Monthly Archives: April 2014

Fort Sherman

Battery Baird, at Fort Sherman.

Battery Baird, at Fort Sherman.

It is a bit of a fib to say we are in Colon. Shelter Bay Marina is located in an abandoned US military base, still know as “Fort Sherman” by the locals. Colon is about thirty minutes by car. The route crosses the Gatun Lock so there is often a long delay as ships lock through.

A view  of the  fort from above.

A view of the fort from above.

Fort Sherman was built at the same time as the Panama Canal, and used by the US to secure the canal. The base was abandoned by US in 1999, and immediately stripped bare by the Panamanians. Shells of US military housing remain, along with both newer and older military installations. The roads through the base now serve as convenient nature trails for visitors to Shelter Bay Marina.

Mary in the brig - "cell 6".

Mary in the brig – “cell 6″.

In Panama, we needed to make up our minds: whether to remain in the Americas for another year, or cross the Pacific this season. A trip to Colon, and a few walks along Fort Sherman’s roads sealed the deal. We like Colon. We like Panama. Panama has it’s own intrinsic culture that is not tourist dominated. The Panamanian jungle is exotic and interesting. We have seen Howling monkeys, Capuchin monkeys, and some oversize rabbity looking thing we do not know the name of. We are able to just scrape enough money to pay our bills.

Mary & Shane in  the rainforest, looking for howler monkeys.

Mary & Shane in the rainforest, looking for howler monkeys.

Shelter Bay Marina is an easy place to stay. At only $24/night for a boat our size staying at least 16 days, $10/week for Internet and $1 happy hours beers we can afford to stay here indefinitely. It is also a great place from which to fly the US, so I will be flying to Minnesota to visit Ruby and Darla, Harvey and Diane, Mark and the SpEd Forms crew, and pick up some parts.

We found some!  Can you spot the monkeys?

We found some! Can you spot the monkeys?

After I return, we will get the boat ready and start making our way to the San Blas Islands and then to Cartagena, Columbia. Our plan is to put the boat on the hard (ie: pull the boat out of the water) do some maintenance on the hull and put Franklin in a Columbian preschool for a few months. We have heard great things about Cartagena and Columbia, and look forward to visiting.

A close up of an interesting tree trunk.

A close up of an interesting tree trunk.

After Cartagena, who knows? Our plans are written in sand.

Our own little monkey, exploring Panama.

Our own little monkey, exploring Panama.


Another breath taking sunset over the Caribbean Sea.

Passage to Panama

The storm brewing over Jamaica.  Glad we were able to outrun it.

The storm brewing over Jamaica. Glad we were able to outrun it.


We had a little hitchhiker. He stayed the night in our produce hammock.

We had a little hitchhiker. He stayed the night in our produce hammock.

The Caribbean Sea is notorious for strong trade winds and steep seas. The trade winds peak from January to March and gradually dissipate from March onwards.  We watched weather patterns in the Caribbean for two weeks before leaving and left Port Antonio as a strong system dissipated on March 20th.

The first thirty miles of the passage took us against the wind and current along the north eastern coast of Jamaica. We motor sailed into the wind and current and then found more favorable conditions as we turned south towards Panama. As night fell the first night, we found ourselves becalmed with strong thunderstorms forming over Jamaica, so we motored again during the night to get a safe distance away from them.

Around midnight, we turned off the engine again, and enjoyed a spectacular lightning show over the island of Jamaica from a safe distance. Becalmed again, a north setting current pushed us eight miles northeast until the wind finally rose enough at dawn. At dawn we raised our full sails and picked up speed as we made for our next waypoint, 50 miles east of the Rancador Bank.

Jamaican produce for the passage.

Jamaican produce for the passage.

If you look at a chart of the Caribbean, you might wonder why we headed towards the Rancador Bank. The Rancador Bank adds about 80 nautical miles to the passage to Panama. However, pilot charts and a study of weather suggested a high likelihood of gale forces winds along the rhumb line to Panama. They also suggested more northerly winds and favorable currents closer the Central America.

Sea Change II is a heavy cruising sailboat which prefers stronger winds, but there was no reason to subject to 30 to 35 knot winds if not necessary. Strong sustained winds make it more likely things on the boat will break and leave less room for error on the part of the crew.

From Monday morning, wind and seas built steadily from light and variable to 20 to 30 kts off the stern quarter by the time we turn south of the the Rancador Bank.  Big, steep, following seas and some current pushed along at up to an impressive 9 kts at times (the nominal hull speed, or maximum speed, of our boat is just under 7 kts).

The steep seas also took a toll on the crew as we adjusted to the motion of the boat. I usually take one Dramamine on the first day of the passage and that usually “cures” me on sea sickness for the remainder of the trip. On this passage, I took four Dramamine over the roughest two days to keep sea sickness at bay. We have always cooked on passage, but we found it much more difficult on this passage. We resolved to bring more easy to prepare comfort foods.

The longer passage also gave us a better opportunity than our shorter passages to learn the ideal watch schedule for us. Remember, we need to maintain a sharp watch all the time which means somebody must always be awake and alert. By the end of the sail we were finding long shifts during the day and evening, followed by 4 hour on, 4 hours off shifts over night. Mary tends to sleep better in the morning and I tended to sleep better in the afternoon.

Another hitchhiker didn't fare so well....  This little flying fish was already dead by the time we found him in the morning.

Another hitchhiker didn’t fare so well…. This little flying fish was already dead by the time we found him in the morning.

We had also been wondering how Franklin would handle his longest passage yet. We found he handled the passage best (perhaps because he was getting plenty of sleep!) and was happy snuggled in his lee cloth during the bumpy times , watching movies, reading books and playing computer games. Mary also found the time and energy to read books to Franklin and snuggle him during the day.

For this passage, there was no question who the stronger crew member was. Mary. She was generally less affected by sea sickness and/or had a stronger will to overcome it. When I first took Mary sailing more than five years ago, no doubt who was the “better” and more experienced sailor. I think on this passage it became abundantly clear we are now increasingly equal in skill. It sure is good to have a competent crew mate. Even nicer to have one so gorgeous and smart.


With the 5 to 30 knots off our quarter for the remainder of our sail we enjoyed an almost perfect trade wind sail from the about 50 nm south of Jamaica to 50 nm east of Panama. During one 26 hour period we made 160 nm, quite impressive for a 34 ft boat with a 26 ft waterline.

Early Friday morning the winds tured light and variable as we approached Panama so we turned on the motor and used the remainder of our diesel to motor into Colon.

Entering Colon harbour we were surrounded by anchored ships and a a procession of ships entering and leaving Colon Harbor. AIS, a technology we have our our boat to track the movement of ships, was never more useful as it helped identify how fast ships were moving and if they posed a danger to us.

We entered Shelter Island Marina around 10:30am on Friday morning after a fantastic sail.







Port Antonio, Recap

@ Errol Flynn Marina

@ Errol Flynn Marina

We spent three weeks in Port Antonio, Jamaica. One week getting our act together and then another two weeks waiting for a good weather window to cross to Panama. Port Antonio is a pretty spot, a perfectly protected harbour with a backdrop of lush, tropical mountains.

The Jamaican customs, immigration, police and quarantine officers are also friendly, professional and efficient. Checking in cost nothing and took less than a day.

Port Antonio Marina (AKA Errol Flynn Marina) is a good value stop. Marina manager Paul Dadd does a great job. Dockhand “Flower” is darn good at his job. Boatyard manager George is helpful and informative. Marsha does a great job keeping the facilities sparkling. With good staff, Internet and clean facilities at a $1/foot it was easy to justify staying at the marina while we caught up on maintenance and work. The marina has an affordable Cuban run poolside bar – the $2.50 beers and $4 hamburgers added to our enjoyment and waistlines! We went to Cuba after all.

John (The Hulk) and Rudy, a husband and wife team, polished our stainless steel, scrubbed our topsides and rinsed our hull for less than US$100. Visiting boaters who need the same service can call them on 1 876 429 3007 or email Presley is another friendly local who is willing to help boaters out with Jamaican courtesy flags, manual labor, propane refills and other services. Presley’s phone number is 572 3959.

Port Antonio has a reputation for being relatively hassle free compared to other Jamaican towns. Most vendors were respectful after we firmly said “No”, but some were annoying persistent. Three vendors to avoid in Port Antonio include Clive the Banana Man; Randal, fixer and pimp; the CD Man and the Lemon Grass man. No you did not suddenly become more likable, attractive and charismatic the minute you stepped foot in Jamaica!

Highlights of our stay in Jamaica? The poolside bar where Franklin started really swimming, good Jamaican patties, trying out real Jamaican jerk in Boston Bay, Reach Falls with Andre and Christine, wonderfully fresh fruit and vegetables, friendly people and the generally friendly and helpful staff at the Port Antonio Marina. Thanks Jamaica. Yeah Mon.