Friday, April 26, 2019

The Panama Canal: We Made It!

April 25
Shelter Bay Marina

We passed through the Panama Canal on Tuesday, April 23 completing a somewhat rare one-day transit.  It was easier and went much more smoothly than I expected than I was lead to believe by my prior research. Yet it still feels like we accomplished something significant.

Here's the story of our trip through the canal from start to finish.


I engaged the services of a ship's agent, Roy Bravo (hereinafter referred to as Mr. Bravo to avoid confusion with Intermezzo's Roy) to process all the paperwork associated with Intermezzo's clearing in and out of Panama and arranging our canal transit. Mr. Bravo kept me informed as each step was completed and when we had a spot secured on the transit wait list.  He also provided six big round fenders, four 175 ft long strong lines and a line handler so that we had the four required.

While we were waiting in the La Playita anchorage for our turn, we did a thorough check of both engines. A mechanical problem while in a lock would be highly inconvenient and potentially costly. We had noticed that the starboard engine had a very slow coolant leak and its belt for the raw water pump kept coming loose. The coolant leak turned out to be coming from the shaft seal of the fresh water pump, the second time this has occurred on this engine. Fortunately, I had two replacement pumps on the boat, a new spare purchased when I bought the first replacement pump and the rebuilt pump that I replaced. Roy and I made pretty quick work of changing out the bad pump. On close inspection, the belt for the raw water pump turned out to be badly damaged, causing it to stretch and slip. We got that belt changed and then decided to change out the same belt on the port engine as a precaution.

Kim and John went shopping to top up on provisions and beverages; you are required to feed your Canal Advisor and it's good to feed and water your line handlers, too. 

On Monday morning, I received an email from Mr. Bravo informing us that Intermezzo was scheduled to transit the canal the next day, starting at 0600.

Good news!

Then I noticed that the schedule was for an Atlantic to Pacific passage, starting at the Gatun locks instead of the Miraflores locks.

Oh no!

I emailed Mr. Bravo asking him if it was a typo. He responded quickly with a revised email going in the correct direction, but leaving much earlier at 0445.

What a relief!

The Beginning

The day of our transit started very early. We got up at 0330 to get ready and brew some coffee. John ventured out into the dark in the dinghy to pick up our line handler, Omar, at the marina.

At 0430 we weighed anchor and slowly motored to the designated position for the boarding of our Canal Advisor, between buoys #2 and #4 on the canal approach channel. At 0445, we received a radio call from a motor launch confirming our position and shortly afterwards a big service boat was hovering with its thick steel bow only two feet off Intemezzo's fragile looking fiberglass to let Dalton, our Canal Advisor hop on board.

Dalton and I introduced ourselves and then he instructed me to proceed at a speed of 5 knots towards the Miraflores locks. We were on our way!

It was still dark as we made our way through the channel, transitioning from an open bay into more of wide river-like body of water. The shoreline was a blaze of ship and work lights.  Dawn's light appeared as we crossed under the Bridge of the Americas, gradually revealing the features of the working port of Balboa as the sun began to rise.

Mr. Bravo had told me that we should provide "a nice breakfast" for our Canal Advisor, so I asked Dalton if he wanted to eat before or after going through Miraflores locks. He responded with a definitive "before", so Kim set to preparing a hearty breakfast of a vegetable egg scramble and sausage. Dalton, a man of average proportions and Omar, a large, fit young man tucked into the meal with gusto.

Dalton had informed me that we would be "nesting" with one other boat, Blueberry, a 53 foot monohull sailboat that was following closely behind us. As we drew closer to the Miraflora locks, Dalton coordinated over the radio with his colleague onboard Blueberry and we tied the boats together alongside to form a single nested unit. I'm pleased to say that Intermezzo's crew was far more adept at arranging lines and fenders than Blueberry's crew, which Omar seemed to look upon with disdain. Blueberry's Canal Advisor, Guillermo now took charge of the combined boats.  Intermezzo made the rest of the journey to the locks with engines idling in neutral, Blueberry providing a free ride.

We entered the first of Miraflores' three locks behind a tanker ship with an unusual name, Marlin Mystery. The locking procedure is the same for each lock and is pretty straightforward. We wait for the ship ahead of us to be secured in position and then motor slowly into the lock. We were up locking, so the water in the lock chamber was initially at sea level, the lock walls and gates about 30 feet above. Four men at the top of the walls throw light messenger lines weighted with monkey's fists (a weight rapped in a rope knot) at their ends to the two line handlers on each boat. The line handlers try to catch the lines so that the monkey's fists don't damage the boat, but they often miss and the monkey fist lands with a nasty cracking sound. Fortunately we suffered no damage. The line handlers tie the messenger lines to four long, thick dock lines, one at each boat's bow, one at each boat's stern. Bells ring and the lock gate slowly closes behind us.  The lock slowly fills with water and the boats rise. The line handlers continuously take in the slack in their lines to hold the boats in position in the somewhat turbulent rising water. When the water reaches to the top of the lock, the gates in front slowly open and the ship is towed to the next lock by four small locomotives running on tracks on each side of the lock. We wait for ship to exit, the Canal Advisor blows a whistle, the men at the top of the dock untie our lines and send them back to us, messenger lines still attached,  and start walking alongside with us as we motor slowly to the next lock. The procedure is repeated for the second lock.

I had read that when the ship in front of you spins it prop to exit the lock, the prop wash can be a problem.  We did not experience that at all; a complete non-issue.

Dalton was somewhat helpful in guiding us through the locks, but the real star of the day was Omar. He watched all the lines while handling his own, gave calm instructions to the crew, monitored the position of fenders and the boat, pointed out possible trouble spots to me at the helm. He did have an odd habit of talking to himself in rather annoyed language when a canal advisor did something he didn't like or the crew on the other boat fumbled around, but I got used to it.  He was a real asset, very competent and polite.

At the third Miraflores lock (actually the Pedro Miguel lock), Blueberry tied alongside to a big solid Canal Authority tugboat side-tied to the lock wall. This eliminated the need for lines from our boats, giving our line handlers a break.  The tug crew was merciless in their treatment of Blueberry's less than adept line- and fender-handling crew, yelling, rolling their eyes, cracking jokes.

We exited the third lock at around 0900 , detached ourselves from Blueberry and motored into the Culebra Cut, floating about 85 feet higher than when we started. To make our schedule for entering the Gatun locks at the other end of the canal, we needed to hustle. I spun up Yin and Yan, our trusty little Yanmar diesels once again and got Intermezzo moving at a steady 7 knots.

The Middle

We proceeded through the Culebra Cut and into the large Gatun Lake. The wind picked up to 15-plus knots and, of course, on the nose with some decent wind chop on the open portions of the lake. Not bashing, but certainly not calm.

Around noon, Kim set out a big lunch spread of tuna salad, ham, cheese, bread, crackers, fruit, vegetables and condiments. Dalton and Omar tucked into their meals with gusto once again. Omar ate a lot. Dalton ate even more. Clearly, these boat-provided meals are fringe benefits that they enjoy, especially tasty ones like Kim prepared.

Gatun Lake is a manmade lake, flooded river valleys in the middle of a lush jungle. The vegetation on the shore is lush and green, so thick that I think if you ventured more than a hundred feet into it, you would see nothing but dense plants all around you. I kept on the lookout for wildlife, but except for a few birds, didn't see any.

Crossing the lake took about four hours and the early morning start took its toll on everyone. We all took short naps as Intermezzo motored on through a warm breeze under partly cloudy skies with big ships passing us by from ahead and astern. It was a pleasant break from the physical activity and attention required at the locks.

The End

As we approached the Gatun Locks, Dalton told me that we might be asked to wait for Blueberry to catch up. When we passed Blueberry way back in the Culebra Cut, they were only making five knots compared to our seven. I told Dalton, that I thought it would be a very long wait. The canal authority contacted their advisor on Blueberry and agreed...Blueberry wouldn't be completing their canal transit today. This was great for us as it gave us a much-coveted single boat, center locking position. To top it off, we would be entering the locks ahead of the big tanker ship that would share the lock with us, giving us a great view of the Atlantic Ocean ahead and 85 feet below us.

Now all four line handlers onboard Intermezzo would be pressed into service, one at each corner of the boat. Everyone knew the drill and let out their lines like experts as we descended and passed through each of the three locks.  There was considerably less turbulence as water drained from the lock compared to the flooding for up locking. But there were swirling currents as we exited locks that required a fair bit of my attention at the helm. The tricky part is that I couldn't move the boat faster than the men along the lock walls with the lines could walk and sometimes had to stop to let them catch up, the worse thing you can do when in a swirling eddy.  I could hear Omar muttering behind me once when Intermezzo's stern got a bit close to the rough concrete lock wall, but I had everything under control and gave him a smile to tell him to chill.

We cleared the Gatun locks around 1430, motored a mile down the channel and met with the motor launch that picked up Dalton. You really have to trust the guy at the controls on these big heavy duty boats; they get really close and there was a strong wind blowing in the open bay exposed to the ocean. I drew comfort knowing that they do this multiple times a day, year after year. If anyone was going to make a mistake, it would be me, so I just held Intermezzo as steady as I could, watched carefully, and when Dalton was off Intermezzo and the motor launch backed away quickly, I peeled off in the opposite direction with a purposeful burst of the throttles.

We motored against wind and chop to the northwest corner of the bay and into Shelter Bay Marina, where Intermezzo will rest for a couple of weeks. Once tied up in our slip, the crew and I cracked open cold beers and toasted ourselves for a most successful canal transit and the end of Leg 3 of The Voyage. 

I felt tired, relieved, satisfied but not jubilant. I had posted pictures and updates on social media as we progressed through the canal and congratulations and well wishes were flowing in, which I appreciated and for which I am grateful. Yet, the heaviness I felt leading up to the canal transit remained with me, intensifying slightly. The timing of our canal transit coincided with a big shift in my personal life, my crossing from one ocean to another occurring as I have to let go of a dream I was pursuing and face an open and uncertain future, feeling very much adrift. I couldn't write fiction as poignant as my present reality is to me.

The Cost

Going through the Panama Canal in a small boat is costly.  For those contemplating a canal transit, here's a breakdown of Intermezzo's expenses:

Canal Toll and Inspection      $855
Lines and Fenders                  $240
Line Handler                          $120
Other Government Fees         $415
Bank Commission                  $100
Agency Fees                           $790
Total Cost                             $2,520

Oh, and Dalton and Omar ate a lot of food.

What's Next

I'm flying back to California on Saturday for a couple of weeks on land, mostly doing the planning and boat purchases for the next legs of The Voyage. I'll wrap up Leg 3 of The Voyage with a couple of blog posts and then share the plans for Leg 4, which will take Intermezzo from here to Isla Mujeres, lying off Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula, via Isla Providencia and the Cayman Islands. We have  to keep moving now, to stay ahead of hurricane season and move the boat northward.
Big fenders and long lines required for our canal transit

Bridge of the Americas at the Pacific entrance of the canal

Very early morning in Puerto Balboa 
Omar, the awesome line handler (left), and Dalton, our Canal Advisor (right) having a discussion. (About food?)

Rafted up with Blueberry

John handling the bow line in Miraflores Lock #1

Miraflores Lock #1 fully flooded, 27ft above sea level beyond
Walking the messenger line from one lock to the next

The Culebra Cut

Gatun Lake

Roy at the helm, negotiating ship traffic

Kim and John, extraordinary crew

The Panama Canal showing its 106 years age

Add caption

Gatun Lock with a big one behind me

The last lock, the Atlantic Ocean ahead and below us.

Intermezzo's Panama Canal crew, from R to L, Omar, John, Roy and Kim

Monday, April 22, 2019

Panama Canal: Good to Go Tomorrow!

April 22
La Playita Anchorage

We received our transit schedule for the Panama Canal early this morning.  On Saturday evening, we picked up six giant ball fenders and the four long lines required to go through through the canal.

Intermezzo is good to go tomorrow!

Our day will start early at 0445 when we dinghy over to the La Playita marina to pick up our line handler. A boat needs four line handlers, plus the master (skipper) for the canal. I only have three crew aboard and couldn’t press anyone I knew or met into service, so I have to hire a fourth line handler.

We then weigh anchor and proceed at 0530 to a waiting area between Buoys #2 and #4 to receive our mandatory Canal Advisor who is scheduled to board at 0600.  We’ll officially begin the transit upon our entry into the Gatun locks at 0730.  We will be doing a one-day transit (no overnight stop in Gatun lake) and are scheduled to complete our journey through the canal at 1600.  When we exit the canal, we’ll proceed to Shelter Bay Marina, where Intermezzo will have a rest for a couple of weeks.

Receiving the transit schedule this morning was a surprisingly emotional moment for me. I was flooded with memories from the past 3 1/2 years since leaving San Francisco, some very poignant ones arising of people and events unleashing a multitude of strong feelings. I also feel a combination of excitement-fear for tomorrow’s journey.  Going through the canal represents a point of no return for me, I can only proceed forward into new territory, there is no option of turning back.

It is a powerful metaphor for life.  We exist in impermanent moments of no return. The path taken ceases to exist. The start of the path ahead visible, what lies on it unknown, its end a mystery.

Deep stuff for me and my little boat going through a big ditch. Across a continent.

Looking back at the Petaluma River Turning Basin as Intermezzo began this Voyage on October 5, 2015

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Panama City: Paperwork Complete, Canal Transit Scheduled

We got all our paperwork completed yesterday for Intermezzo's transit of the Panama Canal. We are scheduled to enter the canal on April 23rd. It is possible that we might go earlier. I'm sure it's also possible we could be delayed, too. But next Tuesday is the date we are planning on.

Intermezzo is anchored out in La Playita. It is a pleasant enough anchorage, though we are occasionally rolled by canal work boat wakes and the odd intermittent swell.  We paid $55 to use the dinghy dock at Marina Playita for a week. We ferry to and from the boat a couple times a day.

We've eaten dinner out, done laundry, the crew has gone partying (while the boring captain read a book on the boat), we went grocery shopping, I found some needed engine parts, ...we need to fill up five more days of waiting.

Panama City has everything a big cosmopolitan city has to offer. I find it a bit dirty, a bit rude especially compared to Mexico,  and the Spanish a bit harder to understand, consonants not articulated, endings of words dropped off. Nice neighborhoods and dangerous ghettos are sometimes separated by one or two streets. I'll be glad to move on, though, Colon, at the other end of the canal is considered to be one of the most dangerous cities in the world.

Still trying to find an internet connection fast enough to post pictures.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Panama City: Busy Day, Little Accomplished

Today was busy, but not a lot to show for all the effort.

Intermezzo was berthed in Marina Flamenco, the most expensive marina I've ever stayed in, $111 per night. Other than a decent dock, you don't get much for that high price. The restrooms were clean but tiny and both the men's and women's lacked shower heads on the showers. They were completely missing, just a pipe sticking out of the wall, teflon tape around the threads where the shower heads would screw on. I think someone stole them. The water pressure is pretty low, too, so taking a shower involved bending one's body in different directions to get under the thin stream of (cold) water, like doing some weird snake dance.

Around 0930 this morning a very pleasant official from the Panama Canal Agency stopped by to inspect Intermezzo and get information for our canal transit. Fortunately, Intermezzo had passed through the canal before on her delivery trip from the builder in South Africa to me in California in 2012, so the canal agency had most of the pertinent data for the boat and didn't need to take any measurements. Back then the boat's name was A4135, an impersonal identify, like a prisoner in a penitentiary. We officially changed the name to Intermezzo in the canal agency's records.

We left the marina after the inspection and refueling. At least the diesel is cheap, $3 per gallon versus closer to $5 in Mexico.

We headed to Balboa Yacht Club where we planned on taking a mooring ball for the duration of the wait for our canal transit. Our ship's agent, Roy Bravo, was to meet us at the club bar/restaurant at 1500 to clear us into Panama. When we arrived at the club', we were directed to take a mooring ball at the very outside the mooring field, right next to the main shipping channel for the canal. There was a swift ebb current in the channel and a southerly wind blowing against it.

We attached ourselves to the mooring ball and watched with concern as Intermezzo sailed and drifted all around it, the thick hemp painter lines rubbing off bottom paint. We tried adjusting the two lines from the bow to the ball with no improvement. We finally decided to lower the dinghy and attach line from our stern to a mooring "ball" (actually a tire) behind us. It took a bit of effort, but solved the problem, preventing the boat from swinging around.

By the time we got the stern line finished, it was time for me to meet the agent at the club. Roy ad I hailed the club's launch and went to shore. No Roy Bravo at 1500. I waited until 1530 and called him. He apologized, explained that he had been delayed on the Atlantic side of the canal and couldn't meet with me until tomorrow morning. Meanwhile, Intermezzo's Roy had wandered off, something he is apt to do when he gets ashore. I returned to Intermezzo on my own.

Back at the boat, John and Kim reported that our proximity to the shipping channel, in addition to providing close up views of huge passing ships, also subjected Intermezzo to terrible rolling wakes from passing pilot and tug boats.

I had found Balboa Yacht Club is a bit of a dump, with little sign of life, save for the yacht tender men. The bar and restaurant were closed and didn't look like they would be much good when open. The place has clearly seen better days. Given the crappy facilities, the crappy mooring ball, and the rolling wakes, I decided to leave and anchor outside La Playita Marina, a recommended anchorage further off the ship channel. Now we just had to wait for Roy to return to the boat.

Roy got back from his walkabout around 1700, we untied our spiderweb of mooring lines fore and aft and headed to La Playita. The anchorage here is pretty crowded with yachts either waiting to transit the canal or having just completed their transit and preparing to leave on longer passages. I took us a couple of goes to find a spot amongst the other boats.

I was feeling a bit tired, frustrated, down and out so stayed on the boat while the crew took the dinghy into the marina to have dinner. It's almost 2300 and they haven't returned yet. I suspect alcohol is involved. All those stories about sailors on shore leave are true. If they aren't back by midnight, they will be AWOL. A couple hundred years ago, I could administer lashes for such an offense. Now, all I can do is give a disapproving look and make a few disparaging comments.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Panama City: We're Here

Intermezzo is berthed in a slip at Marina Flamenco outside of Panama City.

We're here. Right next to the Pacific entrance of the Panama Canal. What a trip.

The weather was actually close to the gentle and calm conditions forecasted and we had an easy trip from Isla Otoque to the marina.

At both Isla Gamez and Isla Otoque, I noticed many trees with lots of large white flowers but no leaves. It looked a bit strange to me, but I marked it down to unfamiliar, unusual tropical vegetation. When Roy returned from shore yesterday, he reported that the white flowers were actually baby pelicans. Hundreds of them, just sitting in the branches of the trees, little fuzzy birds. They must be able to fly into the trees, but their feathers haven't developed to let them godive into the water and catch fish yet. So they sit in the trees waiting for their parents to come feed them.

It's amazing how many ships are anchored around the entrance to the canal, I figure many dozens. We had to dodge a few moving ships as we crossed the shipping lanes and then weave our way through the anchored ships to get to the entrance to the marina. The AIS (Automatic Identification System) really helped by alerting us to potentially dangerous ships and plotting their vectors and potential collision zones. However, as we drew closer to the anchorage, I had to set the display to show only dangerous targets, otherwise the display was so cluttered that I couldn't see any of the navigational aids.

We sailed 1,154 nautical miles from Puerto Chiapas over the past 12 days. Total distance sailed for The Voyage so far is 2,443 nm since leaving La Paz on January 8.  That's like crossing the Atlantic Ocean.

We celebrated our arrival with a nice dinner at a marina restaurant, a generous treat from John.

Tomorrow we meet our ship agent and begin the process of getting in line for our canal transit.

I'll post some picture from Leg 3 of The Voyage when I have a faster internet connection.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Isla Otoque: Rough Passage

Last night we rounded Punta Mala and conditions changed dramatically.

The forecast for the Gulf of Panama from all sources was for light winds. Here's the official text forecast from yesterday:


The forecasts weren't even remotely accurate, save for the SW swell, which wasn't very important. Instead of light to gentle winds, we had 20+ knots blowing from the NNW, the direction we wanted to head to get to the entrance of the canal. The winds had whipped up a steep chop for us to bash through. And to make matters worse, there is a constant southerly current flowing out of the gulf that took one to two knots off our speed.

At Punta Malta, that southerly current combines with the prevailing westerly coastal current. I came on watch at 2200, right as we were approaching the point traveling roughly due east. The boat rapidly slowed from the five knots to less than two knots with one engine running. I started the other engine and revved both up to their near maximum rpms. I was making about 3. 5 knots as I began rounding the point. As I rounded the point, the wind speed increased from about 12 knots to over 20 and now I was barely making two knots, Intermezzo shoved back by wind, wave and current. I experimented turning the boat onto different headings and watching the speed over ground (SOG) and velocity made good to our waypoint (VMG) carefully to find the optimum course. I finally settled on a heading that put the wind and waves about 30 degrees off the port bow, quite a bit off our rhumbline, but resulting in the best VMG. Despite my efforts and those of Intermezzo's valiant little Yanmar diesels, I only covered 10 nm over the course of my four hour watch!

The NW wind chop mixed with the six to eight foot swells from the SW and the SW current produced a sea state that looked and felt like a washing machine gone mad. Intermezzo pitched, rolled, yawed, and slammed violently, a most uncomfortable and unpredictable motion. I had to hang on tight to the helm seat so as not to be thrown off. As unpleasant as the motion was, the ocean was beautiful. The moon had just set and the sea looked like a liquid plain of blank ink strewn with bright white, slightly green clouds from all the bioluminescence being activated by the breaking crests of the waves. These clouds were so numerous and so bright that they lit up the surface of the sea for miles in every direction. It was amazingly beautiful, I've never seen anything like it before.

John and Kim took over for me at 0200. The little distance I covered beyond the point was moving us out of the area where the currents combined and Intermezzo started picking up some speed. I slept in the salon, getting up every hour to check on our situation. By mid-watch, the wind had decreased to around 10 knots and we were able to make five knots SOG running just one engine. I started to think that the high winds were just local to the point and that we would soon see the "mainly light to gentle wind" forecasted. We were still being tossed around and pounding into head seas, but much less violently. I began to think we were out of the woods.


Roy came on watch at 0600 and an hour and a half later, the boat suddenly slowed down as the wind whipped up again to over 20 knots. We started the second engine up and pushed the throttles forward, struggling to make more than four knots SOG with the boat slamming, pounding and shipping a lot of water over the bows.

There was no way were would make it to our planned anchorage at the Balboa Yacht Club before dark and we were all fatigued from the constant noise and motion. I decided to head to my "bailout" anchorage, a sheltered cove on the south side of Isla Otoque, about 25 miles southwest of the canal entrance sea buoy. We altered course to head there.

Fortunately, the wind and waves gradually calmed down, so that by the time I came back on watch at noon, the slamming and pounding had stopped. We still needed both engines to make speed against the current, but we were making over five knots. By 1445 we were anchored and Roy, John and I all dove into the water for a refreshing swim. Roy and John swam to shore to collect coconuts (their new hobby?), while I got back on the boat and mixed myself a tall rum drink. Kim relaxed and kept an eye on the shore party.

It was 14 hours of very trying and tiring conditions after sailing for 36 hours. Not dangerous, but very challenging . I've been in much rougher weather, but yesterday's conditions were the worst I can remember in terms of duration of jarring discomfort. It was such a relief when the seas calmed down and an even bigger relief when we anchored, turned off the hardworking little diesels (I'm thinking of naming them Yin and Yan) and all got quiet, except for the soft bird sounds and the gentle breaking surf on the beach.

Tomorrow morning we resume our journey to the Balboa Yacht Club. We should be there mid-afternoon.

The forecast is for light and gentle winds.

We'll see.

Friday, April 12, 2019

Approaching Punta Mala: Sharks and Currents

We motored along all day today in calm, benign conditions, save for a quiet two hour stint of (unforecasted!) downwind sailing.

I saw my first shark from onboard Intermezzo this morning, its fin slicing slowly through the surface of the smooth water. I got sight of its sleek four foot long body as it glided past the boat, less than 20 feet away.

Later this afternoon, the crew was treated to a show of marine life while I was off watch snoozing. Two pods of over a hundred dolphins each, mabula rays doing somersaults, and another shark that launched itself into the air.

From a sailing perspective, the fun started right after dinner when we met a strong westerly current that reduced our speed from over five knots to just over three. Even with both engines running at fast cruising rpms, we could not get above four knots. This was a problem, because we need to average five knots over the next 24 hours to make it to the Balboa Yacht Club anchorage before dark.

We decided to turn into shore and see if the current wasn't as strong in shallower water. That turned out to be a good move. About two miles off the coast in 100 feet of water, the current lessened (perhaps even reversed a little, an eddy?) and we were soon back to doing over five knots on just one engine at normal cruising rpms.

Interestingly, the paper charts show "Strong Currents Rep (1959)" in the vicinity and at the depth contour where we encountered them 60 years later. I normally don't pay much attention to notes like this on charts as they seem very general in nature and it seems like if something was reported in 1959 but never confirmed, it might not really exist now. Especially something as variable as a current. Now I know better.

The information about local currents in the Sailing Directions and cruising guides is confusing, different currents from different sources that go different directions depending on the season and then the effects of ebb and flood tides, to boot. It seems to me that reasonable guidance for rounding Punta Mala would be, if you are a small boat and have radar to navigate at night, stay close to shore where currents and tides aren't as strong. That's what we're doing tonight.

Enroute to Panama Canal

April 12
7.2N 81.3W

There is not much to say about our passage so far to the Panama Canal. There is more ahead of us, though.

Yesterday's highlight was our dinner stop anchored of Isla Montuosa. It seemed like quite the slog getting there, motoring in virtually no wind against a weak foul current and gentle swells.

Montuosa is a tiny island that lies 50 miles off the coast. That far out, you might as be anywhere in the ocean and that's what it looks like when you get there. The quarter mile wide, roughly circular island is a pinnacle that rises steeply from 675 ft below the ocean surface to 500 ft above it. It is heavily vegetated with a mostly rocky shoreline. We anchored off the sandy beach on north side of the island in about 33 feet of water.

The gentle swells on the ocean turn into breakers that crash among the rocks off the beach. Off the west end of the island is a long rocky reef with even more impressive breakers. Our dinner stop was a bit rolly when the boat swung beam to the swell, accompanied by the distant crashing of waves and the squawking of birds in the island jungle. Bright green palm trees front the white sand beach, various species of tropical trees grow on the slopes above. Through the binoculars, I saw an amazingly large tangle of jungle vines in one spot, weaving in and out of themselves and taking over a sizeable patch of the jungle, to the apparent detriment of the trees there.

It was nice to stop the boat for dinner instead of eating on the run. It looked like we might be treated to a nice sunset, but it fizzled out at the moment of truth. Shortly after the sun set, we weighed anchor and we were off, motoring again in calm conditions.

We motored all night. We now have an (unforecasted) light easterly wind on our nose and continue to motor. We will soon turn to the northeast and the wind is forecasted to continue being on our nose, with a foul southerly current building as we get nearer to land. I'll bet we motor this entire passage, which is always disappointing, not to mention expensive at $4 or more a gallon for diesel and less than 7 mpg fuel economy. Messes up my carbon footprint, too.

We are seeing a growing number of ships on the radar and AIS (Automatic Identification System) as they converge onto the canal entrance from ports all over the Pacific. When we get close to the canal, we will need to deal with the Traffic Separation Schemes designed to keep ship traffic organized and stop them from crashing into each other. We need to call the Flamenco Signal Station on the VHF when we are in range and announce our arrival. They then tell us where to sail, much like air traffic controllers do for aircraft. I'm expecting them to mostly ignore us, a small bit of plastic flotsam compared to the big ships that are their main concern.

As we approach the Golfo de Panama, we round a the large peninsular that forms the west boundary of the gulf, defined by two points, Punta Mariato to the west and Punta Mala ("Evil Point") to the east. There are strong currents, tidal rips and the wind accelerates around Punta Mala, sometimes doubling its forecasted speed. Fortunately, the forecasted winds (more like "suggested winds" around here, in my opinion) are light, but we still need to deal with tide and current. The current flows out of the gulf against our sailing direction, so best to enter when the tide is flooding, which diminishes the current, rather than when it's ebbing, which enhances the current. I'm trying to time our arrival at Punta Mala accordingly.

Besides tide and current, the other navigational consideration is the timing of our arrival at the canal. I don't want to be putzing around the mouth of the Panama Canal in the dark among all those ships, all of us trying to find a place to park. I'll need to adjust boat speed or even make a rest stop to make sure we are sailing there during daylight hours. That might conflict with trying to find favorable tide conditions, which are time dependent, as is the boat's position, course and speed at any moment. It appears to be a problem well-suited to linear optimization techniques, but I can't be bothered. We'll make daylight sailing the priority and deal with tides and currents as they are.

The boat is damp. The tropical humidity is constant, but in the morning heavy dew covers the deck and light moisture over all the horizontal surfaces inside the boat. The pages of my charts and books are curling, no clothes or bedding are completely dry and the cabin sole under my feet feels like a damp mopped floor. I expect moss to start growing on everything and us soon.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Isla Gamez: Nice Rest Day, Off to Panama Canal Tomorrow Morning

We are anchored off tiny Isla Gamez, next door to the larger Isla Partida just off the coast of Panama.

Today was a rest day. We arrived here early in the morning after an overnight sail (motor) in near windless, calm conditions from Golfito. We anchored and then jumped in the water to swim to a nice little beach.

I decided to climb to the high point of the island which is only about a quarter mile long. It was a nice hike through jungle vegetation, thick enough that I got turned around on my way back and ended up circumnavigating the hill top. When I finally got back to the beach from my hike, I found Roy, John and Kim bashing coconuts on rocks to open them up for a snack. The only thing wrong with the scene, from my perspective, is that they were wearing clothes and not communicating by grunting. When offered some coconut meat, I accepted it and ate it like a gentleman.

Tomorrow we head off to the Panama Canal. We're taking the direct offshore route to avoid fishing lines and having to weave through the islands that lie closer to the coast. Sailing time is about 2 1/2 days, but I would like to make a brief stop at the tiny offshore island of Montuosa. We tried to go there when in the neighborhood back in 2016, but the weather conditions were bad - strong headwinds, big waves. From the photographs I have seen, the island look like it belongs way out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, not less than 50 miles off the coast of Panama. By spending the afternoon there and perhaps another rest stop further on, we can time our arrival into the shipping lanes to the canal entrance to occur during the day, rather than at night. That will be safer, for sure.

When we get to the canal entrance, the plan is to pick up a mooring outside the Balboa Yacht Club. Then we start the process of getting in line for our canal transit.

Time when sailing is a very dynamic dimension. Sometimes it passes slowly, sometimes quickly, most often one just loses track of it, save for when your watch starts and ends. Right now, I find it hard to believe that Intermezzo will have reached the Panama Canal in just a few more days. Although we've travelled a long distance on this leg, the canal still seems along way away to me. (You can see the track of Intermezzo's journey and current position at

Even more unbelievable is that we will soon be sailing in a different ocean.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Leaving Golfito: That Was Quick

I had hoped to sneak in under the radar and spend the night in Golfito. We accomplished our main objective, the refueling of the boat. (My fuel consumption calculations were accurate to 5%!) But when we tied up at the marina around 1500, I found out that it was too late to clear in, so I would have to spend the whole day tomorrow clearing in and then immediately clearing out. I asked what would happen if I didn't bother to clear in, stayed overnight and left first thing in the morning. The marina manager told me that customs might come and seize the boat.

I decided not to take that chance. Although the crew undertook a covert mission to get some fresh vegetables at the market, slinking their way through the alleyways of Golfito as illegal aliens.

For a tourist-based economy, Costa Rica is not a yacht friendly country.

We are now sailing overnight to Isla Parida, a pretty little island off the coast of Panama about 75 nm away. We'll arrive in the morning, get some R&R and stay overnight at anchor.

No clearing in required.

Approaching Golfito

We've enjoyed a pleasant, mostly downwind sail on smooth seas from Bahia Elena to Gofito, turning the engine off at noon yesterday and not having to start one again until after 1 am this morning. At last!

All that sailing eliminated any worry about having enough fuel.

But...hah-hah. When we did start the port engine, no raw cooling water came out of the exhaust port. We shut it down, started the starboard engine instead and, once it was light, I replaced the raw water pump impeller which had broken off two of its rubber vanes. It was a quick repair to add to the list for this passage.

As I started my watch at 0200, we had a deluge of rain. The boat got a nice wash, including the hoisted mainsail, which hasn't had a good rinse since we were last in Panama in the fall of 2016. Later during the night, I was treated to an amazing display of lightning, including a strike that hit the sea at what seemed like less than a mile away. The bolt looked as thick as the trunk of a good sized tree and the loud ripping thunder generated by it went on for ten seconds. From here to Panama, has one of the highest frequency of lightning strikes in the world. And we have a nice aluminum lightning rod that sticks up 63 feet above the sea. We use radar to try and steer around storm cells, avoid touching metal during lightning storms and put portable electronics in the oven, a Faraday cage that protects them, but that's about all we can do. The probability of getting struck is very low., but it happens.

We're eating well on this trip. Kim and I are taking turns cooking dinners. She has made some great meals, including last night's shrimp tacos. Her mango salsa is delicious.

One problem with our cooking, though, is the propane that we filled the tanks with in Chiapas is crap. It must have a lot of moisture in it, because the flame is nowhere near as hot as usual and often burns with some yellow. It takes what seems forever to boil water, fry an egg. I joked that it was like cooking over a candle.

So, in addition to refueling diesel in Golfito, we'll see if we can purge and refill our propane tanks, pick up some fresh vegetables and enjoy a dinner at a restaurant. I'm hoping we can do this without having to clear into Costa Rica or that the process can be expedited, as we plan on pushing off again tomorrow morning. Seems silly to spend hours dealing with paperwork for less than a 24 hour stay. We got away with not clearing in twice before when we were here, but I don't want to push my luck too hard.

Monday, April 8, 2019

Crossing Gulfo Nicoya, Costa Rica: Things Fixed, Enough Fuel?

April 4
9.4N 85.0W

We departed Bahia Elena early yesterday morning after Roy climbed the mast and reattached the wind instrument sensor. It turned out to be an easy repair. The sensor was originally mounted to the aluminum masthead with very short screws to avoid fouling the halyard sheaves. The short screws simply lost their bite over time and came loose, the sensor hanging on by two threads of one screw. Roy just put in slightly longer screws and we were on our way. Okay, he also climbed and descended a 60 foot mast in the tropical heat, but he seemed to enjoy the effort, so I'm discounting it.

As we headed to Playa de Coco to refuel, I fired up my fuel consumption spreadsheet to do some analysis (yes, I am an engineer). The spreadsheet allows me to consider various scenarios of remaining fuel range based on different assumptions. My base assumption is that the boat's fuel tanks are only filled to 95% capacity, a fuel consumption rate of one standard deviation greater than Intermezzo's historic mean (0.8 gph), an average boat speed of 5 knots, and a fuel reserve of 10 percent total fuel capacity. Based on these relatively conservative assumptions, we can make it to Golfito even if we have to motor all the way and use both engines 25 percent of the time, which we never do, almost always motoring on one engine. Winds are forecast to be light and not from favorable directions for us, so it is likely that we will motor most of this 230nm passage.

Despite having confidence in my analysis, there is always a lingering worry...will we make 5 knots speed?...did the bashing into head seas for 36 hours previously burn more fuel than assumed? I meditate these worries away when they arise. We'll deal with the very unlikely event of running out of fuel if and when it happens. We are a sailboat, for godsake. Besides, if it looks like we're cutting it too close, we can duck into Quepos for fuel, about 2/3 of the way to Golfito.

So now we're on our way to Golfito, crossing the Golfo de Nicoya. In 2016, I left Intermezzo in Puntarenas, located at the top of this gulf, for the summer. I find that as I pass these previously visited places, I am flooded by memories of who I was with, things that happened, my state of mind at the time. The memories of sailing with my daughter Hannah are the most pronounced and heartfelt here. It was the last trip we did together, just the two of us. She was still in college. She's grown up so much since then, living her own independent life, embarking on voyages of her own. In many ways, she's a lot like me, driven, focused, a planner, a do-er. These similarities mean we more often head in our own directions, seldom towards each other, something I accept, but with some sadness and nostalgia for when she was a child and we were very close.

Okay, enough reminiscing and reflection. Back to the sailing.

Yesterday afternoon, John and Roy repaired the bowsprit. The cutoff the aluminum end that ripped of its fitting with an angle grinder (glad I had one on board) and reattached it to the fitting with new screws. We mounted it back on the bow, hoisted the Code 0 and we were back in business. These two guys work great together, John's skills as a cabinetmaker complimenting Roy's mechanical and rigging background. I provide bits of structural engineering advice. Kim's at the wheel while we're all working, taking care of the boat and is a very calm, encouraging presence. We make a great team and I am so grateful for my crew's skills, sense of common purpose, how they support one another and me, and the collective optimistic attitude. It's amazing to me that I have found such great crew members online and did only minimal vetting, relying on answers to a few key questions and my intuition. I'm very lucky.

I am the ultimate do-it-yourself-er, need to be self sufficient, not depend on others, and have a solo-sailor's mindset. All the help and support I've received from those I've sailed with on this Voyage so far- Renee, Marc, Marci, Hannah, Roy, Pete, Kim, John- reminds me that it is much easier and better results are achieved when I relax my conditioning and open up space for other people to contribute.

This Voyage teaches me more than how to sail and navigate a boat.

Saturday, April 6, 2019

Bahia Elena: Things Broke

April 6

A day of mishaps.

The first thing that happened is the bridle falling off the anchor chain as we were weighing anchor early this morning. This seldom happens but when it does it requires using the boat pole to pull the bridle back under the trampoline into the anchor locker. Only, yesterday, we discovered that we lost the boat pole. Or at least we thought we had. As a rummaged through one of the lockers, lo and behold, I found the boat pole. So this mishap definitely had a silver lining.

It was really windy as we nosed out of the anchorage and into the open sea, blowing a steady 25 knots with gusts to 30. The sheets wrapped around the furled Code 0 were loose and allowed the top of the sail to partially unfurl. Okay, annoying but not problem. John and I dropped the Code 0 to the deck and lashed it to the stanchions. We wouldn't be using it any time soon. We got a bit wet, but no big deal.

Well, I screwed up. Rather than reach way out front of the boat to attach a line to hold up the bowsprit normally held up by the Code 0's halyard, I threaded it through the shock cord of the line that stops the sprit from dropping into the water when the sail is lowered. Well, the big wind waves took care of that. As the bow dove down through the waves, the shock cord broke,the end of the sprit fell into the sea and the force of the water broke the sprit at it's root. I noticed the bow sprit was missing, went up to the front, called for John to help me retrieve it and we both got soaked.

When we were unfurling the jib and trimming it for our course, I noticed that the jib furler was tilted quite a bit to leeward. This looked unusual but I attributed it to the high winds. Later, I happened to notice that the top edge of the tilted furling drum was sawing through the furling line. I caught it before it sawed completely through, which would have been exciting, but not before it had trashed the furling line.

Then Roy called out that the wind instrument was going wacky. I looked up to the top of the mast and saw that the wind sensor had come loose of its mounting.

We had a great windy, bouncy sail to Bahia Elena, no motoring required at all! The boat moved along nicely. The weather was beautiful, sunny, nice spring temperature

After we anchored intermezzo along the eastern shore of the bay in front of mangroves, we started tackling the day's damage. We got the jib furler sorted out by tightening the shrouds. I think. Sea trials will reveal if we did or not. We replaced the jib furler line. We prepared for Roy to go up the mast tomorrow morning to deal with the wind sensor. We'll deal with the bow sprit later.

After Kim cooked a nice pasta dinner, we were all beat tired and went to bed.

Tomorrow, after Roy goes up and down the mast, we'll set sail for Playa de Coco to refuel.

I hope for no more mishaps.

Friday, April 5, 2019

El Astillero, Nicaragua: Resting, Letting the Wind Subside

April 5

Last night was a long night of motoring against strong wind and choppy seas. In the middle of it all, somehow, while on their joint watch, John and Kim were able to spot long lines of clear plastic bottles in the water being used as floats for fishing lines in the dark and not run through them and tangle up the prop. Multiple lines of bottles seemed to be everywhere and curve around themselves. Kim woke me up to help figure out how we could extricate Intermezzo from this confusing maze and continue on our way. John used a spotlight to trace the lines of bottles and I tried to figure out a way to steer around them. It took a while, but we found the end of one line of bottles and then headed further out to sea to get ourselves beyond the line of fishing boats to which the bottles belonged.

We arrived in the small anchorage of El Astillero around 0800, strong wind blowing off the beach as we dropped anchor. The anchorage is a shallow crescent-shaped cove fronted by a sandy beach with dry scrubby hills behind. A fishing village extends along the mile-long beach, a mix of mostly smaller and some larger rustic houses. At the southern end of the crescent, up on some low bluffs is a huge villa that looks a bit like a glass spaceship, standing out oddly in prominent opulence. There is an active fishing community here with two dozen brightly-colored fishing pangas pulled up on the beach. We haven't gone on shore as we aren't cleared into Nicaragua and want to keep a low profile, but it looks like a friendly place, the fishermen waving to us as they pass by in their pangas and a bunch of kids playing soccer on the beach. There is a surf break to at the northwest end of the cove and I saw a few people carrying surfboards along the beach, probably surf-tourists.

We spent the day resting after four days of nonstop sailing and did doing some light chores. The wind blew strong with some powerful gusts most of the day, but it is subsiding now as the evening approaches.

One of the big gusts this afternoon had a funny result. I had the small stern portlight open in my cabin for ventilation. This portlight opens to Intermezzo's covered cockpit and is in a very protected location. Somehow we hit a wave last night in such away as to bury the sterns of the boat enough so that water surged up into the cockpit to dump a mug-full of water through the portlight onto my sleeping head. It woke me up. It also got my pillows wet in a couple of spots.

So, today I put the pillows out on the front deck to dry, lodging them against the windows of the salon so they wouldn't blow away. Well, when I went to retrieve them, one had apparently blown away. I was bummed. That is, until Roy came out of his cabin carrying a pillow asking, "Who threw a pillow on me to wake me up?" How a gust of wind was able to carry my pillow three feet forward, five feet to port and then stuff it down a two-foot square hatch is beyond me! But I am certainly grateful not to have lost my pillow overboard.

We'll leave here early tomorrow and make another unplanned stop in Playa de Cocos in Bahia Culebra, Costa Rica, about 80 nm further down the coast from here. We burned more fuel than expected bashing against wind and waves and before that, motoring in light airs, so we now don't have enough to be confident that we'll make it all the way to our planned refueling stop in Golfito, near the border with Panama.

The last time I stopped in Playa de Cocos for fuel in November 2016, it was a bureaucratic nightmare and I barely got Intermezzo out of Costa Rica. It ended up being a funny story (search the blog, it's one of the most popular and commented-upon posts), but also very stressful. This time, all my paperwork should be in order and hopefully all will go smoothly.

The crew seems to be enjoying this unplanned rest break and they deserve it. They have each done a great job looking after the boat and keeping us moving along safely and in good company. I'm very fortunate to have them on board.

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Off the Coast of Nicaragua: Bashing!

April 4
12.4N 87.1W

We are bashing into 20 knot SE winds and steep seas on the nose, conditions not forecast in any of the four wind models downloaded this morning! Quite a surprise. We have to run both engines to punch through the wind waves, impossible to sail through them and make any significant progress towards our destination.

We've done this before, a lot last time Intermezzo headed down to Panama back in October 2016. (I can't link to past blog posts via satellite, so look through the archives if interested.) On that trip, I got very frustrated, moaned and complained a lot about my bad luck with the wind and waves. I guess I've made some progress with being able to accept things as they actually are over the past 2 1/2 years, because I don't feel frustrated, I'm not moaning or complaining. It is noisy, tiring, and burning up our precious diesel fuel, but I am just observing with neutrality for the most part. It is all part of The Voyage.

So we're bashing to get to the strong Papagayo winds that should be blowing from the NE. I wonder what the transition will be like?

Given the current conditions and the forecasted winds closer to the Golfo de Papagayo, we decided to head to a small anchorage called El Astillero, about 75 nm SE of our current position and 23 nm NW of the gringo resort town of San Juan del Sur. This anchorage is north of the forecasted limit for the Papagayo winds and provides good protection from both wind and swell. We'll arrive Friday morning and spend the day and night there, waiting for the Papagayo winds to subside as forecasted for Saturday and Sunday.

Note the repetitive use of the world "forecasted" in the previous paragraph. If today is used as a measure of accuracy, the winds could come from any direction, at any strength, at any time. The only forecast I really trust is that the wind will probably blow from the direction I want to sail and my inner peace will continue to be challenged by bashing.

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Off the Coast of El Salvador: Heading Into a Papagayo

April 3
13.0N 88.8W

We're sailing in a nice wind, but into head seas again, about 15 nm off the coast of El Salvador. The wind is putting us on a course for the Golfo de Fonseca, the big gulf where El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua meet.

Strong winds, called Papagayos, are forecast along the coast in front of us and at our destination. Just like the Golfo de Tehuantepec in Mexico, these winds originate on the other coast of Central America and blow across the narrow mountainous land, build velocity as they cool down and descend to this coast. Papagayos can be very gusty, up to double the forecasted wind speed, so we have to be careful.

We'll hug the shoreline, which provides some shelter from the winds and avoids the big seas that can develop further offshore. I have identified several anchorages along the way along the Nicaraguan coast that we can duck into if we decide to wait for better conditions. I'll be monitoring the weather forecasts very closely from now on.

Based on the current forecast, we're expect to start feeling the stronger winds on Thursday afternoon and on into Friday. Until then, we will likely be motoring in calm, light wind conditions once the wind we're in now dies down this evening.

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Enroute to Bahia Santa Elena: Catch Up

2 April 2019
13.5N 90.7W

We motored last night through very calm, almost mirror-smooth seas. The motoring continued until just after noon, when the wind piped up quickly. We're now bounding along on a close reach in a Force 4 southerly wind, making over six bouncy knots towards our destination. Beautiful sailing conditions! Although Roy says his bunk in the forward port cabin is like a carnival ride; he graciously gave up his larger aft cabin to John and Kim.

I didn't write any blog posts prior to us leaving Puerto Chiapas yesterday afternoon. Here's a catch up on the few days leading up to our departure.

I left San Francisco on a redeye flight to Mexico City on Wednesday night, March 27. After a long-ish layover, I boarded my flight to Tapachula late Thursday morning, scoring an exit row seat. Shortly after taking my seat, guess who I see walking down the aisle with a big smile on his face? Roy! I knew he was traveling to the boat, but didn't expect him on my flight as he had told me he was going to Guatemala first. That bit of luck saved us on taxi fares to the marina when we landed.

After a brief rest, we washed the boat, rinsing off the coffee dust that is endemic to Marina Chiapas. Next door to the marina is an instant coffee factory. Getting re-accustomed to the heat and humidity was a bit tough for both of us.

On Friday, we had did a few light boat projects and got things ready for John and Kim who arrived just before midnight.

Saturday we hired a car and drive and went grocery shopping for provisions. We ended up with three shopping carts of stuff, one cart reserved for an ample but not obscene supply of wine, beer and spirits. Sunday we visited the fuel dock to top up our tanks and then took the dinghy to a beach restaurant in the port's estuary for a rustic seafood meal.

Monday morning I spent clearing us out of Mexico, which involves the following steps to get your zarpe (permission to leave document) stamped and signed:
1. Visit customs
2. Visit immigration
3. Visit the Port Administration Authority, pay a little fee.
4. Visit the Port Captain, pay a slightly higher fee.
5. Pay the marina bill
6. Get inspected by the Port Captain, Navy, and customs, including a drug-sniffing dog.

The above took about five hours from start to finish, and the crew seemed more than ready to leave after sitting around in the heat until two in the afternoon. We didn't waste any time casting off our lines and heading out to sea.

That catches the blog up to where we are now. Although in the time it took me to write this, though the wind has decreased, we now have a steep chop on the nose and we're pounding as we motorsail into it. Not so comfortable. Especially since we have to close all the hatches. It's hot inside!

Monday, April 1, 2019

Departed Puerto Chiapas: Leg 3 Begins!

Leg 3 of The Voyage has begun!

Intermezzo departed from Marina Chiapas around 1400 this afternoon, destination the Panama Canal. On board is the ever-faithful Roy and two additions to the crew, John and Kim who I will introduce soon in an upcoming post. We have about a thousand nautical miles to sail with only a few overnight rest stops along the way. We should reach the Pacific entrance of the canal around April 15th.

We are presently off the coast of Guatamala, heading for Bahia Elena, a national park in northern Costa Rica, very close to the Nicaraguan border. It should take us about four days to get there. My daughter Hannah and I anchored in this big beautiful bay back in May 2016. We ventured on land for a short walk but were chased back to the water by mosquitos.

From Bahia Elena, we'll head to Golfito, at the other end of Costa Rica, to refuel and have a rest. Then it's on to the canal, with a stop at one of Panama's nearshore islands along the way.

When we get to the entrance to the canal, we fill out all the paperwork and pay all the fees required to transit the canal and then get in line. According to the shipping agent handling our canal passage, the current waiting time for yachts is six to nine days after receiving approval from the authorities. That should get us to the Atlantic side of the canal towards the end of April.

The weather is forecast to be calm with light winds until we get to the Golfo de Papagayo and reach the strong winds that often blow there. We sailed along nicely this afternoon on a close reach after leaving Puerto Chiapas, but the wind died at dinnertime and we've switched on an engine. The 720 nm to our refueling stop in Golfito is beyond our motoring range for the amount of fuel we're carrying, so we are going to need some wind to make it there. Of course, we have a backup plan to pick up fuel if we need to, but that would require formerly clearing into Nicaragua or Costa Rica, something I would like to avoid. (I've been able to pick up fuel in Golfito in the past without officially clearing in, but Costa Rica's other ports are more strict.)

It's good to be on the water again on my Intermezzo. This leg has started off with a different feel for me, one of resolve and purpose, perhaps a little less lighthearted. With more crew on board, the responsibilities of being captain of the boat weigh on me a bit too, not unpleasantly but I can feel it, especially on this first day at sea when there is a lot of orientation to do.

Departed Puerto Chiapas: Leg 3 Begins!

Leg 3 of The Voyage has begun!

Intermezzo departed from Marina Chiapas around 1400 this afternoon, destination the Panama Canal. On board is the ever-faithful Roy and two additions to the crew, John and Kim who I will introduce soon in an upcoming post. We have about a thousand nautical miles to sail with only a few overnight rest stops along the way. We should reach the Pacific entrance of the canal around April 15th.

We are presently off the coast of Guatamala, heading for Bahia Elena, a national park in northern Costa Rica, very close to the Nicaraguan border. It should take us about four days to get there. My daughter Hannah and I anchored in this big beautiful bay back in May 2016. We ventured on land for a short walk but were chased back to the water by mosquitos.

From Bahia Elena, we'll head to Golfito, at the other end of Costa Rica, to refuel and have a rest. Then it's on to the canal, with a stop at one of Panama's nearshore islands along the way.

When we get to the entrance to the canal, we fill out all the paperwork and pay all the fees required to transit the canal and then get in line. According to the shipping agent handling our canal passage, the current waiting time for yachts is six to nine days after receiving approval from the authorities. That should get us to the Atlantic side of the canal towards the end of April.

The weather is forecast to be calm with light winds until we get to the Golfo de Papagayo and reach the strong winds that often blow there. We sailed along nicely this afternoon on a close reach after leaving Puerto Chiapas, but the wind died at dinnertime and we've switched on an engine. The 720 nm to our refueling stop in Golfito is beyond our motoring range for the amount of fuel we're carrying, so we are going to need some wind to make it there. Of course, we have a backup plan to pick up fuel if we need to, but that would require formerly clearing into Nicaragua or Costa Rica, something I would like to avoid. (I've been able to pick up fuel in Golfito in the past without officially clearing in, but Costa Rica's other ports are more strict.)

It's good to be on the water again on my Intermezzo. This leg has started off with a different feel for me, one of resolve and purpose, perhaps a little less lighthearted. With more crew on board, the responsibilities of being captain of the boat weigh on me a bit too, not unpleasantly but I can feel it, especially on this first day at sea when there is a lot of orientation to do.