Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Boat Woes

Here's what happened:

I moved the boat over to the BYC (Balboa Yacht Club), got gas and water at their dock, and had small talk with the workers there. They then gave me a mooring assignment. I went down one line of boats to come around the backside of the one they had assigned, which was the only way to do it given the way the wind was blowing and as soon as I rounded the end of the line I got stuck in the mud. I couldn't power off on my own and the bozos that came to my "rescue" were the most hapless wastes of skin I've ever met. Effing idiots. The Keystone Cops. It would have been hilarious if it had been someone else.

It was a sickening feeling. All I could think was, "Today's the day I lose my boat. It's all about to end in a few hours and there is nothing I can do about it." My fear was that as she lay over on her side the rudder would break and the keel would leak from the pounding.

I closed up all the hatches, brought everything inside, and the only one who came to my assistance; Clyde, on a 100 foot mega yacht helped me all day. He took my primary anchor out forward so I wouldn't drift further onto the sandbar and we also set another anchor off the halyard from the top of the mast in hopes of dampening the rock and roll when a big freighter went by (I'm literally in the canal zone almost under the Bridge of the Americas). The hatches on the port side of the boat soon turned into aquariums. It was like a glass bottomed boat. 4 inches of water and then the sand and mud of the bottom is what I saw looking out of them. The heel of the boat was so severe, as she was soon drying on her side, that it made movement aboard almost impossible.

Nothing to be done now except eat and wait it out. Clyde took me aboard his palace boat and his Swedish wife made us hamburgers. After lunch they even came over and helped me clean the bottom. Well, one side of it anyway.

As the water began to rise she took a few bad rollers from the big ships that went by. I was concerned about the strain on the rigging but decided the anchor would pop before anything could really get tweaked. I gradually let the halyard out as the water came in and she slowly came to her feet. Weary like a drugged elephant trying to shake off the dart, she stumbled on her keel for another 20 minutes and then I was free.

Clyde once again came to my assistance in retrieving the anchors and picking up the mooring. It’s been 15 hours since I got loose and it doesn’t look like she is taking on water. I’m going to have her hauled and check the underside, but I think everything is fine. It was just a lot of work and struggle and stress but I guess I chose that life so I have to deal with the bad parts too.

All my fault but they are supposed to guide you to the mooring ball and pick it up for you, especially if you are a single hander. Today I’ll be speaking with the manager, and in the future I’ll ask more questions.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

This One Hurts

First, let me tell you what happened yesterday. Yoshi is a cruiser from Japan. He was on land when we got hit with a squall that clocked 60 knots on the wind meter. That’s utterly ferocious and when it comes out of the east the waves build to 8 feet in no time. He was racing in his dinghy to get back to his yacht when he capsized. He’s fine. He was saved by Preben my 70 year old neighbor on “Anna Lisa”. Amazing that the old Danish salt went out to save him in those conditions. He ought to be given a medal. The Japanese boat ended up the rocks. It was sickening for me to watch. I am anchored furthest to the north and the fleet had me relay the info as I was the only one who could see what was happening. She dragged and then laid on her starboard beam and took pounding wave after pounding wave until a power boat motored out in that horrible weather to pull her off the causeway and into the protected waters of the marina. We were all exhausted by the time the drama was over. I closed the hatches and dropped in my bunk.

I awoke this morning to find that not only had they stolen my outboard (again) but this time my dinghy with it. When Preben heard my radio transmission to the fleet he found his was gone too. They cut thru the heaviest cable I could make and made off with it in the worst conditions knowing that I wouldn’t hear a thing.

Another cruiser loaned us his. Everyone else has been very supportive. We filled out police forms, but nothing will come of it.

I’ve made a decision. I anchored here to save money. This is going to be over a $2000 expense to replace what was stolen. As my friend Eric says, “Penny wise and a pound foolish.” It would have been cheaper to pay for 5 months on a mooring ball at the Balboa Yacht Club then to have my stuff ripped off. Hindsight is always 20/20, but now I know. I’m moving the boat over there. I’ve paid for one night at a dock and never a night on a mooring since I left 8.5 months ago, but the streak is about to end. It just isn’t worth saving the money.

On the bright side – I no longer have to worry about the leak, the temperamental Mercury, and how to protect it in a storm. It’s only money and I’m alive and can still smile.

How was your day?

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Panama - "Just the Facts Juan"

It’s fitting to begin this tale with the history of the Panama Canal. It is, after all, the reason this country exists in the first place.

The French started the canal in 1880, and in typical French fashion they surrendered to disease (note the paltry figure of 22,000 dead workers), the jungle, mud slides and the enormity of the project (they make good coffee presses though), and the US took over in 1904. Why 1904? Good question. Let’s look at the birth of a nation.

Panama got their independence from Spain in 1821. That's a little deceiving because they weren't really a country until 1903. That’s the year they succeeded from Columbia when Teddy Roosevelt propped them up with a human puppet because he wanted that canal to happen. That’s who his quote, “He might be a bastard, but he’s our bastard” refers to.

The canal took the US 10 years to complete, so in 1914 the first ship passed through. The locks raise the vessels 86 feet above sea level, and then lower them 86 feet back to sea level once on the other side.

* More bird species live in Panama then in all of North America *

They call their currency the "Balboa" but it's the US greenback dollar. Not a facsimile - the exact bill. They've been using it since 1904. They have, for some confusing reason, created their own coins though. They are exactly the same size, weight and value as ours but with a picture of Balboa on them. However, our coins are used too, so both are in circulation. It’s a little silly.

Now, who is this Balboa guy and why is he on a coin?

Vasco Nunez de Balboa – In 1501 he “discovered” the Pacific Ocean (I’m not even going to comment on that). I do think building statues to him and putting his image on coins is tantamount to the American Indians praising Columbus though. He sailed for Spain, and he slaughtered lots of locals. Pizarro, who came after Balboa and actually beheaded him, killed all the locals, I mean ALL the locals. Then he slapped himself on the forehead and sheepishly said, “That was stupid. Now I have to get slaves from Africa. Damnit!” Before we were the global bad guys, it was the Spanish and they stole tons of gold and silver from Peru and it all passed through here. It’s cool though, cuz I’m pretty sure those Peruvians had WMD.

Moving right along – we now have gold, silver, a thin isthmus and lots of mariners ready to take a chance. Yep, that means PIRATES (and no, that’s not the Japanese pronunciation of Pilates).

Pirate History – In July of 1668 the English Pirate Henry Morgan (technically he was a Buccaneer but who’s counting) took all of Portobello which was the Spanish stronghold on the Caribbean side of the Isthmus. He held it ransom and threatened to burn it to the ground unless the Spanish in Panama paid up. They paid up. Then in 1671 he marched with his Pirate army across the jungle from the Caribbean side to the Pacific side (Is this geography lesson starting to make sense? You can always look at map) and defeated a Spanish army of 1600 soldiers. Then, through torture and every other means conceivable he extracted enough silver and gold to load 175 mules as well as capturing 600 prisoners. He marched it all back to the Caribbean side and sailed home to Jamaica & a hero’s welcome.

As for Panama; he super sacked it. Biggy fries, and all the rest. Torched it to the ground. Gone. In fact - Panama Vieja is where the city used to be (Cool archeological site). When they rebuilt it, they did so miles to the west where I’m anchored today.

Side bar – Actually, in 1573, after a couple huge failures, Sir Francis Drake (he wasn’t a “sir” yet) hit Nombre De Dios, which was near Portobello, and took a booty of over 15 tons of silver and gold.

* Like the US, they have a president but unlike the US they have 2 vice presidents * - (Heart attack insurance)

Casco Viejo is one of the most interesting neighborhoods here (where they rebuilt Panama City a couple years after Morgan paid his visit). It thrusts it’s bull neck out into the Pacific with the ancient Presidio walls. It’s dangerous and half deserted, but the reward for walking it’s streets are glimpses into the far and recent past. It’s some of the oldest that the new world has to offer (You should see this before it’s all turned into condos and coffee shops).

* Nearly a 3rd of the country is protected habitat *

Let’s talk about Noriega – that pockmarked faced narco non rocker. The US came in here (Misnomer cuz we were already here. It was 1989. We controlled the Canal remember, but they love to call it an invasion so who am I to spoil their history) under the catchy slogan “Operation Just Cause”, with guns blazing and smart bombs exploding. We cornered him in the Vatican embassy and then played Van Halen and Metallica for 40 days and 40 nights and it broke his will to traffic cocaine and commit murder. In fact, he surrendered after 10 days and is likely to be paroled next year.

*Panama is the 2nd largest banking center in the world *

Party like it’s 1999! – In that year the US handed the Canal over to the Panamanians. Carter signed off on it back in ’77. With the US exit went lots of dollars and jobs and the economy is still reeling from it. “Yankee go home” is fun to say, but costly.

* Hookers cost $10 *

List of famous Panamanians: Roberto Duran (manos de piedra) - the boxer who ate a steak after weighing in, and lost the championship to a tummy ache is Panamanian. So is Reuben Blades. He’s the minister of tourism, an actor and a Grammy award winning musician.

I’m a guy at anchor who has his evenings free, and I live in Panama. Did you learn anything?

Saturday, August 5, 2006

A Story For Terry Allen

I originally wrote this for my friend Terry but after I typed it I thought the rest of you might enjoy it.

Terry -

You're on a quest for the weird ones. This one might suffice. It has Germans and I know how we are both a little fixated on the Teutonics.

About 10 days ago I was in Benoa which is the great surf spot where I thought the sharks were going to eat me. On our second day there a big catamaran pulled in and anchored next to us. I met the lady as I walked down the beach. Her name is Star and she looks like an aging sorority sweetheart. Nice enough. Her husband Bruce I met moments later in the lineup. He's 46 and really ruggedly good looking. Total hunky dude. Great surfer from Santa Cruz. It’s impossible to speak in his presence as he interrupts constantly. He'll ask a question and then as you begin to speak he'll answer it. So, a little annoying but very likeable.

He tells me they are leaving for Ecuador the next day and that they have 2 German 20 somethings on board who are hippy street musicians. The Germans are hitchhiking to Ecuador and he needs the extra hands. Once on land I meet his blind long hair dachsund. His name is Mr. Rocky Balboa and Bruce talks to him all the time, and kisses him even more. It's the most ridiculous thing you've ever watched. "Oh Mr. Rocky Balboa, you want some of that hot surfer chick huh? Yes you do! Your not THAT blind." Then his wife gives him a dirty look and he says, "What? It's not me. It's Mr. Rocky Balboa. He wants that girl. Not me!"

And you think I'm immature.

We had the Germans over to Barraveigh for a bottle of wine and they groused about how insane Bruce is. "Ya, und he talks to zat hund all zee time. He can't be wiz a human. He operates on a dog level. He is not man. I tell you. He is not."

We left to come to Balboa and they left to go to Ecuador. Most boats check into a cruisers net on the SSB at 9am. They give the weather report and boats in distress can get advice and help. Sure enough, Bruce comes on. He sounds composed but you could hear the stress and the howling wind. He'd been fighting a bitch of a storm for 24 hours and everyone was exhausted, cold, hungry and sick. One of the cruisers is a meteorologist and he advised Bruce to head out to 82 and half degrees which was another 200 miles west, not really the direction he wanted to go.

The next day he comes back on the radio and sounds wiped out. He told me later that he called the Coast Guard back in LA on his sat phone and they had a ship within 100 miles ready to pull them off when he asked them to stand down. Star told me she was praying for her life with every breath. He tells the weather man he can't make any progress and is thinking about heading to Columbia. Everyone listening advises against it. One veteran cruiser advises him to turn around and come back to Panama. Colin and I realize we were probably the last to see them, so, who better to improvise a play than us. I take the role of the Germans and Colin performs Bruce.

Colin: "It looks terrible ahead. I can't decide. I don't know how much pounding we can take. The mainsail is . . . Oh Mr. Rocky Balboa, look at you. You're majestic. You little heartbreaker! I love you!"

Me: "Bruce, vat are you doing? You must stop licking zee dog's face and concentrate on zee matters at hand. Vee are in a crisis here."

Colin: "Ok. Ok. Here's what we're going to do. I've thought this through. We're going to go into Columbia for kibbles. Oh Mr. Rocky Balboa, you’re my little buddy. Yes you are! The Coast Guard has a child's harness that will fit you."

Me: "Bruce! I varn you - zis must stop! You are insane wiz zee dog love. Mr. Balboa is not human. He can't even see. Star vat can be done?"

You get the idea. This entertained us for 20 minutes and we broke into it at random throughout the day.

They fought that storm for 5 days and finally made it back here. The Germans flew out the same day.

Am I still the same insensitive bastard I've always been, or am I maybe just learning to see humor in the midst of danger?

Thursday, August 3, 2006

2 Near Misses - Same Day

Poco Loco is a 30 foot Catalina from LA skippered by the 74 year old Jerry and his lamb looking dog Sparky. Yesterday, in 25 knots of wind he started dragging towards the breakwater. Colin and I jumped in the dinghy and raced over to help. Colin went aboard and helped raise and then lower the anchor and Jerry got his umbilical cord replanted in terra firma. Safe, and only 200 yards from the rocks! We were heroes for helping. Little did I know what would happen the next day.

Colin got off the boat yesterday morning to go back to the States. He is an earth dwelling mammal once again. Come back anytime “Chef Evin”.

After we hugged goodbye and his cab pulled away I felt the first drops. I dinghied back to Barraveigh just in time to shut the hatches and roll down the dodger. The winds came up real fast out of the south. The boat was pointing east. The currents and the tides often don't allow the boats to point into the wind. She was heeled over almost to the point of having her port hatches in the water. She straightened herself out soon but not before the main sail had been completely deployed from the wind catching it sideways (I will from now on always make sure the clutch break is engaged. Live and learn). I was dragging anchor in 60 knot winds. Only one boat didn't - "Anna Lisa" from Santa Barbara. I started the engine and powered forward to stay off of her. Her skipper and I shouted at each other over the winds. 60 knots - he told me later that that's what his wind indicator clocked. That's my new record. I was in 40 for days off Nicaragua with the boys but never 60 and alone. I stood at the wheel for an hour turning Barraveigh away from Anna Lisa until I was sure the anchor had reset. I was freezing cold. I’d forgotten what that was like. I guess I’ll quit complaining about the heat. It took a pot of coffee and 2 bowls of soup to get back to normal. That was exciting! Glad it's over. Sun and goodness after, with the radio chattering away about who ended up where and what just happened. And then the winds turned 180 degrees and came right back at us. Only 25 knots the second time.

I'm glad the bimini held. I wasn’t sure it would. It looks like a patch quilt with all the pieces of fabric I’ve glued over rips. Some things are no longer pretty but it’s still in one piece after that attack. You should have seen the dinghy jump around. A couple times the bow shot up, the wind blew it higher and I was expecting it to flip upside down. Fortunately that never happened. I locked the cable around the engine handle so I could retrieve it if it did.

It was a beautiful afternoon though, and I got a lot of work done. By 10:30 I was exhausted and climbing into bed when I saw lights off my starboard side.

"Huh, didn't notice that boat before. Wait, those are nav lights. That guys coming right at me!"

I ran up on deck with a flashlight. He saw my frantic waves and altered course immediately. Another 12 – 15 seconds and he would have cut me in half. I’m looking at the vessel now and it’s about 150 feet with full fishing nets - one of my beloved shrimp boats. There's no way I would have lived through that collision. How did he not see my lights?

Today the sky is blue and I'm heading off to shop with my new friend Ricardo. Glad I made it out of Wednesday.