Sunday, December 12, 2010

Not a Captains Log!

Hi All

Ok I admit it, this isn’t really a Captain’s Log. Last Mango is in Degnen Bay, BC, and Susie and I are in Panama – but never mind! There are some one hundred fifty of you on the blog list and someone will have time to peruse this Seasonal Edition before it hits the Trash! We arrived back in Panama mid-November after a great week and more with our dear friends in Tennessee. Bike rides, parties, a couple of days in the “cabin” in Hardy, Arkansas, and even a jam session with the local hillbilly band – what a fun time. And plenty of Scrabble too, although it is a bit worrying that Mary keeps track of the score over the week. One day I am going to be told that my average score has slipped; that will be the signal to pack it in I guess. So here in Panama we have been getting back together the land-life (affectionately referred to as dirt-dwelling in cruiser speak). That means that we are working our way through the list of chores we had in mind…………first on the list is to get my permanent visa now that my initial first year visa has expired. My how the tables turn, Susie already has her permanent jubilada status and it is me playing catch up. And what the usual bore it is, a collection of near-worthless documents for immigration to rubber stamp and then more visits to the glory of that familiar office on Avenida Cuba. Speaking of chores, another mission for us has been to rip out the wardrobe complex in the main bedroom here, only because it had been taken over by a drywood termite colony. Rather irritating rummaging around in one’s drawer for something to wear and chancing upon some termite nymphs trying to start up a new outpost. These creatures are fascinating in that they form a colony inside the wood and you never see them – just their frass, mmm. But when they feel the need to branch out they breed some emissaries and send them out to go and find another planet. “Go forth and multiply” -  not in our apartment, thanks – the former wardrobe now resides in that great Panamanian repository of removed household fittings (Jacinto’s front yard). But it is not all chores here, Susie is now working on yet another quilt, another inspiration. For my part I have an hour at the piano most days; recovering lost ground and making inroads into something new, the world of boogie-woogie (dum-ti-dum-ti-dum, yeah!).  We have also been out and about on the trails, looking for critters:
Sloth with baby

Cheeky monkey
Snake eating a frog

Now some advance planning. The winter months are useful in that many cruisers are lounging around at home itching to get back on board and spending far too much time on the internet firing messages at each other on the Owners sites or the Nordhavn Dreamers site (Yes, really! ). A useful time for me to be looking ahead a couple of light years and figuring out whether we need any more toys (I mean equipment of course) on board. And what do you know – we do! Hah! For example we have a super tender on board, a 14’ Caribe with a bloody great motor. But one fellow Nordhavn owner got it dead right when he said that those tenders are for the grandparents, and what we kids really need is something rugged, coral and pebble resistant, which even I will be able to pull up the beach when there are no marinas within a thousand miles. So..…, the plan in March is to get a second tender on board and I have my eye on a Porta-Bote, together with a 4 stroke 2hp Honda outboard which weighs just 27lbs (wow) and does a hundred miles to the gallon. Even the 12’ boat only weighs 77lbs and folds to 4”. So what else am I looking at, well, kayaks, although I haven’t figured out yet which ones. Then there are the downriggers……… catch those (big!)salmon up in Alaska we are going to need gear to fish at the right depths, so downriggers it is. Last Mango is now booked into Emerald Harbor Marine in Seattle from around 7 March and we are going to get some servicing done, like, engines/generator, stabilizers, windlass, autopilots, fire and safety equipment, as well as getting the new stuff in place. I use an online system for my service records run by Seakits ( ),usefully it alerts owners when maintenance intervals are due. We are also going to haul her and check the underwater fittings, paint and so on and the through hulls. Much of this boat maintenance is new to me but grappling with it certainly keeps me entertained. The Admiral hasn’t yet taken the bait for the engineering course that I have suggested but I am working on it.

Here in Panama the dry season hasn’t arrived yet, we are having a La Nina year which gives us extended rain; the canal had to be closed this past week because strong currents from the Chagres River were a hazard to shipping; worse, there have been landslides and loss of life. Panama has one foot in the first world and the other in the third and is still trying to catch up lost years under indifferent government. (English language daily news can be found at ). And I am reminded that we have been celebrating for well over a month now my retirement. I didn’t know I was retired but I was asked to take a call one day to discuss my contract and that’s when I found out! Thank heaven for that, life is busy enough and now I really don’t have to worry about the office like I used to. (I did honest!) We just thank our lucky stars that we managed to sell the business back in 2005 before that nasty downturn started. Oh and by the way, please delete any old email addresses you have for me, they are defunct (Lee & Allen, CRAI etc). We are now looking at our forward plans and mapping out 2011 in the first instance. We have visitors coming to Panama (and through the canal) over the next couple of months and then we will be off back to our other home. After Seattle we head for Alaska; first visitors are due on board mid-April for the early part of the trip (all weather-dependent of course). I have been researching the anchorages between Port Hardy and Ketchikan by reading blogs of other cruisers. I don’t really have any idea how long we will be exploring Alaska, but I understand that it gets rainy in July so we should be heading South by then. We plan to make our way back down the Eastern seaboard to California and see what happens. I have signed up for the FUBAR rally in November 2011 from Long Beach into Mexico, that looks like good fun.

Here are some pictures of the effects of La Nina here in Panama. The high water level pictures are from the Gatun Dam and spillway on the Caribbean coast. The central picture shows damage to the access road onto the $120m Centennial Bridge over the canal at the Gaillard cut. The bridge is apparently sound, but clearly the access road construction did not allow for the level of erosion which had been experienced (!).

Gatun Dam


Centennial Bridge

For visitor planning: January is still free here in Panama; February is pretty busy. Plenty of time to hook up with us on the Alaska run in May and June. All crew welcome.

So here’s wishing you all the very best Seasons Greetings. Special thanks to our wonderful support systems everywhere: to Robert and Marlana for looking after Last Mango though these cold months; to Kathy for looking after base here in Panama in the warm months. And to family and friends everywhere, Happy Christmas.

Best wishes

David and Susie

Saturday, October 16, 2010

davit and tender, Ling Cod & California

Hi All

Here is an update since the last log back in July on cruising and other adventures from Susie and me. Once again, welcome to new recipients of Last Mango’s Captain’s Log. And all please note; this is my new email address.

First the land-based update. Visiting friends and family in Europe was a lot of fun; it was so good to catch up with close family and squeeze in as many stays with friends as was possible. Very grateful for the loan of Mum’s car to assist in the logistics. Managed to get to Devon, Yorkshire, the Cotswolds, France and even cross into Spain for lunch, which is getting to be a habit (a good one at that). And not to mention Brighton and Hassocks. Thank you to everyone for putting up with us popping in out and around. And sorry that we couldn’t quite see everyone, we will try hard again next time.

We were pleased to see that the boat work list had been thoroughly tackled by Philbrooks at Van Isle Marina, Sidney, BC. It was time to throw a few more boat units into the hole in the water (I am sure you all know the definition of a boat). Worthwhile, because we have some useful improvements on board. Power management is one of the important issues on any boat and we now have more intelligent charging and management of the battery banks. We have 11 battery banks on board (4 main, 1 engine start, 1 gen/wing start, bow thruster, stern thruster, 12v comms, 12v aft and tender) and believe it or not we have 11 battery chargers/alternators as well as the generator to handle the different systems, provide back up and to handle different types of shore power. We needed also to service the davit and tender, make repairs to some topside bodywork,  and get some improvements done on the water systems, plumbing, and propane system on board. Last but not least we wanted to get the cockpit set up for something very important – yes, fishing!

From Sidney we crossed the Strait of Georgia to Vancouver.  Thank you to Doreen and Bill for looking after us so well and supplying the Canadian Thanksgiving celebration. Susie got to know some of the highlights of Vancouver including the Museum of Anthropology, the Bill Reid Gallery, the Indian quarter and the Dr Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden (David was networking the IBA). Last Mango was enjoying the hospitality of the Royal Vancouver Yacht Club at Coal Harbour, a fascinating floating town power boating facility. The weather was pretty wet and horrible but then it brightened up considerably and we made a run up the Sunshine Coast to Pender Harbour to explore and check out the fishing. Success!

On the left is a Ling Cod but careful measurement showed that it was under length for keeping so it became a catch and release day. But what wonderful weather; the sea was so calm and we fished around the reefs and islands at the entrance to Agamemnon Channel. The smooth waters also gave us an opportunity to test out the prawn trap puller, and dinner swam in to our traps overnight, it is amazing what a couple of cans of cat food will attract. You might wonder why we have a trap puller, but when I tell you that we dropped the traps in 400 feet of water you will figure out that it is an essential piece of equipment! Also observe in the prawn picture that I am sporting a microphone; it is very useful for Susie and I to be in close communication when retrieving the prawn traps – Susie is driving the boat and she puts me right next to the floats and we can fine tune the boat position and ease the retrieval process.

Pender Harbour is a great music centre; we had missed the Jazz and Blues Festival but I had an excellent pub jam session with a great blues band. Even played an Allman Brothers track – memories of our band back in university days (no James, it wasn’t “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed”!). Once again, as with all our travels, we continue to meet so many great people everywhere we go, either in the communities we visit or fellow cruisers alongside. People are just so very kind-hearted, we are never short of the offer to borrow car keys or meet up for breakfast or a pot luck supper. We crossed back over to Vancouver Island and spent a few days at Nanaimo sitting out a storm and preparing for our last trip this season to Last Mango’s winter berth in Degnen Bay. It was blowing 20 knots on the way here but our ride was absolutely fine. Thank you in advance to all at Rooks’ Haven who will be looking after things until we return in the New Year.

So, here are the forward plans; I know that some of you are going to come and visit so this will help with the choice of location. We leave Canada tomorrow and will be travelling for a while finally arriving in Panama on 8 November. Winter visitors will be very welcome, we are wide open even at Christmas. We will be in Panama until 2 March when we fly back here to the Gulf Islands. The first port of call in March will be Seattle for a maintenance visit. By April we will have started our passage to Alaska; we’ll probably turn around somewhere suitable (Glacier Bay is one option) and head South again in June. While we are in Alaska, flights to come and visit with us are probably best via Seattle. After returning from Alaska we will head back down the Western seaboard to California to prepare for travels to Mexico and beyond. And remember, plans can change!

Best wishes to all

David and Susie

“Last Mango” Nordhavn 5508

Grappa, Captain Vancouver & rockfish

Hi All

Another month rolls by and we are sending out a brief update on our Pacific North West cruising. We are now in England for a couple of months and Last Mango is in the good hands of Philbrooks in Sidney, BC.

Last Mango’s log for the last month lists some 15 passages with a distance travelled of 450 nautical miles. We were joined for a week in the San Juans by friend Mary from Tennessee and there were many highlights of the trip. Was it the Alaskan crab legs at a wonderful dinner in Seattle, the orca orgy in the Haro Strait, the crab fest supplied by Sheila and Buck in their ‘cabin’ on Garrison Bay while Last Mango was gently swinging at anchor or was it watching the golf in the bar at Roche Harbor with the greatest golfers in the world all trying to lose the US Open? Memorable times is what we all seek, and our 24 hour orca fest certainly qualified. We were royally entertained by J Pod which we encountered three times off San Juan Island. However we finally made our last reporting-in call to US Customs and Border Protection – hooray! And on 22 June quietly slipped across the border and surrendered to the scrutiny of Canadian Customs. Well………..the smoothest border crossing I’ve ever been on! We had no contraband of course, and Susie was desperately trying to get me to eat the last illegal blueberry that had just been discovered lurking in a muffin in the fridge…….but there was no interest in us at all; we made the required phone call and were cleared in, and ceremoniously filed the US Port Log right at the back of the chart cupboard. We soon headed south to Victoria where some of you will remember our land log of 2008 and a great week in such a pleasant city. The beer is still as good! First job was to sign up a new cell phone and internet access; I was ready to meet the AT&T-style issues encountered in San Diego in signing up an American service, but not a bit of it! Like, here is your internet data access and phone sir, all we needed was your credit card. Phew, back on-line with hardly a break.

The orca in the two right-hand pictures is one of the older females known as “grandma”. It is believed that she turns onto her back and flaps her tail on the water to signal to the others that there is food in the area.

Friend Alex from San Francisco arrived in Victoria on the ferry from the US mainland and even supplied the promised contraband, a very fine grappa which is still being eked out; long may it last. We headed into the Gulf Islands and did some exploring, visiting Poet’s Cove on South Pender Island (a great restaurant, recommended by Captain Chuck Leuschner) and Ganges Harbour on Salt Spring Island. The Gulf Islands lie off the south-east of Vancouver Island and have a mild Mediterranean climate, are home to a lot of wildlife, and are the first place for the north-bound cruiser to learn and experience the tidal currents which prevail throughout British Columbia. An essential part of our passage planning is a careful study of tide and current predictions which allow one to pass through the tidal gates which are encountered en route. We moved on to magical Gabriola Island, and met up with more friends where Last Mango was lucky enough to have her own private dock. Time for another crab-fest! We dallied a while on Gabriola in such good company (Bill and Doreen and their friends Robert and Marlana) and on such an interesting island with its petroglyphs from a few thousand years ago. Gabriola is a veritable haven indeed. We then took a long run up the Strait of Georgia to Lund, at the entrance to Desolation Sound. We needed to reconnoitre this area so that we can come back and explore it more fully later in our visit to BC, so we spent a week between Toba Inlet, Cortes and Quadra Islands, and Campbell River. So many fellow boaters to meet, they say that the first thing to get right is the quality of ones canapés……..  The deep waters of Desolation Sound were first charted by Captain Vancouver in 1792; the characteristics of the region are the mountains with year-round glaciers, fjords thousands of feet deep, and pure isolation. I am pleased to say that as we now have our fishing licenses we went out and caught some fish, not quite the big ling cod we were after but nevertheless a lot of fun and plenty of catch and release rockfish.

The above pictures are all at magical Degnen Bay, Gabriola Island, where the otters were very entertaining. There were plenty of hummingbirds; it is so amazing that these tiny flyers can travel thousands of miles in their migration from the Southern US and Central America to Canada and even Alaska.

We returned south to prepare for our European summer and have made arrangements for Last Mango to be looked after in Sidney for some maintenance and one or two improvements which we have in mind. Now we are turning ourselves to the hurly-burly of London and looking forward to catching up with people in Europe over the next two months. We will be back in Canada in September and will attend the International Bar Association annual conference in Vancouver; we will then be in the PNW through the autumn until it gets too cold. In the spring we plan to depart for Alaska, but that is a way away.

David and Susie
Nordhavn 5508 Last Mango
Canada cell (1) 778 977 2440
UK mobiles – David (44) 792 168 4771 Susie (44) 776 977 9541