June 22. We arrived in Guna Yala, and spent 10 days with Keith and Jaime on Kookabura. (You can read about our trip to Panama in the September edition of All at Sea, Caribbean and read about our week with Jaime and Keith in the October edition. My articles show up on line around the 20th of each month.)
July 1. Kookaburra left for Linton to leave the boat and fly back to New England. We stayed to enjoy the Guna Yala, and work on the boat.
July 24. Left Guna Yala for Linton Bay Marina, where we stayed on the dock for almost three weeks. Working on the boat.
August 6. Moved to the anchorage to finish up boat projects and prepare to leave.
September 20. After one abortive attempt to leave Linton Bay area, finally made it back to Guna Yala on a windless, clear, Sunday. The days blurred together. As EW says, “The projects were all-consuming.”
When we met up with Keith and Jaime on Kookaburra in June we had great hopes of spending time together, sailing, snorkeling, fishing, eating, drinking and playing Euchre before we both headed off in different directions. We did all of those things in Guna Yala and many of them while in Linton. Unfortunately, while in Guna Yala, a lot of their time was spent much like the golfer whose buddy died on the course: hitting the ball and dragging Harry. In their case, lifting anchor and waiting for La Luna.
Just as we arrived to greet them outside of Porvenir in June, our engine overheated. During that first wonderful week of sailing together we had to go very slowly when we motored. Once we anchored, EW would try yet another fix but when we set off the engine would overheat again. This continued when they went back to the states and while we stayed in Guna Yala working on the boat, and enjoying the region. The Monday Morning Quarterback in me now says we should have followed them to Linton in July and worked on the boat during their visit home.
Here is what EW has done since we arrived in Panama (none of which was on the To-Do list):
First, while we were in Guna Yala he:
- Replaced our fresh water pump with Kook’s salt water pump so we could access our water
- Replaced the impeller and doing any number of other projects to fix the over-heating issue. None of which worked.
Later, when Keith and Jaime returned we sailed to Linton Bay Marina to meet them, and stayed on the dock for nearly three weeks. Thankfully the marina is under construction, so no amenities, but they only charged $10.00 a night. In July, no amenities meant no ramp to the docks and we could only fill our water tanks after the work crews had left for the day. It was rather surreal to see cruisers going up and down the docks with flashlights moving the hose from one boat to another. (We used to do the same thing during the day in very cold weather as we wintered on the dock in Maine, using one hose to fill everyone’s water tank).
- Returned Kook’s water pump and replaced it with our new one—in a different location, requiring much angst and running new hose. (This should result in a pump that doesn’t need repair every couple of years.)
- Cleaned and serviced the starboard jib sheet winch and the mainsheet winch.
- Tore apart the engine, removed the heat exchanger and cleaned it. This was a massive project. So massive that things start to blur in my mind. Somewhere along the way the starting alternator died and he worked on both issues.
- He found a great Alternator Guy in Colon, but that sentence does not begin to address the alternator issues, the fact that we had other electrical issues that kept frying the diode in the new starting alternator, and the fact that there is no such thing as a quick trip to Colon from Linton Bay Marina. (Of course with electrical issues, we weren’t moving the boat closer to Colon, either.)
- Ultimately, the large alternator for the house bank died, too, and Isaac our Alternator Guy repaired it. All told, EW made 6 trips to Colon just to see Isaac the Alternator Guy.
In the meantime, Keith and Jaime hung with us on the dock, where the women beat the men at Euchre a few nights. (The men beat the women on a few other nights.) After a while, they decided to visit the Chargres river, a trip EW and I will make later in the year. They returned and anchored near the marina, by which time we had a starting alternator and were pumping big water, so we left the dock and anchored out as well.
But things weren’t all fixed, so finally, Kookaburra left to head back to Guna Yala, where we planned to join them in a few days. We hauled anchor on schedule, discovered the large house bank alternator wasn’t charging the batteries and reset the anchor back in Linton Bay within three hours of leaving.
(There’s really no way to make this funny.)
Now Issac is a great guy and he really likes us, but his English is only a bit better than our Spanish. We asked the Marina Manager, Adam, to translate for us. Adam and Issac went above and beyond, as Adam came out to the boat and Issac spent time on the phone with him and EW walking them through various tests, proving that the alternator was fine, and that it must be a wiring issue.
A thorough examination of the wires proved him right, and scared us to death. The good news is the boat didn’t burn down. Wires were melted in at least three locations. EW turned white, and spent weeks rewiring the engine, alternators, starter—all that jazz.
This of course, required trips to Colon for parts. Remember, there is no such thing as a quick trip to Colon. There will be a post about that. It may be funny.
I kept trying to get back into writing mode, and to work on the few projects while EW had all access ports to the engine opened, and tools, boat bits, and wires scattered throughout the main salon, pilot berth, cockpit, and (occasionally) the galley. He appropriated one end of the dining table to use as an electrician's workbench. The aft stateroom and head were untouched; in the forward cabin and head various parts and boat things were stashed to make room for EW to work. There was not a lot of space left for me.
Heck, I’d have left us for Guna Yala..
We missed celebrating Jaime and Keith’s 30th wedding anniversary, and I was determined to get back to Guna Yala before they head East. EW completed the wiring job, but things still weren’t working correctly. He emailed and called the maker of our external controller.. We tried to find a marine electrician we could pay to come down to the end of the line, to no avail. We sought the wisdom of other cruisers. This was an incredibly stressful few weeks. Part of me kept trying to support and encourage EW who was struggling to work way outside his comfort zone. Part of me kept trying to keep positive: “This too, shall pass. This will be funny someday.” Part of me lost it some days.
It didn’t help that while Digicel is the best cell phone/data option in Guna Yala, it is not the best in Puerto Lindo. Like Florida, Panama is prone to lots of rain and pretty amazing thunderstorms. Evidently Claro’s towers can withstand this, but Digicel’s cannot. We often had two days of no coverage at all, followed by a day or two with only enough for a phone call, but no Facebook, emails, or ability to search the net for assistance.
Now that we’ve been back in Guna Yala for a few days, what can I say about the moral or lesson or atmosphere aboard La Luna?
- The moral is a reminder that this cruising life is like every other life choice—you have to accept and the good with the bad. It helps if you can accept it with some humor. It helps even more if you have the skills to fix it. The best help of all is if there are two of you working in tandem, boosting each other’s morale, laughing with each other, and hugging at night (if it isn’t too hot to hug).
- The lesson is that cruising plans are cast in sand. While we continued to miss Keith and Jaime and while I fret over time lost with them, and while this wasn’t the ideal place to deal with these issues, it was a safe place and most things were available to us—even though they may require all day in Colon with a two hour bus ride on both ends.
The atmosphere aboard La Luna was mostly good. We didn’t getting enough exercise, but we gradually got things done, ate well, watched movies to relax, and worked together. We met wonderful people, cruisers, locals, and folks at the new marina, and since Jim and Christine on S/V Ullr were still around EW had someone to play music with a couple of days a week.
All is not lost. All isn’t anywhere near lost.