On our return from our trip to Toronto, there was no time for monkeying around with these capuchins. Every moment was full of prep work.
We have transited the Corinth Canal where all that is necessary is arriving at an anchorage, radioing an intention to transit and waiting for the go ahead to get in line. No locks, no advance notice, no bother. Just motoring under bridges and through human-made gorge that looked a little rough around the edges.
The Panama Canal is in another league altogether. Most boats transiting are on their way to French Polynesia, an ocean crossing of 20-35 days. While hanging out at Shelter Bay Marina, we had seen crew buying bags full of oranges and another boat with at least 30 jars - no kidding - of peanut butter. Although we didn’t have to provision for an ocean crossing, there was lots to organize and prepare.
While in Toronto, we ordered boat parts to be shipped to Shelter Bay, hopefully there upon our arrival. This included two new propeller shafts. We asked Antares boatbuilder for the length on hull number 48, Milly. After seven years, they responded within a few hours, offered to make the order for us and gave us a discount on the shafts purchase and on shipping to Florida. Incredible service!! I doubt any boat builder would offer the same.
Upon returning to Shelter Bay after five weeks in Toronto, we leapt into preparatory action.
We had left both engines mid work and nonfunctioning. Billy, the almost blind but knowledgeable boatyard mechanic and character, was on standby to make new gaskets to stop a leak in both engines.
Our generator, also nonfunctioning, was missing a part which we were bringing with us from Toronto.
Our guest toilet was leaking around the base. Peter had some ideas about a gasket/o-ring replacement.
We had rebuilt both our water makers and installed a new booster pump but had yet to try them out. The water was too dirty. We were saving this for the Pacific. But if they didn’t work, our journey to Mexico would be delayed, perhaps to the beginning of next season. Bad news if we wanted, which we do, to make it to Bay of Banderas for Christmas with our family.
And both shafts needed to be installed which required that poor Milly go on the hard yet again. This would be her third time in five months. In the past we went at least a year, often two or three before hauling.
From Toronto we had contacted a canal agent. The agent does all the bureaucratic footwork for the captain of the transiting boat. You can do it on your own but it requires renting a car, visiting a few offices at different locations, completing forms and trying to clarify in Spanish. We elected to pay the fee for an agent. We had enough to do! We requested that our boat inspection take place two days after our return.
A uniformed guy arrived, friendly but oh so official. He recorded a lot of info - how fast the boat could go under engine, (dependent on barnacles and current so purely an estimate) how much fuel we had, our fuel consumption per hour etc. An “advisor” would accompany us, a different advisor for each day of the transit. He stressed that we needed to feed him a hot meal - not just a bag of chips - each day. Meals would include dinner on the first day and breakfast and lunch on the second. At least that was the most likely scenario. We would know the day of transit but not the timing until the day of transit. It could be a one day affair, leaving the marina at 2 or 3 in the morning and ending at 7 or 8 pm on the other side. The more likely and more common transit was leaving in the late afternoon, crossing through the three locks going up, mooring in Lake Gatun overnight and finishing the next day with three locks going down to the Pacific. Whatever, we(I) needed to serve at least two hot meals. And the inspector stipulated that we needed a working toilet with toilet paper, soap and a towel. (It amazed me that he had to stipulate that a meal was not chips and toilet paper was essential. Obviously there was a need to stipulate? If it was stipulated, it meant that they had encountered problems along these lines?). We were required to have four line handlers who could tie a quick bowline plus the captain. The advisor would do just that, advise. But the ultimate decision was the captains. The inspection ended with a compulsory short blast of our air horn, another requirement.
Inspection done. We requested a transit two weeks hence. No problem. We were outside of the 8-10 day waiting period. Our transit was set for April 4, 2022. Now to get in working order.
Billy made a new thicker gasket for our rebuilt fresh water pumps on both engines. His eye-sight was so poor that he had to feel the head of the screw to find the correct angle for the flat head screwdriver. Peter, who had learned enough from watching the first re-install, elected to put both engines back together. But they still leaked! Yet another even thicker gasket. Peter was now a pro at both taking apart and rebuilding. On the final try, the starboard engine was patent, the port still dripping. Argh. We might have to live with it.
The genset: Peter installed the new heat sensor without ado. But on topping up the coolant, it leaked straight through the system and into the bilge. Another gasket needed! And no supplier in Panama. A bother but not imperative to cross or to passage north.
After numerous attempts at making new o-rings, finding replacement o-rings and various other permutations, the guest toilet was still leaking. And then the main toilet started. Another o-ring and still leaking. Now both toilets were leaking and a working toilet was a prerequisite for the crossing as made clear during our inspection. Well, they were leaks but, at least in the main head, more like a seep that could be ignored if a cloth was draped around the base. The guest cabin was a leak. We would direct the line handler and the advisor to the main head leaving our poor guests to deal with the guest toilet.
Our two line handlers and dear friends, Gill and John, who we had hiked, laughed, ate and played dominoes with us during our Carriacou lockdown, were having their own boat problems in Aruba which needed to be attended to before they could either sail to Panama or leave the boat to fly to join us. About a week before, they had hauled out the boat and were successful in fixing the problem. They were able to commit to the job and were flying to meet us. True and great friends!
|Milly on the hard again, four months after the last time.|
Finally, with both engines running (and the port engine leaking) we were ready for the newly shipped shafts to be installed. Our haul out was scheduled for one week prior to our crossing. On the morning of the deed we waited for the call to go to the slip. We waited and waited. I was not so patient and called. I was told that the lift was broken and we would be delayed at least a day. The mechanics who were waiting to do the job went home - a 90 minute drive away.
Next day, I called again and we were given a mid morning time. Lift out was a success although Milly’s bottom after 3 months in the water was speckled with thousands of barnacles. I went to get the new shafts which had arrived I had been told. This time in the office, they had no record of arrival although the tracking number that I luckily still had at hand, showed they had arrived two weeks before. Again, they were found, without any identifying name, crate battered and bruised but intact. We were in business.
|The strut with shaft removed. It had been carefully covered in special antifouling only 4 months before but was covered with barnacles and algae. This picture was post power wash and and sanding!|
With great effort and many Spanish expletives, the mechanics removed the old shafts. BUT the new ones were two inches longer than the old even though Antares and our manual had the longer size recorded. Our presbyopic mechanic offered to drive Peter and the shafts to his friend who could cut them. With nothing to lose the shafts were tied to the mechanics dented car, Peter climbed in and off they went. The shop, a shack at the side of the road, was well equipped with a father son operation who knew what they were doing. Two inches off, back to the boat, the mechanic regaling Peter with pro-Trump, misogynist rhetoric to which Peter diplomatically refused to engage. Too late for the mechanics to install. They promised to be back first thing on Friday so we could put antifoul on the shaft, give it 24 hours to dry and have Milly in the water before the lift guys stopped work for the weekend on Saturday at noon.
|Old short prop in the middle of the gleaming new shafts. We considered installing the new as they were but with the mechanical wisdom of the many who came by to check it out was that even two inches may make the shaft warp and wabble.|
Again, we squeezed it in. All complete. Lift guys waiting by the boat to get our ok for a good hour. Milly again put in the water. Leak check - all clear. We drove Milly out into the bay and - drip, drip, drip - shit, the port shaft was leaking at slow speed. At high speed just before Peter turned off the motor, the drip slowed. Called the yard guy who said the mechanic would come by Monday morning. We were scheduled for our transit Monday afternoon.
Meanwhile, our guests were due to arrive in just a couple of hours. Tied to dock. Cleaned, cooked dinner and there they were! So great to see them. And so great that they understood our craziness and could help with outstanding chores, like emptying gerry cans of diesel into our tanks - a messy job.
Day of transit - the sweet mechanic arrived and was puzzled that our bilge was dry - I had dried it. He had expected water to be pouring in. In broken Spanish and hand signals I mimed what I had seen. He pooh-poohed the “leak”, and with some derision, drove back home.
We were ready. Down to the wire and with two leaking toilets, we were ready to motor to the Pacific!!