Panama is in The Doldrums – weather wise that is.

Blog Post 21 by Jon Sanders: I am on my way to Tahiti

I am on my way to Tahiti

Panama is in The Doldrums – weather wise that is.

Seems to be going well otherwise. (As long as you don’t stroll into the wrong localities).

On departure there was no wind, none at all. Flat calm. Calm as calm.

Lots of flotsam and jetsam in the water (to bang into).

My engine is a Yanmar 4JH4AE – does that make sense?  Nup, me neither.

In other words, 50hp (at 3000 RPM). When asked I usually say 40hp. More reliable. More than adequate.  Installed 2008 (9 years back) by Neil Rock. (Hi Neil).

Now June 2017 it has chalked up 5460 hrs. It has never missed a beat. Starts instantly and never stops. Excepts when one pushes the stop button, of course.

I have had an air leak in the new in-line fuel filter; I couldn’t fix it. Took it off. Connected fuel line to each other and rely only on the fuel filter attached to the engine. Yanmar has two sizes fuel filter that fit. I use the large size.

All my refuelling is done by jerry cans (‘Jerry jugs’ BJ Caldwell calls them), I can then see if there is any dirt. (Never refuel from the fueling barge at Benoa Marina Bali. That nonsense has been going on for years).

I stick to service per manual, i.e.: Oil change and new oil filter every 250hrs, clean exhaust mixing elbow every 250hrs, go in neutral from slow to flat out 5 times in succession before turning the engine off, etc., etc. per manual.

The Panama Canal is an engine reliability canal, trust me.

Panama City, towns, roads, rivers, and canal are all built inside a rain forest – some debris ends up in the Gulf of Panama. Every several years Perie Banou II and Jon Sanders likewise. With the Yanma churning at 1500 RPM, I do 6 knots in a flat sea. Change course a little here, a little there to avoid city-made litter, or a sodden tree trunk, or foliage monkeys once climbed.

Into the night. I can’t see nothing! On and on…

What did I bang into?

Don’t know.

The sound of the engine revs changed down. (500 RPM). A while later came back up. What?

All overcast, dark and calm. Rain at times. Lightning illuminates the sky.

Simrad electric tiller pilot steering. (to the south), to the mouth of the Gulf of Panama. When at the mouth press the electronic tab on the B&G plotter. Electric tiller pilot changes course south-west heading to the western end of the Galápagos Islands, many hundreds of miles away, on the equator. Then to turn a further west-south-west towards French Polynesia, 3000 nautical miles on.

Maybe refuel Nuka Hiva Marquesas Islands, then on to Tahiti.

From the Canal at the head of the Bay of Panama to the southern mouth of the Gulf of Panama is 98 nautical miles long.

New to me, there is a north-south traffic separation zone. Right down the guts of the Gulf.

Ship after ship head north to the Canal. Ship after ship head south away from the Canal (In their lanes); one after the other. Like German tanks in a column. One wouldn’t want to get in their road. Would one?

I sailed a parallel course outside the separation zone.

Ships going north and ships going south have all got something in common with me. We all have engines shoving us along.

Ships going north and ships going south have something I do not have in common. It doesn’t matter a fig to them if they crash into a tree.

The Gulf of Panama’s separation zone allows the rest of marine traffic to go about their business.  Specifically fishing.

It would have been a zoo beforehand.

From the Gulf of Panama 7 degrees north latitude, the sailing vessel needs to get south. Go south.

The favourable south-east trade winds can be found at the equator.

The first part, no wind. No wind much. Engine!

Then (as all the year around) west and south-west winds. Fresh and bumpy. Moreover currents – head currents from the west and south-west.  Very strong.

It becomes vexatious.

I am heading near south. ‘Go south’, that is the rule. But the B&G says I am going south-east.  (current).

“Tack you fool”.

Blimey, that’s worse and going more north.

Tack back. ‘Put up with it’.

The south-west winds are fresh and bumpy.

Heavy cloud, (plenty of them) and rain – causes wind shifts.

One morning while making my idea of coffee.  i.e.: spoon and a half of freeze-dried instant coffee into a pussers ‘navy’ panican (big tin mug) full of boiling hot (powdered) milk.

I detect a wind shift.

Stick my head out the cockpit hatch above. ‘Think it is a south wind’, not a south-west wind. (a tad east, as it happens).

I tack. Ooooh, going west and a little south. Punch in Marquesas way point. Watch the B&G. I am laying it!

Next day the wind is the same, plus more!

Two days before passing north of the Galápagos Archipelago (Ecuador) surrounded by international waters a 250ft fishing boat (AIS said fishing) flicked its AIS transmit on. 15 N Miles north-west of Perie Banou.

My guess fishing survey. (Guess).

160 NM south of Isla del Coco – their economic zone (either Costa Rica or Panama)?

292 NM approx west of I Malpelo (Colombia).

280 NM approx north-east of Galápagos.

400 + NM to Ecuador.

Soon after a patrol aircraft appeared (Columbian I suspect – sophisticated) and flew around and around and around Perie Banou  – 4 times! Then flew off from whence it came.

The fishing boat turned its AIS off.

Anyway, two days later I am on course, I pass the Galápagos Archipelago and in between two small islands north of the Archipelago. Isla Wolf and Isla Darwin.

I am well and truly on my route to Tahiti. 1000s and 1000s and 1000s of N Miles away.

Gosh, I hope to see you all there. Are there enough hotels? (The rich ones can go to Bora Bora).

Until then


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