We departed Bocas Marina on Friday, November 20th. We know what you are thinking… they left on a FRIDAY!? Yep, we did. The weather window was good for our course to the San Blas Islands, Mermaid was provisioned and ready and we wanted to get out before something else made us stay… again. Robin was not happy to begin the voyage on a Friday, but old salt superstitions aside we left. We most likely won’t be starting any voyages on a Friday again. It seems the old salts know what they are talking about.
We had light winds on the nose and large seas on the nose so it was a motor sail, but it was a beautiful, hot day and we were happy to be making our way to San Blas. Just before 1:00am our oil pressure dropped. Mike checked the oil and was surprised to find it a gallon low. He added a gallon and we decided to check it again in a half hour and went back on our way. A half hour later the oil was gone again. Hmmm, we decided to sail and not run the engine. The only problem with that decision was that there was very little wind and good size seas so not a comfy or fast sail. When daylight came the wind died completely and we were rolling so much that we were blowing out the slugs on the mainsail (the slugs are the sacrificial plastic thingies that attach the main to the mast. They are sacrificial to keep the sail from tearing.) so we dropped the main and hung on as we rolled while going nowhere. We called Shelter Bay Marina near Colon to see if they had a slip and a diesel mechanic and were happy to hear yes to both. The downside to heading to Shelter Bay was that it is inside the Panama Canal Zone and the authorities do not allow any sails up which meant we would have to use the engine from the entrance to the marina. After rolling for hours we decided to try the engine one more time to get us in, but found sea water in the oil – not good at all! We let the marina know that we would not be able to use our engine and they called the powers that be and arranged a tow from the entrance to the marina. A little wind came up and we managed to make it to the entrance of the Canal where we met Red Dolphin, our tow. They tied a line off our bow and towed us inside the breakwater where they then put us on a side tie tow to the marina where we were very happy to tie up and head to the pool for a float before a shower and a burger and cold drink in the bar.
Our engine mechanic came to Mermaid the next day and diagnosed with Mike that the problem was the heat exchanger and not anything as serious as we had worried. Those of you who follow our blog might remember that this same heat exchanger issue happened when we left Hawaii in 2004 and caused us to sail all the way to Long Beach, CA. When we arrived in Long Beach we bought two replacements so we would have a spare on the boat incase this ever happened again. So, we spent the next couple of days digging through every nook and cranny aboard Mermaid looking for the spare exchanger. Then we looked again finally deciding that we must have helped some cruiser along the way and couldn’t remember it.
Wednesday afternoon (the day before Thanksgiving in the USA) we ordered a new one and stressed to them several times how urgent it was to fedex out today otherwise it wouldn’t happen until Monday. We did not get a tracking number or confirmation so we assumed that it had not been shipped. Oh well, we’d make do with our time in the marina and get other boat projects done. Plus there was a cruiser potluck on Thanksgiving, which turned out to be great fun. Also, every afternoon the cruisers gather for a cold one in the pool and we made new friends and heard some good stories.
Friday night we got a call from a delivery guy that he was in the marina parking lot with our part. Wow! Two days from the US to Shelter Bay Marina! Thank you FedEx International! We got the old part out and the new one in. We changed the oil several times which meant several trips to Colon to buy lots of oil and filters as well as finished the other boat chores we had started (replacing the slugs on the sail, re-seating a window, lots of laundry and a few other chores) and ran the engine for a long time to make sure all was well.
San Blas is only around eighty miles from Colon but we wanted to arrive around mid-day so we’d have good light to navigate through the reefs. We decided to break up the trip into two segments. We’d head out in the afternoon to arrive in Linton Bay, around thirty miles down the coast before dark, then head out from there just before daylight to arrive in San Blas around noon. Finally, on the afternoon of November 30th (a Monday!) we departed Shelter Bay Marina and motored out of the Panama Canal Zone while keeping a watchful eye on the oil pressure before hoisting the sail. We sailed into Linton Bay in the late afternoon. We dropped the hook, went for a swim and had a lovely evening in the cockpit enjoying the stars while listening to the parrots and monkeys ashore.
Early the next morning we departed Linton and sailed and motorsailed to San Blas. We anchored in Yansaladup behind a large sandbar, some reefs and some tiny islands. We were so happy to finally be in the San Blas Islands where clear water, white sand beaches and small, palm tree dotted islands greeted us. It took us about a year and a half longer to get to the islands than we had planned but that’s all part of cruising life…