October 25, 2010
We had enjoyed our sojourn at Espritu Santo even without being able to use the dinghy or without going snorkeling. However, we really needed to be able to get off the boat without having to depend upon our neighbors so we headed back to Panama City to look at options for getting another dinghy and to enter into discussion with West Marine about the warranty on the disintegrating one.
We spent a couple of nights on the southeast side of Contadora having found our friends on Sea Parents (sans Brady who was visiting her mother in the USA). I enjoyed a couple of afternoons with Troy and the girls on the beach…well, the girls were on the beach and Troy and I sat on the rocks logging into the WiFi from the Galleon Hotel. But it was rather rolly at night so we decided to leave Troy and the girls to their school work and we headed back to Panama City on a calm, hazy Wednesday (Oct 13th). We had to motor the whole way, saw no whales, and did not have a single bite on the fishing lines so it was rather a tedious crossing. We anchored on the edge of the crowd near our friends Margaret and Mo on Wadda and learned that Greg had taken Sweet Dreams to Taboga to clean her hull and enjoy the hikes.
We stayed on Tregoning for several days working on assorted small projects and exchanging emails with West Marine. Once it was obvious that we were not going to try to send the dinghy anywhere else to have it repaired or evaluated, we decided that we had to get it, at least temporarily, functional so out came the Gorilla Glue (actually the Panamanian equivalent which, oddly, was Rhino Glue) and some patching material and Randall set to work. The result was an ugly mess of patch and foaming glue that had hardened in ghoulish dribbles down the side of the offending tube but it did seem to hold air fairly well. Thus, Randall was released from his (somewhat self-imposed) three weeks of boat-arrest, which we promptly celebrated with an ice cream and walk around the Amador boating-supply shops.
After hosting dinner on Sunday evening for the recently returned Sea Parents and Sweet Dreams, we spent most of that week looking at new dinghy options (not much) and starting to get our self-steering-wind-vane (Sailomat 600+ bought second-hand from cruisers in Bocas) ready to mount on the stern. After an apparent reluctance to initiate this project (perhaps somewhat daunted by the need to drill holes in the hull) and after much studying of the complex instructions and the numerous pieces of equipment, Randall soon embraced the assembly and installation with enthusiasm.
Unlike the auto-helm which maintains the boat on a compass bearing or charted course using electrical power (often in copious amounts), the self-steering-wind-vane will maintain a particular course in relation to the wind and requires no electrical power, which may be very important on long passages. Ideally the bulk of the equipment that connects the “oar” (which dips into the water) with the flimsy plywood wind-vane and the steering cables, is mounted at the center of the transom (stern part of the hull) at a height that puts about 45% of the oar in the water. While this particular model can be off-set to one side, it is then likely to be biased to be better on one tack than the other so we decided to aim for a central mounting even though this was exactly where our boarding ladder was located. It took three tries, with the heavy aluminum pieces being supported by the main halyard, to work out their best position in relation to the ladder. Luckily we did not have to remove the latter which would have required removing a lot of thru-hull bolts. We could use a flexible step-ladder over the side to get in and out of the dinghy and we concluded that at the times we were mostly likely to need to climb into the boat from the water (for which the stern ladder was necessary) we would probably not be using the self-steering equipment. The position selected also allowed the four bolt holes that had to be drilled in the transom to be comfortably high above the waterline.
We would not be able to test the device until we had got the necessary blocks and lines (to be brought to us from Florida when our friend Sue arrived after Thanksgiving) but we had been able to get the large stainless steel nuts and bolts that we needed locally. In fact, a fellow cruiser, Bill from Some Day, had announced on the VHF net that he had such hardware (sold at a good discount) having kept some of the inventory from a chandlery store that he used to run. It took us several visits to end up with the appropriate number, sizes, and unbentness of nuts, bolts, and washers but it was far easier to visit Bill’s boat (especially after he moved from Balboa to Las Brisas) than to keep traipsing into the city.
For our first meeting, Randall and I enjoyed a beautiful Saturday evening walk to Balboa Yacht Club where we found Bill with his hardware at a table in the bar. The slightly clandestine feeling of the transaction (us examining “the goods” and Bill counting out our money) was soon overcome by the surrounding activities, it being “Karaoke Night”. Randall and I are not particularly big fans of this form of entertainment but to our surprise both Bill and his crew-member, Ryan, selected quite difficult songs and delivered reasonably good renditions of them. Not all of the other patrons were as talented and after a couple of bold but painful ballads (one in English, one in Spanish) we made our exit, immediately and thankfully catching a bus back to Las Brisas just before it started to rain. Greg had been encouraging us to go to Karaoke night for several weeks (he was otherwise engaged that night) so I fear that his task of persuasion for future expeditions there has now been rendered even more challenging.