Mar. 02 2014 2100 UTC
08°54.631'N, 79°31.546'W
La Playita Anchorage

We made it!!! Through the Canal and into Pacific. Well, we are anchored just at the end of the canal that leads to the locks from the Pacific side, so we haven't seen the real ocean yet. But the transit was spectacular. We left marina late in the afternoon on March 1st, picked up our advisor in Flats and then continued towards Gatun locks. Just before the locks we rafted with two other boats, our Aussie friends and a French Jeaneau. So of the 12 line handlers (every boat must have 4) only four were busy, two on our starboard and two on Jeanneau's port side. The transit through the locks went quite smoothly and we tied up for the night not far into the Gatun lake, 26 meters above the sea level. The next morning (today) we continued the journey - a long motoring through the lake. At the next set of locks we again rafted but this time only with the Jeanneau. Behind us entered the lock a monstrous cargo ship and it stopped not more than a boat length (Levana's length) behind us. Unbelievable sight! On each side of that ship was less than two feet to the lock walls.
Technology! At Miraflores locks, waiting for that monstrous ship to join us again, I waved to Alex, Katja and Lynn who watched the live web cam on Canal Authority web site. Too bad I don't have internet connection right now to see what Katja posted on Facebook...
This is the last entry of the first chapter. We'll start a new chapter when we sail away - probably on Wednesday or Thursday - on our way to Galapagos Islands.

Feb. 27 2014 2200 UTC
09°22.034'N, 79°57.050'W
Shelter Bay Marina

Still sitting in the slip of the marina, but now we have the date - we transit the Canal on Saturday, March 1st.
I rented a car and we drove to Panama City and we found the 6012 2RS bearing for Levana's steering system. It was a wonder how it fit back on the shaft without any force, just a snug fit. We found a tobacco store for Marko and he has enough pipe tobacco to smoke his way to Tahiti. And I went on a shopping spree and bought Levana a printer/scanner/copier for $49, so I scanned all my tax documents and sent them to KPMG and I found an ice maker - it's a little bigger than I would ideally want, but it still fits on the galley counter (not while sailing) and very quickly makes ice cubes.
Roman brought back our jib with protective cover re stitched on the whole length. Dinghy is folded and on the deck, all we need to do is some provisioning tomorrow and then we are all set to go. We'll check out from here with destination Galapagos and that gives us 72 hours to leave the country - we'll spend them in Balboa Yacht Club Marina and do some more shopping on the other side, in Panama City. Still need the replacement for the jib furling line.
More pictures from the canal crossing will follow after we tie up on the other side Sunday evening - yes, it is two day event, leaving Caribbean side late in the afternoon, going through the Gatun locks, spending the night anchored on the lake and continuing early next morning through Pedro Miguel and Miraflores locks to the Pacific..

Feb. 23 2014 1820 UTC
09°22.034'N, 79°57.050'W
Shelter Bay Marina

A whole day sailing on the 20th, from 7AM until 5PM (local time) along the Caribbean coast of Panama. With the 15 kts wind on the starboard reach we were doing 7 to 8 knots. In the afternoon the course became more southerly and we decided to fly our butterfly spinnaker. Even after taking the main sail down we were still doing 8 knots at a time. Close to sundown we reached the anchorage for merchant ships that wait for the canal transit outside the wave breaker at the canal entrance. Monstrous giants, towering above our mast as we were sailing past them towards the entrance in the breaker. We reached the marina, tied up in a slip and just caught the happy hour at the marina restaurant.
The marina is very nice, important amenities are in place: hot showers, swimming pool, restaurant and bar, mini mart, chandlery and maintenance office where you can arrange for all kind of repairs. We found a guy who will restitch our jib protective cover, we found a guy with gear puller tool that helped us get the worn out bearing off the shaft in the steering system. And then we found that we don't have the right replacement - the one we were given in Red Hook is too small. I hope to find one in Panama City else we'll have to ship it from the US.
So now we are sitting and waiting for the measuring inspector that was supposed to come today and measure the boat for the canal transit. I did engage an agent, Roy Bravo, to handle all the formalities. I read a lot of praise about him on the internet, but in my case he's slipping a bit. We'll see...

Feb. 19 2014 1530 UTC
09°33.388'N, 78°56.878'W

Back at the entry port to these islands to check out and get our zarpe for journey towards Colon. Too bad it went by so quickly. I wouldn't mind to stay around these islands for another month or so and explore more. It is because of Marko, who has a return ticket from Tahiti for end of April that we leave this paradise so soon. I have yet to figure out what his real interest in this journey is - most of time he sits in his corner on the starboard side of the cockpit and smokes his pipe.

Feb. 18 2014 0230 UTC
09°26.535'N, 78°26.037'W

The biggest village in the archipelago, Nargana has around 500 people, cell tower, Banco Nacional, phone booths, few bakeries, a number of small shops, three restaurants, a statue of Charlie Robinson and a statue of Jesus Christ. It covers two small islands and the shore is lined with tin outhouses - all waste goes into the sea. Its two docks are big enough for trading ships that carry cargo from Panama or Colombia. Charlie Robinson was the guy who brought civilization to these islands, he arrived in 1904, a year after the canal was opened, and started education systems.

Feb. 15 2014 2230 UTC
09°31.106'N, 78°39.212'W
Cayo Coco Bandero

Another piece of paradise ant yet another white beach lined with palms and clear turquoise water. Two hours of sailing a long way (because we flew our butterfly spinnaker and couldn't keep the right course) brought us here. Anchored behind the reef and half sheltered by the palms we still get gentle waves and fresh breeze. This is a smaller anchorage and I only see three other boats here. Some shallow rocky areas around it may keep cruisers away. Again the feeling of completeness overwhelms me. Add to the view, the water and the wind the three big lobsters and one huge crab that native skiff brought along this morning (for $35) and you understand the completeness feeling. Chilled pinot grigio will go perfect with the dinner.

Feb. 14 2014 0930 UTC
09°35.745'N, 78°46.409'W
Cayo Holandes

I simply don't want to go anywhere else. I have to convince my crew that this is the best what they have and will see on The Journey. There are pictures on Google Earth already of this place but I will still upload one when I get to internet. Words fail to describe the beauty of these islands. Low, maybe 2 or 3 meters above the sea level, sandy, hard to get to through the reef they line the horizon like a string of sapphires. If you can give up some civilizations amenities and adjust your diet you could spent the rest of your life here. Abundance of sea food (lobster, crab, conch and of course fish) and coconuts can cover one's basic need for food. And you can buy local beer too if you sail to one of few islands that feature a store.

Cayo Holandes in San Blas Archipelago

Wind and sun provide enough energy to run SSB radio and water maker so you can keep in contact with outer world if you feel so inclined and also take a quick shower here and there to wash the salt of your by now deeply tanned skin. And you can do some repairs on the boat, change jib sheets, clean the bottom - or simply do nothing, watch the waves break on the reef outside and think about life and how simple it can be.

Feb. 13 2014 0430 UTC
09°48'N, 78°47'W

Time flies when you have fun! I can't believe it's been so long since the last update. And some delay was reasonable since we sailed through an area of high winds and waves. Although the wether chart showed winds of 25 kts in the area north of Cartagena, Colombia, the winds were well into the thirties and I have a picture of the instrument showing 38.3 kts of wind. It was all downwind sailing but was a two days event and the waves coming at us from astern were like a little houses rolling towards us. At night it is quite scary because you don't see what is coming, you only hear the breaking water on the top of the waves. It was even scarier when our jib furling line broke and the jib, furled to the half all of sudden got full - and supported on the whisker pole. We jury rigged the furling line and furled the jib around the stay after Marko spent an hour on the bow - at night.
We changed the destination at the last moment and decided to go to Porvenir in San Blas area instead to Panama Canal. About 60 miles closer and an entrance to the San Blas archipelago. Now I can say that those 1060 Nm were worth every inch for coming down here. The beauty of these islands surpasses Virgin Islands in any and every aspect!
We were early for this destination and since I didn't want to sail into unknown water at night we stopped the boat and hove-to for the night. In the morning we sailed in and went through the immigration and obtained the cruising permit and a special permission from Kuna Congress to sail their waters in San Blas area. The night we finally spent in the calm anchorage after a week on rolling boat at sea was like heaven sent.
We wandered into a Kuna village and explored mostly tourist oriented locals selling domestic art work, so I bought a Kuna revolutionary flag - check online about that revolution in 1925...
With a nice group of three Australians we met we sailed to Cayo Holandes, one of less visited group of islands. Sailing into the sheltered anchorage with only few boats and pristine white beach lined with palm trees I thought how lucky the Kuna people are, living their lives according to their own rules (they are quite autonomous from the Panama government). This is as close to paradise as you can get on this earth. We had a great dinner on out new friends' catamaran, lobsters and crabs that we bought in the morning from local fisherman - for 23 dollars. And it was quite enough for six people. Oh, and of course, one of the Aussie guys was a member of the crew the took the Americas Cup from Dennis O'Connor in Newport in 1983.

Feb. 09 2014 1730 UTC
11°19'N, 76°25'W

In my sailing history I've sailed in many weather conditions. The strongest winds I've been sailing in were normally associated with storms or squalls - dark clouds, rain, lightning. But how do you call the weather where the sky is clear blue, the sun is shining but the wind is blowing its 35 kts and huge waves are coming at you from behind sometimes showing their white caps. With the smallest sail combination (apart from storm sails) we were doing 8 kts, up to 9 when the wind gusted to 38 kts. Tricky sailing, though, since minor variations in wave forms caused Levana to swing to port or starboard (from dead downwind)and it took some work on the wheel before it was back on track. A little unnerving for the crew in the cockpit but quite unpleasant rocking down below. None of us has slept much during the last two days. And Poseidon showed his tricks and send gallons of sea from braking waves into the cockpit a few times.

Feb. 07 2014 1950 UTC
13°48'N, 71°42'W

Under sail again after we stopped for one hour to get the fish - wahoo - about 1 meter long - on board and cleaned and cut into steaks and fillets. I'll post pictures after we get to internet in Panama. We are doing well, occasionally over 9 kts. No one around, just one big big blue sea. We still have about 600 Nm or about 75 hours to our destination. Still the only issue is our freezer (the power it soaks) but if we want to keep the meats (and now fish) fresh, I'll make a sacrifice and run the engine for a while. The sky is overcast, the sun comes through but not enough to keep the power level up.

Feb. 05 2014 1800 UTC (2 pm local time)
16°51.775'N, 67°05.737'W

We left the marina after saying goodbye to Lynn, storing a spare jib below deck and clearing the customs. The night was pretty uneventful with Levana sailing between 7 and 8 knots in 20 to 25 knot trade wind. This morning we had a company of US Coast Guard cutter as we were leaving the territorial waters of Puerto Rico. We decided to sail manually by day and use auto pilot at night - sails make a good shadow over the solar cells for the good part of the afternoon and going downwind you only get the power of apparent wind - the difference of the true wind and the boat speed - so less juice to the batteries. Saving the power is in order...

Feb. 04 2014 1100 local time
18°20.184'N, 64°55.300'W

In Yacht Haven Grande marina after the first leg of our journey from Red Hook to Charlotte Amalie. Our dear friend Lynn who flew here from MA to bid us farewell joined us for the sail. She is flying back to the snow and cold and we are waiting for the appointment with customs office to clear out. And then we sail about 1100 Nm on course 253 to Panama. Will probably leave here at around 1300.


After a long wait we see the light at the end of the tunnel (I only hope that it is not the light of a freight train). The mast with the new boom will go on tomorrow (January 23rd), then we hoist and test the new main sail and after that sail to St Croix for a test ride. I sincerely hope for some bad weather so that we can see how all new equipment behaves under stress.

Full battens

This is - to my best knowledge - the first installation of Forespar's conversion kit which changes the furling mast for use with a furling boom. Forespar developed this in order to satisfy more and more sailors who are unhappy with their in mast furling systems and want the safety of having all systems accessible from the deck. It is always somewhat unpleasant to be the first one when the possible bugs haven't been ironed out. Very inconvenient and expensive fact is that the mast has to come out and the conversion done in the boatyard. With myriad of cables going up the mast (VHF radio, three lights, radar, anemometer) it is very likely that something will be missed. And of course, after the mast is set again, it has to be tuned again.

Bright orange
Test sail into the sunset

The new boom is installed and the new sail is in. We did the first trial and the sail looks beautiful - of course, with the full length battens. It is easy to hoist it but needs practice to lower it. Too little tension on the halyard (coming down) and it will roll into the mast. Too much tension and it will roll way back and pull the luff line out of the track. Storm sails are in as well - bright orange color. We put both up while in the slip just to take the pictures - I hope not to see them hoisted up ever again... unless for fun only and maybe for another photo session. Right now we are fitting the lines so that in case of need everything goes up and fits immediately. Another addition for our downwind sailing is Forespar's whisker pole. It stows up along the mast and it easily deploys and holds the jib way out (it has an adjustable length). See it just above the sun on the "test sail" photo.

Valid XHTML 1.0 Strict