S/V Nereida sails around the world

Nereida comes to a sad end

Well, I've been trying to write this for several days... but it has been very difficult to bring myself to do so (apart from difficult Internet access and my time last week filled with long journeys and little sleep) ... The sad & painful fact is that "Nereida" is a sorry sight, grounded on a very isolated beach, Playa Michigan, in the state of Guerrero, between Acapulco and Zihuatanejo....   The beach is backed by a very long lagoon and the nearest town is Tecpan - a one-and-a-half hour journey away by boat, dusty track &  then made-up road.
I'm finding it difficult to come to terms with the situation as you can imagine... feeling only half here - the other half still being with the beloved "Nereida" I knew... Fortunately, apart from a few lumps, cuts and bruises, I'm well ... so I must be thankful for that.  I have had my hands full dealing with the situation on the beach, with my poor Spanish not helping... but a kindly Acapulco family have taken me under their wing, for which I'm very grateful.

"Nereida" was grounded halfway from Acapulco to Zihuatanejo in a desolate, mainly uninhabited part of the coast, after the autopilot remote control lost power which put the autopilot into 'standby' just before first light on Thursday 19th June.  I was taking my usual timed nap - stopwatch set for forty-five minutes - which looked fine in the situation ... full moon, some swell and waves, but not much, motoring in very little wind, a good distance from a long sandy shore.  Because I was motoring in calm conditions, the resultant change of course resulting from our usual slight heel to starboard was not obvious enough to wake me up in time - as it would have done had I been sailing.

I spent most of the rest of the day setting anchors up the beach with help from a few fishermen who appeared some time after dawn... trying to secure her from damage in the surge so I could try to get a tow off the beach as and when it could be arranged.  The marines came around noon to offer assistance but they don't have boats, nor the Navy in Acapulco (not for towing me off, anyway) and the Acapulco Port Captain couldn't help either - all were phoned with the help of the Captain of the Marines who came to the beach to help me with his platoon of soldiers in their truck and then took me first to their camp and then to a town a long, bumpy, cross-country ride away so I could make phone calls for help.  The beach had no cellphone coverage but I had set off my EPIRB once I realized I couldn't get off unaided - it was still nearly dark with no lights on shore - no sign of anyone, in fact, for ages as I tried to start setting my anchors - very difficult in the strong (spring-tide), swirling, surf conditions - I came close to drowning a couple of times but managed to avoid being pulled out to sea in the surge - just!
At least I'm OK physically - give or take a few lumps, cuts and bruises.  But "Nereida" is anything but - especially now, a week later.  From the start, her starboard side soon began to crack slightly, with being heeled one way and then the other in the wash & surge, despite setting anchors up the beach.  With a small tide coming in, it was difficult to keep the chain & lines taut enough to stop her from suddenly being heeled down the steep beach slope from time to time - and then she'd suddenly come back up the other way in the surge, often with a slight bang.
Thank goodness I'd stopped at the Acapulco Y.C over Tuesday night and Wednesday - Senor Marquez, their Harbour master, had been very helpful with my stay and Clearance in to Mexico,so I contacted him to see if he could offer any help when other sources dried up.  He said to come and stay with his family at their house overnight and in the morning we could try to see if a big fishing boat would be willing and able to go & pull Nereida off - but that didn't work out either & Without an almost immediate tow off the beach, she was doomed.  It's so very isolated & access is so difficult and there were just no suitable boats near enough to be able to help. 

So every day since then I've had a long (3-4hr) difficult journey to & fro, rescuing what items I could - so much gear, clothing and personal stuff on board,  A lot of water got inside the boat very early on so all electronics were quickly useless, the engine stopped working and everything soon became coated in a mess of paper pulp.   I only have my passport, some US dollars and one debit card with me - my credit card was washed out of my pocket early on, setting an anchor, in the 'washing machine' conditions ..

Another cruiser I met in Colon was a week behind me, also headed to SF, and he got here Wednesday evening.  I've been able to load my personal gear onto Skip's boat, 'Annamarina". and I shall help him up the coast from Manzanillo on Monday, I hope.  Really very nice of him to offer to help me in that way & then wait around another day for me to bring my things.

13-15th June08 Tehuantepec....'chute wants to be a drogue!

Sunday 15th June 08

Just shook out 2nd reef I put in mid-morning when the wind and seas got up quite strongly - thought I was in for a 'Tehuantepecker' but the most apparent wind I saw, close-reaching, was 26-28 knots (I began to think of putting in 3rd reef but it was not quite needed). The seas were really short and steep - and still are, even though the wind is right down now - makes for a very uncomfortable motion although at least we're not pitching headlong into the waves as we had been quite violently before, with seas regularly madly washing the decks. The wind has veered from the West of yesterday, when I had to tack several times to make headway against the seas, more towards the North and has now died down so much that we're back into motoring with a pretence of sailing.

This morning was full of incident - the asymmetric spinnaker/cruising chute/gennaker (call it what you like!!), that I had carefully tied down on deck since before my Canal Transit, decided to become a full-blown drogue. Just before the wind really got up, I noticed the sailbag dangling half over the side - ripped & empty! Then I realized that part of the reason we were heeling over so much just then (apart from building wind and seas) was that the sail was streaming down the leeward side of the boat, attached to the sailbag which was in turn well attached to the lifelines, a shroud and a stanchion.... and the sock was streaming astern near the surface, acting like a sea-anchor or drogue.... no wonder our speed was down! I'd been down below just before, downloading and looking at weatherfaxes, when I'd heard an odd noise & had come up on top to investigate. The sail in the bag had been getting regularly doused with water as waves broke on deck with our pitching motion in the short seas and had presumably become so heavy it had moved with the rushing water, managed to go over the side and its weight must have torn the bag apart!! Incredible!

The big problem for me then was getting the sock (full of water and very heavy, with our forward speed not helping) and chute back on board with the sailbag (all being tied together with the 'chute & sock lines) without getting it all hopelessly entangled in the lifelines while I was at it. The main chute wasn't too difficult to get up handful by handful, because it was loose enough not to hold too much water, but I had to leave it on the side deck while I dealt with the sock and bag & pray it stayed there! Luckily, I was able to reach down part way along the sock and tie a line around it to help me get it slowly back on board - I thought initially it was never going to come, there was such a force on it.. but eventually I got the sock into the cockpit and then finally managed to deal with the bag (which I'd tied on really well!). So now I have one very salty, wet spinnaker & torn bag on the cockpit floor - hopefully draining and drying so I can dispose of it some time soon. At least I didn't lose the sail (luckily, it was tied well to the sailbag inside or I would certainly have lost it), nor did I have to cut any of the lines to retrieve it!

With having had to tack regularly in the veering wind overnight, trying to make our best course, I'd not slept much anyway.. so by now I was really tired and lay down for a lovely snooze until my midday log!! Breakfast/lunch could wait!

I'd made the decision to go for the 'direct' route across the Tehuantepec, as opposed to staying in shallow water almost on the beach all around this enormous Gulf, after much deliberation - not a decision to be made lightly here... But weatherfaxes and grib files all consistently showed light winds for several days, almost no pressure gradient - which is what gives rise to the notorious Tehuantepec strong wind out of nowhere (despite high pressure in the Gulf of Mexico and Texas, it was fairly high here also),.... and the nearest Tropical Wave heading this way across the Caribbean was several days away - so no tropical storm/hurricane-formation fears for now, either. Of course, I'd not appreciated that even with just the sustained 15-20 knots that built up this morning, the fairly shallow waters kick up nasty seas in no time - but hopefully, that's finished with now - certainly the seas are far calmer with the wind having died down. (I wonder if that's partly due to the 'land-heating' effect - on-shore thermal effect over the day opposing the otherwise offshore (N/NW) pressure-gradient wind - or did we just experience a 'mini T-pecker'?)

I left Quetzal on Friday 13th (!!), after refuelling, 'desayuno' and a lovely long shower, and stayed fairly close to shore in just 10-12m depth almost all the way. As night fell, there was the smell of wood fires coming from the typical Mayan groups of thatched-roofed structures which occurred at intervals among the greenery backing onto the long brown/grey sandy shore with surf breaking onto it. The current was foul for nearly 100 mls but gradually reduced, and soon after midnight, it had turned and was fair from then on all through Saturday when my course was not far from the coast. Today, it was foul all day but now it's weak but fair yet again - I wonder if the west-going current follows the coastline and, by cutting across, that's why I lost it. Now, at sunset on Sunday, I'm 50 mls from Huatulco, whose passing will mark the end of this Tehuantepec crossing, and just under two days from Acapulco.

Yesterday also had its incidents, but pleasanter ones, over a very relaxed, sunny, calm day of motorsailing. I kept seeing turtles passing by going the opposite way - several large brown ones with a long, high shell (leatherbacks??) and a couple of smaller ones, light-greenish and cream in colour. As I passed the border from Guatemala into Mexico, I heard the Puerto Madero Costa Garda calling repeatedly on VHF - in Spanish. Eventually, after listening carefully to the position of the boat they were hailing, I decided to respond - maybe it was me they were trying to talk to..? It was! They were some distance away (nearly 20 miles) but must have seen me on their radar. In response to their questions, I gave my position, British sailing yacht "Nereida", told them where I was from (Panama & Quetzal) & going to (Acapulco) in a mix of English and Spanish. There was also a US Navy vessel heading in to that port but otherwise I felt I was the only boat in this part of the ocean. Soon after that, I was visited by a playful group of five dolphins and later on I actually enjoyed relaxing and lying in the warmth of the cockpit... - haven't done that for quite a time!

11/12th June 08 - Finally lost that lovely current! Worries on the hurricane front....

Thursday 12th June

Some wind - but from astern so still had to motorsail to make sure of Guatemala landfall in daylight. In fact, with such light winds, apart from when rain clouds were around, the onshore/offshore cycle due to the land heating/cooling effect was noticeable both yesterday and today. Got a fright early this morning during the rain when there was a clap of thunder and a lightning flash right by us.... but it was an isolated one, TG.

As I was getting closer to Quetzal, angling closer to the low-lying coast, I suddenly saw a small fast boat astern of me - 17 miles offshore... with 30 miles to go still. Later I saw two more - both clearly small open fishing boats, each with 3 fishermen - seemed to be checking out pots marked with clearly-flagged buoys and seemed perfectly friendly.

When I made my entry through the breakwaters and called the Port Captain on the VHF, he directed me toward a marina - to my surprise - obviously a new one not in my pilot! I finally found it & moored up - despite his misleading directions.... and was soon visited by a marina guy for moorage fees and also by an agent for my check in & out paperwork ... Despite my protests at the expense, I gathered it was going to cost me, for just one night, in order to re-fuel the next morning: US$72 for the night
at the marina and US$150 for the check-in & out (five copies of all documents are needed!).... I couldn't believe how expensive this stop for fuel is turning out!!! And I haven't got to the fuel dock yet!!

I've been busily reading up on Mexican weather and getting familiar with timings for weather fax downloads ready for my imminent passage across the dreaded Tehuantepec & on up the Mexican coast ... the more I read, the more worried I get - I knew this was not a good time to be headed north but hadn't realized that mid-June hurricanes are not unusual... and the season here often seems to start with a bang and end with a whimper rather than the other way around, as in the Caribbean. "Don't go offshore,
that's where the hurricanes form... stay inshore for safety"! So please keep your fingers (and everything else!) crossed for me - VERY tightly!! Crossing the Tehuantepec will take two and a half days and another day on up the coast to Acapulco (where I was thinking I should refuel since it looks very easy there). Another day to Zihuatanejo and four to Cabo San Lucas, over two to Turtle Bay, assuming sailing up the Baja is feasible - I could well find strong northerly winds there & will either have
to wait for them to diminish or have to head out to sea instead - but at least the hurricane threat should be far less once I get up towards the top of the Baja peninsula - just 'normal' gales from then on!!!

Having acquired an agent for my check-in & out here, he appeared later to ask if I would accept my 'official' visit tonight rather than the morning - so at about 9.30pm local time (one hour ahead of the time I've been keeping!) I found the Port Captain, Customs official and Immigration officer all on board with my 'agent' to check things out (actually just sat around and chatted pleasantly, insofar as my Spanish would allow, since they had almost no English!) and I found my passport had been already
stamped for 'in' today and 'out' tomorrow, with the essential Clearance Certificate promised for the morning whilst I'm refuelling - I was also only charged $100, not $150 - so a reduction had been negotiated by my agent as a result of my pleadings - my Spanish can't be so very bad, perhaps!!

Looking at a fax that downloaded while they were here, I can see a Tropical Wave in the Gulf of Mexico - those are what can develop a 'wiggle' & give rise to Tropical Storms and Hurricanes so I must keep an eye on that wave - and others coming after. Usually, they're three days apart.... hey ho... can't complain life is boring, that's for sure!! My trysail and storm staysail are already hanked on, almost ready to go... let's hope I won't need them - or if I do, that I can handle them!

10th June 08 - calm, sunny day - topped up fuel tanks from cans

Calm sunny day ended in a fabulous, spectacular sunset tonight - blood-orange colours contrasting with light turquoise blue-green calm sea, with bright, half-moon high over head & Southern Cross up in S. sky. Lightning flickered continually in towering clouds well away in the distance over land, off to starboard. A big fish jumped out of the sea, chasing after flying fish, a handsome black-chested booby flew around boat trying to roost in the rigging. Calm sea with surface ripples... long, slow, low SSE swell...

Having a welcome mug of tea with cheese and biscuits around five o'clock after finishing refuelling tanks from jerry cans - over five hours by time all cleared away and cockpit locker back together again...

Later, I stood in the bow listening to the water swishing past & watching three dolphins play around the boat, leaping and swerving together, clearly visible in the moonlight, under the stars. .... And people wonder why I want to keep sailing..?!!!

I've been studying the pilot chart for June - looks as though I might manage to cross the Gulf of Tehuantepec without strong winds if I'm very lucky, after leaving Quetzal (Guatemala) for Mexico in 3-4 days' time. Definite chance of getting a tropical storm until I reach Baja. The fair current I'm getting right now is such good news - it's giving me a good 'push' of over one knot - and I usually complain that all currents seem to be foul.. this is such a nice change! Might be lucky with light northerlies rather than strong ones up Baja - may have to head out on starboard tack for a bit and then tack back in (or keep tacking) to make San Francisco - depending on strength/direction of winds I find - all very vague until I get nearer there - "What you see is what you get!"...... Will try to keep tanks topped up ready for use in light winds later if needed. Certainly, I've no reservation about helping our speed to get north by using motor at present - the sooner I'm out of this hurricane/tropical storm area, the happier I'll be!! But it would also be lovely to get up to SF in time for the race - the thought of using no motor for three or more weeks is very appealing right now - the bonus of motor use is no power shortage, but the downside is that perpetual NOISE!! Sailing is so much more peaceful and enjoyable!

Mon 9th June - "The best laid plans of mice & men..." - plans 'set in jello' etc etc - "Nereida" tur

Monday 9th June 08

For several days now, I've been studying the daily grib files which I've been getting, showing 5 days of wind forecasts for the area from Panama up to San Francisco and several hundred miles out to sea. I'd hoped to have maybe just a week or so of needing to use the motor to get through the expected area of light winds W-NW of the Panama Canal before getting to more useful winds and then the NE Trades. But from what I can see, I'd run out of diesel, even motoring gently, well before getting to
any useful breeze - in fact, as the days have progressed, the forecasts seemed to be showing the Doldrums extending on my course.... I've already had to motor/motorsail all the way from Balboa, with one period of 4 hrs yesterday and today's period of just 1hr when I could actually cut the motor to sail properly in decent breezze - in both cases due to rainclouds around.

Not wanting to get caught in the Doldrums with no fuel left, hundreds of miles from anywhere, I decided my only option was the alternative route up the coast, also in light winds for quite a distance but with the possibility of picking up fuel at regular intervals, rather than continuing to head out to sea in an effort to catch the Trades (the 'Clipper' route of old).... So, after seeing the usual 3-4 knots of true wind from astern yet again, on writing up my log at 0130 this morning, I decided
to change course & head NW, instead of due W, and make for Guatemala to refuel, with a fair current heading in the same direction to help. Port Quetzal seemed a good choice - about 500 miles away, so still within reach under motor, & a small but modern port with Navy presence. I was so pleased to have 'The Forgotten Middle' on board to help in the decision-making - a pilot book on Guatemala, Honduras & Nicaragua W coasts I'd picked up some time ago and had thought recently I'd never use...! I've
even got the courtesy flag! So I'm unexpectedly going to visit Guatemala again (last time was 2004 when I sailed up the Rio Dulce to see friends and later went overland from Belize to the impressive Mayan site of Tikal)!! Talk about plans 'set in jello'! All rather exciting... did I say the adventure was just starting again??!

My present plan in the forecast light winds & calms is to continue motorsailing up to Mexico in the fair current that the pilot chart shows extending as far as Cabo San Lucas at the S tip of the Baja. Conveniently, Zihuatanejo, where I started from on March 26th last year, looks like the next useful stop for refuelling after Quetzal if needs be. .... It would certainly be nice to 'tie the knot' properly on my circumnavigation by pausing at Zihuat... even though it would be a one-person party to
celebrate there! I know fuel is availabe at next-door Ixtapa easily - no need for jerrycans. Then, depending on the wind, I could either go on up to Cabo San Lucas and then hop on up the Baja coast or possibly head out to sea sooner to get offshore in stronger winds (which I'd need to do, probably, to round Pt Conception if the usual strong N wind is blowing there). Then I'll beat north to make for San Francisco and the start of the SHTP08 (Single-Handed TransPac Race) out to Hawaii, starting
12th July. I'm officially entered but will have a problem making the start line in time at this rate - it's a long way north against north winds & current!! Of particular concern down south here between Panama and Mexico is the fact that I'm right in the hurricane area - & in hurricane season as of 1st June... so another very good reason for not dawdling offshore or inshore but motorsailing northwest as fast as I can to get out of the risk zone! Hopefully, I'll be able to sail properly from Mexico
to San Francisco in decent winds but time will tell. It will almost certainly be an uncomfortable, wet beat upwind.. but I'll have to wait to see what the winds are doing when I get nearer!

Talk about wet.... I watched a dirty dark grey raincloud inshore for most of the morning, and then, by midday, it was clearly about to come our way so I hurriedly closed all hatches and took in two reefs, expecting strong winds in the squall. In fact, not too much wind came with the very heavy rain - which gave the boat a good wash down - but there was only one hour of nice (wet!) sailing without the need to motor, unfortunately.

Distances: To Quetzal (from now): 445ml (13/14th), on to Zihuatanejo: 675ml (19/20th), on to Cabo S.L.(25th): 680ml, on to Turtle Bay: 360ml (28th), on to Pt Conception: 540ml (2nd), on to Golden Gate: 210ml ...SF (4th July!) Ho, ho..!! In my dreams...!!!

7/8th June Days 2&3 of the Great Trek North!!

Sunday 8th June 08

As I write this, the sea has a glassy surface, although plenty of small wavelets.. not much wind in these parts: 2-3 knots, whether from dead astern as now or from any other direction, doesn't make for good sailing! I'm motoring, changing course very slightly, trying to keep some wind in the mains'l, and have just been forced to furl in the genoa.

I'm presently trying to eke out my fuel while trying to get West. I was expecting to motorsail in not much wind initially, before heading NW, tacking N & then NE ..!! Had a rainsquall up to 27-30kn yesterday early (boat heeling woke me up just beforehand...as wind built!) Got totally drenched as I reefed hurriedly and had to towel off & get some warm dry clothes on. Similarly this morning, I sensed the boat heeling slightly & found the wind rising so we got sailing nicely & switched off the motor
for a bit. Gribs not looking too hopeful for wind over next five days - but they've been completely wrong for today's wind - so maybe things will be better than they are predicting.

I'm on Day 3 now of the Great Trek North - hoping not to have TD/TS/hurricane problems while I'm down this way....!!

Actually ended up with four blissful hours of pure sailing this morning! Was so nice to be sailing in peace & quiet but didn't last long enough & had to keep resisting the urge to turn on motor again as boatspeed dipped down to below 5 kn. If this continues for very long (as in over 2 weeks!) there's no way I'll get to SF in time... At this moment, I've 2-3 knots of wind from the SE, boatspeed (at 1000revs - minimum) is 4.7 knots and SOG is just over 5.2 knots. It looks as though I've still got
the favourable current I experienced along the Panama coast around Punta Mala yesterday - the Equatorial Current, maybe?? Long may it continue!! I keep gazing at grib files, trying to decide what to do for the best - present plan is to make a course of 275-280 in hope of sailing in gentle breeze in a week's time...

Unusually, apart from carrots (in fridge), I've very little fresh fruit & veg - just some apples,bananas & grapefruit and onions & potatoes. Tomatoes I bought in the Rey supermarket in Colon lasted about 3-4 days before disintegrating into a wet mess - must have been chilled.

I tried to raise Don Anderson yesterday - heard him on 16534 kHz frequency but couldn't make sense of what he said, despite another English-sounding boat trying to relay for me - pity, since he usually provides good weather info. I'd emailed him so he was expecting me & swung his antenna my way - I'll try again Monday.

Both day's runs so far (trying to motorsail & economize on fuel consumption) have been around 130 ml - with 4000 ml total to SF.... a long haul!! I keep gazing at the fuel gauge (in the red!), wondering if I dare let it run for a bit longer - I'll have to switch tanks soon, if only for peace of mind - and to save myself unnecessary fuel line bleeding!! (Just did it... just over 50hrs of minimal engine use so far..)

Nereida transits the Panama Canal - 4th/5th June 2008

We're in the Pacific once more!!
I feel as though I'm about to start a new adventure, rather than finishing an 'old' one..... with trying to get up to San Francisco for the start of the SHTP08, against the odds. As I pass the latitude of Mexico, I will be waving in the direction of Zihuatanejo as I 'tie the knot' on my present solo circumnavigation, having tied it near Trinidad for my non-solo one.

The Canal Transit went very well after a day of stress leading up to leaving, due to the Windpilot repair not being ready and back on the boat until an hour or so before I was due to leave my berth!! (Karl and Kirk kindly stopped off to help with adjusting the supports so that it is now ready for use again.) Lines were organized on board and my bill paid, Internet wi-fi access suddenly proved impossible (more computer problems!!) so I used a computer on board nearby 'Annamarina' courtesy Skip.. I made a dash into town with the help of a friendly taxi-driver to buy another serial/USB adapter, did some laundry, tied cushions and pillows in plastic bags over the solar panels to protect them from possible badly-aimed 'monkey fists', tied more tyres in place - five in total on each side, my line-handlers from 'Mandarin' turned up: Keith, Tim & Bernd, hot food was collected (Chow Mein noodles for dinner from the restaurant, with enough for the Advisor also), a quick last shower and off we went to the 'Flats' to raft up to 'Salsa' - so that Kirk, my fourth line-handler, could step on board and also avoiding anchoring in the fine mud. We ate as darkness fell, while we waited for the Pilot Boat to arrive with our Transit Advisor.

I had spent quite a bit of time clearing four berths the previous day, while a friendly Kuna guy cleaned the hull and propeller, and had put some sails on deck (the trysail has been hanked on ready, just in case of need) I also had to provide plenty of food and drink for my helpers, so the boat was not exactly in passage-making mode!

The Advisor arrived after 7pm and we immediately left at speed, trying to make an early Locking-in - but we missed it & so slowed down and circled around with 'Odyssey' the second boat going through with us, while the third boat, a big motor yacht, went on through ahead of us. The two sailing yachts ended up rafting to each other near the Lock entrance and moving into the Lock together each time. There are three locks up and three down, with enormous, strong gates and very high walls seen on entering, when the water was low in the Lock. It didn't seem to take long at all for the locks to fill with a vast amount of water after we had received thin lines from the shore line-handlers who threw them with a 'monkey-fist' initially & then pulled our thick lines up to the wall tops to attach them to big bollards while we made tight onto cleats at our end. It was important to maintain tension on the lines as we rose up with the locks filling with Rio Chagres water. We were only going up as far as Lake Gatun where we'd sleep overnight. At the lake, we tied up to one of two enormous red rubber buoys, sat chatting on deck for a bit under a starry sky and then turned in - to be awoken by a heavy rainstorm in the night.

Next morning, while Tim & Bernd enjoyed a swim in the fresh water of the lake, I withdrew the log/speed impellor (a paddle wheel) since we had had no log all the way from the marina to the lake - I wanted it working when I took off on passage later. It was completely coated in a thick calcareous growth & took quite a bit of effort to clean - no wonder it hadn't wanted to turn! While we waited for the new Advisor to arrive (he was far later than the 6.15 a.m. we had been told to expect), we had breakfast: gtrapefruit juice, fresh melon, scrambled eggs, muffins and/or doughnuts and coffee. Because he was so late, we had to try to keep up a speed of 7 knots across the lake to try to make a 12.20 'lock-in' 28mls away. It's a beautiful area and the sun was out, so we all enjoyed the journey through the 'Banana Cut' and on, with kingfishers darting about, cormorants on the buoys nearby and lots of unspoilt greenery on the many islands everywhere. The water-level is quite low still, since the rainy season has only just begun, so we could see the remains of drowned trees all around the channels. Just before the Pedro Miguel Lock was the area dredging & dynamiting of the Canal & its sides where they are widening the Canal to allow the passage of the larger modern ships. We didn't spot any alligators, although they are around.... a fisherman was taken by one just a month ago.

This time, we ended up with a sturdy tug ('Morrow) 'side-tied' to the lock wall, 'Odyssey' tied alongside it and 'Nereida' tied to 'Odyssey' with our starboard side clear. Each time we moved to the next lock, we had to let the lines go and motor independently and then tie up again.

In the main Miraflores Lock, we seemed to spend a long time & both boats waved madly at the live camera/webcam high above the Visitor Centre whilst phoning various friends & family. On letting go our lines to move on, we ended up touching the wall..... the lines were let go too soon, to my mind, with a wind blowing onto our port side after heavy rain and our astern gear having a starboard kick ..... so things got a bit exciting for a time - but all ended OK with all five tyres on our starboard side protecting us - no damage but the incident kept our entire crew & Advisor busy!! The time now was just after 1.30p.m. local time (1930 BST/ 1130 PDT). On to the final lock... and then on to the Pacific side with the Bridge of the Americas not far away, where the Advisor was picked up by the Pilot Boat and bid us farewell.

I'm now sitting off a buoy at Balboa overnight, after refuelling, and with 'free' 'wi-fi' Internet acess from the Y.C. The heavy rain over the afternoon made everything VERY WET so it took me quite a time, after landing crew, tyres and lines, to remove the protective plastic-covered cushions and pillows from on top of the solar panels & try to dry off a bit and then stow things properly, ready for passage after having had five extra bodies on board... four of them having to sleep somewhere!

The plan is to set off tomorrow at first light after a good sleep in my own bunk! Not many boats head north this time of year due to hurricane concerns - but I will be trying to keep a 'sched' with one boat, Annamarina', transiting in about 5-6 days' time, headed also to SF (for 12th July). I've emailed Don Anderson so will be hoping to talk to him soon on SSB for weather info - propagation & my radio system permitting!

Balboa Y.C.


Panama Canal Live videocam

Well - it's finally happening - assuming my Windpilot is back on my stern - that guy has really taken ages to complete trhe repair - I hope it's OK!!

The website for the live video cam is www.pancanal. com

If you'd like to see 'Nereida' in the locks at Gatun or Miraflores, it's tonight (Wednesday) at Gatun Locks around 11pm local time (5am BST/ 9pm PDT), then on to Gatun Lake for sleep overnight and on to
Miraflores Locks around midday-1pm local time on Thursday (6-7pm BST/ 10-11am PDT)

Go to www.pancanal. com >multimedia > live cameras > then (Gatun or) Miraflores > Go to Hi res and use magnifying glass to see the boats in the lock better - I'll ask the advisor to get them to point the
camera at us and I'll be waving !!

If anyone wants to phone me close to the time, my local tel. number here (mobile/cell) is +507-677-12534 - feel free to call me & I hope some of you manage to see us - let me know if you do...!!!

Once I get to Balboa, I'll fuel up and then get on my way .... It's a long haul to San Francisco and I'll have to wave in the general direction of Zihuatanejo as I complete my solo circumnavigation & pass it by - 300-400 miles off!!!

Wish me luck and do email me from time to time - lovely to hear from my friends while at sea!!

Cheers for now - must get back to checking the 125 ft lines are ready (i.e. untangled!) on board



Colon, Panama

4.15pm local time (UTC-5) Wednesday 4th June 08

23-28 May - Torrential rain - & unexpected linehandling

  Wed 28th May08
Got back from an unexpected linehandling for Canadian couple Seth & Jaime on their Gemini catamaran 'Slapdash' over Tuesday night. They found themselves short of a 4th linehandler close to 5.30 p.m. when their Advisor was due on board to start their transit & when I heard, I said I'd help out - it would be tough to be refused your transit, after six weeks of waiting, just for the lack of one more body on board!!  It was a good, if very wet, transit, with no mishaps, good food and company, but a very disturbed night sharing a mooring buoy with 'Blue Jay' on Lake Gatun, with reflected, short wind-chop making a lot of noise against the hulls of the catamaran -and some splashing in through my tiny open hatch to make the bunk wet where I was lying... 

Wind on the nose meant no sailing was possible across the lake to  get to the 'down' locks of Pedro Miguel and Miraflores where the live videocam overlooking the last lock is positioned (see www.pancanal.com for the live video shots it gives).  I was interested to see the pleasant, almost-complete, new premises of the Balboa Y.C., replacing the old building burned down some years ago, as I went to get a taxi in to the bus terminal.  Unfortunately for cruisers like myself, most of the Y.C. mooring buoys seem to be taken up with local boats, so it's difficult to get a buoy on completing a transit - most boats seem to be making for the anchorages further on.

The last few days have been very rainy, with the wet season well under way!  On Monday, I'd caught the bus in to Panama City to find a shop I'd been told about selling glass mat and filler for my Windpilot rudder repair, after having had no luck over Thursday to Saturday trying to find what was needed here in Colon.  They had the fine glass mat I wanted but no filler - except for talc..! It was interesting to see Panama City - so much pleasanter than Colon.  I went in with Maria who was expecting to see her husband Karl in hospital where he'd been transferred from Colon on Friday night - but, to her disbelief, they said they'd 'lost him' - nightmare!  She searched the hospital looking at the occupants of all their beds...   All eventually turned out OK when it transpired that he'd discharged himself and taken the bus back to Colon and the Y.C. to get back on board his boat after getting little sleep and being given no food or water for two days....  He seems to be making a good recovery from his stab wounds and pierced lungs now that he's getting Maria's home cooking and TLC.
One success was finally fixing the freshwater leak  over the weekend when it wasn't raining (cockpit locker having to be emptied for access)- the polybutylene pipe from the hot water tank had a pin prick hole in it (don't ask me how that can happen!) so I cut it at that point and used a through connector I had in my spares kit to re-join the two ends - so, hopefully, now is all OK (and the cockpit locker is, yet again, re-packed!!).  Another job was fixing mosquito netting in place over all openings - lots of flies, mosquitoes and noseeums around!

Torrential rain Tuesday morning meant heavy flooding in the streets nearby - and a taxi I was in claimed not to be able to get me back through the deep water with a big load of heavy shopping - so I was forced to try to walk back with it through deep puddles - impossible...  A local 4-wheel drive car stopped and helped me back finally.. but not before I was soaked through... and 'Nereida' had a couple of partly open hatches... oops!!  We're still trying to dry out - hoping for some sun on Thursday to help things along - and also to help get the Windpilot repair completed which was held up due to rain, lack of materials and the repair guy going off to Cartagena for several days...

I've been having a major problem with credit/debit cards - but think it may now be sorted after several lengthy, expensive phone calls.  I became aware of the problem when the Canal Transit deposit ('buffer') was due to be renewed after ten days and the Bank found my cards were rejected - without a deposit, a transit is not possible!

I'm getting the boat ready now for that elusive transit (4th June, or before if I'm lucky) and the onward passage north, hoping the Windpilot repair will soon be complete .... everything seems to be taking such a long time, with the continual rain not helping.

12th -22nd May 2008 Boat jobs - & one poor tiny gecko

Last Monday (19th), I got back around 5.30pm from Balboa/Panama City on 'express' coach after linehandling for another boat through the Canal - very interesting and sociable - & a very useful experience! Each boat is required to have four 125ft lines with a 'linehandler' for each line as well as the skipper/helmsman and a Panama Canal 'Transit Advisor' who comes on board in the 'Flats' (anchorage area near beginning of Canal) to oversee the Transit. I and a couple of other 'yachties' were taken over to the boat in their dinghy at 5-6pm Sunday and the Advisor finally arrived in a Pilot boat around 8pm (not bad - only over one hour late!!) and we moved over toward the first lock about an hour later... they couldn't track down the 3rd boat so we eventually were only two - very frustrating for myself, as someone still waiting to get through as soon as possible, since another boat could have gone early, in their place, but wasn't given the chance. Excellent (different) Advisors on the main (bigger) boat both days.

Since then I've been trying to get on with boat jobs - soldering of new serial connectors I bought on Saturday to try to improve a couple of inputs to laptop & a variety of other wiring/instrumentation issues .... I lent my sewing machine to another boat for sail repairs - that then led to the entire forepeak area being looked through ... a good thing since I found a few unexpected items & some leaking containers and was able to organize that area better afterwards - something I'd been wanting to do anyway - but that took a day of my time!!  While in the forepeak the other day I came across one very dehydrated, poor, tiny, dead gecko - which had unfortunately come on board in Trinidad & hitched a lift to here!

The morning after arriving here, I topped up with fuel & moved over from the Fuel Dock to raft up beside 'Panacea'. So easy to waste time here - I seemed to spend most of that day just waiting around & filling in forms for checking in with Port Authority & Immigration, after going to Admeasurer's office to start Canal transit procedures.. Timing not helped by taxi-driver disappearing for what seemed like nearly an hour!!

Soon after midday, a day later, 'Nereida' was measured... I was expecting 8 a.m. but the Admeasurer went out first to boats at anchor on the 'Flats' so I had plenty of time to organize a shorepower connection (sounds simple but wasn't!) and make sure the boat was all ready for a 'safety inspection'... I cleaned & fixed in place a replacement starboard light (lost when hauling wet genoa back onboard after it fell into sea approaching S. Africa..) - obtained from the neighbouring Najad!

After that, I took a taxi in to Citibank to pay for Transit ($609 fee for boat up to 50ft, which I organized paying in cash, having heard of one boat which had a disputed card payment and ended up not being able to transit when they expected, & $891 returnable 'buffer', paid on Visa, (Mastercard etc not acceptable). Now I'm hoping for a cancellation or a problem for someone so I can jump in quickly!! All talk here is of transiting/linehandling! One boat was suddenly able to jump in to a gap last week at 15 minutes' notice - 13 days early!!! So there's hope!! Most boats are going overnight, stopping at Gatun Lake around midnight and finishing in the afternoon after an early morning re-start.

Colon town is so run-down - unbelievably so, with lots of turn-of-previous-century big buildings in state of semi-ruin, piles of rubbish lying in alleyways & lots of washing hanging out on balconies over narrow streets. One day, I chased around after a non-existent cheap cellphone.. then later watched a BIG ship being pushed way from berth opposite by two tugs, puffing and blowing... This is the same very sociable place I remember from '04 with everyone meeting up in the spacious restaurant & bar areas.

I'm busy with lots of boat jobs just now, whilst getting Windpilot repaired - it got pushed up 2 feet and rudder 'exploded' .. only steel rudder stock & flanges to be seen... no glass fibre outer !! Might have hit something in big following seas off Colombia on way here from Trinidad.. who knows?? Once it's finished (2-3 days more?) I'll make sure I'm ready at an instant's notice... gaps keep appearing unexpectedly but they're not always able to be taken up.... Thursday: Spoke to guy doing rudder repair - said that stock was slightly bent and he'd had to straighten it - so it looks as though I must definitely have hit something on way to Panama.

Tuesday was taken up with a well-overdue oil-change.... and while working in the engine compartment, I saw a load of freshwater in the bilges so I've been trying to track down the source - but it's not the tank mended in Trinidad. I suspected the hot-water tank but it was raining hard that day so checking that had to wait for better weather since access to tank is in cockpit locker under a load of stuff. In meantime, I remembered transom shower I've been using - on checking that, found everything in aft cabin locker very wet but shower fixture not leaking although there's definitely been leakage from heavy rain getting down via radar pole - radar wire had a big gap around it (now plugged!) where it went down a hole in the pole. After drying bilges several days running, there's still a definite slow leak from somewhere but it's not the freshwater tank nor the head or galley areas - more detective work needed!

Amazing how long some jobs can take .... I spent all of Thursday afternoon trying to make just four soldered joins - to fix a pair of LED compass lights in place. I don't think I'll ever win any prizes (maybe a booby prize?) for my soldering, but one wire was particularly difficult to tin prior to joining up ... and then I found that what I'd thought was 'heat-shrink' I'd put in place ready for finishing the join wasn't... grrr!

Bad news from Tuesday evening is that one gap appeared for Wednesday's overnight transit because the skipper of an anchored boat here was attacked viciously & aggressively - stabbed several times walking back to Y.C. from town. He was very lucky to survive - he has a pierced lung and bad shoulder/chest wounds. He is delivering a Moorings catamaran to N.Z. but didn't follow standard advice to get taxi back (just $1) through 'barrios' nearby.... I walked nearby there myself in daylight on Monday afternoon when returning from linehandling - it's only too easy to get complacent and think all will be OK on coming back to the Y.C.... Think it's taxis for all of us from now on!

Sat/Sun 10/11th May 2008 Landfall in Panama...to Portobelo for the night - on to Colon Sunday

Overnight Fri/Sat 9/10th May ... got pretty horrible with lightning and heavy rain almost all night and on past dawn. Not a very comfortable feeling when lightning strikes the sea several times really close by... you're wondering just when you're going to get it!!
The other problem with those conditions is that the radar shows the clouds full of threatening static really clearly - but then you can't see the ships around (of which there were lots, being so close to the Canal) - so that meant I felt doubly insecure - not only likely to be struck by lightning but also likely to have a collision with a ship going fast that also couldn't see me - until, assuming someone was actually using their eyes & looking out, it was right on top of me!! In the end, after a couple of close shaves, I put out a 'Securite' call on VHF just to let them know there was a small sailing yacht around - I gave my position, course and speed... and explained why I was putting out the call... I did that again a few hours later.
The bonus of the heavy rain coming, which made me hurriedly take a reef in with the accompanying strong wind getting up, was that I had an excellent freshwater rinse-off ... even shampooed my hair, since it got so wet anyway! Mainly though, the wind was light and from any direction you care to mention ... so motoring was a necessity. At least the seas gradually lay down...
My expected arrival in Colon by early afternoon didn't look very likely once I saw the really strong foul current we were getting all the time - I'd thought that it was bad enough over Wed/Thurs... but now it increased to 1.9 kn against - and stayed at that until I got close to Portobelo when it diminished a touch.
I knew Portobelo was a very good, beautiful anchorage- a lovely protected bay - if it was good enough for Frances Drake to take shelter in (and later continually plunder the Spanish 'treasure' ships there, destroy their newly-built forts and eventually die there) it was definitely good enough for me to stop in overnight. I would have made Colon in the late afternoon/early evening & that didn't seem to me to be sensible timing. Whereas by stopping in Portobelo in the early afternoon, I could relax before making for Colon early Sunday morning to find out if there was somewhere there to anchor or berth while I did my formal paperwork for clearing in and started to sort out my Canal transit. 

(Later Saturday) It's hot & humid now, with thunder out at sea. After anchoring here, under the old north fort, within sound of lots of birdsong from the trees covering the steep hillside, I promptly went for a dip - and ended up trying to get rid of a lot of Nereida's waterline 'green moustache' !! Not too many goose barnacles seen... I'm feeling good, having freed the windlass (it wouldn't free up to drop the chain under gravity as I prefer to do) and done a couple of other minor jobs. It's so peaceful here - gorgeous!!

Sunday 11th May From Portobelo to Colon

More heavy rain & thunder/lightning overnight again, so didn't rush to get up too early and then had a relaxed, leisurely breakfast sitting out in the cockpit, enjoying my surroundings and the sunshine before heading out to sail to Colon. Enjoyed a beam reach most of the way and then entered through Manzanillo breakwater entrance (East) towards Panama Canal 'Yacht Club' after contacting both Cristobal Signal station & Manzanillo on their respective VHF channels to confirm it was OK to enter Colon Harbour. I counted twenty big ships at anchor outside, waiting to transit the Canal, and thirty yachts at anchor inside. I was hoping to find the fuel dock at the 'Yacht Club' free if no other space available, back up plan being to anchor - but I preferred not to, if possible, because of Clearance & Canal Transit to organize onshore tomorrow. 

As I crawled up the 'French Canal' towards the Y.C., I could see that, as expected, it was full - no space at all - but luckily the fuel dock was free on one side - so that's where I'm staying overnight ($24). Another Najad ('Panacea') is here and they not only helped me in but also said I could raft up alongside them tomorrow and then take their space when they leave within a day or so - perfect!! I've already done my laundry, chatted to several other 'yachties' about the situation here & had a meal in the popular restaurant.

The really good news is that the Canal authorities have finally listened to the complaints of the yachts being kept waiting for so long to transit (and the bad publicity in the sailing magazines) - and they've been pushing yachts through - 15 went overnight on Saturday... Many more yachts have given up waiting and changed their plans - so now the waiting time is enormously reduced from the two months it had become not so long ago - I'll see what I'm told tomorrow when I get to the Admeasurer's Office to start the ball rolling after I've cleared in...

6-9 May 2008 - Nearing Panama in light winds & foul current!

Friday 9th May - One day off Colon, Panama

Well, gybing onto my new course Tuesday afternoon took me the usual lengthy time in unattaching and re-attaching lines while switching the pole over to the other side after gybing the mains'l. I didn't go immediately all the way onto my planned course since I decided to keep as well offshore as possible to try to keep the excellent current and good winds I was then experiencing for longer. 'Grib' weather files were showing strong ENE Trades if I could keep heading roughly West for longer but unavoidable very light & variable winds on the last 2-3 days in to Colon and I'd also seen mention, in the Pilot for this region, of a definite counter-current further S near the Colombian coast and well off Panama also.

That tactic didn't work out too well since I got a counter current of half a knot very soon after my change of course - and it has steadily increased over time until today (Friday) it is really slowing me down - 1.4kn against!

Amazingly, there has been almost no shipping overnight (or during the day) since passing north of Aruba over Mon/Tues night - no complaints there, since it has meant better sleep!

One incident that was only amusing in retrospect was the first reefing line jamming hard in the winch on Tuesday night. I had food all ready and was about to perch up in the companionway to eat it when I realized the wind was getting up & that maybe putting in the first reef was perhaps a good idea as a priority. It was very dark and I got on with it without using my usual headlamp to see more clearly what was going on... It got really difficult and I could hear the line groaning in complaint ... but not until I was almost finished did I get a light - to see the line had completely over-ridden (by four turns!!) on the winch... impossible to move it.... What to do?... I seriously thought for quite a long time, as I struggled to undo the mess, that I was going to have to cut the line, which would have meant being unable to raise the mains'l fully afterwards. Finally, by dint of a double(!) rolling hitch using another line, lots of cursing and gradual use of different winches to pull in different directions, I thankfully found it came undone.... yet another lesson learned!!

Over Wednesday and on through the night, the wind got up to a consistent ENE 25-30kn, with correspondingly bigger seas as you'd expect with such a long 'fetch'. I reefed right down & kept wondering how we were going to cope with the steep faces of the big following waves as they approached - but "Nereida" seemed to lift herself up effortlessly as they passed - although then heeling & swerving madly at times as they churned up and the crests broke in passing under us, occasionally giving us a wet deck and cockpit. But the autopilot coped well in those testing conditions and kept us well on course, although I had to hang on tightly. I also kept half-expecting the end of the boom to touch the water when that happened - but every time it got anywhere close, it wasn't that close... so I relaxed... I feel sure that our rubbing strake is a great help in keeping us from heeling more in that situation.

I had to keep an eye on things on the stern - we nearly lost our lifebuoy twice when it got hit by the crest of a wave and I saw it dangling precariously, half off its well-bent holder. Then I spotted the Windpilot moving in a peculiar way... when I went to investigate, I found the rudder casing & filling was completely missing...! The newly-glassed outer casing and filling had disappeared from the rudder stock and from the metal flanges attached to it to hold the rudder in place at the bottom of the stock...!!! So much for the 'repair' made in Trinidad... Clearly the strong, churning seas hitting the stern were too much for it - and I wonder whether the extra layers of glass matting that were promised to be wrapped around the rudder to prevent it from breaking apart were actually applied... (I'd been busy on board with other work so could not get over to where that was being done to keep an eye on it.) So for now, there is no option of windsteering. 

Unbelievable... so now I definitely have to use the electronic autopilot - which I'd been using anyway because of being goosewinged on a dead run with such big following (4m and over) seas. ...But then the autopilot also went down in the strong conditions early Thursday - at 4 a.m., in the pitch dark, of course! I even thought the main rudder had broken, since the boat didn't seem to be responding at all to the helm... but it turned out we'd gone way off course so the wind was backing the (triple-reefed!) main... all ended up OK after a short stint of handsteering... It had me worried for a bit though ... (Visions of handsteering again, overnight in strong conditions, weren't welcome!!) I decided the reason for the autopilot going down was that I'd been using the 'wireless' handheld remote control - and that had been disconnected from the power supply & run out of battery power several hours later. It then cuts out the autopilot (- no beeping but simply a displayed message 'You have the helm'!!) as it shuts down - a definite failure of design there! I always get so annoyed with myself when I allow that to happen, but it's handy to have the remote for use when not at the helm where the main control unit is positioned. In the strong conditions, the companionway washboards and hatch were all tightly closed and I was mainly down below.

So now the seas have moderated a lot with the light winds ... I've just had to take down the pole & furl in the genoa with E2 (5kn from astern), so, as expected, I'm having to motor to make Colon in daylight tomorrow (Saturday). I just wonder how I'll find things when I get in. If there are so many yachts waiting for their Canal Transit, it might be difficult finding a spot to anchor, let alone finding the hoped-for berth at the Panama Canal Yacht Club... time will tell...

5/6th May Lots of shipping to avoid on run in to Panama - to complete Caribbean/

Tuesday 6th May - This is the "Windy Corner" of the Caribbean....! One white-tailed tropic bird sighted! Excellent downwind sailing conditions just now!

With AIS not working, it's been radar or eyes for 'seeing' ships now, since Trinidad. The good news is that my 'new' Raymarine C70 chartplotter/radar has MARPA - which acts just like my AIS unit in giving me the closest approach distance, and timing of it, for ships close by... Unfortunately, unlike AIS, it can't tell me the ship's name so I have more difficulty getting ships I'm calling on the VHF radio to respond to me - but they usually do... eventually..., after I've given them my 'guestimate'
of their approximate position, my exact position and where they are in relation to me (distance off and compass bearing is useful). I usually have to point out that I'm a small sailing yacht with no AIS transmitter & that I'm seeing them on my radar. I've had nothing but polite, friendly, helpful responses of late... although I well remember one ship close by who didn't seem to want to respond to me at all, although I'd heard him talking to another nearby ship, down in the S. Atlantic off Namibia...
reminding me of stories I'd heard of some Captains/skippers not responding to female voices on the radio...

Lots of shipping around now - had a tiring night last night because of it (and being close to Curacao & then Aruba) & had to call two ships, who obligingly changed course to avoid me - I have been goosewinged on almost a dead run most of the way since Trinidad.

It never fails to amaze me how things suddenly have to be done at night - with no moon over last few days, it's meant regular use of headlamp in the pitch dark for sail-handling/reefing when the wind suddenly gets up or switches direction!!

I'm about to gybe onto my final approach to Panama in a few hours' time... wind is E 22-25 kn, gusting 27-28kn, so I just took in a 2nd reef on the mains'l to be better prepared!! This is the "Windy Corner" of the Caribbean.... renowned for strong winds (and resulting big seas), partly enhanced by the high mountains in Colombia not too far inland. The last time I passed this way, in 2004, I had 45 knots and very big following seas for quite a time.... hopefully, not this time! Have been making
well over 7 knots consistently since leaving Bonaire and regularly surfing in the 4m swell to well over 8kn! Current is giving an extra boost so we're making around 8.2 knots SOG!

All is well, despite a painful left shoulder - from the heavy weather I had to contend with over Saturday night whilst handsteering in to Trinidad, I think - having trouble raising my left arm. The weather is sunny & settled and I hope to arrive in Panama on Saturday 10th May.

I was very sad to get the news of Glenn Wakefield's forced retirement from his attempted west-about circumnavigation when so close to rounding the Horn - rolled in the Southern Ocean, concussed, loss of liferaft & with bad damage to 'Kim Chow'... He's had a tough time and was so nearly on the 'homeward run'... He was so looking forward to some downwind sailing when we chatted over the radio in the S. Atlantic.

I'm sitting with a nice cup of delicious, freshly-brewed, Cairns coffee, after writing my midday log & position report.... I just saw yet another ship pass close by, going the other way - but at least I'm highly visible in the daytime - especially being goosewinged!!

24-hr noon-to-noon run: 162 n.ml. 560mls to Colon as of noon... eta Saturday?

3/4/5 May Good sailing westward

Sat 3rd May

Looked at GPS input problem to both VHF radio (which I'd suddenly noticed was not displaying my position as it normally does) & AIS .... found data input from course computer to both & I'm puzzled as to my next step... One problem I did succeed in was finally getting GPS input from my Garmin handheld to my laptop for the Nobeltec charting software which I find so good and useful. For some reason, it had also decided it wasn't 'seeing' the GPS ... It took a long time, trying different wires/connections/port settings and I'm still not sure what exactly persuaded it to work in the end... computers...grrr!!

Sun 4th May

After passing south of Los Roques yesterday night, the two groups of low islets of Las Aves were just visible today on the way to Bonaire. With so many small islands around this part of the Caribbean, mostly uninhabitable, there is lots of birdlife which is good to see. Having seen several ships and fishing boats near Isla de Margarita and early yesterday, I've seen very few since.

Decided to stop overnight in lee of Bonaire since I realized I would arrive Colon late Friday at earliest - so can't achieve anything until Monday at earliest anyway... Picked up a pair of buoys (not just one!) around teatime, relaxed, made a (very nice!) chicken & spinach curry & got a good sleep.

Mon 5th May

This morning, I took time before leaving Bonaire to check my rudder-post/autopilot connection and also steering cable - both fine. But I didn't spend time getting to course computer - not quick or easy, so it'll have to wait to Colon... Maybe it's not NMEA GPS but Seatalk data I can see on inputs to VHF radio & AIS. Can't see any other reason they'd both be down the way they are, since they're definitely both getting data of some sort from the same source on the course computer - multimeter is jumping around the 7.5-8 mark at their inputs but they are definitely not 'seeing' any GPS input.

Presently in quite big swell (3-4m, at least, and I expect it to increase over next few days!), passing north of the N end of Curacao on way to Aruba which I'll also pass north of before dawn ... but sailing well & fast, goosewinged... over 7 knots in good ENE Trades (~22 knots). Should keep up speed until Panama, if grib files are to be believed!

22 April - 2 May Problems, repairs & more problems cause further delay leaving C

2nd May '08

It's great to be away sailing again & although a night exit out of Chaguaramas Bay and on between the islands to its NW wasn't exactly stress-free, it all went reasonably well. As I write this, the Venezuelan islands of Los Testigos have just faded away into the haze due north of us. They were named as being 'witnesses' to confirm the existence of the west-going Equatorial current: present boat speed through the water: 6.6kn, SOG: 8.3kn!!
Chaguaramas is an excellent place to get repairs and boat work dealt with, and I did enjoy meeting cruisers and Trinidadians alike, despite only managing to get away from the 'compound' once, into Port of Spain, when Jesse organized a Steel Band evening outing soon after my arrival.
My list of repairs was quite long enough before I found problems arising both to complicate existing work and to add in to them... that's boating for you. I've been thinking that maybe if I'd done a non-stop circumnavigation, life would have been far simpler for me - by stopping in so many (previously unknown) places on the way around, there's navigation inshore, tides, anchorages, checking in & out, etc, etc, to sort out... over and above simply sailing well offshore across oceans!! Because it
naturally takes that much longer, still with long ocean passages, mostly with big swell and occasional heavy weather, the boat has taken quite a pounding since March year ago & many things on board have needed repair (or simply their regular maintenance) on the way.

I kept thinking last week I was almost ready to leave... no chance!

The Windpilot service/repair was finished and it was to be fitted in place... when we discovered that the guy who had re-glassed the auxiliary rudder had dropped the stock down inside too far... so it wasn't fitting together as it should .... a piece of tubing had to be welded to the top of the rudder stock... another day lost.
The Raymarine parts were delayed over a week due to inefficiency by the Raymarine US dispatch department and DHL & Customs delays this end. Then the guy who should have installed it all got 'sunstroke' and was off work for two days... But I must give Raymarine UK all due credit for being so supportive - the old course computer turned out to be the problem and so was replaced and they also agreed replacing the drive with the new one sent and my keeping the old one (working OK) as a back-up.
The Kiss wind-generator service and blades replacement would have been a 2-hr job - but the 'mouse' got lost inside the tubular support & that turned into a major problem. For a time, I thought all the steelwork on the stern was going to have to be dismantled to resolve the problem - an absolute nightmare! Fortunately, a plumbing 'router' and Doug Billings' expertise did the trick the next day... so all ended well.
I'd taken the badly-leaking seawater pump off the engine & taken it in for seals to be replaced. On replacing it and going to start the engine - starter clearly not happy... ends up with me taking start motor off the engine & taking that in for repair .... "don't have parts", have to "get them in" - an immediate week's delay! "Don't bother - I've a spare motor on board," say I..... but it was really well buried - took me half a day to get to it... and when I put it on the engine, having confirmed
I'd got the wires all connected OK, it wouldn't start - a brand new 'spare'... oh, no! To cut the story short.. it was a ground problem, solved fairly easily.. but only after the weekend break...
Of course, during all the time work was being done, 'Nereida' was in chaos. I had trouble several nights running finding somewhere to lie down to sleep because I'd had to empty under the aft cabin bunk (and later the forepeak) and various lockers for access to areas of work and to find spares and bits & pieces... "That's normal with boatwork," said people seeing it, but living with it is not easy!
Typical is what happened on Tuesday, when I was certain I would finally leave. The plan was to calibrate the new autopilot course computer and speed display starting at 7 a.m., followed by a visit to the fuel dock at 8 a.m., followed by paying my bill at Crews Inn marina & clearing out with Immigration & Customs... and be away by around midday. Seemed like a nice simple plan.
What actually happened is: 7 a.m. off to calibrate instruments.... problem calibrating speed display - 'expert' didn't know what to do so muggins here had to read up and sort out how to do it & carry it out. By good luck, I soon discovered we'd coincided with slack water, so although that didn't cut down the time I'd needed to get to that point, it did simplify the matter somewhat. By the time we'd then done the other calibrations (fluxgate compass and autopilot), it was already well after 8 a.m.
After dropping off the 'expert' on one side of the Bay, having now discovered the GPS input to the chart-plotter was missing (!) with 'expert' not knowing why, I went over to the fuel dock expecting a starboard-to tie ..... both sides were taken and only the opposite side of the dock would be available quite soon.... all fine, except that now I had to go back out and change all mooring lines and fenders over! Back to fuel dock - diesel in Trinidad (oil-rigs close offshore) is very cheap - TT$1.50
per litre (at TT$6=US$1) so I wanted to fill everything possible - all took a time before returning to my slip ... no sign all day of guy coming to fix GPS input problem. Eventually, I decided to check inputs to chart-plotter - the relevant one was loose - good news! Simple fix, so why did our 'expert' not manage it??!!
I finally got to filling up with water ... left hose running and was surprised to find tank not full some time later. Turned off and got on with another job... looked into bilge - full of water - fresh!.... Major problem...!
Now I have to find out WHERE it is leaking from .... pipe eventualy turns out to be OK, but after lifting and re-laying several bits of the cabin sole (floor), I find the cause... an old 'sender' (water gauge part) had corroded where it screwed into the top of the tank - so now I had a BIG hole on the tank top.... Forget leaving Tuesday....! And Wednesday...!
But here's the good part.... and why cruising can be so good compared with sitting watching the bad TV news at home each day.... Boat friends came to my rescue! Dieter on 'Amazon' (met in Luderitz, Namibia) and Peter (& Joyce) on 'Matarua' (met in Richards Bay, north of Durban) had both sailed up from S. Africa and we'd chatted to & helped each other in Chaguaramas. Peter found a piece of steel - just the right thickness & amount for a 'lid' - which he cut for me. I found some rubber for a 'gasket'&
Dieter had just the right size of self-tapping screws and a tapper to complete the job of fixing it in place. So by Wednesday evening all was fixed beautifully! Phew!
Of course, I've omitted to mention that in constantly taking away the companionway steps for engine compartment access, the catch screws finally fell out and I had to fix new ones to hold the steps safely in place and in going to pump out the water from the bilge using my electric bilge pump, nothing much happened so I ended up having to take out all the pipes and the strainer down there and clean them thoroughly of the accumulated gunge I found - after which the pump worked well.

Now a problem I have to look at on passage is my AIS not getting GPS info - so no use to me. I hadn't thought to check it out after the course computer was replaced - and it gets its GPS NMEA info from there - so maybe there's 'simply' a bad connection ... but access, as usual, is difficult! That IS a problem I must look at urgently since my AIS is a great aid to my being safe overnight... Back to cat-napping over short periods, plus radar use, in the meantime.

At midday today, distance to Colon was 1047 n.ml. - possibly 9th May, if I can keep up a reasonable speed. As I finish writing this, I'm close to Isla Margarita (off to port) and some small islands, Los Frailles, are off to starboard with boobies, frigate-birds and pelicans heading in to roost. Once I've rounded the northernmost point, Cabo Negro, of Margarita in about 2 hrs' time, I've 170 n.ml. to go to a point just S. of Los Roques - a big reef area with lots of anchorages that I'll be passing

15-21April '08 Trinidad - Busy with repairs

After making landfall in Chaguaramas very early Tuesday morning, and a good sleep before being woken to clear Customs & Immigration, I got busy trying to make contact with various people to get repairs organized.....
Kicker/mast joint was urgently needing attention and was promptly dealt with by the Selden agent Jonas here, along with the boom/mast (gooseneck)connection which was just beginning to move. Rigging was checked also.
Lots of visits to nearby Raymarine dealer - shipping of autopilot drive unit was delayed from US - finally arrived in Customs this afternoon (Monday 21st)so will be fitted tomorrow, rather than middle of last week as expected.
Must check & sew tapes holding mainsail to mast-track cars.
Serviced all Andersen winches - a job I enjoy doing but I was surprised to see how all needed cleaning & fresh grease applied - it had gone hard in the heat. Winches have had a lot of use in the sail from Australia (I serviced them thoroughly in Cairns in July) to S. Africa and up across the S. Atlantic.
Problems with mobile phone - difficult to contact people or be contacted without one ... Lots of visits & finally battery replaced but then phone died completely over Saturday night.. will try to manage without for last few days here.
Seawater pump leaking badly - taken off & in for repair - turned out drive belt block cracked so that needs replacing also.
Windpilot completely taken to pieces and rebuilt, including rudder which has been re-made, so should work 'like butter' now.... I'm looking forward to using it on sail to Colon.
Fischer-Panda generator looked at - capacitor in control unit was faulty - replaced, so all OK now.
Wind generator (Kiss) - designed & made here by Douglas Billings who himself came to boat to arrange removal for new blades and servicing of unit - hasn't given any trouble for last 7 yrs so hopefully will give good service for at least another ten yrs now.
Yamaha outboard serviced.
Spectra watermaker membrane replaced - I'll not have to be quite so careful over water usage as I was coming up from S. Africa.
Cockpit speaker for VHF & SSB faulty - replaced.
Propane refills organized.
Batteries to be load-tested on Tuesday - I'm concerned I might have damaged them over New Year period when I was off the boat.
Must refuel (diesel) before leaving.
Has been good to have wi-fi Internet access on board

Took time off Thursday evening for a 'Pot Luck' dinner here in Crews Inn with a Quiz and music. Then on Friday evening I went into Port of Spain for a steel band competition which was very enjoyable & out for Shark 'n' Bake Saturday evening with cruisers nearby. Days have been noticeable for blue skies & lack of rain since arriving - amazing!!

14/15 April - Safe arrival in Trinidad to complete Atlantic crossing

Mon/Tues 14/15th April '08

Well so much for plans - I tried to continue helming over Sunday night from around 9.30pm into Monday, looking for for a daylight landfall, but hadn't been able to get any sleep as planned so soon realized I was way too tired to sail on. Wasn't sensible to continue, so hove to and closed my eyes... blissful sleep for 6 hours!

I was still 97 mls away from Chaguaramas, so clearly would be making a night landfall - but having been to Chaguaramas before, felt that would be OK. I'd heaved to on port tack which meant the north-going current was offset somewhat by our fore-reaching with the E wind - we made just 0.3 kn so didn't move far, much better than the previous time I heaved to when we went several miles north which made my subsequent sail more difficult since almost on a dead run....

By 7am Monday, I got sailing again, after having had breakfast, in following seas and E 20kn wind which by midday had become 15kn. Not long after, in the Tobago Channel, I realized I could see Tobago - I was equidistant from Scarborough, its capital, and the NE point of Trinidad - very tempted to go to Tobago but resisted!! I'd noticed a definite slackening of foul current when about 75 mls off NE Trinidad and by late afternoon, with just 44 mls in total to go, I was enjoying a beautiful, far more
calm, aquamarine sea (the waters being quite shallow around Trinidad) and an increasing fair current but having difficulty protecting myself against the bright sun - I have no awning in the cockpit. A couple of times, dolphins visited the boat - even a tuna, I'm sure. All chasing after small flying fish - interesting to watch them all darting about.

The day was fine but as it wore on, the high hills on the north coast of Trinidad that I was passing got increasingly cloudy until later there was often fine mist in the air - a beautiful rainbow almost seemed to finish beside me at one point. I'd forgotten how rainy Trinidad is but was lucky to be well away from land and so got little rain.

It was calm enough for me to be able to leave the wheel safely for a very short while and drop the staysail - it wasn't doing anything useful any more - and also put out fenders and mooring lines ready for docking later. I was now motorsailing - I'd wanted to charge the batteries earlier but when I'd gone to switch on the engine, it wouldn't start so I'd had to use a screwdriver to bypass the cockpit ignition switch & felt it would be safest to leave the engine running until I docked to prevent
any further worries on that score.

I came safely down the Monos Channel and around to Chaguaramas Bay - lots of unlit hulks and boats and mooring buoys to avoid so I slowed right down and crawled east until I found myself nearing the Customs Dock where I stepped off and tied up in the early morning dark. I then went to the head before getting to sleep - it was FULL of water...the shower had somehow got turned on... so I had to pump a LOT of water out of the head compartment and the carpet in the main cabin had got thoroughly wet
also ...grr! A bit later than I'd intended, I got to a very welcome sleep.

...... more anon.....

Fri/Sat 11/12 April Days 7&8 of no autopilot or windsteering - Raymarine turn up trumps!

Friday 11th April '08

Had emailed Raymarine UK for help with problem - immediate excellent reply - replacement parts being shipped to Chaguaramas dealer from US to arrive Monday ready for fitting. A very much appreciated quick response - many, many thanks, Fiona & Bob!

Have also been 'talking' to Peter Foerthmann of Windpilot who's come up with some simple suggestions to resolve problem with windsteering once I make landfall.

Cloudy at start of helming session, so dramatic sunrise. (White-tailed tropic bird seen soon after ... so graceful....) Clouds cleared to give very pleasant day.. got very hot by midday. NO fair current all morning... and wind down, so boatspeed down. Kept on helming until 1.30pm (from 7am, instead of 5am - overslept!)

Distance made good to Chaguaramas to noon was 103ml - a measure of Thursday afternoon/evening's good current found, adding to full canvas & good wind!

Slept a bit in afternoon & made pasta with shrimps & (ready-made!) spinach & ricotta cheese sauce after waking & before back on deck at 7pm...

Wind increased soon after I started ... took in 1st reef - nasty-looking rainclouds nearby and ahead as sun was about to set... Thought about dropping 2nd reef for night sailing but didn't - turned out OK with winds just up to 16kn... good speed - and had good current on & off - or at least, none against!

Bright lights dead ahead at 10pm - oil rig??... couldn't make it out but it was BIG, bright & seemed stationary. (My AIS display would probably have answered my question, but I couldn't leave wheel to look at it) Kept well clear in case towing or towed or other problems (like anchor cables - memories of leaving Luderitz!!)... Later another ship passed very close but all OK...

Hove to a bit early soon after midnight for sleep... tired - helming was hardwork in increased wind and resulting rough seas.

Sat 12th April WET, WET, WET...!

Up at 4am to get going again.... took a time, since decided to drop 2nd reef - nagging worry about night sky seemingly overcast & wind slightly up & possible squalls unseen coming in the dark.... Boy, was I glad I did that!! Short while later, after I'd removed jacket, being too warm, the strong wind & torrential rain started....!!!! Grabbed one jacket & quickly got that on & put another over my lap to protect my legs ...no, I hadn't time to put on foul-weather gear which was right to hand ... helming kept me too busy with the big seas that got up. Everything around & on me got well & truly soaked, including a cushion I was sitting on - wet & soggy... Luckily, I managed to stay just warm enough in wind & rain because of excellent Musto fleece top & trousers I was wearing underneath.... rain lasted until past midday when I hove to - to make log entry (101 mls DMG to noon today!) & get dry! ...& get some sleep...

What a horrible morning... & rain doesn't look like stopping..... AND the fair current disappeared again & went foul over the morning so SOG down by 1 knot compared to boatspeed .... grrr!!! Hopefully that wind will have died down a bit, & the rain stopped, by later on when I start up again.

Distance to Chaguaramas, Trinidad at noon: 206ml

Sat/Sun 12/13 April - Rough Saturday night dance!!

Sat/Sun 12/13 April '08 Rough Saturday night dance on "Nereida"!

Just a quick note to say how bad things were over Saturday night...!

28-32 knots of gusty winds and seas to match... made life pretty fraught for about two hours - the back of my neck & shoulders are still aching with the effort of controlling the boat in the big swell - especially when the wind gusted up simultaneously.

Several times I thought I'd lose control as we turned violently up the face of the wave we were on, heeling over like mad as we did so... Then I decided to heave to - I couldn't see the wind display too clearly, but rushing in those winds & seas at 7.5 to well over 8 knots, not able to leave the wheel to put in a 3rd reef, didn't seem too safe - so I tacked around so I could heave-to on starboard tack, as usual (so we would drift in roughly the right direction!). I managed that at the second attempt but then couldn't tack around again to heave to against the 28knot winds & seas - so started the motor for some extra 'push' in the second attempt. That worked but then we nearly broached with a big wave as the mainsheet had come loose and the boom end went in the water - did I move fast to grab the sheet and haul it in ...??!! My heart was in my mouth... All in the dark dark, of course, near midnight...!!!

I furled in more genoa & took in the 3rd reef as we lay hove-to not long after midnight - that calmed things down a touch although the motion of the boat in those seas (4-5m swell) was still pretty horrible! But I did manage to sleep - for 5hours!!

I'd decided, looking at the distance to Trinidad, that if I did two long sessions today(Sunday) and overnight into Monday, then I could arrive early afternoon - in good daylight & in time to clear Customs & get a GOOD rest!

So I got up at 5am, relieved to find, as I'd hoped, that the winds had died right down - I even let out the 3rd reef I'd not so long ago taken in! The swell and lumpy seas gradually lay down over the day and I shook out the 2nd reef to make better speed on a very broad reach.

I'm now hove-to, from 4pm - 8pm, to get rest, sleep & generally catch up with things before sailing on over the night ... I'm about to put some spare diesel into the main fuel tank to be sure of getting in in daylight... just in case I have to motorsail in light winds.... I'm also having to email Selden to see if I can get some parts sent out - the vang (kicker) joint at the mast is definitely far too worn & jerking about horribly - NOT safe to continue far like that - and the identical mainsail boom/mast connection is also beginning to wear - probably because of the vang jerking - it's the big seas and swell and that cause the problem (broad-reaching & running, especially) - and I've been in plenty over the last two years!

10th April - still good current - marvellous!

Thurs 10th April '08 Distance made good to Trinidad: 93mls Wed, 109 mls today....!

A lovely day of sailing in nice wind under 'Trade wind' sky.... Let out final reef early on in lighter wind again - wind has moved aft, being E rather than the ENE we've had mostly. Now have full sail hoisted and a current which added 0.8 kn to our speed - lovely to see... & just at the right time, since windspeed down (and from abaft the beam) meant boatspeed down - from 7kn to 5.5 kn by this evening, so really helpful - meant SOG kept up into 6-6.5kn range over day.

Current has also been very helpful when hove-to... we've made 10 miles (in roughly the right direction) over my sleep periods!!!

One worry is the mast connection to the vang/kicker is knocking badly - clearly worn & needs more washers to take up a space that has appeared & now allows too much movement - so it jerks badly at times even though the seas have calmed down a lot by comparison with a few days back.

Has been another hot, bright day - I'm so lucky that my course and the sun's position over the day combine to put the sun behind me up to midday (I'm helming from 6am to 2pm) and then when I come back on deck at around 6pm, after my sleep etc, I'm shaded from the sun because it is now beginning to set behind the sails, my course being WNW... All I need is polaroid sunglasses to protect my eyes from the reflected glare across the water....