Friday, March 30, 2012

Arrival Florida

Our Caribbean passage continued through the Yucatan Passage and on into the Straits of Florida, somewhat equidistant between Cuba and a line off the Florida keys. The Scrabble Games on board were getting quite hard fought and we were enjoying the Admiral’s legendary cuisine and working though the days and nights on our watches. But, ahead, we were warned over the satellite email by Jo and Dan that the winds were going to increase substantially; around midnight Tuesday over 30 knots. We weren’t going to be allowed to get to Florida without a reminder of the force of nature. Right on cue, the seas built and just before my watch (000 to 0300) we had to reduce speed and fall off to the North. It was an uncomfortable night; good job that I had stowed the rods and fishing gear and we had checked again for any loose items that may fly around – apart from ourselves that is. As the wind climbed into the low thirties and the waves built to around 12 feet we plotted another course to the nearest point of shelter which would be near Fort Jefferson, Garden Key. By mid-morning we had decisions to make. Option A would be to arrive Garden Key around nightfall, anchor and then spend most of the next day getting to Key West. Option B would be press on towards Key West, enter the West Channel behind the reef for protection and arrive Key West around 2200 and anchor off Fleming Key in the dark. Since we considered that we were probably through the worst of the conditions we went for Option B. Of course it was only the humans that were interested in getting to calmer waters, Last Mango just chugged along quite happily, up one wave and down the next, churning a good solid wake through everything the sea put in front of her. Finally we closed on the lights of Key West and headed into the mooring field. Some difficulty finding decent space among the thronged yachts – some unlit – and also some difficulty getting holding on the coral and sand; finally the hook was securely down and tugged and we were at rest after our six day passage. In the morning we headed for our slip in the heart of Key West, we had to squeeze our 18 foot beam between two pairs of wooden pilings which were 19 feet apart ………… snug I think you would call it. Certainly sent the neighbors scrambling for their fenders. With our quarantine flag up we tried calling the CBP 0800 number for a while before heading in person firstly to the Federal Building and then a short taxi to the immigration folks at the airport for our check in and Cruising License. And there was the inspection, curiously enough the instruction is for these officers is to remove most of our fresh food. I cannot imagine how threatening French Brie, a Chilean apple, a Mexican egg, or a Panamanian onion would be to the agriculture of the United States, but anyway the remaining things we had in the fridge are now heading for controlled incineration. But then, we were in! Another One-Year Cruising License and the liberty to explore a new coast, it should be great entertainment. And talking of the latter, we headed into Key West to marvel at the quaint Caribbean town of Key West and its incredibly lively bars, restaurants, and attractions. Here is the report: The ale at Kelly’s was just fine, especially the third one. The food at Fogarty’s was really excellent value. The Steve Nicks’ – style guitar/singer at the Bull was terrific. The dueling piano player/singers at Pete’s were brilliant. And the blues at the next bar along were fantastic. The quality of the live entertainment was just excellent, I just might need to get the guitar out of the closet where it has endured a lonely passage.  And it was good to be on land……….well, at least for a short time. We spend one night in Key West and then day-hop up the coast towards West Palm Beach. Soon our crew will be heading home and we can make some plans, maybe.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Caribbean passage

Our departure from Shelter Bay led straight into some heavy and confused seas with a consistent 20 knots of wind. Waves generated by a low off Venezuela, combined with a counter current off the Panamanian coast, resulted in mucho chop. Through the first night the seas stayed around 8 feet and sleep was of the partly airborne variety. Our new crew were wondering what they had let themselves in for but in retrospect it gave them their sea legs and the experience to appreciate the lessening seas to come. It was pointed out to me that the combined ages of these two added up to 150! As we made our way North, the wind relented and during the second night we were down to 12 knots with subsiding seas. We are now into Day 5 and the Caribbean is all gentle swell. We have been around 150 miles offshore and there has only been commercial traffic. As we closed in on the channel off Rosalind Bank, we picked up a welcome boost from the Northbound current; our speed increased from 6.5 knots to over 10 at one point. With the smooth seas on board routine has settled down well; the watch bill is light with 5 on board. Yesterday we had an enormous strike on our single lure; with full brake the line tore out nearly to spool; Chris was strapped into the light fighting harness when suddenly there one was immense sideways leap out of the water and our fish, almost half a mile behind the boat, was gone. There will be another day. Captain Don has the morning watch and is not fazed by the instruments in front of him in the pilothouse. A graduate of the Pensacola Flying School in 1944, and a member of the Active Reserve after WWII, one day he was given a Handbook to read overnight and the following morning was told to take her up - a Spitfire.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Panama photo catch-up

 I haven't been able to upload photos via the email link, needs more experimentation. So here are the back-log photos, I hope the presentation is not too messy. I will put some minimal commentary - essentially they relate to the trip to the canal and the canal transit itself.

First, on the left, Last Mango heading out into the Gulf of Tehuantepec, getting across just in front of a 50-knot T-Pecker storm.

Above is the hook and fishing line caught around the starboard stabilizer.And on the left, the 10,000 milestone for our passages to date.

Above - the yellowfin tuna caught 100 miles off Guatemala. Below - the six of us having our eve-of canal supper in Bella Gianni, El Cangrejo, Panama

 Six of us in the cockpit of Last Mango awaiting transit. Below - Chris, Dad and Susie after we had tied the tyres on.

On the right, below, our transit advisor Amado coming aboard on the pilot launch off Flanenco Island.

Above - Bridge of the Americas, the start of our Northbound transit.

The view at the Miraflores Locks, and entering the locks behind the Crown Garnet and Speculator.

Rafted up to Speculator.

Bad boy Magna Carta behind, center chamber.

 Rafted to Speculator.
Passing under Centennial Bridge.

Pedro Miguel Lock.

Above - final view down the Gatun Locks - 85' fall over the three locks

Finally, phew!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Panama Canal night Transit

Just relating the story of our transit………………..on an “as I remember it basis”……………..our agent had asked that we be waiting off channel buoy 6 at 1500 but Flamenco Signal re-confirmed that it would be 1615. Oh well, that was just a bit more hanging around. We had spent the morning tying our salubrious plastic-covered tyres around the boat so that we would be able to fend off anything that might threaten the paintwork. And we also practiced catching and tying monkey-fisted lines and flaked our long canal lines so that we could hold center chamber. We headed out to the channel area, noting that the number of AIS targets around us was over 250. Around 1630 the pilot launch appeared and came alongside. Hand line transits Speculator, Magna Carta and ourselves soon had transit advisor/pilots aboard – our was a very pleasant young man, Amado. He completes one transit a day on his work days. We then ran up the channel towards the Miraflores Locks arriving at 1750; we slowed down to let a freighter – the 500 ft Crown Garnet - pass and go into the West lock in front of us. For the transit we lost our identity and we three motor yachts became 25 Charlie, 25 Daniel and 25 Echo. North bounds are odd numbers and South bounds even. 25D was being rather difficult at every stage – rather like a horse refusing to go into the gate – and insisted that she go center chamber on her own, rather than being the center nest to 25 Charlie and 25 Echo. Crown Garnet went in first, then 25 Charlie caught the hand lines and tied to the port wall, then we came alongside and rafted up – so we had our own personal 80’ fender between us and the wall, how useful! 25 Daniel came in behind us.  Gates closed and the chamber was filling, some extreme turbulence and 25 Charlie was using motor and thruster to try to get away from the wall, or at least to minimize the crush on his port fenders. While all this was happening we were emailing with my sister in Australia who was monitoring Last Mango on the live webcam – particularly since we have on board my Dad and brother Chris as crew on this trip. After we had been lifted, the doors opened; we untied from 25 Charlie and moved through the turbulent prop wash from the freighter up to the next lock for the same procedure. Of course it was now past nightfall. This time 25 Charlie kept shy of the wall and used more or less constant motor/thruster to power away from the concrete. Soon we were again on our way chasing the freighter up the Miraflores Lake and into the single Pedro Miguel lock. Slightly different procedure, 25 Charlie tied to the starboard wall so we had to do some rapid switching of fenders from starboard to port. I can tell you that having the six of us on board, plus advisor, was essential; it was busy. After Pedro Miguel we had a 24 mile run through the Culebra Cut, the Chagres River and the Gatun Lake to the Gatun Locks. All of 25 transit raced off ahead of us since we were slowest – although we maintained our top speed of 9.1 knots or so. 25 Daniel (note that the canal have their own substitute for Delta) meanwhile were whingeing about the lateness of the hour and wondered if they could anchor in the Lake while they still had some Bloody Mary Mix left………………and they also had asked most courteously if they could pass on our starboard side in the narrow Culebra Cut. After moving over they then came up and passed on the port side. Interesting! After racing up the Gatun Lake in the dark we could see on the AIS that our locking companions were ready to enter the downward chambers and half an hour in front……………champing at the bit to get through and out; but the Canal told them to wait for us. This time we hand liners were in front of the freighter; it was getting even more rehearsed by this stage; we swiftly got into the first lock, then the second and finally the third. Those gates opened and we were through and in the Caribbean; just after midnight. A pretty rapid transit we thought, there was no hanging around. By 0100 we were anchored off the flats near Colon, we would head into Shelter Bay Marina in the morning.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Readying for Transit

Well the week has certainly been busy here in Panama. We got temporarily back into “dirt-dwelling” (cruiser speak) and started organizing ourselves for our next passage. I will post here where we went and what we got up to in the City so that any other cruisers can have the benefit of whatever local knowledge we have; it might be useful. Firstly there is the business of trying to get a slip. There is one large marina on the Pacific side which is Flamenco; it is extremely busy and in spite of calling every day they had no room. The small marina here is La Playita; it is right next to Naos Island, near the Taboga Ferry and the Smithsonian Punta Culebra Park – great for sloth watching late in the afternoon. After extensive networking every day at La Playita’s office, we got a slip, which was useful for provisioning and getting on and off the boat. Our provisioning started at the Riba Smith supermarket at Multi-Plaza: that is the mall with the expensive designer stores. R-S is the most upmarket super here and better than either El Rey or Super 99. We then went on to Mega Depot, on Transistmica, which is our favorite warehouse store – no membership required. We didn’t have time to get to the large public market (Mercado de Abastos) for fruit and vegetables, that is highly recommended for lots of fresh produce. Our final topping up of fresh food was at the Transistmica  branch of Riba Smith – excellent place for fruit and vegetables, shrimp, and other produce. Oh and we had a few visits to the huge mall here which is Albrook – the place where the whole region comes to shop. Panama is very busy, the economy grew by 10.6% last year. The Yamaha service people here are Tesa and they have a place down the Amador Causeway but weren’t too good at returning calls. A useful place is the Balboa Yacht Club – they have mooring balls and a launch service – that was our back-up plan if we could not get a slip. Now a word about our agent, Tina McBride, and her assistant Elias. They have been superb, and have delivered everything promised. We have had excellent service which has resulted in our transit on the requested day, our inbound and outbound documents processed swiftly and painlessly, and timely delivery of our hand lines and fender-tyres for the canal. And if you are looking for restaurants here in Panama then Manolo Caracol in the Old Town is excellent; Gaucho is more or less the only place for steak, there is a new Italian called Bella Gianni down the road from our apartment which is excellent and where we had dinner for all our crew, and the place for mojitos and Cuban food is the excellent Rincon Habanero on Via Argentina. Of course there are hundreds more places to dine but these are some of our recommendations.


Today we were informed that our transit starts at 1600 local tomorrow; the pilot will come by launch to meet us between buoys 3 and 6. We will have an evening/night canal experience, since private yachts are now going through at all hours. Our best guesstimate is that we will pass the live internet camera at the Miraflores Locks at 1700-1800 local.

Monday, March 12, 2012


Well here we are in Panama! It is quite surreal for us to arrive here on Last Mango after two years of voyaging but never having been here with our little ship. We arrived as predicted on Saturday evening but not without some last minute weather to deal with……………Mother Nature was not going to let us get off the hook that easily. So, after rounding Punta Burica we had some calm seas across the bay towards Coiba, but then the wind built, and built and built…………38 knots at the peak. Quite interesting again! So during the night we crept near to shore off the Azuero Peninsula for a bit of shelter only to get to Punta Mala to find it living up to its name. But, finally, we cut our way into the Bay of Panama and nearer to the canal area; the AIS system recorded some 214 targets, plenty of commercial ships to navigate around in the main anchorage areas. Checking in to Flamenco Signal we had permission to proceed to the small vessel anchorage off La Playita, Amador, and finally at 2200 the anchor was buried tight and we had peace and quiet; Johnny Deere had had a good run for nine days and now was getting a well-deserved rest.

But there is no peace for the wicked. Having arrived we met with our agents and cleared in; immigration; customs; cruising permit. More paperwork. But it was a Sunday and we were impressed that anyone was working at all; within an hour or two we had the canal inspector onboard admeasuring us and firing questions as to our preferred mode of transit – position in the locks – center, side, nested?. Does our propeller rotate right or left? And lots of information to give the canal transit adviser who will come with us. And checking that we will feed him his meals and have a supply of bottled water please. I did ask if there was a preferred brand – Badoit perhaps? And after the inspection Kathy kindly collected us so that we could be reunited with our earthly connections – apartment, truck………..things we have not seen for a while. And now the list of things to do is expanding exponentially. Number 1, try and get a slip? No chance, Panama is just too busy. Number 2, get a Yamaha mechanic to service the outboard. Number 3 rely on Bernie to assemble second tender – Prawn Basher (no problem for Bernie).  Number 4 get a transit date – looks like the weekend. Number 5 liaise with the reinforcements flying in to join us on the transit and onwards. Number 6 start getting the supplies, that will take a long while. Number 7 deal with the tile problem in the spare bathroom?? (no way that will get done!) And so on, yours truly has been tearing around today in a frenzy. Like Captain Jerry said to me once “hammering all the snakes into their holes”, I like that. And of course the Admiral has been busy too; those wardrobe requirements are most essential!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Panama bound

After the heavy seas (Force 6) on Night 5 we sought some weather info via our satellite email system for the transit of the Gulf of Papagallo wasn't looking too good, according to (thank you Jo and Dan Weather Routing Service). Day 6 remained unsettled and by 2000 the Easterlies coming across the Nicaraguan isthmus into the Gulf rose consistently into the high 20's. The outside temperature fell from 90 to mid-70 and even the water temp dropped 15 degrees to 72. So we had an uncomfortable night of Force 7 (Near Gale) - up to 30 knots; 9' seas with regular larger waves; and we changed our course to the south to put the incoming onslaught 60 degrees off the bow. Sleep was hard to find while we were tossed around. The best thoughts of the night for me were the comforting reassurance that we had precisely the right boat for the job; admiration that Nordhavn 55 "Last Mango" just took everything in her stride, chugging contently across the Gulf, doing everything that she was designed for, getting us there safely. By midday on Day 6 it was all over; wind 5 knots and seas 1-2'. Back to normal. The Admiral has been spoiling us so much on this trip: parma ham with melon; shrimp risotto; pasta arrabiata; fresh tuna steaks with salad; vegetable curry and fried plantain; smoked salmon bagels; cheese omelette; fresh mango and ice cream............. The only problem for me is that it is 3-7 against on the Scrabble-a-thon. Anyway now our thoughts are turning to our destination ahead. 30 miles off the coast of Costa Rica we are settled into the trans-Pacific shipping lane; at any time we are in a stream/counter-stream of freighters, tankers, tugs and Panamax vessels all using the canal to cross the world. We have some variable head current so our ETA changes constantly but we are estimating arrival at the Port of Balboa, Panama, some time late Saturday.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

T-peckers and Papagallos

At 0725 we departed Huatulco knowing that we had 48 hours to cross the Gulf of Tehuantepec before a 50-knot T-pecker struck. 15 miles from shore we ran into the black flags which fishermen use to mark the end of their baits.......sure enough we soon had to disentangle our starboard stabilizer fin from a long line of hooks. At night time we are using the shrimp-fisher watch cycle; 1 has 06-10, 18-20, 00-02; 2 has 10-14, 20-22, 02-04; 3 has 14-18, 22-24, 04-06 - the night watches zip by. At the end of Day 2 we were out of the T-pecker track unscathed and steady on our course of 120 which takes us some 100 miles offshore along the Central American isthmus passing Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras. Day 3 we had a line out all day with a variety of lures; at 1700 it went off at a hell of a rate, nearly spooled. And nothing jumping out there so that eliminates sails, marlin, dorado, wahoo. 15 minutes later we were delighted to find that we had surgically removed from the hands of mother nature one 25lb yellowfin tuna........the sashimi was excellent and now there are plenty of steaks in the freezer. The next wind gauntlet on this trip is the Gulf of Papagallo - easterlies from the Caribbean gain force over Nicaragua. Last night we had a 30 knot session between 2200 and 0400; there will be more to come probably before we close with the coast of Costa Rica. And we have current which has slowed us a bit; however by the start of Day 5 we are half way to Panama. And we are still running on our forward fuel tanks - Bernie has been running a test on fuel consumption - more later.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

On to Huatulco

After a great few weeks in PV we were finally moving South. Captain Bernie Francis has joined us for these next stages of our journey; based in Florida he specializes in Nordhavns; commissioning new boats, training new owners, and generally assisting in the movement and management of Nordhavns all over the world. Bernie is great to have on board and his extensive knowledge of all the systems and equipment on board is a great asset and valuable investment in the trip. On Day 1, as we settled in to the routines, one entry in the Log stands out: "Born in London, England, at 725pm Evie-Jane, 7lbs 1 oz - first grandchild - congratulations to Victoria and Paul"! By Day 2 we were 30m offshore away (generally) from fishing pangas and only needed to monitor the AIS traffic. Sea and weather were benign. Wildlife included marlin, dorado, dolphins, and many turtles. So many that we conducted an experiment on Day 4; in 2 hours we counted 121. In the morning of Day 5 we were pulling in to well-run Marina Chahue in the charming little town of Huatulco. We spent the day obtaining our exit papers from Mexico, changing the oils and filters on the main, and having a very pleasant supper near the busy main square. We head South further into Central America in the morning. Four months in Mexico has been most enjoyable although I have suspicions about a country which can't make good cheese. Or perhaps that this country presents to the world a welcoming face which masks evident dysfunctions and disturbing undertones.