Thursday, October 6, 2016

Rigging Issues

The 30 knot winds and 12 foot seas we encountered off the Guajira Peninsula were a bit of a wake-up call in terms of the regular abuse we expect Tortuga to endure on our behalf. Upon arrival in Santa Marta I was intent on giving Tortuga a careful rig inspection after our first two months of voyaging. I wasn't expecting to find anything but I figured that a periodic look-over is just part of being a responsible off-shore sailor. We had barely tied off to the dock when I had already found the first issue. Crevice corrosion had invaded the tangs where our back stays attach.

Stern Pulpit and Back Stay Attachment
Close Up of Tangs Notice Crevice Corrosion
Bottom Left and Top Right 
 Crevice corrosion takes the form of small hairline cracks within the metal. These cracks trap moisture, salt and dirt promoting more corrosion which grows the crack further. Before you know it, the strong shinny attachment point holding your mast up is as brittle as glass ready to burst into a million pieces. The inspection just jumped up a few rows on the priority list and we hadn't even had our first drink in Colombia yet. By the next morning I had found two other issues. The lower toggle assembly of our roller furler was beginning to bend threatening to release the pin holding it in place, and there was more crevice corrosion at the swagged running back stay fittings half way up the mast.
Roller Furler Lower Toggle Assembly

Crevice Corrosion at Running Back Stay Fitting
Not sure how I missed that prior to leaving NY.

 I was happy I found the issues, worried about how to address them, and relieved I didn't know about them during our last passage. The next day was spend conference calling with friends, family, and professionals within the industry. My father was supposed to meet us in Panama a month later, so I was focused on figuring out what parts I needed, ordering them, and getting them to my father as soon as possible. Now a month and a half later, all the issues have been addressed, although it was my sister Anna who ended up delivering the critical parts.  Here are the individual stories for each issue.

Back stay Tang Solution
Get two additional tangs cut out of 1/4" stainless steel. Thru-bolt the new tangs over the old welded tangs with 3/8" bolts. The U-bracket at the end of the back-stays are wide enough to accommodate the 1/4" of material. Bud Taplin from Westsail helped come up with the fix. He built the stern pulpit assembly including the tangs 7 years ago. We discussed removing and re-welding new tangs but he advised that heat from welding metal previously exposed to salt water would only promote new corrosion. I completed the fix in Shelter Bay Marina the morning prior to our canal transit. I drilled two 3/8" holes thru almost a full half inch of stainless steel using a 14 volt cordless drill. I dulled 5 brand new drill bits and my hands were numb for the rest of the day.

Furler Lower Toggle Assembly Solution
I contacted Bam Miller, a Harken dealer based out of Oyster Bay. He was very helpful and proved more knowledgeable then the technical staff from Harken. He quoted me the required part at $315, which hurt but it came with a detailed email on how to install it correctly as well as how to avoid the issue in the future. See a copy of the email he sent within this blog post if you interested in the details. I performed the fix at anchor in Las Perlas. I started by loosening the back stays and rigging a temporary for-stay on a calm windless morning. I removed the clevis pin at the base of the roller furler, tied the furler loosely to the stay sail for-stay to prevent the furler track from kinking, and got to work unscrewing the toggle assembly. The operation went smooth enough although by now the wind had piped up and it was time to re-installed the clevis pin that connects furler to bowsprit. Doing this has given me trouble back in Kingston with a crane, my father, and the marina staff at my disposal. I was really nervous that Laura and I along with a nice head wind would not be able to pull it off. Laura must have been feeling strong that morning because one tug of hers in unison with the anticipated wave action and the clevis pin slipped right into place. Mission accomplished and we hadn't even eaten breakfast yet.

Furler Removed and Secured to Stay Sail For-stay

Old vs New Part

New Part Installed
Email from Bam Describing Installation

Running Back Stay Fittings Solution
I hoisted myself up the mast at anchor in Las Perlas. I removed the running back stays and tossed the ends into the ocean on either side of the boat. This gave Laura a scare as she thought I had fallen from the mast while she was cleaning the galley. I assured her everything was ok as I lowered myself down. Luckily I have everything I need to swage stainless cable on board although I was missing the swages and thimbles I needed for 1/4" cable, which Anna had brought. I pulled out the bolt cutters and the corroded ends came flying off with a pop. I then went to work removing the insulation covering the cable the same way a boy scout sharpens the end of a wooden spear. This was pretty difficult given that the insulation was old and brittle but eventually I got it all off. I slipped on the swage fitting and inserted the thimble within the resulting noose. I then crimped each swage three times using one of those cheap yet effective thru-bolt swaging tools. They came out pretty good and all that was left to do was go back up the mast and reattach them.

Monday, October 3, 2016

The Panama Canal

October 1
Las Perlas, Panama

This morning we are motoring out of our anchorage in Viveros towards Contadora, the most developed island in the Las Perlas chain, and our last stop before heading to Colombia's Pacific coast. Max's sisters, Pauli and Anna, have been with us for two weeks and together we have transited the canal, explored Panama City, and spent many enchanting nights at anchor among the islands of the Las Perlas archipelago. We have pulled in many handsome fish taking turns reeling, cleaning, or cooking. We have cut off and painted the tails of each, rendering our shirts a little stinky and the cockpit more colorful. More than once we have been surrounded by dolphins, whale sharks, humpbacks, stingrays, and at night it just continues, except that everything glows a dull green with the best phosphorescence I have seen outside of biobay in Vieques. It won't be easy to chronicle the adventures of the last ten days, but here goes...

Approaching Isla Bayoneta in Las Perlas

Whale sharks feeding 
Panama is extremely different than Colombia. It is the most ecologically diverse and abundant place we have seen and we have hardly explored any of it. There are the San Blas islands where a matriarchal tribe rules over palm tree encrusted islands studding shades of turquoise reef, the dense jungle peaks of the narrow isthmus where Gatun Lake connects the entrances and exits of the canal, Bocas del Toro on the Pacific coast, and of course Las Perlas, the group of islands we decided to dedicate our time to.

While Panama hosts particularly vibrant and mysterious oceanlife, and has blessed us with Yellow Fin Tuna, Spanish Mackerel, and Amber Jack, it is also the dirtiest place we have seen. As soon as we left the last set of canal locks leading to the Pacific we found ourselves next to the loading docks of Balboa, the gray geometric of Panama City beyond, and so much floating trash it looked like every household had gone to the water and simply emptied whole bags. The whole place stank of sewage, which combined with the slow distant movement of all things gigantic and Maersk made my heart sink. So this is the Pacific. Like may moments in my life, I felt robbed of the ability to enjoy the earth, or to even see what it should look like. How had it looked when Balboa arrived and claimed this whole ocean, and everything it touched for Spain? Not like this. What had we done to turn it into a garbage soup the color of undiluted Simple Green reeking of our own foul excrement?

Pauli reacting to the smell of Balboa
We had to spend a night in Panama City to provision and buy a new anchor, and since Balboa Yacht Club was full, we ended up at Flamenco Yacht Club. We spent $100 for a slip surrounded by terraced restaurants where people ate fried fish while apparently unaffected by the real fish beneath them that were maneuvering around tied up and used condoms. A bachelorette party of women twitched down the dock wearing headbands that bobbed with plastic sparkly penises on springs. I couldn't help but imagine a Maersk container filled with those headbands traversing the ocean, passing through the mighty locks of the canal, to arrive in Panama City for their one night of life. I am sure that to those women a curious little ship called Tortuga from Kingston, NY, its salty foursome drinking Gin and Tonics amid hanging laundry, looked pretty absurd too.

So this is the big picture of Panama I have been developing- a paradox of the most beautiful islands I have ever seen, incredible engineering feats of men, and gut-wrenching moments realizing what we have done to this coast. I am going to go backwards now, to our canal transit, the most exhilarating moment of this trip for me and evidence of how we can bend nature to our will when we want to.

Max and I arrived in Panama on a Tuesday, docking at Shelter Bay Yacht Club. We had arranged for an agent through email, Erick A. Galvez, and he arrived the next morning to discuss our canal transit. We had been under the impression that we had to pay for the Panamanian Cruising Permit regardless of our length of stay, but Erick informed us that if we rushed the transit to within 72 hours of our arrival, we could get out of it. This saved us around $500 and Erick charged only $350, so the choice was obvious. We got ready to leave Shelter Bay and only had to await the arrival of Anna and Pauli.

Erick, who is as organized as he is neatly dressed, made the process simple. He took us to the immigration office in Colon, arranged our Zarpe, answered all emails and calls promptly, rented us the fenders and lines required, and even picked up Anna and Pauli from the airport. Below is our receipt with a cash discount included! Max loves a cash discount.

The deal with the Panama Canal is that you need 4 line handlers, the skipper, and a trip advisor. We were lucky to have Anna, Pauli, and a volunteer named Mark ready to go. Anna and Pauli arrived late on Thursday, and we left for the canal the next morning, Friday September 23, day at 1:00. Our first directive was to anchor in The Flats, an area adjacent to the canal entrance, and await our trip advisor. He arrived at 4:30 and in the meantime we traded Mark's stories of a career as a fire chief for our stories of unruly students and weird things Anna has done to dead bodies in medical school. We were really excited and already having a fantastic time.

As soon as our trip advisor arrived we started the slow motor towards the Gatun Locks. We attached our rented fenders to port and starboard and led the 7/8 inch polypropelene lines through our chaulks forward and aft, a two foot bowline loop ready on one end and the other end loose and coiled. At this point we started to pass truly giant ships and each one was incredible to look at close up. Just before we entered the locks, our trip advisor informed us that we would be rafting up to a tug named Montana, which would make our transit much easier.

By the time the doors of the first lock opened we were working only under the fantastic illumination of the locks and the three vessels passing together- Montana the tug, a cargo ship called BBC Paula, and little Tortuga. A nighttime transit made me nervous at first, but now that it was happening, I could see that it was preferable. The double doors to the lock were medieval and powerful looking, the locomotives on either side were slowly moving up little sledding hills with thick cables running to BBC Paula's stern, and the whole area felt busy with a deep hum of activity.

The first of three Gatun Locks

Once Big Paula was positioned at the front of the locks and secured by the locomotives, Montana moved in and positioned herself against the right hand wall. Monkey fists were thrown and Montana's big lines went up to linehandlers on the wall. Given the okay through Hector's VHF, we moved in, Max on tiller, Anna and Pauli on roving starboard fenders, Mark on the bowline, and me on the stern line ready for my epic toss to Montana's stern (which turned out to be more like handing it to him) One we were made off to Montana, which was easy and without incident, we started making friends. The cook came out and immediately offered us their leftover dinner- a pot of seafood gumbo, bag of rice, and a plate of lasagna (not NEARLY as good as mom Kufner's, but what can you do?)

So the water rose in the Gatun Locks and we went up with it while Montana regulated the lines. Once the water level rose to that of the next lock, we untied in turn and moved into the next locks and arranged ourselves in the same formation. And so it went until we reached our giant mooring ball in Gatun Lake where we devoured the food given to us by Montana, and promptly passed out from exhaustion. As soon as my eyes closed, I woke up to the arrival of our next trip advisor who would take us through the Pacific Locks.

The second half of the canal transit took us across Gatun Lake which was beautiful in the early morning and studded with densely-jungled islands. We drank coffee and tried to peer into the darkness beyond the canopy or catch a glimpse of one of the canal's fabled crocs sunning itself on the shore. Our second trip advisor was a bit more animated and fun to talk to about the history of the canal, the biodiversity of the lake, and his experience working on the canal. He acknowledged early that I was the one to ask for breakfast, drinks, and snacks. This man drank pots of coffee and eventually suggested we eat. I had heard that the advisers could be finicky about food, going so far as to order high end meals to be delivered when displeased with what was being served, so I was prepared. I cooked up scrambled eggs, bacon, more coffee, sliced avocado/tomato/cheese, and just as it was about to be served Max ducked his head in to inform me that there would be a small wake coming. I steadied the coffee and pan of uncooked eggs and waited for the "small" wake. When it came, it was actually enormous and I watched each element of breakfast dump itself on my feet. The siracha sprayed everywhere and dented itself in a pile of bacon, avocado, and plates at my feet. I watched helplessely as the eggs rode toward the front edge of the pan and slopped down my calves. I swore loud and clear, and my hands shook with anger as I picked everything up. The crew kindly ate the floor breakfast and assured me that it was okay over and over. The adviser loved it actually.

We passed through the Pedro Miguel Locks and the Mirafloras locks with a research vessel named Observer and a tourist boat that takes people through the canal with blasting the history in English and Spanish over a loudspeaker. The tourists loved us! On this side of the lake the canal brings you down 6 locks to Balboa. While in the first lock, just before the doors closed, it was decided that a huge car carrier would also join the three other boats in the lock. This boat was enormous, and we had to sit there, like little ants beneath it, as it pushed unknowable amounts of water towards us where we were tied up to Observer very close to the edge of the lock doors ahead.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Logbook from the Sea of Marquez

Goodbye Santa Marta

September 15th
In her new coats of varnish, hard and shiny as a candy coating, and wearing a new biminy, Tortuga left Santa Marta at 9:30 looking clean, sharp, well-rested. We too left in top sorts after a month of marina living. Preparing for the kind of weather which ushered us into Colombia, a kind of manic sleigh ride, I sea stowed the cabin like never before, rigged the storm trysail, and scoffed at the weather forecast of 1-2 foot seas. After a short motor out we took up a broad reach under full canvas and found that the forecast was correct for once. Now we are moving along nicely at 6 knots in flat seas. It is quiet as a church in the cockpit and the boat is only heeled slightly. Full shade in a freshly painted cockpit. So fresh and so clean.

This morning I felt incredibly anxious about leaving Santa Marta. I felt it in my stomach and chest, and most in the hustle of readying the boat. Had this city begun to take on a feel of home? Was I sad to leave or was it the impending intimidation of the traffic en route to the Panama canal that had me worried? Maybe I was nervous about going to sea again after a month of land-lubbing. Regardless, the Sierra Nevadas are fading into the clouds, the waves are taking on an offshore pattern, and the great big ocean is calming me. We will be at sea for 4-5 days. A short passage but long enough to catch fish, rotate through watches, take some noon sites, and forget land troubles for a while. No nightly fee out here. No sewage overflow or Colombian night club vibrating the hull until 2 a.m.

We had a great day of sailing before the waters off Baranquilla became turbulent. Short steep waves and a dramatic color line in the water. What was slate blue became dark mustard. With it lightning and squalls suffocated the horizon and the wind shifted and stayed on our nose. We sailed close hauled through the squall, which was not severe, but was wide and wet. Afterwards, the wind died and we began to motor.

Day 2
Last night's squall turned to a rolly and windless sea and we motored until 4 a.m., put up sails for a while, and are motoring again this morning. It's hot in the cabin and all berths are see-saws. She is trying to move forward but the conditions just won't allow. I chase mangos and onions across the cabin trying to make lunch and my stomach clenches with each roll. Max is frustrated with the lack of wind and the feeling that a current is trying to push us back to Santa Marta. Our first 24 hours only saw us progress 94 miles. The engine temperature is creeping above 180 and we are only making four knots. Usually, the engine would allow for five at least. The fishing line went off just before lunch and we landed a pretty little Tuna. Just enough for two which is the perfect fish when you don't have refrigeration. Sushi for dinner, steaks tomorrow.

Contents of Tuna Stomach
We motored until 4 p.m. and then decided to put up our spinnaker, as a light breeze began to build. Sail changes can be risky because of the frustration when we spend 30 minutes working and then have to undo everything. Not this time. The sail filled and stayed filled, pulling us forward with enough force to create a bow wake. We marveled at its beauty and strength. What a sail! Our only regret was the thought that we could have done it sooner and saved ourselves from the oppression of the motor.
The biggest sail we have

We had cocktail hour, cold Gin and Tonics if you would like to know, underneath the rainbow shade of our spinnaker. The sun set bright fuchsia among happy clouds and no devilish squall line came to steal the evening from us. Max taught me how to say sunset  in German, sonnenuntergang, sun under goes. We sat on the foredeck and talked about the secret world we feel like we inhabit at sea, our month in Colombia, and that the leaves were certainly changing color at home. We quizzed each other on Spanish sailing vocab with flashcards I made, and lamented when it was time to take down the spinnaker and take up our night watch rotation. Tonight I will have the 8-12 and the 4-8.

8-12 Watch
A full, orange moon is rising. We are on a broad reach with two reefs in the mainsail, the staysail and genoa up. It was such a beautiful evening that Max decided to sleep next to me in the cockpit. The boat is going about its business and the lines of the self-steering system are inches above Max's head going back and forth in their measured way. The moon is bright enough to write letters by and I get to work.
Moonrise kingdom

Day 3- 2:10 a.m.
Max has the shitty watch tonight. The 8-12 and 4-8, leaving very little time for sleep. This means that I make dinner, go to sleep, and wake at midnight for just four hours. Tonight Max woke me at 11:40. He was exhausted. I was sticky and hot slowly coming out of my sleep state. I'm exhausted too. We spent too much time on land. For the first hour of my watch I stare out at the horizon. I study the clouds, the moon, the sails, letting the coffee do its work. The compass oscillates between 270 and 300. We should be sailing 240 but it just isn't possible. The boat keeps turning up. The wind rushes and rushes and then the boat falls off towards 260 and luffs slightly before beginning again. And so it goes, an uneasy s pattern kind of in the direction of where we need to go.

Sunset Day 2

Laura's hobo village
Day 5 
This morning we are close to Panama, technically. 50 miles off but only averaging 4.2 knots! In frustration Max and I laugh that we could walk there faster. If we could walk 50 miles, that is. I can't wait to get there! The passage has been slow. A current has been working against us the whole time and we now realize that, over time, there is a hell of a difference between 4 and 5 knots. We had been relaxed about the time this passage would take as we are really in no rush, but this morning we have
dedicated ourselves to making this boat move faster. All day we have been focused. Trimming sails, changing the sail plan, jibing and seeing if we can track better, never resting satisfied. We will make it to Colon today and it would be really nice to enter one of the busiest ports in the world during the daylight. We pull in our last fish at 11:00 and Max fries it up for lunch. Absolutely delicious and we have no idea what type of fish it is. We took in the pole because it's almost arrival time.

Day 6- Shelter Bay, Colon!!
This morning we woke up in Shelter Bay. A knock on the hull at 7:00 and we moved from the slip we had tied up to at midnight last night. Yes, we arrived in Colon at midnight, navigating through giant barges and tying off to the first empty dock we found in the marina.

I know already that I will fail in explaining the extraordinary entrance we made into Colon port. As my log tells, we were 50 miles off yesterday morning and hoping to arrive before nightfall. Not even close. We crept towards the port and it seemed to get closer very slowly. After dinner I took a nap and when Max woke me up we were 7 miles from the channel markers and it was very dark. The freshly waning moon would not make an appearance from behind the clouds.  Above deck it was already spectacular. A semi-circle of ships flanks either side of the entrance to Colon Port. They are each gargantuan and their intentions come slowly into view. A mass of lights becomes a ship moving east stacked four stories high with containers. Another complex light display is anchored and we can sail right by. You don't know until you are close. It is an understatement to say that a keen eye is essential to knowing what is happening around you as you enter this port.

We had full sails up on a beam reach. The water was flattening out as we got closer and we were able to sail so beautifully through the dark. I was on the helm and Max was running around the boat checking our approach to the channel markers, and picking up on which barges were moving and which were anchored. Lights absolutely everywhere. Smaller channel markers leading to larger channel markers all around, flashing at different intervals. Red, green, yellow, white.  It was Rockefeller Center at Christmas, but silent, with the possibility of getting flattened by a ship at any moment.

We realized more and more that while all this was going on we were also having a tremendous sail. There was time enough between oncoming giants that we could chat easily about completely unrelated subjects in the way we do when we sail the Hudson. Every few minutes we took time to acknowledge how steadily we were slicing through the water, this incredibly busy world quietly going on around us. Were we really sailing into the entrance to the Panama Canal with all our sails up? In the dark!? We called port control on channel 16. We called the marina on channel 74. No answer. Did anyone even care we were arriving?  At airports they seem to care.  Why not at the gate between the Atlantic and the Pacific?

Two miles out from the markers we got down to business. We decided to sail right through and take down sail on the other side. This meant that I needed to sail high, towards the red marker to starboard, not giving up an inch, and that Max had to direct me around moving cargo ships to port where I couldn't see for the sails. Already we had dodged a few big boats that came up behind us at three times our speed, or crossed in front of us throwing off some waves. We put on our spreader lights to illuminate our sails, which worked. They saw how little and cute we were and did not run us over.

As we pulled through the channel the biggest ship we had seen yet, Hamburg Sud cargo vessel, came out of the channel. My heart was beating pretty fast as it passed by, or more like over, us at tremendous speed and I held our course in water completely changed by the bulk of the boat. We were yelping with joy after it passed. Laughing, saying holy shit!! over and over.

So then we were in, but it certainly wasn't over. We had to find the marina in the mess of lights, and the ships were still moving. I turned up into the wind and somehow there was enough room to do a sharp turn to the right and keep sailing.  There must have been a wind shift. The water became even flatter and the wind picked up to around 12 knots. We were slicing through the water like a hot knife through butter, the seawall to starboard and a long line of anchored ships towering over us to port, each as big and complex as its own little city. This sail, the 30 minutes from the entrance of the channel to the marina was the loveliest of my entire life. The dark, flat water and the lights all around. We were sailing a thin line of safety among numerous hazards, and doing so like bosses. Did I mention it was dark? At the height of all of this, Max kept telling me to mind the ship to port, which I did not see. Slowly a strange, unlit cargo ship abandoned and listing came into focus, a ship that I would have hit if not for Max!, and I emitted a quiet wow, I can't believe there are no lights on that as I steered clear of its large hull. Then the seamless entry into a dark marina. Magical.

Inside the marina we were pretty high off the sail. Too much to go to sleep, which we desperately needed. Instead we tidied the lines and the cabin and set off to explore the sleeping marina. We made some cocktails out of passion fruit juice from Colombia mixed with the Vodka our friend Russ gave us when we left Santa Marta, and drank them while swimming in the dark marina pool. Showers, bed, and today already busy with canal transit prep and the upcoming arrival of Max's sister, Anna.

Full Moon Sailing

Gin and Tonics on the Foredeck

Staysail beanbag

Staysail beanbag for two

Rest of picture inappropriate

Sushi Dinner!

Max calculating Noonsite. His was only a half mile off our position. Mine the next day was 120 miles off!
That's why he is the boss.