast. The breeze is blowing us forward on a beam reach at about 6 knots. It has finally cooled off a bit with the welcome relief of the sunset. It is incredible to sit on deck at night rolling with the seas, cooling off in the breeze!

Today we saw a HUGE pod of dolphins, there must have been hundreds! I thought of how much you (Clair and Paul) would have loved to dangle your feet over the bow just a few feet above the dozen or more dolphins that were riding the bow wave. Some of them really put on a show, jumping and spinning! Sometimes they would smoothly dive back into the water like an Olympic diver and sometimes they would try to make the biggest splash they could. We looked them up in the well-used whale/dolphin book on board and identified them as spotted dolphins.


The day time is super-hot and we seek out the best corners of the boat that have both shade AND breeze. That SeaWorld spray bottle/fan would have been a great idea, Glen! In the afternoons we all look forward to water time when we can either swim or at least take a salt water shower followed by a quick fresh rinse. It's heavenly to feel the cool water. The seawater is actually about 86 degrees so it's far from cold but refreshing none-the-less! Yesterday we swam along with the boat (which we had slowed down a lot) and could hang onto a line dragging off the stern if we got tired...remember doing that in Abaco? We can't stay in too long since we don't want to attract deep water sharks but about 30 minutes plus a lookout and masks on seems to be the safety guideline.

And then there is the food! You wouldn't believe how good Amanda's cooking is. So far we have had fresh fruit everyday...pineapple, mangos, bananas, papaya! (Paul can climb the tree and shake them down J) We have had 3 healthy, yummy meals every day. I even asked for seconds on the smoked salmon-pesto-pasta!

I hope you had a great time at Father-Daughter dance, GGA and Golden Gate Bridging. I miss you all! I love YOU more! And Happy Mother's Day Mom! Love, Mommy/Alison


Here's our Leg 3 eager beavers!: Amanda, Tim, Alison, Gerry, Erin, Tati and Jeff

Here's our Leg 3 eager beavers!

Erin, 34
from Calgary, Alberta I work as a nurse in Calgary and have had great fun learning to sail over the past three years. (Erin grew up on a farm near Calgary and paid her way through nursing school by raising and selling steers through 4H. Her sister, brother-in-law and father still run the family farm.)

Gerry, 48
I'm a physician from Calgary and am the proud owner of a Bristol Channel cutter which I keep in Sidney, B.C. I'm a keen member of Bluewater Cruising Association and love the seminars that I am using to gain knowledge.

Alison, 44
I am an aerospace engineer from the San Francisco bay area and for many years I have dreamed of long distance cruising with my husband, daughter (10) and son (7). This trip is great preparation for our planned 2016 departure for Australia.

(Alison took a year off from after undergrad to teach sailing and scuba diving to high school students in the BVI's and teach skiing at Vail before applying to Stanford for grad school and never regretted it!)

Tati, 29
I am from Brazil, but living in Southern California where I work as a bookkeeper and translator. I've enjoyed taking sailing classes at Orange Coast College Sailing Center and currently sail on a Hunter 38 which my husband Jeff and I have on time share. The furthest we've sailed together is Catalina Island. Now we look forward to sail to the South Pacific or even around the world.

Jeff, 33
I live in Newport Beach where I started sailing about four years ago. I've been trying to learn and get on the water as much as possible through OCC Sailing and SailTime. This expedition is the next step in gaining confidence to buy our own boat and go offshore to the South Pacific and beyond, hopefully!

Tim, 62
I'm from Colorado Springs, CO and work as a contractor for the US Army. Ever since reading Robin Lee Graham's articles in National Geographic and book, DOVE, I've dreamed of crossing oceans. This is my first step.

May 6, 2015, 0615 hrs, 9.38 N, 92.59 W, Log: 184,098 miles
Baro: 1011.8, Cabin Temp: 86 F, Cockpit: 86 F, Sea Water: 86F
Close-reaching at 5.1 kts under full main and genoa in 8 kt N winds with calm seas and clear skies


Erin enjoying the sailing on her watch
This passage has been amazing - it's hard to believe we passed the halfway point yesterday. We've motored so little that we've had to start the engine to charge batteries several times. What a contrast to the last two times when we had to motor more than sail some days!

We've been able to steer course for Cocos all but last night, and actually were down to two reefs in the main and genoa for several hours on Monday. Our crew are getting excellent sail trim and some reefing experience and teaching class under quite mellow conditions has been a breeze.

We officially left Mexican waters yesterday morning and it took some time to discover where we had hidden away our fishing gear. It would have cost over $500 in fishing permits for the boat, dinghy and each person so we elected to squirrel away our fishing gear and scrupulously observe Mexico's rules.


Leg 3 - 2015, Update 2

May 11, 2015, 0500 hrs, 5.48 N, 85.22 W, Log: 184,609 miles
Baro: 1009.8, Cabin Temp: 89 F, Cockpit: 85 F, Sea Water: 87F
Motoring at 7.6 kts with 5 kts S wind and 2 kt favorable current
Close-reaching at 6.1 kts under full main and genoa in 13 kt N winds with clear HOT skies
450 miles to Panama Canal

COCOS ISLAND - WHAT A PLACE!


Alison's watery view of MT during her afternoon swim
Winds became light, as expected, our last two days before Cocos and afternoon swims were a highlight and a welcome relief from the intense heat and windless cloudless skies.

Unfortunately we ended up having quite a battle with freeloading gannets attempting to rest on Mahina Tiare. At first, when one bird perched on the bow pulpit we thought it rather cute but then six, soon to be nine for the night really made a stinky mess of bird dookie and feathers everywhere. By morning it was time for them to take flight.


Three gannets getting upset and a fifth tires to land

At first light when Amanda shooed the birds away and strung light line in a cat's cradle above the pulpit. The birds then took to nesting on the masthead, the Windex and the Raymarine wind direction/speed transducer. We knew there is little chance of getting a replacement masthead unit from Raymarine as our ST-50 series has been out of production for 18+ years, and didn't want to lose our wind instrumentation, so we all pulled Amanda aloft and she spent considerable time at the masthead fashioning flags, welding rod, wire tires and string tied to the VHF antenna to make landing and perching more difficult. Then one pesky gannet landed directly on the wind instruments so she fastened a mainsail batten with a garbage bag fashioned as a flag to the spinnaker halyard and hauled it aloft to annoy the bird enough for it to take flight only to return to persistently land on the spreaders numerous times to which a halyard slid along the spreader finally sent the pesky bird off.


Amanda up the mast rigging the bird deterrents

Amanda's handiwork at the mast head

Three varieties of boobies rest on a log. When we noticed a school of small fish sheltering in the log's shade we circled about with the fishing lines but had no luck landing a bigger catch

Amanda inventories our rigging spares with crew as part of rigging class


Land Ho!
We'd read in www.noonsite.com that Costa Rica was actively discouraging yachts from visiting Cocos Island by a complex and inconsistent permit process that takes 2+ weeks and can only be initiated from a vessel in mainland Costa Rica so we had modest expectations of being allowed to stop at all, but we thought we'd a least try.

As we approached Wafer Bay, where the national park ranger station is based, we replied to a call on Ch 16, requesting a few hours stop for engine repairs. I needed to replace the impeller and secondary fuel filter, change engine and transmission oil plus transfer 36 gallons of fuel from the three 50 liters containers on deck and 35 gallons from jerry jugs (stowed in the lazarette) to the main tanks. This was one of the few passages when we revert to purchasing and stowing extra-large fuel jugs ($7 each) on deck to supplement our very ample 225 gallon normal fuel supply. A park warden instructed us to anchor in a sandy spot in Wafer Bay and said they'd be out shortly to check our papers.


Pedro, Javier and Steven departing Mahina Tiare

Our chart of Cocos Island. Wafer Bay is located on the north side of the island

The three rangers arrived by RIB, were polite and friendly, explaining that they would love to welcome us to enjoy the island, but the rules state yachts needing to make repairs can only stop 12 hours and cannot enter the water (no snorkeling on this island famous for huge concentrations of giant hammerhead sharks) or go ashore. We asked if we could stay until dawn the following day, and they said they would make an exception to allow that. The rangers asked repeatedly if we needed water, to which we thanked them and said we were O.K as our water tanks were full, thanks to our trusty Katadyn 160 watermaker and we were all very cautious with water usage. Alison then politely asked if was possible to take showers or do laundry ashore and they said that laundry would not possible but showers were fine. Yippee, a chance to go ashore plus a shower (perhaps while wearing some of our salty clothing) made everyone happy.


Jeff, Tim and Alison transferring fuel
We agreed to come ashore at 3PM, once we had completed transferring fuel, but when running the first half of our crew to the beach our 15 hp Yamaha outboard didn't have full power and outright stopped several times while I was returning to get the second group, sounding exactly the same as when we had water in the fuel in Scotland some years ago.

As soon as I was back aboard, we twice filtered the fuel through our West Marine funnel filter, removing a fair amount of water, then removed a drain screw on the bottom of the carburetor to drain water. Neither of these helped, so with the second crew we limped back to the beach juggling the choke and throttle.

As it was Saturday afternoon and after working hours we visited with a couple of the park staff in a beach shelter and learned that their efforts at stopping poaching of large tuna inside the park boundaries were largely ignored by the fishermen and politicians. It currently wasn't the season for tuna to be around Cocos and warmer than normal water temperatures had caused the sharks to go really deep and thousands of small red crabs to wash up dead on the island beaches. We asked about the two matching boats and were told that the 180' private research vessels are owned by an American and that they carried three submarines, one capable of depths to 6000'.


Tim and John stand beside the welcome sign

The colorful administration office and volunteers house

Alison enjoying her shower

The head park ranger shows us their greenhouse garden

It's all smiles and clean clothes for this rugged Cocos crew: Alison, Jeff, Tim, Gerry, Erin and Tati

This morning I completed the engine chores. We said goodbye over the radio and slowly motorsailed around half the island, marveling at the sheer cliffs, bird life, waterfalls and signs of recent landslides. On setting our course to Panama were quite surprised to find excellent close reaching conditions which required a reef in the main and, along with a very favorable current kept our VMG (velocity made good toward Panama) over 8kts.

 

May 13, 2015, 0130 hrs, 6.56 N, 81.06 W, Log: 184,874 miles
Baro: 100998, Cabin Temp: 88 F, Cockpit: 85 F, Sea Water: 87F
Close-reaching at 6.1 kts under double-reefed main and genoa in 25 kt N winds with clear skies and a million stars!

REEFED DOWN, RAIL DOWN AND FLYING THROUGH THE NIGHT!

After two days of mostly motoring in flat seas as we approached Panama's southernmost peninsula early this morning, the wind just started and kept building. We now have two reefs in the main and half the genoa rolled up and Mahina Tiare is still charging through the night like a freight train.


It's all action as we land our morning's catch
Just before breakfast this morning our watch standers spotted a massive area of floatsam including a baby doll, trees, branches, floating line and lots of plastic. For half an hour we circled under power with Jeff and Tim, our keen fishermen pulling in three mahimahi and one tuna. We enjoyed Hawaiian poke tuna for lunch and look forward to a mahi dinner tonight.

After seeing very little traffic for the past five days, now as we're approaching Panama it is starting to increase. We've just picked up a radar return from Punta Mariato, the closest headland in Panama, 20 miles away.


Tati, Alison and Erin hard at work mastering braid splicing
As we are more than a day ahead of schedule, our plan is to anchor for 24 hours off Taboga Island, six miles before the arrival anchorage off Flamenco Signal Station, giving us time to complete our teaching schedule and enjoy a lunch ashore. Taboga Island was used as a quarantine location during the canal building but is now a favorite picnic and snorkeling destination for Panamanians, with a couple of small passenger boats bringing day trippers to the island.

 

 

May 15, 2015, 0610 hrs, 8.47 N, 79.35 W, Log: 185,064 miles
Baro: 1012.0, Cabin Temp: 83 F, Cockpit: 84 F, Sea Water: 83F
At anchor, Taboaga Island
6 miles to Panama Canal

WE LOVE PANAMA!!!

Everything was going great until halfway between Punta Mariata and Punta Mala (bad point in Spanish) when we encountered 18-26 kt headwinds and a persistent 1.5-2 kt contrary current. To port was shallowing water, and to starboard was a line of ship traffic on the AIS so close bow and stern to each other that it looked like they were bicyclists drafting one other. We motorsailed into a vicious chop double-reefed, and occasionally smashing into seemingly square seas with only half a boat length between crests, resulting from the relatively shallow water (less than 200' depths). It was a long and rough night, and at Amanda's suggestion we slowed down to 3.5-4.2 knots.


The town of Taboga from our anchorage

The welcoming Calaloo Restaurant

Just before dawn winds dropped to 18kts, the seas started to stretch out between crests and by breakfast time we were making close to 6 kts. What a cheer went up when Alison dropped the anchor off Taboga Island and in no time we had the RIB launched and were headed ashore for a very, very relaxing lunch at Cynthia's Calaloo Caribbean Restaurant. Our canal agent, Tina McBride has a weekend getaway apartment over the restaurant and Cynthia, a Canadian, is a friend of hers. The food was excellent along with lemonades chocka with ice, fun salsa music, and a cool breezy space with a wonderful view over the bay. We were sure happy to have arrived in Panama!

We explored the small, hillside township after lunch noting many exotic pets such as squirrels, iguanas and tropical birds kept in cages on peoples balconies. After a few quiet moments in the decorative town church we headed back to MT for showers and afternoon naps.

 

May 17, 2015, 1800 hrs, 8.54 N, 79.31 W, Log: 185,072 miles
Baro: 1014.9, Cabin Temp: 82 F, Cockpit: 84 F, Sea Water: 83F
Moored at La Playita Marina, Amador Island, Balboa, Panama, adjacent to the Panama Canal entrance


Looking at our AIS screen it a definite thread the needle path to Flamenco.
Friday morning we raised anchor early and dodging the 60 or so anchored ships including a USCG cutter, a cruise ship, oil tanker and several 967' Panamax freighters made our way to the arrival anchorage directly underneath Flamenco Signal Station's control tower.

After alerting Flamenco Signal (VHF ch 12) that we were anchored and ready to receive the canal admeasurer, I dinghied into La Playita Marina to meet Elias, the assistant of Tina McBride, (www.panamacanaltransits.com) our canal ship's agent. Elias briefly came aboard to help our crew complete the immigration entry forms then he and I proceeded to customs and port captain. Unable to complete the cruising permit as the issuer was not there Elias said he'd handle it that afternoon.


We I returned we were visited by the admeasurer via a large launch to complete our transit paper work.
Thankfully Elias was able to get us a berth in La Playita Marina and we secured ourselves in with all our dock lines to limit the power surge that occurs in the basin. We the afternoon free after a patient morning crew were off to do laundry and go exploring and we all met up of a final dinner at a marina side grill restaurant walking distance in Flamenco. Saturday morning, after a 6am start for going aloft class Elias dropped us at the Miraflores Locks Visitor's Center, and again headed downtown to apply for and pick up our tourist visas. We watched two ships locking up through the first of three sets of locks before Elias returned with our visas and took us to the old section of Panama City for a sidewalk lunch at a traditional Panamanian restaurant.


Jeff looking a little less for wear after retrieving the bird deterrents

Alison's masthead view of the marina and adjacent Beach House Hotel. There are plans to add more marina berths in the basin.

A tanker locks up in Miraflores lock.

Tati read in a tourist newspaper that the soon-to-be-completed much larger canal locks would be open to the public from 8-5 for the first and only time on Saturday morning, so we booked Elias (elias@ektourspanama.com, (507) 6140-1135) to pick us up at 6:30, hoping to avoid the crush. The previous weekend his wife had gone to an opening for canal employees' families which resulted in gridlock when 20,000 people turned up. I wondered how the canal authority could ever cope with what the newspaper estimated would be 50,000 (and actually turned out to be closer to 100,000), especially when the traffic was backed up all the way to the Bridge of the Americas.

We were astounded by how well organized, how helpful and how friendly everyone was. There were tons of volunteers, police and canal employees everywhere; directing traffic, welcoming people as they stepped off the buses and passing out chilled bottles of water and Panamanian flags.

Alison:
Today we visited the construction site of the Panama Canal extension. The site was opened to allow the general public to view the new locks before they are filled with water in a few months. The sheer size of the project is very impressive. There is a new canal parallel to the existing locks at both the Caribbean and Pacific sides. These new canals each have three stages of locks. The new locks will accommodate vessels 25% longer and more than 50% wider than the largest Panamax ships that currently utilize the existing canal. The present container ship can carry up to 4,500 containers while the new ships are estimated to be able to carry 12,000 containers!


The size of the new locks is certainly overwhelming

Two lock doors and their rail set up

History in the making as Tim, Alison, Erin, Gerry and John stand in the bottom of the new locks.

We were bused in to the site (along with over 50,000 others) and allowed to walk around on the bottom of the top (third) chamber of the lock. Looking down toward the Pacific we could see the first and second chambers stepping down over the course of more than half a mile. A pair of giant doors separate the chambers but they were all open when we were there. Unlike the old doors that swing in from each side of the lock to make a mitre joint, the new doors slide out from a pocket in the lock wall on rails to seal on the opposite wall creating a locks over 60 feet deep.
Seeing this project at this stage was truly awesome and we are all glad we braved the crowds and the rain drops to get a chance to see it first-hand.

Now that crew are off exploring and having new adventures we are focused on preparing MT for our challenging upcoming Leg 4, Panama to Tortola. We are grateful that La Playita Marina dock master, Jose Luque (laplayitainfo@siwireless.com, 314-1730) found room for us in this small, nearly packed marina which will make provisioning, running errands and welcoming our Leg 4 crew aboard much easier.


 

Leg 3 - 2015 Itinerary

leg 3

 

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